After Bible study, prayer groups, and group geography class in the ‘movie theater’ (the students called it that because we used a projector to show large images and maps on the wall, something we had never done before because we just purchased the projector a few days ago), all of our students divided up into two groups: the girls with Darwin for choir class (I participated as a very naughty student in the choir, and the girls loved it), and all the boys in our large dining room for art class with the rest of the teachers.
At one point I snuck out of the little building where we were having choir to go check on the boys in their first large-group art class, and I found them all very much hard at work, collaborating with one another and thoroughly enjoying the whole creative process. I have absolutely no idea what the actual project was (they seemed to be divided up in several groups according to age/ability/interest as some were working with cardboard, others with string and hot glue guns, others with simple paper and crayons), but God’s peace among them was tangible and I marveled at the beauty of what God is doing deep in their hearts.
I share with you the following photos that were taken of roughly 20 young men that we absolutely adore and are so proud of. Some of them we have known and been closely discipling for two to three years while others entered our lives but four months ago. Many of these young men have dropped out of school several times, entertained the idea of moving illegally to the United States, or become dangerously close to becoming teen fathers. They are quite the rag-tag group — some are naturally very bright and well-adjusted; others have been orphaned or had family struggles and no longer live under the protection of their parents; others suffer mild to severe learning disabilities; all of whom are growing in the knowledge and love of God. Especially in our rural community and the general Honduran culture, seeing young men become brilliantly alive in God’s love –actively seeking out His Word, submitting their lives to His will, recognizing and developing their God-given ‘hidden treasures’ and talents in order to more fully serve Christ — is no common occurrence. There is a high percentage of young men in our neighborhood who are vagabonds and thieves, oftentimes committing themselves to the service of the local gangs who end their lives before age 20. Thus, with great astonishment at God’s active work in these precious young men’s lives, I share with you the following photos we took yesterday…
The large wooden play structure we had designed was finished a few weeks ago by Domingo, one of our faithful team members who is a local pastor in his 50s who serves with us as the Christian Leadership teacher, Carpentry Club leader, and elementary math teacher. We love the way it turned out, and the kids are all over it every chance they get! It has added a very fun and dynamic dimension to recess and lunch hour, and it supports our overall mission to restore broken youth spiritually, emotionally and physically for God’s glory.
Living Waters Ranch to Enter a Three-Week Intensive Mid-Year Term
With our roughly-40 students (8 from our foster/adoptive family and about 30 from our local community who participate daily in our discipleship-based homeschool) we will be entering a three-week period of different classes as of next week to ‘shake things up’ while further equipping our youth with experiences and knowledge they need in order to continue growing and exploring God’s will for their lives. My husband Darwin will be giving several intensive choir workshops; I’ll be teaching a Biblically-based world geography class (in addition to a crash course in grammar along with several Speech/Communication workshops) with our older students; and each child/teen will have the option of ‘specializing’ in one of several areas, including English as a second language, Agriculture/Christian Leadership, Carpentry/Christian Leadership, etc. All students will be involved in twice-weekly art classes during this mid-term time, and we’ll continue faithfully with our Bible study and prayer groups as usual.
Updates Regarding Katy
The lawyer from the local government office has yet to fulfill her word to go out to Katy’s family’s home to investigate her living situation, although she promises to do so this upcoming week. Please pray for all the government workers involved, as they are overburdened with cases of child abuse, neglect, etc, and the personnel and their resources simply aren’t enough to manage each one with excellence. Our home and our hearts are prepared to accept Katy into our home if and when the Lord should bring her, and we continue our active communication with the government agency in hopes of her rescue.
Brayan and Darwin Compete in Local Race
My husband Darwin and Brayan, our 15-year-old son, competed last week in a large organized road race in the nearby city of La Ceiba along with Larry, a longtime spiritual mentor of ours, and several other local youth whom we have friendships with. Events such as these are almost unheard of in our area (there are generally very few organized sports teams for youth, and athletic training of any kind is uncommon), so Brayan and Darwin had been training together for several weeks prior as they got amped up for the big event. Brayan, who came into our lives as a very uncoordinated and broken 12-year-old in 2014, has really taken hold of long-distance running over the past couple months as he’s been training with Darwin and Erick, and he actually won third place in the youth category! I was unable to attend the race (I stayed at home with the rest of our kids), but they told me there were roughly 80 or so teen males who participated, and our son — who comes from very broken places, and whom God has been restoring and healing over the past several years in accordance with His will — came in third! Wow! We are very excited about his newfound self-discipline and motivation that Father God is inculcating in this young man whom we love so much, and Brayan is excited to travel with Darwin and Erick next month to compete in another road race in a city that lies 3 hours away.
As was written on our prior blog post, my health as of late had been quite weak as I was battling Typhoid fever and an aggressive virus. I’ve gone in several days over the past few weeks to a local clinic to receive IV fluids packed with vitamins and antibiotics, and they’ve done their job well! I’ve recuperated strength and energy and have even felt the desire to begin playing with the kids and exercising again. (A couple days ago I got into a pretty extreme game of Monkey-in-the-Middle with a large group of our students and had a blast). Thank you to all of you who have prayed for my recovery.
Teachers Attend 3-Day Conference
I am currently attending a 3-day conference with two of our teachers (Isis and Reina) in another city in Honduras as we seek to continue learning about this field that the Lord has placed us in. We’ve attended workshops on the legal side of managing a ministry, heard testimonies and advice from other people who have fostered/adopted kids, learned more about child psychology and how to nurture kids who have been through severe traumas, etc. It has been a fruitful time of making connections with others who serve in similar fields, learning from the experts, and also continuing to form the bond between the three of us as sisters in Christ. Below you’ll see a few silly photos we took when no one else at the conference was looking…
A couple days ago I lay with a light bed sheet covering my entire body and tucked up and around my face – the little air-conditioned room where I was receiving the IV was very chilly, and my body was not accustomed to the artificially cold air after having gone several years without it. As I lay there, my eyes studied the bright yellow liquid in the hanging bag that made its way one drop at a time into my veins. I then glanced at the tall window at the foot of the bed that lorded over the tiny room, and I laughed at my predicament.
I have Typhoid fever again along with an aggressive virus, and at the worst of times!
After having spent the duration of the day running around the city for various health-related appointments, blood work, etc, and having walked more than a few blocks under the blistering sun because our car was in the mechanics’, I lay still on the hard little bed and marveled at God’s faithfulness, even to this sick little servant of His. Surely He should have picked someone with a stronger immune system than I to participate with Him in such a work! (But have I not struggled with insomnia, various tropical illnesses, etc, almost without respite these last five years, and has He not fulfilled His will even in the midst of my own weakness?)
Just hours prior I had visited the child protective services’ humble government building hoping to give some kind of follow-up to Katy’s case. Darwin and I had continued praying for the little girl over the last several days, asking Father God to indicate to us what to do. First our 16-year-old daughter Dayana and then 12-year-old Josselyn, Katy’s older biological sister who has been living with us nearly two years, had both approached us independently, telling us they felt that we should bring Katy to our home to raise her. After all, Father God had confirmed the same in our hearts, but a week had gone by and we had yet to act. I had thought rebelliously: But I’m sick! Right now I don’t want to receive a new child; I just want to lay my spinning head down! Bring the new child when I’m feeling like Wonder Woman!
But even as I lay there in that chilly, isolated room I knew there comes a time when the rubber of obedience must hit the road; we mustn’t sit around ‘waiting for answers’ all day when He has plainly showed us the path we are to take.
Thus, earlier that day I found myself entering that little government building and seeking out one of the head lawyers, a very kind Christian woman who works closely with the social worker who had accompanied me on the visit the week prior. I was in a cold sweat and more than slightly dizzy as she allowed me to enter her small workspace to talk. Our prayer over the last several days had been: Lord, if it is Your will that Katy come to live with us, open doors (and hearts) in the government agency, and compel them to move forward on the case.
The lawyer seemed stilled and completely attentive, which is no small miracle considering the mounds of paperwork and emergency visits that she is responsible for each day. Oftentimes when we enter the extremely under-staffed building, it seems like everyone is running around with their hair on fire, consumed entirely by the ‘urgent’ perhaps rather than the ‘important’. We have certain specific legal actions we have been requesting from them for years, but their wait-line of ‘emergencies’ is so long that they have yet to get around to our kids’ adoption, creating birth certificates for a couple of our girls, giving us vital paperwork that was due months ago, etc. Getting the Honduran government to move quickly is no task for mortal man!
So when the lawyer put aside her mound of papers, gave me her undivided attention and – what’s more – seemed to really ‘get’ the root of what I was talking about not only on a professional level but also with profound compassion, I suddenly felt convinced that it was God’s will that Katy come live with us. The lawyer assured me that she would put it on her calendar to go out to Katy’s home next Wednesday to investigate the situation further and, quite likely, remove her that same day.
I thanked her several times for her availability and collaboration, although, before leaving the office, I felt compelled to say more. My mind spun in a few circles as I fought hard to focus, as is one of the symptoms of Typhoid fever. I continued, carefully: “I have to tell you that Katy also has a little brother. I have not seen him, but our girls have told us about him and I believe he is roughly 4 years old. I hope to God that he is okay and can remain living in his family situation – because the Lord knows we already have a lot of our plate! – but when you go out to their home to investigate Katy’s case on Wednesday, it is possible that you will see him and may feel that he, too, is in danger and needs to be removed from their home. If that is the case –” I breathed deeply, remembering that all of this is about fulfilling God’s will rather than our own “– we can accept him too.”
Once the entirety of that sentence escaped my mouth, I knew there was no turning back. I began laughing slightly at the absurdity of it all – I felt I was about to pass out, and just walking from the parking lot to the seat where I sat had been laborious, yet here I found myself on the brink of receiving possibly two new, severely broken little guys! Oh, God, help me! This truly is a task we cannot do alone!
The lawyer completely understood, and I continued, possibly to affirm my own faith in God’s goodness rather than for her benefit. I spoke slowly, again choosing each word carefully: “The path we have travelled with little Gabriela – her recovery thus far from severe sexual abuse and malnutrition – has been a very intensive and trying process, but — by God’s grace — innocence is being recovered. She is learning to read; she hears God’s Word daily; and she is truly blossoming, although it is an arduous process…God has accompanied us during this process as we have been in over our heads on numerous occasions, and if He leads us to begin all over again with Katy – and possibly with the little boy as well…then He will give us the grace we need in order to love them well.” I spoke even slower as I reached the end of my statement: “He will give us the patience, the love and the energy that we lack.”
In my mind, a very clear image presented itself: Darwin and I arriving toward the finish line of a grueling 26.2-mile marathon. We were consumed with sweat and total exhaustion, hauling ourselves over that blessed end mark as we literally gave all we had, nothing left in reserves. We collapsed on the other side, having successfully finished the race – perhaps slowly, with several stops, not having won any kind of medal at all and probably limping more than half the way, but, by golly, we crossed the line – when someone came and announced, “Okay, go immediately back to the start line, and do it all again! Ready, set, go!” and the gun fired to commence the entirely unexpected second part of the marathon.
Wha-? Wait! …No!
I suddenly felt delusional as I stared at the entire race track that had suddenly been laid before us. But we had already run! We had already passed each of the landmarks, leaving drops of sweat, blood and tears all over the course! Maybe, just maybe, we could think about training again after a long period of resting, getting enough liquids and taking some time off, but right now? So soon? Oh, God, lead us to give more Bible studies or to teach more classes or do more community visits – anything but this!
Even as I felt led towards hysteria, I could not have been more convinced of God’s perfect will for our lives and for that of Katy and possibly her little brother. And, what’s more, I had total peace. Exhaustion and sickness, yes. Even dangerously low emotional reserves. But peace and confidence in the Living God who will doubtlessly come to our encounter as He already had, who will equip us from moment to moment to love those whom He is so clearly rescuing and bringing to our care. Peace; yes. I could not be convinced that God would have it any other way.
Outwardly the lawyer and I continued on in joyful, informative conversation for another twenty minutes or so as she inquired sincerely as to the wellbeing of our other kids, how Josselyn had received the news that she won’t be able to return to her biological family, etc. In every sense of the word it was a God-ordained visit, as such a sincere, unhurried conversation is not common in the Honduran sphere of legal matters and government agencies. At the end of the conversation I sensed that God was leading me to pray for her, so I asked her permission and we both extended our hands toward one another, heads bowed right there in her office, and we prayed.
And so, hours later, as I lay in that little bed with the needle in my hand, I rejoiced in my heart of hearts over what Father God is doing with us – is doing in me. Surely this is what it means to store up treasures in heaven; to seek first the Kingdom of God –to show His love to the least of these – before securing worldly comforts and control. Oh, yes, how I have loved control! How I have wanted to cling to my own plans!Oh, how I have wanted to chart out the next five years, check boxes off the list! But He is liberating me from all this and showing me a more excellent way. Secure within the Father’s will, I rest assured that if and when Katy and her little brother move into our household, He is already going before us, preparing even the smallest of details, and will be with us in the moment of trial, of exhaustion, of desperation. He has done miracles in the lives of our other children and teens – and even in the depths of our own hardened hearts – and I sensed He was anxious to begin doing it all over again with two new souls apt for rescue, for salvation.
I turned over in the little bed, the sheet tucked under my chin, and I felt that I had never been more at peace or more fascinated with my God.
A couple hours later, as the IV had finished and I sat on a bench waiting for the doctor to finish with another patient, I felt a bit anxious to get on the road because it was already our family’s Sabbath Hour and I had been gone all day. I wiggled around on the bench as the doctor’s wife, who serves as his assistant, came over to chit-chat with me while I was waiting.
I smiled at her and asked politely, “Do you know how much longer I’ll have to wait? It’s already past 6:00pm, and my husband’s been by himself all afternoon with our kids…”
Her face lit up at the mention of kids, and she inquired as to how many we had.
I laughed before the answer escaped my lips, because I already knew what her reaction would be: “Eight.”
Her eyes doubled in size and her jaw crashed to the floor. (That is the typical reaction.) Before the poor lady had a heart attack, I quickly began explaining God’s calling on our life and that, no, I had not been through eight pregnancies by age 26.
It turned out the doctor’s wife is also a Christian, so that sparked a long and rather dynamic conversation between us as I suddenly found myself telling her the amazing stories of God’s redemptive work in our children’s lives.
She nodded in agreement. I continued, “But when we entered that busy government complex with dozens of kids running around everywhere — me greeting little guys right and left, seeing tons of kids jumping around, sliding on swing sets! — and I suddenly laid eyes on her, God spoke to my heart and said as clear as day ‘She will be your daughter.'”
I jumped ahead to the part where the head honcho at the government agency brought us the three kids he had supposedly mentioned to us via telephone — a young sibling group with the eldest, a male, being nine years old. “And then the director came around the corner, not with the kids he had mentioned, but rather with the girl whom God had told me would be our daughter! There she was with her two younger siblings! I asked her how old she was…” I began laughing out loud as I continued onward in the very familiar story that has forever changed our lives: “…and she responded ’13.’ Thirteen!”
I continued as the doctor’s wife listened with eyes widened with intrigue, with glee: “You know that in this country girls who are 11, 12, 13 years old oftentimes already have children! I mean, to receive a 13-year-old girl into your home as a daughter — without knowing virtually any of her history! — is crazy!”
She nodded in total agreement. My mind spun, now not only from the Typhoid but also in joyful response to this sensation of fast-forwarding that I was mentally experiencing in regard to our journey with our eldest daughter. “Oh, her mother and the majority of her older female relatives are all prostitutes! It has been so hard to break those generational chains — we have been through so much with her, cried in desperation, felt we had reached our limit on dozens of occasions! — but I tell you that now, almost four years later, she is closely walking with the Lord and was publicly baptized last year! She continues to live in our home and under our authority; she is our daughter and we’re in the process of legally adopting her. God’s work has been great!”
To jump from beginning to present-day as I had just done — to remember and even share with someone else the reality in as few words as possible of all that God has done over the course of these 2, 3 or 4 years (depending on each kid’s arrival date), does great things to encourage the heart. In the mundane, in the fire of the trial, in times of fasting and weeping on their behalf, it can perhaps be easily lost on us the miraculous, transformative work that God is doing in our midst. But to take it all in in a single snapshot: to remember the tragic, against-the-odds beginning, fast-forward the years of daily battles and victories, and take in the God-ordained present reality of redemption and transformation — wow! This gives me new fuel.
I felt greatly encouraged by God’s extremely visible hand over her life, and I added: “Being her mom — specifically her mom, not even mentioning our journeys with the other kids — has been absolutely the most difficult, most precious thing God has led me to do in this life. I’ve never done anything harder or more beautiful.”
And so, as one story led to the next and our dialogue deepened and expanded, sharing and encouraging one another in Christ, I left that little clinic under the dark night sky feeling more encouraged than I had expected to. I sensed it was a blessed joy sent specifically from God to lighten my heart during this current season: if our journey with Dayana, our eldest, has been so absolutely demanding — and so absolutely worth it, despite whatever happens in these coming years — can I not participate with Father God even now in anticipating another entirely unique redemptive story in Katy’s life? I felt Father God was rubbing His palms together enthusiastically with a big smile on His face, helping me to remember His absolute faithfulness towards us with each of our other kids as He wanted to incite my heart toward burning joy and great faith in regards to what He has in store for Katy and her little brother.
Please pray with and for us during this time, as the lawyer’s pending visit to investigate Katy’s living situation is three days away. Pray that nothing would interfere with her completing her promised visit, and that all the necessary people involved — Katy’s mom, Katy herself, etc — would be at home and willing to receive the government workers when they arrive Wednesday morning. Please pray, too, for my health, as my activities have been extremely restricted over the last several days and I’ve had to visit a local clinic to receive additional IV treatments since. Pray that the Typhoid fever would be eliminated from my body along with this long-standing virus so that I may regain health and vitality.
Recently we organized an all-day event of various old-fashioned yard games for our students and neighbors. We very intentionally incorporated games that involve teamwork, healthy physical touch, riotous laughter, coordination, and sensory development as many of the youth the Lord has placed in our lives come from very broken places and are in the beginning stages of being restored and renewed by God’s love under our care.
The majority of our young friends are very immature for their age due to not having received vital components in their early childhood (such as adequate parental attention, Biblical guidance, loving discipline, etc), thus they lack healthy self-esteem, an accurate understanding of who God created them to be and the basic tools necessary to confront reality in a godly way. Knowing that these ‘lacks’ in a child or teen’s life propel many toward a life of crime, depression and/or sexual deviancy, we understand that spending a day full of godly friendship, intense laughter and team-building activities goes a long way towards restoring and forming healthy individuals who respond to God’s love and interact with others in a loving way.
In our corner of the globe here in Latin America (as around the world), there is much competition, violence and physical intimidation/abuse among peers and families, so learning to use one’s physical strength to bless others, carry a teammate, etc, is a very important aspect of learning to receive and then be instruments of God’s love in daily life. Patting someone on the back in encouragement, receiving a hug from a trustworthy adult, learning how to give (or receive) a piggy-back ride, etc, are really big steps toward their recovery into loving, joyful beings under the headship of the loving, joyful God.
Furthermore, many of our kiddos have very poor motor skills/physical coordination due to malnutrition and under-stimulation in their early childhood, so all the activities we do with them are geared toward stimulating them toward integral health, growth and abundance according to God’s perfect will for their lives.
So, one of the first games on our agenda was a crazy partner activity. I stood among the many teams of two and shouted out “Backpack!” and the teens had to grab their partner and fling them on their back. Then “Baby!,” which they then scrambled to cradle their friend’s weight in their arms as if they were a precious (oversized) newborn. And so the game went, me shouting out one wild command after another until everyone was panting and heaving, either from laughter or exhaustion…
‘Backpack’, everybody! Get up there!
What a beautiful baby! Don’t let him fall!
One of the next games on the day’s agenda was a fan-favorite that I introduced to them last year: Chinese freeze-tag! My husband Darwin and one of our 50-year-old local teachers (Reina) got in the mix as everyone was running wildly around our yard!
Watch out, Jackeline! Your teacher is gaining on you! Run, Reina, run! (She was such a good sport — she came out on one of her days off in order to participate in all the games with the kids without having any idea what would be in store!)
Look at Darwin go! Our eldest daughter Dayana was hot on his heals, and he was determined not to get caught!
The next game was an old classic: the water balloon toss! Every time you throw it, you’ve gotta take a step back!
I hid in an outdoor trashcan (with the lid on!) and no one found me until one of the teen boys casually walked by, took the lid off, and went to throw some trash on my head! My legs are so long that I had quite the hard time uncurling my body to get out from the tight space once the game was over!
Hey! Who’s hiding out on the school building’s roof?
Next up: a new game I read about on the internet! Everybody has to hop on one leg and use the other one (no hands allowed!) to try to push their partner over! It’s like standing-up leg wrestling. Let’s see who’s got the best balance and endurance!
When Darwin and Brayan went head-to-head (below), neither one wanted to lose! Thank God that we have two very strong, godly men in our household!
Then it was my turn to go up against tough-as-nails Paola! After a pretty intense go of it I finally beat her as I ended up hopping on one leg after her all around the yard!
The grand finale! Teenagers Cristian and Derbin went at it for several minutes while the spectators looked on!
Who likes watermelon?! Did I mention that you can’t use your hands? Eat up, boys!
One of the last games was one I invented right on the spot, and it turned out to be a riot! I warned the kids that they would be participating in the world debut of a new game…They had to crawl on all fours with a spoon in their mouth before reaching bowls of shortening (like Crisco) and flour on the ground. They then had to fill the spoon with one of the ingredients before crawling to their teammate at the other end of the yard to start spreading the delicious ingredients all over their face. The object of the game? Who knows, but it was really funny to watch!
Watch out, kids! Here comes Darwin with a huge spoonful of flour! Run and hide!
Hey! I told them to just put the Crisco on their victims’ — er, I mean teammates’ — face! Poor Josue was covered from head to toe! (And poor Darwin and I who had to bathe him and Gaby afterwards! The real prize awaited me the next day when I went to wash his clothes — and we don’t have a washing machine!)
Now it’s Reina’s turn! You go, girl!
Yup! We successfully finished the game! How do I know? Because all the Crisco and flour were emptied from the bowls and applied successfully to the kids (and Darwin, far left)! This is a game everybody can win, right?
Our 16-year-old daughter Dayana (middle, red shirt) was not too happy with me because it took her lightyears to pick all the Crisco and flour — which turned into a dreadlock-like substance — from her very thick, curly hair! Needless to say, I don’t think she’ll be requesting the game at her next birthday party!
And, last but not least, at the end of the day-long event, our 8-year-old special-needs son Josue followed me into the kitchen where I snapped this priceless shot of him. It is my new favorite picture: every mother’s worst nightmare! He looks like a naughty little guy who’ll get into anything when momma’s not looking (which is actually quite true)!
As I drove down the bumpy gravel road in our old pickup truck, endless pineapple fields stretching out on either side of the dusty strip, I began to pray, for I knew if I didn’t my mind would immediately race to the task of worrying and jumping to conclusions, which I am learning brings no positive result in addition to going against God’s will for His children.
After all, the shiny new silver truck with a neat government logo pasted on the outside was following me. Today was the official visit the Honduran government’s child protective service would make to two of our daughters’ biological family’s household to determine whether the house and its members were apt to receive our girls, who have been living under our protection since July 2015. We had never done any kind of investigational visit like this before, and I knew that when dealing with the Honduran government I had to hide my own emotions and play by certain rules if I wanted to preserve the good standing we have thus far enjoyed with them.
I breathed deeply, trying to keep my thoughts neutral and my heart fixed on the perfect peace that is available to us at all times through Christ Jesus. I whispered, alone in the car, as I journeyed farther and farther into the middle of nowhere, guiding the large vehicle behind me: “Lord, if it is Your plan and Your desire that the girls return to their biological family, I pray that You would make that very clear to all involved. Convince the government social worker and grant Darwin and me peace in our heart about the decision.” Because, Lord knows, at that point neither Darwin nor I had peace about one or both of our girls leaving the protection of our home to return to what we perceived to be a highly unstable, dangerous situation with their biological family. We were only realizing the legal investigations because Josselyn was pushing hard to do so, and it was our duty in the eyes of the law to reunite our girls with their family if at all possible.
After several weeks of phone calls, emails and visits to the little building that manages all of the cases for local abandoned, abused and orphaned children (which there are too many of) in attempts to organize this visit – a grasping at some kind of closure, some kind of answer for our 12-year-old Josselyn and for us to know what direction to head in during this new season — the day had finally arrived. Pint-sized Josselyn with her shaggy black hair had her heart set on moving back in with her biological family members after having gotten in touch with them on a chance encounter downtown a couple months ago, and today we would most likely receive our answer.
I continued onward as I started to doubt that I even remembered where the house was located. In Honduras there are no street signs (or street names), and on this long, dusty stretch everything looked about the same to me. I continued praying: “Lord, on the contrary, if it is not Your will that our girls go back to their family, convince the social worker of that, and grant Josselyn peace in her heart when we have to tell her the news. Whichever way this all goes, I ask that Your peace reign over the situation and over our hearts. May Your will be done; not ours. Show us all the way, and give us the grace and strength to walk in it.”
Several minutes later I spotted the only landmark I remembered from the prior visit I had made to the home – a small tin overhang above the front gate, a twine-and-twig contraption that could not effectively keep anyone in or out. I pulled to a stop, and the large government vehicle behind me followed suit.
Within moments I led the social worker, a very kind local Christian woman whom we don’t yet have much experience with, and the car’s driver down a narrow dirt path and crossed the threshold into our girls’ grandparents’ very simple home. Their small dirt backyard gave way to an endless sea of pineapple fields.
The girls’ grandmother, an extremely frail but alert woman, immediately received us with a hug and the customary kiss on the cheek, eagerly pulling out two plastic chairs to accommodate us in their otherwise totally bare living room. We sat down, me with a smile on my face and my lips sealed firmly shut. This very official visit was technically to be had between the social worker and the family; I was lucky to be present and knew my role was not to be an active one. Despite having been the day-to-day hands-on mom, counselor and teacher for the girls for nearly the last two years, the government sees Darwin and I – and others in our area who serve God in similar capacities – as nothing more than an emergency, short-term shelter rather than a living, breathing family – the very hands and feet of God to rescue those who are so close to the flames! – so the social worker looked to Grandma to get all the details straight rather than to Darwin and I.
Thus the interview process started with several straggling aunts, uncles and cousins of all ages quietly gathering around the open windows and doors to observe the conversation at hand.
The social worker, very eager to reunite lost children with their families (which in theory sounds excellent), began discussing with Grandma the logistics of placing both of her long-lost granddaughters under her legal care. I kept my tongue firmly placed between my teeth, intent on saying nothing. It was clear to me that Grandma and the social worker did not know – or did not want to tell – the whole story, and they had not invited me to speak, so I did not.
The social worker took out a very formal stapled questionnaire that she began filling out as Grandma began answering her questions. One of the first was: “How many people live in your home?”
It seemed simple enough; in the quietness of my own mind I had assumed that Grandma and Grandpa lived alone. There always seemed to be a whole lot of family members everywhere, but I had guessed that they all lived close by and simply enjoyed spending time together during daytime hours, seeing as no one had a stable job and none of the children were in school. Lots of free, idle time; thus, let’s spend it together.
After the social worker’s question, there was an odd pause. Grandma glanced over at her husband, and it became clear that neither of them knew the answer. They sent one of the young aunts to take a head count, and she came back a few minutes later with the answer: “17.”
The social worker’s eyes grew wide as she glanced in surprise at the lines her paper permitted her for that section: there were only ten spaces. She began asking one-by-one the names of all who lived there, ages, genders, etc, as she had to turn her page over and extend the section in her own freehand on the back of the sheet.
Grandma, oftentimes contradicting herself and having to consult constantly with other relatives as to the names, ages, and current whereabouts of those who live under her roof – a three-bedroom, one bath house – began naming several sons and grandsons of hers in their teens and twenties who live and sleep under her roof. I bit down even harder on my tongue as dark images darted across my mind, knowing full well that both of our girls had been severely sexually abused by their very own family members.
During our first supervised family visit several weeks ago, Josselyn later told one of our older daughters that I had had a lengthy conversation with one of her uncles who had raped her, and that ‘everything seemed okay now’ because I had had a pleasant conversation with him – completely unbeknownst to me that he had been one of the perpetrators – and that she would be fine living with him because he had treated me nicely and I got along well with him.
Roughly ten teenage and young adult men – none of whom study or have stable jobs and who have a known history of sexually abusing children – living and sleeping alongside of our two girls in a tiny house that holds only two or three beds? Over my dead body. Righteous anger was quickly awakened within me, but I still said nothing.
The social worker began asking about the girls’ future education, if and when they move back in. Grandma was very hesitant about this, as absolutely none of her dozens of grandchildren are in school, and all of the adults are illiterate. They move frequently and have no stable employment and, although they can afford sodas and candies and cell phones (as so many poor Honduran families do), they have no money for the kids’ education.
At some point during the conversation Grandma mentioned that the girls’ biological mom – whom many family members have told us is highly emotionally unstable and became irate when she heard the news that her daughters visited several weeks ago, thinking that we were going to leave them with her – was ‘out’ with Papo, the infamous stepfather who developed the habit of raping our daughter Gabriela while she lived under his care.
At the mention on his name, I couldn’t take it any longer – even though I had written and submitted official reports to the local government office regarding the nature of our girls’ sexual abuse (there was even a police raid to Papo’s home at the time of Gabriela’s rescue in order to put him behind bars, but he escaped the raid and the police have made no further attempt to pursue him), it was clear that the social worker had no idea who we were dealing with. She continued inquiring calmly about the mom and step-dad, when I very carefully raised a finger and asked if I could speak.
My plastic chair positioned carefully in a triangular position between the other two chairs – my attempt to show my support and collaboration with both parties equally – I spoke up, my voice quivering slightly with rage, “That man – the girls’ stepdad – is the same one who sexually abused Gabriela. I absolutely do not feel right about having her return to live anywhere in proximity to that man – “
The social worker’s eyes grew wide once more as she glanced over at Grandma to clear up the issue. Grandma, possibly wanting to defend her family members or her own integrity or simply unversed on the real issue at hand, began claiming that Gabriela was crazy and that it was all a lie. Gaby was fine and had never been abused. She always used to say bad words and take her clothes off in Grandma’s house, but Grandma knew that she did so because she was crazy.
I spoke up again, this time without asking permission, still trying to keep my voice calm while I was not at all pleased with the idea that we had such a cloud of witnesses around us, eavesdropping on such a delicate issue: “When Gaby first moved in with us roughly two years ago she constantly took her clothes off in public, tried to have sexual relations with any boy or man who was close to her, screamed and talked loudly about Papo – her stepdad – saying that she was gonna put him in jail, and her own sister affirms that Papo had taken Gabriela as his young lover from a very early age on. Her mind and body had been damaged to such an extent that she had become borderline special-needs, oftentimes struggling with self-loathing, learning disabilities and constant disciplinary issues, and the recovery process has been grueling.” (She was about seven or eight years old when she was rescued out of that situation, and we have no idea of knowing for how many years he had been mistreating her prior to that.)
I was desperate to tell the truth while not openly offending this very poor, fragile family. All the people around us had been created in God’s image just as much as I had been, and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had paid the price of their redemption. God truly loves these people – even the abusers – and desires for them to be saved and renewed. I could not judge these people nor look down upon them, but I could do whatever was necessary to assure that these two girls did not fall back into a very dark pit. Lord, forgive me if I am over-stepping my bounds.
I had put my cards quite strongly on the table, and I had put myself at risk of being called biased or even possibly against the family reintegration process (which is a cardinal sin in Honduras). The social worker, obviously alarmed by all the information I was sharing (even though I had shared it with her and her colleagues before, possibly having fallen on deaf ears until now), began probing Grandma on the topic as she continued denying the whole thing as the list of lies and excuses lengthened.
As the conversation continued onward amiably but very professionally, the social worker jotting down all of her official notes, someone suddenly appeared in the doorway and I felt what little air I had in my lungs jump right out.
Everything around me disappeared as my eyes locked in on her extremely small frame and shaved head. She was even wearing a white dress, which was actually just a shirt that reached her waist. She wore no pants; little undies and a white shirt were all. Her eyes seemed glazed over and travelled up and across the walls.
The dialogue between the social worker and Grandma continued onward as I suddenly felt lost in space. None of the other ten or fifteen family members present even noticed her arrival. She was like a small, almost unconscious ghost. Frail and broken – probably much tinier than whatever her real age was – and with a shaved head and white dress.
I let out a slight gasp, my whole body being slammed with very strong memories of the other little angel in the white dress as I glanced over at a teen male who stood a few feet from me. I pointed a finger at the little girl and asked with deep respect and awe, “That is Katy, isn’t it?”
He affirmed casually that, yes, that was Katy. I continued staring at her – looking past Grandma to that little, lost figure with the shaved head who stood idly near her chair, eyes still glazed over and far, far away.
I spoke again without permission, this time to no one in particular, “That is Josselyn and Gabriela’s little sister. Katy.”
Oh, I knew her when I saw her because that is exactly how our Gabriela arrived under our care in 2015: shaved head riddled with scars and open wounds; lost, far-off look in the eyes; strikingly similar facial features; extremely small frame; she was even wearing a white dress the day we met her.
I felt an immediate connection with that little girl that goes beyond explanation. I felt that I knew her already; I even felt that she was Gabriela herself two years ago. I stared at her little bitty legs that led up to her underwear in plain sight and her white, nearly see-through shirt that fell slightly off one shoulder. I tried to make eye contact with her several times, but her glossed-over stare seemed to look right past me. Only a couple times did her eyes actually find mine as a very quick, very tiny smile tugged at one side of her tired cheeks before the glossy stare overtook her again. After standing idly in the doorway for what seemed an eternity, she then began hobbling over toward the adjacent room. A family member who was not present at that moment had commented to me on a prior visit that she had just begun walking recently due to severe malnutrition. Exactly like Gaby.
I do not remember the specifics of the rest of the conversation; just that I got up from my seat and sat down on the concrete floor right next to Katy and began stroking her arm and back, as I would with any of our kids. I felt that she was mine even though she had no idea who I was. Her eyes never met mine, and even the loving physical touch could not snap her out of her zombie-like state. I patted my lap and asked if she wanted to sit with me, but she neither looked at me nor responded.
At one point Grandma glanced over at me, visibly confused as I no longer displayed my happy, neutral smile. My countenance had grown dark and I silently fought back an onslaught of tears and rage.
The visit was concluded with cordial hugs, handshakes and on-the-cheek customary kisses, and we soon began walking back to the main road where our vehicles awaited us.
Once we were out of the family’s earshot, I dared to ask the social worker, “What were your thoughts on the visit?”
She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and commented very sincerely, “It seems to me that they don’t always tell the truth.”
I let out a long, unexpected sigh and dared to probe further, knowing I was trodding on fragile ground: “In your opinion, do you think that it will be best for the girls to return to their family?”
Just weeks prior when I met with the same social worker to inform her of the family’s whereabouts and of Josselyn’s desire to move back in with them, her immediate, upbeat response was, “Great! It’s always better for kids to be with their family.”
This time, however – having seen first-hand the situation in which one or both of the girls would be diving into – she responded without wasting a beat, “No way. The girls would be entering a situation of sexual abuse upon returning to their home. Plus none of the kids who live with Grandma are in school and they move so frequently that we would lose all follow-up with them. I will file the report, but in my opinion, they shouldn’t go back there.”
I let out a slight laugh of pure glee as it dawned on me that God had granted my humble request and thus confirmed His will for our girls. He opened the social worker’s eyes to the real situation at hand, helped her to detect the many lies, and convinced her that our girls should not return there. Now the only thing left (and perhaps most difficult of all), would be sharing the news with Josselyn, who had so longed to return to what she had convinced herself was the ideal life.
Feeling compelled by God to speak out about Katy’s situation, I shared with the social worker my concern for the little girl. She looked exactly as Gaby did upon arrival to our home, and I feared the worst: now that abusive step-dad Papo no longer has access to Gaby, he has probably begun abusing little Katy in the same way. The social worker seemed to understand (there are so many cases such as these that the elements of surprise and rage oftentimes don’t even come into play for those who work daily in this sphere), and I affirmed to her that if and when the government should remove her from the familial situation, we would be more than willing to accept her.
On the car ride home I prayed fervently for Josselyn – that God would console her heart upon receiving the news that she would not be able to return to her family, and that He would grant her His perfect peace to understand why. Upon arriving home I spoke with Darwin – who had been teaching classes all morning – to inform him of the news, and I wept in his presence of my encounter with Katy.
About an hour later we arranged to talk in private with Josselyn. Darwin prayed as the three of us – Darwin, Josselyn and I – held hands with heads bowed in one of our empty classrooms, the teachers and students having already returned home for the evening. By God’s grace we were able to share the news well, and although silent tears rolled down Josselyn’s dark cheeks, she did not turn violent or seem carried toward total despair. We continued talking and praying with her afterward and embraced her in a ‘sandwich hug,’ something we do with all of our kids (Darwin on one side and me on the other, both of us embracing the little person who stands between us.) We had — have — no other choice but to throw ourselves at God’s feet, asking for mercy and for His perfect peace in the face of what could possibly turn into total depression and despair for His daughter Josselyn.
Darwin then left to tend to the rest of our kids as the open conversation – by this time not so heavy – continued between Josselyn and I for quite some time. I then carefully asked Josselyn’s permission to share the news with the rest of our kids, seeing as they all knew about that day’s official visit and were eager to know the result. She consented, saying that it was okay for us to talk about it with the rest of our household but that she preferred not to be present. I agreed, and she went out front with little Gaby to play ball and climb the mango tree with a few young neighbors.
The news was shared with our other six kids – even the news of my experience meeting little Katy – and 16-year-old Dayana, our eldest, was the first to suggest that Katy should come live under our protection. 13-year-old Jackeline was rightfully enraged and surprised that the police had not put step-dad Papo behind bars (even though we had previously shared this information with our children), and a very heavy but peaceful solemnity came over the room where we prayed over and discussed with our children serious details and realities that are far from most households. We reiterated the utter importance of maintaining all forms of sexual abuse and misconduct far from our household; we affirmed our love and commitment to each of our kids; we spoke tenderly of the need to have compassion and patience for Josselyn during this time. As we left the meeting, I was certain God met us there as He had also that morning in the official visit and earlier that afternoon when we spoke with Josselyn.
Later that evening, I found Dayana playing piano and gave her a long hug followed by a kiss on the top of the head as I told her how amazed I was with the heart – the compassion – God was forming in her. The suggestion she had made during the earlier family meeting to receive Katy into our home was nothing short of a miracle, for we all know the extreme adjustments, sacrifices and general household instability that follow the addition of any new child. Surely God was granting Dayana His own heart for those on the margins; surely He was transforming her into a daughter of the King.
That night as everyone was quietly tucked into their bedrooms for our family’s daily Sabbath Hour, Darwin and I arrived at Josselyn and Gaby’s quarters and asked to come in. As we passed through their floral-print door curtain, we found both sisters quietly sitting on their tile floor, working on homework and puzzles. We sat down with them as we informed little Gaby that I had had the privilege of meeting her sister Katy that morning, and that Katy reminded me a lot of Gaby. Her eyes grew wide at the sound of her sister’s name, and I smiled at her and told her that Darwin and I would like to pray with them for Katy.
The sisters’ hands instinctively extended towards ours as the four of us formed an imperfect circle on their tile floor. We prayed for Katy, asking God’s protection over her life and that He would indicate to us what we are to do in this situation. As we finished praying, we embraced each of the sisters and gave them a kiss on the top of their head as we then left their room for the night.
That was Wednesday, two days ago. Please pray with us, both for Josselyn’s continued acceptance and peace with the fact that she will not legally be able to return to her family’s care along with Katy’s very delicate situation, knowing that multitudes of other boys and girls around the globe also silently face sexual abuse day after day. Pray that the local authorities would move to investigate Katy’s living situation and that, if it is God’s will, she would come to our home to be raised in a God-fearing way along with her sisters.
Amen. To God be the glory, for He hears us and comes to our encounter.