Peter and I are back in the Classroom! We began our studies in the first week of October, after a very special visit from my parents. May I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank my Papa and Mama who came out and stayed with us for 5 weeks? How precious it was to be with them again after so long, to have grandparents loving our children taking the time to share our lives with them! You were brave Papa and Mama! Bless you!
So, our weekly schedule is defined by our studies. We rise early, and head up to language school. The children trek up with us on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which requires more organization and early bedtimes. Our Guarani class is carried out in a format that means we literally have been thrown in the deep end, where we are taught to communicate in Guarani, without necessarily knowing all the mechanics. Result? We are actually speaking, reading, writing and understanding Guarani, two months into this 9 month course! Our teacher, Andy Bowen, and his dear wife Lizet, have done so much practically to help us make the most of language study time. They found a sweet young lady, Joanna, who takes care of Joseph every morning, and Lizet helps facilitate the children's school when they come up, and has fed us delicious lunches. We are so amazed at how the Lord has so perfectly set this season up, so that we are able to learn Guarani well, at the same time as our children and ourselves being blessed with treasured friendships. Our class mates, the Bakers, are so much fun and our children along with the Bowen boys all run around at break time, playing in the beautiful garden that surrounds the school.
In the afternoon, it is recommended that we go out into our communities and practice with our neighbours. This is not always possible; there's laundry, meals to make, house to order, school to grade, and oh yes, sleep! And we have had a lot of rain, record amounts actually, and here you don't really go out in it. Imagine if the Englishman stayed in on rainy days... I mostly sit with my neighbour, Petrona, who you may remember gave her life to the Lord about 2 months ago. I go over something I learnt in class and practice pronouncing it correctly, copying how she says it, as she chuckles at me trying. She had asked me to start a bible study time for her and a friend, so although I haven't officially begun one, I ask the Lord what scripture I should share with her, and read it out from our Guarani bible. I then ask questions, to see if she understands what we just read, and then pray in Guarani for her. These are special times, and I can already see how knowing their language gives you an open door into their heart. Despite the fact that Peter and I feel very tried and like we are running from one thing to another at this time, we are so grateful for this opportunity to learn Guarani. We collapse into bed at night, homework is cranked out and vocabulary learnt. Occasionally we keep the children up, as they hear us making unfamiliar Guarani sounds, practicing our pronunciation. It is fun studying together, both of us being competitive, and wanting to do better than the other, but neither of us like to be corrected, so we are being humbled by each other, and all the dear people in our community as they watch and laugh at us struggling to come out with simple sayings like, "How are you this afternoon?" "Mba'éichapa nde ka'aru?"
Our children have been amazing and graced. At first, we all went up the hill together every day. The children did their school by themselves, that I had prepared and talked through with them the day before. This plan would continue till Leah Morie came to their rescue. Let me introduce her to you. We met Leah about 6 years ago, through her sister Faith Morie, who you may remember is my friend, and midwife for Rebecca. Leah would come and visit us and joined in our daily life and became part of our family. When Peter and I decided to learn Guarani, it was clear we needed help with the education of our children. Leah came to mind immediately. Not only had she taught her own siblings, but is a music teacher and had begun teaching Rebecca the violin before we left the States. We prayed, and had peace about asking Leah to volunteer another year of her young life. She was still serving the Lord in Cambodia, teaching orphans music. Graciously, Leah accepted our invite to come and live with us and be our teacher for this year. We were so happy and the kids excited. It was like their big sister had arrived when we picked her up from the airport. Having Leah here has meant that I can fully concentrate on my studies, but not neglect to school the children. She teaches them in our school room, while we do our school in another village down the road. The days we go out together, Leah gives a history class for all the children, including our fellow classmates kids'. Currently, they are learning North American history, and have each recently presented a revolutionary character to the delight of us parents. Our children have improved so much these last weeks of consistent school, and Leah's dedication. Not that I wasn't dedicated :-), but our stable language school schedule has meant that school days have been regular. They are making up for our months of wandering. One very noticeable improvement has been that the children are all reading better and doing more of it. As the children had been attending the local school before we started our studies, we went to go say goodbyes and a big thank you. We took them a new football, having heard that their old one finally wouldn't roll anymore. The teachers said we were welcome to let our children come and visit anytime. From the short time our children attended they have friends that come and play, and we are grateful for this. It is precious to hear them copying play phrases and managing somehow to have lots of fun in a different language and culture.
The other day, I experienced an amazing reminder of the faithfulness of God, when we are faithful to Him. I had been digging and scooping with my hands sandy, goopy dirt from our 'pool' and taking it down our garden to in front of our house. There I dug a hole and began playing in the soil, planting some seeds a friend had given me. Job done, I washed my hands thoroughly with the tap outside, came in and got the children ready for bed, fed them supper, studied, folded laundry, and collapsed in bed. In the middle of class the next day, I suddenly noticed the diamond from my ring was missing! I tried to not panic and to stay calm, to concentrate on what we were learning, but my heart was racing. I loved my ring and what it meant to Peter and I. It looked terrible, just the clasps poking out. What was I going to do? Oh Lord, where could it be? I prayed in my heart, "Lord, somehow solve this impossibility, I give it to you. You can show me where it is, because you are all powerful and all knowing, the revealer of secrets! Or I can give it up to you; I'm no longer attached to physical jewels! You have given me the jewel of Paraguay!" And I left it in his hands. The whole family and I carried out a quick search party at home, thinking it was more likely to be there, and as I remembered I had been gardening I tried to go through the soil. Imagine looking for a diamond in the dirt! And yet all the while I felt God saying to me "It's okay, I can handle this. Trust me!" (ie. You don't need to be digging in the dirt!). The next day, Rebecca was playing Lego with her siblings and brought to me a 'Lego' gem. "Mummy, I think I found something special..." I looked at it and thought, that's a very dirty Lego gem. I suddenly realized it was my diamond! As I am taking care of what is dear to The Lord, lost Paraguayan souls, He is taking care of what is dear to me. What a celebration of thanksgiving we had!
The Lord has been faithfully working in our community here. You may remember the neighbour, Don Mateo, who was in a Moto accident, that he gave his life to The Lord. It has been so amazing to watch the transformation that is occurring as he and his family now begin their journey of faith. Don Mateo is now back up on his feet, driving his moto-trailer, picking up crops of pineapples and beans and selling them. His health has been restored and dignity as husband and provider of the family, thanks be to our great God! Recently his wife, Valderama, was in severe pain with pancreitis and gallstones. During a morning time with them, I told her, "If you come to Jesus and Him alone, because he is a jealous God, then He will heal you!" She humbly accepted, and The Lord healed! Peter and I try to be faithful in visiting this family, taking provisions both physically and spiritually. They receive with such gratitude! We literally see a change every time we go, as the scales of religion and superstition fall off and the truth sets them free! Please pray for them and their five children, that they would continue to grow strong in the Lord and in the ways of His Kingdom.
We still trek up the hill to see our dear friend, Don Mateo senior, who loves our visits as much as we love going. We are learning Guarani worship songs so we have sung for him and he enjoys it! We hope he is still listening to the audio bible we gave him - he does ask us questions about certain aspects. Last time he told us, "But we mustn't forget about the saints!" Peter gently taught him that what they have done was good, but our worship goes to Jesus!
Recently, we were invited to pray for a little two year old boy, Pablino, who had meningitis that went into his brain six months ago. When we arrived at their wooden house, the mother was holding the thin little boy in her arms trying to console him. He was crying, and seemed to be in so much pain. He was fevering, and it was so hot outside. We tried to give him a sip of water, but he cried more. My heart went out to the mother, and there was so much hopelessness all around us. But Jesus! We shared how we believed in His name and his power to heal, that we would pray and that God would touch the little boy. But first we offered for Pablino's mother to pray and accept forgiveness for her sins, and invite the Lord Jesus into her heart. She did, but with some unsureity as to what it all meant. We prayed for Pablino. He continued to moan and there was seemingly no change. Oh how my heart longed for a suddenly, but we left the family telling them that God is at work and they needed only to believe. A few days later, Pablino's condition worsened and he was taken to hospital. We went to go visit him, hoping to be able to lay hands on him again. It was heartbreaking to see a ward of sick babies, all alone in little beds. And there was Pablino, attached to various monitors and tubes. He was stable. We had been given special access to go in and pray: only parents were allowed and at specific times. Emily had noticed a red thread around his neck when we first had prayed at the house. I asked the mother before we went in to pray had she ever taken him to the 'medico'(witch doctor or medicine man)? Her face said yes without her lips moving. I politely shared with her that when we put our trust in God, we cannot try other ways at the same time. It is important you fully trust in Him alone, I explained. She listened. After laying hands on him, holding onto and guarding our faith as the machines and oppressive atmosphere tried to threaten it, we came away sensing God's love all over him. We heard from his family that he much improved, and we hoped he would be released to come home. Just recently however, his health has turned again. We are continually praying for him and invite you to join with us. We believe The Lord is willing to show his glory through this situation, if we can believe and receive it! We have not met the father yet, so we hope to have an opportunity to tell him about Jesus.
One night we were asked to pray for Don Ignacio who had been diagnosed with an advanced cancer. This gentleman used to own the land we are currently living on. He has planted every tree and flower, and is also a believer. He sat in our cozy living area as we prayed and called on God for mercy and divine intervention. We declared that Jesus name is greater and more powerful than cancer! We laid hands on him, rebuked cancer, and anointed him with oil. For the first time in his Christian walk, he felt the power of God flow through him. All of a sudden, joy came and peace flooded his heart. He picked up Peter's guitar and began to sing and sing and sing! In Guarani and Spanish! We loved it! When we prayed for him, I sensed God was going to use him and his family as keys in reaching this village with the gospel. His family are forcing him to have surgery according to the requests of the doctors, but he is fully persuaded that God touched him and that he is healed, with no more pain or symptoms. Glory to God!
Remember our story of the fear that tried to grip Peter and I one night, just after we had moved in? Well, we have since had an explanation of what that was, that has given us an understanding of what our dear neighbours, and Paraguayans as a whole contend with. Folklore is very much part of the culture here, and just as we have stories of witches and wizards, tooth fairies and elves, they have their version of scary stories. The only problem is, the characters of these scary stories are actually seen and experienced by many. Almost all of the villagers we have met here have had some sort of encounter with 'el Pombero'. The story is of an old hairy man, usually seen smoking, that wanders around at night and makes clicking, whistling noises. We know that this is a demonic manifestation and satan is controlling the people with fear. They live like this. So that night I had sensed this demonic spirit wandering around bringing fear and torment. We had taken authority over it, not knowing who or what it was. The other day, Daniel's friend Christian was telling us that he hears the whistles and clicks a lot. Daniel told him about Jesus, and he gave his life to the Lord, and was so full of joy, a totally different person. Daniel has since had one or two opportunities to disciple him. He came rushing to our house about a week later, saying he had been hit buy the wind and two of his ribs were broken. The wind can hit you and kill you, the country folk say. (Peter remembered from our time in Israel, that the Hebrew word for Wind and Spirit are the same ‘Ruach’). Christian held onto his ribs, looking like he had seen a ghost. I thought he meant he had been in a fight, perhaps. "Can I pray for you?" Daniel offered. "Gracias!" He kindly refused, saying he was getting better because the medico (witch doctor) had fixed it, and lifted his shirt to show us how. About 5 or 6 bright green leaves were stuck on his skin. We were so shocked that sadly we didn't challenge him on this there and then. We hope to have the opportunity to do so. But it showed us that in the absence of truth, a whole load of spiritual darkness has ruled and reigned over these dear people. This will change.
Emily and I have since heard the eary sounds, but Emily's experience was very intense. She felt fear grip her and the darkness come all around. With uncontrollable shakes, she was so afraid to go outside. We were angry with the devil. We went with Emily to the spot she heard the sounds at, and rebuked him. We had killed a huge venomous snake right at the same spot the day before. Well, this went on for a week, of Emily hearing the various scary sounds. Finally, she got mad at the devil. "Is that all you can do satan, click at me? Then if this is how scared you make me feel, then how much more power does my God have? I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!" Right then, as this powerful and pure revelation refreshed her, she sensed a dark creature running away from her, yelping as if it had been whooped. And the fear and noises have not harassed her since. Praise you Lord! We pray and stand for freedom for all Paraguayans! Emily is glad she went through this so she can help others be free also.
Since we arrived in Paraguay, by the orchestration of the Lord, we have led three older Paraguayans to the Lord that have since passed away. Thank God they hungrily received, as if they had been desperately thirsty. One family in particular I would like to ask you to pray for. Do you remember the first couple we met here, Eber and Mirta? Well, very tragically, Mirta’s father was caught in the smoke and flames of his field as he was trying to burn it. Please pray for Mirta, who knelt by her daddy as he struggled to breath. A crowd had gathered around, and Mirta began to give thanks to God, that he was going to live with Jesus forever in His Kingdom. But the catholic neighbours couldn’t understand it. Please join with her in prayer that her community see God Glorified despite the circumstances, as she knows her daddy is in Heaven, and that they too choose Christ. The devil never wins, as Jesus has the keys of Hades(death) and death has lost it’s sting! Pray also for Mirta and her family as they grieve the sudden loss.
A small personal note, I cannot explain the pressure that sometimes overwhelms me here. I feel like we abandon all these dear friends we have here as the weeks and months go by and we don’t manage to see them all very often. Then I feel the weight of all those we have led to the Lord. I think of them, like little babies hungry for milk. And we fail miserably in feeding them all. What can I say? Lord, help us be faithful to do our part for these new believers. Please pray for us! We need to go more. We need to do more. I was feeling so much pressure the other day that I cried out to the Lord for wisdom. He gave me the verses in Colossians 1: 9 – 15:
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
So, this we pray and ask you to join us, for these new believers, and that we would be quick to listen and obey all that the Lord would have us do for them.
Bless you all for taking the time to read our story! Please know that we are not perfect missionaries at all, (we are still in denial about being missionaries at all!), but we love the Lord with all our heart and seek Him and His will in our lives daily! We cherish and appreciate more than words can express, your love and support for us! We send you our love and prayers in return, that the blessing of the Lord rest upon you!
Evi and family
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe