The ‘Village Fools’!
9 Jun 2021
This month we’re celebrating two years since arriving to this lush, tropical land we love called Paraguay. During a short-term trip here years earlier, we’d found ourselves in a rural Paraguayan town which had neither believers nor a church. It confronted us with the reality of whole communities living and dying without the opportunity to hear the gospel. And we came home asking ourselves: how could we stand idly-by while people were still dying without hearing?
Convinced that God would have us back in Paraguay as church planters, we began preparing. Between finishing medical training, spending two invaluable years at SMBC, having three children, joining a mission organisation, developing partnership, packing up life and getting going, it was a huge deal just to get out here.
Finally, however, we arrived at the airport in Paraguay – bright eyed, slightly dazed, but ready for action. Within a week we’d found a house and started Spanish lessons. Two years in, we’ve studied two languages, started a medical outreach clinic and are involved in local church ministry, whilst completing a survey of unreached rural towns. We now stand on the cusp of moving into an unreached community to share Christ with those who are yet to hear about him.
But how does being in Paraguay compare with all the years of expectations? Within a few weeks of arriving, I had an experience which has become somewhat symbolic for us. We’d started attending a local church and I was keen to go along to a Good Friday prayer vigil that went until midnight. I mistakenly arrived late and found a small group of people who were praying in groups of twos. My heart sank! I joined in but couldn’t understand the prayer topics and all I could do was squeeze out a few awkward words. And then it suddenly hit me: I’d gone from being a church leader in Sydney to someone who could barely even participate in church life.
In daily life, one of the hardest things is not being able to express yourself or understand what somebody is saying to you. We’ve misunderstood all sorts of things that have led to many awkward situations – arriving at wrong times, wearing the wrong clothes, bringing the wrong food, failing to bring what we should have brought and more. Our Guarani language teacher once told us that language learners turn into a bit of a “village fool” figure in their communities: they make mistakes, can’t talk properly, don’t understand, behave oddly and ultimately become something of a source of entertainment for the locals. Although things are getting better, this has been our life for the last two years.
Before that all sounds overly bleak, I would pause here and suggest that God has shown us quite the opposite. Without a doubt it has been hard, and we’ve been more brutally exposed to our own weakness than ever before. But it has been through some of the hardest times, when we have been at our weakest – severe illness, frustrated plans and things going wrong – that we have seen God do some of the most amazing things. We are learning the power of what our Lord Jesus said to Paul in the midst of his own struggles: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). We have found that our weakness, though uncomfortable, is no obstacle to what God wants to do here through us.
And we are starting to get glimpses of the fruit that God is giving. On a recent trip to an indigenous tribe, the local witchdoctor asked me to come and see his seventeen-year-old son. I went to his house with the missionary working there and found the young man wasting away from a serious illness – possibly just weeks away from death. For the witchdoctor to be asking Christians for help meant that things were getting desperate. I cared for the young man medically to the best of my ability, but then explained that there was someone else who could do far more. I talked with them about the one true God who has power over all things and with their permission we prayed, asking for His help and mercy. The work amongst this community has only recently begun, but on that day the gospel reached a step further into ‘the ends of the earth’, and I had the privilege of playing a small part in it through the strength that God provided.
Through our experiences, God is teaching us that it is “not that we are sufficient in ourselves… but our sufficiency is from God”, whether in Australia or at the ends of the earth (2 Cor 3:5). As you continue serving God where you find yourself today, or as you head out to minister in a place as yet unknown, we pray that God would remind you anew of his awesome sufficiency as we strive to serve him together in our weakness.
-Samuel M., a Pioneers worker serving in South America.
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