All Good Things Must Come To An End // Stories From Abroad: PARAGUAY ’17 – Part 4

The days that followed were everything I expected and nothing at all like I expected, if that’s even possible. I knew, having served with Peter before, that we were certain to get the Gospel in the hearts of those who truly needed it. And so we did.

The next four days led our small team into a different village each day. The villages brought new faces and more hearts unknowingly waiting for the Gospel we carried. I was so challenged by each new face and the need represented. It was inspiring to watch Peter, Pastor Sergio and Pastor Cipriano, as they worked among the Guarani. You could tell that their hearts were divinely connected, in a passionate pursuit of these people, a passion that could only come from the very heart of God.

(Here Peter is passionately proclaiming the Gospel in the tribal language Guarani and then he and Pastor Sergio lead another one of the Guarani communities in the prayer of salvation.)

Her Name Was Diana…

On my 2nd day of ministry, I found myself in a new village with more precious people. This day was different; more challenging. I can’t really give a good reason why. Perhaps, it was the heat that seemed to engulf us as the sun beat down. The refreshing breeze we had enjoyed on day one, was nowhere to be found and the trees providing shade were very few. The little shade we did have was a valuable commodity – one that we gave to the people who had gathered with us.

As the meal for everyone was prepared, myself, Emily and Joanna spent time connecting with the people and loving on the children. When along came a dirty faced, messy haired, little girl with one of the sweetest smiles you can imagine… She was all over the place, chasing other kids and just doing what kids do – she was completely rambunctious to say the least.

At first she smiled but kept a safe distance. Before long, she made her way closer and closer, and the connection began. 

She smiled and I smiled and it was all down hill from there or uphill, depending on how you look at it. We didn’t speak the same language so communication was very difficult, but as Diana literally began to climb my leg like a tree trunk, I got the hint that this little girl wanted to be held. So I held her. Off and on all afternoon, Diana was either at my side or in my arms.

What did she want? Simply to be held. To be loved. To feel special.

I love how the Gospel gives to each of us what we truly need – LOVE. Diana was a little girl who needed love. I got to be part of not only showing her love as a compassionate human being, but we got to give her the true love of Jesus Christ.

diana

(Me and Diana – sharing some smiles for the camera.)

Three Times The Gospel: English, Spanish & Guarani…

 On our fourth ministry day, we found ourselves ministering to a community near a local school. It was at this site, that I was given the honor of preaching the Gospel. The only problem, I don’t speak Guarani – and my Spanish is definitely not what it should be… God had a way around that – Praise Him! As I stood before the crowd that had gathered, I began to share the simple story of Jesus. As I shared in English, Peter would then translate my words into Spanish, from there, Pastor Cipriano would translate Peter’s words into Guarani. It seems a bit extreme, but it worked! The people were captivated in hearing the English language and even though they couldn’t understand, they wanted to know what was being said, so they stayed and they listened. Through Peter and Pastor Cipriano’s translations, the people not only heard, but also were able to receive.

Not only did we pray for people to receive salvation, but we prayed for healing as well. One of the people that came up was a woman who had suffered with a terrible headache. She had received Jesus into her heart and was completely healed of her headache! We later came to find out that this woman was the village Chief’s wife. What a powerful testimony she now has among her people!

three-translations

(Here we are sharing the Gospel in English, Spanish and Guarani.)

Each day gave our team the opportunity to make new friends – and get a few more selfies.

All Good Things Must Come To An End…

And just like every time before it, I came into this nation, blinked, and the ministry time was over. Fortunately for me, I had a little time left to spend with the Ratcliffe family.

During the little time I had left, I was so indescribably blessed to get to simply be with this amazing family. We laughed and cried. We talked, and talked, and talked some more. We shared our hearts; our hopes, our dream, the trials and challenges and together we looked forward to the journey ahead, as we all were, and are, continuing to simply walk out the plan of God.

Evi, the girls and little Joseph, took me hiking up the mini-mountain off the back of their land. We trudged through the forest and made our way to a clearing at the top. Here they shared with me of times they had come there as a family to simply be with Jesus. They sang praises that day and I got to share in another precious time with some amazing people.

joseph

(Here’s little Joseph as we were singing to Jesus. Isn’t he the cutest thing ever?!)

I even got to spend time with the Ratcliffe girls, simply having fun. They loved to play games and be read to. And I loved getting to fill the “big sister” role to such amazing little angels.

ratcliffe-girls

(Peter and Evi sure know how to make adorable children.)

After an incredible time in Paraguay, I found myself saying goodbye too soon. Hugs were given, cheeks were kissed, and promises were made that this would not be the last time I would step foot in Paraguay.

From there, Peter, Joy and Joseph drove me back to the airport. We talked and laughed along the way, soaking up the precious moments that remained. Then came the final farewell. Peter had dropped me off to go start the check in process, (Joy came with me and Joseph went with Peter to park the car). I was standing in line as Joseph came running up to Joy and me. “Not that one!” He said, pointing to the black ball cap I had worn off and one throughout the whole trip. “This one!” he said, handing me a bright pink Paraguay cap. He was so adorable, how could I possibly resist?! I immediately removed the black cap and replaced it with the priceless gift little Joseph had brought me. It was a little gesture from such a little guy, but he totally stole my heart… and all it took was a new hat.

Who knew? My love could totally be bought…lol! What can I say… gifts have always been my love language. 😉

pink-hat-joseph   (Joseph and my beloved pink cap.)

**Funny side story, I placed this cap in my backpack while going through security. Afterwards, I headed to the restroom and opened up my backpack to get out my cap and put it back on. And I couldn’t find it. I searched and searched and immediately started freaking out on the inside. I retraced my steps and did my best to communicate in broken Spanish that I may have left my cap at security – no luck. At this point I was crushed but there really wasn’t much more I could do. So I went to my gate, sat down and opened my backpack one more time… too my surprise, there it was! I almost cried – seriously. **

Although we avoided it as long as possible, the time came for final hugs. And with that I was headed home. So much had happened during this trip – way more than time will afford me to blog about and to be honest, a lot of it was things that God was speaking to me directly, things I’m not ready to share with everyone… yet.

I will return to Paraguay. It may not happen as quickly as I would like, but mark my words, my adventures with the Ratcliffes have only just begun!

paraguay-sunset

With that, I’ll leave you with this beautiful sunset taken before I left Paraguay.

 

IF YOU MISSED PART 1 – THE ARRIVAL, PART 2 – THE JOURNEY CONTINUES, OR PART 3 – WHERE FOOD & FORGIVENESS COLLIDE, BE SURE TO CHECK THEM OUT!

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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

When Food & Forgiveness Collide // Stories From Abroad: PARAGUAY ’17 – Part 3

Sorry for the long absence, but these past few weeks have been jam packed with working two jobs and getting ready for my next adventure in Asia. I leave in just a few short weeks, so there has been a lot to do.

Before I head out again though, there’s still a bit more to my story in Paraguay.

PICKING UP WHERE WE LEFT OFF…

The next morning we rose with the sun. We gathered in Pastor Cipriano’s living room area for a quick breakfast and then the work began. We reloaded the SUV with the supplies for our first outreach, climbed on in, and we were off. Today would be the farthest we would travel from home base. With roughly 3 hours of dirt-road travel ahead, we had plenty of time for me to interrogate everyone and find out as much as I could about the country, the culture and the ministry that was about to take place.

As we journeyed onward, Peter and Pastor Cipriano shared with me about the Indigenous of Paraguay. Many people have said that the Indigenous are a “hard people, very difficult to get close to, and almost impossible to successfully preach to”. They explained to me that some people even still refer to the Indigenous as ‘Animals’, seeing them as inferior and having little value.

Pastor Cipriano was different though. He saw these people and saw their need, the need for the Gospel. The Indigenous, a people who were overlooked and even forgotten by most, were at the forefront of his heart.

Pastor Cipriano had diligently gone in to several of the Indigenous communities as a forerunner to the Gospel, building relationships and essentially opening the doors that were once closed to foreigners, so that our team could come in and bring the good news of Jesus Christ. And today, we would do just that.

TWO PLACES AT ONCE:

As we were traveling, Peter and Pastor Cipriano mentioned how close we were to the Brazil border and that at one point, the road would actually briefly take us through Brazil. So of course, drawing from a previous experience where I stood with one foot in Nepal and one foot in India, I figured we should repeat history – this time, one foot in Paraguay and one foot in Brazil. So we did – and it was quite epic, at least I felt epic.

(Here I am standing in two places at once.)

Screen shot 2017-05-06 at 11.28.57 AM

WHERE FOOD AND FORGIVENESS COLLIDE.

Ministry this week would come through huge meals, known to locals as the Karu Guasu. Peter explained to me that the Karu Guasu was “traditionally the time when the Indigenous tribes would gather together in order to put right any disagreement between tribes or families; a time of reconciliation! Every now and again, they would share a big meal together and make things right.”

How perfect! We are taking in a message of the ultimate forgiveness and reconciliation and sharing it through a meal that throughout their history has symbolized reconciliation for their tribes.

Peter shared this in his own blog and I feel it sums things up perfectly.

“This is a coming together of the indigenous culture and the gospel to facilitate a natural and then spiritual time of reconciliation. It is totally aligned with their culture and a wide open door to proclaim the eternal reconciliation from heaven through Jesus Christ!  In my view, what Pastor Cipriano does is brilliant, ingenious and a wonderful combination of physical and spiritual ministry.’

THE FIRST COMMUNITY.

As we arrived at the first community, there were people already gathered. And while you could sense a bit of curiosity, the people seemed to be keeping a cautious distance. That didn’t stop us though. We unloaded supplies and gathered some of the woman of the community to begin preparing the meal. There were tons of veggies to chop and lots of chicken to be prepared. Once everything was ready, it was all thrown together in a large pot and placed on an open fire.

As the food cooked, Joana, Emily and I, set out to break the ice and build some relationships with the children. We made a plethora of balloon dogs, swords and hats. We learned their names and did the best we could to make them feel special.

As the cooking was almost finished, Peter, Pastor Sergio and Pastor Cipriano gathered the community to sit beneath a large tree. Pastor Cipriano would take time to share the brief history and purpose behind a Karu Guasu (mostly for the children). Then they shared the Gospel, simply proclaimed what Jesus had done for us all and what they could do to receive the free gift of salvation. And just like that, we had new brothers and sisters added to the kingdom of God.

Screen shot 2017-05-06 at 12.10.28 PM

After the simple message of salvation was shared and we prayed with those who wanted to receive, we shared about healing and prayed for those who were sick.

One of the most incredible things that happened during all of this, was that the Chief of this village/community, gave his life to Christ! And after doing so, was completely set free from the headache he had suffered from for a long time. This may seem like a small miracle, but the potential impact is massive. The Chief, the leader of this community, acknowledged his need for a Savior. He is ultimately the leader of his people and influences each of their lives. He has essentially become a catalyst for change among his community!

The Gospel is such a powerful force for change. And I have no doubt as Peter and his local team return for future follow up, we’ll truly begin to see these lives transformed!

(Pictured below is Peter praying for the Chief.)

Screen shot 2017-05-06 at 12.09.57 PM

After the conclusion of prayer, the meal was served. The entire community ate together, the same way that you and I, might sit down to Sunday dinner with our families. It was a beautiful sight!

As things were wrapping up, we distributed some clothing that had been donated from a church (where Peter lives) along with fishing hooks and fishing line. Why? Because the need among these communities is great. And anything that can be done to help, is worth it.

Day one was a complete success in my books. I was honored to take part in helping Peter’s team and anxious to start the next day. Only partly anxious though – I know how these trips go, you blink and they’re over. So as anxious as I was to get to the next community, I didn’t want things to go by too fast.

***BE SURE TO CHECK BACK OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS AS I CONTINUE TO PUT PEN TO PAPER, SO TO SPEAK, TO FINISH OUT THE STORIES OF MY ADVENTURES IN PARAGUAY. I PROMISE, YOU WON’T REGRET IT! 
IF YOU MISSED PART 1 – THE ARRIVAL, OR PART 2 – THE JOURNEY CONTINUES, BE SURE TO CHECK THEM OUT!

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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Journey Continues // Stories From Abroad: PARAGUAY ’17 – Part 2

My first night in Paraguay was spent in The Casita, a two-room guest cottage that doubled as a schoolhouse for the Ratcliffe children. I was both humbled and honored to stay in this beautiful place, especially knowing that the Ratcliffe family, which consists of Peter & Evi, along with their six kids, were staying just a short distance away in their two-bedroom home. You heard me right… eight Ratcliffes, and two bedrooms.

Grace For The Space.

My first thought upon seeing their home was how warm and inviting it was. Then I learned this amazing family managed in a two-bedroom house with one bath. My next thought – Dear Lord Jesus! How is that possible?! I couldn’t share a bathroom with my two brothers growing up and I always had my own bedroom. Currently, I live in a three-bedroom house… by myself. Okay, not completely alone – I do share my space with two huge dogs, but still. To say that I struggled with feelings of guilt is an understatement.

Pictured above (left) is the entrance to The Casita and (right) is the view from my bed – it was absolutely gorgeous and unexplainably peaceful.

What amazed me though was that they never complained. Not once. The five oldest kids (two boys and three girls, age two to seventeen) share one room and baby Naomi, sleeps along with her parents in the other. And they all make it work. How is that possible, you’re probably asking? The conclusion I have come to, is that when God calls you somewhere, He ALWAYS gives the grace needed to fulfill His work.

One of the things that I feel truly sets this family apart from others, is that they believe – each of them, that God called them to the nation of Paraguay. These kids weren’t forced to give up their lives in Oklahoma because their parents were “called”. They were “called” right alongside them. It’s undeniably evident in the sacrifices these children willingly made and continue to make daily so that the people of Paraguay can come to know Jesus.

I wish that I could give an account of their story, the epic journey of one family’s unyielding faith and God’s unending faithfulness, that brought them to Paraguay nearly three years ago. That will have to wait for another day, and for me to persuade Peter that their story truly should be written and published for all to read.

And We’re Off!

I woke early the next day and joined the Ratcliffe kids for a quick breakfast before we finished loading everything for our journey to the Indigenous. Our vehicle of choice, the 22-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser. Okay, this was the only option. This baby had seen a few miles in her life. And although she was still trekking on, she was definitely moving at a much slower pace than she probably traveled in her prime. Her AC had long since quit and the engine had a few minor issues, but she got us where we needed to go.

the-land-cruiser

Pictured above, Old Faithful – it really is time to let her rest.

Insert PRAYER REQUEST here:

In all seriousness, this family really needs a newer vehicle to enable them to continue the work they are doing. If you believe in prayer, please pray and believe with us for God to provide the vehicle needed. – Thanks!

**And if God speaks to your heart about financially helping with the purchase of their next vehicle, please send me an email to jamielynnsivak@gmail.com and I can send you more information about getting a donation to them directly.**

Back To The Story…

Our first stop was to pick up some of our team, Pastor Sergio and his 25-year-old daughter, Joana. After a “quick” three-hour lunch, (what can I say, Pastors know how to talk…lol) we made our way to purchase the needed supplies for the first three of our outreaches.

buying-supplies

Here we are waiting to check out with our four shopping carts full of supplies. Left to Right: Pastor Sergio, Joanna, Emily and me. Peter was taking our picture.

Then we were on the road again. We traveled for hours. I lost track of time, but can say that we easily drove for 4-5 hours. The sun had long since gone down as the paved roads ended and we began winding through the seemingly endless dirt roads. After some time, we finally arrived at what would be our base camp for the next three nights, the home of our main contact and the heart behind the outreaches, Pastor Cipriano.

Here we were in the middle of the jungle in the black of night. Okay, this may not actually be classified as “jungle” terrain, but that’s what if felt like… Pastor Cipriano led me, Emily, (Peter’s oldest daughter) and Joana, to the room we would share for the next few nights. When they opened the door, the bugs that had congregated at the entrance to welcome us, overwhelmed me. Let’s be honest – I cringed a little. Not so much at the accommodations, but all the creepy-crawly things that wanted to join me. I was thankful though for electricity and running water. Things could be worse after all, I could be in a tent with the bugs and have no electricity or water.

my-bed-ciprianos-home

Above is my room/bed at Pastor Cipriano’s.

After a series of introductions and a late meal, I gave in to the exhaustion from all of our travel and found my way to my bed. It was hot and humid, but I was still in American mode and determined that no mosquitoes would feast on me that night. So I doused myself in deet and wrapped myself in a bed sheet – head to toe. After about two minutes, I was dripping in sweat and my missionary mode kicked in. “Forget this!” I thought, as I threw back the sheet and decided to trust God to not allow my body to become a buffet for the mosquitoes. It was late and tomorrow would be a busy day. With that, I closed my eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep… I had no idea what tomorrow would bring, but whatever it was, I was going to be ready.

pastor-cipriano

Here I am with Pastor Cipriano. As usual, I tower above the locals…
***BE SURE TO CHECK BACK OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS AS I CONTINUE TO PUT PEN TO PAPER, SO TO SPEAK, TO SHARE ABOUT THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED. I PROMISE, YOU WON’T REGRET IT! 
If you missed Part 1 – The Arrival, be sure to check it out!
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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Arrival // Stories From Abroad: PARAGUAY ’17 – Part 1

It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened. In the time I was away, I did a few small things like traveling southward a wee bit. My travels took me all the way to Paraguay where I had the amazing opportunity to partner with some of the greatest missionaries in the world. No, I don’t know all missionaries in the world and therefore my opinion might be a bit unjustified, but trust me on this one.

Where Faith and “Crazy” Collide:

On February 15th, my dear friends, Peter and Evi sent me a message. This is what it said:

“Hi Jamie! Blessings!! Evi and I have you on our heart! We wanted to invite you to come visit us next month… does that sound crazy?”

Of course it sounds crazy I thought! You want me there next month!? Sometimes I’m very practical and other times I throw caution to the wind and go for it. On February 16th, after a little bit of prayer and a lot of reckless abandon, I sent the following message:

“Okay so…. drum roll please…. I’m gonna come to Paraguay!!”

I know. As I’m writing this, I wish my reply had been slightly more epic or poetic or something, but that’s all I’ve got. And with that, I set my heart and faith on getting to Paraguay and I had just 1 month to see God make it happen.

My goal: raise $4,200.00.

$2,200 – airfare, visa, travel, insurance, housing and food

$2,000 – expenses for outreaches to five indigenous communities

Exceeded Expectations:

Now, I have seen money come in over the years and I have learned that no matter where I start at, God is ALWAYS faithful to bring in whatever is needed to accomplish His plan. And this time would be no different.

After two weeks, I contacted my church. They had received some donations on my behalf over the past few months and were holding those until I needed them. I had no idea how much money they had for me. The initial discussion indicated around $2,000. I was overjoyed as this would cover almost all of my expenses and then we would just need to see about $2,000 more come in for the outreaches.

Then the check was delivered. I opened it expecting $2,000 and was blown away to see the check was not for $2,000, but for $3,700!! Almost the full amount needed for the trip and outreaches! I can’t begin to describe my joy at seeing God’s faithfulness! I totally expected it, but I definitely had a few nights spent telling God that I didn’t know how, but I knew He would. And He did! What’s even more powerful is that the donations received at my church were monthly to a certain degree and the check was made out for donations from September – January. I didn’t even know I was going to Paraguay until February and the money that was needed was already within my reach. God had met my need before I knew about it.

Now I still needed roughly $400 and before I knew it that money was in my hands. In the course of five days, I received donations to cover the entire trip and outreaches and then the money kept coming. I received $800 above and beyond the cost of everything!! I’m so thankful that I serve a God who not only provides, but exceeds my expectations EVERY TIME! (The extra funds will go towards my summer trip to Asia – which is a huge help in paying that off!)

Insert mini-sermon here:

GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL. It may come down to the wire from time to time and it may look absolutely impossible, but that I believe, is where God does some of His best work. If you’re standing in faith and holding out for God to work a miracle in your life, keep standing. He’s working, and in His way, He’s going to do something that exceeds your expectations and gives Him all the glory.

Long, Okay “Short” Awaited Arrival:

After 4 weeks of planning, (what can I say, sometimes spontaneous trips are the best) 3 flights and roughly 20 hours of travel, I finally set foot in Asuncion, Paraguay on March 17th. I was greeted by the familiar British accent of my dear friend, Peter Ratcliffe and his precious little 7 year-old auburn-haired angel, Rebecca. I hadn’t  seen the Ratcliffes in nearly 3+ years and in this moment it felt as though no time had passed at all. I love how true friendships can withstand time and distance. I was overjoyed to see these two, but couldn’t wait to get to their house where I could wrap my arms around Peter’s beloved wife and my dear friend, Evi, as well as their other children. This reunion was long overdue!

After loading all of my luggage and suitcases full of gifts for the Ratcliffes, we were off on the two-hour drive from Asuncion (the capital) to Sapucai and the Casa de Ratcliffe or what I would soon discover was named the “Cottage of My Dreams”.

As we traveled with windows rolled down, (because the a/c doesn’t work) Peter and Rebecca brought me up to speed on the overview of what they were doing in Paraguay and what I could expect in the outreaches we had planned for the next week. Before I knew it, we pulled up to this quaint little casa set in a tropical paradise. Luscious fruit trees surrounded us and the smell of gorgeous flowers welcomed me in. And this paradise could never truly belong to the Ratcliffes if there weren’t at least a few animals roaming around. Chickens, hamsters and parrots were easily spotted along with “Simba” the kitten, “Smokey” the puppy and two beautiful horses who found their place among the Ratcliffe family.

Finally, I stepped out of the car and flung myself into the arms of each of the remaining Ratcliffes; Emily, Joy, Daniel and then my precious Evi! I can’t really describe the feeling – but it was sort of like finding something you value but didn’t even realize was missing. Then came little Joseph. He was born in Paraguay and so I hadn’t had the privilege of meeting him yet. And boy was it a privilege. He is by far the cutest thing I have ever seen, but more about him later. Then I met little baby Naomi the most recent addition to the family.

And with that, I found myself surrounded by people I truly cherished and while I really had no idea what was in store for the next 10 days, I knew in my heart I was exactly where I needed to be.

Pictured above:

First picture is me with the Ratcliffe ladies (all except baby Naomi). Left to right is Emily, Evi, me, Rebecca and Joy.

Second picture is Rebecca and Joy introducing me to their hamsters.

***Be sure to check back over the next few weeks as I put pen to paper, so to speak, to share about the days that followed my arrival to Paraguay. I promise, you won’t regret it!

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© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED