I would like to share with you the miracle of our Paraguayan home, after 7 months without one!
As we have mentioned in a previous update, we had planned to find a house at least within the first few weeks of our arrival. You perhaps thought "Why don't they just find a house? Surely there are houses in Paraguay!" There are, and we saw about 33 of them in all. We could have gone for the third or fourth one. I remember it was a beautiful home, with four levels, a kitchen beyond my dreams, and it was cheap! But Peter and I have learned something over the years: we must obey the still, small voice that whispers in our hearts, usually exactly the same thing to the both of us, "This isn't what I have planned for you." Naturally, you just want to settle again, and being seven months pregnant all I wanted to do was 'nest'! But every house we stepped into, some I just knew as we pulled up, we would hear that "No, it's not this one." "Oh Lord, please? Can't you understand, this is so hard for us? I can't do this wandering anymore! And if I have to pack another suitcase, I will cry!" And I did!
"What are you doing Lord in us through this season?" I would wonder. We simply decided that it was better to allow the Lord to have His complete and full way in us, no compromise, than for us to give up and ignore the voice of the Lord. Peter believed that God was directing us to tour the land, just as Abram did, to the North, South, East and West, and He gave Peter this verse:
"Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” Genesis 13:17
So, we did. Altogether we have stayed in 14 different places, travelled approximately 6000 bumpy miles, from jungle to desert, and cities to villages. We have made some dear friends, and been united with brothers and sisters in Christ that we stand alongside in our desire to serve The Lord in this nation.
Despite all the various trials of endless packing, traveling logistics of a family with a newborn, and always the many unknowns, I am so glad we received the Lord's instructions and obeyed! The experiences we have had as a family on the mission field like this have been invaluable. We now have a feel for the land, including areas that are dangerous, unattractive or inhospitable. We took delight in driving through them, pronouncing that the Kingdom of God has come to them. We are not afraid to go, as the Lord promises to be with us.
Once we had been to the mysterious Chaco, the dusty desert of Paraguay, we had been on every major highway. Just because that day felt truly adventurous, I will share one of our longest days on the road with you. We had been to Porta Pora, Brazil to renew our visas, and were heading back through into the east of Paraguay. We woke up early, all excited that we would be in the Chaco by late afternoon. It was going to be a long day in the car, about ten hours. (For our dear family in the USA, that isn't such a big deal. But we are still Peter and Evi from the small British Isles, which could be almost completely traversed in the same amount of time; and these aren't exactly slick roads). The children were excited too, as they had heard us talk of the Chaco with other missionaries. Also, we had read together an amazing book about how this wild and inhospitable part of the country was tamed by Mennonites, after several other people groups had tried and failed. We wanted to see this for ourselves. Never missing an opportunity to share the love of Jesus, we had made friends with the lady taking care of the breakfast, young Giselle. We thought we could see Jesus shinning through her, so we wanted to ask if she was a believer, but couldn't speak Portuguese, being in Brasil. Using hand gestures and by the grace of God, we understood she was indeed a sister in Christ, and she was so overwhelmed to discover we were 'on fire' missionaries, she threw her hands up in the air and said a whole load of joyful words in Portuguese! We hugged tightly, prayed for her as the Holy Spirit led, sensing sweet Giselle so hungry for more of God, and communicated we would see her in Heaven. These moments are like treasures we would only find as we pursue the call God has for us, making it all worth while. We all loaded up in the car, so happy, waving at her beaming face.
So the epic drive began. We drove through a 'danger spot': a region that has suffered from drug lords and corrupt policing. At the same time, but unbeknown to the both of us at the time, as we were sat separately, Peter and I took authority over the devil, rebuking the destructive spirits. The devil spoke back promptly, again the same thing to the both of us, "You can't do that!". "I just did!" we had both replied.
On we drove, finally encroaching the edge of the Chaco. It truly was beautiful, in a different sort of way. I had expected dust, and boring terrain, but it was not boring. We had the windows down, not really by choice, but to avoid suffocation (remember our car's AC doesn't work well) so not much conversation can occur because of the noise created. We took it all in, Daniel trying to capture some with his camera. The air was hot, and humid. The smells were a mix of dust and herbs. We saw occasionall villages; small huts made of Palm tree trunks, or just wooden slats, with people sitting outside them, in the sparse shade of a Chaco tree. How do they get drinking water, or feed themselves here? I thought. Has anyone introduced them to their Creator and Heavenly Father? We passed marshes covered in stunning blue flowers, endless miles of low and sparse brush, and some huge areas of grass land with palm trees. We even saw a giant anteater, unfortunately freshly killed, probably by a large truck, moments before we passed. We had stopped only once on the journey so far, so we quickly hopped out to look at the poor beautiful creature.
On we drove, the afternoon now slipping away, but the heat still intense. The road was full of craters, which Peter had to navigate, sometimes driving completely off-road, following tracks. Large sections weren't finished (asphalted), so we would bump along. We were getting tired, and hoped to arrive soon. Evening was fast approaching. The children needed to get out the car and play, run around and do something. They had slept and played eye-spy games, but were now like us, wanting out! Baby Joseph seems to take these journeys in his stride, feeding and sleeping. Finally we had made it to our planned destination: Filadelfia, at 6pm. The sun was setting, and we wanted to quickly find somewhere to stay before dark. A young couple we asked suggested a couple of places, but the nice one of them was full. Such a shame, as it had a small pool and I thought that would be perfect to get the wriggles out before bed time! We actually had to leave this town and drive onto another, back in that car for another hour! I almost cried. Finally, after looking at two more options in another town, Neuland, El Chaco, we found somewhere. Supper and bed! We were hungry and tired! Tomorrow we would explore the town in the daylight. "Lord, show us why we are here", I prayed as we fell asleep. We did explore and enjoy our Chaco visit the next day, despite the heat. You really could sense so much of the pioneering and determination, despite the huge sacrifices, that the founders of those places had to have had in order to overcome obstacles such as where to find drinking water, how to grow food in sand, and the intense heat. I realized my own settling struggles were so very minor compared to these... If you enjoy history, I recommend "Up from the Rubble", by Peter Dyke, which explains how the Second World War surviving Mennonites came to live in the untamed Chaco of Paraguay. Today, the local Indians live along side the white European faces in apparent peace. We will visit again, I'm sure, and perhaps connect with pastors there as opportunities arise. Our tour of the land over, we returned to Asuncion to prepare for our first visitors from the USA.
Back to house hunting!
So, God did one of His powerful suddenlies! Pastors David and Rhonda had visited and we had joined them in a ministry tour, encouraging and bringing hope to several churches and hundreds of believers! It was an incredible time, but we were tired! Rebecca and Joseph had a nasty cough, and we weren't sleeping much at night. Needless to say, house-hunting wasn't my choice of relaxation methods. The area we were looking at was a two hour drive from Asuncion; Peter still drives like we live in Israel, middle eastern style, which is not relaxing, a mix of rally driving and dodgems! I didn't want to go, but Peter persuaded me. I was tired of looking at houses, only to come away without one again! Well, I got over myself and off we went. We were shown a rather large house, but it was still in construction, the garden was a work site and it might be months till it was livable. Then we followed Ishmael, and saw a two roomed 'house', no bathroom or kitchen; another cowshed. My heart was sinking again. We had one more to see, it was getting dark already and it was really time to start heading back to the city. We drove to meet our next appointment. It was a miracle we found our contact, Marcus; we had a number and a name, but he wasn't answering his phone. Finally we found him, just before he left town. He then took us to a house of his friends who were renting a place on their property. Marcus did quick introductions for us and told them to show us their country cottage too, at which the friends made some comment as if to say "that's too special, they would for sure want it!" By this time it was dark and I wanted to be on the road. The house on their property, was another one under construction with a few more weeks of work, and not the one for us. So, just as I was about to give up again, they decided to show us their country cottage.
After a short drive to another village, the lady taking us called Maria pointed to a country dirt road to our left, which was hard to see in the dark. Up we drove, all eyes trying to see if this was our place. We came to a gate. (I had had a dream a few months before that Pastors David and Rhonda were with us as we opened two gates on the way to our new home - here was the first!). We then drove up through what I could barely see was a meadow. Another gate. (Just like in my dream!). We parked and just like I have done so many times before, I told myself "stay calm, listen to The Lord." Maria toured us around. It was lovely, even in the dark. She showed us a wooden sign of the name of the place: 'Quinta Che Kera', meaning 'My Dream Cottage' in Guarani. We couldn't believe it! After all of the dreams that we had followed thus far! Was this a sign, Lord? The cottage was very small and cosy, but the garden was huge, so plenty of room for the children. We sat and chatted. Apparently, Maria and her husband would come every other weekend, as often as they can, and stay in a second cottage on the premises. Peter and I looked at eachother. Being British, privacy and personal space is still desired. After discussing the possibility of renting, and there being a few blocks to the idea, we decided it was definitely time to make our long journey back. Joseph had been coughing quite badly, scaring Maria who kept asking if we had taken him to the doctor. We could try to come back tomorrow, and see it in the light.
We had another restless and difficult night with Rebecca and Joseph having severe coughing fits. In the morning I was exhausted. I didn't want to go see the house again. "Please Peter, you just go, and sign a contract if we can work out the details with them." "Baby, I feel you need to come with me." So we trecked out again, this time a little earlier in the afternoon, so as to see it all in the light. It was even more beautiful. There are two cottages, one we would live in, the other we asked to use as guest accommodation. There is a 'parilla', a Paraguayan BBQ area, with picnic table, a stream which flows into a pool area, and fruit trees and flowers and all the nature we could desire! In due time, there is even a place for Daniel and the girls to have a horse again.
Perhaps because I could hardly believe it, perhaps I was over tired, whatever the reason, I had a hard time receiving God's gift of this place to us. Peter made the decision to rent it, after a good conversation and arrangement with our new landlords. They are a precious Christian couple, and Maria especially was overwhelmed how God connected us and felt it was truly from the Lord we showed up that day. She has fallen in love with the children, especially Joseph.
We packed up, myself trying to believe this would be the last time for a long time. The children were excited. We decided to gather all our belongings, which we had to split up in Asuncion, for space reasons. Our friends from General Aquino, Frank and Joanna Fleitas would kindly help bring some of our suitcases in their large vehicle.
Tuesday, 5th May we moved in. It was a step of faith in many ways again. Rebecca and Joseph were still fighting this terrible cough, and we would be away from a doctor. The local hospital had a bad reputation too. Someone told us "you better just die on the way, instead of going to that hospital!" (Need for prayer!) Peter still felt we should move in.
The sun was shining, and the little cottage looked like it was welcoming us! Even though we kind of 'moved in' in a backwards sort of way because of dealing with the little ones' health - piled everything in, crashed for a few days, then began to empty all our stuff to scrub and clean, I am so glad we did, and we finally settled! Rebecca and Joseph are almost fully recovered, and we are having more normal nights once more. We have bed times and family norms we have so missed. The children run and play with their long stored toys and teddies. Well Daniel doesn't - he has been adventuring, and taking great pictures of the wildlife here. Peter and I have our own room, almost - we share with Joseph. I have been making most of our meals on our outdoor Paraguayan stove. On a warm day, the children even ventured to swim in the stream!
And yet, all we have learned these past few months has been so precious to us, we are guarding it, and determined not to allow it all to slip away. Amongst the fun and business of homemaking, we lift up Paraguay because we know her and love her. We call our friends because they are on our heart. As a family, we flow together more intimately because of all we have journeyed through. Our ears are open and listening. Our faith has grown, our anchor is fixed. Yes, of course we still have days of challenge. Currently, hand washing for a family of 7 is one of them... but most of my Paraguayan sisters have perfected the art! I'm still in training. It's all about the soap suds, they tell me.
We are so greatful for all that the Lord has done for us! Our place is worth the wait! And so perfectly located for the Guarini school starting in October - we are about 20 minutes away. (And when we think of some of the places we were so close to just taking because we were desperate!) Only the Lord could have planned all the unique things about where we live. There is also history of the British having lived in this part of Paraguay, from the 1800's, having been invited to help build the locomotive system here. What really touched our hearts was to find out that it was one of those evangelical train workers who brought the gospel first to Paraguay. The Lord is always so exact in His planning, and by bringing us here, has made a full circle.
We believe we are part of a new day for this nation, and yet the Lord has taken us back to the historical roots. We have visited the factory where the trains were made, and it was strange to see some Britishness after all our immersion in South American culture!
Please pray for us, as we continue to get settled. Peter is building much needed furniture, with Daniel as his apprentice. We are believing God for someone to teach the children Spanish, so they can make friends in this neighborhood. We desire to be a light to our neighbors, and lead many to Christ. (The need to learn Guarani has been highlighted to us again, as one morning early Peter and Daniel needed help to get our car jump started. Not being able to communicate this clearly with our neighbors, one kind gentleman gave Peter 10mil($2), despite Peter's efforts to explain he wasn't begging!) We seek wisdom for when and who to go visit out of our Paraguayan family. We hope to start school back up soon, and get into a godly pattern/schedule, giving time to the Lord, as we seek Him with our whole hearts. We even have a hill we can climb up to pray! A big thank you and blessings to all of you who have supported us as we settle in our new home.
God bless you all, and we hope that some of you can visit us at our home! Enjoy the pictures!
Oh, and bless and thank you so much for all those who knew about the children being sick and prayed. Rebecca woke up the other morning, having mostly recovered but still suffering from extreme bouts of coughing fits which would finish in her vomiting, telling us "Mummy and Daddy, Jesus came to me in the night and touched my back. I am better now." Praise our God! Joseph too appears miraculously recovered, over night! Our God is an awesome God!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe