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

 

    

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!

futbol

Sometimes it works, even when it’s not working

A few weeks ago a man who carries the cross around the world  accompanied me on a trip to the Interior. He had traveled to over 200 countries and walked over 35,000 kilometers. Paraguay was the final country for him to visit in South America. In talking with him, I was surprised to hear that he had experienced assaults and verbal abuse while walking in the U.S., much more than anywhere else. Combining this information with problems that we face at a church near the school and Ag. Center, I was discouraged. I did not sleep well the night we arrived in the Interior.

The next afternoon, I finished up a few things at the school and Ag-center, then headed out to find “the man walking with the cross.” I was surprised to find that he had not made it very far. As I stopped to pick him up, he said that he had not gotten far because people kept stopping him and asking him to sit with them for a while. He said that he was surprised by how many people knew me. One man said, “Yeah I know him — the priest.”

Angelica and I want people to know more than just who we are — we want them to know what we do and why.  Nevertheless, it is funny sometimes that we are not welcome where we think we are and don’t accomplish things through the methods that we think we will. The good thing is that an America walking in Paraguay and some missionaries working in education and agriculture — we can reach people.

On Tour

Angelica and one of the youth leaders, along with other church leaders, recently took a trip to Ciudad Del Este. This city is about 5 hours east of Asuncion on the Brazilian border. There are five Methodist churches in Ciudad Del Este. Most of these churches have only around 20 members, but they have lots of youth.

After spending time with Angelica and the national youth president and seeing what the youth are doing in Asuncion, their youth were crying for more. They begged Angelica to come back and show them how to reach more youth and liven-up their relationship with Christ. Friends_web

This has snowballed into an interest to travel to all the districts in Paraguay. Over the years we have been asked repeatedly to travel and visit, but have never really had the time. Leadership in our ministries, including great youth leadership, now allows us to consider this new option.

The one obstacle is the additional cost of traveling in Paraguay. As some of y’all know, many of the roads in Paraguay are not exactly the Autobahn and our vehicles are not exactly Mercedes. We would need to raise additional funding to pay for everything involved with this new ministry.Road_web

Just in case you wondered

I have internet just like y’all do at home and sometime I am surprised, and even a little discouraged, by how some people think Americas are perceived in other counties. I just want to say that hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear about how much someone appreciates and/or respects the U.S.  The Christians down here in Paraguay are very appreciative of what the American Christians have done for them socially and assisted in spiritually.

Paraguayan Fact:

AnnaBelen asked me if “Princesses” really exist. I told her “Yes, especially here in Paraguay.”Princesses_web

Grateful for our Partners

Over the past few months, Angelica and I have had the opportunity to spend more time with the people that make missions possible around the world, people that support us and others that support ministries in different countries. We have been in first grade classes to classes of senior citizens, around the dinner table to speaking at resorts. We have shared and listened to people who have rarely ventured outside of their hometown to people who have traveled all over the world.

While we are constantly aware of the connection that we all have in missions, it is nice to spend time with people who we usually only see as names on a report. I learn a lot when I spend time with people who support missions and I always leave feeling challenged.

Karina_webPassing it on . . .

Over the past few years, Angelica and I have dedicated more time to equipping and encouraging Paraguayans to assist us in our ministries. The Methodist churches are small down here, usually around 30 members, but they are full of young Christians that are eager to share their faith. We have discovered a “gold mine” of talent in these youth. We have been working with them for years and now could not imagine doing missions without them. We strive to challenge them, just as the Christians we know from home have challenged us.

Karina

Karina1_webAngelica discovered Karina one cold rainy day as we were sitting in her home drinking “mate” with a group of Americans. I had known her for a while but somehow her potential had evaded me. It was too cold and wet to work, so we decided to visit a few homes with the team. As Angelica spoke with Karina and watched how she carried herself, she began to see how different her character was from that of a typical young girl in the Interior. Late that evening, as the team slept and we prepared for the next day, Angelica mentioned that she saw something in Karina and knew God had plans for her. She began to pester me about finding a way to use her in our ministries. She began to pray about how God might show us where Karina could be used.

Shortly after our conversation, God put on Angelica’s heart to open a kindergarten at the school. She was concerned about the children entering first grade speaking only the Indian language of Guarani. Karina was a perfect fit, except that she did not have the education needed nor did we have the funds to pay her. In a short time, God provided both. Through Karina, the whole character of the school has changed; the kids, parents and other teachers love working with her. She is full of ideas and plans, and makes the school a more fun place to be around. She has also been instrumental in getting the youth from the interior of the country to participate more in national youth activities.

Without Karina our ministries in the Interior wouldn’t be what they are today. We would not be nearly as affective in helping the Paraguayans live better lives and know Christ. Karina is just one of several young Paraguayans that we have invested in. We look forward to the day when one of these youth may be allowed to go elsewhere and share Christ to another people group.

Paraguayan Fact:

You have heard of “a man and his dog?” Well, here it is “a boy and his horse.”

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Thanks For The Help

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

By Christian Dickson

This year, as we get ready to host a few teams from home, Angelica and I are reminded of how important other people are to the ministries in Paraguay. Sure, the ministries seem like ours. We even sometimes call them “our ministries.” But more and more, both Americans and Paraguayans are playing an important role in what we do here. Angelica and I have been blessed with a few skills, but we rely tremendously on the skills and ideas of other Christians around us. As some of y’all that are coming down to visit us will see, many of our Paraguayan friends are assisting us in ministry.

Youth in Missions

For almost 10 years, Angelica and I have served ministries in the capital of Asuncion and in the interior of the country. For almost four years, one or both of us would make the four-hour trip to the interior each week. These days we don’t go as often, but still spend about seven days a month in the interior. Some of the youth that we have been working with for years in Asuncion are now helping us in the interior.  Many of them have skills that Angelica and I don’t have and will make a tremendous difference in the ministries there.

Youth Leaders from AsuncionLast month we took a group of Paraguayan youth from Asuncion to the interior for 5 days. These are kids (youth) that I have known since my first weeks in Paraguay. It is a treat for us to work together with them in missions as well as a treat for them to see the vastly different world of the interior.

Angelica and I have been busy developing the school and agriculture ministries. We know the people in the area where we work, but have always wanted to spend more time in their homes. With help from the youth, we visited all but five of the 137 students of the school. Here are some things we learned.

  • Family from Paraguay InteriorThe average number of children in the home is six.
  • The average income is a little less than $100 a month.
  • Most hardly ever have cash on hand and usually barter.
  • Only two families have bathrooms with toilets and an electric device to heat water — they are both families who work with us. Most have a hole and a A toilet in Paraguy interiorhose. Some don’t even have a hose and get their water from a hand dug well.
  • Most of the kids share a bed and often the boys sleep with their dad and the girls with their mother. Five or six to a bed is not uncommon.
  • All but two families cook over an open fire.
  • Most of the parents went to school until 4th grade and many can’t read even on an elementary level.
  • The majority of the children that start at the school do not have birth records.

Living quarters of an average family in the Paraguay interiorWe want these children and their families to know about Christ, but we also want to help them have opportunities to advance socially. We plan to continue visiting these families in their homes, sharing with them and learning more about their individual lives. As we begin to address some of their problems, we look forward to doing it with help from Christians in the US and Paraguayans from Asuncion.

God Knows Best

Good decisions don’t come easy. Angelica and I have learned that just because we want to do what is best for the ministries that have been entrusted to us; sometimes our hands have to be forced. Due to financial difficulties, we were forced to let a teacher go. We had spoken often about getting rid of this teacher. She had several shortcomings and a few parents had complained about her. But we wanted to give her a chance to improve and we feared legal difficulties. Because of finances, we were given no option but to make a decision. It has been a difficult decision for everyone, but the school is better off because of it.

Paraguay Fact: Paraguayan youth are weird too.

Youth leaders having in fun in Paraguay

Prayer Requests

  • Pray for the teams that are preparing to come down and serve with us — that they will bless people here and be blessed as well.
  • Pray for our first opportunity to use the agriculture center for teaching, as we are having teachers come from the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Pray for Angelica and I as we think about getting involved with other ministries.

Time and Money Well Spent

By Christian Dickson

Many of y’all may remember the name Jonathan from newsletters over the years. He was one of the students in my Sunday school class when I first arrived here in Paraguay.  He got to listen to me stumble over reading Sunday school material for first graders.

Jonathan who is enrolling in SeminaryJonathan’s family has always needed a lot of assistance. We have given his family rides, food, money and counseling. We have assisted with medical bills. We have helped when family members were in jail. We have assisted with younger siblings because of a difficult home situation, and we have helped Jonathan enroll in a new school because he was kicked out of the one he was in. Jonathan has been a part of our ministry since the day I got here.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about how the church was taking care of Jonathan. Several church members gave him odd jobs so he had a little money to eat. He stays at the church and we all stay on top of him about his schooling, which y’all pay for. Jonathan is at every church activity and has an incredible knowledge of the Bible.

We are very excited to announce that Jonathan has chosen to attend seminary at The Methodist Bible Institute and are thankful for the people here and in the States who have helped him along the way!