Category Archives: Bible study

The Narrow Path

Our 24-year-old Christian psychologist (red shirt) didn’t know what she was getting into when she decided to join the ‘narrow path’ group! Next to her (white shirt) is one of our teen foster daughters who likewise chose the difficult journey. Many of the girls in their knee-length uniform skirt finished the challenge with scuffed and even bloody knees. Several cried out of desperation as the journey of shame extended close to an hour and they wondered when it would end. Our teachers finished completely bathed in sweat and with dirt all over their clothes. It definitely was the more difficult path!

Twice weekly at the Living Waters Ranch all of our staff (a small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionaries/teachers plus my husband and me) and about 30 or so of our more mature students gather together in our large, cement-floored dining room for Bible study. We sit on wooden benches in a large, imperfect circle as we worship God together through song and then seek to grow together in knowledge of the truth and obedience as we study His Word.

We have gone through many different and very edifying topics this year: the existence of evil in the world, existential questions (and their Biblical answers), God’s desire that we connect with him and with other human beings (and that we not connect exclusively with technology/machines), several of Jesus’ parables and teachings, archeological evidence that backs the Bible’s veracity, our sexual identity as men and women made in God’s image, etc.

As has happened to me on many occasions, while I am reading the Bible or simply going about my daily business it is as though out of nowhere God deposits an idea or a direction into my mind that I am then to go share with everyone else during our group Bible study time. The following story is one such case.

A few weeks ago in my free time I was reading the book Jesus Calling, a wonderful devotional book. The certain page I was on mentioned something about the fact that we humans tend to pick the path of least resistance. I remember that the devotion itself was about an entirely different theme, but my eyes studied that one phrase about a dozen times as an idea was suddenly deposited very abruptly and undeniably into my mind, and my hand burned to write it down. I grabbed my little teal-colored spiral notebook where I do my planning for the twice-weekly Bible studies, and my hand furiously began tracing out a long, intricate plan. I felt that I had to write it down as quickly as possible so that the precious idea would not get lost among the many other thoughts that are always bouncing around my mind. Once all written down (including little drawings that gave more life to the overall idea), I became extremely surprised and excited. I couldn’t believe I had to wait two or three more days until the chance would arrive to put into action the idea that God had just given me! It would be a powerful illustration for all: presented the option to choose the easier way or that which promises immense difficulty, which will you choose? (And how can we then use this ‘game’ to better understand – and choose! – the narrow path of Christ which leads to eternal life?)

Crawling backwards several hundred yards on rocky terrain with his shoes on his hands, blindfold secured and a pencil gripped between his teeth as over a dozen teenagers mocked him and did all they could to obstruct his path: This is 29-year-old Erick, one of our extremely dedicated local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in the classroom, relational discipleship and organic agriculture with the teenagers in our Christ-centered homeschool program for disadvantaged youth.

The challenge would be simple: we would exit our concrete-floored dining room (our normal setting for Bible study) en masse in order to go out onto our front lawn to engage in a hands-on demonstration of what it means to choose between the narrow (hard) and the wide (easy) path. Many of our teens have heard this teaching of Jesus’ many times, but to live it in a condensed period in order to grant greater reflection? This would be the first time.

One of our teachers helped me to film the majority of the event (also a first, as we typically don’t film our Bible studies) as I began explaining to everyone that they would each be given to options:

Wide, Easy Path:

  • You can walk, run, give a friend a piggy-back ride, etc. (You may travel any way you choose.)
  • You can talk, joke, make fun of others, etc.
  • Your goal: reach the large fruit tree (beyond the Living Waters Ranch’s front gate) a few hundred meters from our starting spot.
  • (Oh, and please do everything you can to discourage and make fun of those on the narrow path. You can put obstacles in their path, try to confuse or distract them, etc, but please don’t physically harm them.) Have fun as much fun as possible!

Narrow, Hard Path:

  • You cannot travel as you choose. You must crawl backwards with a blindfold in place, effectively destroying your ability to see where you are going. You must also grip a pencil between your teeth, impeding your speech.
  • You may not talk with anyone. If you are lost and need help, the only thing you can say is, “Help! Help! Where am I going?” and if at any point your shoes come off your hands or your pencil falls out of your mouth, you must immediately say, “Forgive me.” You may not say anything else at any point.
  • You must not listen to or heed anyone’s voice but Jennifer’s.
  • Your end goal is the same as the other group’s (the large fruit tree a good distance off).
  • You are free to give up at any point and join the easier group.

As I explained the rather simple instructions to the large group in front of me, each person was completely free to join the “wide path” – the group that promised total ease, or the “narrow path” – that which physically would prove more challenging (not to mention the potential embarrassment at having to crawl backwards such a long distance in the manner I had proposed).

The plaid shirt belongs to 34-year-old Geraldina, the local Christian woman who serves with us in cooking and cleaning and is in one-on-one literacy classes as she learns to read and write for the first time in her life. She exhibited incredible bravery as she crossed the pile of tires without being able to see where she was going! (And they kept moving the tires as she tried to pass in order to make it more difficult.)

I thought that surely only two or three of our more outgoing teen boys would dare to join the “narrow path,” but much to my surprise 12 students and 3 teachers chose it by their own free will! They were very brave indeed.

A couple teens were indecisive and eventually chose the easier group with the rest of the roughly twenty participants. Let the games begin! (I had never orchestrated this type of large-group challenge before, so in my planning I thought we would take 15-20 minutes tops, but the whole ordeal extended beyond an hour.)

Those who had chosen the narrow path grabbed their blindfolds and submitted themselves to the embarrassing position on all fours as I egged the “wide path” participants on to make the lives of the “narrow path” participants as unbearable as possible.

Our 14-year-old foster daughter, Jackeline, on the hard path…

My 15 brave souls lined up, all totally blindfolded and unable to see, and they each had to crawl backwards through a hula-hoop that represented the moment of salvation. (This is part of the idea of “a door and a path” that I understand from God’s Word. We must first walk through the door of repentance and salvation – that first moment of trusting in Christ – and then there is a long path, oftentimes difficult, before us that extends until the end of our lives.)

The game got complicated quickly as some of my blindfolded participants sped off down the path, effectively beyond earshot, while I had to stay behind trying to guide those who dragged along slowly. I walked between blinded participants trying to guide and encourage them as best I could. More than one of them began scooting off in the wrong direction, heading for the middle of the cows’ pasture, and others bumped into the fence or couldn’t find the gate to pass through.

Those who were free to walk as they chose (those on the wide path, which represents the way of the world in which all is permitted) really did a phenomenal job making the crawlers’ lives impossible. At first they just tried to verbally discourage them, laugh at them and disorient them, but soon enough they got creative and began obstructing their path with tires and fallen branches. They even reached the point of picking up certain smaller students and completely relocating them in order to confuse them further and physically resisting the crawling people with their own weight and cunning. Crawling backwards blindfolded several hundred meters over rocks would have been a good enough lesson, but with the “evil” tactics of the other members they truly made the journey painful and nearly impossible. (And isn’t this a perfect illustration of the Christian life? Is it not true that those who are in the world try to discourage, disorient and make fun of those who are on the narrow path of Christ? Yes; this was panning out to be the perfect illustration of the spiritual walk with Christ – difficult; at times lonely; trusting a voice that you cannot see.)

The limited pages of this post do not allow me the space necessary to adequately explain the depths of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. What began as a let’s-see-how-this-goes teaching experiment turned out to be an epic battle between good and evil. It was the ultimate test of perseverance and faith, and as we meditated on the spiritual ramifications we felt like we were walking on sacred ground, discovering just what it takes to follow Christ until the end.

At one point after we crossed the threshold of the outer gate on our rural property and were then at-large in the outskirts of our town (a large, strange mass of people crawling around blindfolded while others shrieked and cackled as they threw tires in their path) a local young man and his friends stopped dead in their tracks, stunned and impressed by the strange game we were doing. This opened the door for one of our veteran teachers to talk to him about the way of Christ, and he stood with her, listening, for several minutes as he observed with awe the spectacle before him.

Every time he tried to go beneath the branch, they would lower it. When he would try to go over it, they would raise it up. They tormented him with this for several minutes before finally letting him pass!

The entire experience lasted much longer than any of us had imagined, and we went far beyond the time allotted for our bi-weekly Bible study. We had already passed the time for prayer groups and were willing to use up our recess time in order to finish what we had started. The only thing that mattered was the goal of reaching the fruit tree beyond the gate.

In Honduran culture, perseverance is not always a very strong point in our area as many people give up on their education, their families, etc, when confronted with difficulties, so the very fact that 15 people dared to participate in this daunting task (and 14 completed it; only 1 decided to give up) was reason to give thanks to God for the gritty character He is forming in those under our guidance. Wow!

Well, the biggest surprise was reserved for last. Once everyone reached their goal of arriving at the distant fruit tree, those on the narrow path soaked with sweat and dirty from head to toe (and many with very raw emotions after having been effectively bullied to their breaking point), everyone trudged back up the long, gravel path to our starting point: our large, concrete-floored dining room where our traditional wooden benches awaited us. Everyone thought the activity had finished, but I knew that the best was reserved for last: each person’s recompense for the path they had chosen.

Everyone trudged back into our dining room as their faces displayed that they were more than ready for this whole experiment to be over with. I sat them all down and then asked for those who were on the wide, easy path to stand in the middle of the circle. They all whooped and hollered and stood proudly in the middle of the wooden benches as I explained that they had definitely chosen what was easier and that they had been very astute to take care of their appearance so that no one would bully them. They had, after all, chosen what any intelligent person would choose: the path of least resistance. I congratulated them for their participation and then handed each of them a piece of candy, encouraging them to go ahead and eat their reward. They whooped and hollered again and then fell into sudden silence when they began opening their candy wrappers and popping into their mouths…balls of gooey flour! I had created “trick candy” the day before during a slot of free time I had – the candy wasn’t candy at all! Their reward was pure deceit…

They laughed and returned to their seats, effectively without any reward at all. I then asked the weary, bullied members of the narrow, difficult path to stand up in the middle of the circle of wooden benches. They studied me carefully, wondering what their prize would be. Was their going to be any prize at all, or just a simple pat-on-the-back of congratulation? I could barely contain my excitement, for I knew just what was in store for this brave, faithful group.

I began handing out an envelope for each one and then instructed them to open them all at once. What was inside? The Honduran equivalent of $10, which is a lot of money here, and a handmade coupon stating that they had also won a soda and a big bag of chips (a really popular snack in Honduran culture) and that two of their detentions would be erased at the end of the grading period (a big plus for any student in academic trouble).

They began squealing with delight and reveling in their extravagant reward – it was much greater than anything they had every imagined. In that moment our young psychologist, who is in her first year of service with us, unexpectedly broke out in tears and came over to me to receive a long hug.

Amidst the great celebration for those who had persevered in the difficult path, all of their trouble suddenly seemed forgotten as the prize greatly outweighed any difficulty they confronted along the grueling path.

There are so many parallels between this moring-hour challenge and the ongoing path for each one of us as we choose between the wide, easy path of the world (where any belief, action or attitude is permitted with great tolerance) and the narrow, difficult path of Christ that, in the end, provides a greater recompense than any of us could have ever imagined.

We spent the next two Bible studies reviewing the videos taken and discussing in-depth the many parallels between our game and the spiritual reality in each of our lives. Praise be to God for this wacky yet extremely effective idea He planted in me several weeks ago, and please continue to pray with us that each of the youth under our guidance would joyfully choose the narrow path of Christ and live for Him as they eagerly await the reward of an eternity with God.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. Please know that we could not operate the way we do as we touch lives with God’s Word and His love if it were not for your generosity in partnering with us. Thank you for trusting us, and God bless each of you. Please be encouraged by this story of the narrow path.

With gratitude and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew

Personal Reflection and Family Update

Yesterday evening we sat around the wooden table in our living room to eat dinner together as a family. Two of our teen foster daughters had prepared a delicious chicken soup with rice. In our household our diet oftentimes consists of rice and beans, so this soup was a special treat. The plates and silverware were all laid out on our floral-print tablecloth that I had purchased at a local thrift store a couple months ago. A candle was placed in the middle of the setup, although on this occasion it remained unlit.

Eating dinner together as a family each night has not been one of our strong points during these first few years together as a foster family and ministry homestead. Oftentimes it has seemed like a triumph just to get to the finish line at the end of each day still standing, and to make any additional effort to prepare an evening banquet for close to a dozen people just seems overwhelming. Thus, on many occasions each person just warms up rice and beans that were leftover from lunch or whips up something light due to everyone’s distinct schedule (and Mom’s exhaustion).

Some of our kids go into town two evenings per week for their ballet class; one night a week we’re out at a neighbor’s house for a Bible study; some evenings Darwin is out counseling people in our neighborhood or organizing choir practices. Oftentimes our teens have group homework projects or are practicing their musical instruments in the evenings, thus it has not been easy to pin down all the highly active members of our household for a daily routine of eating together. I imagine that in any family if a daily dinner is going to be achieved, it must be carefully scheduled and protected.

So, that is what we’ve decided to do. At Darwin’s suggestion, on Sunday I designed a fairly simple daily dinner schedule (indicating whose turn it is to cook, as we already have a nightly cleaning schedule), and we’re committed to protect and enforce this even if fatigue or busyness threaten to put this priority on the back-burner.

Yesterday morning all seven of our foster kids had been in classes and Christian discipleship in our homeschool program that we operate out of our rural homestead from 7:00am — 3:00pm. I had taught group Bible study that morning; Darwin had taught classes all morning with his small group of wily second- and third-graders and directed the girls’ choir practice after lunch. Our eldest foster daughter had a one-on-one meeting with our Christian psychologist to continue navigating the waters of healing and restoration while also looking to the future to discern the vocation/purpose that the Lord has for her in these coming years. A couple of our girls had been in cooking class; I taught my math class with 16 teens earlier that morning before heading into town to attend a three-hour meeting with local government officials.

And so, we ate dinner as a family. Last night was our first attempt to follow this new dinner schedule, and it was successful. It was nothing spectacular, but we were together. At the beginning of the meal we all joined hands and bowed our heads as Darwin gave God thanks for the food, and then our 17-year-old daughter, the eldest, graciously served everyone’s food. Surprisingly she started with my plate, which was doubtlessly a gesture of friendship as we are both making the effort to improve our relationship after having gone through many rocky patches over these past few months. (This afternoon she and I have a ‘date’ planned as I’ve invited her on a bike ride around our neighborhood as an opportunity to spend more time together and connect.)

This new season has brought small but important changes such as our new family dinner routine that we will carefully put into practice.

Each night as our kids all head into their rooms for homework and rest, I put on a sermon or two on my laptop (connected to two little speakers) in the living room so that our household is flooded with Biblical teaching. This specifically has been a very pivotal change in our home, as over these past several months I have downloaded dozens of sermons from respected pastors from different parts of the world to come directly into our home and teach us each evening. Our kids are resting in their rooms or taking a shower in the quiet of the night and everyone is receiving Scriptural encouragement. This has been very fruitful, and we will continue to do this each evening as we sow seeds into their young lives (and our own lives) for God’s glory.

Another small change we’ve made is that our 10-year-old foster son Jason, who is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with his two older sisters, now accompanies Darwin each night to go walk down our long gravel entryway to lock the two gates on our rural property. This gives him ‘man time’ with Dad and teaches him that it will one day be his job to protect and care for his own family.

Yesterday evening as our dinner was coming to a close, one of our new foster teens who moved in with us late last year expressed a question she had after having read the book of Galatians in the Bible for a homework assignment I had given her. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had actually read it and with enough attention to want to ask me a question about what she had read. I asked her to bring her Bible to the dinner table to show me the verse she had a question about, so she darted off into her room and quickly reappeared at the table, Bible in hand. As she opened the Bible, she said to herself as she flipped through the pages, “Galatians. After Corinthians.”

It was so seemingly insignificant what she was saying, but it hit me like a train. It’s working! Many of our foster kids and local students are very used to hearing others teach them about God’s Word, but they had yet to develop the habit of reading it for themselves. To change that, several months ago we started a routine that each person in our family now individually reads the Bible as we all spread out in our living room on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and in the two classes that I teach in our community homeschool (advanced math and reading/writing) I now make all the students sit individually and read the Bible 15 minutes before starting each class and then they discuss in partners what they read for about 5 minutes afterward (to get them used to openly talking about God’s Word). In these last couple months they’ve read the whole book of John and of Romans; they are now in Acts and Luke. (This specific daughter of ours is in both my classes, so she receives a double-dose of Bible-reading!) This has thus far produced marvelous results, as many of the teens have commented in awe, “I always hear so-and-so saying that we should love one another, and now I get that it actually comes from the Bible! I just read it!”

Our foster daughter who had been well-versed in Christianity throughout her childhood in various foster homes and orphanages, several months ago had very little first-hand knowledge of the actual Bible. When asked to flip to a certain book, she had to go to the table of contents and spend several moments searching for it. For her to say, “Galatians. After Corinthians.” and find that tiny book in the midst of 65 others is of great encouragement to me as she is now getting to know God’s Word not based on what others tell her but based on her own time reading and exploring its depths. Praise God!

There is much more I could write, but for now I will leave it at that. Thank you so much to those who support this mission and pray for us regularly. I continue to sleep much better in recent months after having battled insomnia for so many years, and after being bedridden with Typhoid Fever a few weeks ago my health is currently fairly strong. My husband Darwin and I will be celebrating 5 years of marriage this Sunday, and all of the local Honduran missionaries and teachers who serve alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch are doing very well.

Please continue to pray for the restoration and transformation of our foster children/teens and local students into the image of Christ, and also pray that the Lord would continue to protect us physically as we live in a very violent part of the world.

God bless you.

 

Personal Reflection: Our Current Season of Life and Ministry

I write to you from our rural homestead in Honduras, Central America where the Lord has planted us firmly with the purpose of parenting the orphaned, proclaiming His Word, teaching the ignorant, reaching out to the destitute in our area with tangible help and living a simple, honest life with and for Christ.

Next month my husband, who is a native Honduran whom I met here in Honduras while I was already walking the path the Lord had placed before me, and I will celebrate five years of marriage, and a few months after that we will celebrate five years of parenting the orphaned and ministering to the lost together for God’s glory. Four months after we married in 2013 our first three children arrived – the eldest of whom was 13 years old when she moved in, only 10 years younger than me.

The current season of life, of marriage, of ministry and parenting that we are in is definitely new. Our house used to be filled with childhood relics – baby dolls and stuffed animals, sound-it-out books for those learning to read for the first time, pint-sized clothes that fit malnourished frames, and the like.

Now – especially since two of our younger foster daughters left our home in January of this year to begin living with a stable Christian aunt – our home is full not of clingy, eyes-wide-because-everything-is-new-and-exciting children, but rather seasoned teenagers who have seen and heard just about everything, and now all that’s left is really believing it with all their heart and putting it into practice. Our two youngest will turn 10 and 11 within the next two months, and our older teens already have their eyes fixed on university goals and desires for marriage someday.

Our eldest daughter has learned to drive our old pickup and now routinely shuttles over a dozen of our teachers and local students to and from our home each day. She turns 18 in just a few months. One of our other teen daughters is now enrolled in a beauty class in our discipleship-based homeschool program and cut my hair not four days ago with the helpful oversight of her instructor. This upcoming week five of our kids will be traveling with my husband Darwin to one of Honduras’ largest cities to participate in a music concert by an internationally-renowned director. They have been preparing for weeks.

I, like our children, used to feel like everything was new and exciting – every new or meaningful encounter, every inquisitive question they asked me about God or His Word, every heart-warming interaction that occurred in our non-traditional family – I wrote it down and felt compelled to share it with the world. I was a heart-on-fire idealist for Christ; I wanted to change the world; I found deep meaning in everything; every day was an adventure.

This current season is not like that. This season is not bad or boring or disappointing; I simply think I’m entering new depths, new understanding that is necessary for this marathon race that I had originally misunderstood to be a sprint (and I definitely did get tired a few hundred meters into the wild dash).

We’re now more organized; our days are largely more predictable than they once were; our kids have less emotional meltdowns; we’ve grown in knowledge of His Word; and we’re now better equipped to handle the many situations thrown at us daily, whereas before most things used to catch us blindsided or throw us off balance.

We’ve invested what the Lord has given us – His Word and His love, material provision, relational availability, counsel, our very lives — in certain people here only to see them eventually turn their back on the Lord and on us. This has been heartbreaking, but after having occurred numerous times it is no longer surprising. We’ve seen people come to the Lord and others stray from their commitment to Him. We’ve seen people we love make God-honoring decisions, and we’ve seen others we love make the worst decision possible even after receiving great amounts of godly counsel. Sometimes our foster teens surprise us with Spirit-led revelation or genuine spiritual hunger in their lives, and at other times I am left frustrated at their selfishness and spiritual coldness (and mine).

Many profound, even tear-jerking things do still occur – and perhaps even more frequently so than before – in our household, and I do still receive revelations from the Lord, but I have not felt as compelled to write. Or perhaps I have not even known where to start.

From age 17 on I filled up one hand-written journal after another – in addition to several hundred pages of written logs on my laptop – as I fervently sought the Lord, asked Him my questions, searched high and low for my life’s calling and reflected on just about every event that unfolded in my daily life. It was through this incessant search – desperate even – that the Lord revealed to me at age 20 that my role in His Kingdom here on earth would be to be a mother to those who have none. With time He has expanded, deepened that call to now include the relational discipleship and integral teaching we dedicate ourselves to in our home for dozens of local youth in addition to the 8 who live in our home.

I had to learn Spanish, and I have learned it. I did not know if I was ever going to get married, but the Lord provided a faithful, loving husband for me (and permanent father for our children who all come from fatherless backgrounds). I had to be willing to give my own life away – give up on my own plans, relinquish my own ‘freedom’ and personal space – and the Lord has given not only me but also my husband the grace to live this lifestyle of radical hospitality in Christ, of Biblical parenthood for the orphaned and abandoned. Our lives are not our own; we are truly walking in our call.

Six or seven years ago there were so many unknowns in my life, so many questions I pleaded God to answer. I was like a little, impatient child tugging on their Father’s pants-leg and staring up at Him, waiting for the answers.

And He’s given them, and by some miracle I have believed – and not only in my heart but also with my life, with actions, with a daily walk. He’s been so generous, so gracious in our errors and mishaps; He has been such a good teacher, a patient Father to us in these first five years in the trenches!

So, my question – however absurd or naïve it may sound – is: now what? Not ‘now what?’ in the sense of we’re-going-to-now-move-to-another-place-and-do-something-entirely-different-with-our-lives, but in the sense of, really, what does the Lord now have for us? Right here, with these same kids who are now teens and in these same little multi-colored buildings where He’s taught us so much already – what is in store for this new season? Is it just more of the same, but a deepening of it, a downward plunge into greater depths of excellence, of wisdom, of divine communion? In many ways I am in need of a new word from Him.

This season has brought and continues to bring many blessings, two of which are the new teen girls who moved in with us late last year and have become integral parts of our family. This has been a new trek – becoming mom all over again, this time to girls well into adolescence who have already had many ‘moms.’ This journey has been beautiful and has proved to bring unexpected joy to our household in addition to the expected trials the girls present and the sacrifice required of my husband Darwin and I to parent them with grace, according to God’s Word.

This year – this season – I teach an advanced math class for 16 teen students in the Christian school we operate out of our home, and I share God’s Word three times weekly in our large group Bible study where we gather in our dining room with about 40 people or so. I teach a dynamic (and pretty funny) karate class on Wednesday afternoons, and I serve in a much less hands-on role administratively in our office this year, making sure all runs smoothly alongside of our dedicated Honduran staff. I handwash our clothes. I water the plants. I share the cooking load with our teenage girls (and our 10-year-old son Jason who loves to work in the kitchen). I listen to Christian sermons and teaching series online in my free time to continue growing. On weekends Darwin and I do maintenance and physical labor chores with our kids around our extensive rural property. We read the Word together as a family. I oversee our kids in their daily chores and academic activities. My husband and I play chauffer for our teens on their way to music and dance classes. I lend a listening ear and a prayerful heart to our local students who oftentimes seek me out to help them in conflict resolution or if they simply want to vent. On an ongoing basis I seek to discern, to listen, to whatever it is that God wants to teach us on this narrow, beautiful path with Him.

So, I’m not sure if this not-so-organized post will prove interesting or noteworthy to anyone who reads it, but I do thank all of you who pray for us and support this work on an ongoing basis. Please know that we continue onward with great faithfulness, and daily ask God to make grow these many seeds we are planting all around us. My writing patterns over the coming months may prove more sporadic as I have not been as led to write all our daily reflections as I have in years past, but this does not indicate that the work in Honduras is faltering or stagnant. We love Christ and daily seek to draw nearer to Him as our very lives are permanently marked with the good news of His salvation. His eternal Kingdom is our goal, and we desperately ask Him to bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

God bless you.

Friday Spy: My Undercover Photo Shoot of Marimba Players, Pig Pits and More

Several hours after our group Bible study this morning, I grabbed our old-fashioned digital camera and headed undercover (well, not quite) to each of our intensive classes that we hold every Friday for our more mature students. Most of our teens tried to run away or hide their faces when they realized I was taking pictures, but even so I got a few shots that are worth sharing.

The following are photos taken of the following intensive 3-hour classes: Music/Orchestra (piano, violin, recorder, marimba and guitar), English as a second language, and organic agriculture/discipleship. Normally during this early afternoon time-slot there is also a group in community evangelism, but this week that class was cancelled because the local pastor who directs the group is in surgery. Thank you to all of you who support this redemptive work and/or pray for God’s continued guidance and protection over us.

This is Ariel, one of our older local teen boys who comes from a very chaotic, undisciplined home life learning to play the marimba.
These are two of our daughters whom we are in the process of adopting. Musical training – paired with ongoing relational Christian discipleship – is one of our techniques to redeem broken teens and heal them through healthy, dynamic activities for God’s glory.
Paola (left), one of our new foster daughters who moved in with us about six months ago, with a local teen as they learn to play the recorder.
The builders are making great progress on the dining room annex! (For the last couple weeks our community kitchen with its fridge, stove, pantry, etc  has been moved to our front porch! Thank goodness we’ve got a big porch!)

The classes imparted at the Living Waters Ranch are not confined to normal classroom walls: we oftentimes teach outdoors, go on prayer walks with our students, and interact with the beautiful Honduran habitat around our buildings as part of the youth’s integral learning experience.
This is Miss Ligia’s English as a second language class. Everyone got the giggles and tried to hide their faces when I entered with the camera!
Nobody wanted to show their face!
When I got close to her with the camera, she got the giggles! What a beautiful smile!
Now back outside with the beginners’ recorder class on the porch!
This is our new Christian psychologist who is multi-talented! In addition to helping greatly in the integral psychological/spiritual healing of our youth in Christ, she has also been instrumental teaching in the classroom, leading a group of teen girls in twice-weekly prayer time and freely sharing her God-given talents through various outlets.
One of our local Honduran missionaries has a great passion to pair organic agriculture with small-group Christian discipleship, so several of these agriculture/discipleship classes are given throughout the week to the 60 youth in our program who desire to participate. In these photos our 16-year-old foster son Brayan is working with a local teen to dig a 12-foot-deep hole to receive the waste from the pig pen we are building. These activities cultivate work ethic, perseverance and strength of character in our teens in addition to a deepened love of God’s Word.

They’ve been working on this pit for weeks — one rock at a time!
Two of our local teachers/missionaries work alongside of our students to cultivate the land organically as they learn more about their Creator and how to care for His creation.
This is the little plot our kids have been working so hard on. They’ve planted plantains and banana trees here.

After my escapade out in the pasture, I passed back through our front gate and found one of our musicians hard at work in his song notebook.
My last stop: a posed photo with three of our beloved recorder players (our foster daughter Jackeline, far left, and two local teens who have been in our program full-time over two years). Lookin’ good!
Who knew that teenagers could be this cute?
This is our foster daughter Jackeline. She is a talented mathematician, an avid cow-farmer and a great big sister to special-needs Josue. The Lord has done great things to transform her since she first moved in with us over three years ago, and we love her dearly.

 

Nobody else was willing to participate in an impromptu photo shoot, so I headed back across our front lawn to our cinderblock home to finish up my admin duties for the day! God bless you!

A Constant Gamble for God: Passing the Torch of Love from One Hand to Another

Several weeks ago after a busied trip into the city to do those errands that never end, on my way back home I turned off the main highway and took the drive into one of those dangerous neighborhoods where they say you have to pass with your windows down so that the gang lords can identify who comes and goes.

In this particular neighborhood we’ve come and gone dozens of times visiting different people, so I rolled my windows down without a second thought and began making my way carefully over the neglected pavement eaten up by so many potholes.

I turned down one side road and then another, pulling to a stop in front of a small collection of homes, although I couldn’t remember which one it was. I hopped out – I believe it was raining on that particular day – and knocked on the door of a blue-colored house. I thought that was the right house, anyway. Blue.

A woman opened the door with wide eyes, unsure who I was and what my business was. I immediately realized I had knocked on the wrong door. I quickly apologized and asked if she knew which home belonged to the woman I was looking for. She knew. Two houses down, she told me.

I jumped over puddles, my bright blue rain-jacket shielding my blouse from the falling raindrops. Two houses down, also a blue house. At least I got the blue part right.

 I stooped on the tiny porch, taking the hood of my rain-jacket down under the cover of the roof above. All the windows were closed and there was no sound coming from inside. It looked like no one was home, especially in this culture where people who are home have their doors and windows open, several people lounging on the porch or washing clothes in the front yard and occasionally high-volume music blasting from some stereo.

I knocked once and waited, then again and waited. As I was about to turn and leave, the door opened, ever so slowly, and a woman’s gaze met mine. At first she looked like she suspected trouble – frightened and ready to close the door immediately – but as she recognized me her countenance immediately changed and a genuine smile, albeit a surprised one, overtook her tired face.

We embraced one another as we have on so many other occasions and she quickly let me pass the threshold.

“And the kids?” Her face brightened even more as she glanced behind me, waiting to see her special-needs son and teenage daughter.

I apologized for not having brought them with me (alas, they are always with us!) and told her that the purpose of my surprise visit was not a once-per-month visit between our foster children and their biological family members but rather a visit between two adult women, between she and I.

This definitely caught her off guard, as we’ve never done such a thing in our three years of knowing one another, but she quickly accepted and showed me where to sit in the completely quiet, still home with all of its windows firmly shut. As I sat on the only couch in the living room, rather than sitting across the small room in one of the arm chairs she commented on how she preferred to be closer and sat not two feet from me on that couch. It felt right and natural.

What ensued was a free-flowing conversation that lasted over an hour between Josue and Jackeline’s mom and myself.

For months – years perhaps – the idea of becoming more involved with this woman has been floating around our hearts and minds, swelling up and speaking out at different times. More than once we’ve considered aloud between my husband and I providing this down-and-out shut-in a part-time job with us and a new start. When her two precious children first moved in with us back in January 2015 their stay in our home was meant to be a temporary solution until she could find a steady job and place to live. Three to four months they had told us. Well, a few months has turned into a few years, and she’s been unable to find any kind of stable work or place to stay. The news has always been the same, and her situation – as much economic as emotional and spiritual – has been stagnant if not declining, and up until now we really didn’t know what move to make, if any.

Employ an emotionally unstable woman who probably desperately needs a counselor in our home working with at-risk kids? Is that really a good idea? But have not many people – not only children and teens but adults as well – come to know the Lord alongside of us, and could us being more involved in her life and showing her God’s love on a more regular basis not possibly lead to her salvation and renewal? If her kids’ lives are worth the risk and investment, is not hers as well?

So that idea (without any concrete answers) had been floating around our consciousness for quite some time when our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline (who is this woman’s biological daughter) came to me out of the blue – as she oftentimes does – and informed me with great conviction that Darwin and I should give her mom a job. She and her mother have never gotten along well and still have a pretty tumultuous relationship, but she informed me through tears, “I just want my mom to know Jesus.”

So that was all it took. I talked with Darwin, and we sensed that it was finally time to act. I would go to her house unannounced (because her cellphone no longer worked so we had no way to call) and I would propose the idea to her: a healthy way out of unemployment, more physical closeness with her children, being included perhaps for the first time in her life in a loving, vibrant Christian community and hopefully a drawing near to Christ as well.

One of those very familiar questions began to show itself in my mind: Do we have the finances to provide a job for her—? before it was quickly dismissed. After all, God has called us to do many crazy things over these last few years, and He’s always provided a way to make it happen.

Well, the details of our in-depth conversation have since been lost on me, but I do know one thing: the Lord did send me there that day, and He did use me to listen to a very broken woman who desperately needs loving companionship and a new start in life. I said little; she spoke much. Several times throughout our conversation I reached across the little couch to pat her shoulder as she shared with me her struggles. Several times she mentioned her belief that only God could help her; that she had been flirting with Satan too long and that it was time to make a change and give her life over to God. I continued to listen, hope swelling in my chest.

She mentioned her kids many times – which strangely enough are also my kids now. It was surreal listening to this mother who desperately loves these same kids whom I have grown to dearly love. Toward the end of our conversation I walked over to a coffee table in the small house – her sister’s house where she’s been living in a spare room for several months – and saw an 8’ x 10’ photo of now-14-year-old Jackeline when she was a toddler. This woman holds the memories of the kids when they were little, and the memories from these last three years have largely been made with us. Between us there was no sense of competition or anger but rather of gratitude and deep respect from both parties. Surely God had orchestrated this whole thing.

So I left, and she said she would call me in the next few weeks once a family situation was resolved to see if she could come serve alongside of us two days per week. Serve in what capacity, I had no idea, but Darwin and I were ready to step out into the unknown as God was in the process of preparing just one more miracle of life and redemption.

Our initial conversation was several weeks ago. Yesterday was Momma Ingrid’s first day of work. We can say that it was lacking in any drama and full of spiritual blessing. She arrived on time, quite timid but ready to participate. Many years ago she was a secretary in a bank (a prestigious job in this society where many people are illiterate and do hard labor for a living) before falling on hard times and bad decisions, so we decided to make her our official secretary at the Living Waters Ranch (a job that never before existed). Darwin worked with her a couple hours in the office that all of our staff share in order to show her the ropes, and she joyfully went about with general office tasks for the rest of the day. She saw her kids throughout the day, participated in Bible study and prayer group in the morning, and smiled more than she normally does. Several times throughout the day she told Darwin and I that she doesn’t need to get paid; she’s just happy to help and see her kids. We listened, thanked her for her thoughtfulness and willingness to serve but assured her that we will be paying her.

She’ll be coming back again on Wednesday.

And so, yesterday at 3:00pm as I left our home with all of our teachers and Momma Ingrid piled in our old pickup truck to go drop everyone off after a long day’s work, Momma Ingrid didn’t go home to her sister’s vacant house.

Geraldina, a woman in her early 30s (just like Momma Ingrid) who was in a similar position as her not two years ago – her teenage daughter Sandra had come to live with us until her mom could get back on her feet – will be voluntarily hosting Momma Ingrid (who she just met yesterday for the first time) in her home as an act of radical Christian hospitality to the downtrodden for love of God.

What?

Yes, an illiterate single mom of four who has suffered hunger, abuse and rejection who now works with us full-time and is learning to read and write for the first time – who went against all cultural norms and left behind her abusive husband in order to get her daughter back and even build her own wooden home! – will be extending an arm of charity and love to a woman not so different from herself.

Is it not the rich who help the poor, the powerful who help the weak?

Not this time.

So yesterday in our pickup truck after dropping all our teachers off and Momma Ingrid at Geraldina’s home, I turned to 17-year-old Sandra (Geraldina’s daughter) who sat in the passenger’s seat right next to me. She lived in our home for almost a year and continues being like a daughter to Darwin and I, and we get to see her everyday now that our community homeschool program started its 2018 classes a couple weeks ago. I patted her leg and asked sincerely, “What do you think about having Momma Ingrid live in your house?”

I was expecting her to hesitate or to comment that she was nervous about having an emotionally broken woman in her personal space, but she piped up, “It was my idea!”

My jaw must have dropped down to the floorboard as I sputtered – “Wha–?” I was definitely not expecting her to say that.

“Yeah. When Jackeline mentioned to us that Momma Ingrid would be working at the Ranch and had nowhere to stay, I told my mom that we should receive her in our home. Last year in Bible study you encouraged all of us to receive the homeless and broken in our homes as a way of ministering to Christ and, well, we’re gonna start with her.”

Goosebumps ran through my body even as they do now as I remember yesterday’s events and type this all down. Are not the poor – are not Sandra and her mom, Geraldina, people themselves who have known deep poverty their whole lives — to wallow in self-pity or look for some scheme to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’? But – to forsake their own poverty (the thousands of legitimate excuses they could have to explain why they couldn’t possibly take Momma Ingrid in, especially as no one was asking them to do so!) and to extend a hand of loving hope – even receiving her in their own humble home! – yes, that is God’s work among us.

So, Momma Ingrid spent her fist night in Sandra and Geraldina’s home last night in our rural neighborhood, and we’ll be seeing her again tomorrow as she comes up for her second day of work. Please give thanks to God with us for Sandra and Geraldina’s walk of faith and obedience as they are receiving a woman they have no relation to into their home, and pray with us blessings of harmony, service and humble love among them as they figure out how to live together. God bless you.

A Refuge for Misfits

Yesterday as I was taking four of our foster children to the dentist in the city that lies about a half hour from our rural homestead, my phone rang.

It was my husband: “Three more kids just arrived wanting to enroll in our homeschool program this year.”

I breathed deep, knowing that the number of local children and teens who had already enrolled in these past few weeks had greatly surpassed any established limit we would have liked to set. A few days prior I had shuffled through all the enrollment papers in our office, assuming the sum total would be up around 50, about 10 or 15 more than last year.

But my eyes grew wide as I saw that the count was 63. Considering our limited resources and experience, we decided to close the enrollment period. 63 students — almost all of whom come from devastating backgrounds — would be more than enough, seeing as we were facing almost double the amount of students we finished last year with in November.

And then the next day three more local students arrived at our front gate and I felt God lead me to accept them (despite my own personal preferences). 66!

Now Darwin is calling me about three more! We’re getting close to 70, and we don’t have the tables, chairs or really the classroom space to comfortably have so many people running around our home! Help!

Darwin gave me more details about the prospective new students: “It’s a single dad who is raising his three kids because his wife left him when he had a stroke several years ago. He’s unable to work and lives in a room in a little church where a local pastor is economically supporting him and his three children.”

Then there was a moment of silence over the phone as we both considered what this meant.

God has placed us in our rural neighborhood stricken by deep poverty and suffering for this exact purpose: to shine as Christ’s lights in the darkness and extend the love and mercy of God to this hurting corner of the world. If this disabled single father does not fit within the parameters of the mission the Lord has given us, then I’m not sure who does. Surely we must accept them.

Darwin continued: “…And there’s one more as well. It’s a teen boy who’s on his way to ninth grade and last year was unable to study at the local high school because he didn’t have the money to do so. He’s very eager to learn but hasn’t had the opportunity to do so.”

Even in the midst of my own fears and desire for control (and love of small numbers), I breathed deeply – a streak of excitement passing through my chest as I contemplated all the lost and broken people the Lord is entrusting us for healing, “Of course; bring them all in,” I answered over the phone as I zipped down the highway. That was the answer God had placed on both of our hearts.

Teenagers – always more teenagers! The group of young people the Lord has sent us this year is turning out to be quite a ragtag bunch (and that’s just the way we want it). There are many private schools in our area who look for the best, most well-behaved students with good credentials and decent family backgrounds. Our search is just about the opposite: we look for and receive those on the farthest margins, those who are likely within a short distance of falling into gangs or becoming local vagabonds (if they aren’t already).

This year we’re receiving a young man who is already in his early twenties who will be entering third grade with us and another third-grade student who is a teen on the cusp of 15 or 16 years old who is a notorious vagabond in our area with bright purple-died hair who has tried school several times but has thus far always dropped out. We have hope that this time God will give him the perseverance and grace to finish the year, and maybe even several more after that.

Another teen is entering who finished primary school five years ago and dropped out of school since then. He’s now 16 and will be entering 7th grade with us. What made him want to enroll in a God-fearing community homeschool program that is heavy on discipline, love and truth when all that he’s been accustomed to is probably the opposite? Why not continue roaming our neighborhood aimlessly or simply enroll in the local public high school, where everything is easier and cheating/corruption are easily overlooked? We have no idea, but we thank God that this young man and roughly 70 others will be willingly exposed to God’s Word and the truth of His love day after day under our guidance.

There are many other similar stories – many fatherless children and teens who will be entering our school where they will finally have loving, Christian adult males to lead them; many coming from malnutrition and deep poverty who physically look several years younger than they actually are; others who come from the public school system discouraged and rejected after years of trying to learn and failing. The Lord is creating a small, beautiful haven for misfits, and He will be the one to fortify this work, for He is the one who brought so many young people to us.

I contemplated all this as I drove up the long gravel road to our home the other day. Crossing through our rural neighborhood I saw one of our new male students – a 15-year-old who will be entering 6th grade after having been a local vagabond for the past several years – meandering around the streets on his bike. I gave him a double-honk from inside our car to greet him, and then all of a sudden he changed course and began darting up the path in front of my old pickup truck as fast as he could.

This particular young man has had quite a bit of contact with us this month, even coming up to our home to participate in our riotous P.E. classes with our teachers (as in, our teachers are the students). Darwin had met him several months ago when he took our kids to a local field to play soccer, and he’s been developing a relationship with him ever since.

I smiled and continued driving onward, me now following him as he began pedaling as fast as he could up the slighting inclined path to our home. The car continued to rumble along as he passed as quickly as he could over uneven terrain, rocks and puddles so as to keep his lead on me. Were we in a race? I didn’t think so. I had no idea what was happening, but I enjoyed the game and he seemed really intent on beating me to our gate.

Making the last turn up to our property, our home and the majestic mountains just beyond now in full eyesight, the young man finally reached his destination, threw his bike to one side in one fluid motion and pulled open our front gate, panting and smiling big.

I rolled down my window as I directed the car to pass through the opening. Leaning over to greet the young victor, I thanked him for opening the gate for me. Had he really gone out of his way and beat me up the path just for that? Just to show me an act of kindness? Surely he must have had other business up here…

Still panting, he informed me through my open window: “I wanted to come open the gate for you!” An enormous smile flooded the precious, soon-to-be ex-vagabond’s face.

Chills ran through my body as I suddenly realized I was the recipient of a very extravagant display of friendship and favor. I immediately thanked God in my heart, feeling that the good work in this young man’s life had already begun, and that He used this simple boy to even touch my own heart with His love.

I pulled all the way through the gate; he closed it behind me; and he was off. Mission accomplished!

Many young boys in disadvantaged Honduran neighborhoods such as ours begin working with local gangs from about age 10 on, participating in horrible crimes and Satanic worship perhaps for lack of a better place to belong. Our 16-year-old foster son Brayan (whom we are in the process of legally adopting), has commented to us several times that if God had not placed us in his path when he was 12 years old, he would probably belong to a gang by now or be dead. So, we thank God that he is bringing in the vagabonds and lost young men and women who very well may be within a yard of Hell, and we praise Him that He’s brining them home, bringing them to a knowledge and experience of God’s love for them through Christ.

Please pray with us for this increasing group of children and teens whom the Lord has entrusted us as we are finishing off our preparations for the new year of discipleship and integral education that will begin Monday, February 5th.

God bless you!

Hot Tea With a Special Guest: January 2018 Updates and Prayer Requests

Thank you to all of those who have been lifting us up in prayer. We have seen several marked differences in our household and an overall calming down of the rough waves we had passed through. Thank you for asking our Father that His peace might reign and rule in our hearts. Please continue to pray for my ongoing battle with insomnia, as these last six weeks or so have been incredibly difficult and I’ve spent the majority of each night wide awake and unable to sleep more than a couple hours. (During the ensuing daytime hours I struggle with dizziness, discouragement and extreme fatigue.) This greatly affects my focus, energy, mood, etc (and not to mention the way I interact with and invest in all those around me), so I humbly ask for prayer and healing on this account. Thank you.

During this month of January we’ve been engaging in a variety of activities as we’re gearing up for a new year of community discipleship and integral education that will officially commence on February fifth. This month we’ve been offering daily intensive math and reading tutoring for our new high school students, one-on-one literacy classes to Geraldina (Sandra’s mom), various small-scale construction and property maintenance projects, general administration, house visits and evangelism in our rural neighborhood, many prayer meetings and times of fine-tuning our vision with our local missionaries, P.E. classes with our teachers (this has been hilarious!), etc.

Below are photos taken during the recent visit of Kyshia, a beloved missionary and blossoming friend of ours who has served the Lord in Honduras over 30 years and raised 17 abandoned/orphaned Honduran children as part of her life’s work. She lives in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and made the 7-hour drive up to our home to listen to, counsel and pray with all of our kids and local missionaries individually. She had a ‘tea party’ with each one and was able to reach down deep into each one’s heart and touch them with God’s love. She has an extremely special sense of humor and had us all rolling with laughter almost non-stop as she stayed in our guest house for a few days with her 30-year-old special-needs foster son who she is still taking care of. This is an ongoing relationship we are hoping to cultivate on a regular basis over the coming years as the Lord begins to use her as an integral member in His ministry in this little corner of the world. (She even took care of our 10 kids one evening so that Darwin and I could get away for a date! Not many people are capable of adequately handling our rowdy bunch, but she definitely could because she has the experience!) I hope you enjoy the photos.

God bless you in this new year, and thank you again for praying for and supporting the Lord’s work in and through us.

Our 9-year-old special needs son Josue looking for extra sugar at the bottom of his cup in his ‘tea party’ with Kyshia

Carminda, our night watchman’s wife, in her counseling and prayer time with Kyshia
Erick, who serves alongside of his wife not only at the Living Waters Ranch but also during his nights and weekends out of his own home in our rural neighborhood as they relationally disciple many rogue youth who are looking for guidance and hope in Christ
Aracely, Erick’s wife who is now serving alongside of us part-time and who has been a powerful instrument of blessing in our kids’ lives over the past several years as their ‘aunt’
Reina, one of our local teachers who is entering her second year of service with us, in her time of rest and renewal with Kyshia
Geraldina, a local woman who has an extremely powerful testimony in the Lord. Her teenage daughter (Sandra) found refuge in our home two years ago as Geraldina knew her daughter was in danger due to an out-of-control step-father. Geraldina, who due to circumstances and extreme poverty never went to school and has lived under the yoke of abusive relationships since childhood, has since left the abusive man (which in this culture is extremely difficult if not impossible for an illiterate woman with four kids), has begun working with us first part-time and now full-time, has recovered her teenage daughter, and has since purchased a small plot of land and constructed a decent home for her and her four children to live in. The abusive ex-husband has sought her out non-stop over the past two years and even threatened her on numerous occasions, but her faith in the Lord has been her shield against him. She is a very humble, strong woman with a sincere faith in Christ who is coming out of her shell as she’s been included in our community where God’s love is manifested daily. She is now in intensive tutoring sessions with one of our teachers in order to learn to read and write for the first time in her life, and it has literally been amazing to see her transformation over the past two years since we met her. Please give thanks to God with us for all that He’s done in her life.
Our kids in an art activity with Kyshia while Darwin and I were away on our date


Glory to God!

2017 Yearend Photos

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Here are photos that were taken at our yearend celebratory event with our students, teachers/missionaries and local community a few weeks ago at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve as Christ’s body.

(I have not updated the blog recently due to the fact that our 10 foster kids/teens are on vacation from our community homeschool program, and I’ve been dedicating more ‘momma’ time to them as they’ve needed me to be more present in the home and put the majority of my administrative/communication duties on hold for now). God bless you, and please continue praying for the unstable political scene in Honduras, as the chaos has calmed down for now but is rumored to heat up again after the holidays.

My husband Darwin directing his youth choir in songs of the hope we have in Christ

Our 16-year-old son Brayan and me sitting in the audience as we awaited the arrival of our neighbors
Darwin directing our 10-year-old son Jason with a piano piece

Darwin and our 13-year-old daughter Gleny accompanied by Annie, a precious teen who I taught and discipled in the Episcopal School in the nearby city of La Ceiba for several years after moving to Honduras in 2012. She and her two sisters are now homeschooled by their parents and are involved part-time at the Living Waters Ranch in music, agriculture, community service, and Christian discipleship to complement the academic education they are already receiving at home. Annie and her two sisters are very special to Darwin and me as we’ve known them closely for several years, and it was a very pleasant surprise to talk with their parents a couple months ago and see a door opened to have them come study and grow in Christ alongside of us part-time at our home. Their parents drive them about 30 minutes from their home in the city out to our rural property in order for them to participate! Praise God!

 

Three of our local teen boys who study with us in our discipleship-based community homeschool program. 15-year-old Cristian (the one in the middle), came into our lives about three years ago as a very malnourished and completely uneducated boy who had never gone to school before, and now he has a heart for the Lord and he’s on his way to high school after successfully completing our accelerated program for older students! He and four of his siblings study full-time in our home, and both of his parents are now employed with us.
Geraldina, Sandra’s mom, getting ready for the preparations. (She even put on a pair of borrowed shorts and competed in the 2-mile roadrace after the musical activities finished!)
During several of the choir’s songs, the older kids and mature teens were all afraid to stand near the microphone! Our 10-year-old developmentally-challenged foster daughter Gabriela (blue dress), who LOVES to sing, unashamedly took up the front and center spot right in front of the microphone when all others were afraid to do so! I laughed when I saw her — knowing that her voice would resonate above all else’s due to her position so close to the microphone — and I whispered to the person next to me, “I sure hope she knows the lyrics!” She frequently mispronounces words and has many difficulties in daily living, but she truly shined during the choir performance — and she did a great job with the lyrics! It was a beautiful moment and one of the first times I’ve really felt proud of our quirky little one. Praise God!
Two of our daughters (Jackeline, left, and Dayana, right)

 

Amen! Glory to God!

A Story From the Frontlines: Urgent Prayer Request for Peace in Honduras

Today we walked over the black, burnt ground where the flaming tires and trees had burnt to ashes. Dozens of armed Honduran military agents lined the bridge, stone-faced like statues as rioters and political protesters gathered close by, screaming and waving flags. A large crowd had even formed a circle as one man beat a drum and began screaming out his hatred for a certain politician and his love for another. We walked carefully over the burnt ground, our shoes acquiring the sticky black tar from burnt tires as we asked God silently where our entry point would be. After all, at this same bridge there had been a dangerous riot the day prior, and a 9-year-old boy had been shot and killed.

This photo along with all the others on this post were taken by a local onlooker and later found on Facebook. The woman in this photo is Isis, one of our teachers, as we were crossing the bridge.

We had awoken this morning at 2:30am with great enthusiasm, for we would be heading with 7 of our teens to a beautiful campground several hours away where many Christian retreats are held year-round. We had packed our bags with great joy in our hearts — the event promised to be fun, organized, and well-suited to the spiritual growth of our teens. We had attended the same event last year with two of our faithful teachers, and the conference had been full of dynamic teamwork activities, times of praise and worship, group activities designed around God’s Word, and a late-night bonfire complete with skits. Thus, yesterday was a day of packing suitcases, planning logistics and getting hyped-up emotionally, as we had been anticipating the event for weeks.

Well, we never got there. Any and all plans we had carefully sketched out for this day were completed wiped off our schedule, and God put before us an entirely different course of events.

There is currently much political unrest in Honduras, as the announcing of the new president after the recent elections has taken longer than expected in addition to there being suspected fraud in the counting of votes. The news stream is full of devastating counts of protests, break-ins at local businesses, the burning of tires and blockades at many of the major bridges along the highway. Many people are mad and have taken to the streets, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to be leaving any time soon.

So yesterday with much prayer (and hopeful spirits) we decided to go ahead and try to attend the conference, fully knowing that many of the bridges we would need to pass might possibly be blockades. Our plan: get up super early and try to beat the protesters (hoping they would sleep late and we would thus be able to slip past them in the wee hours of the morning on our merry way as we would drive past their empty protest stands).

All was going as planned for the first hour-and-a-half of our journey, as we zipped quietly down the only highway that parallels the northern coast of Honduras as it seemed that the rioters were still sleeping. We passed nine blockage points where the day prior people had cut down large trees and laid them out in the middle of the road as obstacles, but with a careful eye (and a strong brake on the car), they were avoided easily enough as we maneuvered around the lifeless obstacles in our path. At the couple roadblocks where there were a few lone policemen and tired on-lookers, we simply asked permission to pass and they let us through. Our car was packed to the brim with backpacks, props for our skit, snacks for the journey, and worship music playing on the inside of our pickup’s cabin. It looked like our plan just might work: we just might be able to slip by all the drama unnoticed, arriving at our destination before the day’s promised chaos commenced anew.

Around 5:00am or so we came upon a standstill on the highway. There were dozens of 18-wheelers completely stopped. With optimism still brimming in our hearts, I left our car with its emergency blinkers on and bounded out of the vehicle, jogging up ahead to try to see what the situation looked like and what we needed to do to pass our tenth obstacle.

As I reached a couple blocks ahead, there was an 18-wheeler parked completely perpendicular across the bridge, forming a rather formidable blockade that could not be passed by any vehicle. I approached the rather large group of men stationed at the roadblock with confidence and sincerity, greeting them and informing them that I had come in peace and simply desired to pass in order to attend a Christian conference with 7 of my kids and two of our teachers. The men — several of whom had their faces covered with rags or wore Satanic-looking masks — began asking for money and other gifts and started to form a semi-circle around me, affirming that they wouldn’t be letting anyone pass anytime soon. I suddenly realized that this roadblock would not be like those which we had crossed thus far. This had to be one of those violence-hungry gangs that wreak so much havoc in this country but that (in my world) seem to float about as ghosts, committing their crimes in darkness and disguise, as I had never really seen them face-to-face. Sensing danger in my spirit — but no fear of man — I politely thanked them for listening to my request and promptly began jogging away and back toward our vehicle.

After about an hour-and-a-half of waiting and praying (and uniting with other people like us who were on journeys home or out-of-town for business, with family, etc), we decided it most wise to try to return home before the previous 9 roadblocks were taken anew, lest we get stranded somewhere in between all the chaos and thus unable to arrive at the conference or back home. During this standstill process of discernment, the Lord led us to pray with one of the gang members who had previously denied our passage, as he approached us alone and began conversing. After doing so — and offering him food and drink after having spent the entire night “protecting the bridge,” we decided carefully along with another fellow traveller to try to brave the roads and return home. Other drivers had informed us that they had already been waiting at that same bridge 2-3 days without any budge, and they were forced to get hotels and go buy clothes and food for the prolonged wait. Once two gunshots went off close to where our vehicles sat, we took that as our cue and began zipping back down the road we had just braved in order to return home.

In all of this (and however crazy it all sounds), we had perfect peace and not once felt fear. That is the Lord’s work. (Alas, how many times recently has the Lord led us to the Scriptures about not fearing man; we are to fear the Lord alone. To read it and not put it into practice would be complete hypocrisy! Yes; we do not fear the gang members, but dare to recognize that Christ died for them as much as He died for us, and He longs for them to be saved and transformed with His love.)

And so we returned, this time not in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning but in the ever-increasing light of day. It was about 7:00am when we safely arrived home, encountering only a slight problem in one of the last of the 10 barriers, as rioters had taken up their post (all with their faces covered), and had lit many tires on fire and had completely blocked the passageway. With a little bit of polite convincing, they let us pass, but it was in no way a peaceful roadblock. As the sun was gaining strength in the sky above, so the anger of the rioters was gaining force as the day was only just beginning.

We arrived safely home, thanking God for his protection along the way and honestly not at all disappointed that we couldn’t attend the conference (I believe the Lord consoled us in this and provided us with His constant joy despite the circumstances, as we really had been very excited about attending).

Upon arrival, we gathered — my husband Darwin, our kids and our two teachers — in our barebones dining room at the base of the mountain and decided to pray. To pray for peace, for the rioters to stop and for a president to be declared (and for that president to be filled with the fear of the Lord and God’s perfect justice, that he might govern this suffering country with honor). We bowed our heads and prayed earnest prayers, asking for God’s mercy over Honduras and thanking Him for conserving our lives in what could have potentially been a devastating situation.

As we finished praying, we began singing many hymns and songs of praise, worshipping He who already is our president and King, He who need not be elected by men and who will be overthrown by no mortal. We declared our love for God around that rustic wooden table even as many rioters all around the country were continuing onward in their scandals, fires and protests.

During a song, eyes closed, I felt the Lord spoke to me and told me that our day wasn’t through yet. Even after getting up at 2:30am and having spent the last five hours dodging obstacles and trying to complete our road trip in vain, there was real work God had for us (beyond prayer). Prayer is good and appropriate, but we are also to be the hands and feet of Christ to a broken world, to take the good news of peace to those who still live in darkness. He placed a very clear command upon my heart: “Go to the rioters. Share My Word and My love with them.”

On a day when all sane, peace-seeking people stayed home, holed up in their homes in order to avoid any stray bullets or unneeded confrontations with unhappy political patrons, God sent us out. I immediately communicated this to those around me, and four of our more mature teens and our two teachers agreed to go with me. After arriving safely home (and having every reason to stay there), God was immediately sending us back out into the storm. Today was, after all, perhaps a day when the message of peace and salvation was most needed. We emptied out our car of all our backpacks and headed out with virtually nothing other than our Bibles. We would see where the Lord would lead us, as surely we wouldn’t have to go far to find people desperately in need of a message of peace.

As we passed the mile-long gravel road from our home leading back out to the main highway (where we had just come from), we decided to return to the last blockade we had passed on our way home, where there had been over a dozen masked, angry men lighting fires across the highway. We headed out in silence, driving about 10 minutes or so before seeing them on the horizon and slowing down, our hearts contemplative and yearning for God to give us the right words to say (and, for the men, ears to hear).

We parked our car carefully about 50 yards away, slowly got out of our vehicle, hands raised in signs of peace, and began walking carefully toward the flames and the masked men. The police had already arrived and were standing idly nearby, serving virtually zero purpose and they neither intervened nor supported the protesters. They were more like well-dressed onlookers in a very official vehicle.

We greeted the policemen warmly, as a couple of them we had seen before on prior occasions, and we asked if we could draw closer to the rioters in order to share God’s Word with them. They agreed, and we shouted friendly, careful greetings from a distance to the angry men, who by now were all watching us and on-guard for any foul play they thought we might pull.

I shouted to them that we came in peace, belonged to no political party, and simply wanted to share with them God’s Word. I asked if they would let us get closer to them.

Their defensive posture immediately changed as the leader agreed and invited us to draw nearer to the blockade, thus being able to converse freely with those whom most fear.

We approached as the masked men, several women and children, and other participants suddenly formed a great circle around us, curious as to what we would say to them.

We affirmed that we came in peace and were sent by God, and they said that they remembered when we had passed (and were undoubtedly surprised that we had returned). We introduced ourselves by name, asking the names of each present, and that broke the ice pretty well. Some of the masked men even began taking their masks off, while a couple others lost interest and continued adding more tires to the fire and shouting every time a car would approach. We were standing close to the blockade — the flames warmed our faces — off to the side of the highway with those who were interested in learning the truth, while the ruckus of the world’s lies for power and control continued onward not ten feet away.

The Lord gave us many words for those precious people as we shared the gospel of truth, the gospel of a good, forgiving God with them during this time of such political unrest. We read aloud great portions of the book of Romans and shared openly with them of our faith in Christ, that He — and no human president — is all humanity’s true hope at justice. Three of our kids (Dayana, Brayan and Jackeline) even shared wisdom and godly perspective with them, and one of our teachers also encouraged them in the way of Christ.

Some came and went, but two men — one of whom was middle-aged and had been the closed-off leader of the group at the beginning — stayed with us the entire time, eyes wide and hearts seemingly open. No one was forcing them to listen; we were simply sharing with them the good news that every human heart longs to hear. At the end we asked if we could pray for them, and several agreed. We even put our hands on them, assuring them that we carried no weapon other than that which is the most powerful of all — God’s love. At the end of our time together we shook hands and bid our farewells as we reminded them once more that God loves them and that there is a more excellent way than that of political aspirations and highway violence.

As we turned and left, we felt full of God’s joy albeit with a heavy heart. We got back in the car and continued to drive in silence, wondering where God would lead us next. It was definitely the first adventure of its kind for us, and at the most delicate of times. Yet we were at total peace and not once felt fear of the rioters.

Next we found the newly constructed blockade in our own neighborhood as we travelled those 10 minutes back down the highway. Masked protesters were everywhere, and several neighbors of ours were present, either as on-lookers or participants. There was a great cloud of black smoke rising up from the burning tires, and rocks and wood blockades had been put in place. Everyone was chanting about a certain politician, and — like in any other place — the situation was increasingly delicate.

As in the prior location, we carefully approached on foot and asked if we could share God’s Word with the people. They quickly agreed through their masks, and we decided to look for a stool of some kind to stand up on in order for the people to be able to hear us better, for there were many more people present here and much more dispersed. A local woman lent us a chair, and we took turns standing on it as we read Jesus’ teachings on loving our enemies as God loved us even when we were His enemies. We spoke loudly and lovingly of Honduras’ need for God’s love — that our hope must not be in any man (politician or otherwise) but rather in that of the living God, and we must obey His command to love our enemies. After all, so many look to a president or other type of leader to make a great change or heal the nation, but the change begins with each and every one of us as we drop to our knees before God in repentance. That is what will change this nation; the burning of tires and an excess of road blockages (not to mention other forms of violence experienced in these last few days all around the nation) will not bring about that change that so many citizens long for. Many people — most of whom were middle-aged men — listened attentively, as others passed by nonchalantly or cared little for the truth we were sharing. We concluded the sharing of God’s Word with a prayer for peace over our nation, and then we were on our way.

Our last stop would be that of the main bridge passageway into La Ceiba, about 30 minutes away (the trip made much longer due to the detour we had to take to avoid the road blockage along the main highway exiting our neighborhood). That was where the 9-year-old boy had been killed the day prior and where the majority of the violence was focused. We breathed deep, wondering if it was foolish to head straight-on into such a boiling pit of hatred and confusion but at the same time fully assured that those were the people who most desperately needing the message of peace.

A photo taken today by a Honduran citizen of the bridge we were approaching

We arrived and parked far away, walking carefully along the main road over fallen wires and much, much black ash. Some of our kids had acquired the sticky tar-like substance on their faces, and our noses burned with the unpleasant smell. People were everywhere, more so than in either of our previous two stops.

We stopped several times as we approached the bridge, consulting among ourselves as to where we should start. There was no way we would be able to talk with everyone at once, as there we factions of armed soldiers, police, and dozens of enthusiastic rioters. It looked like a war zone that at any point might break out in total chaos (as, in fact, had occurred the day prior). Everyone was on edge, and there were many onlookers.

As we stood on the side of the highway, unsure with whom to share the message (and how, without provoking the people’s anger), I asked God in my heart to show me who to talk to. During this short time, the screaming (and chanting) protesters invited us into their group and shuttled us across the highway, probably believing we had come to support them. They waved flags and chanted insults as we smiled politely and kept our mouths shut. We walked carefully among them, sensing that we would not be able to get a word in with their group, and in that moment I felt like God showed me a lone soldier at the end of the bridge who was unoccupied.

We crossed the highway again in the midst of many people and vehicles as I asked the solider if we could speak with him. Defensive and possibly scared, he asked what we wanted to talk about. We informed him that we wanted to share God’s Word with him and give a message of peace in turbulent times. His guard immediately dropped and he agreed.

At the time I believed it might have been only with this one soldier that we would have an open door, as everyone else was so dispersed and carefully supervising their respective group. I thanked God in my heart of hearts that this young soldier was open to hearing the truth, fully convinced that every life counts and that to even touch one person’s life is worth it. Maybe we had come to this busy bridge to share the gospel with this one young soldier.

The soldier quickly went to consult with the others lining the bridge, all fully armed and on guard, and he informed us, “I’ll call everyone over so that you can share the message with the whole group.”

They were going to abandon their post! My mouth dropped slightly open, as we had never arrived ‘prepared’ with a message but rather continuously asked God to put the right words in our mouths. Talk with the whole army? Oh, God, give us the words!

Within moments dozens of the fully armed, uniformed men left the bridge and walked down a small slope where they would be able to hear us. Others — some soldiers, some protesters and others uninvolved onlookers — began gathering above and behind us as we began to read aloud from the book of First John. God is love, and He showed us this love by sending Christ to die for us. If we say that we love God, we must also love people (even our enemies).

This is another photo an onlooker took that we later found posted on Facebook.

People kept coming — without anyone ever making an official announcement — as we read aloud nearly the whole book of First John, encouraging the people to receive God’s love and forgiveness through Christ and to begin showing it to one another. This is God’s perfect will; this is the path to peace. Many more continued to come, leaning to listen a message of peace in violent times. Alas, the opposing groups had come together — the soldiers and the rioters — but not in confrontation but rather as equal recipients of the truth of God, ears open as God’s love was being poured out.

As in the two prior cases, we will never know who truly listened to the message and what God will do with those seeds of truth that were sown today. On several occasions throughout the day I felt on the verge of weeping, and I’m still not entirely sure why — perhaps for joy or out of gratitude that God allowed us to enter the war zone as His messengers of peace or perhaps with fear and trembling, pleading that the words we spoke really were His words and that they will take deep root and give fruit for God’s glory. This we will never know, as the majority of the people we saw today we may never see again.

As we finished sharing the good news of peace near that tension-packed bride, our 16-year-old son Brayan (who himself aspires to be a soldier and/or a missionary) prayed over the soldiers and common folk with a simple, honest prayer asking for God’s will to be done and for the people to put their hope in Him rather than in a president who will never be able to live up to our expectations. He prayed for peace. And then we left, on foot as we crossed that bridge and went to drop one of our teachers off at her home. None of us were scheduled to return from the conference until Sunday evening, but this was the ‘conference’ that God had in mind all along. To be His peacemakers on the front lines of enemy territory.

As we crossed the bridge again, having left our teacher in her home, one local man who had heard us preach approached us and asked that we continue, as he affirmed that the gospel is for the people’s salvation and they must hear it. He was very sincere and encouraged us to continue sharing.

The man in the front was the one who told us to continue sharing God’s Word. (This photo, like all the others, was taken by a local onlooker at today’s events and later posted on Facebook. We personally took no photos during our trip.)

At that point another man, a rioter on the brink of taking control of the bridge with his angry crew, began shouting, “Get God’s Word out of here! We don’t want God’s Word here!” It sent chills down my spine, not because I feared that man but because that is, in fact, the attitude at large in the world today. We shake an angry fist at the eternally good God and scream in our own misery, “Get God’s Word out of here! We don’t want Him in our lives!” If only we truly believed that He came to give life in abundance and joyfully submitted our lives to His perfect will, we would finally experience that joy and peace that we so long for (and seek in all the wrong places).

So, politely disregarding the man who despised God’s Word, we took up a spot on the edge of the highway and continued onward preaching the message of repentance and God’s love as several ears received. Then we continued walking onward, largely in silence, as we approached our vehicle and began the long drive home. We had been up since 2:30am that morning, and it was then close to 2:00pm once we had finished the rounds the Lord had sent us on. We felt spent, exhausted, like soldiers after coming back from war. Joyful. Hopeful. Grateful. Fearless.

And so we share this with you as we ask for prayer right now for Honduras. There is great unrest, and we ask in Jesus’ name that you pray with us that God would illuminate the minds of those who are causing the violence and bring them to repentance so that there might be peace in this country. We pray against all political fraud and corruption, and that God might choose the right person for the presidency and fill that person with His wisdom and justice in order to govern with dignity. We pray also that God might send out other Christians to the streets during these times to preach the gospel as so many are in dire need of hearing the truth. Thank you for your prayers. God bless you.

2017 Yearend Update

Friday we finished up our last day of regular classes, Bible study and dynamic group activities as the Honduran school year is coming to a close. In the ensuing days there has been much cleaning out of classrooms and office spaces, great administrative effort to close up the year well, and the moving of furniture from one little building to another to convert our primary schoolhouse into a quaint (and rather bare) guesthouse/multi-purpose building for our vacation time.

On Monday we had our last official meeting with our small but extremely devoted team of Honduran teachers/missionaries to pray together and wrap everything up logistically. But, rather than it just being the 7 of us sitting in a circle in one of our classrooms to direct the usual meeting, we had a special guest. One of our male students who has just completed his first full year of classes and discipleship with us at the Living Waters Ranch had asked permission to come to the all-adult meeting in order to share his testimony and thank us for leading him to the Lord. We’ve known him on and off for nearly four years, and he’s always been extremely timid and seemingly on the verge of joining a gang or escaping illegally to the United States. (Alas, he was one of the local vagabonds last year who mocked our students who got baptized in the river near his home! Look at all the Lord has done in him since!)

This particular young man is on the cusp of turning 18 years old and is just now finishing 7th grade. He sat in our midst in his skinny jeans with a soccer shirt and metal chain hanging casually from around his neck. On the outside, he looked like any other male teen in our area, but his eyes were aglow with life, with joy, and you could sense he was at total peace. As we each greeted him warmly at the beginning of the meeting, asking him how he felt, he kept shaking his head back and forth with a huge smile on his face (not typical of any male teen around these parts), and said more than once, “I’m just so happy about all the changes that are going on inside of me…”

All eyes trained on him – alas, this was the first time any of our students had asked permission to come to one of our planning meetings in order to share their testimony! – he began speaking, full of confidence and wisdom, as he ended up pouring his heart out for nearly an hour about how his relationship with Christ has completely changed his entire perspective. We knew this to be true as we had seen a dramatic transformation in him after many, many seeds of truth were sown in him through our Bible studies, prayer groups, individual counsel and encouragement with Darwin and Erick, and his 7th grade teacher’s spiritual investment in his life everyday in the classroom. His heart had gone from cold and disinterested to burning hot for God, and just a few weeks ago he made the decision to give his life to the Lord. He spoke with great joy and accuracy about how he used to be a vagabond; used to live totally immersed in sexual sin; used to not love his brothers and parents (and much less his enemies); used to fear the many dangerous men who roam about our neighborhood (without fearing the Lord). Now, knowing Christ and fully experiencing God’s love for him, his whole life is changing. Now he expresses love and gratitude to his family members; he asks forgiveness when he’s sinned; he listens to praise music rather than worldly music; he longs for his life to bear good fruit for God’s glory; and he loves to be close to God’s Word. If I were to write everything he said, it would take pages. In short, God radically changed the course of this young man’s life, and He is now using him as a Godly influence to reach other teens in our neighborhood with the message of Christ (not to mention his immediate family who is directly impacted by the life of God now in him).

That definitely makes every ounce of effort worth it (and leads us to give thanks to God for making all those little seeds – however imperfectly they were sown – take root and grow)!

And so today is our official celebration day as each of our students and their families will come over for an entire afternoon of year-end presentations and activities, including choir performances, a 2-mile road race involving the local community, a PowerPoint presentation of all the photos we’ve taken this year, and several other musical and dance performances by our students. At the end of the event, our students will receive their official report cards, and then we won’t see the majority of them again until January (if, in fact, they decide to continue studying with us next year).

This is a sentimental and slightly delicate time of year emotionally, as we know that a handful of the students whom we love will not be returning next year. For some, they never caught the vision or aren’t willing to persevere long enough for God to begin to work in their lives; for others, they prefer to attend the local public high school where corruption abounds and it is much easier to slip under the radar without having done much work at all. Despite our earnest, repeated efforts to seek out and encourage the lost sheep, there were over a dozen local youth who dropped out throughout the course of the year. We see them now roaming our rural neighborhood largely as vagabonds without any direction, and we always greet them warmly and remind them that they have an open door here if they should ever decide to return.

We understand that just about everything that is taught and lived here at the Living Waters Ranch is very counter-cultural (and goes against the general worldly stream as a whole), so on the one hand we are really surprised and grateful that so many of our students have been granted the divine wisdom and dogged willingness to want to participate at all! (Now that’s a good perspective to have! Praise God!)

We are officially ending our second school year of discipleship-based community homeschool with 35 full-time students, 5 part-time students and our special-needs foster son Josue, who serves as everyone’s ‘assistant’ and best friend. Several of our more faithful students have communicated enthusiastically to Darwin and me that no matter what, they’ll be back next year to continue growing in Christ with us and acquiring a vast array of academic and life skills. That makes our heart grow in joy and gratitude, as we earnestly desire to walk long-term with each of the youth under our care, not only the 10 who live with us as sons and daughters but also those from our local neighborhood who spend the majority of their daytime hours in our home and classrooms.

And so, today we will say goodbye and enter a new (albeit very short) season of vacation from the typical community hospitality and teaching we participate in 10-11 months of the year. Our local teachers/missionaries and students will have free time to spend with their families and continue to grow in God’s will as Darwin and I will work privately at the ongoing task of taming our 10 foster kids/teens with God’s love.

In these next few days Darwin has many choir events back-to-back as he will be shuttling his young singers all over the place to spread joy and sing hymns. Erick, one of the local missionaries who labors alongside of us, has great plans to take the teenagers who participate in the youth group he hosts in his home (several of which are our foster children) to a local prison to minister to the prisoners and – on another occasion – to downtown La Ceiba to pray for the homeless and drug-addicts. Several of our older teens also have plans to visit the poor and sick in our neighborhood during their vacation time as they seek to bless Christ in disguise.

Sandra, the local teen who lived with us for a season before returning to live with her mother, will be coming up to our home almost daily to give one-on-one literacy classes to her mom, who due to extreme poverty and social disadvantage never learned to read and write. Our daughter Jackeline will likewise be giving intensive math tutoring classes to our two new daughters (Carolina, 15 and Paola, 14) in the hope of getting them up to speed for next school year. Several of our foster teens, two of our teachers and I will be heading out of town to attend a Christian youth conference this weekend, and on Monday we’ll be receiving a visit from a very special friend and missionary who has been serving in Honduras over 25 years. Then my dad comes down for several days (which our kids are especially stoked about).

During these vacation times we will continue to wash our clothes by hand; between all 12 of us we’ll take turns cooking family meals 2-3 times a day; and we’ll continue to ask for God’s grace as we learn to love Him and one another.

Although I feel that I have more to write now than ever, I will most likely take a break from maintaining the blog in December as I devote myself more fully to the cultivation of our children and our relationship with Christ, especially because our kids will not be in classes and will need me to be more fully present.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog and keep us in your prayers before the Lord. For those who are wondering about my ongoing healing from chronic insomnia, it is still a daily battle. In addition to my natural supplements, I have begun taking a strong prescription sleeping aid that does help me get a full night’s sleep, but it leaves me feeling drugged and dizzy all the next day. If I don’t take it, I don’t sleep. If I do, then I feel really weird the whole next day. (So I’m left to choose the lesser of two evils).

Please continue to pray for my integral health, sincere love and joy in our marriage (amidst many daily commitments which sometimes put great pressure on our relationship), and God’s protection over our lives and property. There is much to be thankful for. He has done mighty things this year. Praise God!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. God bless you.

A Need Powerfully Supplied: The Mysterious Ways of the Living God

Several days ago, God spoke powerfully through us in our community Bible study time about the passage in Matthew 25 regarding the coming of Christ and how He will judge the nations. Everyone will get split up in one of two groups: those who showed compassion to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned; and those who didn’t. This passage might be well-known by most Christians and even potentially overlooked or minimized in its importance, but it provides striking clarity on the heart of Christ for the marginalized (and just where our heart should be as well). He says that those who took in the homeless (or orphaned or widowed); those who went to visit the sick and imprisoned; those who shared their food (and time, love) with the hungry and thirsty were not merely fulfilling some noble notion of ‘charity’ or even reaching some high moral standard. Christ said that as we’ve done unto the most vulnerable, we’ve done unto Him.

Now that’s huge.

To feed the hungry or to take in an abandoned teen or to visit and pray for those in prison is not to ‘be a good person’ or even live some moral ideal of compassion for the human race; Christ Himself (and this is a mystery that we cannot understand) is found in the needy, and He will judge us at the end of the world according to the times we’ve paid attention to Him and met His needs or by the ways we’ve ignored, overlooked and rejected Him, preferring to meet our own needs and live for the luxuries of this world rather than loving Him by loving those who suffer. To love the poor is to love Christ in disguise. Wow. This is how we can touch the heart of God.

So that (in very few words) is what we’ve been learning in our community Bible study time that we have every morning with our 10 foster kids, our local teachers/missionaries, our 30 local students, a few neighbors, my husband and me. We gather in a big circle (or more like an entirely imperfect rectangle) on wooden benches. No frills, no microphone, no stage, no professionally-made signs and banners. We simply come together as fellow human beings (of all ages) made in the image of God who desperately want to know the truth, to experience Christ and to live for Him rather than to live for the lies the world offers.

To be a Christian is to really follow Christ; to seek Him out in His many disguises; to live a life fully given over to the ways of justice and far removed from the lagoon of sin and selfishness. To live in such a way is eternally rich far beyond money; to trust in God in such a way (and to be used by Him to touch not only the heart of humanity but God’s very own heart!) is truly worth our very lives.

Warning: this post is going to be pretty long. (Go grab a cup of coffee, or stop reading and miss out on the best part!)

In these past few weeks God has been instructing us in just what it means to live for Christ. It is not (as many might believe) to live by a list of rules or to live listing off all that we don’t do; to avoid the bad (but also neglect the good). To live with and for Christ is to be led by the Living God to lose it all in this world in order to gain it all in the next; to die to ego and selfish desires in order to be filled with the richness of Christ, even now in our mortal bodies. Many people have a very low view of what it means to be ‘Christian,’ so God has been leading us deeper into the richness of what it means to truly follow Christ (and not simply attend church once or twice or six times per week and continue living like everyone else in the world).

As the hour-long Bible study time came to an end several days ago, our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline approached me, visibly shaken, and asked to speak with me in private. It was not really the right time, as everyone was supposed to go to their respective prayer groups, and that day I was going to take on about 10 teen girls to cover one of our teachers who was unable to be present that morning because she had to take her daughter to the hospital.

I eyed Jackeline wondering what potential catastrophic news she was going to share with me (alas, our kids — and especially our teenage girls — frequently ask to speak with me in private, and sometimes what they reveal can be downright troubling). I began to speak my objections, but in her eyes I saw a certain desperation and she reiterated, “I really need to talk with you in private. Now.

Did it have to do with a boy? What on earth could she have to share with me that couldn’t wait another minute?  I felt my blood pressure rise.

I sighed deeply and told the other girls who were waiting for me to go to another prayer group because I would be speaking in private with Jackeline. The girls looked confused (as probably did I), and I walked somberly with Jackeline from our large dining room where we had just studied God’s Word over to our little orange-colored cinderblock home not a stone’s throw away. I prayed silently that God would give me the strength to properly address whatever urgent news Jackeline was about to tell me even as I fought off the anxiousness that wanted to flood my veins.

We passed into the bedroom my husband and I share (the quiet, private place where most of our more intimate conversations with our kids occur), and she immediately sat down on the little purple couch-chair wedged in the corner and I sat on the tile floor in front of her, my heart beating fairly quickly and unsure what to expect. She looked deeply moved or on the verge of some kind of breakdown; it was hard to tell which.

I looked up at her and waited. She began gushing words, “I feel…like God spoke to me this morning in the Bible study. And…all the money I’ve been saving for the future…I feel like God wants me to take it all out and share it with the needy — to buy food for the hungry. God really touched my heart this morning, and I don’t want to live for myself. I want to seek out how to love Christ, visit the sick. I felt like God revealed to me how I can really love Him! I really want to do it, to go into downtown La Ceiba to find the homeless and the drug addicts — maybe we can make bags of food for them — and share with them who Christ is. We have to go!

All her words came rushing out like a river with a particularly strong current, and then she began crying.

I blinked a couple times, completely relieved that what she had to share with me wasn’t bad news at all (there was no confession of some secret boyfriend or any other bad deed done!), and at the same time I rejoiced in my heart of hearts for the beautiful work the Lord continues to etch out in our daughter. What a wonderful talk in private. Yes; let’s have more of these! Praise God!

I extended an arm towards her, and she came tumbling — or rather melting — off the couch and into my arms as I held her in a long hug.

Once she calmed down — alas, I believe it was for joy that she was crying — she reassumed her position on the couch and began sharing with me the rest of her conviction, “Today I have evangelism class. We’re gonna head out in like 20 minutes to go visit people’s houses and pray with people — ”

I nodded and smiled, still completely content (and more than pleasantly surprised) with her new God-designed attitude. It was true that she was in our new “Evangelism” class, and she would be heading out with four of our other foster children, a couple local students and two teachers to spend three hours sharing God’s Word in our destitute neighborhood. This was a new class (really not a class at all but rather a growth activity in the school of real life with Christ) that the Lord had led us to create at the end of our school year, and a group of our more spiritually mature teenagers had enlisted. Rather than dedicating their morning to one more academic pursuit, they wanted to go reach the lost in the same way that they had been reached.

Jackeline continued as I listened, “And, I feel like we’re not supposed to go visit people that we already know, but rather those who are completely lost — the sick, those with AIDS.”

She was speaking full of passion, and I was just trying to soak it all in, giving thanks in my heart once more for His active work in each of our lives.

Then, unexpectedly, “And, this morning when you were teaching about how we are to share our food with the hungry — there are so many people without food, and if we feed them we are feeding Christ Himself! — I feel like God wants us to take the food out of our pantry this morning and go share it with the poor people we’re going to visit.”

I felt like a somewhat unpleasant shock had been sent through my veins (or, perhaps more accurately, a train had blindsided me), and for some reason — probably out my ego’s desire to defend itself — I almost felt like throwing my head back and laughing out loud sarcastically. Go give our food away? Again?! Had we not just emptied our pantry not two weeks prior? After our miracle dinner, inevitably I had to go back to the grocery store in the ensuing days to replenish the lost rice, beans, eggs, etc. It was never in our budget to do so, especially with the pending adoption fees which we still were nowhere close to being able to pay! How could we possibly keep giving away all of our food when we have so many other legitimate financial needs? Could this really be from the Lord? If we keep having to go buy more food (because we keep giving it all away), how on earth will we pay the adoption lawyer? Oh, God, help us! (And please stop leading us toward such radical acts of obedience!)

The breath taken out of my lungs as those thoughts of self-protection hammered my mind, I stared at Jackeline, my face frozen in fear and hesitation. She leaned in toward me, eyes full of sincerity and faith, waiting for my permission. She even looked slightly perplexed at why it was taking me so long to respond. I was, after all, the one who had given the Bible study that morning, who had called the youth to live this radical lifestyle of faith in Christ, going beyond what is comfortable in order to live completely given over to God! To share your food and lose your life for Christ! Oh, what a hypocrite I would be now if I refused that which the Lord had prompted in our precious daughter. 

The objections came to my mind again — The adoption! Jennifer! Do you not remember that you need to find (and who knows from where!) that huge lump sum in order to make your beloved children forever yours! God has called you to this adoption; how dare you squander your money on these crazy food giveaways and forsake the adoption! The lawyer is doing a phenomenal job and very soon she will be asking for her first payment; and you have nothing! Don’t be a fool!

I swallowed and began answering carefully, encouraged by my daughter’s faith and praying that God would grant me the same, “Wonderful. Yes. I’m so grateful that God is speaking to you in so many ways and that you are being joyfully obedient. Go into our pantry and take what is most necessary. Eggs. Beans. Rice. Go bless the people for love of God. I’m so proud of you.”

She squealed with delight, gave me a big hug, and then she was off. Off to tell her two leaders of the news — that they would not only be visiting people to share God’s Word, but that they would also be able to bless each poverty-stricken household with a provision of food. They would be putting into immediate practice that which they had learned that morning.

I remained sitting on my bedroom floor for a few moments, heavy with material loss and at the same time fully thankful, trusting. But it wasn’t easy.

I then got up, praying to God that I had made the right decision (even as I knew I had), and headed wearily over to our kitchen. As I stood at our sink — staring out at the majestic mountains just beyond  — I could see Jackeline in my peripheral vision enthusiastically emptying out the huge sack of beans I had just gone to purchase and carefully shuttling out all the cartons of eggs. In my waning faith, I could see money being poured out, leaving our hands even as I knew that God would use it to bless others. But us? The adoption? I would once again need to go to the grocery store to buy food to replenish that which was so joyfully given away, and that would be money that we wouldn’t be able to put toward adopting our kids. I felt heavy, albeit joyful.

Seeing our beloved daughter so joyfully giving away all our food (for the second time in like two weeks), I turned away, literally feeling like I could not watch. May God bless our evangelism team in their obedience to give freely, because right now I certainly cannot do so.

For the last several weeks — ever since we had felt confirmation from God in regards to choosing a highly experienced adoption lawyer — our cry to God has been for the financial provision to complete the process. The lawyer is giving us an over 60% discount from what she normally charges, but even so the payment was way beyond our reach. We had gathered with our children to pray on more than one occasion, asking God for the funds. We had considered selling our milking cows in order to pay for part of the adoption, and then they were unexpectedly killed by cattle thieves. After weeks of prayer and hesitation, I even felt led to make a phone call to a wealthy family friend, taking up the courage to ask straight out for the funds for the adoption (something I’ve never done before), and much to my disappointment he agreed to help with a small part, but not all. That had been a very hard day, although I was thankful for the part he was willing to give. It felt like doors were closing; funds were already tight, and I couldn’t help but wonder where on earth we were going to get that money to pay the adoption lawyer, especially with all the recent extravagant giving the Lord had led us to do.

I had wept; Darwin and I had prayed; we had gathered with our children on numerous occasions, informing them of our financial impotency and telling them, too, to pray that God would make a way. Nevertheless, in the midst of many trials and unplanned giving, we felt even more confident in God’s perfect provision than ever before.

During this time, however, rather than God’s miraculous provision coming to us for the adoption, God had better yet been leading us to give away. In many ways — not only in those I’ve mentioned on this blog and the one prior — we had been led by the Living Lord to give away much, and to do so joyfully. Surely none of this made sense; we were waiting to receive, but God had instructed us rather to give, and to do so extravagantly, with everything we have. Even so — in the midst of loss and unmet expectations, our confidence in Christ and His provision remained constant, even though we had no idea when or how He would provide.

And then, a few days ago, I went to the bank in downtown La Ceiba, the third largest city in Honduras that lies about 30 minutes away from our rural neighborhood where we live and serve. I was in town to run a few errands, go to a doctors’ appointment, and check our financial status in the bank. It had been the first time in many weeks that I was going to be in the city doing these types of errands, as I’ve been trying to be a stay-at-home-mom as much as possible for our 10 kids. (One of our beloved local teachers has been helping me tremendously with our different errands so that I can be more present in the home.)

I headed into the small branch of the familiar bank that I’ve been going to for over five years now. When they passed me to one of the little customer service desks, I presented my Honduran residency card and the Living Waters Ranch account number, asking the bank worker to write down on a slip of paper the exact amounts we had in our savings and checking account. (In Honduras we cannot check our funds electronically without jumping through about 1,000 hoops, so I have to present myself in person at the bank in order to find out these numbers.)

Now, I am no accounting expert (nor is it our goal to become whizzes at managing numbers but rather to dedicate our lives to rescuing lost people), but neither am I haphazard with our finances or totally clueless as to how to manage money. My dad trained me from a very early age in the basics of wise money management, and during a period in my life I spent much free time reading money management books and learning from financial teacher Dave Ramsey.

As with any household or organization, its leaders know at any given point just about how much is coming in and how much is going out. We do live by faith, so — however many times I’ve been led to feel worried about our financial security — God has continuously called us back to radical faith in Him, our Provider, but just the same we do not neglect our financial responsibility in the least.

So there I was in the bank. In my mind I was well-informed that our savings account held almost zero funds, as we had transferred them to our checking account several weeks ago. I sat idly in that red cushioned bank chair in the unfamiliar air-conditioning — feeling out of place, my boots caked with mud in such a polished, sterile environment — and the emotionless bank worker slipped me the little paper with our numbers on it.

I glanced at the amount in our checking account — the equivalent of $15. I laughed to myself, as I knew it had to be low. But then my eyes took in the number in our savings account (that which should have been extremely low, so low as to not even take it into account), and it had not only the exact amount we needed for the adoption, but a little bit more.

My eyes grew and I looked up at the man behind the computer. I told him, “This number has to be incorrect. In our savings account we don’t have this amount of funds. Please check again.”

He scoffed and assured me that he had not made a mistake. I insisted, “Please check again. I really think this number is wrong.”

He reluctantly checked again, confirming that the written amount really was in our savings account. The money for the adoption. But how?

I probed further — “Who deposited this money, and when?” I felt like my head was spinning.

He crossed his arms and informed me that he couldn’t give me that information. I demanded (in an entirely unpolished manner), “I’m the one who manages our organization’s funds, and I’ve been doing so for over five years at this bank! Please give me the information if you are able to do so!”

Responding to that slight nudge, he glanced back at his computer screen. He then uttered my own name, mentioning that the money came in a transfer that I had facilitated on September first. When I was back in the States, sick for several weeks and recovering. It was the same money that I had transferred down to Honduras — that which is a collection of the donations from those who support this work.

But we had already spent that money.

Chills ran through my body.

Yes; the transfer I facilitated on September first. I remember well; I have the amount recorded in a log I keep on my computer. An accumulation of donations that I transferred down to Honduras all at once, as we do every month or so. But we had already transferred that specific money into our checking account and had spent it to pay our teachers, purchase food, buy shoes for our kids, do property repairs, etc. In short, those funds had already been invested into the daily maintenance of the mission over the past couple months. Hadn’t they?

(I realize that what I’m about to say oversteps the bounds of rational sanity and that many who read this will not believe what I’m about to write) — but I dare consider that God multiplied the money. (Either that or there was some huge flaw in our accounting of which I am the sole manager and could not possibly overlook.) Either way, I was absolutely convinced that we didn’t have the funds for the adoption, and all along — during each of the trials over the past several weeks and each time we were led to step out in abundant generosity — the funds for the adoption were already waiting in our account.

I had lived the last several weeks believing that our savings account should have been close to zero — for we had transferred the money into checking, and had already spent it in our daily ministry affairs of loving and serving! — but it had been there all along. God had led us to give, and to do so extravagantly and in a time that we believed we were in great economic need, but He had already supplied that need ever since that transfer was made (and doubled?) at the beginning of September. We had been led through a series of faith-stretching acts only to find at the end that He had already supplied our greatest need (that of the adoption funds) even before He led us to give it all away.

And — to me this is funny and shines with the mysteriousness of God’s ways — I used to visit the bank every week and micro-manage our funds, thanks to my own anxiousness and resulting in my own frustration. If funds were at a certain point, I left the bank feeling secure. If they were low, I left feeling worried. What small faith!

This time I hadn’t gone to the bank in over two months (although I had still been managing our daily accounting via our checkbook, etc), and I experienced one of the biggest surprises of my life.

And so I headed over to the head bank a few blocks away and confirmed with another source that those mystery funds (miracle funds) really were there, and then I transferred them to our checking account. That night we shared the astonishing news with our four kids/teens we are in the process of adopting, and their eyes were aglow with wonder. God really had provided, and it wasn’t necessarily through some rich benefactor or by us selling off our cattle and other earthly belongings: He had taken things into His own hands this time and multiplied (or at least kept hidden from our knowledge) that which we believed should no longer have been there.

This morning I am in the city of La Ceiba again, and I even went back to the bank to try to investigate further to see if this really was some miracle of divine provision or just an accounting slip-up (honestly we don’t care which; either way God has given us the funds to adopt our kids, and we were led through many stretching steps of faith all the while believing we were without funds). I went to one branch; they were unexpectedly closed due to a freak flooding incident within the bank. I went to another branch; they denied me further information regarding our account history (even though on prior occasions they’ve given it to me), telling me to go check our P.O. box to find our bank statements from the last few months. I walked several blocks on foot to our P.O. box, opened it up for the first time in quite a while, and found nothing. No bank statements! The bank was behind over three months on sending out their statements! I thus have no human way of knowing if this really was a miraculous multiplication of funds! 

As I walked out of the post office, I laughed out loud along the littered sidewalk of La Ceiba and thanked God in my heart of hearts, for I dare to believe that it is His good pleasure to hide these secrets from me so that I may continue onward in my state of wonder, humility and faith. I don’t need to know all the details; I must  only trust and obey!

After all, we read God’s Word and find the stories of the times Jesus multiplied the extremely small provision of fish and bread in order to feed thousands, and then we live our daily lives depending entirely upon our own resources and methods. My mind continues to spin as I search in vain for answers, and I feel as though I’m teetering on the edge of reason (or perhaps have lost sight of it altogether!), but the Lord has definitely increased my faith! I will now begin to pray over our food pantry with my husband and our kids, that God will multiply our food so that we may be able to continue sharing abundantly with all those whom He chooses to bless through us.

So — with fear and trembling and great joy — I share with you this bewildering story of God’s provision and His gentle leadings toward obedience, toward total commitment, knowing that He fully knows our needs and is fully capable of meeting them in His own way.

God is great! Amen!

The Miracle Dinner: Give It All Away to Make Room For the Impossible

Darwin and I stood out just beyond our front gate in a circle with our 10 foster kids ages 9-17. A million tiny lights twinkled above as we took in the perfectly still night on our rural property near the mountains. In a country where corruption, widespread despair and unpunished violence are the norm, to look another human being in the eye — alas! one that does not even share your blood! — and to really feel God’s love for that person truly is a sign of our Father’s active work in the world. We all held hands in that blessed circle that night, each person in perfect peace as our kids waited for what Darwin and I were going to tell them.

Earlier that day Darwin had told me that one of our beloved local students that we’ve been closely discipling and teaching for two years was probably going to have to drop out of our community homeschool in order to begin working full-time because his father had lost his job and his family thus had no means of purchasing food. The love that God has given us for this student is immense, and we knew full well the poverty his family was in when his father did have a job: several family members live together in a one-room wooden shack with a dirt floor and suffer what we can imagine to be immense daily hardship. And now that our student’s father — the sole provider of the household — had gotten laid off, how would they survive?

As Darwin shared this devastating news with me, the Lord immediately put an instruction upon my heart, “Share your rice and beans with them.”

We had just received a day or two prior two big sacks of rice and two big sacks of beans (each weighing like 50 pounds). The Lord had already led us to give away one sack of each, thus leaving one of each for our family’s consumption and daily use in our community kitchen where we serve lunch to roughly 45 people on schooldays. For us, rice and beans are not a cute side dish but literally our steak and potatoes that we eat 2-3 times each day. It is our daily bread. To give away that which was given to us — to supply our own very real economic need as we seek to feed many hungry mouths each day — would surely be foolish, right? It would be poor administration of that which was given to sustain us. Downright crazy! If we were to give away our rice and beans, what would we eat?

Even as these extremely logical objections showered my mind, my heart was already convinced; ready to obey, and to do so joyfully. To participate with the living God as His hands and feet to the most vulnerable? Surely there is no greater privilege than this! Count us in.

(As I share this story and the rest of the ensuing events, I do so not to call attention upon ourselves but rather to serve as witnesses to God’s active work in the world with the great hope of stirring you on toward great faith, obedience and good deeds in Jesus’ name.)

Then, completely unexpectedly, the Lord spoke another command to my heart: “Not only your rice and beans, but also all the other food you purchased this morning.”

Wha– ?

Oh, I had made my peace with giving away our bulk-sized sacks full of rice and beans, but also those specialty items I had purchased that same day at the local grocery store? Those spaghetti noodles, cartons of eggs, and frozen chickens that would serve as delicious — and sometimes rare — compliments to our general menu of strictly rice and beans? Surely if we gave away all of that food as well (which, again, was destined toward a great purpose: to feed our foster children and local students, all of whom come from backgrounds of devastating poverty and malnutrition), we would be committing a great act of irresponsibility. To give away not only our rice and beans but also the additional food would literally leave us with nothing! (And it is not a mere question of running back to the supermarket to buy more.) That food was destined to be our provision — our daily sustenance — for then next week or so!

Then Jesus’ words entered my mind, right on the heels of His command: “If you are asked to carry a load one mile, carry it two miles. Go the extra mile for love of Me. Don’t give just your rice and beans; give it all.”

Oh, how many times do we congratulate ourselves on giving away our leftovers, that which we never truly wanted or needed! But to give away all that we have for love of God? Oh, this is pure, raw obedience. This is the kind of stuff miracles are made of! Surely God was making room for the impossible. I ruminated on His second command, still trying to reason myself out of it.

Hours later, then under that beautiful starry night sky in that blessed circle with my husband and our 10 kids, we made the announcement. Carefully, in hushed voices, we informed our children of our student’s (their friend’s) great economic need and that God had spoken to our hearts that He would supply their need through us. Our kids listened attentively, some with a sparkle in their eyes.

I spoke, “God told me to give them our big sacks of rice and beans.”

I breathed as I felt like I was taking a running start as I was about to go free-falling over a giant cliff, “…and all the other food in our kitchen.

That was it! That was what God wanted me to say!

Total peace flooded my body, and all those noisy objections were at once silenced.

I continued, then full of confidence in God’s perfect will (especially when it goes completely against all human logic), “So, now all of you will head into our kitchen, and whatever God leads you to give away, grab it and we’re going to load it up in our truck. Remember, we don’t give away what we don’t like; we give to God the best of what we have.”

Their eyes trained on ours, smiles grew on their faces as Darwin and I indicated to them that it was their moment to participate, to act as God’s warriors of compassion on the front lines of the war. They squealed and raced off through our front gate and into our large, concrete-floored kitchen as if they were hot on the trail of delicious treats in some competitive Easter-egg hunt.

Darwin and I followed in their enthusiastic footsteps and we entered our kitchen to find our 10 kids in a frenzy, grabbing egg cartons and frozen chickens, salt, and the like. Our eldest son, 16-year-old Brayan, had one of the big sacks of rice or beans on his shoulder as he carried the incredibly heavy bag out the door. Others grabbed bananas and just about every food that moments before was sitting idly on our pantry’s shelf.

At one point, as the frenzy was winding down, one of our daughters reached for a bag of Cornflakes to add to the giving bag. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline intervened, eyes full of sincerity and joy as she stopped her sister, “Better yet, let’s give away the bag of granola. I like the granola more.”

Oh, she got it! To give away that which one likes more. Jackeline prefers granola; thus that is what the Lord led her to give away. Yes!

And so within a time span of five minutes or so our kitchen was completely emptied — all but one frozen chicken, some toilet paper and possibly that bag of Cornflakes that Jackeline left behind. We bounded out to our vehicle — everyone helping shoulder loads, carry bags and load the whole prize up into our truckbed.

As everyone got on board, we instructed our kids to be as quiet as possible, as this act should be done in secret. This was not about us; it was about obedience to God’s call to love. After all, Jesus said that to feed those who don’t have food is to feed Christ Himself. We were on a sacred mission to feed Christ in disguise. Surely there is no greater fun, no greater rush of adrenaline that to live in a constant gamble for God! Our hearts were bursting with joy.

And so we rumbled quietly down that pitch dark gravel road to a lonely corner on the edge of a pineapple field where our beloved student lives. It appeared that no one was home. This encouraged us, as we would then be able to leave everything in their front yard as a total surprise gift without being recognized as the ones who were used by God in the process.

A few emaciated dogs howled near the house as our girls asked us nervously, “And if thieves come and take the food before the family returns home?”

My honest, immediate response, “May God bless the thieves.”

Their eyes grew as they stared at me in disbelief, although deep down they knew that to be true. Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. It was what God had been teaching us in word and deed over the last several weeks. This was just one more experience of stepping out in faith.

Forgetting the flashlights at home, I used my itty bitty cellphone to light a path through the overgrowth as everyone shuffled out of the car and began unloading the food as quietly as possible so as not to alert the neighbors. Oh, what a reverse robbery! Arriving in secret to give rather than to steal! Blessed be the name of the Lord, for He loves these reconnaissance missions.

Once everything was unloaded, we quickly re-entered our old pickup truck and rumbled back up that rocky trail to our rural homestead. We could feel God’s presence unspeakably near.

As I look back on these events — which happened a few weeks ago — I cannot remember if it was that same night or the next day, but what I will now share with you is the truly surprising part of the whole story.

As we were left with nearly no food in the house, we joyfully went about our business without giving a second thought to our empty pantry. I even got wrapped up in a deep conversation with Carolina, our new 15-year-old daughter who moved in with us last month, and our scheduled dinner hour completely escaped me. As she and I wrapped up our conversation with prayer and a long hug, I glanced at the clock and realized I had not fulfilled my “momma” duty very well to prepare dinner (but what was there to prepare anyway?), so I assured our hungry kiddos that I would head over to our kitchen and see what I could scrap up to make dinner.

In that moment our teenage son Brayan came through our front door and said, “Dinner’s ready.”

My head cocked to one side and one eyebrow probably instinctively raised high as I asked, “What? Really? Who made dinner?” (And what on earth did they make? Dry Cornflakes and a couple squares of toilet paper to go with it?)

“Yup! Dinner’s ready,” asserted Brayan as I continued to stare on in incredulity. He clarified, “Carminda brought dinner over. Everything’s served.”

Carminda — our night-watchman’s wife who works with us part-time during the week in cleaning and cooking but who has no commitment whatsoever to make dinner for us on a weekend. It was Sunday. And, let it be known that she had never made dinner for us before when it wasn’t specifically her day to come work and prepare food (nor had anyone else).

(Plus — just to go further in my explanation of these events — she had no idea that we had just given away all of our food.) It was already late and she should have thought that we had already eaten dinner. What had prompted her? That is for God to know and for us to marvel at in awe and joy.

So I walked — taking careful steps as if walking on holy ground — across our front lawn and over to our community kitchen building that also serves as our family’s kitchen. There on our wooden dining room table were two big pots — one with a chicken-and-vegetable soup, the other with hot, fresh rice — and (if I remember correctly) she had also made fresh tortillas for us. A full meal. And she wasn’t even there, beaming with a big smile to see our reaction to her generosity. She — herself a poor woman who frequently doesn’t have enough food to feed her own family — had simply prepared us an extravagant meal, dropped it off almost as if in secret, and went on her merry way.

I stared at the food in silence.

Our kids enthusiastically opened up the pots to take a sneak-peek at what was inside as everyone’s stomachs were growling. It smelled so good! Our kids ran to the sink to wash their hands then sat down, squeezed together like sardines, around our rectangular table as they waited anxiously for Darwin and I to sit down with them so that we could all pray together and then eat.

I waited a few more moments, my heart exploding in a thousand fireworks of faith. Surely this is a miracle of God’s provision!

As we sat down to give thanks for that food — the miracle food that showed up when we had given away all that we had — Darwin and I explained with steadiness in our voice and joy shining forth from our faces that we were truly living a miracle. Never before had anything like this happened to us, and it could not simply be explained away by common human reason. Truly God had led us to give it all away, and truly He had prompted our poor, blessed neighbor to prepare food for us even as she had no idea of our act of total obedience.

And so we ate with great joy and thanksgiving. And, dare I say, many other events — some small, some big — of this same breed have been happening around here in these past few weeks. Miracles of generosity and miracles of provision. I hope to write about more of them soon. Be encouraged as we are encouraged, and let us all give ourselves fully over to the will of the living God. He is mysterious in His ways, and great in love and mercy!

Amen! Glory to God!

The Lord’s Whisper: Renounce Your Life for My Sake

In these last few weeks many surprising turns have been taken deep within the souls of those in our household, not the least of which I will tell of on this post.

In our community Bible study, where we gather with our 10 foster kids, our dedicated team of  local teachers/missionaries, and roughly 30 local children and teens to study God’s word together and sing His praises four mornings per week, we have been drilling hard (as in, going deep) on exactly what Christ meant when He said that anyone who wishes to be His follower must deny themselves, take up their cross (die), and follow in His footsteps.

Those words Christ spoke to His first disciples so many years ago are probably well-known by most Christians and may even be included in the list of general Bible verses we all memorize and recite without thinking twice how to actually live it.

So, we gather in our concrete-floored rustic dining room with the panoramic mountains behind us to dig deep into just what that means. What does it mean to really die to ego, to really let go of our own personal desires — however painful and scary it may be – in order to fully embrace Christ and the fullness of His teachings, His radical lifestyle? After all, to consider oneself a Christ-follower is in essence to actually follow Christ and what He taught.

How do we ‘die’ to our ego in daily life? What does this actually look like? And – dare we ask – can anyone truly follow Christ without this element of death-to-ego? Can anyone claim to call Christ Savior without recognizing Him also as Lord, as He who commands life’s decisions and attitudes? How do we go beyond memorizing or simply hearing this verse to actually living it out, to living a crucified life in the flesh (in order to enjoy a resurrected life with Christ, even now in part in the midst of this fallen world)?

These are the questions we’ve been asking, and God has been leading us to the answers.

With the arrival of our two newest daughters (now becoming 7 young women in our household ages 10-17, all of whom come from traumatic backgrounds and are on the long road toward total healing in Christ) two more precious balls have been added to our daily juggling routine. We had placed our two new arrivals together in a room with Dayana, Jackeline and Gleny, which had unintentionally cultivated a nightly ‘sleepover party’ environment, creating a huge imbalance in our household (and much noise and squealing late into the night). On the one hand Darwin and I were thrilled that all of our girls were getting along so well (that had been one of our fervent prayer requests prior to Paola and Carolina’s arrival, as with any new arrivals in our home there tends to be a period of adjustment, potential conflict, etc as everyone finds out all over again where they belong on the totem pole). On the other hand, we felt that is was unfair that one of our girls’ rooms (the one with the 5 teens) was enjoying a little too much fun each night while the other room (where two of our younger girls, Josselyn and developmentally-challenged Gabriela, biological sisters) oftentimes felt left out and destined to frustrating nights of solitude.

Although all of this may seem so trivial to the outsider’s eye, this backstory and understanding of our household layout is vital if you are to truly appreciate the ensuing events.

In our household this imbalance of sisterhood had wedged itself deep in my consciousness, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed to move at least one of our girls from the ‘sleepover party’ room into the room with only 2 girls, both to achieve more nightly quietness and also in favor of cultivating more balanced friendships (instead of 2 against 5). This thought bothered me for several days, and one day as I left one of our bi-weekly planning and prayer meetings with our local teachers/missionaries, I crossed the threshold into our home and felt the Lord guide me to go talk with Jackeline, our 14-year-old daughter who has been living with us alongside of her special-needs brother since January 2015.

I knocked on the wooden doorframe of her bedroom and asked if I could come in. She quickly passed me through, and I found her sitting on the top bunk of one of the two wooden bunkbeds, peacefully folding a huge pile of clothes. Our other girls were busy with piano practices and other household chores, so it seemed that I found her at a good time.

Feeling uneasy about the whole female rooming situation as it was and inclined toward some kind of action (but still not knowing which to take, plus it is never easy to be the bearer of what our girls would take to be bad news), I approached Jackeline and simply asked her to pray for me. She listened attentively while I explained to her my frustrations – how I felt it necessary to move one of the girls out of her room, not due to any kind of punishment but just o bring a bit more balance to our household.

She listened sincerely to my initial frustrations as I vented as I would with a wise friend (alas, God is making Jackeline into a very wise young woman), but she began resisting and even crying when I mentioned the fact that I was seriously considering splitting up her roommates and moving one of them into the ‘undesirable’ room (alas, everyone knows that to room with Gaby is less than delightful, for she wets the bed at night and has many strange and annoying behaviors that even her own biological sister cannot stand). She oftentimes speaks obscenities to her own sister, gets into her sister’s belongings, and lacks basic common sense after having suffered a childhood of prolonged sexual abuse and other mistreatments. Her healing in Christ is definitely occurring, but perhaps not as quickly as any of us would humanly like. Surely – speaking frankly – to room with Gaby is to suffer a certain kind of death to the teenage ego.

Worry crossed Jackeline’s face as she was undoubtedly pondering all the implications of any of her roommates having to begin rooming with Gaby and Josselyn, and she began saying, “No, Ma – you can’t move any of us out of our room. We all get along so well! Please…it’s not fair…It’s not fair.” She began shaking her head back and forth as she communicated several times – and very respectfully – that she was completely opposed to the idea of any one of her beloved roommates being moved out of the ‘party room’ and into the much more boring (and physically smaller) room where Gaby and Josselyn sleep. Time and again – literally for about 20 minutes or so – we openly discussed the idea as I sought her ideas for how to bring more equality to the living situation, and each time she resisted any thought of her or her roommates being split up.

I patted her leg and stroked her feet as she sat perched above me on the top bunk, me standing in front of her, my upper body resting against the bunk’s top rungs. We were communicating lovingly and respectfully, although we were completely at odds. We both knew that Darwin and I would have the final say in the matter, but just the same I wanted her input and for some reason felt that she was the one to consult with.

I continued probing and carefully explaining my reasons for wanting to make some kind of room shift – for love of Josselyn and Gaby, who oftentimes feel left out, etc – and she kept resisting, saying, “I hope I’m not the one to be moved, because Josselyn and I don’t even get along! And, the whole time I’ve lived here I’ve never slept in another room…It’s just not fair!” I kept listening and sharing, as did she, but we were getting nowhere and she was just getting more visibly upset and she kept crying.

During this initial part of our conversation two or three of her roommates walked in the room to drop something off or grab their shoes, etc, and they glanced over at Jackeline and I – she and I completely at peace and even showing physical affection as I kept stroking her feet but at the same time Jackeline distraught and with tears pouring down her face. Her roommates looked concerned but at the same time at peace, as emotional conversations (charged with God’s love and a respectful listening ear) are very common in our household and always – without fail – bring about a good result.

Then, out of nowhere, Jackeline said – still through tears but suddenly calmer – “I’ll go.”

As far as I was concerned, she might as well have said, “I’ll die.”

I blinked and my head instinctively snapped backward a couple inches. My mind went blank. I asked, “What –?”

She continued, suddenly steady as a rock: “I’ll be the one to move to the other room. Something inside of me tells me that I’m the one that’s supposed to go.”

A peaceful, beautiful silence fell over us for a moment as I recognized that the Lord had spoken to Jackeline’s heart – completely unbeknownst to me as an outsider far removed from the inner workings of her soul – and that she had not only listened to that still, small voice (that voice that instructed her to do that which her ego desperately wanted to avoid at all costs), but she had also obeyed.

I just stared at her for several moments, feeling as though I had never been more proud of her. This is what it means to follow Christ in the nitty-gritty – in the mundane – of daily life! Rather than conserve your life, lose it for His sake. Rather than seek personal gain (or comfort, or security), let go of your own desires and humble yourself for love’s sake. Consider others better than yourself. Humility. Genuine love of others, even those who are hardest to love. Renounce your life for Christ; die to what you want in order to live for what God wants. Not my will, but Yours be done.

And so I asked carefully – feeling like I was tip-toeing on holy ground, fully cognizant of the fact that God was unspeakably near – if I could sit up on the top bunk next to her. Through tears she indicated for me to climb up. Now she experienced tears not of the fear that I would break up her nightly slumber party but tears of loss that she herself would be the one to go (and not because we had chosen her but because the Lord of hosts had).

And so I sat next to her on that top bunk with my long legs hanging over the edge of the railings as I stretched out my arm and she immediately leaned in and buried her head in my embrace, now weeping harder than before. We stayed like that for a long time, and I thanked God in my heart for this marvelous work He is doing in young Jackeline’s life.

That day our conversation ended up stretching close to two hours as everyone else in our household went about their daily business of cleaning, doing homework, playing in our front yard, etc. God – in that hidden place, in that little nook of a bedroom atop that top bunk in the most unlikeliest of souls – had done what I believe to be the most impressive and supernatural work that can occur in any human’s life – that of listening to the voice of the living God and following it (especially when it goes against all that we want and desire). Jackeline had just experienced – perhaps truly for the first time – what it means to really die to ego (and not a graceful, painless death, but rather a bloody, gruesome kind of death that only the cross can inflict). The Lord had really spoken to our daughter, and she had heeded! Truly there is no greater work in the soul of mankind, no greater proof of faith.

And so from there – once she calmed down and accepted joyfully her fate in the Lord’s hands – we began a long and rather animated discussion on just this same topic: what it means to really die to self, to follow Christ even when His desires go against our own, how to hear the voice of God, how to truly love others even when it costs us, etc. We shared stories and Bible verses, talking back-and-forth as we sat with shoulders touching on that messy top bunk at mid-day.

Two days later – the moving date that she and I decided together – sure enough she gathered her belongings and bid farewell to her beloved room just as she had promised. There were no fireworks, no congratulatory remarks from her old roommates for her selflessness, no lightning striking down from the sky to indicate a victory in the heavens. It was more of a sober death march, that humbling (and painful) act of leaving behind that which one loves for the sake of a Higher Love, that dragging of the cross on one’s shoulder as death draws near.

I helped her move her belongings as you could sense the heaviness in her spirit, but at the same time the joy of the Lord was unmistakably with us. Jackeline was joyful albeit heavy with loss. She would no longer enjoy nightly sleepovers with her best friends and dearest sisters; she would now be rooming with a younger sister with whom she had never really loved and a developmentally-challenged little girl with severe behavioral issues.

That was about a week-and-a-half ago. And so now Jackeline is learning to love those whom she does not naturally love; she is experiencing the joy of the Lord on a deeper level than before (for before perhaps it cost her little; this time it has cost her much); she is learning what it means to die to self in order to live for God, and His mark is most definitely upon her.

The transition has not perhaps been easy for Jackeline, but not once has she cowered back from that which the Lord called her to do (and she has even experienced increasing joy in her decision in the midst of what have been the expected trying circumstances of her new living arrangements). We couldn’t be more proud of the divine work the Lord is etching out in her soul, that truly Christ-like character that is being formed in her.

Amen! Glory to God!

November 2017 Triumphs and Prayer Requests

Four-Year Anniversary of Being Family to the Fatherless and Serving in Our Local Community

On November first we celebrated four years of parenting Dayana (17), Gleny (13) and Jason (10), the first sibling group we began parenting in 2013. We praise and thank God for the transformative, restorative work He’s done in the children’s lives and in our own during these four years, and we stand in awe at how He has made grow deep roots of love and commitment among us for His glory. From those initial three kids God has sprung out the ensuing discipleship-based community homeschool in our rural homestead where we currently educate roughly 40 children and teenagers according to the Way of Christ, not to mention the group of incredibly dedicated teachers and local Honduran missionaries whom the Lord has brought one by one to serve alongside of us in this beautiful life of service and continual growing. We celebrate these first four years with great joy and are expectant for what He will do in the coming years!

Update on the Two Orphaned Calves Left After the Slaughter

Our two orphaned calves left behind after their moms were unexpectedly slaughtered by cattle thieves a couple weeks ago are now happily being bottle-fed every day as they are still in the initial stages of their growth. We thank God for His grace in allowing the calves (one male, one female) to be born before their mothers were killed, thus leaving behind new life in the wake of tragic death. The rest of our cows have been left in peace since the devastating event, and we’ve been granted increasing measures on peace during these times. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

A teamwork-building exercise among six of our students (including our son Jason, second from the right)

Three Weeks of Intensive/Creative Classes to Finish the School Year

As we near the end of the Honduran school calendar, this week we began offering different, intensive classes to finish off the semester with a ‘bang.’ Having already finished the traditional math, science and language classes, etc, we are now offering an entirely new schedule that includes the following: carpentry, evangelism, community service, cooking class, penal law, orchestra, agriculture, world history and various levels of swimming, among others. During these three weeks I am teaching karate, bootcamp (hard physical exercise military-style) and leading our hour-long group Bible study time, which we are now enjoying every morning rather than only twice per week. Our students and teachers are all excited, as we incorporate and respect personal choice in the daily rhythm of our life of service at the Living Waters Ranch (the students enjoy great freedom to choose the classes they want to specialize in according to their interests/giftings, which is highly uncommon in Honduran culture where most things are decided for children/teens without their input). We thank God for this school year that is coming to a close and for all the seeds that have been sewn for His glory. It is literally so much fun to serve, teach, love, disciple and parents these kids (and make them sweat and heave in bootcamp)! What a privilege!

Cooking Club


Local Pastors Pray For and Prophesy Over Our 10 Foster Kids/Teens

A couple days ago a local pastoral couple came to talk with and counsel Darwin and I for several hours, and then they gathered all 10 of our foster kids/teens ages 9-17 in a tight circle in our living room to pray individually for each one. Many of our teens had been seeking spiritual breakthrough in their walk with Christ, and by their reactions and later comments they received it that night. The pastor even had prophetic words for several of our teenagers that deeply encouraged them. The entire experienced extended so long that the pastors entirely missed the church commitment they were supposed to attend at 6:30pm! (They finally left our home around 7:30pm.) We are grateful for this encounter (the first of its kind) with this local pastoral couple, and we thank God for touching our children’s lives through them. The pastor helped many of our teens to forgive those who had abused and abandoned them in their childhood. One of our new daughters (Carolina, age 15) who moved in only a few weeks ago, received the Lord for the first time, and our other new daughter (Paola, age 14) received many prophetic words and encouragement about the ways in which God desires to pour out His wisdom over her life and use her in mighty ways for His kingdom. She later expressed to our eldest daughter that she had always wanted to be a Christian but wasn’t sure how until she was praying with the pastor and felt God begin to move in her life. God is immeasurably mysterious in the ways in which He touches the lives of His sons and daughters, and we are excited to continue drawing nearer!

Christian Psychologist Found for Gabriela’s Healing Process

Not by coincidence, those same pastors who prayed over our children have an adult daughter in her early 20s who recently graduated from a local university with a degree in psychology. We had long been searching for (or, more accurately, waiting for) God to present the right Christlike psychologist for our kids, especially for our developmentally-challenged 10-year-old daughter Gabriela (Gaby) who suffered sexual abuse and many other traumas before arriving at our home. Thus, God has now provided Nataly, the pastors’ daughter, who is working one-on-one with Gaby every Saturday and will very likely join our team full-time as of January 2018. We are very excited about our developing friendship with Nataly and her parents as God is placing more and more people in our lives to encourage, teach and labor alongside of us in this great redemptive work. Praise God!

Darwin’s choir practices always start off with a massage chain to get everyone’s shoulders loosened up! (This particular day was girls’ choir.)

Experienced Catholic Lawyer Found for Adoption Process; Prayers Sought for Financial Provision and Government Favor

After my trip to the capital city of Tegucigalpa several weeks ago to interview 3 potential adoption lawyers, the Lord made it very clear to us who the best person for the job would be. We are now working with a female lawyer named Martha who has roughly 30 years of experience as a lawyer in Honduras, and she has dedicated the majority of her practice to domestic and international adoptions. She is a Catholic Christian and deeply believes that every child deserves a family (and not just a temporary solution/orphanage), and she has a record of doing just that for hundreds of Honduran children (which is extremely uncommon because most Hondurans are not prone to adopt children). She has already begun working on our adoption of four of our ten children. (Our desire is to be real family to all of our kids and to legally adopt them if they are able to be adopted. Some of our kids cannot be adopted because their biological families are still in the picture and may potentially receive them anew in their homes, so in the meantime we are joyfully family to all of our kids, whether they are legally adopted or not). The lawyer is extremely up-front, passionate and professional, and she’s giving us more than a 50% discount from what she normally charges, but even so we don’t yet have the funds to complete the adoption. We humbly ask for prayer in this regard, as we wait upon the Lord for provision/direction in order to complete the adoption process of Dayana, Gleny, Jason and Brayan in the most efficient manner possible. Thank you!

Gaby taking a “shower” in our outdoor washing station fully dressed…Oh gosh!

Two New Teen Girls Find Permanency in Our Home; Possible Adoption in the Future

Our two newest arrivals (Paola and Carolina), both of whom had bounced around among dysfunctional biological family members’ households and orphanages/foster homes for several years before arriving at our front gate, have both confirmed that they desire to become permanent members of our family. Darwin and I have felt incredible peace (and passion) about this and have pushed hard (in a good sense) to make them feel welcomed and loved as they were expecting to be rejected by yet another household when they arrived at our home. They had known great suffering and bad behavior (both that which they received from others and that which they learned to inflict upon others), so God has literally been breaking chains of wrong thinking, establishing new behavioral norms based on love, and infiltrating their souls with His truth. Our 8 kids/teens who have been with us several years have been used mightily by God in this process to model Christlike behavior, counsel our two new girls in the context of friendship/sisterhood, and express to them God’s unconditional love. We are already seeing great changes in their attitude and outlook and, as I mentioned above, they both had encounters with Christ via the pastors’ visit. We daily affirm to them that they are no longer rejected; that we want to be in their weddings and be their kids’ grandparents (in essence, be what a normal family is to their children for the whole of their life). They have been surprised by much (or perhaps all) of this as they had never before received such intense welcome, and they’ve responded to the hugs and physical affection we’ve shown them (as they had not previously received hugs in their other foster homes/orphanages). They had literally gone the extent of their childhoods without knowing they were loved by anyone until about three weeks ago. We have even talked to them about our desire to adopt them (once our adoption of the first four is complete), and they are very open to and excited about the idea of finally having a real family. There is so much I could write, but suffice it to say that we’re all ecstatic and that God is doing what only He can do. Please continue to pray that all chains of abuse, sexual sin, rejection, lies, stealing, etc would be completely broken off in Jesus’ name and that they would truly pass from death unto life. Praise God!

Amen! Glory to God!

The ‘Praise Parade’: Follow-Up to Friday’s Cow Massacre

Last Friday I wrote about the sudden, tragic deaths of our two adult milking cows at the hands of professional cattle thieves. It was a heavy, sullen morning (as I wrote about in the previous post), but today I’m going to write about the events that occurred later that afternoon.

That same day our car had broken down, so our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline approached us around noon, the air around all of us heavy due to the shock we were still experiencing from what had happened to our cows earlier that morning, and asked carefully, “…Are we still going to go to the park today?” She was one of the few in our discipleship-based community homeschool who had gone the entire month without a single detention, so she was fishing to see if the prize would get pushed back or forgotten altogether due to the heavy atmosphere plus the fact that we had no vehicle to reach our destination.

I confirmed to her that, yes, we would still be going to the park. On foot. After all, we had announced the end-of-the-month trip-to-the-park prize weeks earlier as an incentive to our students to be diligent with their responsibilities, and we earnestly try to fulfill our word.

So Friday afternoon at 3:00pm we rounded up our small group of local students plus our own kiddos who had gone the entire month without getting sent to detention (it was a small group indeed!) and we informed them that we would walk from our remote rural property down to a local park for the afternoon of fun we had promised them.

And so that is how we went. Emotionally heavy and on the brink of exhaustion we closed up our little houses and front gate and began walking down that long gravel path exiting our property.

As Darwin and I walked hand-in-hand to our outer front gate, we noticed that all the teens who had walked out of the gate ahead of us were waiting patiently in a big group right near the bloody hides we had discovered that same morning.

We thanked them for waiting for us, and I began walking alongside of 17-year-old Sandra — the local teen who lived with us for a season and who has been restored to her biological mom after the mom (who cannot read or write but has a beautiful relationship with God) valiantly left behind her abusive husband, established healthy boundaries and began serving with us part-time. I walked and giggled alongside of Sandra– to whom we serve as her ‘second family’ — extending my long legs to kick her in the butt when she walked in front of me.

Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) and several other students and children/teens of ours were accompanying us, some kicking around a soccer ball as they walked; others walking in pairs and small groups, laughing and chit-chatting. Sandra had a little portable speaker device blasting upbeat Christian music, and before we knew it we all literally began singing and dancing down that path, traipsing over the path of slaughter with light footsteps filled with laughter and joy.

The music blasted, proclaiming of the inner fount of joy in every believer as I began doing some silly dance moves. I looked over at Sandra’s mom — a very quiet and timid woman with fierce faith in Christ — and I laughed out loud and said, “Hey! This is like a parade for Jesus!” She laughed along with me as I hip-bumped Sandra and we were all consumed in laughter and praises in the most unlikely of places.

And so we passed — dancing/running on foot and with praise music blasting — those same neighboring properties I had visited earlier that day to share with them the weight of our tragedy. I felt eyes trained on our joyous parade as I could feel their unspoken question from where they stood or worked in their yards: How on earth are these people so joyous (and so childish!) — how dare they dance and sing?! — after what just happened to them this morning?

Thus our parade of praise continued onward for close to a mile as we dropped Sandra and her mom off near their home (after much effort and saving, they’ve constructed their own wood-planked home, a refuge where Geraldina can raise Sandra and her other three children free of the step-father’s abuse) and we continued onward toward the park, hand-in-hand with our children, all of our burdens literally laid at the foot of the cross.

So the miracle in the midst of the tragedy is that God has granted us increasing joy and freedom; we haven’t fallen into fear, anger or worry. Our 16-year-old son Brayan has been working diligently with our night watchman to make an enclosed corral for our cows each night (so that they are closer to our home and thus perhaps harder to reach by thieves), and we continue onward with great assurance in our Provider and Protector, no matter what happens in the coming months and years.

Sunday morning — two days after the morning massacre and the afternoon praise parade — I sat in a small circle in Erick and Aracely’s home (a local couple whom the Lord has brought to labor alongside of us and who work very closely with the teens in our neighborhood in discipleship/hospitality) for a time of worship, Bible study and prayer. Geraldina, Sandra’s mom (one of the participants in the praise parade two days prior) sat right next to me.

Each person freely shared what the Lord was doing in their lives, and after a couple people had spoken I began to share with them what the Lord was doing in our own hearts through what had happened to our cows only two days prior. Everyone in our intimate circle knew exactly what had happened (news spreads fast here), and all had shared in our sorrow over the injustice of the matter. Erick, after all, had lived with and served alongside of us in 2014 and helped care for the two cows who were slaughtered and felt deeply enraged by the news.

However, the Lord opened my mouth to speak of the incident not as a story of woe, fear or self-pity but rather of power, joy and freedom in Christ. I spoke freely of the Lord’s abundant blessing in ‘lending’ us the cows for the four years we had them. They were, after all, given to us as a gift from Darwin’s family. We had not purchased them; we had paid virtually nothing in their daily care and had reaped great gains (milk and the selling of their calves) with little effort on our part. Their living on our property and birthing several calves had all been part of God’s grace. The Lord gives and He takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. We can be upset that the cows were taken away, or we can rejoice over the season of grace that the Lord allowed us.

In that moment I began laughing and mentioned our completely impromptu “praise parade” the same day of the massacre. I glanced over at Geraldina, Sandra’s mom, as she smiled and agreed that the Lord truly had given us all joy in the midst of what could have potentially been a prolonged period of mourning and fear.

Once I finished sharing, Geraldina spoke up. She has been a desperately poor woman (materially) the majority of her life, but she has been closely walking with Christ for several years and has deep communion with Him. Rejected by most people and well-acquainted with suffering, but approved (and highly treasured by) the Most High. On many occasions she has talked with Darwin and I in private to share with us different dreams the Lord gives her, many of which have come true. We have oftentimes marveled at this gift; for it was the Lord — through a dream — that directed her to us for the first time in 2016 and told her that her daughter Sandra would find refuge in our home to escape the step-father’s abuse until the mom, too, could escape in the ensuing months.

She began, carefully. Oftentimes we have to lean in close to hear her, as she speaks very softly. She laughed a little and admitted, “Sandra tells me I’m crazy when I share with her the different dreams the Lord gives me…but this one I feel like I have to share.”

We all leaned in closer. We knew she wasn’t crazy. She continued. “The night the cows were killed, I was overcome with an intense fever and anguish in my spirit, although I didn’t know why. I felt extremely ill and like I could sense in my body that something terrible was going to happen, but at the time I didn’t know what it was. That night I dreamt that there was a great massacre; there was blood everywhere — but I couldn’t tell who or what was killed. Then, in the next part of the dream I was with several of you and we were all dancing and singing praises to God, like in a parade down a long path.”

I sat not 8 inches from her, eyes wide with wonder. She continued, now stating the obvious, “And then, the next morning — Friday — I went to work at the Ranch and heard the news of the cows and understood that was what God had revealed to me in the dream. And then, later that day, we all began dancing and singing praises to God in our ‘parade.'” She began giggling, as we all knew that we had never — literally never — before had any other kind of ‘praise parade’ (and much less after a tragic slaughter). After all, we would have taken our car (thus eliminating any opportunity for a ‘parade’) had it not been broken down. What were the chances? This dream had truly come from God. He had planned all along to turn our mourning into dancing. Beauty for ashes. Wow.

And so we continue onward with great faith as He is working out among us many such miracles of grace, moments of wonder, divine joy and communion with other believers. Be encouraged as we are!

Glory to God! Amen!