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.

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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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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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Happy Endings?

I recently let my 5-year-old daughter AnnaBelen drag me to a movie. Sitting in a comfortable seat in the air condition for two hours is what really sold it for me.

The movie was pretty bad but AnnaBelen seemed to like it. As the movie was ending, everything came together:  The bad guy was caught and the main characters were reunited. In the closing moments of the movie, I had tears in my eyes. Hoping no one would notice and think that this movie had touched me so, I quickly wiped them away.

What saddened me was how in real life, in our ministries, we don’t always have these nice endings all tied up in a bow. Despite our efforts and hard work, people sometimes are not reunited.

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Left-Right: Meriam, Sheyla, Rosia

As the movie was ending, I was thinking of Meriam, an 11-year-old girl in our Bible class, who has to move back to the Interior. She has not been with us very long but has been very active and always wants to talk. She is always happy to see us and told us that if it were not for our time together, she would be glad to move back to the Interior.

She is like so many kids in our Bible class that get moved around like pawns because their parents can’t get along. We often talk to parents, but it almost always seems to fall on deaf ears. There is only one kid in our class that has not moved in, moved away or moved around because of family problems.

New Experiences

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Pastor Pablo Mora

This past month, The Evangelical Methodist Church of Paraguay elected a new Bishop. This is the third leader that the Methodist church has had in 25 years.

Our former Bishop, Pastor Pablo Mora, has been involved with the church from the very beginning. Angelica and I enjoyed working for and with Pastor Pablo Mora. He was always supportive of the things we wanted to do, encouraging us and occasionally reeling us in. We never had a bad experience with him and felt comfortable working under him. Angelica, like a good Paraguayan, is a little emotional about seeing “Grandpa” go. We wish Pastor Pablo and his wife Claudete the best in their next endeavors.

Pastor Pedro Magellanes

Pastor Pedro Magellanes

Pastor Pedro Magellanes is our new Bishop. Pastor Pedro and his wife Carla are Brazilian and have served here in Paraguay for over 20 years. Angelica and I look forward to working with the new Bishop and the new leadership that comes in with him.

Some Things Get Better With Time

In just a few weeks, classes will start at The Susanna Wesley School. This will be Angelica’s sixth year as Director.  Like every year, the kids will return to nicer classrooms and improved teachers. We have been blessed with a great group of teachers that are dedicated to the children and to improving their teaching skills.

Without spending a little time in the Interior of Paraguay, this may seem like a small triumph, but it is much more. In the Interior, there is often little thought put into improving education and most teachers are under-qualified and under-motivated. Establishing an atmosphere of improvement can be difficult without significant monetary incentives. Angelica has surrounded herself with teachers that see her vision and want to implement and improve it.

Our work in Agriculture is on the cusp of a new era. Up to this point, the project has been a huge learning experience for me. It has also been an outreach of the church and a way for us to come to know and share with the families around us. This year some of our experimental projects will begin to produce. We will also start with our first full year or teaching and training with the help of the government.

Paraguayan Fact:

We no longer mix by hand. Horse_web

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.