Category Archives: Foster

Communication Sabbatical + Year-End Request

I send you our warm greetings from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead in Honduras.

I write to inform you of two things:

  1. I will be taking a communication sabbatical from this blog during the next four weeks. I hope to spend more focused time with my husband and our 6 foster children as all of us will have our annual  month-long break from our normal school, work and ministry activities.
  2. Our ministry income has unexpectedly come up short these last three months and our funds are currently much lower than they should be. If you desire to support this mission through a year-end tax-deductible donation, you can do so electronically through the following link: DONATE LIVING WATERS RANCH.

Please pray for us during this upcoming month as my husband Darwin and I seek to slow down and rediscover how to live a quiet, private life before the Lord while cultivating our foster children/teens in Christ.

We will be working on several agricultural and maintenance projects with our foster children around our rural property in addition to blessing our neighbors through small evangelistic/service-oriented activities in our rural neighborhood. We recently invested in a small herd of sheep for our farm, and we are in the process of teaching our four teenage daughters to drive. As a family we will be doing a lot of cooking and domestic labors as we slow down this month, and my parents will also be visiting us soon.

Thank you to all who pray for us and support this mission financially. We could not serve in the way that we do without you. God bless you, and may your holiday season abound in rest, joy and the Lord’s perfect peace. I look forward to being in touch in mid-January.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Last Photo Update of the Year 2019

We send you our warm greetings from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. Below is quite an extensive album of photos displaying our daily life and ministry in our hidden corner of the world. To God be all the glory, and we sincerely thank those who pray for and financially support this ongoing mission to teach, parent and disciple Honduran youth in Jesus’ name.

This is Erick, one of our highly dedicated local missionary-teachers posing with one of our students in a recent boys’ retreat/campout on a local beach. These extracurricular events are organized several times a year as a way of further deepening our investment in our students’ lives as we guide them in the way of Christ.
Here is a group of 5 of our local students, all 7th-graders, at a late-night get-together on someone’s front lawn to do homework together. (Many families in our neighborhood do not have very spacious homes, so they’ll move a plastic table and chairs on the front lawn in order to do homework or entertain guests.) Two of these young men were baptized by us this year.
Here is my husband Darwin’s little orchestra in one of their twice-weekly practices. (In our area of Honduras there are little to no orchestras and/or musical training, so the ongoing discipline and passion it takes to organize such a group is a big achievement here.)

This is one of our older teen students in a recent community service project in our local community. A big part of what we do is serve our students/youth, but from there we train them to humbly serve others as Christ taught (so that the blessing does not stop with them but rather multiplies and blesses others).
This is my husband Darwin in a recent choir performance in a local mall. He trains our more mature/disciplined students and foster children to sing Christian and classical songs in several different languages, and they oftentimes get invited to sing in public venues.

This is Fernando, another one of our local missionary-teachers who works alongside of Darwin to teach guitar and choir to a group of our students. He is also an agricultural engineer and has many years of experience teaching at the university level here in Honduras.
This is Jessica (far left), another one of our local missionary-teachers, at a road race with the family of one of our students. We as a ministry strive to be involved in the local community and connect with our students and their families not only in the classroom but also in their daily lives for God’s glory.
This is a group choir practice in which Lawny, one of our very high-energy local missionary-teachers is teaching our students fun hand-movements to go with each song.

More trash pick-up! As you might have seen in some of our previous posts, we as a ministry are periodically involved in local trash pick-up, as the culture here does not typically reflect much discipline/order as far as trash collection goes. Many people throw their trash alongside public walkways, and we have taken it upon ourselves to begin setting a good example and serving where/when we can.

This is Aracely, one of our beloved local missionary-teachers on her 30th birthday. We surprised her by celebrating alongside of our entire team in our little office building.
My husband Darwin, who is our tiny school’s 6th-grade teacher, did a  fundraiser with his students throughout several months in order to earn enough money to help them buy part of their school uniforms/supplies for next school year (which here starts in February). This is a big deal here, as many students’ families struggle to purchase their kids’ school materials each year.
These are the butter cookies my husband and his students baked and sold during months in order to raise money to buy their school supplies. Talk about hands-on training in microenterprise and perseverance!
This is Brayan, one of our foster children who lived with us on-and-off for several years before eventually leaving home last year. He has since entered the Honduran military and recently completed his basic training, which is an honorable achievement for him. He even came to stay with us recently on his 10-day leave, and we were able to pray with/for him and continue investing in him in this new stage of his life.
Kyshia, a Christian missionary who has served in Honduras nearly 40 years, has become a close friend and mentor for my husband and me. Recently, she came out to our ministry property to do a hands-on workshop with our entire staff on the topic of sexual abuse and what our response should be as Christians.

My husband Darwin is a talented swimmer (self-taught) and now leads several weekly swimming classes for our students in a local river a short walk from our ministry property. This photo shows his group of older teen boys enjoying flexing their muscles.

This is the coast of La Ceiba, the nearest local city to our ministry property and a site where we oftentimes organize school field trips.
Here is Darwin’s group of younger teen boys toying with the idea of jumping off the ledge into the river to begin class…

This is our foster daughter Paola “studying” for one of her final exams a few weeks ago in our living room. I caught her sleeping on the job and couldn’t resist snapping this shot!
The visual quality of this photo is not great, but it sure does provide a good laugh! This is Josue, our special-needs foster son who is back living with us for a few months doing his “cool” pose with my sunglasses.
Here is my husband Darwin with three of our teenage foster daughters in our recent year-end school event. (The traditional school calendar in Honduras ends in late November.)
This is a recent dinner I served in our home with our foster children. Most meals include some combination of beans and/or rice with eggs, cheese, etc.
Here is one of our local students in organic agriculture class on our rural ministry homestead. All of our students are involved in agricultural training as a means of character/spiritual development under the faithful tutelage of one of our local missionary-teachers.

This is one of our foster daughters with her biological nephew. Several of our foster children are in monthly contact with their biological family members and we enjoy cultivating a healthy relationship with them.
This is our staff of missionary-teachers and tutors  who serve at the Living Waters Ranch. (My husband Darwin was on the mike and for that reason cannot be seen in the photo.)
Here is my husband Darwin on a recent field trip with some of his 6th-grade students.
Darwin also teaches swimming with our female students and foster daughters. Several of them have lost their fear of water through this class and have learned to swim various strokes for the first time in their lives.

God bless you! Thank you for allowing us to share!

 

 

Hand-Washing Your Clothes in a Mosquito-Infested Yard: A Honduran Perspective

The following experience that I will share with you has become entirely normal to me in 7+ years of living full-time in rural Honduras (and to millions of others around the world), but this morning as I was hand-washing 3 loads of laundry in our mosquito-infested  outdoor ‘pila’ it occurred to me that our family’s modest washing method might present an intriguing perspective to those who have daily access to an indoor washing machine and dryer.

This is our ‘pila’, the local Spanish word that describes this type of outdoor washing station used for cleaning clothes and even for bathing. (Some people prefer to bathe standing next to the ‘pila’ using bowls of water instead of bathing in a shower.)

 

This morning I rolled out of bed at 7:08am — very late for us as we are normally in action by 5:15am on school/work days — and I began the process of preparing to wash. My husband had already been up almost an hour and was quietly at work in our little office building on the same property where we live and serve. Today was an unusual day in that our local missionary-teachers and students were on vacation and would not be coming to our rural ministry homestead for a normal day of classes and Christian discipleship.

This morning I would be washing not only mine and my husband’s clothes but also several of our foster kids’ bed sheets, a couple towels and our bathroom rug. (Generally speaking, the hardest things to wash are bed comforters and towels due to their bulk size and thickness). It had only been three days since I last washed, but our laundry basket was overflowing already. 

I sighed. The process itself of hand-washing is relaxing, enjoyable and rewarding as I can spend the time praying or simply reflecting as I overlook our large grassy fields where our cattle graze, but the hoards of mosquitos that have been around for several weeks rob any sense of peace in the humble task.

It is currently the rainy season in Honduras, which on the whole brings tremendous blessing. The rains water the fields and fill the rivers (although not entirely, due to frightening levels of deforestation, but at the least the previously-dry rivers gain a slight, shallow current). The downside to the rainy season, however, is that the clothes hanging on the line don’t dry as quickly as they should (when they are almost ready to be brought in, many times it rains again and everything gets soaked, leading us to start again from ground zero with the drying process) plus there are droves of mosquitos everywhere, some of which port dangerous tropical diseases. 

Knowing this, I sprayed my entire body down with the last of my mosquito repellent before putting my clothes on. Standing in my bedroom in nothing but my bra and underwear, I sprayed every inch of my body, knowing that as soon as I stepped outside dozens of mosquitos would come swarming around me, even trying to get to me through my clothing. Even my ears, forehead, cheeks and chin were lathered in bug spray. After finishing off my mosquito spray, I put on an old (thick) pair of sweat pants and an XXL t-shirt that many years ago was my dad’s. I had already brushed my teeth and my hair was up in a messy bun.  If I stepped outside in sandals or barefoot, the mosquitos’ first target would be my feet and bare ankles, so I put on my husband’s tall black rain-boots (here used as agricultural work-boots). 

I was as prepared as I could be, so I began the process of hauling all our dirty laundry outside in various large plastic washing bins, gathering the bag of detergent, the bleach, etc. As I stepped outside into our little side yard where our ‘pila’ (outdoor washing station) is situated, sure enough I was greeted my countless buzzing mosquitos (and our three guard dogs, seeking attention). I froze, standing next to our pila in all my washing attire, as my gaze carefully studied three or four mosquitos who were trying to land on my right arm. After a couple moments of trying to draw near, they finally gave up and flew off. My potential over-use of bug spray was paying off!

From there, I spent the next two hours happily hand-washing the contents of the large plastic laundry buckets. 

This is a photo I took of some of the bedsheets and towels I washed this morning.

 

My husband was single until he married me at age 30, so he had many years of experience hand-washing his own clothes. While in this culture many ‘macho’ men think that washing is strictly a woman’s job, my husband has a humble heart and does help from time to time if I am sick or overburdened with other tasks. (And I’m pretty sure he washes a whole lot better than I do.) He even gave our four teenage foster daughters an effective series of ‘how-to-wash’ lectures and hands-on demonstrations after we realized some of them had not been taking the appropriate amount of time to wash their clothes thoroughly. 

We’ve tried many different systems with our household laundry over the years. Five or six years ago, when our foster children were younger, we hired a local woman to come out once or twice a week and help us wash their clothes, but that did nothing to foment responsibility in our children, so after a couple years we abandoned that method in favor of them washing their own clothes. (Our younger boys receive help from their older sisters to wash). 

Asking our kids to wash their own clothes, however, has presented its own difficulties, as our kids are very active and their clothes oftentimes end up marked with dirt, grass stains, paint and other mystery substances that prove very tricky to get out of their clothes with our cold-water hand-washing method. For this reason, about 90% of the clothing we purchase for our household come from local thrift stores, because down here clothes and linens are oftentimes the first things to get destroyed (if not by stains, then by our pit bull ‘Thor’ who pulls down and then eats clothes off the line). Due to exorbitant humidity here, many of our clothes — if not washed immediately but rather left a few days in the laundry basket — acquire a stubborn type of local mold/fungus that appears as a series of small black dots all over the clothes, and it is nearly impossible to remove. 

As you can see, hand-washing in Honduras is an art in and of itself and requires much strategy (and mosquito spray)!

With all that being said, this morning as I finished up the last of the clothes —  our three guard dogs faithfully following me to and fro as I walked from the ‘pila’ to the clothesline and back again — I felt a very real sense of contentment bubble up within me upon completing such a simple but gratifying task.

And so I re-entered our home at about 9:00am, then soaked from the waist-down and my rain-boots squeaking across our tile floor as I quietly greeted our 6 foster children/teens who were still in the process of shaking off their slumber. Some laid out quietly on our living room couch reading while one of our older daughters contentedly practiced music. One went about  sweeping each room in our house; another came up alongside of me to give me a warm hug and a good-morning smile.

I thanked God in my heart for this new day and for His blessing of peace over our family.

Here are the rest of the clothes, towels and bedsheets I washed this morning. They are now hung up  behind our cinderblock home where I hope they will dry in the next several hours before it rains again.

 

God bless you where you are, and let each of us live with joy in our hearts and thanksgiving towards Him for the life He’s given us.  We trust that God has opened a way for us to live with and for Him through Christ, and that whatever hardship or trial we face in this world will soon pass away.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Grassroots Honduran Education: A Cultural Tour

I write this post mainly for those living outside of Honduras who wish to gain a deeper understanding of a few of the key cultural factors that characterize grassroots Honduran education. Below I humbly share with you a series of photos taken on our rural ministry homestead over the past few weeks along with their respective explanations about different aspects of traditional Honduran culture (as I understand them in my 7 years of living here).

If you find this post informative and would like me to exhibit another facet of our life here (possibly the day-to-day realities of fostering in our Honduran context, etc), you may leave a comment at the end or contact me personally with your request.

God bless you, and thank you for your interest in and support of this work. To God be all the glory.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

This is one of our local students doing his English homework. All across Honduras English is generally taught as the preferred second language, and there are numerous bilingual schools here that place a great emphasis on learning fluent English. In our rural context we’ve found it quite difficult to awaken within our students the desire to learn a foreign language, but in more urban settings it is very common. Many jobs in Honduras nowadays require workers to be bilingual.
Working the land is a very normal part of daily life in our rural town. Many of our students’ parents work in the local Standard Fruit pineapple field, and it is very common here for families and individuals to plant fruit trees and other crops (such as corn, beans, etc.) in their yard in order to help diminish food costs.
All of our students are in weekly organic agriculture classes under the tutelage of one of our very passionate local missionary-teachers. Most other local schools do not offer a hands-on agriculture class, but basic knowledge of different plants and farming techniques is common due to the local culture.
While schools in the United States generally have air-conditioning (especially in the South), only the more elite Honduran schools have this luxury for their students. It is not uncommon for our teachers to take their students out to our front lawn and teach class under a tree for this reason: our classrooms can get very hot and stuffy, especially in the dry season.
In Honduras old tires are recycled and used for many different purposes. Some people cut them in half and fill them with water and/or feed mix for their farm animals; others cut them up in different creative ways to transform them into flowerpots; others (like us) use them as sturdy outdoor chairs.
While this photo of our foster children was not taken on our ministry homestead but rather at a restaurant in our local town, it does show a very common typical Honduran food: baleadas. This dish  can be compared to Mexican tacos and includes a combination of beans, cheese and/or meat inside of a tortilla. This is one of the most famous foods in Honduras, and it  can be eaten at any time of the day.
The collection of firewood is a very common task in our area for males of all ages due to the fact that a good percentage of  local families use a wood-burning stove to prepare their meals. Other families (like ours) use a gas-powered stove, and very few use an electric stove.
This is one of our local students petting one of our young bulls. It is very common in our area to see cattle walking down the main roads of our town or simply grazing in an open field. Our cows roam our rural property freely  and oftentimes interact with us at different moments throughout the day. (They love to push our inner gate open and sneak in to eat the clothes hanging on our clothesline!)
It is common for schools to hold a ‘traditional games’ day at least once a year and participate in activities such as: potato sack races, balance-an-egg-on-a-spoon competitions, etc.
Most Hondurans have much more contact with their natural environment than Americans do. Many general assemblies and group activities are held outdoors (preferably under a leafy tree). For this reason, many activities are postponed and/or canceled when there are heavy rains.
Most families and even schools do not readily have many art supplies available. Those who have artistic giftings generally use recycled materials such as old CDs, empty Coke bottles, etc, to do various creative projects.
The traditional school uniform across the nation includes dark blue pants/skirt and a white shirt. Some private schools require  a specialized uniform for their students, but we adhere to the general school standards in regards to attire. Most of our students (including our foster children) have only one uniform, and they hand-wash it each day when they get home from school and hang it up to dry for the next day.
This is a photo taken from one of our recent co-ed P.E. classes. Most local schools do not have a very effective physical education program nor is there a very strong culture of  organized sports. While you can find  gymnasiums in Honduras’ larger cities, in a small town like ours there are typically no organized workout centers.
While most Americans have P.E. class inside a gym, on an asphalt court or on the track, most Honduran schools do not have an official sports building  and/or equipment to facilitate athletic training. We hold our P.E. classes on our front lawn, rain or shine, and we implement a series of exercises that don’t require any special equipment (such as sit-ups, push-ups, squat jumps, wind sprints, dynamic team-building exercises, etc.) Some of our students do not own tennis shoes, so they joyfully participate barefoot, in flip-flops  or in their more formal school shoes.
There is not much of an exercise/physical fitness culture in our town beyond pick-up soccer games among teenage boys, but most people do walk and/or ride bikes quite a bit due to the fact that very few people own cars.

Our school is swimming upstream against the local belief that girls can’t/shouldn’t do rigorous exercise. Most local parents are initially against our fairly dynamic P.E. program, but soon they come to appreciate it as they see their daughters happier and more physically healthy over time.

Fall 2019 in Rural Honduras: Photos, Updates and Prayer Requests

Greetings to all from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras.

I’m relieved to inform you that the political crisis has calmed down a bit lately, and the roads have been open with no noticeable protests for the last several weeks. We continue to pray that peace and justice might prevail in Honduras and that God might grant our leaders true wisdom so as to effect God-honoring, long-term solutions for this hurting nation.

Below I share with you a diverse set of photos (and detailed explanations!)  from our daily life of service in this little corner of the world…

This was a campout that several of our local missionary-teachers and students went on during a recent school vacation. These types of events are organized in order to dedicate additional time to disciple our students, offer healthy recreational activities for them,  and pour into their lives beyond the classroom for God’s glory. We offer several campouts such as these throughout the year, and many of our teenage students participate.

Darwin and a select group of our students (including two of our foster kids) were recently invited to sing on television with our new guitar/choir teacher (the man in the vest on the far left). He is a very talented local musician who composes up-beat songs with Christian and ecological messages.

This is 11-year-old Josue, a special-needs young man who lived with us as one of our foster children for over 4 years before moving in with his maternal grandmother earlier this year. We still see him frequently (and invite him to all of our family birthday parties), and he will actually be coming back under our full-time care during the upcoming months as his grandma will be out of the country for work until roughly March 2020. (Grandma feeds him really well and doesn’t let him play much outdoors, but we already have a plan for how we are going to help him regain the active health he enjoyed before!)
Several weeks ago my husband and several of our local students’ moms got together to celebrate my 29th birthday alongside of all of our students, teachers and foster kids. We miraculously cut the cake into over 60 pieces in order to make sure everybody got a piece! (I dare you to count ’em!)
You gotta be good at math to cut this cake!

Waiting for their little piece of cake!
One of our local students, an 8th-grader, explains his recent science project to a group of onlookers.      
This is my husband Darwin with a group of his English class students on a special field trip into the city of La Ceiba to eat pizza. Some of our local students never get out of our little rural town, so experimenting a change of environment tends to be very exciting. (One of our local teens had never seen the ocean even though the nearest beach is only a few miles away from our town. That was remedied as Darwin organized a large group field trip out to the beach earlier this year.)
This is Jeffrey, a local 15-year-old youth who has been in our school for the last several years. Currently in 4th grade, he has several developmental delays  and comes from a severely disintegrated home, as his father and one of his brothers left earlier this year for the United States, leaving him, his mother and two of his brothers behind. Jeffrey requires a lot of individualized attention as he has dislexia and ADHD, and my husband Darwin has a very soft spot for him. We are very proud of Jeffrey for choosing to stay in school and be exposed to daily biblical teaching, as it is very popular for teenage boys in our neighborhood to simply roam the streets or get mixed up in trouble.
This is a photo taken in Darwin’s group piano class earlier this month. Music is a fundamental element we try to inculcate in all of our students as part of their integral development, healing from past traumas, and preparation for life and God’s service.
Whenever our foster children have a birthday, we like to take the opportunity to write them love letters and little notes of affirmation and encouragement. These specific index cards were part of 16-year-old Paola’s celebration, and a few of them read “You are strong in Christ,” “Your life is of great worth,” “God has been good to you,” and “You are beautiful!”
Birthday parties are so much more fun with disguises!

Prayer is an integral part of life in our home. On this specific occasion we were praying for God’s blessing, wisdom and salvation over one of our foster kids on their birthday.
Several weeks ago I began teaching an intensive World Geography class to all of our students, focusing on current world trends and how we should react to said trends from a God-honoring standpoint. A recent topic for the class was the ever-increasing LGBT influence around the globe and how we as Christians should stand firm on the Bible’s clear teachings concerning homosexuality and God’s design of man and woman, biblical marriage, etc. As part of the class curriculum I asked all of our students to look up Bible verses specifically addressing these gender- and identity- issues, and to write them on index cards, poster boards, etc, in a loving and clear way with the goal of communicating truth and edifying one another as God created them. We have since filled two of our school’s bulletin boards with this precious information, and we continue to influence our students and foster kids to live a God-honoring life, not giving in to what the world claims is normal but rather standing firm on the Rock of truth.

Here are two of our beloved local missionary-teachers participating in a recent game of blindfolded Chinese freeze tag alongside of our students. (One is a lawyer by profession and the other is a trained beautician, but both have been called by God to lay down their lives and traditional plans in order to love, teach and disciple the next generation of Hondurans for God’s glory.)

This is Darwin doing the father-daughter dance with one of our foster daughters (Gleny) who recently turned 15, which is a big birthday in this culture.
Here is Erick (purple shirt), one of our extremely influential local missionary-teachers leading up a Saturday effort to clean up the streets in our neighborhood — a never-ending job done with grace and dedication!
Who knew that picking up trash could be so much fun?

God bless you, and thank you for your continued prayers and support. Please pray that the Lord might increasingly shine His light through us and that many might come to repentance and saving faith in Christ through this hidden yet faithful work. 

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

PS — Please feel free to contact me directly at JenniferZillyCanales@yahoo.com if you would like to share any personal prayer requests with me and/or reach out with any questions, suggestions or concerns.

Love of God and Humanity: A Photo Tour of Organic Christian Ministry

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) in Honduras, Central America. Below I’d like to share with you a general update using photos taken in our daily life of hospitality, teaching and discipleship for God’s glory.

My husband Darwin and I continue to foster our five children/teens ages 12-17 with the hope of being able to legally adopt them if we are granted legal favor and efficacy with the local authorities. (We’ve been trying to adopt for over four years now with very little progress, but we continue to raise our children joyfully with the hope of becoming their legal, permanent family someday.)

Our small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionary-teachers is well and thriving, and we continue to work alongside of them to serve 40 youth from our local community daily through our school and concentrated evangelistic/service activities.

I pray all is well with you and that you are encouraged to plant deep roots in the truth God has revealed to humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. God bless you.

This is Abigail, a 15-year-old local youth who participated in our small discipleship-based homeschool for two years as a student and this year is one of three tutors at the Living Waters Ranch. We’ve designed the “tutor” position as  a work-study program for a selected group of our older, mature teens so that they can gain leadership experience in the realm of Christian service while also earning a small monthly stipend. (This is a huge blessing for them, as our rural neighborhood has very high unemployment rates — especially among teens and young adults — and a large percentage of the population lives in stark poverty.)
This is a group of  teens in our school during one of my P.E. classes recently. We oftentimes design wacky, team-building exercises that leave everyone not only sweating but also laughing! (One of the main goals behind this is to break down barriers of distrust, pride, racism and bullying in order to fully live out Christ’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.)
Great picture! Here are our four foster daughters (ages 15-17) accompanied by Sindy (in yellow), one of our local tutors in our work-study leadership program. The objective: do a quarter-mile run without letting go of their teammates!
Here are a few of our local students in our small 8th-grade homeroom class, which takes place in our  multi-purpose dining room on the property where my husband and I live and serve. Many of the students in our school are behind academically and/or come from very precarious backgrounds. We receive them onto our property each day with the hope of expressing God’s love to them in many tangible ways in addition to equipping them for the future as wholly faithful followers of Christ ready for any good work.
This is Gabriela, a preteen who is new to our school this year. She lives with her dad, who is now a born-again believer after having had a very rough past, and two brothers.
In addition to art classes, we also include music, organic agriculture, Christian dance, Bible studies, swimming, evangelistic opportunities and other dynamic learning experiences into our normal weekly schedule at the Living Waters Ranch as part of our students’ integral formation.

Many of our classes involve mixed age-groups, pairing older teens with preteens. We do this mainly because we want to cultivate a family-style environment (we continue to call our school “homeschool” even though we now have 40 students enrolled), and for that reason we do not have mass numbers of students  in each grade/age group. Individualized attention with each student is a priority, and much of the discipleship that goes on around here takes place in the context of one-on-one and/or small group mentoring relationships.
Happy birthday to you, Isaac! We do not celebrate all of our 40 students’ birthdays individually, but the Lord put it on our hearts to do a special celebration for Isaac, a precious young man who is new to our school this year and recently took the step to be baptized. His mom left the family for the United States several years ago, and he has been living alone with his dad ever since. We figure that a mom normally is the one in charge of making a birthday cake for their son and putting together the festivities, so we were privileged to step in and fill that role on Isaac’s special day. He was brought to tears at the surprise and told us it was the first time anyone had celebrated his birthday.

We recently celebrated Indian Day, which is an important holiday to remember Honduran heritage. (My husband Darwin on the far left always dresses up and covers himself in clay/mud for Indian Day in addition to playing tunes on his wooden flute…) The kids love it!
This is Ivania, a local 10-year-old who is one of the younger students in our school. (We generally accept children from 10 years up through 19 years of age, with most of our students being teenagers). She was decked out in the full costume for Indian Day!
Here is a group of our preteen boys participating in a reflection/discipleship activity on our front lawn. (Our foster son Jason, age 12, is included here.)
This photo is not especially dazzling, but it does go to show that our students are responsible for doing the after-school cleanup everyday. We’ve established a system of rotating clean-up  groups to inculcate increased responsibility and general hygiene awareness in all of our youth as diligent disciples of Christ. This is particularly important because many people in this culture throw  trash on the ground and let it accumulate in public areas (causing environmental contamination, increased risk of diseases, etc.), which is a general woe we are actively fighting.
On many occasions throughout the year we organize service trips into our rural neighborhood to do trash pick-up, which is a colossal job. As mentioned above, there is not much cultural appreciation for clean streets and green areas (creation care) in our town, but we are content to try to make a humble dent in the overall problem and — hopefully — set a good example for our neighbors to follow. (This is also great character-development for our students!)
In several sectors of our rural town there is no organized system of trash pick-up, so most people simply dump their trash out on the street in front of their home. It is not uncommon to see dirty diapers, empty Coke bottles and all sorts of trash strewn about on or near public walkways. One of our local missionary-teachers is working with the local mayor and governing authorities to see what can be done about this potentially easily-solved problem, but progress is very slow.
Sharon Washburn, veteran missionary in Honduras and founder of a well-known Christian high school several hours away, has come out several times recently to do educational expositions for our students. This greatly enriches their understanding of the world and allows them to learn from a new perspective.

As part of her presentation, she taught the world cultures material to a group of our older students first, who then were in charge of teaching the material to the younger students.
All of our students are in weekly organic agriculture classes with Erick, one of our local missionary-teachers who has truly extensive knowledge and inspiring passion for creation care. In addition to cultivating an honest work ethic in our youth, Erick also uses the class as an outlet for additional discipleship and Christian reflection.
Here are a few of our preteens working in the pineapple patch.

This is Sindy, one of our enthusiastic tutors who has been involved full-time at the Living Waters Ranch for the last four years, enjoying a rambutan fruit on an educational hike.

 

God bless you with peace and salvation in Christ Jesus, and please continue to remember us in your prayers. I have more photos to share, but I will save them for next time!

If you are not on our mailing list and would like to be in order to receive our bi-monthly printed newsletter with testimonies and prayer requests, you may contact me directly at: JenniferZillyCanales@yahoo.com to send me your full name and mailing address.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and mission/family

An Ongoing Challenge We Face Serving in Rural Honduras

I write to you from the little bright-blue office building on our rural ministry homestead in northern Honduras as I ask for prayer regarding an ever-present difficulty we face in our daily efforts to guide, love and disciple the many youth in our home and school for God’s glory.

Time and again we see our youth make very hasty decisions regarding their future, oftentimes abruptly moving far away without forewarning or impatiently making life-altering decisions that they will likely regret in the future. Oftentimes they seek and then reject our counsel; other times they simply make impulsive, life-changing choices in the blink of an eye without consulting anyone.

This deeply saddens and frustrates us, as my husband, our team of local missionary-teachers and I fully understand that the labor the Lord has called us to is long-term. We are convinced that lives are not generally changed in a matter of weeks or months, nor do most learn to walk with the Lord in a short time-span. Our longing has always been to walk alongside of — form friendships with, disciple, provide for, teach, suffer with, give hospitality to, etc. — the youth in our lives for a period of at least five years or more in order to equip them with the knowledge, inner healing, practical skills, fear of the Lord, etc. to face the future as true sons and daughters of the living God ready for any good work.

While our commitment first to God and then to the youth is long-term, the youth’s commitment to us (and oftentimes to the Lord) is short-term at best.

Just a few days ago one of our very responsible older teen students who entered a few months ago into our family-style school unexpectedly dropped out without notifying us. We saw him for the last time on Monday; he came to school as per usual, said nothing to us, and then — poof! — that afternoon left town and moved several hours away to join the military in the middle of our school year. Even his parents were aghast, as they had no idea of his plans. He was one of our best students, has a sincere walk with the Lord and seemed extremely content in all of his activities with us. Just three weeks ago he started taking guitar lessons with us and enthusiastically told us of his plans to buy a guitar so that he could practice more at home. He lived on our rural property with his parents and even served as one of our night watchmen.  His younger brothers, who continue in school with us, are obviously very negatively affected by their older brother’s rash decision-making to abandon their family, his job and his schooling. He still had several years to go to finish high school, which he now will probably never finish. The night he left, my husband Darwin tried to call him several times in order to ask him what had happened, but the young man didn’t answer his phone and has yet to call Darwin back.

These kinds of reckless turns of events leave us on edge, as we never know who the next victim might be to such hasty decision-making. So many of our youth flip-flop constantly and seem incapable of making any kind of decision beyond today. We know that this is in large part due to the fact that many of our young people come from dysfunctional homes and have suffered many traumas in early childhood, stunting their brain development and inhibiting their capacity for sound decision-making. Even so, it never fails to surprise us when those who so enthusiastically proclaim their commitment to the Lord and to our school are some of the first to dive head-long into the caos and begin living pointless lives on the streets of our local town far from God’s blessing. Others have made the unhealthy, impulsive decision to move to Mexico or the United States even though there was nothing pushing them away.

A comparable  set of events have also taken place within the confines of our foster/adoptive family where we raise our kids on the same rural ministry property where we run our school. Last week two of our teen girls began spiraling downward very rapidly and made the abrupt decision to leave our home because they no longer wanted to submit to our authority or hear our opinion (or the Lord’s) on the matter. The sudden turn of events caught us all by surprise, and they are now gone in the blink of an eye and on a path we never dreamed for them to take. A month ago I would not have been able to even fathom that these devastating losses would occur in such a short time-frame, but now without warning this is our new reality and we are left now with 5 children as we cope together, pray for our lost girls and try to carefully establish a new “normal” for our family. Although it has been very painful, we do feel at peace.

I share all of this with you with two motives: (1) so that you might better understand the overseas context in which we live and serve on a daily basis and (2) so that you might come alongside us in prayer for these beloved but highly impetuous youth who lack stability in their lives and decisions.

This morning as I spent time in the stillness of our living room lifting up each of our lost youth individually before the Lord, I sensed He reminded me that we are simply sowers of seeds. In some lives we may be granted the privilege of faithfully sowing during many years; in other lives we may only be given a few days or weeks. Whichever the case may be for each of our precious youth, we desire to sow the Word into their lives daily and then leave the results — their growth and the future harvest — in God’s hands and timing. This can be hard for us to accept, for as we come to love and shepherd these youth we earnestly desire to keep them under our care long-term not for our benefit but for theirs, and it is always a devastating blow when they make a spur of the moment decision to leave our care and turn their backs on God’s will for their lives.

I would ask that you might also pray for my husband and I in this matter, as our hearts are currently hurting and our nerves are on end as we’ve undergone the loss of several loved ones lately and fear for their physical and spiritual safety. And, sadly, we are currently trying to prayerfully and strategically intervene in the lives of a couple more of our dear youth who are on the verge of making similar overhasty decisions.

Thank you for your prayers and support. God bless you, and may the Lord grant us all firmness in our decision to live for Him and serve as His hands and feet to a lost and hurting world.

With peace in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Photo Update and Prayer Request

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. Below is a variety of photos we’ve taken in our daily academic and discipleship activities in the family-oriented community homeschool we operate out of our home, the Living Waters Ranch.

At the end of the photos there is a brief prayer request for those who might lift us up before the Lord in prayer during this time. God bless you all, and we give our sincere thanks to those who financially support and/or pray for us and those whom we care for. To God be the glory in all.

My husband Darwin’s P.E. class with the older teen boys in our school
A couple of our students on a 2-mile jog down to the main highway and back to our rural property
Group Bible study on a creative outfit day in which all of our students were invited to come to school dressed with attire from biblical times
One of our beloved local missionary-teachers and two of our foster kids on biblical-attire day
This local student of ours surely had to cross some Arabian desert in order to get to school on biblical-attire day! (Too precious!)
A couple months ago my husband, our foster children and I planted several flowers around our rural property, and they are beginning to bloom.
A photo my husband took of his sixth-grade class on a Saturday educational outing into the city of La Ceiba
The same sixth-grade group visiting the beach
Our boys on silly hat day
Our girls on silly hat day
The following are photos taken in math class on silly hat day…

Book report presentation

A group of our students rehearsing in a local church before their big choir presentation in San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in Honduras which is about a 3-hour drive from our town

Official rehearsal with the choir director and several other national choir groups
Final presentation
My husband, who serves as the choir director at the Living Waters Ranch, congratulating the man who directed the overall event in San Pedro Sula
One of our highly dedicated local missionary-teachers with a group of our students at the choir event
My husband Darwin posing with the local woman who donated lunch for the event
Playing in the rain: one of the precious local youth in our discipleship-based community homeschool who was recently baptized and is now walking with the Lord
A group of our teens (two of our foster daughters and a handful of local students) in our front lawn after classes let out for the day
Three of our local boys playing soccer in front of our home during recess
A favorite pasttime of Honduran youth: picking mangos during mango season
A group of our students beneath one of our mango trees looking for fruit
Somebody found a ripe mango!
Exam time for a group of our high school students
Outdoor music lessons with my husband
God’s creation right next to our front porch


Prayer Request:

Without going into too many details, I will share that our home with our 7 foster children/teens ages 12-18 is currently going through a couple very painful upheavals/trials, and there are likely to be some big changes around the corner for our family in the coming weeks. Fostering/adopting young people who come from very dysfunctional backgrounds is not easy, and our relationship with a couple of our older girls is reaching a very precarious state as they are making very poor/dangerous decisions and refuse to submit to our authority, seek the Lord on the matter, or take our advice. Please pray that the Lord might grant all of us (my husband, myself and our children) peace during this volatile time, and that the Lord would take control of any and all changes that need to take place in order to assure the safety, wellbeing and spiritual growth of those in our household for God’s glory. Thank you for praying for us.

 

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Bed of Flowers: A Spontaneous Photo Shoot on the Front Lawn

Yesterday in the early morning hours as I walked out onto our quiet front porch — our 7 foster kids sleepily getting showered and ready for another day of school — I stared at the raw, wild beauty that God had blessed us with right there on our front lawn. Little red flowers had fallen from two of our trees and laid scattered on the ground in a stunning array.

I thanked God in my heart for such beauty, and I considered that the entire scene would make for a one-of-a-kind photo shoot. After all, we have another kind of tree on our property that sheds yellow flowers in springtime every year, but we had not moved fast enough this year and sadly missed our opportunity to take pictures.

Well, just a couple hours after I stood prayerfully mesmerized on our front porch all of our missionary-teachers and local students came buzzing through our front gate for a new day of classes and discipleship. With minimal interruptions to our daily schedule we seized the day and organized a spontaneous photo shoot to capture behind the lens a measure of the love, joy and fellowship in the Lord that we enjoy here on a daily basis.

God bless you, and I hope these photos make you smile…

A partial view of the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead where we love, disciple and educate over 40 youth in a homeschool-style setting for God’s glory
Our group of eighth-graders, including one of our foster daughters and eight local youth alongside of their homeroom teacher, one of our local missionary-teachers
Our ninth-grade homeroom teacher with her tiny group of faithful students: all three are foster daughters of ours!
Me having too much fun directing the photo shoot on our front lawn
My husband Darwin (blue shirt at the bottom of the photo) with his group of sixth-graders, including our foster son and seven local youth
One of our beloved adolescent tutors with her small group of basic primary students, all of which live in our local community with their parents
One of our highly dedicated  missionary-teachers (floral shirt) with two of our adolescent tutors who serve alongside of us in integral Christian discipleship and education
Our seventh-grade homeroom missionary-teacher with her group of students, including one of our foster daughters and eleven local youth
Last but not least: one of our missionary-teachers took a photo of my husband and me!
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

Photo Update: A Day in the Life

From time to time I enjoy posting photo galleries from our daily life and ministry in rural Honduras for those outside of our immediate context who probably wonder what exactly our days look like here.

Our normal daily commitment involves getting up at 4:45am and dedicating our waking hours to a fairly organized schedule of teaching, discipling, community evangelism,  homemaking and deepening our walk with the Lord alongside of many people (mainly teenagers) for God’s glory until about 8:00pm or so when we retire for the day.

In the midst of our daily efforts to share hope with those nearest to us and proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom (in word and deed), we give God all the glory for His transformative work in this little corner of the globe.

God bless you, and I hope you enjoy the following photos taken by Jessica, one of our beloved local missionary-teachers. Please continue to pray for Honduras’ current political crisis and that the Lord might grant this nation peace.

One of our foster daughters in organic agriculture class on our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch)

One of our four math classes offered in our discipleship-based community homeschool that we operate out of our home
Our pre-teen boys (all local students with the exception of our 11-year-old foster son) in their weekly art class on one of our porches

My husband Darwin teaching a large group of choir students
Some of our girls dressed in their wacky attire for “Mismatched Clothes Day”
One of our local missionary-teachers supporting our cook in a basic literacy class
A public swimming hole close to our property where we oftentimes go on nature hikes with our foster children and/or local students
A healthy, fun outing one of our local missionary-teachers did with her small group of 7th grade students
Traditional classroom work during the morning hours
One of our precious foster daughters in a school presentation on our rural ministry property
My husband Darwin with some of his 6th grade students who came to school dressed with foreign attire for world culture awareness
One of our young local students who came dressed as a Vietnamese child!
Another one of our local treasures who came to school dressed as a German businessman!
An endless task in Honduras: keeping weeds out of the garden!
One of our beloved local students who has been faithfully involved in Christian discipleship and integral education at the Living Waters Ranch for the last several years
Some of our teen girls working in the middle of a planted field under the leadership of one of our local missionary-teachers
More weed-pulling to ensure that the crops have a chance to grow!

Our official photo from Come-To-School-Dressed-As-A-Superhero Day!
I was dressed as “She Who Has the Power to Erase Detentions” (my made-up superpower that all the kids loved and wanted me to exercise on their behalf)!
One of our beloved local missionary-teachers teaching a Christian dance routine with our foster daughters and local female students     
An organized road race in the city of La Ceiba we participated in with our 7 foster children and several of our local students. (Our foster son and five of his classmates took the first six places in the youth category!)

Our kitchen table

 

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers and support.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Following Jesus, Our Lord Who Sought Out the Tax Collectors, Prostitutes and Sinners

(The following is a rather long story, but well worth the read…)

In our rural town about a half-hour drive outside of one of Honduras’ major cities, it is not uncommon for sporadic murders to take place. Oftentimes our neighbors will inform us that a dead body was found thrown out in the local pineapple fields or seen alongside the highway that runs right through the middle of our town.

In six years of living here, we’ve personally known several people whose lives have been taken by murder, and it is totally expected that the police will take no action to investigate or punish these violent crimes.

Several weeks ago my husband, our 7 foster children and I were driving at about 10 miles per hour in our old Toyota pickup truck through our sleepy town towards the highway. It was almost Easter Sunday, and we suddenly noticed a large crowd of people standing about alongside the road. We always drive with our windows rolled down in order to get more of a breeze inside the hot truck cabin, and my husband casually extended an arm outside of the truck to point at the crowd, commenting, “Oh, I bet a local church is doing some kind of Easter parade for the resurrection.”

He slowed down even more as all of us began peering at the crowd. I began waving at the people, extending a friendly greeting as I searched for familiar faces among them. Soon I realized that something just didn’t seem right as everyone stared on rather gloomily, and they hardly looked like they were parading in triumph to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

Darwin was the first to notice the dead body covered haphazardly with a bloody bedsheet in someone’s front yard, and he muttered something under his breath and sped up the car a tad in order to move all of us past what he realized was not a parade but rather a crime scene.

I glanced over at him, searching his face for clues, and then glanced back out the passenger’s window when I then realized what he had seen. I let out a slight gasp, looked away, and immediately stopped waving at everyone as chills covered my body. Our daughters who were inside the cabin with us grew totally silent as we all considered the tragedy.

The police station is located only a few blocks away, but there were no police to be found among the somber crowd and we knew that they most likely would show up hours or even days later just to say they were sorry about the family’s loss (if they even decided to show up at all). 

We continued onward in silence for several minutes as we all wondered who had been killed and why. Was it gang-related? Did two late-night drunks get in a fight? Was it a meticulously planned murder, or was it a crime of passion that developed in the blink of an eye?

Not two weeks earlier another dead body was seen (this one uncovered) along the same main road as my husband shuttled a group of our pre-teen students up to our rural ministry homestead for another day of classes and discipleship. Many of the kids had immaturely pointed and laughed, because to them it is entirely normal to see corpses.

On our way back home several hours after having passed by the almost-Easter crime scene, my husband cautiously stopped by a local shop near our home to inquire about the victim of the murder. (It is extremely important not to get too involved in the details or fall into gossiping or finger-pointing when such a crime occurs, because if your comments reach the wrong ears the perpetrators might target you as the next victim in order to silence you.)

My husband Darwin simply asked who the victim had been (and not why he had been killed or by whom), and the shop owner let out a belly laugh and pointed to a house a few doors down and said in an unnecessarily loud voice, “It was Roberto! They took him out!” He shook his head as if it were a shame and continued laughing about his neighbor’s tragic murder as Darwin and I just stared at him, surprised and deeply saddened by his response.

Another grown man and a teenage boy were with the shop owner, and they, too, began laughing and joking about their neighbor’s murder. Darwin excused us politely from their presence, and we continued driving onward toward home, again in silence. 

The victim in question was a man we had seen and greeted on occasion but not known personally. He was the young live-in boyfriend of a notorious middle-aged woman about whom we have heard many terrible rumors. 

Fast-forward a few days.

I was again in our old white pickup truck, but this time alone. I had been running a few errands in our town before I began rumbling back up that long gravel road to our rural property. As I passed the home of the man who had been murdered — which lies less than a half-mile from where we live — a sudden and unmistakeable impression from the Lord was pressed upon me in regards to the woman who survived him: “Go console her.”

The command came to me entirely unexpectedly as I was immediately in front of her home, but the car continued in motion almost a block as I considered what I had been instructed to do. I felt surprised and at the same time excited that the Lord had so clearly spoken to me, but I began to reason that it would just be too much of a hassle to turn the car around at this point. It would have been nice to go console the woman whose live-in boyfriend had just been murdered — it was, in fact, what Jesus probably would have done — but maybe another day. Or maybe never.

The car kept rolling up that gravel road — farther and farther from her home as I tried to reason my way out of obedience — when I finally turned the car around and parked in front of her home. God had won. I breathed deeply — praying that the Lord would give me the right words and that He might open the woman’s heart to receive something from Him — and I got out of the car and approached the twig-and-barbed wire front gate.

Most people in our rural town recognize my husband Darwin and I as the directors/teachers of our little discipleship school and know generally that we are doing Christian work in our neighborhood, but there are still many people whom we don’t know personally. This woman was one such case, as we had passed by her home just about every day and waved to her as she hand-washed her clothes in her front yard or as her children played on the porch, but we had yet to take the next step to really get to know one another. (Although last year we were tempted to call the police or storm up to her front porch personally to rebuke her for the harmful and potentially illegal influence she was having on several of our male students.)

As I stood at her front gate and gave a general greeting to alert her of my presence, one of her teenage daughters came out of the house and stared at me. I informed her with a smile, “I was passing by your home when God directed me to come visit you — “

I wasn’t sure at that moment what else I was going to say, but that seemed to be the signal she needed. Before I could say anything else, she invited me in and showed me a place on their living room couch.

Several little children and a few young adult women were hanging around in the small living space and suddenly staring at me, waiting. I began, at once totally sure, “God directed me to come here to visit you. My husband and I heard about what happened, and we are really sorry…”

The command the Lord had impressed so undeniably upon me was, “Console her,” not “Confront her about whether or not she has been selling drugs to the neighborhood boys and tempting them sexually” nor even “Share the gospel with her” at this time. I remembered this as I asked the Lord once more for direction. He wanted me to console her, regardless of who she is and what she had done.

The woman appeared from around the corner and immediately sat next to me on the small couch without any physical or emotional barriers between us as if we were old friends. I put my hand on her knee and explained once more that the Lord had specifically sent me to visit her to console her for the murder of her live-in boyfriend. I asked her how she felt and reiterated several times that we were very sorry for her loss (always without getting involved in the details or the who-done-it questions). Trust was quickly established among us as I listened to her, and she began sobbing as I embraced her in a comforting hug. I felt like I was consoling one of our teenage foster daughters in one of their moments of crisis, but this time it was our precious neighbor who is in her mid-40s. 

After twenty minutes or so of consoling her in this way, I offered to pray for her if she should accept my doing so even though she is not a Christian. She eagerly agreed, and I held her hands in mine and prayed that in His timing God might grant her salvation, peace and transformation in Christ for His glory. I did not expect God to do anything in that specific moment, but I trusted he could bring her to repentance and saving faith by His own methods in His own timing. 

Throughout the entire encounter all of the young people around us observed us quietly, and at the time of my departure I hugged several of them and left with joy in my heart, knowing that the Lord had very clearly worked through me.

A couple weeks passed, and I was again in our car but this time with a group of our teen foster daughters and local students sharing food with our neighbors and praying for people. The outing was going very well as the young women would go door-to-door offering to bless our neighbors with a provision of rice, beans, flour and oil and pray for them as well if they were willing to receive prayer. 

We were coming to the end of our journey when we passed in front of the woman’s house whom I had visited and consoled. She was not on our list to visit in that moment, but she came out of her house and approached me while I sat in the car. I greeted her warmly, and she asked if I could share a Bible with her because she had just begun going to church and was now seeking the Lord. My eyes grew wide and I informed her that I didn’t have an extra Bible with me just then but that I could get one for her in the next few days.

As our teen girls exited the last official house on our route, I informed them that I felt like God was leading us to one more home: that of my new friend who had asked for the Bible. Several of our girls seemed hesitant and others downright scared, as this woman’s negative reputation is pretty well-known in our neighborhood. Her teenage daughters had even verbally insulted our girls on many occasions without reason. This would definitely be a powerful lesson in loving their enemies as Christ taught us to and praying for people who don’t fall into their category of “family” or “best friends.”

The girls looked at me as if to ask, “Are you sure?”, and I assured them that she would be very open to prayer and that she had recently begun seeking the Lord. I would wait in the car because I wanted them to learn to serve as Christ’s messengers without an adult constantly leading them. 

As they began walking quietly toward that same twig-and-barbed wire front gate I whispered to one of my foster daughters who was toward the back of the group, “She needs a lot of hugs. Make sure you give her one.” I winked at her, and the look in my eyes encouraged her not to be scared; that this, in fact, was the Lord’s will and a powerful way of sharing His love with a woman few people draw near to.

I waited in the car quite a long time before all of our girls came filing out from within that same house that I had visited a couple weeks prior. Their expressions had changed drastically and suddenly reflected great measures of peace and joy. They piled back into the car with me as they lovingly bid farewell to the woman whom they had been reluctant to visit. 

Pulling away from her home, I turned around in my seat to ask one of our local students how the experience had been. She beamed and answered, “Oh, it was so good. She was really open to receiving prayer and several of us prayed for her. At the end we each took turns giving her a hug, and that really touched her. I think she needed that.”

I smiled and thanked God in my heart as we rumbled back up that long gravel road to our ministry homestead, the car now empty of the sacks of food it had held but each young woman full of a profound experience of Christ’s love in and through them. 

To God be the glory!

Baptism: A Public Proclamation of Faith in Christ

A couple months ago a young man in our discipleship-based homeschool began asking when we would hold a baptism because he wanted to be baptized. He is an older teen who has only been in our school since February of this year, and he had previously lived his life quite adrift in our rural neighborhood without any real knowledge of God. He had been abandoned by both of his parents at a young age, and the disorderly reputation he established henceforth was quite well-known. (To be more exact, one of our teen foster daughters mentioned to me that they had gone as a group to his house in January and invited him to enroll in school on our rural ministry homestead specifically because he was so desperately lost.)

Thus, we were all surprised to see this precious teen’s newborn faith blossoming up within him and the new way in which he spoke and acted with deepened sincerity. The Lord was truly changing him, and he was eagerly soaking up all the Biblical teaching and guidance he could get in his search for Christ. He came to us repeatedly over the ensuing months in the midst of our daily relationship with him, explaining to us his faith in Christ and that he eagerly desired to be baptized as an important step in his walk with the Lord.

Through this one young man’s faithful insistence, we felt the Lord guiding us to open up the opportunity to the 40+ youth in our small school to see if there was anyone else who likewise wished to be baptized as a public proclamation of their faith in Christ.

The following photos record the event that took place in a local river earlier this month. We know that these photos do not capture a final declaration of faith and salvation but rather the very beginning of a lifelong walk under the lordship of Christ. Please pray with us that these youth might be granted the perseverance, wisdom and faith to continuing cultivating this life with Christ for the rest of their days and that they might not so easily drift back into the complacency and sin from which they came. We truly hope that the Holy Spirit might ensure that this work of faith in their hearts might reach completion and that God might be glorified through their lives as his beloved sons and daughters.

God bless you, and thank you to all who pray for and financially support this little mission on the northern coast of Honduras. We love the role the Lord has given us in His Kingdom and thank Him for your generous participation in this work. To Him be the glory.

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

This is the young man who came to us repeatedly asking to be baptized. He has begun participating in community service projects and praying for those in our local community, and he recently expressed his new understanding that God is his Father even if he doesn’t know his earthly father.

Our newest foster daughter sought us out a few weeks after moving into our household and told us she wanted to invite Jesus into her heart and be baptized. This is the start of new life!

This is another one of our teen foster daughters who will soon reach her two-year anniversary of living with us. God has done and continues to do great things in her life.   



All of these photos were taken by Randy and Marcia Orban who were visiting us during the time the baptism took place.

May 2019: Photos and a Prayer Request

I write to you from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern strip of Honduras.

Please enjoy the following collection of photos taken from our daily life of love and Christian discipleship among the youth whom we serve through our little discipleship school. (We have many newer photos we’ve taken in the last several days, but first I want to share this batch before revealing the others.)

Farther down I have also included a new prayer request in addition to follow-up regarding our previous prayer request shared several weeks ago.

Twice-weekly Bible study with our younger students (ages 12 and under)
After-school dance class with all of our female students and foster daughters

A devotional during an after-school Christian dance class

Math tutoring
My husband Darwin teaching an introductory choir class
Boys’ organic agriculture class on the Living Waters Ranch property (where we live, teach and serve for God’s glory)
Two local students working in the pineapple patch
Learning a good work ethic in organic agriculture class

One of our local Honduran missionary-teachers who has been serving alongside of us in discipleship/education for the last three years
The entryway of our rural ministry homestead
My husband Darwin leading our teen boys’ weekly P.E. class

One of our local students doing a presentation on the book he read in Spanish class
One of our foster daughters presenting publicly as a character from the novel she read
My high school Spanish class the day of their book presentations (they had to come dressed as a character from the book they read)
English class competition
One of our local missionary-teachers leading a couple teen disciples in a community service project (leveling out a very rocky road)
Our newest missionary-teacher leading our pre-teen boys after a Christian dance presentation

 

Thank you to all those who had prayed for our previous request in regards to our relationship with the local educational authorities – my husband has had a few unforeseen breakthroughs in our communication with them and we are currently enjoying a more peaceful season under their supervision although still with great paperwork demands and certain external pressures. Please keep this ongoing petition for peace with government authorities in prayer (and that their ever-changing regulations might not become a stumbling block or distraction to the calling the Lord has given us to form young people in Christ), but let us also give thanks to God for having acted on our behalf in the last few weeks! Thank you for praying.

NEW PRAYER REQUEST

I now will ask for prayer in regard to my sleeping patterns, as the arrival of our newest teen foster daughter (named Soad) roughly five weeks ago has triggered my insomnia and I have had great difficulty sleeping each night since. 

Her arrival was accepted out of obedience to God as He called us to offer our family to her, and we are fully convinced that we made the right decision. Nonetheless, some of her behaviors in these first several weeks have been very taxing on me personally and on our family as a whole, and we are looking to God for continued healing for her and wisdom for us in how to best parent her for God’s glory. 

Also, our other 6 foster children are all going through their own emotional ups and downs and insecurities with having a new “instant sibling” in our house. Last night we had a very long and productive family meeting in which many laid their feelings bare in a very honest and loving way and at the end we all prayed together, but there is still a long way to go to establish a “new normal” for all and assure God’s best for everyone in our household.

Please pray with us for Soad, that her transition into our family might bring with it peace and joy to her heart (and the hearts of our other 6), and for me, that the Lord might grant me total peace and trust — especially at night — as I rest in Him and don’t try to take things on in my own strength. Thank you, and God bless.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Heavenly Joy Bursting Out Through My Bones: The Effects of a Radical Change of Plans

The government agency called twice, and I said no both times without giving it a second thought. 

My husband Darwin and I had decided between the two of us that we would not be receiving any additional foster children for at least the next several years. Most of our foster children are currently teenagers whose delicate needs require our full attention, plus our little discipleship-based homeschool that we run out of our rural homestead has been growing to such an extent that directing, teaching and community discipling has become a beautiful yet very time-consuming daily venture.

A few weeks ago we reintegrated Josue, our special-needs foster son, back into a healthy family situation with his biological grandmother, and afterward things in our house actually became almost normal — calmer, more organized, fairly predictable — for the first time in almost six years.

My husband and I breathed deep and contemplated those in our household — five teenage daughters and one pre-teen son, some as long-term fosters and others in the process of being legally adopted by us. 

After going through numerous ups and downs as new parents and having had up to 10 in our home at a time, 6 seemed manageable and even easy. The house even seemed tangibly cleaner than usual and I thanked God that we had survived the brutal years of unwanted poo- and pee- disasters with 2 special needs foster children. On the walls, on the rug, in the bed — you name it. But those days were over, at least for the time being…

My selfish prayer seemed like it just might come true, “Oh God, I just want a normal life. At least slightly normal, slightly calm. My husband and I have virtually no ‘personal time’ and oftentimes feel stretched thin. I don’t even know what it means to sustain a normal friendship with normal people anymore. We love our kids dearly and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You have called us to parent them for Your glory, but sometimes it is so hard and their healing process is messy at best. Please grant us some sense of normalcy and ease in this season in Jesus’ name. I’m exhausted.”

No-more-kids and We-want-a-sane-household have been our soft battlecries over the last several months, and it almost seemed like we were achieving our desired goal.

Until the government agency called twice. 

My husband and I have every right to say no when they call us about receiving a new child or teen into our family, and I absolutely exercised that right in the name of defending my own sanity. What was our motto? No-more-kids, and I was sticking to my guns.

Well, as many of us know, oftentimes our own plans are just that: our own plans, not God’s. As I said my second ‘no’ over the phone to the government social worker whom I know and get along with very well, I was ready to politely hang up the phone and carry on with my business when the Lord led me to consider the possibility of laying my own plans — my own sanity, my own control — on the altar in the name of love. 

What I did next — pause long enough to ask the social worker the details about the person at hand — brought with it a God-designed tidal wave that utterly and completely wiped out all of our own plans for normalcy and familial stability.

Thirteen year-old girl. Has already lived as an adult man’s wife. Dad’s not in the picture. Mom is highly unstable. Needs a family.

As I listened in silence to all the details I probably could have imagined on my own — for the majority of cases are very similar in the aspects of familial abandonment/irresponsibility and some element of sexual abuse — the social worker actually began pleading. “We have nowhere else to put her.”

Emotionally detached as much as possible from the phone conversation (because sometimes it is easier not to feel too deeply), I thought ‘Of course. Most people are scared to death about receiving teenagers, especially those with adult sexual experiences. They came looking for us because they know we love our teen girls and have had a large measure of success with them…’

The social worker continued, “If you receive her, you would be giving her…an opportunity at life.”

An opportunity to live. To find life in Christ. To know joy. To grow up in a family like any normal 13-year-old girl.

By this point in the conversation the Lord was working mightily on my heart, and I asked more questions before telling the social worker that we would agree to meet the girl but would make no over-the-phone commitment to take her in before seeing her face-to-face and talking with her. The social worker was ecstatic.

After hanging up, I went directly to our little office building we share with our local Honduran missionaries/teachers who serve alongside of us in our community homeschool. I found one of our female teachers fairly unoccupied and asked her for prayer and counsel. She quickly accepted, and we sat down next to each other on the little purple couch in the prayer room in our office building and closed the door for more privacy.

I shared openly and extensively with her, both secretly excited about the possibility of extending “an opportunity at life” to one more person while also tense and scared about all that could go wrong. 

I voiced my thoughts as she listened attentively, “I mean, we could take her in, but there are a thousand other teen girls in her same situation — dysfunctional family, history of sexual abuse/sin —“

Our beloved teacher nodded quietly, fully aware that in our area of Honduras there are numerous cases of 12- and 13-year-old girls who already live with their “boyfriends” or who daily endure unhealthy home-lives. The need is oftentimes overwhelming.

I continued, “And, it just wouldn’t be realistic to take in a thousand of them. I mean, we can’t be family to a thousand.” My argument sounded right-on, and I felt I was gaining momentum. Our teacher nodded in agreement again, quietly listening as I verbally processed the storm within me.

But in that very moment the Lord struck me deep and to such an extent that His very words came out of my own mouth, dripping with conviction as I made a 180 degree turn in my argument. I said slowly, “But He’s not asking us to take in a thousand. They called us about one. Only one.”

I felt like in that moment I had surrendered to His will in one fatal blow. ‘You won,’ I thought with great heaviness mixed with the first fruits of joy welling up in my heart. He was indeed calling us to start over again with a new lost daughter of His. Not with a thousand, but with just one. And I would obey not only willingly but with a joy that very few can understand.

My teacher friend and I sat in silence several moments as the weight of the situation — and the enormity of the decision being considered — sat heavily between us. I repeated, “He’s just asking us to take in one…”

At the end of our conversation she prayed with me for the young woman in question and that the Lord might grant my husband and I the love, strength and wisdom to accept this new challenge if He should so desire us to take it on.

Fast-forward three days.

We went into the government-run complex to meet the young woman, her psychologist and the lawyers/social worker involved in her case. We asked the key questions we needed to ask, got our kids involved in the process of meeting her and exchanging several question-answer games with her, and throughout the entire encounter we felt the undeniable peace of God as confirmation. We would soon be parents to six teenage daughters and one pre-teen son. 

The adjustment would of course be difficult for all, as our home tends to be in total upheaval for the ensuing 3-6 months each time a new person arrives as new friendships are forged and the teenage hierarchy is re-shuffled as everyone tries to find out all over again where they fit on the totem pole. There are oftentimes feelings of jealously and insecurity to be carefully dealt with in our kids who’ve been with us the longest, and Mom and Dad have to engage in the dogged task of forging a close relationship with a new, possibly frightened teen all over again.

Even so, it is a small price to be paid in comparison with what our Lord did on the cross to save us all, and it is the way in which He has called my husband and I to share in His sufferings (and likewise eventually share in His glory). To love the lost; to be parents to the fatherless; to extend hospitality and grace to those who might even make us suffer greatly in the short-term for having done so.

I spoke with the social worker and her eyes grew like saucers when I said yes, and the young woman (Soad, pronounced So-add) enthusiastically said that she would like to move in the same day. 

That night — about two-and-a-half weeks ago — my husband and I prepared a foam mattress on our bedroom floor for our new arrival. Instead of moving her in with our teen girls all at once, we decided to have her with us for the first week in order to help ease her transition more calmly while also forging some semblance of parent-child bond with her in a condensed amount of time. 

We sat down on the cool tile floor next to her mattress and asked if we could pray for her. She said yes. After doing so we tucked her into bed — our teenage-sized new baby! — and gave her a hug and a kiss before climbing into our own bed not three feet from hers. 

My husband quickly drifted off into sweet slumber as I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, hot room. My heart raced for joy as I listened closely trying to identify if our new daughter had already fallen asleep or was still wide awake as I was. Did she feel welcome and loved here? Would we be able to form a close bond with time, or would she prove distant and guarded? Would she sleep throughout the night or wake up screaming with nightmares? What if she stopped breathing right there on her mattress?

My mind raced with a thousand thoughts as I thanked God in my heart for who He is and for leading us on this wild adventure, especially because it was never our plan to begin with. The minutes turned to hours as I periodically tried to steal glances at our new daughter’s still form in our dark room, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I drifted off to sleep in spite of the heavenly joy that I felt might burst right out through my bones…

 

A photo of my husband and our seven kids taken on my husband’s birthday two days after Soad’s arrival. (She is in the pink tank top on Darwin’s right.)

We thank God for these processes He takes us through as He draws us closer to His own heart and enables us to participate in His quest to reach lost humanity. Please pray for us during this time, especially for our other kids as they adjust to having to share Mom and Dad with someone new. God bless you all, and thank you to those who pray for and financially support this little mission in rural Honduras. To God be the glory.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Are You a King Kong or a Thor? (A Reflection on Obedience and Response)

On our rural ministry homestead in Honduras we have three watchdogs that patrol the fenced-in area of our large grassy property. Their job is to make sure that no intruders get close to the little rainbow-colored buildings that serve as discipleship school, office and home. 

During daytime hours we keep all three dogs locked away in a pen behind our home so that they don’t have any interaction with our students or daytime visitors. Once everyone leaves at about 4:30pm, we let the dogs out and they enjoy intermingling with our family while also assuring that no unwanted visitors enter our remote property.

Two of the dogs are Dobermans, named King Kong and Xena. They serve their purpose well, as most people see them from afar with their large black bodies and clipped ears and don’t desire to get any closer. The third of our guard dogs is Thor, a Pit Bull puppy given to us a few months ago by a relative who was unable to care for him. While the Dobermans are poised, majestic and ready to defend our property at a moment’s notice, the Pit Bull is a bit more clumsy, goofy and outgoing.

King Kong and Xena

Yesterday afternoon my husband, several of our foster kids and I were eating and chatting on our front porch, which is currently where we have our fridge and our makeshift outdoor kitchen space while we have been working towards getting the area closed-in. Our three dogs are always eager to be close to the family, and suddenly the two Dobermans (King Kong and Xena) were excitedly — and more than a bit intrusively — approaching my husband to see if he might share his food with them. Tails wagging, the snouts of both dogs came dangerously close to my husband’s sandwich as he was sitting in a plastic chair with his food on their nose-level. In that moment one of our teen foster daughters — several yards away — made a sharp “Shhh!” sound to correct the dogs, and they immediately responded to the verbal correction and laid down at his feet, totally obedient. He kept eating in peace as we all continued to share the events of the day.

I thought, impressed, “Wow. Our dogs were extremely obedient just now. One sharp sound — without even saying their names! — and they immediately recognized their error and backed off. I sure wish our kids reacted in such an immediate, obedient manner when they are verbally corrected…Or I myself…”

To contrast the immediate, total obedience of our Dobermans (which was not an isolated incident yesterday but rather characterizes their overall demeanor), I will now share with you something that happened moments ago with Thor, our beloved Pit Bull puppy who is nothing like his older counterparts.

Little Thor when he arrived at our home several months ago

Today is Saturday, and this morning I got up before the other members of our household and quietly went out onto our front porch to serve myself a cup of water and grab some breakfast. As I sat down in the still morning hours on a concrete bench overlooking the vast green pasture where our cows were grazing, of course all three dogs eagerly came over to greet me and see what I was eating.

I don’t share people food with our dogs (and they know that), so the Dobermans immediately left me and my breakfast alone and sat quietly on the porch near me but without excessive bothering. Thor, however, jumped right up on the bench with me (which is a big no-no), so I began verbally trying to scare him off while I tried to protect my food at the same time. His snout danced up and down, enthralled by the smell of my breakfast, and I shook my hands in a shooing fashion and began scolding him louder and louder, assuming that my agitated posture and sharp tone of voice would send him the message that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that he would react accordingly.

Well, that didn’t happen. The Dobermans looked on, totally poised and well-behaved, while little Thor stayed put on the bench right next to me, intent on disobeying because he liked the idea of tasting a morsel of my breakfast. 

Several unsuccessful moments passed of me trying to shoo him off when I realized that he had zero intent of obeying me. I then grabbed a marker off the table that one of our students had left from the day prior and began thumping him with it — on his rear end at first, and then when that had no effect I kept thumping and shooing him on his back and then finally on his head.

I don’t enjoy beating our animals (and I don’t think thumping him with a bright pink marker can be classified as that), but he looked visibly hurt that I was treating him in such a harsh manner.

But he still made no move to get down off the bench.

Several more moments went by of me thumping and harshly scolding him while he just looked at me with these big, sad eyes as if he had no idea what he had done wrong or what he could do to escape from the torment.

Finally our two Dobermans dashed off to bark at something they sensed on the other side of the fence, and that distracted Thor just enough to cause him to clumsily jump down from the bench and follow them in their valiant defense of our property.

Our three guard dogs together

I laughed in relief and began eating my breakfast in peace as the dogs had finally left me alone, but suddenly the lesson — and the striking contrast between our dogs’ responses to correction — began to be made clear in my mind, and I dwelt on this for the following several minutes. 

I felt as if the Lord was telling me that we humans tend to fall into one of the two categories that our dogs had so perfectly embodied: that of quick, willing submission (loving, responsive obedience) or stubborn foolishness (chronic disobedience).

How many times has the Lord (either through His Word, through another person or through His Spirit moving within us) indicated to us something that we should repent of, something that needed to be changed or left behind, etc?

How many times have we reacted like King Kong and Xena, the ultra-obedient Dobermans? Perhaps very few.

How many times have we reacted as clumsy Thor, even getting beaten up a little bit along the way and getting our feelings hurt but even so never truly submitting, never actually learning the lesson at hand? Perhaps too many.

I leave you with this simple reflection inspired by ordinary events as we each consider before the Lord if we have truly been obedient to His call or His correction, if we have heard His voice or read His Word and truly reacted, or if we too often remain put in our foolish ways and refuse to change, to submit, wondering why things aren’t turning out so well for us in the process. If only we would obey, the torment might cease! Have we refused time and again to forgive, to break free from an addiction, to fulfill Christ’s command to love unselfishly?

God bless you and keep you in your daily affairs, and may He illuminate each of us so that we might come to know the perfect obedience of Christ even in the midst of suffering and trial. To God be the glory.

With peace and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission