Our children are growing and thriving here in Paraguay, praise God. They do find it challenging missing out on some 'norms' of western living, for example easy friendships in their language, being able to play sports, and so on. As parents, we listen to their heart aches and struggles, and acknowledge it is a sacrifice for all of us. But then we remind them of the blessings God has given us here; our Paraguayan family, the joy that we receive when we see the lost come to Christ, and the miracles! Also, we still have not necessarily found the balance between ministry and family time, and because there are so many people to reach and so much work to be done, we are on a minus when it comes to spending quality time with the children. These are all challenges that perhaps families face everywhere, but I share these with you to let you into our reality on the ground. We are running fast and hard, and our family life has suffered.
Daniel is now 19, and by the grace of God is walking with the Lord and has a living relationship with King Jesus. He has been under attack from several angles, but thank the Lord he is founded on the rock of Christ, and stands having done all to stand. He loves to go out into the jungle with Dad, and they make a great team. Daniel has also decided to stay with us in Paraguay, after finishing up school this year. After prayer and careful consideration, he feels called here, alongside us for now. He will be making more trips with Peter, as well as helping us with administration and communication. We are overjoyed with Daniel's decision, despite my concerns for him not choosing the traditional route of college/university. I trust God's leading in Daniel's life, and after much discussion, I finally realized I had been pushing for something I wanted for Daniel, not necessarily what was God's path for him. Daniel's horse training has been on a long pause after he broke his wrist, but praise our faithful Father, he is healing up really well, and is almost ready to take on some more wild buckaroos! Also, Daniel has a gift in photography, as you may see in the photos we post. Most are his work, and it is a real blessing for Peter and I, that we can capture in some way what the Lord is doing here. Daniel tries not to distract or be intrusive with his photography. So if you feel the photos aren't close enough or don't give the whole picture, you might just have to come and see for yourself;)).
Emily has grown an entire foot in height, dwarfing me, and is even gaining fast on Daniel. I can strangely fit her clothes which she has grown out of, and I am taking advantage of it;). She has expressed a desire to study midwifery with the goal of helping out here in that capacity. Due to our constant moving around and interruptions, she has some serious catching up to do for school, but again, we love the children to see and be part of what is happening out here, so school takes second or third place sometimes. Recently, Emily went with her Dad on a very amazing trip (which I will write about later), and was a huge help in facilitating outreaches to previously reached and one new unreached village.
Joy is still full of joy, and keeps us all on our toes with her one liners! Joseph and Naomi love her games, especially 'housey' where all the blankets and cushions are assembled into a cosy out door home, in the sun or the rain;).
Rebecca has fallen in love with horses, like her big brother, and her favorite thing to do is ride them, or just be around Daniel when he is training or taking care of them. It makes me so happy to hear her speak Spanish now more confidently, and almost daily her Paraguayan friend, Claudia, comes looking for her.
Joseph is growing up so fast, and is sweet with his baby sister. Our neighbour gave Emily a day old duckling, which is now very big, but is Joseph's favorite pet. He prays at night that it will be safe, and makes sure that it has plenty of food and water. Joseph is also our chief egg collector, and after several 'accidents', Peter decided he needed a basket. He liked to hide the found egg behind his back as a suprise for me, then put it in the fridge.
Naomi is a cutie. We are amazed at the amount of joy she gives us all! As a mama of all these precious babies, I am often so overwhelmed at how special each one is. Naomi does these little cheeky smiles, that we can't get enough of, and she knows it! She also loves all our pets. Her favorite is Smokey, our lovable Paraguayan mut. She likes to play 'horsey' on his back, and give him cuddles. He is so tolerant, thankfully.
I am also grateful for the friendships our children do have. Wherever we go, the Lord has given them friends that light up as we arrive. They run and play, and laugh and are making happy memories.
So, how to jump into what the Lord is doing here through our family? I said I would do this in a sort of time order, so let's roll back to February, when we were back here from our UK/Israel trip and settled in. This took a little while, as unfortunately we returned to a damaged house and an over grown jungle, but the saddest discovery was our sick puppy. After a bunch of anti-biotics and Emily's tender loving care, Smokey was back to his happy self, but the house and yard took longer to fix. We painted three rooms in three days, which was quite a feat, scrubbed our stone floor, and began yard clear up. It took Daniel several days of straight weed-eating to get it back to how we left it.
In amongst all of that, Peter and I finally hung our huge map of Paraguay on our freshly painted wall in our cosy living area. We can see all the places we have been, and where we are yet to go. The children love to look and read the names of places we know. Even Joseph is convinced England is next to Paraguay! So this map keeps us accountable as it is a constant reminder of every area of this nation we have been called to. On top of this, Peter was given by Pastor Cipriano the geographical statistics of the indigenous communities, and so with this information we know the areas that need reaching the most. Calendar in hand, Peter and I began planning practically how often to go and on which dates. We prayed and jotted an idea of the year down. The pace sounded good. We would begin discipling the new believers we had reached, with the material we had managed to have printed in the UK. (I was quite concerned when we had to pack all thousand of these, plus laminating paper and the laminator - really? Oh and a bee hive...). At the same time, we would continue to go to the yet unreached communities, guided by P. Cipriano as to which one next. When our new disciples are ready, they also will start going out and we will multiply the efforts.
As a family, we began to prepare the discipleship material. I had tried to get back into school and some sort of schedule, leaving Peter to laminate and do the whole 'procedure' himself - trim, punch hole, laminate, trim corners, punch final whole. Sounds simple. We got it down to 9 minutes to make a batch of 10. It is a 10 lesson course, teaching the basic foundations of our faith in the Guarani language. P. Cipriano told us with tears in his eyes, that to his knowledge this is the first of its kind to be created in his language. A big thank you to Andy Bowen (who taught us Guarani), for helping with these, and to Jamie Lee, for the brilliant art work to make it come alive, and to P. Cipriano himself, for taking the time to sit and work it all out with Peter. It is amazing that this project came together with the grace and flow that it had! All the glory to Jesus! So back to our kitchen table, which had these stacks of brightly colour coded lessons, the laminator and other tools all spread out. I realised that Peter's first trip was coming up, where he had hoped to begin using the material and hand them out. School was postponed, and the family team was put to work. Almost everyone had a job! And then it got competitive, and before we knew it, all thousand copies were laminated, punched and clipped together into their sets. It was very rewarding!
Time came for Peter to pack up and get back out into the harvest field. Daniel felt he should go too. It was hot, and had been somewhat rainy. The girls and I helped them prepare, and kissed and hugged and sent our boys out. There's always some tears and a feeling like you are just about to jump off a very high and scary diving board. But as the car disappears down the driveway, and I decide to trust fully in the Lord, His loving and caring grace falls so gently on me, like a cosy mantel. Then I need to pass this joy and 'we can do this' to the rest of us who stay behind. We get on with our daily life back home, and look forward to hearing from them with great excitement. When my phone rings, we all dive on it at once!! It is often hard for Peter to stay in contact with us because of the far out places he goes, and the signal here isn't very good anyway. But the short updates are always so encouraging and help me to carry on at home. The fruit of this trip was 5 Karu Guasu outreaches, 2 of which were new communities, 115 salvations and 27 recorded miracles. For one of the nights, they stayed in a community which has been going through many challenges, and Peter and P. Cipriano were able to encourage and minister to the chief. God has used us through timely encounters like this, and they can make an eternal difference. Peter and Daniel came back exhausted, filthy but rejoicing in what the Lord had done. We love to hear the stories, so after their first night's deep rest and some good food, it's story time!! Daniel should be writing this part, but he is helping us fix our phones right now, and so I will try to remember a couple of the most impactful things he told us about. They had done a Karu Guasu at this one community that only a few months back had had 9 demon-possessed young people, 4 or 5 of which were simultaneously manifesting: rolling, kicking and biting as Peter and P. Cipriano tried to carry out the first outreach there. (See Blog #30 for this story;). So Daniel had remembered this as they drove up. What Daniel discovered was there was no more torment, only a true presence of precious heavenly peace. He also told us a touching, and humorous account of ridding along in the car to another community in that area. Their young guide and 2 other little passengers sat beside Daniel in the back, P. Cipriano as co-pilot. Daniel showed the young girl how to put on her seat belt, giving her the example with his own. She willingly copied, but her's didn't click. So she held it there, for about ten minutes, until finally she managed to find the place. Only when Daniel heard the tell-tale click, did he realise what had happened. It was one of her first times in a car. Peter later told Daniel that this sweet and complying young girl was one of those who had previously been tormented. Now she was guiding them to an unreached place, with joy and the Prince of Peace in her heart. If you would like to watch the video Daniel made of this trip, go to blog #31.
Back home, we settled in to being together as a family again. This always takes adjusting. And that is an understatement. I don't know why it is so hard, but it is. I feel like part of the challenge is the shift in roles that we have to make, especially Peter and I. But once the adjustments have been made, we get focused back into the work of the Lord.
Locally, we are raising up young believers that every time we go to visit, we have such joy in seeing all that the Lord is doing among them. I have mentioned Zona Alta before; in the hills behind us there is a largely unreached area of Paraguayan 'campesinos' - country folk. Initially, if you remember, Peter went up and prayed for a young girl who had been demon-possessed. Herself and family received Jesus, and ever since we have been going to visit, having church out in the dirt, with chickens, pigs and bugs all around! It's wonderful. This is one of my favorite places to be! Well, almost every time we go, there is someone else added to the group, who wants to give their life to this amazing Jesus! It's not all rosy. We walk through challenges with them, the realities of living life in a fallen world. One time Peter arrived to take something to them, and found one of the young boys had fallen badly out of a tree and needed to be rushed to hospital. They would have had no way of getting the little boy quickly to hospital if Peter hadn't shown up. Also the newly believing mother was now able to pray for her son while he went through serious surgery, and could believe God for a good recovery for him. This mama shared her story with me recently. Through tears she explained how she was such an awful person, that she lived in a little room all by herself. She pointed to it from where we were sitting. "Wasn't I horrible?" She asked her mama and sisters who were sitting with us. They nodded and made agreeing sounds. She went on to say how she hated everybody and everybody hated her. She was full of bitterness, pain and sadness. She was always worried and stressed. And then she gave her life to Jesus, quite unwillingly at the time, but has never looked back. Again she asked her family, "Haven't I changed quickly?" They all confirmed. There were tears and laughter all mixed up together as they recounted some stories giving evidence of this once very unkind lady. Just the last time we were there, this same redeemed lady was crying out in her heart that they as a family don't make enough time to thank God and worship Him for all the good He is doing in their midst. With tears and deep concern she said, "We don't gather and thank God enough for all that He has done for us!" So far, 9 have been baptized, most of them at our place with a celebration to mark the special occasion! Truly the Lord came down and celebrated with us too!
The end of summer arrived and with it, some heavy rainy days. Peter was setting up his next trip. On this one, friend and fellow missionary John McDonough would go with Peter. A Geordie and a Yorkshire man together. I just love how God delights in bringing His servants together in the harvest field. We may have different 'training', qualifications or even ideas, but when we work in unity God commands His blessing! And this trip was truly blessed, despite all the crazy obstacles it faced. On arrival at base camp, P. Cipriano's house, Peter became aware of a sudden family emergency. Very courageously, P. Cipriano decided not to cancel, but to go ahead with the plans.
The next challenge was the roads. They were flooded. In the effort to get there, John's 'chapa' or license plate was swept off, and they had to grasp around trying to find it in the dark. It was all worth it though. The Karu Guasu in a totally new unreached area was very successful: 9 out of 14 communities had gathered together. Many received Christ, and there were miracles and signs following! But the most amazing thing for us was what one of the Chiefs said after the event; "Leaders, and fellow Chiefs, I ask that all of our communities gather for the next one, that not one be missing...for we have never heard news of this God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is around us. Please visitors, come back again, and don't delay in coming! We want and need to know more about this God." Such hunger, such sincerity, in a culture that does not waste words, and only speaks when it is necessary. When we think of these words, it spurs us on to continue to go back to tell them more!! This is our challenge: the work is huge, and the labourers are few. So, we feel it's also key to raise up disciples who will go out along side us, then be launched into their own areas! Some of these gathered together on the last day of this trip, and Peter and P. Cipriano began some discipleship training with them, taking them through the first steps. It all looks so simple and uncomplicated; a few chairs in a rough circle, in which are seated future evangelists, pastors and leaders in Christ! As a teacher, P. Cipriano patiently coaches them and they listen and learn, and will go out and teach the same!
(A funny note about this trip is the story of the giant spider in the room and the two brothers (in Christ). It goes something like this:
"You kill it!"
Apparently, there was more than one giant spider:))
Soon after this trip, the very community where there had been 9 demon-possessed young people, gathered together to vote if they wanted a church on their land or not. We discovered that there was more than one chief that needed to be involved in the decision, that we had not known about, but even he was also in favour. The vote was unanimous! The dates were set, and they chose and cleared the site in the center of their community. Peter gathered a team that would build, chainsaw, dig, drill and measure everything. After several building projects in the very rural areas without electricity or running water, Peter knows more or less what is required, materially, physically and economically. This is good, as the more prepared we are, the more successful is the outcome! I thank God for His wisdom that flows through my husband for this. Again the wood was cut from the community's own forest, and then the wood was dragged out by our vehicle and fellow missionary, Mark Boscher's. Concerned about all the new scratches on its side, Peter asked Mark if he was still up for dragging the huge logs out. He replied, "this is just how I want to scratch up my car, putting it to work for the building of God's kingdom!" What a sport! It's such a joy to harvest together, and then to build the barn!! Justin Kantner also joined in and got his hands stuck into the mud, quite literally. They set up their campsite and even had two cooks from Uruguay, who were visiting P. Cipriano, to prepare their meals. During this construction time, the villagers would come and see, some bringing daily offerings of food. There was one family in particular that seemed the most excited about a place to gather and celebrate their new found faith. Perhaps it will be these that will be the faithful leaders here. The team were prepared a very interesting meal one night of 'jakare' - caiman/alligator. It was barbecued and handed out. Peter tells me it tastes like gamey chicken. One orphaned, or more accurately, abandoned little boy came to trust Peter and his team, and was temporarily 'adopted' by them. He knew so much about the jungle, to the point that he could direct the team away from snakes by detecting their smell. On the work site he loved to play with the cut-off wood pieces. P. Cipriano told us how this abandoned child reminded him of his childhood, when he also had no one who loved or cared for him, and basically had to fend for himself. They all got very attached to their little companion, so when it was time to pack up and leave, it was very hard. When Peter told me on the phone of the little boy, I couldn't bear it. Could he not just bring him home?? What is the best solution for him? Oh Father, you promise to place the orphans in families, so I pray for him to be placed in a loving family! Back home, we try to remember him when we eat, when we get into comfy beds.
All the glory to God, but the boys, big and small managed to raise another beautiful church building! But what is more beautiful, are the people that will come and use it. We are not building and then trying to find those to fill the church, but the new believers are asking for us to help them build a place to worship!! So the formerly tormented and crazy place, is now one of the most peaceful that we know, and soon they will know more songs to sing and worship our great and mighty God within their 'local', church. A big and heart felt thank you to Mark, his son Barrett, and Justin for giving of your time and strength, and thank you also to your families who sacrificially let you go:)
In the middle of this building trip, Peter traveled down south to teach and minister to young people at a bible school we feel connected to, Parque de las Naciones. You may remember this place from previous blogs. Our dear friends Jenny and Miguel oversee this school. It was a powerful time of a call to the harvest field for these young bible scholars. We hope to one day find them on the mission field, harvesting too!
For a while now, Peter and I have been praying about moving closer to where we feel the greatest need is for the moment: Canindeju. I would like for Peter to not have to drive so far, and stay away for stretches. Also, this work out there needs more hands on and frequent visits, until it takes off and we have raised up others. We are to be fire starters, the Lord told us as we prepared to come out here, and has confirmed since. And we love to raise up others, especially the indigenous themselves to reach their own people.
If any of you know us well, then you will know our house hunts are always a journey of some sort. This will be our 8th house, in 20 years of marriage this year. We are listening and waiting on instructions from the Lord. He told Peter clearly to pray in the Spirit and follow step by step the Lord's guiding. One of those steps was to visit an abandoned mission, not far in relative terms from where we are working. With permission, we stayed on the grounds of the mission base, located on the edge of an indigenous community. We wondered if the Lord was having us move there. There are a lot of complicated politics with this place, and very sadly the people have been left in the middle, with a threatening church split situation on top of it all. We managed to meet with the chief again, and encourage him in the Lord, but we sensed this place was not for us. Because we were close by, Peter took us to see the new church. On arrival, we saw a little boy running to the car. This was Peter's buddy from the building trip. He looked distressed and was so shy of us as a big family, so we left Peter just to talk to him. As a mother, all my instincts were to pick him up and hug him, wash his little round face and find something for him to eat. He was too afraid, and Peter's one or two minutes with him where just as valuable, I'm sure. I could tell he was comforted to see Peter again. At the church site, the kids and I looked at the fruit of 8 days labour, touching the strong beams and admiring the strength. This building was another here to stay! We then visited a couple of families, the second of which had been the most involved daily with the project. We had heard their daughter had been manifesting demonically at night. As we arrived, greeted warmly by the father, he told us the mama had taken their daughter to the witch doctor. We were too late, we thought. But no, praise God for His goodness, the doctor wasn't at home, so they returned to find us there. The mama was so happy to meet us. It was so very touching! She and I wanted to hug, but the Mby'a tribe don't. Instead we just smiled for a while at each other and laughed. This was the lady who had brought the hard working team offerings of food. I told her how grateful I was. Now her daughter was under attack, and they had not been able to sleep as a family because of it. They all sleep together, so there is no getting away from any disturbances. We offered to pray for her. They were very happy. We listened to the description of what was going on. Typical of satan's cowardly work: at night, great fear comes upon her and she screams and wails. Shyly, the young girl sat with us, as her parents told her we were going to pray for her. She wasn't sure. They reassured her. She sat, and as un-intimidatingly as we could, by the grace of God we rebuked the tormenting demon in Jesus Holy name. We blessed her and declared she was free. She began to try to sing, a few little sounds came forth, and the parents told us she wants to sing to God but doesn't know the words. So we all sang a couple of Guarani worship songs. Peace and joy fell on us all. They brought out a plate of recently harvested honey, literally 'bees knees' style, as my Daddy calls his own honey. It tasted delicious, and so rich in minerals. We then were handed a cup - we weren't sure if it was to drink or wash our sticky hands off. So not to offend, the case being there was a shortage of water, we drank. After we laughed and chattered some more, we told the young girl that the next time she feels any fear, she just needs to sing and remember the evil spirit has no more power over her. It was time to go. I always seem to leave a piece of my heart after meetings like these. They become my family. I sometimes wonder how big God thinks my heart is, then I realise it is actually His that I am passing out.
May arrived and with it, butterflies! So many beautiful creatures of all colours and shapes, flittering and fluttering all over our garden. We are entering winter, but the weather is still warm and pleasant. The biting bugs are much reduced, which makes sitting outside 'terere' times very enjoyable. Before lunch, we try to stop the business of the day and gather as a family to chat and relax together.
Our friend, Andy Bowen was about to bring a team from USA to minister here. He had asked Peter if part of their time could be along side us, out in the harvest field. The trip was arranged. Emily really wanted to join her Daddy on this one. She is my other set of arms and mummy number two for Naomi and Joseph. However, I think of God's plan for her life. Emily has an amazing gift with the children in these communities. Her smile seems to fill them with love. So the day came for goodbyes again. I took a gulp and released my daughter. It would be the first time she would sleep in an unknown situation, alongside other young ladies I wouldn't know. I had heavenly reassurance that God was watching over my precious daughter. She had stayed at Hermana Carmen's place many times before. This was big for the both of us. Knowing some guarani, and being familiar with what we do, Emily was able to assist the team of young people who had come, helping them pull together some of the logistics of the Karu Guasu outreaches and kids ministry of balloons and songs. What was very touching about this team who had traveled far to come and join us for a couple of days, was that they experienced first hand the love and goodness of God being poured out on the unreached. Thank you to all those who came. God bless you!
At this point, after these seemingly back to back trips, I was weary. I felt like I had been left alone one too many times. I was having panic attacks of some sort. Physically, I was drained, and probably lacking in sleep, nutrition and general relaxed time. I love and adore my children. But I think our youngest two, Joseph aged 3 and a half and Naomi, aged 1 and a half, have needed more of my love and attention. The contrast of ages struck me the other day, when I was releasing my big boy, Daniel who is about to turn 19, to travel 6 hours by motorbike to a Missionary Kid's bible study, while my little guy was handing me a plate of play dough lunch. So there are still diapers in the house, sippy cups, the odd tantrum and lots of cute little sticky fingers! If you have toddlers, and are nursing, then you will be able to relate somewhat to my life. Remember our house is cosy, so toys are truly a hazard, especially for Peter whose feet seem to find them on the floor more often than mine. Joseph does a good job of keeping his Legos and cars picked up, but occasionally there is the odd one that escapes the big pick up. The toilet paper gets pulled out, my kitchen basket contents are dumped onto a sandy floor, and we are still training to come when called instead of running in the opposite direction, squealing with delight. I run out of ideas for meal times regularly, and am often reluctant to write out weekly menus and shopping lists. When I manage to clean out the borderline hazardous fridge, I feel such a sense of achievement. Anyone with me on this?? My sweet Naomi is a blessing of course in so many amazing ways, having a spark of life that ministers to people wherever we go, but one thing I haven't done with her that I did with all others, is be strict on not picking her up after I lay them down at night. Night nursings are common still. Any mummies out there in the same sleepy boat?? All this to say that I have had to slow down and be realistic about how much I can do. I am a perfectionist, and without Jesus, I would have driven myself into the ground. I hear His still small voice telling me, 'leave that, don't fuss over this' and so on. I try to be obedient. Well, with the help from a dear friend, a new chore schedule is up on the fridge, and so far it has helped me so much to relieve the burden I had been under - self imposed, because of preferences some of it. With the business of life and ministry, Peter and I had grown distant too, each focusing on our own areas of responsibility, with little time as a couple to regroup, catch up together and take time for each other. It felt like we no longer were in tune with each others needs. I felt even more abandoned, and that stressed me more. I hit bottom emotionally, and had to take time to communicate. This began the healing for me. I am not good at this part, but the Holy Spirit faithfully helps me to explain my internal struggles in a way Peter can understand. We each make adjustments, taking as many steps back towards each other as necessary. We cry and pray together, repent and forgive. Please, any of you dear couples struggling right now, at least agree to try and let the Holy Spirit help fix it by His comforting power. It takes time and patience on both sides, but it is so worth it. We must as followers of Christ protect and work to strengthen our marriages.
I have been living in a more graced and peaceful way these last few weeks, thanks to the family adjustments we made. Peter was heading out again, and this time we were stronger as a couple. This was essential for this trip as I will explain later. The goal for this adventure was to visit and strengthen an already reached community, put the roof on the last new church, and then to take the gospel to another unreached place. Peter prays and takes time to plan these trips. They require serious logistics, as any tools, food or equipment need to be brought in. We use big black boxes that you will see in the pictures loaded on our roof top. Budgets are made, plans are complete and we set off, often without the full amount in advance to complete the trip - but God is always faithful. Our call to Paraguay was confirmed through a dream, something supernatural. We don't plan to make our vision and what we do here fit a natural spread sheet.
God has given my husband a great gift of joy, and even in difficult circumstances, there is usually a joke involved. We balance each other out well, as I am the opposite. Peter is happily prepared for anything. Nothing seems to phase him. So when the plans for this trip went pearshaped, as we say in England, he didn't panic. Lazarus, our semi-retired 23 year old land cruiser, had been chosen for this trip as our newer vehicle is awaiting some important repairs. He faithfully got Peter and Daniel to the second location, but then died, again. I received the call for help. Peter, who was now located just around the corner from the middle of nowhere (no google map directions available) needed me to drive out with the other vehicle, so that the trip could go on.
There are always first times for everything, but I think God sees us and our limitations very differently than we see ourselves. I don't like to drive, and haven't driven much here, and definitely not on the dirt roads. I do pack up often when we travel, but not for what would be a surprise camping trip. So, I had never driven this far before, leaving the house all locked up, by myself. And yet, I felt such grace and strength from the Lord Jesus to do so. And I believe I wouldn't have been in this place had Peter and I not taken time to repair our marriage. I made a list, and began gathering. We didn't leave as quickly as I had hoped, nor did we arrive as early as I wanted, but we eventually got there. I drove 175 miles, 50 of these on dirt. At one point, my heart sank as I faced a pile of freshly tractor-plowed dirt. They were preparing to lay the tarmac. Then I realised there was a narrow option to my right. This is where the big trucks play chicken with all other traffic. I had put deodorant on that morning, but I began to smell something. Emily was my co-pilot, support team and map reader. Without her encouragement and help, I couldn't have made it. I am so thankful for her maturity. Instead of being annoyed that we were again losing school time for the work of the Gospel, Emily got busy packing and taking care of her younger siblings, then in the car, guided and supported me. Emily recognized more of the road than I did having traveled there recently, so when maps and connections ran out, Emily was looking out for memorable markings or sights along the way. We eventually came to the 'big gate' and the 'bend to the right'. We were now looking for the opening in the tall grass, and the church building. We had made it! Daniel was on the ladder, and Peter came to greet us. It was 4pm. The time when all these tiny noisy flies come out and really bug you, like gnats. I could tell the team was tired and had had a hard day. They were figuring out how to build the gable end for this church. My daddy is the architect for these 'locáls', community buildings, and shared with us how he feels such grace every time he designs something for them. However, Peter has to take the intricate, detailed drawings and make them for real, using limited tools and usually massive fresh cut jungle wood! There is also the whole dynamic of leading his often mixed team of English, Spanish and Guarani speakers. These drawings are all creased and stained now, after being used a few times over. They haven't just remained a dream or another far off goal, despite all the challenges. Often Peter has had to adapt certain aspects, and when I arrived they were in the middle of figuring an adaptation out. The end result, a day later, was stunning, as you can see from the photos. Thank you so much to my amazing Daddy, who has done all of this as a big gift from his heart to Paraguay. Your skill Papi will shine in the Paraguayan countryside for many moons, giving glory to God!
Time to get our sleeping bags and camp set up to include the girls and I. This is a bit of a no go subject, but all those that do camping the good old fashioned way, will know about 'country pees'. The challenge we had was these awful bugs that have no respect for awkward moments, and then the lack of secure privacy, when there are little trails through the tall grass to unseen huts here and there. We managed, but it was a trial. As soon as the sun went down, there was to be a time of worship and discipling. I was so excited. The fire was nice and hot. Those that wanted to be there had gathered: some of whom were the chief, the ex-witch doctor, and an onfire young man, and lots of children. We worshipped together, the young man and P. Cipriano choosing mostly which songs, the stars so bright and twinkly above us. I cannot describe this scene enough. The light of the fire was catching the little children's faces as they listened and took everything in. The crickets were heard in the pauses and quite moments. There was no hurry. No clock ticking. When P. Cipriano spoke and read God's word, holding his old Nokia phone for his light, you could sense they were drinking in every drop of this life giving water. His gentle teaching voice carried around our little circle with no strain or interruption. Joseph sat on my lap, a little wriggly because we hadn't had supper and it was late. I began to translate what the story was for Joseph, of Adam how he was created, and Eve coming from his rib and how that meant he would cherish her. Our friend beautifully recounted the creation and fall story we all know. I wish we had recorded it. The only regular movement and potential distraction was unfortunately my own little two, who by this point were not too sure about the smoke, the outdoors and empty bellies. P. Cipriano closed the meeting in prayer, at which point hats were removed. Then the ex-witch doctor stood up, and said he had very much enjoyed hearing God's words and singing the songs, and wanted to hear more next time. We learned that he had recently fully committed his life to Jesus. The next day, he came and watched as the last few pieces of gable ends were being nailed up.
Time for supper, (way past it really). Peter filled a pot with water and tonight's menu was 'porridge'. My daddy would take us camping once a year, and I have such fun memories of those times, and porridge definitely was on the menu. P. Cipriano had never eaten this before, and actually truly the Holy Spirit guided me to bring this staple of ours. He was feeling weak and tired, but the porridge really strengthened him and he slept deeply. He was very thankful the girls and I had come.
Morning came very quickly it seemed, and with it a fresh breeze. The cockerels were a lot noisier through our thin tent, and we could here movement outside from the Chief's little hut. Cipriano was stoking up the fire, and we gathered to pray and thank God for this new day together. We asked Daddy in Heaven to give Peter wisdom to help get this project on the way. Breakfast was more porridge, which was less exciting this morning, so we had plenty of leftovers to share with our friends. I had scooped out and prepared some and handed it to a few of the precious local children, some of whom had little siblings on their hips. They looked at it and some tried it. One child finished it all up, but a few just tried and handed it back. I was told, 'ndahei', it's not tasty. I laughed, appreciating their honesty. I perhaps didn't put enough sugar in:)
Soon, the workers were ready to start off again. Tools were gathered and plans discussed and slowly but surely the project advanced. The hurry and necessary efficiency of our culture in Peter and I, is so tested by the cultural opposite here. We try to adapt and not be impatient, slow the pace of our walk down, and keep our conversation of what's needed to be done relaxed, not pressured or stressed. This takes Holy Spirit given grace, and self-control. Peter is used to it now, but he had to remind me a few times, "smile Evi, it's all okay." And for our children, to speak gently to one another, as our little onlookers might think we were speaking meanly of them. Doing washing up and preparing lunch were my logistical challenges, not to mention keeping Naomi and Joseph safe with chainsaws, screws, open fire and dust as constant temptations. Emily and Joy helped me keep them safe, and also helped chop our veggies for 'gizo', stew Paraguayan style. We had plenty of food so I was so happy to hand out something hopefully tasty to the families around us. Empty and rinsed plates and pot were handed back to me, with big smiles. That said it all to me. It will never get old to see how they squat together and share the food. There's no squabbling, or grasping between them. The older ones feed the younger patiently. I had worried I wouldn't be able to make enough food when the little local store had no onions and only a few wrinkled peppers. God always blesses and it multiplies somehow! The work continued into sunset, at which point there was a suggestion of a wash at the river. Daniel took us, but because of a dry season, the river looked more muddy than we were. Daniel still felt he had to get 'washed' after his fourth day out there. Emily braved it too, but the rest of us just scrubbed our feet.
When we got back to camp, it was time to leave. We had to pack up quickly. I hadn't had a chance to say goodbye to the ladies who had been sitting with me that afternoon. I was sad. The tent came down, sleeping bags were rolled up and tools gathered. The gable end on one side was complete. It was enough for now. Now came the task of getting Lazarus to Cipriano's house. We left at 7:30pm, and arrived at 9:00pm, after a journey that should only take 45 mins. Lazarus kept badly overheating, and Daniel and Emily would refill big water carriers at any creek we passed. So we arrived, tired and very dirty. We had to wash our tired babies, get set up again in another new place and feed the kids. It's these steps that are the hardest when everyone is tired. I have to remind myself why we are making all this effort.
We had a lovely time with P. Cipriano's family again. The next morning, Peter went with Hermana Carmen and P. Cipriano to visit a new place and an old one, with great success of a new open door of ministry in another community. Most of these communities are in a desperate situation of physical suffering and spiritual torment. They are ready to receive the message of Christ, if someone will take it to them. As we continue to see, the Gospel changes everything!
I spent a very precious day with Hermana Carmen's daughters, and had deep conversations. The children all played and laughed together. The following morning, Peter and P. Cipriano sat down together and had an important planning meeting of what has been accomplished so far, and what our next goals should be. P. Cipriano listed the places we have been to and the ones still waiting. Their names grab our heart. Time came for goodbyes. We love P. Cipriano's family so much, and feel close to them, that it is not easy to part. We hope to move a little closer and spend more time with them. It is a privilege to work along side them for our King!
We are living in very serious times. Peter and I have never felt such pressure and resistance on a daily basis before, especially just as we are about to make another trip. When we sat down at the beginning of the year and had our 'planning meeting', it seemed easy to jot dates, places and ministry objectives for this year. And yet every time these approach, the pressure gets so intense that we could crumble and cancel. Despite these challenges, over the last 6 months Peter has made 7 trips, and driven on average 100 miles a day. Another church has been built, making a total of four, and we have begun distributing and teaching the discipleship lessons to several communities. All the glory to our great and mighty Heavenly Father, who has strengthened, protected and provided for us as a family, both on the field and at home. The many souls saved, delivered and set free are truly the evidence of a merciful, loving and ever living Saviour Jesus Christ! I hope these stories encourage all of you and spur us on in the fields of the Lord of the Harvest!
From all of our heart, we would like to say a huge thank you to all who have been part of this work, financially and prayerfully. Hopefully one day we can thank you in person, but the greatest and most precious moment will be when Jesus Christ himself will thank you and then show you the souls that are in Heaven because you helped to send us!
The work is still huge, and the other night Peter and I calculated statistically that at the rate we are going, it will take us 22 years to reach the several hundred Indigenous communities in Paraguay that are still waiting to hear the Gospel! We need to speed up! We need a bigger team! We must keep going! Jesus is coming soon!
Thank you for taking time to read our update!
May the Lord richly bless you!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe