(Peter’s #2 Blog)
I want to write and share with you all, the truly amazing season we see ourselves stepping into.
During our first months here in Paraguay, we were told by most of the people we met, that the Paraguayan Indigenous are a hard people, very difficult to get close to, and almost impossible to successfully preach to. Some people we met would even still refer to the Indigenous as ‘Animals’, and many look upon them as inferior, poorly educated, and of little worth.
But there was one man who we spoke with about the Indigenous, who told us about a people hurting desperately, outcast by society, forgotten by most, oppressed by evil spirits and entirely hungry for the truth of the Gospel; Pastor Cipriano Ayala, himself of the Ava Guarani tribe. He has an amazing testimony of how the Lord reached him with the Good News in the forest near the Brazil/Paraguay border.
He told a different story and was convinced that the Indigenous peoples just needed an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus and they would gladly receive.
In November of 2016, after several cancelations due to weather, I was again invited to do a joint outreach with Pastor Cipriano in Canindeju where he lives (a department/state/region of Paraguay that is home to 113 Indigenous Communities, but only 8 Indigenous churches). He had been visiting the communities for years, doing groundwork, meeting community leaders, and doing outreaches. Although he and his wife had been praying for years for the Lord to connect more people to reach out to the many Indigenous communities, so the work could move forward and thrive, they had received little outside help.
After leaving the asphalt/tarmac, we traveled about three hours on dirt, to a VERY remote Indigenous Community. Pastor Cipriano had been visiting this community for some time, and had developed relationship with the Chief whose house would host the day’s outreach. Just recently however a different chief had been elected, so as we arrived, we visited the new village Chief who didn’t seem too sure about us! He did though give his permission for the ‘Karu Guasu’ event to go ahead as planned.
Karu Guasu could be translated as ‘Big Eat’ or we might say ‘Feast’. I think it would be fair to say that free food is an effective way to gather people in any culture around the world (fond memories of free donuts at some US churches – although after the sugar-rush finishes, sleepiness ensues – maybe that’s what the free coffee was for), but in the Indigenous Communities a Karu Guasu was traditionally the time when the Indigenous tribes would gather together in order to put right any disagreement between tribes or families; a time of reconciliation! Every now and again, they would share a big meal together and make things right.
Some say when reaching out to ‘poor people’ you shouldn’t give them humanitarian/physical things, food, clothing, etc. etc. in order not to create a dependency or an expectation of always receiving something when the preachers come. And to a certain extent I agree. But this is different. This is a coming together of the indigenous culture and the gospel to facilitate a natural and then spiritual time of reconciliation. It is totally aligned with their culture and a wide open door to proclaim the eternal reconciliation from heaven through Jesus Christ! In my view, what Pastor Cipriano does is brilliant, ingenious and a wonderful combination of physical and spiritual ministry.
The food was being cooked in a rustic old pot, and slowly the people began to emerge from the surrounding countryside. They were somewhat weary of myself and Pastor Sergio (a Paraguayan brother that had joined us), but recognized Pastor Cipriano from previous visits. After some time, Pastor Cipriano called the people together and ministry begun with some praise in Guarani, lead by some brothers from an Ache Community that had come with us.
Then Cipriano shared a bible story about forgiveness and talked of the traditional Karu Guasu and reconciliation between one another, moving on to explain forgiveness from heaven through Jesus.
Then Pastor Sergio invited those who would like to come forward and commit their lives to Christ and receive forgiveness of sins. At first, no one moved, but then slowly almost everyone present made their way forward. About 70 people gave their lives to Christ that day, a good proportion of the community! The new Chief however watched from the sidelines.
It was a privilege to watch as the hopelessness of those who received turned into joy, and as the Lord’s presence saturated the area, bringing hope and light to all!
I have often wondered what it would look like if we could see the process of someone receiving forgiveness of sins in the spirit realm, their spirit man being born-again. Many times we only see a slight change on the outside, but imagine what it looks like when someone’s spirit goes from a state of death to life, darkness to light, condemnation to grace and peace! Just a thought!
Despite the history of the Indigenous, having been rejected from society, taken advantage of, abused, beaten down and even hunted, they are both the most humble and gentle people as well as the most hurting and vulnerable that I have ever met.
To see them gladly receive the simple message of the good news is such a joy!
Next stop was down in the south of Paraguay – Coronel Bogado, where a local Pastor had been visiting an Indigenous community for around 9 years. They had developed good relationships and therefore had the open door to visit and preach, but with limited interest and no new believers yet. The Pastor and his wife, Ever & Mirta were the very first couple we visited during or first trip to Paraguay. They had invited Pastor Cipriano & I to come and minister in a Karu Guasu outreach in the community there. It was Pastor Cipriano’s first trip to that area. On our long journey to the south we decided to incorporate prayer for the sick as a part of the Gospel presentation. We had read in Psalm 23 in the Guarani bible, where it uses ‘Karu Guasu’ and talks of the table that the Lord prepares before us in the presence of our enemies. We talked about all of things on the Lord’s table that he has prepared for us – forgiveness, healing, peace, provision, protection, joy, etc. And that if we focus on our enemies (that are there near our table), we can miss out on what the Lord has prepared before us, but if we focus on what he has prepared for us – then we can receive so much from his hand!
When we arrived, we were welcomed by all and Cipriano was somewhat interrogated by the village elders, with questions about God, the village witchdoctor’s roles etc. etc. As we sat in the heat sharing some cold Terere, one old gentleman complained about his knee (apparently very painful and always coming out of joint). I told him that later on we would pray and that God would heal him. He looked at me a little strangely, but then nodded an agreeing nod and continued drinking Terere.
Then the preaching began. Pastors Ever & Cipriano gave a presentation of the Gospel and forgiveness of sins. We then served up the food. As people were finishing, I explained God’s great love and provision in supplying all of our needs, forgiveness, physical healing, peace, provision, protection etc.
It was a true privilege to openly proclaim the goodness of God, and watch as their desperation and hopelessness changed. Hope arose in their eyes, as their hearts opened to their Creator and the true God of love.
As we invited those present to receive this precious gift and relationship with God, about 50 people readily called upon his name and became children of God. There was such joy among them. I then prayed for the sick, commanding sicknesses to leave every person there in Jesus’ name. I asked who could feel a difference in their body. Immediately the gentleman that had the bad knee, jumped to his feet and threw out his leg, and with a big smile, said in Guarani “Where is the pain? Where is the pain?”. Several others received healing in their bodies and there was both wonder and joy among the people. The good news had both arrived and been received! They had taken their first step in following Jesus! Glory to God! We joined with the angels in heaven in rejoicing at the repentance of many.
These were only the first two outreaches that Cipriano and I had done together, and yet in our hearts, we could see that the Lord himself had set this up and He was calling us to this new season of working together.
As of just 5-10 years ago, many indigenous communities were vehemently rejecting the Gospel, saying that they were happy with their ‘Sun God’, ‘Forest God’, ‘Lightening God’ etc. etc. and that they didn’t want or need to hear about any other gods.
But now, it really seems to me that the Lord Himself has ordained this season, as a window in time where the Indigenous of Paraguay are not just open, but desperate to hear and receive the Gospel. They have so many unanswered questions. They are leaving their Shaman-led traditions and they are searching for the truth! Pastor Cipriano has more invitations than he can handle, but by God’s grace we will reach as many as we can!
As we headed north after our time in Coronel Bogado, our hearts full of gratitude and expectation for the future. We fixed dates for another trip in January (December would be busy for Evi and I with baby Naomi arriving). This time we would reach out to more communities during a 5 day trip.
We made the outreach plans without having the funds, but a couple of weeks before, we received a gift that covered the costs. I called Cipriano to tell him, and we thanked the Lord together!
January quickly came and a week before the outreaches, my truck died (again). Thank God for his provision – Andy Bowen, a fellow missionary (and the gentleman who taught us Guarani), would join this trip and offered to take both his and my vehicle – I explained I’d love that – but mine was at the mechanic’s and awaiting parts from overseas for at least another 2 weeks… But could we just take his? He agreed very kindly and we prepared a temporary roof rack to cope with all the equipment and we were ready to go!
We packed up our things, which included 2 new huge cooking pots that we were able to purchase to replace the one old rickety borrowed pot we had used the time before. We headed out! We stopped at a large supermarket in a city along the way, and bought supplies for the first two locations. The Indigenous people very seldom get anything special, so it was a joy for us to purchase some things that would bless them; balloons, some candy, soft drinks, bars of soap, then the main food supplies for the Karu Guasu – 65 lbs of frozen chicken, and a lot of rice and pasta. With extra ice on the chicken, we headed out. We already had with us some bibles to give to some of the new believers. We stayed the night in the city of Curuguaty.
Early the next morning, we hit the dirt for 3 hours. At our first location the new chief welcomed us gladly and helped organize the event for us. This time a large group from a neighboring community joined us for the event as well. It was their first time to hear!
As we started off, missionary friend Chris Baker and Pastor Sergio gave balloons to the kids and they loved it!! Then as we prepared the food, the rain hit. It had been a really hot morning, so it was really refreshing as the rain brought the temperature down. It also gathered the crowd under one roof as Cipriano started the preaching message.
Just as we needed the rain to stop, it did, although a storm continued to circle around us in a ‘c’ shape with thunder and lightening. God is so good! So with the crowd gathered and a cooler temperature, we continued to preach the Gospel.
Andy Bowen (whose vehicle we were using) is a genius in language (but don’t tell him I said that). He speaks Guarani fluently and kindly translated as we gave people the opportunity to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Many of the visitors from the neighboring village also called upon the name of the Lord!
We then prayed for the sick, specifically rebuking curses (from the Village Shaman/Witchdoctor). It is said that up to 80% of sicknesses among the Indigenous are a direct result of curses, with only 20% being diseases acquired naturally.
As we rebuked the curses and laid hands on the sick, the Lord worked with us and confirmed His word with signs! One man who had a very painful knee and couldn’t walk without pain, but more importantly to him, couldn’t play football, received healing and started kicking out his leg to prove it. Unfortunately as the rain hadn’t fully dried up, every time he kicked, it sent mud flying (hitting some of us). He was too happy to hold back and we didn’t mind!
Another man had pain throughout his body whenever he lay down, so after we prayed, we put a tarp on the ground and had him lay down on it. As I lay down beside him, I encouraged him to start moving around and do exercises. His face lit up as he could move without pain!
One Albino lady came forward with several physical complaints. We prayed for her health and then the Lord had me declare over her that she was His precious and beautiful daughter. It was evident that her skin in the harsh heat and sun of Paraguay was a huge source of ridicule and rejection within her community. On hearing me speak out the love of God for her, she burst into tears as she received waves of His perfect love.
Then one lady, in fact one of the cooks for the Karu Guasu, came forward asking for prayer for the strong headache she had. She told us that it had been for so long she couldn’t remember, and that an evil spirit would throttle her throat every 2 or 3 days and throw her to the ground. I asked her if she had heard the Gospel and called upon Jesus when we prayed with everyone. She explained that she had been too busy cooking. So Pastor Cipriano lead her in a prayer of commitment and when she said ‘Amen’ she let out a little yelp (kind of a gasp of relief). I thought to myself ‘what was that?’. I thought maybe the evil spirit was dealt with and her headache may be gone. I asked her to try and find the pain in her head and to shake it around. No pain! Glory to God! We asked how she felt, and she said that she couldn’t explain it, but it was good!! Her invitation to Jesus to come into her life had saturated her spirit with light and life. The evil spirit could no longer stay, and the pain had gone! Several other people were touched by God in their bodies and we could sense God’s rich presence!
We gave bars of soap to the ladies (which they received almost as if they were bars of gold), a simple gift (maybe 50c each), but a great sign of love, that we would think about them and care enough to bring them from the city to their remote area (5 hours away).
As the event came to a close, Pastor Cipriano came to me saying that the Chief wanted to speak to us. He had a look of dread on his face, knowing that the Chief, with just a few words, if he wasn’t happy, could close the door to any future visits.
But to our delight, he thanked us for our presence in his community and for bringing the message of God’s love. Then said that they wanted to give us a plot of land within their community in order to continue our visits. They would cut wood from their forest for a building and were asking if we could bring the tin and nails from the city to complete it. He had given his life to Jesus just that day and told us that we were fully welcome to visit them whenever we could. What a joy! They were ready for us to plant a church in their community! I closed our meeting by praying for the Chief and the community, asking the Lord to meet them with His goodness and blessing to the degree that they had welcomed us and opened their hearts.
Pastor Cipriano’s current vision is to plant the first 5 Churches within 5 years, and here was Church #1 coming to pass. Within a few weeks someone sent us the $500 for the tin and nails and we told the Chief it was a ‘go’! I look forward to seeing the land for the Church they have chosen during our next visit there…
That was just the first outreach of this 2nd trip! It was evident to me that both the hearts of the Indigenous people were prepared to receive the good news and that this work was bigger, much bigger than any of us involved. We were honored to be a part, as we realized that we may well be witnessing the beginnings of a move of God!
At the second outreach near to Cipriano's house, Andy gave a wonderful presentation of the Gospel, simply and clearly, starting with the Garden of Eden and original sin, and moving on to salvation through Christ. It was a joy to see his passion as he presented the simple gospel message of forgiveness of sin and lead the people in a salvation prayer. Many received Christ, understanding the simple good news presented to them and called upon His name and experienced relief, as the weight of their sins was lifted.
We shared about God’s healing power, some testimonies of what the Lord had done the day before and then prayed for the people, rebuking curses and pronouncing healing and life over the community. Several people received an immediate change in their bodies as the Lord’s healing power came upon them. One gentleman hadn’t been able to keep food down, and was evidently suffering from some serious internal issues. After our prayer time, as the food was being served, he went up and got a big serving and then later went up for seconds!! Another lady, again a cook, told us that she was in constant pain from a hernia in her stomach area, after prayer she pressed hard around her stomach trying to find the pain. She smiled as she realized it was gone.
Again, as we packed up to leave, we gave bibles to some of the new believers and said goodbyes. In this village, the chief is also the shaman/witchdoctor, as wasn't present, so it’s a little trickier – but God is great – and we will see His victory!
We headed out with hearts full, thankful to the Lord for His Word and His confirming signs!
Our next stop, the following day, the final outreach of this trip, would be a multi-community outreach with people from up to 5 communities coming together. It would be in another district of Canindeju and so we traveled back to the city of Curuguaty and stayed the night there.
The next morning we went to the supermarket, which was less equipped than our original stop, but still had sufficient for what we needed…
This time a bigger crowd was expected and so we doubled up on things. Lots of beef, chicken, rice, pasta, etc. and again soap for the ladies and this time packs of matches for the men.
It is amazing to me how exciting it is to load up on supplies for these outreaches, spending a whole lot of cash on people that have very little feels great!! As we walk around the isles of the store, the expectation grows of who will be there, how many will come, who will call upon Jesus, who will receive healing in their bodies?
As the bible quotes Jesus in the book of Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.
The next journey was easier, mostly asphalt/tarmac, just the last few miles on dirt. This set up was different, the government had in recent years provided housing for these indigenous communities, but one major oversight was that they hadn’t provided running water, or even wells!! Pretty little houses, but only a means to collect rainwater was provided. As we arrived and were welcomed and preparations were being made, we had only a little water for the cooking. I volunteered to help. A motorbike and driver were selected and I was given two 5-gallon containers to go and fill at the neighboring village (a rural Paraguayan village). We struggled through the sandy dirt road and arrived at a little store. They had a water supply that they pumped in from a mile or so away. Knowing that there was a cost to run the pump, I offered to pay for the water, but they said that they were happy to just give it to us free. I invited them to the Karu Guasu, and they said they may come as a family… We headed back on what was the funniest balancing act on a motorbike, almost baptizing ourselves with the cargo of 10-gallons of water. But we got most of it back OK and filled up the pans!
As people were gathering, fellow missionary Chris Baker, played with the children and lead them on a treasure hunt as he preached in Guarani about the ultimate treasure of heaven – Jesus. Pastor Sergio assisted as they all called upon Jesus and received salvation. Some people question children’s ability to receive the salvation message and call upon the Lord, but on the contrary. Jesus said that WE have to change and become like little children or we can never enter the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). So only little children or those who change and become like little children can enter the kingdom of heaven.
Once everyone was gathered, Pastor Sergio preached on original sin, separation from God and Salvation through Jesus, followed by Chris on heaven’s treasure, then Andy rounded up and lead those who would give their lives to Christ. Andy and I then prayed for the sick and heard some wonderful testimonies of people healed of various ailments. It was getting late and the food was ready, so I decided that we would pray for anyone else that needed healing over to one side and let the rest of the people begin eating. Then we were called to the back of the gathering and to my delight, the Rural Paraguayan family who had given us water had just arrived and wanted prayer for healing. I asked if they had heard the Salvation message and prayed with us, but they said that they had just arrived. So Andy very kindly gave them a slightly quicker rendition and they all called upon the Lord together. We then offered to pray for them to be healed. The mother of family had pain in her foot (I think for 3 years) that caused quite a limp as she walked and her face told of the pain. We commanded the pain to leave in the name of Jesus and it left immediately. She was in a state of shock as she took her first steps without pain and then a flood of tears came as she was overjoyed, and we had to steady her on her feet – she almost collapsed! God is so good!! Her daughter was next in line and had a terrible headache for as long as she could remember. We commanded it to leave, and it did. Instantly she was free and tears welled up in her eyes, I had her shake her head around to check for any pain, there was none. Praise God!
Next was the Aunt of the family who had swelling all over her body, we commanded it to leave her body in Jesus’ name and again, instantly she was astonished as the swelling in her legs and arms shrunk away. We also prayed for 2 or three other family members. They had gladly given of their natural water supply for the outreach and now the Lord their God had freely given of his spiritual living water, transforming their family in just a few minutes! It made me think of the scripture: “…if anyone gives even a cup of water to…my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will not lose their reward.” Matthew 10:42.
Well they had given 10-gallons and had received at last a 10-gallon reward!!! God is so good and faithful. His love is so great!!
We gave the daughter a bible and the mother said ‘she can read, we will all sit, and she will read it to us”. Glory to God.
We again gave out the gifts, soap to the ladies and packs of matches to the men. They were so overwhelmed at our love (just a tiny reflection of God’s great love), and so touched by the presence of the Lord! The Chief asked to speak with us. This being the first event held there, we were a little apprehensive. He thanked us for coming, and said that he would set aside some land for a Church to be built. His wife had been one of the only believers in the area, but now a good proportion of the village and the surrounding villages had committed their lives to Christ – including the Chief himself that day.
We headed home from that our final outreach of the trip, with hearts full and minds blown by God’s power and love! What a privilege to take his wonderful good news to the ends of the earth!!
Pastor Cipriano and his wife after praying for years for outside help and none arriving, raised up a team of 12 missionaries, mostly from a nearby Ache community. That is 12 missionaries from a Church of around 60 people. That means 20% or 1 in 5 people are missionaries!!! Can you imagine that in your Church??
Together, they have been doing outreaches among the Indigenous Communities for the past 3 years, as much as they could without many resources at all. Many of these communities are now opening up to the Gospel message!
Truly a change of season and truly Wide Open Doors!!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe