By God’s Design: Zebras in Honduras

Recently a very well-meaning person gave me their careful recommendation that we do some kind of preliminary scanning/interviewing/selection process before accepting any new children either into our home/family or into our school programs so as to hopefully eliminate those wily youth who just can’t seem to get their act together, those who are ‘too far gone,’ or those who demand so much extra help and attention due to special needs. Focus on those who can really succeed, those who really want to be ‘helped’, they told me.

To some extent and from a certain perspective, this thought can be rationalized and even embraced.

The problem, however, is that when you run a hospital for souls, everyone who comes through the front gate is sick. Some are close to death and need intensive, prolonged treatment just to enjoy some level of stability (and even so they may always require their oxygen tank or weekly dialysis treatments), whereas others may stroll in with nothing more than a flu-bug or strep throat, receiving a quick, effective treatment so as to recuperate their vibrant health. Others, chronic, degenerative illnesses. Others, mental health issues. Others, mere toothaches.

I cannot imagine a hospital where the doctors and nurses stand at the front door turning away the most grave of cases, receiving only those with ear infections, sprained ankles and skin rashes while refusing those with stomach cancer, blindness, and advanced diabetes.

This perspective is one that the Lord has been etching out in us during these last few months or perhaps years. I cannot tell you how many times we’ve wanted to pull our hair out and stomp around like madmen, absolutely bewildered and frustrated and exhausted to the bone with some of the cases our Father has brought through our front gate. This is beyond us! Who can stand this child? He lied again! When will she ever learn? Why can’t You just send us ‘normal’ children? I’ve had enough! Oh, how easy it would be to just turn them away and accept the cute ones, the obedient ones! Yes, as weak humans we prefer those who only need a slight nudge in the right direction, a few safe prayers, and a reasonable investment of time, energy and love in order to ‘recuperate’ and enjoy the full life available to them in Christ Jesus. Send us those, Father! The others are just too hard, require too much sacrifice.

Just last week Darwin and I attended an organized debate among our high school students. My jaw dropped when the teacher asked one of the students (a 14-year-old boy who has ‘lazy-fool-who-doesn’t-want-to-change-despite-our-best-efforts’ stamped across his forehead in big, bold letters) to name an animal species indigenous to Honduras. After having had over a week to research, rehearse and prepare the debate with several classmates on this specific topic, this young man looked bewildered by the question (Just say ‘toucan,’ for crying out loud!) and answered erroneously, “Uh…Zebras.”

The thought that screamed through my mind: “Get him outta here! Fool, fool, fool! No wonder he gets like 15% on all of his quizzes! How many times have we sat down to counsel and advise him, pray with him, and all to no avail? We’ve known this kid for over two years, and we’ve seen almost zero fruit from our efforts to invest in his life! I can’t stand students like this!”

And yet every time we get ready to scratch one of them off our list, expel them from school or promise up and down that so-and-so is beyond help and will die in their own foolishness, that quiet voice inside of us says, “Bring him back. Go to him, and bring back the straying sheep into the safety of My fold. Go.”

Oh, how short-sighted we are! We look at three or six months or a couple years of dogged effort (with what we perceive as zero results), wipe our hands clean, and smuggishly pronounce to the world, “Well, we tried. We’ll keep praying for so-and-so, but from a distance. Hopefully he’ll crash and burn elsewhere and then maybe – maybe – he’ll wake up from his stupor and see the light of all that we were trying to teach him. He’s in God’s hands now.”

But our Father says, “Go get him! Bring him back if he is willing; encourage him again. Reassure him of My love again. Speak the Truth to him again. Hug him again. This work is not accomplished according to your schedule! Time means nothing to me! Go!

And so we do. Just as Jesus’ words reverberated around the Garden of Gethsemane, so do they in the midst of our own conflicting thoughts: “Father, if it is possible, please take this cup of suffering from me. But may Your will be done, not mine.”

And so in the last several weeks we have gone out looking for lost sheep, and several have been found and brought back for God’s glory. Due to the general chaos and indiscipline that reign in our little rural neighborhood, a good handful of students both in our elementary and high school programs had become discouraged with our (very manageable) expectations of homework, discipline, work ethic, etc, and had simply stopped coming to classes or been expelled for extreme behavioral issues.

My thought: “Good riddens! They never wanted to be here anyway. Well, I sure hope they learned something during all those Bible studies they had been attending while they were in school with us, and I hope they were able to catch a glimpse of the person of Jesus Christ in and through us while they were here. Well, we certainly tried. We opened our home to them with all the love in the world (all my love in the world, which isn’t much) and they simply didn’t cherish the opportunity extended to them. Have a nice life, although it probably won’t end well for you!

And Jesus speaks to our heart, piercing through the rowdy noise of our souls with striking efficacy: “Go find him. My work isn’t over yet. I still have plans I want to accomplish through you in his life. Go.”

Me: “No! He’s – he’s lazy! Oh, and his behavior is atrocious! He doesn’t even want to learn. You know I can’t handle one more child – and much less, teenager – who’s just begging to be kicked out. Please, no. Maybe in a year or two they can come back if their attitude changes, but right now?”

And so we go. In the last several weeks I’ve gone out into our neighborhood up long dirt paths and back alleys in our truck, in mototaxis, and sometimes on foot in search of those our Father would have us bring back. My husband Darwin has made phone calls to families and reached out to boys who I had labeled ‘beyond help.’ I’ve waded through nearly waist-high weedy overgrowth down a long abandoned path, going door-to-door looking for the home of one of our high school students who dropped out; I’ve sat on couches to pray with discouraged moms and I’ve sat on moist planks of wood in our students’ front yards seeking reconciliation and the Father’s will. We’ve moved our ‘plans’ around so as to make these search-and-rescue efforts a priority, and in the process the Lord has begun re-shaping our heart to look more like His.

All the while, our ego – that huge, nasty beast that demands ‘easy’ and ‘comfortable’ and ‘me’ – is getting pounded into the ground one blow after another by the steady rhythms of God’s love as He leads us from death into life.

And so, many of the students that I secretly hoped would leave (those who are the most difficult, the most lazy) are still here. In these past few weeks, by God’s grace and wisdom, five of the seven lost sheep from our school programs have been brought back.

And so, we are still engaged in what can only be classified as full-on spiritual warfare as we battle daily against extreme laziness, lies, immaturity, and darkness in the young people from our rural neighborhood who spend the majority of their waking hours under our guidance (not to mention the 8 who live with us as sons and daughters).

Just yesterday evening as my husband Darwin and I were alone in the kitchen finishing dinner prep for our 8 live-ins, we found ourselves once again discussing quite animatedly the ups and downs of our day, much of which is centered around the triumphs and struggles of the youth our Father has brought to us. Serving up bowls of rice, beans and tortillas, soon enough we were lamenting over the behavioral issue of so-and-so that occurred that morning or the fact that he or she cannot seem to grasp the fact that they have to do their homework, cannot just play all day and waste their lives. Darwin suddenly laughed, seemingly having received some new perspective to relieve us of what can very quickly become a discouraging conversation of wars lost and souls astray. He shook his head and said lightheartedly: “If all these kids learn in their time with us is the transforming Truth of God’s love, it’s all worth it.”

So, as far as grades go, kids are flunking out of our school left and right. But we’re keeping them around anyway. Our teenagers in second and third grade refuse to learn how many days are in a month, but we cling to the hope that in our midst the Father’s will may be done both in their lives and ours. We want to gnash our teeth and scream at the fact that over half of our 7th-graders still don’t know the multiplication tables that they should have learned early on in elementary school, but we know the Lord has a plan for them that goes beyond anything academic. The temptation is very real to expel such-and-such 13-year-old boy again (alas, we already expelled him once, but the Father led us to bring him back!) who is flunking second grade and finds it fun to scream obscenities at his poor teacher every day, but we’re seeing glimpses of light and truth – oh, how tiny yet how real they are! – infiltrating his mind and spirit, and we know the labor with him will be arduous but with the great hope of eternal rewards.

Against all logic and strategic planning, we have 14-year-old Brayan back with us in fifth grade for the third time, and – despite his absolutely terrible academic performance to this day – he is speaking and acting with a newfound maturity and joy, absorbing in a very real way the spiritual Truth being presented to him in ways that transcend any basic literacy exam or math assignment. As of late, he’s been going so far as to actively pray that God would grant him wisdom. According to Darwin’s new perspective (which I believe is actually Christ’s perspective), Brayan can repeat fifth grade ten times if he needs to, if that means that God is transforming him in the process.

Amen! Glory to the God who doesn’t give up as easily as we do!

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