It’s Never Too Late to Start Over

It is never too late to start over again. One of my favorite Bible verses is when Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery that He will not condemn her, and then he sends her off saying, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  It can seem as if the family structure and marriage is in a shambles in the United States, but I can tell you, it is much worse in Paraguay. Probably 80% of the youth we work with come from broken families and many couples never even bother to get married. Lack of commitment and responsibility causes all kinds of family problems, but the Bibles teaches us we can start “a new” and that the power of Jesus can change lives.

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Over the past year and a half, Angelica and I have started a new ministry—a ministry of marriage. We have been working with young couples helping to prepare them for a life together. We also have been working with couples who have children and/or have been living together. We share with them the importance of the commitment of marriage and what the Bible teaches about marriage and families. We let them know they can “start over” and experience how commitment and responsibility can change their lives and the lives of their children.IMG_1345

We have done seven weddings in less than two years and are planning several more. One of the excuses couples use is that they don’t have the time or money to get married. They feel like it is just too much to take on. We work with couples helping them understand that the time and money will be well spent. We also let them know this is a ministry for us, showing them that it can be done well with a little help from our team.IMG_3058

Paraguayan Fact

We even do Korean weddings.

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Knowing Our Own Strength

Before college, my life revolved around riding and taking care of horses. My dad always reminded us we should be careful around horses and remember they are animals. Horses don’t know their own strength. It is amazing what a 150-pound kid can get a 1200-pound horse to do. I sometimes marveled at our horses’ unrecognized power.

Sometimes we humans, created in God’s image, told to subdue and rule over God’s creation, don’t know our own strength. We don’t recognize the power we have in Jesus Christ.

Over the past eight months, Angelica and I have spent more time with dying and suffering people. Each week, Angelica meets with young girls whose lives were spinning out of control. She didn’t even know some of these girls when they called in desperation. They call at all hours of the day and night, sometimes wanting to meet with Angelica “right” now

There is no great secret to what Angelica tells these young women when she meets them or when we meet with young couples or people in their last days. We tell them what the Bible says—how we were created, why we were created, and what we have been given. In just a few minutes of sitting with people, teaching them the promises of God, everything can change. I wish y’all understood Spanish so Angelica could tell you about the calls she gets after she has first met with someone. (Take my word for it, you don’t want to listen to it in her English.

People can be changed just by learning who they are in God. They are not only changed emotionally but many times you can see it physically, the very next day.

We all know animals are animals, living by instinct; we tend to think we are better at thinking critically and understanding our abilities. But sometimes we don’t know the strength we have through Jesus Christ. We think He is not sufficient or we are not important enough to live our lives as the Bible calls us. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Paraguay Fact

Our dog “Georgia” is a dog of faith. She knows we are praying for another vehicle and has claimed this one for herself.

 

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.

New Life

Jesus tells Nicodemus the only way to see the kingdom of God is to be born again. This caught Nicodemus off guard. He really did not understand it. We Christians say “we get it,” but seeing it right before our eyes can really help us understand what Jesus was talking about.

I sent out a story a few weeks ago about a young man name Marley who called on Angelica late one afternoon and left their encounter a new man. Every few days we run into people who knew the old Marley and just can’t believe the change.

Three days after Marley accepted Christ, Angelica ran into a youth we work with. He stuck his head in the truck window, saw Marley in the back seat, and couldn’t believe it. Just four days prior, the young man and his girlfriend had to retreat to his house because Marley was in the street yelling and waving a gun. Our first time in church with Marley, he pulled Angelica aside and said he had just seen a man he had punched in the face a few weeks ago. The man and his wife were speechless when Marley walked up and apologized.

Jesus also said, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” referring to children. When we gave Marley a Bible, he sent pictures to everyone showing off his new gift. Like a child, he constantly texts Angelica, asking questions like, “What do the numbers in 1 Corinthians 15:1 mean?” He bombards us with questions about what Christians should do in various situations. He approaches Bible study with more enthusiasm than anyone I have ever met.

Many have approached Marley on the streets, asking what has happened. They say he just looks different. Several times a week he sends Angelica a picture of someone he has encountered and shared the power of our God with. In a little over a month, Marley has brought seven young people to meet with Angelica. Two of them accepted Christ and are attending a drug rehab program. One young man seems to have the same effect on others as people are approaching him asking what is different.

Through seeing or hearing about our work with Marley and other troubled youth, several others have reconnected with us. For years Angelica and I have worked with girls suffering from sexual, drug, and suicidal problems. One was the girl who introduced us to Marley. We have some victories with these young women, but their spiritual battles seem very embedded. Angelica has started a new Bible study with five girls and they seem to be enjoying it.

Marley has enrolled to finish high school and is very excited. I would like to finish this newsletter with what he wrote when the school asked what his objective was for his studies.

“Finish school with the help of the hand of God and that God will accompany me at every minute. That I will not fall into bad (darkness nor despair). I leave all in your hands God!!! Amen”

Special Request

Every so often Angelica and I are told, “Just ask and people can decide for themselves if they can or wish to give. We believe in the power of Jesus Christ, have seen how he changes lives and know our responsibility as Christians to share the good news. We also believe we are not called alone and don’t have all it takes to make these ministries possible.

Angelica and I are short on funds and need support to continue doing the things that we
believe God had put upon us. Thank you.

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.

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

Happy New Year

Years ago when I was in college, I had a friend who helped me with my lawn business. I once found him trying to push a 500-pound walk-behind mower up onto a trailer. I tried to explain that machines were our friends and it would be much easier to just drive the mower onto the trailer. He never really got it and went on to make his fortune in other areas.

Today I still believe machines are our friends and they can and should be used to make us more efficient and make our lives better.

This year Angelica and I were blessed by so many of y’all through the gift of a new truck. This has allowed us to travel more, carry more things, and do everything faster. When you think of missions and serving people, machines aren’t the first thing to come to mind; and yet, having access to people in their environment is very important. Now we can go anywhere throughout the country sharing Christ with the Paraguayans.

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Someone is Always Listening

A few months ago Angelica had a meeting with the parents at the Susanna Wesley School. A mother stood up and thanked Angelica for what she had done for her son. Angelica did not recognize the mother nor did she remember the son.

The mother explained her son had a skin problem for years; he had seen several doctors and they had tried to treat him, but the problem persisted. One day the mother noticed her son’s rash was gone. When she asked her son about it, he said, “I just did what Señora Angelica said. I prayed and believed that God could heal me.”

img_6620Angelica does not remember noticing the boy’s skin problem or speaking to the children about the healing powers of God, but we try every chance we have to let the kids know that a
relationship with Christ can change their lives.

We are grateful this young boy listened to Angelica and that he can now speak of the powers of our God.

Sometimes We Are Listening

Angelica and I are blessed in the ministries we serve. We have seen lives change at the school, we have seen God moving in the lives of the Paraguayan youth, and we have been able to help communities improve their agriculture and medical care. On the other hand, sometimes we feel our efforts in the church we attend, San Vicente, are not as successful.

A few years ago I wrote that we intended to dedicate more time to San Vicente and to the children in that community. Even as we increased our efforts, Angelica grew more frustrated each day. Then she had the opportunity to participate in a two-hour staff meeting at home that changed her perspective on leadership. She witnessed leaders working towards peoples’ strengths, people being encouraged to critique their own performance, and how this creates an environment in which everyone wants to do their best.

Returning to Paraguay, Angelica immediately applied what she had learned in combination with a Bible study. She asked the youth at San Vicente tough questions and challenged them to collaborate with her in improving the children’s ministry. The results have been incredible! The youth have taken ownership of the children’s ministry and the kids in the community have a new interest in coming to church.

children_webbParaguayan Fact

It’s not a party in Paraguay unless there is dancing.

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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. 
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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.

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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.

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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