Blessings to our dear family and friends,
You may be waiting for this update, to find out our news, but first let me share this scripture that will lead into our latest story:
When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was COMPELLED by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:5-11 NKJV)
The first bit of lovely news is that we are expecting another baby, praise the Lord! I will write more about this later, but while this scripture and specifically the word 'compelled' is still fresh in your hearts, let me share with you our latest journey.
About two months ago, the Lord compelled Peter and I to go North, to the Chaco region. I would never choose to go there. It is hot and dusty, and inhospitable for the most part. Referred to by some as the 'Green Hell', it was during the Chaco War that soldiers died more from dehydration than bullets. When we first looked at the map of Paraguay more than two years ago, the North had caught our attention. But we reasoned that we wouldn't go there as the population densities are so small and spread out.
When our studies finished this July, we had many ideas what the Lord might want us to do. We prayed and none of them were given our Heavenly Father's stamp of approval. Back in March, we had been to visit and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ at La Belleza. One evening we sat with the Doctor, his wife and family who have been coming to the clinic for years (a 2.5 hour drive on dirt roads there and back from his home). Our fellowship was very precious. The presence of the Lord visited us strongly as we prayed together, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit flowed. Well, by July we sensed to go visit this dear family at their home town, to pray with them and take time apart with the Lord to hear from Heaven our next step. After inviting ourselves and making quick arrangements back home (we don't leave it empty, but a young couple come and take care of things here while we are gone), we headed out, really tired and wanting to sleep for days after intense studies and little rest, but excited about what the Lord was going to do through our time together.
Before the Lord does His wonders, there always seems to be a battle, spiritually and sometimes it manifests through into the natural. Needless to say, that first night and into the second day we questioned "why are we here Lord?" And then God did one of His amazing suddenlies, when the heavens opened again powerfully. We were praying together late into the night, after a busy but fun weekend. We could have all just gone to bed, but He was calling us. (Just a note here, it is so good as believers to find others to pray with that when you get together, there is an immediate connection and unity.) As we prayed for each other as individuals and couples, the Holy Spirit spoke and showed us His Glory! A word we received was that we would start fires spiritually, and wherever we go we would cause a movement, a rekindling of a passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. Then the Lord spoke a word deep in my soul, and also to Peter, simply "Chaco". I began to laugh, a 'release' sort of giggle as I surrendered that part of me that was all wrapped up in fear and I don't want to, and please no. My dear friend Faith, was at my feet, holding them tenderly, as if preparing them for this new journey we would make. Waves of love flowed over me as all my 'no' was replaced with 'yes Lord, I'll go!' You see, if we would just obey, then all the grace and love and everything we need for what our Lord asks us to do flows to us at that moment of surrender. Our friends had shared their home, their lives with us and we bless them for the special time we had. Brother Anton and sister Faith, we love you and thank you for letting us just crash at your place and receive from your ministry of selfless love. Dear readers, please pray for this special family: they faithfully and dedicatedly pastor a young church of new believers in the next village, Dr. Anton is the only doctor at the local hospital where they live, (serving medical needs for a huge area), and they have a beautiful young family. It was very touching for us to see how they poured all that they are and have into these commitments, on top of which they willingly received us.
So, the Holy Spirit was compelling us to go to 'the Chaco'. We drove back home talking about it. Did the Lord want us to move there? Was this just to be a visit? How soon would we go? How long would a trip to the North need to be? As a family we took time to pray. The date was set, and preparations made. We had some commitments in our local village and home, but then we would go North. The pull was so strong. It was as if there was an urgency. The natural mind just wants to kick up a fuss and make excuses and delay until perhaps that call to go diminishes and then one can get on with what seems more reasonable... So I was determined to not think about it, but to pray, and allow the Lord to prepare the way. I am trying to think of something to compare it to you all, who live in relative norm and familiar surroundings, as perhaps it seems a given that we would just go to all these places, and it should be no big deal. I am quite a practical person, and I have already shared how I like clean, and these trips we make tend to be void of both. Practical flies out the window as the dust and heat streams in.
The day arrived for us to leave. We had a few important meetings in Asuncion, so planned a few days there, and then we would head out. Unfortunately, our dear son Daniel had been very ill, with a raging fever and so one thing we had to do was get him to the doctor in the city. Talk about battle - we were just about to embark on another epic journey; Daniel was excited about going to the Chaco, as we were and for sure Peter would need Daniel's help, with the car, with loading and unloading, and all the other eventualities that we would face. Do we cancel? Delay? The night before leaving Asuncion for the Chaco, Daniel's fever peaked so high, that he began shaking uncontrollably with pain in his chest. Peter rushed him to the emergency room. I lay in bed, praying, not letting my mind race into panic. "He's dying" the devil told me, "I'm taking him like I told you I would when he was a little boy!" "No satan, in Jesus name I rebuke you. I trust in you Jesus, and I love you and worship you because you are bigger than this!" (Never start a conversation with satan, but we should always refute him with the word of God, when he starts one with us.) After a shot to lower fever, a short nights rest, and a quick trip to doctor in the early morning, we were decided. God was at work in Daniel's body, and we were going. The car was loaded up: water supplies, food, clothes, camping equipment just in case, a teddy and blanket for the young ones, and jam packed we were off.
Our one practical that didn't fly out the window was our first couple of nights in the Chaco. We were headed to Filadelfia. We were going to meet up with Dr. Anton's brother, Jerald who is the worship leader of a large congregation there. Also, we had met a dear family in the immigration office while in Asuncion back in early February, that we knew lived in Filadelfia. We wanted to somehow meet up with them too, but had no contact for them. And then what next? How would we find what the Lord wanted us to do? How far would we travel? If you have time, it's worth looking at a map of Paraguay. You will see that Filadelfia is the largest city in the north. We felt to go further, even to the highest point east and then perhaps trek back across west. But we knew no-one and had no contacts, yet. I felt like telling everyone we met, that we had come to see who needed help, to find who has been crying out to the Lord. I was sure there was someone.
After a lovely visit with Jerald and his family, the worship leader, he told us he was going to his Saturday night service. He invited us to come along. We had sat a long time together sharing how we came to Paraguay, and hearing how this family had left Canada to live here in the Chaco. We would need to get ready quickly. Daniel had been sleeping in the car to rest...he would not come this night. He was still recovering. Before the service, Peter was asked if he would share our story. And so Peter preached that Saturday night. During the time of ministry, many came forward and it was a precious time of lives being touched, hearts strengthened in the Lord, healings and all that the Lord does so lovingly. One lady stood out to me. She came up asking for divination - at first I thought I misunderstood, so I checked with the Pastor. Yes, that's what she wants, is for you to tell her future. "That's up to God to decide to reveal it, I told her. I thought to myself, she's not saved. She looks to be in so much torment. Peter and I waited on the Lord, and blessed her, but I sensed a block, like a wall. At the end of the service, when I just wanted to pick up my family and get to rest, I went to look for the lady. She was talking and laughing with someone. I asked if I could talk to her. I stepped aside and asked if she had a bible. No, she did have one at her home, but she's left everything and come here. Could she get one? No, they are too expensive. Had she given her life to the Lord? No. But then she poured out her heart...she was being tormented by demons, she couldn't sleep, and she has premonitions of people committing suicide, then the next day it happens. She confessed to me with tears rolling down her face that she almost killed her own son, in a moment of complete darkness and confusion. I held her as she wept and poured out all this and even though it was difficult to fully understand between all the tears, I clearly saw how satan was destroying this lady, and those she loved around her. To try to escape, she had taken a bus with her youngest son, leaving a 12 year old behind, travelled 17 hours to Filadelfia - I don't know why or how she chose this place. As much as I tried to tell her that all she needed was Jesus, and that she could pray right now and receive him and be free, everything in her, all those demons pulled her away, and her speech became more confused. I took hold of her shoulders, as she repeated the same things over and over. You can be free I told her, looking down into her whirling eyes. Perhaps I should have rebuked the devil, not waited for her compliance... I told her new found friend who had brought her that night to church, if she won't receive Christ with me, you need to lead her, and quickly. We were the last to leave the church, and I felt so heart broken for this desperate lady that I had not managed to see delivered. I pray that all the truth I shared with her of Jesus merciful love for her will not stop echoing in her heart till she finally surrenders and receives him as Lord and Saviour. I hope to see her the next time we go to that church, and find her at peace, free from torment. I don't remember her name...but God knows her. She represents many people here, who are tormented by dark spiritual experiences and have no where to run to. The Catholic Church may be called to do an exorcism, but the true and only delivering power comes from the name of Jesus Christ.
Also that Saturday, we had gone to the supermarket - yes, there is one in Filadlefia. Emily suddenly tells me, "there's Adeline!", the daughter of the family we had wanted to meet but had no contact for. Happily surprised to see us, she generously invited us for lunch. We were so thankful to the Lord for this divine appointment. This family left the USA about the same time as we did, following the direction of the Lord. We had a lovely time with Adeline and her brothers over lunch. (Her parents were in the USA at that time.) We prayed together and enjoyed sweet fellowship. It was good to see them again and share stories of the faithfulness of the Lord as both families are discovering all that the Lord has for us to do here in Paraguay. Perhaps we will work along side them some day...
On Sunday we went back to the church we had ministered to the night before. The service was in German and Spanish - quite an amazing experience - the Mennonite community speak German from their European heritage. We met a dear couple, Hartmut and Elizabeth, who had a joy and light about them that was such a testimony of the Lord Jesus. As they were saying goodbye to us, Elizabeth mentioned that they had a guest house we would be welcome to stay in if we needed to. That Sunday afternoon we met a missionary who with her family have lived out in the western part of the Chaco for 20 years, working alongside an indigenous community that had a mission to reach them years ago. Since then, the mission has moved on, and the few remaining believers struggle. Was this where God was calling us to? The missionary lady's husband was away on a trip and so we felt we should visit them another time. We were deeply impacted by this lady's amazing story of their sacrifice on the missionary field. We had explained our plans to journey into the eastern Chaco, seeking God's will. She advised us to be careful and take lots of water.
Still no contacts for up North, the day came for us to leave our first base in Filadelfia, and accept Elizabeth's kind offer. We moved into what was actually their first home, so it had all the lovely comforts of one, including a couch/sofa! One of our nights there, we all sat around and had an evening that reminded me of when I was a child: everyone together in a cosy, happy setting, reading or whatever. It was time to be heading out but our car needed some work done to make sure we would get there and back! Thankfully, although it was expensive, as many things are in the Chaco, the repairs would take only a day. I did a repack, making sure all that was coming on this trip was essential, because of weight and our need to take water and lots of it, and some food. I was not sure what we would find out there, so I packed some easy camping meals, just in case, and tried to plan some fruit and veggies and protein for baby and me. So, Wednesday morning came. Hartmut and Elizabeth prayed for us. They seemed like concerned loving grandparents, looking at us a little with bewilderment. We couldn't answer their many gentle questions like "Where are you going? Where are you going to stay? What are you going for? Where does your money come from for these trips?" Deep down inside, along with the compelling to go, was the faith to step out and do it.
Pulling out from their driveway, leaving the tarmac and hitting the dust road after about 10 minutes, we were finally off, heading out to Puerto Guarani! Had we enough water? Enough ice? I wanted cold water, feeling already dreadfully thirsty. That hot, dusty air sucks out all your hydration it seems. We drove and drove, passing dust covered verges for miles and miles. We passed the occasional truck carrying fated cattle, openings to huge 'estancias' (farms/ranches), and the odd speedy Gonzales, probably estancia owners, who would cover us in dust. "Windows up!" Peter would order, and as quickly as our aging electric windows would go, we would try to beat the clouds of whirling dust. Pee stops were the funniest. Boys on the left, girls on the right: the trick was to get back into the car before any other vehicle was sighted, so we could avoid a dust bath!
After about two hours, the scenery became spectacular. Any waterhole or lake was full of wildlife. We began to keep our eyes glued to the trees, any open swampy areas, and even the dusty road ahead. A small family of monkeys quietly sitting in the tree tops were spotted first, and then a baby armadillo crossing quickly in front of us, a huge anaconda slowly sliding out of a swamp, and we were not behind some protective glass at a zoo. Caiman were sitting on the muddy banks of disappearing water holes, water birds of all sizes and many colours, birds of prey swooping and perching, and then after we thought we had seen it all, a puma (mountain lion) crossing the road just in front of us during one of our pee stops. Concerned and shocked, Peter was so tongue twisted he couldn't get the words out for Daniel to get his camera quickly:)) This was not the focus of the trip, but it certainly was such a blessing as our Heavenly Father displayed His glorious creation on our long and hot journey.
About 100 miles short of our destination, as we were stopped to take a photo of our first caiman, the car suddenly began to overheat. I always look at Peter's face to check if he's panicking. His voice was rather stressed, as we started dumping precious water all over the spitting engine. Hopefully we had enough to avoid filling up from these swamps. The heat was intense. A layer of dust was on everything! Were we going to make it to our destination? Lord help us! Finally, the temperature was down, and we drove off again, slower than before, and keeping an eye on the thermometer. Finally, we pulled into a garage/filling station (the only one along this 300 mile off-road journey) and saw little huts, out in the middle of no-where. Peter took a better look at the car, in the shade of the garage. Our radiator had burst. We filled up on more water and semi-plugged the hole with a puncture repair patch we found. We weren't far now (60 miles), and we needed to get there well before dark. The last section of our journey wasn't as pretty. It was so very dry and dusty. We passed garbage dumps. Then we turned into Fuerte Olimpo, on the map a larger town than the one we were heading for. We drove through it. We felt like everyone stared at us. We don't look like the typical foreigner, as our car is not shiny and slick, and we always have stuff piled on our roof rack. When we get stared at like that, I feel vulnerable, and just want to hide away somewhere. We continued our undesired parade through the town, looking for a place to have a very late lunch. We were so hungry! We drove to the river edge, happy to see the beautiful blue of the water, but it was sad to see all the trash at the edges. No place to stop, and the car was overheating again - we needed shade. We quickly pulled off down a little road to a shady area with some dusty trees - finally time for lunch! Tarp down, we hungrily ate our rough sandwiches. Any passers by just stared. Three young girls appeared with baskets. I could tell they wanted to sell us something. I went up to them with my girls, thinking they would speak Guarani. They didn't, but understood. We bought their delicious bread, and after asking what was in the empanadas, we bought some of those for super too. They were very shy, and looked sad, although became giggly when they couldn't work out how much we owed them. Peter topped up the car with the rest of our water and off we went, only about 20 miles still off-road away from our first night here in the very north. The sun was going down and giving us some relief, but the dust still whirled all around. Peter had managed to find a hotel in the north, and we booked in for two nights. We pulled up and were refreshed to see green grass and trees. The hotel had been an old administration building, freshly painted white and green. It looked clean and nice. Our room was spacious, and while Peter and Daniel doused down the car, the girls and I investigated the nearby dock. We looked out onto the river, all shimmering deep blue in front of us, with huge floating islands of water plants, with the occasional stork balancing in the midst of them. Joseph was fascinated, but totally unaware of the danger of the deep water below us. Could we fish sometime, asked the girlies? Maybe we could even go out on a boat! The river was huge and currents and eddies everywhere. Then the mosquitos started to find us, huge and undeterred by our bug spray. We retreated. Time to shower and rest! We ate our empanadas in our room, now cluttered with all our stuff, pretty silent as we thought of how good God was to get us here safely. Chewing on strange lumps, and noticing the grey colour of the meat in the empanadas, I realized they were stuffed with ground up cow stomach. I had asked those sweet girls, who had told me it was 'carne'; to them it is, we are just spoilt with the real stuff. I didn't mention it to the family, till the next day at breakfast. I didn't want them not to eat. Joy had tasted something was up, and politely said "Mummy, I'm not very hungry."
In bed, once mosquito nets were rigged, we couldn't help thinking what were we doing out here. How would we find who needed help, who was God sending us to? We prayed and slept deeply. Peter shared with me later how he lay there for a while thinking and talking to God, "Have I missed it Lord? What am I doing here, dragging my family to the middle of no-where?"
At breakfast, the 'encargada' (the lady who did everything from cleaning to cooking - 'hotel manager') had boiled us an egg each. We were hungry. I brought out our staple - oats. We sat, watching the sun get higher in the sky. Everything looked beautiful. I began a conversation with the sweet young Mama of two who was taking care of us. Her name was Diana. She asked why we had come. Perfect. And then, as I could imagine God in Heaven just smiling at us, the lady began to tell me that she and her husband were believers, and had just moved into this job a few weeks before, and how she was so happy to meet us. Oh Lord, perhaps this is it!!! Peter was trying to figure out how to get our car fixed where the one village mechanic was already too busy. But while he was gone, the young lady's husband came to me and asked, 'Are you missionaries? If I could gather the church, would you come and minister?" Hunger and thirst like I had not seen for a while was in his eyes, as I told him, I'm sure we can. I would call Peter. We had found why we had come!
There was a church two blocks behind this hotel, in this small and lonely town. The Pastor was on a 'retiro', a retreat (I wondered where he had gone), but the believers would gather anyway, for this unscheduled Thursday night meeting where missionaries they had never heard of before were coming. Our car was broken down, the heat and dusty wind was challenging, and the mosquitoes would come out on mass at dusk, but we were so excited about this meeting. One sad thing was the young couple working at the hotel couldn't come with us, as new guests were arriving that evening, and they needed to feed them and make ready. After quick directions we headed out, walking with a flash light on the cobbled streets, past the roaming horses and mules, dogs and a few people sitting outside, evidently accustomed to the mosquitos or just not as tasty as our fresh foreign blood!
We found the large building easily, and were warmly greeted by Pastor Manuel. He had cut short his retreat and come home for this special night. We were ushered in to the 'church', and the Pastor's home. You will have to forgive me, but I am quite esthetic - if that means sensitive to my surroundings...? The light was so dull, my eyes strained to see the faces of our new found brothers and sisters in Christ. There was dust and fire smoke mingled in the air. The high walls and ceiling were in disrepair, and the floor was cobbled and dusty. In one open area there were two beds, mosquito nets hanging, with a large fire pit in-between. It was a dark and dingy place, in so much need of repair. My heart broke for this Pastor and his family who were living here. "Let me show you our needs," the Pastor told Peter, as he walked us around. They were many. We hadn't come with any means to fix them. We didn't have silver or gold, but what we did have we were about to impart! With a hint of apprehension from this dear Pastor, we were introduced to the growing but small crowd. The plan laid out, we begun. Despite the fact that we were total strangers, the Pastor gave Peter the 'platform', cautiously at first, and as all Pastors should guard their flock from erroneous teaching, or Flakes! He stood beside Peter the whole time, ready to jump in I suppose if any heresy was to occur. I had encouraged Peter to say as much as he could in Guarani, and we were ready to sing a few of the Guarani songs with them, if they would like. And so we began, singing in their language - white faces, and evidently foreign. But just as gently as a warm breeze, Jesus' presence was ushered in. These dear hungry faces before us began to drink, and their questioning look of who are these people was lost in the unity that only the Holy Spirit can bring. Just before the service, Pastor Manuel had told Peter that he couldn't read the Bible, but he had long passages memorized in his heart. So as Peter began to preach, it was touching for me to see Pastor trying to find the scriptures. With his Guarani bible, Spanish to English translation and helping Pastor turn to the places, by the grace and anointing from Heaven, Peter preached a simple but powerful message on listening, hearing and obeying the Voice of God. And then there was a time to lay hands on all that came forward. Not one remained in their seats. The children all stood, little hands to Heaven, the Pastor's wife stood arms raised high, and they expectantly waited for the Lord to touch them. An old gentleman who had sat the whole night shielding his eyes from the obnoxious light bulb as he intently listened to Peter came forward. He had cataracts and his eyes were swollen, red and weeping. We prayed, then Peter put his hand in front of him, showing four fingers. "How many fingers can you see?" "Two"..."and now?" As Peter showed him one, "three"... There was no improvement yet. Peter explained to him that we had prayed and so the Lord was working on him and told him to sit there and just receive and that he would check his eyes again later. We can sometimes be in a hurry for a miracle as if to prove our faith, but sometimes it takes a little time. After the service, the man came to Peter and he checked his eyes again, the Pastor right there beside them. This time as Peter held up his fingers and gradually moved further and further away, he could correctly see the numbers of fingers Peter was showing him, until Peter was on the other side of the seating area. The Pastor danced for joy as he saw his friend healed, and together they worshipped the Lord, in Guarani. As the Pastor watched him leave, he told us usually he walks away with his stick, bent over as he tried to see where he was going. This night, he walked happily away upright, glory to God! There was so much joy that this dirty old broken down building suddenly had become irrelevant. The real temple were these dear people, who passionately loved their King. As we had been praying, supper was being cooked for us, on a Paraguayan stove in their 'bedroom'. The church pews were moved from the 'sanctuary area' to the dinning area, right behind where we had had church, and we were fed a yummy meal; rice and some tasty but un-identified meat, and lettuce! We hadn't had fresh lettuce for some days now. That's all Joseph ate that night! I was so impressed that this dear family would feed us, and some of the church members who stayed back, in total about 25 including children. Some patiently waited for their turn to have a plate and a fork or spoon. We were fed first, sitting next to Pastor Manuel, who asked Peter many questions. The children played games running around the big open space. It was late and Joseph needed to go to bed. Pastor asked Peter, "Could you come again tomorrow night, and I will try to gather more people, and you could teach us more?" We were supposed to head out that Friday to Bahia Negra, but Peter had already decided to extend our stay one more night in order to have our vehicle repaired. We would of course come and do another meeting. That night, as we lay in bed we thanked God for all he had done. We felt so privileged to be used like this: God had sent us to a humble illiterate Pastor, who along with his sheep, passionately loved our Lord Jesus and were hungry for more! We had been the first foreign missionaries to come.
We couldn't wait for the next night. Peter and Daniel had headed out to the next town to find someone to patch up the hole in the radiator. I sat with Diana, telling her all that the Lord had done in her church last night, and we talked and shared a long while. Her aunt, she told me was a Pastor in Bahia Negra. If we were going there, could we visit her, she asked. I thought, Lord is this who you are sending us to next? About midday, new guests arrived and Diana had to attend to them; a Brazilian lady with a huge gold necklace and revealing bikini attire. I cheekily wondered where the beach was, and observed how she treated Diana: as a servant. At one point, as I sat out side my room on a sofa with Joy and Rebecca playing with Diana's little girls, the lady was walking past me. I was wearing my traveling attire: clothes that can be hand scrubbed, and are pretty plain and old. She looked at me, at my clothes, and asked, "Where do you come from?" with her Brazilian accent. I could have said the moon and it would have made sense to her, the way she was looking at me. Yes, I judged her, and she judged me. I'm working at reaching out to the rich, because I am so much more comfortable with the poor. I thought, all this gold and beauty, and yet you have no peace or joy. And these dear believers we had found were living in what for me seemed like squaller, and yet they had treasure no earthly money could buy. On our way to church that night, we went to the store to buy some 'gaseosas' (fizzy drinks) for the meal we were invited to again. The Brazilian lady was there with her family. She hadn't seen me with all my children yet. Her two young boys had stuck their tongues out at my girls earlier, and with their parents, were trying to count us all.
At the church, we were given a very big 'bien venidos', welcome, as we arrived. The Pastor shook our hands and embraced Peter. He was already very excited, and expectant of what the Lord was going to do. I was hugged by the ladies, who were bubblier than the night before. I saw the mother whose baby I had prayed for last night and asked how the baby had slept. "Much better, thank you! I was going to take her to a clinic but I didn't have to. She is breathing better, glory to God!" Church began, and Pastor asked Peter to sing the Guarani songs form the night before. They danced and clapped! The dust and gloom of the room didn't bother me this night, although the strong smell of smoky burning coal was stinging our eyes and making a haze in the air. The old gentleman was on his feet rejoicing too! There weren't many more people, perhaps the same group even, but there was a blind man, next to our healed friend. Then Pastor Manuel opened the meeting, and with tears rolling down his cheeks poured out his heart, "thank you for coming from so very far to us, here in Puerto Guarani. You have left everything and obeyed Jesus, and come to Paragauy, and now you are here with us, thank you! Thank you Lord! Thank you Lord!" And he cried and with his hands raised, worshipped His God that had seen his humble heart, and heard his cries for help. He is not accepted by other Pastors because he is illiterate and hasn't been to bible school, but God has accepted him, and sent us to him to encourage and bless the work he is doing in this town. We asked if anyone had a testimony of what the Lord had done last night. Several stood up, and shared their miracle: the mama with the healed baby, the Pastor's wife healed from pain in her kidneys, and the older gentleman whose eyes had been healed! As Peter taught, they drank again, and faith and hope and life continued to grow. We prayed for the blind man, who was truly blind. He began to see colours and we were reminded of the story when Jesus healed a blind man and he saw at first the men around him 'as trees'. We left this man beginning to receive his sight back after 6 years. Pastor was weeping for joy almost the whole night long and had Peter sing his new found favorite a few times over so that when we were gone they could sing it without us. We worshipped and reveled in his love, as King Jesus moved amongst us, filling up the dry wells, as His people received!
It was late and something was cooking. Joseph had fallen asleep and was laid down on the Pastor's bed, right there about three meters away from the hot fire. I was shown what was cooking in the pot: with a big smile on her face, the young lady told me, "kambykue chyryry"...I have done enough Guarani to decifer some of these meals...my brain thought fast to translate: ex milk, fried...then looking at the shape of the objects bubbling in the oil, I realized we were going to be fed fried cow udder. Apparently, this was a treat for us, so I decided right there and then we would eat it, and I wouldn't pass on to my family the info I had just received, 'til later. We were being fed their best, so we would eat it. Another late night, but very special goodbyes, and Peter played the song again for Pastor Manuel. It was arranged we would pass by on our way out tomorrow morning, early. With hugs and tears, we were released. We walked quietly back through the already sleeping town, our hearts full of joy.
Packed up and ready to go, always an undertaking as I have mentioned before, we took a moment to pray with Diana and her husband; they had not been able to come either night to the meetings, as new guests had come to the hotel. They had been very sad to miss, so we took time to pray with them. And even the painter who we had talked to some, came and joined us. Diana had contacted her Aunt out at Bahia Negra to say we were coming, and she was happy we would be going there. We stopped outside Pastor Manuel's church, needing to be quick because of the hot rising sun. Leaving the kids in the car, engine running, we were invited inside. Again, Pastor handed Peter the guitar and asked if he could play the song. I had an idea they should try to record it on something, so a smart phone was found, that always amazes me. Peter was introduced to a young man who hadn't decided to accept Christ yet, but he would one day. Well, some of you know my husband! "Some say there is no hurry, but for this there is as we don't know if we have tomorrow. Today is the day of salvation. Would you like to pray with me right now and receive Christ, and Manuel will guide you through the rest?" You could almost see the young man process this in a split second, and gather all his braveness, and say "yes! I would!" So, he did, with his friend and Pastor standing right beside him. So we sang the song again, with so much joy and dancing, even early in the morning! More hugs, and goodbyes, and then a gift - all the left over fried cow udder, to be eaten with 'galletitas and terere!' (dry bread and the Paraguayan herbal drink.) We pulled away with so much love and gratitude in our hearts, and the joy of just witnessing another salvation. We didn't know when we could come back again, but we would!
All piled up in the car, we began another long journey; if you found Puerto Guarani on the map, look up North and you will find 'Bahia Negra'. The journey was again spectacular in some parts that were swampy, with wildlife everywhere. It was hard for Daniel to capture it all, as we were driving fast to try to beat the heat of the day. Occasionally we would stop to allow for a better photo; the monkeys and the toucan were the favorites on this drive. Finally, about 5 hours later, we arrived at Bahia Negra, another port town. We looked around at this new place. The heat had beaten us, and there was a northerly wind making the heat worse, whipping dust up everywhere. It was still siesta time, so we didn't call our contact yet, but found the best shade we could in a small run down park, at the edge of the river. Sounds pretty. It wasn't. We quickly ate sandwiches, shielding our faces from dust and sun. Joseph enjoyed a hidy hole in a feature at the park, while the girls and I tried to cool off by putting our feet in the river. "What about piranhas Mummy?" Rebecca asked. "Well, you keep watch that way, Emily this way and Joy the other." I was half joking. We wanted to fully get in the water, but had heard too many caiman, piranha and anaconda stories, and it wasn't very practical.
The heat of the day started to pass a little, and time came for us to go visit Diana's Aunt. She warmly greeted us and put out wooden seats, and sent a child to get water for terere. This was Pastora Lucilla, from Brazil. She had been in bed hemoraging badly. And yet joy and peace was beaming from her eyes. She shared with us her testimony, how she came to Christ 10 years ago, through a mercy ship's mission. She had not wanted to go along to the event they had organized, but a friend persuaded her. In the 10 years she has kept her faith, and brought others to the Lord, ran a Christian radio for the village and worked with the near-by indigenous believers. Many other Pastors and town people have criticized her, because she is a 'Pastora' and women shouldn't be Pastors. Well, she told us, she has asked since the beginning that a pastor be sent so she could step down. But the ones that have come, left and so she works on. It was amazing to hear her story. Her husband too, came and joined us; a quiet fisherman, braving the river for days at a time, in search of enough fish to sell and take care of his family. He was fixing his net as we sat and shared, quite symbolic. The sun was going down, as we explained who we were and why we had come. Lucilla seemed quite amazed, and called Diana to let her know we had arrived safely. I was passed the phone to say hello - Diana was so happy and almost in disbelief that the English lady she had just met, was now sitting with her aunt. The journeys we make in our car are almost impossible for them with only motos or boats as options. The children were getting hungry and tired and we had no place organised to stay yet. Lucilla suggested somewhere, so Peter walked along to see if they had space. I was sure they would. Who would be here visiting, except crazy people like us. They were full; a group of ladies just beat us. Next option, more basic accommodation but a believer that was attending Lucilla's church. Lucilla explained she doesn't have AC and might not have running water, but she has a real baño/toilet. I thought, that's good! But that lady was full too. And so it was that after another phone call, we walked to our shelter for the night.
Missionaries are supposed to be able to tough it. In many stories I have read they do. This is why I keep asking the Lord, "why did you pick me?" I have also passed my orderly, cleanliness preferences to my children. I knew this was going to challenge me to the core when we pulled up outside the house. This part of the village was having its apparently normal powercut time - but the lady reassured me 'ensegida vamos a tener luz/soon we will have electricity'. I know that 'ensegida' is pretty flexible, it really means I don't have a clue when it will come back on, but I know that it should. We quickly carried our things into the room. This was a house built with split coco Palm trunks, cobbled or dirt floor in some parts, outside box toilet, down a dirty pathway, and a big tub in another wooden shack for 'showers'. Dusky light and mosquitos made 'moving in' challenging. There was a feel about this place that I didn't like. It makes such a difference staying under the roof of people that love and serve the Lord. Right outside our room, into which the lady was busy bringing mattresses, was an elaborate altar for Mary and some saints. This wasn't an established place that received guests, but the lady just moved some things out and made space, needing the money we would pay. Peter went off to try to figure out some plan for food. The children and I had to keep moving to stop the mosquitos eating us alive, so I informed the lady who was sitting outside swatting and having a beer, that we were going for a quick walk. I had to get some fresh air, and keep myself from panicking. The town had come alive; boom boxes were blasting, a football/soccer game was going, and groups of half naked young ladies or guys with beer in hand were roaming the streets. "We should turn around Mum," Daniel suggested, feeling what I was feeling. It seemed like we had arrived in Sodom or Gomorrah. This wasn't just that these people were lost, they actually were enjoying their sin. We were being stared at by all we passed. I wasn't scared, but I realised how much this place was void of the Gospel, and the light and truth that it brings to the inhabitants of a place. Back in our stuffy room, we had some logistics to work out. With just enough room for five beds, and Joseph's crib, trying to access our bags for things was a constant juggle, with the pale light of our swinging camping lantern. Mosquito nets were hung, and it was finally sinking in we are staying here, despite the dirt, the intense heat and the overwhelming sense of sin. Also, we were dusty and in real need of showers. Rebecca lay at the edge of the bed she and Joy would share, and just cried, "do we have to stay here? I want to go home! I don't feel comfortable here." "It's okay sweetheart, we are going to pray, and sing songs to the Lord, as we go to sleep. We can do this Rebecca." I tried to reassure her, but I was on the verge of melt down too. Emily begged me to let her wash in the outhouse, but I had seen the colour of the water before it had got dark. Peter had found a lady that would cook some meat we had brought from Filadelfia and somehow managed to keep good. I gathered clean clothes for us, stuffed them in a bag, found some toiletries and took them with us, hoping we could perhaps find a better washing set up where we were going to eat. We had to go in shifts, as we had no security for our things. The lady had already had a good look at everything, and it was too much of a temptation. We walked across the street to the hostel we would have stayed at. She had luz, so we could see what we were about to eat. I wasn't sure the meat we had given would be kept and something else rustled up. They don't have that kind of good meat way out here. We were served a fraction of it. While some of us ate, I helped the girls wash in a slightly better set up, still a camping sort of experience, juggling dry clean clothes and wet dirty floor, swatting the merciless mosquitos taking advantage of our more exposure. Everyone washed and fed, we were all back together again in our sauna, and prepared to get settled down for the night. Some needed to go to the bathroom, as much as we all tried to go at the other place to avoid the filthy box toilet here. Peter and Joy, flashlight in hand ventured down the path. They swiftly returned, agreeing not to tell mummy what they saw. A tub was dug out of the camping box, a corner chosen, toilet paper found and after some convincing, bladders were relieved. We sang to the Lord, read His comforting word and prayed. Rebecca had fallen asleep somewhere in the middle, thank you Lord! I was amazed at Joseph, who I couldn't let walk around in this place; he just went right to sleep. There was an amazing grace for us. The Lord was of course unphased by all that was shaking us. As we started to fall asleep, the electricity finally came on, the dusty fan began to swirl, and of course the TV went on. Telle novellas (soap-operas). Oh Lord! And then the raves in town started, and that music that I unfortunately knew from my unsaved past. We were right in the middle of this perverse generation. This little light of ours, we needed to let it shine!
Sunday morning came, and we made plans to move to another hostel, after affectionately calling this place for memories sake: Las Palmas (Palm Trees). It's amazing how light and a new day bring hope and strength. I could finally see clearly the face of the owner of the house, Blanca; she had prepared a sort of something for the kids for breakfast, and I pulled out our emergency supplies. I had a few passion fruits from Diana that are rich in vitamin C. I spilt a few pips, and the lady quickly gathered them up to plant. These were treasures to her. A visiting neighbour with dogs that joined the ones already roaming inside, sharing the breakfast, began the conversation we wanted to start: what were we doing here? Blanca and her teenage daughter gave their lives to Jesus. They already knew Pastora Lucilla, and Blanca had just started going to her meetings. I hope and pray they go, and they grow in the Lord! They were tired of the sin all around them. Packed up and ready to relocate, we thanked and blessed Blanca for making space for us, and encouraged her to come to the meeting at Lucilla's this night.
The supposedly fully equipped hostel we moved to had the potential of being an improvement but wasn't. But we crashed on the beds anyway, the children in another room, Joseph with us. I tried to catch up with my diary, the basis for these blogs, and then it was time to go to Lucilla's for lunch - she had sweetly invited to feed us some of their catch: it was delicious, and such a blessing for me as I had been craving fish for some time. I had brought a huge pinapple which she was so grateful for. We made juice, but before I could or should say anything, some brown ice was added. Lord, protect us. During lunch, Lucilla poured out her heart about many things; the violent murder of her father of which she showed Peter the graffic photos, the struggle of life out here in Bahia Negra, with the river destroying any efforts of improvement every time it rises, the lack of clean water and electricity, and when it rains you are cut off from outsiders for months. Also for the treatment of her health, Lucilla has to take a boat journey of several days there and back. She shared with us more about her older children's struggle in their faith, and how they don't live according to the Lord's ways. In all these situations she stands in faith alone, and with her little grandchildren that see her more as their mother all around her. We could see that what was and is upholding this dear lady was her love for Christ, He alone was sustaining her. That night, Lucilla invited Peter to share our story, and pray for the people. The meeting would be held right in her yard/garden (don't think grass), and there might not be any light. We went back to the hostel to rest and pray.
Bug sprayed up and bibles and flashlights in hand, we walked in the dark to Lucilla's. The weather was changing. A cold front was blowing in. Chairs were arranged in a few rows, and somehow Daniel managed to rig the torch in a tree to give some light in the pitch black. No stars or moon that night. They had said it was going to rain tomorrow. Some people were gathering, but it was hard to make out faces, and I love to see their faces. There were lots of little children. After we worshipped the Lord, Lucilla introduced us. Then Peter began telling our story, some in Guarani, teaching that we carry a brilliant light wherever we go as believers, and that the dark world all around us needs our light. It was so powerful, and really quite an unforgettable night. When it came to laying hands on this precious gathering of people, the children stepping forward hungrily again, little arms raised, the presence of the Lord was so beautiful, and although we could only just make out their faces, the hunger and thirst was apparent. We prayed for Lucilla and her husband too, and had their congregation join with us. We couldn't tell how many had come. Some were Lucilla's grown children, who she had told to be there with out fail, despite the important football game that afternoon. We had the privilege of leading her youngest son and girlfriend to Christ, challenging them that they could no longer live for themselves but for Christ. They chose to reject the ways of their generation and follow Christ. It was amazing!
We had gone to the far north of the Chaco because we were compelled by the Holy Spirit, despite not knowing what we were going to do specifically, nor knowing anyone. Our trip was coming to an end with 100% confirmation that we had found those crying out for help. The Lord had heard their cries, and perhaps we were not even second or third choices, but just the ones that had obediently gone. The impact on us of these Pastors' isolation and need for encouragement and connection with the body, nationally and internationally would not leave us.
The grey skies threatened rain, as we pulled out of Bahia Negra that Monday morning. We had been told that once the rains begin, the dusty roads become slick and in some places impassable. We knew the Lord would get us back, but it was fun having this added excitement. As we picked up some water supplies, the shop owner, wife and daughter gave their lives to the Lord after asking Peter if Jehovah Witnesses (that had visited them) had the truth. They wanted the truth and heard it, then they received THE TRUTH!
But the icing on the cake was yet to come. It wasn't the amazing scenery we drove speedily through, but another divine appointment. A truck had slid down the bank and got stuck in the mud ahead of us, we were told at a road check point. Sure enough, this huge truck was blocking a good part of the road. Thankfully, we could get by. We stopped and I couldn't believe it, but Peter offered to try to pull them out. We couldn't, but one of the two men then asked if we could give him a ride 'til we found a tractor. I had already judged these two Chaco Cowboys. They were up to no good, transporting illegally quebracho logs, meaning ax-breaker, a denser and stronger wood than oak by far. Knowing we wouldn't turn him down, I slid into the back, pregnant-belly and all, and 'Will' (and his odours) joined our family for the next 45 minutes. From the moment he stepped in our car, till he got out, he was undone by our God. He took of his cowboy hat and started nervously beating himself and laughing, as he thought about Peter's name coming from the Bible. "Oh, I can't go near a Bible. If I touch one, I would die because of my sins!" And he half cried and laughed. "Well, that's a Bible in front of you," as Peter pointed to our collection on the dash board. Will pulled himself back as much as he could, crossed his arms, and cried out, "me voy a quemar! (I'm gonna burn!)" Peter began to explain how he could be forgiven for his sins. "Not me! I've done too many bad things!" And he wept desperately. At this point, I was so undone myself. I didn't like him at all. He probably had murdered people, perhaps raped women, or both. The stain of sin and shame was all over him, and he deserved judgment and punishment. And yet, right before my eyes, we all witnessed it as a family; the love of Jesus Christ, the Ever Merciful, the All Loving was revealing Himself to this broken sinner. Peter shared with him the story of the two criminals that hung on the cross either side of Jesus:
“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.””
Luke 23:39-43 NKJV
Will wept even more, and asked "how long have you known this story?" Peter answered "About 20 years." It was a holy moment. There was hope for him, and the fear of damnation and his utter shame and guilt couldn't hold him back from Jesus' loving arms anymore. Peter pulled to a stop (I forgot to mention that this whole time Peter had been navigating through the mud, the now pretty precarious driving conditions, bumping us all along trying to keep on the ridge and stay out of the ditches). "Would you like to accept this King Jesus and receive forgiveness for your sins with us right now?" And he did, and it was glorious! His previous raucous and nervous laughter became a joyful release as he told us that he felt so light, and all the pain he had in his shoulders, probably from illegally moving heavy wood around, was completely gone and he swung his arms around with freedom and joy. We all began to sing, and rejoice together in Guarani! "God doesn't speak my language" he told us. "But He does! And you can talk to Him and He will understand and reply in your language!" He was amazed! And then he desparately wanted a Bible, and we had none in Guarani or Spanish to give him, or so we thought. We finally came to a clearing and humans, and saw a few huge tractors, none of which wanted to help. But Will would just walk back and wait for another truck to come along and pull him out. He was so happy, this wouldn't challenge him. We drove away, in awe of what God had just done in our car!!! And then Emily remembered a small Spanish New Testament she had in her bag. Peter stopped a speedy Gonzales that was covered in mud, preached a quick Gospel in explanation of what he was about to give them, gave them the Bible with a description of what Will looked like, and let them drive off.
To conclude: our God is Almighty and Ever Merciful! We saw His powerful hand, and walked in His grace! We pray that whenever we as the Lord's servants are compelled, we all will be obedient and go do!
We have since spoken to both Pastors. They asked when would we be coming again. Lucilla stopped bleeding, praise God, and sounded so much stronger and full of life. The materials for her church building are arriving soon, so the next time we go, we will be meeting there. Manuel and his wife were in their field when we called, working hard, but they remember with joy our visit and hope we can come back soon! Please pray for these dear Pastors and their congregations, that the Lord will continue to show them His faithfulness and guide their steps.
About our new little one: her due date is 15th of December. At first I struggled when I started to feel pregnant. But I remembered that a few weeks before I had surrendered this area of my life again to the Lord. I was just getting back into pre-pregnancy shape, and having accomplished my tough fitness routine, I was having a precious quiet time with the Lord on top of our hill. I suddenly realized I was putting my body above the Lord; my gentleman Jesus was asking of me to put Him in first place. I threw my arms up in the air and cried out "Lord, I fully surrender again! I repent for putting myself before you - your will be done, not mine!!!" This little girl will be a blessing to us and all who meet her, in Jesus name! Please pray for me to have the strength I need to serve the Lord faithfully here!
God bless you and thank you for taking the time to read all this!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe