Luck? Or Divine Intervention?

I pride myself on being able to make good, quick decisions. I often make fun of Angelica for making poor menu decisions then trying to eat my food. I can go into a store and pick out what I want in less than five minutes. I am good at the little insignificant decisions. No one is better!

Unfortunately (or fortunately), Angelica is responsible for most of our good ministry decisions. She has the ability to see potential in people — to see them for what they can be rather than what they may be at the present time. She can see through their lack of confidence or what appears to be laziness. More than once, she has identified someone to assist in ministries whom I thought was not up to par.

We work in ministry with some of the most qualified people I have ever been around. Although they are Paraguayan nationals, I consider them missionaries like us. Almost all of them are young and many of them showed little promise, in my eyes.

I chalk up much of our success to another great decision of mine — the decision to trust Angelica’s ability to choose the people God puts in our lives as partners in ministry.

Mission Accomplished

Doña Maria is grandmother to 11 — or at least that is how many live with her. I have known her for a while but have had few conversations with her because she only speaks Guarrani. Occasionally, I play with the kids and talk with the older ones who speak some Spanish.

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Their difficult financial situation has not gone unnoticed and we often take leftover food to them. At times, I have given the kids toys but stopped after they returned a soccer ball I gave them, per Maria’s request, because the kids were fighting over it. The kids are students at The Susanna Wesley School but only attend church occasionally.

In all my work and busyness, I really did not give this family the attention I should. I didn’t take notice until a teacher at the school told me all the kids in the family have problems with nose bleeds and they can hardly read.

Angelica and I are confronted with needs every day. We don’t have the resources or, even more, the time to address every need. This is the reason we spend so much time in education and training others — so these people can make a difference in the future. It is a slow process and can seem like we are really not addressing some people’s needs.

After speaking to the teacher, I knew we had to do something to help Doña Maria. I did not just want to throw money at the situation because, potentially, that can cause problems in the future with other families and their needs. I needed a quick solution that did not appear as though we were giving them money.

The answer was their location. They live right in front of the Ag Center, so I figured I could do something with them, giving the excuse I was using their land and proximity to test
new ideas.

With the help of some of our America friends, we planted a small garden, planting some typical things and putting a few “test” plants in as well. We also plan to have a young girl,
who we are helping attend school, work with the kids. She is interested in working with kids who have special needs but never felt she would have the opportunity to use this skill in the Interior because “just providing a school” is all the government can do.

Garden

I know the garden may seem like something really little, but Doña Maria told Angelica that she had been praying for years for a little help and feels the garden is the answer to her prayers.

Paraguayan Fact:

In Paraguay, we keep the most interesting things in barrels!

Barrel

 

    

Job Well Done

Angelica will be the first to tell you that she is not the most responsible person in the world. But, she has an incredible gift of gab. She can share her faith and motivate others. It has never been said that I am the most caring person in the world. I don’t always “feel your pain.” What I am good at is getting on task and getting things done. I am good at pushing Angelica’s “crazy” dreams through.

Angelica and I contribute very differently to the ministries in which we are involved. We each do what the other cannot. As “great” as we are, we still need help accomplishing the things we do. Y’all, our friends from home, complete us. I think it was an old GE commercial that said, “We don’t make the things you use, we just make them better.”

Over this past Memorial Day weekend, I thought about all the ways people before us laid the ground work for what we have today; how man did not create this world but has the
power to make it better. If we consider what many people did before us, we can see we are living the benefits of their sacrifices. Angelica and I want people to live the benefits of our sacrifices and we really cannot do that without y’all.

How to Help

I mentioned in our past newsletter that we are facing some problems — problems that were right under our noses — things we let slip through the cracks. Directly in front of the Agriculture project lives a family whose children go to the Susanna Wesley School.  They are one of the poorest families in the area and from time to time, we help them out. Unfortunately, it took a teacher in the school to point out just how bad-off this family is.

The teacher noticed a pattern of learning and health problems. All eight children seem to be showing the same signs in one way or another.  They are not very active in the church; although, they are always around for school activities. Angelica and I wanted to help the family but did not want to just offer funds.

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Earlier this year I told Angelica that I wanted to focus more on gardening, really on
planting different things and having cooking classes. At the same time, we were dealing with learning challenges in our own family. I felt like this was a perfect opportunity to put in action some of the things that we had been considering.

We are planning on helping out a little and teaching this family about gardening. Putting in action what we were really already planning. This is something that many families have picked up on and started; we just need to spend a little more time with this family. Also, because of personal experience, we are now more aware of children with learning difficulties. We are looking into ways we can offer the people of the Interior some of the options that children have in Asunción and/or the States.

Paraguayan Fact

Cooking classes have their fringe benefits!

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Juntos Para Siempre: Together Forever (AnnaBelen)

One of the great things about being a missionary is that our schedule is very flexible. We almost never “have to” be somewhere at any specific time but are always on call.
Angelica and I are together almost all the time and we are with the kids most of the time when they are not in school. Both Camila and AnnaBelen are important parts of our ministry and are usually right beside us in whatever we do. Except for three or four days a month when I am traveling and they are in school, we are never apart. 

Because of this, we don’t do well apart. Recently, a good friend of ours took Angelica and I on a cruise. AnnaBelen questioned our commitment to her and Camila, saying, “As missionaries, we should not be doing such things.”

Angelica and AnnaBelen will be in the States from March 23 until May 3rd, for AnnaBelen to participate in a special program to help her with reading. I did not sleep much the night before they left and started missing them when Camila and I left the airport. We are thankful we have the opportunity to get help for AnnaBelen, but we will sure miss them for the next six weeks.

More Than Just on the Surface

Last month we had our annual youth camp, just as we have for the past 12 years. The camp is always a lot of work but comes with great expectations. This year, like always, we were not disappointed first, with all the help we had from the talented and dedicated youth who work with us and second, with the participation. We had over 200participants and 46 youth who came from the northern district, about five hours away. We even had a youth come from Argentina because he had heard about the physical and spiritual healing at previous camps.

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These camps are tremendous experiences and really seem to make a difference in the lives of the youth. They feel comfortable with Angelica and a few of the youth leaders. There is always lots of time spent in counseling and prayer. Many of the youth told Angelica that they were comfortable sharing things with her that they would not share with anyone else.

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This year we are striving to keep in touch with the youth Angelica counseled, and we are working with the pastors in continuing what was started at the camp. We are also planning to visit many of the youth and their churches this year.

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Closed and Open Doors

When we returned to Paraguay after Christmas in the US, I was met with some disappointing news. Our work together with the Ministry of Agriculture has turned sour. The Ministry of Agriculture has made some classic mistakes, the kind that we were taught
about repeatedly in missionary training. It seems both the government and the people who live in the village around the Ag. Center are not interested in working together. We decided to pray about the situation and began discussing our options. A week later the government contacted us about the possibility of working with a different group and doing a better job of applying the things we have learned.

The community in which we work knows that our goal is to help them live better lives and share the Gospel. This makes for a healthy environment, one in which we can just change course and try again if things don’t work out. The support Angelica and I receive to serve here as volunteers makes this environment possible. It also encourages the people and the government to do what they feel is their part in reaching our goals.

Tough Decisions

We are surrounded by needs: some small some big, some with easy solutions, others with seemingly no solution at all. Angelica and I are always doing a balancing act between what we should dedicate ourselves to and what is best not to tackle. It is not just the scope of the need but also determining if we can really even solve a problem. Funding and time are usually a major part, but sometimes we just can’t solve a problem. We believe that God can solve any problem and always go to Him in these situations.

As many of y’all know, children’s needs slide through the cracks and some children have even died here because of lack of attention to details. We have children in the community in which we serve who are not being taken care of emotionally, physically, and
educationally. We ask y’all to join us in prayer for how to improve this situation.

Many of y’all know that allocating money is not always the best way to tackle these problems, and we stand the danger of opening ourselves up to other problems in the future. As partners in the ministries in Paraguay, we want y’all to know about tough decisions we are confronted with. I plan to send a special newsletter out about some details, once we have more information.    

Paraguayan Fact:

THIS almost never happens!

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Focusing on the People

I don’t know about you, but I am not a person who often does things I don’t want to do. Only in an emergency or when it can really benefit someone do I put my sentiments aside. My first week here in Paraguay, I figured out it is best to just tell the Paraguayans when I do not like something. Now they joke about the things that I “won’t do”.

Though people sometimes talk about the sacrifices of being a missionary, I am not really that “sacrificial.” I live and serve in Paraguay because I enjoy it; I think God prepares us for what He asks of us. I don’t think He would call us to a life of continual discomfort.

Many of you know, I consider those who pray for us, support us, or visit us “partners in ministry.” Most of you can’t or don’t want to live in Paraguay, but that does not change your commitment to God and His plan to share the Gospel. Each one of you is an important part of what happens down here. 

Since y’all are partners in the ministry in Paraguay, I thought I would fill you in on some of the things I am being asked to do but don’t want to do, and to be honest, probably will not do.

In the back of all missionaries’ mind is the problem of dependency. Before arriving in the field, we are trained about the potential pitfall of dependency, and we are encouraged to take that into account as we consider how best to use our funds. Many times, when we don’t get the intended results we desire, it is because we have funded incorrectly. I have been reading a lot about doing missions well and how to fund it correctly.

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Angelica and I focus a lot on education. Our thinking is you can never take away what someone has learned. Once money is spent to educate, the recipients will always have that knowledge. We feel the same way about discipleship programs. We work hard to get to know people and to identify those who have both potential and calling. These are the things we feel are worthwhile. We care about the church here in Paraguay, but really, we focus on people.

Without getting into too much detail, I would say we are being encouraged to be more involved with the church as an institution, both with our time and resources. I am pushing back on this, not because I have a problem with the national church here in Paraguay, but because I think we can be more effective by serving and developing people.

We have been tremendously blessed by churches in The States. I know the benefit of a strong church environment. However, I think our Paraguayan friends should build and be responsible for their own churches. We want to be members, help prepare leaders and disciples, and let them run their church. Angelica and I feel we can better serve the Paraguayans and spread the Gospel by investing in people.

Included in this post are pictures of some of the people we have touched together. These are people who have a relationship with Christ, a personal relationship with Him.

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Toddler_WEBLydia_bothParaguayan Fact:

The gospel really IS good news!

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Look Out! The Paraguayans are coming.

When I first began my preparations to serve here in Paraguay, I knew almost nothing of this country, and I really did not know too much about missions. I knew I wanted to serve in the field and felt fairly confident that God would take care of the details. I spent a lot of time thinking and praying about what I needed to become and what I was going to do. I have “become” something and I “do” a little, but it is the people we work with who really make things chic down here in Paraguay.

I met Angelica my first 45 minutes in Paraguay and started developing friends shortly after. I was introduced to dozens of kids and youth within my first week in country.  We have all been working together for the past 12 years, sharing Christ.

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In December, we are bringing a few friends with us to visit. These are youth that have been a vital part of our ministry for years. They are just a few of the great people who we work with down here.  They are energetic, enthusiastic followers of Christ, and we look forward to having y’all meet them.

You can’t beat the Christmas season in The States!

I know the Paraguayans get tired of me telling them how great the Christmas season is at home. I always tell them that Christmas is meant to be celebrated in the cold, because we know it was snowing when Jesus was born!

Anyway we are looking forward to sharing a little of our Christmas traditions with our friends and hope that we can get around to see as many of y’all as possible during our time at home.

Spreading the Gospel

Things move slow down here. I always heard we are slower down in The South compared to the rest of the country. Well, we are even slower down here in South America.

Two years ago, Angelica and I began focusing on the youth outside of the capital city of
Asuncion. We wanted them to have the same camaraderie and unity as the youth in Asuncion. We wanted them to have opportunities to develop, have fellowship and healing, if needed.

Over the past eight months we have been very active in the central part of the country. We have hosted several youth and adolescent events. Both the youth and the pastors have really responded. The youth from Asuncion were with us in everything we did.

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We have come to know the youth from the Interior better and are working with several of them in leadership development. Angelica has also been able to develop a relationship and work with some of the girls who have suffered abuse.

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We are hoping to use the agriculture center that many of y’all have had the pleasure of visiting over the years, as a place to meet more frequently with the youth leaders in this part of the country. We also see this as a mission for some of the youth leaders from Asuncion.

Paraguayan Fact

All gas stations need a hang-around dog.

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Same Country . . . Different Culture

Each year we offer a camp for the youth from all the Methodist churches in the country.  I have spoken about this in several newsletters. We have kids from all over Paraguay, but most of the kids come from the capital city Asuncion.

Over the past few years, we have tried to visit every church in the country. We wanted to give the youth in the rural parts of Paraguay a little more attention. This year, with the help of a team, we had a youth camp in the northern district. We spent two days with over 50 youth and had a great time together.656

One of the things we did was divide the boys and girls and spent time talking to them about different things. The girls were split into two groups between Angelica and another lady. Both were surprised to discover the number of girls who had been sexually abused. Most of the girls did not come from Christian homes and few had Christian neighbors. We knew this was a problem in rural parts of Paraguay, but certainly did not expect it to be so rampant.  Angelica discovered that almost all of the girls she counsels who have serious emotional problems, were sexually abused. Please join us in prayer for this problem.737

Team Work

Angelica and I have been hosting teams since we began our ministry here in Paraguay. Most of the year we work with fellow Paraguayans to help people and share Christ, and we only have a few months a year to work alongside our American friends. Hosting teams is a lot of work, creates a lot of unknowns, and never goes as planned. We like that.

This year we had an unusual number of flight, luggage and visa problems. We also had the best experiences we have ever had with teams. We know that teams want to help and come down to serve the Paraguayans, but Angelica and I work hard to make the time here a ministry to the Americans as well. What we experienced this year was different; a ministry to us. No matter at what stage we are in our Christian lives we can always be ministered to.Prayer_web

 Born in the U.S.A

I recently watched a movie about a woman who fled Austria during the World War II. It was a true story, and she mentioned several times during the film that her new home was America; in fact she said she would never return to Austria. 

The United States is full of people who have made new lives, full of people that now call America home. Many immigrants to America are glad to put the past behind them and would never think of returning to the places in which they were born. They have become safe and have prospered in America.

I now call Paraguay home. This is where I met my wife and where our kids were born. We feel comfortable here and we enjoy what we are doing. But unlike many people who have made America their homes, I don’t look back on my home country with ill feelings. I look back at a country where I was given the opportunities and education to live anywhere in the world I chose.

We enjoy living in Paraguay and what we do, but we will never forget the people who make it possible to share Christ in this part of the world.445

Paraguayan Fact:

It’s good to be Angelica.breakfast_SMALL

Late Nights

When living in a country that has temperatures of 90 degrees or higher, more than half the year, early mornings become treasured time.  The hours between 5:00 and 8:00 a.m. are the most enjoyable part of my day. Angelica likes the mornings as well, and we usually have breakfast together each day. 

Lately, I have been eating breakfast alone or with a very unpleasant woman.  God has blessed Angelica with the ability to help people break free from debilitating situations. We work with a tremendous number of women and youth that suffer from economic, social, and spiritual problems. The Paraguayans believe in the power of prayer and trust Angelica to walk them through liberation from their suffering. This has involved many late nights and even a few overnighters. We don’t get to share our morning together as much as we use to, but we thank God for the people who have been freed and are living more productive lives.

Just a few minutes can mean so much

Waldimar is a very faithful member of our church. Ever since I have been here in Paraguay, he has been a mainstay at almost everything we do. 

Man_WebWaldimar was diagnosed with cancer a little over two years ago. He has been through a number of physical and financial struggles. He is getting along much better and attributes it to the many people that are praying for him. He hardly ever tells his story of the trials he has been though without mentioning the ladies from Alpharetta, Georgia that prayed for him.  We just dropped in to the hospital for a few minutes to pray for him, and he gets tears in his eyes each time he tells the story.

Changes from the bottom up

So many times, we read in the news about helpless situations — countries and people that cannot seem to dig themselves out from under poverty and corruption. Environments that don’t seem to get better and sometimes are worse. Places that, no matter how much effort, continue to spiral out of control.

Paraguay, while a small insignificant country, seems to be on a constant path of economic and spiritual growth.  The youth that Angelica and I work with here in Paraguay are positively affecting the church and their country. They are strongly rooted in Christ, educated and motivated. We have invested time in a few young people and it has paid off tremendously. These youth are reaching heights that Angelica and I never dreamed of.

Youth

Many of them have gotten or are getting an education because of a scholarship from y’all, through us. Most of them are the first generation in their family to grow up in the church, receiving years of Christian education and support.

Angelica and I feel that some of these youth are ready and in many cases maybe even better equipped to share Christ here in Paraguay or in other countries. We are exploring ways in which we can help them reach their potential. 

I recently read in a book that when we have a dream/goal to not ask “How”, that how is God’s department. Angelica and I don’t know exactly how to help some of these youth, but we do know that God has equipped them to share Christ throughout the world.

Paraguayan Fact

Paraguayan bread maker.

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The Youth are Our Future

We often hear people say “youth are our future.” In my younger days, I recall parents saying “learn all you can from your children before they turn 18 and forget everything like their parents.” Now, as a parent myself, I think some of those people might have had a good point. I learn A LOT from my daughters, so I can see the wisdom in saying “the youth are our future!” However, it’s false if you are talking about the church here in Paraguay.

In Paraguay, the youth are not our future. The youth are our present. The youth alone make up more than half the congregation of our churches. They don’t just fill a chair in the crowd. They serve in the church. Even some of our pastors would be what many of y’all would consider youth.

The evangelical church here in Paraguay is teeming with energy, inspiration and vision. They understand that the power and joy of knowing and serving Christ is for people of all ages.

Most of these young Christian are first generation followers of Christ. Many don’t have parents who live out a Christian example in their lives. Their problem is not conviction of faith, it is how to live out their beliefs on a day-to-day basis. They believe in Jesus and want to know how that should direct their lives.

The youth down here in Paraguay are the life of the church and Angelica and I are grateful for the opportunity to help them apply their faith and for the opportunity to work along side them.

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Really The Kids Are The Tough Ones To Hang-Out With

Angelica, Camila, and I just finished our annual Adolescence Camp for the National Church. For three days, we had kids together from all over the country. It is three days of noise, celebration, learning, praying, singing, playing, and very little sleep. Oh yeah, and boyalso there are power outages and extreme heat. The kids are so intense that we bring in “pinch hitters” for various activities just so Angelica can rest a bit. When I need a break, I usually pull the father trick and say, “I need to take care of AnnaBelen.” If we are able to get more than three hours of sleep each night, we are lucky!  

These camps are tough on us older people, but they are worth it! Each year the experience seems better. Each year the kids are touched more. Each year the kids leave feeling forgiven and enabled. Each year Angelica and I come closer to God through our time with these kids.

Now it is time to get ready for Youth Camp!

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Mama Says “No!”

Whenever I travel to the Interior, AnnaBelen always wants to come. If she is not in school, with a little encouragement, I can get Angelica to agree.

Angelica is a little gun-shy because of the times I have broken down and spent the night in my truck. I can usually convince her by reminding her that I am like the Paraguayan MacGyver and can usually get us out after minimal inconveniences.

A few weeks ago, AnnaBelen and I were set to travel to the Interior with a pastor friend. He called at the last minute to ask if he could bring “someone he is working with.” When Angelica found out that the “someone” is a recovering drug addict who had been sober for only eight days, she yanked AnnaBelen from the trip. This was followed by one of AnnaBelen’s speeches about the “kind of people” that I was hanging-out with. “A missionary should care more about their children and not hang out with such people.”  Despite hours of protest by AnnaBelen, I eventually agreed with Mama and went without AnnaBelen.

Now I am worried about what AnnaBelen might think about some of my college buddies.

Paraguayan Fact

Not all Paraguayans are graceful on the Futbol field!

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To Give or Not to Give

I always questioned whether giving was truly greater than getting. You can’t beat getting a good (expensive) gift or even a surprise gift. Who does not like looking under the tree and seeing lots of presents marked with their name. Many people say that Christmas is their favorite holiday, usually rolling off a number of reasons. But I expect it is because of the gifts.

Over the years here in Paraguay, I have begun to feel the joy in giving. So much has been given to Angelica and I. We have had so many opportunities to give gifts, scholarships, and help. Most of the funding for these gifts is not even ours; it is just resources that come through us.

We get to benefit from the generous giving of so many of our friends at home. It is really nice to be able give gifts to people that usually don’t ever receive. We thank all of y’all for letting us see the joy on the faces of Paraguayans when we give to them.

May y’all all have a Merry Christmas and come to know the joy of giving to others.

A Month of New Beginnings

Not only is Christmas the month that we celebrate the birth of Christ, but it is the month that we celebrate graduations. Here in Paraguay, December marks the end of the school year. This year was special because Angelica graduated from Seminary.

Juggling school with all of Angelica’s other responsibilities was really a challenge. There were many nights that she only got a few hours of sleep, many weekends without any rest, and a lot of stress.  The kids and I are very proud of her and know that this will add to the ministries here in Paraguay.

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Angelica and I were blessed to be able to help several of her classmates afford Seminary. A few of her classmates traveled from the Interior each week, returning to their churches late Saturday nights. We look forward to working with many of them in ministry here in Paraguay.

December is also the month for graduation at The Susanna Wesley School.  This is always a big party and Angelica is challenged to make it better each year. One of the teachers at the school informed Angelica that several families had been fattening up a pig for the event, and they expected a big affair.

As always, Angelica was able to pull it off, even with the rain and threat of power outages. (Most everything is done outside in the Interior, so weather is always a factor.) We had a great celebration with live music, speakers from Asuncion, and lots of food.

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It is just graduation from the sixth grade, but it is as far as most of the kids will go. Not only have these kids been able to study about the world for six years, they have also had the very unusual opportunity to study the Bible as well. For the community in Quinta Linia, this is a major cause for celebration and a time to demonstrate thankfulness.

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Susana Wesley Graduacion 2014_web

Feliz Navidad!

Paraguayan Fact:

In Paraguay, decorating the Christmas tree is done in shorts.

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The 100s

It starts each year in late August — a little tinge of anxiety, builds to nausea by mid-September, and full-blown loathing by October — seven months of miserable heat.

We are now in our second day of rolling power outages and have many more to come. I could live with the heat, even without AC, but without fans and a way to keep the fridge cool, it is pretty tough.

I should not complain. At least we have AC in our trucks these days.

I always thought, at some point I would get use to the heat. I thought I would eventually not wake up each night sweating. I thought planning meals and bedtime around power outages would get easier.

Well, they don’t. Don’t get me wrong. I love living and working here in Paraguay! But I could stand a little more cool weather.

Enjoy your winter up north!

Good Reinforcement

You know those national tests that we take in the U.S. — the ones that estimate students’ academic level compared to other students around the country? Well, we don’t have those here in Paraguay.

I am always asking Angelica, how she measure the academic level of the students at the Susanna Wesley School? This is something that has frustrated me for years. We often hear stories of how the one or two kids who continue their education in town seem to excel, but that has never been enough for me. I want a way to gauge the kids academically and in other ways.

I still don’t have that, but a local pastor’s wife is now working in the public school in the closest town. The pastor told Angelica that the students who come from The Susanna Wesley School are set apart from the rest of the students. They are more advanced academically but also much better behaved.

This did not just happen by circumstance. The quality of the kids that finish the school are a culmination of a lot of preparation by Angelica and a lot of dedication by the teachers. Because of y’all, we are able to really touch these kids’ lives.

We feel honored to have been a part of this with so many other people.

Maybe Something New

We are always exploring new ideas.

This year, it was getting the clinic starte, hopefully to be up and running by next year.
We also visited almost every church in Paraguay over the past year.

Now we are thinking of adding more home visits. We have done this in the past, but would like to do it on a larger scale. The Paraguayans that partner with us at the school and the agriculture project do such a good job, it frees us up to pursue other ministries.

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We don’t really know how it will work out yet. We know we would like to use some of the youth who we work with in Asuncion. It would have to be done in Guarani. We have even thought about helping the “Campasinos “ (country people) start small groups of believers.

We feel that God has done great things down here in Paraguay — that he has equipped many people to share the Gospel. We don’t want to just rest on what we have
accomplished in the past, but we want to constantly look for new ways to share Christ.

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Paraguayan Fact

In the summer, everyone goes shirtless.