This is a semester’s labor of love, and one of the proudest moments of my life.
And just maybe–we can keep praying–the future of the Paraguayan church!
(P.S. That is me hidden in the back left corner behind Gordi.)

I taught this kid his first guitar chords, and he took off flying from there.
Stinking love the rascal.

My favorite part is the beaming smile that breaks out at the end.

I am discovering that July is quite the fortuitous month to make my departure. Schools in Paraguay end their semesters this month, giving way to two weeks of winter vacation, and since these periods of absence have a vast impact on attendance in our various ministries, Mi Esperanza parallels the breaks with intermissions of its own.

Preceding the ministry pause is always a festive clausura, which has already filled the few days of July to the brim. What a blessing it has been to be a part of these closing ceremonies because they really foster a sense of closure, particularly for me personally as I prepare to leave Paraguay.

Not to mention that up to this point, the clausuras I have participated in have been nothing but humbling sessions of seeing the Lord take the last two years of toil and transform them into His beautiful and timely creations.

It is no secret by now that La Ruta was a thorn that emanated pain in every part of my body and comprised one of the most difficult hurdles I encountered in Paraguay. Starting iPraise then in its wake was a leap of faith tempered by a significant amount of low expectations. The beginning did nothing to raise the bar.

Every single kid was tone deaf and had no musical knowledge or background whatsoever. To further complicate matters, the team of leaders I had amassed as my crew of instructors rapidly flaked left and right like a week-old sunburn (okay, gross). It was discouraging, but not altogether surprising.

But then Saturday after Saturday, word started catching and soon enough, we had scores of teenagers, many of whom were not interested in any music classes but came just to hang out. Then before long, our committed students began to hunker down and the music bug officially took hold.

The kids started initiating rudimentary jam sessions of chord progressions, and visibly demonstrated their excitement every time “their” worship song popped up in a Sunday morning set. I’d see students air guitar out of the corner of my eye, strumming along to the rhythm of the worship leader’s beat. I sang Es Tiempo maybe thirty times in a row in accompaniment one Saturday, because my students could not get over actually being able to play a song on their own. A real song! A whole song!

Their newfound capacities to blossom into a previously unheard of opportunity was their greatest Saturday afternoon happiness, and mine as well, for that matter. I was stoked. We had managed to get kids into the church (even reluctant ones who refused to come to La Ruta) and we had succeeded in giving them some tangible skills while also feeding them a healthy dose of the Word without cramming anything down their throats. They, along with the ministry, were thriving and that was more of a victory than I ever anticipated.

I had no idea the semester-end recital could top even that.

Yesterday, we filled the Mi Esperanza sanctuary with buzzing adrenaline, anticipation, and all-out accomplishment. One by one, our students ascended the stage to perform a song with their instructor. Serious concentration lined their faces during each act, but when the last chord reverberated its end, sheepish, beaming smiles would break out across each adolescent visage. Those grins were some of the best things I have ever seen in my life.

I am pretty sure that if I was not raging a fever and battling a vicious flu, I would have cried through the whole program. Our star guitar student, Gordi, returned to his seat next to mine after his performance with his classic but now supersized teenage smirk, and I could have squeezed his clammy hand the rest of the day in sheer joy. When the grand finale group song evoked a standing ovation, everything about Lauren Hui’s Paraguay blurred into this one euphoric moment of incomparable jubilation. Never have I been so proud of anyone or anything as I was of all our students that afternoon.

Thank you, Jesus.

OANSA and iPraise 050Simon at rehearsal with Sylvia, practicing an OANSA song.

OANSA and iPraise 052Romina (left) improvising her own introduction.

OANSA and iPraise 053Gordi proving his musical chops.

OANSA and iPraise 054Ali showing the world how it’s done.

OANSA and iPraise 081There are no words.

OANSA and iPraise 082I feel like a proud, braggy parent.

OANSA and iPraise 078Los alumnos de iPraise.

OANSA and iPraise 080Students and teachers.

(Videos to come!)