Category Archives: Community Life

Justice in a Lawless Land

This morning at 5:53am as I went rolling down the highway with Jason and Gleny in the backseat on our way to drop them off at school, I whispered a prayer as I looked out over the misty pineapple fields that spawned out to our right under the gaze of the mountain range beyond: Lord, I know Your Word says to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and even though that doesn’t always make sense to me and right now in my flesh I don’t want to do that, I will trust You and obey, so I pray now for them. Although I don’t know exactly what to pray or what should happen, You do, so I pray that You would see them and be with them. Amen.

Yesterday was my 25th birthday, and while we had planned to spend the entire day celebrating with our faith community about an hour away from our home, my husband Darwin ended up spending just about the entire day in La Ceiba’s police station. That morning we had received a series of phone calls while in our discipleship group informing us that several local youth had broken into our home that morning while it was left unattended, and that numerous key members of our little town had collaborated to respond to the incident.

This was the second robbery in a span of two weeks, and the ump-teenth robbery in two years. But rather than it being a mysterious disappearance of our chickens in the night or finding our fence with a cut-out hole the next morning or wondering who broke the pad-lock off the storage unit to steal the electric generator or where the big sack of rice had gone, this time we caught the thieves in action. After experiencing a clone of the same robbery two Sundays ago, we hired a dear friend of ours to hide out at our home (think some strange breed of guerrilla-warfare) this Sunday while we would be gone, making himself invisible to see who the thieves are. He did just that, and, sure enough, the thieves came, called out to see if anyone was home, and, when no one answered, they hopped the fence and broke into the kitchen, starting to fill several big sacks full of food while two companions kept the look-out on the other side of the fence.

It was then that our friend called the police, who, of course, tragically delayed in their response and arrived on the scene way after-the-fact only after the vice-mayor of the town was called and got involved. But, thankfully, our watchman friend immediately called another neighbor of ours who showed up via the back of our property with his own weapons and, to not go into all the details, trapped the thieves red-handed with the help of two adult men.

Two of the teenage boys who were trapped and sent to the police station (a rare event here – most people are afraid to report robberies because the police fail to take action and then the thieves harm or kill those who reported them) are members of Darwin’s choir and work closely with us in agriculture each week, and the other two are not known personally. After investigation, they all confessed that the other two members of their ‘gang’ who broke in two Sundays ago are Brayan and Little Darwin. Yes, Brayan whom we have loved as a son and Little Darwin who has participated in homeschool, music and agriculture.

So yesterday as I sat on the cool concrete floor in our mentors’ home during discipleship group surrounded by our seven children and numerous brothers and sisters in the faith, Darwin doing the police processing in La Ceiba, I struggled mightily with rage in my heart toward those who only want to kill, steal and destroy, those who can’t just leave us alone to etch out the little living that God has called us to. We have enough problems with our seven kids’ behavior and generational struggles, demanding work from sun-up to sun-down, doing the difficult task of shepherding those who don’t always want to be shepherded, and having to put up with power and water outages all the time without having to deal with all this additional chaos that only distracts, stresses and exhausts.

God’s Word is never far from my thoughts, and as though forming a protective cloud or shield around my anger, God placed His commandment to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us on all sides of my violent mental wanderings. As my thoughts shot off in one direction or another and as I fantasized about how I wished I would have caught them and taken a baseball bat to them or worse, my thoughts could never go too far because, like a ping-pong ball trapped within walls, I always hit up against God’s perfect Word and could go no further. But bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, my anger boiled and ping-ponged around inside of me, always finding God’s command and turning back.

So my question is not Is God just? or Where is God in the midst of so much suffering and chaos? or Why is this happening to us? But rather, trusting all the answers that we already have available to us in Scripture, my prayer – sometimes through tears and sometimes through rage or disappointment, stress or total exhaustion – is for perseverance.

It is not enough to believe God is just in a moment of serene prayer or upon reading a passage from Scripture or after having been encouraged by a dear friend. We must believe He is just every hour of every day until we take our last breath – during seasons of peace and seasons of war, in the midst of betrayals, after great loss and when we find ourselves beaten down by the evil of this world (both within us and without).

It is not enough to read Jesus’ words that call us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and think among roses that we have none – we must live those words when the times comes when we do, in fact, find evil breathing down our necks.

It is not enough to say that God is good when we have a stable job and a roof over our head and our family members are alive and we’ve eaten today. To believe that God is good is to say it through tears, in despair and confusion, without all the answers and in times of trial in addition to in times of happiness and ease – to know that He is good not because our lives are currently good or the weather is favorable or we got what we wanted but because He never changes and deserves our praise.

So we pray for our dear friend who played ‘watchman’ yesterday, for his protection after he took a rather daring step that almost no one here takes. Last night as our kids lie asleep and Darwin and I sat on a small rug in our bathroom, discussing the events of the day, he told me that our friend asked for Darwin and I to take care of his wife and kids should those same confused thieves or their friends decide to take his life for reporting them. The young robbers are loose once again after the police gave them a slap on the wrist, and we wait for their next strike in this twisted game of cat and mouse, light and darkness.

Oh, and I just received an alarming phone call from our 8-year-old son Jason’s teacher saying that his behavior today has been atrocious, that he is refusing to do his work and is telling his classmates he is going to kill them and cut off their heads. So in the here and now, I can’t really place where it is that light is streaming in on this battlefield of eternal proportions, this fight for justice in a lawless land.

But I can tell you one thing – that whether by the results we can see it seems futile to work for the Good because the forces of darkness win battle after battle in the here and now, the flickering light of Christ waits patiently: God is good, and He is just, and He calls us to persevere until the end, because His perfect, liberating justice will be served in this lawless land.

Life and Ministry Updates: July 2015

Seasons Change for Missionary Jenae Matikke

Jenae Matikke, our dear sister who has been laboring alongside of us for almost two years, told us recently that after a period of discernment she feels that her time at the Living Waters Ranch has come to a close and will thus be moving to the nearby city of La Ceiba to work alongside of the pastors of her church in various forms of youth outreach. Her last day with us will be August 1, and we will miss her greatly but are grateful for the many ways the Lord taught and encouraged us through her during the time she has lived with us.

JulyUpdate5

Defining Limits and Sharpening Vision

In these past few weeks we have made a few tough decisions as we sensed it was necessary to set more appropriate limits on the children and youth from our neighborhood who visit our home/mission periodically throughout the week. With our open-gate policy, we sensed our hospitality was being taken advantage of as many youth who voluntarily left our homeschool or music programs would still come back at mealtimes to eat, bully others and make a general ruckus. It is a fine line between receiving everyone with open arms and being realistic about how much food we can serve, how well we can invest in each person’s life who comes to us, and whether or not we are simply enabling poor behavior and choices. After a period of prayer and discernment (and after a rather large food robbery from our kitchen), we recently posted a sign on our Education Building’s front door announcing that from now on we will only provide breakfast and lunch to those who are in homeschool and agriculture, and will no longer be receiving guests on Fridays, the day that Darwin and I are away from the property teaching in La Ceiba and therefore only Miss Martha and Jenae (who will soon be leaving) are there to receive, counsel, and love the guests. Our goal is to honor Christ by giving hospitality with excellence, and we hope these decisions will help us to achieve that goal.

JulyUpdate10

Continued Weekly Discipleship

As a family (Darwin and I with our seven kids) we continue to go to our mentors’ home about an hour’s drive away each Sunday to spend the day in a discipleship group, prayer, and fellowship. We are also developing a new routine as a family of going to the local park one afternoon each week and dedicating the first part of our time there to reading the Word before playing, swimming, or collecting fruit fallen from the trees. Four of our seven kids have professed faith in Christ, and we are working closely with them to form a strong foundation of biblical knowledge and Godly virtues as we seek with them God’s will for their lives.

JulyUpdate4

Progress Report: Miss Martha, Our Nurse and Cook

Miss Martha, a local Christian woman in her 50s who began working with us full-time last month, has been and continues to be a tremendous blessing. She manages the kitchen and several basic care-giving duties from 6:30am-3:00pm Monday-Friday, the same hours that we receive youth from our neighborhood for agriculture, music, homeschool, and other activities. She and her family have been very supportive as her husband and adult children have come to visit us and meet our kids, have invited us several times to their home, have prayed and fasted on our behalf, and came to the kids’ music concert last month to encourage Darwin and the kids.

 

Gleny and Jason: Blossoming in Their Christian School

Gleny (age 10, 4th grade) and Jason (age 8, 2nd grade) have now been in their Christian school for five months and are thriving in their new environment. Having them in that school was the original reason we bought our car in December 2014, as we spend over an hour round-trip to school every morning at 5:45am and then again to pick them back up at 2:00pm. Recently, I asked Jason what his favorite thing was about his school. His response: “Everything.” His least favorite thing? “Nothing.”

JulyUpdate

Homeschool: Juggling Nine Students on Six Different Academic Levels

We currently have 5 of our own kids in homeschool (all but Jason and Gleny) plus a sibling group of 4 from our rural neighborhood. It is a demanding job as we juggle 9 students ages 6-15 who are each on very distinct behavioral, academic, spiritual and developmental levels! We see much fruit from this assignment, and we are excited to continue offering these classes from 7:00am-12:00pm three days a week to those who for various reasons do not fit in the normal school environment.

JulyUpdate8

Dayana, the Eldest, Excelling in the Arts

Our eldest daughter, Dayana (14 years old) shares a passion for music with Darwin. She has been taking piano, voice, and recorder lessons for a year and a half, and last month began taking twice-weekly violin lessons at a music school in the nearby city of La Ceiba. During the academic school year she also serves as Darwin’s teaching assistant one day per week in a local high school where he gives beginner music classes, and she has taken a leadership role among the 20+ choir members who come to our home 2-3 times per week. She is also currently enrolled in a local art school two afternoons per week, and last month she was actually invited to show her paintings at a local art exposition in La Ceiba and give an interview on television!

JulyUpdate9

Josue’s Progress in His Special Needs School

Josue, our 7-year-old son who arrived in January of this year with his older sister, has been going twice weekly to his special needs school since early June. The issue of transportation is extremely difficult as we live far removed in the countryside and his school is about 35-40 minutes away, and we are not available to drive him ourselves due to the other commitments we have in our schedules. We currently have a private taxi come out to our property every Tuesday and Thursday to take him to and from his school, but it is costing $50 a week just for this transportation, not including the fees we pay for him to attend the school. Please pray for us as we continue to discern what Josue needs in regards to education and what the most efficient way of providing that would be.

 

A Growing Living-Room Library

One thing almost all of our kids struggle with is reading (as in, they can’t read very well and by their own initiative aren’t too concerned about improving). By Honduran culture, most people are not big readers, the selection of books available for rent or purchase is woefully small, and a good portion of the adult population does not even know how to read or write. One thing that we are really excited about is our growing “living-room library” (that’s not what we call it – I just gave it that name right now because I like the way it sounds). While attending a conference in May in another city in Honduras, Darwin and I happened upon a wonderful Christian bookstore with a fantastic collection of books in Spanish, so we loaded up a big box and brought them home as resources and teaching tools both for us and our kids. On the bookshelf in our living room we now have dozens of books by Christian authors that offer friendship advice, discipleship guidance, biographies, wholesome fiction, etc. The other day I walked into our living room and heard our three oldest girls (Dayana, Jackeline and Gleny) in Dayana’s room taking turns reading out loud from a book geared toward young women who have suffered sexual abuse. Wow!

JulyUpdate3

Building Strong Foundations: A Season of Rapid Change Gives Way to a Season of Rest

Darwin and I sense that the Lord is leading us as a family and mission into a season of rest in the sense that many, many changes have occurred over the last 2-3 years, and right now is a time of settling in, of laying a strong foundation with the children/youth under our care (both in our home and in homeschool, music, etc) before advancing forward with any new projects, initiatives, etc. Everything seems to be tilted up on one end as this calendar year we went from having 3 kids under our full-time care (Dayana, Gleny and Jason, biological siblings) to receiving a sibling group of 2 in January and then another sibling group of 2 this month along with my trip to the States, the pending change of Jenae moving out, many new faces in homeschool and music classes, and the arrival of Miss Martha. Please pray that the Lord may grant us continued wisdom and discernment as we seek His will for our own lives and the many who have been placed under our care/guidance.

JulyUpdate7

Second Milking Cow Gives Birth

After having acquired two young adult milking cows over a year ago, both of them have now given birth to healthy calves, one male and one female. Darwin milks them each morning at 4:30am, and between the two cows there is enough milk for drinking, cooking and making cheese!

JulyUpdate12

My Health

Overall, my health is okay at this point, although last night I was up with a fever, sharp stomach pains and a migraine that have continued this morning. At 6:30am I went to get blood drawn and will have the results early this afternoon. We think it might be Dengue Fever or another virus that is going around right now. Please pray that God is glorified whether I am at full strength or not!

“Hola Ma.”

During the few weeks that I was away from home last month visiting the United States, every day as Darwin and I would talk on the phone my thoughts would scream around the one question that I knew I shouldn’t ask, but, even so, I verbalized it on several occasions: “How is Brayan? Have you seen him?”

Brayan, who just turned 15 years old yesterday, is the young man who came into our life and home a year and a half ago as a rejected teen recently orphaned by his father and long abandoned by his mother.

In a dizzying swirl of events we met him as he lazily attended the neighboring cow-herd grazing on our property, heard his story and his step-mom’s plea for him to move in with us, and, determinedly, I sat cross-legged on our double-sized bed night after night passionately convincing my husband that God wanted us to take him in as a son, which would add to the sibling group of three that we at that point had had living with us not even four months.

Darwin protested initially, firm in his conviction that taking on another 13-year-old would push me over the limit with my already very poor health and night after night of laying wide awake coupled with long, exhausting days. I knew he was right, but I fought with a deep conviction that the Lord wanted us to take him in even if none of the ‘normal’ signs seemed to make any sense.

So, after praying together for a few more days, Darwin felt peace and Brayan moved in.

He did not know the alphabet; he did not know how to tell the truth, and he did not know how to look you in the eye when you spoke to him. He did not know what it was to be accepted after having been abandoned by his mother when he was two months old, thus commencing what he recounts as a tragically unbalanced life of bouncing around with his father from one step-mom to another, one of his dad’s lovers after another, until finally his dad — drunk and doing some tight-rope-walking circus routine — fell from a great height and died.

So Brayan moved in, and against all logic we became family to him, loving him into God’ eternal one. He learned to look us in the eye, even when he was mad. He even learned to forgive his parents, visiting his mother’s home with Darwin about an hour-and-a-half’s walk away, and we prayed with him over his dad’s cemetery site in our local town, supporting Brayan through tears as he constructed a little cross out of twigs to place on the mound of dirt covering his dad’s underground casket. I read him and our seven-year-old son Jason bedtime stories. I will never forget a certain evening as the three of us sat on the tile floor in their bedroom as I read a great Lion King picture book. Brayan’s face was alit with wonder as if he were a little boy.

And I learned to love that young man more than I ever thought possible. Every morning, seemingly before anyone else even saw me or had been greeted, I would hear his voice come from somewhere: “Hola Ma” (meaning “Hi Mom.”) Many times he would just walk by my open bedroom door in the late afternoon or as I was cleaning my bathroom and say my name just to make sure I was there.

And then the unthinkable happened. After having lived with us as our son for about eight months, a series of events occurred such that he was choosing to move out, returning to live with his three step-brothers and his poor, incredibly hard-working but maternally burnt-out step-mom, the last of his deceased father’s lovers who lives about a ten-minute walk from our home. All the teeth-grinding progress that we earnestly believed had been etched out in his soul over the previous eight months was seemingly being voluntarily erased, given up on.

So he left, and we embarked on our new relationship with Brayan-our-neighbor-who-we-still-call-a-son-and-who-still-calls-us-his-parents.

And shortly after, he returned to our homeschool program, so he became Brayan-our-son-and-student-who-we-see-everyday-but-who-does-not-live-in-our-home.

Many blurry lines, but it seemed to work. He was still growing and thriving, was still eating almost every meal in our home with us, taking his daily vitamins alongside of our now-five kids who live in our home, enjoying rich companionship — brotherhood — with all of us, and he even accompanied us on our family vacation trip to the zoo and to our faith community over an hour’s drive away every Sunday.

Until, less than two months ago, he broke his student’s contract (a formal written agreement typed up and signed between each of our homeschool participants and ourselves with explicit expectations, etc) and Darwin and I were forced to sit across our wooden dining table with him and inform him of what he should have already known: he had been expelled from school, which also implied losing access to breakfast in our home each morning, daily companionship with the other students, and a host of other benefits.

As we talked with him over an hour that morning, he sat across the table from us, looking us in the eyes without breaking his stare, and I almost wanted him to storm out and leave or accuse us unjustly. Something other than this show of utter respect that he had somehow learned by God’s grace under our care — oh, how beautifully he puts it into practice on some occasions, but not on others!

Searching his eyes, his soul, from across the table, I said, hoping that somehow God would reveal to me in that moment the answer: “Brayan, I honestly don’t know what’s left for us…If things had gone the way your Pa and I had wanted, you would still be living with us as our son. But you chose against that, so then we accepted you as a student. Now you have chosen against that, so…I don’t know what is left for us…”

So we discussed God’s abundant blessing of free will and our ability as humans to use that dangerous freedom to honor God and enjoy His blessing or turn our backs on Him and suffer the consequences — all the things we’ve said to Brayan so many times before.

A few days after the incident, having seen Brayan a couple times and encouraging him to look in our local town for honest work or an education, I was flipping through the book of Proverbs as I had sat down with four of our other kids for the exciting bi-weekly event in our household: payday for chores. Each kid has three envelopes (think Dave Ramsey’s method if you are familiar with it): a “Give” envelope, a “Save” envelope and a “Spend” one. Coupled with the divvying out of small bills for a job well done comes financial education, so as I searched for Proverbs that instruct on the wise use and handling of money, avoidance of debts, etc, my eyes actually fell upon and seemed glued to Proverbs 23:9:

Don’t waste your breath on fools, for they will despise the wisest advice.

It might as well have been written: Jennifer, stop wasting your breath on Brayan, because he has and is despising even your wise, well-intentioned advice.

Accompanying that, of course, was a deep sense of knowing that Brayan is not ours and never was. Whatever has or will happen in Brayan’s life is permitted by God for some reason, and in the end it will be to God’s glory. And I can rest in that, in Him.

So I released Brayan from my heart, bowing before the cross and entrusting Brayan to Him, for He cares for us. I do, after all, have that  written on our bedroom wall (“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7) to remind me daily that beyond an unstable government, neighbors who steal from us and our own wayward hearts guiding children imbued with equal rebellion, there is a conquering, good King who holds the entire universe in His hands.

Even with this newfound freedom in entrusting all that is Brayan’s suffering, confusion and poor choices to the Lord’s care, he constantly knocked on my thoughts as I visited many different churches, groups and homes in the United States. And as Darwin patiently answered my questions about our prodigal son over the telephone, I was not encouraged: Brayan had been beaten up near one of the popular swimming holes in our neighborhood, later had been kicked out of his step-mom’s house for good reason, had not been coming around our home for several weeks, was heard to have been working with a few local men ‘chopping’ fields with a machete (a job I had personally witnessed Brayan do on several occasions and knew was not his forte.)

So last week during my first couple days back home, as I cut several neighbor boys’ hair with my electric clippers on our front porch, I suddenly heard from a distance that same voice that I would recognize anywhere as it travelled briskly up the long path to our front gate: “Hola Ma.”

My whole being smiled as I quickly debated within myself how to greet him, or rather how he would greet me before decidedly setting down the clippers and walking out to greet him as he entered freely through our gate that lets in so many. His ear-to-ear smile matched mine and he fit perfectly under my chin as we embraced, him then giving me his customary peck-on-the-cheek. I looked at his long, light-brown waves and said, “You need a haircut, young man.” If possible, his smile grew even more and he took his place in line after a few other teen boys who have not violated the codes of conduct in our home as often or as severely as Brayan, but who also, for some unknown reason, have not wiggled their way into my heart nearly as deeply as he has.

So as I cut his hair we talked, and he mentioned how much he wanted to go watch the concert that Darwin and the youth were going to put on that night after he himself had recently dropped out after having been our only faithful tenor for over a year. I asked how much money he had to pay for the ticket, and he said 60 Lempiras (the equivalent of three dollars). I said that if he really wanted to go, that we would pay the remaining two dollars for his ticket, and it seemed joyfully settled. He also asked if he could come with us to our faith community’s discipleship group on Sunday, and I sensed permission from God in my heart and said, “yes.”

When the time rolled around to go to the concert that night and then the discipleship group two days following, he did not show up either time.

So I am learning all over again to entrust him to the Lord and to trust beyond a shadow of a doubt that our focus should be on obedience to our great Father — expressed in faithful love — rather than any interest in visible results.

Please pray with us for Brayan and that the Lord may reveal to us what role — if any — we are to play in his life during this season.

To read a couple other posts about our journey with Brayan, you can go click on: Our Favorite Neighbor and It All Started with a Cup of Water.

God of the Impossible [With 8 Videos of Darwin’s Choir]

Last Friday 9 kids, 7 teenagers, 4 adults and several backpacks and suitcases piled into our cab-and-a-half 2001 Toyota pickup to drive the Living Waters Ranch’s young singers from our rural town of El Pino about 20 miles to the city of La Ceiba for a musical performance at a local concert.

The drive, of course, took closer to an hour one-way as our truck moaned and wobbled up long, rocky, trash-littered side roads as we made house-stops to pick up each of our neighbors from their home, most living in shanties accompanied by more than a few family members, emaciated dogs, extremely free-roam chickens and welll-experienced clothes hung on the line or on barbed-wire fences.

The children and youth that you will see in the video links below in bow-ties and spotless white shirts typically spend their days in dirty, ragged clothes wandering aimlessly around those same long, rocky, trash-littered side roads, working occasionally with a machete or struggling to learn how to read for the first time at age 14.

We came to know each one of them because at some point amid their long, directionless days they wandered up to our front gate at the end of our long, rocky, trash-littered road.

One by one they’ve come over the last year or so, and to be impiously honest, I had hoped that they wouldn’t come, that one more undisciplined youth wouldn’t come up to our front gate under the guise of looking for something.

Because I knew that what they really needed wasn’t a cup of water or a hot lunch or a pay-by-the-day job ‘chopping’ our yard with a machete or an afternoon of rough-housing with our kids. They needed guidance, the kind of day-after-day, show-up-at-all-the-most-inconvenient-times, cling-onto-you-because-few-others-pay-any-attention kind of guidance, the kind of shepherding into Christ’s fold in which one minute the sheep want to belong to the flock and the next they have split from the herd to play tag with the roving wolves.

I was busy — am busy — learning how to parent a teenager, a special needs child and three others thrown in the mix, trying to figure out how to wash the dishes with buckets of water because the running water went out once more, trying against all logic to keep a perpetually dirty house clean, juggling teaching and coaching in the local Episcopal School with life at home, making more than my share of mistakes as I learn how to direct a small Honduran foundation, and struggling night after night through bitter insomnia and various sicknesses.

But nonetheless they came, some lethargically accompanying our neighbor’s cowherd as they sauntered across our property, others simply standing eagerly outside of our gate waiting to see if someone would come greet them.

And so, this past Friday evening after the concert as our young singers let loose and ran about wildly around the playground of the facility where the concert had been held and I click-clacked out in my long dress and nice sandals to round ’em all up and head home, God’s will hit me hard, like an unexpected blow to the solar plexus: as they all came bounding toward me, ranging in age between 7-16, I knew for the first time beyond any hint of a doubt that these rogue neighbors of ours are just as much ours as the five who live under our roof. Not ‘ours’ in any sense of ownership, but in the sense that we are responsible to God for shepherding them. As much as I have resisted, as much as I have complained during the grueling process of learning how to love and respect one another, as much as limits have been set and broken and re-adjusted, as much as they’ve yelled too loud and hit the soccer ball up under the roof overhang too many times, as often as they’ve showed up way too early in the morning, as often as I’ve selfishly put my own well-being before theirs, and whether my flesh likes it or not, this gaggle of lost hooligans has been entrusted under our care just as much as those whom I tuck into bed each night.

So on the ride home, as little 7-year-old Paola sat in my lap and Darwin drove slowly through the night, our car’s joints creaking and complaining under the weight of so many passengers, my heart rejoiced. My heart rejoiced in the Lord because I finally get it.

As we passed slowly, windows rolled down, through the main drag in our neighborhood — which can be likened to a steaming pot of sin, violence and despair — the song drifting powerfully from our car’s stereo proclaimed over and again the God of the impossible, and I couldn’t agree more. As we passed by the newly-constructed open-air bar that now occupies what used to be the local boys’ dirt soccer field, loud music about who-knows-what invaded our open windows and effortlessly drowned out the voice that proclaimed the God of the impossible.

That is just like the world, isn’t it? With all the noise in our hearts, our heads, in the media, the race for bigger and more, our overriding need for ‘security’, the desire for human omnipotence, we think we are drowning out the God of the impossible, as if we must only make enough clatter in order to have somehow overpowered Him, swapped our place from created to Creator.

And I smiled, little light-as-a-feather Paola in my lap, the humid night air seeping into our pores, as I became filled with glee, convinced I shared a secret with the Almighty that few others seem to know.

Because the truth is actually just the opposite.

The God of the impossible cannot, will not, be drowned out by human babblings. He existed before and will exist after human reason — He created the earth upon which that bar shanty was constructed, and His winds, rain and justice will someday bring it down. He brings lost boys and girls home, enables rotten mouths to proclaim songs of praise, brings together His scattered people from all tribes, tongues and nations into one united family. He sets the orphans in families and turns neglected boys raised by tired mothers and absent fathers into faithful husbands and loving fathers. The God of the impossible does not grow weary even when we do; He performed the impossible task of granting something as dangerous as free will to a being as disobedient as the human, and then re-defined ‘impossible’ by sacrificing His own son to bring the prodigals home.

So last Friday as we retraced those long, rocky, trash-littered side roads to drop our young singers off to unknown home lives, I entrusted my heart to the God of the impossible and participated in the dangerous task of looking upon each of their moonlit faces as they jumped out of the truckbed and came to my rolled-down window to say “goodnight” with the same love in which I look upon each of our own children.

 

[Below you will find the links to watch a few videos taken during the concert.]

To watch our eldest daughter, 14-year-old Dayana, playing piano, click HERE.

To watch Darwin’s youth choir sing “Cuando haya tristeza” and “Venid a Jesus,” click HERE.

To watch Darwin’s youth choir sing “Cristo ya resucitó”, click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Spirit of Truth”, click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Vois Sur Ton Chemin” in French, click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Estoy bien” (the hymn “It is Well”), click HERE.

To watch the choir sing “Maria Mater Gratie” in Latin, click HERE.

To watch our daughter Dayana sing a solo in Italian, click HERE.

 

Vast, Unmeasured, Boundless, Free

The day after I arrived home last week I sought out a quiet place to absorb, to process, give thanks. Our five kids plus about 10 of our faithfully enthusiastic neighbors had asked permission to go to our property’s mango tree to see if there was any ripe fruit, so as the kids bounded out our front gate like a tribe of wild indians, I breathed deep, watching them go, and treasured in my heart each of their steps so marked by freedom and joy, standing in such stark contrast to the general oppression and depravity in our neighborhood and world.

There is a hymn that says that Jesus’ love is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. I felt as though in that moment I could actually see just how boundless and free that love is as I watched the kids leap across our large property.

As I stood on our front porch watching them go, having already given more than a half-dozen haircuts to shaggy boys, flinging little people around in the hammock, and wiggling my way into wayward teens’ hearts, I could only think to go be alone to treasure all that I had seen before it somehow flitted away from my memory.

So I walked into our Education House’s schoolroom and sat atop a small cement half-wall that divides the rectangular room in two, trying to hide myself in the folds of Christ’s love while contemplating all that He is. As my eyes travelled to a newly pinned-up poster that our sister Jenae had taped on the wall above the whiteboard, I read it, lost in a rare sense of wonder, and could only let out a small breath, staring around the empty schoolroom and saying, “I can see you here. Lord, I can see you here.”

The quote, written in large, block letters on purple construction paper and sprinkled here and there with glitter, read: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)

My thoughts shifted and settled as I remembered one of many things that had happened that morning. A very precious neighbor of ours, a 13-year-old boy who comes from a poor agriculturalist family with about 10 or so siblings and who himself is the size of about an 8-year-old due to malnutrition, mentioned to me while I was clipping his hair that his dad had been offered a “chopping job” (mowing a large piece of terrain with noting more than a machete) for 1,000 Lempiras (which is the equivalent of about $50), he had completed the job after many days of labor (and as the only breadwinner in his family), and then the man who had hired him decided not to pay him.

These kinds of stories are not uncommon for our ears and hearts, although for me it was after having come from visiting a country that  can afford better care for its dogs than Honduras can for some of its children. I looked at him, my eyes asking the question that we both already knew the answer to, and he said matter-of-factly, “Yeah, we don’t have any food. We didn’t eat last night and haven’t eaten yet today.”

I then took my turn saying what we both already knew because it is now a rhythm of sharing and love that the Lord has etched among us, a deep rut within the selfishness of our souls where His vast, unmeasured love can flow freely: “You know breakfast will be ready shortly.”

“…And my mom asked if you would –”

“Yes. We’ll send home some food. Don’t worry.”

His undersized 10-year-old brother just received his haircut and two of his sisters are running around our home somewhere.

So last week as my husband and I walked up the long, rocky road to our home together for the first time in over three weeks, everything seemed a less brilliant shade of green, the rocks somehow seemed bigger, and I was hit with a sobering sensation of re-entering a very real battlefield in a hidden little corner of the world where life and death literally hang in the balance.

Sweat poured down my temples and I had to watch my steps so as not to land in a cow patty along the winding path, excitement pulsing through my veins to be seeing the kids for the first time in weeks, although also fully aware that long, demanding days and possibly sleepless nights laid ahead on this journey that has only just begun.

So that first night back home I bathed under cold water from our shower head that drips rather than sprays and laid down in our double-bed, dripping in sweat even though I had just come from the shower, and I remembered that He who has called us is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free in His love for us, and that even if I cannot sleep at night I can rest in Him.

Soapy Buns on a Dirty Floor: a Holy Distraction

A couple days ago it was early afternoon and I had just finished teaching homeschool to the group of local youth who come to our home each day plus four of our own kids who are in the program. I had shooed everyone outside and shut the door, wanting to sweep, mop and disinfect every corner of the school building to leave it squeaky clean for the next day. The kids have a knack for scuffing up the walls, leaving papers and tidbits of trash thrown about, and, living in the countryside, everything gets dusty and insect-y and muddy in general quite quickly.

Armed with Raid, I was spraying for cockroaches beneath the piano where Darwin gives lessons, lost in a blissful moment of ‘alone time’ in the midst of our life here in which it seems like everyone needs me all the time. The youth played outside or swung on swings right outside the schoolroom window on the building’s front porch. It had been a wonderful morning, but at the same time I was emotionally exhausted after managing four distinct groups of students all in the same small room: three teenagers in fifth grade, two teenagers who just learned how to read sound-it-out style within the last few weeks, and a new batch of three students ages 7-12 who don’t even know the letters of the alphabet. Not to mention our six-year-old, Josue, who is his own group due to his special needs.

I then began pouring Clorox bleach and disinfectant everywhere, ready to cleanse the building entirely, when Dayana, our eldest daughter, called for me from the other side of the locked front door.

I hollered over my shoulder, “Nope. Sorry – I told everyone to take everything they needed for the schoolroom because I am cleaning. You’re going to have to wait!”

She persisted. “No, Ma. We need to talk to you.”

Oh. “Can it wait?” I silently scold myself for asking that. Obviously it’s something urgent or she wouldn’t have interrupted me. “No, it’s fine. Just a sec. Come on in.”

I slid across the slippery, soapy floor and opened the front door to see three young women looking a bit like sad puppies or lost sheep: Dayana, our 14-year-old daughter, Jackeline, our 11-year-old, and their new 12-year-old friend whom I wrote about previously who now comes to our home five days a week for homeschool, agriculture, music, love and Truth.

In these types of moments you just have to breathe deeply, re-adjust your inner gaze so that it is firmly fixed on your Father, and basically brace yourself for anything.

I ushered the three of them across the half-clean floor to sit on the couch in the building’s small living room. I sat on the floor in front of them, soaping up my buns a bit, but it didn’t matter. I looked at them expectantly and, as if knowing her role as leader among the young women who live in or pass through our home, Dayana began to talk.

“[Our new friend’s] dad tried to rape her a couple nights ago, and the next day when she told her mom, she confronted him and he left in a rage, saying he doesn’t care if she and the four kids starve to death. Now the mom is all alone with the four kids, and they don’t have anything to eat.”

The three girls looked at me with open, innocent faces, all three having known this type of suffering too well in their short years. They were waiting for me to say something.

I didn’t.

My mind raced but at the same time it was brought to a dull, peaceful crawl. This young teen’s dad, whom I have met on several occasions and who I detected as a good man and loving, albeit very poor and uneducated, father, tried to rape her and now is gone from the picture… Now the mom, who only last week broke a glass bottle over the father’s head and who has previously left her children for long periods of time to be involved in romantic affairs with different men, is the one left with the kids as the sole provider and care-taker… Mom is illiterate, plus she has a two-year-old, so she can’t work… No welfare program for down-and-out single mothers in Honduras… Will the mom try to give us the four kids so she, too, can be free of them? That would make ten –

Dayana interrupted my mental processing with a sincerity that warmed my heart, “Can we help? Can we send food home with them?”

If only it were that simple.

Everything slowed down as I reached out to touch the young woman’s knee and ask many specific, careful clarifying questions.

I then studied each one’s face, looking into their eyes, not sure what words to choose. I must have stayed in silence for several minutes, ravaging through available vocabulary to find the words that the Lord would have me use. The whole conversation had the strange lightness of a dream, as if at any moment we would wake up and our dear friend would skip off towards her home where her mom waited eagerly for her with freshly baked cookies, her dad playing catch with his two sons in their small, rocky front yard.

Many times in our life here I feel as though I am placed in situations in which I am called upon to put in 1,000 words what the Lord has been teaching me for years. Where to start? How to communicate eternal hope to this young woman in front of me? How can I accurately convey the transformative work the Lord has been doing in my own life over the last decade in an unexpected conversation with a young person who has no concept of a loving, just God?

Oh, I did say so much to my young friend that day as I sat before her on the sudsy tile floor, my hand on her knee, coaxing her time and again to look me in the eyes.

“I cannot tell you that everything will be okay. We can pray for you and support you and help as we are able – and we will – but I cannot tell you that everything will be okay with your family. Maybe it won’t be, and that’s why our hope is not in this world. I don’t even know what will happen in my own life tomorrow. We can send food home with you – and we will – but that won’t solve the immense struggles you and your family are experiencing. Our hope is in Christ alone, in a just, compassionate God who in the end will right all wrongs, will erase death and suffering. That’s our hope. Our hope is not in the here and now, because as all three of you know, this world is unstable, people abuse, people lie, suffering is rampant. I cannot tell you that everything will be okay, but I can tell you that God is faithful, and that in the midst of our suffering we can find Him, or He finds us. He can be followed and loved and glorified here and now, even in the midst of suffering and injustice, and His provision, joy and presence can be experienced. Do not blame God for your suffering. God never intentionally designed a place like our neighborhood, clasping his hands together giddily, content with the hungry children and abusive mothers and absentee fathers, trash on the streets and rampant confusion and sadness, declaring, “Perfect! This is where my image-bearers will live and thrive.” No. He created the perfect environment for us, a wonderful garden with more than enough to eat, everything clean and beautiful, His own presence there richly among us, and presented us with a choice. So what you three have suffered is not God’s fault, but rather it’s the product of your parent’s sin, great-grandparents’, maybe neighbors’, and our own, yours and mine.”

Oh, there is so much more to say, to understand, to experience of God’s perfect love. On conversation did not end there, but rather it continues onward, day after day, as we carefully search out God’s will for us in the life of this young woman. A few weeks ago she arrived at our home for the first time dressed like a prostitute, high heels and a skin-tight, way-too-short, way-too-low-cut black dress. She wobbled about awkwardly, unable to even bend over or sit down properly, much less chase a ball or participate in a rowdy jumprope competition. We’ve talked with her lovingly about her body, the need to cover it and honor it because it belongs to God, and now she wears tennis shoes and feminine but loose-fitting t-shirts with not-skin-tight capris and pants. She has accepted Christ as her Savior and now runs and plays. Smiles.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or this afternoon, if in a few days or months her mom will appear at our gate with all or some of her four kids, wanting to leave them permanently with us. Please pray with us for her and her parents and siblings, that He may be glorified even in the midst of intense suffering, and that Darwin, Jenae, our kids and I may serve effectively as lights of Truth in the lives of the people the Lord brings to us.

Speech Therapy, Tyfoid Fever and Illiterate Youth, Oh My! (Nine Updates: May 2015)

For those of you who support us or are interested in knowing more of the nuts-and-bolts of our daily life, these updates will provide you with a deeper understanding of certain day-to-day activities we are currently involved in along with personal updates about Darwin and I and the kids under our full-time care. I have also included prayer requests for those of you who want to know how to pray for us in this season.

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Homeschool Program Open to Illiterate Youth from our Neighborhood

Six illiterate youth from our neighborhood (ages 7-14) are enrolled in the nationally-accredited program we use in our homeschool three days per week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7:00am-12:00pm) along with Brayan, the local 14-year-old who lived with us for eight months and continues to be like a son and two of our daughters (Dayana, 14, and Jackeline, 11). Please pray for Jenae, Darwin and I as we guide the nine children/teenagers and that above all else their knowledge of and obedience to Christ may strengthen through spending time under our care.

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Who wants to work on homework when you can dogpile on Dayana instead?
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Our 14-year-old son, Brayan, with two young women the Lord has placed in his life to love and serve as sisters. All three are currently in fifth grade in our homeschool program, and we are so proud of them!

A New Tactic With Groceries

Now that we are feeding between 10-15 kids breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, our grocery bills have shot up! Thanks to the advice of several people here, we have changed grocery stores (the small grocery store in our town has very high prices, and although it was more convenient to shop there because of geographical closeness, it was quickly becoming unreasonable to do so!), thus we now shop once a week at a warehouse-type grocery store about a 35-minute drive away in downtown La Ceiba where prices are considerably lower and we can buy in bulk. I am also in communication with a large grocery chain in La Ceiba about receiving the products they are unable to sell. Please pray that we would trust in God to provide, and let us rejoice that several of our malnourished neighbors who are in the homeschool program are able to eat with us in our home several times per week.

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Our six-year-old son Josue learning to draw!

Darwin’s Music Lessons and Youth Choir with Neighborhood Kids

Darwin has opened our home to give choir, piano, and recorder lessons to kids in our local community as a way of reaching out to them with God’s love. Every Monday afternoon from 2:00-7:30pm we have about a couple dozen kids and teenagers in our home playing and singing music, and we are developing holistic relationships with them and their families in order to plant seeds for God’s Kingdom. We are currently preparing for a community concert we’re going to hold in our home on May 17th.

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Four precious (and rowdy!) neighborhood boys who frecuent our home each week for music classes, meals, homeschool and other activities.

Young Agriculturalists

Every Monday morning from 7:00am-11:00am Darwin works in agriculture and maintenance with 10-15 youth who come to our property to work and learn. Teenage boys, all of whom are also in our homeschool program and/or music lessons, work together in the grassy field with their machetes while our eldest daughter leads the other young women in extensive cleaning projects in the Education House and garden maintenance. This weekly experience has been a blessing both for us and for those who come to work, because unemployment in our little rural town is rampant, and many of the children and youth wander around or sit about without anything to do.

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Prayer for Darwin and I

Please pray for my husband and I during this season, as we both feel exhausted and possibly stretched too thin. Every child and youth the Lord has placed in our path (the five under our full-time care, the 20+ that are involved in activities in our home plus our students in a local school where we teach/coach/guide every Friday) are a blessing and we know the Lord is utilizing us in their lives for His glory, but as of late we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, especially because more and more children and youth are arriving at our front gate wanting to be in our homeschool program or in music classes, in need of some form of help, etc. Please pray that the Lord may guide us and that we may learn to truly rest in Him at all times, whether we are in a busy schoolroom surrounded by a swarm of students who need us or if we are driving down the highway to take our kids to art class. Also, please pray with us regarding the future and direction of the Living Waters Ranch, as we are continually discerning God’s will for us, those under our care/guidance, and those who may arrive in the future.

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Afternoon educational fun in our dining room with homeschool students and a couple neighborhood boys!

 

My Health

After about seven weeks of battling Tyfoid Fever, my health has finally taken a turn for the better although I still get fatigued very quickly. I got so many shots in my butt cheeks that they turned speckled with bruises! Thank you to those of you who lifted me up in prayer during those difficult weeks, and pray that my body may be strengthened even now as I am recovering physical strength and endurance.

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Josue to Enter Speech Therapy

Josue, the six-year-old little boy who has been placed under our full-time care whom I wrote about in the previous blog entry, will enter an intensive speech therapy schedule for two months before hopefully entering his private special needs school’s pre-school class with other kids. Please pray for his integral recovery from the abuse he suffered when he was little and that Christ may be glorified in and through his life and the way that we love and care for him.

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Educational Progress Report: Jason and Gleny in Their New Christian School

Gleny (age 10, fourth grade) and Jason (age 7, second grade) have been in a small Christian elementary school since early February of this year, and although there have been certain academic and behavioral issues as they have had to become accustomed to a new and somewhat demanding daily routine (4:45am get-ups every morning, school uniforms and homework every afternoon!), they have finally settled in, are making new friends, etc. After the first grading period they passed all of their classes, and they seem genuinely happy in their new school environment. Please pray for our continued discernment regarding what they and the other kids under our full-time care need from us in regards to academic, emotional and spiritual support/guidance.

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Strengthening Forces: A New Laborer Comes Alongside of Us

Martha, a local Honduran woman in her 50s who is a strong Christian and has a gentle yet very active spirit, has come to labor alongside of us after a long, God-inspired series of events. She is a registered nurse and secretary (and excellent cook!), and starting in mid-June will begin coming to our home/mission Monday-Friday to help love on all the kids who come to our home along with take control of the kitchen/community dining room. We give thanks to God for bringing such a dynamic, loving woman into our lives to help fulfill the great purpose the Lord has set before us. Please pray for our developing relationship with her and that Darwin, Jenae, her and I may form a wonderful team.

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This Little Light of Mine…

A couple nights ago we celebrated Darwin´s 32nd birthday with our six kids and our dear sister Jenae in the dining room we all share. We all prepared posters, poems, Bible verses, cards and presents for one of God´s special servants who serves as husband, father, brother, friend and mentor in our lives. For the first time ever, the kids did a great job keeping a secret — Darwin was genuinely surprised with what we had all put together!

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My husband on the eve of his 32nd birthday! With each year God grants him more wisdom, strength and patience.
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Our sister Jenae Matikke, who has been serving alongside of us for almost two years and who brings laughter, Truth and warmth everywhere she goes
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Jason, our seven-year-old son who has found freedom in Christ from the many chains that used to bind him. He is our young gentleman in training!
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Josue, our six-year-old special needs son, our great teacher who instructs us all in patience and unconditional love
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My ¨Wild¨ Gleny, our 10-year-old daughter who — in my dad´s words — has the heart of a lion!
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Darwin´s wife who loves him dearly and to whom he daily shows much patience and grace!
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Jackeline, our 11-year-old daughter who recently accepted her place in God´s Kingdom as His daughter
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Brayan, our 14-year-old son of whom we are so proud! God is transforming him more and more each day into a man after God´s own heart!
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Dayana, our 14-year-old daughter who is very quickly becoming a young lady! She is our musician, our artist, our fellow traveller along Christ´s liberating Way.
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Darwin has gone from a single man to a married father of six in under two years!

What Jackeline, age 11, wrote in her birthday card to Darwin:

Hi Pa on this very special day I want to tell you ‘Happy birthday’ and tell you that you are the dad I never had. I love you, I love you a lot, Pa. You have given me the life of having a father. I never had a father and now I have someone to give gifts and letters to on Father’s Day. Now I have you, Dad. Darwin Joel Canales Avila, I love you a lot, Dad, and I will give you the time you need, and when you are sick I will cure you [she has aspirations of becoming a nurse]. You won’t have to pay Miss Zoila [our local nurse] and other nurses; only me, and my pay will be your smile. I love you with all my heart. You will always be in my heart, and if my biological mom comes to take me with her, you will still always be in my heart. You will always be the dad I never had. I love you, Pa Darwin. Happy birthday, Pa Darwin. You will always be in my heart!

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What Gleny, age 10, wrote in her birthday card to Darwin:

 For: my dad

Happy birthday Dad.

Thank you for disciplining me and guiding me on the right path. I love you a lot, dad. Thank you for having me well taken-care of here. May you feel loved even more.

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We finally have a photo of all nine of us! This is the Living Waters Ranch family!

A Rescue Shop Within a Yard of Hell

His fingernails are really long. Offer him your fingernail clippers.

I smiled politely as I gave him a plastic cup of water and a homemade piece of bread, turning to return to my six homeschool students (three of our own and three kids from the local community) who would be waiting for me in the other building.

Offer him your fingernail clippers.

As I walked across our grassy, pebbly lawn from Jenae’s porch to our Education House that also serves as a place to receive kids from the community, God’s voice hovered over my thoughts like a heavy whisper.

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I turned for the front door of the Education House, walking past the living room to our small one-room classroom where we give academic classes three days a week and where Darwin offers music and choir lessons to roughly 20 kids every week. I would get the whiteboard ready for the kids’ next assignment before they all came piling in after recess. I reached for one of the whiteboard markers, my mind trying to ignore God’s command, focusing instead on fractions and percentages, what I would be writing on the board.

The clippers. Go to him. Now.

Before my marker even made contact with the whiteboard, I abruptly set it down, my little red-faced inner-me shouting Ok! Fine, reluctantly choosing to die in favor of a higher command.

I then walked double-time from the Education House to our home next door – The kids need to be coming in from recess right now! This was definitely not on my schedule. I already unlocked the front gate during school hours and let him in, which I really didn’t want to do, and I even gave him a snack and a drink. Very kind of me, obedient even. Now this?

I rummaged around the chaos on top of my dresser through receipts, cough syrups and bobby pins until I found our one pair of fingernail clippers that we all share. I then briskly walked the couple hundred yards across our fenced-in property past the Education House then the community kitchen/dining room until I reached Jenae’s porch where Javier, a 15-year-old kid from the local community, sat in the wooden rocking chair exactly where I had left him only a few minutes prior.

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I thought in protest This is gonna be weird and extended my arm, smiling an awkward smile again, a sort of please-forgive-me-and-accept-the-compassion-of-Christ-that-I-am-now-allowing-to-move-through-me and said, “I noticed that your fingernails are really long. If you want to cut them, you can use my clippers.”

He looked surprised, as I knew he would. I, too, felt surprised by my action. Afterall, we had not exactly been on each other’s ‘good list’ after some sleepless nights and cranky days that led to harsh, abrupt actions on my part toward him. Plus he had asked our eldest daughter to be his girlfriend behind our backs, which didn’t do much for my desire to keep him out of our home. He had a knack for showing up at our gate at inconvenient times and, for me, in inconvenient ways.

Javier is a lost boy, a kid who only owns one outfit and who lives with his grandma because his parents did not fulfill their duties towards him. Left home or got kicked out because of an abusive step-dad, or something along those lines. He can’t read even though he was in fifth grade at some point. He is disrespectful and tried to touch my daughter under the water in the local swimming pool. The perfect candidate to fall into drug-trafficking or gangs.

This lost boy with long fingernails and dirty clothes gave his life to Christ recently at our home after our dear sister Jenae spent countless hours reaching out to him and loving him the way that Christ calls us to love the lost.

This story and a few others like it were beating across my mind like rain several days ago as we gathered with our faith community in our dining room, all of us sitting in an oblong circle/square. With majestic mountains shielding the backside of our property, visible from where we were sitting, I shared excitedly: “I am content because I know that God is doing something here, even in spite of us, in spite of me. He is truly transforming people – me included! – and He is allowing us to see a bigger vision that just our six kids: lost kids in the community who are finding Hope and Life here.” I repeat, laughing: “Even in spite of us, He is moving here. Even though sometimes Darwin, Jenae and I have miscommunications or disagreements or I am in a bad mood or haven’t slept well, God is doing a work here. I can see it.”

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There is a quote by C.T. Studd that says, “Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” By God’s grace and design, our home is becoming just that. Lost boys and girls – on the fringes of society, some forgotten by their own families, many who cannot read or write, who spend their days wandering around gravel roads, killing birds and throwing stones, are coming to our gate looking for something.

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Sometimes it ends up being a rowdy afternoon of full-out Cops and Robbers, fifteen or so kids and teenagers sprinting wildly around our property, and sometimes it is a group of a dozen kids sitting on our porch to hear testimonies of God’s grace in the world. Sometimes it is choir practice, and sometimes it is sharing our food with our malnourished neighbors who are way too small for their age. Sometimes we have adequate time and energy to plan how to receive them well, and on other days it seems like everything else has to be put on hold in order to be even peripherally present to the lives God has placed at our front gate. Sometimes there are triumphs, like when someone decides to give their life to Christ or a breakthrough is made, and sometimes the kids just lie and steal from us and make too much noise. Sometimes we feel compassionate, and sometimes we just are out of obedience to our compassionate Father.

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 But God is doing something here, even in spite of us. I can see it in our 14-year-old son Brayan’s transformation from an angry, scared boy orphaned by his father and abandoned by his mother to a gracious, helpful young man who has found love in the family of Christ. I can see it in the redemption God is orchestrating between Himself and many lost boys and girls who have come to know Him. I can see it in my husband, who daily is being formed more and more into a man after God’s own heart, a father to the fatherless. I can see it in Marina, a 14-year-old homeschool student who is learning how to read for the first time, who used to carry a spirit of invisibility, fading too easily into the background, who now knows her Savior and has light in her eyes, who now runs and plays. I can see it in myself, this selfish little girl who grew up in dysfunctional luxury, who for the first time is learning what it really means to allow the Good Shepherd to move through her in spite of herself.

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In this rescue shop within a yard of Hell, I feel as though perhaps I am rescued just as frequently if not more so than the lost boys and girls who wander up the long, isolated path to our front gate. My Father has stationed me at this post not only to catch those who might otherwise fall away, but to remind me daily of my own need of constant rescuing, that this Rescue Shop is not run by men with clever ideas but by the only One who can truly rescue, redeem, give life.

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That’s Why We Don’t Have Television.

Recently we had a very special visit from a dear friend of mine and her husband, Ben and Kailin Craft. Our friendship dates back to the playground in first grade, and although we have not been close since middle school, the Lord has brought us back together during this season to encourage one another along His Way.

At our home we don’t typically receive many visitors, but when we do it is always a blessing to see how everyone gets involved to prep the guest room, decorate big posters, put together flower arrangements, and pray for those on their way to visit us. Below are several photos that were taken during their stay…

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Me: “No! I don’t want to take family photos right now – we just came back from the river and we’re all sweaty and dirty! I need a shower, and Josue’s not wearing a shirt!”

Kailin: “But this is real life!”

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“Kailin, have you already given your life to Christ?” – Jackeline, age 11

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“So if Kailin and Ben are leaving tomorrow, I guess that means you weren’t able to convince them to stay.” – Gleny, age 10

Me: “Not yet, but we’ll keep praying.”

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“I’m not ready to get married – I mean, I don’t even know how to wash the clothes!” – Jackeline, age 11

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“Ben’s mom has a pet bird.”

The kids: “That’s so cruel. Birds should be free.”

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 Jackeline, age 11: “Why can’t you two just stay here forever?”

Kailin, “Well, we have a home and jobs to return to.”

Jackeline: “You have a home and jobs?!”

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 Kailin: “Jason, if you move the tadpole to a different part of the river, don’t you think he’ll miss his family?”

Jason, age 7: “No. At this age they can still move houses.”

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Jackeline, age 11, to Kailin and Ben, who were preparing dinner: “Can you also make a salad?”

Kailin and Ben: “Well, I think with the pasta we have enough food for everyone.”

Jackeline: “Yeah, but it has chemicals.”

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Ben: “Josue [the 6-year-old special needs boy] is the great teacher at the Living Waters Ranch.”

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Kailin: “Good thing the kids don’t know that Ben is a chemical engineer, or they would get really upset [because Darwin has trained the kids to be big on organic farming].”

Me: “They just think he’s a regular engineer.”

Ben: “There’s no such thing.”

Me: “For us there is.”

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The kids: “What did you and our mom do when you were little?”

Kailin, “Well, your mom was crazy…”

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Ben: “I think it’s pretty cool that these kids are astounded when they hear that they were created by God and that he intends for us to be His light in this world, because in America we’ve heard it so many times that we oftentimes forget or lose the true meaning.”

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 Darwin: “The marriage relationship between man and woman is exquisite and precious, and that is the relationship God desires with each one of us.”

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 Kailin: “Ok, kids! We’re going to play a new game: lay down, and whoever falls asleep first, wins!”

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[Looking out at the kids as they put on a broom-balancing, bow-and-arrow-shooting circus show in our front yard after lunch one day]: “That’s why we don’t have television.”

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(Juggling eggs)

Me: “Now we don’t have to buy cheese or milk because our cow gave birth and Darwin milks her every morning at 4:00am.”

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Me: “Ok, to start basketball practice you will do 53 laps up and down the stairs…”

The girls: “What?!

Me: “…Minus 48. Go!”

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Gleny, age 10, exasperated as she hops into our truck after school, “Ugh, Mom, the kids in my class make me so mad!”

Me: “Uh-oh. What happened?”

Gleny: “They all love money! They’re like ‘Oh, when I’m big I want to make a lot of money and buy all this nice stuff’ and I told them, ‘It’s not about the money!’ and they just kept talking about how they want a big house and stuff, and I said, ‘What about God?! He’s the one who provides!’

Me, laughing as my heart swelled with gratitude toward God for the character He is forming within this little woman: “Oh, the voice of justice crying out in the fourth grade classroom…”

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2014 in Review (An Unorganized List of 64 Small Miracles)

Yesterday afternoon as the kids were in paint class and Darwin was resting in our room after a very busy week, I took a walk around our property, studying the visible differences of what this past year has brought –our faithful garden with its new sprouts of radish and squash that Darwin and the kids planted, the ducks who now inhabit our chicken run, our school building finally organized, certain rooms freshly painted – and caught off guard with a deep awe of all God has done in this past year that isn’t so visible – the emotional growth and health of the children, my own healing from severe insomnia, new relationships formed, prayers answered. After the dogs happily followed me around our yard, tails in a constant lazy wag as I admired all God has done this year, I sat down at the wooden table in our living room to make a list of all I could think of that He has orchestrated, permitted, given and guided in this past year. I started with a single sheet of notebook paper but soon had to bring a second and then a third sheet. The list, without any order or importance, is as follows…

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1. Many local boys have received haircuts in our home, and in the process I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the mohawk.

2. Due to God’s abundant provision, we have been able to joyously be His “middle-men” in sharing clothes, backpacks, food, and other goods with our neighbors for His glory.

3. Darwin, the children and I attended a week-long intensive missions course with our faith community to prepare us for a mission trip that we are planning for January 2015 to a village in southern Honduras.

4. We survived several robberies, difficulties, and encounters with corrupt people (including a very dangerous fraud).

5. After much deliberation, we finally purchased a gun for security purposes (and had to use it shoot-in-the-air-style-to-scare-the-burglar the day after we learned how to use it!)

6. The message of Christ has been shared in local churches, on public buses, in a school, at a used clothing shop, in Darwin’s sister’s home, and in various other places as God presents opportunities.

7. We have developed a very friendly relationship with our elderly neighbor who has a large herd of milking cows, and our large grassy property has been utilized to feed his grazers several times per week.

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8. We said “yes” and actively followed four different leads in order to receive more children into our family, but none of them produced results, so we continue to wait for God’s timing.

9. Darwin and I have been able to dedicate ourselves to God’s purposes in our home/family/farm/mission six days per week (we each spend one day per week as teachers at a local school).

10. Relationships have been formed with Brayan, his stepmother and three stepbrothers.

11. By God’s grace He enabled us to have kids in our home for the duration of the calendar year.

12. Peace has been poured out over our home and in the children’s hearts after months of very intense emotional waves, spiritual battles, disciplinary struggles and outbursts of all types.

13. Our living room, the kids’ bathroom, and the schoolroom were painted.

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14. The four kids received homeschool classes along with private academic tutoring.

15. Many, many mistakes have been made and learned from.

16. The four kids received therapy with a Christian psychologist for several months.

17. Our used truck was purchased (and Darwin got his driver’s license for the first time!)

2014-518. High-security steel doors have been installed on the two houses and school building.

19. We have instituted the (very small and indescript) whiteboard in our living room where I write the next day’s schedule in great detail each night so that I don’t have to answer 84 questions about what we’re going to do tomorrow.

20. Four dogs have been purchased/adopted for security purposes (and therapy with the kids!)

2014-721. Two batches of chicks were born in our chicken run and hundreds of eggs laid.

22. Twelve ducks were purchased to lay eggs in our chicken run.

23. We enjoyed the visit of eight fellow believers in our home for several days in July.

24. Fifty rhambutan saplings have been planted.

25. Darwin and the kids have maintained a small garden behind our kitchen weekly.

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26. Darwin and our accountant organized and submitted the last four years of financial statements.

27. Many, many hours have been spent on the preparation of legal documents, in meetings with the board of directors and with lawyers, and making trips to and from different offices.

28. A daily system of cleaning/chores has been put into practice for the kids and adults.

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29. Hundreds of man-hours have been spent preparing the land and cultivating small gardens without extremely little success due to infertile, rocky soil and long dry spells.

30. We’ve enjoyed a full year of growth and relationship with our dear sister Jenae Matikke, who lives alongside of us, raises the kids with us and serves in our local community.

31. A large steel trashcan has been constructed behind our property to deposit our trash.

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32. We’ve been able to continue developing and deepening our relationship with our faith community and mentors, visiting their home weekly.

33. We’re at three months and counting of the children taking a high-quality B-complex vitamin daily to help with their overall growth and mental activity –  (and it’s working!)

34. Our kids have enjoyed one full year of weekly paint, music, agriculture and Bible classes.

35. Two public music concerts have been held in our home for our neighbors and friends.

36. Darwin has formed a youth choir as a way of reaching out to local kids and forming relationships with our neighbors.

37. Our little plants produced harvests of plantains, a rare fruit called guanabana that tastes like cotton candy and looks like a very squishy white pineapple, mango, yucca, lemon, radish, chili peppers, cucumber and papaya.

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38. Darwin and our eldest daughter, Diana, have begun taking weekly English classes.

39. Relationships and trust have been formed with local business owners.

40. We have begun teaching the kids biblically-based financial education to accompany their small incomes for household chores.

41. Various visitors have been received in our home, thus providing all of us with many opportunities to offer hospitality and learn from and love those who stay with us.

42. Our first long-distance family trip is planned for the last two days of this year to visit Honduras’ biggest and perhaps only zoo in a town several hours away.

43. The Living Waters Ranch’s mission statement has been written.

44. We’ve formed a weekly Bible study every Wednesday morning where we dedicate time to growing spiritually as a family/community and giving thanks.

45. Sexual education has been given to our kids/teenagers several times and in many different forms.

46. I’ve received ten months and counting of medical treatment for my insomnia, and the larger part of recovery has been achieved.

47. Our kids have learned how to swim and play chess.

48. God’s provision and protection have been with us daily.

49. After much trial and error and team brainstorming, we were able to make the decision of how to use each of the three “houses” on our property most efficiently.

50. The “School House”, the second of the three houses, has been furnished and put into use for homeschooling, music classes, and for receiving neighbor kids in the large living room that serves as a play room.

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51. The question of maintaining our (extremely large, rocky, and uneven) yard trim has been settled by hiring a local man to weedeat it once a month. (We used to have a full-time employee who dedicated the majority of his time to cutting our lawn bent-over with his machete, but he could only cut a piece the size of about two backyard swimming pools per day, and the job was never done and thus our yard always looked like someone with long, untamed hair who took a buzz-cutter to a few sections here and there, thus the poisonous snakes had a heyday.)

52. The office has been put together and Darwin constructed bookshelves for our library.

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53. Friendships have been formed with a handful of children and teenagers from our local community who come to our home to play soccer, work in agriculture, receive sex education classes, spend time in our playroom, and attend Bible study.

54. Our four kids gave their lives to Christ.

55. Darwin and I attended Honduras’ “Children’s Home Conference” in May to learn from others who serve in the same capacity.

56. We have begun developing relationships with various neighbors, visiting them in their homes and likewise opening our home to them.

57. Darwin and I celebrated our year-and-a-half anniversary December 24, 2014.

58. Darwin and I enjoyed three marriage retreats to escape from the kids for a few nights and focus on cultivating our still very-new marriage.

59. New telephone poles have been put up and electrical lights repaired.

60. We have sanded and painted the steel window bars on the houses, dining room and kitchen to save them from rusting.

61. We have achieved much better organizational structure and financial accounting as a registered Honduran NGO.

62. Official schedule, menu, and budget have been made for legal purposes.

63. Our eldest daughter has begun to sell her paintings.

64. God has cultivated a very pleasing attitude of love and respect in our children towards Himself and others.

Everything Starts With a Greeting

The other day after walking through our small rural neighborhood handing out invitations to our Christmas concert, the kids and I returned home in a “mototaxi,” which is a three-wheeled open-air taxi. In the small back seat we were all squeezed together one on top of the other — little Jason was sitting in my lap while Diana, Brayan, and Brayan’s stepbrother were squished on either side of us, almost hanging out of the vehicle due to limited space.

The road to our home is extremely rocky, so we all bumped along, bobbing up and down as the little mototaxi motored up the long pebble path through a fairly populated part of our neighborhood. I have developed the habit of greeting everyone I see, so there I went waving, expressing verbal greetings and smiling at everyone I saw on the narrow gravel road — women tending to small children on their porches, men bent over whacking the overgrown earth with their machetes, idle teenagers sitting on wooden benches.

The kids started to poke fun at me, saying how strange it was that I always greet everyone, especially because many times I don’t even know those whom I greet. I, too, began to laugh along with them without, of course, forgetting to wave to this elderly man and that little girl over there. Through our laughter I began to explain to the kids on my lap and at my sides that greeting one another — especially those whom we don’t even know — is actually a very direct command that Jesus left for His followers:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Mateo 5:46-47

We had discussed that passage with the children many times before until the children themselves even began greeting others from time to time, but that day as we all rumbled along in the mototaxi God revealed to me in a new way just how profound that commandment is and how He can utilize our faithfulness in greeting others for His glory.

Looking at Brayan on my left, the young man who lived with us for eight months and who continues to be like a son, I suddenly said, “Imagine, I greeted you for the first time almost a year ago, and in that moment neither one of us knew just how deeply God would develop our relationship.” His face developed a sudden smile, revealing small teeth, some of which are chipped or damaged from not having cared for them in his youth. I continued, expressing to him exactly what God was revealing to my heart: “But, look. I greeted you, didn’t I? Without that greeting we might never have met. Everything starts with a greeting.”

With that new depth of understanding, the comments and jokes faded away as a tangible joy, expressed in a rich sense of silence, settled over our bumpy journey home. Our thoughts visited the great wisdom of God with His perfect Word as I quietly gave thanks to God for having brought Brayan into our lives by something as simple as a greeting.

(To read the full story of how we first met Brayan, you can read “It All Started With a Cup of Water” at: https://hiddentreasuresinhonduras.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/it-all-started-with-a-cup-of-water/)

Christmas Concert 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014 we had our first Christmas concert in our home. We celebrated the birth of our Savior with piano and recorder performances, a poem written by our dear sister Jenae, and songs by the youth choir my husband has begun directing in our neighborhood. It was a joyful afternoon with our neighbors, friends, and family.

Luke 4:18-19 [Jesus Christ speaking about his purpose in the world] “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

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Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation.

Psalm 95:1

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Ministry Updates

Ministry Updates in the Living Waters Ranch – November 2014

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Community Choir

Darwin is a pianist and choir director, and God has placed it on his heart to expand the little choir we have as a family and include our neighbors from our surrounding rural community. We praise God that several children and teenagers have begun attending the twice-weekly practices, and it has given us great joy to see our three kids receive the newcomers with love and grace as they take leadership positions among the newbees. We are honored to develop relationships with these youth and their families for God’s Kingdom, and our kids are taking advantage of making several new friendships!

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Jenae Celebrates 14 Months in Honduras

Our beloved Christian sister Jenae Matikke is celebrating 14 months of service at the Living Waters Ranch. A native of Tennessee, she dedicates her time to reaching out to our neighbors with the good news of Jesus, investing in our kids’ lives, serving in local churches, and teaching in various capacities. She is currently preparing her program “Princes and Princesses of Promise”, a biblically-based sexual abstinence curriculum, to begin sharing God’s message of sexual purity and giving sex education classes in local churches and schools.

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Gifted and Talented Program and Basketball Team to Start in January 2015

God confirmed in my heart that I am to return to La Ceiba’s Episcopal School part-time beginning in January 2015 to continue with my girls’ basketball team and elementary-aged Gifted and Talented program, so I went to the school to meet with the kids and send home parent letters. Over 30 kids have responded positively, so I am looking forward to my third year with the same group of kids I’ve been working with, along with several new ones that are now eligible for the programs. Pray for God’s guidance over both the team and the GT program, and that the children I coach and teach may see Christ’s light and salt through my words and actions.

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Updates on Brayan

Brayan, the 14-year-old who lived with us for over eight months and moved out a couple months ago due to various factors, just made a 100% on one of his major exams after returning to homeschool several weeks ago. His attitude has taken a complete 180 degree turn, and he has impressed us all with his kindness, willingness to serve, and gratitude. He has also returned to choir and music classes, and has begun working alongside of us in agriculture one day per week. Let us give thanks to God for His mighty hand over Brayan’s young life, and for giving us all the patience and courage to trek through some pretty difficult seasons together as we seek the Lord’s will in our relationship with him.

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Darwin’s English class

My husband, Darwin, is a native Honduran and currently speaks pretty choppy English. That isn’t a problem here because we communicate with one another and our children and neighbors in Spanish, but in order to further develop his ability to communicate with a broader range of people, he has enrolled in an intensive English course that meets every Saturday morning for five hours. We are all excited for him about this chance to grow, and in addition to the class we have instituted the “English Hour” during dinnertime every night, in which each person has to do their best to speak only English. (Dinners have been pretty quiet for a change, as most of the little people can’t say much!)

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Still Waiting to Hear About the Arrival of More Kids

We have put the word out with the government agency that we are ready to accept 2-3 new children, and we have yet to hear anything. There are many organizational changes occurring right now in the government’s child protective agency, and the shifting of staff positions and leadership could be causing the delay. We are waiting to hear if there are children who need a home from a large government-run orphanage in a nearby city that was recently shut down or from the local foster system. Please pray that God’s hand would guide the entire legal, emotional, and financial process of expanding our family, and that Gleny, Jason and Diana may accept new children into our home with grace and joy.

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Chicks Hatch After Robbery

After a devastating robbery a few days ago in which someone stole more than half of the hens from our chicken run, our rooster and male duck, we are beginning anew with a batch of newborn chicks that our momma hens have been warming for the past several weeks. It seems as though any agricultural progress we enjoy is immediately cut down by theft, so please pray for protection over our animals and crops so that our efforts to organically work the land are not in vain.