Category Archives: Discipline Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Kindness Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen! Glory to God!

Teen Training by Way of the Sweet Tooth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

 

A Day in the Life: Friday at the Living Waters Ranch

Today I whipped out my camera and went undercover (well, not quite) into each classroom throughout the day to capture what a typical Friday at the Living Waters Ranch looks like. The only classes missing from my visual log are Darwin’s girls’ choir class, my advanced math after-school tutoring and Erick’s “Men of Honor” discipleship group.

Enjoy!

My first stop was Miss Ligia’s small 7th grade class. Our daughter Jackeline and her classmates were taking an exam!

 

Our special-needs son Josue accompanied me on my photo-taking escapade. This is his pose on one of our famous skateboards. (I purchased three old skateboards at a thrift store, and the kids love them!)

 

My next stop was our dining room — Darwin’s homeschool-style class with fifth and sixth graders, many of whom are well into their teens and behind academically. We’ve received three new students into this group in the last two weeks. (This photo shows only the sixth graders.)

 

Here are Darwin’s fifth-graders hard at work at our dining table.

 

Erick’s first class of the day was with our rag-tag group of first and second graders, the majority of whom are overcoming learning disabilities and developmental delays.

 

When I arrived at Miss Isis’ combined third-fourth grade class, I found our 10-year-old son Jason teaching our two developmentally behind third graders (the two boys sitting down, both age 11). Way to go, Jason!

 

This is Miss Isis with Paola, one of our night watchman’s children who has been in school with us since 2015. She and her four siblings are some of the first in their family to learn to read and write.

 

Geraldina (Sandra’s mom) was hard at work in the kitchen preparing lunch for 50 people! Thankfully the water hadn’t gone out, as it occasionally does!

 

After visiting all the classrooms during the morning hours, little Josue and I went for a short walk around our rural property. This is the view of the Living Waters Ranch from the front gate.

 

This is our growing herd of milking cows! We started with two cows a few years ago and now we’re up to 12! We invested in the purchase of six young cows a couple weeks ago as we seek to expand our herd, thus wisely utilizing the large grassy property where we serve.

 

This is Carminda, our watchman’s wife, washing the clothes. One day per week our 8 foster kids and I wash, and one day per week she comes to help us wash. Everything is by hand!

 

Is it already recess time? Here is a lively skateboard competition between our son Jason and a local girl. They got nervous when I started taking pictures!

 

We have more male students than females, but the few girls we do have are tough as nails. You go, girl!

 

Dangling from thin air on the left are two girls swinging from our tree rope! Recess is so much fun!

 

Now it’s little Lester’s turn!

 

Okay, the fun’s over, kids (and teachers)! Back to class! Now everyone changes classrooms and heads to their respective English classes…

 

Our office looks like quite the library! Miss Ligia is getting her books ready for her Level 2 English class!

 

My husband Darwin teaches “Level 3” English with the most advanced students we have. He’s been working hard with them for a year-and-a-half to introduce them into their second language.

 

Our 16-year-old daughter Dayana is in Darwin’s English class. Sandra (fourth from the right), who used to live with us, came back to the Living Waters Ranch full-time as a student about a month ago after having spent several months down the wrong path. We are honored to continue cultivating a relationship with her for God’s glory.

 

Our quirkiest (I mean, most precious) kids aren’t quite ready to learn English, so they receive extra help with basic Spanish reading and writing skills!

 

This is 10-year-old Daniela who had great struggles in the local public school system. Her mom brought her to the Living Waters Ranch in January of this year as she was frustrated that her daughter had not been able to learn to read and write. Daniela’s been with us full-time every since, and she just passed first grade in our accelerated program and is now a second-grader with great success. All she needed was a little bit of individualized attention!

 

Here are two young teen boys who likewise didn’t enjoy success in the public school system. Young men such as these in our area have a propensity to fall into gangs and delinquency, so we consider it God’s will that He brought them to us to learn the way of Christ.

 

Here’s Miss Reina with two of her basic Spanish tutoring students. (Our daughter Gabriela is the one without the ponytail.)

 

Here’s Miss Ligia in action in her English class! Our community homeschool/discipleship center is quickly becoming known and respected in our local community as a legitimate educational institution that stands for justice and truth in a country whose educational institutions oftentimes suffer from corruption, complacency and inefficacy. Several local kids and teens are joining our classes as they seek a genuine integral education, something almost unheard-of in our area.

 

The other English teacher at the Living Waters Ranch is Erick. Man, it smelled like teenage sweat in that crowded room!

 

This is Alejandro, a 14-year-old local student in second grade with us, reading a children’s Bible. He had gotten up to 6th or 7th grade in the public school system without having learned virtually anything, so now he’s receiving intensive tutoring to help get him up to speed as we seek to cultivate his life integrally for God’s glory.

 

Daniela was reading the Bible with Miss Isis, but she got nervous when I started taking pictures!

 

This is little Ever, the youngest son of our night watchman, reading a children’s Bible. He is our youngest student at 7 years old.

 

Time to change classes again! Everybody go to your reading class according to your skill level! All students are divided up into four distinct levels, and this is our most advanced reading class — Miss Ligia’s crew of high schoolers who are currently reading one of Ted Dekker’s novels with strong spiritual foundations. What a breath of fresh air (literally)!


  

Reading is not a commonly cultivated practice among most Hondurans, so the fact that our teenagers are learning to read a 300+ paged novel is no small feat. They already finished another novel earlier this year and frequently study the Bible along with whatever God-honoring novel they are reading. Many of our students who were previously averse to reading are now enthusiastically asking for more books!

 

Next I visited Darwin’s Level 3 reading class, one of the largest classes (there were about five other students in the classroom at the far right that wouldn’t fit in the photo!). Darwin has taken on the gargantuan task of teaching to read, annunciate correctly and develop an honorable work ethic to those youth who are not among our most successful students. The fact that they all have their pencil in hand and are sitting down is a huge triumph in this culture! 10 points for Darwin!

 

This is 13-year-old Liliana, one of the new students who joined us recently. We had met her a few years ago through Darwin’s youth choir, but then she moved away and had been out of school for several years. She just entered with us on the 5th-grade level, and she’s quickly finding her niche and always has a big grin on her face. Many young women in our area who are not in school get ‘married’ to older men in their early teens, so we are excited and honored to have Liliana with us as we expose her daily to the truth of Christ and how to live a life of purity in God’s sight.

 

Sandra got nervous when I caught her in the kitchen with her mom and started taking pictures! We’ve had a long history with her and her mom, and we are very thankful that she’s decided to return to the Living Waters Ranch as a student and continue seeking God’s will for her life. Sandra’s mom continues to serve alongside of us part-time, and we enjoy a very blessed relationship with her.



Lunch time! Roughly 50 hungry people came streaming into our kitchen for their lunch of rice, beans and potatoes. I stood on a wooden stool to take the following shots…This is Brayan, our 16-year-old son who was one of our first four students in our experimental homeschool program that we started in 2014 as we struck out from the beaten path to develop a discipleship-based educational alternative geared at restoring broken youth for God’s glory.

 

All of our 40 students eat lunch in our home every weekday, and everyone is responsible for washing their own dishes when they finish!

 

Lunchtime sure is fun…for some people! My next stop was detention, an hour-long daily event for the students who for various reasons need a little extra help in the discipline department. We take very seriously our duty to discipline and train up the youth under our care according to God’s Word, and we believe it is vitally important to their development into useful, grateful human beings. Detention is never empty!

 

These folks were also in detention, and they all started laughing when I entered with the camera! Nobody wants to get caught on film in detention! (They were in the process of doing 150 squats.)

 

After visiting those precious kids in detention, I returned to the kitchen to take more photos! Here’s Darwin enjoying his lunch with our daughter Jackeline and Miss Ligia.

 

Another skateboard competition on the porch of our high school building!

 

This is Marlon, another new student who entered the Living Waters Ranch discipleship-based community homeschool in these past couple weeks. He is a young man from our neighborhood who began spending time with Erick and attending our Bible studies before he decided to withdraw completely from the public school where he was studying and dive into a completely different environment at the Living Waters Ranch. He mentioned to us that at his other school the teacher spent the majority of the day playing on her cellphone, and many students didn’t even show up for class.

 

Another fun lunchtime activity on Fridays is Darwin’s outdoor recorder class.

 

The boys always love playing soccer! We’ve designed our daily schedule to have an extended lunchtime so that the kids can develop healthy friendships, play together, practice their instruments, etc.

 

 

Good news: if you didn’t get sent to detention all week, a prize awaits you on Friday! Miss Isis and Miss Ligia are getting the Friday snack ready for those students who were responsible and wise during the week. We love this weekly practice because it further inculcates in our students an understanding of the reality that they reap what they sow.

 

This is Miss Ligia and Miss Reina’s after-school cooking class! During this time the older boys are in “Men of Honor” with Erick, and the rest of the girls are in Darwin’s girls’ choir.

 

Well, we’re coming to the end of the day! This was my workstation in our living room where I worked on administration all day (…well, when I wasn’t playing the role of ‘paparazzi.’)

 

Josue, our 9-year-old son with special needs, was a great photography assistant! To wind down from a hard day’s work, he decided to spend some good time ‘repairing’ his bicycle on our porch…

 

Amen! Glory to God!

 

 

Learning to Persevere: The Family Footrace at Dawn

Several weeks ago my husband and I were evaluating the daily routines we’ve established to foster the integral growth and development of those in our household when a rather displeasing thought entered our minds and just wouldn’t wriggle out: rather than getting up at 5:15am each morning, let’s get up 30 minutes earlier so that we can go running as a family. Yeah! That’s just what we need to further inculcate discipline and overall health in each member of our household — go sprinting down a long, solitary road half-asleep in the pitch black with 8 kids! Sure!

Seeing as Darwin and I have both been involved in athletic training to some degree in our lives (plus the fact that we are willing to try anything that might give a positive result as we seek to ‘train up’ our 8 kids/teens in all that is good work ethic, self-discipline, integral health, etc, for God’s glory), we decided — despite our own desires to get a little more shut-eye each morning! — to give it a try the following morning.

I do not remember how we informed all the members of our diverse household — if I wrote the announcement on our family’s living room whiteboard or if we broke the news over dinner — but, needless to say, they were less than enthused.

The night prior to the big adventure, we informed everyone: when we come get you up in the morning, just put your tennis shoes on, brush your teeth and get to the front door as quickly as you possibly can. We’re not going to be rubbing our sleepy eyes and shuffling around the house aimlessly for 20 minutes (as some of our teens are accustomed to doing).

And so, the next morning the alarm sounded (it was a weekend, so we were able to sleep in a little longer and commence the run around 7:00am rather than in the wee morning hours), and our shoes were already on our feet before the last remnants of our dreams had fully left us. I went bed-to-bed jostling sleeping legs and patting tired backs as I informed in a sing-song voice, “Time to get up…we’re gonna go running. Get your shoes on…”

From that point on, everything went downhill. 12-year-old Gleny, one of our daughters who is most definitely not a morning person, received several back-to-back wake-up calls, but she ended up flopping over in bed and never actually getting up. 11-year-old developmentally-challenged Gabriela couldn’t find her tennis shoes, and everyone else had a tangibly bad attitude.

We filed out our front door and through the front gate with most of our kids grumbling and exchanging angry glances. As the run began, 16-year-old Brayan, who is extremely fit athletically and capable of beating most people in a footrace, ran slower than anyone else because he got distracted along the route when he saw the girl he liked. 9-year-old Josue, who suffers from several developmental delays, barely got to the front gate before he got tired and quit running. Our eldest daughter failed to exit our home on time as she took too long getting ready, and she came flying down the path in a less than punctual manner to catch up with us several minutes later. Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who loves to eat and is not typically known to be the queen of personal fitness, cried the entire way as she struggled to maintain a jog during the mile+ journey.

By the time we returned home, collecting stragglers and disgruntled teenagers along the way, everyone had gotten sour. By all accounts, the run had been a disaster.

As we returned home, we assigned a consequence to Gleny and Dayana, our two daughters who had not gotten ready on time. Darwin and I exchanged glances as we decided to wait a few hours before calling a family meeting to discuss the (abysmal) results of that day’s run. We gave everyone space and let everyone cool down emotionally from what had unintentionally turned out to be an absolutely terrible experience.

Later that afternoon, we all gathered in the kitchen for one of our periodic family meetings. Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, sat on our kitchen counter with her curly, afro-like hair as big as ever and her arms crossed defensively. She was leading the protest parade, and it was obvious that she was still bitter about the entire morning escapade. I sat on an ages-old rickety wooden stool as I looked around at discouraged, bitter faces. Had the run really ruined their day? Poor souls.

Darwin and I prayed, as we customarily do to begin any family meeting, and we began: “Well, the run this morning really went…terribly.” I let out a slight laugh and glanced around our large, open-air kitchen at our kids and teens, some of whom sat on the concrete floors, others standing with their backs resting against bright green walls. Dayana, arms still crossed, rolled her eyes in agreement.

Then, a ray of hope flashed across the faces of a few of our kids as I read their minds: Yeah, the whole running idea just didn’t work. At least we can say we tried! Now we can check that crazy idea off our list…Thanks for the experience, Mom and Dad!

I continued, knowing I would be dropping a bomb in their midst: “…Which is why we’re gonna do it again tomorrow. At 4:45am. Before classes. We are not going to quit just because it’s hard or just because it didn’t go well the first time. In our Christian walk we must persevere.”

Whatever flicker of hope had lit up their young, innocent eyes suddenly shut off, replaced by shock and rage. Darwin and I laughed together, as the entire idea of doing it again seemed absurd even to us. We had already tried, and it was a bust! Who on earth would want to repeat the completely negative and chaotic experience we had all been through that morning? Had we lost our minds?

As our kids glanced frantically at one another, hoping against hope that we were kidding, the second bomb was dropped: “…And not only will we run as a family tomorrow, but every single weekday for the next three weeks until vacation.”

Whoa!

Oh, there were protests and shaky-lip whimpers and rebellious teenage glances when the news was given, but let me tell you — that next morning at 4:45am our alarm sounded and everyone was up and successfully out of the house within 5 minutes! No complaints, no bad attitudes. Everyone ran the best they could, and the entire experience actually seemed almost fun! (As fun as it can possibly be to run down rocky gravel roads in the pitch black with drool still running down your chin hoping you don’t step on a poisonous snake!)

Well, we kept our word, and we ran with our kids for the next three weeks. And not only that — we’re currently at six weeks and counting!

Just this morning as we all shook the cobwebs from our sleepy minds at 4:45am, our little Gabriela — who first moved in with us two years ago as a severely malnourished and broken little girl who could barely walk, much less run — completed the entire 1.2 mile run for the first time (on prior runs she only got half-way due to exhaustion), arriving successfully at the finish line (the local highway intersection) at breakneck pace with Darwin running by her side! She even passed several of our older kids along the way! Wow!

And so we share this story of perseverance to encourage you in your daily walk.

Amen! Glory to God!

Sweeping Away Bitterness: Learning to Foster Gratitude and Humility in Our Home

In our little cinderblock home out in the countryside with our 8 foster kids, roughly 30 local youth in our community homeschool, 5 local missionaries/teachers, a few guard dogs, more chickens than you can count and about a half dozen cattle thrown in the mix (all under the blistering Honduran sun without air-conditioning or properly sealed buildings), we are constantly innovating new cleaning routines so as to maintain our rustic little buildings as clean as they can possibly be (for at least five minutes before they get dirty again).

We have two local moms come help us out part-time in the kitchen and with general cleaning during the schoolweek, but even so everything seems to be perpetually grimy. Sweaty, dirty children (many of whom come from local poor families that do not bathe or brush their teeth frequently/properly, do not own deodorant, etc) dart about our property, leaving dirty hand- and shoe-prints all over our walls; bats, rats, bugs and other creatures constantly invade; and special-needs children frequently leave pee- and poo-messes in the least desirable places.

Thus, we dedicate a good chunk of time to scratching our heads and scheming up new ways to tackle the hygiene giant on our rural property (without becoming totally obsessed with this endeavor, as our ultimate purpose is not to maintain an immaculate house but rather to usher young men and women to the foot of the Cross).

And so on Monday of this week I orchestrated a long day of deep-cleaning activities around our property in collaboration with the ongoing effort to establish good hygiene. Brayan spent the entire morning washing the walls of our 2 school houses with abundant water and detergent (we had done so not three weeks prior, but they were already dirty again). Developmentally-challenged Gaby and Josue helped out by filling four grocery bags full of little bits and pieces of trash, thrown-out papers, etc, that they found in and around the porches and tables on our front lawn (this is also a job that is done weekly, but many Hondurans are accustomed to throwing trash wherever they want, and they frequently choose our front lawn).

Each person had a job, and all seemed to be going according to plan as a rather simple (perhaps even obvious) idea dawned on me: what we really needed (and had yet to establish) was a morning sweeping routine, as we sweep all floors and porches once or twice in the late-morning/afternoon, but each morning as we receive all our local students through our front gate, it would be really great if the porches were already swept. Our porches are large cement slabs that are often covered in a fine layer of dirt, dog hair or insect remains, as people and animals with dirty feet are constantly walking across them. Although our morning routine is already tight with our 4:45am get-ups and the very precious task of getting 8 young people ready, making beds, serving breakfast, etc before all of our neighbors arrive, I came to the conclusion that the sweeping routine must be added to our daily schedule if we were going to elevate our overall hygiene standards as we hoped to.

I briefly considered who would do this job – I personally enjoy sweeping, but with my many other early morning commitments, I knew that my time simply would not allow me to take on any additional commitments. And our kids? How would they react to the news of being the new chief executives of the morning sweeping routine? 

As is evidenced throughout the Bible, humankind oftentimes is given to murmuring and complaining, and our kids are no exception. Just the day prior I was listening to the Old Testament on CD as I drove around town doing errands. As I listened, I felt surprised and personally convicted by the fact that the Israelites – who had been rescued out of grueling slavery in Egypt by God’s powerful hand! – fell into the trap of complaining so many times in their journey through the desert. Had they not just been rescued, and should they not be grateful and full of faith in the good God rather than constantly complaining, doubting and murmuring? Unfortunately, humanity has not changed much, and I mulled this over as I considered how to break the news to our kids. In any situation of responsibility or work, we want our kids to approach the activity with joy and humility, doing all things with excellence as unto the Lord and not unto men, but this grace-filled attitude is not always achieved. How could I break the news to them about my fabulous new idea to sweep each morning without them falling into murmuring, complaints, and “it’s not fair”?

Without further ado, I headed to our family’s whiteboard in our living room, feeling suddenly sure of what I was to write: “…We are going to start a new sweeping routine every morning. The schedule is written on the piece of paper above this whiteboard. If anyone has a problem with this, you can talk with Mom and Dad and exchange jobs with them, and they will gladly sweep for you. Mom and Dad’s jobs are: wake everyone up each morning, prepare/serve breakfast, make sure everyone makes their beds and brushes their teeth, brush the girls’ hair, and bathe Gaby and Josue and get them dressed. If you do not want to sweep or see this job as unfair, then just talk with Mom and Dad, and you can take their jobs instead.”

I laughed to myself as I wrote the breaking headline on our frequently-used family whiteboard. I knew that within moments everyone would be flocking to it to see what the latest announcement was. I added at the end of my short informational paragraph: “Please be encouraged to take on this new morning routine not as a punishment or extra baggage, but rather as a privilege as we learn to serve one another and take care of the home God has given us. God bless you!”

Sure enough, our kids all read the message and there were immediately signs of negative attitudes as several of our girls exchanged glances that seemed to say, “I don’t like this. Why is Mom giving us one more job? This isn’t fair. Ugh.”

Refusing to be discouraged, I kept a smile on my face.

The next morning I was glad to see that our first two daughters on the list completed their task after a friendly reminder. Although I can’t say that they did so joyfully, the porches did get swept in a timely fashion.

Later that afternoon, our eldest daughter approached me in the kitchen pretending to not understand the new sweeping schedule that I had written and taped to our living room wall. She is a very smooth-talker and very emotionally astute, so she began the conversation with me as I was serving dinner: “Hey Mom, I guess I didn’t really understand the sweeping schedule…My days are Tuesday and Friday, right?”

I smiled at her – knowing that she was probably masking her true feelings about her new job – and said, “No. Your days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The four days we have classes.”

Her eyes grew wide as her face displayed a slight grimace. Ouch! Not two days, but four! She and Josselyn would take the weekdays for now, and our other two teen girls the weekends. She probed further with her smooth talk, still trying to find a way out: “When is the schedule gonna change?”

“I’m not sure, but for now it remains as is.”

She crossed her arms as she leaned back against the kitchen counter. She looked thoughtful. This conversation hadn’t quite turned out the way she had hoped.

Just in case she really had not understood the whiteboard message or had read it too quickly, I added with an upbeat attitude: “I personally really enjoy sweeping, but I just don’t have the time to take the job on in the morning. You know, if you want to exchange jobs with me, I’ll gladly take yours. Each morning I prepare and serve breakfast, bathe Gaby and Josue – “

She stood up straight with a look of genuine surprise in her eyes and cut me off before I could finish listing off my morning responsibilities, “No thanks!” She let out a sincere little laugh and shook her head in an enthusiastic ‘no’ as her rather simple job of sweeping two porches suddenly seemed a whole lot more desirable. Her entire countenance changed as she approached the job with gratitude for the first time.

I laughed with her and continued cutting the watermelon that I would be adding to each person’s dinner plate. Joy had suddenly been restored among us as I thanked God in my heart for this change of attitude in our delightful daughter.

To all you parents and educators out there: try this technique! I learned it from Danny Silk’s book Loving Our Kids on Purpose.

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Maintaining Peace in the Storm: Gleny’s Hard-Earned Lesson

Earlier this afternoon around 3:30pm as all of our daily classes were letting out and teachers and students were heading home, our 12-year-old daughter Gleny approached me with a rather solemn countenance and responded to my hug with sagging shoulders: “Mom, can I talk to you in private about something that happened today?”

I breathed deeply, as I was sure whatever news she was going to share with me wasn’t positive. A key that my husband and I are learning as we share our lives alongside of very broken and hurting people is how to actively and sacrificially love them without getting ‘infected’ by their sin, pessimism, complaints, etc. Centering myself before God’s presence, asking for His unfailing peace and joy even in the midst of whatever she was about to share, I answered cheerfully, “Sure. Just let me go grab my things.”

I headed to our dining room to grab my keys and teaching supplies, as I had just finished leading a dynamic homeschool-style support class for a group of 12 of our students who come from more marginalized backgrounds whom I meet with every Tuesday afternoon. We had read together several chapters of the book of John; we had done several silly, team-building activities out on the lawn; I had shared a snack and story-time with them; we finished with an open-ended art project using oil pastels. It had been a blessed time as both I and my students weekly look forward to our time together, and I immediately rejected the thought that Gleny’s Debby-downer attitude would put a damper on all the positive work that God had done that day.

As Gleny and I passed into the bedroom my husband and I share, I breathed deeply again, and internally braced myself for anything. In these Mom-can-I-talk-with-you-in-private chats that we’ve had on numerous occasions with all of our kids, the spectrum of topics that they approach us about ranges from entirely innocent to utterly tragic. Just the night prior we had had several of these types of conversations back-to-back with our teen girls as a couple startling situations were brought into the light and carefully dealt with.

I sat on the floor, waiting for her to join me. From her dull countenance came the words: “Can I close the door?”

“Of course.” Okay. I breathed even deeper. Whatever she was about to share was gonna be really private.

She stood several feet from me, refusing to sit down. She began defensively: “Something happened that I really didn’t like.”

Of course. I nodded and allowed her to continue. “Today in agriculture class Brayan was bothering me, saying that I like this certain boy.”

I thanked God in my heart that this was the ‘big deal.’ This sort of ‘bad day’ we can deal with without much sweat; it is much more taxing when our kids come to us to share inside knowledge of a robbery, group lie or scandal, etc, that other siblings have participated in.

Brayan, our 15-year-old son who is a bit immature for his age, had pushed Gleny’s buttons. That I could deal with easy enough. Thank you, God.

She continued, very upset and close to tears. “I mean, several of my classmates bother me about this, saying that I like this boy. And I don’t! I just…I just wanted to grab a rock and throw it at him, but I decided not to…”

I spoke up for the first time, wanting to show her that I was with and for her: “I’m so glad you didn’t. That’s great self-control, sweetheart.”

She nearly cut me off as she apparently had not finished her statement, “…because I didn’t want the rock to hit the teacher.”

I bit my lip and tried not to laugh, “Oh.”

That led to a nearly hour-long conversation between my Wild Gleny and me as I gave her my honest perspective: I could and would talk with Brayan about not teasing her, but even so that would not guarantee that he (and not to mention all the other students who don’t live in our household) would entirely leave her alone forever. The task at hand was that of learning how to deal with jokes, teasing and bullying in a God-honoring, healthy way. After all, I reminded Gleny of something that she already knew: we cannot control others; we can only control ourselves. That is the power that God has given us and that we will ultimately have to give an account for. 

Several minutes into our conversation she warmed up a bit and came and sat down on the tile floor next to me as I put my arm around her.

Gleny came to us as a scared, aggressive 9-year-old in a very tiny, malnourished body. Her previously toothy, wide-gapped smile has since grown into a beautiful, brilliant smile that can light up a whole room. She was the first of our kids to start calling me ‘Mom,’ and she accepted Jesus early on in her time in our household and was baptized publicly last year. God’s work in her life is clearly evident as her extreme outbursts and fits of rage used to occur several times daily, and God has since been softening her heart and teaching her how to love and respond peacefully. Even so, she still struggles mightily with jealously, with being one of the younger siblings, and with a general emotional immaturity that frequently leads her to react with tears or harsh words when she feels she’s in a tough situation.

And so I began giving her some great ideas. “Gleny, when Brayan – or whoever else – comes at you, taunting and embarrassing you by saying that you like a certain boy, the first thing you need to do is control your face.” I showed her a very happy, eyebrows-high face. She immediately covered her face and giggled. I looked ridiculous.

“If people tease you and your face immediately turns into the one that you were showing me when we first came in this room to talk, everyone will know that they can push your buttons. It’s too easy. People who are out to tease are looking for a reaction; they want to make you mad or sad. So don’t let them. You know that God desires us to be joyful and at peace all the time, so the task at hand is to not allow others to rob the joy that Christ gives you. Just because someone teases or pokes fun at you doesn’t mean that you have to fall into a well of sadness or suddenly get angry and start throwing rocks. God desires for your joy to be permanent, for the peace He gives us to be unwavering despite what other people may do or say.”

“So first, your face.” I again flashed an extremely happy, silly face at her, and we both laughed.

“Mom! Stop it! When you look like that it makes me laugh!”

“That’s the point. If you can show this face – “ and I did the really happy face again “ – to those who are trying to push your buttons, by the end of it both you and them are gonna be laughing. But if you show the sad or mad face, they’ll keep going because they’ll know they’ve got you. You’ve lost your peace and joy.”

I kept going. “And that’s like a shield that God gives you – the shield of faith, to protect the joy and peace that He’s put in us. Don’t let people come and take it away from you.”

“Then, with the face, you say something really upbeat like ‘God bless you!’ or ‘Hey, I sure do like you, bro!’ or ‘You’re too funny!’ and then you leave. If the person follows you to try to push your buttons again, you just give another big, happy face and another loving, neutral comment and you walk away again. If you’re still really upset on the inside, then you pray and ask God to protect and restore His peace in your heart.”

I leaned even closer and arched my eyebrows in a juicy secret-telling kind of way. “You wanna know what, Gleny?”

She smiled big, eyes trained on mine, ready for whatever I was about to say.

“I know this works because I do it all the time with you kids.”

She perked up and gasped slightly. “That’s right! You do it a lot with Gaby!”

I nodded and added, “I sure do. And with you. You remember yesterday when you got really mad at me when I asked you to wash your blanket, and I showed you my happy face, gave you a loving comment and left the scene until you calmed down and were ready to talk peacefully?”

The light of understanding dawned across her face. Man, this stuff really does work! This must be Mom’s secret ingredient to not losing her mind in the midst of the daily battlefield.

Minutes later she and I were off hand-in-hand to the kitchen to eat some dinner. We both entered the dining room laughing amongst ourselves as I continued to encourage her to ‘practice the face’ and to have her peaceful, loving one-liners ready for the next time someone insults her. Three of our other daughters – who were busy preparing a cake to take to one of their classes the next day – stared at us oddly, as it was clear to everyone that Gleny and I had some great new inside joke.

A couple minutes passed when Gleny casually mentioned to no one in particular that she was going to begin taking one of the vitamins on our shelf to help with a small eye irritation she was experiencing. This was not a big piece of news to any of us, as we’ve all taken that vitamin from time to time for different minor health issues, so no one said anything. Gleny grabbed the little plastic bottle and turned her back to everyone as she bent over to put it in the fridge.

Standing a few feet away from Gleny, our backs toward one another and several of our other teen girls present, I said very nonchalantly, with only a slight tinge of naughty attitude, “Only fools take that vitamin.”

Suddenly several pairs of eyes were drilling me in shock, and more than one mouth was left dangling wide open. No one could understand why such a negative, critical comment would have come out of my mouth, as Darwin and I are very intentional about the way we speak to one another in our household.

Gleny did a 180 from where she stood bent-over near the fridge, her face displaying utter confusion, convinced she must have heard me wrong: “Wha–?!”

I winked at her and smiled, whispering, “The face. Give me a good face.”

After a couple more moments’ pause, she suddenly burst out in laughter, finally understanding what I was doing: I was training her in the safety of our own relationship how to react to insults with love and grace. I was waiting for her to give me a big, loving face and a positive comment. This training was proving harder for her than she had thought.

Moments later, as Gleny was serving her dinner, she grabbed a can of tuna from our pantry and began pouring a little bit on top of her rice and beans.

I glanced over at her and said with disgust, “Only crazy people eat tuna.”

She snapped her head up at me, eyes wide, and blurted immediately in her own defense, “…No!” 

Her eyes searched mine, again not understanding why I had so openly sought to offend her, until she quickly realized that I had just done it again. She threw her head back and laughed out loud and she stomped her feet with glee. We were both rolling with laughter. I flashed her a delightful, slightly crazy face.

Our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline, who is very expressive and hysterical with her general expressions, furrowed her brow in an extreme way, glancing between Gleny and me, and said, “This strange mother-daughter interaction is really creeping me out.”

Our other girls just stared at me, not sure if they were allowed to laugh with us – what would they even be laughing at, anyway? – or if they should feel offended on behalf of Gleny. Afterall, everyone in our family knows not to go around bothering Gleny, because she’s really explosive and gets her feelings hurt really easily. Bad Mom!

Less than a minute later, as the other girls finished pouring the cake batter into the pan, someone mentioned that Jackeline had accidentally left the oven door open, and the cat had jumped in (the oven was not yet turned on). I glanced over and commented, “Oh, I bet it was Gleny who opened the oven. It was her fault.”

Gleny shot a surprised look over at me, her jaw dangling down around her ankles again, and gasped, “Why?!”

This time it only took her a split second to realize what I had done as she and I both burst out into laughter. She was not passing the tests I was sending her! She had yet to give me a happy face and a loving comment!

Jackeline stared at us strangely as she asked, “What on earth is going on between you two?”

Gleny and I just kept laughing hysterically and sending each other really big, happy faces from across the kitchen.

A couple minutes later 16-year-old Dayana, Gleny’s biological sister, began chit-chatting to me about something silly from one of her classes that day, and I gave her a warm hug and mentioned with a slightly negative tone, “Of course you would think that because you’re that weird girl’s older sister.”

Gleny’s eyes shot up to meet mine as she flashed me a huge – brilliant! – sincerely happy face and stuck out an enthusiastic finger: “That’s right!”

She was ready for it this time! She got it! She really got it!

She extended her hand to meet mine in a triumphant high-five as her joy jumped off her and onto everyone in the room, although only she and I knew what was really going on. I had insulted her – called her weird! – and she responded lovingly!

Things calmed down for a few minutes as everyone began eating their dinner until Jackeline came over and mixed the very little English she knows (as in, like one or two words) into an all-Spanish sentence to ask me a question about how long to bake the cake. (In our household we communicate with one another almost exclusively in Spanish although some of our older kids are in beginners-level English classes). Gleny approached me, impressed that Jackeline had tried to put into practice a little bit of English, and said, “Mom! Did you hear what Jackeline said?! She said the first word in English and the rest in Spanish!” I had not even noticed, but Gleny found it very funny.

I saw this as another open door, so I said, “At least she speaks better English than you do.”

Gleny gave me a beautiful, glowing face and smiled big, affirming: “That’s …okay!…that she speaks better English than I do!” Again she gave me a big high-five and an enthusiastic pat on the back. Good girl! 

Jackeline just stared at us for a few moments and then rolled her eyes, not quite sure whether to believe the whole love-your-enemies and love-those-who-persecute-you drama that was being played out so vividly around her.

Several times throughout dinner I reached across the table and pulled a small strand of Gleny’s hair and poked annoyingly at her ribs. Each time she responded with a lovely, sincere face, a friendly pat on the shoulder and “Many blessings to you!”

About an hour or so later, the endorphins having died down after our riotous training session, Gleny approached me with a rather dull countenance. Oh, no. “Mom, I don’t want to be in violin anymore.”

I gave her a beautiful, loving, happy face and answered neutrally, “You are my favorite violinist, sweetheart.”

That was not the answer she was looking for. She became visibly agitated and entered into that blessed whine: “Mo-om! Please? Can I drop out of violin?”

Feeling her negativity being rather aggressively thrust onto me, I answered with a smile: “I love you, Gleny. You need to persevere with the violin; your dad and I have already talked with you about this. I’m gonna go take a shower now. Catcha later.”

As I began walking to our bathroom, distancing myself as much as possible from her bad attitude, I heard my name being hurled at my back: “Mo-om!”

At our family’s Sabbath Hour – all of our kids on the cusp of entering their rooms for the night – Gleny dramatically threw herself on me one more time, batting her eyes like an innocent little dove: “Mom! The violin! Please!

I embraced her closely – fitting her perfectly under my armpit – as I gave her several little kisses on the forehead and affirmed, “You are absolutely the most precious violin player I’ve ever met. Good night.”

I began walking away as she threw herself at me, grabbing my arm in desperation. (I felt as though she would soon be grabbing my ankles as I dragged her across the floor towards my bedroom, but the situation thankfully did not come to that.) In need of loosening her from me, I said with a big, happy face, “Okay…your bedtime will be earlier tomorrow…”

And her eyes grew wide; she released me immediately and disappeared behind the curtain as she entered her bedroom on schedule.

And, about 10 minutes later, the miracle happened. As I sat peacefully at my laptop computer, curled up in a little nook in our bedroom as several candles let off a soft glow and pleasing scent, the fan producing a refreshing breeze as our entire home entered into its nightly rest, I heard a beautiful noise coming from the other end of our cinderblock home. It was a violin. Gleny was practicing.

Amen! Glory to God!

Learning How to Live: a Math Class Experience

On Thursday of this past week I began walking from one little building on our rural property to the next in preparation for my Advanced Math class that would start once recess finished. The general energy level on our property was extremely high as we had all just gotten out of Bible study and prayer groups, and everyone was busy eating their mid-morning snack, playing a pick-up game of soccer in our front yard or tapping away some upbeat tune on one of several pianos in our bright purple school building.

I quietly but very purposefully began moving rather unusual objects into our simple rectangular classroom: a large wicker table from our house’s living room [our family’s simple cinderblock home lies about six paces from our high school building as our family life with our 8 foster children is very intertwined with our open-door ministry efforts to the local community], three wooden stools, several boxes of colored pencils, a large bucket of water, old rags, and a cup of detergent.

As I greeted and passed by different students and teachers on my way in and out of my classroom, I smiled big – not only because we daily practice the art of joyfully loving one another, but because on that particular day I knew something no one else did.

Abigail, one of our new students this year, a 13-year-old in our small 8th-grade class, eyed me with a twinkle in her eyes and said boldly, “Teacher! I think you’ve got something really fun planned for our math class today! …I mean, just look at that big grin you’re wearing on your face!” She wagged a silly finger at me, waiting eagerly for me to affirm her conclusion.

My eyebrows arched high and my eyes widened as my smile grew even bigger (if that was even possible). I answered, “Oh, Abigail, I always wear this grin on my face, despite the circumstances! So, really, you have no idea if I have something fun planned or not…” I shrugged my shoulders high as my smile remained intact, inciting her to question her teacher’s sanity (as she had probably already done on several prior occasions).

She suddenly looked perplexed and then, slightly worried, as she realized what I said was true. “Yeah, you are always smiling…” [Here at the Living Waters Ranch we like to say that our smile is our uniform. Whatever is happening – good, bad or ugly – we choose to receive and display the joy of the Lord.]

I made a tight squeeze through the doorway with the rather clunky wicker table pushed through on my hip as I glanced over my shoulder at her, “I love you so much, sweetheart! See you in five minutes when we enter class!”

Our rural neighborhood – and the country of Honduras as a whole – is known for devastatingly low educational standards. Overcrowded, underfunded government schools are required to pass all students automatically, and it is not uncommon for youth to spend years in the formal education system without having learned virtually anything. Many students graduate high school without knowing the times tables or basic grammar rules.

In my Advanced Math class that meets four hours each week, we are putting an end to educational corruption, to a system that enables students to pass on to the next level without having first mastered the level they’re at. We work on strengthening their generally weak math base with dynamic methods and then go onward with loads of mental math, complex problem sets and, of course, many hours of homework each week. I like to call my students ‘human calculators.’

And so, five minutes later when all 12 of my precious mathematicians came sweatily bounding into our unairconditioned classroom after recess, I walked to the front of the room and began the process of announcing that secret that had placed that unusually large grin on my face.

Our 12-year-old daughter Gleny, one of the youngest students in the mixed-grade homeschool-style class, saw the bucket of water near the door and made a strikingly accurate guess as she plopped down into her seat: “Oh no. Those of us who didn’t pass the exam are gonna have to wash the walls.”

I threw my head back and laughed freely while all 12 eyed me with dread. It was, after all, the last day of the first grading period, and they had taken their final exam the class prior. I would be announcing the news everyone was anxious to hear.

After a short lecture, I began writing their final grades on the white board as the suspense grew exponentially…

Only three students passed the class: one with flying colors and two by the skin of their teeth. The other nine missed the mark. Several had a final average of somewhere around 45%. [But I know something that they perhaps don’t: even those who earned a woeful percentage in my class have progressed mightily as they’ve learned more than many youth in local public institutions who pass with high grades.]

Without ever taking the large, sincere smile off my face, I ushered the three victors over to the wicker table at the other end of the classroom where I had snacks, encouraging hand-written celebratory notes, colored pencils and open-ended art projects for them to enjoy.

The faces of the other 9 dropped. I had warned them several days prior that they needed to put forth a great effort to study for the exam, because they surely wouldn’t like the consequences if they didn’t. Now they all knew that they were about to find out just what those consequences would be.

I asked them one by one how much time they had dedicated to prepare themselves for the final exam – which was worth half of their final grade. Their answers: one hour. Five minutes. Not at all.

I then glanced over at the victors and asked them how much time they had dedicated to study for the exam. Their answers: five hours. Seven hours.

My heart rejoiced as I reminded my students – the best and brightest in our homeschool program – that, in real life (as in our class) consequences always line up with decisions. You reap what you sow.

And that is why I was so giddy. In our world – and especially in this Central American country where we live – so often the consequences experienced in this life do not line up with choices. The lesson of ‘you reap what you sow’ is so easily lost when the murderers and the liars seem to be getting ahead and the ones who dare to act justly get killed. Here there is very little trust in just consequences due to an unresponsive, corrupt justice system. Whereas the lesson of ‘you steal or kill, you go to jail’ should be present in everyone’s minds, here there is no such thought impeding evil deeds. Here, you steal or kill and you can just keep on doing so for many years to come because generally the police do not respond as they should and/or are paid off by evil gang lords.

In other schools, students can put forth a sub-par effort and receive grand certificates and diplomas. Lies are everywhere, especially in the Honduran educational system. A dear neighbor of ours will be graduating from the local public high school soon, and he’s renowned as a very good student, but his grammar is that of a very young child and he has yet to learn the times tables.

And so on Thursday my heart rejoiced, because I knew that my beloved students would learn an invaluable lesson. Several of the 9 students who did not pass – three of our daughters included in the mix – had never before experienced such academic failure. Perhaps they were finally in a class that could not be passed with a nominal effort.

With the three who passed the class joyfully working on art projects in the far corner of the room, I then began filling the board with the ‘recuperation’ requirements. ‘Recuperation’ is a mandatory process in Honduras that is designed to ensure that all students pass, something which we are not in agreement with but is a process we are required to do. Whereas in most schools the failing students simply show up the next day to take the same exam again (several times if necessary), a false grade assigned if even so they never manage to pass the make-up test(s), we have a new technique: assign physical jobs and heavy homework loads as recuperation. If they do not complete the task with excellence, the failing grade remains the same.

Basically, you have to work if you want to pass (what a novel concept).

Recuperation to be turned in next week: 1.) Write the entire 4-page exam all over again, by hand, and complete it with excellence. 2.) 20 additional problem sets (each of which takes over 20 minutes to complete if done quickly) done with excellence. 3.) Wash the walls of our classroom today; wash those of the other math classroom tomorrow during recess. 4.) Receive a ‘strike.’ (Three strikes and you go to after-school detention, which lowers your overall GPA and is 2+ hours of physical labor under the sun). 5.) Write a half-page reflection about what you’ve learned.

My precious Gleny sighed deeply as she read the board – she had been right about washing the walls. Abigail, the one who had seen the wicker table and the colored pencils and optimistically guessed that the fun activity would be for everyone, eyed me with a little smile on her face as she began copying in her notebook the long list of recuperation requirements.

I went around the room, giving loving pats on the back and words of encouragement in the midst of total emotional devastation for those who did not put forth the necessary effort to pass the class. One of our new students, a 14-year-old boy, eyed me angrily as I blurted, “You know, I really like you! Even if you don’t like me, I really like you! You are gonna do a great job with the recuperation!” I gave him a hearty pat on the back and threw out a joke or two to lighten the overall mood among those poor souls who would soon be drowning in make-up homework.

That blessed day the students worked two at a time sudsing down the bright purple classroom walls while the others worked with pencil in hand to begin the long recuperation process, which would then be finished during their own time over the weekend. I sat at that delightful wicker table with the three who had worked their butts off to earn the prize. We drew. We colored. We chit-chatted. They divvied up the bag of snacks and read the hand-written notes I had left for them. It was great!

The following day I fulfilled my word to the 9, rounding them up during recess to finish the wall-washing job in the other math classroom. Teens on hands and knees, towels and rags in hand, soap and water everywhere, while less mature students from other classes passed by, observing the unusual process. After all, the ones washing the walls are the best students! They aren’t normally the ones who are assigned such consequences! What on earth had happened?

So we thank God, because this process of connecting hard work with rewards (and sub-par work with displeasing consequences) is not something that happens only in my classroom, but rather it is a team effort among those of us who serve, teach and disciple at the Living Waters Ranch. Several local Hondurans who have visited our mission (and those who now labor alongside of us) have commented that we “teach people how to live.” In a world devoid of love, we love abundantly because God first loved us. In a world devoid of truth, we proclaim it boldly. In a world where everyone is busy destroying one another and themselves, we go about quietly picking up the pieces, rescuing the lost and indicating the Way. In a world of confusion, of consequences that don’t correspond with actions – truth paid with murder; corruption paid with great wealth – here on this little piece of land we take very seriously the process of carefully forming those who come to us, of teaching them to live in the light of Christ, to take responsibility for their actions and, ultimately, to stand before the throne of the just Judge and give account for their every action, thought and decision.

The following day, my permanent smile fixed in its place, a 17-year-old young man who is new to our school this year found me during lunchtime and extended his hand. I instinctively reached mine out to receive his, although the lunchtime hand-shaking gesture seemed a bit odd. I tilted my head and looked at him as he began: “I just wanted to thank you for what happened yesterday.”

I felt confused. He was one of the ones who had not passed the class and who would now be working his butt off all weekend. What good could have possibly happened to him yesterday? “Y-yester-? Wha-?”

He continued: “For the math class recuperation. It is fair. I really appreciate that Jackeline [one of our daughters who is in the class] earned a 69 average, but even so you didn’t bump her grade up to 70. In other schools around here they would just give everyone a passing grade, but here the teachers are really interested in making sure that we learn. I’m gonna make sure that in this next marking period I work a whole lot harder to make sure I pass.” His smile was genuine, and his wisdom striking. He gets it!

My jaw was dangling somewhere down around my ankles as I sputtered, “ Oh, yeah, uh – great! Of course! We are so proud of you…” And he was off, getting ready for his after-school agriculture class with Erick. Wow.

We give thanks to God for guiding us as we form the young men and women that He brings us according to His Word, His love, His justice. While a handful of youth have left our program because they have chosen to believe the lies offered by a world that says decisions and consequences do not line up, we give joyful thanks to God for the roughly-40 who have chosen to stay, who like the 17-year-old young man who thanked me for the heavy discipline procedure understand what we are trying to do and are submitted to God throughout the process. Pray with us that the Lord would raise up great Christ-centered leaders (servants) among those whom He is training and transforming among us for His good pleasure.

Amen! Glory to God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Hurry! Change out the sack and keep it moving!

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Tug of war! Everybody PULL!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Depraved Humanity Loves to Judge Depraved Humanity: A Word to be Shared

Last weekend I struggled through one of those long, sleepless nights. I tossed and turned, thoughts bouncing and racing here and there until I finally got up in the wee hours of the morning to use the little restroom that connects onto the bedroom that my husband and I share.

Arms outstretched to feel my way toward the open doorway as my feet felt about carefully in the darkness, I suddenly took three quick, bounding steps and shot out an open palm to flip on the lightbulb in our bathroom. My trip thus far had been a success, for I hadn’t stepped on a scorpion. In and around our house they seem to come out, especially at night, and have oftentimes been found in the middle of my nightly path, in our bed with us, or inside the roll of toilet paper. Every time I get up in the middle of the night my blind feet wonder if they’ll accidentally find one.

As I flicked on that simple exposed bulb, suddenly shedding an extreme amount of light on tired eyes, something else flicked on inside of me: judgment. In a tiny corner of our sleeping cinderblock house in the foothills of some forgotten mountains in a country very few people desire to live in, my thoughts took a direct, unexpected turn toward a certain situation my husband and I were witnessing from afar, and I began to judge the situation – or rather the people involved.

As if on autopilot, I began engaging internally in the act of casting judgment, and I felt justified (as all judges do) in my opinion. It was clear to me that so-and-so had done wrong, and I began playing that delightful (dangerous) little game of judgment as I ruminated on the very few details I actually had about the situation. Couldn’t sleep; didn’t have the mental energy to get up and begin working on the computer or read the Bible. But judge? Oh, sure. At any hour.

The one-sided court case in my mind jumped to the ‘guilty’ verdict after a split-second-long hearing when something suddenly pierced me.

They were words that came out of nowhere, that shot right through the chaos of the courtroom and silenced me and all the other lawyers who backed me up. The din of judgment calmed, disappeared entirely in an instant.

Get off My throne.

I suddenly felt naked in that courtroom, ashamed. I had assumed the throne that wasn’t mine. I had dared to pass judgment on those who are the same as I. Depraved humanity loves to judge depraved humanity – one liar scoffing at another’s lies, one big ego pointing an accusatory finger at another’s bold egotism.

I understood and repented, still surprised by how clearly that word had reached me. My shame and shock were immediately replaced by joy and thankfulness, for He who is on the throne is a perfect, just judge, abounding in mercy and quick to forgive all who seek Him humbly. Scripture even tells us that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, acting as a lawyer on our behalf! And not a lawyer seeking to condemn but rather to redeem, to liberate. Thank you, Father, that You are the judge. The only trustworthy judge in the whole universe.

Feeling humbled in God’s presence and assured in His love, I quickly glanced at the short path to my destination, checking one last time for scorpions. I then turned off the bathroom light and returned bounding tip-toe-style to our small double-sized bed and crawled up and under our blanket, still in awe of what had just happened.

As I curled up in a small ball, an old pillow wedged between my knees in the pitch black room, I thought it a very special occasion that God would speak to me so clearly and so piercingly. I felt I was to share that bare revelation with others and began wondering how. Was I to plan next week’s Bible study around the theme of not judging others, for when we do so we falsely assume God’s throne as if we were the judge, denying Him?

My thoughts ruminated on this one question of how and when to share the word I received, for I felt He had spoken it to me not only for my own instruction but also for that of others. The wee morning hours dragged on as I searched in my heart what to do. Surely this throne-robbing is a habit that runs rampant among the human race, causing division, accusations and inflated egotism where Father God intends sacrificial love to reign. This word must be shared.

The following day my husband Darwin took our 10 kids (yes, the newcomer Genesis from the other side of the country arrived safe and sound and Sandra is still with us, transforming our 8 live-ins into 10) to the nearby city of La Ceiba for a day of music lessons, paint class, a trip to the beach and a day of errands and fun as I stayed at home planning the upcoming week, reading page after page of our local students’ journal collections and generally getting waist-deep in administrative tasks that simply can’t be done when our kids are at home with us. Several times I considered in my heart what to do with the word God had spoken to me earlier that morning, but I sensed I should wait. He would show me when the time comes.

And, sure enough, when our old pickup rolled through our gate with several little (but actually rather big) people hanging off the back with bright neon backpacks and big wind-blown hair, I went out to greet our increasingly large family that I had not seen for several hours that day. The boys greeted me warmly along with our younger girls, but several of our teen girls (yes; we have many!) seemed put-off. I wondered what had happened.

Moments later, as everyone began filtering into our beloved little home with its large front porch, I found one of our girls in the bathroom close to tears. Another one seemed to be eyeing the sad one from a safe distance. Then, out of nowhere, a clan of three powerful young women came marching toward me and asked to talk in private. I could already sense where this was going, for we have been in (and successfully resolved) situations like these more times than I could count.

It had been a long, productive day and I was on the brink of sending everyone to bed for our family’s Sabbath Hour so that we could all get a little bit of rest after an incredibly demanding week (as they all seem to be), so I hesitated for an instant before finally agreeing to invite them into our bedroom to sit cross-legged on the tile floor with me and get to the root of whatever was happening. Better to get it all out and resolve the problem now rather that let it fester until tomorrow.

Our three girls sat down huffing and puffing, fire just about spewing from their ears as they began openly and rather aggressively sharing with me their complaints regarding their other sisters. There had been team-forming, back-stabbing, hurt feelings and the like. The balance of powers (and friendships) had gone quite off-kilter with the sudden arrivals of 16-year-old Sandra and 15-year-old Genesis, and now it seemed like each one was wondering where they fit on the totem pole and who their closest ally was.

I thanked them for trusting me enough to share all their hurt with me, and then I told them that I would be inviting our other big girls in the room to join us – those whom these three had marked as ‘perpetrators’ – for we have a rule in our house that if someone has a problem or misunderstanding with someone else, everyone involved must be present to resolve the situation together to avoid any back-stabbing, gossiping or further misunderstandings. This also facilitates the forgiveness process and allows for everyone to pray together for peace and for God’s love to abound among us. (This is a weekly and sometimes daily process in our household – facilitating healthy confrontations among irate siblings, sometimes taking up to an hour or two to listen patiently to both parties and then, once everyone is calm, seek together a God-honoring solution. These many, many episodes of conflict resolution have been a secret, powerful ingredient that has enabled us to experience ongoing, deeply rooted joy and love in Christ in a highly mixed household whose inhabitants come from dysfunctional, abusive families.)

So there they sat, all five closed off and ready to attack. Several cried. Each one took their turn to share their point of view. Without fail, each and every one said essentially the same thing, although they themselves were blind to that fact: I felt rejected by you, so then I began rejecting you. I saw you hanging out with so-and-so, and I misinterpreted your actions to mean that you no longer loved me, so then I closed my heart off to you and began rejecting you as I perceived that you had rejected me.

Nearly an hour passed as everyone began winding down. Each person had taken their turn – many turns – and they had said all they had to say. They still had a little bit of fight left in them but their strength was largely fading due to the intense emotional sharing. Everyone had talked; everyone had listened. This is almost always my cue to begin talking (once they’ve finished), so I looked around our tight-knit circle with a soft smile on my face as I saw tired, but open faces. It was getting late, and the rest of our household was already quietly tucked into their bedrooms as my husband waited patiently on the couch in our living room. He didn’t dare enter the female battlefield of roller-coaster emotions, jealousy and teenage insecurity, and I didn’t blame him.

I could read our girls’ faces. They knew that they had nothing else to share — they had already told me that — so they thought, shrugging their tired shoulder,  ‘Why not take a few minutes at the end of the battle to listen to Mom? At least we know she has good intentions and wants to help – after all, we sought her out – and we know that she doesn’t take sides, even if each team is actively recruiting her.’

And, as if in an instant of revelation, I suddenly knew exactly what to share. My experience with God the night prior in the bathroom. Were not our girls blinded by their own judgment, just as I had been? Were they not each grabbing at God’s throne, desperate to assume to role of ‘Judge’ so they could stamp a ‘guilty’ verdict on each of their sisters, when they had all participated in the same gossiping, the same emotional warfare? How can one judge the other when they all do the same things? Yes; this was the moment God had chosen to share this word.

And so I did. Carefully, and with great detail and focus. Our girls seemed captivated and intrigued, for it seemed as though I had changed the subject entirely. After all, I was talking about my own struggle with judgment (for they had yet to understand that it was also their struggle). What does Mom’s late-night trip to the bathroom have to do with me?

This apparent change in focus disarmed them completely as they allowed themselves to be wrapped up in the moment. My voice soft and filled with overflowing excitement, I told them, “All day I’ve been wondering how to share this word and with whom, and now I understand that God intends this word for you. In the midst of my judgment last night – swept up just as you are now, casting judgment on others without even having all the information necessary to make a fair verdict – God’s voice pierced my spirit:

…Get off My throne.”

A silent gasp engulfed the entire room as I believe that same word that snatched me from my own inner courtroom the night before likewise liberated our girls in an instant. For the first time in perhaps the whole day – in the midst of emotional warfare, hurt feelings, judgment and back-stabbing – each one suddenly understood exactly what had been at play. They had each assumed the throne that was never theirs to assume: they had observed a negative glance or the unavailability of their sisters and quickly passed judgment, stamped a guilty verdict, assumed the all-powerful position of ‘Judge.’

I continued. “Even the best of lawyers and judges – having conducted very thorough investigations – will never have all the details. Did you know that many people are sentenced to prison each year without having committed the crime they were accused of? There have been studies that have shown that some people have wasted away – years of their life gone forever – in a jail cell, but the lawyers and judges were wrong. Or biased. Or they simply didn’t have all the information. There is only one Judge, and He’s perfect. We can trust Him, and the throne is His. It will never be ours –“

13-year-old Jackeline, who had been extremely heated and put-off only moments prior, added, eyes wide and sincere: “…We must get off His throne…”

With that new revelation alive among us, quickly the girls one after another began asking forgiveness and we prayed together before everyone finally went off to bed with a lightness, a joy that was far from them earlier that day. I smiled and thanked God in my heart.

Since then our 12-year-old daughter Josselyn shared with me in the ensuing days that God stopped her in her tracks as she began judging in her heart. She came up to me with wide eyes and her unkempt black hair one afternoon: “God just spoke to me! I had begun judging someone in my heart, and suddenly I heard, ‘Get off My throne.’”

13-year-old Jackeline shared with me several days later that during a visit with her biological family members, the adults present began a rather aggressive disagreement, each one casting judgment on the other, and she spoke up boldly, “Get off of God’s throne! Each of you is judging the other, but God is the only true judge!” Her family members, who are not Christians, just looked at her oddly, but they did calm down.

I thank God once more for this word He shared with me, and I hope it helps you in your daily life. There is only one Judge, and He is trustworthy! The throne is occupied!

Amen! Glory to God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Amen! Glory to God!

Treasure-Hunters and Soul-Sweepers

Earlier today we did a new thing. We informed our kids that we wanted to have a family meeting, which is a fairly common occurrence, but the theme we would be discussing was not.

Natural and spiritual gifts.

As we sat on our old floral-print sofa and on battered wicker stools and chairs that have been around longer than your great-grandmother, I suddenly felt like we were on some kind of God-inspired kids’ television program where all the little people are spell-bound as they sit sprawled out or curled up, knees comfortably drawn under bright faces, absorbed by the adult reading the storybook as they wait to see how the adventure will unfold.

Everyone’s faces were aglow as we went one-by-one naming the specific natural and spiritual gifts we’ve noticed in each child/teen. No one moved a muscle as I felt like every possible distraction immediately fled from the room. God had rolled up His sleeves and rubbed his palms together enthusiastically. He was about to do what only He could, and He had their full attention.

The attitude with which this entire process was embraced far exceeded that of the most extravagant of Christmases – the excitement and immense awe that filled each person suddenly overflowed as the entire room filled to the brim. We were swimming in joy, exploring God’s infinite glory revealed in our very own lives.

After all, we were not unwrapping physical gifts but rather digging deep into the soul of each child to recognize and call forth the priceless gifts that God himself had planted there, waiting all these years to be discovered.

In a workshop our team of Christian laborers recently attended, we were encouraged to adopt the attitude of treasure-seekers in our daily interactions with our kids, constantly hunting for the ‘hidden treasures’ that God has placed in the lives of each of them as we shine the spotlight on the gifts and lead the child toward his or her destiny.

Oftentimes my husband and I have committed the grave error of participating too emphatically in the opposite search – the all-too-easy and deadening search for all that is wrong, all that needs to be corrected. The abuse suffered. The subsequent behavioral problems. The stains of sin on a young life.

In our three-plus years of parenting children who sprang from other women’s wombs, many times my husband and I have slapped on the camouflaged army helmet (not forgetting to snap into place the little buckle on the chin strap) and headed into the depths of our children’s souls, whacking back dangerous overgrowth – lies of the Enemy that have taken root and sprung up – with a large machete. It has been easy to focus on these life-choking weeds – the hurt, the poor decisions, the generational chains of sin, attitude problems (whether the children’s or ours), the times they’ve lied and stolen, possible dangers that lurk ahead – because this intense overgrowth has been the most obvious, urgent thing demanding our attention. Through fasting and prayer, healthy confrontations, individual counseling and behavioral correction/training, we’ve had to cut back this nasty overgrowth so that the children could breathe, could begin to escape from the long claws of the Enemy threatening to drag them right back into dangerous family patterns, self-destructive decisions, lies. Our cries have been ‘freedom’ and ‘healing.’

But today we put our machetes away (and took off the camouflaged helmets). Instead of cutting back the bad we partnered with God as He powerfully began calling out the good, calling forth the hidden treasures we’ve glimpsed under the thick overgrowth as we’ve swept the floor of our children’s souls.

My husband and I have noticed these gifts – even talked to each other about them as we’ve stood jaw-dropped in awe of the talent, the immense potential in each of our kids’ lives – but we had yet to share these revelations so freely with our kids, opening their eyes to the precious and powerful gifts that God has placed so miraculously within them.

A heavy blanket of serenity fell over our living room where we sat. Ceramic tile under our feet. Front door wide open, taking in the bright green leafy view in every direction. Family photos hanging in frames of different sizes and colors on the wall behind us. I felt God’s presence very near – as near as my own mouth. As brave, daring words came flowing off my tongue, I felt that God was calling forth those hidden treasures to be recognized and to begin to grow in Jesus’ name, to bear great fruit in the lives of His children for His glory and pleasure.

15-year-old Brayan. Physical strength. The ability (and desire) to memorize Scripture. Agriculture and farming. Humble of heart. Great faith (like that of a small child). The gift of serving others.

My hand on his knee as he sat to my right on the couch, we named his gifts one at a time, giving specific examples of ways we’ve seen these gifts played out and their importance in a hurting world.

Nervous about the seriousness of the beautiful words he was hearing, his eyes trained on mine as his Father began calling forth great fruit in his life, his mouth turned up in that little, infamous grin and he said, “Enjoy my physical strength while you can, because before you know it I’ll be a little old man.”

We all laughed heartily as we then continued onward.

16-year-old Dayana. Leader. Godly counselor and strong column holding others up. The ability (and desire) to encourage and teach others according to God’s Word. Well-organized administrator. Musician. Avid reader and writer. Compassionate. Future mother to orphans.

Perhaps most beautifully of all, as one child was receiving words of life, the others almost always nodded in amazement, confirming that, yes, this or that is an exquisite gift that is already bearing fruit in their sibling’s life.

13-year-old Jackeline. Enthusiastic cook. Great math and logic ability. Phenomenal sense of humor (very warm, affectionate and hilarious – a carrier of God’s infectious, extravagant joy). Blossoming servant to others. Future evangelist to a lost world.

Our kids quickly disappeared into their bedrooms and reappeared with notebook and pencil in hand, actively scribbling down their natural and spiritual gifts as they heard them. Certainly this was a moment they could not afford to forget as Creator God was dangling a small, bright lamp before each one (think the long stick with a carrot hanging off of it for the horse to follow). This is the path you are to take. Walk in it. I’ve destined you to be a great leader among my people, a servant to all. Use your ability to sing, to write, to cook for Me, for My good pleasure. Give this beautiful treasure to Me, and I’ll make it grow. I want to bless humanity and draw them to Myself through these gifts I’ve planted in you. I’m a Good Father, and I give good gifts. You will open the doors of your home to the lost, receiving them with vibrant hospitality as they come to recognize my great love. I am equipping your little brother to go door-to-door visiting and caring for those on the margins of society, bringing eternal hope to those who have not heard My name. Your sister will draw the little children to Me.

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The list we taped by our front door naming the different spiritual and natural gifts we’ve observed in our children

And so we read 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 13 about the various gifts God has given us so that we all might function as Christ’s body, working together as we reach the lost for God’s glory. We also read Romans chapter 12 about the different roles and gifts God gives to each.

Today we took a brake from crying out desperately for healing or from interceding for the lost among us. We turned off the crisis hotline and took a moment to simply enjoy our good God, to marvel at His infinite kindness at giving His children such delightful gifts. Surely He has redeemed us with Christ’s blood and is in the process of raising up a new generation who will walk in their giftings as they extend the great wedding invitation to the ends of the earth.

I sat in amazement as the conversation among us continued onward, Scripture being read, received.

My mind could barely grasp what was being revealed before my eyes. Combining the gifts present among the 10 people in this one little family, God’s given us enough…to serve an entire village, impact an entire city. Teachers. Christ-centered servants. Leaders. Godly counselors. Mothers and fathers to parent the orphaned. Preachers of God’s Word. Lovers of the poor and the outcast. Columns of truth; doers of justice. Administrators and encouragers. Passionate cooks. Readers, writers and musicians bent on proclaiming the truth of Christ.

I can hardly imagine if all of humanity turned inward in this great treasure hunt, enthusiastically seeking out the treasures Father God so playfully hid within their own souls as they then place their gifts and talents at His service to love humanity and praise His name.

A world like that would be like the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

So this morning Father God led us to take a mighty stand against mediocrity, against everyone’s-the-same, against the daily job of machete-hacking. He spoke directly and undeniably to the deepest part of each of our kids’ souls, reminding them who He is and who He has created them to be, lighting the path which each has been designed to take.

And, incredibly, as our family meeting came to a close, each person suddenly began exhibiting the exact treasures we had recognized and called to life. Our beloved cooks (Jackeline and Jason) suddenly jumped up and offered to help cook lunch (which is a particularly sweet blessing for me because I do not possess the natural love of cooking). Those who we had recognized as having the gift of serving others eagerly offered help as I headed out the door to begin the somewhat tedious yet fun task of sudsing down that old floral-print couch. Our pre-teen daughter (Gleny) who has a special heart for small children and a natural gifting as a teacher seemed affirmed and at peace as her siblings enthusiastically called to life the possibility of serving God as a teacher to small children, discipling them in His ways. Two of our other children (Jason and Josselyn) seemed excited to hear the idea that their spiritual gifts might lead them into a life of missionary service to the poor, an idea that they might not have previously considered. One of our daughters (Dayana) whom God is growing into a gifted counselor spoke up, telling me with a glow in her eyes that God had put it on her heart to delve even deeper in His Word and begin sharing Godly counsel with her circle of friends. In the blink of an eye (or rather in an hour of family meeting) everyone seemed to have gained a new understanding and appreciation for their own purpose as they now embark upon the lifelong journey of cultivating those special giftings God had placed in their care. Everyone suddenly came to life in exactly the way Father God had wanted. I sensed He stood by and watched with a huge grin on His face.

Please pray with us for each of our 8 precious children, that they may boldly trust in God to develop these gifts so that they may enter adulthood fully equipped to reach a lost and wounded world as Christ’s hands and feet.

Amen! Glory to God!

Hello, My Name is ‘Ashamed.’

“It is so nice to meet you!” I extended a long arm toward the hunched-over young man in front of me, eager to make him feel genuinely welcome. He looked to be about 15 or 16 years old and sat motionless on one of the concrete benches in our front yard, staring at the soil at his feet.

An awkward moment passed, my open hand lingering in mid-air, waiting to be received in his. He finally extended his limp hand toward mine without ever lifting his eyes from the soil.

My husband Darwin and I stood under the shade of a large tree talking with a middle-aged woman who had come up to our rural property with three of her teenage children, hoping to enroll them in our homeschool-style high school beginning next school year. They had heard about the program though a neighbor who has her son enrolled with us.

The mother was very kind and alert, commenting to us that she wants her children to be instructed according to God’s Word — which does not happen in the local public high school where chaos generally reigns. Her sons, however, did not match her enthusiasm. They seemed depressed or entirely uninterested.

After Darwin and I had given her the information about registration day (when we will be meeting/evaluating possible new students), I then turned to the young man on the bench — the one who had very reluctantly shook my hand — and I asked with great sincerity, “What is your name?” I believe my tone of voice soared even higher than it should have in an attempt to counteract his attitude of total apathy.

Another moment or two passed as he remained unresponsive. I began opening my mouth to reiterate the same question when he finally blurted his full name at the ground.

Somewhat caught off guard with the force with which he spat his name and entirely unable to understand him due to the way he murmured, I asked again, love spewing out of my voice: “Could you look me in the eyes and tell me your name again?”

Everyone present seemed to be caught off guard by my loving insistence, as bad manners such as the ones he was displaying are often accepted as normal in our area. I continued to stare at the top of his head as his eyes remained glued to the soil at his feet. I insisted. Waited.

He finally raised his eyes if only for a split second to meet mine before immediately glancing downward again, again murmuring his full name without me being able to understand him.

His mother, very well-meaning, immediately interjected with a slight laugh, ready to explain her nearly-adult son’s strange behavior, “Oh, he’s ashamed.”

She said so with the tone of voice that you would use to answer, “He’s cold” if asked why your son was wearing a scarf and mittens.

The next morning I spoke on the phone with my own mother about the prior day’s event with the ‘ashamed’ young man, and she commented very accurately, “People [in Latin American culture] use ‘shame’ as a way of naming people. Like, ‘It’s a boy’ or ‘It’s a girl.’ ‘He’s ashamed.'”

So, in this culture where many people from birth carry the stamp “Ashamed” across their forehead (and all well-meaning family members defend their right to carry it), an interaction such as the one we had yesterday is not something new to us. How many of our local students or live-ins, upon arrival, actually looked us in the eyes, were not ‘ashamed’? Very few.

So when this young man’s mother wanted to come to her boy’s rescue, defending his debilitating sense of ‘shame’ as if it were a genetic condition or acceptable form of behavior, I laughed in a very kind way and said, “Oh, there’s no place for shame here.”

I glanced over at one of the other benches a few yards away where Brayan and Arlen sat. These two precious teenage students of ours had just finished participating in a very intense Round 5 of rock-hauling, endless push-ups and frog-jumps as part of their character-formation process. They were beet red and had waterfalls of sweat pouring down their faces as their white school uniform shirts were heavily stained with dirt. I addressed them for the first time in a rather loud voice, “Is there any reason to have shame, boys?”

They both sat, exhausted to the bone, staring me in the eyes, and shook their heads ‘no’ as they confirmed verbally, “Nope.”

I threw my head back and laughed in victory. Yes! Had we not just spent over an hour with these young men along with several other of their classmates, hauling rocks across our large yard and hurling them over the fence? Had we not been loudly proclaiming truth over them as they did so —

“Let’s go, boys! Our life on earth is but a breath! There is no time to waste; submit yourselves to God’s will because He is good and faithful! You have been made in God’s image and redeemed by Christ’s blood! God loves you enough to have sent Christ to die for you, and He wants to adopt us as His sons and daughters! Your life is infinitely valuable, and there is a bright future ahead of you, but you must take hold of it in faith! Haul those rocks!”

I continued yelling out one edifying comment after another, allowing godly instruction to flow from my mouth non-stop as the youth ran back and forth all around me, sweating, bending over, lifting and throwing rocks. Suddenly I realized that many of the themes and Bible verses we’ve been studying together all year were being proclaimed over these young people as they engaged in the very difficult activity of manual labor:

“God desires to raise you up to be fully equipped workers — disciples of Christ! — who are ready and willing for any good work! We know that the harvest is plenty but the workers are few! May YOU be the workers God is seeking; take hold of this moment as training for your future! God has an entire Kingdom prepared for those who love and obey Him, but we must persevere until the end! So persevere even now, hauling these rocks, even though it is difficult! You are doing such a great job! God’s Word says that even in difficulties, God desires that we remain rooted in His perfect joy — so even now find Christ in this moment of pain, even now be joyful! Run!”

By the end of the activity my throat was sore and raspy and the kids were dog-tired. So, when I glanced over at 15-year-olds Arlen and Brayan, both of which we’ve known and been closely involved with nearly three years (they were the first local youth we met shortly after moving here) and both of which struggled mightily in the beginning with looking you in the eyes, telling the truth, maintaining focus, receiving God’s Word, etc, I felt inundated with new hope for this slouched-over young man who all his life had been taught it acceptable to call himself “Ashamed.”

And so I laughed. I laughed right there under that shady tree because I know God is still in the business of redemption, that He has a big eraser in His hand to rub off “Ashamed” from this young man’s forehead and replace it with a giant stamp that reads “Loved.”

And while my own thoughts warned me, “This kid is bad news. What kind of influence will he be on the others?,” my heart rejoiced because I know that this is exactly the kind of young man God wants to call home, wants to renew.

And so, a couple days after our encounter with the ‘ashamed’ young man, I found myself coaching our two developmentally-challenged kiddos, Gaby and Josue (both age 8) as they worked together to haul several big plastic buckets full of dirty clothes to our outdoor washing area that lies a good walk from our front door.

They were both struggling to do so as their faces scrunched up in concentration and their little fingers sought to get the best grip on the buckets’ handles. Gaby grunted in exertion and Josue teetered back and forth as he sought to keep pace with Gaby. The buckets were heavy, and they were wondering if they actually had the strength (and coordination, teamwork, etc) to get the job done.

Seeing as we engage in this character-forming activity with these two little ones every Monday morning, I began encouraging them as usual. As we crossed our large grassy front lawn — me a couple paces in front of them — I began calling out: “Let’s go, Josue! You got it, Gaby! Let’s use your strength to serve God; utilize your bodies as instruments of justice! You can do this! We must work as unto Him and not for men!”

They inched across our front yard, each little one supporting one side of the bucket (and there were three more buckets waiting for them when they finished with the first!), each showing several visible signs of exertion but almost no reaction to all of my verbal encouragement and instruction. I continued:

“God is with us and He loves us, so there is no reason to be afraid — ”

Gaby suddenly piped up, interrupting me, and added, “or ashamed!”

She caught me entirely off guard, as she generally displays almost no understanding of God’s Word despite participating in numerous Bible studies and other Christian activities each week. Is this little person with a big-girl body but little-girl mind possibly absorbing — and understanding! — more than we had thought?

She continued, as if to erase all doubt from my mind: “We don’t have to be ashamed because God loves us! Gotta work for Him and not for men. Jesus died and came back to life!”

As we passed the small high school building and neared the kitchen with still quite a long distance between us and our final destination, Gaby and Josue all the while hauling the bucket one step at a time as a towering pile of dirty clothes rocked about perilously between them, I felt as though our Father allowed me to see them in a new light, to understand His love for us in a new way.

These two children who have been abused and neglected, who are not very attractive physically and have numerous behavioral issues, Josue who wears diapers, Gaby who mispronounces words, both of whom are lightyears behind their peers developmentally and socially — these kids who the whole world probably looks at with pity, who would give them every reason to be ‘ashamed’! — are learning the secret of freedom from all shame, all fear: God’s love. If the Creator of the universe loves you and longs to include you in His family, His kingdom, what on earth is there to be ashamed of? No shame; only gratitude. Joy.

Amen! Glory to God!

Forming Character The Old-Fashioned Way: One Rock at a Time

“Snake! Snake! It nearly bit me!” Cristian, a very shy, gangly 12-year-old student who has been a shining star in our intensive two-week program, shrieked as he pulled his hand back.

His five male classmates and I immediately arrived on the scene, intrigued by the snake sighting.

The young men had obediently commenced that morning’s character-forming project bending over, grabbing rocks of all sizes and then pitching them over the chain-link fence (the fenced-in area around the four little buildings that constitute the Living Waters Ranch has rocks everywhere you step, so I’ve taken it on as my personal project to move them to the open pasture where they’re out from underfoot). As the boys began crouching and hauling, unearthing and slinging, I had casually warned my teenage comrades, “Be careful, boys. There’s a boa that lives somewhere around here. Hopefully the rock you grab doesn’t happen to be his favorite hiding place.”

They had looked at me, dumbstruck, several of them with a smirk on their face as they assumed I was kidding.

[Seeing as I participated rather enthusiastically in competitive basketball teams and year-round athletic training from second grade until my high school graduation, I have taken these two weeks with our students as a bootcamp of sorts. (And I’ve had a little too much fun managing that bootcamp.)

Two days prior, as we neared thirty minutes or so of doing the rather demanding activity of launching rocks, everyone drenched in sweat under the hot Honduran sun, I clapped my hands vigorously and barked out orders, “That’s it! You’ve done great! Now hustle up – we’re gonna go around to the other side of the fence where you’ve just thrown all the rocks, and we’re gonna pick ‘em up and throw ‘em back on this side!”

They had all frozen and swiveled to look at me – the first time they had actually shown any recognition of all the noise I had been making – and their jaws dropped open. One of the boys expressed everyone’s thoughts, “That’s a crazy person’s work! No way!”

I had bent backward, thrown my head back and let out a belly laugh before recovering my rigid coaching tone of voice, “I’m just joking, kids! Now get your butts inside and we’re gonna continue reading more chapters of Proverbs and work out the kinks of long-division! You’ve done a phenomenal job! Hustle up now! Teamwork on three!”]

So this morning I laughed as I looked at their faces, unsure whether I was joking or not about the boa. (Our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline was standing by giggling and nodding her head in agreement, for she knew we had seen the boa several times and, thus, my warning was legitimate.)

“Nope, this one’s for real, boys. Good luck, and keep a tight watch on your fingers. I’d hate for anybody to lose one.”

They gaped and protested. I laughed. “No need to worry, boys. It’s not venomous. The only thing to fear is its long fangs. Just a slight sting, nothing more. Now fling those rocks! Let’s put everything you’re learning from the book of Proverbs into practice and form you into wise, hard-working young men for God’s glory! Hurl!”

As I stood right there on the sideline, shouting incessant verbal instruction and lavishing on praise, my throat started to ache due to my extreme coaching style. Not a moment passed that I wasn’t yelling some edifying comment or specific instruction to those young soldiers-in-training.

“That’s it, Exson! Keep it going, boys! We’re developing a good work ethic in you guys so that one day you will be useful instruments in God’s hands! Great job, Charlie! What great strength, Arnold! Wow, you guys have great perseverance! Keep slinging ‘em one after the other!”

Arms extended backward like catapults as rocks soared one after the other high over the fence. Fingernails turned black with dirt and muscles were put to the test as larger stones were taken on one by one and heaved over the precipice with great exertion.

“You need to run from Point A to Point B! Have a sense of urgency, boys! You don’t walk; you run! Show me that you deserve to pass seventh grade! Let’s go, boys! Use your strength to serve God; dedicate your bodies to serve justice!”

As the young men picked up their pace, heeding my verbal instruction to run from one rock to another rather than taking an easy stroll, sweat pouring mightily down their temples, I continued in my edifying verbal barrage: “May God form hard workers out of you, young men! You’re doing such a fantastic job! Keep it up, so that some day you can serve God, be responsibly married and provide for your family with the sweat of your brow! Remember that no good woman wants to marry a lazy man!”

A couple of the young men who had shown no prior interest in any of my many loud verbal proclamations until my last comment, stopped in their tracks, stared at me, and then let out a slight laugh before they kept on running.

All of our students are very familiar with the book of Hosea (the prophet whom God instructed to marry an unfaithful prostitute so that Hosea — and all those who would then come to know his story henceforth — would know how God, forever faithful, feels with unfaithful humanity who is constantly wandering off to prostitute itself to Satan). Making the connection between my comment about their future wives and the Scripture that we’ve been studying for months, Arlen, a 15-year-old student who ran past me with a rather large rock cradled in his hands, glanced up at me and asked with a tricky grin, “But we’re not gonna have a wife like Hosea’s, right?”

I laughed and praised God in my heart for all these young men are learning about His Word.

So, in these first four days of intensive work with those students who throughout the year had become notorious for playing hooky, not turning in homework on time and generally displaying rather irresponsible behavior day after day, we have enlisted them in a military-style boot camp founded on God’s Word in a very intentional attempt to form these young men (and woman) into disciplined, wise youth who are rooted in the truth. (And we’ve loved every minute of it even if they haven’t!)

With tears nearly welling up in my eyes, we’ve seen lazy, unmotivated young men begin to be transformed into hardworking, positive young men who leave all excuses aside, roll up their sleeves and get to work diligently. Now that there are less students to manage (the academically solid students are already on vacation), we can address and correct bad work habits individually, take the time to go over basics that they should have learned years ago, and go at a pace that they can understand and take hold of. Heck, I think these four days of intensive small-group military-style training have been more helpful to them than perhaps the entire school year in the normal classroom environment with all the other students and general distractions.

So when skinny Cristian with his Mohawk and wide eyes jumped back and set off the snake alarm, we all immediately showed up on the scene. Undoubtedly their thought was: Heck! She wasn’t kidding!

As we all drew near, Exson, the oldest student in our program who turned 18 this year, took the lead and grabbed a stick. He valiantly began removing rock after rock as his young friend informed him: “Right there! It disappeared into the dirt right there!”

Exson poked the stick about as we all bent over, faces forming an elevated circle above the suspected snake location while we all held our breath. It has almost bitten Cristian.

A moment or two passed as our hearts beat faster. Suddenly two eyes and a small head burst upward from the soil with lightning speed as I instinctively let out a blood-curdling scream and pulled my head up and away.

Not only did it almost bite Cristian; now it’s gonna bite all of us! The boa wants vengeance! If, in fact, it actually is the non-venomous boa and not one of the many poisonous snakes that are also found on this mountainside! Who can tell the difference anyway? Everybody run for your life!

My hands flew up to cover my face as if that would protect my ankles from the attacking fangs. The boys, too, had jumped back in surprise and let out similar gasps.

Everything happened in a half-second blur of terror and adrenaline before it registered in my mind: Wait, that wasn’t a snake. It was a gecko.

A gecko. 

We all began laughing hysterically as Cristian, who is typically very reserved, grabbed his chest in relief and sighed in very dramatic fashion.

After the boys had a good laugh at my squealy reaction, I resumed by coach-like authority and commanded, “Alright, back to work. Twenty more minutes of intense labor until recess, and I must warn you to watch out for the geckos. They are, after all, the most dangerous of all animals. More dangerous than a shark, more menacing than a lion, the gecko, young men, is to be feared above all other creatures. Now sling those rocks over the fence and watch out for gecko fangs!”

Amen! Glory to God!