Please excuse the long gap again. It is hard to believe we are coming to the end of 2018 - this time last year we were so excited about our imminent trip to visit family back in the UK. We are still hanging onto those precious memories, but have no plans yet for when our next trip there will be. The children frequently ask when will they be able to see their grandparents and cousins again. We also still hope to one day be able to visit Oklahoma, and our church family at LifeChanger and Grove.
So the big news this year is our move. We finally did it! I hope I can write this story in a way you can understand why, where to and how, because it may be helpful in the understanding of this new season we are in. We are aware that our communication to you all is rare and so, time passes and you may feel we disappear;). I have wanted to share our last few months with you for a while, and sought out time on several occasions. Peter and I are wanting to communicate on a more frequent basis, and are currently working on a plan. (I could write a long string of excuses here for our very limited communication, but I will refrain;)
You may know that we had been living in a village called Arroyo Porã, Sapucai, in a rural region of Paraguay. We had located ourselves there for our Guarani classes. We have all loved our first home in Paraguay, not to mention the fact that it was called "Quinta Che Kera" - cottage of my dreams (very much linked to the story of how we came to Paraguay). Peter and I knew the season of being in this area was coming to an end. As much as we tried to figure out a way to remain there, loving our Paraguayan family around us, Peter had no peace about building an extension onto our rented little cottage. Physically, we weren't really fitting in the house anymore. The one small bathroom and two bedroom living quarters were causing stressful situations, especially with two teenagers, one being female;). The Lord had a new place for us somewhere, and we were going to find it!
About a year ago in March, I received three powerful words from the Lord: HUGE, SPACE and ALIVE. And then the Lord gave me this scripture (I may have shared this already, so please excuse any repetition):
“Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants will inherit the nations, And make the desolate cities inhabited.”
Isaiah 54:2-3 NKJV
I understood that the Lord was about to do a powerful thing in the midst of us regarding our location, that it would reflect His abundant life and his greatness and meet our need for S-P-A-C-E. So as a family, we would quote this scripture and say those words out loud, encouraging one another in those challenging all needing the bathroom at the same time moments. I asked the children to write and decorate the three words and then Daniel artistically wrote out the scripture, and we blue-tacked it onto our door so we would see it all day long. Sometimes it looked so impossible that God could do such an amazing thing for us. There were several obvious challenges: how do we move our family of 8, and our farm of several species in a practical way in rural Paraguay? When, and where would we be moving to?
Thank God for the Holy Spirit! He always guides us, if we ask and seek Him! And that's what we did! What we sensed in prayer was the need to move closer to where we were predominantly ministering - the department of Canindeju, where Pastor Cipriano and his family live. We decided to make several seeking trips out there, looking into two abandoned missions bases and some options P. Cipriano had found. But none of these seemed right. The search continued.
Divine connections and friendships are so valuable. A dear missionary family who we have known almost since we arrived in Paraguay, knew we were looking to move and heard about a big house available for rent. I am so glad my friend Joanna went ahead and told me about it, rather than think of all the logistical challenges it posed and the fact that it was not in the area we were considering. This vacant but large house was in a Mennonite community in Departamento San Pedro, neighboring to Canindeju. At first, Peter and I almost dismissed this as a possibility as it was not where we thought God wanted us. Also, the house needed a lot of work, and hadn't been lived in for several years. (remember the scripture...And (you will) make the desolate cities inhabited...) Immediately I presumed this couldn't be the Lord's plan for us as we were too busy to take on a 'fixer-up-er'. And to confirm our negative feeling about the whole idea, we didn't want to move into a German speaking colony that would present us with a whole new set of learning curves again. We have just about adjusted to Paraguayan ways and language, it couldn't be that God was now shifting us to another cultural dynamic?? Really by some divine miracle of God's grace in our lives, all these negatives were tucked away for a moment as we made a decision for Peter just to go see and drive those 6 hours there and back. We all looked at the photos he took over and over, trying to imagine what this place was like. I couldn't even think of it being a possibility. There had to be something else.
Time still was ticking by. We had a slight pressure from our landlords, who really gave us great favour and were very understanding, but Peter had agreed that by May we would give our notice. It was April. Meanwhile, it was mid fall here in Paraguay, and everything in our garden was so beautiful. It was citrus season, and the tangerines and grapefruits were all just starting. How could we leave this place? However, deep inside we kept feeling that tug, even to where I started making some practical preparations, clearing out our storage places for example. I began to hint to our Paraguayan family we might be moving, and tried to visit them a little more intentionally. I encouraged our children's local friends to come over as much as possible, so they could squeeze in all those happy memories.
In the absence of any other viable option, we decided to all come and see the big abandoned house. We were to meet the owners early one morning, so we set off at dawn. The children were excited as always about this adventure. The drive was breathtaking, with the sun kissing the sloping green hills. Finally, we took a turn off onto a dirt road, and Peter announced we were 'almost there'. Everything looked different: the houses, the gardens, and the various other structures along the road. We turned onto a pine tree lined driveway, and I could see a house hidden behind trees and overgrown bushes. First, we sat and chatted with the owners - thankfully they spoke Spanish. They loved the children, and were very welcoming. Then the house was opened up and we walked through. It was a smelly mess! Bat guano was in piles around the house, and the creatures themselves were shocked to be disturbed and began flying around. Frogs, bugs and spiders had all moved in and the floors were covered in their remnants. The rooms didn't make much sense to me in terms of layout, but I was trying to keep my listening ear open to Holy Spirit. The tour was over, and the children moved outside to explore. I can remember thinking about all the work this place needed for us to even begin to live in it.
I feel like Peter and I are always needing to walk on the water, stepping out of any kind of comfort zone and simply responding to His call, "Yes, Lord!" The move to this house didn't make much sense, but we believed the Lord guided us here. We took another step of faith. We fixed a date to move, August 31st, and began the preparations to make the house livable. Our dear family of new believers from Zona Alta sent a team to join Peter and Daniel on two occasions to come and camp out at the house, to help them clean, fix and make ready. Once the bats were evicted, the jungle had been pushed back, and some main jobs, like blocking up gaping holes for example were completed, Peter felt we could fix the rest once moved in. Also, we had committed to Peter going North to the Chaco with a team to take the gospel to the indigenous up there, and we wanted to be moved into our new place before.
Back at our tiny cottage, boxes, crates and whatever we could find to stuff things into, were being filled, as neighbours came morning and afternoon, to spend more time with us before we left. The main and concentrated packing was done early morning before visitors came, and after they left, late into the night. Finally, we started to hear echoes and stare at bare walls. Our moving van was booked. It was a cattle truck that our dear Paraguayan friend helped us find, saving us lots of money. There was a sudden apparent complication of Daniel's horses needing documents and branding, in order to move them legally, processes which normally take several months. We had about a week. We watched our Heavenly Father do the impossible right in front of us; in a country where a single process normally takes several days/weeks/months, Daniel's horses were both branded and granted the necessary paperwork in one day. Praise our mighty God!
D-day dawned. I cannot describe the stretch Peter and I had reached at this point, having maintained going and preaching at the same time as preparing to move. It was raining, and in Paraguay that means in the 'campaña' (countryside), plans are cancelled. After commanding the rain to stop, Peter went to wake up the truck driver, and help them clean the cattle poop out;). Neighbours began arriving, some to say another heart wrenching goodbye, some to help. Soon, we had a crowd of people joining us on moving day. It looked so impossible that all our stuff, and 12 different species of critters big and small, would fit on this old Mercedes lorry. I asked Emily to encourage me, and tell me we were going to make it. "It's going to be fine Mama, you'll see!", she reassured me, while carrying another box to the 'rolling ark'. It was Comet and Kit's turn to be loaded, and the space was much smaller and the jump so much higher than Daniel could have ever prepared his horses for. These were good reasons to panic, but Daniel calmly attempted to load Comet, who had never been loaded onto anything before. His audience chipped in with a few unwanted tips. ''Pegárle!' - Just hit him! Miraculously, all was loaded and it was time to pull away. Daniel was to travel in the cattle truck, and we watched as it swayed and rocked down our bouncy drive way. "Lord, protect everything on and in that rolling ark!" I prayed. Now, for the bees. They needed to go on our car roof, along with the stroller and other miscellaneous items. Last hugs and more tears, as the girls and I said hard goodbyes to best friends, including my sweet Joana, who has been with us since Joseph was 9 months old.
The storm that had been held off as we moved finally broke as the last items were unpacked onto our new porch. It was late, and we were all so tired. My dear missionary friend, also called Joanna, who had found us this house, had a feast prepared for us. Rustic sleeping quarters were made as we prepared to spend our first night in our new home. I prayed that little Joseph and Naomi would sleep peacefully, after this big day of change for them. Familiar teddies and blankets were pulled out, and by the grace of God, they slept in their new room, Naomi for the first time separate from her mama and papa.
We awoke to new bird sounds and jungle noises, that spoke of a more rural place. If you have ever moved, you will know that it takes time to adjust to these new sounds, and surroundings. As the days went by, and the chaos of boxes and a makeshift kitchen changed finally into a spacious home, we have been able to begin some very much needed restoration. We had not realized that as a family and as individuals, we were on the brink of burnout. God in His great wisdom, had picked us up and placed us literally on a geographical island. I spent the first few weeks asking God, "Why Lord? Why here?" As I shared this question with my friend Joanna, she suggested God was giving us a forced break, a time of recuperation. Missionaries who are part of an organization take sabbaticals, furlough or home assignment. Being independent, we didn't have a break coming up, ever. God has placed us strategically in a place of rest. We can recharge and 'go' again stronger as the need is great, all charged up and running on full rather than dangerously low or empty.
We are facing new challenges here, of language, culture and more bugs, but the grace of the Lord is sufficient. The house still needs work done, and is missing some basic furniture and AC, but truly the Lord is faithful and we thank Him for this amazing journey here in Paraguay. Every time I am greatly challenged or tested by something, like pesky biting horseflies, or crazy heat, I think of the faces of the precious people God has called us to reach, or someone that has changed because of knowing Jesus' love for them. These are what keep us going and pushing to go more. Peter and I sense that we are literally on the brink of much needed expansion, in order to reach all those the Lord has in our harvest field called Paraguay.
I want to take this paragraph to thank all those who have been part of making this place into a home; we have a beautiful kitchen and have been able to freshly paint the bedrooms! We have updated the lighting, and fixed several electrical issues. We feel at home now in this new place. God bless you all and sincerely thank you!!
Thank you for taking the time to read this! Since I began writing this blog, more people have given their lives to Jesus, we continue to witness God's power to heal, and whole communities are being transformed by Jesus love! We continue to go. Please continue to send us!
Happy Christmas and we pray you have a very blessed 2019!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe