Category Archives: Adopt

Love of God and Humanity: A Photo Tour of Organic Christian Ministry

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) in Honduras, Central America. Below I’d like to share with you a general update using photos taken in our daily life of hospitality, teaching and discipleship for God’s glory.

My husband Darwin and I continue to foster our five children/teens ages 12-17 with the hope of being able to legally adopt them if we are granted legal favor and efficacy with the local authorities. (We’ve been trying to adopt for over four years now with very little progress, but we continue to raise our children joyfully with the hope of becoming their legal, permanent family someday.)

Our small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionary-teachers is well and thriving, and we continue to work alongside of them to serve 40 youth from our local community daily through our school and concentrated evangelistic/service activities.

I pray all is well with you and that you are encouraged to plant deep roots in the truth God has revealed to humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. God bless you.

This is Abigail, a 15-year-old local youth who participated in our small discipleship-based homeschool for two years as a student and this year is one of three tutors at the Living Waters Ranch. We’ve designed the “tutor” position as  a work-study program for a selected group of our older, mature teens so that they can gain leadership experience in the realm of Christian service while also earning a small monthly stipend. (This is a huge blessing for them, as our rural neighborhood has very high unemployment rates — especially among teens and young adults — and a large percentage of the population lives in stark poverty.)
This is a group of  teens in our school during one of my P.E. classes recently. We oftentimes design wacky, team-building exercises that leave everyone not only sweating but also laughing! (One of the main goals behind this is to break down barriers of distrust, pride, racism and bullying in order to fully live out Christ’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.)
Great picture! Here are our four foster daughters (ages 15-17) accompanied by Sindy (in yellow), one of our local tutors in our work-study leadership program. The objective: do a quarter-mile run without letting go of their teammates!
Here are a few of our local students in our small 8th-grade homeroom class, which takes place in our  multi-purpose dining room on the property where my husband and I live and serve. Many of the students in our school are behind academically and/or come from very precarious backgrounds. We receive them onto our property each day with the hope of expressing God’s love to them in many tangible ways in addition to equipping them for the future as wholly faithful followers of Christ ready for any good work.
This is Gabriela, a preteen who is new to our school this year. She lives with her dad, who is now a born-again believer after having had a very rough past, and two brothers.
In addition to art classes, we also include music, organic agriculture, Christian dance, Bible studies, swimming, evangelistic opportunities and other dynamic learning experiences into our normal weekly schedule at the Living Waters Ranch as part of our students’ integral formation.

Many of our classes involve mixed age-groups, pairing older teens with preteens. We do this mainly because we want to cultivate a family-style environment (we continue to call our school “homeschool” even though we now have 40 students enrolled), and for that reason we do not have mass numbers of students  in each grade/age group. Individualized attention with each student is a priority, and much of the discipleship that goes on around here takes place in the context of one-on-one and/or small group mentoring relationships.
Happy birthday to you, Isaac! We do not celebrate all of our 40 students’ birthdays individually, but the Lord put it on our hearts to do a special celebration for Isaac, a precious young man who is new to our school this year and recently took the step to be baptized. His mom left the family for the United States several years ago, and he has been living alone with his dad ever since. We figure that a mom normally is the one in charge of making a birthday cake for their son and putting together the festivities, so we were privileged to step in and fill that role on Isaac’s special day. He was brought to tears at the surprise and told us it was the first time anyone had celebrated his birthday.

We recently celebrated Indian Day, which is an important holiday to remember Honduran heritage. (My husband Darwin on the far left always dresses up and covers himself in clay/mud for Indian Day in addition to playing tunes on his wooden flute…) The kids love it!
This is Ivania, a local 10-year-old who is one of the younger students in our school. (We generally accept children from 10 years up through 19 years of age, with most of our students being teenagers). She was decked out in the full costume for Indian Day!
Here is a group of our preteen boys participating in a reflection/discipleship activity on our front lawn. (Our foster son Jason, age 12, is included here.)
This photo is not especially dazzling, but it does go to show that our students are responsible for doing the after-school cleanup everyday. We’ve established a system of rotating clean-up  groups to inculcate increased responsibility and general hygiene awareness in all of our youth as diligent disciples of Christ. This is particularly important because many people in this culture throw  trash on the ground and let it accumulate in public areas (causing environmental contamination, increased risk of diseases, etc.), which is a general woe we are actively fighting.
On many occasions throughout the year we organize service trips into our rural neighborhood to do trash pick-up, which is a colossal job. As mentioned above, there is not much cultural appreciation for clean streets and green areas (creation care) in our town, but we are content to try to make a humble dent in the overall problem and — hopefully — set a good example for our neighbors to follow. (This is also great character-development for our students!)
In several sectors of our rural town there is no organized system of trash pick-up, so most people simply dump their trash out on the street in front of their home. It is not uncommon to see dirty diapers, empty Coke bottles and all sorts of trash strewn about on or near public walkways. One of our local missionary-teachers is working with the local mayor and governing authorities to see what can be done about this potentially easily-solved problem, but progress is very slow.
Sharon Washburn, veteran missionary in Honduras and founder of a well-known Christian high school several hours away, has come out several times recently to do educational expositions for our students. This greatly enriches their understanding of the world and allows them to learn from a new perspective.

As part of her presentation, she taught the world cultures material to a group of our older students first, who then were in charge of teaching the material to the younger students.
All of our students are in weekly organic agriculture classes with Erick, one of our local missionary-teachers who has truly extensive knowledge and inspiring passion for creation care. In addition to cultivating an honest work ethic in our youth, Erick also uses the class as an outlet for additional discipleship and Christian reflection.
Here are a few of our preteens working in the pineapple patch.

This is Sindy, one of our enthusiastic tutors who has been involved full-time at the Living Waters Ranch for the last four years, enjoying a rambutan fruit on an educational hike.

 

God bless you with peace and salvation in Christ Jesus, and please continue to remember us in your prayers. I have more photos to share, but I will save them for next time!

If you are not on our mailing list and would like to be in order to receive our bi-monthly printed newsletter with testimonies and prayer requests, you may contact me directly at: JenniferZillyCanales@yahoo.com to send me your full name and mailing address.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and mission/family

Photo Update and Prayer Request

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. Below is a variety of photos we’ve taken in our daily academic and discipleship activities in the family-oriented community homeschool we operate out of our home, the Living Waters Ranch.

At the end of the photos there is a brief prayer request for those who might lift us up before the Lord in prayer during this time. God bless you all, and we give our sincere thanks to those who financially support and/or pray for us and those whom we care for. To God be the glory in all.

My husband Darwin’s P.E. class with the older teen boys in our school
A couple of our students on a 2-mile jog down to the main highway and back to our rural property
Group Bible study on a creative outfit day in which all of our students were invited to come to school dressed with attire from biblical times
One of our beloved local missionary-teachers and two of our foster kids on biblical-attire day
This local student of ours surely had to cross some Arabian desert in order to get to school on biblical-attire day! (Too precious!)
A couple months ago my husband, our foster children and I planted several flowers around our rural property, and they are beginning to bloom.
A photo my husband took of his sixth-grade class on a Saturday educational outing into the city of La Ceiba
The same sixth-grade group visiting the beach
Our boys on silly hat day
Our girls on silly hat day
The following are photos taken in math class on silly hat day…

Book report presentation

A group of our students rehearsing in a local church before their big choir presentation in San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in Honduras which is about a 3-hour drive from our town

Official rehearsal with the choir director and several other national choir groups
Final presentation
My husband, who serves as the choir director at the Living Waters Ranch, congratulating the man who directed the overall event in San Pedro Sula
One of our highly dedicated local missionary-teachers with a group of our students at the choir event
My husband Darwin posing with the local woman who donated lunch for the event
Playing in the rain: one of the precious local youth in our discipleship-based community homeschool who was recently baptized and is now walking with the Lord
A group of our teens (two of our foster daughters and a handful of local students) in our front lawn after classes let out for the day
Three of our local boys playing soccer in front of our home during recess
A favorite pasttime of Honduran youth: picking mangos during mango season
A group of our students beneath one of our mango trees looking for fruit
Somebody found a ripe mango!
Exam time for a group of our high school students
Outdoor music lessons with my husband
God’s creation right next to our front porch


Prayer Request:

Without going into too many details, I will share that our home with our 7 foster children/teens ages 12-18 is currently going through a couple very painful upheavals/trials, and there are likely to be some big changes around the corner for our family in the coming weeks. Fostering/adopting young people who come from very dysfunctional backgrounds is not easy, and our relationship with a couple of our older girls is reaching a very precarious state as they are making very poor/dangerous decisions and refuse to submit to our authority, seek the Lord on the matter, or take our advice. Please pray that the Lord might grant all of us (my husband, myself and our children) peace during this volatile time, and that the Lord would take control of any and all changes that need to take place in order to assure the safety, wellbeing and spiritual growth of those in our household for God’s glory. Thank you for praying for us.

 

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Heavenly Joy Bursting Out Through My Bones: The Effects of a Radical Change of Plans

The government agency called twice, and I said no both times without giving it a second thought. 

My husband Darwin and I had decided between the two of us that we would not be receiving any additional foster children for at least the next several years. Most of our foster children are currently teenagers whose delicate needs require our full attention, plus our little discipleship-based homeschool that we run out of our rural homestead has been growing to such an extent that directing, teaching and community discipling has become a beautiful yet very time-consuming daily venture.

A few weeks ago we reintegrated Josue, our special-needs foster son, back into a healthy family situation with his biological grandmother, and afterward things in our house actually became almost normal — calmer, more organized, fairly predictable — for the first time in almost six years.

My husband and I breathed deep and contemplated those in our household — five teenage daughters and one pre-teen son, some as long-term fosters and others in the process of being legally adopted by us. 

After going through numerous ups and downs as new parents and having had up to 10 in our home at a time, 6 seemed manageable and even easy. The house even seemed tangibly cleaner than usual and I thanked God that we had survived the brutal years of unwanted poo- and pee- disasters with 2 special needs foster children. On the walls, on the rug, in the bed — you name it. But those days were over, at least for the time being…

My selfish prayer seemed like it just might come true, “Oh God, I just want a normal life. At least slightly normal, slightly calm. My husband and I have virtually no ‘personal time’ and oftentimes feel stretched thin. I don’t even know what it means to sustain a normal friendship with normal people anymore. We love our kids dearly and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You have called us to parent them for Your glory, but sometimes it is so hard and their healing process is messy at best. Please grant us some sense of normalcy and ease in this season in Jesus’ name. I’m exhausted.”

No-more-kids and We-want-a-sane-household have been our soft battlecries over the last several months, and it almost seemed like we were achieving our desired goal.

Until the government agency called twice. 

My husband and I have every right to say no when they call us about receiving a new child or teen into our family, and I absolutely exercised that right in the name of defending my own sanity. What was our motto? No-more-kids, and I was sticking to my guns.

Well, as many of us know, oftentimes our own plans are just that: our own plans, not God’s. As I said my second ‘no’ over the phone to the government social worker whom I know and get along with very well, I was ready to politely hang up the phone and carry on with my business when the Lord led me to consider the possibility of laying my own plans — my own sanity, my own control — on the altar in the name of love. 

What I did next — pause long enough to ask the social worker the details about the person at hand — brought with it a God-designed tidal wave that utterly and completely wiped out all of our own plans for normalcy and familial stability.

Thirteen year-old girl. Has already lived as an adult man’s wife. Dad’s not in the picture. Mom is highly unstable. Needs a family.

As I listened in silence to all the details I probably could have imagined on my own — for the majority of cases are very similar in the aspects of familial abandonment/irresponsibility and some element of sexual abuse — the social worker actually began pleading. “We have nowhere else to put her.”

Emotionally detached as much as possible from the phone conversation (because sometimes it is easier not to feel too deeply), I thought ‘Of course. Most people are scared to death about receiving teenagers, especially those with adult sexual experiences. They came looking for us because they know we love our teen girls and have had a large measure of success with them…’

The social worker continued, “If you receive her, you would be giving her…an opportunity at life.”

An opportunity to live. To find life in Christ. To know joy. To grow up in a family like any normal 13-year-old girl.

By this point in the conversation the Lord was working mightily on my heart, and I asked more questions before telling the social worker that we would agree to meet the girl but would make no over-the-phone commitment to take her in before seeing her face-to-face and talking with her. The social worker was ecstatic.

After hanging up, I went directly to our little office building we share with our local Honduran missionaries/teachers who serve alongside of us in our community homeschool. I found one of our female teachers fairly unoccupied and asked her for prayer and counsel. She quickly accepted, and we sat down next to each other on the little purple couch in the prayer room in our office building and closed the door for more privacy.

I shared openly and extensively with her, both secretly excited about the possibility of extending “an opportunity at life” to one more person while also tense and scared about all that could go wrong. 

I voiced my thoughts as she listened attentively, “I mean, we could take her in, but there are a thousand other teen girls in her same situation — dysfunctional family, history of sexual abuse/sin —“

Our beloved teacher nodded quietly, fully aware that in our area of Honduras there are numerous cases of 12- and 13-year-old girls who already live with their “boyfriends” or who daily endure unhealthy home-lives. The need is oftentimes overwhelming.

I continued, “And, it just wouldn’t be realistic to take in a thousand of them. I mean, we can’t be family to a thousand.” My argument sounded right-on, and I felt I was gaining momentum. Our teacher nodded in agreement again, quietly listening as I verbally processed the storm within me.

But in that very moment the Lord struck me deep and to such an extent that His very words came out of my own mouth, dripping with conviction as I made a 180 degree turn in my argument. I said slowly, “But He’s not asking us to take in a thousand. They called us about one. Only one.”

I felt like in that moment I had surrendered to His will in one fatal blow. ‘You won,’ I thought with great heaviness mixed with the first fruits of joy welling up in my heart. He was indeed calling us to start over again with a new lost daughter of His. Not with a thousand, but with just one. And I would obey not only willingly but with a joy that very few can understand.

My teacher friend and I sat in silence several moments as the weight of the situation — and the enormity of the decision being considered — sat heavily between us. I repeated, “He’s just asking us to take in one…”

At the end of our conversation she prayed with me for the young woman in question and that the Lord might grant my husband and I the love, strength and wisdom to accept this new challenge if He should so desire us to take it on.

Fast-forward three days.

We went into the government-run complex to meet the young woman, her psychologist and the lawyers/social worker involved in her case. We asked the key questions we needed to ask, got our kids involved in the process of meeting her and exchanging several question-answer games with her, and throughout the entire encounter we felt the undeniable peace of God as confirmation. We would soon be parents to six teenage daughters and one pre-teen son. 

The adjustment would of course be difficult for all, as our home tends to be in total upheaval for the ensuing 3-6 months each time a new person arrives as new friendships are forged and the teenage hierarchy is re-shuffled as everyone tries to find out all over again where they fit on the totem pole. There are oftentimes feelings of jealously and insecurity to be carefully dealt with in our kids who’ve been with us the longest, and Mom and Dad have to engage in the dogged task of forging a close relationship with a new, possibly frightened teen all over again.

Even so, it is a small price to be paid in comparison with what our Lord did on the cross to save us all, and it is the way in which He has called my husband and I to share in His sufferings (and likewise eventually share in His glory). To love the lost; to be parents to the fatherless; to extend hospitality and grace to those who might even make us suffer greatly in the short-term for having done so.

I spoke with the social worker and her eyes grew like saucers when I said yes, and the young woman (Soad, pronounced So-add) enthusiastically said that she would like to move in the same day. 

That night — about two-and-a-half weeks ago — my husband and I prepared a foam mattress on our bedroom floor for our new arrival. Instead of moving her in with our teen girls all at once, we decided to have her with us for the first week in order to help ease her transition more calmly while also forging some semblance of parent-child bond with her in a condensed amount of time. 

We sat down on the cool tile floor next to her mattress and asked if we could pray for her. She said yes. After doing so we tucked her into bed — our teenage-sized new baby! — and gave her a hug and a kiss before climbing into our own bed not three feet from hers. 

My husband quickly drifted off into sweet slumber as I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, hot room. My heart raced for joy as I listened closely trying to identify if our new daughter had already fallen asleep or was still wide awake as I was. Did she feel welcome and loved here? Would we be able to form a close bond with time, or would she prove distant and guarded? Would she sleep throughout the night or wake up screaming with nightmares? What if she stopped breathing right there on her mattress?

My mind raced with a thousand thoughts as I thanked God in my heart for who He is and for leading us on this wild adventure, especially because it was never our plan to begin with. The minutes turned to hours as I periodically tried to steal glances at our new daughter’s still form in our dark room, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I drifted off to sleep in spite of the heavenly joy that I felt might burst right out through my bones…

 

A photo of my husband and our seven kids taken on my husband’s birthday two days after Soad’s arrival. (She is in the pink tank top on Darwin’s right.)

We thank God for these processes He takes us through as He draws us closer to His own heart and enables us to participate in His quest to reach lost humanity. Please pray for us during this time, especially for our other kids as they adjust to having to share Mom and Dad with someone new. God bless you all, and thank you to those who pray for and financially support this little mission in rural Honduras. To God be the glory.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Current Prayer Request

This post is for those who routinely pray for us and the small mission the Lord has placed under our care in Honduras. Thank you for remembering us and for lifting up our requests to our Father, asking continually that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Request: Government Favor

In the past few weeks the need for government favor (and efficacy) has been pressed upon us greatly, as we must interact with the local government in the operation of our school, the adoption of our children, and in several other facets of our daily life and ministry here. There is much corruption and confusion, and it is very easy to feel oppressed and drained by the monster of a system we come up against.

Juan Orlando Hernandez, the current Honduran president around whom there are many accusations of fraud in last year’s elections. It recently came to light that he was involved in faking his sister’s death in a helicopter crash several months ago so that she could escape the country during all the election drama. She recently returned (alive), and they admitted that the whole helicopter crash was a lie.

We have been actively beating down bushes in our efforts to legally adopt three of our children (the oldest of which is now 18 years old) for the past several years. During the last 18+ months the government lawyer at the Honduran Child Protective Services office has been telling me that any day now they would be calling me to present myself in a courthouse that lies 2+ hours away from our house to take the next crucial step in the adoption process. To make a long (and excruciating) story short, the courthouse called our government lawyer two days ago at 2:00pm to notify her that I needed to present myself in the court (which is a 2+ hour drive from our home) that same day at 1:30pm (as in, half an hour before). That news reached me today, and I am absolutely devastated that we missed our court date (because they did not notify us on time) after roughly a year-and-a-half of waiting. We are now back to square one and wondering if we will ever truly be able to adopt our children (who in less than two weeks will be hitting their 5-year mark of living with us).

We also need government permission in order to open the next grade of our discipleship-based homeschool that we operate out of our rural homestead (we currently offer 1st grade through 9th grade), and after many confusing phone calls and vague answers we put together a detailed document seeking government permission to open 10th grade and they flatly refused without any real reason. There are a lot of politics involved in the Honduran education system, and my husband Darwin stayed up investigating the laws and re-writing our proposal until 2:00am this morning and is going back into town to try to speak directly with the mayor and several other officials. It is very important that we are able to open 10th grade (and then 11th, which is the last grade in Honduran high school) in order to persevere with the good work in the lives of the teens who have already been in our program several years. We want to be able to offer the last two grades of high school under our tutelage at the Living Waters Ranch so that our kids are not forced to finish their education in the less-than-acceptable public system fraught with fraud and mediocrity.

I will spare the details of our other frustrating experiences, and will conclude this request by simply asking that you would pray with us for radical change (and wisdom) in the Honduran government, as much in its personal members as in its overall structure, and that the overall oppression in the country would be lifted as its citizens and residents might be able to go about their daily affairs without constantly coming up against a huge metaphorical brick wall painted haphazardly with the phrases, “No,” “Not today,” or “It cannot be done.” Please pray also for my attitude in the midst of all this and that the work God desires to do in His Honduran people would flourish even in the midst of such debilitating inefficacy, corruption and potential despair.

Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras

Please consider our requests and pray with us so that God might tend to our legal needs so that we not be unduly drained or distracted from our principal purpose in Honduras, which is to love, teach and disciple children and youth (and the occasional adult) in the Way of Christ.

God bless you.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Celebrations of Life and Belonging

In the past four days we have celebrated two birthdays in our large, God-designed household — one of our new foster daughters turned 16, and one of our girls who’s been in our household nearly five years and is in the process of being adopted by us turned 14.

Since answering the call to Biblical parenthood to the orphaned and abandoned five years ago, my husband and I have vacillated in our response to birthdays. The first year or so each birthday was largely extravagant due to the newness of the whole affair and our desire to make our new children feel welcomed and loved, but then over the ensuing 2-3 years birthdays became routine and even boring (largely due to the fact that we’ve had up to 10 children/teens in our family at a time, which makes for a whole lot of birthdays). We stopped going the extra mile and settled for simple birthday wishes and little to no gifts.

Well, this year we are diving back into (and now with more depth, increased love and hours of dedicated thoughtfulness and planning) the act of blessing our 7 children in a unique way on their birthday as we celebrate with them all God has done in their lives and the precious gift that they are to my husband and me.

The following photos were taken in our 10′ x 20′ living room around the wooden table where we eat meals, have family meetings, do homework, pray together and enjoy art projects. We give thanks to God for allowing us to rediscover the joy of celebrating the beauty of our children and making them feel treasured on their birthday.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. God bless you, and may you be encouraged by the sheer joy displayed on our children’s faces as they know they are loved by God and by many more.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family

Yesterday was our daughter Gleny’s 14th birthday. She came to us when she was a malnourished and very scared 9-year-old, and now she is a beautiful and blossoming young woman growing in God’s grace. Gleny has been known to struggle in her relationships with her siblings due to her very strong and even dominating temperament, so it was very special to see everyone reach out to and support her last night on her birthday (and to see the way she responded with love and gratitude). I especially enjoy the way her older biological sister (Dayana, purple t-shirt) is looking upon her in this photo, as the Lord has done a lot this year to restore the relationship of sisterhood between these two after many years of emotional distance (despite always having lived in the same household). Praise God for the way He is healing our children.
This is the birthday poster board I designed with two of our teen girls for Gleny’s birthday.
A couple nights prior one of our new foster daughters, Carolina, celebrated her 16th birthday. She has lived with us nearly a year and has been in the child welfare system since early childhood. We feel called by God to legally adopt her once she turns 21 years old, and she is very excited about this. (Certain children/teens in Honduras are adoptable before age 21 and others must wait until 21 for various legal reasons, so she will continue to live with us as our daughter in Christ until she can legally become our daughter once she turns 21.) She wanted ice cream instead of a cake, so we stuck the candles in two tubs of ice cream!
This particular daughter of ours loves pulling pranks on other people, so included in the gifts we got her were plastic glasses, buckteeth, a pirate’s patch and fake snot. (It ended up being fun for the whole family!)
What a pretty birthday girl!

This is Josue, our special-needs foster son who has been living with us over three years. He’s a total ham and loves getting in on the action with everyone else!

Our 11-year-old with the fake snot! Too funny!

Don’t I have a really handsome husband?

Even though this picture turned out a bit blurry, I love it because our eldest (almost 18) is normally quite serious and note prone to doing anything “childish.” It really touched my heart that she got in on the fun right alongside everyone else!

Last but not least…Try not to laugh…I grabbed a big blue bow that was on top of one of our girls’ presents and put it on Darwin! (I had put it on myself first, but then our kids encouraged me to try it on him as well…) Our kids started cracking up and calling out, “Mom! Your present has arrived! It’s Dad!”
Gotta love this photo! (Even though Darwin doesn’t!) He started speaking in a nonexistent foreign language with his birthday bow on his head…He had us all rolling!

 

That’s all for now! God bless you!