May 11-12th, 2019
Today (Saturday) we got off to a late start. Yesterday’s deluge has left the country reeling - it’s been over fifty years since they’d experienced rain and flooding like this. Several of our morning meetings were cancelled, but we went to an AWANA (OANSA) meeting at an Assembly of God church outside the city limits around noon. Despite the flooding, nearly forty children showed up (the pastor said there’s usually over one hundred children !).
Their OANSA program introduced by JR has allowed countless children to trust Jesus and brought many of their parents to faith in Christ, too. In fact, they are planting two churches in nearby villages through the allure of OANSA. They already have nearly two hundred children attending one OANSA site that literally meets under a metal roof shelter with no sides, but this is also where the new church plant meets on Sundays.
We had a wonderful time meeting with the pastor and other OANSA leaders - most of whom are products of that same OANSA program!
We left early in the afternoon, and went downtown to see what’s happening there. The flooding river in Asuncion has displaced hundreds of families and they have set up temporary homes all over the downtown area. Some churches affiliated with JR are ministering to these folks, but it’s a delicate and dangerous place to serve (lots of drugs and crime). Pablo told us this could be a great opportunity for service if we can partner with the local churches who serve there.
Pablo dropped us off at the hotel late in the afternoon, we walked to a local coffee shop, and spent time reflecting on our visit, praying, and preparing for tomorrow. We’ve been invited to speak at a large church in the campo (countryside). The church is having a missions emphasis day and they were very excited for us to share as special guests.
We headed back to the hotel, ate a fantastic dinner at La Cabrera next door to the hotel, then got to bed before midnight so we’d be ready for tomorrow.
We woke up early (Sunday) to eat breakfast, pray, and prepare. Pablo picked us up at 9:00 am and we drove to the church. The people from the church had set up twelve booths with food, flags, costumes, and other relics from the countries they had decided to focus on for their festival of nations (they have this missions focused service every year). We visited each booth, to meet the people and hear about their prayer focus for each nation.
When the program began, each ‘nation’ came forward and presented a cultural dance and then spent time praying for specific needs of each country. We were all so impressed with how much effort and heart they poured into this event.
Then we were invited to share a message from the Word about missions. We decided to teach from Romans 10:13-16 - Paul’s explanation of how God uses us to share the gospel as He mobilizes us with our ‘beautiful feet.’ Daniel and Daniel joined me and shared their testimonies during the message and we ended by reminding everyone about that Great Commission - that as we go, we make disciples as we share the good news and train up others to advance the Kingdom of God!
We ended in prayer then were surrounded by folks who wanted to thank us, pray for us, and pray with us. It was an amazing time of encouragement and ministry. We ate food from several of the booths, then said our goodbyes becoming driving back to our hotel.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at a nearby cafe (ML Caliente) reviewing our time in Paraguay and praising God for all the many things we’ve seen, heard, and done. It was a sweet time of remembering all the people we’ve met, and brainstorming about what our next steps would be when we get home. We eventually had to leave in order to get ready for our final dinner with Pablo and his family.
We met Pablo, his wife (Kitty), and his daughter Paulina at a nearby restaurant called La Vienesa. We had a wonderful time getting to know his family, hearing about how he and his wife met, how Kitty & Paulina came to know and follow Jesus, and how we could pray for them after we leave.
We told Pablo we will be telling our church that we highly recommend partnership with Pablo and Jesus Responde (JR) if he would be interested and told us enthusiastically that he would like that very much. We ended our time with lots of hugs and warmth as we thanked God for the week He’d provided for us. We will miss our friends very much but we hope to see them again - sooner than later!
We returned to our hotel for our last night of sleep - actually more like a nap. We’d be waking up at 2:00 am to catch a cab to the airport for flights to our next destination (home for Daniel and Daniel, and Peru for me).
We can’t glorify God enough for this week. And we cannot wait to see how we might be able to partner with these precious brothers and sisters in the days to come.
Thank you again for your faithfulness in prayer and support.
With full hearts of love and gratitude,
Daniel, Daniel, and Tim
May 9-10th, 2019
Asuncion, Paraguay, South America
Our Paraguayan host, Pablo, took us on an excursion Thursday. He picked us up at 5:00 a.m. and we began the five hour drive to the Brazilian border and the world renowned Iguaçu Falls. We were told it would take much longer to get there than it did, but we made great time and arrived there just when Pablo said we would. There’s a bridge that crosses the river which creates the border between Paraguay and Brazil and the falls are just over the other side. Brazil allows people to cross their borders to visit the falls without going through passport control, so this saved us a lot of time, as well.
We parked in the Iguaçu Falls National Park parking lot and then took the shuttle bus to the falls. They really are beyond spectacular. The movie “The Mission” was filmed here back in the 1980’s and I remember seeing them on the big screen and thinking how breathtaking they were then. But to see them ourselves was almost impossible to grasp.
We stayed for several hours, taking in all we could of these stunning waterfalls, ate lunch at a Brazilian Churascaria, then headed back toward Asuncion. The ten hour round trip drive provided us a great opportunity to get to know Pablo better and hear more about his life, family, and commitment to serve Christ in Paraguay. We’ve been so encouraged by him and how ‘Jesus Responde’ (the ministry he helps direct) is devoted to serve local churches and provide resources for them that are allowing the gospel to reach many more people than they would ordinarily reach
We arrived home around 8:30 p.m., grabbed a snack, did some reading and praying, then headed to bed. Tomorrow would be another full day. And it was!
We got an early start to begin our meetings with three of the pastors who partner with JR. We asked each pastor we met with to share the account of how they became followers of Jesus and then became pastors. Even Pablo told us later that he’d never heard their stories before.
The first pastor we met with was Pastor Reineiro Villalba from a Mennonite Brethren church. He was so humble and soft-spoken, but fierce in his commitment to to serve the Lord in the church and his community. The church has a little less than a hundred people, but when we asked him to describe his church to us, he explained their relentless commitment to evangelism and discipleship, and how they were approaching both of these goals with deep conviction and passion.
We asked him to describe his greatest challenges, he didn’t hesitate for a moment, and rattled off three issues he faces: 1) the centrality of the gospel in the church; 2) the unity of evangelical churches; 3) the purity of doctrine in churches. We explained that we could relate to him very closely on all of those issues in our own church and community! Before he left, we had a wonderful time of prayer with him. Then we prepared to meet our next visitor.
We welcomed Pastor Cesar Jimenez from a Baptist church in Luque, a district in the north part of Asuncion. He’s also the vice-president of the Baptist Convention in Paraguay. Although he’s committed to the Savior above all, he’s encouraged by the progress of Baptist churches in Paraguay and cherishes their partnership with JR. He agreed with Pastor Villalba about the major challenges of the church in Paraguay, but he also shared about the challenges he faces in getting the gospel to his community (physical barriers because of geography surrounding his community and the issue of equipping people with confidence to share rather than dependence on a pastor and other church leaders to share the gospel).
We left the JR offices to get lunch and then meet with our last guest at the church building where he served. His name is Pastor Antias Urunaga and he’s from the Church of God. He was a warm, animated brother who was by far the most energetic pastor we’ve met so far.
As he was sharing, it began storming outside and we lost electricity, so we met in the sanctuary of the church because of the natural light. But the rain was coming down so hard against the tin roof that we had to practically yell at one another to be heard!
He told us his testimony - and it was an astounding account that began when he was a small boy and culminated in his arrival at the church where he’s been serving for over twenty years.
He explained how the church is changing and the people he pastors are more committed than ever to get out in their community and serve others by meeting needs and sharing the gospel. He said fewer people are attending on Sunday morning worship services but more people are out ministering in the community.
We tried to understand why this was happening and we couldn’t get an answer we understood. Later we discussed this with Pablo and he told us that he suspected it could be for several reasons. Perhaps the worship service is not inviting, or the teaching or other elements of the service lack quality. Either way, Pablo said this the idea of serving the community instead of attending worship services was not a trend he saw happening in the Paraguayan church.
We prayed with Pastor Urunaga and then went to get in our car. But the rains had been pouring so ferociously that the street had literally become a fast moving river and we couldn’t get to the doors of the car! Pablo gave Daniel Olvera his keys and when a wave of water passed and lowered the level of the water enough, Daniel jumped in, backed the car into a driveway on higher ground, and we all got in safely to make our way back to our hotel.
The flooding that night was historic! It was only by God’s grace and provision that we were able to make it back to our hotel! We got dried off, got some dinner, reviewed our day, and spent time praying with grateful hearts for all God had shown us today.
Pray for each of the pastors we met, for the people they serve, and how we might be able to partner with them in ministry in the future. Pray for Paraguay’s recovery from these horrendous floods, too.
We love and appreciate you all so much.
Serving the Savior in South America,
Daniel, Daniel, and Tim
May 8th, 2019
After a great night’s sleep, we ate breakfast in our hotel, and then Pablo picked us up for another day of ministry, visits, and more. We had our first appointment with Manuel Mancuello, the director of the alliance of evangelical churches in Paraguay. It’s actually an extraordinary organization that brings together over twenty denominations in Paraguay to unite their resources and spread the gospel, care for the needy, and stand against the deterioration of the church and families. For example, many Latin American countries are following in the steps of America and legalizing same sex marriage (Brazil, Peru, Argentina, etc.). The Paraguayan government actually has in its constitution a definition of family (one man and one woman) but many politicians are currently trying to change this. So the alliance that Manuel oversees is committed to band together and protect marriage and families in Paraguay by making sure their voices are heard in peaceful, but influential ways.
Manuel’s primary goal is to assist denominational leaders provide support for family, prayer, and other activities. He carries a lot of responsibilities but it’s such a unique ministry and who knows if it will stand the test of time in the future. For now, the unity is refreshing and even though the various denominations don’t agree on every theological issue, they have more in common than they do to separate them. So they’re choosing to capitalize on this and stand together in a statement of solidarity on key issues of faith and family.
We prayed for Manuel then left for the JR offices. We had some time to reflect on all we’re learning while Pablo took care of some personal business. Daniel and Daniel are soaking in everything we’re learning, praying for people we meet every day, and trying to understand how we could possibly partner with Paraguay in the future. We had great conversations about some ideas that could work and possible ways we could serve here.
Our next meeting was in a Guarani village where JR’s food program is being used. The program has actually been running there for eleven years - and for the past eight years, it’s been run from the property of a man named Luis, who’s committed to a local Mennonite Brethren Church and the local children. They feed needs kids four days a week, and provide biblical studies, discipleship, and other resources. We showed up just as the children were singing songs to God and preparing for lunch. It was such a joyful place - the kids were having such a great time and the adults were so attentive to them. We taught them a song, too (El Amor de Dios es Maravilloso!) and then I showed them my one magic trick (with dice). By the time we left, they were all over us and we all found it difficult to tear ourselves away from them.
Next, we went to an impoverish barrio called Fatima in the Trinidad District and met with Pastor Pablo (not the same Pablo who is hosting us). He took us on a tour of the church he’s been leading for over twenty years. They’ve started a school there and currently they have about two hundred children! They’re teaching them the basics of education but also the basics of the Bible - and the kids are loving it and responding (another student was baptized last week)! The teachers are clearly devoted to the Lord, teaching these kids, and loving them with the love of Christ. We were all very impressed with the educational program that’s been set up in such a needy area.
As we were leaving, we asked Pastor Pablo how we could help. He told us that all he and his teachers need was our prayer support - to effectively do their jobs, teach the kids, care for their families, and share the gospel. We gathered together on the playground under a tree and prayed for him right then and there. It was a wonderful way to end our time at such an inspiring ministry setting.
After a full day of lots of meetings, Pablo took us back to our hotel and we got ready for dinner with our friend Eduardo, and his parents, Senor and Senora Casco (the in-laws of my friend Mark McIntosh). We went to a restaurant called ‘Maurice’ in a new part of town and it was absolutely sensational. We had some wonderful Paraguayan traditional dishes and some new creations of the chef, too, and together, the meal was completely spectacular!
We had a wonderful time visiting with the Casco’s. They shared their testimonies of how they came to faith in Christ and we were able to talk about what God is doing at VBC and in our own lives, too. We had intended to take them out to dinner, but they ended up paying for our meal! We were so touched by their kindness and generosity. It really was such a memorable evening with everyone.
We got back to our hotel and got to bed as quickly as we could. We leave for Brazil in the morning and Iguaçu Falls at 5:00 am!
Please pray for clear understanding about how we may be able to partner with Pablo and some of his contacts here. We are meeting so many people and seeing so many needs that it can seem overwhelming. Ask the Lord to help us clearly see how we might serve Him here and who He would have us come alongside.
We love and appreciate you all. Thank you for faithfully praying for us and our mission here.
Daniel, Daniel, and Tim
May 6th, 2019
It’s wonderful to be a part of family of believers who not only love God (and Jesus & the Holy Spirit), love one another, and love the folks in our surrounding community, but also love those who live in the uttermost ends of the earth. That’s why at VBC, our global mission initiative is constantly growing to include more believers from around the world who are sharing the gospel, growing in discipleship, and planting more churches. We are always open to partner with other churches and ministries committed to the authority of the Word, the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, and the advancement of God’s Kingdom!
This week, Daniel Bruno, Daniel Olvera, and I have been invited to visit Asuncion, Paraguay in South America and investigate a ministry called ‘Jesus Responde’ (Jesus Calls). The director is Pablo Sanchez, who was referred to us by a childhood friend of mine, Mark McIntosh. Mark has joined us for the past two years on our Navajo Outreach and brought his daughters Susana and Ana. Mark’s wife is from Asuncion and she and Mark visit here periodically with their family. Over the course of some of their visits, they came across ‘Jesus Responde’ and Pablo Sanchez. They were extremely impressed with him and the ministry and after hearing about our global mission partnerships, they helped set up a FaceTime meeting with me, Mark, and Pablo. Pablo invited us to visit Asuncion and see for ourselves what God is doing here, so we prayed about this opportunity, presented the idea to the Missions Team, and began preparations for a visit. The members of the team changed many times along the way, but we finally ended up with me and the two Daniels - and I’m thrilled these guys could go. They’re young, enthusiastic, passionate about the gospel and sharing the love and truth of Jesus, easy to travel with, and a lot of fun. It’s been a fantastic mission adventure so far!
We left late Sunday night/early Monday morning, May 6, and flew from SFO to Panama City, Panama. After a five hour layover, we then flew to our destination, Asuncion Paraguay. We arrived without incident at 10:30 pm and waited in line to purchase our Paraguayan visas ($160 for USA!). We got through passport control and immigration with no problem and my Paraguayan friend, Eduardo ‘Edu’ Casco was there to pick us up. It was great to see my friend - it’s been many years since I was last here and spent time with him and his family, all who are believers and love Jesus.
He drove us to our hotel (Los Alpes) and we checked in and went straight to our room (we were able to get one room with three beds for $73 per night). We stayed up ‘til way too late and talked and prayed until about 1:30 am. When we finally turned off the lights, we all fell asleep in record time. It had been a long day of travel.
Pablo told us he’d pick us up at the hotel at 8:15 am, which gave us enough time to get up, spend some time reading, praying, and eating breakfast. Pablo arrived, picked us up and we all headed to the ‘Jesus Responde’ HQ. On the way there, Pablo shared his testimony about how he’d been raised in the Catholic Church in Chile, but after he’d completed his confirmation, he was influenced by communism and became fully entrenched with that worldview. Communist leaders saw his potential and he was sent to Cuba for training and became part of a young communist leadership team (just before the revolution with Pinochet).
During his rise to power in the communist party, an old friend who had also gotten caught up in the communist movement told him about how she’d left communism to follow Jesus. He shared the gospel with Pablo and he’d never heard the good news about Jesus before. After hearing it, he couldn’t get it out of his mind, and eventually, he admitted his sin to God and put his trust in Jesus. After that, everything changed - he left the communist party, moved to Paraguay, married another believer, and after serving with other ministries and churches, got connected with JR. And he’s been here ever since - about thirty years. We were really encouraged by his story and it was a great way to set the stage for our week of ministry and sharing together.
We arrived at JR HQ around 9:30 am. Every Tuesday, they have a meeting and worship gathering with about fifty to sixty pastors, ministry leaders, administrative workers, and guests (like us). It was a beautiful time of singing and teaching from the word and praying together.
We were all encouraged by the way the group shared about upcoming ways in the coming week that they would be presenting the gospel in their various ministry settings, as well as reporting about how the gospel had been shared in the previous week and the number of people who heard the gospel, as well as those who had responded to it. Then finally, they mentioned how they’d be followed up with. It made us think about what it would look like if all the churches in the East Bay got together each week and did something on the same scale! Can you imagine churches united in their focus to share the gospel, pray and support one another in this pursuit, glorifying God for the souls saved, and meeting regularly to update one another on progress? This is happening in Paraguay - at least with ‘Jesus Responde’!
After the worship service, we met alone with Pablo who provided some background information for the evangelical movement in Paraguay, as well as some of their current challenges.
The population of Paraguay is 7 million and the majority would claim to be Catholic
Catholicism is still the dominant faith, but it’s not like the Catholicism in the USA. It’s mixed with local beliefs and customs, including voodoo and witch doctors (syncretism)
The first evangelical believers in Paraguay were from the middle and upper class (usually it’s been the opposite in Latin American nations)
30 yrs ago the evangelical population was about 3% - now it’s around 10%
Because the evangelical churches were united in a message quite different from the Catholic Church, this helped with their effectiveness
Unity is changing however, and some older leaders are not investing in and allowing younger leaders to step up to lead
The evangelical community has not adapted to the next generation (without compromise but with recognition) and Pablo believes a generation has been lost
There are many social ministries in Paraguay but they’re not all unified and gospel focused
There is a communications team @ JR that’s brought on young people to get the word out to that lost generation in ways the communicate effectively to them
Most denominations are committed to plant churches - especially among the poor
Next, we met with Ronaldo, the Administrative Director of JR (Jesus Responde). He also explained in more detail some of the background of JR and the ministries JR champions for other churches to embrace - like a food program, AWANA, sports ministries, biblical education, and more.
Walter Neufeld is the director of JR
Ronaldo is the Administrative Director
Vision of JR to share the name of Jesus in Paraguay and worldwide (Escribe Grande el Nombre de Jesus en Paraguay)
Evangelism, discipleship, and church planting are their highest priorities
They have an interdenominational emphasis - 800 churches partner with them (450 have food programs; 200 have AWANA; 50 have educational programs; 60 have sports programs)
Some churches provide financial support for JR; some provide food for the programs; etc.
90% of the financial support comes from the people of Paraguay and churches
JR is advocates for the local church to planet churches and is connected with a program called the ‘Multiplication Network’ (but JR doesn’t plant their own churches)
Larger churches and denominations have their own programs so JR provides resources primarily for smaller churches and denominations
JR has a strong emphasis for churches to adopt AWANA programs -especially for poor kids and Pablo is the National Director of AWANA (OSANA in Paraguay)
JR trains, supports, and provides opportunities for growth
JR helps set up food programs for churches
Food is donated to JR and JR dispenses it to local churches
We were extremely impressed with how the organization is operated, the emphasis they place on the gospel, and their desire to see each church thrive. We left our meeting with Ronaldo after hearing his testimony and praying for God to provide him with wisdom and strength to carry out his responsibilities.
After lunch (Pablo’s treat) we went to a seminar on AWANA (OANSA) at a church in an adjacent city called San Lorenzo . Eleven church pastors were there to hear a presentation about why they should begin an OANSA program in their churches and it seemed to be received very positively. By the end of the presentation, every pastor indicated they were ready to take the next step to begin the program!
After a long, full, day we went back to the hotel and after getting cleaned up, my friend Eduardo (Edu) picked us up for dinner. We went to downtown Asuncion, and even though it’s extremely run down, we could tell that there had been a time when it was an amazing, colonial showpiece. The architecture, parks, and various shops and restaurants all had an impressive aura about them, though a lot of that is covered with dirt, graffiti, and other debris. A huge homeless population has taken over much of the scenic areas in the heart of the city and there are shanty villages that line the streets and literally are built up alongside the capital building. Edu and Pablo both explained that politicians are tolerant of the poor taking over these city landmarks because they vote, and if they don’t give them what they want, they might lose their votes! So they allow them to stay and make promises to those who want them to leave that they never seem to keep.
After a wonderful parilla (grilled meat) dinner at a traditional Paraguayan restaurant, Edu dropped us off at the hotel, we spent some time in prayer, and quickly fell asleep.
Pray for our time with Pablo, to more deeply understand how VBC might partner with JR in the future, or even a local pastor we will meet. Pray for us to be an encouragement - not a lot of folks come to visit here from the US, according to Pablo, and they are very glad to welcome us and spend time with us.
We love you all. We’re honored to represent our church Savior King and church family to the believers here in Asuncion.
Daniel, Daniel, & Tim