My dearest family and friends,
God bless you all in the Mighty Name of our Lord Jesus Christ: may your 2017 be full of His goodness towards you! We hope you have had precious family time and enjoyed refreshing breaks, ready for the next season! It's amazing that we are fast approaching 2020, which used to seem forever away!
We hope you enjoyed the video blog (#24), even if it was just the pictures. We struggled to keep it short, and yet full of information, and were aware of its shortcomings. We wanted to have the children share also, but were not able to pull it together.
Our precious daughter, Naomi Sarah Rose, was born 16th December, the day after Joseph's second birthday just as I prayed. Our Heavenly Father is truly good! We had a very special home birth; the presence of the Lord was so strong, I almost forgot I was having a baby! We were blessed to have Mary from La Belleza help us as midwife. Thank you dear Mary!
For the last 4 months or so, I have been meditating on these scriptures as I am in the book of Corinthians, and they have been so strong in my heart that I would like to share them with you:
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 16:58
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you,
that you, always having all sufficiency in all things,
may have an abundance for every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8
The NIV version says at the last bit of this "...that... you will abound in every good work."
These scriptures, written by Paul, talk of us being about the Lord's business and about having the resources needed to do so. I felt that my Lord was speaking to me, as I spent time with Him telling me "Don't get tired Evi, of serving me, in whatever way you do." "Oh but Lord, there is so much to do and I feel so much pressure!" "Don't get tired Evi!" I again heard Him say, and I keep hearing Him say it..."don't get tired." And then I think of the beginning part of the second scripture: "...and God is able to make all grace ABOUND..." And I turn my heart and eyes to heaven, and receive like rain drops His strength and all that I need to go do!
As I update you on what we are doing out here, I really hope and pray this blog in particular will encourage and strengthen anyone who chooses to take time to read this in the area of serving our Lord. I pray that my personal journey may be used to help all who feel like I do; overwhelmed, perhaps even very inadequate for the work of the Lord. So open up your hearts and hear Him say to you: "Don't get tired my dearest beloved; my grace is more than enough for you! "
So, where do I start to share this journey, when all my life I have felt very inadequate, a category 'mediocre' student in school and ballet, or anything I did. And yet the Lord has chosen to use me to do His will wherever I have been. Here on the mission field I find myself completely out of my depth, almost 100% of the time. And I'm sure this is no news to you, but you also have been chosen by your Heavenly Father, to do His will, where ever you are. You may not be in a foreign nation, but your harvest field may be your neighbours, your colleagues or your family. Part of being a Christian is that we do 'good works', not just when it conveniently fits into our schedule, but as the needs arise and the Holy Spirit guides.
From my own family to our little neighborhood, and about everywhere we go, there are needs. It will be the same for you, you just may not have had it highlighted so much. Let me describe a custom here, that I may have mentioned in other blogs. Houses don't have doorbells or knockers here, so if you arrive at someone's home, you stand at a respectable distance and clap (5-7 times), then wait till someone appears to welcome you and invite you to come and sit in their shade. I might be in the middle of feeding the children, doing laundry, in the bathroom, but when I hear that clap, my unknown guest is a priority. There is no such thing as "it's not convenient right now, or come back later." I can't hide in my house and pretend I'm not in; too many gaps in windows and doors and we will have been spotted before we heard the clapping. I have thought about it on many occasions and tried it on a few! So I go outside and greet politely, and guide my guest to the shade. Depending on the time of day, I will offer the traditional refreshing drink of 'terere'. At some point between hearing the clap, and greeting my guest I have whispered to the Lord, "Grace me Jesus...help me to abound in this good work." Some guests are delights to sit with and minister too, others are more challenging. All, unless it has been prearranged, seem to come when it's least convenient.
Our house sits at the foot of a small hill, so anyone that comes has walked up our long drive way; no small feat when the heat index is over 40 C, (over 100F). They have had to decide for sure they needed to visit. One thing about life that's common around the world is that it's not easy. God has called us here, and even though I may not have the answers for everything at all, I know someone who does. Jesus is the key to every thing! I happen to know Him, and be sent here to these dear people. Jesus lives powerfully in you too, and so you carry the answer for every situation, where you are. With this in my heart, I listen to my guest, as small talk is over.
I will start updating you with some stories of our neighbours that you may remember from past updates: One neighbour who gave her life to Jesus about a year and a half ago, but has not been able to come to my bible studies (more on this later), because her husband has forbidden her. So, my opportunities to teach her more about her Saviour and her life in Him, have been few but precious. A few months ago, after clapping, I received a very distressed neighbour. Sadness was all over her young face. People here don't easily share their lives with you. Everything from greetings to attitude is 'all is good', a bit like in the UK, 'have a cup of tea and carry on, what, what!' So I could tell this was very hard for her to tell me, eyes down, fingers fiddling with the wire fence. She couldn't bring herself to sit down, and was fearful. "My husband is drinking heavily, every afternoon till night, and I'm having to do my work and his... (she milks 3 cows three times a day, has hundreds of chickens, hand collects eggs, cleans out 4 huge animal pens, weed eats equivalent of 2 acres, cleans and prepares for 2 sets of guests every weekend, etc!!!) I told her that if she prays in faith in Jesus' name, God, her Heavenly Father will hear her, and intervene on her behalf. I told her to pray every morning and night, and that soon she will see her husband stop drinking. A glimmer of hope came into her eyes. She asked if I could write a prayer out for her, which I did, and she happily took it away. Hope and faith had been stirred in her heart. I visited her a few days later, and sure enough there were beer cans everywhere and the atmosphere at her place was so sad. Her husband completely avoided me. Two weeks later, I see my neighbour coming to see me, with a cheeky grin from ear to ear, like a child caught with the hand in the cookie jar, but already they have eaten all the cookies! We sat down. I have to practice so much patience...don't talk Evi, just let her talk...silence continued. Then suddenly she blurted it out: "I didn't pray the prayer once. I hid it in the draw. But he has stopped drinking!! It's amazing! I am so ashamed as I didn't even pray it once!" Then she began to laugh and cry at the same time. Our God is 'merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy!' Psalm 103:8. I cried and laughed with her, thanking our God for His faithfulness, despite our failings! Now, we see our neighbours; happy, peace restored, even though they still are working very hard. No more beer cans all over, and Peter and I have both had some very precious conversations with them about our Lord. I know her husband is close to accepting salvation!
One Monday afternoon, another lady who gave her life to the Lord about a year and a half ago (her husband had been in an almost fatal accident but the Lord healed him supernaturally), came to my bible study. She had't been able to come for a while. There was an awful rumor around the village that she had gone off and abandoned her family. I went to visit them. She had not abandoned them, but made a hard decision to go work all week in the huge inner-city market, cooking all day for the vendors, then sleeping on a mattress somewhere. Paraguayans are so 'guapa' as they say here, meaning brave/hard-working. So, as this strong lady sat with me, I asked her how she was doing. She missed her children, (she has 5, one a little 3 year old boy), and it was very hot to work inside the busy market every day. But she said God was helping her, and protecting her. This particular bible study was very busy, with lots of distractions. In my heart I was crying out to the Lord, please Lord, help them receive something from your Word! Let this not be a waste of time. Time for prayer. Her daughter who came along, had non stop headaches since she was very young, even to the point where she couldn't read or study. Still, with relative chaos going on around, I knelt down beside her, laid hands on her head and rebuked the devil. I declared healing, by the power of the name of Jesus! I had asked her if she believed Jesus could heal her. She wasn't sure. He did it anyway!! Since I last checked she hasn't had a headache since, glory to God!
The bible study has been suspended for the summer, and while our new born baby Naomi gets a little bigger. It has been a real privilege and blessing to teach the Lord's powerful word, pray with those that come and fellowship. I look forward to continuing this soon. I have had to learn more about being very patient, adaptable, tolerant and determined: sometimes one lady might come, another time we had up to 6 of us gathered, a few times no one showed because it was too cold or too hot, children run around and want food, water, more toys, different ones, or the one the other kid has etc. Mums get up and down, bugs take advantage of our sitting, side conversations carry on. One day, it was so cold and damp and I was for sure no one would come. I began gardening, something I love to do, especially in cooler weather. Perhaps I should be on my knees praying for someone to show up, I thought. An hour past the time, Isidria arrived. I welcomed her, and we walked to the prepared table and chairs. We have prayed for her and husband; they have been alcoholics for many years. I could still smell she had been drinking. She told me she prays for us and reads the bible every day. I thanked her (not sure how true it was, but the sentiment was very sweet). From my heart I told her the only way I can help you is with the Word of God - I shared the story of the woman caught in adultery, John 8. I thought, Lord this is a strong story, but I felt to continue, so I read it in guarani to her. So much shame surrounded this lady who was thrown at Jesus feet, I told Isidria. The people who had caught her out in her sinful life seemed to know all about her, like your neighbours, Isidria, I said. Then I shared with her about Jesus, how He didn't join in the rush to condemn. In fact, He began to write in the dust. And then He gives that incredible instruction: "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone at her." Jesus doesn't condemn you, Isidria, just like He didn't condemn this lady here. He wants you free from the addiction, and says to you right now, "neither do I condemn you: go and sin no more." I felt Jesus love for her so strong, I was sure she was going to be delivered right there and then from her addiction. I had tried every way I knew how to show her the amazing forgiveness and mercy and love of our Lord Jesus. She sat there, seemingly unmoved. There was silence. Time for me to finish up, and get back to my patient children. "When you are hungry to be free from this, really, I believe you will come running up my drive and cry out for freedom. Then you will see the power of my loving God." I am patiently waiting for that moment. Please pray for her, as she still drinking.
Peter and I receive quite a few calls/messages asking for help for differing situations. Just recently for example, one neighbour friend asked if we could go pray for her 9 month old nephew, who's family was visiting. Our baby Naomi was just a few days old still, but nursing lots so I didn't want to leave her at home, not knowing how long we would be. So I hoped on the 'moto' (motorbike) behind Peter. Naomi's first moto ride. We had actually been involved in this need before: the mama had almost died at birth, and her baby was actually stillborn. After 10 mins without oxygen, he was resuscitated. Not being able to get to the hospital in Asuncion ourselves, we laid hands on a cloth (like Acts 19:12) declaring healing and recovery, rebuking death, and sent it with the Abuelita/grandma who was going to visit the next day. So now, 9 months later, the little boy who thank God is alive, needs a miracle in his brain, and muscles. We laid hands on him, after Peter spent a while teaching from the Word of God building up the faith of the mother and gathered family. They were mostly believers. We saw no change right then, but we continue to pray for the little boy.
Another lady called me almost at midnight asking for prayer for her daughter who was in labour, and had been so for 4 days with her first baby. She was in so much pain, and the doctors were concerned. There was nothing they could do till tomorrow. The panicked grandma called me. We prayed on the phone together, and agreed for the power of our God to touch her daughter and bring forth the baby and mama healthy and whole. I heard recently that all is well with both, Praise God!
We had met this family through one of our trips up to the area 'Zona Alta' (High Place), behind us in the hills. The youngest daughter had suffered from demon-possession, along with 6 other 14 year old girls in her class. This apparently had happened for a number of years in a row at the same school, and the local concerned families suspected the teacher. On hearing about this, Peter went to a local Pastor to ask if he would go with him to see if these families wanted help from the only One who could truly deliver. The girls had been taken in ambulance to Asuncion frequently for sedation; they were suffering from insomnia, and their families were unable to restrain them physically when they would succumb to terrible bouts of violence. Our hearts went out to them, knowing that we had the answer for true and lasting freedom! Well, to Peter's surprise, the Pastor (being somewhat afraid) gave an excuse that the families needed to ask for his help. We felt differently. If the World knew what ailed it, it would seek the cure. They had tried chemical and natural medicine. For some of the girls, the fits stopped, but the trauma, shame, nightmares and fears went on. Peter went up the dirt hill by himself, after being pointed in the general direction. Thank God for the Holy Spirit. Just as Peter was unsure which road to take, he saw a lady on a moto coming along. It was the very teacher of these suffering girls. "I'm not a Witch", she told Peter, after explaining from her side what happened. All was well now, she told Peter, because the church (Catholic) had done an exorcism. Peter headed on to find the families anyway. Again lost, he stopped and called over a wire fence to a couple of ladies working in their field. They happened to be relatives of one of the girls. He had arrived. They kindly invited Peter to sit down, and began to serve him terere. They explained to him what had happened to their niece, and we're grateful he had come to help. After this visit which opened the door for us, Peter and I have been up as a family and prayed with several of the affected families. Some have received Christ, including two of the 7 girls. Sharing Jesus, the Son of the living God, His sacrifice for them, and His desire to dwell with them is such a priviledge, but it is hard. There is suspicion, fear and tension as we first begin explaining the Gospel to generally Catholics. It is usually hot and humid these days, and bugs and sweat challenge our flesh. The older children watch the younger, who usually have found little friends to play with in the dirt. Dogs and chickens roam around. It is rare for guys to sit and listen, and with this situation of an area being tormented by demons for only God knows how many years, the only ones interested in freedom have been ladies. Even the very young girls themselves have remained mostly hidden. After praying about this, suspicious of the demonic manifestation being in young teenage girls, Peter and I suspect it is linked to an unclean spirit, haunting the region through men, usually an uncle or father figures who have abused them. In one particular case, we have been a little more involved and the young girl more open to us, after we helped her in the middle of the night get urgent medical attention she needed for an infected surgery scar. In fact, Emily has befriended her, and that night at the clinic was able to help the girl stay calm, telling her to trust in God. Along with a young local pastor, we now go on a regular basis to this 'Zona Alta', and hold a 'church meeting' for these new believers. We worship in Guarani and Spanish, sometimes Peter on the guitar, we share with them a foundation of our faith, and we pray for any needs or situations. The Lord is truly doing an amazing thing with these families. We believe that the Lord has placed us in a position here to partly encourage and support the local body to reach out to these areas that have no light yet, and to example evangelism and praying for sick, but also to shine the light of Christ as a family to these people who have been under demonic oppression. Abounding in good works.
Peter has just recently come back from another amazing trip into the deep countryside of Paraguay. Naomi still being young, he has done a few trips alone, leaving us at home, stocked up with supplies for while he has been gone. Neighbours and my family have asked me if I am ever afraid. The simple answer is naturally yes. There is always that niggling thought of 'What if...?' But I know Peter is to make these important trips. Today is the day of salvation! Tomorrow is too late and anyway it may never come for some. So if he is meant to go, then the Lord will protect me and the children as we abound in good works. We have mentioned Pastor Cipriano in other blogs, but just for those that may not know, we met this Indigenous Pastor the very first trip we made to Paraguay, August 2014. We were immediately impressed by him; such a humble and yet very wise Christian general in the land. We sensed we would somehow work with him. Well, after making several trips as a family to visit him, we knew God had connected us for something very special. On one of our visits, after his dear wife Carmen fed us a very delicious meal, Pastor Cipriano wept as he shared with Peter how grateful he was that we ate with him, and asked him of his plans for his people. He told Peter how for 20 years he has prayed for help to reach his people, the Indigenous. He and his wife have cried out for help these last 5 years in reaching specific communities that are actually asking for them to come and tell them about Jesus! He even has a group of 12 believers ready to go, do follow up and train the new believers in these areas to raise up their own leaders! He has a full plan ready to go. He just needed the means. Meanwhile they have been doing what they can; going on moto, traveling huge distances, dust bathed and balancing needed supplies. I would like Peter to write his own account sharing how we have been to work together and these recent trips, so I will just say that joining with Pastor Cipriano is another part of us abounding, and needing grace, the means to do so. The Indigenous are the most precious people here, and yet the hardest to minister too, not because of them as people, but because of how far we must travel to get to them, on dirt tracks, and the conditions when we get there. Remove all comforts of life, even running clean water, add heat and sweat, bugs in abundance and filth, and that's the cost to our flesh to reach them. But every soul is worth it, and every miracle leaves us in awe of our great and loving Father.
I know there may be some out there saying 'slow down, you don't have to go so much. Don't feel all this pressure etc.' For Peter and I, our hearts burn to reach all the souls that are out there, desparately seeking, hopelessly waiting. By His grace, we will continue to abound. However, you are right, we need our time as a family, and we must more importantly take time to soak in His presence, and just be. The other night as Peter shared with me all that the Lord had done on one of these trips of just three days, I lay in my bed in awe, tears streaming down my cheeks, and played a very beautiful song: "Just a little longer", by Bethel. One of the lines I love and imagine Jesus saying to me, is "you don't have to do anything, just stay here with me, these things can wait another minute, this moment is too sweet..." There are times to just 'be', and there are times to go! Talking of being, Peter and I are planning a family holiday/vacation - soon - the first since arriving in Paraguay!! The children need undivided papa and mama attention, and we all need refreshing and time to just be. That is hard to near impossible here at home.
So to finish this letter to you all, I hope and pray you have been encouraged to abound in His grace also. There is no manual that fits your perfect scenario, detailing how you should abound in good works, and the steps you need to take. But we have been given greater and better: His Holy Word and the person of the Holy Spirit to guide us. Reach out to that neighbour you have so far only waved to or smiled at, as you have rushed in and out. Tell your hairdresser how much Jesus loves them and wants to be their Lord and Saviour. You may have a friend you have dreaded telling the Gospel: go for it! Let's all abound, and in Heaven we will rejoice together over the multitudes that join us as a result!
God bless each and all of you who have taken time to read this, and pray for us and support us in any way you can. Together in Christ,
Evi and family
P.S. We don't have many photos of personal ministry, as we try to be sensitive, and we also may avoid giving names of people. To see their beautiful faces, you have to come and visit:))
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe