From Tuesday September 20th until Monday October 3rd, Pastor Scott Woo/head of the Timmins Free Methodist Church served on a missions trip to Paraguay , South America . Although he has spent the previous two trips in poorer rural churches, Scott used this 3rd trip to connect with the work of the Free Methodist Church in Paraguay .
Pastor Juan Monzon met me at the airport on Wednesday when I arrived in Asuncion . In fact there were about seven individuals who had come out to receive me. This was my first introduction to Pastor Juan other than having received some e-mail correspondence from him while I was still in Canada . Later at the church, Iglesia de Cristo Misionera, my home base in the capital of Paraguay while I am in this country, Pastor Juan and I arranged to spend two days together. The following Wednesday and Thursday I would be introduced to some of the work of the FMC in Paraguay . I looked eagerly to the short time we would spend together.
There are twenty churches in Paraguay that are tied to our Free Methodist tradition. Pastor Juan serves the church in Paraguay as their superintendent, under the auspices of one of the Bishops of the American FM church. Only four of these churches have the ability to pay their pastors for full-time work. The other sixteen pastors must work at some outside employment to supplement the needs of their families. This is sometimes difficult in a country where unemployment rates are quite high, and some pastors have had to leave the pastorate in order to provide for their families financial needs. In Paraguay , education and medical care are not universally applied — they must be paid for out of each families budget. If there is not enough money, the education of one’s children, and even medical care remain out of reach.
The following week as I travelled around with Pastor Juan, he introduced me to several of our fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard. One of the first persons I met was Pastor Pablo Torres and his wife Valentina ( [email protected] ). In their church they have 190 children who attend the school organized here. Roughly 50% of the children come from families that are able to pay the $10 monthly fee for school attendance. The other children are not turned away because of their families’ inability to pay. What a wonderful ministry within their community, including a lunch program. The teachers in this school work for about $90 (Cdn.) month, 1/2 of the government mandated suggested pay for a school teacher, yet what can the church do when there is not enough money?
I also met Pastora Violeta Lazo Osano, She serves as pastor and comes from Uruguay . Her church has around 75 persons attending each Sunday. Now every Saturday this church involves itself in a community feeding program where as many as 94 children are welcomed for lunch, games and fellowship. The kitchen used for this ministry is a small outside sink — their only one) with running cold water. They cook their meal over an outside firepit, and were very glad to be able to show me their new outhouse.
On Wednesday and Thursday evening I was able to attend two small cell group meetings that have developed in Pastor Juan’s own church called, Encuentra con Jesus. These two cell groups were very different in background- Wednesday we met in a squatters’ settlement. Little more than wooden shacks that housed their families without electricity or plumbing. Our Bible study and fellowship was held around a table outside in the dark with only a single candle for illumination. Yet the presence of the Lord in the songs sung and the prayers offered up, in the fellowship we enjoyed was a blessing to behold. In contrast, Thursday found us in the front yard of a middle-class home watching a Christian video. The sweet communion of our Lord and Saviour which we had experienced in the shanty town was just as evident in this modestly attired home.
I was very impressed with the organization of the Free Methodist churches in Paraguay- In the many other smaller Paraguayan churches that I had been in – many of them located in the rural, poorer areas there was a lack of vision and direction, of training opportunities and the perception of being connected to something larger. The Free Methodist Church in Paraguay does face numerous challenges as do we all, but as I met with the pastors there I can see that there is a sense that God is at work and the kingdom of Christ progresses. Pastor Juan would have me invite you to participate in their work through your prayers and if God allows, you would be most welcome to come and visit. You can write him words of encouragement at conf [email protected]
Pastor Scott is already looking forward to returning to South America in the summer of 2006. It is God who continues to open doors to further ministry relationships and the encouragement of indigenous mini fillips in foreign countries. May God be honoured in all that we d.