On the other side of this, we all understand that money is necessary. And Peter and I believe that there is a right and biblical way of using and managing it. We pursue this. We fully believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to hearts as to where and when to give offerings, and some of you have already sown into our endeavors here. God bless you and thank you with all our heart! Your gifts have enabled us to get established here, and start ministering to many Paraguayans! Some of you may not be called to help us, but other missionaries or works of the Lord. It is important each of us are obedient, and promptly so, to what the Lord is telling us to do. We remember ourselves a time when we procrastinated over a gift the Lord had told us to give a dear missionary friend. Now out in the mission field myself, I can imagine more vividly what that delay might have meant for her: no meals that week? No toiletries? Perhaps she had no money to get the bus to her place of ministry...
So, here goes with our 'money' story. Unwillingly, we were back in the busy capital city, taking care of paper work. This is a very necessary aspect of a missionary's life - we need to be legal in the country we serve. However, it may seem to be a simple procedure: you gather the necessary documents, present them, and voilà! Or not...we are still needing to send papers out of the country to get them 'authenticated', and have a ways to go in the process. After this, Peter had wanted to take us all for some long-awaited fun family time to Encarnation in the south. This city is located on the edge of a river, and has some man made beaches - better than nothing in a land locked country. We would play on the beach, swim and relax for a day. We had also felt to visit some friends in the town nearby, and encourage and pray with them the following two days. Another long trip of several hours but with fun, and fellowship planned. Peter had found a little holiday house for rent for the weekend, which seemed perfect. We were so happy! Finally, and for the first time in a long while, Peter and I would have our own bedroom. I cannot tell you how important that was going to be for us - we will leave it at that...
We were packed up, for the 10th time in five months, and ready to go again. Just to give a little detail of that; we have three, large, main suitcases, two small, several back packs and kiddies bags, and then odds and ends... These main items get strapped onto the roof rack, covered by a nice discreet orange tarp, to keep dust and rain out. Inside the car we are snugg, with several items by our feet. Daniel sits as co-pilot, and I, in the middle row with Joseph. The girls take turns swapping out from back row to middle, middle being preferred as it is cooler, slightly. Our AC would work well in winter here, but it's not winter... We open windows, and get nice hair-do's. So, we now set out as early as we can for these long journeys to avoid the heat of the day. Everyone wakes up blurry eyed, despite our endeavors of an early night. Joy and Rebecca occasionally climb into the car with PJ's on, clothes in their bag, as they like to sleep on, snuggled together at the back. Too early for breakfast, we set out, tired but excited. The Lord always goes before us, and we look forward to what this next journey has in store for us. We thank God for His Holy Spirit that guides us, and each one of these trips has been God ordained, proven by the fruit and events that have followed. This one would be no different. We had prayed and sought the Lord.
The journey was going well. Paraguayan breakfast: 'chipa' - a donut shaped bread, made of starch from a root vegetable called mandioca, cheese, and pig fat, purchased en route, eaten carefully in the car. Amazingly, we all love it - tastes a little like a stale cheese scone. On our way, we had a planned stop at a village near our future language school, to meet a lady who had allowed a missionary couple to stay in her house, paying rent, while she and her family moved into their shed. We were told she may offer this arrangement again, or at least know of any places in her area that would be available. Another sweet lady, so willing to help us if she could. Beautiful place, animals all around, and over-friendly puppies. She would let us know if anything came up. Five hours more to go, and the sun is up and strong.
Finally we arrive at Encarnation. In my heart, I was excited, thinking we could settle into the place, have some lunch, and maybe get to the 'beach' for the rest of the afternoon. Or we could go to the pool at the rented place instead - either way, I was looking forward for some refreshing time with the children. Again they had done so well in the car on another long journey. We sat parked up in the shade of a tree, waiting for the owner to meet us. "Call him again, darling" I suggested, as half an hour of our precious fun time slipped away. To get some relief from the heat of the car, the girls and I waited on the dusty pavement, while Peter walked the streets trying to identify the house from the photo we had seen via the Internet. An hour passed by, then another and another. 'Luis' did not answer either of the numbers he had given Peter. Rebecca needed the restroom. All of us were hot, sticky, tired and hungry. A thought crossed my mind, as we lapped the block of the given address for the fourth time, perhaps 'Luis' and his house do not exist. Perhaps this has been a hoax. Dare I ask Peter the question? He too was wondering. Suddenly, the reality of it began to appear - if the house was a trick to get some quick cash, which Peter had paid as a deposit after being given equivalent of a passport/identification card number and name, we were suddenly homeless for real, with no plan B. I thought, "Lord, I cannot do this, I'm not strong enough - I haven't had a home for five months...I just wanted to relax for a night and a day, surely we deserve it?"
We decided to go to the 'beach' as the heat was slowing down, and perhaps 'Luis' is just unavailable, and all is well, just delayed. We really hoped. We prayed. Meanwhile, of course the children asked questions: "What are we going to do?" "Where are we going to stay?" "Daddy, why is the man not coming to take us to our house?" As parents, there is a duty to stay calm, and be strong and brave. We must for their sakes. But inside of me I am truly crying, with an ache and a feeling of betrayal. Daniel found the situation rather amusing, and said "It's okay - we have been here before, in Israel. The Lord always comes through, so we can laugh and not worry." He proceeded to do so, taking gorgeous pictures of the sun set masterpiece. The 'beach' was dusty, dirty sand, so despite the girls pleas, I could not let them swim, as I had no idea how I was going to wash them from the murky water. They played in a park, while Peter and I tried to figure out what to do, not having heard from 'Luis'. Oh, Lord, help!! We decided to go to a bank where the money Peter had transferred was drawn out, to see if they could verify it. On the way, we stopped to check if there were any other houses we could rent for a few nights. Too expensive. Peter had found a really good deal with this one, if it was real. A hotel as our last option? Crazy money, because this is a "tourist resort". At the bank, it was confirmed that our suspicions were correct - the money had been drawn out minutes after Peter transferred it, in Asuncion, not Encarnation. My heart began to beat a little faster now, and almost a panic set in. But as flesh seems to crumble, the Spirit of God in us is stronger. Instead of being angry at Peter, and blaming him for not checking into this more carefully, I had love and compassion. "Don't be upset with yourself, Peter, it's going to be okay!" I told him, as I saw a huge weight of accusation try to hit him. Really, this is my role as bride, to HELP, not to point a finger. (I am finally getting it, Lord). Everyone was super hungry by now, having missed lunch. If we had been settled, we would have gone to a store, bought some things and made a meal. Now we needed to find somewhere to eat. I had seen a nice looking place on one of our laps. It was indeed delicious but expensive. I didn't really think of that at the time, the money part. I was greatful for the good food, clean toilets equipped with toilet paper AND soap. Next thing to tackle, a place to stay... Bellies full, we all were sleepy after a long days journey. Peter headed out to try to find somewhere reasonable, while we sat and digested.
At this point, I was very unaware of the extra pressure Peter was under - money. After 5 months traveling in Paraguay, we were running out. By this point it was late evening. The children suggested we sleep in the car. Daniel remembered our tent purchase on our homeless night in Israel...but the stores were closed now, and we did not know of a safe place to pitch a tent. Also, we needed a secure place to park our car - remember all our current belongings under the not so discreet tarp? It felt like we were cornered. Satan had us good. Not only had our vacation slipped through our fingers, but we were having to think logistics when we were tired and sad. Peter returned and was taking us to a hotel he had found. Here, you have to choose carefully, as some are simply brothels. "It's kind of fancy inside one part, but then dirty in the other...", he told me. "What do you mean?" I asked. I tried not to imagine.
I hope this isn't boring you - it's kind of therapeutic for me, writing about it. And looking back, I see the Lord teaching me, training us through it all. I didn't like the place at all; it was strange and felt wrong, not to mention the dirt. I like clean, a lot. Peter and I had our own room, but it was smelly. I felt uncomfortable, exhausted, and sad for the children. I wanted to cry myself to sleep but thought what good would it do. I then shake myself and say, "Thank you Lord we are safe, and have beds to rest in. We are not starving, and You are here with us. Help me to be grateful. I trust You."
Morning came, and along with it, the bombshell. Peter was sat up in the bed, needing to talk I could tell, by the slightly nervous look on his face. "Darling, we have ran out of money. We are down to our last $20." (about 13 pounds) Peter continued... "That isn't just our Paraguay account, other than our dusty old vehicle, that is the sum total of our 'global assets'!" Breathe, Evi, breathe, I told myself. "Do you think we should we tell the children?" Peter asked. I thought they have been through so much, and are dealing with all kinds of new situations and places, I didn't want them to know. I felt embarrassed. Mummy and Daddy can't take care of you. "No, I don't think we should." And then I felt the Comforter whisper to me again: "Tell them, and encourage them to trust Me, so they can see My faithfulness." I realised, if we don't tell them, they will not see the miracle of provision when the Lord digs us out of this mess.
Bible time is always a good time to share. Peter began, "Well darlings, Mummy and Daddy have ran out of money. We only have 12 dollars left." (An international bank fee had just cleared for $8). Well, reactions were mixed; Daniel nervously laughing, "You are kidding right? How did that happen?" Emily, quite seriously asked, "Really?" And Rebecca, with her confident "It's okay", was unphased. "Here Daddy!" said Joy, as she handed us her 100 mil note, equivalent of $20, which was her only Christmas gift from us. It is very humbling to receive from your own children. We have tried over the years on low incomes, to build up savings for them. They have often bought their own clothes and shoes, as we have served the Lord together. And here we were as parents, seeing our children who had already given so much, give again, this time of their small savings. I cried, as controlled as I could, and not wanting the huge, damned up flood waters to pour forth. It didn't feel right that they should even be in this situation to have to help us. We had been excited with them about swimming in the pool, relaxing, eventually having some family time, and here we were in a strange hotel room, telling them we were broke. Time to read God's Word and encourage ourselves. We prayed and worshipped, and entered into the presence of our King.
Encouraged and strengthened, we made a plan to pack up in such a way as to not need to access the roof bags. This would mean we would not have to unload, and load that every time for the next few nights - wherever they may be! Quickly, as I am quick at this now, I gathered what I thought we would need for the next three, four days and stuffed it into one large backpack - six peoples clothes - quite impressive I thought. All the glory goes to the Lord, as He is constantly gracing me and guiding me through all this, like a running commentary. If not for His help, several of us would go without clean undies, trousers etc. Thank God, Joseph is not a dribbly baby, and I rarely have to change his clothes in a day despite the heat, so I could put all his things into his changing bag, including a blanket and sheet. We were set. We ate breakfast in cups, Peter having bought cereal supplies and water the night before. We heated up last night left overs and had a kind of 'brunch'. Finally, car packed up again, quite an undertaking in sweltering heat, we were ready to leave. Unfortunately, we managed to break a lamp in the process of leaving the hotel room. That would normally be a shame, nothing major. But the lamp cost $20 to replace. Monies paid, we were off. But where to?
This day was our planned family Saturday. We drove out of the hotel parking lot, down the road a block, found shade and parked. Lord, show us what to do, we prayed. Peter and I felt first we ought to report the internet scam of 'Luis' to the police, even though we knew it would not benefit us, but might hinder more internet robbery. We forgave and prayed for 'Luis'. Peter sent him a text message blessing him. That done, we sat, prayed, and listened again. Heat still rising outside. We had planned to visit our friends later that afternoon, Eber and Mirta, precious believers we had met on our original trip back in August. But first, we needed to find a place to stay. Being English, we find it very challenging asking for help, and inviting oneself is just not done. Peter delegated, so I had to make the phone call to our other believer friends in that area, Miguel and Jenny, at Parque de las Nationes, asking if we could come one night before the planned day for our visit. We were truly grateful and relieved that they said we were welcome to come and stay. We did not realize at the time of us asking, they already had a garden/yard full of about 50 scouts, camping on their facilities for the weekend. It was the Lord that they would then agree to have us to stay also. We left our parked shaded spot and drove to Eber and Mirta's home for the afternoon. We could not arrive with hungry children to a family that have so little themselves, so we decided to at least buy some bread to take to share with them. It's so hard not to think of "And what next? What about supper? What about tomorrow, and what about money for gas, and this and that?"
Our time with Eber and Mirta was once again so precious. We knew we had to come visit as it had been a while, and encourage and pray for them. But really, what happened this time was they encouraged us. Mirta shared with me her need for a water source other than the well they were using. She had prayed and believed God for a while. And now she was so happy to show me that she has an outdoor tap in her garden. And then the empty room that David, Rhonda, Peter and I had all squeezed in on our first trip was now filled with a guest bed, which she invited us to use any time we needed. We sat drinking terere, and listened to how their ministry to the indigenous was going, and they shared their hearts and vision of how they want to do so much more. As I sat there hearing about their lives, getting the full picture, being bolder with my questions to find out how they practically survive day to day on so little, I realise I too am able to empathize, as I fully rely on the Lord. My next meal will be because the Lord provided, not because we had money in a bank account. Mirta was joyful, and unphased by the day to day complete reliance on the Lord for their daily bread. They have hearts full of vision and compassion ready to do all that the Lord asks of them. They are willing labourers, just needing resources to 'go' and do.
My eyes were opened. The Lord was showing me something as we sat with our friends. Here we are ready to serve the Lord in Paraguay, but we have no more resources to "go". We don't have a house we can retreat to and wait out the dry season, eating all the out of date food stuffs and scrape the bottom of the freezer. We were truly stuck. And here we were with our dear brother and sister in Christ, who scrape out toothpaste from the already finished tube, because they don't have enough to buy a new one, but are still thinking of making food for the indigenous community to show the love of Jesus. We sat and ate bread and jam, and had 'cosído' with them, a tea made of herbs and sugar burnt together. Mirta had prepared some 'acerollas' for us, a delicious crab-apple like fruit, which the children love, and in my mind I am thinking praise you Lord, for vitamin C.
Dear reader, who ever the Lord has told you to support, please do so generously and faithfully. Missionaries around the world are struggling to make ends meet, sacrificing so much and giving all that they have, when much of the body of Christ is buying the next best flat screen TV, or the latest iphone. There is an unbalance here. I began to think about where and how I would feed my growing children their next meal. And then I looked at Mirta, with her little one. I thought of Miguel and Jenny with theirs and countless others in Paraguay, in the nations, who have forsaken the world, and reach out with all they have to do the will of God. They are not bitter. What they can do, they do joyfully. They trust in their faithful Father, who has never let them down before. But how I want to be part of the equation of balancing things out a bit. Can we be a funnel of blessing for them? Could we bring them simple things like toiletries that are so expensive here, and basic food supplies, and be a part of supporting their vision to reach indigenous souls? Could we join arms with them, and enable them financially to harvest those the Lord has put within their reach? Oh, my heart longs to be an answer to prayer, does yours?
We left our dear friends, hugging their little baby boy goodbye, after a precious time of prayer. Our children were happy and bubbly. We got in the car for a short journey to our next friends' home, where we would stay. Peter was invited to go to their youth service, and share for a few minutes. Was it God that the first night we had no money, he was ministering in a church service for the first time since we arrived?
Dear Jenny and Miguel allowed us to squeeze in their three bedroomed home, girls with their girls, our boys with us. We were tired and looked forward to the morning with them. In my heart, I was so concerned we would be a burden to them. They might not have enough food for themselves, never mind us as well, and we have no money this time to offer them anything. As we arrived, they were coming back having gone to the store to get supplies in for us, their last minute guests. Scouts were running all over the place. I had asked if we could stay one night, but awkwardly had to ask the following day if we could spend a second night with them, after Peter was tentatively asked to minister a second night at their local church service. Graciously, Jenny said we could, and made delicious lunch and supper for us that Sunday. She even taught me how to make 'chipa', which tastes much better home-baked and fresh from the oven. Jenny and I had very special fellowship time together, where we shared our hearts, and encouraged one another. Her love and generosity to me, and us as a family, was soothing the stress away of my last 24 hours. Our children played happily with theirs, and even found a stream where they made rafts, and tried to fish with big brother's 'survival techniques'! They came back thrilled, but wet... Our children were also being refreshed. Traveling around with wet, dirty laundry isn't an option. So, Peter and I squatted down by an outdoor tap, rubbed some soap on them and scrubbed. A couple of hours later all was dry, swinging in the Paraguayan sun - not necessarily clean, but not covered in dirt either.
A few days before all this the Lord had given Peter a scripture one night in prayer:
"Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance." (Luke 8:1-3 NKJV)
This last part, that these new believers took care of Jesus and His disciples from their substance is what has helped us these last few days: our friends had given us a place to stay, and fed us meals, sharing what they had with us. Lord, bless them mightily for this! The Lord had prepared our hearts, although it was something to walk through. We trust that the Lord is taking care of them as they had taken care of us.
The message Peter gave at the church on the believer's authority was powerful, and with an excellent young translator. We thought the young lady had done this many times before, but she told us it was her first time. The precious people received it with joy, and many came forward for prayer. One gentleman renewed his commitment to the Lord, with deep repenting sobs. Peter laid hands on a lady who had a terrible skin condition, and on another who had cancer. We pray and believe the Lord touched them that night, and that they are experiencing relief and healing. Peter has been invited to help teach at their next leader's training meetings. We hope he will be able to go.
Time to leave, but how? We needed gas for our next long journey ahead. Normally, you fill up your gas tank before a journey like this. We couldn't. We had just an eighth of a tank. After traveling as far as we could, with great reluctance, we borrowed some money from our son, Daniel, which he had saved after the sale of his horse in Oklahoma. We filled up on gas, and stuck to our next plan of going back to La Belleza - remember where Joseph was born? We left our friends before the sun was up, quietly assembling ourselves so as not to wake them. We had had another very special time with them, which concluded in heart-felt prayer for us.
Even though I knew that the Lord was doing something through this journey and I knew we were walking in His will, going shopping spending my son's money was so hard for me. We were heading into the country, where there are no big stores. We needed to get a good week's worth of groceries for the casita, the little cottage we stay in at La Belleza. We pulled up at the supermarket. First, a much needed trip to the toilet/restroom. As every Mil seemed now so vital to us, I begrudgingly paid 5Mil ($1) to use the supermarket facilities for the girls and I. Shopping began. We needed toiletries and nappies/diapers. Expensive items. My heart felt like it was pounding heavily under the pressure, sweat forming even in AC. Daniel kept reassuring me, "Mama, it's okay. Don't feel bad. I am happy to help!" We loaded everything in the car and set off. Well, the ordeal was finally over, and our car journey of 12 hours that day came to an end, five of those on dirt roads. We took a few wrong turns. Sign posts don't really exist here, and 'una cuadra', one block, is measured differently in the country it seems. Perhaps like the 'country mile' in the USA...
We were warmly welcomed by our Mennonite friends at La Belleza. We arrived just in time to say good-bye to one of the dear midwives here, and a family who were re-locating. We felt this was the Lord's timing. After settling in, we rested. "Welcome home, Joseph!" He seemed so content here, as if he recognized where we were.
And then the provision started flowing again: we were given fruit, bread, eggs, corn, 'chipa wasu' (a type of quiche made of corn), a watermelon a dear family had saved for us from their harvest, and avocados! My favorite, thank you Lord! Also, the girls and I were invited to make donuts with Miss Becca. After not being any where near a Krispy Creams, we felt the Lord had heard our cry! They were delicious, and now we know how to make them! We have also been hosted several times by Kevin and Becca, and these fellowship meals have been as before so precious to us. I learn so much just watching the grace that seems to flow through them as they serve.
So, we didn't starve. We didn't have to sleep on the streets, and all in all, this experience was not disastrous. It has not been easy, but what made it difficult? I think for me, it was the fear of the unknown. So, I simply need to trust more. Our faithful Heavenly Father has never let us down, and He changes not!!
Thank you for taking the time to share this story with me! I feel stronger now! Please continue to pray for our dear friends and families, Eber and Mirta, Miguel and Jenny, and the Mennonite community, that they may be able to continue in fulfilling their callings. And pray for us, that we may go from strength to strength, as we walk faithfully before our God! With love and gratitude, to you our friends and family,
Evi and co!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe