Dearest family and friends,
We pray that you are well and blessed and full of the peace of our Lord Jesus. Most of you will be enjoying a hot summer! Here it is still ‘winter’...
Peter and I completed our Guarani language course on July 1st, and received a beautiful certificate! Of course it’s up to us now to further our studies and practice till perfect, or almost! But we have an excellent foundation, thanks to our gifted teacher, Andy Bowen. He and his dear wife Lizet celebrated our last day with a delicious feast, after which we said teary goodbyes to our helper, Ña Migdonia, Joseph’s nanny, Joana and the Baker Family.
These nine months of studies have been a stretch for us in many ways, (I almost gave up!) but we will miss Andy and his family, and our helpers. We don’t live far at the moment from them all, so we hope to visit and definitely we will keep in touch. We have a good solid grounding of Guarani, but also we have dear friends! Thank you for everything Andy and Lizet! God bless you for your ministry on top of that beautiful hill!
We said goodbye to beautiful Leah too, who had come from the USA to teach the children while we studied. It was very hard to let her go, but may I take a moment or two, to honor Leah for her 9 months of volunteering with us. God bless you Miss Leah Morie - thank you for all the teaching, music, cooking etc you did for us to selflessly serve us as we studied - we love you! Dear readers, please pray for Leah, as she transitions into what God has prepared for her next - we know He has awesome plans.
I would like to update you on what else we have been up to since we last wrote. It is not easy for me to write today; my heart is heavy, as we heard that a lady we had prayed for called Rose Marie died, aged 40, of cancer. She had been sent home from hospital to die; there was nothing else they could do for her. We had ministered at the church she had attended before being sick, and since the Pastor lives in Asuncion, far away from her family home, he called and asked if we could go pray for her. We went. On the way the Lord spoke to me as I was praying and said, “Evi, let me work through you.” Yes Lord, I agreed, I can’t heal a fly - I need you Lord! Peter had wanted to tell me what the Lord had told him the night before in prayer, but we were traveling by ‘moto', and wearing our helmets so I wouldn’t have heard. God told me himself, the very same sentiment he had spoken to Peter. We had a word, we know to go, we were ready! The scene was tragic - I hate cancer. My heart broke as I saw this lady, just a couple of years older than me, but thinner than my 8 year old daughter. She was dying. But God! In my heart I was full of hope and faith, and knew Jesus was the answer! We rebuked the cancer, laying hands gently on her, as she vomited and tried to mumble a few words. We called her family in and asked if they wanted to receive Jesus into their hearts, and pray with us. They did, Rose Marie squeezing out "…in the name of Jesus, Amen” and then we prayed for the family at this difficult time. We sang a couple of worship songs in Guarani, as the atmosphere changed, and then left the lady to rest. We hugged the sister who was nursing and caring for Rose, and as she wept on my shoulders, I told her, “trust in God, nothing is impossible for Him!” As a family we continued to pray for Rose Marie, and I would think of her eating and holding food down, us visiting as a family and her cuddling the kids. We had to make a trip at the end of our studies, and were out of our area for a week. We called today to ask if we could go visit again. No answer. Peter and Emily went anyway, only to find out that the day after we had visited, she had died. I don’t understand. I am angry at myself. I feel again we have failed, and I’m tired of failure. What else should we have done? And yet the Lord had said to us and we know it, it is Him that works through us. My mind is trying to understand, and find peace. Oh Lord, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with us! Pray for this family and please pray that I can press on, deeper and stronger and rise up again.
I have been inviting the new lady believers in our village to come to a bible study at our house, once a week. The weather here has been really cold and damp, unlike last year which was mostly a warm winter, so a few times it was not possible to meet. We have sat in front of a little iron stove, trying to keep warm, drinking ‘mate’; the hot version of terere. So far two ladies have consistently come, one of whom is already a believer and has been for some time, but even so seems to cherish the time studying God’s word and what it means to be a believer. The other is Ña Nancy, a young single mum of three, who walks up my grassy and sometimes muddy driveway, often with a damp wind against her, carrying her 4 month old baby, covered in a blanket. I have been sharing simple truths and Nancy seems to soak it all in. We sing a few songs together, pray and I answer any questions if I can. I have forced myself to do this all in Guarani; both these young ladies speak spanish fluently, but at home they speak Guarani. I want them to feel comfortable talking to God their Father in their own language. After all, He speaks it too! This has been very precious to me, sharing God’s word in my new language to my new people. Please pray for me as faithfully and by God’s grace, I endeavor to disciple my sisters in Christ, and that I may be able to learn their language better to be able to communicate more effectively God’s love for them.
My dear friend and neighbor Petrona, whom you may remember from previous blogs, wants to come but her husband doesn’t allow her. One monday evening, after I had finished a bible study, she came to my fence to talk with me. “I wanted to come today. I got washed (a big deal here in the fridged cold of winter with no hot water) and dressed to come, but my husband was very drunk and got angry that I was coming.” Tears filled her sad eyes. “I had to stay and obey.” “I understand,” I told her, “just know that Jesus loves you no matter what! We will pray for Don Jose, to be at peace.” I prayed for her as she gripped her chest and gave a huge sigh. Please pray for her, and for her husband to be delivered from anger and alcohol.
Our last visit to Mateo senior was really special. I had been concerned for his well being because of the cold weather, knowing that he is very thin and lives in a wooden house, unprotected from the elements. But when we arrived, I was relieved to find him as happy as ever, so welcoming to us. A friend of his was visiting, also elderly, frail looking but so bubbly and happy to meet us and the kids.
He got up from his wooden seat to give it to us, as we stood around a little fire. He was heading home, as the sun was getting low. He picked up his walking stick and winced as he took a step. He told us he had pain in his leg. Peter and I don’t usually just let people go on their way with pain. To us, it is an opportunity to share the Gospel. We offered to pray for him in Jesus name. Mateo wanted to make sure his friend understood, “he’s going to pray in Jesus name…” (Catholics pray to one of their many saints or Mary.)
“I know!” his friend responded. We smiled, watching two life long friends talk so familiarly with each other. Peter explained that Jesus takes away sin as well as sickness and disease and the man received the good news and prayed to God for forgiveness of his sins in Guarani as Peter lead him. We then commanded the pain in his leg to leave. He tried to raise his knee up, as he explained he couldn’t do it without pain. Then all of a sudden his face changed, as he realized the pain had gone. He began to walk, with no pain. And then we told him he could even dance, and right there and then, he did a joyful jig! He said goodbye, and with such joy he walked away, off into the sunset. We then sat with Mateo, who just smiled. We sang, we read the word together, and we prayed. He was so at peace and received every word we shared with joy. Pray for him to live out his latter days in the peace of knowing His Saviour, and his friend, that they may grow in their new journey of faith together.
I realize that I have not shared with you about the visit our Pastor friends made to us back in April - a while ago now, but still I would like to share some of the amazing things God did in that time. Again, for the purpose of being transparent and real, and to show God’s goodness and faithfulness, I will share the challenges and the victories! So, our first huge obstacle: right up until the day Peter collected our dear visiting group, Pastors David and Rhonda, and Miss Lorainne, a member of their church, from Grove OK, Pastor Charles, from Miami, OK, our car would not start. For days in a row, we would all try to push it down our driveway, ignoring its lead weight, and enjoying the fun of the challenge…usually in a rush to get to language school. Peter is quite the mechanic now, out of necessity not by choice, and would try this and that, and so we managed. Well, after push starting and loading up the car, we were on our way to Asuncion, excited about the soon arriving guests and what God was going to do in the time together.
Daniel: I remember, as we pulled into a gas station on our way to Asuncion (my parents were out of money) my dad said "Ok kids, this is it!" He held up a zip-lock with a few coins in the bottom of it. We were running low on gas, so to make it to Asuncion we all looked in the car for more coins and my dad took what we found and the bag to a little table and counted them out with the gas station worker. It was just enough to get us there to meet the soon arriving guests!
Peter: As I counted those coins with the attendant, I thought to myself, 'OK Lord, here we are ready to go, but with nothing left to go with'. But the Lord is faithful: as we arrived that night to the guesthouse (that we'd have to pay for), with a broken vehicle that wouldn't start and was overheating (that was about to take us across Paraguay), we received a gift online that would cover the cost of the repairs and the first days of the trip...!
Evi: Peter made last minute preparations, and we prayed God would give Peter wisdom about how to fix the car! At the airport, having welcomed our guests after a long journey from the USA, they then had to push-start our car in the airport parking area!! How embarrassing…back at the guesthouse compound Peter managed to fix the issue - after a recent engine overhaul there shouldn’t have been any, but as I explained in the previous blog, here things don’t always turn out the way you expect. He had to buy some parts and an expensive specific tool to tighten the engine block. We were almost out of money again, and here we were about to embark on an epic tour around half of Paraguay, staying at hotels and eating out, wanting to host our guests in style by occasionally buying them a meal or two…now we could barley afford to pay for part A of the trip, which Peter and local Pastor and friend Alcides Roman had put together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What do we as a family do now? Do we send the team on and admit defeat, or do we go on in faith, taking each day as it dawned? We would go in faith. The day came when we ran out - and we had to borrow from our children's small savings accounts. That hurts a lot. Our guests had already very generously done more than their fair share, paying for a lot of the expenses, but still we couldn’t make it. The Sunday morning service was over at Coronel Oviedo. God had brought restoration to many in the church and there had been several salvations over three days of ministry. As goodbyes were being said, Peter and I sat in our car with the children asking God what now? We drove off, leading the convoy, trying to decide if we should just come up front with our guests and explain our situation, swallowing our british pride. We came to a junction where Home was to our right, straight on was to another hotel bill, more meals and not to mention more stretch. We were exhausted. I wanted so desperately to go home. Peter and I looked at each other - we know to obey God is always better, and that He always provides. God had spoken to Peter in the service through a song that Pastor Rhonda sang - no turning back, no turning back. We drove on past our turn. "Oh Lord, renew our strength like the eagles so we can run and not be weary, and show us the way forward." We borrowed from the kids again. We don’t believe this was God’s answer necessarily, but we were doing all we could to keep going. And I share these details not for sympathy but for the reality of missionaries all over the world - we are called to Go! But we need those who can send us!
My favorite part of this whole tour was our time with our dear friend and Pastor Cipriano and his dear wife Carmen, at an Indigenous Leaders meeting way out in the boonies (no wonder our car needs so much tender loving care!). There were new challenges for me for this part of the trip: I was in charge of the food - I had never planned or cooked for large numbers before. About 60 people in total needed feeding two meals for two and a half days. A menu made (me trying to think Paragayan food), a list for shopping at a dirty and poorly equipped supermarket, a few conversations with Carmen for her advice (in Guarani, of which I could understand 1/4)…Oh Lord, help, please don’t let these dear people starve! Bless and prosper what I put my hands to! Well, I know that food is the least important thing, but I wanted these precious servants of the Lord to be well taken care of while they attended powerful meetings where they would be encouraged in the Word of God. There was such a powerful presence of the Lord, tears flowed from a people known for their lack of emotions, a resilience to serve the Lord through all their trials was born and with such joy and refreshing we celebrated together with them all that the Lord had done! And everyone had more than enough to eat, so much so they took food home! I also had the privilege of working along side Carmen, a true servant of the Lord; we cooked together, chatted and laughed - my Guarani improved leaps and bounds! Thank you my dear patient friend!! And thank you to Lorraine for sweating it out with me!
And if I can choose another favorite, it was the privilege of hosting our visiting friends here at our Paraguayan home and showing them the miracle of what God has given us here. We rejoiced together, as we showed them the sign in Guarani in our garden which translates "House of my dreams”. The following day we had a baptism!
Our daughters and Emily’s friend, Helen, all made a courageous declaration of their faith in Jesus as they were dipped into the cold water - but the sun was shinning, and the glory of the Lord was there, as we all came together with neighbors to witness the powerful moment. It was hard to say goodbye to David and Rhonda again, but after a powerful time of prayer, Peter drove them back to Asuncion. We had been through several trials, including one night where our hotel room flooded with water, with only Joy and I available to run around like headless chickens literally picking up our mattresses and bags etc from the floor, but over and above all these, we had again seen the promise of revival and experienced God’s immense love for these people in every corner of this land!
Just a little paragraph about our precious children: we just celebrated Daniel's 17th and Rebecca's 7th birthday - we are so grateful for our loving community who come to celebrate with us. Our children are in the process of finishing their school year, and have all done well and advanced this year, even though they have had to be very independent a lot of the time. Daniel is the most fluent in Spanish still, but they all can communicate, and even Rebecca is starting to chat with friends in Spanish, thanks to our dear helper Joanna. They will have to pick up Guarani as they go along too, and are starting to learn a few phrases here and there. A while ago, a dear friend gave us a gift to purchase a keyboard - in the USA they had weekly lessons given as a gift to us. They have missed being able to play and once in our tiny living room area, they all took turns to see who could remember how to play. We love to worship The Lord together and so now, we have Rebecca on her violin, Daniel, Emily and Joy taking turns on the piano and Peter on the guitar. Joseph loves to beat a little drum or just dance around. It is such a blessing! The children are content, growing fast naturally and spiritually. They love The Lord and although we are far from perfect, we see The Lord moulding us and fashioning us daily. Attacks come, and as a family we go through the normal challenges and struggles, but we determine to press in deeper with The Lord, and serve Him as a family. Please pray for us: as a married couple for continued strength and unity, as parents for wisdom and grace, and as a family, for peace and joy as we serve The Lord together.
Our heavenly father keeps confirming our hearts here about His big plans for this comparatively little nation! We feel so overwhelmingly privileged to be part of His plan! And we are so grateful for your part in this too! Without it, we couldn’t go! Please continue to pray as the Holy Spirit leads and for the above mentioned requests! God bless you all!
And as a teaser, in an upcoming blog we will share with you two amazing announcements.
Peter & Evi Ratcliffe