Luck? Or Divine Intervention?

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

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

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

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

Mission Accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garden

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

Paraguayan Fact:

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

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Job Well Done

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

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

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

How to Help

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

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

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

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

Paraguayan Fact

Cooking classes have their fringe benefits!

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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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The Youth are Our Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it is time to get ready for Youth Camp!

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Mama Says “No!”

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

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

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

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

Paraguayan Fact

Not all Paraguayans are graceful on the Futbol field!

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The 100s

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your winter up north!

Good Reinforcement

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe Something New

We are always exploring new ideas.

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

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

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

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

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Paraguayan Fact

In the summer, everyone goes shirtless.

So Much Happening

So much is happening at the Agriculture Center in Paraguay!

There is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” I have been so overwhelmed by activities at the Agriculture Center in Quinta Linia that I told the man who helps me, “We are going to have to designate places for people to meet, walk and park or we were not going to have any more grass.”

There has been a constant flurry of activity at the center for the past three months. We have hosted three teams, three groups of agriculture engineers, three cooking classes, two bonfires, two Bible studies, one equipment demonstration, a Kid’s Day — Oh, and a few World Cup Parties!

Dia de Campo

This past week we helped host an event in the village. The event was actually held on a farm “across the way” from the center.  It was called Dia de Campo (Day of the Country) and was put on by the Ministry of Agriculture.  The event lasted two days and involved more than 250 people, including over 20 engineers, veterinarians, government officials, and representatives from The Ministry of Agriculture.

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The first day we hosted classes at the center on cooking with local products and classes on making natural detergents and cleaners.

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The second day, they set up tents in different locations on the farm and participants were divided in groups of 15. Every 25 minutes, a group would start out on a rotation, visiting the first of the seven tents. The tents were dedicated to many different aspects of farming, from soil preparation and planting to harvesting and packing.

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The culmination of years of work by lots of people.

These last few months have been a long time coming and have been put together by the efforts of Americans and Paraguayans — always with the goal to help the Paraguayans enjoy a better life and know Christ. We are grateful to every person from here and afar that has been a part of this ministry throughout the years. This would not be possible without the efforts, talents, prayers and support from so many people.

Worst Vacation Ever / Best Months Ever

Worst Vacation Ever

Our family once took what Camila called “The Worst Trip Ever”. It was summer vacation for the kids —  really, winter down here. We planned to visit the southern tip of Paraguay, which I discovered is quite cool and rainy during July. The roads were a mess, and it took a good bit longer to get there than I had anticipated.

Despite my impeccable sense of direction, we got lost. Around midnight, we finally arrived at the famous Hotel Tirol. (Dr. Josef Mengele once stayed and was almost caught there, after the war.)

Tirol is quite the place in the summer. But in the winter, we found that it is all but closed down. They finally agreed to let us stay and put us in a room that Camila said “smelled like old people.”

After going to bed hungry, the next morning we walked up what seemed like a thousand steps to find that the kitchen was closed. We eventually convinced them to fix us a grill cheese sandwich and watered down coffee. Unfortunately, the kids could not bring themselves to enjoy their breakfast for fear of the stuffed wolf on the wall of the dimly lit dining room.

After our delicious breakfast, still tired and famished, we hauled our luggage and AnnaBelen, who was less the two, up the thousand steps and left. It might not have been high season for the hotel but the price sure seemed like it.

For question of time and space, I will stop here. Though, I would like to mention that the weather just got worse and the last night of our “vacation” was spent all sleeping in the same bed.

Best Months Ever

Angelica and I have had a few packed months of ministries. A few packed months of training. A few packed months of fellowship. Over the past several months, we divided up into teams and visited eight churches, some near some far.

Paraguay 2014 198On occasion, the trips resembled “the worst trip ever” but with one difference — great fellowship with the youth.  We had the chance to meet with lots of the youth and adolescence, many we did not know.  We had opportunities to do some training and learn a little from them. We had the opportunity to see the youth and adolescence leadership in action and they are great. It is rewarding to see years of work and preparation come to fruition.

A few weeks ago, we had a two day youth and adolescence gathering. We were blessed to have a group of our American friends participate with us as well. It was two days of praising, learning and fellowship. It is always uplifting when we can get Christians together from different cultures for worship.

baby pigsDuring the past few months, we have had a busy schedule at the Agriculture Center. The Ministry of Agriculture continues to use the facility for teaching and now we are looking into creating demonstration plots.

A few weeks ago, we had a surprise visit from the manager of the farmers market in Asuncion. We set-up a date for him to come back and teach us how to better care for and back product once it is harvested.

Finally, this month Angelica began work on the clinic that she has been praying for, for so many years. A team came down and helped start a house for the traveling doctor to stay in. The first day we had about 25 people from the community come and help. In a few days, we will have a group come down and help us start on the clinic building.

A Little Help

Angelica and I are always amazed by the assistance that we have in serving here in Paraguay. My dad once told me that life is easier if you don’t surround yourself with stupid people.  The people that we work with both here and in The States sure make our lives easier. When I began preparing to serve in Paraguay, I never anticipated so many people helping in this endeavor.

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Paraguayan Fact

Sometimes early mornings can bring big surprises. And we just thought that she was fat!

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It depends on your perspective

Living in Paraguay and being married to a Paraguayan has taught me a lot, mainly that people are different.

I loved the cold weather when we were in the States this year. Angelica could not seem to get warm. Each night I had nightmares about the heat in Paraguay, while Angelica lay beside me dreaming of the “lovely” sunny weather in Paraguay. Each Sunday at church, I longed for the more “rock-n-roll” music typical in Paraguayan services, while Angelica cherished every fleeting moment of our traditional music and the choir. I fidgeted in the pews, missing being able to wear shorts to church, while Angelica enjoyed getting up early to dress-up.

Both Camila and AnnaBelen had differing views on our time in the States as well.  A few days after our arrival, AnnaBelen began longing for home and Camila started in about how our time in the US is never enough.

In our family, as in most I assume, we don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but we all agree that we appreciate and feel blessed with a great maternal and church family. We are incredibly thankful for everyone who has helped us along the way and/or is helping us now. We do not feel like we are here in Paraguay alone and know that God has put each and every one of y’all in our lives for a reason. That we can agree on!

Good Decisions

Somewhere along the line, we made the good decision (I insist was my idea) to invest much of our time in the youth of Paraguay. Actually, it was an invitation by the Bishop that got us involved with the youth. Every time we are together, I come away thankful for the opportunity to work together with these young people in sharing Christ in Paraguay. I am always amazed by their ability and boldness in living a Christian life. They have made my time here more enjoyable and the ministries more effective.

Angelica and I are delighted to have the opportunity to work with the National Youth, and now also as the chaplains of the National Adolescence. The churches in Paraguay are very connected. Many members know members in other churches, especially the kids. We get together for a lot of spiritual, social, and sporting events. The younger generation is the most active generation in the churches in Paraguayan culture.Students2

We are looking forward to working more with the churches in the Interior of the country: working to help them build the community that we have in the capital of Asuncion and working to help them develop better kids, adolescent and youth programs. We have a great team of youth to help us with this and hope to involve some of the younger kids as well. This has been a dream of Angelica’s for some time and we are looking forward to getting started.

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Paraguayan Fact

Paraguay is “melting.” We have had 15 days and counting of 103 to 108 degrees.

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Time and location can really change perspective

I always looked forward to summer and “camping” when I was a kid. I remember we use to set up out in the barn, up in the hay loft. Cool breezes and light shadows from the moon made it seem like we were in another world. The smell of a camp fire and pretending that we did not have access to power made it seem like we were roughing it.

It just does not seem the same now days. The breezes aren’t so cool and there is no way to keep the smell of burning brush out of our house. Being without power is not a pretend game and can be really quite annoying when the temperature is in the 100’s.

Angelica says that my character changes (negatively) with the coming of the long summers. I guess it all depends on your perception. Being outside and exposed to whatever nature has to offer is not called camping in Paraguay. It is just living.

Double Graduation

A few weeks ago, we celebrated what could be the last year of education for our friend and fellow worker Karina, and the end of the first year for some of our little friends in the Interior. Karina, the Kindergarten teacher at The Susana Wesley School, has just finished her teachers’ degree. We celebrated this event along with her students who have now finished their preparations to enter into First Grade.

Like most events, we held the graduation outside. Thank God the weather was conducive to an outside event. As I have mentioned before, education is not a high priority in the interior of Paraguay. Angelica is slowly changing that notion in Quinta Linia. Both the kids and the parents came in their “Sunday Best.” There was food for everyone and a great time was had by all.

We would like to say “thank you” to all those back home who have supported the Susanna Wesley School and the kids of Quinta Linia for so many years. These children have received a chance to learn more about the world and God, a chance that many of their fellow countrymen will never have.Kindergarten_print

Just a Little Something to Help

Our friends Doug and Becky Neel were here about a month ago. Doug is the former director of Agrimissions and has visited here at least 10 times. They always bring something to make the Paraguayans’ lives a little easier and this time was no exception. They brought down irrigation kits and we had a demonstration on how to set them up. Gardening is something that we have been working on introducing for quite a while. It has finally taken off and gardens are popping up all around the area in which we work.

As Angelica and I visit around Quinta Linia, we find that people are always eager to talk about what they are growing and what new things they may plant. They have learned that as a good Southerner, many of my conversations revolve around food. We start off taking about planting, preparing and eating food, eventually we get around to Jesus. It is little things like irrigation kits that help the Paraguayans know that we are interested in their lives.

Families_webAhhh! Christmas in the Cold

We are coming home for Christmas!

As always, I can’t wait for the cold and the girls are already talking about decorations and Christmas music. We love living and serving in Paraguay, but you can’t beat the Christmas season in The States. The girls don’t understand that much of the hoopla, for Christmas is secular. They think it is all done for Christ’s birthday. I choose not to spoil their fun!

We look forward to visiting with our friends and supporters. We will arrive in Alpharetta on December the 12th and will be there until January the 26th. See y’all soon!

Paraguayan Fact:

When someone graduates from college, it is a custom to bring a gift. One of the teachers showed up late because she was catching, killing and preparing this wonderful gift.

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Acts 2

fellowship_webDuring the month of July, Angelica and I had the pleasure of once again hosting some of our friends from home. I often think of the early church during the days that we are together with our friends.

Many of y’all may think that as missionaries we live life like the early Christians did in Acts. Unfortunately, just like many of y’all, we get bogged down in the everyday routine of life. We often find ourselves focusing on our “work in missions” and loose site of how we could be living. Camila_small

The few weeks each year that we have to live out the life presented to us in Acts: 2 are a tremendous blessing to Angelica and I, as well as to the Paraguayans.

We Don’t Have That Here

While Paraguay is changing (and I don’t hear it as much), I still hear the occasional “I don’t know what you are talking about” or “we don’t have that here in Paraguay.” A lot of times I can find what is needed after beating the bushes for a while. Angelica gets mad at me and says that I should just accept things, but my persistence is often rewarded. To my delight, this was the case with bagels.

Then again, sometimes I have to improvise. On more than one occasion, I have had to use something differently than how it is intended. Cutting wood planks with a chain saw comes to mind. Using a clear hose as a level is another. With some things I have just given up — like finding Philips-head screws.

As I have mentioned before, Angelica and I are looking into doing some different things down here. We are thinking about traveling more and maybe traveling to more remote places. We need to purchase another vehicle in order to be able to do this. We know what we want, but are having a hard time finding what would work best for us. We are confident that we will, at some point, find what we need and have the funds to purchase it.

A Shared Word

Over the years of serving here in Paraguay, we have come across a tremendous number of people who can do at least part of what we are doing and sometimes, they do it better. I have learned that communication is one of the most pressing problems third world countries have. To many, I am considered and expert in things that the Paraguayan should be better equipped to do.

Angelica and I spend much of our time helping people realize and develop their potential. It is amazing how much of what I learned in college is applicable to serving in missions. God has blessed people in third world countries with talents just like we have in the good old US of A — they just need to be drawn out of them. Because so many people in The States have invested in Angelica and I, we are able to help the Paraguayans reach their potential and follow through with their responsibility to share Christ in their own country.

Angelica always says that America is blessed because for years they used the gifts that God gives them to help others and if Paraguay wants to be blessed they must do the same.

PARAGUAY FACT

There is no such thing as a quick run to the store.

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