The Great Umbrella-Shield

To protect the perpetrator, I’ll conceal the details, but suffice it to say that a couple weeks ago a rather large offense was committed by someone quite small (in stature, that is).

When I abruptly came into the know about said offense on the cusp of getting all six kids squeaky clean and presentable to go to Darwin’s sister’s house for a birthday party (which is a gargantuan task, especially for poopy-pants Josue who always walks around chewing his shirt, thus consistently and dexterously leaving a perfect slobber-ring around his collar), I told Darwin, “The other kids can pile in the truckbed [an acceptable practice in Honduras], so that so-and-so is alone with us in the cab. You drive, because I want to be able to swivel around in my seat to look into the perp’s eyes as we make the 45-minute drive.”

And so it went, and our hearts became heavy as our small, bright-eyed passenger failed to confess her crime in the 15-minute window we gave her during the drive down the gravel road from our home to the main highway. “Think long and hard, and tell us if there’s anything you’ve done, said or written that you know you shouldn’t have that you want to confess. Now’s your chance, because once we reach the highway, we’re going to bring something up if you don’t.”

Nothing was confessed even after several gentle (and very obvious) promptings on my part, so as the tires rolled onto the highway’s asphalt, thus closing the window of opportunity for confession, I took the evidence out of my backpack and addressed the now-wide-eyed assailant head-on.

Although many times we are deeply grieved when it seems as though our children have not ‘caught-on’ to our teachings about always telling the truth, not writing love notes to boys, and not touching things that aren’t theirs, one thing they have learned from us that they faithfully put into practice is making eye-contact with the adult who is speaking to them.

Her unbroken eye contact with me for 45 minutes as we jossled down the pothole-riddled highway was what enabled the following lesson to be delivered, and it might be what saved her from being dealt an even bigger butt-chewing.

God teaches me many things daily, and one of the biggest lessons I am learning right now is how to be an effective channel. Many times I open my mouth without the slightest idea of what will come out, trusting that He will form my words and that they’ll make a lot more sense than any idea I could have meticulously planned out myself.

So I opened my mouth, and out came a long, intricate talk about the Great Umbrella-Shield, something I myself had only briefly heard of once before from our mentor and did not entirely understand until the words flowing out of my mouth ordered themselves one after the other, painting the most logical and true of mental images.

Our unbroken stares matched one another, hers an odd combination of genuine humility and unexpected but not defiant confidence, mine a God-infused compassionate wisdom overriding feelings of devastation, anger and bewilderment.

“Your dad, Aunt Jenae, myself [and I name about a half-dozen other loving Christian adults in her life] have been placed by God to form a sort of great umbrella-shield over and around you,” I say, widening my fingers on both hands and meshing them together loosely to show how our lives come together, even overlapping each other, to form a protective casing above and around her.

It is obvious that she follows, so I continue. “Since you are not yet ready to go out on your own, take care of yourself, have a full-time job or get married, God has placed us in your life to guide, protect and love you. Forming this big umbrella-like shield, we protect you, and we are accountable before God to do so. It is our job to guide and discipline you according the God’s word and to teach you the correct path.”

She’s with me, and I’m encouraged, “If you stay under our umbrella-like protection that all of us form over you – which you can also think of as a roof – you are safe and snug.” Hand motions are my ally, and I think they help all of us understand the issue at hand much clearer.

But it’s your choice whether you stay under our protection or if you choose to wander out from under it, thus prematurely making yourself responsible before God for your own life.”

We continue rumbling down the 2-lane highway lined on either side with palm trees, vividly green plant overgrowth of all types and brightly colored homes. “If you decide to disobey what we have told you – for example, if we tell you not to lie, and you choose to lie, you are removing yourself from under our protection and wandering off to play with Satan. It’s that serious, and it’s that dangerous. If we tell you, according to what we know of God’s Word and His will for your life, that you should not have sex until you are in a life-long, committed marriage relationship with one man, bound to him legally, and you decide not to obey, choosing to go ahead and do as you please with your body, you are removing yourself from under the umbrella-shield that we form around you, and stepping out intentionally into Satan’s territory, in essence saying that you know better than we do what’s best for you. At that point we are no longer responsible for your decision because it blatantly goes against what we told you to do.”

I suddenly get very serious, my soft, even tone changing abruptly. Her eyebrows shot up ever so slightly as she noticed the change in tone, “I don’t want you to ever forget this. Do not forget this next week, or in five years. Do not ever forget this.”

“Someday I will stand before God and give account of everything I did, said, etc. He’ll ask me, ‘And what did you do with so-and-so under your care?’ and I’ll answer, ‘I guided her as best I could according to your Word, and I loved her dearly.’ If God asks me, ‘And that time when she lied?’ I’ll be able to answer honestly, ‘That was her choice. She disobeyed. She left our umbrella.’ At the end of everything, your dad and I are responsible to God for how we love and guide you, but we’re not responsible for your choices. You are.”

And that’s about how the conversation went that first time during that fateful car ride and then a couple times since. Our little one has lost a mountain of privileges and freedoms for quite some time to come, not only for the crime itself but for concealing it when given the opportunity to confess.

A few days ago, a couple weeks after the big confrontation, as I sat sweating under the intense Honduran sun on a blue plastic stool behind our home, washing the laundry that had been waiting for me a week-and-a-half, my mind came into sharp focus amidst wandering thoughts about another one of our little ones who tends to wander out from under our loving protection: Christ Himself is our great Umbrella-Shield. When we trust and obey, there we are, safe and snug, protected. He knows what is best for us and wants the best for us, and as little children unto their parents, it is merely our task to believe Him and submit ourselves to His guidance and wisdom over our lives. But when we lash out in disobedience – arrogantly thinking that we know better than God what is best for us, we relinquish that protection and blessing – freedom, even, and we set out to play tag with the Devil.

As my soapy arms plunged in and out of the big plastic bucket in front of me, a little ball of sweat beading up on the tip of my nose, I felt deeply content, but at the same time deeply saddened that, even knowing these truths on some level, so many of us dash out or slowly drift away, forsaking our Great Refuge, the One and Only Great Umbrella-Shield for a counterfeit freedom that only produces pain and death.

The Never-Say-Die Beast

The human being is a wily creature, slow to change and stubborn in its dark ways. Tends to hide. Emotionally unstable. Prone to feel lonely even if surrounded by love. Oftentimes deceived by confused thoughts. Loves what will hurt it. Prefers captivity to freedom. Chooses the wrong path even when surrounded by wise counsel. Capable of demise in any instant. Easily distracted. More fragile than a dandelion. Prone to quickly forget Truth.

I thank God that I am reminded of this each and every day on the front lines of this battle field that takes place in my own living room, front lawn, during kitchen clean-up and on road trips. Sometimes when we are surrounded by polished, polite people who have grown up in a good educational system we tend to forget the very — oh, very, very! – real struggle between Good and Evil in every single one of us that rages on all day every day. We are fooled into thinking that everything is “okay,” that everyone is “okay.”

The human race is not okay, and until we are awakened to that fact we cannot understand our need for a Representative before the Perfect, Just God. We just think I will try harder next time. Or They’re not ‘okay’, but I am.

If many people have a tornado of sin, shame, secrets and sadness raging on in the inside, hidden from everyone else but themselves, our home is full of tornados on the outside. We have given up: here there is no faking that everything is okay.

We are sin-sick, ailing, deceived, lonely, dangerous, and we admit it. Oh, yes, there are beautiful sparks of Light, Joy, Truth, Triumph, Thanksgiving — and they are so sweet! But between those glorious moments takes place the most intense of battles whether we’re suited up and well hydrated or not.

She stole again? Why does she look me in the face, smiling, if we both know she’s lying? Lord, protect us from those who come only to deceive and divide! How on earth did she receive such an inappropriate love letter from him – she doesn’t even have breasts yet and still plays with teddy bears! Just confess already! Lord, forgive me for disciplining him with such anger rather than with firm, gentle wisdom. Our son had that, that and that happen to him when he was just a little boy?! What do you mean our eleven-year-old daughter used to watch pornography with her six-year-old SPECIAL NEEDS brother on her mom’s cell phone? What are you hiding in your dresser drawer? She stole food from the kitchen again? Ok, who’s lying this time? We can’t trust any of you! Forgive me, Lord, for my anxiousness; I trust you will provide. She’s really bawling and saying that we don’t love her after all we’ve done? Lord, grant peace over our home and in our hearts!

If anyone needs a wake-up call about the true state of humanity laid bare, come visit our home. You’ll be reminded quite quickly. Our home seems to be a magnet for spiritual battles and layings-bare of all kinds. If other people can pretend they don’t lie, cheat and steal or that they aren’t deeply wounded, on the verge of self-destructing – or if they think worry, bitterness and impatience are ‘acceptable’ sins, personality types even – here there is no pretending. It’s more like a giant clashing of Good versus Evil several times a day. A bit hard on the nerves, but at least we’re in tune with reality.

One thing the Lord is teaching me over and over again – about every 12-15 minutes, in fact — is that raising/parenting/guiding children who have sprung from someone else’s womb and been through a tumbler of some of the most damaging experiences the World has to offer is a lot like full-contact wrestling with a never-say-die beast that doesn’t care if you’re exhausted or in need of a water break.

But actually, that same battle rages on in every corner of society. Sometimes it just happens to be more visible in a struggling third world country like Honduras with a catastrophically high murder rate than in an affluent society with a fairly dependable criminal justice system that knows where to hide its trash.

In our daily life here we see mothers who turn to prostitution in order to feed their kids. Young men who kill for sport — and don’t go to prison. People who cut through chain-link fences just to steal a pair of used girls’ tennis shoes. Divine rescues made only to then be put to the constant test by the forces of darkness. Twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls who have ‘married’ adult men and have their babies. Confused young men who rob Darwin and I at knife point while we’re on a date in the park. Mothers feeding Coca-Cola in baby bottles to their infants. Young girls receiving rape-threats from her neighbors who happen to be gang members. Preteens who weep for fear of sleeping in their own bed. Lives that quite literally hang in the balance between Life and Death.

But it’s more than that – the tremendous forces that are working inside of our environment and kids are also at work in me. In you. My struggle is just more hidden because I know how to behave in public and our 10-year-old daughter doesn’t. You’ve been taught how to be politically correct, independent, self-reliant, to neatly re-name your sins but our 14-year-old son hasn’t. My sins are the ‘acceptable’ ones whereas hers are the loud, screaming kinds. Here we know who the prostitutes and drug lords are; in wealthier countries there is a thicker layer of fog, deception. What’s the difference between a middle-class extramarital love affair and a mom who lets her kids watch pornography? It’s all sin. We’re all condemned.

As I am put in the role to discipline, correct, and guide untrained, hurting kids hour after hour, I become more aware of my own need for Someone to do that for me. To discipline the rebel in me, to tame the never-say-die beast that surges up time and again. I cannot rebuke the little girl pouting in front of me for her overwhelming laziness or impatience or harsh tone without at least questioning whether I am guilty of the same. When I am shocked that our child lied again, I can choose to sweep past my own inner liar, pushing her to one side and letting her keep wreaking her quiet havoc, covering her up with some pious excuse, or I can confront her just as I confronted the dishonest child in the schoolroom. Humble myself and ask for forgiveness just as I expect he will do with his sibling. Ask God to cleanse me of the darkness that still roams in my heart just as I advise my daughter to do.

In this home of screamers and criers and liars and thieves we are scrappers, clinging desperately to faith in a God who will have mercy on us because of our earnest belief in the life, death and resurrection of His Son. The details and transformations are worked out with time and not without great struggle, but our day-to-day battle is very much just that: a battle of cosmic proportions, of choosing Freedom in Christ rather than staying in bondage to Fear, of pleading God to work in and through us in spite of ourselves rather than adopting the futile “I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can” attitude of self-reliance, of being confronted relentlessly with the choice to love or to hate, to forgive or to stay bitter, to choose the way of Christ or the way of the World, to choose to believe God and accept that we are loved or to live miserably believing the lie that we’re not. To obey God or obey the never-say-die beast within each of us.

A few days ago our 14-year-old son Brayan, who joined our family last February, said to us as we all sat talking around the small wooden table in our living room during an informal family meeting, “I was talking with [a guy friend my age] while we were at the river the other day and I told him that if I hadn’t met y’all, who knows what would have become of me. I might have become a murderer.”

I stared at him, momentarily swept up in one of those rare, precious moments of getting to see a glimpse of the fruits of your labor. Darwin responded, “Brayan, it’s Christ. Meeting us is not what has changed your life; it’s Christ.” With that Brayan smiled, recognizing that in Pa and Ma there are just as many mistakes, sins, and struggles as there are in his young life, although they take on different form. It is not we who have saved him or saved anybody; it is the Saver of Men who has come to live within us who reaches out with tendrils of light into the dark heart of this world.

Christ within us is the hope of Glory. And nothing else.

This Little Light of Mine…

A couple nights ago we celebrated Darwin´s 32nd birthday with our six kids and our dear sister Jenae in the dining room we all share. We all prepared posters, poems, Bible verses, cards and presents for one of God´s special servants who serves as husband, father, brother, friend and mentor in our lives. For the first time ever, the kids did a great job keeping a secret — Darwin was genuinely surprised with what we had all put together!

My husband on the eve of his 32nd birthday! With each year God grants him more wisdom, strength and patience.
Our sister Jenae Matikke, who has been serving alongside of us for almost two years and who brings laughter, Truth and warmth everywhere she goes
Jason, our seven-year-old son who has found freedom in Christ from the many chains that used to bind him. He is our young gentleman in training!
Josue, our six-year-old special needs son, our great teacher who instructs us all in patience and unconditional love
My ¨Wild¨ Gleny, our 10-year-old daughter who — in my dad´s words — has the heart of a lion!
Darwin´s wife who loves him dearly and to whom he daily shows much patience and grace!
Jackeline, our 11-year-old daughter who recently accepted her place in God´s Kingdom as His daughter
Brayan, our 14-year-old son of whom we are so proud! God is transforming him more and more each day into a man after God´s own heart!
Dayana, our 14-year-old daughter who is very quickly becoming a young lady! She is our musician, our artist, our fellow traveller along Christ´s liberating Way.
Darwin has gone from a single man to a married father of six in under two years!

What Jackeline, age 11, wrote in her birthday card to Darwin:

Hi Pa on this very special day I want to tell you ‘Happy birthday’ and tell you that you are the dad I never had. I love you, I love you a lot, Pa. You have given me the life of having a father. I never had a father and now I have someone to give gifts and letters to on Father’s Day. Now I have you, Dad. Darwin Joel Canales Avila, I love you a lot, Dad, and I will give you the time you need, and when you are sick I will cure you [she has aspirations of becoming a nurse]. You won’t have to pay Miss Zoila [our local nurse] and other nurses; only me, and my pay will be your smile. I love you with all my heart. You will always be in my heart, and if my biological mom comes to take me with her, you will still always be in my heart. You will always be the dad I never had. I love you, Pa Darwin. Happy birthday, Pa Darwin. You will always be in my heart!

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What Gleny, age 10, wrote in her birthday card to Darwin:

 For: my dad

Happy birthday Dad.

Thank you for disciplining me and guiding me on the right path. I love you a lot, dad. Thank you for having me well taken-care of here. May you feel loved even more.

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We finally have a photo of all nine of us! This is the Living Waters Ranch family!

Please Pray for My Health

Today after getting a blood test I realized that I have had Typhoid Fever for over a month now, which explains the constant fever, dizziness, and bodily weakness along with diarrhea that I have been having. I ask that you would please put my physical health in prayer, because in a few short months I have had Dengue Fever, a blood infection that led to about a dozen open sores on my body, several flu-like bugs, and now Typhoid. I am also still recovering from the severe insomnia I had for over a year. Pray that the Lord would grant me energy and good health to fulfill His will and, if not, that He may still give me the joy and perseverance to do so in sickness. Please also pray for Darwin, Jenae, and our six kids (plus homeschool students and other students of mine from a local school), as my not having good health affects them as well. Thank you!

A Rescue Shop Within a Yard of Hell

His fingernails are really long. Offer him your fingernail clippers.

I smiled politely as I gave him a plastic cup of water and a homemade piece of bread, turning to return to my six homeschool students (three of our own and three kids from the local community) who would be waiting for me in the other building.

Offer him your fingernail clippers.

As I walked across our grassy, pebbly lawn from Jenae’s porch to our Education House that also serves as a place to receive kids from the community, God’s voice hovered over my thoughts like a heavy whisper.


I turned for the front door of the Education House, walking past the living room to our small one-room classroom where we give academic classes three days a week and where Darwin offers music and choir lessons to roughly 20 kids every week. I would get the whiteboard ready for the kids’ next assignment before they all came piling in after recess. I reached for one of the whiteboard markers, my mind trying to ignore God’s command, focusing instead on fractions and percentages, what I would be writing on the board.

The clippers. Go to him. Now.

Before my marker even made contact with the whiteboard, I abruptly set it down, my little red-faced inner-me shouting Ok! Fine, reluctantly choosing to die in favor of a higher command.

I then walked double-time from the Education House to our home next door – The kids need to be coming in from recess right now! This was definitely not on my schedule. I already unlocked the front gate during school hours and let him in, which I really didn’t want to do, and I even gave him a snack and a drink. Very kind of me, obedient even. Now this?

I rummaged around the chaos on top of my dresser through receipts, cough syrups and bobby pins until I found our one pair of fingernail clippers that we all share. I then briskly walked the couple hundred yards across our fenced-in property past the Education House then the community kitchen/dining room until I reached Jenae’s porch where Javier, a 15-year-old kid from the local community, sat in the wooden rocking chair exactly where I had left him only a few minutes prior.


I thought in protest This is gonna be weird and extended my arm, smiling an awkward smile again, a sort of please-forgive-me-and-accept-the-compassion-of-Christ-that-I-am-now-allowing-to-move-through-me and said, “I noticed that your fingernails are really long. If you want to cut them, you can use my clippers.”

He looked surprised, as I knew he would. I, too, felt surprised by my action. Afterall, we had not exactly been on each other’s ‘good list’ after some sleepless nights and cranky days that led to harsh, abrupt actions on my part toward him. Plus he had asked our eldest daughter to be his girlfriend behind our backs, which didn’t do much for my desire to keep him out of our home. He had a knack for showing up at our gate at inconvenient times and, for me, in inconvenient ways.

Javier is a lost boy, a kid who only owns one outfit and who lives with his grandma because his parents did not fulfill their duties towards him. Left home or got kicked out because of an abusive step-dad, or something along those lines. He can’t read even though he was in fifth grade at some point. He is disrespectful and tried to touch my daughter under the water in the local swimming pool. The perfect candidate to fall into drug-trafficking or gangs.

This lost boy with long fingernails and dirty clothes gave his life to Christ recently at our home after our dear sister Jenae spent countless hours reaching out to him and loving him the way that Christ calls us to love the lost.

This story and a few others like it were beating across my mind like rain several days ago as we gathered with our faith community in our dining room, all of us sitting in an oblong circle/square. With majestic mountains shielding the backside of our property, visible from where we were sitting, I shared excitedly: “I am content because I know that God is doing something here, even in spite of us, in spite of me. He is truly transforming people – me included! – and He is allowing us to see a bigger vision that just our six kids: lost kids in the community who are finding Hope and Life here.” I repeat, laughing: “Even in spite of us, He is moving here. Even though sometimes Darwin, Jenae and I have miscommunications or disagreements or I am in a bad mood or haven’t slept well, God is doing a work here. I can see it.”


There is a quote by C.T. Studd that says, “Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” By God’s grace and design, our home is becoming just that. Lost boys and girls – on the fringes of society, some forgotten by their own families, many who cannot read or write, who spend their days wandering around gravel roads, killing birds and throwing stones, are coming to our gate looking for something.


Sometimes it ends up being a rowdy afternoon of full-out Cops and Robbers, fifteen or so kids and teenagers sprinting wildly around our property, and sometimes it is a group of a dozen kids sitting on our porch to hear testimonies of God’s grace in the world. Sometimes it is choir practice, and sometimes it is sharing our food with our malnourished neighbors who are way too small for their age. Sometimes we have adequate time and energy to plan how to receive them well, and on other days it seems like everything else has to be put on hold in order to be even peripherally present to the lives God has placed at our front gate. Sometimes there are triumphs, like when someone decides to give their life to Christ or a breakthrough is made, and sometimes the kids just lie and steal from us and make too much noise. Sometimes we feel compassionate, and sometimes we just are out of obedience to our compassionate Father.

 But God is doing something here, even in spite of us. I can see it in our 14-year-old son Brayan’s transformation from an angry, scared boy orphaned by his father and abandoned by his mother to a gracious, helpful young man who has found love in the family of Christ. I can see it in the redemption God is orchestrating between Himself and many lost boys and girls who have come to know Him. I can see it in my husband, who daily is being formed more and more into a man after God’s own heart, a father to the fatherless. I can see it in Marina, a 14-year-old homeschool student who is learning how to read for the first time, who used to carry a spirit of invisibility, fading too easily into the background, who now knows her Savior and has light in her eyes, who now runs and plays. I can see it in myself, this selfish little girl who grew up in dysfunctional luxury, who for the first time is learning what it really means to allow the Good Shepherd to move through her in spite of herself.


In this rescue shop within a yard of Hell, I feel as though perhaps I am rescued just as frequently if not more so than the lost boys and girls who wander up the long, isolated path to our front gate. My Father has stationed me at this post not only to catch those who might otherwise fall away, but to remind me daily of my own need of constant rescuing, that this Rescue Shop is not run by men with clever ideas but by the only One who can truly rescue, redeem, give life.

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