by Chibana Sugako, pastor
Paraguay Pirapo Free Methodist Church
The country of Paraguay is located on the continent of South America, surrounded by Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina, and is roughly 1.1 times larger than Japan. Its climate is subtropical, and as of the year 2015, its population is approximately seven million people. The main industries are agriculture (wheat and soybeans), cattle breeding (for meat), and forestry. The capital is Asuncion, the center of the country’s government and economy. The Gross Domestic Product per capita is about 4,368 dollars. It is certainly not a wealthy country, but the citizens are cheerful and generous.
The native people of Paraguay are the Guaranis. However, in 1535 Paraguay was colonized by Spain and was under Spanish rule for 276 years until it became independent in 1811. During that period, due to intermarriage with Spaniards, the number of native Guarani people continued to decrease, and at present they account for less than two percent of the total population. It was the Spanish Jesuit monks who introduced Christianity to Paraguay in the latter half of the 16th century. Now, 90% of the country is Catholic, and 6% is Protestant, which means that 96% of the people are Christians.
In Paraguay there are six settlements for people of Japanese ancestry. The immigration from Japan to Paraguay began in 1936, and this year marks the 80th anniversary. Immigration to Pirapo (where Pirapo Methodist Church is located) happened in 1960. At present, the population of Pirapo is about 10,000 people, about 1,300 of Japanese ancestry. The farmland averaged 30 hectares per field at the time of immigration, but it has since increased tenfold, so now the average field is 300 hectares. The land yields abundant crops of food, like soybeans and wheat. Generally speaking, people of Japanese ancestry have a wealthy lifestyle. Japanese language and culture have been taught and passed down very well.
Two evangelists, Sakai Kotaro and his wife, lit the fire of the gospel in this land in 1960. The following year, 1961, Pastor Tsukamoto Noboru was sent by Brazil Free Methodist Church, and Pirapo Free Methodist Church was founded. In 1962 the church building was built, and many people from the village were led to the church.
Settlements were pioneered not only in Pirapo but also in Encarnacion, Iguazu, and Lapaz. The first pastor to those areas was Tsukamoto, and he traveled frequently to the churches, providing pastoral care. The second pastor, Sugiyama Hoshinori, resided at Pirapo Church for four years and endeavored to build up the church. Pastor Sugiyama also worked as a teacher at the Japanese language school. He built a dormitory at the side of the church building for the Japanese-language elementary school children who came from far away and looked after them. He contributed greatly to the education of the children in the settlement.
Around 1975, Sugiyama accepted a position in Brazil. For 40 years, from that time until last year, there was no pastor at this church. The church members, praying desperately that the flames of their faith not be extinguished, observed Sunday worship every week. Fortunately, while there was no pastor at the church, other pastors, such as Pastor Arihara Shigeru and Pastor Nowada Mitsuteru came from churches in Encarnacion and Asuncion once a month, serving God by preaching the Word. This was certainly very encouraging for the members of the church in Pirapo, for which they gave thanks.
I had been given a vision for mission to Paraguay. In February 2015, I went to Paraguay. As I was looking for a place to work as a missionary, through the wondrous leading of God, I arrived at the church in Pirapo. I have since been formally sent by the Kyodan to serve there. I have been given by God everything that I need for missionary work, including health. Every day I live in thankfulness to God.
Now the church has 12 members, and the attendance at worship is a small flock of 4 to 6 elderly people, worshiping in Japanese. Church activities include Sunday worship, Wednesday meetings, evangelistic visitation, and meetings once a month in the homes of brothers and sisters who have immigrated to Asuncion.
On March 27, two elementary school students and their grandmother attended Easter worship for the first time. For us, it was a very joyful occurrence. We pray and ask the Lord that not only these three people but also many more citizens of Pirapo may be led to the church from now on, and that God will raise up a harvest of many people whose souls have been saved.
Please pray that the Lord will bless this church and use it.
パ ラグアイには、原住民グワラニー族(Guaranies)が 暮らしていましたが、1535年 スペインの植民地となり、1811年 に独立するまでの276年間その支配下にありました。
この地に福音の火がと もされたのは1960年、信徒伝道者の酒井好太郎(Sakai Kotaro)夫妻によってなされました。翌1961年にブラジ