Paraguay

Fresh off of camp week, I found myself heading to the airport on Monday morning, February 12, for an international flight to Paraguay. The trip was to serve two purposes.

  1. I had to leave due to my stay in Chile expiring after 90 days.
  2. I had been encouraged by the director of Vision Baptist Missions to go to Paraguay, see the country, and talk to different missionaries there. There aren’t any missionaries from Vision in Paraguay, and he said that if I were considering a good place to go, Paraguay might be it for various reasons.

They say to get to the airport two hours early for international flights, so I tried my best and pretty much did. When I walked in, the place was more packed than I’ve ever seen it. I waded my way through the crowd, already assuming I might be missing my flight if these lines were any indication.

Upon further review, I realized that I was in the national flight section and that the international flight lines weren’t nearly as bad. I’ve flown out of Chile enough times by now that I’m pretty much a pro at it, so the process went very smoothly and I did indeed make the flight (And was seated in a spacious emergency exit row, on top of that!).

I was to meet three people there: Patrick Henry, Jason King, and Robert Becker. Patrick and Jason are missionaries to Argentina and Robert is interning with them much like I’m doing in Chile. Upon arriving, I grabbed a taxi and headed to the hotel, where they met me. That night, we hung out in Asunción, the capital city, before going to bed rather early.

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Speaking of early, Paraguay seems to be an “Early to bed, early to rise” kind of place. Jason and I went out looking for a store to buy a water about 9 PM and you’d have thought it was three in the morning! That’s the complete opposite of Chile, and from what I understand, the extreme opposite of Argentina.

The next day, we left pretty early for Ciudad del Este. When we got in the taxi, we told the driver (who about pulled off before I was even completely in the car and we had to tell him to stop) that we needed to go to the bus terminal to catch our bus. He took a look at our paper and said that no, we needed to go somewhere else and that he hoped we’d make it in time before the bus left. So we took off through the city and I have to say that, honestly, I wasn’t concerned with whether or not we’d make it. I’ve been put through enough situations like this in Chile (and almost missed a plane on our first trip to Peru) that it’s getting to where this kind of thing doesn’t phase me.

We pulled up to the bus terminal and he told us to wait in the car while he went inside to make sure the bus was still there. It should’ve been, since we arrived about 7:15 and it wasn’t supposed to leave until 7:30. A few moments later, he came running out in a panic. “That’s not a good face,” Patrick commented, and sure enough, we’d missed it. It had left early, he said, to go pick up some boxes on the way, but if we hurried, we could beat it to its second stop. The lady was apparently going to call ahead for us or something.

Twenty minutes later, as we were wandering around the city seeming to never arrive at this bus station, it was becoming pretty clear what was going on. Our friend was trying to make a little extra money off of us and we’d been the suckers who let him go in that first bus station alone.

Finally, we arrived at the second station and Patrick went in to talk to the guy at the front. Our suspicions were confirmed that the bus had indeed been at the first station when we arrived, and then to beat all, the taxi driver wanted to charge us extra for the second trip! Patrick refused to pay all he was asking but did pay more than he would have had we stopped at the first place. We did at least get to get on the bus for the five-hour trip to Ciudad del Este.

I loved Ciudad del Este! It’s where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all come within very close proximity and is very diverse. While there, we were able to talk to a missionary and learn more about the culture and the people of Paraguay. They are very friendly people, which I found to be true, and they almost all speak another language besides Spanish called Guarani. In fact, for a majority of them, Guarani would be considered their first language and the missionary encouraged us that, if we ever decided to be a missionary to Paraguay, to learn that language. Later we were told that, “They speak Spanish, but their heart speaks Guarani” and, “It means so much to them if you speak Guarani to them.” Basically, I walked away from that meeting deciding that, if I go to Paraguay, I’m going to learn that language.

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That evening, we went to see some beautiful waterfalls before heading back to the hotel. Apparently the ones we saw weren’t even as big as the other ones that can be seen.

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L to R: Patrick, Robert, Jason, Me

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After the others had gone to bed, I stayed in the hotel lobby and watched a soccer game with one of the hotel workers, and we even became Facebook friends! He left after a while but I stayed to watch the game. Then, a lady from Argentina came in and struck up a conversation and a couple of the kids with her, eight and nine, tried out their English on me. It was fun to be able to encourage them and cheer them on. It was what I love about South America in one brief encounter: Soccer, friendly people, and Spanish.

The next day we headed back to Asunción. That bus was extremely nice, but they froze Robert and me out while showing the same movie three-and-a-half times, so I was glad to finally arrive in Asunción. We met with two other missionaries that day and then went to church that evening.

The next morning, we had breakfast with another missionary and ate a food specific to Paraguay: some kind of cheese bread and a tea.

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Then we went down to the boardwalk before heading back to the hotel so Patrick could work on some things for church that Sunday. I decided I wasn’t going to sit in a hotel and that I’d rather be out exploring, so off I went to find the presidential palace and see what I could do!

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As I walked through Paraguay toward the palace, I noticed some people living in extremely poor conditions. It made me so sad for them and I tried to say hi to most of the Paraguayans I passed.

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Upon arriving at the palace, I discovered that there was a gate around it but that the front leading out to the sidewalk was open. There were a few men at the front door and I just thought I would approach them and ask if I could go in. I was barely into the yard before one of them blew his whistle at me, holding his hand up for me to go no further. I just gave him a thumbs up and made a quick exit. Sorry, just an ignorant gringo here.

I proceeded around back and talked to a guard who was actually very friendly. I asked if there was a way to go into the palace and he said no.

However, I maintain that, given more time in Paraguay, I’d make friends with all those guards and find a way into that palace. Jason Holt has taught me that, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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That night, the four of us went out for pizza before heading back to the hotel. We ended up sitting in one room together before bed having a fairly lengthy conversation, mainly about deputation. It was actually a great encouragement to me and something I needed to hear. Then, I told the two of them that I wouldn’t be seeing again before I left goodnight and went to bed.

I left for the airport early the next morning after saying goodbye to Robert. This one was pretty small and I had no problem whatsoever going through. While standing in line, I noticed the man in front of me was holding a Chilean passport, so I struck up a conversation with him.

“Are you from Chile?”

“Yes,” he said, smiling. He was there with his son for a tennis tournament or something. I have to say, as much as I loved Paraguay and its people, something in me missed Chileans. I was so happy to be speaking to one again.

I suppose I’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

 

Campamento de Jóvenes

I began dreading the Campamento de Jóvenes (Youth/Young Adult Camp) about two months out. I was never the “Get really excited about camp” type, even as a kid. I didn’t not like it, but I wasn’t always thrilled to be going, either. And now, as an adult, the idea of sleeping in a room with thirty other people who were most definitely not going to be ready for bed when they were supposed to be didn’t appeal to me at all.

Everybody else was excited for it, though, making Facebook posts counting down the days and tagging me in them. Ugh. Please don’t remind me. I never gave those posts a “Like”, by the way.

But, alas, February 5th crept over closer until it finally arrived. This camp was designed for people ages 12 to 25, which at first seemed to me like a very broad range, and I assumed most of them would be young and I’d barely have anybody my age to whom I could talk. As it turned out, I was wrong and there were several people there my age and older!

I was also wrong about dreading camp. It was an awesome experience that I would definitely do again without hesitation!

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We arrived on Monday afternoon and set everything up. I was immediately surprised when they announced that I was going to be a leader of a small group that would get together every morning and evening to discuss a passage in the Bible and the preaching, as well as pray together. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this task and the great group of young people I was given. I think two of them even accepted Christ as their Savior during the week!

Sadly, I don’t have a picture of us together because there was a slight problem: The electricity would randomly go out about once every couple of hours and I was unable to keep my phone charged for part of the week due to not really wanting to leave it alone for long periods of time. The water also backed up and created some problems with the toilets and showers; however, I don’t recount this to complain, but rather to say that I was impressed by the good attitudes of the staff and campers through it all. It truly was a pleasure to serve alongside some great leaders with a heart for God.

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As part of every camp, of course there should be competitions and games. And I must say that we played some awesome games each day. The first day was an obstacle course race between the two teams, Equipo Rojo and Equipo Azul (Red Team and Blue Team/If I was anything, I was Rojo and they did end up winning the week!). One of the first obstacles was where they had to crawl through a bunch of wet mud, so it was quite a mess, but it was a blast to watch!

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The next day was dodgeball with nerf launchers. So…DodgeNerf?

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And the last day was a soccer game with these giant bubble balls. Lori Holt got out there and played like a boss, completely knocked some teenage girl out of her way while going for a ball, and scored a goal. It was the one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed in all my life.

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Every day there were competitions between the teams. These included things like eating unpeeled bananas without using their hands and licking manjar (A condiment with a texture like caramel) off of somebody else’s feet. These were also some of my favorite times.

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But I think one of the things I most loved about camp was the heavy missions emphasis. Missionary Kyle Shreve came from Peru to preach the week and every main message was from Hebrews 11. I’ve never heard such a clarion call to Christian action. It wasn’t just, “You should pray about giving your life in full-time service to Christ.” It was: “Given what we know Christ’s final command was before He left this earth, why in the world would you not serve Him full-time? If you’re waiting for a call, this is it: Matthew 28:18-20.” I’ve already surrendered my life to be a missionary and I was so stirred I wanted to do it again!

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Thursday night, people gave testimonies around the bonfire and it was a blessing to see the work God had done in their lives as we sat out there for about two hours. I think it showed that all the work that had gone into the camp was worth it.

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Finally, I post this below from the Facebook page of the missionary who really headed the whole thing up with his team of workers, Tierra Alta.

Giving thanks with the Tierra Alta Team for the 11 teens who gave their life to Christ this week and the 9 teens who decided to go into full time Ministry as a Pastor or Missionary and 34 who want to continue to study the Bible in a formal setting at a local seminary here! PRAISE THE LORD we as a team could see and hear these testimonies last night around the bon fire

By the way, one of those nine teens who wants to go into full-time ministry is Rick, the young man with whom I’ve been doing discipleship classes. He’s been talking about this kind of thing for a little bit and I was so proud of him for taking the plunge. He came back and immediately did some things that show to me he’s serious about following through with it.

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To me, that’s what it’s all about: Seeing young people surrender their lives to be pastors and missionaries to reach this lost world. I truly believe we can do that together in the power of Christ.

I won’t be able to be at the next two or three camps they do, but maybe one day I’ll get to go again.

And this time, I won’t dread it.