July 2016 Updates and Prayer Requests

School Schedule Revamped, Extracurricular ‘Clubs’ Instituted for Local Students

After having completed nearly six months of our new discipleship-based elementary and secondary schools at the Living Waters Ranch (13 students in secondary and 12 in primary), we’ve overhauled the weekly schedule to now include a variety of extracurricular ‘clubs’ that Darwin, our Christian laborers and I direct Monday-Friday in the afternoons once the students get out of their morning classes.

Students must participate in at least two ‘clubs’ (which could also be known as ‘electives’), but if they desire to participate in more (or all!), they are encouraged to do so. Available clubs include: sports, art, Christian leadership, cooking class, math, and recorder (music). Others participate in choir and private piano lessons with Darwin, although they are not counted as clubs.

This new way of directing our school has had the desired effect; the students are excited that they are able to choose what most interests them (the majority of schools here do not allow students to choose activities or classes; all is pre-chosen for them as all students — despite ability and interests — are grouped together constantly), and they are developing skills (team work, musical ability, spiritual leadership qualities, more ample mathematical understanding, healthy artistic expression, cooking skills, etc) that will aid them both now and in their future as adults.

Please pray with us that God would continue to guide us in the ongoing development of these clubs (and new clubs that we want to institute in the future!), and that all may be done for His glory.


Extreme Tick Infestation, Another Guard Dog Dies

For the past several months we have been engaged in an ongoing battle against the infestation of tens of thousands of ticks all over the fenced-in part of our yard in and around the little buildings where we live and teach.

We have sought professional advice and contracted different people to come out and fumigate the property, and all to no avail. Just this past week Dingo, our most aggressive guard dog, fell ill with a mysterious disease and died suddenly. All three of our guard dogs (now two that Dingo has passed) have struggled mightily against the tick infestation, as the little buggers are constantly attaching themselves onto our dogs in droves. We bathe them with anti-tick shampoo, give them anti parasitic pills that supposedly ward off ticks, but, despite our efforts,  hundreds of little baby ticks and bigger, inflated ticks are constantly sucking the life out of our dogs, leaving them thin and weak. This was the case with Dingo, and we learned that the ticks can cause an infection in the dog’s system, which can lead to death.

We are very concerned about our remaining two dogs (who are currently in medical treatment to fight against the same tick-caused infection that led to our other dog’s death) and are taking every possible measure to try to rid our rural property of ticks, but it seems like nothing is working. Please pray with us that a solution might be found and that our remaining two dogs might recuperate strength and vitality after such a long-standing battle against these parasites.


Miss Isis’ Move to the Living Waters Ranch a Success

Isis, our sister in Christ who was shown on the previous blog post with Gaby and Josue, made her scheduled move to begin living at the Living Waters Ranch at the beginning of this month. Thus far we have enjoyed a very healthy and dynamic relationship with her, good communication, and mutual joy as we are all growing together in Christ, sharing a common kitchen, and deepening our relationships with one another for God’s glory.

Please continue to pray that God’s will would be done in and through us and in our relationship with Isis, and let us give thanks for the great work of transformation and healing that He is doing in her life (and ours!).


Gabriela (8) and Josselyn (12), Sisters, Celebrate Their 1-Year Anniversary in Our Home

After having been rescued out of two distinct situations of sexual abuse and extreme neglect last July, Gabriela and Josselyn continue living under our roof and have enjoyed one full year of healing and growth.

During this year with them Josselyn has completed first and second grade in an accelerated homeschool program (and entered third grade last week with Miss Isis as her teacher), and Gabriela has begun recuperating a sense of innocence and play in what was a very twisted childhood she had previously experienced with her biological family. Josselyn has accepted Christ as her Savior during this time and Gaby has begun to pray for others.

Let us give thanks to God for these precious sisters, and please pray with us that our Father may continue to transform and heal them according to His good will.


Three New Students Join Our Primary School Program

Marina (age 14, third grade), Bayron (age 14, second grade) and Michelle (age 8, first grade) have joined our primary school program this past week as a new academic period has begun.

Marina, one of our night watchman’s four children who are in our program, decided to return to our school after having dropped out at the end of last year. The majority of our students, especially those in primary, are not accustomed to any kind of daily schedule or long-term commitments as they  were used to generally roaming the streets, sleeping all day and wasting their lives away prior to having entered our school. Last year Marina had struggled mightily with our school’s behavioral expectations and academic load, resigned to spend her life in front of the television and doing simple errands around our neighborhood on her bicycle (as countless youth in our rural neighborhood do). We are very excited that she became bored with that lifestyle and by God’s grace has returned to study alongside of her younger siblings.

Please pray with us for her perseverance, perspective and emotional health as she and her siblings are blazing a trail (that of attending school) that almost no one in their family has taken.


Jason (9) Begins Learning Piano, Sandra (16) Violin

Jason, who has been living under our roof almost three years, this month began taking piano lessons from his older sister, Dayana (15). We now have four of our kids in weekly piano lessons while Sandra (16), who has lived with us six months, has begun taking violin classes.

Please pray with us that all of the skills our kids are developing (musical or otherwise) would be put to joyful use in God’s service as they become increasingly useful instruments in His hands.


Young Dairy Cow Gives Birth, Provides Fresh Milk Daily

One of our two young adult dairy cows just gave birth to her second calf, a healthy male. Darwin milks her every morning at 5:00am before the daily buzz of activities begins, and we are so thankful that we now have several liters of fresh, organic milk for our growing kids to drink each day.  This helps alleviate grocery costs and obviously helps fortify our kids physically. Our other adult cow, who is very far along in her second pregnancy, is due to give birth within the next few weeks.


Twice-Weekly Bible Study, Worship, and Prayer Groups Continue

We continue to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays with our students, live-ins, and Christian laborers in our large dining room to study God’s Word together, sing His praises, and then break up into small groups to pray. We are seeing much fruit from these activities as our students are growing in the knowledge and love of God and are in the beginning stages of being transformed in a very real way for God’s glory.

Please pray with us that the many seeds of Truth that are being planted in our students’ lives both in group settings and one-on-one situations may bear fruit in their due time.

Shrieking with Delight and Persevering Through Fatigue: Rowdy Tutoring with Miss Isis

Last Friday Miss Isis, our young primary teacher who began living alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch earlier this month as a way of deepening her walk with Christ, has begun giving tutoring classes to Gaby and Josue (our special needs ‘twins’ who are both 8 years old but are developmentally about 3 or 4 years old after having suffered severe abuse and neglect with their biological families).

Our little ones’ fine motor skills are abysmal (although astronomically better than they were 12-18 months ago when they arrived in our family!) as they struggle through basic daily activities such as washing a dish, holding a pencil, opening a door, operating a zipper, etc, and they live in the midst of speech impediments, lack of focus, diaper-wearing and untold difficulties that distance them from their peers. Thus, Miss Isis decided to focus much of the tutoring on physical movement, mimicking, strength and coordination (along with teamwork and general levels of fun!), all of which are basic building blocks on top of which finer, more focused motor skills will be added in the future as they learn to assimilate more and more into functioning society.

Last Friday was their first class together, and much to everyone’s surprise (and utter delight!) Miss Isis — who is typically very poised and quiet and has zero experience with organized sports  or any kind of physical training — brought her “A” game with our quirky little ones, thrusting aside any general societal norms of ‘accepted adult behavior’ or any notion of not wanting to ‘look weird.’

After having spent the morning in the ‘academic wilderness’ with her small group of second-fifth grade primary students (who also suffer many developmental delays, severe behavioral problems, and generally low intellectual capabilities), she suited up (as in, took off her sandals) for what promised to be a high-energy time with two very special little people.

After organizing several wind-sprints across our large front lawn (and participating), doing many frog-jumps and other rapid movement activities, Miss Isis began panting, collapsed on a nearby bench and informed the kids through heavy breaths, “Okay, great! You’re doing an excellent job. Now I’m gonna give you a little break to catch your breath before we continue onward…”

I laughed (because Isis needed the break, not the kids!), and I ran to get my camera for what was quickly becoming one of the best, most high-energy tutoring classes I’ve ever seen anyone give our little ones (and which is exactly what they need).

So here, captured behind the lens, is our beloved sister in Christ, Isis, giving her all alongside of our two goofy, precious, broken little ones. 16-year-old Sandra, who in no way was obligated to join in the tutoring class, even participated because it all looked like so much fun! Go, Sandra, go!

Good job, Josue! Just follow my lead — keep those legs and arms in constant motion! Pedal ’em like a bicycle! Let’s go, kids!


Legs up and down, up and down! You got it!


Pump it! Don’t give up, kids!


Get those arms and legs movin’! Up and down! (I think Gaby got the ‘down’ motion, but not the ‘up’!)


Now everybody pull your knees to your chest! Pull ’em tight!



Let’s get that bicycle action goin’ again! Don’t give up!


Okay! Legs! Bring those legs up and down, up and down! Feel the burn! (Gotta love this photo of Gaby!)


Whew! That was exhausting…


Now it’s time for some stretching! Circle up! Touch your toes to your neighbors’ and try to grab their fingers!



Now reach as far as you can towards the center!


One hand on your head and the other one extended to touch your toes! You got it, Gaby and Josue!


Okay! Grab your neighbor again! Stretch!




Now try to put your head to the ground!



Now reach behind you! Extend your arms!



Okay, kids! Get showered up because now we’re heading in to art class!


Gaby’s ‘silly (dragon) face’!



What a beautiful drawing, Josue!


Amen! Glory to God!

Collecting Twine Together: Building Our Nest Behind Schedule

Two Sundays ago as we came barrelling home in our old pickup truck after having spent the entire day up in the mountains with our faith community, we stopped by several homes in our rural neighborhood to drop off four of our students who had accompanied us that morning.

Everyone was joyfully exhausted from our Sunday routine of two-and-a-half hours round-trip drive to study God´s Word and worship His name with our small community of believers that meets at our mentors’ home. Miss Isis, our primary teacher and beloved sister in Christ who now lives at the Living Waters Ranch with her 1-year-old daughter, sat in the seat behind me scrunched up alongside a few of our kids while the rest bounced along in the truckbed.

Long gone are the days of Darwin and I intimately relating with our three, four or five kids at a slow, intentional pace while the rest of the world carries on with their own business. Now we have several local students, a single mom in her twenties and  a precious 1-year-old who form part of our growing extended family that demands our time and love on nights and weekends in addition to the eight who sleep under our tin roof. When did things change so much, so quickly? Is it blessing or mere hassle to include everyone all the time? Are we even a family anymore? Were we ever?

These thoughts weighed me down as I sat in the passenger´s seat at Darwin’s right. With a great jolt we passed the speedbump-like threshold through our front gate and came to a stop on our large grassy lawn in front of our home. It was already past 4:00pm. I looked over at Darwin as surely both of our minds were immediately greeted with all that had to be done: unload the car, supervise the lengthy bathing process of eight kids/teens with one common shower, get dinner ready (and then serve it, then clean up), tend to the general emotional needs of the kids and help resolve any conflicts throughout the process, and prepare our living room for our traditional Sunday-night movie as a family. All in about an hour.

¨Can we call a family meeting? I have something I need to express.¨

He looked over at me as he took the key out of the ignition, ¨Sure. I´ll call the kids.¨

So about two minutes later our eight kids, Darwin and I were all seated on sofas and stools and floor in our rectangle-shaped living room to see what it was that I had to say. Family meetings are not uncommon for us, as each person has such a unique schedule between school, work and other activities that a general meeting has to be held if one hopes to communicate something to everyone at once.

So there we sat as I began to express how I felt — not necessarily how things actually are or how the others see things, just simply how I was feeling .

I sat on the floor with my back propped up against our closed front door, putting words to my heart’s heaviness: in a normal family, bonding time between parent and child is allowed from birth until the teens before the young adult then flies the coop, carrying with them their family´s investment in their lives as they enter the adult realm. In our situation, however — when our kids come to us at age 13, 11, 7 or 15 — we are granted very little time to make any kind of familial connection, to gather twigs together and form some kind of makeshift nest before they are already taking flight.

Perhaps I feel that I am that small bird, eagerly collecting twigs and pieces of twine and other useful tidbits to make a suitable nest for the ones the Lord has brought us, carefully weaving them together with all my joyful imperfection, good intentions stained by the fall of humanity. Many of our little birds, however, are already taking flight, looking anxiously to their quickly-approaching adulthood while their childhood remains an unanswered question, a gaping void.

I remain perched, cut short in my earnest dedication, a lifeless twig dangling from my beak as those around me are already flapping their wings, nest half-made.

Three of our daughters already wear the same bra size that I do, and it seems like they´re on the constant search for a boyfriend. A boyfriend? And we never even got the chance to rock them in our arms. Even 9-year-old Jason, who came to us when he was 6, is growing so quickly and doesn´t search me out for maternal warmth as he did in his first year or two with us. Our home is quickly shedding childhood and leaving it behind as more of our kids are reaching adolescence; in four years’ time our youngest kids will be twelve. The oldest, twenty.

So all eyes were trained on me as I simply expressed my own sadness at how quickly things are moving forward, growing up. We are in the process of legally adopting almost-16-year-old Dayana and her younger siblings, but it is very likely that she will be in college or married before she actually holds our last name.

Our home is the Lord’s mission base is a school for local kids is the discipleship center: everything we have is shared with others. During daytime hours, many women cook in our kitchen and many neighbors eat from it. Monday through Friday dozens of adults, teens and kids spend their lives within our front gate, within our personal space, lives. Our car is public transport for choir kids, for our Christian laborers, students. Oftentimes I feel that our days are at the mercy of others´ needs. Everyone wants to invite friends to dinner and neighbors to our Sunday worship activities. This is good; this is blessing; but have we lost all sense of cultivating this precious little patchwork quilt of lives the Lord is knitting together under this roof? What good is it to reach the multitudes, expand our school, disciple our neighbors if we lose those the Lord has placed most near to us? Did His call to raise orphaned and abandoned children — to be His family to those who have none — not come to us before that of a school or discipleship center?

Darwin and the kids listened carefully and heads began to nod slowly in agreement. I asked sincerely: ¨Does anyone else feel this way?¨

Dayana, sitting on my right and typically so wrapped up in her own adolescence, looked at me with hesitant, vulnerable eyes as she confirmed that she, too, has felt that our nest is not yet complete, that it is still not time to fly away, that roots must continue to be laid.

So our discussion opened up as thoughts were shared. Soon the question was presented: ¨What are some special things that we do as a family — and only as a family, without our Christian laborers or students or neighbors involved, although we love them all dearly?¨

12-year-old Jackeline spoke up for the first time from across the room, seated on our small couch with a pillow held closely to her chest: ¨When we go to the park on Wednesdays as a family.¨ Several others voiced their agreement.

I went next: ¨I really enjoy going into your rooms at night to pray with you or just spend time together. I know I don´t do it all the time because I´m normally exhausted at the end of the day, but I feel very close to you on the ocassions when I do go.¨

11-year-old Gleny perked up and smiled big, ¨Yeah! I really like when you put us to bed.¨

So we continued onward, naming the various activities — and, surprisingly, there were about a dozen or so — that we do on a regular basis to intentionally weave twigs into the always-evolving nest the Lord has entrusted us.

By the end of the lengthy conversation, it became evident to Darwin and I that we needed to take action to schedule some kind of family respite, some activity that would allow us to focus exclusively on our own little birds rather than on all our neighborhood´s little birds who flock through our front gate each day for school and discipleship.

So, we cancelled all our activities this past Friday and spent the day as a family at a local wildlife refuge. Together, all 10 of us wove a few more twigs into this patchwork nest, rested our busy wings and settled down together to enjoy our Father´s love that has been manifested in our midst.

Our eight kids as we waited to take the 30-minute trainride into the wildlife refuge


9-year-old Jason and 8-year-old Josue, our two boys, investigating the animals in the park´s museum before heading out for more adventures


Dead insects!


The wildlife refuge involves a series of swamp-like canals that empty into the Caribbean ocean. We took a short walk to see the beach before continuing on to explore the swamp!





Jason exploring the horizon with a pair of binoculars


15-year-old Dayana, Jason´s older sister who arrived at our home at age 13


Jackeline running towards the water


Our six eldest kids (all but Gaby and Josue)


Jackeline (age 12) walking with her special-needs brother Josue (age 8). They have been living with us since January 2015.


Gaby and Josue love the water!


Jackeline´s photo of the park’s mangrove swamp




Everyone was very excited about the boatride because only Josselyn had ever been on a boat before!


Darwin helping Josue with his lifejacket


Jackeline and Gleny


All 10 of us!




Josue wasn´t quite sure what to make of his first boat experience!



Josselyn getting a closer look at the howler monkeys


During the boat tour, we saw many species of birds, monkeys and fish. A manatee even burst out of the water and almost hit our little boat!


Gaby and I



A green snake on the mangrove roots!





Gleny scanning the horizon for adventure


Amen! Glory to God!


One of God’s Slow Miracles: Gabriela’s One-Year Anniversary

This past Saturday, July ninth, was little Gabriela’s one-year anniversary since moving into our home.

Although her annual landmark was written in large print on our family calendar hung on our living room wall, the day honestly came and went without much hoopla. Get up early, everyone does their chores, eat together, wash dishes, study God’s Word in our dining room, counsel the kids through various mini-crisis throughout the day, wash more dishes, seek one another out in love and forgiveness, spend a few hours supporting the older ones in their studies, watch a movie in the evening as a family.

In years past we celebrated not every year but every month a child was with us, for everything was so new and so difficult that each day survived was an incredible triumph. I remember celebrating Dayana, Gleny and Jason’s two-month, five-month, eight-month, year- and two-year anniversary with big poster boards, tender hugs, hand-written love notes, cake, balloons, and the like.

Now, however, with a bustling household of eight live-ins and even more students and Christian laborers, all of whom have many birthdays and countless anniversaries, the celebrations are becoming less extravagant as our days are now much more full of planned activity than they were before.

So on Gaby’s one-year anniversary as she and I walked hand-in-hand out to Dingo’s pen to fill up his dog bowl together, the Lord utilized that small time-frame to open my mind beyond the daily, the immediate, and allow the memories of an entire year spent with Gaby to flood over me, receiving each one with a heavy-laden gratitude, rattled by joy.

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Gaby, whom one year ago I had met for the first time, that little ANGEL IN THE WHITE DRESS with the shaved head, the dozens of bald patches that revealed peach-colored scalp all over. Gaby, that skinny little girl who had been so hammered by pain and darkness that there wasn’t much little girl left at all. Jaded prostitute in the body of a malnourished seven-year-old, a mere babe who’d undergone more than many adult women do in a lifetime.

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Screaming, profanity, undressing in public, sexual talk, running off, stealing, destroying books and toys, lying, kicking.

Gaby, who months after having moved in began to shed the first of many, many layers of pain and anger, leaving her an empty shell, a little ghost. All she had known was rape, sexual games, abuse, neglect. So you take all that away, and what’s left? She was our hollow little girl who we desperately wanted to fill with the Father’s love.

Alas, in many ways she still is.

Gaby, who even now, one year later, is still so desperately broken. Her psychologist informed me just a few days ago that Gaby has made many strides and is mentally now on the level of the average 3-year-old. And before?

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Oh, Gaby, our little girl who the world has treated as trash and who still struggles to understand, to receive, when we tell her she’s a princess of the King. Gaby who still wets the bed and struggles to put into practice appropriate sexual norms and whose fine motor skills are still so terribly far behind. Can’t draw a square, can’t hold a pencil or a fork properly. Can hardly open a door. Doesn’t know the alphabet, can’t write her name. Miraculously learned the colors, can count to 10 with help. Loves singing in Darwin’s choir, has learned to pray for others in her broken, hard-to-understand way of talking.

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So she and I walked this past Saturday, hand-in-hand, as we always do, as she eagerly offered to help me fill up Dingo’s dog bowl. She loves to help me. I’m her favorite person, after all, which is an incredibly demanding blessing. She physically looks to be eight or nine or ten years old (she has no birth certificate, no record of her existence in this country’s vast archives) but has the intense emotional needs of a toddler, you see. I hold her heavy body in my long arms, kiss her on the forehead and nose, bounce her on my knees, cradle her now-quite-large body as you would a baby.

And it’s never enough.

She wants to be in my arms all the time, under my skin, in my womb.

As we’re hugging each other or as I’m cradling her, she’ll look me in the eyes and whimper, “I miss you, Mom.” I want to cry to the heavens, “How do you miss me?! I’m right here! I cannot be any closer! Oh, Father, fill up this little one because I simply cannot! Fill her with Your love! We need You, Father!”

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Crossing our grassy front yard together on Saturday, wearily contemplating the utter fullness of this past year with her in all of our ups and downs, all our little triumphs that when marked on paper or pronounced aloud seem like nothing at all, I asked God what He thought about all this, about Gaby.

After all, I’ve asked the World and I’ve asked myself quite a few times and, honestly, the answer isn’t very encouraging. She’s got the body of a third-grader but the mind of a three-year-old. She may never fully recuperate, may end up living with us for the rest of her life as she struggles onward well into her teens and adulthood with promiscuous sexual behavior, theft and destruction. She may never learn to talk correctly, may present these incredibly intense emotional needs for many years to come without any apparent result. She´s a heavy load that no one can carry.

Gaby and I were nearing Dingo’s pen. Not a moment after having asked God what He thought of our Gaby and the work we are doing of raising her, He sliced through my whirlwind of woes with this piercing question:

“Are you loving her, and are you teaching her to love Me?”


Borne somewhere in the deepest recesses of my  inner being — overcoming the daily exhaustion and general discouragement like a powerful wind — a peace blew over every corner of my being and my busy thoughts were immediately settled as I recognized the truth:



We had reached Dingo’s pen in a few short steps that to me expanded into eternity. She was probably chattering on about this and that, always with her stubby little hand firmly grasped in mine, but I did’t hear her in that moment. What I heard, my inner being completely stilled, was this:

“Then all that is being done with and for Gabriela is a success. The purpose of the entire universe is to love Me with all that you are and to love one another as yourselves. If you are doing that and teaching Gaby to do the same, you are fulfilling the one and only purpose I have set for mankind to fulfill. Nothing else matters.¨


So we continue onward with great hope, a hope not placed in Gaby and her performance (or even her behavior, which in the two days since her anniversary has been utterly atrocious), but a great hope — a pure hope, one that cannot be grabbed and dirtied by this world — in the God who is love, the God who revealed Himself to mankind as a poor, humble, powerful man who gave Himself up for us, taking on the punishment we deserve. This same God who calls us simply to love — not to change the world, invent something new or reach great heights of human ‘success.’ We are simply to love — love Him with all that we have and all that we are, and love one another as we love ourselves.

And in all of our imperfect efforts of loving, failing, seeking forgiveness and returning to love again, He is pleased. If Gaby never learns to assimilate into normal, productive adult society, if she’s always a step behind but is being shown God’s love and being taught to love Him in return, her life will be a raging success. I imagine Him jumping for joy, cheering us on as perhaps the world mocks, asks for more.

So our journey with Gaby is one of God’s slow miracles, etched out over time and with the promise of great eternal rewards.

And when I am tempted to become impatient, when I tempted to give in to despair, to want to push her hard and fast toward ‘normalty,’ I ask that God might remind me of what He taught me just two days ago out at Dingo’s pen with Gaby’s hand in mine:

As long as we are wrapped up in the divine task of love, we are fulfilling the ultimate goal for the entire universe. Nothing else matters.

Triumphing Against the Blows of Fear

Three years and one day after our wedding I almost became a widow.

I paced in the little cottage we had rented during our week-long anniversary get-away; today was our last day and we were scheduled to head home 30 minutes ago. I had eaten alone, packed up all our luggage by myself, done a basic clean of everything, and had been waiting for Darwin for several hours. He had left nearly six hours earlier to go on a walk and hadn’t taken his cell-phone with him for fear of someone robbing it (as had happened a month or two ago), so I had no way to call and ask where he was. My thoughts accused him for what seemed to me utter absent-mindedness. How could he have so lost track of time?

Restless, I sprawled out on the cottage’s bed, frustrated with what seemed to be the irresponsibility of my loves-to-go-on-long-walks-and-not-take-his-cellphone-with-him husband. I opened up my Bible to read the book of Hosea, assuming at any moment he would walk through the door all sweaty and happy after having found some remote stream or untouched mountainside by which he had spent hours praying and meditating. After all, two other days on our vacation trip he had left to go on a walk and was away several hours, returning with a renewed mind and soaring spirit. He is the man who runs from our rural home to the other side of the city for fun, some 15 or 20 miles!

Regardless, this time he really was late and we needed to return home because we had promised Miss Isis, who had stayed to take care of our kids all week, that we would be home before 1:00pm. I lay on my stomach, my mind going in circles as I focused more on Darwin’s strange absence than on the paragraphs my eyes glazed over. I prayed a quick prayer – however odd it seemed and however put-off I was with his delayed arrival – that God would protect him if he were, in fact, in some kind of trouble.

A few minutes later I thought to check his cell phone, which had been on silent in his backpack all morning not a few yards from me. Mine had not rung, but his had six missed calls, all back-to-back from the same unknown number in the last couple minutes.

I returned the call. A policeman on the other end informed me that my husband had encountered some problems.

My pulse stilled for the first time that day after having passed the majority of the morning in busy activity with unclear thoughts blaming both my husband and me for his unexplained tardiness on our last morning of vacation together.

As the policeman’s voice met my ear, the only two thoughts that laboriously presented themselves to me in that moment — as if the channels of my mind had been clogged with peanut butter — were: Darwin was in trouble, but he’s alive. I have no idea what happened, God, but I thank you that he is alive.

At my request the policeman passed the phone to Darwin who, with an unusually upbeat voice trying to overpower a subtle shakiness, informed me: “Oh, I got kidnapped! But I’m okay. How are you?”

So the police truck came a few minutes later with Darwin in the backseat. As if paralyzed, I weakly braced myself for the worst, still wading through my own peanut-butter channels as everything happened as if in a dream.

Darwin came hobbling through the gate of the small hotel complex, t-shirt drenched and ripped at the shoulder, several bloody wounds on his face, bruises on his arms, tennis shoes almost destroyed, one cheek swelled, black eye, and dark red marks around his wrists and neck. He could barely walk, but his boyish smile as he saw me remained firmly intact.

The police escorted us to the local public hospital where Darwin shuffled in to the emergency room and lay on a bare table. At once Darwin recognized the emergency room nurse – an old classmate of his from college – and they began to converse. She, as well as I and all others present, seemed to be initially thrown-off by his big smile and this-is-nothing attitude as his cheekbone and chin left a long trail of blood on his face and neck. Answering her question as to what could have caused such damage to an early-thirties foster-dad music teacher, he smiled and said, “Oh, I got kidnapped by a gang who thought I was someone else and they beat me up a bit.”

Her eyes grew in shock as she asked empathetically, “But it was only for a few minutes, right?” (Because I suppose it is common and not so bad if it only happens for a few minutes.)

In the same upbeat tone he managed, “Um, four hours.”

After he had already been on the table several minutes, I asked the nurse tentatively if there was any possibility of acquiring AIDS if other bloody patients had used the same table. There was no covering, after all. She assured me that, no, that would not happen because they spray the table down with some kind of disinfectant between each patient. I looked at the bare table with its sparse surroundings wearily and didn’t know if I should believe her.

As we sat and stood near Darwin – the two police officers and Miss Isis’ dad who had very kindly accompanied us – we constantly swatted away pesky flies that wanted to land all over his body on his wounds. Another young man with similar fight-wounds and open sores all over his face and body sat on the table next to him.

X-Rays, shots, stitches on his cheekbone and chin. Buy pills, push him around in a wheelchair to different rooms of the hospital. Take his shirt off and find his entire back marked in a dark purple. Many distinct shoe-print bruises all over his back, open gash on his leg.

Darwin’s adrenaline running out, his body began to tremble as mine continued on in a very hollowed numbness. It was as though every thought or feeling my heart birthed that day had to push its way methodically through those channels laden with peanut butter before being expressed, felt.

Through very slowed thoughts – alas, I had not slept the night before coupled with the sobering reality of all that had happened to Darwin – I confronted with a certain somberness, humility, what I’ve known since the day I married him three years and one day ago: at any moment he –or I – may get killed. A long marriage – a long life – in this land torn by sin and sickness is no guarantee. I did not cry, did not scream, did not give in to the dominating power of fear, did not question why God allowed this to happen. Merely, I understood that this always could have happened, still can happen again. Death is always close. In any country, any place.

In a sense, the thought that overwhelmed all others on that weary day was this: God has truly liberated us from all fear. When push comes to shove, when things get dirty and difficult, we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we really believe all that talk about not fearing man, of only fearing God. This is actually real; it’s actually possible to live without fear even in the midst of a brutal kidnapping. These are not just words; God truly enables us to live free of fear. Thank you, Father, that even in the midst of all this neither Darwin nor I have given in to fear, have shrunk back and desperately clung to our earthly lives.

It is easy to preach a life free of fear when one has never been threatened too closely. It is easy to say, “I do not fear Man; only God!” when the evil powers of Man have never come reeling with all their fury so close to home. Only after having confronted such a situation – whatever the result may be – can we now proclaim triumphantly: “Even so, we shall only fear God! Man has no power over us!”

This we believe.

As one hour in the hospital turned to two I learned more of the story: Darwin had been walking off the beaten path – as is his terrible habit – and a group of four young men, all involved in a gang that makes its living off of extortion and murder, came upon him and found it suspicious that a man would be wandering down along a stream all alone on their ‘territory.’ Seeing it necessary to interrogate him to see who he worked for and why they had sent him, they mounted him on a motorcycle and zipped off with him to a nearby neighborhood – the neighborhood they control — where, in fact, three of our children go to school.

At one point the motorcycle crashed, Darwin tried to escape, and he was captured again as they threw him off his feet with a swift blow to the cheekbone. In the process of four hours of interrogation and torture, they tied his hands and feet with his own shoelaces and pummeled him with feet and rods as he lie in the dirt. There were many innocent passersby during the event, but the gang leaders called out, “He’s a thief! He deserves this!” and everyone else, controlled by fear, just kept walking.

The frustrating thing for the gang lords was that the rods they used broke on his back, so they had to constantly find more. Shoe-string around his neck to choke him out, punches to the ear which left him deaf for several days afterwards, a broken tooth.

They promised to cut his ears off; they promised to kill him. His response: “If it is God’s time to take me, then I’m ready.”

I think that only made them more mad; they shrieked and laughed at his responses, continuing onward, group growing to seven men as they mocked him for his ‘Christian’ claims. They howled: ¨Surely the Christians wear suits and ties, not shorts and tennis shoes! What a liar!¨ Hit him harder.

At the end of it all they spared his life without any apparent reason. Perhaps it was because he did not cling to it too tightly.

Several of our neighbors who have since become aware of what happened have begun telling us stories of fathers-in-law or nephews or this-and-that family member of theirs who have suffered very similar kidnappings and beatings over the years, each and every time ending in a brutal murder. After all, our 8-year-old special-needs son’s biological dad was murdered in the same way. They beat him brutally and then cut his ears off.

We have not heard even one story of anyone else who was granted their life back after such an intense encounter with these gang lords.

So they let him go; he did not beg, did not plead for his life. They simply let him go – he stumbled away as he took a very back-route through a mountain stream, zig-zagging across pineapple fields and then eventually arriving at the highway where he found the police station, collapsing upon arrival.

As he lay on the hospital table a few inches from me, he said something that put everything in perspective: “Just imagine, they were so scared. That’s why they did all that to me.”

Yes, scared. Fear controls you if you let it.

The normal mind says: “What? They were scared? How is that? Don’t you mean that Darwin was scared?”

No; those men, evil personified, went to the extents they did because they feared Darwin was from an opposing gang. Fear controlled them while Darwin, receiving the physical blows, received no blow to his peace, for it is not found in nor based on what happens in this world.

Now we get it. This is the peace that passes understanding. The life of Christ. Oh, we had talked so much of this peace before this incident – and how great it is to do so! – but I don’t think we had truly tasted it until now. And how sweet it is, that blessed assurance that this world is not our home, that our felicity is not to be found among the happenings in this place! Anything can happen in this world – to our lives, our bodies, our families – and our peace remains intact because God does not change.

So that evening – which was last Saturday, June 25 – after having arrived home from the hospital to be greeted by concerned kids and all the normal daily chores and activities – perhaps ten-fold because we had been away a full week and there was much to be caught up on – Darwin sat uncomfortably hunched over on a small wicker stool in our living room and told the story to our older girls, all of whom sat on the floor in front of him. I sat in their midst.

Cloaked in an utter transparency – and not in some hyper-fear or story-telling exaggeration – he told them calmly of both the physical events of the day and their spiritual implications. He truly felt close to Christ, came to understand even a little bit more the unjust sufferings of our Savior at the hands of evil men, the Evil One in our midst. Our girls sat cross-legged on the floor at his feet, tears welling up in their eyes at the thought of almost having lost the only loving (human) father they have ever known. 12-year-old Josselyn sat on the floor a few yards away on the other side of the door-curtain in her room, wanting to hear but not wanting to see.

As Darwin finished, I carefully added, fully convinced of my own words: “We should give thanks to God even for this; we are to give Him thanks in all things, both in difficulties and in times of ease.” As my heavy statement fell on young, scared ears, 12-year-old Jackeline’s eyes grew and her head shook back and forth in protest as she made eye contact across our semi-circle with 15-year-old Dayana. I could read her thoughts: “No! I will not give thanks to God for this.” I tilted my head to one side as my eyes gently met hers, and I prayed that some day she might understand.

So after a long afternoon of consoling our young daughters, cooking and serving dinner, unpacking bags and attending to the general needs of a very busy household with very needy and complex residents, late that evening I went to 11-year-old Gleny’s top bunk to kiss her good-night. With a big smile she showed me a white piece of paper taped to the wall next to her bed marked with her scribbly-scratched writing. Quite excited, she motioned for me to read that little paper she had just prepared moments earlier: ¨Goals for Gleny to fulfill.¨ My eyes passed over her sloppy cursive hand-writing as I came upon her second goal: I will give thanks to God for everything, in difficulties or trials or good things. 

My heart swelled with gratitude as I read each of the four or five goals written in large print. She studied my face and told me, ¨This afternoon when you said we should give thanks to God even for what happened to my dad, I thought you were wrong. But then this evening God revealed to me that that is, in fact, what we should do. We should always give Him thanks, even when bad things happen!¨

I hugged her closely before bidding her good-night. A few minutes later I finally collapsed in bed next to Darwin, where he had spent the afternoon in an uncomfortable curled-up position. Exhausted to the bone but without the least sign of sleepiness, I took my Bible out and wedged our flashlight between my shoulder and ear to illuminate the page in the otherwise dark room.

Several moments passed before Darwin asked in a whisper, “What are you reading?” Feeling as though that simple question had just come from the mouth of a dead man, a man who very well might not have made it back to our bed that night at all, I let the flashlight travel up the wall in front of us to above our bathroom door, shedding light on the simple black sticker-letters that we placed there so many months ago that state: “He takes care of us.” Neither one of us said anything as we let our eyes trace and then re-trace the Truth. We must lay all our burdens on Him, for He cares for us.

Then, unexpectedly, a little collection of crumpled papers slid under our door, audibly heard on the tile floor in the silence of the night. I got up to retrieve them. They were from Gleny. She had prepared several love notes for her dad along with a rather long and thoughtful list of Bible verses she wanted to encourage us with. And so we sat propped up in bed with our little black flashlight and flipped through the Bible, searching for each of the verses Gleny had indicated for us to read. Psalm 86, several passages from the Gospels, some from Exodus and others from Paul’s letters.

Minutes turned to hours and Darwin had long since fallen asleep; I wandered into our little cave-like bathroom and sat. Still no tears, no fear, no questioning. As my head rest in my hands, more out of exhaustion than any overwhelming emotional burden, a new revelation – so simple, so obvious – dawned upon my heart: Life is incredibly simple. There are two opposing forces: God, Father of life and Truth, the good king of the coming kingdom, and Satan, Father of lies and death, prince of this fallen world. As this very real battle rages on in this world, we are given the simple instruction to love: to love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love one another as we love ourselves. We run around, worried about our jobs and reputations and connections and technology and travels and our own desires, complicating — and possibly losing altogether — what is actually shockingly simple. Life can be taken at any moment; there are two opposing forces; we are to love as long as we are alive. God takes care of the rest; through Jesus we triumph with God in the end.

So now, nine days later, Darwin’s physical body is almost completely healed and I am trying desperately to cling to that revelation that God granted me alone in our bathroom during that midnight hour. In the midst of 5:00am daily get-ups, no-sleep nights, beautiful and trying situations with our teenage girls, generally demanding days and the overwhelming emotional, spiritual and behavioral needs of our 8 kids and many students, we plead God for such clarity as was granted us on the day when Darwin’s life was nearly taken. In this world we will have trouble, but we must take heart, for Christ has overcome the world!