I am so excited to write this update of another adventure we have had, during which Peter made the above classic statement to me (title of blog).
But first, how are you all, dear family and friends? We hope your summer break has been refreshing and full of cherished memories. I still remember our family holidays to our favorite place, Holy Island, off the North East coast of England. We would pile our bikes, including my parents tandem, on top of our Land Rover, spend a couple of weeks of cycling, beach-picnics and swimming! Thank you Mama and Papa for giving us these precious memories!
I would like to tell you about a recent trip to facilitate 5 indigenous outreaches together as a family! (Sorry it has taken us a while to post something!) If you have read our previous blogs, you may remember Pastor Cipriano, a dear brother in Christ who God has divinely connected us with. These outreaches are the beginnings of a combination of our heart to reach the lost in Paraguay and Cipriano's vision for his own indigenous people. We had invited others to join us, and in total we were a team of eighteen: our family, Brother Sergio and his daughter Joana, our Paraguayan family friends, Justin and Elya, S.I.M. missionaries, and their young son Caleb, and some brothers from a local Ache tribe. Peter and I love to take others with us when possible, to expose them to the need to reach people, and to experience with us the wonderful joy in harvesting for the Kingdom of God.
Before we left, we faced the usual attacks from our old arch-enemy: heavy oppression, vehicle issues, family relationship challenges, etc. If we were to decide to do ministry when all our ducks were in a row, we would never do anything. We would just continually be trying to herd our ducks!
Packing is always an interesting one for me, as there are so many factors to take into consideration: weather that can some days be very hot, or plunge to cold and damp. We need to take sheets, towels, blankets, prepare for mud-stained clothes, take plenty for nursing baby and active toddler, pack snacks, basic kitchen supplies, water filter....the list goes on. Joy and Rebecca have a backpack, and cleverly pack mostly by themselves - they always manage to stuff in a teddy and a notepad. Daniel and Emily use a small case, and the babies and I usually share one. I always try to only take what I'm sure we will need, but this trip had so many unknowns, that I felt to throw in a few extra blankets and supplies. I am so glad I did!!! Our car looked so overloaded on our way out. I wasn't sure we would make it up and over the hills. With a top speed of about 45 miles an hour, I had visions of us just about to reach the top then rolling back down;). Lazarus, our 22 year old Land Cruiser*, had died many times on these trips before. Another miracle journey was about to take place.
Peter had told me so much about these places and the people we were going to from his previous trips; their anticipation as they watch us set up and prepare the Karu Guasu (you might like to read the history of these events in our previous update). I was finally going to experience it all for myself, and our children too. I was preparing my heart for the suffering and brokenness I was about to see - Peter's heart had already been broken for these people.
We arrived early afternoon to our base for the next week - dear Pastor Cipriano's home. Our children have friends here now, so they came shyly to great them and give hugs. We wanted to do the correct cultural norm of sitting and drinking terere together, but before it grew colder and dark, Peter and I had to move our family into our 'casita' for the week, make beds and be ready for Peter to preach that evening.
The weather was cold and damp. I was glad I had brought all the bedding I did. We finally were set up for the night, and glad to have discovered the large flat spider hiding under one of the mattresses!
We joined our hosts for the short ride an Ache church, a nearby indigenous community. We were warmly welcomed, but because of the weather, few had ventured out. It's not like back home, where you can warm up inside if you get cold outside. These humble dwellings, usually made of wood shingles with tin or grass roofing, barely shelter people from the elements, and whatever temperature it is outside, it may only be a fraction warmer inside their hut. Many choose not to venture out after dark, but bunker down, sleeping on the dirt floor, hopefully with some sort of blanket, waiting for the sunrise.
They apologized anyway for the few attendees. It didn't phase Peter. We had come anyway, and he would share what the Lord had put on his heart. It was Shavuot, the feast of Pentecost as we call it, where the Holy Spirit was poured out about 2000 years ago on the disciples in the Upper Room. As we knew from the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit had fallen so powerfully on them, that many who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast heard the disciples speaking in their own languages. After realizing the dates of this trip, and hearing Cipriano's heart for this gathering of believers, Peter had prayerfully decided to teach about the in-filling of the Holy Spirit. Starting from Genesis, he guided them through a simple but clear teaching, and then there was a time of ministry, where the hungry came forward to receive from God. Almost all came out from their benches and lifted thirsty hearts to the Lord. It was a precious and holy moment. As the presence of the Holy Spirit filled the room, and these dear believers received, I sat and thought of what a privilege it was to serve our Loving King.
I love being mama and I love my children. But it was past bedtime for Joseph. I had fed him all the snacks. He just needed his blankie and bed. After trying to go to Daddy several times mid-preaching (in Guarani!), I hoped he would settle down in my arms. Emily thankfully kept Naomi asleep, while I tried to prevent Joseph's tiredness from distracting.
That night, as our hosts fed us 'galletas' (a type of dry bread bun) and coffee with their family gathered round, we felt at home, among family. We eventually climbed into our cold beds and snuggled to get warm. I was concerned for Naomi and Joseph, but bundled them up as well as I could. Despite all the ways that I was being stretched naturally, I sensed that the more important spiritual needs of my soul and spirit were being met, as we seek to go and obey our King.
Morning came quickly, and with it more damp. Peter was heading out to get supplies so that we could do the first Karu Guasu – ‘Big Eat’ outreach at midday. We all gathered for breakfast; bread and cocido (a mix of toasted herbs and sugar) and then dispatched the boys for their shopping trip. I wanted to try to get to know Cipriano's sweet children better, at least remember their names! There were 8 children and 6 grandkids running around, and I was having a hard time remembering who was who.
The air was still cold and time had come for us to go to the site of the first of our 5 Karu Guasus, only a little ways down the muddy road. On our arrival, it was so touching to see the anticipation on the faces of these dear Ache people. The adults and leaders were already in full swing with the preparations despite the cold: wood was being split and two fires were built, a table was set out to chop and prepare the food upon, and the loud speaker was sending happy melodies into the neighbourhood. A couple of huge, almost glowing white grubs were found as they prepared the fire wood, and were lightly toasted then eaten after a small tug of war as to whom should have it. Obviously delicacies, but we weren't pressured to try. Thank the Lord.
We had been welcomed shyly, and tried not to be foreign. Smiling and body language is so important here, as they watch us all the time. I sat on a bench next to some other mothers, and nursed Naomi. They have a beautiful giggly response to me. I was so happy to be able to communicate with them: their language is Ache, but they can speak and understand Guarani too. Soon I was preparing veggies along side the leading women, having lots of fun! Peter had asked for this outreach to be done on neutral ground, meaning we were not on the church grounds for the reason to more effectively reach out to those who would otherwise not come to a church event. As we chopped and cooked, the very physical game of pique volley was being played, and more people came along to watch. We probably reached double the amount of people because of it.
A few things stood out to me about this outreach: one was the moment I was given my Ache name. [A non-Ache person, if accepted in an Ache village (usually after a number of visits), is given a name in the Ache language.] They had talked about what I should be called last night at the church, but they decided not enough elders were there to make the decision so they would wait. But as an elderly lady stirred the huge pot, she studied me for a while and then decided I was 'Kajaminígī', meaning 'small Jaguar', a type of wild cat. For me it was a very special moment - Peter already had his Ache name and I was jealous. But more than that, this meant acceptance and fellowship, a becoming one of almost opposite worlds. I was so happy, and honoured and my heart felt so full! (Peter was now jealous as his name is after a large rodent type creature :-)
The other touching moment was watching two little brothers waking around with their bowl and spoon in hand, confidently waiting for that hot food! The anticipation on their faces as they circled the bubbling pots and warmed themselves by the fires caused me to realize that with these Karu Guasus what we would be doing was meeting one of the greatest needs of mankind: sustenance. These adorable little shaggy clothed and barefoot boys didn't moan how long it took to cook all that rice and meat, and were just content knowing that sooner or later their hungry tummies would be filled. Our primary reason for being in their community that day was to bring them the Living Bread of Jesus Christ. These brothers sat on the orange tarp we laid out for them, with all the other about 100 children, and attentively listened to the Gospel message, holding tightly onto their bowl and spoon. For the first time in front of a crowd, I shared the Gospel in Guarani. I told the story of The Creator God who made them and everything in this World, and then I shared about His Son, coming to give His life for them. All around us, the people listened carefully to what we shared as a team. Hungrily they received the good news. Many prayed with us to accept Christ. We watched in awe as God confirmed His Word healing the sick that came for prayer. And then we fed them all with natural food - a tasty Paraguayan meal. Emily had managed to blow up a whole bag of balloons and bring some fun to the day, with Joy and Rebecca's help. Daniel's role was to try to unobtrusively capture the outreach on camera. It had been an incredible day for all of us. We were cold and tired. It was time to pack up.
The next day was adventure, scouting and more shopping for the next outreaches for the boys, and laundry and fellowship for the girls. We said goodbye to the guys after a quick breakfast, not knowing how far their journey would take them. It had rained heavily again last night so the roads were very muddy, after five days of wet weather. The sloppy dirt roads were awaiting them.
As the children played in our host's garden, I mentioned to Carmen, P. Cipriano's precious wife, that i had on my heart to reach out to women here in Paraguay, specifically with practical help for personal hygiene and baby care. Her eyes lit up. It was a huge need in her opinion, and an open door for outreach. We visioned together with Elya, who had been involved in a project making hygiene care packages for women in Haiti, about one day having a leading lady in each community who would facilitate meetings just for women, in our newly built church to teach them sewing, health information and what ever else was needed. It would be an outreach in itself, drawing the community together through the women. We all were excited, dreaming together about sowing machines, material, health workshops and all sorts! God in His way and perfect timing would bring it to pass.
Finally, late that evening the boys returned and with stories to tell and mud slopped all over the car to verify them! They had traveled 200 miles, been pulled through a river of mud by a tractor, and had made some very key connections with community leaders for future Karu Guasus. We thanked God for their safe return. A witch doctor and friends had even given their lives to the Lord! Tired though we all were, the shopping needed to be organised and divided up between the next outreaches.
We were up and out the next morning for the trip to the next community. As we arrived, the people were busy with something. The Mburuvicha (Chief) came and explained they were having an important meeting. Plain benches had been assembled in front of the Chief's house and they were sorting out some important business. We found out later that they were actually discussing which bit of land they would use to build a church! Cipriano and Peter had done only a handful of Karu Guasus before, and already this community had been so impacted by the Gospel. Having heard the good news of forgiveness of sins and seen the hand of God at work in healing miracles, they wanted to give a piece of their land to God. Our God is amazing! After the meeting was closed, we began to get out our supplies to prepare the feast: two huge pots, our black storage boxes filled with raw chicken and meat, rice and pasta and vegetables, other cooking supplies, balloons, fishing hooks for the guys and clothing and blankets for the ladies. Chopping began and the outreach was underway! Again, we as a team shared the simple gospel. They hungrily received, and several were healed of various sicknesses.
We had managed to find huge blankets and a roll of fleece to give to these dear people, as winter was only beginning, and they lined up in semi-organised chaos with glee. So, it was at the handing out of these turquoise blankets, that unspeakable joy was filling my heart. One of those 'pinch me' moments - here we are in Paraguay reaching the forgotten, and pouring out blessings like these treasured blankets. I did consider however that there may be a better way to organize the distribution. I grabbed Peter's hand and tried to suggest how we could improve on this glorious chaos, but his response was "They've heard the Gospel - everything else is just fluff!" And quite literally, it was! We were meeting a practical need, which we try to do at every community, and the impact was huge, causing giggles and joy, but the true spiritual transformation of a soul being born again has to be more powerfully impacting! I felt I had witnessed a glimpse of this in one particular young man at this place. The weight of sin was written on his face, and yet as he heard of the Lord Jesus Christ, his face began to transform, from shame and guilt to hope! With utmost joy, I can share with you that this young man is a believer in our Lord and Saviour, and has already won souls himself for the Kingdom of God - Peter will write about this in his next update.
The next community seemed smaller, and more desperate economically. The children were filthy, and I could see several babies with various ailments, some serious looking. The women again were very shy, but the Chief's wife cooked with us, which began to change this. Before we fed them, Daniel went to the well and filled a bucket of water and Emily helped me wash the children's hands. Some really began to clean up, washing their legs and arms, as if they had not thought of it themselves! We watched as they smelt the perfume of soap on their little clean hands. One little baby was so unused to the feeling of clean hands that he began to cry as he held his hands out and looked at them! Rain threatened off and on, but the Gospel was preached, most gave their lives to the Lord, and the atmosphere of the place began to change. God healed the chief of a pain in his knee, after he had given his life to the Lord. As we packed up and said goodbyes, we were asked when will we return. We left so amazed by their hunger for more of Jesus. We would be back.
Away down the road we pulled onto a clearing where two little wooden shacks stood. Apparently, Peter had been here before, and Emily had had the priviledge of naming a little baby here. She had told me about a sweet nameless baby, whose mother had asked through P. Cipriano what she thought the baby should be called. "Jessica", Emily had suggested. It was accepted, and approved of. During that first visit, Cipriano and Peter had shared the Gospel and the small group had hungrily received the Word of God and given their lives to Christ. We had come back to visit them, and I was being introduced to two young mothers with their children shyly clinging onto their skirts. Emily joyfully was re-united with Jessica, and was able to love and cuddle her, the mother happy to hear forgeign coo-ing. My heart was very touched by the younger mother, seemingly unlovingly holding her one month old baby. I thought to myself, any minute now that poor baby is going to fall from her arms! I wondered how a mother could not love her own baby. Then I looked around, and realized perhaps why she was so void of emotion. This little family out in the middle of no where, have no hope of survival being so isolated and vulnerable. How could someone who has no hope or love, give love? We had found more hopelessness. Then I was asked what the baby should be called. I tried to catch the mother's eyes to check if she really wanted a foreigner to name her baby, but her eyes were cast down. P. Cipriano repeated to me the request. I couldn't rush this though. For our children, we have sought the Lord and heard from Heaven for each of their names. I was going to do no less for this precious child, I just hoped to hear quickly! I asked the mother if I could hold her baby. Shyly, I was handed the little bundle. As I rocked her, I waited on the Lord, enjoying this precious moment. My heart was bursting with love, and I felt her little unnamed body soaking up every bit. "Rosa" I heard from Heaven, "She is My Rose", Father God told me. So I named my first indigenous baby in Paraguay. The father nodded in acceptance, and the young couple laughed and actually smiled. They repeated the name a couple of times, and hope and joy seemed to rush in. We blessed "Rosa" and I handed her back to mama. Later I learned that this family have no elder figure who would normally help them name their children, and so they saw P. Cipriano as one, who could fulfill this important cultural role. God through us had met their needs, spiritually and culturally. We then sang a few sweet songs with the children, blew up some balloons and played.
As we drove off, I thought to myself how easy it would have been to just drive on by those little huts and not stop, and then completely miss being Jesus love messenger for Rosa and her family. We didn't stay long, but in the short time, Love was poured out. What a privilege Lord to serve You!
Each community we visited, there was a sense of finally someone cares, we are not forgotten, maybe we can be someone. The smiles of the children as Emily and my girls blew up balloons, washed their little hands and handed out much treasured candy were unforgettable and so very touching - a reminder that loving someone is not complicated, it just takes going to be with them, and some time.
I have never wanted to be an outsider to people, but every new community we arrived in I found myself being the scary stranger at first. I am a different colour, my clothes are cleaner and nicer, even though I do not put anything fancy on. My hair is recently washed, and although desperately needs a cut and dye, they have no access to running water generally, not to mention the lack of soap or combing tools. But my prayer has always been that number one I would have a heart of love and compassion for them that enables me to just see past all these physical and even stronger and deeply engrained cultural differences and enable me to reach into their world. I smile and greet the mamas in their language, young and old, most of them with several little ones clasping at mama's skirt, one at the breast. I offer my hand if I sense this won't be a step too far on my first visit. This causes their sweet, usually toothless, smiles and laughter, to break out, and they look at one another as they shake my hand, as if sharing with their fellow sisters the emotion of the moment. I love their laughs and smiles; they seem so pure and sincere, really like children. How has modernism and supposed cultural advancement killed joy? These people have such a beautiful simple joy. They laugh at anything, very freely, at the good and the bad. There were those ladies, however, that were so overcome with desparate sadness that they only looked down and offered me a limp hand, as they crouched on their haunches in the background. At one Karu Guasu a young suicidle woman came forward for prayer. "Ndavy'ai", she told us, "I have no joy". We gently led her to the Joy Giver, Jesus Christ, and she received so much joy that she was completely changed. Peter saw her face shinning later that day, and when she asked Cipriano what time a church service was in a nearby village, he couldn't even recognize her.
At another community we were all gathered; the foreigners and non-indigenous on one side of an area and the indigenous sat opposite, staring at us. I didn't like this set up. Had we come to spectate one another, or be examples of Christ love for humanity. I also think how would Jesus draw people to himself. Well, I felt the first step was to walk over to 'their side', then I greeted as many as I could in one section and stood behind awkwardly as there was no seat for me to sit on with them. A younger lady got up and moved so I could sit. I had Naomi with me so I thanked her, and nursed my hungry baby along side the other ladies. Some just stared completely in amazement. They were drinking terere together, and I could almost here them think this: "She's not going to want to drink with us." But I did. I prayed they would offer. The next second the guámpa was handed to me, and I drank, well aware of the potential consequences to my stomach, but choosing to focus on God's promises as I reached out to these people He has given me to love. Almost instantly, the young lady who served me began to talk to me. She asked me so many questions, some of which I asked her to repeat. By the time we were leaving, she and I had become friends and exchanged numbers, took selfies together and hugged. More importantly she told me her dream of becoming a doctor. I asked if she was studying. She was the only young 16 year old in her community without a baby/babies yet, because she was trying to finish school. Currently, she cannot afford to pay the bus fair of equivalent of $1 to get to school. I hadn't realised during our time together that I had been talking with the Chief's daughter. Peter had been playing football with Daniel and had broken the ice with the young men. They no longer were sitting on their motos far out of the way, pretending to be cool, but had come right up close to listen as we shared the Gospel. This was the first time I had seen a number of men hungry to hear the Gospel, and they were young - a potential new generation of youth, able to carry the gospel to other nations! As we shared about King Jesus, the Chief himself stood right at the front, seemingly drinking desparately of every word we shared. At the moment of calling upon Jesus, he did so in an uncustomary loud voice, causing others to confidently pray out loud too, including those young men. At some point, the Chief's wife approached Carmen and told her "We have been waiting for a long time to hear this message about the Almighty God. Thank you for coming!" That day, the Chief himself was instantly healed from a skin disorder, and his wife from pain, and their whole family was impacted. So much so, that he stood up and declared in front of his people that the doors to his community would always be open to us. According to Pastor Cipriano, this was a very powerful statement showing how much they trusted us as outsiders, and wanted more of what we had brought! Glory to God! As we were tidying up, the Chief's son brought Peter and I a gift. I thank God for wisdom from the Holy Spirit, to help us avoid disastrous cultural blunders. But what would you have done if you had been in our shoes? We were handed a beautifully carved 'Virgen de Ca'acupe' - a statue of the Virgin Mary. He was so proud of his skilled work, and it had obviously taken him some good time to make. It was his sacrificial gift to us. And then his mother handed me a beautiful orchid plant. Guesstimating the value of our gifts, it was more than a weeks wages here. As a group, we were overwhelmed by their acceptance and love for us at this place. We are heading back to this community soon, so please pray for more souls and a strengthening of those who gave their lives to Christ.
The time had come to say goodbye to Cipriano's family, and leave another home away from home. We had grown even closer to them during our stay, and as we said goodbye there was a genuine sense that we were family saying 'jajotopata' - 'till we find you again'.
The stretch and strain these trips have on us are hard to describe, and impossible for those who have never been stripped of comforts to imagine. However, the results or the fruit far outweighs any sacrifice we make. On this trip alone we roughly counted 190 salvations, and witnessed 20 miracles of healing. Only God knows all of the fruit though, and I am happy to leave them in His capable hands. The vision is to revisit these places, and more, as the doors remain open, and continue to reach out to them, until a body of believers is established. We hope to then disciple our new brothers and sisters in Christ, build a church in their community where they can fellowship, and raise up leaders and missionaries who will go and make disciples of their own indigenous people, even to other nations' indigenous. Big vision, but a great huge God. And yet, even in His greatness, He never overlooks the dejected, the wretched and broken. They are valuable to Him, so much so, He is calling us to GO to many forgotten corners of this nation and find them, hut by hut, if need be.
We are willing to go! There are hundreds more communities waiting! Please help send us! We pray we can faithfully and wisely carry out the great commission Christ gave us, but we cannot go unless others support us. If you sense in your heart to be a part of this vision to reach the unreached here in Paraguay, please take a moment to look at our 'Send Us' section on this website which outlines the goals and needs to accomplish the task. Thank you so much, from all of us! And God bless you for taking the time to read this. I hope you have been encouraged that we all serve a truly loving God!
*As we post this blog, we are purchasing a much needed newer vehicle - Praise God!!!! A Huge big thank you to Grove Christian Center who made this dream a reality and to all those who gave. Lazarus will enter semi-retirement. :-)
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe