Yesterday was my husband Darwin’s 35th birthday, and our foster kids and local students who study in our discipleship-based homeschool program had been scheming for quite some time about the birthday surprise they would deliver to their beloved teacher and father: the classic Honduran tradition (which is typically only done to youth) of cracking raw eggs on his head and filling him with flour.
The day of the surprise attack, Darwin sensed danger as I gathered in a huddle with several of our teens near our front porch, so he snuck out of our front gate, locked it so no one could follow him, and began running away. Two of our stronger teen boys hopped the fence in the blink of an eye (which is typically a big no-no, but on this specific occasion it just made sense), and began sprinting after him down the dirt path.
Well, that was just the beginning of the impromptu fun as Darwin ended up running all over our property in a zig-zag as roughly a dozen teens chased him through the tall grass where our cows graze. He looked like a wild bull who needed a rather large team to corral him! They finally cornered him and gave him his birthday surprise: eggs on his head and flour everywhere, but what they didn’t expect was that he would soon begin chasing them to take revenge!
It was a lovely half-hour or so of wild laughter and healthy fun all over our rural property, which we thank God for because in this country many teenagers do not have the opportunity to engage in safe, loving play (and much less with loving male Christian leaders who teach and disciple them on a daily basis). We see all over the Honduran news devastating murders and acts of extortion; what most people never hear about (and much less experience) is this type of loving camaraderie and innocent fun within the context of God’s perfect will. Most of our teens (both those who live with us as sons and daughters and those who visit our home during daytime hours for school) come from devastating childhoods and never really learned to play (and much less have sustained joy in the Lord), so events such as these highlight a very real joy that the Lord is allowing to flow in our daily activities as we seek Him alongside of these precious teens.
So, praise be to God for this afternoon snapshot of joy in a land replete in despair and violence. Enjoy the photos…
Today I whipped out my camera and went undercover (well, not quite) into each classroom throughout the day to capture what a typical Friday at the Living Waters Ranch looks like. The only classes missing from my visual log are Darwin’s girls’ choir class, my advanced math after-school tutoring and Erick’s “Men of Honor” discipleship group.
A couple months ago I wrote about my encounter with Katy, the younger biological sister of two of our foster daughters. Since then there has been much back-and-forth communication with the local government agency in regards to rescuing Katy out of what might be a situation of abuse/neglect (as was the case for her two sisters), and several weeks ago the agency’s lawyer finally made the visit to investigate Katy’s living situation further. The lawyer informed us that she saw nothing out of order and that the final verdict is that Katy will remain living with her biological family. The lawyer did comment, however, that it appears that Katy has a mental illness in addition to the girls’ mother, whom the lawyer met in person (I have yet to meet her, but we have heard stories about her). That is the agency’s final answer, so we choose to be at peace with this, and we hope and pray that Katy is, in fact, safe and well-cared-for with her biological family (as is the hope for any child). This information regarding the mother’s mental illness also helps us as we parent 11-year-old Gabriela, whom we also suspect has some degree of mental illness, which might be genetic or incurred due to sexual abuse. Please continue to pray for little Gabriela (Gaby) and her 13-year-old sister Josselyn as both girls this month reached their two-year anniversary of living in the protection of our home. Pray also for our relationship with the girls’ biological family, as we are currently in a season of supervised family visits each month and are carefully handling this relationship so that it may produce blessing for all involved.
Christ’s Functioning Body: Relational Discipleship/Community Development in Our Rural Neighborhood
We are so thrilled and thankful that the team of local teachers, mentors and pastors that God has united this year at the Living Waters Ranch continues to work in harmony as we seek to open our homes and lives to lost youth for God’s glory. Domingo, a local pastor in his 50’s with a background in military service has opened up his church and his carpentry shop after-hours to the teenagers in our program, and local young couple Erick and Aracely have gone to extraordinary lengths to receive the local teens in their home at all hours as God has stationed them in a strategic part of our neighborhood close to several of our local students. They have been used by God to give advice and counsel, pray, direct a weekly youth Bible study, lend a hand in service to poor neighbors, etc, out of a response to serve Christ in integral discipleship. Many of our local teenage students, especially the young men, have been deeply impacted by Erick’s commitment, openness and example, and we are seeing very real transformation occur in the lives of several of them. Please join with us in thanking God for His provision in these faithful laborers as we are truly serving as Christ’s body (several different functions but with the same overall purpose) to instruct these youth in the Way of Christ with the hope of training them up to be useful instruments in God’s hands.
Guard Dog’s Puppies to be Used as Instrument of Blessing to Neighbors
Although this headline might not be the most important on the list, just the same we are very excited that one of our guard dogs recently gave birth to five healthy puppies. The pups’ dad is our Rottweiler, so they promise to be large and fearsome (at least in appearance). Good, large guard dogs in Honduras are extremely valuable (and sometimes difficult to come by), so we are thankful that we will be able to bless several of our key neighbors with a healthy puppy that will in turn patrol their property.
Christian Psychologist Invests in Our Girls’ Healing During a Week of Intensive Workshops and Group Therapy
Last month (June 2017) we enjoyed the visit of a dear missionary who has been living in Central America many years. She first spent time with our girls during a week of intensive activities in December 2016. We are thankful for this key relationship and influence in our girls’ development into healthy, wise daughters of God, and we look forward to receiving her in our home again at the end of the year.
In Good Standing with Local Government; Prayer Sought that Blessing and Healthy Communication Might Continue
Enjoying good communication and mutual understanding with authorities in Honduras is not something that is perhaps easily achieved or sustained as corruption may always lie just around the corner in addition to the fact that many laws and governmental expectations seem to be ever-changing and interpreted differently by each person. Thus, we plainly thank God for His constant protection over us and for having bestowed His blessing upon the numerous relationships we hold with local authorities (police, educational authorities, etc). Please pray with us that peace and good standing may continue, as the task of updating and presenting paperwork, seeking out meetings, etc, is ongoing as we earnestly desire to do everything with the highest integrity possible.
Experience and Wisdom Gained This Year; Students’ Growth and Development Noteworthy
As we’ve reached (and crossed!) the half-way point of another year serving as Christ’s messengers in rural Honduras, we thank God for the experience and wisdom we’ve gained. We are now a year-and-a-half into the journey of directing a discipleship-based community high school (and expanding elementary school) in our rural homestead, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way! We truly thank God for the progress gained, both in our experience as leaders/servants and in the lives of the children and youth in our program, who likewise are experiencing revolutionary changes in their lives as God is impacting and transforming them with the good news of peace with God through Jesus Christ. As we enter the second half of our school year (the Honduran school calendar goes from January/February — late November), we currently have 37 full-time students plus a small handful of local youth who participate in select activities/Bible studies we offer but are not completely engaged every day. Praise God!
Prayer Sought for Ongoing Unity and Development in Our Large Foster/Adoptive Family of 10
Please continue to pray for Darwin and I as we are nearing the four-year mark of parenting children who come from very broken places. Our eldest daughter will be turning 17 years old in three months (oh my gosh!), and our youngest son (Josue, who has special needs) just turned 9. As everyone is making a quick sprint towards maturity, please pray for us as we continue to fine-tune our skills as parents. Pray that our kids (and teens) would always be given a soft, malleable heart in regard to discipline and correction, and pray with us that God would truly grant our kids wisdom and grace as they grow in Christ. We have seen tremendous strides in each of our kids’ lives since they’ve been under our care, and we humbly ask that Father God may grant us perseverance, abundant love and the Biblical wisdom needed to truly parent these kids well. During this second half of the year, God has led me to teach less classes in our discipleship-based community homeschool in order to be more present to our 8 kids as just plain ‘mom’, faithfully prepare family dinners each day, etc. (I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom and run an organization/ministry! Pray for me!) Below are photos we took during our weeklong family retreat last month. These periodic family retreats are a simple yet powerful step we’re taking to strengthen family ties and form healthy memories together in our family that’s building its nest behind schedule.
Here is the third of five homemade informational videos we filmed at our home (the Living Waters Ranch) in rural Honduras this past week! (If you’re not a fourth-grader in vacation Bible school, then please dismiss the initial video greeting…)
Costumes, healthy physical touch, eye contact and God’s love — welcome to our twice-weekly Speech/Communications class! As we’ve reached our mid-year point in our discipleship-based community homeschool program at the Living Waters Ranch in rural Honduras, we’ve introduced several new classes. One such class is a dynamic, sometimes impromptu class I’m teaching our oldest students — roughly 25 teens grades 5th-8th who come from (and many of whom are still in) marginalized situations.
During the first half of the school year we began seeing the dire need for such a class as the majority of our new students are desperately shy, afraid to speak up or share in Bible study, won’t pray in public, and are completely lost as to how to do any kind of class presentation. In Honduran culture, it is very common and accepted for people to be ‘ashamed,’ which becomes a debilitating disease that causes them to hide from doing anything good (but not, of course, to shy away from doing anything bad, as we know all too well that violent crimes and rampant sin have this culture in a stranglehold).
As we are learning alongside of our students in Bible study every Tuesday and Thursday, one of the many messages in the book of Hosea is that human beings generally love shame above honor; we love what cuts us off from relationship rather than what gives life; we give our affections to a passing, flawed worldly system with false promises rather than to the good, eternal God. This backwards or confused attitude is very present in our students, as many struggle secretly with pornography addiction, theft, lying, etc, but are scared stiff to talk openly about God’s love, give their undivided attention to the person speaking to them, respond to God’s grace in joyful, unashamed devotion, etc. They are scared to sing worship songs but are not scared about falling into sexual sin. Surely we as a human race have got it all backward!
Thus, we invented our three-week-long intensive Speech/Communications class (a more in-depth version of the one-day workshop I gave last year), and thus far we’ve seen many breakthroughs in even our shyest of students. The class atmosphere is light and fun, and the youth are encouraged to participate openly without shame. In addition to playing many interactive games, a good portion of each class is dedicated to sitting in a large circle as a certain theme is presented (it could be something from the Bible, everyday life, etc) and each student — in their own timing — stands up and talks freely for a minute or so on said topic. (This is the only activity I can recall from my own high school speech class, and I remember that it greatly helped me overcome my own fear of public speaking.) The speaker is instructed to create and maintain eye contact with each member of the audience (which is a new concept for the majority of them, as they’re used to staring at their own feet or up at the ceiling), and the audience is instructed to maintain open body posture and not break eye contact with the speaker (another struggle, as respectfully listening to speakers is not generally a strong point in Honduran culture.)
Last week as class was nearing its end, we sat down in our large circle on the porch to discuss the topic of ‘family.’ I had assumed this topic would be the easiest of all to discuss because it was intimately known and experienced each day. They didn’t need to prepare a large presentation or do any research; just talk about their family. After all, if they wanted to take the quickest route out of their public speaking commitment, all they had to do was stand up and stutter, “Uh, I have three siblings, and I live with my mom and dad,” before quickly sitting down again. I thought it would be easy enough.
Well, a young male student was our first volunteer. He popped up to his feet, his short frame standing as tall as he possibly could as he opened up his heart in an entirely unexpected way. He began sharing with all of us some of his family struggles along with the fact that when he was younger he spent much time in the street, even occasionally sleeping on the street to avoid family conflicts. He then went on to publicly thank God that he now has a much more loving step-mother who treats him nicely along with the fact that God’s hand has been over him in several other noticeable ways. This particular young man is normally very upbeat and tends to play the role of ‘class clown,’ so we were all blown away by what he shared. As my eyes searched the faces of all those two dozen students who were looking up at him, eyes trained on him as he spoke, my heart recognized another miracle: no one laughed.
When he finished sharing several minutes later, another teen boy hopped up to his feet and began sharing a long, intricate narrative of his woeful relationship to his mother, her murder a couple years ago, and his blossoming relationship with Christ since then. No one made any uncomfortable faces or poked fun. They were just really, truly listening in the purest sense, and he was earnestly speaking. No big poster boards; no dull, memorized speeches; just real, God-honoring sharing.
Our eldest daughter was the next one to follow suit and, like the other two young men who shared, she went far over the minimum time limit and valiantly shared about her experiences with her biological family, the devastating details of which her classmates had not previously known. After her, three or four other students shared sincerely. Two students finished their time of sharing about their family in tears. Some shared heartwarming stories of parental love and support while others spoke of murders suffered, indescribable loss and abuse. The element that was present in nearly every story, however, was that of redemption, of God’s love shining through to reach them in the darkest of places, drawing them toward Christ. And the best part was that they were putting it in their own words, were recognizing (and proclaiming to others!) God’s handprint on their lives.
With great joy I share with you the following photos that were taken from our class last week. To God be the glory!
My husband Darwin recently took the following photos of his small group of students in the Living Waters Ranch’s beginners’ recorder class. This first semester (February-May 2017) he gave several music classes to different groups of students, including piano, advanced music theory/recorder and the beginners’ recorder class pictured below.
Last week as we entered into a new weekly schedule, Darwin began his group choir lessons for the first time this year, which a lot of our returning students are excited about because the choir was their initial connection to us as we began forming relationships with youth from our neighborhood from 2014 onward.
Darwin is a very passionate music teacher, and he firmly believes that God can utilize music to restore and renew the souls of broken children for His glory. He oftentimes takes the students outdoors to play in the shade of some large tree on our rural property, and he tends to incorporate prayer and Scripture-reading into the class. The photos shown below were taken on one such occasion.
After Bible study, prayer groups, and group geography class in the ‘movie theater’ (the students called it that because we used a projector to show large images and maps on the wall, something we had never done before because we just purchased the projector a few days ago), all of our students divided up into two groups: the girls with Darwin for choir class (I participated as a very naughty student in the choir, and the girls loved it), and all the boys in our large dining room for art class with the rest of the teachers.
At one point I snuck out of the little building where we were having choir to go check on the boys in their first large-group art class, and I found them all very much hard at work, collaborating with one another and thoroughly enjoying the whole creative process. I have absolutely no idea what the actual project was (they seemed to be divided up in several groups according to age/ability/interest as some were working with cardboard, others with string and hot glue guns, others with simple paper and crayons), but God’s peace among them was tangible and I marveled at the beauty of what God is doing deep in their hearts.
I share with you the following photos that were taken of roughly 20 young men that we absolutely adore and are so proud of. Some of them we have known and been closely discipling for two to three years while others entered our lives but four months ago. Many of these young men have dropped out of school several times, entertained the idea of moving illegally to the United States, or become dangerously close to becoming teen fathers. They are quite the rag-tag group — some are naturally very bright and well-adjusted; others have been orphaned or had family struggles and no longer live under the protection of their parents; others suffer mild to severe learning disabilities; all of whom are growing in the knowledge and love of God. Especially in our rural community and the general Honduran culture, seeing young men become brilliantly alive in God’s love –actively seeking out His Word, submitting their lives to His will, recognizing and developing their God-given ‘hidden treasures’ and talents in order to more fully serve Christ — is no common occurrence. There is a high percentage of young men in our neighborhood who are vagabonds and thieves, oftentimes committing themselves to the service of the local gangs who end their lives before age 20. Thus, with great astonishment at God’s active work in these precious young men’s lives, I share with you the following photos we took yesterday…
The large wooden play structure we had designed was finished a few weeks ago by Domingo, one of our faithful team members who is a local pastor in his 50s who serves with us as the Christian Leadership teacher, Carpentry Club leader, and elementary math teacher. We love the way it turned out, and the kids are all over it every chance they get! It has added a very fun and dynamic dimension to recess and lunch hour, and it supports our overall mission to restore broken youth spiritually, emotionally and physically for God’s glory.
Living Waters Ranch to Enter a Three-Week Intensive Mid-Year Term
With our roughly-40 students (8 from our foster/adoptive family and about 30 from our local community who participate daily in our discipleship-based homeschool) we will be entering a three-week period of different classes as of next week to ‘shake things up’ while further equipping our youth with experiences and knowledge they need in order to continue growing and exploring God’s will for their lives. My husband Darwin will be giving several intensive choir workshops; I’ll be teaching a Biblically-based world geography class (in addition to a crash course in grammar along with several Speech/Communication workshops) with our older students; and each child/teen will have the option of ‘specializing’ in one of several areas, including English as a second language, Agriculture/Christian Leadership, Carpentry/Christian Leadership, etc. All students will be involved in twice-weekly art classes during this mid-term time, and we’ll continue faithfully with our Bible study and prayer groups as usual.
Updates Regarding Katy
The lawyer from the local government office has yet to fulfill her word to go out to Katy’s family’s home to investigate her living situation, although she promises to do so this upcoming week. Please pray for all the government workers involved, as they are overburdened with cases of child abuse, neglect, etc, and the personnel and their resources simply aren’t enough to manage each one with excellence. Our home and our hearts are prepared to accept Katy into our home if and when the Lord should bring her, and we continue our active communication with the government agency in hopes of her rescue.
Brayan and Darwin Compete in Local Race
My husband Darwin and Brayan, our 15-year-old son, competed last week in a large organized road race in the nearby city of La Ceiba along with Larry, a longtime spiritual mentor of ours, and several other local youth whom we have friendships with. Events such as these are almost unheard of in our area (there are generally very few organized sports teams for youth, and athletic training of any kind is uncommon), so Brayan and Darwin had been training together for several weeks prior as they got amped up for the big event. Brayan, who came into our lives as a very uncoordinated and broken 12-year-old in 2014, has really taken hold of long-distance running over the past couple months as he’s been training with Darwin and Erick, and he actually won third place in the youth category! I was unable to attend the race (I stayed at home with the rest of our kids), but they told me there were roughly 80 or so teen males who participated, and our son — who comes from very broken places, and whom God has been restoring and healing over the past several years in accordance with His will — came in third! Wow! We are very excited about his newfound self-discipline and motivation that Father God is inculcating in this young man whom we love so much, and Brayan is excited to travel with Darwin and Erick next month to compete in another road race in a city that lies 3 hours away.
As was written on our prior blog post, my health as of late had been quite weak as I was battling Typhoid fever and an aggressive virus. I’ve gone in several days over the past few weeks to a local clinic to receive IV fluids packed with vitamins and antibiotics, and they’ve done their job well! I’ve recuperated strength and energy and have even felt the desire to begin playing with the kids and exercising again. (A couple days ago I got into a pretty extreme game of Monkey-in-the-Middle with a large group of our students and had a blast). Thank you to all of you who have prayed for my recovery.
Teachers Attend 3-Day Conference
I am currently attending a 3-day conference with two of our teachers (Isis and Reina) in another city in Honduras as we seek to continue learning about this field that the Lord has placed us in. We’ve attended workshops on the legal side of managing a ministry, heard testimonies and advice from other people who have fostered/adopted kids, learned more about child psychology and how to nurture kids who have been through severe traumas, etc. It has been a fruitful time of making connections with others who serve in similar fields, learning from the experts, and also continuing to form the bond between the three of us as sisters in Christ. Below you’ll see a few silly photos we took when no one else at the conference was looking…
Recently we organized an all-day event of various old-fashioned yard games for our students and neighbors. We very intentionally incorporated games that involve teamwork, healthy physical touch, riotous laughter, coordination, and sensory development as many of the youth the Lord has placed in our lives come from very broken places and are in the beginning stages of being restored and renewed by God’s love under our care.
The majority of our young friends are very immature for their age due to not having received vital components in their early childhood (such as adequate parental attention, Biblical guidance, loving discipline, etc), thus they lack healthy self-esteem, an accurate understanding of who God created them to be and the basic tools necessary to confront reality in a godly way. Knowing that these ‘lacks’ in a child or teen’s life propel many toward a life of crime, depression and/or sexual deviancy, we understand that spending a day full of godly friendship, intense laughter and team-building activities goes a long way towards restoring and forming healthy individuals who respond to God’s love and interact with others in a loving way.
In our corner of the globe here in Latin America (as around the world), there is much competition, violence and physical intimidation/abuse among peers and families, so learning to use one’s physical strength to bless others, carry a teammate, etc, is a very important aspect of learning to receive and then be instruments of God’s love in daily life. Patting someone on the back in encouragement, receiving a hug from a trustworthy adult, learning how to give (or receive) a piggy-back ride, etc, are really big steps toward their recovery into loving, joyful beings under the headship of the loving, joyful God.
Furthermore, many of our kiddos have very poor motor skills/physical coordination due to malnutrition and under-stimulation in their early childhood, so all the activities we do with them are geared toward stimulating them toward integral health, growth and abundance according to God’s perfect will for their lives.
So, one of the first games on our agenda was a crazy partner activity. I stood among the many teams of two and shouted out “Backpack!” and the teens had to grab their partner and fling them on their back. Then “Baby!,” which they then scrambled to cradle their friend’s weight in their arms as if they were a precious (oversized) newborn. And so the game went, me shouting out one wild command after another until everyone was panting and heaving, either from laughter or exhaustion…
‘Backpack’, everybody! Get up there!
What a beautiful baby! Don’t let him fall!
One of the next games on the day’s agenda was a fan-favorite that I introduced to them last year: Chinese freeze-tag! My husband Darwin and one of our 50-year-old local teachers (Reina) got in the mix as everyone was running wildly around our yard!
Watch out, Jackeline! Your teacher is gaining on you! Run, Reina, run! (She was such a good sport — she came out on one of her days off in order to participate in all the games with the kids without having any idea what would be in store!)
Look at Darwin go! Our eldest daughter Dayana was hot on his heals, and he was determined not to get caught!
The next game was an old classic: the water balloon toss! Every time you throw it, you’ve gotta take a step back!
I hid in an outdoor trashcan (with the lid on!) and no one found me until one of the teen boys casually walked by, took the lid off, and went to throw some trash on my head! My legs are so long that I had quite the hard time uncurling my body to get out from the tight space once the game was over!
Hey! Who’s hiding out on the school building’s roof?
Next up: a new game I read about on the internet! Everybody has to hop on one leg and use the other one (no hands allowed!) to try to push their partner over! It’s like standing-up leg wrestling. Let’s see who’s got the best balance and endurance!
When Darwin and Brayan went head-to-head (below), neither one wanted to lose! Thank God that we have two very strong, godly men in our household!
Then it was my turn to go up against tough-as-nails Paola! After a pretty intense go of it I finally beat her as I ended up hopping on one leg after her all around the yard!
The grand finale! Teenagers Cristian and Derbin went at it for several minutes while the spectators looked on!
Who likes watermelon?! Did I mention that you can’t use your hands? Eat up, boys!
One of the last games was one I invented right on the spot, and it turned out to be a riot! I warned the kids that they would be participating in the world debut of a new game…They had to crawl on all fours with a spoon in their mouth before reaching bowls of shortening (like Crisco) and flour on the ground. They then had to fill the spoon with one of the ingredients before crawling to their teammate at the other end of the yard to start spreading the delicious ingredients all over their face. The object of the game? Who knows, but it was really funny to watch!
Watch out, kids! Here comes Darwin with a huge spoonful of flour! Run and hide!
Hey! I told them to just put the Crisco on their victims’ — er, I mean teammates’ — face! Poor Josue was covered from head to toe! (And poor Darwin and I who had to bathe him and Gaby afterwards! The real prize awaited me the next day when I went to wash his clothes — and we don’t have a washing machine!)
Now it’s Reina’s turn! You go, girl!
Yup! We successfully finished the game! How do I know? Because all the Crisco and flour were emptied from the bowls and applied successfully to the kids (and Darwin, far left)! This is a game everybody can win, right?
Our 16-year-old daughter Dayana (middle, red shirt) was not too happy with me because it took her lightyears to pick all the Crisco and flour — which turned into a dreadlock-like substance — from her very thick, curly hair! Needless to say, I don’t think she’ll be requesting the game at her next birthday party!
And, last but not least, at the end of the day-long event, our 8-year-old special-needs son Josue followed me into the kitchen where I snapped this priceless shot of him. It is my new favorite picture: every mother’s worst nightmare! He looks like a naughty little guy who’ll get into anything when momma’s not looking (which is actually quite true)!
In a prior update I sought prayer for our little Gabriela who has been living with us almost two years now. Surprisingly, we found a biological family member of hers in a nearby city several weeks ago (the first contact we have had with any family member since she and her sister moved in with us in July 2015). We got their cellphone number and have since realized two structured family visits for Gabriela and her older sister Josselyn. The family visits have helped to fill in many of the gaps in the girls’ fragmented history, and one of those is their ages. Although the majority of their family members are illiterate and do not have a very accurate concept of time, dates, etc, several of them affirmed that Gabriela is roughly 10 years old and Josselyn 12. We continue to parent, love and guide them day after day in this new stage of monthly family visits and increased contact with their past, and due to Josselyn’s insistence we are doing the legal investigations to see if one or both of the girls can return to their biological family’s home, most likely with their grandparents. This is a very delicate process for all of us, as Josselyn is currently feeling a very strong pull to return to her familial roots and daily experiences pretty dramatic mood swings as she has even escaped twice from our home in recent weeks. We are approaching the possibility of her living with her biological family with an open mind and much prayer, but both girls arrived at our home in terrible shape in 2015 and had experienced much abuse and neglect at the hands of certain relatives, so we do not yet have peace about them returning to such an unstable situation despite Josselyn’s adamancy. Please pray with us for our two girls during this time, as the government will have the final say on where the girls will live. This week I am scheduled to accompany a government social worker to the girls’ grandparents’ home as part of the reintegration investigation. Please pray for peace over our household as well, as Josselyn is quite unstable emotionally, and that affects everyone in our family. Please continue to pray with us for both girls — for their healing, relationship with the Lord, future, etc — as any child who has been separated from their biological family struggles with great insecurities and doubts as to why they do not live with their family in addition to periods of very intense emotional angst. Pray that Father God would bless them both with wisdom to understand their past, gratitude towards Him for where they are in the present, and great faith in God as to their future. In particular, pray that God would illuminate Josselyn’s mind with the truth (as we feel that she is currently very confused), and that wherever she ends up she would continue to seek, love and obey Him. The attachment process when a new child/teen arrives in our family (and then the detachment process if/when they leave) is extremely taxing on Darwin’s and my emotions, and we currently feel very stretched thin emotionally. We appreciate your honest prayers.
Erick’s Young Men’s Retreat and Running Group
Earlier this month during ‘Holy Week’ (the week in Latin American culture leading up to Easter Sunday) Erick and Darwin organized a camping retreat for about a dozen young men, the majority of whom are in our school and others of which weekly attend the Bible study that Erick and his wife host in their home on Wednesday evenings. They all threw on their backpacks and headed up a remote path into the dense jungle behind our home to enjoy a campfire, sharing of stories and testimonies, several Bible studies, etc. For the majority of the young men, it was the first time they had ever done anything like that. We are excited about and blessed by the wisdom, energy, and sacrificial attitude that Erick and his family bring to this ministry in rural Honduras, as he is actively investing in and guiding many teenage boys during his free time and during vacations. He has also since formed a running group with the same young men as he is training with them several times per week to run in a 10K in a nearby city next month. Not only Erick but all of the Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us this year are taking great initiative to form relationships with and disciple the many youth in our homeschool-style school, both during ‘work’ hours and on nights/weekends. This is awesome!
Greater Organization Achieved in 2017
Although this may not be a particularly striking headline report to make, we are very excited about the organization, communication and daily structure we’ve been able to establish this year. During the first three years of this ministry (2013-2015), we oftentimes felt like our lips were flapping violently in the breeze and our hair was flying all over the place as the learning curve is pretty drastic for learning how to parent hurting children/teens, establish and grow a ministry from scratch, utilize and protect a rural 17-acre property in the middle of one of the world’s most dangerous countries, etc. Last year we had many breakthroughs as we opened our previously itty-bitty homeschool program to dozens of local youth through the creation of our discipleship-based high school, twice-weekly Bible study and prayer groups, Christian Leadership class, etc, although we still had many kinks to work out as we had been thrown into an entirely new arena. Now that we have more experience under our belts (and hopefully wisdom gained both through the ups and downs we’ve personally gone through in addition to increased and ongoing reading of Scripture, etc), this calendar year we are all taking a collective sigh of relief and gratitude as things are marching along without so many hiccups. This year we are serving more people than ever before, and with much less stress! Knowing how to manage a kitchen where about 50 people eat on any given day – calculating how many and which groceries to buy, how to keep the kitchen clean (and who cleans it on what day, and then making sure that person actually cleans it!), etc – is not something that comes in the owner’s manual, but by God’s grace this year things are running more smoothly and the overall organization of the property and its buildings (not just the kitchen) has improved drastically. Setting appropriate limits both with the surrounding community and with those within our household; discerning and then communicating the specific vision/mission the Lord is giving us; establishing and managing our kids’ and laborers’ many schedules/responsibilities; learning how to keep our guard dogs alive; discerning the next step in any new situation and taking it, etc, has been the ongoing task during these first few years of laboring under God’s grace and for His glory. Through many people’s generosity we’ve also been able to purchase a printer for our office (before we used to have to run to town every time we needed to print something!) and we’re in the final stages of finishing a large swing-set/play structure for our yard. Join us in thanking God for these advancements – some big, others very small – as we are daily learning how to be the best possible stewards of all that has been placed under our care. Yes!
Seeking Prayer for Sandra, Who Left Our Home
Sandra, a 16-year-old local teen who has sought refuge in our home on-and-off over the past year-and-a-half, recently decided to move out of our home. Ever since her escape from her mother’s house a couple months ago, she has been actively engaged in many occult activities that go directly in contrast with God’s will for her life. Several weeks ago Darwin and I sat down with Sandra and her mother (a very devout, humble Christian who works with us part-time) to try to get to the root of Sandra’s sporadic behavior, and she told us that she no longer desired to live with us nor study in our school. She has since moved out and we have lost all contact with her, as she is living in her mother’s home but not under her mother’s authority. We are deeply saddened by the very dangerous choices she is currently making, but we feel absolute certainty that God has called us to release her (as in, no longer worry about her nor try to ‘rescue’ her from her own poor decisions). Prior to her moving out we had invested much individualized prayer, conversations, etc, into her life as we sought to be faithful channels of God’s grace to her, but she ultimately made her decision and will pay the consequences. Although Darwin and I along with our kids are in absolute peace with all that we’ve done, said, given, etc in regards to our relationship with her, we do seek prayer on her behalf and that of her mom, who is daily faced with a very rebellious daughter who has placed herself near many dangers. We long for Sandra to return to God in repentance, as she confessed faith in Christ last year and was publicly baptized, thus making a lifelong commitment with God. Thank you for your prayers.
Praising God: Protection from Danger
We praise and thank God that roughly a year and a half has passed since the last burglary on our property. Although those within our walls (students and our children) oftentimes struggle with stealing money or small items from our office or backpacks, we are very happy that the issue we had experienced in 2013-2015 of late-night unknown neighbors stealing chicken, electric generators, cutting through fences, etc, has since ceased. Our night watchman — who does his rounds with nothing more than a flashlight — has been doing a very diligent job each night, and he and his family will soon be celebrating two years of living on our property with us. Five of their children are in our school, and we enjoy a very positive relationship with them. Please continue to pray for us in regard to the general issue of security, as Honduras is a very dangerous country. We thank God for His protection — over our lives and our property — that He has granted us, and we humbly ask that you might pray with us so that this divine protection against evil might continue. Praise be to God!
Darwin and I have been actively educating our children and teens in the realm of godly stewardship (how to wisely and generously manage their finances) for several years. Each of our foster children have several weekly chores that they are responsible for, and they receive a small income for them every other week. In a recent family meeting we shared with them the idea of investing their savings in the purchase of a young dairy calf, which will eventually grow at almost no cost and can then be sold (or kept to have babies). Jackeline, one of our teenage daughters, very enthusiastically embraced our suggestion and has since utilized the money she had been saving in order to purchase a young female dairy cow from a neighbor who sold it to us at a great price. Her calf now lives on our large rural property with our small herd that Darwin manages and milks each morning with our 15-year-old son Brayan. We are very excited that she has made this wise investment, and the cow – especially if it gives birth several times, whose calves can then be sold – has the potential to provide the income to send Jackeline to college, help transition her into adulthood, etc. You go, girl!
A House Full of Pianists
Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, continues faithfully onward in her piano studies as she is now in her third year of playing music under Darwin’s guidance. Every Saturday she goes into the nearby city of La Ceiba as Darwin’s assistant to teach piano lessons to a small group of young students. She has a dogged work ethic and has been extremely consistent in practicing roughly ten hours each week. Six of our other children are also in piano and/or violin, and just recently I, too, began practicing piano on a daily basis. Several months ago I felt God was nudging me toward learning more hymns and worship songs on the piano (I took lessons for about six months upon moving to Honduras in 2012), and as of this past week I am joyfully walking in obedience! I sat down at the piano bench for the first time in several months on Saturday to learn a new hymn, and I ended up practicing for five hours! In these past six days I’ve practiced 13 hours and learned two new worship songs! It is becoming a daily routine in our household that once our students and teachers leave around 3:45pm, several of us head to the schoolhouse (where the two big pianos are and several keyboards) to tap away for an hour or two. We praise God for this aspect of our daily lives and are encouraged as we see the majority of our kids develop the self-discipline and focus required to learn a musical instrument for God’s glory.
We are thrilled and blessed that all of our Christian laborers have begun actively forming relationships with our students after-hours and on the weekends. Three of them live in our tiny rural neighborhood while two daily take a bus in from a nearby city. Erick, whose story I mentioned on a prior blog, has started a weekly Bible study in his home for several of our teen boys, and Pastor Domingo has opened up his home on the weekends to several of our students whom he has joyfully put to work sanding and sawing in his carpentry shop. He has also received several students in the church he leads in his front yard, and our other teachers recently organized a riotous hiking/swimming outing to a local nature spot on a Sunday. We are thankful that God is allowing us to form a holistic ‘lifeline’ for these children and youth who may not have other loving, God-fearing adults in their lives.
Genesis Returns Home
Genesis, the teenager who had moved from across the country to live with us and study in our high school, unfortunately made the decision to return home to her family. She struggled with great mood swings and general negativity during her four weeks living in our home, and despite our best efforts to encourage, pray for, and try to convince her to continue studying and preparing herself to fulfill God’s will for her life (she had said that she wanted to become a lawyer, learn piano and return to her rural village fully equipped to serve God), she decided to return home about two weeks ago to her dry, very poor rural region where she has almost zero educational opportunities and no plan. Please pray with us for her, as we do not believe she made the correct decision but hope all the best for her according to God’s will for her life.
Working as a Team: Learning to Delegate Tasks
Amidst our many daily responsibilities as parents, directors of the Living Waters Ranch and teachers, Darwin and I are learning which tasks can be delegated and to whom. We are very excited and blessed that we have now delegated all of our legal communications with our lawyer who resides seven hours away in the capital city (in Honduras your lawyer has to live in the capital city if you want to experience any progress because that is where all the legal action takes place) to Miss Ligia, one of our faithful teachers who is a trained lawyer. She has taken great initiative to communicate and move forward with our capital-city lawyer in the adoptions that are currently in-process along with several other general legal procedures. We thank God for the team of very hard-working local Hondurans He has placed at our side and for the fact that Darwin and I are learning to rely upon them so that we do not get stretched too thin.
Prayer for Sandra
We are currently seeking prayer for Sandra, the local teen who we met last year when she entered our homeschool-style high school and then later moved in with us for seven months to escape a situation of sexual abuse in the home. She has since moved back in with us nearly two months ago due to various dangers and bad decisions she was facing in our rural neighborhood. She has sought Darwin and I out in private to talk/listen, confess different things she had hidden, and seek prayer for her life, but she is still extremely unstable and, according to what our other daughters have told us, seems to be on the cusp of dropping out of our high school and returning to our rural neighborhood to live a life of purposelessness and sin. She is extremely bright and has many God-given talents, but lacks perseverance and steadfast faith to see things through. She was baptized last year and has expressed to us several times that God has placed the desire on her heart to begin ministering to a group of young children who wander aimlessly around our neighborhood through the creation of a weekly Bible study, but she is easily distracted and has yet to take any steps toward fulfilling this specific call God has on her life. We love her dearly and have been through quite a bit with her thus far, and we are seeking prayer once more that God would illuminate her mind and that she would remain firm in her decision to love and follow Christ.
There is finally good news to be reported about my insomnia! Over the past two months I have been visiting a very professional local physical/massage therapist twice weekly as a last-ditch resort to finding the root of my sleep disorder. She has found several stress-related physical problems that have remained hidden over the last several years, and she has been working with me extensively on how to manage my stress levels better so that they don’t take root and turn into physical problems. My sleeping has improved drastically over these past two months although there is still much progress to be made. At home we have also made several positive changes to help manage stress levels better (such as the aforementioned delegating of tasks along with my new daily routine of playing worship songs on the piano), and I have begun sleeping much better. Please continue to pray for me as this will probably be an ongoing battle over the course of my lifetime (learning to trust in God and lay all my cares/stresses at the foot of the cross). Praise God for this progress!
Teaching and Mentoring Responsibilities Evenly Distributed Among Team Members
Darwin and I along with the 5 faithful Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us this year are evenly sharing the many daily responsibilities to teach and guide the 40+ youth in our homeschool-style program. This year we’ve added many new classes and extracurricular clubs such as: Agriculture, Advanced English, Carpentry, four different levels of math and reading classes according to each student’s capability, Advanced Music Theory, Sewing, Thought and Logic, Dance, after-school tutoring and others. I am currently directing the twice-weekly Bible study along with advanced math class, high-school-level art club, P.E., after-school tutoring for older students, and one afternoon per week of detention (think extreme military training for the kids who didn’t do their homework). Darwin is teaching 5th and 6th grade elementary school (combined homeschool-style in our dining room), piano club, basic and advanced music theory/recorder, advanced English, P.E., and Level 3 reading in addition to guiding a group of young men in our twice-weekly prayer groups. It has been very exhilarating thus far as we’ve implemented new classes and styles of teaching to better meet our students’ complex needs. Each Christian laborer is responsible for various groups of students each day, and thus far our new method is working seamlessly. We praise God for our new system of education as He’s been guiding us one step at a time over the last two years to make necessary changes, add new dynamics, etc in this beautiful effort to teach and disciple youth on the far margins of society for His glory.
Erick and Aracely Move to El Pino to Minister to Local Youth
Erick, who served alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch in 2014 and returned full-time as a teacher/mentor as of last month, has moved to our rural neighborhood with his wife and two young children so as to participate more fully in the ministry to the local youth who visit the Living Waters Ranch during daytime hours for discipleship and schooling. The house he is renting is strategically placed on the same block as roughly a dozen of the youth in our school, and he and his wife have opened their doors after-hours (nights and weekends) to form relationships with many of the teenage boys in our school who live close to them. He and his wife have taken tremendous God-directed initiative in our group effort to relationally disciple the many youth who the Lord is bringing to the Ranch, and we are thrilled that now our students have another safe, loving married couple to turn to on nights and weekends when Darwin and I are with the 10 who live with us. Erick is in the process of starting a Bible study in his home on Sunday nights for the youth, and he’s already begun taking several of them to church with him on the weekends. This type of initiative to reach out to lost youth in such a self-sacrificing way (giving up time with his family or to rest) is almost nonexistent in our neighborhood, and we are so thrilled that he and his wife are exhibiting such commitment to the Lord’s call on their lives. Please pray with us that the Lord would sustain and encourage them in their efforts, and that the many seeds that are being planted would give a great crop for God’s glory.
Missionary Couple from Guatemala Trains the Team of Servants at the Living Waters Ranch
An American missionary couple who has been serving God in children’s ministry in Guatemala (a Central American country that neighbors Honduras) for several years came to stay at the Living Waters Ranch for a couple nights in January as they held intensive training sessions for our team of 7 Christian laborers (including Darwin and I). The couple has many years of experience working as Christian psychologists with severely abused and hurting children, so they freely shared their experiences and know-how with us so that our efforts to love and teach the children might bear great fruit for God’s glory. (Facilitating this training session was part of our 3-week process of team training in preparation to begin the new school year.)
Gabriela’s Ongoing Healing Process
Little Gabriela, who we had guessed might be about 8 years old (she has no birth certificate or hospital records) is probably actually 10 or 11 years old because her body has recently begun entering the puberty process. We are honestly very scared about this because she is mentally and emotionally about 4 years old and daily struggles with many behavioral issues that a very small child would display. We urgently and humbly seek prayer regarding her continued healing process as the scars her sexually abusive step-father left in her life are deep. She daily struggles with basic personal hygiene norms, has extreme difficulties learning and does not play easily with the other children. Compared to where she was when she arrived in our family a year-and-a-half ago, she has come a very long way on the path to recapturing innocence, developing better motor skills and learning about a good God, but the path before her is still very long and uncertain. Pray for Darwin and I, that we may maintain great hope in God for her full recovery and that we may daily manifest God’s perfect love and patience with her in the midst of many trying moments.
Prayer Requested to Expedite the Adoption Process
We have been actively involved in the legal adoption process of siblings Dayana (16), Gleny (12) and Jason (9) for roughly a year, and there has been almost zero progress, which is not surprising in Honduras. My legal residency status took nearly four years to get, so we are prepared to wait actively in this process as well. We ask that you would pray with us that the process would be expedited in Jesus’ name; that all the lawyers, judges and local government authorities involved would review our paperwork in an effective manner and that the three adoptions would come to completion this calendar year. God has planted the desire in us to begin the same adoption process with 15-year-old Brayan, so we ask for prayers as many legal ‘balls’ are being juggled at once.
Gleny (12) and Dayana (16) Return to Art Class
Gleny and Dayana, biological sisters who have been living with us nearly three-and-a-half years, last month returned to a local art school every Saturday as we seek to develop the ‘hidden treasures’ (gifts, abilities and interests) in them. Gleny in particular is thrilled to the moon and back to be in the art class, and we give thanks to God for the local Christian woman who runs the school and serves as another very positive influence in our girls’ lives. The goal of having our girls in this class is to equip them with a diverse skill set (including musical training that they receive at home) that they will be able to use in their future to acquire gainful employment and/or to serve God and others.
Over the past several days I’ve spent close to a dozen hours reading our students’ ‘books’ — long handwritten reflections that they’ve carefully torn out of their school notebooks and stapled together. During the three weeks of intensive preparation that finished last Friday, every evening our students were given one or more reflection themes as homework to get them thinking and engage their hearts and minds. Reading their sincere reflections has allowed us to enter the inner world of each student, to know them better and witness close-hand the transformative work the Lord has begun in them.
Some of the reflection themes had to do with their current or future family while others were about their relationship with God, how they spent their school vacations, a situation they had to face with bravery or their personal opinion regarding whether or not cell phones are a healthy tool for teenagers to have. The writing prompts were all very open-ended, and the responses were intriguing.
Although our precious students have many grammatical errors, the heart of their message — the Truth shining forth from their small pencil-written letters and unorganized paragraphs — caught me off guard. It is for this reason that I’ve translated several excerpts from their writings to include them on this blog to encourage those around the world with the good work the Lord has begun in many young lives in Honduras. Seeing as I’ve only got about halfway through the enormous stack of reflections (each ‘book’ is 15+ pages), there will probably be another blog with additional excerpts in the upcoming days.
The following excerpts were written by Honduran youth ages 12-17 who are all currently in poverty, many of which do not live with their biological parents due to situations of abuse and neglect, and some of whom spent the first 10-12 years of their life without entering school. Some have been raised in devout Christian families while others found Christ through their relationship with us at the Living Waters Ranch.
I believe that God is the only one who can liberate us of all evil. We humans are very difficult because we tend to resist our divine Eternal Father and don’t want to be guided by Him, and that is why there are so many problems in life. – New female student, age 15 (8th grade)
My first week at the Living Waters Ranch high school was very special. God has been changing my life ever since I entered this new school. He has changed my whole life because now I read the Bible, which I never did before. I now pray every night. I am learning more about Jesus Christ, and God has changed my life, and I am so happy about that. Another thing that makes me happy is that God has cured me of the evil I did last year. I believe He has forgiven me.–New male student, age 14 (7th grade)
I suffered a lot with my biological mom because we did not have a stable home…We were vagabonds; we did not know how to read. In order to provide food for my siblings and I, my mom prostituted herself. My dad had other women. I do not want to suffer like my mom did…That is basically what happened with my biological family, but by the grace of God my siblings and I stayed alive and together.— One of our daughters, age 12 (6th grade)
I was lost, and God, through the Christian brethren at the Living Waters Ranch, opened my eyes…He sent His son to pay for us. Thanks to God, my life has changed for the better. God loves me. God is the answer to all problems. We must repent with all our heart, and He will understand. He is my father. He is like a lifesaver; in the middle of the ocean we must cling to Him. I was so far from God – a lot of television, just wandering around without purpose, dirty language, very irresponsible. Everything bad that happened to me I blamed God. I used to say, “If God is good, why did He let this happen to me?” I was so wrong, but God – through the Christians at the Ranch – opened my eyes.– Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)
Here in our neighborhood there was a man who liked the easy life. He was a drunkard and liked to play cards. He was also involved in drugs. One day he began reflecting over his life, and he began to seek God. He is now a pastor; he has two children and they follow him everywhere. He is so thankful to God for the change He made in him. This story has helped me because I feel that God is doing the same thing in me.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
God gave Himself up for all of us on the cross of Calvary so that we would have life in abundance. The Bible specifically tells us about the love that God has for us and what God is capable of as He transforms men. God makes no exception of people – we are poor, rich, small and big, and He takes no note of race or language. We are all important to Him, and God acts in various ways to liberate us from the error of sin that the whole world finds itself in. Many are in gangs or are drunkards; others have different errors but God sends people that He has already liberated so that they can talk to us, to those whom God wants to save. God’s Word says that even in our mother’s womb God chose us to be saved.– New male student, age 14 (7th grade)
In my life I want God to make me into one of His instruments. I want to counsel other youth and speak to them of the love God has for them. I also want to help street children, those without responsible parents. I would like to guide them on the right path. One day [last year] when I was in Bible study and my mom was talking about drug addicts and street children, I felt that God touched my heart and I sensed in my heart that God wants me to be the person to help those people, to share with them the good news that God has for them. I would also like to start a mission base just like the Living Waters Ranch in order to raise children and be the mom that they never had, to be a blessing to their lives.. — One of our daughters, age 16 (8th grade)
One verse that I read in the Bible this past week that impacted me is Proverbs 11:4. It says: “When you stand before the Great Judge, your riches will not be able to save you; only doing what is just will liberate you from death.” This means that not even the richest person can buy their own life in God’s presence. It makes me think that being rich would not help me because salvation is not bought with money.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
Nowadays all the youth stop studying in order to spend time on their cellphone. I spent three years [they were actually only two, but he always says three] in fifth grade because I was distracted with my cellphone. If I were you, I would put my cellphone away so that you don’t lose points. Plus, the teacher will take the cellphone away from you. I am very proud of myself because I no longer have a cellphone, and now I am more focused than I could have ever imagined, and I thank God for that. This is my opinion.— One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)
To me, a problem in our neighborhood is that there is a lot of trash on the ground. We should not throw it on the ground because is takes a million years to renew itself, and that’s a long time.— One of our daughters, age 12 (6th grade)
When I began writing the Proverbs [for homework during the Intensive Preparation], at first I did not want to copy them, but then all of a sudden I felt that I wanted to do it because I found a lot of great advice that would prove helpful in my life. I now feel that every time I sit down to write the Proverbs, God is telling me, “I am waiting for you. Sit down and write, and you will be blessed by my teachings.” Also, if one hopes to correct himself, he’s got to read Proverbs. In that way we will not join up with the foolish. – Returning male student, age 15 (5th grade)
One day Brayan and I were in a verbal spat on the porch, so Pa Darwin came and sent us both out to the yard to pull up weeds for a good while. I have a phrase that I invented: “Sometimes hard things happen, but it’s better to shut your mouth.” — One of our daughters, age 12 (4th grade)
In my life I already have experiences and I have seen how God manifests Himself through those who obey His Word.– New male student, age 14 (7th grade)
When I’m an adult, I want my children to be Christ-centered leaders, just like their parents.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
Me in the past, I was a cow-herder. I did not know anything; I was not a Christian until I met Darwin and Jennifer. I started to talk with them, and I became a child of God. I am now a follower of Jesus Christ. When I was little I suffered a lot. Now that I am a Christian I enjoy the love of God and I do not ignore people. When someone insults me, the only thing I do is say, “God bless you.” Now the moments of my life are better than they were before. — One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)
Proverbs 8:36 was very impactful in my life because it says “Those that offend Me put their life in danger; to hate Me is to love death.” This impacted me because the teaching is that he who hates God is a lover of death and of Satan. The people in this world don’t know what they do; they go to church but keep sinning against God. We people play with God, but we do not truly think that our body has a limit, and that limit is death. But even so we rebel against the goodness of God. — Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
When I’m grown up, I want my wife and I to be responsible parents. I will give thanks to God for the wife He gives me. Also, with my wife I want to help needy people — those who need help raising their children. I want to have 3 biological children and 5 adopted ones, and I want to be faithful to them. I want to form them into well-educated sons and daughters, receiving them from different places. I want to be a loving husband and a loving person. I also desire for God to guide my wife and I on the path of justice; may He give us the hope of really and truly helping others in the same way that God changed me. — One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)
[In regards to the 3 weeks of intensive preparation] …I learned that if I don’t turn in my homework, I have to go to detention and I lose a lot of points…I learned that if I put forth a good effort, good things happen. – Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)
I want to study at the Living Waters Ranch because I want to honor my parents. I am going to learn how to be a Christian leader. The teachers treasure and love me, and I them. Thanks to the teachers, I feel extremely encouraged because they say I’m off to a good start and that I should keep up the same pace until the end. I know that we students sometimes get really foolish and don’t do our homework, but thanks to God that now the Living Waters Ranch has detention.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
One of my dreams is to become a gynecologist, but if I don’t do that, then I’d like to be a pediatrician in order to help needy children. Another dream that I have is to be a prophet. Each day I ask God to grant me more and more wisdom…— Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)
In the earlier years of my life, my relationship with Satan was perfect, but my relationship with God was terrible. I did not know God’s love. The Lord called me several times, but I never responded… Now, years later, I have the knowledge of God and I know Him personally. He is marvelous and powerful. Satan is a nobody. Satan promises to offer you things that he himself doesn’t even have. Now I love God with all my heart. I accepted Christ and am 100% submitted to His will.— New male student, age 17 (8th grade)
Yesterday evening at dusk our old Toyota truck pulled to a slow stop along a narrow strip of gravel road in our neighborhood as one of our students who had been riding in the truckbed prepared to jump off. This was his stop.
I reached over to touch Darwin’s arm, motioning for him to wait, and said, “I’d like to get out and say hi to Stanley’s mom. I’ll be right back.” I then paused and laughed to myself, murmuring under my breath, “This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve visited this house.”
Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who was sitting inside the cab with us, piped up and said, “Yeah, you’ve come to visit Stanley and his cousin Sindy quite a few times, right, Ma?”
I laughed even harder and admitted, “No, never Sindy. Just Stanley.”
Sindy and Stanley, who both live at this address, had been students in our seventh-grade program last year. While Sindy had shone brightly as a very high-acheiving and easily-managed student, her cousin Stanley had proved to be a roller coaster of volatile emotions and foolish choices. He seemed prone to making bad decisions and had wanted to drop out of school several times. He had even told Darwin that his life dream was to join a gang, and he had participated in a robbery at our home in 2015.
And so I hopped down from the passenger’s seat of our truck and shouted over to Stanley, who had just gotten down from our truckbed, “Is it okay if I say ‘hi’ to your mom real quick?”
His face suddenly dropped, an instinct probably acquired due to the many times I’d had to ‘say hi to his mom’ for negative reasons, but suddenly a huge smile appeared on his face as he realized this time he had nothing to hide. We both laughed as I patted him on that back and said, “This time it’s good news.”
I waited at the twine gate, but they quickly passed me through to the more intimate realm of their property. I guess after having visited a house so many times, you sort of become like family. Stanley’s mom suddenly appeared from behind the thin curtain hanging in the front door, and we embraced, as we have on many occasions. This time, however, instead of Stanley escaping out the back door or hanging his head low, refusing to look anyone in the eyes, he stood tall right next to his mom, proud.
His mother instinctively looked worried as she wondered what had merited my unannounced house visit (as in, what-has-my-son-done-this-time), but I quickly reassured her that this time I came to brag on him and announce the fantastic news that he had earned a daily average of 89% during his first week of intensive preparation and had exhibited an entirely new attitude among his peers and towards us. Tears welled up in his mom’s eyes as I told her that her son had even begun taking great leadership among his peers and is a godly example for the new students to follow. Respectful, attentive, enthusiastic and hard-working during the daily hour of physical training. He had even completed all of his homework over the last several days, which had never happened before.
And so we gave thanks to God, I embraced his mother one more time, and we were off to do similar visits with the other students who remained joyfully squeezed in our truckbed.
We went house to house down long, remote gravel roads as we embraced mothers and step-mothers — both ones we’ve already had a relationship with from last school year along with ones that we are just now meeting for the first time. We had, after all, just spent the entire afternoon at a local park with our students who had earned a daily average of 80% or higher during their first week of intensive preparation for the school year, and we were eager to bear that good news to their parents.
In our rural community that hobbles around, bound by laziness, apathy and self-pity (not to mention rampant violence and a culture of lies), to see teenagers — especially those who in years past have been on the margins of society, on the brink of self-destruction or turning into instruments to destroy others — become fully alive, read God’s Word, and suddenly acquire a dogged work ethic and new hope regarding their future truly is miraculous.
On one of our last stops, at a small one-room shack with several barefoot little girls running about in the dirt yard, we shared the news of Charlie’s revival with his step-mom, who truly cares for him and who had been quite worried last year as time and time again Charlie slipped into irresponsibility and self-pity before finally failing his school year entirely. We had worked hard to convince his dad and step-mom to allow him to keep studying with us after his first year was an apparent failure (for we know the secret that many local parents don’t: this battle for salvation, for transformation is one that is done over the long-haul and one that cannot be given up on if the first year or two or three don’t go as planned). Charlie, who is 13 years old but has the appearance of an 8 or 9-year-old due to malnutrition, stood tall, his chest puffed out and his face serene as we enthusiastically shared the news with his step-mom. Charlie had earned a daily average of 97% in his first week of intensive prep, and his gracious attitude, servants’ heart and leadership skills — things that were not visible in him last year — shone brightly. His step-mom glowed with joy as she commented that she, too, had seen a distinct change in him over the last several days.
As we said our goodbyes and began walking down that little rocky dirt path back to our car, our 15-year-old son Brayan, who did a phenomenal job in his first week of classes, turned around and said jokingly, “And my house visit?” (As in, are you gonna brag on me too?) I laughed, knowing that we had already bragged on him more than 653 times this past week and I said with a grin, “I think your mom already knows that you did a fantastic job.” He smiled like a little boy and reached out a long, muscular arm towards me and said, “You’re my mom!” and I nodded my head and laughed.
And so we’ve been reading a lot of the book of Proverbs and the students have been copying whole chapters for homework. We’ve been reviewing basic math, assigning personal reflections each night to get the kids thinking, and participating in quite intense physical exercises with them each afternoon. The majority of our students come to us with an extremely weak academic base and need to be taught (or re-taught) the basic of subtraction, multiplication, etc, along with basic grammatical norms and reading support. This can be a tedious process as many of our students have learning disabilities/delays, but this week — praise God! — it was fun and effective. All but two of our students attended every single day, which in and of itself is a great triumph because discouragement and lack of attendance tend to be rampant in the educational system in Honduras.
The first week of intensive prep involved roughly 20 students (those who are new to our program along with those who need additional support), and next week roughly 20 more will be joining us as we enter our second and final week of academic, spiritual and physical ‘bootcamp’ before the official school year begins in early February.
And so we took that small group of students who truly fulfilled that first week of ‘bootcamp’ with excellence to a local park to participate in games of soccer and volleyball, enjoy the pool, and generally play. We are very excited to be able to do this type of positive reinforcement (we call them ‘good consequences’) from the get-go to establish healthy limits and a good foundation of choices/consequences with our students as we enter into this year of intimate commitment with them.
Please pray with us for our students (and for our team of teachers, counselors and mentors) as we are beginning a new school year with more youth than we have ever had in our program before. Please pray also for my health, as my insomnia remains a daily constant, and I physically am weak and prone to acquiring viruses/infections, as I have one right now (high fever and throat infection that has lasted much longer than it should). The insomnia greatly affects my mood, daily energy levels, and my relationship with everyone around me. Pray that this burden may be taken from me so that I may be even more effective in this great work the Lord has put before us.