Category Archives: Prayer Requests

Communication Sabbatical + Year-End Request

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

I write to inform you of two things:

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

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

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

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

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

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

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: 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

Please Pray for Peace and Healthy Reform in Honduras

I would ask that you might place Honduras as a nation — and specifically our president and the governing authorities — in prayer, as there has once again been much political turmoil and uncertainty here. This nation is currently in the midst of prolonged protests, daily road blockades and even violent crimes on a national level.

We are an apolitical Christian ministry organization and do not side with any specific political party but are deeply concerned about many of the daily realities we see and experience here.

This morning in our Bible study time in our rural mission school we interceded with our teachers and students for our president and nation as a whole. We would ask that you might join us in these prayers in the hope that the current chaos might not escalate any further as it is our sincere desire (and that of many others) to live a quiet, honest life on Honduran soil for God’s glory.

God bless you, and thank you for remembering us in your prayers.

“I urge, then, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,  who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

— The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2: 1-4

Baptism: A Public Proclamation of Faith in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

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

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



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

May 2019: Photos and a Prayer Request

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

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

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

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

A devotional during an after-school Christian dance class

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

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

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

 

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

NEW PRAYER REQUEST

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

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

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

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

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

 

 

Leading a Thirsty Horse to Water Only to Watch Him Walk Away

A very strange thing has happened here. The tiny school we originally started out of our own home five years ago as a loving, Christ-centered outreach for local vagabonds and at-risk kids now includes a student population we never intended to serve: stable, bright middle-class students.

What was originally intended to be a rescue shop within a yard of hell for those on the farthest margins of society has been largely rejected by that population and embraced by another.

Yes, we still have a few rag-tag ex-vagabonds and rogue teens among our group of students this year (and many who have been abandoned by their mothers who left them to chase the American Dream), but we’ve been utterly surprised to receive new, stable families into our program who are not looking for a last-ditch rescue effort for troubled youth but rather a legitimate Christian school (and a dynamic extended family and discipleship program) for their growing children.

Our priority over these first several years of relational ministry in rural Honduras has been the least and the lost — those who are on the verge of entering gangs, those who have been overlooked by society and possibly not given a fair shot, those who have never stepped foot in a church building. Through many efforts, sincere friendships, prayers and tears, however, the majority of those whom we hoped to serve have opted out of a relationship with us (and opportunities to get an education, heal from their past, acquire life skills and learn to walk with Christ) in favor of a continued life of ease and sin on the streets. This has been bewildering, frustrating and devastating for my husband and I.

As the majority have now chosen the path of least resistance, we have been left seriously wondering if we should have prayed harder or done something differently in order to reach these teens in a more effective way. The most logical answer we come to is that they are simply people with God-given free will who have decided to use that free will in a way that does not glorify God.

My husband Darwin even made resumes and secured healthy employment for several of our local teens over the Christmas holidays in order to keep them busy/focused so that they would not fall astray (and because the majority of them say that they really want to be able to make an income). Darwin spoke with the manager of a local clothing store in order to get a job for one of our beloved teen boys, and Darwin spent several hours going around town with the young man buying the clothes he would need for his daily work uniform. The young man only showed up for the first day of work and then decided not to go back because it was ‘too hard’ being on his feet so many hours.

Over the December-January holidays Darwin organized outings to go fishing with these local teen boys (many of whom come from broken homes), watch Christian movies with them, visit their homes, counsel and pray with their parents, etc. We opened up the door for some of them to come live with us in order to escape unhealthy home situations, which several turned down. After great sacrifices on Darwin’s part (on many days he spent more time with the teen boys than he did with me and our 7 foster kids), all but a small handful have since turned their backs on us and have dropped out of our school in favor of doing absolutely nothing at all in this current season of their lives. We’ve even offered agriculture jobs on our rural property to these same local young men in order to provide them an honest income doing productive work, and all but two have turned down the offer to work without any real reason.

I share this with you not to judge these youth or complain about our experiences with them, but rather to openly share some of the confusing and very turbulent emotions we’ve gone through over these past several weeks as we’ve been confronted with the reality that many of those whom we love dearly and earnestly want to shepherd in the Lord are simply unwilling. Many people ask God to grant them a heart for the lost — love for humanity, to see people the way God sees them. Our experience is that the painful blessing in holding this God-given perspective is that there is much heartbreak in store as many of those whom you grow to love end up making decisions that lead to their own destruction and alienation from the Lord. This is perhaps part of the sorrow that Christ knew so well.

Thus, our new motto (however unfamiliar it still feels on our lips) is: We want to work with youth who want to be worked with. The season has now passed of us dropping everything in order to look for those who’ve run off and try to convince them time and again to do what is best for them (even against their own will): live for God, prepare for the future, live an honest life, etc. We have effectively let go (both physically and emotionally, which is much harder) of these teens and are now entering a new year and season of working with eager, young lives who really want what we are offering and whose parents are on-board with the nitty-gritty discipleship and formation process.

I would also like to share a new missions/global perspective with you based on our experience,  however hard it may be to believe: some people are materially poor, uneducated and/or far from God not because they were offered no opportunities or because no one has shared the gospel with them, but rather because — even after being pled to work, get an education or seek the Lord — they refused. This is hard to swallow and sounds very harsh, but this is the reality we come up against time and again (and we are not alone in this; many local pastors and missionaries have the same experience).

Also: many people believe that youth join gangs because they are looking for love/acceptance. This might be true in many cases, but I no longer believe it to be true in all. In our experience we have offered a very genuine, vibrant love and acceptance into a healthy, biblical community to many youth, and they are simply not interested (mainly because it is ‘too hard’).

Will they now turn to gangs or anti-social groups looking for a sense of belonging? We have no way of knowing; time will tell, but we can know for sure that if they do so it is not because they have known no love or have experienced only rejection in their lives, thus turning to the gangs as a last resort. They were given open doors and pled to walk through them, but they ran away from the love that was being offered them.

A couple weeks ago Darwin and I had a heart-to-heart talk with one of our favorite teen boys who had been in school with us for the past two years. We sat on little wooden stools in our empty, quiet dining room on a Sunday afternoon. We listened to his home struggles, tried to give him biblical advice as far as he would listen, affirmed our love of him, and at the end prayed for him through tears. We had offered to employ him and even help his family with food donations if only he would remain in relationship with us through his daily participation at the Living Waters Ranch (which, after all, is not for our benefit but rather his). At the end of the entire encounter — which lasted over an hour — I asked him if we could embrace him, which is a physical boundary I do not typically cross with our male students. He nodded yes, and my husband and I tightly held his 16-year-old body between us for several minutes as all of us fought off tears. Even after such an experience, the young man decided to drop out of our school/discipleship program and can now be spotted wandering the streets of our rural neighborhood, as he is now neither working nor going to school. His dad is in the process of leaving illegally for the States with one of his younger brothers even after Darwin tried on several occasions to convince the dad to stay.

These types of loss — and we have over a dozen other similar stories — leave us with an aching void in our chest but at the same time we know there is nothing else we can do beyond open the door, share the good news of Christ, participate in an honest and loving relationship with the person, extend opportunities and give wise counsel. If the person refuses, we can only watch them go, even knowing the likely myriad of consequences they will face due to their poor decisions.

So, please pray for these young lives who have unexplainably chosen to go astray, and — however strange it may sound — please pray for my husband and me, as these losses deeply affect us and are not easily forgotten. Pray that these young people might come to a genuine repentance and that they might begin to honor the Lord with their lives — whether that is in the context of a relationship with us at the Living Waters Ranch or elsewhere.

Thank you to all of you who regularly pray for this mission and support this work financially. God bless you, and please know that we do the best we can to administer our time, energies and funds in order to be effective servants, parents, teachers and missionaries for God’s glory.

Below I will include some photos that were taken within the last couple weeks of our new batch of local youth who are eager to learn and grow alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch this year. We currently have a little over 50 students, the number of which tends to flux a bit throughout the year. Among them are many children being raised by single dads, teens living with aunts or grandparents because their mothers abandoned them to go to the United States, and — as I mentioned above — some new students who come from more stable, middle-class families.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers!

Missionary Work in Honduras: First Update of 2019

After going over 5 weeks without even touching my computer, I will now try to pick up from where I left off…

We are currently in our annual period of preparation as we will begin a new year of personalized classes and Christian discipleship on our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) at the beginning of February. 

My husband, our seven foster children and I enjoyed a very low-key December in Honduras as we worked around our rural property together as a family doing various maintenance projects, paint jobs and groundskeeping activities. We immersed ourselves in several fruitful activities such as going on long walks, visiting a botanical garden, studying God’s Word as a family each night at dinner, engaging in various service projects in our local community and carving out time for each person to see their biological family members and/or close family friends. My mom and step-dad visited us before Christmastime, and my dad is planning a visit down here in early February.

Our foster kids painted smiley-face t-shirts with encouraging slogans on the front as they went out into our rural neighborhood on several occasions to pick up trash, as it is very common in our area for people to throw their trash directly on the ground or along the road instead of seeking out a trash can. We consider this to be a humble and gracious act of community service, as they are doing a less-than-glamorous job that rarely anyone takes the initiative to do. We hope to set forth an example of loving responsibility and encourage those in our community to take care of God’s creation and value the area in which they are raising their families.
Mission accomplished: over a dozen black trash bags reached our trash bin!
My husband Darwin was able to visit his dad, who is well into his 80s, several times during the Christmas holidays. Darwin and his dad are two of the only Christians in their family. His dad spent the majority of his life on the wrong path until finding the Lord less than 10 years ago. Darwin is the youngest of 18 siblings.
One of our foster daughters and several of our local students participated in an art competition in the nearby city of La Ceiba around Christmastime. They had been faithfully attending art workshops every Saturday for the past several months before the year-end event.
Last year my husband started an official swim club as part of the integral education we offer at the Living Waters Ranch, and he trained this rowdy bunch for several months before taking them on a special outing to a local beach. Many youth in our area do not have  positive outlets for play, exercise and healthy friendships, so activities such as this swim club are very important in the lives of our foster children and local students as we seek to form them for God’s glory.

Our night watchman and his family moved out of the little rainbow-colored house on our property after three years of committed relationship with them for God’s glory, and we have now converted their old home into a new “hospitality house” for local teen boys who are looking to engage in work, study and the search for Christ within safe confines. This is a new direction the Lord is taking us in, and my husband Darwin has done a phenomenal job overseeing, encouraging and working alongside of our new teen neighbors in their first several weeks living on our property. The house can hold 2-4 mature residents.

Our committed team of local Honduran missionaries/professionals recently returned to the Living Waters Ranch after several weeks of rest at home with their families, and together we are currently receiving and evaluating the dozens of local youth who are hoping to enter our grassroots Christian school this year.

Many of those who have wandered up the long gravel road to our rural property in these last couple weeks are youth we’ve known closely for several years who are looking to re-enter our school as they persevere with their commitment to cultivating their minds, bodies and very beings for Christ while others are completely new to our program and have sought us out as the local public schools have failed them and they are looking for something different and more effective. Some come from stable, loving families while others are on the outer fringes of society with almost zero stability in their lives. One local teenage vagabond whom we dearly love has been in and out of our school for the past four or five years and after a series of bad decisions last year has surprised us all with a very humble desire to try once again. He’s 17 years old and in second grade, and throughout these first several days of meetings and evaluations he has surprised us all with the great joy and commitment he’s displaying. These kinds of stories encourage us to keep hope alive.

A group of some of our male students in their evaluation period a few days ago prior to enrollment. (We put them through several physical fitness/endurance tests in addition to teamwork activities in order to build their character.)

A group of our female students building their pyramid in competition with the boys…

Our first two P.E. classes of the pre-enrollment evaluation period this month occurred on rainy, muddy days. Everybody went home with wet, dirty clothes and a big smile on their faces!
Pushups!

This year the Lord has brought a local college graduate with a heart for missions to serve alongside of us full-time, and we are honored that she will begin teaching Christian dance, advanced English and other subjects in our school in addition to leading prayer groups, teaching Bible studies and going house-to-house in our rural neighborhood to share the gospel with our neighbors. A local married couple who has been serving alongside of us for several years just recently finished the construction of their own home in our rural neighborhood where they have an open-door policy with local teens who seek them out after-hours for prayer, counsel, youth group and simply living and serving alongside of them for God’s glory. This couple is an integral part of our ministry, and their home is basically an extension of the Living Waters Ranch about a half-mile down the road smack dab in the middle of our local neighborhood.

Not only did we have P.E. class in the rain and mud for our students; we’re also in the process of physically conditioning our staff and foster kids! (And it’s a great bonding activity…) We all got ridiculously dirty and had a blast even though our muscles hurt so bad after the first day that we could barely walk…

 In the upcoming weeks we will be receiving two students of ours (brothers, ages 14 and 8) into our home as resident-guests as they want to continue receiving the love, integral development and Christian discipleship in our school but would not be able to unless they move in with us due to family issues. So, my husband and I will soon have 9 young people under our full-time care with several dozen more in our school during daytime hours in addition to the small group of young men now living in our rainbow hospitality house. Each facet of this ministry the Lord has entrusted us has its specific purposes, and we feel at peace with and excited about each of them.

There are many more details I could share — some tedious, some heart-warming — but I will try to ensure that my first post of the new year is not overwhelmingly long. We send our sincere gratitude to those who pray for and financially support this mission, and we earnestly ask for prayer as we desire to live as Christ in each facet of our lives here in Honduras (in marriage, with our foster children/live-ins, to the youth in our school and hospitality house, with our dedicated staff, to our local neighbors, etc). Please pray that the Lord might grant us the wisdom, grace and faith necessary to continue onward with this work of love throughout many years to come and that in due time the lives of the young people we are cultivating might give a precious fruit for His glory.

Thank you, and God bless you.

With gratitude,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Communication Sabbatical

I will be taking a break from this blog and a large part of my general communication responsibilities during the upcoming month of December and probably the first week or so of January. 

I hope to spend more focused time with my husband and our 7 foster children as all of us will have a month-long break from our normal school, work and ministry activities. (The Honduran school calendar runs from January/February — November, so December is generally the month students and teachers have off).

In the last month I wrote three articles for online news sources (Dallas News and The Stream) in regards to the current migrant caravans leaving Central America and heading for the States, and the articles got a pretty wide response. Much of my time this past month has been dedicated to writing (and then re-writing) these articles and then tending to the many commentaries people post afterward. This has been a new, challenging and rewarding experience, as the Lord has been teaching me through this how to be open to other people’s opinions, respond with grace, and actively love/pray for those who have very harsh criticisms of me.

Needless to say, I’ve dedicated an inordinate amount of time to these writing projects and have begun to feel the weight of several conflicting responsibilities (marriage/motherhood, directing/teaching in the Living Waters Ranch and now a few ventures into freelance writing).

Please pray for us during this upcoming month as my husband Darwin and I seek to slow down and rediscover how to live a quiet, private life before the Lord while cultivating our foster children/teens in Christ. Pray that the Lord might guide us in doing so and that the many things clamouring for our attention might be put at bay for the time being.

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

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

I Dare You to Stay: Fighting Illegal Immigration

I approached the twig-and-barbed-wire gate under the drizzling rain and called out a friendly greeting. Very quickly three little girls came out to greet me, the smallest of which is adorably naughty. A big grin spread across her face and her eyes twinkled as she was pleased to see me. I greeted them warmly as their mom appeared at the gate only moments after her three daughters.

She is a young mother – 30 years of age, only two years older than I am – and very hard-working. We are currently in the Honduran rainy season, and she had a large black plastic trash bag clipped around her to keep her clothes semi-dry as she hand-washed her family’s laundry under a slight overhang in their rocky yard.

They motioned me through the gate and the mother and I shared a warm embrace. I tickled the little one’s belly and she let out several giggles as she tried to tickle me back. This was not the first time I had visited them, and our visits tended to be very light-hearted and filled with God’s grace.

This woman’s oldest daughter is a very kind and diligent young woman who has been in our discipleship-based homeschool program for three years now and has slowly climbed her way into a position of leadership, academic excellence and faithful perseverance among her fellow students. Many of her classmates have become discouraged and given up over the years since she entered in 2016, and her dogged persistence in remaining in our non-traditional (and very demanding) program has impressed and inspired many. She has won the honor of a paid tutoring position for other students and is one of three students in a university-level math class we offer. She’s 14 years old.

This specific visit occurred on a school day, so this eldest daughter was up at our home at the Living Waters Ranch participating in a normal day of Christian discipleship and academic classes. The mother shuttled me into a one-room open-air wooden shack that serves as their kitchen and multi-purpose room, and she allowed me to choose which plastic chair I wished to sit on. I chose the shorter chair, not wanting to appear bigger than she as we would be sitting down to talk about a very important subject.

We got situated – me in the shorter chair I had chosen and she in the slightly taller chair – as she looked at me expectantly, face bright. I sighed deeply, not sure where to start but fully confident that God would be with us as I had already prayed through this meeting before arriving.

Our knees almost touching, I began softly, “I heard that you are thinking about going to the United States…”

The day prior her daughter (who has come to be like an honorary member of our family as she frequently stays overnight to do homework or participate in sleepovers with our five teen foster daughters) had shared with me that her mom had unexpectedly brought up the topic of moving illegally to the United States several times in recent conversations with her daughters, and rather emphatically so. She was very scared by her mother’s impulsive plan, fearing that within a month or two her mother would sweep her and her three little sisters off to an uncertain future in a foreign land. I prayed with our beloved student and asked her permission to visit her mom in an attempt to convince her to stay. Her eyes bore into mine – filled with uncertainty and even fear but overcome by a very real trust she has in me (and in God) after three years of very close relationship with us – and slowly agreed, worrying that her mom would become angry with me or with her daughter who had betrayed the family’s plan to outsiders.

As many are aware of the press covering of the current drama of the large caravans of Hondurans and other Central Americans parading north to the United States border, we who are here in Honduras (on the other end of the equation) are deeply troubled as this wrong mindset affects many who are in our area, plus I personally feel ashamed and angry of the chaos many of the immigrants will thrust upon the United States.

The Honduran caravan currently on its way to the United States

Just last week a single father who had his three children in our school suddenly decided to withdraw them from our program, joined the illegal caravan in hopes of a better future, and rumors have it that his children appeared on the news a few days ago as now being held in the Honduran capital seven hours away from where we live (while Dad continues marching onward to the United States) where they will now be placed in an orphanage.

My husband Darwin and two of our teen foster daughters were driving home from a Christian ballet class around dinnertime a couple days ago and found the intersection of our rural neighborhood filled with close to 200 people all frantically trying to form another caravan to follow after the first. There were people screaming and trying to get more people to abandon their homes as they would gamble everything for their slice of the American Dream. My husband and teen daughters were devastated.There are many opposing views on the immigration crisis, but we stand firm in our belief that laws and protocols should be respected and if anyone (from any country) would desire to enter a foreign land it should be done so with the appropriate paperwork, under specific circumstances and with a respectful attitude. We are working very hard on our end to inform our students and their families of the harshness of the trip through Mexico and the reality of what will most likely wait for them if they even make it across the boarder. Our desire is to offer opportunities – educational, employment and in the realm of spiritual formation and involvement – right here in Honduras and teach this generation how to honor God with their lifestyle and choices here. I am teaching an intensive 5-week Geography class that the majority of our 40+ students and teachers participate in as we seek to bust many myths about illegal immigration and convince those under our care that a peaceful, dignified life before God and before men is possible right here in Honduras. Many of our teenage students have been very surprised by the information and photos presented in this class, and we thank God that many (possibly all) are being convinced to stay in Honduras rather than chase after an illusion (and an illegal illusion at that).

So — returning to the context of my visit with a local mother — I sat in that little wooden hut knee-to-knee with a woman not so different from me as those carefully-chosen words – almost whispered – came out of my mouth: “I heard that you are thinking about going to the United States…”

The look on her face suddenly changed as she was not expecting that to be the topic of our conversation. A barely audible gasp escaped from between her teeth and she continued to stare at me, waiting to see what else I would say. I continued, ever so gently, “…If you are willing, I would like to talk with you about that…”

Her facial expression changed once again – from the original gleeful expectation to quiet shock to an equally unexpected torrent of sadness – and she began to cry in my presence. I pulled my chair over even closer to her, ending up right next to her as I put my hand on her arm. She spoke, not at all mad but rather displaying raw sincerity that neither of us had ever dared to reveal during any of our prior visits. She expressed her own uncertainty, her frustration, her concern for her daughters’ safety and future, her desire to escape the material poverty she has known her whole life.

I listened to her very rational thoughts even as I prayed that God would convince this precious woman to stay put right here in our little neighborhood in Honduras. She spoke of her own emotions and loneliness only a few minutes before she herself began voicing all the objections – the crossing of the border in and of itself is illegal; the trip through Mexico is extremely dangerous for women and girls as the Mexican cartels have a tendency of kidnapping and raping immigrants; the promise of a ‘better life’ in the States is mostly an illusion; and so on. I continued listening as she finally became convinced (by voicing her own thoughts) that she would not be going illegally to the States and that she would continue to parent her four girls with dignity and love right here as that would honor God more than fleeing.

My heart rejoiced as she then began voicing all the reasons to stay – Honduras needs hard-working, God-honoring young people like her daughter; even though she lives in poverty they do not suffer from lack of food on the dinner table; we must work together as neighbors under the perfect will of God to make positive changes here.

After this emotional introduction to our conversation I ended up sitting there with her nearly two hours as we entered into several other topics, exchanging parenting stories and advice, encouraging one another, and laughing a lot along the way. We prayed together before I headed out, and I praised her once more for her bravery and faithfulness as a mother. Many mothers (especially in Honduran culture where there are many teen mothers who are not ready for parenthood) abandon their children or “give them as gifts” to other people. This woman – even though she gave birth to her firstborn at age 16 – has stood faithfully by all four of her girls every day of their lives and works extremely hard to maintain them with dignity. Just recently she took on a short-term position of shift work at a local fruit company, working all day until 10:00pm or 11:00pm at night and then hand-washing the big pile of clothes at 3:00am and making breakfast for her girls before heading out again the next day. Praise God for mothers like her!

So, this is a small story I share with you to inform and encourage you in regards to the current immigration crisis. I have on my list a visit I would like to pay to another beloved student’s mom this upcoming week who is likewise thinking about leaving Honduras in hopes of finding something better in the United States. Please pray with us for all the children and teens in our school (44 currently) and their parents, that God may fully convince them to stay in our area and be patient enough to see what He might do in their lives instead of getting swept up in a dangerous phenomenon that goes against established laws.

God bless you, and please pray with us for God’s will to be done in a powerful way in the midst of this immigration crisis.

Current Prayer Request

This post is for those who routinely pray for us and the small mission the Lord has placed under our care in Honduras. Thank you for remembering us and for lifting up our requests to our Father, asking continually that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Request: Government Favor

In the past few weeks the need for government favor (and efficacy) has been pressed upon us greatly, as we must interact with the local government in the operation of our school, the adoption of our children, and in several other facets of our daily life and ministry here. There is much corruption and confusion, and it is very easy to feel oppressed and drained by the monster of a system we come up against.

Juan Orlando Hernandez, the current Honduran president around whom there are many accusations of fraud in last year’s elections. It recently came to light that he was involved in faking his sister’s death in a helicopter crash several months ago so that she could escape the country during all the election drama. She recently returned (alive), and they admitted that the whole helicopter crash was a lie.

We have been actively beating down bushes in our efforts to legally adopt three of our children (the oldest of which is now 18 years old) for the past several years. During the last 18+ months the government lawyer at the Honduran Child Protective Services office has been telling me that any day now they would be calling me to present myself in a courthouse that lies 2+ hours away from our house to take the next crucial step in the adoption process. To make a long (and excruciating) story short, the courthouse called our government lawyer two days ago at 2:00pm to notify her that I needed to present myself in the court (which is a 2+ hour drive from our home) that same day at 1:30pm (as in, half an hour before). That news reached me today, and I am absolutely devastated that we missed our court date (because they did not notify us on time) after roughly a year-and-a-half of waiting. We are now back to square one and wondering if we will ever truly be able to adopt our children (who in less than two weeks will be hitting their 5-year mark of living with us).

We also need government permission in order to open the next grade of our discipleship-based homeschool that we operate out of our rural homestead (we currently offer 1st grade through 9th grade), and after many confusing phone calls and vague answers we put together a detailed document seeking government permission to open 10th grade and they flatly refused without any real reason. There are a lot of politics involved in the Honduran education system, and my husband Darwin stayed up investigating the laws and re-writing our proposal until 2:00am this morning and is going back into town to try to speak directly with the mayor and several other officials. It is very important that we are able to open 10th grade (and then 11th, which is the last grade in Honduran high school) in order to persevere with the good work in the lives of the teens who have already been in our program several years. We want to be able to offer the last two grades of high school under our tutelage at the Living Waters Ranch so that our kids are not forced to finish their education in the less-than-acceptable public system fraught with fraud and mediocrity.

I will spare the details of our other frustrating experiences, and will conclude this request by simply asking that you would pray with us for radical change (and wisdom) in the Honduran government, as much in its personal members as in its overall structure, and that the overall oppression in the country would be lifted as its citizens and residents might be able to go about their daily affairs without constantly coming up against a huge metaphorical brick wall painted haphazardly with the phrases, “No,” “Not today,” or “It cannot be done.” Please pray also for my attitude in the midst of all this and that the work God desires to do in His Honduran people would flourish even in the midst of such debilitating inefficacy, corruption and potential despair.

Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras

Please consider our requests and pray with us so that God might tend to our legal needs so that we not be unduly drained or distracted from our principal purpose in Honduras, which is to love, teach and disciple children and youth (and the occasional adult) in the Way of Christ.

God bless you.

Sincerely,

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