There is something so special in the diversity of cultures that reveal our creative Heavenly Father! Having lived in a few different countries now we understand: if you can observe and learn the way a people live, then you can reach them by becoming one of them, no longer a scary outsider, but a friend, and as the Lord opens hearts, part of their family. In Israel, we learned to speak Hebrew, used their communication gestures, respected their Shabbat and participated in their biblical feasts. In the countryside of Oklahoma, USA, each state being unique, we observed and copied our neighbours, running around in bare feet; we celebrated Thanksgiving, and changed our accents and vocabulary quite a bit.
Let me describe an integral part of the culture here, after mentioning that we have fallen in love with it. Having been here for four months (as of February 2015), we have observed some very unique Paraguayan ways. My favorite is the communal custom of drinking 'terere'. They have a thermos of water, hot in the morning and night, cool (with ice) during the day, that they use to fill a 'guámpa', a cup made of horn or metal, the latter surrounded by leather, that has a bunch of dried herbs. The guámpa has a 'bombilla', a metal straw, that you then slurp up slowly the refreshing drink of 'terere'. Only catch to this is that the cup is passed around and shared, and you don't wipe the straw off. What is beautiful about this, once you overcome the sharing thing, is that usually terere is a communal activity, bringing your family, and/or friends, fellow colleagues or co-workers together after a hard morning or afternoon of work, and sitting in the shade together chatting about the day. I think because of this cultural practice, there is such a sense of solidarity and friendship here - makes sense really, if you love someone enough to share your cup, you are likely to serve them in everything. It's strange to think of the equivalent happening in England: one teapot, covered by a tea cosy in my house, one cup/mug, and the patient pouring and passing around of the one vessel...can you imagine? And yet, perhaps we would be a more friendly nation? And so as not to leave out our dear family in the USA, what about one communal plastic cup at the party, and no more need of sharpies/markers?
So, we have learned that even if you are just needing to ask a question, if a seat is pulled out for you and terere offered, you sit and sip and share! There appears to be no rush, and there is no point adding your timekeeping, panic or urgency. Just relax with them, answer their questions, get to know them a little as they share their life with you, chickens scratching around, dogs wanting attention, ants occasionally finding your tasty toes. From this time, you more than likely make a friend for life 'cual quier cosa, aca tienes un amigo', 'whatever you may need, here you have a friend'. Even though we are white and potentially a threat, as so many foreigners have been in the past and still are today, this sitting and adopting their custom must speak volumes to them. Initially, I thought it was a very healthy drink, because of the herbs, but apparently it is not as hydrating as one might think. And if you happen to be sharing a rather spicy cocktail of herbs, it has a similar affect as a good shot of coffee. I have learnt to say 'gracias', meaning 'thank you, I have had enough', after a few slurps if Joseph needs to go to bed sometime soon. We were having extra wriggly baby syndrome, and very green nappies. One time I sat drinking terere with a precious lady, feeding Joseph and chatting. When our time together came to an end, she told me, 'You shouldn't nurse and drink, it will give him a sore tummy and a green nappy!' I thought, this information would have been so good beforehand!
Through our time with people here, we have learned so much more about this precious nation. They are all too willing to give of themselves, to befriend, to trust and offer help for whatever you might need. No wonder outsiders have stripped this nation of so much of its beauty and wealth, taken advantage of their custom of being brotherly. There is some sense of timidity and reservedness, but you would expect a whole lot more with a nation with such a history. Thank God they are still open to us as foreigners and receptive to the Gospel.
We have not bought our own terere set yet, they have some really beautiful ones decorated with leather, but we have sat and made friends wherever we have gone, and had opportunities to share the Gospel we would never have had before. But one thing we have realized through this, is that we must learn their heart language - Guarani. The Conquistadores brought Spanish, and it is generally spoken and understood by most city dwelling Paraguayans, but many choose to speak their mother tongue, and for some it is the only language they know. Having prayed and felt confirmation, we plan to study Guarani this coming October for nine months, at a very amazing language school. We have been trying to find a house nearby, and have made several trips to carry out the search, but so far we have not found a house that's ready to move into.
The school facilitates missionaries in reaching Paraguay by teaching Guarani, and is located in Houguai, rural Paraguay. The school has established a great relationship with the village community. So, after class, we will practice what we have learned as we sit and drink terere with them. Amazingly enough, there is a local church there too, and many of the villagers are born again. We have had the privilege of joining them for a bible study and prayer meeting, and a Sunday service. We were welcomed so sweetly, and feel part of their church family already. We look forward to settling and studying there so much, and getting to know this Christian Paraguayan community.
Having established this need to study, we realize that we would be unable to leave Paraguay till we complete our course, meaning that Joseph would be a year and a half at completion. We would like him to meet our family in the UK before then. So we are praying about making a trip before our study lock down in October. It may also be an opportunity to share about Paraguay, how this nation is ripe for harvest now and that we are committed to being a part of this.
We have felt led to travel around Paraguay, visiting those the Lord has connected us with, especially as we may leave for a few weeks. I am trying to be brave about more traveling, as this means more packing!
I am quick at making clothing decisions now, and getting the job done after so much practice, but still my heart yearns for settling. And the children are being continually brave with us, doing school as we go, adapting to different environments, people and expectations. Joseph is sleeping through now, and I am so thankful for a full nights sleep. I am amazed at how adaptable Joseph is, even though he is aware of familiar, he doesn't seem to get upset when he is in a new place, with different voices all the time. The other day, Emily made the observation that Joseph wouldn't know that the roads are bumpy, as he doesn't know a non-bumpy road - he hasn't had to adapt to this aspect of Paraguay.
The Lord is good and we endeavor to follow His guiding, always. Please pray for us as we travel around, and agree with us for a consolidating of relationships here, and that the Lord's will be done in and through us. Also pray for provision and God's perfect timing and co-ordination of our UK trip. Thank you for your love and support.
God bless you!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe