Outreach into the Chaco, the outback of Paraguay.
So today is our first day traveling out into the Chaco. I was so excited last night, that I woke up close to 4:30 in the morning in anticipation of our trip. Even though I have been in Paraguay for two years, and have seen and helped many indigenous people, something about going out and living with them in the outback for a week is really exciting.
Mary wasn’t quite as excited for me at 4:30 in the morning, so I tried as best I could not to wake her when I got up. With everything packed, I decided to roll back into bed for a few minuets to snuggle close to my wife.. Why not enjoy the last few minuets we were going to be together this week. But by the time I got back in bed, she decided to get up and get her day going =) This is a good example of the complexities of marriage. =)
The truck didn’t start right up as hoped. So Ramon and three other people had to jump-start the truck. Something about the starter is giving out in the truck, so we had to try a few times, pray, and then a try again before it would start. Not a very reliable car to go out into the country side with, but as there wasn’t another choice we decided it would be a good test to our faith.
It was a pretty tight fit in the truck, even though it is a double cab. Videla , Ramona and Aurelia were three volunteers riding in the back seat. This week the plan is to share the gospel message and also teach the indigenous women how to cook with the dehydrated vegetables that we will be giving out. For the volunteers it is their first time to go to the Chaco. Accompanying us for these four days represents a sacrifice for them. The three of them have children at home. And here in Paraguay it is not common for the women to leave their homes without their husbands, this will probably be the longest stretch of time that they will have ever been away from home.
Videla is the older of the three, she is the coordinator of one of our nutrition centers and has a tremendous amount of dedication for serving the children in her community.When we stopped for lunch about 2 hours into our trip, she shared with me a testimony of how God had provided the means to buy a motorcycle to take food into the communities where they are currently working. She told me how for several years they had been pushing a wheel-barrel down the rough road for 2 kilometers with food for the nutrition center. Not an easy task, with the bumpy dirt roads, and unexpected rainfall. Throughout the trip, it was exciting for me to hear of the dedication of these sisters to serve the children. The 800 dollars they raised to buy the motorcycle represents three months of wages for them!
360 kilometers into the country, the road got a lot more complicated with large pot holes that my tire could easy sink into without any warning. I didn’t realize how hard I was holding onto the steering wheel until we got to a clear section of the road and I let lose my grip, and then I realizing that my hands all sweaty from holding on so tight to the wheel.
Things get more interesting….
Things got a lot more interesting ( complicated) from kilometer 360 on. It was supposed to be a 30 kilometer dirt road, and Pastor Miranda met us out on the highway to guide us to the house where we were to be staying. The truck starter wasn’t working again, so we had to pull the truck with Pastor Miranda Chevi to get enough momentum to jump start it.
Then it started to poor rain about half hour before we arrived to the dirt road. The road turned into a very slippery clay road, We tried going on a longer way around thinking that it would be the “ Better road.” But this was no normal dirt road. It is made out of a red-colored clay soil, and as soon as it got wet it became as slippery as a plastic slide covered in dish soap like we played with when we were kids. Pastor Miranda was driving his tuck in front of us and leaving me far off in the dust.
About 5 minuets later, we were fishtailing all over the place. It was all I could do to keep the truck on the road. “No problem,” I thought, “Just stick it in 4x4 and will be on our way. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. The four-wheel drive wasn’t working either. Once again, our starter less, 4x4less, truck wasn’t looking too good
The first we got stuck ( yes there is a second time) the car was fishtailing so much it was impossible to keep in the middle of the road. Needless to say, before long my truck ended up horizontal across the road. The engine roaring as I tried to keep it from slipping down into the gully. But with No luck…
I jumped out of the car, and was attacked by what I would say is the Chaco’s most terrible beasts. The mosquitoes. I had never killed so many mosquitoes in my life, one slap on my arm and 5 mosquitoes would fall dead, but not before they got their fill of my sweet blood. I have to admit that I have blood on my hands.. ( my own blood!) So as there was nothing I could do to get rid of them, I decided to take Ramon’s advice, “ think of it as physiological pain.” You just need to get over it..” So for all future reference, you can just assume that I am always fighting off mosquitoes for as long as this blog continues. But for the sake of not filling this blog with mosquito stories I will just Physiologically block them out of the rest of my week here.
If there was ever a day not to wear a white shirt it was today. With the mud flying into the air ( and all over our supplies in the back of the truck) we showered ourselves constantly with the mud.
Eventually a good Samaritan pulled us out of the ditch. I wish I could say that this was the last time I got stuck but 5 minuets later I was in worse conditions than before. And this time there was no one to pull us out. While the first time, my truck slipped into the side gully, the second time my tire just sank 12 inches deep. For any of you who have gotten stuck before, you know that this is the time where you start taking out the shovels and start digging. Well that is exactly what we did, except instead of shovels I went into the woods and found a large branch to use as a substitute. To make a long story short. We finally did get out, however our eggs, flour, sugar, and bananas were far less edible by the time we were done. I only say less edible because it is the only food we have to eat while we are here, so we’ll have to make it edible if we are going to eat in the next few days.
11 hours later our 3 1/2 drive was over, and we made it to our home base. I will describe the place to you latter, as most of the guys are asleep now as I am writing this. However I must tell you two quick incidents that have made this an interesting trip already.
First, the first thing I did when I arrived was to try and draw some water out of the well to wash some of the mud off my face. The water bucket had a rope tied to it, so when I through the bucket into the well, I just assumed that the rope was tied to something sturdy. Not so my heart sank as I watched it slowly fill with water and sink to the bottom… What a way to start out the week!
The second thing that happened that has made things interesting tonight was when one of the guys went outside to take a leak. He noticed that the branches of the tree he was standing bye started to move. Pointing his flashlight up, he found a large black poisonous snake. I have not been able to identify what kind of snake it is, but according to the guys it was a deadly snake. Pastor Reneido, came out with a stick and with one swing knocked it in the head. Now I know why they told us to keep all the doors closed when we got here.
The one inch pad I slept on wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Or maybe I
was just so tired that I could have slept on a rock. The good news is that they say that this week has been cooler than usual. All I can say is “thank you God that it isn’t any hotter!”
Actually temperature wise, it probably is only 90 degrees, but the humidity makes things feel even hotter. . The air feels heavy, and I sweat profoundly. Today, I drank close to two gallons of water, and only had to use the outhouse once. You just sweat it all out.
Breakfast was coffee and the left over Paraguayan tortilla. These tortillas are the one thing that haven’t quite spiked my appetite in Paraguay. It basically is just flour and water with an egg and maybe some milk deep fried in oil. It is the most common food that the poor eat here, which explains why you see larger people here who are very poor. Anyhow, I just stuck to the coffee this morning..
We divided into three groups, I took one team and Pastor Reneiro took the other two teams to different churches. The first church I went to was about 10 kilometers away. We had enough time to get wood together, and even found a cool tepee device to hang the pot over the fire before the people started to arrive. It is hard to plan events here at scheduled time, as people usually start arriving once they see an event happening. We started with about 20 ladies, and then as got started more and more started to arrive.
One of the first things I noticed was that most of the ladies all had the same type of skirts. They were made out of towel like material, and came in a few different patterns, mostly pictures of puppies with big brown eyes. Although, the most interesting that I saw was the one that had spider man wrapped around her behind. All the clothes come in bright colors,.
No sooner had we put the pot over the fire, and all the people started arriving. I have no idea where they came from. The local pastor, told me that some had walked 10 to12 kilometers to be there
Most of their homes are made out of a combination of plastic, cardboard, and wood with tin roofs. All the homes I went into looked like one room sheds. There were many animals going in and out of them, and I couldn’t imagine how people kept out of the rain.
Our program was simple. First the Pastor introduced us to the community in their native dialect. This took about 15 minuets, at times everyone would break into laughter. None of us from Asuncion had any idea what they were laughing about. However it seemed like he was giving us a grand welcoming.. Sister Videla first took the first hour teaching people how to hydrate the food. She would speak a mix of Spanish and Guarani to the ladies, as she explained how to hydrate the food, and boil it. I was amazed at how good she was at teaching. In minuets, she had the whole group around her cutting, and frying, and preparing the lunch. She made a sample, and all the ladies got to try the food. She made a vegetable soup, and added fried breaded balls made out of the dehydrated vegetables. She also explained to make many of the main Paraguayan dishes with the vegetables. It was a lot of fun, and the people were quick to laugh. Especially when I told them how much more their husbands were going to want to stay home if they started cooking these healthy food.
Pastor Reneiro shared the gospel message afterwards. People were very receptive. He also spoke mainly in Guarani, he talked on how God is our refuge in need, and how he gives us the bread of life.
Many people prayed to accept Christ. And several stayed for counseling afterwards. One married couple were having problems in their marriage, and many came forward to and asked for prayer.
The local Pastor provided us with a list of 160 families that were present so that we could give out the bags of vegetables accordingly. So roughly calculating that I had 20 boxes full in the back of the truck we decided to give two bags ( about 100 portions) to each family. As we got to the last page of the list I started to pray that there would be enough for everyone on the list. Even though we could drive back to get more from our home-base, I was worried that it would cause a problem if people saw that we were had ran out. So I prayed, “God extend the amount of food so that everybody on the list can receive their bags of food.”
More and more people kept coming, and when we got down to the last box of food, I thought there was no way it was going to be enough. And then before I knew it, the lady calling out the names told me that she had called out the family. I looked down and there was exactly two bags left!
I don’t know why I was surprised, but I got exactly what I had asked God for: enough food for everyone on the list. Now I must say that God must have a sense of humor because he answered only my specific request. After we where done with the list a few people came up to the pastor and told him how they hadn’t put their names on the list. So while a new list of names with everyone missing was made up, I drove back to get more food from our home base.
Afterwards I told Pastor Ariola what had happened, and he confirmed with me that God new exactly what was needed. And told me that during the time I had driven to pick up more food several more people had come forward for prayer to receive Christ as their Savior. What a good God we serve!
There were three groups working in separate communities simultaneously. We regrouped for lunch and then started re-loading the trucks to start all over again. In the afternoon presentations there was at least the same amount of women, and men kind of crowed around the corners overhearing everything.
There are four more presentations scheduled for tomorrow. Plus one more that we might possibly visit, as one of the pastors came by this afternoon asking if we could not go to another community he has a sister church in. I guess, the people there thought that we would not be able to make it because of the road conditions.
I am grateful for being here. My hearts desire is to be able to demonstrate a Spirit of service to those around me. For one, I can’t speak the Guarani language so I am quite limited in the direct contact that I can make with people. But I can demonstrate my hearts desire to love and serve by doing everything possible to facilitate the work of the pastors and cooks that I am with. If Jesus asked us to wash each others feet, than maybe loading boxes and being the driver is they way I can demonstrate a heart of service to my fellow brothers and sisters.
Shower felt good. It is one of those self-made showers. Basically a bucket with lots of holes on the bottom. I almost got all the soap off me before the water ran out!
It was hotter last night then before. It was miserably funny, Ramon who was laying on the mat beside me was tossing and turning as well. We ended up just getting up and talking for most of the night. God is doing something good in Ramon’s life. I have watched him grow and mature in leadership in the last year he has been working with me. He started as the motorcyclist who visits the nutrition centers. And now he is the worship leader in our organization and has become a good friend and my right hand in ministry.
Anyways finally about 2:00 am my tiredness overcame the heat and I was able to sleep for a few hours.
We went to three more communities in the morning. I was driving and unloading food for two of churches, and Pastor Miranda left with one team to a community 50 kilometers away.
In the first community, the people were already waiting. Over 100 women gathered, and Ramon shared the gospel message with them. He had to use a translator to speak the indigenous language of Ancla. There are many different dialects here, and just 50 kilometers away in another community they speak an entirely different language. The lack of ability to communicate in Spanish has been one of the main reasons that the indigenous people have never progressed.
The second community we worked in wasn’t as organized, and unfortunately the church we were working with announced our visit to the people. But a large bell ( actually the drum of a tire) was rang, and slowly people starting coming together. In all there was probably 50 familes who came out.
But God worked in a wonderful way and used sister Aurelia’s love to reach out to the women. The pastor had shared the gospel message, and also asked if anyone needed prayer. Only four ladies asked for prayer.
Sister Aurelia felt in her heart that there were many more women who needed to find the love of Christ, and she could not keep quite. Although she came as a cook, and without any previous preparation she asked the pastor if she couldn’t have a few minuets to talk to the other women. She poured her heart out to them, describing the love of our heavenly father, who forgives us of every sin and who knows are every need. I was so proud of her, I couldn’t help but cry as she told me the passion she felt as she felt the Holy Spirit speaking through her. She finished asking if there was anyone else who wanted to repent of sin and receive the love of the father. Every one of those women came forward to accept Christ!
We had one more presentation left to do in a community called Nivacle. It was about 100 kilometers on dirt road from the previous communities we were at in the morning. None of the dirt roads here have any signs so after 100 kilometers of twisting roads, I was totally left without a sense of direction, and very grateful that Pastor Miranda who was guiding us.
The co-pastor there was supposed to be organizing the event. And Pastor Miranda dropped my team off there and just told me to wait for Pastor Nazi to arrive. Until recently many of the indigenous people here did not have last names. So whoever gave the pastor his last name must have had a bad sense of humor. Although I don’t think he will ever know who the Nazis are., I asked every man that came walking by if his name was Pastor Nazi, but no one ever claimed the name.
So about 1 1/2 hours later, other leaders from the church and many of the women were waiting, so we decided to just go ahead and start with the evangelistic event.
I had a very interesting conversation with a young professor there. He said that last year they had 5 graduates from their school, which teaches up to 8th grade. He seemed very proud of these graduates so I didn’t want to directly ask him why there were so few graduates in a community of 2500 families. Later he explain to me that many of the students leave school once they are grown up. I didn’t quite understand his logic, so I asked him at what age where people grown up. He said, that most of the students stop going to school once they are around 12-13 years old. Then it made sense to me, many of the boys at this age were able to go work with the men, and many of the women are then married off when they are all “grown up.” Later that day, sister Aurelia told me that she was ministering to a girl who had gotten married when she was 12 years old, and at 13 already had her first child. She had come forward asked for prayer for her older husband because of the way he was treating her. This broke my heart, and the professor confirmed that there is a big problem with alcohol and abuse among the youth. As he told me this his eyes become teary, as he explained that many of his students where starting to drink and smoke as early as 10 years old.
He told me that he had been trying to organize an event at the school to have someone teach them against these vices. But the only person that he had declined the request, as the school was too far away. A verse came to my mind as he shared this, “ The harvest is ready, but there are not enough workers to harvest it.”
It was about 10:30 by the time I made it home after dropping off everyone that night. I feel physically exhausted but spiritually energized with everything I have seen God do through us this week. There is nothing like coming home to a wife that is waiting for you. I must admit I did push the speed limit just a bit, to make it home earlier =)
I know that this is a long blog, so I don’t expect everyone to read it all. But it has been good for me to be able to think back on each day, and remember everything that God has done. Thank you for being part of my ministry by praying and supporting me. God bless you.