Ayolas: Southern Paraguay on the Argentine Border

Sometimes reaching goals or realizing our dreams seems impossible, at least in the short-term, especially when we find out our goals are more challenging than we even imagined. Nevertheless, God can make our dreams come true.

For years, Angelica and I have dreamed of taking a missions trip with our team of youth—something completely outside our normal ministry areas. Unfortunately, there have always been obstacles in the way, mainly finances. But we have chosen to keep preparing ourselves and the youth, hoping one day God would take care of everything else.

At the beginning of this year, two different people approached us asking if we’d be interested in making a mission trip to help them. Neither knew we were actively preparing for just such a thing. Within a few weeks, God began removing obstacles including our financial concerns. He began to supply funds from home but much of the money came from Paraguay, including personal funds from the youth that just “seemed to appear” in their laps.

The challenges of this trip were more difficult than expected. Each time we overcame an obstacle, two more were unearthed. In a country with limited resources, much of what we as Americans take for granted are real problems down here.

One of the most amazing things that made this trip come true were donations, through discounts and free services, from people who are not even Christian. So many people appreciated what we wanted to do in their barrio (town), they wanted to help. Once again, God demonstrated to Angelica and I that He has a plan and that nothing is
impossible for Him.

When I first decided to become a missionary, I wanted to share a little about what God had done in my life. It was not long before Angelica and I started to disciple a small group of young people. I am so grateful that these young people now are working alongside us and while looking towards answering their own call to missions.

Paraguayan Fact:

There is no Toys “R” Us here either.

The Best Thing We Have to Offer

This week I thought of the story of the little drummer boy, that’s a true story, right? What do you give when you have nothing to give?

Things have changed a good bit for Angelica and me over the past few months. We are no longer attending worship or serving in all the places that we had for years. Angelica and I are still serving with TMS Global but are working independently in Paraguay. Our goal remains the same, to share Christ. We are still working with youth and in agriculture; we just don’t have the facilities we had before. Sometimes people have different visions and goals and it is best if they pursue them separately. That’s even Biblical (Paul and Mark).

What Angelica and I have learned is that churches, facilities, and projects are good but the best thing we have to offer is the Gospel, the good news and our relationship with Jesus. Over the past few months, Angelica and I have met with people in coffee shops, in homes, in cars, and outside under shade trees. We have had more access to people who don’t know Christ than ever before. For the first time, we have experienced a close look at what life is like without knowledge of the Bible—what life is like without a Savior. People we have known for years are approaching us, asking us to work with them, and we have been given many opportunities to travel throughout the county just sharing.

New Missionaries

As you know, Angelica and I have always viewed the young Paraguayans we work with as partners in ministry. We rarely do anything without them. We have learned so much in serving with them. Our new circumstances are now forcing us, even more, to rely on these young partners in ministry. We are all stretching, stepping out together.

In May we visited the southern tip of Paraguay, invited by a friend whose father is a pastor in a town called Ayolas. We are now planning a mission trip to Ayolas in July and have begun raising funds and preparing with our team. We are so excited about this new area that we have committed to one of us (or someone on our team) visiting Ayolas every three to four months until we establish new leaders in this area.

For years we have worked with our team in areas familiar to us, but this is the first time we are traveling are to a completely new place. We look forward to building up and training the people we meet. It is our hope that one day some of them will be called to international missions. Lookout! One of the may be coming to you one day!

Paraguay Fact

In Paraguay, there is always a hammock waiting.

God is Full of Surprises

I have served on the mission field for a long time, but in the past three weeks God is doing things that awe even Angelica and me.

Last night Angelica strolled in around midnight, and I was a little perturbed she was out so late and woke me up. When she told me what happened this morning, I couldn’t wait to share the good news.

About three weeks ago, a youth we know asked Angelica and a friend if they could visit his brother. The brother had lost his job due to addiction. Though the family had him locked up in the house on watch, the young man was not making progress. Angelica and her friend spent an hour telling the young man about the power of our God. This had a profound impact on him and he asked if he could attend the youth camp we had planned for the next week.

At the youth camp, we were surprised to also see a girl (Sheila) we have been working with for years. For the past six years, Shelia has suffered from sexual and drug problems, and though we have spent a lot of time with her, she has seemed unable and/or unwilling to change. We leave the door open, but we have been discouraged by our lack of influence on her. At the youth camp, Sheila felt the power of the Holy Spirt and said, for the first time, she was dedicated to changing her life. Angelica spent hours praying with her and she left the camp a new person.

Yesterday, Shelia reached out asking Angelica to call her friend “right now!” The friend had called Shelia, asking her to get together and do drugs. Shelia told him she was changed and didn’t do those things anymore. The friend asked how and Shelia told him “through the power of God.” The young man said he wanted that power and asked where he go, so Sheila quickly called Angelica.

When Angelica called the young man, he was at his stall in a local market but said he could close up immediately and go to a church. He wanted what Sheila has. Angelica and her friend quickly went to meet the young man in the market. They invited him to a local coffee shop where he expressed how surprised he was to see Sheila changed. He told Angelica about his life of drugs, robbery, and even his role in the death of several people. He said that no one had ever taken interest in him unless they wanted something and he even mentioned that no one had ever invited him to a restaurant so nice.

After thirty minute with Angelica and her friend, the young man accepted Christ. He was so loud and boisterous that people in the coffee shop took notice and Angelica believes several customers and employees accepted or reconfirmed their relationship with God as well. As they walked out of the restaurant, the young man got down on his knees and proclaimed he had never felt freer in his life. Customers and the parking attendant became teary eyed. The young man asked where he could attend church and how to start studying the Bible. Tonight Angelica and a few of her friends will accompany him to a class for people suffering from addiction.

Angelica also received a message this morning from another girl who suffers many of the same problems as Sheila. In seeing Sheila changed, she too wants to talk with Angelica. Yesterday, the young man who lost his job because of his addiction found a new job.

We know the power of the awesome God we serve, but still He catches us off guard. We are looking forward to working with these and other troubled youth in the next few months.

God Has a Plan

Moving to Paraguay, changing careers, learning a new language—it all seemed like a big deal in the beginning, but it didn’t take me long to get into the groove and feel comfortable in ministry and with the Paraguayan people. It sounded like a big deal but it really wasn’t. I guess that’s why we Christians say, “God has a plan.”

For 16 years now Angelica and I have been doing much of the same things, sometimes adding here and there. For the most part, we have been successful in ministry. You could even say we’ve been comfortable. Well, things are changing.

At first I fought change, thinking change as negative. I also over emphasized the importance of our role in ministry. Now that has passed and we are eager to see God’s plan for us in new areas.

Angelica and I have always considered the young people we work with partners in missions. We have worked with them for years in our familiar ministries and we are now beginning to move into new challenges with these young partners.

paraguay mapThere’s a northern region of Paraguay called Alto Paraguay. About the size of South Carolina with a little over 17 thousand people, Alto Paraguay has no paved roads and no electrical power. In fact, their only power comes from generators, that is when fuel tankers can make it in. For the past 14 months, many parts of this region have become even more isolated because of flooding. The government has made little progress in reaching the inhabitants and there are no private operations either. I have been researching this area, looking for ways to help. I am putting together a team of Paraguayans to travel to Alto Paraguay to see what we and maybe a few America friends can do.

Alto Paraguay calles

The roads of Alto Paraguay

Alto Paraguay gente

People trying to navigate through Alto Paraguay

Angelica and I have also begun to explore international mission training and opportunities for our youth. Though these kids are discipled by us and have served with us for years, we feel many could benefit from additional training with other people, as some are being called to missions outside of Paraguay.  We have explored several training options and are planning a short-term trip to Brazil. Many people have been dedicated to preparing and sending Angelica and me, and we want to do the same for Paraguayans called to missions.

If I just glance briefly at my first few years here and even my last year in The States, it would seem everything was clearly laid-out and that I had all the answers. Upon further examination, I see this was not the case. There were many unknowns and I really had no idea.

Angelica and I are not sure how these “new ideas” are going to play out, we don’t have all the holes filled in, but we are sure—God has a plan.

Paraguayan Fact

Our next door neighbor asked San Roque (The Catholic Saint of Dogs) to heal her dog. In return, she fixed a “Holy” meal for the dogs in the neighborhood. Our dog Georgia is not Catholic but she still enjoyed the meal.

dog

Our Visit to the U.S.

One of the great things about living in another country is the ability to pick and choose the things you want to emulate from your home country and from the country you live in.

I love the preaching and teaching in the U.S. but the music and prayer in Paraguay. I enjoy my time in the U.S. relaxing and watching football, but enjoy the work I do in Paraguay. Here in the U.S., it is so nice to be able to travel on paved roads, but I miss the miles of dirt roads in Paraguay. It is good to see old friends while we are here, but we miss our team of youth in
Paraguay.  Some things are the same—I love the food and hate the traffic in both.

We Are Teachable

Angelica and I have had opportunities over the past few months to listen to great sermons, ones that challenged and motivated us. We have enjoyed Bible studies, small groups, and conferences that have better prepared us to serve in Paraguay. We are even more committed to God’s call to share what Christ has done in our lives as well as the lives of so many people we know.

We can see the benefits that Christians enjoy here in the U.S. because they chose to honor God’s plan for their lives. It is very clear to us that a life lived with Christ is a life better lived. We want everyone to have the opportunity to respond to Christ.

Travel Plans

When Angelica and I return to Paraguay, we will join with our fellow Paraguayan missionaries in working in the same areas that we have for years, but the work will be different because Paraguayans are now in charge of the day-to-day operations at the school and with the agriculture project. 

Angelica and I will spend more time traveling the country with other Paraguayans, disciplining and sharing how God has worked in our lives. We hope to go further and reach more diverse groups of people. We hope to spend more time training Paraguayans to serve in Paraguay and other parts of the world.

Paraguayan Facts:

Traveling almost always includes “assistance” vehicles.

People NEEDS Jesus

Angelica likes to say, “People needs Jesus.” I think she means, “People need Jesus,” but you get the picture.

We have been in the U.S. for over a month now, and we see the good news of Jesus is needed just as much here as it is in other parts of the world. We have enjoyed our first month spending time with people dedicated to living Christian lives and sharing the Gospel.

Our time here is a time of rest and rejuvenation, but also a time for us to listen and learn from others so we can improve what we are called to do in Paraguay. We have enjoyed this first month and look forward to spending more time with all of y’all who so generously support us.

I have a friend in Paraguay named Pedro, and he always tells me that I have something to offer Paraguay just because I am an American. It sounds patronizing and a little oversimplified, but he is right. I watch my wife and our older daughter Camila while they are here and the same is true about them—they have something to offer the church in the U.S. just because they are Paraguayan.

Each and every one of us who claim to be Christian has something to offer and the responsibility to offer it. What do you have to offer and are you doing it?

A Few Things We and Our Paraguayan Friends Are Doing

Although we are here in Georgia, our friends in Paraguay are working hard, living and sharing the Gospel while we are away. Through the marvels of modern technology, Angelica is in constant contact with the youth, counseling them, preparing activities for her upcoming visit to Paraguay, and encouraging the believers we support.

In Paraguay, we use the word “youth” to describe those in the church between ages 16 and 30. We have been developing some of these young people for leadership for 15 years now, mentoring them in their faith and developing them to disciple others. While we are away, they are busy teaching children, adolescence, and other youth both in churches and in the Christian schools. Our friend Guiermo is just now returning from serving in Nepal as a missionary, and our friend Perla is pastoring in Chile.

I have been busy working remotely on different agriculture projects we have going in partnership with Paraguayan businessman and the Paraguayan government. 

Angelica and I and our partners in Paraguay do not take likely the sacrifices made by our donors—we take very seriously the privilege and importance of our responsibilities. We believe our service in Paraguay is the same thing all Christians are called to do and Paraguay is where God has placed us.

We also feel confident God has you where you are, to serve, support ministries, or prepare for service elsewhere.

As Angelica says, “People needs Jesus”.

Perla in Chile

Guiermo in Chile

Guiermo in Nepal

Paraguayan Fact

As it turns out, Paraguayans fit in pretty well with Californian culture.

Camila in California

What is our duty?

I recently heard a graduation speech in which the valedictorian quoted Winney the Pooh. It made me think of other quotes I have heard over the years. One of my favorites is, “You cannot do more than your duty; you should never wish to do less.” I’ll let you figure out who said it.

Lately, I have been thinking about my duty as a follower of Christ and as a missionary, thinking about which areas I have done my duty and which areas I have done a little less. Time with y’all is what enables Angelica and me do our duty better.

I have served in Paraguay for 15 years. It has been 12 years since we have been home for more than a month and a half, so we are coming home in August and will be staying for six months.

We are coming home for several reasons. We wanted to spend more time with Camila in her first months in college, although this may be difficult because she will be attending school in California.  Another reason is that our funds are low. But what we really want to do is refuel; spend some time in the church I grew up in, and spend time with the people that make our ministries possible.  

As I have said in many newsletters, we do a lot of things, but what we do most is help develop people. Angelica and I have complete confidence in the people we have worked with over the years and know that in our absence, they will carry on the work.

We have tried hard to share the joy we have in knowing Christ and how He can change lives. We are surrounded by a group of young people that have the same joy and will work just as we have to share it.

We look forward to spending time with all of y’all, sharing what God is doing in Paraguay and learning from y’all how to better serve Him. We want to encourage y’all to do your duty while helping us do ours.   

Paraguayan Fact:

Mass Transit.

 

What’s In It for You?

When I met Angelica, Camila was only four-years-old. She was a typical little Paraguayan girl, living in a typical Paraguayan household. Although Angelica only made about $375 a month, and she supported her mother and brother, she still found sufficient funds to send Camila to a Christian school. Their living conditions were normal for Paraguayan standards, though they would be considered unsettling to most of us.

Like all mothers, Angelica had great plans for Camila’s future; but she could never have imagined all she would accomplish and how she has been blessed.

We are so proud of Camila in the way she has flourished in school both academically and as a leader and she is not only a leader in school but also in the church. Her work with young girls and in other areas is a vital part of our ministry. We will really miss her when she leaves for school.

The other day I was talking to Camila about her future and she told me she wants to return to Paraguay when she completes her education. She hopes she can come back and make a difference in the country.

What’s in it for you? Maybe nothing, but your support for us and our ministries in Paraguay has dramatically affected Camila’s life and she hopes she can do the same for her country.

Taking Inventory

Lately, I have been looking back on the time I have been in Paraguay and what we have to show for these 14 years. I know that each day, y’all go to work (and do whatever you do), then each month you take a little of what you earn and share it with Paraguay. Sometimes your generosity surprises us and the Paraguayans are amazed that take interest in them.

In our job, Angelica and I don’t make anything. What we have to show for our efforts are faces and lives. When I think about some of the kids/youth we have worked with over the years and what they have become, what they are doing now, it makes me smile.

I wish all of y’all could come down here and spend time with these young people.

They may not have the opportunity to help people around the world, like many Americans, but they are positively affecting their communities.

Again, what’s in it for you? Maybe nothing but, in the end, there are people down here who can say they are the way they are because a stranger 6000 miles away invested in them. Our hope is that, at the end of the day, y’all can sit back and say, “You know, I can’t see it, and I really don’t even feel it, but I am making a difference in someone’s life.”

I am going to step out on a limb and say none of us are perfect Christians, but if you are reading this newsletter, chances are you got something right.

Paraguayan Fact:

We pose some tough questions at the Youth camp.

 

Getting Out There

Alto, Paraguay is 600 km from the capital city, Asuncion. It is about the size of South Carolina with a population of 15,000 people – it does not have one paved road in the whole department (district). Most of the electricity in Alto, Paraguay is produced by generators, which occasionally run out of fuel when tanker trucks cannot deliver due to
inclement weather.  According to an article I read recently, 80% of Paraguay’s roads are not paved.

Why am I telling y’all this? It’s because our truck finally has arrived! Thank you to everyone who made this possible! We have worked in the Interior for years and have been blessed with vehicles that allow us to enter the Interior regardless of weather conditions. Unfortunately, our vehicles are not very dependable or comfortable. A lot of “quality” time has been spent on the side of the road, at times, with some of y’all. We now feel equipped to go a little further in. 
img_6266

To be honest, we don’t know really what is out there in the isolated departments of Northern Paraguay. Only on a few occasions, have I had the opportunity to meet people who live in these departments. We would like to explore the opportunity to work with youth in these isolated communities.

image-1

Returning the Favor

Wouldn’t it be best if American Christians just focused their time, energy, and funds on the abundant problems we have in the U.S.? I have learned (because sometimes I really do listen to Angelica) that we Americans do have something unique to offer the world. What Americans provide to Paraguay, and really the whole world, is something that is not and cannot be provided by any other country. Funds and organizational skills are an important part of any social or evangelical project and, our hope is to combine the financial support and other skills provided by our American friends with the Paraguayan nationals to achieve our goals.

I have also learned from Angelica that we North America Christians would be well advised to accept a few pointers from the Paraguayans. I believe someday the Paraguayan Christians will be in a position to offer their unique skills to the people of The United States. In fact, that is a goal of ours.

Missions is Changing

We are in a unique situation because Angelica speaks Guarani and we work with scores of talented youth who are called and equipped for missions. We don’t want to change the culture of the people who live in rural Paraguay; we just want them to know Christ. We don’t need North America missionaries, just a little help getting the Paraguayan Christians mobilized.
imageY’all have enabled Angelica and me to do that for years. Paraguayans always say everything is a little better with sugar. You don’t change anything – you just add a little something sweet. Knowing Christ can be like that.  Life just tastes a little better but healthier with Him.

Over the years, we have dedicated a lot of time helping the Paraguayan youth realize their potential and know their responsibilities as believers in Christ. This past year we have dedicated more time to leadership training and feel that the youth are a vital part of our team.  We want to work together with these youth, who y’all have helped us train, in
taking a little sugar to the interior.

Paraguayan Fact:

There is confusion in Paraguay regarding whether Captain America is America or British.

thumbnail_fullsizerender

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.

family

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