Around 5:45am this morning as our 10 foster children/teens and I went about our daily business getting ready for a new day of classes and activities, my husband Darwin came walking through our front door in his grimy work clothes that he puts on every morning to go milk the cows.
Jackeline sat next to me on our little couch as others went about brushing hair and teeth, taking turns in the shower, etc. Each day the routine is more or less the same: we all get up at the same time in the wee hours of the morning; Darwin goes out to milk the cows (oftentimes taking our 16-year-old son Brayan with him), and I facilitate the domestic task of getting everyone in the home ready. Darwin brings in a large bucket of fresh, organic milk; we eat cornflakes and granola for breakfast; and thus the day commences.
Both of our adult female milking cows recently gave birth, so after months of being without milk in our household, the flow of milk had begun anew only a few weeks ago, thus greatly alleviating our heavy grocery bills and also providing an excellent source of calcium and vitamins to our kids, all of whom come from situations of malnutrition and extreme poverty. In short, the cows’ milk is a tremendous blessing, both economically and for our kids’ health and growth.
So, as Darwin came walking through our front door this morning — just like any other morning — he said dryly, “The cows are gone.”
I stared at him, not understanding what he was trying to say. After all, the cows have escaped several times and we’ve had to go out into our rural town searching for them. I asked dumbly, “What? Which ones?”
“The two adults. Someone stole them.”
A shock of panic shot through my veins. The two adults cows? The two who provide us with milk every morning? We had recently invested in the purchase of several younger calves, but it would be years before they would reach maturity and be able to reproduce, thus producing milk. The two adults had been our rock over the last four years, each giving birth to three calves along the way and providing our kids with milk each day. They were gone? For real? How could Darwin be sure that someone had stolen them and that they hadn’t just escaped as they had before on so many other occasions?
Darwin continued, showing no emotion in his baggy, mis-matched old farm clothes, “They killed them. I found the black cow’s head thrown out by our front gate.”
Wh–? Dead? The only thing I could manage to ask in my numbed state was, “Aren’t they worth more alive than dead?” After all, they kill adult bulls for meat; not female milking cows in their prime. Every farmer knows this; female cows are of incredible worth alive, for they reproduce, thus giving off a legacy of both meat and milk. Someone really killed them? And how did they die, whacked to death by several blows from a machete? I could only stare at Darwin as my body seemed to shut down. By his appearance he was having a similar reaction.
Next, the only reasonable course of action was to pray. So we called together our 10 kids, all standing in a circle in our little living room, holding hands, and did what humanly doesn’t make sense — we gave thanks. Through tears we thanked God for the milk He had provided us through those cows over the last several years, and we thanked him even for the thieves’ lives, asking that He would bring them to repentance and renewal in Christ.
After all, just the day prior in our community Bible study the Lord had led me to teach Jesus’ radical call to love our enemies. Loving your family or those who treat you with kindness is easy; loving those who harm you or speak poorly of you is a mark of a true Christ follower. After all, God loved us and sent His Son to die for us even when we were His enemies. This is God’s radical style, and if we are to call ourselves His followers, we are to do the same. Give thanks in all situations; rejoice when we pass through various difficulties; love those who persecute us.
And so, by God’s grace, that is what we did. We prayed, giving thanks and longing in our heart of hearts for the coming of the God of justice, the God of light and truth.
We then put on our boots and rain jackets and headed outside, as I asked Darwin if I could go see the remains. It all seemed so surreal. We walked in silence out to our front gate and, just beyond, found the severed head of our strong, beautiful black milking cow that we had so adored and had hoped would be able to give birth to many more calves in the coming years. Her eyes were squinted shut and blood was everywhere. A few paces away in an open field we found the bloody hides of both cows — one black and the other orange-and-white. Our night watchman’s family came out to the scene — father and mother and six kids — as they, too, looked on in what any normal person may think to be terror or mortal fear. Whoever did this is a professional cattle theif because we heard nothing last night. Darwin had been up grading papers until 2:00am, and then I was awake from 3:00am on. We heard no ruckus, no screams from our innocent cows who deserved a peaceful death in old age. They had chopped them up, taking the meat and leaving what was of no use to them.
And so, we repeated what we had already done with our children; we gathered together with our night watchman’s family right there in the midst of bloody hides and prayed. We prayed that God would protect our lives; that we would not fall into the trap of living in fear of men; that His mercy would reach the lives of the thieves; that He would bring His perfect justice to this country dripping in corruption.
So now we are left with two orphaned newborn calves — and no milk to feed them. Not to mention that we will have to begin purchasing powdered milk for our kitchen again, seeing as the source of blessing was so violently killed. Oh, how many times over the past few years did our kids complain about having to drink the cows’ milk! We would serve up glasses for each one, explaining the abundant blessing that God had given to us through our cows (and how that milk would fortify our kids’ bodies), and they would complain that they didn’t like the taste. Now they will no longer have to worry about drinking it. There will be no more.
So now we are left prayerfully wondering what to do with the other cows we have, for the thieves will surely come back. (They tried to capture another one of our cows, but she escaped the attack and was found frantically running around outside of our fence where the remains of the others were found.) We had hoped to raise the cows up to maturity, thus selling the males for meat and keeping the females for milk, but that may not be possible now. Over the past four years of living here in rural Honduras we carefully considered how to best utilize the 17-acre property where we live and serve. We had given many honest attempts at agriculture — corn, vegetables, plantains, etc — only to experience similar results with thieves who would break in and steal the fruit right before the harvest or — I’m not sure if this is better or worse — the plants simply didn’t grow due to infertile, rocky soil. Many, many man hours were invested in agriculture with almost zero result. So, cattle seemed to be the answer the Lord had led us to. The honest and caring cultivation of cows for milk and meat; they graze on the property and enjoy a healthy existence and we could potentially support part of our ministry needs through them, thus relying less on the generosity of others to sustain this work. Now all of that is put into question.
About an hour ago I walked in boots and rain jacket down that long gravel road to the local police station to report the case, although our hope is not and never has been in the Honduran judicial system, which is generally unresponsive. I found one lone police officer standing idly along the highway, so I approached him and explained our tragedy. He listened half-heartedly and informed me that that’s how Honduras is. He pointed a finger toward the little bright yellow police station a block away, telling me to report the case there and leave an official written report (which then gets filed away and never dealt with). I walked under a constant drizzle to that little yellow building and knocked on the door several times. No one answered.
So then I began my mile-long walk back up through our rural neighborhood to our property, which lies at the end of a long gravel road. I walked in silence, contemplating the beauty of our Lord in the stillness of my own heart, and praying for His provision — not only for our kids’ breakfast but now also for our two newborn calves who will need to be bottle-fed each day. Oh, the promise of the Lord’s perfect and final justice is so precious in the face of such gross injustice! Along the path I found a very poor family whose property neighbors ours. I carefully informed them of what had happened and encouraged them to keep a close eye on their own cows, as the five or six skinny cows they have are their only livelihood. And then I prayed with them, once more putting the entire situation — our very lives, homes and food sources — into God’s hands, for He is good. After all, this world is not our home. We are eagerly awaiting our entrance in God’s Kingdom where all suffering and pain will be eliminated. Oh, this life with Christ is so rich and precious, and being so close to the darkness — to the violence — makes us appreciate all the more the love and freedom of our Lord.
And so I share this with you not to produce a shock-and-awe affect about the raging injustice in Honduras, but rather to remind us all that our hope is not in this world. This morning as we stood staring at the bloody hides thrown out in the field, Darwin made the interesting and yet daringly obvious observation: “Yesterday they were alive, and now…they’re dead.” Is this not the case for every one of us? Today we are alive — all is well, we expect a great and long future ahead of us, we act as if we’re going to live forever — and we may very well end up dead tomorrow or at any unexpected moment along the way. Life is so fragile, and in this world nothing is promised. Christ is our life and our salvation. Amen. Thank you for your prayers.