It is good to remember the birth of our Lord Jesus! Peter and I have had to be away from our dear family in the UK during the christmas season for many years now, and it is still very hard. In Paraguay, Christmas is quite different than in Europe or in the USA; for me mostly because I used to pray for a white one, and there is no chance of snow in this summer heat! Last year, we had gone to stay in a Mennonite community to have Joseph at their Birth Clinic. And this year, Peter felt that we should go back there to visit our friends. Christmas Eve is the main celebration for Paraguayans, where they gather together for their special feast of grilled meat, mandioca and chipa guasu. After quite a journey making detours because many roads into La Belleza were too bad to drive through, including coming across a collapsed wooden bridge, we arrived sweaty and dusty 6pm Christmas Eve. We joined Olga and her husband Jonni, and their seven children and already four other guests. Needless to say we were many mouths to feed! I brought along a pot of rice, lentils and a salad. These were much appreciated by Olga, who had been craving salad; it is hard to find certain vegetables and salad this time of year in the very rural areas. We ate and talked in Guarani as much as we could. One of their guests was an 8 year old boy, who had received Jesus not long ago because he was afraid he was going to die and go to hell. He had a fever that night, and a strange allergic reaction to something, so we prayed for him. His grandma, also a believer, had congestion in her chest, so we prayed for her too. The children ran around and played through till midnight, and then we walked a short way back to the casita where we were staying under a twinkling sky, thanking God for His goodness.
One of our family traditions is to play the Messiah loud on Christmas morning, starting at the Hallelujah chorus! We place 'stockings' (old big socks of Peter's) at the feet of the children so that when they wake up they come running to our bed to open them, traditionally stuffed with a tangerine at the bottom - we have adapted this to a mango! Each child has a turn to tell a part of the story of the birth of our Lord, then we thank God for the gift of Jesus to us!
Then it was off to Church! It was very humid and hot, so Joseph was wriggly. I had to step out, but we had sung a few carols in Spanish. We had been invited to share a Christmas feast with Sanford and his family, administrator of the AMA Mission there, joined by the head nurse, Kevin and his family, and the nurses, Martha, Mary and Katie. We were quite a bunch! After yummy food, we sang a few Guarani worship songs that we had learnt for them, then we had a time of beautiful carol singing - wow, our dear Mennonite friends know how to sing! This was perhaps the most special moment for me. Perhaps because it reminded me of home.
We spent Christmas evening with another dear family in La Belleza who have just had a new miracle baby - we had prayed for her, and here she is, a little bundle of cuteness! God is so good!
Our children have very special friends in the community, and each were able to have a short but sweet time with them, including Daniel when he wasn't on Spirit, the wild horse he has gentled.
It was so good to go, even though it was very last minute and short. We almost didn't make it out though, due to the mud after so much rain Paraguay has been having. We got stuck in the mud at one point – so Peter walked and found a broken old tractor only a mile and half away, as the children and I found shade. The tractor was patched up, and along came Peter about half an hour later, ridding on top. I wasn't sure we would make it out - the car was very entrenched, and to get out of it we had to climb through the window...
Our trip was worth all the effort, and refreshing! Studies have been intense. Our two weeks of rest have slipped away and 2016 is here! Our course begins again in few days. I'm a little nervous of the schedule we begin again. But God's grace is sufficient.
In some ways, Christmas has come and gone without me feeling like it's really happened, as it is still so different for us here without our natural family. And yet it is amazing how God has placed us in a family here, and we are so grateful for that. Traditions change, can be adapted and times and dates are flexible for us now - we have just had our family gift giving time yesterday. But what never changes is God's love and faithfulness! These are what sustain us and fill us! I was just talking with the children about the rivers of living water that flow out of our bellies! Because of His abundant love for us, we overflow into each other and those around us!
This year we have been overwhelmed by the generosity and love shown to us by our family at LifeChanger Church, Claremore, OK. They sent us a box so big that it almost filled our tiny living room! It was filled with gifts wrapped in the most beautiful Christmas scenery boxes. The joy that filled our home as we received much wanted treats! Thank you so very much to all who were involved in preparing and coordinating this!
Also a very big thank you to the Limke family who sent such adorable things for Joseph and goodies for me! And Rhonda and David and our family at Grove Christian Center, again have blessed us till our shelves are bursting! We have been able to share with our Paraguayan friends here!
Another year has begun, and perhaps resolutions and commitments made, but what we as a family feel so urgently is that we must reach out to our neighbours, our communities and those that God puts in our path with the Gospel! Today is the day of salvation! So please, don't hesitate or procrastinate, don't fear and don't delay! The only thing anyone needs is Jesus, and we are to seek Him while He can still be found! This is the greatest resolution of all!
I am so terribly sad to announce that 2 year old Pablino died, just on the day our son Joseph turned one. He had been fighting for his young life for 6 months, three of which, we had been involved, praying for him and his family. We lost the battle, and it felt like such a low blow to our stomach. It felt like we had lost our own child. We went to the wake and the funeral. So many tears from a heartbroken mother and father and the abuelitas (Grandmas). We cried with them. But all of our inside screaming out, No! We wanted to rejoice and see the miracle we had asked and believed God for. Pablino had actually got so much better after prayer, coming out of the coma and intensive care. Truly God was at work! So what happened? Why did he then suddenly get worse again? Well, again we will all have our various doctrinal answers. But please just let me share mine, which are still raw and unpolished.
Peter and I failed. The family needed more teaching. As I knelt by the coffin feeling like my heart was being wrenched out, I was asking the Lord, Why? How come? Everything about You is life! I raised my eyes for a moment and saw idols and candles all around the head of Pablino's coffin, and then I noticed a black thread, or cord on his little wrist, some ritual from the medico (witchdoctor). I felt in my heart the mother had reached out to Jesus, but had placed Him along side all the other gods. Satan, being legalistic, held Mama and the miracle she needed bound and ineffective, as the little faith she had in our Merciful God was in a superstitious way, rather than an acknowledgement of Jesus being THE Christ and Lord. I am finding my thoughts and heart processes difficult to explain, but Peter and I are determined to draw closer to the Lord, so we can learn from this and grow in the knowledge of Him and His kingdom. Thank you to all who prayed with us. We believe that Pablino is running on the streets of gold, holding Jesus hand, and having a blast, as Rhonda would say! Please pray for his family left with memories, that they would all come to know Christ.
Please pray that we as a family will be able to go to another level with our Lord, that we would be stronger in faith, in action and in commitment. Please pray for grace for us and Leah as we go back to Language School again for the 2nd trimester. Paraguay has had too much rain, and many people have lost their homes due to rivers flooding their banks, so please pray for the nation as a whole as it will face the economic effects of this disaster.
Joseph Michael turned one 15th December, but it was a sad day for our community so we canceled the birthday party. Peter and I went to Pablino's wake instead. I thought it was no coincidence that Pablino died the same day our son was turning one. One day Joseph will be old enough to reach his generation for Jesus! We did celebrate his birthday later, and Joseph was blessed by all who came to his party!
We love you so very much and bless you and pray for you to know His loving presence in a deeper way in 2016!
Evi and family!
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe