Category Archives: Community Life

The “Living Waters Bridge” — Braving the Rainy Season

In Honduras when there are heavy rains, almost everything comes to a hault. Schools cancel classes; certain businesses close down for the day; people stay in their homes. We are currently in the midst of a pretty strong tropical storm, so via the radio we’ve heard over the past couple days that most schools are on “red alert” and thus have cancelled classes. The rains have been constant, and there has been pretty severe flooding.

At the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, we do not consider weather inconveniences to be sufficient reason to halt the work the Lord has entrusted us, and all of our students and teachers know this well. Rain or shine (literally) — even when all other local schools are closed down and their students remain cooped up at home all day — we continue onward with the lifestyle of discipleship, outreach and teaching with Christ as our guide.

So, as the rains pounded all last night and the radio announced that schools would be closed down, my husband and I awoke to our usual 5:00am alarm and got our 10 kids up and ready for school. We laughed and said, “Although certain students in other schools may not be able to receive their education today due to flooding, seeing as y’all are homeschooled, I’m pretty sure we can reach the classroom!”

Everyone in our household put on their uniform in the dim morning light and got ready for a “normal” school day, although we were pretty sure almost none of our local students would brave the heavy rains (everyone arrives on foot or bicycle). A few of our teachers even called saying that the roads were closed and that they wouldn’t be able to come in. Our kids hoped against hope that we would throw up our hands and give in, but we headed to our large cement-floored dining room to get ready for worship and Bible study as we would on any other Thursday, fully convinced that it might just be our family in there without our 30 local students and teachers joining us.

As we quietly served breakfast — the rains pounding down on our tin roof nonstop and our front yard converting itself into a large lagoon — our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline shouted, “One’s coming up the path!”

Sure enough, one of our faithful students — going completely against every cultural norm in this country — had decided to walk up muddy, flooded paths under heavy rain to attend classes even when all other schools in our area were on break today.

Then another came. Then another. Before we knew it, all but about three or four of our students had arrived.

We laughed as each student tried to figure out exactly how to enter through our front gate, seeing as the large lagoon-ocean of muddy water had created quite the obstacle to cross. Then our 13-year-old daughter Gleny said, “Why don’t we put down tires to make a path?” Perfect!

That was all it took for several soaking wet collaborators to begin seeking out and hauling over various old tires that we use for different P.E. activities. We were forming the “Living Waters Bridge” for our dedicated students and teachers to pass across without having to get ankle-to-knee-deep in water! Soon enough everyone was laughing wildly and helping one another across the slippery “bridge” as they crossed the threshold onto our property for classes.

And so we enjoyed an extended worship time with all who showed up, and just as we were about to break into our prayer groups, a car pulled up with three of our teachers who had been delayed due to the flooded roads. Everyone had made it!

Glory to God! Enjoy the photos…

The “Living Waters Bridge”!
(This is actually a reenactment of the real arrival of our students. The first time around we didn’t have the camera, so we sent everyone out again so we could take photos!)

 

New Beginnings: My Return to Honduras

I’ve been home now five days after having been away from Honduras six weeks for medical treatment and spiritual renewal in Christ, and it’s thus far been a journey of learning all over again many things I thought I already knew. How to really live in the joy and peace of Christ, for one — not just talk about it or read about it or even counsel others on how to do so, but to really live in Christ everyday and allow His peace to permeate me no matter how much activity is going on around me. Really, these last five days have been the beginning of a completely new era (from the inside out) — in my walk with the Lord, in my relationship with my husband and our children, in handling many responsibilities with grace, and in my daily walk of loving and serving those whom the Lord has so generously placed in our lives.

A truckload of screaming teenagers greeted Darwin and I on Sunday at the little local hotel where we had been staying since I arrived on Friday. (My first “re-initiation” upon returning to Honduras was with my husband as he picked me up from the airport — alone — and we got away for two nights before I saw the kids. We are both learning all over again what it means to love one another and live in the joy of Christ right here in our daily context, and truly these last five days have provided us a completely new beginning.)

So, that truckload enthusiastically unloaded on Sunday as Pastor Domingo and close to a dozen teenagers — some our kids, some our students — ding-donged impatiently on the front gate of the little hotel where Darwin and I had been staying. Everyone exploded out of the truck and began a hugging processional as each teen and I embraced before beginning the 20-minute journey up the highway to home, where the rest of our kids were waiting. That was Sunday.

In many ways, everything is the same — the same things are happening as before I left (the same little daily adventures, learning experiences and potential frustrations that come with living in a third world country and laying your life completely down so that Christ might live through you) but the Lord has given me an entirely new attitude to confront these situations. My surroundings are the same, but I’ve been given new sight (in the sense of seeing things the way God wants me to see/experience them).

There were welcome-home posters, hand-written letters of encouragement and prayer from each of our students and teachers, and many sweet moments along the way. Although I was returning home, in many ways I felt like tip-toeing around with a sneaky grin on my face, feeling like a welcome stranger as I was experiencing everything from an entirely new perspective (and without the feeling that I had to run-run-run and handle everything myself). In many ways, these first few days back in the full swing of the daily routine have been a lot about quietly observing and discerning all over again what God wants from me in this place. I’ve gotten up at 5:15am to brush our kids’ hair and get them ready for school; I’ve washed our clothes by hand on our front porch; I’ve gotten back into our administration activities; I’ve done everything I did before, but it’s now fun and enjoyable, whereas before I felt like I was constantly trying to battle off a wave of anxiousness night and day as every demand on my time seemed like too much.

On Monday we had a lengthy meeting with our team of teachers and mentors — those six people (including my husband Darwin) who held the fort down for six weeks during my absence, taking on my teaching, parenting and administrative duties without complaint — and person after person took the time to share, unhurried, what the Lord had been doing in their life since we had last seen each other in late August. God’s presence was near, and while we perhaps should have been handling school logistics, planning the upcoming calendar or “doing” something important and work-related, the Lord led us to take several hours to share and listen to one another, as each person independently told of huge breakthroughs in their walk with the Lord over the last several weeks, many with tears.

And, the truly remarkable thing is that every aspect of the work the Lord was doing in my own heart on a range of issues over these last several weeks — from my walk with Him to my freedom from many lies the enemy had led me to believe to my new way of viewing our students and loving them better — He was also working out in our teachers’ lives completely unbeknownst to me. He literally kept us all on the same page (and even advanced us a couple chapters along the path of true freedom in Christ!) even though we were geographically far away and had very little communication. Wow.

So, fast-forwarding to Tuesday (yesterday), I gave each student individually a big hug when they came streaming through our front gate at 6:40am, participated with everyone in Bible study and worship, took on my math class again and fully (and rather spontaneously) participated in every aspect of life and service in our home with a newfound spark in everything I did. (I’ve been getting 3-5 hours of sleep since getting back to Honduras and generally feel extremely at peace in God’s presence, which has radically changed my parenting style, general outlook and attitude, etc). I even spontaneously prepared like 8 blenders-full of garlic, cucumber, and other-vegetables smoothie for all of our teachers and students (like 50 people), which led to a lot of laughter, almost-vomiting and renewed health in many. It was great!

So…

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was a full-blown participant in Pastor Domingo’s military-style athletic training class. (I had arrived at his class after lunch with our oldschool digital camera to just take some silly pictures of the kids, but God had other plans.) The exercises were actually not incredibly difficult, but my non-athletic attire and the scorching heat/humidity did make for quite an interesting (and sweaty!) afternoon. After all was said and done and I went to our little bathroom to take a cold shower, a ton of dirt came falling out of my hair (and not to mention all over my clothes)!

Every Tuesday afternoon all 40 of our students (ages 7-18) divide up into their various P.E. groups — swimming, long-distance running, dance, little kids’ games, and military training. This was a photo I took from my first experience attending Pastor Domingo’s military training class! (I was standing it the taller grass behind the instructor doing whatever squats/push-ups the students were doing while I took the photos, so that’s why some of the students are laughing).

Bottoms up! I struck the same pose as the students (with the camera shooting photos from between my legs), so that’s why this photo came out upside-down!
Our 9-year-old special needs son Josue participated right alongside everyone else! (At this point, I was belly-down in the grass after having been in a one-armed planking position taking photos.)
Okay, everybody line up for a brisk jog around the property! (Roy, our 18-year-old student on the far left who was leading the activity, was very calmly advising all the students to be careful with the large rocks and unexpected holes scattered across the terrain they would be running on, all of which are well hidden under the tall grass where our cows graze). Who needs a track or a gym?!
Well, I earnestly desired to try to run the lap around our 17-acre property with our students, but they left me behind in the blink of an eye! (I was too busy looking out for the potholes below me and trying not to sprain an ankle). So, changing plans, I grabbed a huge stick off the ground and decided to dart off in the other direction and plan a surprise attack on the students once they came to the end of their run. Before I knew what was happening, Isis, one of our young Honduran teachers, was right behind me!

And we were off like lightning (really, really slow lightning) as we began running mischeviously toward our hiding spot, where we would jump out with our sticks to surprise the unsuspecting students…
Gotta love this photo! When Darwin saw it, he said we looked like cave-women. (This photo really captures the whole spirit of our spontaneous game).
There were no photos of our actual attacks (perhaps for good reason!), so this is the last visual record we have of our cavewoman attack… (And, in case you were wondering, almost none of the students were surprised. Only like two screamed. The rest just looked at us and shook their heads every time we launched ourselves out from behind the parked car and screamed with our sticks when the various groups of students passed.)
At one point our students got ahold of the camera and started taking their own pictures!

After our big stick-bearing cavewoman scare (which actually wasn’t that big of a scare for most), it was time to do some mountain-climbers, ab work and squat jumps! (This will be the last time I wear a nice blouse and jeans to any military-training class!)
You go, Josue! (He and I have had a wonderful time together since me getting home on Sunday).
Okay, enough of that class! I headed up the gravel path to the inside yard where I found Miss Reina and Miss Ligia (two of our other teachers) leading a hilarious P.E. class for our littler tykes. I arrived to find several students (even some of our teenagers who wandered over before I did and decided to join in!) blind-folded and trying to find their way across our uneven, rock-filled yard. It was such a simple game, but it was a riot!
There goes Sandra (in the middle of the three) blind-folded and with the bright fire-fighter pants on for the competition! (We have a costume closet of things we’ve purchased at a local thrift store that we use for silly occasions such as these). Our daughter Gabriela (Gaby) is on the left, and a local student participates on the right.
Be careful, Sindy! (She was particularly scared about not being able to see, so I periodically yelled out, “Sindy, snake!” and she would jump around and scream. But she would get her revenge when I took up the blindfold a few minutes later…)
Uh-oh! Sandra got lost and started heading for our house!

        

Okay, my turn! (Man, was it scary not knowing where I was going, and they made me do it walking backwards!)
I kept trying to feel the ground to try to find the rocks — I didn’t want to roll an ankle! (Look at how dirty the back of my blouse got!)
Sandra kept trying to make me trip!
Got off track and almost went right out the front gate! (Sandra wouldn’t give me any verbal cues — she just kept laughing!)
Now she’s putting tires in my path!
One of the last games of the day was limbo! (A tall person really can’t compete with short kids on that one…)


 Amen! Glory to God!

September 2017 Prayer Requests and Triumphs

Below are our current prayer requests and triumph reports from our life of service with Christ in Honduras. Thank you for your interest in supporting/following this work.
***All of the photos on this post were taken by Isabel Dayton during her visit to the Living Waters Ranch a couple months ago. Even though the work at the ranch has continued onward in my absence and I’m in frequent touch with those in Honduras, we don’t have any new photos at this time. (I’ll try to take some once I’m back in the routine of service next week.) Thank you and God bless!
1. We are coming to the end of our second full school year of Spirit-led “discipleship-based community homeschool” with roughly 40 students who meet daily in our home (the Living Waters Ranch) for a complete homeschool curriculum that we’ve designed/tweaked over these last two years as God has led. The Honduran school calendar runs from February — November, so we are nearing the end of school and are reflecting back on all that has happened this year. The Lord brought new key Honduran missionaries/teachers/pastors to our team; He brought additional students, all of whom come from very broken places; and we’ve all learned a lot (sometimes the hard way) and are actively drawing near to the Lord as we seek to walk alongside of the children/youth in our school in the Way of Christ. We simply give thanks to God for allowing us to participate on this great adventure and for the fact that many kids/teens are coming into a saving knowledge of Christ and are genuinely walking with Him. Nothing has been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. Classes will wind down and come to a close in November, and then all of our teachers and students will reconvene in early January to begin prayerfully planning for the new school year. Please continue to pray for God’s protection and blessing over our community homeschool — the lives of all our students, that of our teachers, the physical protection of our property where we live and serve, etc — as Honduras is a very dangerous country. He has protected us until now, so we eagerly press onward.
 
2. We thank God for His continued provision over our lives, as we have lacked nothing in these 5+ years of serving Christ by faith in Honduras. We thank God for His miraculous provision (in every sense of the word — financial provision, His way of bringing each of our local teachers/missionaries to work alongside of us, His provision of believers who actively intercede for this mission, people who lend us their expertise, the wisdom and discernment He has provided when we have needed it most, etc) and stand in awe of His power made manifest in our little corner of the globe. Thanks be to God.
 
3. We are currently facing several potential complications/frustrations in regards to the process of legally adopting 4 of the 8 children my husband and I are fostering. We have had to switch lawyers and are having to re-submit much of our paperwork, so please pray first and foremost that this process (which tends to put our nerves on end, especially as we are coming into close contact with a third-world government that suffers from great corruption, inefficacy, etc) would bring us great joy rather than stress, as we are earnestly convinced that God wants us to be family forever to our kids, and that makes the legal hassles and uncertainties worth it. Please pray that the government may have favor upon us, that everything would be expedited as much as possible, and that all monetary costs involved in the adoption would be provided for (as all of our needs are). Thank you.
4. I will give a quick update in regards to 12-year-old Josselyn, one of the young women who has formed part of our family since July 2015 and for whom many of you had been praying in months prior. She had gone through a very rough season earlier this year as she even ran away from our home twice in search of her biological family (where she had been sexually abused and generally neglected), thus I had solicited urgent prayer on her behalf. She continues to live with us to this day, and she has not run away again (or even threatened to do so) in these last several months. She and her little sister Gabriela (Gaby) are currently in a season of monthly monitored visits with their biological family members, and thus far we have been able to maintain a respectful relationship and kind with them, so we thank God for this emotional stability in Josselyn’s life as she has accepted that her home (at least for now) is with us, and we ask God’s continued blessing and guidance over these monthly family visits. We are unable to adopt these two girls because their biological family is still closely involved, so we simply ask that each day the Lord would accompany us as we seek to parent and love them without holding on too tightly or feeling threatened by their biological family. Our payer is that the peace of Christ reign in our relationship with our 2 girls and their biological family members, and that God’s will be freely done. Amen.
5. Lastly, as many were informed, I had come back to the States for roughly five-and-a-half weeks in August/September for emergency medical, spiritual and emotional intervention as I had reached a breaking point in Honduras and could not go on without receiving help. I had been struggling with debilitating insomnia for several years and, as a result, had contracted any and all viruses, tropical fevers, etc, one right after another and was spending more time in bed receiving shots/IVs/antibiotics than I was participating in our daily life of service, so I accepted my parents’ offer at help and came back to San Antonio, TX in search of healing. I’ve written about this journey in greater detail in the prior post, so you may click on it if you would like to know more about my healing journey. I will be heading home to Honduras in three days. Please continue to pray for my ongoing recovery so that I may be as healthy of an instrument as possible in God’s hands, and let us thank Him for fully orchestrating my visit to San Antonio, my diagnosis, several breakthroughs I experienced, provision to cover medical costs, etc. Thank you.
I could probably list many more prayer requests and triumphs, but I will leave it at that for now. If you or anyone you know is not currently receiving our periodic printed newsletter and would like to receive it (it contains photos, testimonies/stories, etc, very similar to this blog), please send me via email that person’s name and physical mailing address so that they may be included on the mailing list. Thank you again for partnering with us in this amazing Kingdom work; God bless you.
With peace and gratitude in Christ,
Jennifer, for Darwin and all of our kids/teachers

June/July 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Answers in Regards to Katy’s Case

A couple months ago I wrote about my encounter with Katy, the younger biological sister of two of our foster daughters. Since then there has been much back-and-forth communication with the local government agency in regards to rescuing Katy out of what might be a situation of abuse/neglect (as was the case for her two sisters), and several weeks ago the agency’s lawyer finally made the visit to investigate Katy’s living situation further. The lawyer informed us that she saw nothing out of order and that the final verdict is that Katy will remain living with her biological family. The lawyer did comment, however, that it appears that Katy has a mental illness in addition to the girls’ mother, whom the lawyer met in person (I have yet to meet her, but we have heard stories about her). That is the agency’s final answer, so we choose to be at peace with this, and we hope and pray that Katy is, in fact, safe and well-cared-for with her biological family (as is the hope for any child). This information regarding the mother’s mental illness also helps us as we parent 11-year-old Gabriela, whom we also suspect has some degree of mental illness, which might be genetic or incurred due to sexual abuse. Please continue to pray for little Gabriela (Gaby) and her 13-year-old sister Josselyn as both girls this month reached their two-year anniversary of living in the protection of our home. Pray also for our relationship with the girls’ biological family, as we are currently in a season of supervised family visits each month and are carefully handling this relationship so that it may produce blessing for all involved.

My husband Darwin gives weekly music lessons not only in our community homeschool for local students but also individually with the majority of our foster/adopted children. This is a photo he took of a late-night ‘orchestra’ training as he brought everybody together to practice their instrument for several hours prior to a public recital they would be hosting. Darwin is currently offering recorder, piano, guitar, violin and choir lessons to more than a couple dozen at-risk youth in our rural neighborhood free of charge.
Darwin singing opera with a broom as a microphone on the front porch of our elementary school house
13-year-old Sindy (right), one of our extremely involved local students, enjoying the antics of “Mr. Darwin,” her beloved teacher

Christ’s Functioning Body: Relational Discipleship/Community Development in Our Rural Neighborhood

We are so thrilled and thankful that the team of local teachers, mentors and pastors that God has united this year at the Living Waters Ranch continues to work in harmony as we seek to open our homes and lives to lost youth for God’s glory. Domingo, a local pastor in his 50’s with a background in military service has opened up his church and his carpentry shop after-hours to the teenagers in our program, and local young couple Erick and Aracely have gone to extraordinary lengths to receive the local teens in their home at all hours as God has stationed them in a strategic part of our neighborhood close to several of our local students. They have been used by God to give advice and counsel, pray, direct a weekly youth Bible study, lend a hand in service to poor neighbors, etc, out of a response to serve Christ in integral discipleship. Many of our local teenage students, especially the young men, have been deeply impacted by Erick’s commitment, openness and example, and we are seeing very real transformation occur in the lives of several of them. Please join with us in thanking God for His provision in these faithful laborers as we are truly serving as Christ’s body (several different functions but with the same overall purpose) to instruct these youth in the Way of Christ with the hope of training them up to be useful instruments in God’s hands.

Jeffrey, one of our 12-year-old local students in first grade at the Living Waters Ranch, doing a community service project under Erick’s guidance on the weekend (they were helping build a home for a local single mom).
Here are several more of our local youth involved in the community service project Erick designed for those who participate in his discipleship group. (Community service projects among Hondurans are generally very rare, so this step to reach out and show God’s tangible love to a neighbor is a really huge step that these youth had likely never been guided to take before.)

Here is a photo Erick and his wife took during a recent youth group gathering in their home on a Monday night. Three of our teenagers (Brayan, Dayana and Jackeline) participate in addition to several of our local students and neighbors. Erick is a highly gifted and knowledgeable teacher of God’s Word, and he has a passion to form humble, dedicated followers of Christ.

Guard Dog’s Puppies to be Used as Instrument of Blessing to Neighbors

Although this headline might not be the most important on the list, just the same we are very excited that one of our guard dogs recently gave birth to five healthy puppies. The pups’ dad is our Rottweiler, so they promise to be large and fearsome (at least in appearance). Good, large guard dogs in Honduras are extremely valuable (and sometimes difficult to come by), so we are thankful that we will be able to bless several of our key neighbors with a healthy puppy that will in turn patrol their property.

This is our 9-year-old son Jason enjoying our puppies a few days after they were born…

Christian Psychologist Invests in Our Girls’ Healing During a Week of Intensive Workshops and Group Therapy

Last month (June 2017) we enjoyed the visit of a dear missionary who has been living in Central America many years. She first spent time with our girls during a week of intensive activities in December 2016. We are thankful for this key relationship and influence in our girls’ development into healthy, wise daughters of God, and we look forward to receiving her in our home again at the end of the year.

This is our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, who has been living with us almost four years and whom we are in the process of legally adopting
This is 13-year-old Jackeline who has been living in our family two-and-a-half years and who has undergone drastic transformations in her character and work ethic for God’s glory
This is 13-year-old Josselyn enjoying a goofy moment! You go, girl!

In Good Standing with Local Government; Prayer Sought that Blessing and Healthy Communication Might Continue

Enjoying good communication and mutual understanding with authorities in Honduras is not something that is perhaps easily achieved or sustained as corruption may always lie just around the corner in addition to the fact that many laws and governmental expectations seem to be ever-changing and interpreted differently by each person. Thus, we plainly thank God for His constant protection over us and for having bestowed His blessing upon the numerous relationships we hold with local authorities (police, educational authorities, etc). Please pray with us that peace and good standing may continue, as the task of updating and presenting paperwork, seeking out meetings, etc, is ongoing as we earnestly desire to do everything with the highest integrity possible.

This is our 12-year-old daughter Gleny, who has been living in our family almost four years, giving a dynamic tutoring session with our two most developmentally-challenged kids, Gabriela (11) and Josue (9). Gleny is a fantastic teacher, and she loves working with little kids!

Experience and Wisdom Gained This Year; Students’ Growth and Development Noteworthy

As we’ve reached (and crossed!) the half-way point of another year serving as Christ’s messengers in rural Honduras, we thank God for the experience and wisdom we’ve gained. We are now a year-and-a-half into the journey of directing a discipleship-based community high school (and expanding elementary school) in our rural homestead, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way! We truly thank God for the progress gained, both in our experience as leaders/servants and in the lives of the children and youth in our program, who likewise are experiencing revolutionary changes in their lives as God is impacting and transforming them with the good news of peace with God through Jesus Christ. As we enter the second half of our school year (the Honduran school calendar goes from January/February — late November), we currently have 37 full-time students plus a small handful of local youth who participate in select activities/Bible studies we offer but are not completely engaged every day. Praise God!

These were the only four students who successfully avoided after-school detention during the second grading period (two months)! They were very diligent to complete their homework on time and fulfill all expectations placed upon them. Keep up the good work! (We told all our other students to pick these guys’ brains to see what their secret is so that they can hopefully avoid going to detention as well!)
These were the students who achieved academic excellence in the second grading period!
This crowd had perfect attendance during the months of April and May! Way to go! (I remember last year when it was a huge struggle just getting the kids to come to class! Thank God for these wonderful blessings of progress and maturity in our students!)

Prayer Sought for Ongoing Unity and Development in Our Large Foster/Adoptive Family of 10

Please continue to pray for Darwin and I as we are nearing the four-year mark of parenting children who come from very broken places. Our eldest daughter will be turning 17 years old in three months (oh my gosh!), and our youngest son (Josue, who has special needs) just turned 9. As everyone is making a quick sprint towards maturity, please pray for us as we continue to fine-tune our skills as parents. Pray that our kids (and teens) would always be given a soft, malleable heart in regard to discipline and correction, and pray with us that God would truly grant our kids wisdom and grace as they grow in Christ. We have seen tremendous strides in each of our kids’ lives since they’ve been under our care, and we humbly ask that Father God may grant us perseverance, abundant love and the Biblical wisdom needed to truly parent these kids well. During this second half of the year, God has led me to teach less classes in our discipleship-based community homeschool in order to be more present to our 8 kids as just plain ‘mom’, faithfully prepare family dinners each day, etc. (I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom and run an organization/ministry! Pray for me!) Below are photos we took during our weeklong family retreat last month. These periodic family retreats are a simple yet powerful step we’re taking to strengthen family ties and form healthy memories together in our family that’s building its nest behind schedule. 

Darwin playing music on the porch of the little rustic 2-room cabin we rented.

Jackeline and I embarking on our wild kayaking adventure from one island to another. Little did we know just how difficult it would be, as the current was particularly strong that day as it threatened to carry us out to high seas! Arriving (and safely returning) from the arduous journey was probably the hardest thing either of us had done in quite some time! (We look so happy in this photo because we had yet to commence the journey and had no idea how hard it would be! The next day Darwin and our 16-year-old son Brayan tried completing the same journey, but they returned because Brayan got scared!)
Kayaking together proved to be an excellent experience in teamwork and communication (and emotional control, as both of us felt like screaming or crying on several occasions!)

 

Nice swim goggles, Josue!

 

Who wants pancakes for dinner?!


 

Amen! Glory to God!

Meeting the ‘Angels’ at Recess: Informational Video #3

Here is the third of five homemade informational videos we filmed at our home (the Living Waters Ranch) in rural Honduras this past week! (If you’re not a fourth-grader in vacation Bible school, then please dismiss the initial video greeting…)

Enjoy!

Informational Video #1

Below is the first of five videos that we filmed this week at the Living Waters Ranch with the purpose of being shown to a specific Texan church during their week-long vacation Bible school for kinder-5th graders and their leaders. The video, however, can prove interesting to anyone who would like to learn more about the day-to-day life and purpose enjoyed at the Living Waters Ranch. The 5 videos are best viewed in sequence…

(We filmed all 5 videos within a 24-hour timespan, but I kept changing my clothes and hairdo to make it look like each video was a different day!)

This first video is a bit slow-paced (it is the general overview), but the following four are a bit more lively…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7qHlVkXaeo

Abandoning Shame and Embracing Love: A Speech Class Experience

Costumes, healthy physical touch, eye contact and God’s love — welcome to our twice-weekly Speech/Communications class! As we’ve reached our mid-year point in our discipleship-based community homeschool program at the Living Waters Ranch in rural Honduras, we’ve introduced several new classes. One such class is a dynamic, sometimes impromptu class I’m teaching our oldest students — roughly 25 teens grades 5th-8th who come from (and many of whom are still in) marginalized situations.

During the first half of the school year we began seeing the dire need for such a class as the majority of our new students are desperately shy, afraid to speak up or share in Bible study, won’t pray in public, and are completely lost as to how to do any kind of class presentation. In Honduran culture, it is very common and accepted for people to be ‘ashamed,’ which becomes a debilitating disease that causes them to hide from doing anything good (but not, of course, to shy away from doing anything bad, as we know all too well that violent crimes and rampant sin have this culture in a stranglehold).

As we are learning alongside of our students in Bible study every Tuesday and Thursday, one of the many messages in the book of Hosea is that human beings generally love shame above honor; we love what cuts us off from relationship rather than what gives life; we give our affections to a passing, flawed worldly system with false promises rather than to the good, eternal God. This backwards or confused attitude is very present in our students, as many struggle secretly with pornography addiction, theft, lying, etc, but are scared stiff to talk openly about God’s love, give their undivided attention to the person speaking to them, respond to God’s grace in joyful, unashamed devotion, etc. They are scared to sing worship songs but are not scared about falling into sexual sin. Surely we as a human race have got it all backward!

Thus, we invented our three-week-long intensive Speech/Communications class (a more in-depth version of the one-day workshop I gave last year), and thus far we’ve seen many breakthroughs in even our shyest of students. The class atmosphere is light and fun, and the youth are encouraged to participate openly without shame. In addition to playing many interactive games, a good portion of each class is dedicated to sitting in a large circle as a certain theme is presented (it could be something from the Bible, everyday life, etc) and each student — in their own timing — stands up and talks freely for a minute or so on said topic. (This is the only activity I can recall from my own high school speech class, and I remember that it greatly helped me overcome my own fear of public speaking.) The speaker is instructed to create and maintain eye contact with each member of the audience (which is a new concept for the majority of them, as they’re used to staring at their own feet or up at the ceiling), and the audience is instructed to maintain  open body posture and not break eye contact with the speaker (another struggle, as respectfully listening to speakers is not generally a strong point in Honduran culture.)

Last week as class was nearing its end, we sat down in our large circle on the porch to discuss the topic of ‘family.’ I had assumed this topic would be the easiest of all to discuss because it was intimately known and experienced each day. They didn’t need to prepare a large presentation or do any research; just talk about their family. After all, if they wanted to take the quickest route out of their public speaking commitment, all they had to do was stand up and stutter, “Uh, I have three siblings, and I live with my mom and dad,” before quickly sitting down again. I thought it would be easy enough.

Well, a young male student was our first volunteer. He popped up to his feet, his short frame standing as tall as he possibly could as he opened up his heart in an entirely unexpected way. He began sharing with all of us some of his family struggles along with the fact that when he was younger he spent much time in the street, even occasionally sleeping on the street to avoid family conflicts. He then went on to publicly thank God that he now has a much more loving step-mother who treats him nicely along with the fact that God’s hand has been over him in several other noticeable ways. This particular young man is normally very upbeat and tends to play the role of ‘class clown,’ so we were all blown away by what he shared. As my eyes searched the faces of all those two dozen students who were looking up at him, eyes trained on him as he spoke, my heart recognized another miracle: no one laughed.

When he finished sharing several minutes later, another teen boy hopped up to his feet and began sharing a long, intricate narrative of his woeful relationship to his mother, her murder a couple years ago, and his blossoming relationship with Christ since then. No one made any uncomfortable faces or poked fun. They were just really, truly listening in the purest sense, and he was earnestly speaking. No big poster boards; no dull, memorized speeches; just real, God-honoring sharing.

Our eldest daughter was the next one to follow suit and, like the other two young men who shared, she went far over the minimum time limit and valiantly shared about her experiences with her biological family, the devastating details of which her classmates had not previously known. After her, three or four other students shared sincerely. Two students finished their time of sharing about their family in tears. Some shared heartwarming stories of parental love and support while others spoke of murders suffered, indescribable loss and abuse. The element that was present in nearly every story, however, was that of redemption, of God’s love shining through to reach them in the darkest of places, drawing them toward Christ. And the best part was that they were putting it in their own words, were recognizing (and proclaiming to others!) God’s handprint on their lives.

With great joy I share with you the following photos that were taken from our class last week. To God be the glory!

The first step during each Speech/Communications class: hand out silly hats! We’ve purchased dozens of fun hats from a local thrift store, and with our students they get plenty of use! One of the goals of the class is to help the students to have more confidence, not be afraid of one another, and lose what the Honduran culture calls ‘shame,’ so we see the use of the goofy hats to be integrally important to this process!
Our 16-year-old son Brayan loves his Mexican ‘mariachi’ hat!
What a cute, fluffy pink bear! That’s our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline who oftentimes gets the giggles when she has to stand up and talk in front of the group!
The next step: silly greetings! Everyone has to go around greeting everybody…The only catch is that you have to do it according to the announced theme. Sometimes we have to greet each other ‘sickly;’ other times ‘like old people;’ sometimes ‘mad’ or ‘sad,’ etc. This always makes even the shyest kids laugh!

What an elegant gathering of young ladies! Great hats!
Next up: eye contact! Everybody grab a partner and you have to look them in the eyes for several minutes straight! (This activity can be extremely difficult/uncomfortable even for the most socially well-balanced person, so this ‘eye-contact game’ proves to be quite the challenge for youth who come from broken backgrounds and are used to hiding at all costs. I’m sure they feel like they’re under a magnifying glass!)

These are two of our shyest boys, both of whom this year have struggled with behavioral issues in the classroom. The act of looking each other in the eyes for several minutes can go a long way toward cultivating focus, respect, and love toward one another. As the kids/teens do this activity, I walk among them and talk openly about the fact that each one of them was made in God’s image, and the same salvation in Christ Jesus is available to each one — there is no reason to hide, to fear, or to hate one another. The students have at least a ‘head knowledge’ of this through our ongoing Bible studies and prayer groups that they all participate in, but it is pretty cool to be able to reinforce this reality through interactive games such as this, especially in the Honduran culture where violence and broken relationships abound.


The giraffe and the pig have a stare-off!
Great costume! We’ve got a fireman in our class just in case any problems break out!

 

Okay, now everybody break up into groups of two, and find a quiet spot in the yard to start planning your secret handshake! In 10 minutes each team will have to perform in front of the rest of the group! (In this photo Sefora, one of our new seventh grade students, got brave enough to try on the large, old lady dress I got from the thrift store. It was the only costume part everyone was afraid to put on!)
Don’t be scared to show your face! You’re rockin’ like a homeschool mom from the 80s! You go, girl!

Everybody’s busy designing their secret handshake/greeting with their partner!


Here is our 16-year-old daughter Dayana (right) planning her upbeat ‘secret handshake’ with 12-year-old Dayra, one of our new local students who entered the Living Waters Ranch in Jan. Their greeting involved a hip bump and many other fun details!

Okay, gather up! Everyone sit in a semi-circle on the schoolhouse’s front porch (it was way too hot to do the class inside), because everyone’s going to present their handshake! (Aren’t they all just too cute?)

Elalf (our tallest student, Pastor Domingo’s son) was partnered with Charlie (our shortest student). The last step of their creative greeting was that Elalf picked Charlie up by his trousers and spun him around! Good thing he’s got a firm grip!

Come on out, Jackeline! She was so nervous that she kept hiding behind the house so that she wouldn’t have to perform!
Our daughter Jackeline was so nervous that she ran off the ‘stage’ when she finished the last step of her handshake with Josselyn!

Amen! Glory to God!

The Sound of Music: Darwin’s Recorder Class Under the Mango Tree

My husband Darwin recently took the following photos of his small group of students in the Living Waters Ranch’s beginners’ recorder class. This first semester (February-May 2017) he gave several music classes to different groups of students, including piano, advanced music theory/recorder and the beginners’ recorder class pictured below.

Last week as we entered into a new weekly schedule, Darwin began his group choir lessons for the first time this year, which a lot of our returning students are excited about because the choir was their initial connection to us as we began forming relationships with youth from our neighborhood from 2014 onward.

Darwin is a very passionate music teacher, and he firmly believes that God can utilize music to restore and renew the souls of broken children for His glory. He oftentimes takes the students outdoors to play in the shade of some large tree on our rural property, and he tends to incorporate prayer and Scripture-reading into the class. The photos shown below were taken on one such occasion.

This is “Little Ever,” our youngest student. He just turned 7 years old, and he is our daughter Gabriela’s classmate in our small first grade class. He is our night watchman’s youngest child.

Here are three beloved teen hooligans in Darwin’s recorder class. Roy (far left) is one of our eldest students this year, a local 17-year-old who came to us through unlikely circumstances and whom has really taken hold of all that has been offered to him through the Living Waters Ranch. His aunt recently told us that she is thrilled that God has used those of us who serve as Roy’s teachers to be ‘channels of blessing’ in his life. Roy is very consistent in showing a grateful and positive attitude, something that is highly uncommon in this culture. He is a follower of Christ and is one of the youth leaders in his church after having passed through a very difficult and dark childhood.

This is 12-year-old Cesar, part of a sibling group of three brothers who entered in our discipleship-based community homeschool program in January of this year. He had dropped out of the public school system after having completed fourth grade, and he was frequently seen darting around our rural neighborhood on his bike, generally wreaking havoc and without any direction. He has been surprisingly consistent with his attendance and effort with us thus far this year, and we are excited to see what fruit God will produce in his life via the many seeds that are being planted.

What a spacious and beautiful classroom!

This is our (mostly) precious special-needs son Josue who just turned nine years old yesterday. He serves as Darwin’s and my faithful ‘assistant’ in the various classes we give, and he enjoys playing with all the other kids during P.E., recess and lunch in addition to the fun games he does with his tutor. He serves as Darwin’s assistant in his advanced English class, and Josue surprised us all earlier today when someone thanked him for something (in Spanish), and he answered “Welcome” in choppy English. He suffers from severe speech impediments and struggles to put together basic words in his own language (Spanish), so we were all astonished to realize that he had actually learned (and was able to pronounce!) some English!

It looks like 11-year-old Jeffrey, one of our very wild and immature first grade students, got tired of playing recorder and decided to take a break! He’s eating a mango that must have fallen from the tree!


   Amen! Glory to God!

A Rag-Tag Group of Godly Young Men: The Art of Transformation

Yesterday we began our three-week period of intensive, dynamic ‘mid-year’ classes with our roughly-40 students to shake things up a bit and further serve them in their integral development as loving, joyful beings under the headship of loving, joyful God.

After Bible study, prayer groups, and group geography class in the ‘movie theater’ (the students called it that because we used a projector to show large images and maps on the wall, something we had never done before because we just purchased the projector a few days ago), all of our students divided up into two groups: the girls with Darwin for choir class (I participated as a very naughty student in the choir, and the girls loved it), and all the boys in our large dining room for art class with the rest of the teachers.

At one point I snuck out of the little building where we were having choir to go check on the boys in their first large-group art class, and I found them all very much hard at work, collaborating with one another and thoroughly enjoying the whole creative process. I have absolutely no idea what the actual project was (they seemed to be divided up in several groups according to age/ability/interest as some were working with cardboard, others with string and hot glue guns, others with simple paper and crayons), but God’s peace among them was tangible and I marveled at the beauty of what God is doing deep in their hearts.

I share with you the following photos that were taken of roughly 20 young men that we absolutely adore and are so proud of. Some of them we have known and been closely discipling for two to three years while others entered our lives but four months ago. Many of these young men have dropped out of school several times, entertained the idea of moving illegally to the United States, or become dangerously close to becoming teen fathers. They are quite the rag-tag group — some are naturally very bright and well-adjusted; others have been orphaned or had family struggles and no longer live under the protection of their parents; others suffer mild to severe learning disabilities; all of whom are growing in the knowledge and love of God. Especially in our rural community and the general Honduran culture, seeing young men become brilliantly alive in God’s love –actively seeking out His Word, submitting their lives to His will, recognizing and developing their God-given ‘hidden treasures’  and talents in order to more fully serve Christ — is no common occurrence. There is a high percentage of young men in our neighborhood who are vagabonds and thieves, oftentimes committing themselves to the service of the local gangs who end their lives before age 20. Thus, with great astonishment at God’s active work in these precious young men’s lives, I share with you the following photos we took yesterday…

This is Charlie, one of our high school students who didn’t pass his grade with us last year but has valiantly come back again to give it a second try (after much persuasion), and this year he is one of our more consistent and joyful students. He was baptized last year, and he has become actively involved in the search for God, both at the Living Waters Ranch and in his personal life with his family.
A year or two ago I don’t think we could have ever imagined that our dining room would become so multi-purpose! Sometimes several times daily we move around the tables and benches to transform the space into whatever we need it to be. We use this room for our twice-weekly Bible study, 5th and 6th grade homeschool, worship time, academic support group, dance club, the new geography class, and now group art lessons!
This young man on the left is Eduardo, a 14-year-old who joined us at the beginning of the Honduran school year in January. He had dropped out of the local public high school last year and recently experienced a bout of depression/discouragement and came dangerously close to dropping out of our program as well. Darwin, the teachers and I have all had productive one-on-one conversations with him over the last several weeks to encourage him to continue seeking God’s will for his life and to stay put at the Living Waters Ranch so that he can keep growing, and after a recent visit Darwin paid to his house to talk with his mom he has experienced a change for the better and is now participating more fully and seems to be genuinely happy and engaged.

This is Miss Ligia, a local lawyer who came to us by divine appointment and has been serving with us as a teacher for a year-and-a-half. She always has wonderful arts and crafts projects for the kids, and this is a particular blessing in our context because the majority of our students have poor fine motor skills and/or developmental delays, so the act of measuring, cutting with scissors, painting, etc, is very therapeutic and aids them in their recovery from past traumas/neglect.

This is Brayan, our 15-year-old son who has experienced healing and freedom on many levels over these past several years. He is not the best student and still struggles with emotional immaturity at times, but his heart and his soul are being renewed with God’s love, and he knows who he is as one of Father God’s beloved children. He will be finishing 6th grade this year and entering our high school program (which begins at the 7th-grade level) next January.
Something that happens in our discipleship-focused community homeschool (the name just keeps getting longer!) that doesn’t happen in most other schools is that students of different ages and grade levels have a lot of contact with one another, which we believe cultivates in them compassion for one another along with mentor-like relationships that blossom among the students. In this photo is 14-year-old Cristian (right) who comes from a very poor family and had never been in school before joining us in 2014 and is now in 6th grade as one of our best overall students is working alongside of Alejandro (left) a 12-year-old who had gone through the public elementary school system his whole childhood, successfully finishing 6th grade and supposedly ready for high school but without the basic knowledge of knowing how to read, write and do math, so he entered four months ago with us on the second-grade level and is learning for the first time the basic academic- and life-skills that the public schools failed to teach him.


Our littler/less mature male students (and sons!) were at this long wooden table as they experimented with crayons, oils pastels and paints. Most public (and even some private) schools in Honduras do not have art supplies for students, and it is uncommon to find these kinds of basic enrichment activities in most Honduran homes, so for many children/youth the act of taking time to draw, paint and be creative is a rare treat and can go a long way towards restoring and developing them for God’s glory.

Here’s Erick (one of our extremely faithful and wise local Christian teachers/mentors) helping out with the boys’ art class. I think he might have preferred to direct a prayer group or teach agriculture class, but he was a great sport, and I’m sure the boys loved having him with them during their art time!

Reina was the hot-glue-gun-master! Here she is working with Yexon, one of our night watchman’s children who just passed fourth grade in our accelerated homeschool program for older students.

                       

Amen! Glory to God!

May 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Play Structure Complete!

The large wooden play structure we had designed was finished a few weeks ago by Domingo, one of our faithful team members who is a local pastor in his 50s who serves with us as the Christian Leadership teacher, Carpentry Club leader, and elementary math teacher. We love the way it turned out, and the kids are all over it every chance they get! It has added a very fun and dynamic dimension to recess and lunch hour, and it supports our overall mission to restore broken youth spiritually, emotionally and physically for God’s glory.

Living Waters Ranch to Enter a Three-Week Intensive Mid-Year Term

With our roughly-40 students (8 from our foster/adoptive family and about 30 from our local community who participate daily in our discipleship-based homeschool) we will be entering a three-week period of different classes as of next week to ‘shake things up’ while further equipping our youth with experiences and knowledge they need in order to continue growing and exploring God’s will for their lives. My husband Darwin will be giving several intensive choir workshops; I’ll be teaching a Biblically-based world geography class (in addition to a crash course in grammar along with several Speech/Communication workshops) with our older students; and each child/teen will have the option of ‘specializing’ in one of several areas, including English as a second language, Agriculture/Christian Leadership, Carpentry/Christian Leadership, etc. All students will be involved in twice-weekly art classes during this mid-term time, and we’ll continue faithfully with our Bible study and prayer groups as usual.

The following three pictures were taken during Darwin’s reading class. (This is our 15-year-old son Brayan who is so sweaty because he just came in from recess). Darwin has been extremely creative in the class as he’s taught the kids to read in latin, organize a class play, study the Scriptures, watch and write about motivational videos, read personal and spiritual anecdotes from great spiritual leaders from centuries past, read about brain psychology, and so on. The students Darwin has in his class are teens who generally don’t get too excited about reading (and/or are extremely shy and prefer to just sit there as Wallflowers), so his very concentrated (and energetic) efforts with these guys has had a phenomenal impact on their integral development.

 

Ariel, 14 years old

 

Eduardo, 14 years old

 

Donaris, 13 years old

 

Rolan, 15 years old

 

Eber, 17 years old

Updates Regarding Katy

The lawyer from the local government office has yet to fulfill her word to go out to Katy’s family’s home to investigate her living situation, although she promises to do so this upcoming week. Please pray for all the government workers involved, as they are overburdened with cases of child abuse, neglect, etc, and the personnel and their resources simply aren’t enough to manage each one with excellence. Our home and our hearts are prepared to accept Katy into our home if and when the Lord should bring her, and we continue our active communication with the government agency in hopes of her rescue.

A couple weeks ago Darwin went out to spend time with and take a few photos of five of our night watchman’s children who are all in our school on the elementary level. Our relationship with them began almost three years ago, and God has blessed our friendship with their family in a very special way. All of the kids had not previously been in school, and the majority of their family members are illiterate and malnourished. The family was accustomed to moving homes frequently in search of jobs and a stable food supply for their family as they struggled in extreme poverty. God brought us into relationship with them first through Darwin’s youth choir, then the kids entered school with us full-time, and now the family as a whole is about to celebrate their 2-year anniversary of living on our property and serving alongside of us. The eldest son is currently in his last year of elementary school in our accelerated program for older students and is on track to enter high school in 2018. The eldest son decided to be publicly baptized last year, and most of the family members are actively involved in Bible study and prayer groups. These kids/teens are also some of our own kids’ best friends, as we all live on the same rural property.

Second-to-the-left is Armando, our faithful night watchman and the father of these five beautiful children. He is generally very quiet and keeps to himself, but Darwin caught him playing with his kids one evening and took advantage of these family photos.

Brayan and Darwin Compete in Local Race

My husband Darwin and Brayan, our 15-year-old son, competed last week in a large organized road race in the nearby city of La Ceiba along with Larry, a longtime spiritual mentor of ours, and several other local youth whom we have friendships with. Events such as these are almost unheard of in our area (there are generally very few organized sports teams for youth, and athletic training of any kind is uncommon), so Brayan and Darwin had been training together for several weeks prior as they got amped up for the big event. Brayan, who came into our lives as a very uncoordinated and broken 12-year-old in 2014, has really taken hold of long-distance running over the past couple months as he’s been training with Darwin and Erick, and he actually won third place in the youth category! I was unable to attend the race (I stayed at home with the rest of our kids), but they told me there were roughly 80 or so teen males who participated, and our son — who comes from very broken places, and whom God has been restoring and healing over the past several years in accordance with His will — came in third! Wow! We are very excited about his newfound self-discipline and motivation that Father God is inculcating in this young man whom we love so much, and Brayan is excited to travel with Darwin and Erick next month to compete in another road race in a city that lies 3 hours away.

Health Updates

As was written on our prior blog post, my health as of late had been quite weak as I was battling Typhoid fever and an aggressive virus. I’ve gone in several days over the past few weeks to a local clinic to receive IV fluids packed with vitamins and antibiotics, and they’ve done their job well! I’ve recuperated strength and energy and have even felt the desire to begin playing with the kids and exercising again. (A couple days ago I got into a pretty extreme game of Monkey-in-the-Middle with a large group of our students and had a blast). Thank you to all of you who have prayed for my recovery.

These photos were taken in Darwin’s twice-weekly PE class. As of July, we will be dividing all of our students up into different PE groups: dance, military patrol training (with Pastor Domingo who was in the military 20 years), long-distance running, sports, and games (for the little guys).

Teachers Attend 3-Day Conference

I am currently attending a 3-day conference with two of our teachers (Isis and Reina) in another city in Honduras as we seek to continue learning about this field that the Lord has placed us in. We’ve attended workshops on the legal side of managing a ministry, heard testimonies and advice from other people who have fostered/adopted kids, learned more about child psychology and how to nurture kids who have been through severe traumas, etc. It has been a fruitful time of making connections with others who serve in similar fields, learning from the experts, and also continuing to form the bond between the three of us as sisters in Christ. Below you’ll see a few silly photos we took when no one else at the conference was looking…

Reina jamming out with the translation headset…

 

Me pretending to give a speech at the conference. (I was not one of the speakers…)

 

Isis playing hide-and-seek under our conference table…

 

Amen! Glory to God!

April 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Possible New Horizons for Gabriela and Josselyn

In a prior update I sought prayer for our little Gabriela who has been living with us almost two years now. Surprisingly, we found a biological family member of hers in a nearby city several weeks ago (the first contact we have had with any family member since she and her sister moved in with us in July 2015). We got their cellphone number and have since realized two structured family visits for Gabriela and her older sister Josselyn. The family visits have helped to fill in many of the gaps in the girls’ fragmented history, and one of those is their ages. Although the majority of their family members are illiterate and do not have a very accurate concept of time, dates, etc, several of them affirmed that Gabriela is roughly 10 years old and Josselyn 12. We continue to parent, love and guide them day after day in this new stage of monthly family visits and increased contact with their past, and due to Josselyn’s insistence we are doing the legal investigations to see if one or both of the girls can return to their biological family’s home, most likely with their grandparents. This is a very delicate process for all of us, as Josselyn is currently feeling a very strong pull to return to her familial roots and daily experiences pretty dramatic mood swings as she has even escaped twice from our home in recent weeks. We are approaching the possibility of her living with her biological family with an open mind and much prayer, but both girls arrived at our home in terrible shape in 2015 and had experienced much abuse and neglect at the hands of certain relatives, so we do not yet have peace about them returning to such an unstable situation despite Josselyn’s adamancy. Please pray with us for our two girls during this time, as the government will have the final say on where the girls will live. This week I am scheduled to accompany a government social worker to the girls’ grandparents’ home as part of the reintegration investigation. Please pray for peace over our household as well, as Josselyn is quite unstable emotionally, and that affects everyone in our family. Please continue to pray with us for both girls — for their healing, relationship with the Lord, future, etc — as any child who has been separated from their biological family struggles with great insecurities and doubts as to why they do not live with their family in addition to periods of very intense emotional angst. Pray that Father God would bless them both with wisdom to understand their past, gratitude towards Him for where they are in the present, and great faith in God as to their future. In particular, pray that God would illuminate Josselyn’s mind with the truth (as we feel that she is currently very confused), and that wherever she ends up she would continue to seek, love and obey Him. The attachment process when a new child/teen arrives in our family (and then the detachment process if/when they leave) is extremely taxing on Darwin’s and my emotions, and we currently feel very stretched thin emotionally. We appreciate your honest prayers.

This is our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline, the proud new cow-owner I wrote about on last month’s general update blog. Her young female calf has grown considerably since the taking of this photo, and Jackeline goes out to the stable to take care of her, give her salt and garlic (to relieve her of internal parasites, etc) several times per week. We are very encouraged about the opportunities this growing calf might provide Jackeline in the future and pray that any financial gain she might provide would be used to glorify God and serve others.

 

Erick’s Young Men’s Retreat and Running Group

Earlier this month during ‘Holy Week’ (the week in Latin American culture leading up to Easter Sunday) Erick and Darwin organized a camping retreat for about a dozen young men, the majority of whom are in our school and others of which weekly attend the Bible study that Erick and his wife host in their home on Wednesday evenings. They all threw on their backpacks and headed up a remote path into the dense jungle behind our home to enjoy a campfire, sharing of stories and testimonies, several Bible studies, etc. For the majority of the young men, it was the first time they had ever done anything like that. We are excited about and blessed by the wisdom, energy, and sacrificial attitude that Erick and his family bring to this ministry in rural Honduras, as he is actively investing in and guiding many teenage boys during his free time and during vacations. He has also since formed a running group with the same young men as he is training with them several times per week to run in a 10K in a nearby city next month. Not only Erick but all of the Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us this year are taking great initiative to form relationships with and disciple the many youth in our homeschool-style school, both during ‘work’ hours and on nights/weekends. This is awesome!

Everybody hold your machete up! This photo was taken of Erick and Darwin’s group of ‘wild men’ when they came back from their overnight campout in the mountains. Two of our sons (Brayan, age 15, and Jason, age 9) participated in the event. Our 8-year-old son Josue stayed at home to protect the women!

 

Greater Organization Achieved in 2017

Although this may not be a particularly striking headline report to make, we are very excited about the organization, communication and daily structure we’ve been able to establish this year. During the first three years of this ministry (2013-2015), we oftentimes felt like our lips were flapping violently in the breeze and our hair was flying all over the place as the learning curve is pretty drastic for learning how to parent hurting children/teens, establish and grow a ministry from scratch, utilize and protect a rural 17-acre property in the middle of one of the world’s most dangerous countries, etc. Last year we had many breakthroughs as we opened our previously itty-bitty homeschool program to dozens of local youth through the creation of our discipleship-based high school, twice-weekly Bible study and prayer groups, Christian Leadership class, etc, although we still had many kinks to work out as we had been thrown into an entirely new arena. Now that we have more experience under our belts (and hopefully wisdom gained both through the ups and downs we’ve personally gone through in addition to increased and ongoing reading of Scripture, etc), this calendar year we are all taking a collective sigh of relief and gratitude as things are marching along without so many hiccups. This year we are serving more people than ever before, and with much less stress! Knowing how to manage a kitchen where about 50 people eat on any given day – calculating how many and which groceries to buy, how to keep the kitchen clean (and who cleans it on what day, and then making sure that person actually cleans it!), etc – is not something that comes in the owner’s manual, but by God’s grace this year things are running more smoothly and the overall organization of the property and its buildings (not just the kitchen) has improved drastically. Setting appropriate limits both with the surrounding community and with those within our household; discerning and then communicating the specific vision/mission the Lord is giving us; establishing and managing our kids’ and laborers’ many schedules/responsibilities; learning how to keep our guard dogs alive; discerning the next step in any new situation and taking it, etc, has been the ongoing task during these first few years of laboring under God’s grace and for His glory. Through many people’s generosity we’ve also been able to purchase a printer for our office (before we used to have to run to town every time we needed to print something!) and we’re in the final stages of finishing a large swing-set/play structure for our yard. Join us in thanking God for these advancements – some big, others very small – as we are daily learning how to be the best possible stewards of all that has been placed under our care. Yes!

This is the homeschool-style support group I teach in our dining room every Tuesday afternoon with a small group of some of our most marginalized students. Josue, our 8-year-old specials needs son (the one in the orange shirt looking at the camera), is my ‘assistant’ — he helps me encourage and supervise the other students, hand out the snack (and eat the snack), etc. We have seen great progress in this group of students since they joined us in January of this year, and many are actively seeking God’s will for their lives. Josue, who cannot learn in a normal classroom environment, also feels very important as my ‘assistant,’ which is a good niche for him to have. He is my right-hand man  in my advanced math class as well, and he helps Darwin in the many classes he teaches.

 

In my Tuesday afternoon support group we work a lot with open-ended art projects, team-building activities and Biblical study as we seek to ‘wake up’ and develop youth who have largely been left to their own devices since early childhood. Many of our students have spent years of their life out of school only to run wild around our rural neighborhood or wander aimlessly, so activities such as art, music, healthy physical touch, etc along with Biblical direction are crucial to cultivating their minds and lives for Christ.

 

These are two of our older teen boys who are new to our school this year. We are very proud of the decisions they are making and their sincerity of faith as they are coming to put their lives in align with God’s will. Their decision to study in our program and participate in the many additional faith-building activities we offer (such as the boys’ campout, Erick’s in-home Bible study, etc) is very countercultural for young men their age. Please pray with us for them, that God would fully transform their lives and build them into Christ-centered leaders (servants) to their generation.

 

Seeking Prayer for Sandra, Who Left Our Home

Sandra, a 16-year-old local teen who has sought refuge in our home on-and-off over the past year-and-a-half, recently decided to move out of our home. Ever since her escape from her mother’s house a couple months ago, she has been actively engaged in many occult activities that go directly in contrast with God’s will for her life. Several weeks ago Darwin and I sat down with Sandra and her mother (a very devout, humble Christian who works with us part-time) to try to get to the root of Sandra’s sporadic behavior, and she told us that she no longer desired to live with us nor study in our school. She has since moved out and we have lost all contact with her, as she is living in her mother’s home but not under her mother’s authority. We are deeply saddened by the very dangerous choices she is currently making, but we feel absolute certainty that God has called us to release her (as in, no longer worry about her nor try to ‘rescue’ her from her own poor decisions). Prior to her moving out we had invested much individualized prayer, conversations, etc, into her life as we sought to be faithful channels of God’s grace to her, but she ultimately made her decision and will pay the consequences. Although Darwin and I along with our kids are in absolute peace with all that we’ve done, said, given, etc in regards to our relationship with her, we do seek prayer on her behalf and that of her mom, who is daily faced with a very rebellious daughter who has placed herself near many dangers. We long for Sandra to return to God in repentance, as she confessed faith in Christ last year and was publicly baptized, thus making a lifelong commitment with God. Thank you for your prayers.

Here is a photo of Domingo, a local pastor/carpenter and one of the Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us, and his eldest son in the beginning stages of putting the large play structure together. We designed it from scratch several months ago, and we are very excited that within the week this ‘dream’ will become a reality for the many youth who spend their days at the Living Waters Ranch.

 

 

Praising God: Protection from Danger

We praise and thank God that roughly a year and a half has passed since the last burglary on our property. Although those within our walls (students and our children) oftentimes struggle with stealing money or small items from our office or backpacks, we are very happy that the issue we had experienced in 2013-2015 of late-night unknown neighbors stealing chicken, electric generators, cutting through fences, etc, has since ceased. Our night watchman — who does his rounds with nothing more than a flashlight — has been doing a very diligent job each night, and he and his family will soon be celebrating two years of living on our property with us. Five of their children are in our school, and we enjoy a very positive relationship with them. Please continue to pray for us in regard to the general issue of security, as Honduras is a very dangerous country. We thank God for His protection — over our lives and our property — that He has granted us, and we humbly ask that you might pray with us so that this divine protection against evil might continue. Praise be to God!

This is Reina, one of our faithful Christian laborers in her 50s whom God is utilizing (and at the same time transforming!) at the Living Waters Ranch, supporting a group of young girls during a Bible-study activity we held during Holy Week for our students who were on vacation from their normal classes with us.

 

Amen! Glory to God!

“God Lives In My Family”: Reflections From Our Eldest Daughter

A year-and-a-half ago I published a reflection on our very intense, heavily blessed journey with our now-16-year-old daughter Dayana, the eldest of the children we are fostering who we are in the process of legally adopting along with her younger siblings.

Now, nearly four years into our journey with her, I am publishing not my thoughts regarding our relationship but rather hers. Earlier today as I was waist-deep in finishing the process of weeding through the many stapled booklets of our students’ handwritten reflections, seeking small golden nuggets of wisdom and compelling stories — traces of God’s active work in their lives — I found myself fully absorbed by hers. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the 150+ pages of our other students’ journals, but this blog I will dedicate to the developing thoughts of a young woman whom my husband and I treasure more than she will ever know and alongside of whom we have fought tooth and nail for her salvation and transformation.

She is currently one of our top 8th-grade students in our small, discipleship-based homeschool program, and Darwin and I actively serve as her math, English, Bible and music teachers in addition to sharing with her the daily rhythms of family life in a large, mixed household.

The following paragraphs are separate excerpts taken from her 22-page stapled reflection journal written last month.

Dayana with her little biological brother Jason, who has also been living in our family since November 2013.

 

I give thanks to God because He has given me a big family full of love in Christ. What we do really well in my family is that whenever there is good or bad news to be shared, we communicate well…I consider that God lives in my family. We are all growing in the love and faith of the only King.

I have so many dreams for my life as an adult. I want to earn two college degrees: Architecture and Music. Another dream is that of helping needy people; be a counselor for youth and adults in accordance with God’s Word; raise children who do not have the protection of their [biological] parents; exercise the gifts the Lord has given me; be my children’s teacher and that of others; marry a man who serves Christ; be a writer or poet; write my own music; be a good wife and mom; show God’s love to the world; offer help free of charge to people who need help cleaning and organizing their homes; go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the truth about God; be an art teacher; be fully submitted to God’s will; live in England or Brazil (but now that I think about it, I will need to live fairly close to my parents so that they can take care of their grandchildren when my husband and I go on dates!); acquire love for my enemies…I can achieve these goals, but if they are not used for the good, it is as if they were never achieved. May it be God who guides my future and my dreams. Everything in God’s hands is good.

Knowing God and having a relationship with Him is not only about saying “I’m a Christian,” but about recognizing our sin and repenting with all our heart. I am a human being and fail every day, but I examine myself and repent. I love God and trust Him. He loves us, and we can prove His love because He sent His only Son to die for us. We do not deserve His forgiveness, but He loves us enough to extend His forgiveness to us. He is my everything.

I am studying at the Living Waters Ranch high school by my own free will. I truly want to be prepared to confront all that lies ahead in today’s world…If we look closely at the local public schools [in Honduras], they do not offer an adequate education, whereas here [at home] I do receive one…I am here to grow in God’s will; may God guide me in my learning, and may all that I learn be for His glory and in honor of Him.

A recent experience I’ve learned from was that of Sandra’s escape. Through that situation I’ve learned not to run away when things are difficult; God has not given us a spirit of cowardice. The whole situation was very difficult because I love her as a sister…God did great things [when we went to visit her the night she was found], and He used me in a great way. She talked with me at length, and I counseled her. I give thanks to God because He gave me the right words according to the truth in order to counsel her. If we run away, we are turning our back on God. Anything could have happened to Sandra, but God protected her. God is using the gift of leadership that He’s given me. 

…My parents have heavily impacted my life. They have not only been parents but have also been my counselors and teachers. They have shown me their love, something that not all parents do. I have had many struggles, but even so they love me. They correct me; they discipline me; they give me advice; they love me. Each day I am walking with them towards God. They have taught me to not fear in this world, to love others without taking notice of their defects, to walk in the light, to not lie, and to protect myself for my future husband…

My whole family is Christian by God’s grace. The majority of us have been baptized. We have all confessed our sin; we have repented. In other words, my family is worshipping God. Something that I have present in my mind and that we should all have present is that they [my family] are not going to save me when I am standing before God’s throne. Just because my family is Christian does not mean that they respond for me. No; we all have the responsibility to choose whether we follow God or not.

A terribly silly photo my dad took of Darwin and I with our 8 kids when he visited us in January (Sandra was not present at the taking of the photo). What a goofy crowd!

 

Please continue to pray with us for Dayana’s continued transformation and renewal; may she daily grow in her love of Christ as He continues to liberate her from the many chains of her past. Let us thank God for the powerful testimony He has already begun etching out in her, and may Darwin and I be granted great perseverance, faith and hope as we continue onward in our journey parenting her for God’s good pleasure. Amen!

January/February 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Teaching and Mentoring Responsibilities Evenly Distributed Among Team Members

Darwin and I along with the 5 faithful Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us this year are evenly sharing the many daily responsibilities to teach and guide the 40+ youth in our homeschool-style program. This year we’ve added many new classes and extracurricular clubs such as: Agriculture, Advanced English, Carpentry, four different levels of math and reading classes according to each student’s capability, Advanced Music Theory, Sewing, Thought and Logic, Dance, after-school tutoring and others. I am currently directing the twice-weekly Bible study along with advanced math class, high-school-level art club, P.E., after-school tutoring for older students, and one afternoon per week of detention (think extreme military training for the kids who didn’t do their homework). Darwin is teaching 5th and 6th grade elementary school (combined homeschool-style in our dining room), piano club, basic and advanced music theory/recorder, advanced English, P.E., and Level 3 reading in addition to guiding a group of young men in our twice-weekly prayer groups. It has been very exhilarating thus far as we’ve implemented new classes and styles of teaching to better meet our students’ complex needs. Each Christian laborer is responsible for various groups of students each day, and thus far our new method is working seamlessly. We praise God for our new system of education as He’s been guiding us one step at a time over the last two years to make necessary changes, add new dynamics, etc in this beautiful effort to teach and disciple youth on the far margins of society for His glory.

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This is Michelle, a 10-year-old student in first grade at the Living Waters Ranch.

 

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This is Geraldina, Sandra’s mom who makes everything run in the kitchen. I caught her off guard with my request to take a photo of her earlier this week, but she was quick to strike a pose! She is now in her second year of having separated from her abusive husband, and she is faithfully seeking the Lord’s will for her and her four children as she valiantly seeks new, healthier beginnings.

Erick and Aracely Move to El Pino to Minister to Local Youth

Erick, who served alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch in 2014 and returned full-time as a teacher/mentor as of last month, has moved to our rural neighborhood with his wife and two young children so as to participate more fully in the ministry to the local youth who visit the Living Waters Ranch during daytime hours for discipleship and schooling. The house he is renting is strategically placed on the same block as roughly a dozen of the youth in our school, and he and his wife have opened their doors after-hours (nights and weekends) to form relationships with many of the teenage boys in our school who live close to them. He and his wife have taken tremendous God-directed initiative in our group effort to relationally disciple the many youth who the Lord is bringing to the Ranch, and we are thrilled that now our students have another safe, loving married couple to turn to on nights and weekends when Darwin and I are with the 10 who live with us. Erick is in the process of starting a Bible study in his home on Sunday nights for the youth, and he’s already begun taking several of them to church with him on the weekends. This type of initiative to reach out to lost youth in such a self-sacrificing way (giving up time with his family or to rest) is almost nonexistent in our neighborhood, and we are so thrilled that he and his wife are exhibiting such commitment to the Lord’s call on their lives. Please pray with us that the Lord would sustain and encourage them in their efforts, and that the many seeds that are being planted would give a great crop for God’s glory.

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This is 13-year-old Joel, a new student to the Living Waters Ranch. He had spent six years of his life in the public education system in our rural neighborhood without learning to read and write, so he is now on the second-grade level with us. He is a very special young many who is very immature for his age and struggles with learning disabilities, and God is teaching us many things through our relationship with him.
reina
This is Reina, a new local teacher who signed on to serve at the Living Waters Ranch this year. She has extensive experience teaching small children, so she has been an incredible blessing to our small group of rag-tag first grade students in addition to the academic support she gives to the teenagers at the Living Waters Ranch. She is typically very reserved and professional, so when she struck this pose, we were all shocked! Way to go!

Missionary Couple from Guatemala Trains the Team of Servants at the Living Waters Ranch

An American missionary couple who has been serving God in children’s ministry in Guatemala (a Central American country that neighbors Honduras) for several years came to stay at the Living Waters Ranch for a couple nights in January as they held intensive training sessions for our team of 7 Christian laborers (including Darwin and I). The couple has many years of experience working as Christian psychologists with severely abused and hurting children, so they freely shared their experiences and know-how with us so that our efforts to love and teach the children might bear great fruit for God’s glory. (Facilitating this training session was part of our 3-week process of team training in preparation to begin the new school year.)

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This is 12-year-old Sefora, one of our new students who we’ve known since 2014 through Darwin’s youth choir. She is in art club, Christian Leadership, agriculture and academic support tutoring in addition to being one of our 7th grade students.

 

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This is 8-year-old Josue, our special-needs son who has been living with us a little over two years. He is our faithful ‘assistant’ and loves being involved in the many physical education activities and group games we offer. He has recently made great strides as he’s learned nearly overnight to use the bathroom and now has almost no need of the diapers he previously dirtied several times per day. He is also expanding his vocabulary rapidly (although he has his own ‘language’) and is developing better motor skills. We are so proud of him!

Gabriela’s Ongoing Healing Process

Little Gabriela, who we had guessed might be about 8 years old (she has no birth certificate or hospital records) is probably actually 10 or 11 years old because her body has recently begun entering the puberty process. We are honestly very scared about this because she is mentally and emotionally about 4 years old and daily struggles with many behavioral issues that a very small child would display. We urgently and humbly seek prayer regarding her continued healing process as the scars her sexually abusive step-father left in her life are deep. She daily struggles with basic personal hygiene norms, has extreme difficulties learning and does not play easily with the other children. Compared to where she was when she arrived in our family a year-and-a-half ago, she has come a very long way on the path to recapturing innocence, developing better motor skills and learning about a good God, but the path before her is still very long and uncertain. Pray for Darwin and I, that we may maintain great hope in God for her full recovery and that we may daily manifest God’s perfect love and patience with her in the midst of many trying moments.

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This is 14-year-old Charlie, one of our students from last year who did not pass his grade due to  irresponsibility and lack of preparation. We love him dearly and are so proud of him. He’s returned to our 7th grade program this year and is now shining as one of our most consistent students. He is in Darwin’s prayer group, advanced music theory class, piano, art club and advanced English. He tends to struggle a bit academically but is very gifted in the arts. He is one of the students who was baptized last year, and he continues faithfully to seek the Lord’s will for his life.

 

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This is 15-year-old Cristian, one of our spunky fifth grade students who was baptized last year. He is in Darwin’s twice-per-week prayer group and participates in piano, agriculture, dance and logic classes each week in addition to academic classes. He and his four siblings who study with us are the first ones in their family to enjoy an education, as their parents and the majority of their relatives are illiterate and never studied beyond third grade.

Prayer Requested to Expedite the Adoption Process

We have been actively involved in the legal adoption process of siblings Dayana (16), Gleny (12) and Jason (9) for roughly a year, and there has been almost zero progress, which is not surprising in Honduras. My legal residency status took nearly four years to get, so we are prepared to wait actively in this process as well. We ask that you would pray with us that the process would be expedited in Jesus’ name; that all the lawyers, judges and local government authorities involved would review our paperwork in an effective manner and that the three adoptions would come to completion this calendar year. God has planted the desire in us to begin the same adoption process with 15-year-old Brayan, so we ask for prayers as many legal ‘balls’ are being juggled at once.

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This is 15-year-old Genesis, the new addition to our household who moved from the other side of the country in response to the opportunity to study at the Living Waters Ranch. In the desert-like rural region she grew up in there are very few opportunities to study on the secondary level, and the education given is very poor. She’s been with us nearly a month and is actively involved in all the activities offered at the Ranch. Please continue to pray with us for her and the rest of our family as there are still many adjustments to be made/storms to be weathered as we establish a new ‘normal’ with ten kids/teens in our household.

 

eber
This is 17-year-old Eber, one of the oldest students in our high school. He is normally extremely shy, so he surprised us all when he struck this rather expressive (and scary!) pose. He is a slow learner and has struggled in his first few weeks in an environment with such strict discipline, homework expectations, etc, but Darwin has been faithful to go out and get him each time he’s gotten discouraged. Many young men his age in our area are involved in delinquent gangs, already have children or ‘wives’ or simply wander around on their bicycles all day without any direction in their lives, so we are very proud of him and thankful to God that Eber is with us. God has already begun speaking to him in a powerful way through our Bible studies and prayer groups, and he is in the beginning stages of transformation for God’s glory.

 

Gleny (12) and Dayana (16) Return to Art Class

Gleny and Dayana, biological sisters who have been living with us nearly three-and-a-half years, last month returned to a local art school every Saturday as we seek to develop the ‘hidden treasures’ (gifts, abilities and interests) in them. Gleny in particular is thrilled to the moon and back to be in the art class, and we give thanks to God for the local Christian woman who runs the school and serves as another very positive influence in our girls’ lives. The goal of having our girls in this class is to equip them with a diverse skill set (including musical training that they receive at home) that they will be able to use in their future to acquire gainful employment and/or to serve God and others.

yefri
This is 11-year-old Jeffrey, who is currently in first grade with us after having spent the majority of his life until now being a vagabond in our rural neighborhood. God is taming this ‘wild man’ with His love, and he’s learning healthy limits through his daily participation in our discipleship-focused homeschool at the Living Waters Ranch. Two of his older brothers are also in our school after having spent a large portion of their life without direction.

 

sindy
This is 13-year-old Sindy, one of our returning students who is now in 8th grade. She is one of the first people in her family to study on the high-school level, and she is currently participating in piano club with Darwin, agriculture classes, advanced music theory, and English classes in addition to the twice-weekly Bible studies that all students participate in and normal academic classes. She got the giggles when I started taking pictures of her!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Rays of Hope Shining From Dark Places: Reflections From the Next Generation (Part 1)

Over the past several days I’ve spent close to a dozen hours reading our students’ ‘books’ — long handwritten reflections that they’ve carefully torn out of their school notebooks and stapled together. During the three weeks of intensive preparation that finished last Friday, every evening our students were given one or more reflection themes as homework to get them thinking and engage their hearts and minds. Reading their sincere reflections has allowed us to enter the inner world of each student, to know them better and witness close-hand the transformative work the Lord has begun in them.

Some of the reflection themes had to do with their current or future family while others were about their relationship with God, how they spent their school vacations, a situation they had to face with bravery or their personal opinion regarding whether or not cell phones are a healthy tool for teenagers to have. The writing prompts were all very open-ended, and the responses were intriguing.

Although our precious students have many grammatical errors, the heart of their message — the Truth shining forth from their small pencil-written letters and unorganized paragraphs — caught me off guard. It is for this reason that I’ve translated several excerpts from their writings to include them on this blog to encourage those around the world with the good work the Lord has begun in many young lives in Honduras. Seeing as I’ve only got about halfway through the enormous stack of reflections (each ‘book’ is 15+ pages), there will probably be another blog with additional excerpts in the upcoming days.

The following excerpts were written by Honduran youth ages 12-17 who are all currently in poverty, many of which do not live with their biological parents due to situations of abuse and neglect, and some of whom spent the first 10-12 years of their life without entering school. Some have been raised in devout Christian families while others found Christ through their relationship with us at the Living Waters Ranch.

 

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Last Friday the 40+ youth in our homeschool-style discipleship program (both elementary and secondary combined) celebrated the end of the very demanding three-week process of Intensive Preparation as my husband Darwin and the rest of our faithful team planned a fun day of outdoor games for those who had persevered and not given up. Our official school year started this past week.

 

I believe that God is the only one who can liberate us of all evil. We humans are very difficult because we tend to resist our divine Eternal Father and don’t want to be guided by Him, and that is why there are so many problems in life. – New female student, age 15 (8th grade)

My first week at the Living Waters Ranch high school was very special. God has been changing my life ever since I entered this new school. He has changed my whole life because now I read the Bible, which I never did before. I now pray every night. I am learning more about Jesus Christ, and God has changed my life, and I am so happy about that. Another thing that makes me happy is that God has cured me of the evil I did last year. I believe He has forgiven me. –New male student, age 14 (7th grade)

 

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Ariel and Alejandro, two teen boys who are new to our school. Alejandro (blue shirt) graduated 6th grade from a local public school without ever having learned the basics of reading, writing and math, so he has entered our school on the second-grade level. This is not uncommon, as the public school system is notorious for passing students even though they have learned nothing.

 

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Miss Isis, one of our beloved local teachers who has now been with us a year and a half, enjoying a riotous participation in the field day games

 

I suffered a lot with my biological mom because we did not have a stable home…We were vagabonds; we did not know how to read. In order to provide food for my siblings and I, my mom prostituted herself. My dad had other women. I do not want to suffer like my mom did…That is basically what happened with my biological family, but by the grace of God my siblings and I stayed alive and together. — One of our daughters, age 12 (6th grade)

I was lost, and God, through the Christian brethren at the Living Waters Ranch, opened my eyes…He sent His son to pay for us. Thanks to God, my life has changed for the better. God loves me. God is the answer to all problems. We must repent with all our heart, and He will understand. He is my father. He is like a lifesaver; in the middle of the ocean we must cling to Him. I was so far from God – a lot of television, just wandering around without purpose, dirty language, very irresponsible. Everything bad that happened to me I blamed God. I used to say, “If God is good, why did He let this happen to me?” I was so wrong, but God – through the Christians at the Ranch – opened my eyes. – Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)

 

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This is Genesis (red shirt), the new addition to our household, competing in a carry-the-egg-on-a-spoon competition with our daughter Jackeline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here in our neighborhood there was a man who liked the easy life. He was a drunkard and liked to play cards. He was also involved in drugs. One day he began reflecting over his life, and he began to seek God. He is now a pastor; he has two children and they follow him everywhere. He is so thankful to God for the change He made in him. This story has helped me because I feel that God is doing the same thing in me. — Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)

God gave Himself up for all of us on the cross of Calvary so that we would have life in abundance. The Bible specifically tells us about the love that God has for us and what God is capable of as He transforms men. God makes no exception of people – we are poor, rich, small and big, and He takes no note of race or language. We are all important to Him, and God acts in various ways to liberate us from the error of sin that the whole world finds itself in. Many are in gangs or are drunkards; others have different errors but God sends people that He has already liberated so that they can talk to us, to those whom God wants to save. God’s Word says that even in our mother’s womb God chose us to be saved. – New male student, age 14 (7th grade)

 

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Who knew that a potato sack race would be so much fun? Jump, boys, jump!

 

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This is 13-year-old Donaris who is in 4th grade with us. He has severe behavioral problems and struggles with basic social norms. Although he presents many classroom difficulties for several of our teachers, we all thank God that he is with us and not roaming the streets, where he would very quickly fall into a life of crime and sexual perversion.

 

In my life I want God to make me into one of His instruments. I want to counsel other youth and speak to them of the love God has for them. I also want to help street children, those without responsible parents. I would like to guide them on the right path. One day [last year] when I was in Bible study and my mom was talking about drug addicts and street children, I felt that God touched my heart and I sensed in my heart that God wants me to be the person to help those people, to share with them the good news that God has for them. I would also like to start a mission base just like the Living Waters Ranch in order to raise children and be the mom that they never had, to be a blessing to their lives..One of our daughters, age 16 (8th grade)

One verse that I read in the Bible this past week that impacted me is Proverbs 11:4. It says: “When you stand before the Great Judge, your riches will not be able to save you; only doing what is just will liberate you from death.” This means that not even the richest person can buy their own life in God’s presence. It makes me think that being rich would not help me because salvation is not bought with money. — Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade) 

 

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Our beloved student Stanley (left), whom I’ve written about on numerous occasions, and Cristian, one of our night watchman’s sons. Cristian (red shirt, right) is 15 years old and in 5th grade with us because he entered school for the first time in his life two-and-a-half years ago when he arrived at our front gate. He was one of our first local students along with his siblings, and he has been enthusiastically completing two grades per year in our accelerated program for older students.

 

Nowadays all the youth stop studying in order to spend time on their cellphone. I spent three years [they were actually only two, but he always says three] in fifth grade because I was distracted with my cellphone. If I were you, I would put my cellphone away so that you don’t lose points. Plus, the teacher will take the cellphone away from you. I am very proud of myself because I no longer have a cellphone, and now I am more focused than I could have ever imagined, and I thank God for that. This is my opinion. — One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)

To me, a problem in our neighborhood is that there is a lot of trash on the ground. We should not throw it on the ground because is takes a million years to renew itself, and that’s a long time. — One of our daughters, age 12 (6th grade)

 

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Our 15-year-old son Brayan hauling one of the little 10-year-old boys in our program toward the finish line!

 

When I began writing the Proverbs [for homework during the Intensive Preparation], at first I did not want to copy them, but then all of a sudden I felt that I wanted to do it because I found a lot of great advice that would prove helpful in my life. I now feel that every time I sit down to write the Proverbs, God is telling me, “I am waiting for you. Sit down and write, and you will be blessed by my teachings.” Also, if one hopes to correct himself, he’s got to read Proverbs. In that way we will not join up with the foolish. – Returning male student, age 15 (5th grade)

One day Brayan and I were in a verbal spat on the porch, so Pa Darwin came and sent us both out to the yard to pull up weeds for a good while. I have a phrase that I invented: “Sometimes hard things happen, but it’s better to shut your mouth.” — One of our daughters, age 12 (4th grade)

 

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During our first few weeks of the new 2017 school year, we’ve worked hard to put into practice positive behavioral norms among our students such as teamwork, mutual encouragement and utilizing one’s energy toward the good (serving God) rather than for evil. It is a very special privilege (and a lot of fun) to organize high-energy team-building events for these kids as God continued to mold their character and tame their heart with His love.
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Ariel, one of our big teen boys, plopped pint-sized Ever (one of our first grade students) into one of the sacks. Carrying him would definitely make the race a lot faster!

 

In my life I already have experiences and I have seen how God manifests Himself through those who obey His Word. – New male student, age 14 (7th grade)

When I’m an adult, I want my children to be Christ-centered leaders, just like their parents. — Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)

Me in the past, I was a cow-herder. I did not know anything; I was not a Christian until I met Darwin and Jennifer. I started to talk with them, and I became a child of God. I am now a follower of Jesus Christ. When I was little I suffered a lot. Now that I am a Christian I enjoy the love of God and I do not ignore people. When someone insults me, the only thing I do is say, “God bless you.” Now the moments of my life are better than they were before. — One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)

 

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Hurry! Change out the sack and keep it moving!

 

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16-year-old Sandra, who has returned to live with us for a short period, on the left as she and her teammate Arlen (on the right) lend a helping hand to 11-year-old Yefri in the potato sack competition.

 

Proverbs 8:36 was very impactful in my life because it says “Those that offend Me put their life in danger; to hate Me is to love death.” This impacted me because the teaching is that he who hates God is a lover of death and of Satan. The people in this world don’t know what they do; they go to church but keep sinning against God. We people play with God, but we do not truly think that our body has a limit, and that limit is death. But even so we rebel against the goodness of God. — Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)

When I’m grown up, I want my wife and I to be responsible parents. I will give thanks to God for the wife He gives me. Also, with my wife I want to help needy people — those who need help raising their children. I want to have 3 biological children and 5 adopted ones, and I want to be faithful to them. I want to form them into well-educated sons and daughters, receiving them from different places. I want to be a loving husband and a loving person. I also desire for God to guide my wife and I on the path of justice; may He give us the hope of really and truly helping others in the same way that God changed me. — One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)

 

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Now it’s the teachers’ turn in the sacks! Everybody help Miss Isis out!
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Backup is coming!

 

[In regards to the 3 weeks of intensive preparation] …I learned that if I don’t turn in my homework, I have to go to detention and I lose a lot of points…I learned that if I put forth a good effort, good things happen. Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)

I want to study at the Living Waters Ranch because I want to honor my parents. I am going to learn how to be a Christian leader. The teachers treasure and love me, and I them. Thanks to the teachers, I feel extremely encouraged because they say I’m off to a good start and that I should keep up the same pace until the end. I know that we students sometimes get really foolish and don’t do our homework, but thanks to God that now the Living Waters Ranch has detention. — Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)

 

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Who’s winning? Who cares?! Everybody just start running, and grab somebody if possible!
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Everybody work together to haul Miss Isis over the finish line! Miss Isis, don’t wet your pants!

 

One of my dreams is to become a gynecologist, but if I don’t do that, then I’d like to be a pediatrician in order to help needy children. Another dream that I have is to be a prophet. Each day I ask God to grant me more and more wisdom… — Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)

In the earlier years of my life, my relationship with Satan was perfect, but my relationship with God was terrible. I did not know God’s love. The Lord called me several times, but I never responded… Now, years later, I have the knowledge of God and I know Him personally. He is marvelous and powerful. Satan is a nobody. Satan promises to offer you things that he himself doesn’t even have. Now I love God with all my heart. I accepted Christ and am 100% submitted to His will. — New male student, age 17 (8th grade)

 

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Tug of war! Everybody PULL!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

First Report of the New School Year: the Positive Reinforcement of Play

Yesterday evening at dusk our old Toyota truck pulled to a slow stop along a narrow strip of gravel road in our neighborhood as one of our students who had been riding in the truckbed prepared to jump off. This was his stop.

I reached over to touch Darwin’s arm, motioning for him to wait, and said, “I’d like to get out and say hi to Stanley’s mom. I’ll be right back.” I then paused and laughed to myself, murmuring under my breath, “This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve visited this house.”

Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who was sitting inside the cab with us, piped up and said, “Yeah, you’ve come to visit Stanley and his cousin Sindy quite a few times, right, Ma?”

I laughed even harder and admitted, “No, never Sindy. Just Stanley.”

Sindy and Stanley, who both live at this address, had been students in our seventh-grade program last year. While Sindy had shone brightly as a very high-acheiving and easily-managed student, her cousin Stanley had proved to be a roller coaster of volatile emotions and foolish choices. He seemed prone to making bad decisions and had wanted to drop out of school several times. He had even told Darwin that his life dream was to join a gang, and he had participated in a robbery at our home in 2015.

And so I glanced over at Jackeline, who was a bit confused, and I smiled at her as I knew perhaps the depths and lengths I personally had been through with young, rebellious Stanley were a precious secret that only God and I shared (and Stanley’s mom). After all, I had showed up unexpected on their doorstep on several occasions looking for him, and twice I had even danced in that little strip of gravel road to try to convince him to come back to the Ranch, to continue seeking God’s will for his life.

And so I hopped down from the passenger’s seat of our truck and shouted over to Stanley, who had just gotten down from our truckbed, “Is it okay if I say ‘hi’ to your mom real quick?”

His face suddenly dropped, an instinct probably acquired due to the many times I’d had to ‘say hi to his mom’ for negative reasons, but suddenly a huge smile appeared on his face as he realized this time he had nothing to hide. We both laughed as I patted him on that back and said, “This time it’s good news.”

I waited at the twine gate, but they quickly passed me through to the  more intimate realm of their property. I guess after having visited a house so many times, you sort of become like family. Stanley’s mom suddenly appeared from behind the thin curtain hanging in the front door, and we embraced, as we have on many occasions. This time, however, instead of Stanley escaping out the back door or hanging his head low, refusing to look anyone in the eyes, he stood tall right next to his mom, proud.

His mother instinctively looked worried as she wondered what had merited my unannounced house visit (as in, what-has-my-son-done-this-time), but I quickly reassured her that this time I came to brag on him and announce the fantastic news that he had earned a daily average of 89% during his first week of intensive preparation and had exhibited an entirely new attitude among his peers and towards us. Tears welled up in his mom’s eyes as I told her that her son had even begun taking great leadership among his peers and is a godly example for the new students to follow. Respectful, attentive, enthusiastic and hard-working during the daily hour of physical training. He had even completed all of his homework over the last several days, which had never happened before.

And so we gave thanks to God, I embraced his mother one more time, and we were off to do similar visits with the other students who remained joyfully squeezed in our truckbed.

We went house to house down long, remote gravel roads as we embraced mothers and step-mothers — both ones we’ve already had a relationship with from last school year along with ones that we are just now meeting for the first time. We had, after all, just spent the entire afternoon at a local park with our students who had earned a daily average of 80% or higher during their first week of intensive preparation for the school year, and we were eager to bear that good news to their parents.

In our rural community that hobbles around, bound by laziness, apathy and self-pity (not to mention rampant violence and a culture of lies), to see teenagers — especially those who in years past have been on the margins of society, on the brink of self-destruction or turning into instruments to destroy others — become fully alive, read God’s Word, and suddenly acquire a dogged work ethic and new hope regarding their future truly is miraculous.

On one of our last stops, at a small one-room shack with several barefoot little girls running about in the dirt yard, we shared the news of Charlie’s revival with his step-mom, who truly cares for him and who had been quite worried last year as time and time again Charlie slipped into irresponsibility and self-pity before finally failing his school year entirely. We had worked hard to convince his dad and step-mom to allow him to keep studying with us after his first year was an apparent failure (for we know the secret that many local parents don’t: this battle for salvation, for transformation is one that is done over the long-haul and one that cannot be given up on if the first year or two or three don’t go as planned). Charlie, who is 13 years old but has the appearance of an 8 or 9-year-old due to malnutrition, stood tall, his chest puffed out and his face serene as we enthusiastically shared the news with his step-mom. Charlie had earned a daily average of 97% in his first week of intensive prep, and his gracious attitude, servants’ heart and leadership skills — things that were not visible in him last year — shone brightly. His step-mom glowed with joy as she commented that she, too, had seen a distinct change in him over the last several days.

As we said our goodbyes and began walking down that little rocky dirt path back to our car, our 15-year-old son Brayan, who did a phenomenal job in his first week of classes, turned around and said jokingly, “And my house visit?” (As in, are you gonna brag on me too?) I laughed, knowing that we had already bragged on him more than 653 times this past week and I said with a grin, “I think your mom already knows that you did a fantastic job.” He smiled like a little boy and reached out a long, muscular arm towards me and said, “You’re my mom!” and I nodded my head and laughed.

And so we’ve been reading a lot of the book of Proverbs and the students have been copying whole chapters for homework. We’ve been reviewing basic math, assigning personal reflections each night to get the kids thinking, and participating in quite intense physical exercises with them each afternoon. The majority of our students come to us with an extremely weak academic base and need to be taught (or re-taught) the basic of subtraction, multiplication, etc, along with basic grammatical norms and reading support. This can be a tedious process as many of our students have learning disabilities/delays, but this week — praise God! — it was fun and effective. All but two of our students attended every single day, which in and of itself is a great triumph because discouragement and lack of attendance tend to be rampant in the educational system in Honduras.

The first week of intensive prep involved roughly 20 students (those who are new to our program along with those who need additional support), and next week roughly 20 more will be joining us as we enter our second and final week of academic, spiritual and physical ‘bootcamp’ before the official school year begins in early February.

And so we took that small group of students who truly fulfilled that first week of ‘bootcamp’ with excellence to a local park to participate in games of soccer and volleyball, enjoy the pool, and generally play. We are very excited to be able to do this type of positive reinforcement (we call them ‘good consequences’) from the get-go to establish healthy limits and a good foundation of choices/consequences with our students as we enter into this year of intimate commitment with them.

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Miss Ligia, one of our beloved local teachers (who by trained profession is a lawyer) who has signed on for another full year shepherding wily, precious youth for God’s glory. She squeezed in that little truckbed with 13 youth on the journey to the park!

 

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A photo our 9-year-old son Jason took from the inside of the truckbed as more and more youth piled on! Everybody make room!

 

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Darwin explaining behavioral expectations and guidelines as we arrived at the park. Although this is a weekly trip we make as a family, the majority of our students had never had the privilege to enter, so it was a new experience for most. We hit a ‘home run’ by treating each kid to a soda and ice cream, which was also a very special treat that the majority of the local youth in our neighborhood very rarely if ever experience!

 

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Stanley, left, with whom we have a long and treasured history and Eduardo, right, a new student who just entered our high school program this past week

 

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Miss Isis, one of our very dedicated local teachers who has been with us since August 2015, leading Michelle to the pool. Michelle is 10 years old although she physically appears to be about 5 or 6 due to extreme poverty/malnutrition. She has been in school with us several times over the last two years but has had very little constancy in her education because her family moves frequently. She is currently in first grade learning the basics of reading and writing with our daughter Gabriela.

 

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Charlie (back left), one of our other students who did not pass seventh grade last year and was hesitant about re-entering, enjoyed a phenomenal first week at the Ranch alongside of his cousin, Nixon (front right), who just entered our program this year.

 

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Our 12-year-old daughter Gleny, who does not officially enter her classes with us until this upcoming Tuesday, helped out tremendously during the first week of intensive prep as she spent several hours tutoring a new student in reading and math. We are so proud of her!

 

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Our 15-year-old son Brayan, who had a 99% average in his first week of classes/intensive training, enjoying a soccer game alongside of his new classmate Eduardo. Brayan has never been a good student (he repeated fifth grade with us several times), but a change has occurred in him and he has begun taking great initiative with his homework, assuming positive male leadership among his peers (something that is also new), and showing a newfound gratitude and enthusiasm in all that he does. Praise God for this transformation!

 

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Darwin, who is naturally a very gifted swimmer, got in the soccer mix as he, Dayana and Brayan (our two oldest kids) teamed up in an intense math of 3-on-3 against three of our local students. In this photo he and Stanley are going full force for the ball! (Not bad, Darwin, considering the kids are 20 years younger than him!)

 

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Please pray with us for our students (and for our team of teachers, counselors and mentors) as we are beginning a new school year with more youth than we have ever had in our program before. Please pray also for my health, as my insomnia remains a daily constant, and I physically am weak and prone to acquiring viruses/infections, as I have one right now (high fever and throat infection that has lasted much longer than it should). The insomnia greatly affects my mood, daily energy levels, and my relationship with everyone around me. Pray that this burden may be taken from me so that I may be even more effective in this great work the Lord has put before us.

Amen! Glory to God!