Paraguay (MNN) ― Paraguay: the country nobody visits.
That's not entirely bad, though, since the lack of tourism has left much of the land in its natural state. However, lack of tourism dollars means the country is desperately poor. About 60% of Paraguayans live below the poverty line.
The country only recently emerged from a dictatorship (2006), but in its wake followed massive corruption. Spanish is the official language, but Guarani can be heard everywhere, too. The Guarani Indians are intertwined with Paraguayan history and culture.
The evangelical population is less than 5%. The Mission Society, strong in both evangelism and ministries of compassion, came aboard in 1988 to support the local church in holistic ministry.
Ministries today include vocational training, elementary and secondary education, a day care center, evangelism and church-planting, a Bible school, well-drilling, medical care, and a variety of other endeavors.
The Mission Society's Christian Dickson serves with his wife, Angelica, and their daughters, Camila and Anna. "One of the main things we do is work with children and youth. My wife is also a director of a Methodist school, and I'm involved with an agricultural project as well."
Dickson explains that while the country is poor, "One of the blessings that we have here in Paraguay is that people aren't going hungry." The diet doesn't have a lot of variety, however, so there is still malnutrition. Among his other duties, Dickson has been helping the local people plant new things and understand how to prepare them as food.
Garden projects allow him to spend a lot of face time with the people he's working with, building relationships. That friendship is a key component to their ministry, although Christian admits he has a lot of help. "I'm married to a Paraguayan, so she speaks the Guarani language. It allows us to get on a more personal level with some of the people that we're serving."
Their main purpose is in cultivating a different kind of harvest. "We mainly work with the youth in our church, and we work on the national level. We work to get the youth together in youth camps, and we go to individual churches to try to reinforce their youth programs."
Responding to a need for more widely available medical care in remote regions of Paraguay, The Mission Society sent a Mobile Medical Clinic to assist with health care demands. The Clinic is equipped with a pharmacy area, kitchen, and medical examining rooms to allow medical professionals a place to treat patients.
In 2005, missionaries working in Paraguay began the Paraguay School Project in order to keep children off of the street while their parents are at work. Several schools are now included in the initiative and are supported by individuals and churches. "We're very interested in helping the Paraguayan youth become better educated, secularly and in Christian education." That takes funds. The Mission Society needs help to develop the scholarships that keep a bright future for Paraguay. Dickson agrees. "We have a lot of children that are receiving scholarships that are going to school here in Paraguay, and that's probably our biggest financial need."
The New Horizons School, located in a suburb of Asunción, is the largest educational facility and will eventually include pre-school through the twelfth grade. The Mary Jo Phillips Day Care Center is also located in Asunción and is open to children ages two through five whose mothers are working. The Susannah Wesley School is located at the Quinta Linea Methodist Church in the "interior" of Paraguay and currently serves 100 children grades first through sixth.
The nearest high school is nearly a three-hour walk, so most of the children do not continue their education past the sixth grade. Construction is underway to add more classrooms to expand the facility to include grades seven through twelve.
Christian says the focus is developing the future leadership. "Pray for national leaders. Because my wife and I work with youth, one of our goals is to bring up young leaders, Paraguayans, to work in the Methodist church here."
However, there is one challenge that rises up over and over. "The Paraguayans are very open to hearing the Gospel. It's not getting to listen to the Gospel, it's getting them sometimes to practice the Gospel. It takes a little more time for us to sit down and work with them to understand what it means to live a Christian life."