Belated Fall Greetings and Updates from Rural Honduras

I send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. I hope this post finds each of you well and thriving in the Lord. Before continuing, I would like to apologize for my prolonged silence on this blog.

Recently I was largely bedridden for 2-3 weeks with Dengue and Typhoid fever, and in general due to our rural third world context and busy schedule I’ve had less than 2 hours of computer/internet access weekly over the last few months. Ever since taking over the position of fifth-grade homeroom teacher in July, my schedule and responsibilities have increased drastically, and in general my personal involvement with our students this calendar year through teaching, discipleship and mentorship has been perhaps more intense and at the same time more rewarding than ever.

I oftentimes feel that I have three precious, very important balls that I’m juggling in the air: our home/family (where I long to be emotionally available and attentive to our six foster teens and my husband); our grassroots school/ministry to our local community (where I am very involved as the co-director alongside my husband and teach several academic and extracurricular classes); and my “international” duties in which I keep tabs on the finances and maintain contact with those who pray for and support us (such as the maintenance of this blog, which oftentimes seems to be the last thing I get around to doing).

I oftentimes feel that when I am excelling in one area (example: at home or in our school), the other two areas suffer neglect. I suppose that is currently the case in a very unbalanced way, and once again I apologize for my prolonged “cyber” silence.

So, yes, we are alive and well, and we continue to serve the Lord and our neighbors with diligence and love. Just this morning we got up at 4:30am (as per our daily family schedule) and had our devotional and prayer time in our tiny living room alongside our six foster teens before cleaning the house together and getting ready for the day. From 6:00-8:00am I directed my women’s athletic club in a local park, where we laughed too much and played volleyball after studying the book of Psalms together. Back at home on our ranch, I spent an hour or so in our office making and copying quizzes for my fifth graders and organizing my materials for class tomorrow. I have two individual piano classes pending today for two teen girls, and I’m trying to catch up on administration/international ministry relations at a local internet spot in our town over the next hour or so. My husband Darwin spends every Thursday teaching individual and group music classes to 3-4 dozen children and teenagers, all of whom come up the long gravel path to our ranch for a day of learning, love and oftentimes lunch. He’ll be teaching until almost 6:00pm tonight, and we’ll probably collapse in bed around 10:30 or 11:00pm only to get up at 4:30am again tomorrow.

I share this with you so that you might catch a glimpse into a normal Thursday for us. Each day is different and follows a specific established schedule due to the nature of the pandemic and the fact that we’ve developed a very creative hybrid model, although we still do 95% of our teaching and discipleship face-to-face. We are very content with the life and calling the Lord has given us, and next month we’ll celebrate our 8-year anniversary as foster parents.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and thank you again for your patience and understanding in regards to my lack of communication lately. Thank you for keeping tabs on us and partnering with us in this ministry, either through prayer, financial support or other means. We truly appreciate you and thank God for your life, generosity and friendship.

Sincerely in Christ, Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

A Personalized Perspective From Rural Honduras: My Thoughts and Journey

I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband, our dedicated ministry staff and extended family here in rural Honduras at the Living Waters Ranch. I hope this post finds you physically healthy and spiritually in-tune with God’s will for your life during this unique season.

The last several updates I’ve posted on this blog have been very general and upbeat as I’ve painted with broad strokes the overall scene in which we currently find ourselves along with joint triumphs and adventures we’ve shared as a ministry and family over these past several months.

To change the perspective slightly, this post will be written from a more personal perspective, much the same way as I used to write our blog updates in the early years of our life and ministry overseas. Although doubtlessly riddled with my own insecurities and weaknesses, I hope this post proves to be a blessing and encouragement to you and that God might be glorified through the words and perspective I share.

Several weeks ago I became our grassroots school’s fifth-grade teacher after an unexpected personnel change mid-year left us with a void needing to be filled. I sensed God calling me to step up to the plate, and although this somewhat drastic schedule change for me has greatly added to my weekly juggling routine, I have found renewed joy in my increased contact with these young children, as our 6 foster teens at home are already well beyond that developmental stage and are quickly approaching adulthood. I have six rowdy boys and one extremely shy little girl in my fifth grade classroom, and being their teacher has proved a new, blessed challenge that has put my creativity, love and faith to the test. The greatest challenge of all has been (and continues to be) to entrust these young lives to the Lord on a daily basis and try to faithfully protect their innocence in the midst of a world culture bent on corruption and moral failure. On many occasions after a day spent with my precious fifth-graders I have felt defeated and overwhelmed at all the filth these young lives have already been exposed to, and I find myself before the Father in prayer, undone and unsure how to guide these little ones along the blessed narrow path when so many evil forces seem bent on enticing them away from it.

Earlier this month I celebrated my 31st birthday in a low-key celebration alongside some of our family and friends here. We had a small bonfire on our front lawn with one of our young staff members playing worship music on the guitar, and teenagers (and adults!) ran about delighted by their firecrackers and silly pranks. Reminiscing, I remember having moved to Honduras when I was 21 years old and freshly graduated from college. I am now 10 years older. Physically I still feel like I’m close to 20 years old, as I eat healthy and train athletically five days a week and have begun playing pickup basketball on a local rundown court with our teenage male students (hence my sprained ankle and wrist that have plagued me these last several weeks), but in my heart I often battle against a certain heaviness and burden for all that I’ve seen and been exposed to in these 31 years. I carefully ponder these things and give them over to the Lord’s care, as my own youth is giving way to a new season as I likewise see the world around me change at a shocking pace. I oftentimes prayerfully (and, sometimes, fearfully) wonder what the world will be like in a short 5-years’ time and what price I will pay for the faith that up until now has come so easy.

This October will mark 4 years since my last visit to the United States (or any other country outside Honduras, for that matter). Weekly I read articles on the Christian Post and try to remain healthily informed from afar, and frequently my heart aches in response to what I read. I have no plans at this point for a visit to the States, and I wonder if I do step foot on American soil at some point in another year or two if I will even recognize my homeland (or feel welcome in it). Without a doubt, Honduras has many dire problems of its own and lawlessness has long since wrecked many lives here, but I feel at least temporarily safe and beyond reach at the base of these mountains and daily feel led into deep reflection and prayer about the state of the world at large.

I will leave it at that for now. This is the first time I’ve written – really written – since my publishing journey. May the Lord bless and strengthen us all for the days ahead, and may He teach each one of us how to experience genuine hope and joy in these difficult times. To Him be all the glory.

Summer 2021 Updates

I send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead in Honduras, Central America, and I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are well and thriving in the Lord.

Our ministry status continues on much the same as I detailed in our Spring 2021 update. We continue to be the only school in our area that we know of that is holding face-to-face classes on a weekly basis, and we continue to progress in the areas of organic agriculture, Christian discipleship, youth orchestra/choir, athletic training, hospitality, and integral character formation for God’s glory. In spite of the odds, this has without a doubt been our best year of holistic ministry thus far.

My husband Darwin posing with a group of our students that participated in a day of intensive work in order to earn a new backpack and school supplies. The event was a big success, and the students felt motivated doing honest work and likewise being able to acquire much-needed supplies in order to continue their education. We are hopeful to orchestrate another event such as this so that our students can earn a new pair of shoes or other necessary items. It is a privilege for us to help inculcate a healthy work ethic in our students while likewise providing for their material needs. Praise God!
Here two of our missionary-teachers, who are like family to us, are posing with their team of students after triumphing in first place during an intense, edifying afternoon of teamwork activities and academic competitions.

Due to my husband Darwin’s expanding youth choir and our record-low dropout rate so far this year among youth enrolled in our school, our influence in the local community is growing and we now have roughly 60 youth actively participating in and benefiting from our ministry. My husband and I also currently have 6 foster teens in our home, ages 13-18 (two young men and four young women) whom we are raising as beloved sons and daughters. Our dedicated team of Honduran missionary-teachers is likewise thriving as never before, as much in the classroom as in the sphere of mentorship and community evangelism/good deeds.

Cleaning is serious business down here where we coexist with many insects and other critters in the intense heat/humidity, and all of our buildings’ windows are made of wire mesh, so dust and grime easily get inside! I truly learned how to clean once I moved here, and now it has become an indispensable daily routine. 
Over the last few weeks we have done many small-scale maintenance and cleaning activities (washing walls, hanging hammocks, purging closets, doing yard work, etc.) on our rural ministry property in Honduras as part of an ongoing effort to be good stewards. We are thankful for this place that God has lent us to live and serve in His name!
These were my feet recently after enjoying several hours of tree trimming, raking and hauling rocks on our ranch property alongside some of our teenage daughters and female students. Praise God for the opportunity to do honest, physical work in God’s beautiful creation!
The children and teenagers from our neighborhood/school come in waves and fill this space with laughter and activity throughout any given week. In the early mornings and on weekends my husband, our 6 foster children and I have the space largely to ourselves and enjoy this peaceful refuge the Lord has granted us.

We send our sincere thanks to those who faithfully pray for and financially support this grassroots ministry. I continue to post photos, anecdotes and edifying material on Facebook on a regular basis if you want to follow us (Jennifer Zilly Canales), and I am likewise available via email for those who want to contact us directly (JenniferZillyCanales@gmail.com). God bless you, and may God receive all the glory for the work He’s invited us to do here in rural Honduras.

On Friday, July 2nd we held our mid-year recital on our ranch property as a way of encouraging our local community and sharing with them some of the fruits of our students’ hard work so far this year. There were performances from my husband Darwin’s youth orchestra and choir along with dance routines and evangelistic activities.
Some of the members of our family during a recent outing to a local church for a special presentation.

BOOK NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE

I’m grateful and humbled to announce that my first published book is now available for sale on Amazon.com in paperback and kindle. CLICK HERE for more information.

Spring 2021 Updates From Honduras

I send you our warm greetings from the Living Waters Ranch, our home and ministry base in rural Honduras. I hope this post finds each of you well and thriving in the Lord, and I send our sincere thanks to all of those who continue to financially support and pray for this mission even in the midst of the prolonged pandemic and such global uncertainty.

As a school, foster family and ministry, in spite of the pandemic and ongoing restrictions in our area this year has surprisingly been one of our most productive and prosperous years since our inception in 2013. As a team with our dedicated staff of Honduran missionary-teachers and tutors, we have developed new, creative strategies to continue teaching, mentoring and discipling (in person, not ‘virtual’) the 40+ youth in our program while flying under the radar and not attracting unwanted attention from local government authorities. As far as we know, we are the only school in our area who has been teaching face-to-face “real” classes all year, including music, P.E., Christian discipleship, organic agriculture and other hands-on formation activities. This is a huge triumph, and we are thankful to see our students and faculty thriving in our unconventional new system of off-site and mixed classes.

My husband Darwin’s youth orchestra has been growing steadily over the last few months. He now has over 20 weekly participants in this extracurricular program, most of whom are also full-time students in our school. His youth orchestra began in 2014 with our first 4 foster children, 3 of whom still form part of the growing group of Honduran musicians.
This is a local young woman in her early 30s, a family member of one of our students. She is a dedicated Christian and had always dreamt of learning to play the violin but had never had the opportunity. She now forms part of Darwin’s orchestra every week and is learning basic hymns and classical pieces under the tutelage of one of our foster daughters.

Personally, my schedule has slowly become fuller over the past couple months as I have taken on additional responsibilities. I now teach a twice-weekly English class to several grades, lead our women’s athletic club on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have begun teaching a one-on-one piano class to one of our female students. In each of our classes, we incorporate the Bible and have a time of discipleship/prayer before commencing whatever activity is at hand. Taking on these commitments has been fun and challenging for me in addition to mothering our six foster teens at home and directing the mission/school alongside my husband.

The father of one of our local students recently took the time to give a motivational speech to our ninth-grade class and pray for them. We have enjoyed high levels of parental participation this year, which we consider to be one of our biggest triumphs. Some moms have begun participating in my women’s athletic club, and other parents join us on our weekly outings to a local park to receive a Bible lesson and engage in dynamic group activities.

Over the past couple months I have been in the grueling, yet promising final stretch of publishing my first book, titled “Hidden Treasures: Wrestling with Significance, Faith and Suffering While Serving in the Developing World.” From start to finish the process of writing and then publishing has taken a little over a year (there have been certain pandemic-related setbacks in this final stage), but the book is expected to go live shortly.

This is the image of my book’s dust jacket.

Although I have not updated this blog frequently thus far in 2021, I do post photos and regular updates on my Facebook account (Jennifer Zilly Canales) for those who are on Facebook. I am also available to communicate via email (JenniferZillyCanales@gmail.com) if anyone has questions for me to answer or would like to share a prayer request so that our family can be praying for you.

Our students who are in their last year of high school are providing year-round basic literacy courses to local youth and adults who are behind in their education as a way of blessing our local community and sharing with them some of what they’ve learned throughout their educational career.
This young man is a preteen who has grown up in the local public schools but never learned to read. Now age 12, after having been in one-on-one literacy courses with one of our foster daughters for the last couple months he can now sound out basic words and is learning to add and subtract for the first time.

We give God all the glory for each one of these achievements and extend our sincere thanks once more to all those who generously make this work possible. Thank you!

An Ex-Patriot’s Prayer for her Homeland

I was born and raised in the United States before making a permanent move overseas to Honduras at age 21 in response to a call God placed on my life. My last trip to visit family and friends in the United States was in 2017, four years ago. I have never considered myself to be a particularly ardent patriot nor have I placed my hopes for salvation and peace in any political icon. However, while I have been geographically removed from my homeland for nearly a decade, in these recent months I frequently find my thoughts being pulled uneasily toward the mounting storm on American soil and, more generally speaking, the world at-large.

For years I gave myself permission to be uninformed on many political and world issues; I intentionally avoided Honduran newspapers in addition to online news forums displaying the latest happenings in my homeland and beyond. I contentedly focused on our small, minimalistic life in rural Honduras and our growing ministry among the materially poor. Rather than jumping to read the latest news headlines, I trained myself to jump to read the Bible and other edifying Christian literature. My husband and I dedicated our days to loving the children the Lord sent us rather than paying attention to the political winds that have probably been swirling around in all directions for as long as time itself. 

The world, at least in my mind, seemed to be kept at bay, and our daily life on Honduran soil was thankfully affected very little by politics on either side of the border. The most we endured in our neck of the woods were occasional highway riots and national political protests. Rather than get involved with either party, we hit the streets with a Bible in hand and peace in our hearts to act as Christ’s peacemakers on the frontlines. 

Now, however, in these last few months I have given myself permission to become more informed in regard to the current state of my homeland. I don’t know if there has been a shift in the world or just in my relation to it, but lately I have felt keenly aware of the dire nature of our times and the desperate need for God’s mighty hand to take the reins of America’s private and public life. I believe we are at a unique point in history. 

In these last several weeks I have frequently found myself walking alone through trash-strewn streets in our town or sitting quietly in my bathroom after a long day praying for my homeland, its leaders and the powerful elite. The Bible says we are to pray for those in authority – and even pray for our enemies and those who persecute us – so I have begun to diligently put this biblical mandate into practice even in my own weakness and ignorance. My heart breaks as I see from afar that my nation is at war within itself and that truth and righteousness are becoming rare commodities.

As a family, we have made the daily habit of praying over a myriad of issues, both domestic and international. We pray for the sick; we pray that the Lord might protect the innocence of the world’s children even in the midst of so many evil influences swirling around them; we pray for the persecuted Christians in Mozambique and for missionary friends we have in Brazil. I sit in our living room in the early mornings with my Honduran husband and Honduran foster teenagers as we pray out loud for Honduras’ political leaders, that the Lord might grant them genuine wisdom and fear of the Lord; that in God’s great mercy He might allow truth, justice and peace to prevail on Honduran soil. 

At the same time I cry out to God in the silence of my own heart that the same might become true for my homeland.

A few days ago in the morning hours I found myself hand-washing a large bucket of my husband’s and my dirty clothes in our outdoor pila, which we use several times a week since we have chosen not to have a washing machine, in keeping with the local culture. Our foster teenagers were quietly seated in our kitchen working on school assignments while my husband worked on our ministry’s accounting in our small office. We had done our morning devotional and gone on a two-mile run as a family in the early morning hours. Our new academic year started recently in our grassroots Christian school and everything is off to a blessed start, even as we daily maneuver around all the COVID restrictions and taboos. So many good things are happening in our neck of the woods; there is so much to be thankful for.

I squinted as the sun had finally come out after several days of rain and gloom, and a slight, cool breeze refreshed all it touched. On our ranch, all around me seemed to teem with life and the glory of God; all seemed as it should be, and wonderfully so. Exotic birds sang their carefree tunes and flitted about. It was a perfect day to wash our clothes in the great outdoors. As my eyes wandered across our front lawn to several extensive sunny patches, genuine hope swelled in my chest that the clothes would have a good chance of drying the same day, which is a rare treat during the Honduran rainy season. 

Such simple thoughts, simple delights, simple routines in the midst of a daunting, uncertain world scenario that is anything but simple. 

After having joyfully dedicated about an hour in the pila, I crouched down and called one of our guard dogs, a Doberman, over to pet him affectionately as joy and sorrow collided in my chest. As I stroked that beautiful animal – he and I under a flourishing almond tree just in front of our home in a remote piece of land in a forgotten country – I couldn’t help but wonder how to reconcile the peace and harmony of my immediate surroundings with the utter chaos storming about the world at large. Engaged once again in this unsettling inner conflict, I felt the Lord led me back to prayer once more for my homeland (and beyond) even as I found myself at a loss for words.

So, in the midst of all that is currently occurring, both on star-spangled soil and abroad, in the name of Jesus I want to exhort each and every one of us to pray and to cling to biblical truth in the most loving, peace-seeking manner. I encourage you to stand wherever you are, lovingly and peacefully so, for righteousness and for morality even as these have become highly unpopular points of view for some. Let us teach our children the fear of the Lord; let us put into practice the age-old virtues of respect, honor and brotherly love. Let us come together as one nation, under God.

Creative New Strategies to Teach and Mentor Despite COVID-19

Here in Honduras we continue under many general restrictions that have served as a great frustration to us over the past 11 months, but we are determined not to put our grassroots Christian school on hold and leave our students’ lives adrift until this season of global uncertainty passes.

Our internet access in rural Honduras is highly unstable and the majority of our students come from families with very low economic flexibility, which means they don’t have consistent access to technology in their homes. This has made our attempts at ‘virtual education’ nearly impossible. 

Thus, with a bit of creativity, risk and prayer, we’ve designed a largely off-site school program this year that we have begun as of February 2, the first official day of classes. We are not allowed to hold normal classes and activities on our Ranch as we would in normal times (this prohibition is currently in effect for all Honduran educational institutions), so we’ve decided to direct the majority of our school’s activities on a local church campus, in a backyard pavilion at one of our teachers’ homes, and in a local park. We’ve divided our student body into small groups in each location.

This year our students are still involved in evangelism activities, community service, dance class, Bible studies, P.E. class, organic agriculture and all the normal academic pursuits enjoyed under typical circumstances, just in varying locations. My husband Darwin is excited to have started up his youth choir again, seeking to involve many of the local youth in our town who are not enrolled in any school and spend much of their day wandering without purpose. 

We ask that you pray for us as we implement this counter-cultural off-site program and that the local educational authorities do not interfere in our sincere attempts to continue educating, molding and loving our students for God’s glory. 

This is one of our veteran teachers embracing a new local student who enrolled in our grassroots school’s small sixth grade class a couple weeks ago.

Yearend Blog Update

We send our sincere thanks to those dedicated individuals, churches and families who continue to pray for and financially support this grassroots mission even during difficult times. 

We thank God for you, and we want you to know that as a ministry we have lacked nothing throughout the many months of quarantine and uncertainty. We have had sufficient resources to be a blessing to many of our neighbors in deep need in addition to fulfilling our daily labors as Christian foster family and school outreach.

Please know that you help provide gainful, Kingdom-focused employment for 8 adult Hondurans and a team of 6 active youth employees/tutors. You are making a difference on Honduran soil, which ultimately helps improve quality of life here and decreases the flow of immigration to the United States. Thank you!

We are currently well underway with a construction project to improve our watchman’s home with several much-needed repairs, and we continue to parent, mentor and disciple the many youth the Lord has placed in our lives. Our special-needs foster son, now age 12, is back under our care temporarily and has added much joy to our busy household. Merry Christmas to you and yours, and I look forward to being in touch in January!

Taxes! Each year many folks are looking to give end-of-year gifts as a possible way to help reduce their tax liability.  If you are one of those folks, you can go to CTEN.org/JenniferZilly for more information.

Here are some things to keep in mind!  Contributions mailed to CTEN must be postmarked no later than December 31st.  Online credit card donations must be posted through the CTEN website no later than December 31st. Call 800-872-5404 for more information or donate online at: CTEN.org/JenniferZilly.

Darwin and Jennifer’s Late Fall Updates from Honduras

We send you our warm greetings from the Living Waters Ranch, the rural homestead where we live and serve in Honduras. Here we will share with you our most recent updates and photos of the work the Lord has entrusted us. We would also like to send our sincere thanks to all those who continue to pray for and financially support this grassroots mission even during difficult times. We thank God for you, and we want you to know that as a ministry we have lacked nothing throughout the many months of quarantine and uncertainty. Thank you!

Here I am with one of our foster sons, now age 13, as we engaged in a painting project at a neighbor’s home. The Lord has led us to serve our neighbors in creative ways over the past several months, and our foster teens serve right alongside us as instruments of God’s love in action. (Yes, that is sweat drenching my shirt! It is very hot in Honduras, and most families don’t have air-conditioning in their homes!)
The family whose home we helped paint unexpectedly offered us dinner after several hours of joyful labor. The young lady in the red shorts is our eldest foster daughter, now age 20, with whom we are now enjoying a blossoming and healthy relationship after she unexpectedly left our home last year. Many of our triumphs throughout the months of quarantine have to do with restored and deepened relationships for God’s glory.
This is our adorable (and highly sanguine) special-needs foster son, now age 12, who lived under our care from age 6 to age 10. He now lives full-time with Grandma, who is a loving and stable influence in his life. We maintain a close relationship with him, and he will actually be coming to stay with us for three months as Grandma will be away working in the United States during Christmastime. We hosted him last year in similar fashion, and we are excited to offer him the blessing of Christian hospitality once more. In general, our ranch where we live and serve has become a place that many have come to consider home and where many learn biblical truth and experience God’s love.
Our dedicated staff of local missionary-teachers continues teaching out of their homes during the months of quarantine. Here one of our veteran missionary-teachers is imparting his advanced math class with a small group of students in his dining room.
Here is one of our foster daughters (left, age 16) and one of our local students studying for an exam on their teacher’s front lawn. Academics now go far beyond the traditional classroom walls!
Here is another one of our local students attending a tutoring session in her teacher’s home. General educational standards in Honduras tend to be very low, and the quarantine has definitely complicated the situation further. Nonetheless, our staff has found creative ways of ensuring that our students don’t fall too far behind during these difficult times.
Here is another one of our local missionary-teachers leading hands-on learning in the context of her own home. She teaches a weekly cooking class with our four foster daughters.
Here is another one of our precious local students receiving classes in her teacher’s home. No more school uniforms during quarantine!
Here are a few of the youth who participate weekly in a Christian discipleship group in our local community. Two of our local missionary-teachers (a married couple) direct the group out of their home and organize many service projects and evangelistic outings for the youth to put their faith into practice. They frequently do food drives for poor families and pray for those who are sick and downtrodden in our rural neighborhood.
Here are two of our local missionary-teachers (white shirt and teal shirt) along with some of our foster daughters and local youth during a recent event we held in our home.
Throughout the summer and early fall months we celebrate many back-to-back birthdays in our family. Here is one of our foster daughters enjoying her special moment at her teachers’ home during a surprise celebration they organized for her.
After seven months of strict quarantine, certain restrictions in our area have been lifted and we were finally able to organize an outing to our local park for an afternoon of healthy play with some of our local students and favorite people!
This is a photo my husband Darwin took recently of a corner of our rural ministry homestead. Throughout quarantine he has been working several days per week in agriculture and maintenance alongside a small, dedicated team of local young men in order to care for and improve the land. Every morning before beginning their manual labor Darwin leads a devotional and prayer time with the young men who work with him.
Here is our large, unconventional family (along with two of our beloved local students thrown in) at our eldest daughter’s recent birthday celebration.

God bless you and your loved ones! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can be praying for you in any way.

September Updates from Honduras

I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband, our foster children and the few dozen students/staff in our school.  We want to sincerely thank those who continue to pray for and financially support this ongoing mission on the northern coast of Honduras.

Here are  four of our  foster teens preparing the land during a recent family work day.

Our guard dogs were eager to ‘help’ us plant our garden!

Through this post I would like to extend the offer to pray for you. Our family has developed the daily discipline of interceding in prayer for others each morning before beginning our daily activities, so I would just like to leave the door open should you feel you want our family to pray for you specifically. Our family is learning that many times we humans try to fight our ‘battles’ in our own strength or by our own means, but truly much of what we face has spiritual implications and must be fought through prayer before the Lord. My email address is JenniferZillyCanales@gmail.com should you feel led to contact us privately and share with us a personal struggle or concern. We have little to offer in general terms, but it would be our honor and joy to pray for you if you reach out to us.

Here are several baby ducklings who were recently born on our ranch. Our foster teens have enjoyed tending to their needs and partaking in the tender care of God’s creation.

I will keep this post fairly short; our daily commitments and service-oriented lifestyle continue on in much the same way as I’ve reported on this blog the last several months. We are thankful that God has opened up recent communication with several of the teens who lived with us for a season but currently find themselves outside our home. We’ve had the privilege of parenting 12 youth in all since 2013, and currently 5 continue living under our watchful care. We sense God is orchestrating much reconciliation among us and opening doors for new mentor-type relationships with several of our 7 foster sons and daughters who had dropped out of our lives for a season. This is a huge triumph!

Here are our foster teens eating lunch in the home of our missionary-teachers after receiving morning classes.

I would ask for prayers regarding the publishing of my first book, as I’m in the midst of a possible change of publisher. There are many decisions to be made, and it is my hope that throughout the process God may be glorified and that many lives will be impacted as a final result. Thank you for your prayers!

This is one of the views from inside our ranch property where we’ve lived and served full-time since 2013. Throughout the last several months we’ve engaged in several small-scale maintenance projects as we strive to be good stewards of the land and facilities.


God bless you and your loved ones, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of service or encouragement to you in any way.

Sincerely in Christ, Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Late Summer Updates

We write to you from our ranch homestead in Honduras on the starting line of another Central American rainy season. We sincerely hope you and your loved ones are well and thriving despite the pandemic.

This is our groundskeeper and two of his step-sons spending quality time together playing with a kite on our ranch’s large grassy lawn.

This is one of three bougainvilleas that we planted around our school buildings a year or two ago.

Here are our foster daughters and a couple local students receiving weekly cooking classes in one of our teachers’ homes.

The Honduran post office finally opened up after having been closed the past six months, but they are only mailing letters to a short list of American cities, and for 16 times the normal price! Needless to say, our hand-written thank-you notes to those who support this mission have still been unable to be sent! : ) Via this post we would, however, like to extend our sincere thanks to all those who continue to pray for and financially support this little mission in this corner of the world. It has been and remains our intention to be a small, flickering flame to those around us for God’s glory, lighting others’ paths and encouraging those near and far in the truth of Christ. Please continue to pray for us that God might grant us persevering faith so that this purpose might be accomplished.

This is the view I enjoy in our living room each afternoon as my husband Darwin trains our five foster teens in our in-home orchestra! Under traditional circumstances, the group would be much bigger and would include over a dozen of our local students, but he’s adapted his orchestra to fit the quarantine’s limitations. Darwin has all of his Christmas music ready and this week began training our local students in a virtual choir on Monday afternoons.

To save on gas expenses, sometimes we prefer to walk or take a bike into town to run our errands!

My husband and our foster teens posing after a virtual recital they performed several weeks ago.

One of our foster daughters began taking the initiative several months ago to offer weekly violin lessons to local youth as a way of sharing her skillset and God’s love with others.

We continue to operate our small Christian school long-distance as the majority of our students are now receiving their education out of our teachers’ homes. My husband  frequently does house-visits to several of our students’ homes in order to encourage them and oversee their progress, both spiritually and academically. We are waist-deep in many agricultural and maintenance projects on our ranch where we live and serve, and I have put on the hat of “stay-at-home mom” for the past six months as my days have largely revolved around the constant care of our five foster teens and the daily management of our household as I’m currently not teaching classes, directing meetings with our teachers, etc, in the traditional sense.

Teenagers sprawled out on our couch or all over our floor are a normal sight in our home! The habit of reading is not generally common in Honduran culture, but with a lot of persistence and incentives our kids have become avid readers. We recently reached the goal of 30,000 pages read as a family in quarantine and are now working towards 40,000!

This is one of our three rescue cats lounging in our kitchen windowsill.

A team of local boys/men have been working with my husband Darwin in several small-scale maintenance projects around our ranch property for the past several weeks. Here they are laying a cement foundation for the cows’ stable.

We would ask for prayer during this time for sleep issues in our household. I’ve struggled with nearly constant insomnia for about 15 years, and recently a couple of our teenage foster daughters have begun complaining about sleepless nights and ensuing fatigue during the day.  My nearly constant state of sleeplessness and now that of some of our children is perhaps the most consistent and disconcerting factor in our household. We don’t know what the root cause of this is, and the remedies we’ve tried thus far have proved ineffective, so we simply ask for prayer in this respect for our family. Under such circumstances it is easy to feel discouraged and adrift as you just try to get through each day. Thank you for your prayers!

Our foster son receives classes in his teacher’s home alongside his classmates in our school’s 7th grade class.

In early August we celebrated my 30th birthday at home with homemade cards and heart-warming moments as a family.          

One of our foster daughters and a local classmate give a recent school presentation in their teacher’s backyard.

Here we are with one of our beloved foster daughters who has now formed part of our family for five-and-a-half years. It is our heart’s desire to be able to legally adopt our children, but after many attempts and long seasons of waiting and frustration, we have had to temporarily give up that dream and be content with being family to them for God’s glory regardless of whether the Honduran government legally recognizes our commitment. We have local friends here who worked tirelessly to adopt a special needs teenager and, six long years later, they finally got permission from the government to change her last name!

Every morning as a family we have a devotional and pray together before commencing the day’s activities. We’d like to encourage you to join us in prayer for the worldwide pandemic and all that it implies. God bless you and your loved ones in your daily affairs, and may we each live in accordance with God’s will and with our hopes placed firmly in His promises.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

Manuscript Sent to the Publisher and Other Updates

We send you our warm greetings from our ranch homestead in Honduras. I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are healthy and thriving despite the pandemic.

We send our sincere thanks to all those who continue financially supporting and praying for this small mission even in the midst of so much global uncertainty. We appreciate you and thank God for His provision through you. Several months ago one of our local missionary-teachers (Lawny) helped me write thank-you notes to all those who actively support us, but the Honduran post office has been closed since March so we’ve been unable to send them! If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll reach you by Christmas! : )

My husband Darwin and one of our foster daughters in a recent water balloon fight on our ranch

Our eldest daughter, age 19 and living outside our home for the past year, participated in her little brother’s 13th birthday party. We are amazed to see God’s work in her life and the way He is restoring our relationship with her. 

Here in Honduras we continue indefinitely under quarantine and general restrictions, although we have learned to make the best of it. Our small staff of missionary-teachers continues to diligently work and educate our students, but now they do so mainly out of their own homes. The majority of our teachers live in close geographical context to our students, so they have begun teaching and giving tutoring sessions in their own living rooms and on their own porches, receiving small groups of students at a time. One of our local missionary couples (Erick and Aracely) still directs an intensive discipleship group 1-2 times per week out of their home and continues to organize community service and evangelism projects on a regular basis.

We began our journey as foster parents with these three back in 2013. They’ve grown a little bit since then!

Here are a few of the calves that have been born on our ranch property recently.

We are currently digging a professional well on our ranch, as water issues have plagued us for these past several years. The NGO Primero Agua is helping us install this addition free of charge, and we’ve been hosting their men in our home for the past couple weeks.  They will most likely have to wait to finish the project until early next year as our property is plagued by many rocks and they need a more advanced drill to get past them all.

Today I officially sent in the manuscript of my first book to a self-publishing company, and these next few months will be dedicated to editing and marketing. The title is Hidden Treasures: An American Living in the Developing World Wrestles with Significance, Faith and Suffering. This has been my main project throughout these past few months of quarantine, and I hope the book will serve as a small flame to light the paths of many for God’s glory. In my book I use pseudonyms to protect our children’s identities, and I will begin doing so here on this blog as well. So, in the following posts don’t be surprised if I stop mentioning our kids’ real names!

In the summer months we have a lot of birthdays in our home! We take advantage of these small celebrations to pray individually for our kids and dedicate them once more to God’s care.

My husband, our five foster teens and I are doing exceedingly well.  We continue to run daily as a family and are currently on the cusp of reaching 30,000 pages read in quarantine! We have, however, been without internet for about three months now, which has both complicated and simplified our lives.

God bless and keep you. Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

General Updates: Second Quarantine Edition

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras. This post will be fairly brief as there have not been many new developments here since our last post.

Today is my eighth anniversary since moving to Honduras as a recent college graduate, and I thank God for His provision, guidance and strength since. Later this month my husband and I will be celebrating seven years of marriage, which is a milestone we are grateful to reach.

We continue to operate our ministry/school long-distance as best we are able, as the Honduran government has not yet allowed schools to resume their normal daily activities. It is still unclear when the restrictions will be lifted, but we are at peace and have used the extensive quarantine time to develop many new, productive routines as a family.

In our family composed of my husband and me alongside our five foster children (ages 12-17), we are on the cusp of reaching our goal of reading 20,000 pages together. Our original goal was to read 10,000 pages as a family, and once that goal was met roughly a month ago we decided to do it again. We have enjoyed a lot of edifying Christian literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and we’ve formed several informal “book clubs” at home as we enthusiastically discuss what we’ve learned from the books we’re reading.After slowly overcoming our prolonged battle with Typhoid fever, we’ve begun running/walking 2+ miles as a family every morning after doing our morning devotions and prayer. Running as a family is a habit we had developed years ago with our kids, but we were unable to continue due to so many ongoing health problems (mainly mine). So, we thank God for renewed health and the ability to complete this daily run.

In the past several weeks we have experienced increased difficulties with the electricity, running water and internet on our rural property. We went four weeks without internet access, and the running water and electricity intermittently have gone out for several hours (and sometimes up to a day) at a time. This has been trying (especially the lack of water), but we have learned new levels of patience, flexibility and trust in the Lord.My husband Darwin (who grew up on a farm with his family in rural Honduras) has been working extensively in agriculture and maintenance on our ranch where we live and serve. The quarantine has provided him additional time to dedicate to these projects, as his schedule is normally tied up with academic and administrative commitments when school is in full-swing. Our foster kids have been ’employed’ in many of these projects, and as a result of the increased production of our small herd of milking cows we’ve begun producing a few different kinds of cheese in addition to having fresh, organic milk to drink each day.

In regards to our musical pursuits, my husband trains our foster children two hours every day in own in-home orchestra, and I am currently composing my second original piece on the piano after having finished my first about a month ago.  I am also waist-deep in the process of writing my first book, which I dedicate 1-2 hours to each day as our children work independently on school assignments.

Additional updates: About a week ago we rescued a little baby owl who had fallen out of a tree on our property, and I continue to teach our kids typing/computer skills daily (something they had not had access to in previous years). We try to make ourselves available to serve our neighbors as the Lord leads, and in general we are learning to live contentedly with a more simple lifestyle. My husband and I are also being individually mentored/discipled each week (by phone) by two people whom we highly respect and who have generously made themselves available to us.

We sincerely hope you and your loved ones are safe and well during this time and that you are able to take full advantage of the opportunities given to you, whether in quarantine or back to ‘normal’ life. God bless and keep you, and we send our sincere thanks to those who continue to support this mission even in the midst of much global economic instability.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

1,140 Packets of Seasoning and 360 Servings of Baby Food: Government Dysfunction in Honduras

Back in mid-March of this year, at the beginning of the quarantine here in Honduras, my little black cell phone rang (think one of those old-school phones with an itty bitty screen and no internet access). It’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity to advance with the times and acquire a more modern cell phone; rather, I intentionally make a stand and dare to be content with less constant access to technology and ‘connection’.

But my cell phone and its lack of bells and whistles is not the subject of this post.

I reached to answer the call, seeing on the caller ID (yes, my phone does have that ‘app’) that it was the local child protective services. Although we enjoy a positive, civil relationship with the team of lawyers and social workers at the agency, every time they call 1,000 thoughts parade through my mind:

Is there some kind of problem with one of our kids’ cases? Will they inform me of some new legal requirement that we must jump through dozens of hoops to fulfill just to keep our kids under our care? Are they calling to ask us to take in a new child?

My husband and I have fostered 12 Honduran youth in the last six years, seven of which have now moved on, grown up and/or returned to their biological families. After suffering too many changes, upheavals and losses in our household, we decided several months ago not to receive any new people into our family for the next few years. We are currently waist-deep in the delicate, sacred task of parenting the five under our care, and we want to do so well, without a constant flow of people coming and going from our intimate family life.

So, I readied myself emotionally to say “no” should the voice on the other end of the line ask me to open up our home to take in a new youth. I breathed deeply, sent up a silent prayer, and answered.

The voice that greeted me belonged to an upbeat female lawyer in her late twenties whom I have worked closely with in times past, specifically throughout 4+ frustrating years of trying unsuccessfully to adopt several of our foster children. Since then, we have had little to no regular communication with the agency.

I silently kept a wave of emotions at bay and braced myself for whatever might come next.

“Hi Jennifer! We just want to check in to see how you all are doing in the midst of the virus scare. We will be dropping food off to all the homes, and you all are on our list. Do you have enough provisions currently? How are the children?”

She caught me entirely off guard with this unexpected conversation topic, as we have never received financial or material assistance from the local child protective agency nor from any branch of the Honduran government. They were really going to bring us a food donation? It was almost too good to be true.

Trying to quickly gain my footing after having been caught by total surprise at the agency’s generosity, I answered, “Thank you so much for thinking of us. We appreciate the offer and are  willing and grateful to receive anything that is within your power to give. However, if your supplies are limited, please donate to the homes that are in more desperate need.”

In an extremely perky tone, she assured me that there was enough food for all of the homes in our area and that they would gladly share with us a provision of food to help us make it through the quarantine. I thanked her again and asked when we should be expecting them, and she told me within 1-2 days’ time.

Several days passed, and that same caffeinated lawyer called me again. She asked me the specific ages and genders of our children, and I gave them to her (although she already has them on paper in her office and also via an online form I had already filled out): One male age 12; four females ages 15, 16, 16 and 17. She thanked me and hung up, assuring me that in a short time they would be bringing the donation of food and other items.

The following day she called me again and asked the exact same question about our children’s genders and ages. Again, I gave her the same information.

Yet again (I’m not kidding) the next day she called again. I glanced down at the caller ID on my cell phone’s tiny black screen, and wondered why on earth she deemed it necessary to speak to me again. I answered, hesitantly, and in her trademark perkiness she asked me to provide her with our children’s genders and ages (now for the third time in three days).

My manners getting momentarily put on the back-burner, I laughed out loud and asked with sincere confusion, “Again? Are you serious?I’ve already given that information to you twice…”

She laughed good-naturedly, spouted off some excuse that didn’t make any sense, and insisted on me telling her once more our children’s basic information that is already registered both in their office and online.

I took special time to annunciate over the phone as slow and clearly as possible, “One male…age 12…four females…ages 15, 16, 16 and 17…” I thought I would lose my mind if she called me again the next day asking for the same information.

Well, she did not call me again. A week or two passed, and a local friend of ours commented that she had seen on the news that the child protective agency announced that they had given food donations to all of the local children’s homes and foster families to support them in the midst of the Corona virus crisis. Our friend was pleased at this unexpected government gesture to help those in need and assumed that we, too, had received such a donation.

I bit my tongue. They never came to our property nor called to explain why.

A few more weeks passed, and finally that expensive government truck came plowing through our front gate and out popped that infamously perky lawyer in full face mask, gloves and full government uniform.

I stared on in disbelief, thinking:

Weeks ago they announced publicly that they had already given us food. If we had for some reason fallen on desperate need, we surely would have died of hunger by now (a full 5 weeks after her initial phone call)!

She and her assistant – a disheveled middle-aged man who wore absolutely no protective gear and didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about possible contamination (or professional presentation) – efficiently shuttled six cardboard boxes and one large plastic bag into our kitchen.

They took a very official photo of the woman and me in front of the food donation as proof to the government that they had helped the needy, and the woman asked me to sign a document confirming the event. All of this in the name of feeding hungry children in foster families and children’s homes.

As they were headed out the door not five minutes later, I thanked them for their generosity (and opened the door for the fully-protected lawyer who was afraid to touch our door handle). She then laughed heartily and said, “Sorry it took us so long to come!” And, leaning closer to me and lowering her voice into a whisper, she said good-naturedly, “Be careful with the breakfast cereals in the bag we gave you; I think they’re expired.”

My head swirling, I walked them to the front gate and waved goodbye as their vehicle roared off our property. My husband would be teaching our kids music for the next hour, so I walked in the scorching heat across our front lawn and back into our bright-orange kitchen.

Although the government agency had taken an inordinate amount of time to fulfill their promise and had brought us expired goods, I decided to be thankful for the donation and was even excited to rummage through the boxes and see what they had brought us. This would surely help offset our grocery bills for the next couple weeks in this highly uncertain time. I thanked God in my heart for His provision through them, and cut through the plastic tape of the first box with a knife.

My heart sunk, and confusion set in. Dozens upon dozens of packets of seasoning.

Seasoning? This can’t be right. I dug deeper in that first box to see if under that sea of packets there was something more substantial – packets of rice or beans or canned goods.

There wasn’t. The only thing that first box held were crazy amounts of seasoning – 570 packets, that is. How on earth are we going to use all this, and is this really what someone needs to receive in times of global crisis? Can eating packets of seasoning keep anyone alive?

Consciously turning off the flow of very negative and bewildering thoughts, I cleared my mind and decided to give the second box a try.

I cut the tape loose and opened the box, my heart expectantly full before it crashed to the floor again.

More seasoning. They had given us not 570 packets of seasoning, but now 1,140.

I began calculating futilely. If we use even two packets per day (which is a stretch), we’ll have enough seasoning for almost two years. There’s only one problem: it expires in three months.

Pushing my growing disappointment aside, I decided to kindle my hope anew and try the next four boxes.

Baby food in all four.

 Our dining room table covered in open boxes, inordinate amounts of seasoning and now 360 packets of baby food (for a household that has no residents under age 12), I stepped back in the silence of our home and just stared.

Only one thing remained that might actually be of some use to us: the bag of expired cereals the lawyer had warned me about. Numbly, I removed the three cereals in their dented boxes and placed them in a bin where we keep our breakfast foods.

The obvious thought was for our own loss: these items, intended for our benefit, would be of virtually no use to us. The underlying tragedy (and that which was of greater weight on my conscience) was that of our Honduran government’s total inefficiency and stunning lack of organization.

My mind wandered, and I couldn’t help but wonder in disbelief: Why on earth did the lawyer give us baby food after having asked me on three separate occasions the ages of our children? Surely, there are other homes that do have babies that could have benefited from this donation. What did those other homes receive? Did they give us this donation and take the professional picture just to make themselves look good?

The Honduran government’s alarmingly high levels of dysfunction can knock a person off their feet. Having lived here nearly 8 years, my head still spins in reaction to such bizarre events. Is this random nonsense due to mere ignorance on their part? Do they not know how to do their job better; did it not occur to them to review the contents of the donations before handing them over? (Surely, it would have been more effective to divide 1,140 packets of seasoning between dozens of different homes instead of dumping them in one single place, not to mention the fact that baby food needs to go to a home that has babies!)

Oftentimes, the third world (at least in my experience) is perfectly upside-down, and those who insist upon using logic only end up with increasing psychological damage. This donation, after all, was simply unhelpful, and I ended up feeling like a pawn in some political game I know next to nothing about.

After several pensive moments standing in silence around our dining room table, our kids’ music lesson came to an abrupt end and they came bounding into our kitchen.

“Hey Mom! What’s that big pile on the table? Why did the child protective agency come? Is everything okay?”

At that point I was already about ¾ of the way into organizing and bagging the baby food and seasoning into manageable portions to share with our neighbors who might benefit from it (as in, those who have babies in their home). I wearily announced, a slightly fake smile on my face, “Oh, the agency dropped this food off for us, but they aren’t really items we can use so we are going to re-donate them to our neighbors in need.”

In my heart of hearts I was grateful to God for the chance to participate in this unique re-gifting of the goods, as I knew we would be working as loving conduits to His purposes. Even so, the utter ineffectiveness of the government’s ‘aid’ still laid heavy on my mind.

Within a couple days’ time we carried the gifts on foot to bless eight households in our rural neighborhood. It was not difficult to identify who might be able to best benefit from the goods, and we enjoyed acting as deliverers of unexpected blessing. Our foster kids participated with us, dedicating the necessary care and attention to make sure the government’s food provision truly reached those who could use it.

There’s no perfect way to wrap this post up with a neat little bow. The story I’ve shared here is one little stitch among a vast national tapestry of dysfunction and inefficacy.

I simply share this with you to shed a little bit of light on the brokenness of the system down here, always with the hope that reforms and international intervention might help establish a healthier, functioning government (including a justice system that actually responds to crime) on which the people here can depend and thus thrive.

Please pray with us for these changes to occur, and that in the meantime God’s purposes might take root in Honduras in spite of the many exacerbating factors.

God bless and keep you and your loved ones.

With joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Greetings and Updates from Rural Honduras: Quarantine Edition

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras. We sincerely hope that each of you and your loved ones are found safe and at peace during the uncertainty of the Coronavirus epidemic.As are many around the globe, we have currently been put ‘on-hold’ by all the unexpected changes that have come with the Coronavirus scare. We continue to diligently parent and guide our 5 foster teens at home but are confined to mainly long-distance school-related activities with our teachers and students. We had not wanted to suspend our service to the local community, but we were given no other choice.
We are currently seeking the Lord within the context of our own home and trying to consume as little as possible.  We have also decided to dedicate several hours weekly to musical practice and other in-home academic pursuits. My husband has been leading our foster teens in many agricultural/maintenance activities on our rural property, and a few of our daughters and I have begun composing music/song to some of the Psalms from the Bible. We’ve also been devouring many edifying books and currently have the goal of reading 10,000 pages as a family. After only a few weeks of quarantine, we’re already more than halfway there!

As for our family’s physical health, we are finally getting over a prolonged bout with Typhoid fever. The antibiotics proved ineffective, so we have turned to several natural remedies. They have begun producing positive results and our symptoms have largely faded, so we thank God for the renewed blessing of health in our household. I would, however, ask for prayer with my ongoing battle with insomnia, as I’ve only been able to sleep 2-3 hours per day over the past several months. Such levels of sleeplessness produce almost constant fatigue in my daily life and greatly affect the measure to which I am able to enjoy and likewise be useful in the life the Lord has given us.

If any who read this blog have personal prayer requests or worries/concerns during this time of global uncertainty, please do not hesitate to contact me personally (JenniferZillyCanales@gmail.com) and I will be more than glad to be in contact with you, encourage you and lift up your needs/concerns in prayer before the Lord. We choose to trust in God in the midst of what can potentially cause fear and unrest, and I would like to make myself available to encourage others in the same.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

From Jennifer, with joy