Category Archives: Child/Youth Leadershp

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

Mid-Year Update 2018

In June my husband Darwin and I celebrated 5 years of faithful marriage, and later this year in November we will celebrate our 5-year anniversary of parenting fatherless children together for God’s glory. The Lord has used our marriage to parent 11 children and teens thus far, 7 of which continue under our full-time care, and close to 100 have passed through the discipleship-based homeschool program we operate out of our home for local youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thank you to all who have supported us along the way, and please know that we are committed to continue onward in this lifestyle of service to the poor, Christian hospitality and relational discipleship as long as the Lord allows.

One of the local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in our school took the following photos a couple weeks ago during a mid-year celebration day at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve. Darwin, our 7 foster children and I practiced several nights in a row to put together a surprise dance that we would perform in front of our all of our students and teachers! As you can tell by the very happy faces behind us (below), they loved it!

In a country where many families have been broken apart and the majority of our students’ parents are largely absent from their lives, we treasure these moments where Darwin and I can put on display the love and joy of the Lord knit together in family unity.

We work very hard teaching Bible studies, doing one-on-one and group counseling/prayer sessions, and leading by example so that the youth in our home and school may live for Christ instead of falling prey to the many wrong attitudes and behaviors that abound in Honduran society. After many long days (and nights) doing the trench work of digging deep in souls and teaching the youth both in and out of the classroom, we really enjoyed this light-hearted mid-year break as we simply danced and made a lot of people laugh! (I don’t think we’ll be going on tour any time soon!)

Below are more photos taken during our mid-year fun activity day at the Living Waters Ranch. In addition to our family dance, we all enjoyed a Christian rap performance by three of our teen boys, several soccer matches, traditional Honduran yard games and a motivational workshop by our Christian psychologist (below, yellow shirt).

We are now in the second half of our 2018 efforts to disciple and teach, as the Honduran school calendar runs from February-November. There are currently 48 youth enrolled full-time in our program who visit our home each day from 6:45am-3:00/4:00pm for Christian discipleship, academic classes, extracurricular and service-oriented activities, etc. Over a dozen have dropped out since January due to family instability, poor decision-making, etc, and we continue onward with a highly committed group of young people who are taking full advantage of the life-giving opportunity God has granted them to be part of a loving Christian community dedicated to their integral growth in Christ.


 As for our family status apart from our general ministry to our local community, the purpose the Lord has given us is to welcome children and teens who were unwanted or uncared for by their biological relatives into our patchwork family so that they might come to know the redemptive love of God. Some come and others go as many eventually go live with a stable biological family member; others will stay forever as this is the only home they know.

Please pray for us in the ongoing adoption process for those who have chosen us to be their forever family, and pray with us for our sons’ and daughters’ complete healing and transformation in Christ after having come from very traumatic childhoods. On many days our home seems like a warzone between good and evil, light and darkness, as there are many generational chains from our children’s biological families that must be broken so that they may be free to live for Christ. Pray that we may be granted the grace of loving one another well and that our fellowship with the Lord would increase daily.

Thank you to those who pray for and support this mission. Without you we would not be able to touch the lives the Lord brings our way.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family 

 

The Living Waters Ranch: Christian family to the orphaned and integral discipleship/education to the lost

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.

 

Music Concert Adventure

Last week Darwin loaded up five of our foster children and over a dozen of his local choir youth onto a rented bus along with a few adult chaperones and made the 3-hour drive to San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city to participate in their biggest concert yet. An internationally-trained director conducted one of Honduras’ largest orchestras and led approximately 200 children and teenagers from around the country as they sang classical masterpieces they had been practicing for months for this specific event.

Darwin’s group from our rural town of El Pino plus several of his students whom he teaches in the nearby city of La Ceiba on Saturdays. They had never sung in (or stepped foot in) a building so fancy!
Before going out to sing on stage, Darwin always rounds everyone up to make a massage train so that everyone relaxes!

I can see some familiar faces in that big choir!
Our boys are the ones without ties!
This is Aracely, one of our beloved teachers/missionaries who serves alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch, with our son Jason (left) and his best friend Francisco who spends about 8 hours in our home each day for Christian discipleship, academics and extracurricular classes alongside of our other students.
Here’s Darwin (teal shirt) with a group of our older teen boys, several of which we’ve been closely involved with over four years for God’s glory. 16-year-old Cristian (far right) arrived at our front gate in 2014 malnourished and illiterate as he and his little brother were simply seeking out friendship and a snack. He and four of his siblings have now all been in school with us during these last four years, and both of his parents are employed with us and actually live on our property in the watchman’s house.

Here is a video taken of one of the songs our kids sang:

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God bless you!

The Unusual Tribe of Three: Quality Time on Our Rural Homestead

Yesterday my husband Darwin went into the city with 6 of our foster children for a day of dentist visits, music classes and errands, leaving me on our rural ministry homestead with two of our foster children. From time to time we like to divide our eight foster kids up into smaller groups so that they get more individualized attention, so this turned out to be one such occasion. A couple weeks ago Darwin took our three boys on a ‘man date’ to pray for the sick and then eat ice cream together, and he took one of our girls on a one-on-one afternoon date in the city not too long ago, which made her feel very special. This time my little group was composed of quite an interesting combination of people: one of our new teen girls who moved in with us about six months ago, and our 9-year-old special needs son who has lived with us over three years.

Thanks to the addition of a new Honduran teacher/missionary a couple months ago who now helps with the teaching, administrative and discipleship load my husband and I share with our small team at the Living Waters Ranch, I’ve been relieved of many of the administrative tasks that used to dominate my time. It has always been a fine line of being an available stay-at-home mom for our kids while also balancing the responsibilities entrusted to me to direct, evangelize and teach in our little mission and the surrounding community. Thus, with the addition of our new team member the balance of service-in-the-home and service-to-the-community has been made easier for me and has allowed me more stress-free time with our kids for God’s glory.

So, we enjoyed a completely spontaneous day of agricultural activities and physical work, something I don’t normally participate in (because in recent years I’ve been ‘too busy’). We each slapped on a pair of black rubber boots (the cultural sign of a Honduran who’s ready to work in the field), we grabbed three rusty machetes and began traipsing around our rural property under the blistering sun engaging in untold adventures. There were no schedules and no rush. We were simply enjoying being together (our strange tribe of three) while simultaneously rejoicing in the breathtakingly beautiful creation our Father has placed so close to us. We ended up investigating native plants, exploring the creek behind our property (and I nearly fell into a rather deep part when I precariously tried to cross the waters via a broken tree limb that looked a lot stronger than it was), cooking from scratch in our temporarily-outdoor kitchen on our porch, taking care of our bunnies, planting a few plants, watering them, and doing various physical-labor chores around our property.

It was a sweaty, peaceful day as we truly loved one another and reveled in the beauty of the Creator, much as I imagine Adam and Eve did in the garden so many years ago — blessed, uninterrupted enjoyment of Father God, His creation, and one another.

Near the end of our day together, it occurred to me to take out our little digital camera and take a few photos together. At first they were very shy and unenthused, but after a few shots they really got into it. We even taught Josue how to hold the camera and take (somewhat off-kilter) shots!

Enjoy our rather simple yet joyful photos of a momma called by God and her precious little ones (who aren’t so little). God bless you!

Josue and I posing in front of the little plants we planted near our fence. We’ve both got our working boots on!
Carolina (15) and Josue (9)
Josue learning to take photos…his finger managed to make it in several of them!

They are such hard workers! (We enjoyed about a half hour together shoveling dirt/rocks in our front yard.)

Time to help momma bunny give milk to her five babies in our living room!
The little guy was so enthusiastically drinking milk that his feet were up in the air!

   

Josue sure is a lot of fun!
Tickle time!
Gotta love this photo of Josue’s buttcheeks! We laughed hard when we saw this photo — he was intent on tickling me and didn’t realize that he probably should have been wearing a belt!

Now Josue’s taking the photos!

After balancing Carolina up with my legs, we had a wipe out!
Now let’s head over to the mango tree!

This is one of my favorite photos! Absolutely beautiful!
Time to jump down! Be careful!



Here come the buttcheeks again! You really do need a belt, Josue!
One of the last chores of the day — washing the clothes in our outdoor washing station!

Josue learned how to rake the leaves! Good boy!
At the end of the day, I sent Josue to go take a shower to get all the dirt and grime off. As he finished showering and changed into his pijamas, I asked (without seeing him), “Josue, did you shower with soap?” because sometimes he tries to only bathe with water. Carolina, seeing Josue come around the corner, began laughing and assured me, “Oh, he certainly did bathe with soap.” Perplexed, I began to ask how she could possibly know that when I saw the same evidence — Josue had big globs of soap in his hair and ears! He sure did shower with soap!

Amen! Glory to God!

Multiplying Responsibility Like Bunnies

The latest greatest on our rural homestead in Honduras is the arrival of our five bunnies! Many local friends of ours had recommended that we get involved in bunny care as a way of producing small quantities of meat for our family’s consumption, so we finally did so when a local woman was looking to sell her adult bunnies at a good price.

A couple weeks ago we started off with four females and a male…and we’ve already got babies! The care-taking of our precious bunnies has been a huge hit for our kids, as they’ve been given the task of feeding them several times a day, which includes going out to the pasture to cut grass with a machete for them and chopping up fruit and veggies for their consumption. The bunnies were very skittish when they first arrived and we were told that they couldn’t be held, but our kids have been working hard to domesticate them, and one of our teen daughters in particular has become quite a delightful bunny tamer. She helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that each of the babies gets enough to eat, and she’s constantly checking to make sure they’re okay. (Our kids consider themselves too old and mature to play with stuffed animals, but cuddling the bunnies is fair game! We love it!)

Here are a few photos!

Our 10-year-old son Jason whom we are in the process of legally adopting squeezed into the bunny hutch! My husband Darwin and I are enjoying having the bunnies on our homestead because their presence is teaching our kids more responsibility, how to gently care for God’s creation, and they are healthy entertainment! (We’ve chosen not to have a television in our home, and our kids don’t have internet access.)
Our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline LOVES the bunnies! She’s offered to feed them three times per day, and every morning and evening she helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that her babies get enough sustenance! Jackeline is also very involved in the care and upkeep of our small herd of milking cows and is excited about the pig pen we are in the process of constructing. We are very proud of the new, very mature character the Lord is forming in her as He transforms her with His love.

Here is our eldest, 17-year-old Dayana, whom we are also in the process of adopting. She’s not too fond of the animals, but — fear not! — Jackeline is close by to make sure everyone’s okay.
This is 15-year-old Carolina, another one of our beloved foster teens. She moved in with us late last year and is doing extremely well in our household.
Jackeline took several portraits with the bunnies!
Here are the babies when they were just a couple days old! When our kids first saw them, they asked if they were rats!


      Amen! Glory to God!

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!

Kindness Training

Yesterday in our large, mixed household in rural Honduras we did a new thing. We invented kindness training.

Our foster kids/teens oftentimes struggle with asking for things politely or humbly submitting to authority figures. Rather than asking, “Could you please…[fill in the blank],” oftentimes we hear people barking at their siblings, “Give me [fill in the blank] or go do [fill in the blank]” without actually asking or adding a kind ‘please’ onto it. Many times we’ve verbally corrected them, instructing them how to politely ask for something rather than demanding it, but this has brought little behavioral change.

Likewise, when sent to do something or given an order by an authority, many a time we hear murmuring or complaints like, “Why is it always me?” or “I don’t want to… [fill in the blank.]”

Several months ago we had even reached the point of washing out all of our mouths with soap (my husband and I included) because we had all been misusing the free speech the Lord has given us. We lined up one by one in the kids’ bathroom after a long, serious family meeting and took turns scrubbing out the insides of our mouths as a consequence for getting snippy with one another and participating in complaints and gossip. It was a bitter lesson!

Thus, yesterday morning as I was pondering on just how we might improve this politeness dynamic in our household, an idea occurred to me: kindness training. Now, of course, I had no idea what that was nor did it probably exist before we did it for the first time last night, but it turned out great once the brainstorm kept flowing in my mind and the idea was developed.

Last evening we drove into our rural neighborhood to pick five of our teens up from their weekly youth group in the home of a local Honduran missionary couple whom we serve with, and we brought them all home in time for dinner, as is our Monday routine. As the rice and beans were heating up on our gas stove, rather than everyone sitting around idly talking about how their day went, I called everyone together and informed them that we would be doing a family activity (which any teenager absolutely loves…not) and that everybody had to come to the dining room. Two of our teen girls tried to cleverly escape by ‘going to the bathroom,’ but they quickly got called back. Soon enough everyone was present and waiting for instruction.

We would go one by one, taking turns standing up in front of the rest of our family members as those in the ‘audience’ would then ask something of the person standing in the middle or give them a loving order. The goal in all this: learn to ask things with kindness and to respond likewise.

I went first in order to show them how it goes. Darwin took the lead: “Jennifer, could you please go get me a glass of water?”

I responded quickly and earnestly, “Sure! My pleasure.”

Then others followed suit, each person taking their turn to ask me to go close the gate, check the food on the stove, etc. Each person asked rather than demanded (being sure to attach a sincere ‘please’ on what they were asking), and as far as I was able to do what they were asking I responded sincerely and with a joyful attitude. I was willing to serve and not at all inclined toward grumbling or laziness; this was the example to follow.

As I finished my turn, I sat down and we waited to see who would go next. One of our extremely precious teen girls who has a reputation for being more than a bit explosive in our household — especially when people ask her to do things or help out, heaven forbid! — jumped up with a spring in her step, eager to be the next volunteer. Our eyes all widened and we wondered how this would go! Would she grow sulky or irritated as we asked her to complete the various hypothetical things we were about to say?

She had a big smile on her face — this was miracle #1! I don’t remember who was the first brave soul to ask something of her, but soon enough we were all taking turns politely asking her to help sweep the floor, go wash her clothes, take a shower promptly, etc. Each time she responded politely — this was miracle #2! Wow!

And so we all took turns, learning how to ask things of others with grace (rather than demanding them) and how to humbly submit to another’s request as we seek to serve one another with the same attitude that Christ showed us. After about twenty minutes or so everyone had done the rounds. It was time for dinner!

Once we had eaten, two of our younger sons and I were on kitchen duty so we began washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and putting everything away. I was stationed at the sink when another one of our teen girls — who typically doesn’t really pay much attention to the people around her when she’s going to reach for something and most definitely doesn’t normally say ‘please’ — came over to the sink where I was — and without invading my personal space and brushing right past me — patiently stood behind me, waiting her turn, and asked in a very natural, polite fashion: “Mom, could you please fill my cup with water?”

I froze, at first inclined to laugh out loud because I thought she was doing it on purpose as a sort of joke since we had all just practiced asking politely for things. I answered slowly, without turning around to look at her, “Yes…it’s my pleasure.”

With my response, her eyes grew wide, she gasped slightly and squealed, “Hey! I did it!” She was surprised that she had actually put into practice what we had all just learned. At that we both laughed.

Again this morning — the following day after our first kindness training as a family last night — I overheard a conversation between our two youngest boys as they were getting ready for school and one asked the other for something in an extremely polite and patient fashion. They could not even see me and had no idea I could hear them — wow!

In like manner, a few weeks ago in our first advanced math class of the new year at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, I informed my 18 teenage students that each day as they entered my classroom they would have to greet me. Upon hearing this, many started to smirk and giggle at my request — I was actually instructing them that they had to shake my hand, look me in the eyes, and tell me, “Good morning.” How absurd! I continued as I informed them, quite seriously, that at the end of each class they would likewise have to shake my hand again and verbally thank me for the class. Many looked very surprised at this, as this type of training seems a bit audacious (and makes the teacher saying all this seem a bit self-centered), but I told them that the benefit was not meant for me but rather that I desired to train them to be polite and thankful with all of their other teachers and in all situations, both with God and with people. Well, my students and I are now several weeks into this process and they are now fully trained to greet me kindly at the beginning of the class and thank me at the end of the class — and not only that, but I’ve overheard them doing it also with their other teachers at the most unexpected of moments! Yes!

And so, these are small stories about attitude shifts and how to cultivate a more gentle spirit in the way we interact with those around us for God’s glory. Be encouraged! (Maybe you can even try these wacky but effective methods in your own home or workplace!)

Amen! Glory to God!

The Reading Class Paparazzi

This morning I had the privilege of going room-to-room around our rural property to take each of our students out of their respective reading classes in order to take an individual photo of them.

After initially having signed up close to 70 students during our enrollment time in January, we currently have 60 who have persevered (this is normal in our area where drop-out rates are high and limited perspectives abound) and are already two-and-a-half weeks into a very rigorous, fun, and blessed year of Christian discipleship, academic classes, organic agriculture, music, and community service/evangelism with us.

Our students come from all walks of life — some are good, normal kids who come from stable families and simply need to grow in the truth of Christ; others are well into their teens and are just now entering primary school; still others have catastrophic backgrounds and are coming to know what it is to grow in a loving, God-fearing environment for the first time in their lives. This year we have several older teen boys (15-18 years old) who have decided to enter our discipleship-based homeschool after having spent the last several years of their lives working full-time or simply roaming our rural neighborhood without direction. The majority of our students have lost at least one of their parents, and even as we are in the mere beginnings of this year the Lord’s work has already begun to manifest itself in the lives of several of them.

So, this morning I walked out the front door of our cinderblock home and crossed our front yard as I entered the little bright-colored buildings to greet our precious children and teens for the second time today (the first time was this morning at 6:45am as they came streaming through our front gate, each one received by name with a hug and/or handshake). During this process of taking the individual shots, I also took photos of various groups of students who were enjoying their reading class out on our front lawn and alongside the shade of our front porch.

Enjoy the first batch of many photos that we will take this year. I didn’t include all 60 of our students, but here is a portion of them in no particular order…








Teen Training by Way of the Sweet Tooth

In our large, mixed family in which my husband and I have fostered 11 children and teens in the last four-and-a-half-years, we’ve had to find (and most times create) different methods — however wacky they might turn out to be — in order to train our precious little ones in the ways of righteousness.

Well, our ‘little ones’ are no longer little, as the majority of our kids now lie in the age range of 13-17 years old. Simple rebukes, time-outs or other common disciplinary procedures designed for small children just don’t do the trick (especially not with ours, who arrived in our home already on their way to puberty or several years into it). So, in addition to regular times of prayer, Biblical counsel and healthy family time, we’ve gotten creative in the way that we train our teens.

One constant struggle in our household (mainly among our 5 teenage girls) is that of gossiping, hurt feelings, and the like. On many occasions we’ve facilitated very on-edge conflict resolutions among our girls, always guided by prayer and asking for Christ’s peace to cover each of us in the process. By God’s grace our girls have come a long way, and they now have better (and more loving) communication skills that most of their peers but there are still certain ‘tweaks’ that we hope to make in the attitudes and behaviors in our home.

With that being said, a few nights ago a plan struck me: I would go innocently pop by our girls’ rooms to encourage them in love, and each time I would do so I would give them some kind of tiny treat. One of our girls was out for the night at a friend’s house, so our teen girls numbered four for that night. Two in one room; two in the other.

Knowing too well the attitudes we had been facing in our home in the last few weeks between these four (and their tendency to form teams against one another), I asked God for an extra dose of joy and began my absurd rounds, all in the name of brotherly (or rather sisterly) love.

I had already hugged each of our kids and bid them goodnight not 15 minutes prior, so at this point no one was expecting me to come back by again. It was still early, so I knew they would be doing homework or chit-chatting quietly in their rooms. It was a perfect opportunity for a lesson in God’s love.

I approached the first room, a black curtain hung in the doorway (our kids don’t have doors on their rooms). We had just recently painted our kids’ rooms for the first time in a few years, and this particular room now sported a beautiful turquoise blue with black music notes painted along one wall. I knocked on the frame around the curtain and asked in a joyful tune if I could come in.

They quickly answered, telling me to pass. This was Team 1, and I was determined to do all that was in my power to assure that their nightly ‘sleepover party’ didn’t turn into a gossiping match against their other sisters. I slid the curtain open, my face now beaming through it as I greeted our two precious teens with my wide, energetic eyes as they sat quietly on their floor doing the math homework I had assigned them. They looked up at me expectantly, waiting to see what I needed.

My voice rose high as I accentuated the end of the question: “Are you two loving each other?”

Their brows furrowed a little, not expecting that question, and nodded ‘yes.’ They were less than enthused with their guest.

Another question on the heels of the first: “Are you loving your other two sisters who are in the other room…?”

One of them, now a bit on the defensive, answered, “We’re not even talking about them! We’re doing our math homework.”

I kept going, undeterred, “Oh, I’m not accusing you of talking poorly of them. I’m only asking. I can see you’re both working really hard….But you’re sure you’re loving your sisters even in thought and spirit?”

A small smile cracked the lips of one of our girls, and she answered, “Yessss, Mom. In thought and spirit we love them.” The other one arched an eyebrow, which seemed to say otherwise.

That’s okay, I thought. We’ll work on that.

I kept prodding, “Okay, because as daughters of God we love others even when they aren’t present, right?”

Then they started giggling at their crazy mom who was bent on teaching them to not back-stab others, “Yesssss, Mom!

With that I whipped out my left hand that had been hidden on the other side of their curtain, revealing two little packages of Oreo cookies. “Praise God!!! I’m so proud of you girls for loving your sisters. Here are some cookies.”

I threw the cookies toward them as they reached out responsive hands to grab them in the air, now squealing with excitement. This game was not only a little weird, but also fun!

I then entered fully into their room, passing the threshold and bending down to kiss each of them on top of their head. Then I was gone, out in our living room commencing the long journey (of about a yard and a half) to reach the doorway where our other two teen girls were. This time a bright mixture of pinks and purples greeted me from the curtain dangling in their doorway.

Knock-knock. “Girls, can I come in?” My voice was sing-song, and surely they already knew what was up because in our house you can practically hear every conversation that goes on from one room to the next.

They let me pass, and in this room, too, I kept my left hand hidden behind the curtain with the treats held firmly in it. I asked them the same questions, if they were loving their sisters.

One of our teens, not at all amused and having had a pretty rough week with one of our daughters in the other room blew me off and replied, “Uh, sure. We’re loving them.” The other girl present, one of our new daughters who has only been with us a few months, looked a bit confused by my question and sing-song voice.

I wasn’t convinced, so I continued prodding with all love, “Are you loving them not only in speech and in action but also in thought and in spirit?”

The same teen replied, “Um, honestly, no. My thoughts toward them are not very loving.”

I kept going, appreciating her honesty: “Okay, then we’re going to change those thoughts. Think a loving thought about her, because that is what God wants from us. Love.”

Her face betrayed anything but enthusiasm as she then murmured something about having a nice thought about her sister, although her attitude had not really changed. I encouraged them to love and honor their sisters for love of God, not only in their presence but also behind their backs. Hesitating on whether or not they really deserved the cookies, I headed in anyway and tossed them their incentive. They both looked surprised as they received their chocolate cookies (a rare treat in Honduras), and I went to each one and gave them a kiss on top of their head. Then I left.

Only two or three minutes passed before I entered my bedroom stash and grabbed more treats, ready to do my second round of many. I went to both rooms, knocking first and then asking each group similar questions as to whether they were truly loving their sisters and honoring them in thought, deed, speech, soul and spirit. (Each time I went I made the questions longer and a bit sillier). By now they understood what was happening and answered the questions quickly and enthusiastically, waiting for their treat. After answering the questions and receiving their prize I would give each one a kiss on the top of the head and a pat on the back or a hug.

And so every few minutes — repeating itself more than five or six times — I would make the rounds to the two rooms, trying to intercept/distract/combat against any potential gossiping or bad attitudes that could easily happen during our family’s Sabbath Hour when we don’t have as much contact with them. Each time their reactions (and facial expressions) got happier, and they came to laugh really hard about the craziness of it all.

At one point — now over 30 minutes or so into the outrageous process and with our girls enjoying a small fortune of sweets — I entered the second room and the girls were laughing so hard that they were almost crying. After I asked my questions and they affirmed their love for their sisters, I went to toss them a bag of chips and they both blurted, “We thought you were going to bring lollipops!” and began howling with laughter as if that was the funniest thing anyone had ever said. I’m not sure why they thought I was going to bring lollipops or why it was so funny to them, but they both began rolling on the floor and pointing at one another with uncontrollable laughter as they struggled to breathe. I stood in the doorway and contemplated what joy can do to a person. They looked absolutely beautiful, much more so than when I first appeared and they were put-off and closed down emotionally. Now the fun could not be contained!

On my following round (which ended up being my last), I entered their same doorway and asked them the now-infamous questions. Their faces were still speckled-red and tears were brimming in their eyes from their laughing fit as they now felt eager to answer my questions. One of them, the one who was first so unenthused, actually invented a song and began sining really loud about how much she loved her sisters (by name, even including the one she hasn’t typically gotten along with!) and finished her performance off by adding, “I love my sisters in deed, in word, in thought, in soul, in spirit, with my nose, with my knees, and with my hair.” With that the laughing fit overtook her again and she began rolling around the floor, pointing at different body parts of hers and gasping that she loved her sister with her ears, her elbows, etc.

By now I was laughing along with them, and in that moment I whipped out a lollipop for my singing daughter. Her eyes grew wider (the lollipop was what she had wanted all along), and she squealed really loud and kept going with her proclamations of love as she received her reward. The other one, seeing the other lollipop in my hand, began laughing hysterically and singing her own song about how much she loves her sisters. It was a total riot, and she won her lollipop!

So, that is our crazy story that took place four nights ago in our little cinderblock home at the base of the mountains in a third world country deeply scarred by hatred and sin. It may not be much, but I share it with you so that we may all be encouraged to love one another (face to face and behind our backs) for love of God. Our Father designed us to love Him and love one another, and I believe a bit more riotous laughter within God’s perfect will can go a long way to heal certain scars caused by sin. There is a Way more excellent than that of resentment, relational wars and lack of forgiveness, and it is that of love in Christ. Be encouraged!

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!

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.