Paraguay Missionary Sacrifices Dream to Follow God

The following article was originally published at: Nazarene.org.

Yoan and Astrid Camacaro recently accepted the call to be missionaries for the Church of the Nazarene in Paraguay after serving as pastors in Ecuador for more than five years.

Both Yohan and Astrid are humble and willing to follow God’s lead wherever it might take them; however, their call to missions didn’t happen overnight. 

Yoan grew up in Venezuela in the underprivileged community of Andres Bellos. He started attending the Church of the Nazarene in his early teens and became very involved in church activities.

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Ever since he was a child, Yoan’s dream was to be a professional baseball player and rescue his family from poverty. His grandmother gave him a baseball glove as a gift when he was young, and his family quickly realized he was very talented. 

As he got older, he got better and was noticed by professional scouts. One day, he received a telephone call from the Atlanta Braves, who offered him a contract to go to America to play baseball. That same day, he received a call from his local district superintendent who believed Yoan had a gift for ministry and suggested that Yoan attend the Nazarene Seminary in Quito, Ecuador. 

Lost, Yoan went to his Bible and found the verse in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

At that moment, Yoan knew what he had to do. He declined the offer to play professional baseball, and he went to the seminary. 

During his time at seminary, Yoan met his wife, Astrid, who was born into a Christian home in Ecuador and felt called to ministry at 15 years old. 

Growing up, Astrid served as a youth leader and Sunday School teacher. She has always a strong passion for discipling, mentoring and involving young people in ministry and missions.

After graduating from seminary, the two were married in 2011. They lived in Venezuela for a while where their son, Yared, was born. Yoan is currently pursuing a master’s degree in cross-cultural missions with Nazarene Seminary of the Americas in Costa Rica.

In 2013, the Camacaros planted a church in Ibarra, Ecuador, where they have pastored until their recent call to missions. 

“We are excited to start this new adventure and serve God with love and passion,” the Camacaros said. “We know that great things are coming for the country of Paraguay, and we are ready to develop strategies for growth.”

Now, Yoan hopes that God will use his son to carry out his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. 

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Church of the Nazarene Established in a New Country

The following article was originally published at Nazarene.org.

The Church of the Nazarene has established its presence in a new country on the Eurasia Region through a local church planter and evangelist named Sam*.

It is not easy for missionaries to enter this country since the government prohibits Christian evangelistic activities. So, when Sam expressed a desire to plant Nazarene churches in his own nation, regional leaders met with him to discern how God was leading.

As a result, the young man and his wife have become Nazarenes and are the denomination’s first step to establishing its presence there.

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The first Nazarene
Sam grew up in a family with no religious faith, but when his younger sister was 7 years old, she became a Christian through involvement with a local Protestant church.

“It did not make us so happy,” Sam said. “We were so dead set against Christianity.”

Several years later, his sister became deathly sick. Sam, who had moved away to find work, rushed home to her deathbed, where she was reduced to skin and bones.

Members of her church visited to pray for her.

“One member told me about the greatness of God and what is possible in Him,” Sam said. “She started sharing the love of Christ. She told me about John 11:25 — Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.’”

At these words, Sam was hopeful that if he believed Jesus was real and put his trust in Him, his sister might be healed.

“So, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior,” Sam said. “I could see that right away she was better. Although she had been sick for six months, a week later she could get up and walk. She went through a successful operation, and she is healed. She is a living testimony.”

Call to ministry 
This healing miracle led Sam to commit his life to Christ. He went to India and enrolled at South India Bible School. This is where Sam first encountered the Church of the Nazarene.

He completed his education and returned to his home country equipped to share the gospel with his people. He patiently talked about Jesus with family and friends, and eventually, his entire family accepted Christ.

“We have a church there in my village,” Sam said. “My uncle is looking after the church. I am so excited and so happy because we all are in one place right now, following one God.”

Partnering with the Nazarene denomination
In 2017, he reconnected with a Nazarene leader from India responsible for Nazarene churches in several countries.

The next year, he met a number of other regional Nazarene leaders. They invited Sam to join the denomination and establish the Church of the Nazarene in Sam’s country.

“I admire the work he and his wife are doing with their people,” said one local Nazarene field leader. “I love the passion and commitment they have to share the Gospel with people.”

Friendship evangelism
Sam’s approach is to first establish friendships with people before talking about what God has done for him and his family.

“I start making a relationship [with people],” Sam said. “After a close and intimate friendship, I call them and maybe go somewhere for coffee, and then I start sharing about Christ.”

On one occasion, he was invited to preach in a village church outside the city. Afterward, he stopped by a butcher shop.

“I had a conversation with the guy who was working,” Sam said. “I made a friendship with him and his family. I got the privilege to reach them, and I shared about Christ’s love. Now they all are in Christ. This month I will baptize them.”

Facing persecution
Despite the legal right to practice the Christian faith, Sam and his wife face discrimination for their faith.

Recently, they relocated to a larger city. However, a series of landlords refused to rent apartments to them when they discovered the couple are Christians. Finally, the couple found a Christian who would rent them an apartment.

Despite these hostile circumstances, Sam opened his own business so he can share Christ through everyday conversations.

“We started the ministry in this country last September, and now we already have a small fellowship group worshipping the Lord Jesus,” said the field strategy coordinator. “We look forward to seeing more beautiful things happening through the ministry of Sam and his wife in the near future.”

*Names changed for privacy

Hound of Heaven…or African Lion?

The Hound of Heaven” is a poem written by Francis Thompson in which the author tells of a God who pursues him (metaphorically like a bloodhound, of course) through difficulties and disbelief, and even occasionally in spite of the author’s desire to know him.  That title has often been used to help describe what some Christian denominations refer to as “prevenient grace.” Such grace goes before, preparing the way for us to know God and preventing us from harm in many cases even though we certainly do not deserve such protection.  This gracious God woos us into relationship with him.  The apostle John echoed this truth when he said, “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

I recently came across a story that made me think of the hound of heaven in a different light.  I hope it will give you a new lens through which to see prevenient grace.

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“An old Christian was trying to explain faith to Father Donovan, who lived sixteen years with the Masai in Tanzania.  ‘Faith is not like when someone fires a gun and kills from a distance with a simple twitch of the finger. No, faith is like when a lion leaps against his prey.  His nose, eyes and ears sense it.  His feet speed him forward.  All the strength of his body is tensed to make a terrible leap and deal the deadly blow.  When the victim falls, the lion drags it towards him and makes it part of himself. That is how a lion kills. And that is how a man believes.  That is like faith.’ 

Father Donovan thought he understood.  He supposed faith is effort, sometimes painful, in search of God.  Our souls are tensed, like the lion.  But the old African had not finished. ‘We Masai did not go out searching, Father, nor did we want you to come.  You told us we had to seek God.  But it was God who searched for us and found us.  We always believe we are the lion, but in reality, the lion is God.’”

Blameless? That’s Impossible!

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” (Genesis 17:1-2)

By Emily Armstrong

God is renewing his covenant with Abraham that the promise of a great nation would come from Abraham and Sarah.  Verse 1 says that Abraham is 99 years old when God has this conversation with him.  I can only imagine that he was thinking, “OK, God, I’ll be a first time dad, but only with your help.”  As long as we are talking about doing the impossible, did we miss the small but significant phrase in verse 1 that says, “Walk before me and be blameless”? Again, Abraham has to be thinking, “OK, God, but only with your help.”

Does God really expect Abraham to be a dad at age 99? Yep.  Does God really expect Abraham to walk before him and be blameless? You bet.  And God expects the same from us.  Is it a fair expectation? Yes, but only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit helps us to make the right choices, and helps us continually walk before God and be blameless.  It’s not to say that the Holy Spirit makes our decisions for us, but he’s continually guiding us in the correct paths, if we allow him to.

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I remember when I was in college that I really started struggling with the concept of being blameless.  I had been a Christian since I was a little girl, but the Holy Spirit started speaking to me about the kind of music that I listened to.  It wasn’t BAD music, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  I had to really wrestle with the Lord and see if what I was listening to was helping my relationship grow stronger with Him.  I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that I realized that the Holy Spirit was right, and I made some changes in my music.  It was hard, and it was a process, but I know that it’s helped me even to this day to walk blamelessly before God.

So, are you up to it?  Have you been feeling like the Holy Spirit’s been talking to you about some of the habits that you have that are keeping you from walking blamelessly before God?  If so, then start evaluating the changes that you need to make, and start making them. You’ll soon learn like I did, that walking blamelessly is possible, with God’s help.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

 

I am not Ashamed

By Scott Armstrong

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.” There it is, in black and white in verse 8 of the first chapter of 2 Timothy.  No getting away from it; testifying about what Jesus is doing in our lives is the expectation.  It’s what Christian’s do.  So, why is doing it so hard?

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I’ve been a missionary in various countries for the last sixteen years, and I’ve realized over that period of time that I, too, fell into the category of being “afraid” to share with non-believers what Jesus was doing in my life.  As a missionary, it’s part of my job description to be ready at all times to share Jesus Christ with whoever I might meet.  But amazingly enough that was part of my job description before I became a missionary, as well.  It is something that I should have been doing on a daily basis since the day that I became a Christian.

Maybe you’re thinking that you’re not experienced enough. What would you say anyway? Well, is God working in your life? Have you seen his healing hand, or his hand of protection, or his hand of mercy? Those are stories that you can share – nobody can say that they didn’t happen.  They might not believe that GOD was the reason that they resolved, but it shouldn’t stop you from sharing them.  Every time that you share about the greatness of God, a seed has been planted.

So, are you ready to start sharing what God is doing in your life with your friends? Don’t be ashamed to testify about how awesome our God is.  In fact, once you start doing it, you’ll find that it becomes easier.  Just like anything else, practice makes perfect.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

“So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (John 4:5-9)

By Scott Armstrong

Have you ever noticed how good Jesus is at putting himself into other people’s shoes?  In this passage, we see him doing it again.  Jesus is a Jew that is on his way to Galilee, and he decides to travel THROUGH Samaria, instead of going around it, like most other Jews of that time. Jews did everything possible to stay away from Samaria and Samaritans, and the Samaritans felt the same way about the Jews.  Jesus is no common Jew.  Jesus walked into Samaria and sat down in a very common meeting place for women. It’s as if he is inviting a conversation from somebody that was coming to draw water from the well.  And that’s exactly what happened.

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The minute that Jesus stepped foot inside of Samaria’s borders, he became the outcast.  By no small coincidence, Jesus finds the Samaritan woman – an outcast in her own town.

I think this is a lesson that we all need to learn as early in life as possible.  Why is it that popularity is SO important to us when we are in Junior and Senior High? Why do we exclude people, just because they dress differently or talk differently or don’t run in the same social circles we do? Why can’t we try to put ourselves in other people’s situations?

How could you ever effectively minister to somebody that is excluded? In this scripture, we see that Jesus became the outcast in order to minister to the outcast – and it changed her life.  Could Jesus be calling you to find somebody that needs a friend? I think he’s at least calling us all to see the world as He does, and start including the excluded.  Maybe that means looking outside of your normal “clique” and involving some new faces. Maybe that means integrating your youth group, and making sure that Senior Highers know Junior Highers and vice versa.  Whatever the step is, start taking it now.  Change the world – one person at a time.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong. 

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:4-9)

By Emily Armstrong

God is calling Jeremiah to be a prophet, and he calls him pretty clearly.  Even after knowing EXACTLY what God wants him to do, Jeremiah still says, “I do not know how to speak”– he starts offering excuses as to why he can’t do what God has called him to do.  God seems to take it in stride and tells him not to worry; he would be with Jeremiah and even goes as far as putting the words in his mouth!  I don’t know about you, but it seems like Jeremiah doesn’t have many excuses left!

Do you ever feel that way?  That you sincerely ask God what he wants you to do with your day, your week, your life, and the answer that he gives you seems impossible?  When we ask God something, are we really ready to hear what he has to say to us?

When my son was little, he would like to give me 2 options to choose between, like “Mom, do you want this yellow block or this blue block?” After I had chosen what color I wanted, he would look at me and tell me if I chose the right one.  It never was my choice at all, and he really didn’t want to know what I wanted.  He knew all along that he was going to give me the yellow block, whether I chose it or not.

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I think we often approach God that way.  “OK, God, I have a decision to make – do you want me to talk to the new girl in class or should I just leave it up to someone else?” All along we are hoping that God tells us to just leave it up to someone else, and when he says, “Yeah, I want you to talk to the new girl,” we tell him we aren’t prepared to do that…could he ask us about that tomorrow?

Oftentimes God makes it very clear what He wants us to do and he wants us to be obedient to him.  We might have a very good excuse as to why we CAN’T do it, but God can usually remedy that. Just like Jeremiah learned, God will provide a way for us to do his will.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.