Category Archives: God At Work Among Us

Belated Fall Greetings and Updates from Rural Honduras

I send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. I hope this post finds each of you well and thriving in the Lord. Before continuing, I would like to apologize for my prolonged silence on this blog.

Recently I was largely bedridden for 2-3 weeks with Dengue and Typhoid fever, and in general due to our rural third world context and busy schedule I’ve had less than 2 hours of computer/internet access weekly over the last few months. Ever since taking over the position of fifth-grade homeroom teacher in July, my schedule and responsibilities have increased drastically, and in general my personal involvement with our students this calendar year through teaching, discipleship and mentorship has been perhaps more intense and at the same time more rewarding than ever.

I oftentimes feel that I have three precious, very important balls that I’m juggling in the air: our home/family (where I long to be emotionally available and attentive to our six foster teens and my husband); our grassroots school/ministry to our local community (where I am very involved as the co-director alongside my husband and teach several academic and extracurricular classes); and my “international” duties in which I keep tabs on the finances and maintain contact with those who pray for and support us (such as the maintenance of this blog, which oftentimes seems to be the last thing I get around to doing).

I oftentimes feel that when I am excelling in one area (example: at home or in our school), the other two areas suffer neglect. I suppose that is currently the case in a very unbalanced way, and once again I apologize for my prolonged “cyber” silence.

So, yes, we are alive and well, and we continue to serve the Lord and our neighbors with diligence and love. Just this morning we got up at 4:30am (as per our daily family schedule) and had our devotional and prayer time in our tiny living room alongside our six foster teens before cleaning the house together and getting ready for the day. From 6:00-8:00am I directed my women’s athletic club in a local park, where we laughed too much and played volleyball after studying the book of Psalms together. Back at home on our ranch, I spent an hour or so in our office making and copying quizzes for my fifth graders and organizing my materials for class tomorrow. I have two individual piano classes pending today for two teen girls, and I’m trying to catch up on administration/international ministry relations at a local internet spot in our town over the next hour or so. My husband Darwin spends every Thursday teaching individual and group music classes to 3-4 dozen children and teenagers, all of whom come up the long gravel path to our ranch for a day of learning, love and oftentimes lunch. He’ll be teaching until almost 6:00pm tonight, and we’ll probably collapse in bed around 10:30 or 11:00pm only to get up at 4:30am again tomorrow.

I share this with you so that you might catch a glimpse into a normal Thursday for us. Each day is different and follows a specific established schedule due to the nature of the pandemic and the fact that we’ve developed a very creative hybrid model, although we still do 95% of our teaching and discipleship face-to-face. We are very content with the life and calling the Lord has given us, and next month we’ll celebrate our 8-year anniversary as foster parents.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and thank you again for your patience and understanding in regards to my lack of communication lately. Thank you for keeping tabs on us and partnering with us in this ministry, either through prayer, financial support or other means. We truly appreciate you and thank God for your life, generosity and friendship.

Sincerely in Christ, Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

A Personalized Perspective From Rural Honduras: My Thoughts and Journey

I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband, our dedicated ministry staff and extended family here in rural Honduras at the Living Waters Ranch. I hope this post finds you physically healthy and spiritually in-tune with God’s will for your life during this unique season.

The last several updates I’ve posted on this blog have been very general and upbeat as I’ve painted with broad strokes the overall scene in which we currently find ourselves along with joint triumphs and adventures we’ve shared as a ministry and family over these past several months.

To change the perspective slightly, this post will be written from a more personal perspective, much the same way as I used to write our blog updates in the early years of our life and ministry overseas. Although doubtlessly riddled with my own insecurities and weaknesses, I hope this post proves to be a blessing and encouragement to you and that God might be glorified through the words and perspective I share.

Several weeks ago I became our grassroots school’s fifth-grade teacher after an unexpected personnel change mid-year left us with a void needing to be filled. I sensed God calling me to step up to the plate, and although this somewhat drastic schedule change for me has greatly added to my weekly juggling routine, I have found renewed joy in my increased contact with these young children, as our 6 foster teens at home are already well beyond that developmental stage and are quickly approaching adulthood. I have six rowdy boys and one extremely shy little girl in my fifth grade classroom, and being their teacher has proved a new, blessed challenge that has put my creativity, love and faith to the test. The greatest challenge of all has been (and continues to be) to entrust these young lives to the Lord on a daily basis and try to faithfully protect their innocence in the midst of a world culture bent on corruption and moral failure. On many occasions after a day spent with my precious fifth-graders I have felt defeated and overwhelmed at all the filth these young lives have already been exposed to, and I find myself before the Father in prayer, undone and unsure how to guide these little ones along the blessed narrow path when so many evil forces seem bent on enticing them away from it.

Earlier this month I celebrated my 31st birthday in a low-key celebration alongside some of our family and friends here. We had a small bonfire on our front lawn with one of our young staff members playing worship music on the guitar, and teenagers (and adults!) ran about delighted by their firecrackers and silly pranks. Reminiscing, I remember having moved to Honduras when I was 21 years old and freshly graduated from college. I am now 10 years older. Physically I still feel like I’m close to 20 years old, as I eat healthy and train athletically five days a week and have begun playing pickup basketball on a local rundown court with our teenage male students (hence my sprained ankle and wrist that have plagued me these last several weeks), but in my heart I often battle against a certain heaviness and burden for all that I’ve seen and been exposed to in these 31 years. I carefully ponder these things and give them over to the Lord’s care, as my own youth is giving way to a new season as I likewise see the world around me change at a shocking pace. I oftentimes prayerfully (and, sometimes, fearfully) wonder what the world will be like in a short 5-years’ time and what price I will pay for the faith that up until now has come so easy.

This October will mark 4 years since my last visit to the United States (or any other country outside Honduras, for that matter). Weekly I read articles on the Christian Post and try to remain healthily informed from afar, and frequently my heart aches in response to what I read. I have no plans at this point for a visit to the States, and I wonder if I do step foot on American soil at some point in another year or two if I will even recognize my homeland (or feel welcome in it). Without a doubt, Honduras has many dire problems of its own and lawlessness has long since wrecked many lives here, but I feel at least temporarily safe and beyond reach at the base of these mountains and daily feel led into deep reflection and prayer about the state of the world at large.

I will leave it at that for now. This is the first time I’ve written – really written – since my publishing journey. May the Lord bless and strengthen us all for the days ahead, and may He teach each one of us how to experience genuine hope and joy in these difficult times. To Him be all the glory.

BOOK NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE

I’m grateful and humbled to announce that my first published book is now available for sale on Amazon.com in paperback and kindle. CLICK HERE for more information.

September Updates from Honduras

I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband, our foster children and the few dozen students/staff in our school.  We want to sincerely thank those who continue to pray for and financially support this ongoing mission on the northern coast of Honduras.

Here are  four of our  foster teens preparing the land during a recent family work day.

Our guard dogs were eager to ‘help’ us plant our garden!

Through this post I would like to extend the offer to pray for you. Our family has developed the daily discipline of interceding in prayer for others each morning before beginning our daily activities, so I would just like to leave the door open should you feel you want our family to pray for you specifically. Our family is learning that many times we humans try to fight our ‘battles’ in our own strength or by our own means, but truly much of what we face has spiritual implications and must be fought through prayer before the Lord. My email address is JenniferZillyCanales@gmail.com should you feel led to contact us privately and share with us a personal struggle or concern. We have little to offer in general terms, but it would be our honor and joy to pray for you if you reach out to us.

Here are several baby ducklings who were recently born on our ranch. Our foster teens have enjoyed tending to their needs and partaking in the tender care of God’s creation.

I will keep this post fairly short; our daily commitments and service-oriented lifestyle continue on in much the same way as I’ve reported on this blog the last several months. We are thankful that God has opened up recent communication with several of the teens who lived with us for a season but currently find themselves outside our home. We’ve had the privilege of parenting 12 youth in all since 2013, and currently 5 continue living under our watchful care. We sense God is orchestrating much reconciliation among us and opening doors for new mentor-type relationships with several of our 7 foster sons and daughters who had dropped out of our lives for a season. This is a huge triumph!

Here are our foster teens eating lunch in the home of our missionary-teachers after receiving morning classes.

I would ask for prayers regarding the publishing of my first book, as I’m in the midst of a possible change of publisher. There are many decisions to be made, and it is my hope that throughout the process God may be glorified and that many lives will be impacted as a final result. Thank you for your prayers!

This is one of the views from inside our ranch property where we’ve lived and served full-time since 2013. Throughout the last several months we’ve engaged in several small-scale maintenance projects as we strive to be good stewards of the land and facilities.


God bless you and your loved ones, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of service or encouragement to you in any way.

Sincerely 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!

 

 

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

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.

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

Monthly Update: March 2019

We greet you from our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras, Central America with this month’s general update. May God grant both you and us increasing wisdom, faith and love in Christ Jesus.

We are in the full-swing of a new year of academic classes, relational discipleship and Christian community here at the Living Waters Ranch. My husband Darwin and I continue to raise our 7 foster children/teens in addition to serving as directors and teachers in the school we operate out of our home. Our team of local Honduran missionaries who serve alongside of us are doing a phenomenal job, and we continually give thanks to God that He allows us to participate with Him  to reach humanity with the gospel.

In this specific post I will share a current prayer request along with photos taken of our girls’ organic agriculture class. This class is one of many character-building activities which we teach on an ongoing basis, and this specific group meets twice weekly under the leadership of one of our local missionaries who has a deep passion for Christ, God’s creation and training youth to have an honorable work ethic.

Gotta love cutting back unruly bush with a machete! (Surely this is every teenage girl’s dream!) Just be careful not to step on a venomous snake!

In this photo you can see the pineapple patch we’ve planted along with part of the green bean area and some plantain trees.

This is one of our new students this year, an 11-year-old local girl who lives with her family. We tend to have more young men in our school than young women because many parents are hesitant to enroll their daughters in a rigorous program that includes agriculture and intensive physical training exercises, but there are indeed a few brave parents out there!

Prayer Request for Protection in the Midst of Much Government Supervision/Scrutiny

As our little discipleship school has grown since its inception in 2014, we have recently attracted much attention from the local educational authorities due to our unique perspective and potential competition with the local public schools (which is something we never intended).

We now receive very frequent (and sometimes unfriendly) supervisions, and the local authorities have been critical of many of our teaching methods since they are not commonly found in the over-crowded, oftentimes mediocre public institutions. My husband is also now constantly swamped with countless reports that the authorities are asking for weekly, and we sense that all of this might be an effort on the government’s behalf to try to overwhelm us or find some flaw so that they would have reason to potentially close us down.

Please pray for protection for us against the evil forces that are very active in the Honduran government, and pray for peace of mind for my husband who is on the frontlines against these constant attacks/distractions. He oftentimes has to lose several hours of sleep at night in order to fulfill the endless rounds of paperwork the authorities ask of him.

We do not want to feel fearful or worried in the midst of all this, nor do we want all of our energies to go towards trying to please a system that is decidedly in our contrast. We desire to live in peace with everyone and respect the government authorities as much as is in our power to do so.

Thus, we humbly ask for prayer in all of these matters as our earnest hope is to be free from excessive government obligations in order to dedicate our energies toward discipling, loving and teaching the youth the Lord has placed under our care for His glory.

This is Erick, a local Honduran Christian who has been serving full-time at the Living Waters Ranch for several years. In addition to preaching Christ in the classroom and in the context of extracurricular classes, he and his wife hold an open-door ministry in their home in our rural neighborhood after-hours and on weekends. They lead a discipleship group out of their living room and have a small group of local youth who frequent their home at all hours seeking biblical advice, a kind listening ear or a loving refuge. One of Erick’s goals is to train up the teens in his discipleship group to go out and share God’s Word with local drug addicts and thieves that are so commonly found in our area.

This is Paola, one of our foster daughters who this year will reach her 2-year anniversary of living with us. God has been very active in her life, and she aspires to be a pastor when she is older.

This is Carolina, another one of our foster daughters, who is eating a piece of the raw yucca plant that our girls harvested in agriculture class. (Gotta love that silly face!)

Plucking weeds — a never-ending job in Honduras where things tend to grow quickly!

This is Gleny, another one of our foster daughters who has been living in our family over 5 years and is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with her 2 biological siblings. We’ve decided to educate our foster children in our community homeschool program so that we have closer daily contact with them and so that they might be formed for Christ’s purposes and not the world’s.

Thank you to all of those who pray for and financially support this mission. May the Lord’s peace rest over your life and home.

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

 

Cattle Thieves Return

Early this morning our watchman’s wife came up to our gate to inform us that cattle thieves had broken into our property last night and stolen again for the second time in ten months.

Last year they took our two adult milking cows and butchered them silently outside of our front gate, leaving us without milk and with an orphaned calf on our hands. Last night the victim was a young adult female whom our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline had saved for and purchased with the hope of the cow providing her a legacy of calves and milk, which could potentially pay for her college education or set her up to make at least a partial living off of cattle-raising within the next ten or twenty years.

We had taken several proactive steps since the first cattle robbery to secure our cows in a well-lit pen between our fence and our watchman’s home, but just the same the thieves arrived so quietly that no one heard them and we suspect they drugged our watchdogs (a common act down here) because they didn’t even bark. To leave with the cow, they just cut through several sections of our barbed-wire fence, which now must be repaired.

The cow they chose last night had been severely malnourished when our daughter bought it from a neighbor at a reasonable price about two years ago, and we’ve seen the cow gain strength and beauty as she had just recently reached maturity and would be ready to become a mom (and thus finally produce milk) at some point over the coming year. Many of our other kids did not understand our daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit: Why would a teenage girl buy a cow with her money instead of something more immediately useful and interesting? Several adults who know her (including my husband and I) had marveled at Jackeline’s maturity and eye for long-term gain as she had invested in the cow and had placed great hopes on her to provide (at least in part) for her future.

This morning I went into her room and jostled her awake on her bottom bunk. As she rolled over, my hand patting her leg gently to greet her, I informed her of the news as her face froze for several moments, her eyes trained on mine. My words came out dryly, “They stole your cow last night.” When she didn’t seem to register what I was saying, I added, “The thieves. They returned and took your cow.”

For those of you who are not familiar with Honduran law and justice, it is largely myth (as in, it doesn’t exist). Two years ago my husband’s brother was shot dead point-blank in a nearby town, there were several eye-witnesses and people knew the name and address of the killer, and after many trips to both the local and regional police station nothing was done in attempt to find the killer or do justice. Ten months ago when they stole our first two cows I walked off under misting rain down the long gravel road that meets the highway as I found a police officer on foot watching traffic. I informed him of the tragic robbery and slaughter that had occurred only hours before (as in, “Please help us hunt these people down”), and the police officer only shrugged and told me that he wasn’t surprised because that kind of thing happens all the time. He and his comrades arrived in their brand new, decked-out police truck two weeks later to our property (which lies about 1.5 miles from the police station), and gave us our condolences for our loss. I looked at them in shock and thought, “Condolences? You came here — two weeks after the fact! — to simply give us your condolences?! My grandmother could give me her condolences! You are the POLICE — do your job and fight for justice!”

In Honduran culture it is very common that when somebody has something that others don’t (for example, a cow or a nice cellphone, etc), someone will come and steal it from them to assure that no one gets ahead or experiences much success at all. Extortion here is high — many small businesses or people who are experiencing some humble level of prosperity are forced to pay the gang lords a monthly “war tax” or they will be killed. Cattle thieves are also common: why go through the long and difficult process of buying cattle when it is much easier to simply steal? (This is the general thought among those who are given over to a life of crime here, especially because the police provide virtually no threat to those who break the law.)

Many people leave Honduras and flock to the United States for this same reason — endemic injustice that refuses to allow people to prosper in the quietness of their own endeavors and hard work. If you prosper too much, you become the next target.

So, we ask for prayer. It is very easy to fall into cynicism or a fatalistic attitude of “Why try?” We are on a very tight budget as a ministry, and our small herd of cows — two of which provide milk — help alleviate our grocery bills of buying milk and represent a humble emergency-type fund in case at some point we are desperately low on money. My husband is now thinking about selling off our four younger cows and maintaining only our two momma cows that give milk plus a male for future mating, but even so the thieves could return at any point at take our remaining cows or that of our watchman’s family. Please pray for discernment in regard to how we should most efficiently use our rural property without becoming a magnet for thieves.

We desire to live a quiet, honest life here in rural Honduras reaching out the the poor and lost with the good news of Christ and practical education and discipleship to equip people as instruments of God’s hope, love and justice right here — without people leaving Honduras in search of a better life elsewhere. Please pray with us that the seeds in which we are sowing in the lives of the nearly-50 young people in our school will provide a good fruit that will glorify God and that we would not be easily discouraged as we know that our final prize and rest will be with God for all eternity.

God bless each of you, and please pray with and for us at this time, for protection over our property and for some semblance of real justice here on earth (even as we know that God will bring about real, perfect justice at the end of the times). Thank you.

A Quiet Reflection on Love, Loss and Hope for the Future

First of all, thank you to all of you who responded to our previous blog post with sincere comments and to those who emailed me directly with words of encouragement. God bless each of you, and thank you for your availability and prayers.

A few Saturdays ago I sat around the rectangular wooden table in our family room with two of our teenage foster daughters. More than a complete spread of notebooks, office supplies, backpacks and books took over the surface area as we began working contentedly, the front door wide open to let in light and what little breeze there was. Every evening we eat dinner around this same table with its floral-print tablecloth, each person elbow-to-elbow with those next to them. We drag over the piano bench so that there will be enough seats for everyone.

On this particular occasion, the three of us gathered at this table with the intention of working on our ‘homework’ — my girls on math and grammar assignments; me on planning and administration. I serve as their math, grammar, Bible, chess and P.E. teacher in the homeschool program we operate out of our home for roughly 50 teens (our 7 fosters and  41 local youth), but when we’re not in classes I’m just their mom. My husband and I do much role-hopping throughout the week, and with God’s grace it has become normal to us.

That particular day my husband Darwin, three of our foster children and a half dozen of our local students had taken the trip into town for a day of art and music classes while I stayed on our rural homestead with our other 4 foster children. This is, in fact, the routine split-up that occurs every Saturday.

For this very reason, Saturdays are one of my favorite days of the week. I treasure when my husband and I split up our kids so that we can invest more individualized time in each one (and take a little break from the general havoc of having our complete swarm of busy-bees present). When all 7 are together (or 10, which is the number we used to have), everything just sort of turns into crowd control, which is not much fun for me.

So, our preciously quiet Saturdays grant a much slower pace and allow me increased one-on-one time with the small group that stays at home with me all day. Monday through Friday we’re “on” as close to 60 people invade our home (and need guidance, love, surveillance, prayer, classes, organization, etc.) from 6:45am until 4:00pm, so the few moments when all is still and quiet are truly a gift.

I glanced out beyond our chain-linked fence to watch our small herd of milking cows roam about our large, grassy property. After the cattle thieves had broken in and slaughtered our two adult milking cows last November, leaving us devastated (and scared), we’ve recuperated and our new momma cow just gave birth recently to a little male. My husband and two of our kids milk her every morning at 5:00am, and at least for now we don’t have to buy milk at the grocery store.

My eyes traced our expansive lawn as I took in the view of the flowering plants and the bright-colored clothes hanging on the clothesline. When the masses leave, this rural property turns into a quiet haven, a peaceful paradise. It is home and ministry to us at the same time. It is the center of our community outreach and evangelism and at the same time serves as my own refuge after long, tiring days of service.

On Saturdays I move about slower than usual, oftentimes in baggy, old clothes and my curly hair up in a messy bun as I relish in the quieter pace to reflect, seek God’s ongoing direction, remember.

I stood barefoot on our front lawn, no one looking for me or needing me, as I studied with joy our special-needs son Josue as he teetered about our silent yard on his dearly loved but extremely beaten-up bicycle. He can spend hours on that little bike without saying a word, and on this particular occasion he didn’t even realize I was watching him.

Our other daughter was practicing piano in the stillness of the purple-colored house next to ours that during the week serves as our high school building. I contemplated with joy her simple, sure notes that she played so beautifully.

After meandering around the yard a few more minutes, I crossed the threshold into our living room, returning to where our two girls awaited me. I took one glance at my to-do pile and realized that I didn’t want to do any of it. By the look on my girls’ faces, they were thinking just the same about their homework.

I slipped out of our living room and crossed the yard again, still barefoot. I entered that little purple building that lies a stone’s throw from our family’s home. I passed silently by our daughter playing the piano and entered the little community office we share during the week with our small team of Honduran missionaries/teachers. I grabbed a couple boxes of oil pastels, paper and envelopes, feeling invigorated as I was about to break all the rules and put aside my endless stacks of ‘adult homework’ for the day.

Re-entering our living room once more, I sat down on a wooden chair next to our two girls with a smile and quickly began diving into my unspoken art project. Our girls stared at me, mischievously  happy to see me acting somewhat like a small child.

What was I doing? I was taking my part in going the extra mile, and joyfully so. At a staff meeting the day prior our small team had agreed to split up the task of writing individual letters of encouragement, friendship and spiritual orientation for the roughly-50 youth in our homeschool. Each child and teen would receive 2 letters (from different people), meaning we would need a total of almost 100 personalized, creative letters with decorated envelopes if possible. We had done just this same task a couple weeks prior in an effort to reach out to our students on a very individualized, thoughtful level to encourage them in their walk with the Lord and to express our sincere love and appreciation for them.

A few of our letters prepared for the youth we love, disciple and teach

This ended up being a big hit, as most of our students had never received such long, inspiring and touching letters from adults in their lives. One 14-year-old teen boy commented innocently to his teacher after having received his two uplifting letters, “I had no idea that people could write such kind letters without them being directed toward a dating relationship.” This, after all, has been a big struggle among our teen students. If and when they do write any kind of personal letter to a classmate, it is normally an inappropriate effort at expressing ‘love’ to their secret boyfriend or girlfriend.

So, God has given us the task of setting a powerful, loving example of just what it means to write a letter under God’s perfect will and with His purposes in mind. Our letters are all about pure encouragement, godly counsel and sincere appreciation, and they come from the mature adults in their lives, not from their immature peers who are seeking affirmation and identity in all the wrong places.

This particular round of letters would not be handed over for another two weeks (and that is why it had not been on my ‘urgent’ to-do list for the day), but it suddenly seemed more important and desirable than all the other potential tasks at hand.

My list of letter recipients included 14 students ages 6-18, so I began decorating envelopes with the oil pastels and expressing my sincere thoughts on paper for these youth whom I have grown to know and love dearly.

My two girls immediately took interest in my little project and asked what I was doing. It didn’t take long until they, too, put their homework aside and asked to borrow some oil pastels. All three of us began drawing and coloring with great interest, and suddenly several hours had gone by without us really noticing at all.

Waist-deep in the whole process, I began writing my letter to Alejandra, a very petite and soft-spoken 10-year-old in fourth grade. She is the younger sister of Sandra, a local teen with whom we have a deep, beautiful and — currently — tragic history.

Sandra, now 17 years old, came into our lives almost three years ago as a very submissive and responsible teen who was looking for refuge from a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father. She moved into our patchwork family for about 10 months until her mother (Geraldina), a brave and very faithful Christian woman, was able to escape the situation of abuse and move out on her own. She recovered her daughter Sandra under her care only to then pass through immense difficulties with her increasingly rebellious daughter. My husband and I stayed in the picture as Sandra’s teachers in our homeschool program and we began employing her mom. We likewise sought to serve as two additional counselors and supporters alongside of her mom as she struggled to control the reigns on her daughter’s new behavioral problems. Sandra had come to the know the Lord under our care and asked to be baptized along with her mom, grandfather and little sister, but the decisions she began making months later did not reflect God’s desire for her life.

This up-and-down continued over the next couple years, and she even moved back in with us for several months last year as a last-resort effort to guide her in the truth once she refused to obey her mom’s authority in the home. From there it is a sad story of her escaping from her mom’s home more than once and making a series of very dangerous decisions, all of which culminated in her running away with a young man she barely knew several months ago.

Sandra has approached us hesitantly for counsel since then, and several weeks ago we met with her in the privacy of her grandma’s home to speak truth and light into her life, all of which she listened to with bold, sincere eyes. We prayed with her at her request and embraced her. She still calls us Mom and Dad, a habit she got into while living in our home. (She has a different name for her real mom and for me, but they both mean mom.) We left our meeting with her unsure how to feel, and since then we’ve seen her several times around our rural neighborhood with the guy (she didn’t take any part of our advice and they are still living together out of wedlock), and just recently they moved across the country looking for manual labor jobs in order to survive as an uneducated, underage couple completely outside of God’s will.

So, when I picked up my black pen to write what should have been a very happy, upbeat letter to her 10-year-old littler sister, a very unexpected heaviness came over me and I had to fight back tears. I didn’t see this emotional storm within me coming, as I have remained publicly very calm and rational about Sandra’s decision-making and demise over the past several months. As my mom mentioned to me on the phone recently, it is probably easier to feel angry than sad, and that’s why I’ve kept so outwardly cool about something that has actually ripped me apart.

So, as I began writing about my sincere appreciation and hopes in the Lord for her precious little sister (who looks and acts just like her, thus reminding me of her constantly), all the intense sadness that I’ve been holding at bay for months came crashing in.

I wanted to say, totally deflated and serene, to no one in particular, “This letter should have been for Sandra, not for her little sister…I am now giving her little sister all the advice that she herself didn’t take. Oh, the work the Lord assigned us was in her, not in her little sister…but she has turned her back on the Lord and given herself over to sin. We loved her so much, and now she’s gone. …WHY…?

I felt like banging my fists on the table or locking myself in my bedroom only to lose myself in the locked-up emotions I had refused to experience in prior months. It definitely is much less painful to stay cool and collected (angry even) than to allow yourself to feel the weight of the sadness of broken dreams, lost souls.

I did not hit the table or leave the room; I continued writing the letter to her little sister, which turned out to be much longer than I had intended.

The letter ended up being very joyful but profoundly sincere. As a final touch, I drew bright-colored hearts all around the margins of the letter. I re-read it several times, thinking each time more about Sandra than about her little sister, and tried to hide the intense emotions that threatened to come out at any moment.

This year, Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) continues to labor alongside of us in cooking and cleaning as the Lord is doing great things in her life, and Sandra’s two little sisters are in school with us for the first time. Another young family member of Sandra’s is now also in school with us, and all are doing very well. Everyone is here except the one who God brought to us first: Sandra.

God places people in our lives to love and guide, and it is heartbreaking when they go astray and refuse to come back. Love is not costless, and it requires sacrifice and risk to truly love as God loves.

Well, last Thursday was the official day to hand over our hand-written labor of love to the youth the Lord has placed under our care. Each of our local teachers/missionaries brought their stack — some decorated; others more plain but just as sincere — as I would then organize them all and head into the classrooms to deliver them.

A few of our teachers handing over their letters in the purple-colored little office that we all share. It’s the big day!

Once all my companions left to go to their respective classrooms at 7:00am, I had too much fun sifting through the letters and admiring the great love, detail and effort that was surely put into each one.

My plan was to take pictures of our students’ joy while opening their letters, but I quickly realized that doing so would invade their privacy and taint the beauty of the moment. Thus, I discretely took as few photos as possible, and only in the classrooms where I felt unspoken permission to take them…

Our three first graders reading their letters with the help of their tutor/teacher, a local teen male who has been involved at the Living Waters Ranch under our guidance for roughly four years.

What a picture! I love this — four of our big, extremely active teen boys (ages 13-18) caught all in silence, reading very tender letters of encouragement and spiritual direction from Christian adults who love them dearly!

A part of our sixth grade class opening their letters

Our foster daughter Gleny (smiling), with her teacher and a few classmates as they opened their letters

My husband Darwin reading letters with his spunky group of second- and third-graders, all of whom come from unique family situations/difficult personal backgrounds

Two of our seventh-grade girls reading their personalized letters from their beloved teachers

Thank God for the small acts of kindness that He leads us to take in order to recognize, love and guide those whom He has put in our path. (One of our 16-year-old boys who typically suffers from great immaturity and doesn’t display much emotional depth informed me very sincerely the afternoon that I handed out the envelopes, “I still haven’t read my two letters yet…I’m gonna wait until I get home, get changed, turn the fan on, and then in the stillness of my home I’m gonna really take my time to read them…”) Wow! Praise God that something so simple as a letter can truly impact someone’s life in the love of God.

Also, as a last note, Geraldina (the mother of Sandra’s little sister whom I wrote one of my lengthy letters to), came up to me that afternoon with a huge smile on her face thanking me for the beautiful letter I had written her young daughter. She caught me off guard when she mentioned, “Alejandra is so very encouraged by what you wrote about God’s plan to grant her a Christian husband someday.” My jaw hung down around my ankles as I honestly didn’t even remember having written that in the letter, but it makes total sense. In a culture where so many women settle for a life of marital abuse and neglect with men who know nothing of God’s sacrificial love, that little comment in her long letter spoke life — and hope — into her young life. There are godly men out there; wait in purity and seek God first. God desires for you to enjoy your marriage with a Christian man, not to be one more woman disillusioned by an unfaithful or abusive husband. God declares that you are worth it; He paid the blood of His Son in order to adopt you as His daughter.

In conclusion (yes, this has been a very long post — hopefully you enjoyed a big cup of coffee while you were reading it!), thank you for your prayers and support, and God bless each of you. May the Lord give you the grace to love abundantly those whom He has placed near to you. Take every opportunity you have to share words of light and truth with them, and may we trust God to do the rest.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

Request for Prayer and Encouragement

To all who pray for and support this mission:

I ask that you would pray for us during this season specifically in regards to our emotional reserves and spiritual endurance.

The relational work we are dedicated to in Honduras requires us to be on the clock 24/7, and our ‘personal time’ almost always includes at least half a dozen young people who need to be lovingly supervised and tended to. (This can be very taxing on my introverted tendencies, as I oftentimes feel drained being around people all the time and wish everyone would just leave me alone for a couple hours.)

We spend our Monday-Friday working hours in teaching, community discipleship and administration out of our home-mission at the Living Waters Ranch, and then as our daytime teaching staff and local students leave we are then ‘on’ during nights and weekends with our 7 children who live with us full-time, 5 of which are teenagers with very delicate and pressing needs. (Oftentimes there is no dividing line between what is work and what is rest/personal time, and frequently the teens we serve in our home are those who end up draining us even more with their poor attitudes and criticism of us.) Please pray that the Lord would grant our children grateful hearts who are willing to serve and bless in Jesus’ name, as that would greatly alleviate the burden we shoulder in our home and grant us allies in our home-ministry.

I share this with you as I seek prayer for our marriage and our personal growth with the Lord (and that of our children), as the majority of our energy is spent actively proclaiming the truth to broken people and helping them resolve their crises. Thus, oftentimes little energy is available to intentionally cultivate our marriage or delve deeper in our personal walk with the Lord (and seek healing for our own brokenness).

(And, as a side note, thanks to God’s healing hand I am sleeping a lot better as my insomnia has greatly dissipated in these last few months without taking any kind of sleeping medication, but even so I am facing exhaustion and potential discouragement due to the many demands we face each day from 5:00am until bedtime.)

We are committed to continue in this daily effort as family to the orphaned/abandoned and lighthouse of hope to the lost for as many years as the Lord allows (and we have seen many breakthroughs and transformation in and around us in these last several years since beginning the journey), thus we are currently searching to see what Spirit-led changes can be made in our approach to ensure that we don’t fall prey to total burnout. We always seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse, and many times I lend a compassionate ear to our teen girls’ deep emotional struggles and spiritual searches and then reach the end of the day wondering who will lend me a listening ear because my husband is likewise as exhausted as I am or is working in our home office until late at night.

As a last note (and please forgive me for such a heavy and potentially discouraging post), I feel that I am personally in pressing need of words of encouragement at this time. Our lifestyle and the demands on my time have not permitted me to maintain any of my old friendships or cultivate new ones, so I find myself frequently lonely or tackling the many tasks before me by myself. As one of our spiritual mentors told my husband and I at the beginning of this journey several years ago, “It’s lonely to lead.” We have found this to be true, as the lifestyle the Lord has blessed us with does not grant many companions along the way.

So, if you read this blog and are able to reply with a sincere word of encouragement for me personally (or for Darwin), I would be extremely grateful and it would go a long way.

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission