Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Special Announcement...

We would like to share some amazing news with you.  In April, the Paraguayan counterpart of Serving Paraguay known as Fundación Sirviendo al Paraguay, became an officially recognized foundation here in Paraguay. 

As many of you know, the work that Serving Paraguay does takes place on a beautiful 40-acre piece of property comprised of 12 houses, administrative buildings, a farm, and the school facilities.  When Shaun and I arrived in Paraguay in 2009, we began the ministry here under a contract with the owners of the property, a Paraguayan foundation called Fundación Ganar.   

The view from the ministry property

Over the past four and a half years we have directed the ministries taking place here and watched as God opened doors, touched lives, and blessed our community in amazing ways.  Shaun and I had dreamed that someday the property that we were caring for and living on would belong to our foundation, but it was not something that we discussed with many people.  

In April, when I advised the secretary of the Fundación Ganar of our success in establishing our foundation here in Paraguay, she expressed her desire that the property be donated to our foundation.  After deliberation by the Fundación Ganar, it was decided that they would donate this property and all furnishings to Fundación Sirviendo al Paraguay.  We have been in the process of working out all the paperwork to finalize this transfer over the past couple of months.  Even in this time, it has been difficult for us to comprehend the reality of this donation.  Tonight we finally have the completed property transfer and title in our hands.  With God, all things are possible!

Signing to receive the property donation

We want to express our sincere thanks to the Fundación Ganar for this amazing blessing.  We do not know all that God will do on this property in the future, but we want to thank Him today for making this ministry possible and for allowing our foundation to receive this land.  May His will be done in all things and may all that happens here bring glory and honor to Him!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Overview of our Ministries

The last few days have been a whirlwind preparing for and celebrating Thalia's 15th birthday.  We had a Hawaiian-themed party and around 150 guests.  As always, our local community came together to donate and work preparing for the event.  The day was beautiful and Thalia loved every minute of her party.  If you have ever met Thalia, you would know that the party reflected her personality, lively, colorful, and fun.  We thank God for her life and know that He has special plans for her future.

Thalia with her house parents

In the month of April, we received notification that our foundation here in Paraguay had been approved by the president of the country!  The process here for forming a foundation/non-profit is very difficult and the final step involves receiving approval by the president of the country.  We have been working on this paperwork for nearly two years, but in December switched to a new lawyer to see if the process could not be expedited.  In those short five months, our paperwork was approved in all the many offices and we are now official.  Our foundation here is the national counterpart to Serving Paraguay (called Fundación Sirviendo al Paraguay).  This exciting step will open doors to fundraise here in country and we are trusting God to see amazing things happen in this next phase of ministry!

For those of you that may not know all the details of our ministries here in country, we would like to overview the various areas in which we are ministering consistently.  Our property is divided into three main areas: the children's home (Hogar GANAR), the farm, and the school (New Path Christian School).

In Hogar Ganar, we provide a home for 30 precious children that have come to live with us via judge's order.  Essentially, the children are living in a permanent foster care home.  The children live with loving, Christian house parents that not only cook and care for the children, but also have daily devotionals with them and disciple them in the Christian faith, helping them to dream big with a firm foundation in the Word of God.  Our children play together, along with other children from the community on our soccer field, track, basketball/volleyball court, and playground.  Children learn practical skills in our on-site bakery and our garden.  Children also attend church with their house parents.  Every child in Hogar GANAR receives ongoing counseling by trained Paraguayan counselors and our house parents have weekly meetings with us as directors and with the counselors to learn how to better serve the children in their care.

House 3 with their house parents

Currently our farm holds our dairy cattle (providing all milk for the homes), pigs, and fish ponds.  These areas are very difficult to maintain, as we do not have a tractor, but our dream for the future would be to transform the farm into an area that would help our homes become self-sustaining.  Pray with us for the provision of a tractor.

Dairy cattle on the farm

In the New Path Christian school, we have nearly 190 students from pre-school to tenth grade.  The children from our home attend school, and the remaining 160 students are from the surrounding, impoverished community.  To see more about how our school works, click here.  Our school is staffed entirely by qualified, professional, Christian teachers passionate about serving the children of our community.  Our teachers arrive a half hour before our students so that they can have a devotional together and pray for unity and direction .  Every morning, the students' school day begins with prayer and each teacher starts their class with a devotional.  Weekly, all students attend an age-appropriate chapel.  Our middle and high school students have and additional Bible class every week.  We are confident in the quality of education we are offering and we strive to challenge each of our students academically and spiritually.  This year, we continue to provide a daily snack for our elementary school students and lunch to our middle and high school students.  All of our school children are available for sponsorship at $30.00/month. 

First Grade with their teacher, Mirta

It has been amazing to see how drawn the local youth are to our children's home property, and many adolescents from our school spend each afternoon in our homes playing sports and spending time with our staff and house parents.  Every Wednesday, we have a Bible study/discipleship group for the youth of our homes and any youth from the community that would like to participate.  We average about 30 young people on these nights and we are so excited with their persistence to come and learn from the Word of God. 

We thank God that not only are we ministering to children at a distance, but we have become a part of their lives.  Our community recognizes our facility as a safe place with staff that they can trust and our testimony to them is already bringing many to know the Lord as their personal savior.  The children and teenagers in our homes at Hogar GANAR are growing and changing in so many ways.  Their humility and persistent faith tells us that God will use them to reach many others with the message of salvation.  As our staff share their lives and faith, God is moving.  We thank Him for all that is happening in the ministries of Serving Paraguay and we trust that He has even greater things in store for the future. 

We ask that you would pray with us, for more children to accept Christ as their savior, for more families to come to know Christ, and for God to provide for the needs of our ministry.  Having a staff of over thirty employees and maintaining our 40-acre facility is not inexpensive, but we trust God to provide for His work here in Paraguay.  If you would like to partner with us financially, please feel free to contact us at servingparaguay@gmail.com.  For frequent updates and pictures, please visit our Facebook page.  May God bless each of you!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

School Begins!

February is an exciting month for Serving Paraguay.  In Paraguay, the school year begins in February and ends in late November.  Last year, we were privileged to be chosen as a ministry given funds to host a Christmas party for the community.  We hosted the event in early January just after the Paraguayan holiday of "Day of the Kings."  In Paraguay, instead of Santa Claus, the three Magi bring gifts to children on January 6th.  The funds for this event came from the Viva organization- an international ministry that focuses on connecting and equipping Christian children's ministries.  We are members of the Paraguayan chapter of Red Viva

Our children and youth in Hogar GANAR planned a Christmas pageant and a drama representing the birth of Christ and the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.  They practiced for weeks and were able to minister to the children and adults attending the event.  We had a local clown ministry visit, and they presented again to the children the message of the gospel.  We were overwhelmed by the many churches and ministries that came together to provide games and lessons during the first portion of the event.  In our initial planning, we estimated inviting 350 children, but were really expecting about 200 children for the event.  Our school directors and children and house parents went into the community a few days prior to the event to invite our neighbors.  In faith, we bought gifts for 300 children, and as the morning began, we saw that there were going to be a very large number of children.  Every child had to sign in and register.  By the time we were serving snacks we had passed our 300 number and had to run to the grocery store to buy more snacks.  In the end, 346 children ages 12 and under were in attendance.  Between the children, volunteers, and parents, we had more than 600 people at the event!  Hundreds of our neighbors were able to hear and see portrayed the precious gospel message of our Savior!!  And every child present, thanks to the Viva grant and the help of our community grocery store, Super Alegria, was able to receive not only a snack but a Christmas gift as well. 

 Some of the children enjoying the program

At the Viva Navidad Christmas event, we passed out flyers advertising our school, in hopes that many families would return and register their children to attend our school.  After the event many families came to the school to sign their children up and then returned with their friends and neighbors.  February 11th was our first day of school, and as of today, we have 179 students attending classes!  In 2012, we had 116 students and in 2011, there were only 89 students.  Each year, we have opened a new grade so that our students can continue in our school and eventually graduate from high school with us.  This year, we opened 10th grade, the first year of high school in Paraguay.  And in 2015, we will have our first graduating class!

4th Grade hard at work

For those of you that do not know how our school functions, I would like to explain it to you.  The official prices (at the current exchange rate) to attend our school are $15/month for pre-school through sixth grade, $20/month for middle school (7th through 9th grade), and $25/month for 10th grade.  The actual cost/month/student to pay teachers' salaries and to provide necessary classroom materials is almost $45/student with our current enrollment.  In most Christian or private schools in Paraguay, students will be paying at least double the amounts that we charge.  Now, we know that many parents are unable to pay those costs, and it is our desire that no child ever leave our school for inability to pay the tuition.  So, the students that began with us in 2011 receive a "half-scholarship" and only pay half of the above-mentioned fees.  When new students come to register, we study their family situation, and charge accordingly.  Obviously, the children from Hogar GANAR do not pay to attend the school and we also do not charge the children of our employees or teachers.  Every family that brings more than one child to the school also receives a family discount- the second sibling receives 25% off and the third and subsequent children only pay half.  At this time, less than a quarter of our students are paying the full amounts mentioned above. 

Our Kindergarten class

In working as missionaries, we have learned that giving things for free is never the best way.  The families in our community, even the most impoverished ones, are capable of setting aside a $10 or $20 a month to provide a quality education for their children.  And when they are paying something, they understand and appreciate the value of the education our school provides.  In our parent/teacher conference last night I was able to explain the actual costs to the parents and explain to them that every child in our school is receiving a "scholarship." 

Presenting our teaching staff at our first parent/teacher conference of the year

The mission of our school is to see that every child is educated with excellence, and prepared for their future in University studies.  With our entirely Christian staff, we are able to share the love of Christ and the message of his salvation with every child and every family.  We offer English three times a week for every student, thanks to our missionary English teacher, Jewel Vernoy.  Our schedules include morning prayer and devotional every day for every student, and weekly church services.  Our middle and high school students have Bible class as part of their base curriculum.  Students from fourth grade and up also have computer class.  Our curriculum also includes all the requirements given by the Paraguayan ministry of Education, such as music, dance, Guaraní, Spanish, science, math, art, etc. etc.  Our 10th grade students have courses in Philosophy, Anthropology, Physics, Chemistry, and Statistics, along with their general courses. 

Our 8th Grade students beginning their day

And one of the most exciting things about our school is that it also serves as a feeding center.  Nearly every update, I mention the grocery store, Super Alegria and their donations.  Over the past two years they have provided food to feed EVERY student EVERY day.  It has been an incredible blessing!  This year, because of the large quantity of students, they will be making a cash donation each month to ensure that we can continue to feed our students!  We will be serving lunch Monday through Friday to our nearly 50 middle and high school students that attend school for a full day, and we will provide a nutritious snack for our younger children that attend school a half day.  The mothers of the students (that do not work during the day) are asked to volunteer one day a week to come to the school and prepare the meals for the students.  This is the first year we will serve a full lunch, and what a blessing to be able to ensure that our school's young people are eating a healthy, filling lunch five days a week!

Our beautiful school kitchen where snacks and meals will be prepared

When we privatized the school on our property in 2011, we did so out of necessity to protect our children and because we had the dream that the school could be a major center for community ministry and blessing for the families living nearby.  At that time, we had no idea all that God would do through the school.  It is difficult to sit in South America and write to a North American audience hundreds and thousands of miles away trying to express both the excitement we have and the burden we feel for this small nation of Paraguay.  It is hard to share the subtle changes in the personality of adolescents that a year ago had no hope, and today are smiling and able to verbalize what they want to see happen in their lives in the future.  I wish you could each meet the mothers of our special needs students that are so overwhelmingly grateful to our school because we treat their children differently from every other school, valuing them and taking the time to ensure that they, too, can learn. 

Four of our 10th grade students

If every parent pays their tuition each month, we will have an income in the school of $1,250.00.  This money serves as the petty cash for the school: to keep our photocopier running, to buy textbooks, paper, white boards, and any other classroom or cleaning needs.  The petty cash from the school also now buys all school supplies for the children of Hogar GANAR!  What remains is paying the 15 staff members of the school.  This amount is $6350.00/month.  If you have ever wondered how you could be a part of our ministry of "Serving Paraguay," we are now asking for school sponsors.  We would like to see each of our students sponsored at $30.00/month, beginning with those living in our children's homes and with those receiving full and half scholarships.  We will partner you with a child and send you their picture and updates of their progress throughout the year.  If you choose to sponsor a child in the Itaugua Christian School, you will not only be sponsoring their education, but you will be providing them with a chance to receive nutritious food five times a week, a chance to know Christ as their personal savior, and a chance to receive the tools that will allow them to choose their own future, impacting the nation of Paraguay in an amazing way!

Our school facilities

Please consider partnering with us in "Serving Paraguay!"  We are always available to answer any additional questions you may have about our ministries or finances.  Simply email your questions or concerns to servingparaguay@gmail.com.