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Prayer, Patience and Persistence

Don and Julie Flower’s work bears “slow but satisfying” fruit in Paraguay

“We could barely communicate, but I knew exactly what the man wanted. In his arms, he tenderly carried his young son who was dying from tuberculosis. I could offer no help. No one could.

“All I could do was help dig a grave when the boy died and help the man bury his beloved little boy. I didn’t have the words to offer comfort. I couldn’t offer hope. And I wept bitter tears because of my helplessness. That was my turning point.”

For NTM missionaries Don and Julie Flower, patience and understanding are more than mere virtues; they’re a necessity to work among tribal peoples. Their three decades working with the Pai Tavy Tera in eastern Paraguay demonstrates that, when it comes to other cultures, planting churches is about more than language learning and evangelism. It’s about prayer, patience and persistence.

“We arrived in Paraguay in 1974, fresh from Bible school and NTM’s missionary training program, but a little naïve about the impact we were going to have,” said Don in a recent interview. “My helplessness to offer words of comfort to a grieving man hit me very hard. Julie and I had so much to learn about this strange culture — and that became our lives’ focus for 37 years.”

The Pai Tavy Tera is one of a number of tribal groups that are offshoots of the ancient Guarani people indigenous to Paraguay. Numbering about 16,000, the Pai are located near the eastern border with Brazil and occupy reservations near vast ranchlands that have pushed into the region. In 1974, there were no believers among the Pai.

“They were a hard people to love,” Julie said.

She recounted early encounters with Pai women who would sit facing away from attempts to connect.

“It’s not easy to learn a language when you can’t see people speaking! Alcoholism and immorality were rampant, thievery was common, husbands and wives had little respect for each other. I remember telling Don, ‘I don’t like these people at all!’”

Gently, Don reminded her that the Pai behaviors were a good reflection of how God loved us enough to send Jesus despite our sin and disobedience.

“That’s why we’re here — to love them with His love, not our own.”

Gradually, prayerfully, Don and Julie adapted to the Pai culture, learning the intricacies of their language, understanding the uniqueness of their culture. With growing language skills came more interest and curiosity about these missionaries and their obvious love and respect for each other. Don and Julie were able to make headway befriending several couples, meeting with them in their homes and gently opening up the treasures of God’s Word.

... After 37 years, a number of Pai believers are now going to other Pai communities — and even to Paraguayan communities — to conduct Bible teaching programs, sometimes for a month at a time!”
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“The Pais would rarely gather in groups. Husbands and wives would rarely spend time together, so the idea of gathering a bunch of people together to teach about the Bible was simply not going to work. But a few couples let us come to their homes and share with them the chronological teaching through the Bible. They began to get it.”

Thirteen long years elapsed before the first Pai decided to receive Jesus as Savior. But their decision had a dramatic impact on others who noticed the change in their lives. Julie commented:

“Oh, they saw the difference, ‘Why is this man walking together with his wife?’ ‘Why won’t he go with us to get drunk?’ ‘What’s happened?’ The impact of the Gospel in people’s lives was so evident! People saw this and wanted to know for themselves. So Don and I had many more opportunities to share in people’s homes. That was a huge breakthrough.”

But what about developing a Pai church? For people who shunned community, the thought of gathering in worship was completely foreign.

“Until we introduced potlucks!” laughed Don. “Sharing food together helped bring the growing group of believers together into real community.” Julie noted. “And it helped to use a saying that meant a great deal to Pai families — ‘we all came from the same tree trunk.’ Understanding that we’re part of God’s family helped bring them together into a body of Christians who cared for each other, a real church.”

Most exciting to the Flowers, after 37 years, a number of Pai believers are now going to other Pai communities — and even to Paraguayan communities — to conduct Bible teaching programs, sometimes for a month at a time!

Prayer. Patience. And persistence. Though only 5 percent of the population has embraced Christianity, God continues to impact the hearts and lives of these precious people, and He’s using them to reach out to others, as well — a perfect example of multiplication.

“A generation has passed and it is now the kids who are teaching their parents and building the church among the Pai people,” Don observed. “Our prayer is that some may eventually go to work among the Mbya — a tribe in the region that has never had any exposure to the Gospel. That would be the ultimate example of the impact of partnership. Those who enabled us to live among the Pais share in the blessings of seeing them now carrying the Gospel to another unreached tribe!”

The Flowers have relocated to NTM’s Missionary Training Center in Missouri where they are teaching new missionaries needed skills for work among tribal peoples.

POSTED ON Apr 01, 2012

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