Dear family and friends,
it has been so long since I have been able to write about our adventures here in Paraguay, and all that the Lord is doing. Somehow I have felt that I cannot write more until our story of pain and loss was told. Shortly after, I wrote about the horrific car crash in which our beautiful 15 year old daughter Emily Grace Cecille was killed. We were unable to release it for legal reasons until now.
So here goes…
Written in October 2019…
This blog will be the hardest to write, but the longer I delay, the silence between us continues. I don't know quite how to write this one, but I am starting in faith that the Holy Spirit will guide and help me.
On our recent visit to the USA and UK (Aug-Sept’19), we shared with some of you much of what I am about to write. It was very hard to leave Paraguay and make those trips, as it felt like we were leaving Emily behind, but we believed it was important. Thank you to all who loved us, fed us, housed us and cared for us during that time. We have precious memories, despite the context. It was a time of deep grieving and healing. We are still in this process. We are completely shattered and only our loving Lord God can put us back together again.
Just to update you briefly on where we are now; back in Paraguay at our home, looking for and hopefully purchasing a new vehicle (purchased Oct. 2019). We have been home for a month, grieving, trying to recover, and spending time together as a family. We have not rushed back into our work out here, preaching the Gospel to unreached people groups. This has been hard, as it feels like we have abandoned these precious people, but we know it is vital we heal and recover, and slowly pick up again our call.
I will write the background of the tragedy that shipwrecked us.
Peter and I have as individuals been seeking the Lord on being ready in all circumstances for the Lord to move through us, and if need be, even to raise the dead. On Monday 10th June, I had been listening to a testimony of a little boy who had been raised from the dead. I knew this would take great courage and strength from the Lord, if I was to face a situation like that.
We had met my friend in August 2018, on a ministry trip to the Chaco. Two years before, she was given a hopeless diagnosis of a terminal illness, and only a short time to live. After a failed attempt at surgery, she and her husband decided they would not follow regular medical treatment, but seek an alternative, given that they had young children. In their searching, they found Jesus and the Word of God! They decided Jesus was their HOPE and Healer. They committed themselves fully to Christ, and dove into all things of the Lord. When this young mother heard we were ministering on healing, she wanted to come to the meeting but couldn't. We arranged to meet her on the road, as we headed back home. We had a powerful time of prayer. We blessed and encouraged her in her new found strong faith. I loved her as my sister from the moment we met. We kept in touch almost weekly, and managed to spend a heavenly weekend together as families in January 2019. We prayed, we worshipped, and praised God for healing and victory. We broke bread together, shared our hearts, iron sharpening iron, uniting in faith and love, one for another. I cannot describe how powerful and glorious this time was. We all knew this beautiful couple had entered a new realm of faith, standing on God's promises. We kept in contact, rejoicing in all the progress and recovery she was making. Truly, she was a walking miracle.
Back to that week of June 10th. I realized some days had passed and my friend had not been in contact. In my spirit, I sensed Satan was trying to snatch her away. I shared this with my family. We prayed. Thursday morning Peter would receive a message from her husband of her tragic passing away.
Wednesday 12th June. It was our family outreach day (we were at this time doing outreaches once a week as a family). We were off early to preach the gospel to a new community. This would be the first time that the gospel would be preached to the indigenous people in that whole region. Also, we were bringing food and small gifts, and some fun for the children, but most importantly, the message of Jesus’ love for them. I have been to quite a few Karu Guasus now (an important cultural time of forgiveness with a meal), but this one stood out to me for several reasons. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the Casique (the chief) and his wife, who proceeded to sit me down next to her, and began to serve me ‘Terere' (the typical cold tea). She was unusually chatty, and I felt uncomfortable with her staring at Emily, and had to ask Emily to move to the other side of the building out of the lady's stare. Culturally, these people are more reserved, and so I was taken aback by this forwardness. P.Cipriano had promised her a bag of clothes, and the lady began to ask me for her gift, in quite a manipulative way. However there were some good memories of this Karu Guasu, like it being the first one we did with the Bosscher family (dear missionary friends of ours), our girls chopping and preparing together, pulling water up from a well with Joseph and Naomi who were fascinated by this, and seeing all the people’s faces as we told them the story of Jesus. It always is a powerful moment when we hear them calling upon Jesus. I had noticed a baby in a grandma's arms who was sick, and by the Holy Spirit, I discerned that it was a spirit of infirmity, that was plaguing this baby. I hoped she would be brought forward for prayer, and she was. I noticed a red string around the baby's wrist. (These are put on shortly after birth as a dedication with ‘protective favors’ in a synchronistic ritual of superstitions). Before praying, I told Peter that the bracelet needed to be removed, as I sensed it was part of the problem. He referenced a local person, who wanted to avoid a cultural confrontation, and said it was not important. I stood my ground. The lady agreed to remove it later. We prayed. Whether she did or not, we had that day challenged a principality or several, perhaps for the first time in that region.
Thursday 13th June. I woke up early, as I had to prepare for school. I took out the meat to defrost for Peter's birthday lunch tomorrow. Everyone was still resting. We had got back home very late. It was already beginning to be a hot day. There was no wind. At some point in the middle of our morning school, Peter gave me the tragic news of our friend having died yesterday. We were heartbroken for them. My immediate response was, "We have to go!" It was not an option in my mind, despite the journey being at least 7 hours. Our brother and sister in Christ had been attacked. It was our duty. We decided Peter would go and pray and seek the Lord, as I finished up the little school we had begun, prepared sandwiches and house for this unexpected trip. I had a dear friend, Jessica helping me at home. She was scrubbing our filthy shoes from the day before's ministry. "When we come back, we will have an awesome testimony to share with you," I boldly told her. On Peter's return from prayer, we gathered as a family on the floor in our sofa-less living room. It was cool and still fresh despite the heat of the day already rising. We sought the Lord together on who should go and who should stay, as there were a few options including Peter just going by himself.
I have gone over this moment in my head a thousand times: Daniel felt that Emily should stay, to catch up with her lost school. Emily, however offered to come to help take care of Joseph and Naomi, and the friend's little ones, as Peter and I would go into the morgue and pray. Emily shared with us that she had a vision of our friend rising up! We felt encouraged and emboldened to go! We prayed with Daniel, blessing him for the unknown time that we would be away. As we drove off, Emily leaned out of her window and waved a loving goodbye to Daniel. He will always remember his sister's beautiful and beaming face! She was going on another sacrificial mission; her last on earth.
I remember almost every detail of our journey. There was a mixture of joyous expectation and a sense of urgency in the car, as we travelled along. Despite the fact the children had all been on a 6 hour car journey the day before, they were happy and relaxed, looking out the window at the various landmarks we passed. I was sitting in the middle row between the two youngest, Naomi on my left, Joseph on my right. Emily was co-piloting beside her Daddy; being next to him was her favorite spot, having traveled more than all of us on various ministry trips, and for her long legs to have space. Also, I didn't want Emily to have to entertain the little ones today - she had done that yesterday. Joy was at the very back left, and Rebecca next to her. We stopped at a new gas station for the bathroom. As Peter played tag with Joseph in a big open space, I remember turning to Emily as we waited for the others, and we had our last precious hug this side of Heaven. I noticed she was shining, and full of faith for this mission. Back in the car, we began to worship, Emily leading, pausing her school work which was sprawled across her knees. "I raise a hallelujah," we sang, with faith that truly "death is defeated, the King is alive!" We sang this song over and over, every line of it being appropriate for the day's call.
It was early evening and the golden red sun was setting. We still had some 4 hours of journey ahead of us, and decisions to make. Where would we stay? Who should we contact to say we were coming? It seemed of higher importance to just pray and worship. Peter began to talk to Emily about our upcoming trip to the USA, our first since leaving in 2014. “Emily, the boys are gonna want to date you,” he began, “neporã tereingo (you are very beautiful)!” he continued. This was a serious conversation, I thought, and shouldn’t be in a foreign language.
“Peter, please don’t speak in Guarani to Emily! That’s not her heart language!’
“Mama, but it is! I love the Guarani people and their language!” Her big, beautiful and full of innocence, green blue eyes, with her head turned back at me, stared and shone with love and joy, as she explained to me that the Guarani people had become part of her heart. This was our last but very important conversation with our daughter. If Emily had not shared with us how much she loved Paraguay and her people, that the Lord had truly knitted Emily’s heart to our call, Peter and I would have felt so much regret and guilt for having dragged our daughter around Paraguay for the last 4 years of her life.
We had crossed the River Paraguay, and began our long drive up the trans-chaco road. There was flooding still that we were looking at on the sides; little huts still in deep water, evidence of the devastating floods of March/April 2019. A quick pee stop for Joseph, and off we went again. In the twilight, we could see clouds of mosquitos. Emily was trying to do her school with the flashlight on her phone. “Put your school away now darling, just rest.” Emily obediently packed it all away, and tried to put her favorite song on to play in the car. It was time for supper and bed, but we still were not close to our destination. I thought the little ones should sleep to help pass the last 2 hours resting. Eventually Naomi fell asleep. Joseph wouldn’t settle beside me, so I just felt he needed to go to the back next to his sisters. By a miracle of God that saved his life, he unclipped his belt, picked up his booster, and moved himself to the back. In a few minutes he was asleep.
I can only write what I remember, what I experienced, but this next part is very very hard to even think of or describe. Help me Lord. The purpose of going to this painful place must be before me - I know many of you that read this may have lost loved ones, perhaps through accidents or sickness, miscarriages or simply unknown causes. I now know it is devastational to lose a loved one. But I write because I know that God heals shattered hearts and families. He promises HOPE and RESTORATION in Christ Jesus for all! “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.
I write because I believe it is important to declare boldly that our God is a GOOD GOD! The devil is evil. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10. Satan was determined to destroy us, as we had been sent to bring HOPE to Paraguay. I remembered as I sat in the horror of our mangled car that this was the very same night 5 years ago that Miss Rhonda Knox had received a dream and the call to Paraguay to bring hope to the hopeless. (Read Rhonda’s book: “Mama, I have fallen in love with Paraguay!” to find out the whole story of how we got here in the first place:)
One moment all was beautiful. Peaceful. The next, I see our lights shine on the back of a huge semi (lorry), stopped right in front of us, without any lights on. There was not even time to shout or scream, and Peter couldn’t swerve around as there was on-coming traffic. We were trapped. Our front right, where Emily was sitting, hit the left back corner of the truck. My head must have hit something very hard, as I was stunned momentarily, and blood dripped down my face. The smell, the dust, the noise of falling glass and debris. I could hear the cackling of demonic laughter celebrating our demise and the effectiveness of their trap. My right arm was trapped under Emily’s seat, which had been shoved all the way back into where Joseph would have been. I saw my beautiful Emily, her eyes closed but her face disfigured. She made no movement or sound. I knew I couldn’t face this without Peter. I turned to look at him, and saw that he was slumped and twisted, lifeless. I screamed out with everything in me, “I rebuke you satan! You cannot have my family! God, I need you! Rescue us! JESUUUUUUUUUUS! Peter, you get up right now, I command you in the name of Jesus, rise up! I rebuke you foul spirit of death! Peter, get up now, in Jesus Holy name! I need you to go to Emily!!” Almost like a robot, Peter suddenly began to untwist himself. He got up slowly and I don’t know how he managed to get to Emily over all the car debris, but he came to her side. Although Peter was severely concussed, we both prayed together, and cried out to God.
A few hours later, in a conscious moment, Peter would share with me his out of body experience. “Evi, I was with Emily! She smiled and motioned with her hands, asking if she could go on ahead, and I gave her permission.” Peter had been on his way to Heaven with Emily, confirmed by a vision a dear pastor friend of ours in Nepal was given, but Peter came back to me, and Emily stayed in glory with Jesus.
We went through many ordeals as a family ensuing the crash…waiting for an ambulance which never came, eventually being loaded into a pick-up truck, Peter with severe concussion and a fractured neck in two places, sitting in the back with Emily laid out on a mattress that some local people had provided, and arriving one and a half hours later to a small and desperate clinic in the middle of no-where. The plague of mosquitos that mercilessly stung Joy and Rebecca, Joseph and Naomi, as they lay huddled together on a mattress on the filthy floor trying to comfort one another. I was crying out for blood for my daughter, medical attention of any kind, and understanding there was nothing they could do for Emily. The ensuing horrific task of needing to release my baby girl’s body to be prepared for her funeral, when no-one except myself had ever touched her. I scrambled to find her clothes in her back pack, and saw on the front “FAITH WORKS”. I knew in my heart that somehow someway God was going to REDEEM this whole nightmare. Details of clinging onto Jesus as I went from Emily to Peter, commanding LIFE not Death, as Emily laid there with her smashed face, and Peter going in and out of consciousness, repeating the same questions over and over and over:
“What happened Evi? Did we crash? I am sorry. I am so sorry…Where is everyone? Is everyone okay? Where are we? Did we crash? Was it a semi? What happened?” And then he would begin again…
“Just rest Peter,’ I told him, “lie down, please hang in there! I need you to wake up so you can pray with me for Emily to come back. You cannot let her go to Heaven yet. Not like this. I am not in agreement with you releasing her. We are one! She needs both our permission.”
Then there were the awful phone calls I had to make: Daniel, back at home, faithfully taking care of everything…how do I tell him about this? Our family…I needed help too…an undertaker lady was, without any compassion, asking so many questions, and I had to make decisions.. I needed wisdom and to think straight, not panic and not despair. A dear friend, Gerald Schmidt drove an hour and a half to come help me; truly sent by God in our time of great need. He explained all the legal things to me, advised me wisely and in love, and took the burden of having to do this all in Spanish. I cannot thank you enough, brother!
Then came the heart wrenching moment when I had to say goodbye to my beloved daughter and leave her in the hands of strangers, who were going to dress her for burial. I cried out to God for strength to endure. All of a sudden, the one previously rude undertaker, being touched by my faith and love for the Lord Jesus, pulled me into an office, and fell on her knees in front of me and cried out, “I need Jesus! I am such sinner. Please help me!” I led her to Jesus right there, next to my daughter’s bleeding body. Her name was Esther. For me this was a glimmer of hope, the beginning of redemption. In the midst of total tragedy, a soul won to Christ. The lady who would touch my daughter’s body had just become a child of God. The Lord had her there for me, for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). “I will take good care of your daughter, and do what I have to do with great respect,” she reassured me with tears in her eyes, now bright with new found life in her Saviour. Death, you have lost your sting! I hugged my baby girl one last time, knowing that her birth suit was empty, but that Emily lived on in Christ.
Then the nightmare journey to the capital, Asuncion, in a bouncy tin can of an ambulance. Peter was slipping away from me slowly, in and out of consciousness. As we arrived at the hospital, he was barely hanging onto life. Daniel met us, at another clinic on the way, and did everything he could to get us to the best hospital in Paraguay. Then our brave and clever son had to deal with all the paper work, signing off treatments, permissions and all kinds of things. We spent two days, receiving various levels of emergency severe trauma analysis and treatments. Joy and Rebecca had to be so brave, their injuries needing many X-rays and lots of needles, and being in intensive care units away from me. Peter was on one floor, the girls on another, and myself and the little ones along the corridor. Daniel and I, and a few close friends would go between them all, checking on Peter, and the girls. Thank you John McDonough and Mark Bosscher with all of our hearts for all that you did during this time. Other believers here, our family in Paraguay, came from all over, bringing love and support, food and entertainment for the little ones, beautiful cards and many hugs! I cannot thank you all enough, the hands and feet of Christ here. You overwhelmed us all with your giving of time and love and resources to help us through the most difficult time of our lives. If I started to mention names, I would be afraid to leave someone out.
Mama and Papa you dropped everything and flew out. I cannot thank you enough!
From the very second I came-to in the crash until today, I believe that Emily will rise again. We did not bury our dead daughter; we laid to rest her earthly suit, till she will pick it up again on Resurrection Day. And our Father in Heaven knows when that is. We believed, prayed and hoped that it would be when we were physically reunited with her body - we went to Asuncion, but a funeral company took her body back to our home area where she was re-prepared for burial, and then frozen. Again the Lord had provided dear friends, believers in Jesus, that did this with utmost respect and were in prayer with us for Emily to rise again. Once we were miraculously released from hospital, for which Daniel had to convince and have paperwork quickly put through for this to happen, we drove straight to where Emily was. Peter in a neck brace, Joy on medication, all of us still in varying amounts of pain, shock and trauma. But we were focused. The thief does not come except to kill, and to steal, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10. He is the resurrection and the life, and had promised Emily to satisfy her with long life (Psalm 91:16). We boldly entered the morgue, with our chosen few. Our dear Pastor friends, Ted Estes, David and Rhonda Knox had dropped all and quickly flown in from USA, with Jamie Sivak, a family friend. Another dear family from Georgia. We gathered around Emily’s frozen body. We declared. We commanded. We cried out to God. Daniel stayed in the morgue all night and had a very spiritually and emotionally tough night, wrestling with the spirit of death that even tried to come against him as he lay near Emily, praying and declaring. The next day just Peter, Daniel and I went in. We sang and worshipped. We did everything we felt the Lord lead and showed us to do. I stood by the huge metal doors of the freezer and declared that death cannot hold God’s beloved.
I perhaps don’t need to tell you how emotionally and spiritually challenging this all was. Peter still was not fully conscious yet, and remembers only parts of the days and weeks that passed after the crash. We were praying through most of the nights for Emily to raise, encouraging believers all around, including the church leaders of Paraguay, to set their hearts with us in faith for this. It felt like so many people all over the world were in agreement with us. I want to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone of you with all of our hearts for standing with us. We do not know why Emily did not rise, other than most likely, after one look at her Saviour Jesus, she decided to stay in Heaven with Him, having been given the release from Daddy. One night, shortly after the wreck, I had an amazing conversation with Emily.
“Emily, please go ask Jesus where He would be most glorified through your life: if you were to come back, or to stay on in Heaven?”
“Yes Mama, I will!” she replied.
We celebrated Emily’s life in a local church, with almost 500 people that came from all over Paraguay and further afield, including dear Pastor Cipriano Ayala and his wife Carmen, whom we work with. It truly was a very beautiful sending on to Heaven, but still we expected Emily to pop out of that coffin any moment. The hardest and most heartbreaking thing that a parent could ever do is bury their child. Only because we stand on the rock of our Lord Jesus and our faith and trust in Him, that in the end we know we will be together again forever with Emily, could we go through this service. Also in England we held a similar beautiful celebration for Emily’s family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
Perhaps it is that Emily being in Heaven has glorified the Lord Jesus Christ on a level that we can only know and understand when we join her in Heaven. So many have been impacted by her life, that many family and friends have come to Christ or made new commitments, and have been baptized. Emily’s love for Jesus and her example of faith and goodness lives on. Even today as I write, Peter was visiting a village we had been to with Emily where she had befriended the Chief’s daughter. They remembered her and were touched to hear of the crash.
Many of her beautiful and dear friends are in touch with me, and have all received Christ as their Lord and Saviour because of Emily’s testimony. Some have even had beautiful dreams and visions of her comforting and hugging them, and encouraging them to be faithful to the Lord. One friend even made a very heart felt and serious commitment to continue Emily’s call in her place, and share Jesus with others, as Emily would always do.
As her mother, losing my sweet Emily has been almost harder than I can bare. There have been many days of unbearable pain, tears and more tears, and trying to come to terms with it all. The trauma. The shock. The loss. The new family dynamic of setting the table for 7 instead of 8; washing all of Emily’s laundry for the last time, and her room remaining empty, but full of memories.
Adjusting as a family has been unbearably hard; Emily was wise, fun and old enough to hang out and be best friends with Daniel, to be best friend and such a help to me, with the other little ones and with the ministry projects that she would wholeheartedly be involved in; she was Joseph and Naomi’s second mom, playing with them and comforting them if need be; she was still happy to invent and play games with Joy and Rebecca; she would always want to go with Peter whenever she could to preach the gospel and especially help any female guests deal with toughing out a missionary trip. Just to mention a few huge painful holes we face daily around here…
On our trip to the USA which we went ahead with, but obviously changed agendas, the Lord spoke to me in a very profound way through a little tiny spider. We were staying at Prayer Mountain at the Ozarks having some quiet time to process. I told Peter our first morning there, “Baby, I am going for a long walk. I will not come back till the Lord speaks to me.”
Water and bible in hand, I found one of my favorite spots out there in the thick oak forest by a small creak, on a bench. I love to be out with the Lord’s creation and have found this very comforting. It was early morning, and there was still dew. The sun was just rising, and as I looked up I noticed the light catching the drops on a tiny spider’s web. She was busy already, spinning carefully her new web for the day. I stayed there, crying and asking God for help. I was hurting so deeply. “Lord, I need you. Please speak to me. I miss my Emily!” I looked for healing in the patches of sky through the tress, in the early butterfly, in the odd bird that flew by. And as I was looking and listening, I noticed the spider again. She had spun a perfect cross and was busy circling it again and again, 8 times in total. “Focus on the cross, focus on the cross, focus on the cross!” I heard her say to me through her hard work! That little spider was being obedient to her Creator God. Then suddenly I received this deep message in my heart: if this spider, being so tiny and perhaps seemingly insignificant, was so obedient in her task of the morning, surely I should be all the more obedient to my Lord and focus on the cross! The Lord needed me to focus on His redemptive work of our Lord’s rising from the dead, to bring Emily everlasting life, to bring all who choose to receive the message of salvation eternal life! I needed to continue proclaiming Jesus victory over sin and death, and what He has done for mankind! Such joy and strength filled my heart again! I felt I could live again! I am so grateful for the Lord’s message, using a little spider and her hard work! This was the beginning of real healing for me.
Yes there is still much pain, but God; His grace for us, His love and the powerful and real comfort of the Holy Spirit!
Psalm 23:4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
As I sat in the horrific scene of the crash, I declared at the top of my voice that if this is satan’s work, then how much more glorious is the work of my God and Saviour! I was determined to see a full restoration of all things. As a family, we decided early on that we would not allow the crash to destroy us. Peter received this word from the Lord; ”The crash will either mark our defeat as a family, or the devil’s defeat in Paraguay.”
We decided to continue the work we have been called to do here in Paraguay of bringing HOPE, our Lord Jesus, to the hopeless. Before the crash we were running fast. We aim to run faster. Satan made a big mistake in targeting us. He miscalculated our love and passion for the Lord. It can never be taken away. We are bolder, stronger, more determined than ever to fulfill all that we have been called to do. We may have broken hearts, and we may weep as we run, but the call remains.
“Now, Lord, do it again! Restore us to our former glory! May streams of your refreshing flow over us until our dry hearts are drenched again.
Those who sow in tears, shall reap in joy!”
To conclude, I would like to share, with permission, a conversation Daniel had with Jesus, about two weeks after the wreck.
“Lord, I would give anything to have just an hour with Emily!”
“Daniel, I gave everything so you could be with Emily forever.”
1 Cor 15:55
“Oh Death, where is your sting!”
I could write so much more but this is already so long, as usual. God bless you all. Thank you for taking time to read this.
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe