I send our utmost gratitude to all of our dedicated partners who continue to financially support and pray for this ministry even in the midst of such global uncertainty. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for standing with us and for continuing to contribute to this grassroots ministry even as your own families are undoubtedly cutting back on many expenses. We’re all in the same boat on this, and we thank God for your generosity, commitment and faithfulness even in this season of prolonged difficulty.
Here in Honduras, as in the United States and around the world, prices have skyrocketed this year and we are learning how to “tighten our belt” and focus on reestablishing our priorities as a family and ministry in an effort to survive economically and continue serving faithfully in the context God has called us to.
We have downsized each of our ministry budgets and cut our household’s monthly budget in half in an effort to responsibly manage the donations we receive while not diminishing the quality of the services, ministry and education we provide here in rural Honduras.
It is our duty to ensure the future of this ministry and to be as frugal as possible, something we have always taken seriously but even more so in this current season. Thank you for sticking with us and continuing to partner with us as we invest daily in the lives of dozens of Honduran youth with the love and truth of Christ.
I send you our warm greetings from our ranch ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) in a forgotten corner of tropical Honduras. We are currently in the midst of another suffocating Honduran summer, and the heat/humidity makes for some long, sweaty days!
First of all, I want to extend our sincere thanks to all of those who continue to faithfully contribute economically and in the arena of prayer support to this ministry. As in America, here in Honduras inflation, gas prices and overall costs of living have skyrocketed over the past many months (because many of our products are imported from the States, and any changes in the US political/economic sphere — for better or worse — almost always have a direct impact on us here). Your continued support of this mission — even in these globally trying times — has been an incredible support, and we continue to serve, teach, disciple and care for dozens of children and teenagers through our Christian school and music outreaches for God’s glory.
We continue to ask for prayer support in the arena of protection from government harassment. The new Honduran government seems bent on shutting us down or at least complicating our lives/ministry to a very high degree, and they have showed up numerous times recently to interrupt our daily school activities, nit-pick, threaten and throw additional requirements on us that are almost impossible to fulfill. They see our alternative school as a threat to the public education system (which is very closely linked to Honduran politics), and due to fear that we might “steal” their students or that our system of grassroots, personalized education just might work a little bit better than the status quo, they are bent on making sure we don’t succeed. This has been very taxing on us (especially for my husband Darwin, who is the one who normally takes them on and has to jump through a ton of hoops just to keep us open), so we humbly solicit your prayers and seek God’s protection in the midst of it all.
Other than that, the 50+ students in our small grassroots Christian school are thriving like never before, and this year has brought about many new experiences, moments of blessing and life-changing relationships. We hope to continue to serve, mentor, coach and raise up these children and youth for God’s glory for many years to come if God continues to grant us the strength, resources and favor to do so.
On a family level, our foster family continues to go through a season of upheavals as several of our long-term foster teenagers have left the nest ahead of schedule and others have told us they are headed that way. It has been a bittersweet season of heartbreak, of learning to let go, and of maneuvering new (and sometimes complicated) waters of knowing how (and when) to remain involved in our kids’ lives in this new season that many of them have chosen to live outside the protection of our home. The Lord has opened many doors for us to remain involved in our kids’ lives as mentors in this new season, although admittedly it is very complicated and they are oftentimes all over the map (sometimes geographically, sometimes emotionally). We solicit your prayers for our household, where we currently have 3 teenagers who remain with us for now. We are continually seeking God’s will for our family, the future of our household, etc., as many of the dreams that we had hoped to achieve with our kids have been changed drastically. We are currently asking God for new dreams and a new vision for the future.
The five members of our household (my husband, our 3 teenagers and I) have been diligently seeing a Christian psychologist/counselor in a nearby city on a weekly basis over the past couple months as we seek to navigate through the many changes/challenges we’ve faced, and likewise we have been sponsoring several other people whom we serve through our ministry to receive these edifying visits with the counselor. The Lord has called us to serve those who have suffered trauma/neglect and oftentimes have had their lives smashed to pieces, and He’s called us to help pick up the pieces in His name and help make lives whole again. It is a messy task (and in the process we ourselves can get pretty bruised and damaged), but we believe it is worth it and that what we are doing is not in vain.
Thank you for your prayers, friendship and support.
Sincerely, Jennifer (for Darwin and family/mission)
For those who are interested in praying with and for us in this season, I share with you that we need prayer in the area of protection/government favor in the midst of the prolonged pandemic and a new Honduran government.
Last year we were the only school in a very wide radius who remained open and taught “face-to-face” classes without interruption the entire school year. This possibility was almost unspeakable on a national level in 2021 in Honduras, but the Lord enabled us to fly under the radar and continue to teach, disciple and serve while other institutions and ministries unfortunately had to shut down due to COVID-19.
This year under a new Honduran government we’ve been under heavy scrutiny as we’ve been subjected to many (nearly impossible) COVID-19 requirements in order to stay open, but through prayer and persistence we have been able to continue serving even under extreme pressure. Slowly other schools in our area are beginning to teach 2-3 days per week on a very limited schedule, but much of the overall pandemic progress in Honduras seems to be one step forward and two steps backwards.
Current Financial Needs:
For those who are interested in partnering with us financially in this season, I share with you two current projects that we are seeking to finance. God bless you, and we send our sincere gratitude to those who already support this ministry on a regular basis.
In February of this year we constructed a simple jungle-gym structure for our students’ pleasure and play. We would like to construct 2-3 more structures of similar caliber to encourage our students to exercise, work togetherand dare to reach new heights. Each structure requires a financial investment of roughly $150.
Especially in today’s “technological age,” we consider these barebones, traditional play structures to be of utmost importance for the next generation’s integral development, social skills and overall well-being.
2. We provide lunch three days a week to more than half of our student body plus our ministry staff (40+ people). This financial investment is substantial and ongoing, and we would like to be able to continue to provide this service throughout the year to our rural students who have greatest economic need. Please consider partnering with us $50 – $100 each month to help cover the cost of ingredients, kitchenware, and our cooking staff. Our hungry, growing students thank you!!!
A couple weeks ago I embarked on a very special journey with our 18-year-old foster daughter who has been a beloved member of our family since she was an awkward and insecure 11-year-old. She has now graduated high school, runs her own small business with a friend, works part-time in our ministry teaching classes to a group of preteens with learning disabilities and is waist-deep in the admission process to enter a local university.
Of all the 14 youth who have called our house “home” over the past 8+ years, my dad jokes that he does not ever worry about this particular daughter of ours. She’s got her head screwed on straight, is kind-hearted and often seems older than her years. After being tossed about by many devastating storms as a child, the Lord has miraculously given back to her the years that were lost and has granted her exceeding levels of wisdom, financial savvy, loyalty and faith.
She and I stood in line a couple Fridays ago, large hiking backpacks strapped to our backs and tickets in hand, as we waited to board the ferry that would take us out to one of Honduras’ islands for the weekend. I would be accompanying her to meet her biological father for the first time in her life. (He lives on the island and works as a fisherman.) Emotions were high, and I secretly hoped that this elusive man who had been the epitome of an absentee father would not crush our beautiful daughter’s heart to pieces. I was afraid her expectations were too high, and my husband and I had carefully (and perhaps unsuccessfully) tried to prepare her for this wild-card weekend experience.
As we were in the large commercial ferry’s waiting area, dozens of other passengers from around the world were likewise awaiting the boat that would transport them to Caribbean island paradise. We saw people of all shapes, sizes and colors, and honestly it was as much enthralling as it was overwhelming. Mind you, I have not left Honduran soil in five years’ time, and throughout this time I have been largely confined to our remote ranch in a rural part of Honduras that receives little to no international traffic. We basically see our same rural, materially poor neighbors day in and day out, and this has been my daughter’s experience not for the past five years but for the majority of her short lifetime. (In short, we are moderately sheltered from many of the “modern” plagues that are ravishing wealthier and more developed nations.)
Now, I must confess that this reflection is not in essence about our weekend spent getting to know our foster daughter’s biological father. It is rather about a spiritual discipline I’m learning to develop that is highly applicable and urgently necessary across the globe in today’s worldwhere too often what is wrong is considered right, and what is right is considered wrong.
So, I literally felt like we had been transported to another country (or perhaps another planet!) as we sat quietly waiting to board the ferry when a certain man caught my eye.
He was stocky and broad-shouldered as any man is, but he was dressed extravagantly as a woman and had long, womanly hair that was perfectly styled. He wore makeup and employed explicitly feminine gestures. I found myself subtly studying him and felt genuinely sad for him in my heart.
Throughout this past decade that I’ve lived in Honduras with very little “worldly” exposure I knew the world had changed much, and I oftentimes find myself reading up on these things online in order to remain well-informed and to know how to pray accordingly.
But this time I was not reading an article online about the transgender tidal wave or the far-reaching effects of the “sexual revolution”; I was witnessing it in person a few yards away, a real man – a real soul – who has been so deceived and swept up by this cultural phenomenon that he has tried to shed his very masculine identity (as God created him) in favor of a pseudo personality that he believes fits him better.
I glanced over at my daughter as she sat quietly, her hands in her lap and her gaze contentedly far off in some distant place in front of her, no doubt lost in her own thoughts as she considered the pending ramifications of meeting her biological father within a few hours’ time.
Heart heavy, I began to pray in silence for the transgendered man. And I mean, really pray.
A short time later, then aboard the ferry, a woman who appeared to be lesbian or transgendered was seated a few arms’ lengths from us as the boat bobbed up and down on the ocean waves. My daughter pulled the hood of her sweater down over her eyes and tried to uncomfortably curl up in a ball on the ferry’s seat near me as she fought seasickness. Seeing as I generally cannot sleep (or even let down my guard) in public spaces, I sat there wide awake and glanced again at the woman seated near us, and I began to pray silently for her with my eyes wide open.
At one point I got up during the hour-and-forty-five-minute ferry ride and went nearly sliding across the aisle in order to go buy snacks. I was not sea-sick at all; I was hungry! As I clung to a rung on the ferry’s wall, I came across the transgendered man that I had seen and prayed for in the waiting area. With a heavy heart, I returned to my seat several minutes later (snacks in hand) and resumed my silent prayer for both of these people, eyes wide open.
How often do we lose time waiting mindlessly in the doctor’s office, standing in line at the bank, sitting idly on airplanes or waiting impatiently for meetings to commence? How often has the Lord put people in our midst who need Him – who desperately need prayer – but we haven’t had the self-discipline or the faithful presence of mind to truly pray for these people?
What if we as Christians made the commitment to pray – truly pray – for these people whom we come across in our workplaces, neighborhoods and in daily newsreels? What if we as God’s people learned to pray with our eyes wide open?
Upon arriving on the island – within moments of meeting our precious girl’s biological father with all the roller coaster of emotions in tow – I saw yet another transgendered man exiting the ferry, this one with a sparkling crown in his hands.
Another earnest prayer, eyes wide open.
Over the weekend, my precious daughter and I not only met her biological father and spent many memorable moments with him in Caribbean paradise, but we also witnessed many extravagant, shameless displays of humanity’s descent into depravity. Everything that I had been reading on reputable internet sources over the past several years came alive before our very eyes all around us. My heart broke in a million pieces for these people, but I didn’t let that keep me from turning to the Lord in prayer – right there on the beach, in local restaurants, in the midst of so much human brokenness.
Pray with me. Let us learn to pray with our eyes wide open.
I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband Darwin, our motley group of foster teens and our dedicated ministry staff at the Living Waters Ranch in rural Honduras.
I humbly ask for your earnest prayers during these coming weeks and months, as our patchwork family has been immersed in a very difficult season with many lasting ramifications. In the following paragraphs I will share with you a small glimpse into some of what we’ve been going through:
In November 2021 we reached a breaking point with one of our beloved daughters (age 19, having lived 4+ years in our home), as her incessant stealing, lying and unhealthy behaviors were tearing our family to pieces. Her exit from our home came after months (and, to be honest, years) of immense levels of distrust and rebellious incidents in the home. We had taken every measure possible to correct her, encourage her, pray for her, teach her and walk with her along the “straight and narrow” path of Christ, but to no avail. Her departure from our home in November brought relief but also prolonged heartache, as she was an integral member of our household and was deeply loved despite her flaws.
Then, two months later in January 2022 two more of our beloved daughters (ages 18 and 17, having lived 4+ and 8+ years in our home, respectively) decided to leave our nest completely out of the blue, one of them giving us an hour’s notice before she packed up and disappeared from our lives. In Honduran culture, it is very common (and economically necessary) for young adults to continue living with their parents well into their twenties and/or until they get married (even as they work, go to college, etc.), so our teenage daughters’ sudden departure left in its wake many broken dreams, damaged relationships and things left unsaid, undone. We had many admirable goals and plans with both of them for 2022 (and beyond). We were knee-deep in the process of legally adopting these two when they decided to sever all significant ties with our family with little-to-no explanation, so the sting of rejection and broken family ties cuts even deeper.
In the midst of it all, my husband and I are having marital issues that oftentimes go untended-to, as our many other responsibilities and commitments oftentimes receive the largest part of our time and energy. Our marriage is left on the backburner. We are coming up on 9 years of marriage in June of this year, but we still have many areas that need urgent attention (and too little time and energy to tend to them). Please pray for our marriage.
It is not my intention to complain or to hang our family’s dirty underwear out where all can see; I simply ask for your honest prayers during this season, as our family has gone through many devastating storms over the past few months, some of which have caught us completely by surprise and left us speechless and hurt. (And, in the midst of the pain, life marches on and we still have 1 daughter and 3 sons at home, needing our attention, prayers, counsel and love in the midst of their own struggle to accept many of these painful new realities.) In many ways my husband Darwin and I are carefully and painstakingly re-evaluating our family life as we wonder silently before the Lord just where to go from here.
In August of this year I am planning a month-long trip back to the United States for the first time in five years, Lord willing, and during my stay on star-spangled soil I have a 2-week-long retreat scheduled at a Christian counseling center to help me work through much of the traumas that I’ve experienced in this decade of living and serving in the trenches of the third world. We’ve weathered many painful, dangerous storms over the past several years – my husband’s violent kidnapping by a local gang, countless robberies (more than half of which have occurred within the walls of our home by our own children), the murder of several people who were close to us, betrayal/slander, the devastating breakdown of many of our key relationships, and others.
Living in close context 24/7 with abused, abandoned children and teenagers whose biological parents taught them many destructive, anti-social behaviors in their early childhood brings about enormous levels of stress and compassion fatigue in the lives of foster- and adoptive parents like us. There is a very hazy line between what is work/service and what is personal/family time. On a normal day we arise at 4:00am and go nearly non-stop until about 7:30pm, oftentimes with little-to-no personal time or down time.
If you know a local foster family where you live or in your church congregation, I encourage you this week to reach out to them with a word of encouragement, offer to serve or help their family in some way, or simply lend them a listening ear and a prayerful heart, as foster- and adoptive families face incredible challenges that many “normal” families could not even begin to imagine.
Thank you for your honest prayers and continuing support, and please let us know how we can be praying for you as well, as the Lord has called us to bear one another’s burdens in love.
Sincerely, Jennifer (for Darwin and family/ministry)
Happy New Year to each of you! May we all be intent on seeking God’s perfect will for our lives, families and workplaces in this new season. I hope each of you enjoyed a restful and fruitful holiday season alongside your loved ones and that the new year of 2022 brings with it new heights and depths of wisdom, conviction, revival and God-given purpose in each of our lives.
Through this post I extend our sincere gratitude to those who prayed for and financially supported this grassroots ministry in 2021. We thank God for your partnership and friendship, and we want you to know that the scope and effectiveness of this humble work is able to increase and multiply due to your faithful generosity. Thank you!
In this post I will share with you several edifying anecdotes from our annual December break as a family in which we were able to take a small sabbatical from our ongoing service in our school and local community (without ever leaving Honduras!). I hope that some of the ideas presented herein might prove insightful and maybe even be applied to your own families as you see fit.
Sincerely, Jennifer (for Darwin and family/ministry)
Foster Family Diary
December 9, 2021: My husband and I sat down with our 6 foster teenagers to prayerfully write down our short- and long-term goals. Our 13-year-old special needs son (who cannot read or write) happily got to work “writing down his goals” right alongside everyone else. At the end of the activity when each person shared, he “read” his goals confidently: go jogging every day, learn more Bible verses, give thanks each day and take the dog for a walk(all things he already does on a daily basis). Hurrah for Josue’s admirable goals!
December 13, 2021: This Christmas season my husband and I are making a concerted effort to do more “mini-adventures” as a family. My chronic insomnia has oftentimes kept us from being more active with our foster kids, but we have decided to make more of an intentional effort to spend quality time together lately in spite of the circumstances or difficulties. Eight years into the parenting journey, all of our foster kids are now teenagers who will soon grow up and have lives of their own. We thank God for these precious treasures He has blessed us with, and we’re determined to create loving memories with them for God’s glory.
December 21, 2021:With the support and encouragement of our daughters and a dear friend, I have recently begun the arduous task of translating my book into Spanish. At first my (breakneck!) speed was one page per hour, but now I’ve hit a stride and am up to two pages per hour! I hope to be able to share with the Latin American community our testimony of life, faith and lessons learned in the Lord that are presented through my book. Pray that the Lord would grant me perseverance and diligence in this monumental task!
December 22, 2021: During these few weeks of family vacation from work and school, my husband set a goal for himself to paint more. (He’s never been enrolled in art classes – it’s a new talent he’s wanting to develop!) The other day a couple of our kids were busy happily painting and drawing around our dining room table with a local friend of theirs, and Darwin got right into the mix with them for several hours! Way to go, Pa!
December 26, 2021: All of our foster teenagers (except our special needs son) are getting their toes wet out in the “real world” engaging in various work-related learning experiences this holiday season. (They earn a dailypay of 4-8 dollars for 8+ hours of work. Such is the typical minimum wage in the developing world.) One of our girls is working as a babysitter and assistant bread-maker; another is working in sales at a local clothing store. Two of our teens are working voluntarily with a local family that butchers and sells chickens for a living. We are so proud of their consistency and integrity in the workplace! 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “…Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands…” and Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”
December31, 2021: Our “family challenge” this month was for each person to read five books that they had never read before. Surprisingly, five of our teenage sons and daughters accepted the challenge and read an incredible variety of edifying books throughout December! Way to go, readers! We’ve also begun reading through the entire Bible as a family each morning, beginning in Genesis. We invite you to join the challenge!
My book that was published in 2021 is available on Amazon. If you are interested in acquiring several copies to sell in your church’s bookstore, in your workplace or among your loved ones, you can contact me directly to arrange a bulk shipment:
I send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) in Honduras. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! I hope this blog post finds each of you well and thriving in the Lord and that you are able to maintain hope, peace and high moral standards during these uncertain, yet promising times. Please know that we pray for you regularly and likewise thank God for your prayers, support and friendship.
In our little corner of the world, earlier this month we wrapped up our official school and ministry activities for 2021 as the Honduran academic calendar comes to a close in early December. Ever since taking over the position of fifth-grade homeroom teacher in July in our small grassroots mission school, my schedule had taken on additional weight and responsibility (not to mention untold joys). Our small, dedicated staff of Honduran professionals called to serve as Christian missionaries on their own soil have prospered greatly this year as they labored alongside us week after week for God’s glory. We are blessed to serve alongside of them again in 2022 (all will be returning). Over the years they’ve come to be a precious extended family to us and much-needed support network in this deeply personal, spiritual work that we’ve been called to. On a personal level, my involvement with our 40+ students this calendar year through teaching, discipleship and mentorship was perhaps more intense and at the same time more rewarding than ever.
We are grateful that the pandemic and all its restrictions and inconveniences did not hinder our face-to-face ministry this year. It was, in fact, perhaps our most productive and organized year since our inception in 2013 (although not without a great share of difficulties and trials along the way). We ask for your prayers for this month of December, as we are currently dedicating more time to our marriage, patchwork family and individual walk with the Lord as we take a much-needed annual break from ministry activities to our local community. Our special-needs foster son (now age 13) is back in our home for three months while his grandma is away working during the Christmas season, so we are thus taking extra care to tend to his needs in addition to our other 5 foster teens in our home 24/7 ages 13-18. We are still overcoming the fact that our relationship of over four years with one of our beloved foster daughters disintegrated last month as we had to ask her to leave our home due to many dangerous behaviors that she was unwilling to change. Two of our other daughters graduated high school in early December, so we likewise solicit your prayers for wisdom and the Lord’s direction over their future.
We are a non-profit ministry supported by individuals, families, small businesses and churches both here in Honduras and around the world. If you would like to make a yearend tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to live out the gospel on Honduran soil and impact many lives with biblical employment, Christian education and an opportunity at living in a stable, God-fearing family, you can go to the following website to make a one-time or recurring monthly donation to partner with us in this work: www.CTEN.org/JenniferZilly
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.