Practicing in Paraguay

Nicole James | Paraguay

Many newlywed couples spend their first year together focusing on their marriage, getting to know each other and adjusting to shared life. Mateo and Evelyn Roniller, however, decided on a different lifestyle when they said, “I do.”

“When we got married, I told my wife in whatever place we are going to live, we need to make a difference,” Mateo shared. “And I realised that God really hears what we normally speak, and He took that really seriously because He gave us this house. This is one of the reasons we are in full-time ministry in Paraguay. We are doing what we love. We love working with kids and with the teens.”

The house, a church-owned property, has a large backyard equipped with toys and games—a perfect daily hang-out for neighbourhood kids. Many of the children come from broken homes and a low economic class.

“The kids love to come and hang out during the week. On Saturday, we sing together, and they hear Bible stories, and they have a snack. They play a little bit and they talk with us. We’re just sitting there chilling out, and then they go home,” Evelyn described.

Beyond opening their backyard for ongoing unstructured play, the Ronillers hope to reach out to their community by connecting to the parents through their children. Once a month, on Saturday night, they host a family movie night. Recently, they began offering Bible study for adults on Saturday evening. They also host weekly low-cost English courses for children and teenagers.

With the constant stream of activity on their property, people in the community “get to know our faces, get to know who we are, get curious and maybe [want to be] involved with the ministry with the church,” Evelyn said. “In Paraguay, you get to the people through building up relationship and then you can have heart-to-heart conversations and get Jesus into their lives. That’s what we want to do.”

For a year, at least. In early 2018, the couple hopes to move to Montenegro.

“We are just married, and we want to be in Paraguay for one year, and we want to reach out,” Evelyn clarified. “It’s kind of a practice place to go to Montenegro and do the same thing—to not just live there but to be a light and a connection to Jesus, to reach out to kids and to get them connected to God. We’re kind of practicing.”

20-day vision trip

From 14 April - 4 May 2017, Mateo and Evelyn spent 20 days exploring Montenegro. Splitting their time between the capital, Podgorica, and the port city of Bar, the couple savoured the country’s beautiful views. They also surveyed the ministry landscape—participating in a teenager’s group, sitting in on an OM meeting, visiting a couple who hosts an outdoor kids’ play time, spending time at a centre for people with disabilities and picnicking with local believers. The last Sunday in-country, Mateo preached at a church.

“The trip from the beginning was not a trip [to decide] if we go or not, but [to find out] what would we be doing, what would we be joining,” Evelyn said.

For Mateo, that process involved making contacts in the Montenegrin football field. Before the Ronillers left Paraguay, they prayed that Mateo--a trained football coach--would find job prospects in Montenegro.

While planning their trip, Mateo asked Jesse McCourtney, an OMer in Montenegro, if he knew anyone associated with football. Jesse did not. A week later, however, a football trainer and former professional player showed up to the adult English class Jesse taught.

In Montenegro, Mateo connected with that football professional and discussed job possibilities for 2018. “Even before we made the contact with the football trainer, we already decided we are going to move to Montenegro because we knew God was calling us there,” Mateo explained. “It was a really good trip. God answered our prayers.”

Life change in Montenegro

During a two-year term serving with OM in Europe from 2013 to 2015, Mateo participated in a five-month Transit Team. The participants travelled to various countries, assisting OM ministries in each place they stopped.

“Every country had something special because of the culture, the people, the food,” Mateo recalled. But one country stood out.

“When I went to Montenegro, my life really changed there.”

 For a few days, the team served in a Roma Gypsy community. They helped a local pastor with some practical tasks and tried to connect with the people. One day, Mateo was playing with a football outside in a field.

“At the beginning, there were five or six kids, but after 15 or 20 minutes, almost all the kids of the community came—about 40 or 50 kids,” Mateo remembered. “That day the Lord told me I need to use sports ministry to reach kids and to connect with the people. And I decided to study as a football coach in England. Because of that, my life changed completely in Montenegro.”

Originally from Uruguay, Mateo moved to Paraguay after his time in Europe. He continued working with OM and began coaching a football team. “This is going to be good preparation if I am going to go to a new team in Montenegro,” he said. Also, as he and Evelyn eventually began ministry together, Mateo discovered cultural similarities between Paraguay and Montenegro.

“One of the highlights of Paraguay is the hospitality. And I guess in Montenegro they are like that,” he compared. In Montenegro, “you go to a home or a family, and they are going to receive you and welcome you. In Paraguay, it’s almost the same.”

‘Show me a country or give me a husband’

Evelyn’s first experience with OM was a grade school visit to the Logos II in Uruguay. That day, she leaned over the edge of the ship’s railing and said to herself, “Wow. When I’m grown up one day I want to be on the ship.”

Then she forgot.

Years later, Evelyn felt drawn to missions—to make disciples and bring the gospel to all nations. Wow, the ship would be an amazing place to do that, she thought, suddenly remembering the dream she had as a little girl.

From September 2010 to September 2012, Evelyn fulfilled her wish of serving with the OM Ships Ministry. “My time on the ship was really nice,” she said. “But I realised I wasn’t meant to stay on the ship [forever]. It was so fast going into one country and out and into another one. I wanted to stay in one country, stay in the culture…be with the people and get to their hearts.”

When Evelyn returned to her home country, Paraguay, she started working as a physical therapist in the neurological department at a government children’s hospital. “I love my work because I work with the most needy people, and they get the treatment for free, and I get paid for it,” she said, smiling.

She also continued contact with OM, at first simply meeting for prayer once a month with the Paraguay team. Even as Evelyn established her career in Paraguay, “my focus was to go into the nations…I prayed to God, ‘Show me a country or give me a husband.’”

Several years later, God provided both: Mateo and Montenegro.

Moving forward

With a fresh overview of the country, Mateo and Evelyn are now moving ahead with their plans to move to Montenegro in early 2018. Their vision trip confirmed their calling but also highlighted challenges of healthcare and finances. “It’s a very expensive country to live in. Even with the minimum salary I can get as a coach, we need to raise support,” Mateo explained.

“This year we are pretty attached to Paraguay—my job, this church, my family,” Evelyn added. A big prayer request “is letting things go.

“Pray for a good transition, wrapping things up here. Then we need a lot of prayer, there, finding a house, finding a washing machine. You have to start from zero.”

Praise God for leading Mateo and Evelyn to Montenegro. Pray that they will finish their year well in Paraguay, and that God would provide everything they need for their move to the Balkans.

Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.

Published: Friday, 04 August 2017
Credit: Nicole James
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