by Rosemary Konkol
Rosemary and her husband, Dale, have served in Paraguay with CMML for 20 years.
In September 1999, my husband, Dale, and I left the USA to serve the Lord as full-time mission workers in Paraguay, South America. We were newly married; we sold almost everything, stored some personal items in a friend’s garage, and packed what we thought we would need. Fifteen suitcases and plastic tubs later, we headed to the airport. After an overnight flight we arrived in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, and were picked up by the host of our mission guest house. We had felt the Lord leading us to move to Paraguay, but did not know where in the country He was leading.
Paraguay is landlocked in the centre of South America and is home to about 6.5 million people. Along with most of the region, Paraguay was colonised by the Spanish, who introduced Roman Catholicism. Today, most Paraguayans are superstitious and retain much of the idol worship of the dominant religion, but seldom attend mass. Most traditions are passed down in the family rather than learned in formal religious services.
Assembly mission workers first arrived in Paraguay from New Zealand, via Argentina, in 1908 and preached in Asunción and in towns along the Paraguay River. Some areas of the country have a lot of evangelicals but there are still areas without any.
After a month at the guest house, a friend mentioned a place for rent nearby, so we moved there. We studied two languages, Spanish and Guarani, the indigenous language, which is also an official language. We made numerous visits to immigration to get our residency papers and, wherever possible, travelled to visit other mission workers and cities. All the while, we prayed for God’s direction.
After eight months, and having received permanent residency, we felt led to move south to San Juan Bautista, which has a population of 20,000 people and is the capital of Misiones Department. We found a house to rent and started ‘the work’. One of the things that we found different about being mission workers was the lack of a human employer or manager, with no business-determined schedule. How exactly does one start a work or be a mission worker?
In our case, looking ‘foreign’ opened doors for the gospel. As we went about our daily routine, people would ask us what we were doing in their town. Our answer: ‘We are here to help people to understand the Bible. Would you like to study God’s Word?’ Many would answer negatively, but little by little interest grew. Some of the first contacts were made through sports; Dale enjoys many sports and he would meet young people playing tennis or basketball. These meetings led to friendships and in some cases Bible studies.
A person’s desire to practise English led to reading the New Testament out loud in a simple English translation, then a Bible study and then, in the case of one young man, his coming to faith.
Another time, a university student, who was looking for a classmate, mistakenly came to our door; as a result, she agreed to do a Bible study with us and was saved. She then invited a friend and they both began to study and understand the Bible. Even a minor car accident was used by the Lord when Dale went to a mechanic’s shop to get an estimate. Casual conversation with Ronald, a fellow customer, led to a Bible study and Ronald’s eventual salvation. Now in his eighties, Ronald remains joyful in the Lord.
Gradually, and through different means, the Lord Jesus began to build His Church. In August 2001, the first breaking of bread service was held and Iglesia Biblica (Bible Church), San Juan Bautista, was born. Generally, there is interest in the gospel, especially among university students. Unfortunately, many are afraid to accept the Lord or fully live for Him because of family pressure. Some fear they will be kicked out of their homes; while this has happened in other towns, we are unaware of any situations that have come to that.
Gradually, and through different means, the Lord Jesus began to build His Church.
A Growing Family
One day, in 2002, a young woman, who worked as a waitress in a restaurant we sometimes ate at, came to our house asking us to help her mother, Maria, who was sick. We drove the mother to hospital and began to get to know her. In the past, after contact with mission workers, Maria had made a profession of faith but had no opportunity to learn more about the Christian life. She also had advanced cancer. We took our sister in the Lord to Asunción for several months of radiation treatment and cared for her two youngest daughters, Elizabeth and Liliana. Little did we know that our lives would be forever changed! As time went on it became obvious that the cancer was progressing; Maria asked us to take in Ellie and Lily. God used the story of the Good Samaritan to show us that we, the foreigners, were the ones to care for the girls, aged four and eight. In the middle of all the medical and legal processes, we discovered we were expecting a child of our own. So, in 2002, we had ‘triplets’: becoming legal guardians to Ellie and Lily and giving birth to Sarah. Four years later the adoption was finalised.
Having a family changed our ministry: I spent more time at home, but at the same time, people were intrigued when they saw that we took in and loved two girls who were not biologically ours. We also became involved in the schools, helping the class and attending events.
Slowly but steadily God added to the church those that were being saved, either through contact with us personally or through the believers sharing with their friends and families. More people were accepting Jesus as their Saviour.
At its beginning, Iglesia Biblica met in our living room or on our porch. As more people attended meetings, we wanted to have a more visible presence in the town and began to look for a place for a church building. We bought a piece of property on the edge of town and were just about to begin building, when five siblings approached us about selling their old family home that had been used as a night club for several years but was now abandoned. The location was wonderful, the Lord provided the funds and at the end of 2007 we purchased the building. It required much elbow grease and many coats of paint to transform the black building, inside and out, to a place of light and life. Several times, young people have attended meetings just to see what the building looked like now! We have a main meeting room, two classrooms, a large kitchen, men’s and women’s bathrooms, a large grass yard for playing volleyball and holding children’s meetings, and a small house where a family or student from the church lives, providing a 24-hour presence and security in the building. Praise the Lord, the building started to be full most Sundays and we began saving, praying and planning to remodel the space and create a larger meeting room. In May of 2018 the dream became reality when ground was broken.
For four months the church was without a building and met in different homes. Finally in September we moved into a space double in size and much more usable.
Before leaving the USA, we did not expect to stay in one place for more than five years before moving on. After almost 20 years here in San Juan Bautista, with a stable church and the beginnings of local leadership, we have had to rethink our vision. We are focusing on training the believers and encouraging them to reach out to the surrounding cities and towns. Pray that we would look for where God is at work and get involved. We have learned that, ‘a man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps’ (Prv. 16:9). Pray that we would faithfully minister Christ’s gospel in Paraguay and follow the Lord’s leading – wherever that may be.