Just surviving or thriving?

Author: Mike Goddard
We were on day 35 of a very strict quarantine regulations established by the Paraguayan government due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when I received a phone call that has now become a weekly routine. Carlos is the pastor of an Angaite evangelical church that was started by my own family members in 1971. “What news do you have for me this week?” he asked, and then added, “We are isolated from the rest of the world and need a reliable and credible source to get our information from.”

After giving him the latest numbers of confirmed cases of coronavirus, deaths, and number of people recuperated, it was my turn to ask him a question. “How are you guys doing, and do you have enough to eat?” I was thinking of an article that had been publicized recently, giving the impression that Paraguayans were going hungry for lack of government aid. “Oh yes, we have plenty to eat, and we are all very healthy in our community,” he replied eagerly. “As you know, we live on the edge of the Paraguay River, and we discovered a place where the surubi catfish weigh several kilograms!”
As he continued to talk, my mind drifted to the stories my grandfather told be about how Carlos’ community was first established. Grandpa Goddard had worked with 6 different First Nations groups during his 40 years in Paraguay and a considerable amount energy was invested in the Angaite people. In an excerpt from his autobiography “Missionary Maverick”, he wrote about Carlos’ community:

“I had my eye on a tract of land bordering the Paraguay River at a place called San Carlos. Mr. Nolan wanted to give us land near the central ranch, but I told him it would be difficult to get in our supplies as well as being too far from a market. On the river, we would have cheap freight rates and a good market in Concepcion where we could sell the Indian Colony's products.  He finally agreed, and the land title was signed over to NTM.”

My grandfather, a cross-cultural missionary in the 1970’s, understood holistic and sustainable ministry. He grasped the reality that one day the Angaite people would not only be responsible to support their own families and thrive economically, but they would also need to sustain the making of disciples among their own people and to cross cultural barriers with the message of the Gospel. He knew that it would take several generations for the Angaite to find a healthy balance between an animistic worldview supported by hunting and gathering for survival to that of a biblical worldview expressed in a shifting social and economic environment.
Carlos’ words interrupted my thoughts as he said, “We have been connected to the power grid since December, and my freezer is full of fish!” He went on to say, “We continually remember and give thanks to God for the missionaries He sent to us to bring us the Good News of Jesus Christ and taught us how to thrive!”  It’s true, I thought to myself, that God did send to them many missionaries. The investment of finances, time, and people into the Angaite would be difficult to determine numerically. My own parents lived in Carlos’ community, and several years later, both my siblings and their families! Nearly 50 years later, the Angaite church is thriving during difficult times.
“This week, a man in our village accepted Christ as his Savior!” Carlos’ voice got excited as he explained that during the quarantine, they had to cease meeting together and praying together as a church but found a way around the limitations. “We realized that we were drying up and discouraged as a church, so our seven Christian workers decided to go house to house around the community and pray, sing, and read Scriptures to that household. It was during one of these visits that the head of house accepted the Lord!”

As I hung up the phone, I realized that the Angaite, although their life is not easy and can often be difficult, have moved from survival to that of thriving. The evidence of thriving individuals can be seen in the home, in the community’s education, economic development, government, and social structures. However, thriving does not depend on the external or circumstantial, but by being made alive after being dead in our sins and separated from the Source of Life: our Creator and God.

Thriving begins with me. It begins by accepting God’s solution to sin and death: the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection. It means staying connected to God through fellowship. That is how we thrive in difficult times.

1 Comment

Becky Davis - April 16th, 2020 at 9:15am

What a wonderful article! So encouraging, uplifting my heart. We have prayed for your family’s ministry there over the years. I prayed as a child growing up in Sunday School. I loved our missions conferences where your Mom and Dad, now others, highlighted the ministry and how we could be a part! We have continued to pray as adults and even now as we enter our senior years. What a thrill it is to hear how God has and is using you and your family, and even now the great-grandchildren! I feel connected to these believers. Thank you for your faithful service!