Abandoned by his parents, a boy in rural Paraguay had not yet hit his teenage years when he began seeing how theft made him feel self-sufficient and tough.
His friends were stealing and assaulting people, and Francisco* could feel the anger in him finding release if he had to beat people in order to steal from them.
He knew these things were wrong, because the local missionaries who had provided meals for him at a church feeding center since he was 8 years old had taught him about obeying God. With his mother living somewhere else and his father focused only on drinking, however, he felt he owed obedience to no one, including the grandparents with whom he’d taken shelter.
The approval he won from his hooligan friends helped make up for the parental affection he lacked, he said.
“Many times I did things that did not please God,” said Francisco, now 18. “My mother living elsewhere and my father spending all he had only on alcohol, that affected me as a child since I was looking for the affection of a father or mother.”
God never abandoned him, he said, and in time he began to understand the gospel and put his faith in Christ.
“I thank the missionaries of the church feeding center who were the ones who guided me in my spiritual growth,” Francisco said. “One of the biggest changes that God has made in me was to be able to take out all the bad things I did, the rebellion that was so much in me.”
In a nearly bankrupt country where more than 33 percent of people in rural areas live below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures, Francisco easily could have veered onto the path of crime and hopelessness.
He credited his grandparents with encouraging him to stay in school, and the message of eternal life in Christ and discipleship he received from local missionaries changed his life, he said.
“The feeding center helped me in ways I could never imagine,” he said. “I was very rebellious, but now I am serving as a guitarist in the local church. God has changed my life and my family. God helped us change our lives.”
The director of the native ministry said that before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the center provided 90 children, and at times more than 100, with a lunch on Saturdays and a breakfast after the church Sunday school. Since the pandemic began, local workers have had to find alternative ways to serve the poor but continue to visit homes, meet needs and share the gospel, he said.
Local missionaries also reach youth by making presentations in schools, though the principal of one rural school strongly opposed the Christian message. She told students not to attend the presentations and railed against those who showed interest in them, the director said.
As she saw the presentations helping to make the children happier and kinder, however, she had a seemingly miraculous change of heart, the ministry leader said.
“When we thought about giving up on going to that school, she called us and asked us when we would come back again and spoke kindly to us,” the leader said. “We visited the school once again and brought a special gift for her and the other teachers and children. Then she asked us to pray for her family and her health.”
The local missionaries prayed for her, and later she told them how God had answered their request, he said.
“She was very happy and told us that she had resented Christians due to her prejudice, but that she now saw our sincerity in friendship with her and the children,” he said. “She requested us to visit her family to share the gospel with them. She is reading the Bible and has opened her heart to the Lord.”
Resistance in other quarters can also can be strong. After a new Christian allowed local workers to hold Bible studies at her rented house, many neighbors were attending until the homeowner objected.
“The owner of the house was one of those who did not want to listen to us and who always put up obstacles,” the director said. “But God did His work, and now this man is changing and is inviting other people for worship.”
Besides visiting homes with the gospel in that community, workers are starting home fellowships in other areas through 19 full-time workers. One worker carries out educational activities in schools, using puppets to convey the Good News to the younger children. During one semester she and her team reached thousands of people, including school principals, the ministry leader said.
“Approximately 7,000 children, young people, teachers and parents listened to and participated in the exposition of the Word of God,” he said. “Most of them indicated they wanted to pray with us. We are discipling and counseling them with biblical materials. Some teachers and parents began to attend the church that is near their homes.”
Local missionaries are seeing God work in such ways throughout the country. Please consider a donation today to enable local missionaries in Paraguay to provide spiritual and physical food to hungry souls.
*Name changed for security reasons