Ayolas: Southern Paraguay on the Argentine Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paraguayan Fact:

There is no Toys “R” Us here either.

The Best Thing We Have to Offer

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

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

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

New Missionaries

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

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

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

Paraguay Fact

In Paraguay, there is always a hammock waiting.

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 Has a Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Alto Paraguay calles

The roads of Alto Paraguay

Alto Paraguay gente

People trying to navigate through Alto Paraguay

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

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

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

Paraguayan Fact

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

dog

Our Visit to the U.S.

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

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

We Are Teachable

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

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

Travel Plans

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

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

Paraguayan Facts:

Traveling almost always includes “assistance” vehicles.

People NEEDS Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Things We and Our Paraguayan Friends Are Doing

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

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

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

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

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

As Angelica says, “People needs Jesus”.

Perla in Chile

Guiermo in Chile

Guiermo in Nepal

Paraguayan Fact

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

Camila in California

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.

truck_web

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.

dancers-copy

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

 

    

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.

family_print

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!

pie

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.

congregation-web

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.

gathering_web

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.

picnic_web

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!

angelica_web