Tag Archives: Adoption

Undercover Photos: Integral Learning and Discipleship 2018

Okay, so nobody actually went undercover, but the following photos were taken by our dedicated team of Honduran missionaries/teachers in the midst of our daily efforts to connect with, teach and disciple the youth in our community homeschool program for God’s glory.

We are currently wrapping up the 2018 school year (the traditional Honduran school calendar runs from February to November) with over 40 full-time students involved in our little grassroots mission. Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this living expression of God’s love in Honduras.

Our Christian psychologist solicited the help of a few students to paint her little counselling space.

Our school is very dedicated to giving individualized attention to each student as the majority of our youth come from very broken backgrounds and need personalized mentoring, tutoring and relational discipleship. For that very reason we try to keep each grade at a limit of 3-10 students. This is our very small eighth grade class with three faithful members who have been under our academic and spiritual guidance over two years now.
Much of our teaching occurs outside the classroom walls!
This was an organized field trip for a group of our students to explore a local river.

Last month we celebrated one of our foster daughters’ 15th birthday party, which is a very special occasion in Latin American culture. Here she (Jackeline) is posing with Erick and Aracely, an extremely dedicated Honduran couple who serves alongside of us daily at the Living Waters Ranch in teaching and discipleship while also voluntarily filling the role of aunt and uncle for our foster children.
Here my husband Darwin, Jackeline’s special needs brother Josue and I are enjoying her special day. It is not uncommon in our area for 15-year-old girls to already be pregnant or be living in a marital-type relationship, so the fact that our foster daughter is living in sexual purity, is doing great in school and is seeking God’s will for her life deserves celebration!
An after-school get-together between teachers and students on our front lawn

When it’s your birthday in Honduras, they pelt you with flour and/or raw eggs…One of our local students got to celebrate turning 13 on a school day! (Poor guy.)

(Front) One of our five foster daughters who just recently hit her one-year anniversary of happily living in our family. We plan on legally adopting her when she turns 21, as it is impossible to do so before then due to certain legal requirements around her case.
Another one of our foster daughters enjoying some kind of after-school fun. (I have no idea what she’s doing, but I absolutely love that smile.)
What better way to learn about plans in Science class than to go outside and plant a garden? This was my husband Darwin’s idea, and he gathered together our motley crew of roughly 20 primary schoolers to do just that…

This little boy was one whose father withdrew him from our school unexpectedly in order to join the migrant caravan to the United States.

Many of the youth in our primary school are already well into our teens (like the young man whose back is facing the camera, age 15 even though he doesn’t appear that age) but are very behind academically due to the poor local public school system and/or family issues that caused them to have to drop out of school for several years, drastically interrupting their education.
About a month ago my husband and Erick, the other male teacher/missionary on our team organized a campout up in the mountain with a group of our teen boys.

Even teenagers can enjoy jumping rope! Here are two of our teen boys (ages 16 and 17) who are in ninth grade with us enjoying this spontaneous after-school game. (My husband and I joined in as well!)

In Honduras, “Indian Day” is a very big deal…so we all got dressed up to celebrate!
What a precious family (mother, who works with us, and daughters who are in school with us)!

My husband got really into Indian Day and covered himself with clay and crafted a handmade loincloth. He was definitely the center of attention and made a whole lot of people laugh!
My husband and I performed a made-up Indian dance for our students (which they really enjoyed)…

One of our extremely mature and hard-working local students who aspires to be a Christian psychologist
One of our local teachers (right) alongside of a student of ours

Thank you and God bless! (I hope some of the photos made you laugh.)

With joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

Family Photo Shoot: Celebrating Five Years of Marriage

Yesterday my husband and I reached five years of marriage, and as part of the celebration we decided to organize a family photo shoot.

Our previous official family photos were taken in November of last year, and several changes have occurred in our family since then. Josselyn and Gabriela, biological sisters who lived with us over two years, moved in with a Christian aunt and uncle of theirs in January of this year, and our teenage foster son Brayan left our home very abruptly in April of this year and did not return. (I plan on writing more about this at some point in the coming weeks.)

I informed our seven foster children/teens in preparation for the shoot: Take a bath, brush your hair, and put on something you won’t be embarrassed to see yourself in several years from now, because I’m totally going to show these photos at your wedding. They laughed and headed for the showers, as we had all gotten pretty stinky that morning working around our home and yard as a family. Some of our teen girls had been cutting back the weeds with a machete and bathing our guard dogs; others had been hand-washing their clothes and chasing our small herd of milking cows around our rural property in order to give them their anti-parasitic. Gleny had done painting touch-ups around our two school buildings, and two of our other kids had helped me clean our house from top to bottom.

So, before heading out on our dinner date we asked our beloved Honduran teacher who had come over to take care of our kids if she could help us take a series of family photos near the entrance of our rural property. Unbeknownst to us, she enjoys photography and did a phenomenal job with our impromptu shoot!

To many who see these photos, they may seem like nothing more than normal — even beautiful — shots of a normal, happy family. We know, however, that this family unity has not been automatic and that we’ve even had to fight for joy in these past 4+ years with our extremely mixed family who comes from all kinds of broken places.

These photos are extremely precious to me, and I treasure the sheer joy and love that radiates from our children’s faces, as I know well where they’ve come from and the battles we’ve fought alongside of them in Christ and won. God bless you!

Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (second from the left) randomly decided to dress like some kind of teenage rebel or punk rapper, which is hilarious because she is a wonderful student, is very mature and has a tender heart toward God. We’re not sure why she whipped out this interesting attire for our family photo shoot, but I’ll certainly be showing these photos at her wedding someday!


When Darwin bent down, I thought he was going to give me a kiss (and all of our kids could sense this from me), so they all burst out laughing when he stood back up without noticing that I was waiting for a kiss.
He’s gonna make it all better!
I love the look on Carolina’s face (the one in the red shirt). It’s as if she wants to say, “Look at what I have to put up with!)

Now it’s time to get in groups of three with the strongest person in each group carrying the other two! (Darwin’s got it the easiest because our two boys are the smallest in the family!)
Already carrying Gleny’s weight on my back, I told Paola (camouflage pants), “We’re just gonna pretend that I’m picking you up. Keep one leg on the ground!”
Great underpants, Josue!

I managed to get our two oldest daughters (17 and 15) off the ground at the same time! Those are two big babies I’ve got!

Our eldest daughter wanted to carry Darwin and our cute hippie-rapper wanted to carry me and one of our other girls at the same time! We’ve got some pretty strong gals in our family!

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers and support. May God continue to be glorified through our family, and may our foster children and those we minister to in our neighborhood continue to experience freedom in Christ in ever-increasing measure.

A Need Powerfully Supplied: The Mysterious Ways of the Living God

Several days ago, God spoke powerfully through us in our community Bible study time about the passage in Matthew 25 regarding the coming of Christ and how He will judge the nations. Everyone will get split up in one of two groups: those who showed compassion to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned; and those who didn’t. This passage might be well-known by most Christians and even potentially overlooked or minimized in its importance, but it provides striking clarity on the heart of Christ for the marginalized (and just where our heart should be as well). He says that those who took in the homeless (or orphaned or widowed); those who went to visit the sick and imprisoned; those who shared their food (and time, love) with the hungry and thirsty were not merely fulfilling some noble notion of ‘charity’ or even reaching some high moral standard. Christ said that as we’ve done unto the most vulnerable, we’ve done unto Him.

Now that’s huge.

To feed the hungry or to take in an abandoned teen or to visit and pray for those in prison is not to ‘be a good person’ or even live some moral ideal of compassion for the human race; Christ Himself (and this is a mystery that we cannot understand) is found in the needy, and He will judge us at the end of the world according to the times we’ve paid attention to Him and met His needs or by the ways we’ve ignored, overlooked and rejected Him, preferring to meet our own needs and live for the luxuries of this world rather than loving Him by loving those who suffer. To love the poor is to love Christ in disguise. Wow. This is how we can touch the heart of God.

So that (in very few words) is what we’ve been learning in our community Bible study time that we have every morning with our 10 foster kids, our local teachers/missionaries, our 30 local students, a few neighbors, my husband and me. We gather in a big circle (or more like an entirely imperfect rectangle) on wooden benches. No frills, no microphone, no stage, no professionally-made signs and banners. We simply come together as fellow human beings (of all ages) made in the image of God who desperately want to know the truth, to experience Christ and to live for Him rather than to live for the lies the world offers.

To be a Christian is to really follow Christ; to seek Him out in His many disguises; to live a life fully given over to the ways of justice and far removed from the lagoon of sin and selfishness. To live in such a way is eternally rich far beyond money; to trust in God in such a way (and to be used by Him to touch not only the heart of humanity but God’s very own heart!) is truly worth our very lives.

Warning: this post is going to be pretty long. (Go grab a cup of coffee, or stop reading and miss out on the best part!)

In these past few weeks God has been instructing us in just what it means to live for Christ. It is not (as many might believe) to live by a list of rules or to live listing off all that we don’t do; to avoid the bad (but also neglect the good). To live with and for Christ is to be led by the Living God to lose it all in this world in order to gain it all in the next; to die to ego and selfish desires in order to be filled with the richness of Christ, even now in our mortal bodies. Many people have a very low view of what it means to be ‘Christian,’ so God has been leading us deeper into the richness of what it means to truly follow Christ (and not simply attend church once or twice or six times per week and continue living like everyone else in the world).

As the hour-long Bible study time came to an end several days ago, our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline approached me, visibly shaken, and asked to speak with me in private. It was not really the right time, as everyone was supposed to go to their respective prayer groups, and that day I was going to take on about 10 teen girls to cover one of our teachers who was unable to be present that morning because she had to take her daughter to the hospital.

I eyed Jackeline wondering what potential catastrophic news she was going to share with me (alas, our kids — and especially our teenage girls — frequently ask to speak with me in private, and sometimes what they reveal can be downright troubling). I began to speak my objections, but in her eyes I saw a certain desperation and she reiterated, “I really need to talk with you in private. Now.

Did it have to do with a boy? What on earth could she have to share with me that couldn’t wait another minute?  I felt my blood pressure rise.

I sighed deeply and told the other girls who were waiting for me to go to another prayer group because I would be speaking in private with Jackeline. The girls looked confused (as probably did I), and I walked somberly with Jackeline from our large dining room where we had just studied God’s Word over to our little orange-colored cinderblock home not a stone’s throw away. I prayed silently that God would give me the strength to properly address whatever urgent news Jackeline was about to tell me even as I fought off the anxiousness that wanted to flood my veins.

We passed into the bedroom my husband and I share (the quiet, private place where most of our more intimate conversations with our kids occur), and she immediately sat down on the little purple couch-chair wedged in the corner and I sat on the tile floor in front of her, my heart beating fairly quickly and unsure what to expect. She looked deeply moved or on the verge of some kind of breakdown; it was hard to tell which.

I looked up at her and waited. She began gushing words, “I feel…like God spoke to me this morning in the Bible study. And…all the money I’ve been saving for the future…I feel like God wants me to take it all out and share it with the needy — to buy food for the hungry. God really touched my heart this morning, and I don’t want to live for myself. I want to seek out how to love Christ, visit the sick. I felt like God revealed to me how I can really love Him! I really want to do it, to go into downtown La Ceiba to find the homeless and the drug addicts — maybe we can make bags of food for them — and share with them who Christ is. We have to go!

All her words came rushing out like a river with a particularly strong current, and then she began crying.

I blinked a couple times, completely relieved that what she had to share with me wasn’t bad news at all (there was no confession of some secret boyfriend or any other bad deed done!), and at the same time I rejoiced in my heart of hearts for the beautiful work the Lord continues to etch out in our daughter. What a wonderful talk in private. Yes; let’s have more of these! Praise God!

I extended an arm towards her, and she came tumbling — or rather melting — off the couch and into my arms as I held her in a long hug.

Once she calmed down — alas, I believe it was for joy that she was crying — she reassumed her position on the couch and began sharing with me the rest of her conviction, “Today I have evangelism class. We’re gonna head out in like 20 minutes to go visit people’s houses and pray with people — ”

I nodded and smiled, still completely content (and more than pleasantly surprised) with her new God-designed attitude. It was true that she was in our new “Evangelism” class, and she would be heading out with four of our other foster children, a couple local students and two teachers to spend three hours sharing God’s Word in our destitute neighborhood. This was a new class (really not a class at all but rather a growth activity in the school of real life with Christ) that the Lord had led us to create at the end of our school year, and a group of our more spiritually mature teenagers had enlisted. Rather than dedicating their morning to one more academic pursuit, they wanted to go reach the lost in the same way that they had been reached.

Jackeline continued as I listened, “And, I feel like we’re not supposed to go visit people that we already know, but rather those who are completely lost — the sick, those with AIDS.”

She was speaking full of passion, and I was just trying to soak it all in, giving thanks in my heart once more for His active work in each of our lives.

Then, unexpectedly, “And, this morning when you were teaching about how we are to share our food with the hungry — there are so many people without food, and if we feed them we are feeding Christ Himself! — I feel like God wants us to take the food out of our pantry this morning and go share it with the poor people we’re going to visit.”

I felt like a somewhat unpleasant shock had been sent through my veins (or, perhaps more accurately, a train had blindsided me), and for some reason — probably out my ego’s desire to defend itself — I almost felt like throwing my head back and laughing out loud sarcastically. Go give our food away? Again?! Had we not just emptied our pantry not two weeks prior? After our miracle dinner, inevitably I had to go back to the grocery store in the ensuing days to replenish the lost rice, beans, eggs, etc. It was never in our budget to do so, especially with the pending adoption fees which we still were nowhere close to being able to pay! How could we possibly keep giving away all of our food when we have so many other legitimate financial needs? Could this really be from the Lord? If we keep having to go buy more food (because we keep giving it all away), how on earth will we pay the adoption lawyer? Oh, God, help us! (And please stop leading us toward such radical acts of obedience!)

The breath taken out of my lungs as those thoughts of self-protection hammered my mind, I stared at Jackeline, my face frozen in fear and hesitation. She leaned in toward me, eyes full of sincerity and faith, waiting for my permission. She even looked slightly perplexed at why it was taking me so long to respond. I was, after all, the one who had given the Bible study that morning, who had called the youth to live this radical lifestyle of faith in Christ, going beyond what is comfortable in order to live completely given over to God! To share your food and lose your life for Christ! Oh, what a hypocrite I would be now if I refused that which the Lord had prompted in our precious daughter. 

The objections came to my mind again — The adoption! Jennifer! Do you not remember that you need to find (and who knows from where!) that huge lump sum in order to make your beloved children forever yours! God has called you to this adoption; how dare you squander your money on these crazy food giveaways and forsake the adoption! The lawyer is doing a phenomenal job and very soon she will be asking for her first payment; and you have nothing! Don’t be a fool!

I swallowed and began answering carefully, encouraged by my daughter’s faith and praying that God would grant me the same, “Wonderful. Yes. I’m so grateful that God is speaking to you in so many ways and that you are being joyfully obedient. Go into our pantry and take what is most necessary. Eggs. Beans. Rice. Go bless the people for love of God. I’m so proud of you.”

She squealed with delight, gave me a big hug, and then she was off. Off to tell her two leaders of the news — that they would not only be visiting people to share God’s Word, but that they would also be able to bless each poverty-stricken household with a provision of food. They would be putting into immediate practice that which they had learned that morning.

I remained sitting on my bedroom floor for a few moments, heavy with material loss and at the same time fully thankful, trusting. But it wasn’t easy.

I then got up, praying to God that I had made the right decision (even as I knew I had), and headed wearily over to our kitchen. As I stood at our sink — staring out at the majestic mountains just beyond  — I could see Jackeline in my peripheral vision enthusiastically emptying out the huge sack of beans I had just gone to purchase and carefully shuttling out all the cartons of eggs. In my waning faith, I could see money being poured out, leaving our hands even as I knew that God would use it to bless others. But us? The adoption? I would once again need to go to the grocery store to buy food to replenish that which was so joyfully given away, and that would be money that we wouldn’t be able to put toward adopting our kids. I felt heavy, albeit joyful.

Seeing our beloved daughter so joyfully giving away all our food (for the second time in like two weeks), I turned away, literally feeling like I could not watch. May God bless our evangelism team in their obedience to give freely, because right now I certainly cannot do so.

For the last several weeks — ever since we had felt confirmation from God in regards to choosing a highly experienced adoption lawyer — our cry to God has been for the financial provision to complete the process. The lawyer is giving us an over 60% discount from what she normally charges, but even so the payment was way beyond our reach. We had gathered with our children to pray on more than one occasion, asking God for the funds. We had considered selling our milking cows in order to pay for part of the adoption, and then they were unexpectedly killed by cattle thieves. After weeks of prayer and hesitation, I even felt led to make a phone call to a wealthy family friend, taking up the courage to ask straight out for the funds for the adoption (something I’ve never done before), and much to my disappointment he agreed to help with a small part, but not all. That had been a very hard day, although I was thankful for the part he was willing to give. It felt like doors were closing; funds were already tight, and I couldn’t help but wonder where on earth we were going to get that money to pay the adoption lawyer, especially with all the recent extravagant giving the Lord had led us to do.

I had wept; Darwin and I had prayed; we had gathered with our children on numerous occasions, informing them of our financial impotency and telling them, too, to pray that God would make a way. Nevertheless, in the midst of many trials and unplanned giving, we felt even more confident in God’s perfect provision than ever before.

During this time, however, rather than God’s miraculous provision coming to us for the adoption, God had better yet been leading us to give away. In many ways — not only in those I’ve mentioned on this blog and the one prior — we had been led by the Living Lord to give away much, and to do so joyfully. Surely none of this made sense; we were waiting to receive, but God had instructed us rather to give, and to do so extravagantly, with everything we have. Even so — in the midst of loss and unmet expectations, our confidence in Christ and His provision remained constant, even though we had no idea when or how He would provide.

And then, a few days ago, I went to the bank in downtown La Ceiba, the third largest city in Honduras that lies about 30 minutes away from our rural neighborhood where we live and serve. I was in town to run a few errands, go to a doctors’ appointment, and check our financial status in the bank. It had been the first time in many weeks that I was going to be in the city doing these types of errands, as I’ve been trying to be a stay-at-home-mom as much as possible for our 10 kids. (One of our beloved local teachers has been helping me tremendously with our different errands so that I can be more present in the home.)

I headed into the small branch of the familiar bank that I’ve been going to for over five years now. When they passed me to one of the little customer service desks, I presented my Honduran residency card and the Living Waters Ranch account number, asking the bank worker to write down on a slip of paper the exact amounts we had in our savings and checking account. (In Honduras we cannot check our funds electronically without jumping through about 1,000 hoops, so I have to present myself in person at the bank in order to find out these numbers.)

Now, I am no accounting expert (nor is it our goal to become whizzes at managing numbers but rather to dedicate our lives to rescuing lost people), but neither am I haphazard with our finances or totally clueless as to how to manage money. My dad trained me from a very early age in the basics of wise money management, and during a period in my life I spent much free time reading money management books and learning from financial teacher Dave Ramsey.

As with any household or organization, its leaders know at any given point just about how much is coming in and how much is going out. We do live by faith, so — however many times I’ve been led to feel worried about our financial security — God has continuously called us back to radical faith in Him, our Provider, but just the same we do not neglect our financial responsibility in the least.

So there I was in the bank. In my mind I was well-informed that our savings account held almost zero funds, as we had transferred them to our checking account several weeks ago. I sat idly in that red cushioned bank chair in the unfamiliar air-conditioning — feeling out of place, my boots caked with mud in such a polished, sterile environment — and the emotionless bank worker slipped me the little paper with our numbers on it.

I glanced at the amount in our checking account — the equivalent of $15. I laughed to myself, as I knew it had to be low. But then my eyes took in the number in our savings account (that which should have been extremely low, so low as to not even take it into account), and it had not only the exact amount we needed for the adoption, but a little bit more.

My eyes grew and I looked up at the man behind the computer. I told him, “This number has to be incorrect. In our savings account we don’t have this amount of funds. Please check again.”

He scoffed and assured me that he had not made a mistake. I insisted, “Please check again. I really think this number is wrong.”

He reluctantly checked again, confirming that the written amount really was in our savings account. The money for the adoption. But how?

I probed further — “Who deposited this money, and when?” I felt like my head was spinning.

He crossed his arms and informed me that he couldn’t give me that information. I demanded (in an entirely unpolished manner), “I’m the one who manages our organization’s funds, and I’ve been doing so for over five years at this bank! Please give me the information if you are able to do so!”

Responding to that slight nudge, he glanced back at his computer screen. He then uttered my own name, mentioning that the money came in a transfer that I had facilitated on September first. When I was back in the States, sick for several weeks and recovering. It was the same money that I had transferred down to Honduras — that which is a collection of the donations from those who support this work.

But we had already spent that money.

Chills ran through my body.

Yes; the transfer I facilitated on September first. I remember well; I have the amount recorded in a log I keep on my computer. An accumulation of donations that I transferred down to Honduras all at once, as we do every month or so. But we had already transferred that specific money into our checking account and had spent it to pay our teachers, purchase food, buy shoes for our kids, do property repairs, etc. In short, those funds had already been invested into the daily maintenance of the mission over the past couple months. Hadn’t they?

(I realize that what I’m about to say oversteps the bounds of rational sanity and that many who read this will not believe what I’m about to write) — but I dare consider that God multiplied the money. (Either that or there was some huge flaw in our accounting of which I am the sole manager and could not possibly overlook.) Either way, I was absolutely convinced that we didn’t have the funds for the adoption, and all along — during each of the trials over the past several weeks and each time we were led to step out in abundant generosity — the funds for the adoption were already waiting in our account.

I had lived the last several weeks believing that our savings account should have been close to zero — for we had transferred the money into checking, and had already spent it in our daily ministry affairs of loving and serving! — but it had been there all along. God had led us to give, and to do so extravagantly and in a time that we believed we were in great economic need, but He had already supplied that need ever since that transfer was made (and doubled?) at the beginning of September. We had been led through a series of faith-stretching acts only to find at the end that He had already supplied our greatest need (that of the adoption funds) even before He led us to give it all away.

And — to me this is funny and shines with the mysteriousness of God’s ways — I used to visit the bank every week and micro-manage our funds, thanks to my own anxiousness and resulting in my own frustration. If funds were at a certain point, I left the bank feeling secure. If they were low, I left feeling worried. What small faith!

This time I hadn’t gone to the bank in over two months (although I had still been managing our daily accounting via our checkbook, etc), and I experienced one of the biggest surprises of my life.

And so I headed over to the head bank a few blocks away and confirmed with another source that those mystery funds (miracle funds) really were there, and then I transferred them to our checking account. That night we shared the astonishing news with our four kids/teens we are in the process of adopting, and their eyes were aglow with wonder. God really had provided, and it wasn’t necessarily through some rich benefactor or by us selling off our cattle and other earthly belongings: He had taken things into His own hands this time and multiplied (or at least kept hidden from our knowledge) that which we believed should no longer have been there.

This morning I am in the city of La Ceiba again, and I even went back to the bank to try to investigate further to see if this really was some miracle of divine provision or just an accounting slip-up (honestly we don’t care which; either way God has given us the funds to adopt our kids, and we were led through many stretching steps of faith all the while believing we were without funds). I went to one branch; they were unexpectedly closed due to a freak flooding incident within the bank. I went to another branch; they denied me further information regarding our account history (even though on prior occasions they’ve given it to me), telling me to go check our P.O. box to find our bank statements from the last few months. I walked several blocks on foot to our P.O. box, opened it up for the first time in quite a while, and found nothing. No bank statements! The bank was behind over three months on sending out their statements! I thus have no human way of knowing if this really was a miraculous multiplication of funds! 

As I walked out of the post office, I laughed out loud along the littered sidewalk of La Ceiba and thanked God in my heart of hearts, for I dare to believe that it is His good pleasure to hide these secrets from me so that I may continue onward in my state of wonder, humility and faith. I don’t need to know all the details; I must  only trust and obey!

After all, we read God’s Word and find the stories of the times Jesus multiplied the extremely small provision of fish and bread in order to feed thousands, and then we live our daily lives depending entirely upon our own resources and methods. My mind continues to spin as I search in vain for answers, and I feel as though I’m teetering on the edge of reason (or perhaps have lost sight of it altogether!), but the Lord has definitely increased my faith! I will now begin to pray over our food pantry with my husband and our kids, that God will multiply our food so that we may be able to continue sharing abundantly with all those whom He chooses to bless through us.

So — with fear and trembling and great joy — I share with you this bewildering story of God’s provision and His gentle leadings toward obedience, toward total commitment, knowing that He fully knows our needs and is fully capable of meeting them in His own way.

God is great! Amen!

Family of 12

Yesterday we tread across our large, muddy front yard under the misting rain to go ask our night-watchman’s wife if she would be willing to take a few photos of our family later that day. We hadn’t yet taken any pictures with our new daughters (Paola, age 14 and Carolina, age 15) since they had moved in several weeks ago, and we decided that yesterday was as good a day as any to go ahead and schedule the family photo shoot. Our neighbor agreed; it suddenly stopped raining; we picked a nice garden-like spot in front of our little cinderblock house for our photo backdrop; and we took the following series of photos all in a time span of about 10 minutes.

Praise be to God!

Everybody grab a partner and get in close for the first shot! We gotta hurry before it starts raining again!

Now switch partners! Grab somebody new! (I ended up grabbing two — Jason on my back and Gaby in my arms!)

Change it up again! (Our Rottweiler — named Goliath — decided to hop in this shot! He was eager for us to play ball with him…)
Here’s my husband Darwin with our 16-year-old son Brayan with Jackeline and our new daughter Paola behind them.
Everybody get with a new family member! (The young woman whom I’m with in this photo is Carolina, our new 15-year-old daughter. She happens to look a lot like our daughter Dayana, and our other new daughter looks a lot like Jackeline!)

Grab somebody new again! (And this time try to hang them upside down by their feet…not so easy to do with our 17-year-old daughter!)
Our dogs kept trying to take part in the photo shoot! (This is Freckles trying to greet Jason while Jackeline holds him upside-down!)
Carolina with our developmentally-challenged daughter Gabriela (Gaby)

Hang on just a couple more seconds! (Way to go, Darwin!)
Now it’s my turn for a piggy-back ride! (Thanks, Jackeline!)
Everybody tickle your neighbor (and try not to fall off)!

One last shot! Everybody get in position! (The camera was about to lose its battery…plus we were all tired)!
What a big baby I’ve got! I hope I don’t drop you, Paola!

Amen! Glory to God!

November 2017 Triumphs and Prayer Requests

Four-Year Anniversary of Being Family to the Fatherless and Serving in Our Local Community

On November first we celebrated four years of parenting Dayana (17), Gleny (13) and Jason (10), the first sibling group we began parenting in 2013. We praise and thank God for the transformative, restorative work He’s done in the children’s lives and in our own during these four years, and we stand in awe at how He has made grow deep roots of love and commitment among us for His glory. From those initial three kids God has sprung out the ensuing discipleship-based community homeschool in our rural homestead where we currently educate roughly 40 children and teenagers according to the Way of Christ, not to mention the group of incredibly dedicated teachers and local Honduran missionaries whom the Lord has brought one by one to serve alongside of us in this beautiful life of service and continual growing. We celebrate these first four years with great joy and are expectant for what He will do in the coming years!

Update on the Two Orphaned Calves Left After the Slaughter

Our two orphaned calves left behind after their moms were unexpectedly slaughtered by cattle thieves a couple weeks ago are now happily being bottle-fed every day as they are still in the initial stages of their growth. We thank God for His grace in allowing the calves (one male, one female) to be born before their mothers were killed, thus leaving behind new life in the wake of tragic death. The rest of our cows have been left in peace since the devastating event, and we’ve been granted increasing measures on peace during these times. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

A teamwork-building exercise among six of our students (including our son Jason, second from the right)

Three Weeks of Intensive/Creative Classes to Finish the School Year

As we near the end of the Honduran school calendar, this week we began offering different, intensive classes to finish off the semester with a ‘bang.’ Having already finished the traditional math, science and language classes, etc, we are now offering an entirely new schedule that includes the following: carpentry, evangelism, community service, cooking class, penal law, orchestra, agriculture, world history and various levels of swimming, among others. During these three weeks I am teaching karate, bootcamp (hard physical exercise military-style) and leading our hour-long group Bible study time, which we are now enjoying every morning rather than only twice per week. Our students and teachers are all excited, as we incorporate and respect personal choice in the daily rhythm of our life of service at the Living Waters Ranch (the students enjoy great freedom to choose the classes they want to specialize in according to their interests/giftings, which is highly uncommon in Honduran culture where most things are decided for children/teens without their input). We thank God for this school year that is coming to a close and for all the seeds that have been sewn for His glory. It is literally so much fun to serve, teach, love, disciple and parents these kids (and make them sweat and heave in bootcamp)! What a privilege!

Cooking Club


Local Pastors Pray For and Prophesy Over Our 10 Foster Kids/Teens

A couple days ago a local pastoral couple came to talk with and counsel Darwin and I for several hours, and then they gathered all 10 of our foster kids/teens ages 9-17 in a tight circle in our living room to pray individually for each one. Many of our teens had been seeking spiritual breakthrough in their walk with Christ, and by their reactions and later comments they received it that night. The pastor even had prophetic words for several of our teenagers that deeply encouraged them. The entire experienced extended so long that the pastors entirely missed the church commitment they were supposed to attend at 6:30pm! (They finally left our home around 7:30pm.) We are grateful for this encounter (the first of its kind) with this local pastoral couple, and we thank God for touching our children’s lives through them. The pastor helped many of our teens to forgive those who had abused and abandoned them in their childhood. One of our new daughters (Carolina, age 15) who moved in only a few weeks ago, received the Lord for the first time, and our other new daughter (Paola, age 14) received many prophetic words and encouragement about the ways in which God desires to pour out His wisdom over her life and use her in mighty ways for His kingdom. She later expressed to our eldest daughter that she had always wanted to be a Christian but wasn’t sure how until she was praying with the pastor and felt God begin to move in her life. God is immeasurably mysterious in the ways in which He touches the lives of His sons and daughters, and we are excited to continue drawing nearer!

Christian Psychologist Found for Gabriela’s Healing Process

Not by coincidence, those same pastors who prayed over our children have an adult daughter in her early 20s who recently graduated from a local university with a degree in psychology. We had long been searching for (or, more accurately, waiting for) God to present the right Christlike psychologist for our kids, especially for our developmentally-challenged 10-year-old daughter Gabriela (Gaby) who suffered sexual abuse and many other traumas before arriving at our home. Thus, God has now provided Nataly, the pastors’ daughter, who is working one-on-one with Gaby every Saturday and will very likely join our team full-time as of January 2018. We are very excited about our developing friendship with Nataly and her parents as God is placing more and more people in our lives to encourage, teach and labor alongside of us in this great redemptive work. Praise God!

Darwin’s choir practices always start off with a massage chain to get everyone’s shoulders loosened up! (This particular day was girls’ choir.)

Experienced Catholic Lawyer Found for Adoption Process; Prayers Sought for Financial Provision and Government Favor

After my trip to the capital city of Tegucigalpa several weeks ago to interview 3 potential adoption lawyers, the Lord made it very clear to us who the best person for the job would be. We are now working with a female lawyer named Martha who has roughly 30 years of experience as a lawyer in Honduras, and she has dedicated the majority of her practice to domestic and international adoptions. She is a Catholic Christian and deeply believes that every child deserves a family (and not just a temporary solution/orphanage), and she has a record of doing just that for hundreds of Honduran children (which is extremely uncommon because most Hondurans are not prone to adopt children). She has already begun working on our adoption of four of our ten children. (Our desire is to be real family to all of our kids and to legally adopt them if they are able to be adopted. Some of our kids cannot be adopted because their biological families are still in the picture and may potentially receive them anew in their homes, so in the meantime we are joyfully family to all of our kids, whether they are legally adopted or not). The lawyer is extremely up-front, passionate and professional, and she’s giving us more than a 50% discount from what she normally charges, but even so we don’t yet have the funds to complete the adoption. We humbly ask for prayer in this regard, as we wait upon the Lord for provision/direction in order to complete the adoption process of Dayana, Gleny, Jason and Brayan in the most efficient manner possible. Thank you!

Gaby taking a “shower” in our outdoor washing station fully dressed…Oh gosh!

Two New Teen Girls Find Permanency in Our Home; Possible Adoption in the Future

Our two newest arrivals (Paola and Carolina), both of whom had bounced around among dysfunctional biological family members’ households and orphanages/foster homes for several years before arriving at our front gate, have both confirmed that they desire to become permanent members of our family. Darwin and I have felt incredible peace (and passion) about this and have pushed hard (in a good sense) to make them feel welcomed and loved as they were expecting to be rejected by yet another household when they arrived at our home. They had known great suffering and bad behavior (both that which they received from others and that which they learned to inflict upon others), so God has literally been breaking chains of wrong thinking, establishing new behavioral norms based on love, and infiltrating their souls with His truth. Our 8 kids/teens who have been with us several years have been used mightily by God in this process to model Christlike behavior, counsel our two new girls in the context of friendship/sisterhood, and express to them God’s unconditional love. We are already seeing great changes in their attitude and outlook and, as I mentioned above, they both had encounters with Christ via the pastors’ visit. We daily affirm to them that they are no longer rejected; that we want to be in their weddings and be their kids’ grandparents (in essence, be what a normal family is to their children for the whole of their life). They have been surprised by much (or perhaps all) of this as they had never before received such intense welcome, and they’ve responded to the hugs and physical affection we’ve shown them (as they had not previously received hugs in their other foster homes/orphanages). They had literally gone the extent of their childhoods without knowing they were loved by anyone until about three weeks ago. We have even talked to them about our desire to adopt them (once our adoption of the first four is complete), and they are very open to and excited about the idea of finally having a real family. There is so much I could write, but suffice it to say that we’re all ecstatic and that God is doing what only He can do. Please continue to pray that all chains of abuse, sexual sin, rejection, lies, stealing, etc would be completely broken off in Jesus’ name and that they would truly pass from death unto life. Praise God!

Amen! Glory to God!

Dancing Barefoot to Andrea Bocelli: Marriage on the Mission Field

Two times in the past month my husband Darwin and I have organized a “date” in the living room of our little cinderblock home to dance together to romantic music. Many a time over the past four years we’ve organized different dates or outings together to go to dinner or even get away from home together for a couple nights every few months or so (which is increasingly hard to do because not many people can adequately handle our growing number of children, all of whom are experts at eating alive any and all “babysitters” who are not fully and completely trained and full of supernatural energy/wisdom), but we consider it important for our 10 foster kids/teens to be able to get a ‘sneak peek’ of our hidden life together as a couple rather than only witnessing the work-work-work all day long, during which we oftentimes behave more as co-workers than husband and wife. Frequently the first time we actually sit down to enjoy one another is late at night when we are behind our closed bedroom door or away at a restaurant where our kids can’t see us.

Thus, we’ve had two official dancing “dates” right there in our living room for any and all to see. We understand the importance (as much for our kids as for us) of us having a strong marriage, so we’re working to cultivate it in Christ and put it on display to encourage/teach our kids what a healthy, joyful, godly marriage relationship looks like (which they didn’t witness in their biological families).

The first time this happened was several Saturdays ago. I had been at home with about half of our kids washing clothes by hand, doing different chores, overseeing their individual piano practices, cooking meals, etc, as Darwin had spent the majority of the day in the nearby city of La Ceiba with the other half of our kids teaching music classes and running errands. Around 4:30pm as I looked at the clock and knew Darwin would be getting home soon, I went to take a shower, shave my legs and armpits (a luxury that I oftentimes don’t have time for!), and put on a new black sleeveless dress. Casual but classy, reaching beyond my knees. I put on a pair of simple silver dangly earrings and headed barefoot out of our home to cross our large front yard to reach our kitchen (which is not connected to our actual house).

Each of our kids as they saw me for the first time had a very similar reaction, “Ma! Wha–? You look so pretty! Where are you going?” Normally after a long day, I take a shower and put on my old oversized pajamas that are less than flattering. Never had I gotten all dolled up on a Saturday night without having a specific plan of going somewhere special.

I laughed at each one’s sincere reaction, thanking them for their nice comments and telling them with a twinkle in my eye that I had a date scheduled with my “boyfriend” that evening (that’s what I call Darwin to make our kids laugh). We were going to dance. Each one sort of looked at me, intrigued by this new information. They smiled big, although they appeared a bit confused. I continued walking barefoot, my long black dress lapping at my calves as I reached our kitchen to serve dinner. After family dinner we would shoo all of our kids into their rooms for our family’s daily sabbath hour and we would dance.

I glanced over at our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline in the kitchen and said, “You know, it was dancing that your Pa and I had our first kiss.”

Her eyes widened in shock and she scolded, “Ma!”

I laughed and shrugged innocently.

And so Darwin arrived in our old Toyota pickup with many heads sticking out of the truckbed just in time for dinner. We all ate together and then headed back out across our front lawn into our little bunkhouse-style home where we shower and sleep each night with our now-10 foster children ages 9-17.

The Lord started this blessed journey off with 3 kids that He brought us in 2013 (whom we are in the process of legally adopting along with one other), then He brought more in His timing. Now we’ve got people sleeping on the floor because there aren’t enough beds, and the shower rotations require increased humility (and speed) as we all share the 2 showers in our home! We never planned on receiving older kids and teenagers; after all, most people desire to foster/adopt/raise babies and smaller children because they are supposedly cuter and arrive with less baggage. That, too, had been our original plan, but God had better plans. He’s brought us those who didn’t really fit anywhere else — special needs children, sexual abuse victims who need many years to emotionally and spiritually heal, misfit teenagers, those who have a gigantic chip on their shoulder after having been in the ‘system’ for over a decade. The icing on this beautiful, God-designed cake He is making of our family was the arrival of two 14- and 15-year-old girls less than a month ago. We had no plans of receiving anyone else into our household anytime soon, but God gave us His peace and brought us two young ladies who had bounced from one foster home and orphanage to another, under a constant cloud of rejection and rebellious behavior before finally arriving at our home and finding permanency (they’ve both affirmed that they finally feel at peace somewhere and don’t desire to be moved anywhere else, and we’ve even begun talking with them about the possibility of us legally adopting them, with total disregard to whatever their behavior may look like as they heal over the coming years). Thus, our household is now a lovely patchwork of broken people whom God is healing with His love.

6:30pm or so rolled around, and several of our teen girls (we now have 7 daughters ages 17, 15, 14, 14, 13, 12 and 11) sat squeezed together like sardines on the little couch in our living room, eyes sparkling and staring at us. They could barely contain their excitement as they elbowed one another and leaned toward us with bright faces. “We’re ready!” A couple of them clapped with joy.

They thought we were going to put on a show!

Darwin and I both laughed as he got the cd player ready. He had showered and changed, sporting a nice button-down teal-colored shirt and black slacks with his hair neatly combed. He looked very handsome. We were both barefoot. We would be dancing to one of Andrea Bocelli’s romantic cds, but it most definitely wouldn’t be a show! We laughed at our girls’ eagerness to see us dance and lovingly shooed them off to their rooms, much to their disappointment. We told everyone that they were free to watch from their open doorways, but we weren’t looking to have an actual ‘audience’ within arm’s reach in the living room with us.

And so the music started and some of our girls squealed and several excited faces shined from one of the three bedrooms where our kids sleep. Others pretended not to be interested in the living room spectacle of Pa and Ma slow-dancing to romantic music, but as I looked over Darwin’s shoulder I could see them stealing glances our way and biting back smiles. Brayan, our 16-year-old son, stood in his open doorway watching, probably taking notes on how his Pa woos his Ma.

Darwin and I held each other close, our feet moving slowly as we swayed back and forth to the music. I bit my lip and held back laughter, as I loved the reactions our kids were having. This — dancing close to Andrea Bocelli’s music — was, after all, one of our first encounters as a couple back in March of 2013 (three months before we got married), and it was both astonishing and beautiful to think of all that God had orchestrated in the four-and-a-half years since. Our first round back in 2013 was in private; now we had an audience of the blessed children and teens the Lord had brought us! Single in 2013 with great hopes of parenting the orphaned together for God’s glory; married in 2017 several years into the fulfillment of that sacred mission.

As we continued dancing for close to an hour, some of our kids got bored and closed their bedroom curtains (they don’t have doors), retreating into their rooms to participate in other quiet activities while others walked right past us supposedly needing to ‘use the bathroom,’ but I suspect they wanted to secretly be closer to the action. Again, I smiled in my heart of hearts, thanking God for all that He’s done.

Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline, whom I write about frequently and who is quite special to us after an extremely rough start in our home back in 2015, went tip-toeing through our living room — not three feet from us — on her way back to her room after using the bathroom as Andrea Bocelli’s voice sang of some passionate kiss long overdue. Her eyes grew wide and she squealed in shock (as if she had heard something she wasn’t supposed to) and darted into her room, hiding quickly behind her curtain. Darwin and I both cracked up.

So that living room dance date with my “boyfriend” has occurred now two times, and both occasions have given similar results. Our girls squeal; Brayan takes notes; and our kids steal glances at Pa and Ma moving around our itty bitty living room to beautiful romantic music.

I share this with you because I frequently write about our children or what God is doing in our surrounding neighborhood through the Living Waters Ranch, but I haven’t dedicated many posts to our marriage journey and how God has and continues to use us together to display His extravagant love to our children. So that’s that! Glory to God!

New Beginnings: My Return to Honduras

I’ve been home now five days after having been away from Honduras six weeks for medical treatment and spiritual renewal in Christ, and it’s thus far been a journey of learning all over again many things I thought I already knew. How to really live in the joy and peace of Christ, for one — not just talk about it or read about it or even counsel others on how to do so, but to really live in Christ everyday and allow His peace to permeate me no matter how much activity is going on around me. Really, these last five days have been the beginning of a completely new era (from the inside out) — in my walk with the Lord, in my relationship with my husband and our children, in handling many responsibilities with grace, and in my daily walk of loving and serving those whom the Lord has so generously placed in our lives.

A truckload of screaming teenagers greeted Darwin and I on Sunday at the little local hotel where we had been staying since I arrived on Friday. (My first “re-initiation” upon returning to Honduras was with my husband as he picked me up from the airport — alone — and we got away for two nights before I saw the kids. We are both learning all over again what it means to love one another and live in the joy of Christ right here in our daily context, and truly these last five days have provided us a completely new beginning.)

So, that truckload enthusiastically unloaded on Sunday as Pastor Domingo and close to a dozen teenagers — some our kids, some our students — ding-donged impatiently on the front gate of the little hotel where Darwin and I had been staying. Everyone exploded out of the truck and began a hugging processional as each teen and I embraced before beginning the 20-minute journey up the highway to home, where the rest of our kids were waiting. That was Sunday.

In many ways, everything is the same — the same things are happening as before I left (the same little daily adventures, learning experiences and potential frustrations that come with living in a third world country and laying your life completely down so that Christ might live through you) but the Lord has given me an entirely new attitude to confront these situations. My surroundings are the same, but I’ve been given new sight (in the sense of seeing things the way God wants me to see/experience them).

There were welcome-home posters, hand-written letters of encouragement and prayer from each of our students and teachers, and many sweet moments along the way. Although I was returning home, in many ways I felt like tip-toeing around with a sneaky grin on my face, feeling like a welcome stranger as I was experiencing everything from an entirely new perspective (and without the feeling that I had to run-run-run and handle everything myself). In many ways, these first few days back in the full swing of the daily routine have been a lot about quietly observing and discerning all over again what God wants from me in this place. I’ve gotten up at 5:15am to brush our kids’ hair and get them ready for school; I’ve washed our clothes by hand on our front porch; I’ve gotten back into our administration activities; I’ve done everything I did before, but it’s now fun and enjoyable, whereas before I felt like I was constantly trying to battle off a wave of anxiousness night and day as every demand on my time seemed like too much.

On Monday we had a lengthy meeting with our team of teachers and mentors — those six people (including my husband Darwin) who held the fort down for six weeks during my absence, taking on my teaching, parenting and administrative duties without complaint — and person after person took the time to share, unhurried, what the Lord had been doing in their life since we had last seen each other in late August. God’s presence was near, and while we perhaps should have been handling school logistics, planning the upcoming calendar or “doing” something important and work-related, the Lord led us to take several hours to share and listen to one another, as each person independently told of huge breakthroughs in their walk with the Lord over the last several weeks, many with tears.

And, the truly remarkable thing is that every aspect of the work the Lord was doing in my own heart on a range of issues over these last several weeks — from my walk with Him to my freedom from many lies the enemy had led me to believe to my new way of viewing our students and loving them better — He was also working out in our teachers’ lives completely unbeknownst to me. He literally kept us all on the same page (and even advanced us a couple chapters along the path of true freedom in Christ!) even though we were geographically far away and had very little communication. Wow.

So, fast-forwarding to Tuesday (yesterday), I gave each student individually a big hug when they came streaming through our front gate at 6:40am, participated with everyone in Bible study and worship, took on my math class again and fully (and rather spontaneously) participated in every aspect of life and service in our home with a newfound spark in everything I did. (I’ve been getting 3-5 hours of sleep since getting back to Honduras and generally feel extremely at peace in God’s presence, which has radically changed my parenting style, general outlook and attitude, etc). I even spontaneously prepared like 8 blenders-full of garlic, cucumber, and other-vegetables smoothie for all of our teachers and students (like 50 people), which led to a lot of laughter, almost-vomiting and renewed health in many. It was great!

So…

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was a full-blown participant in Pastor Domingo’s military-style athletic training class. (I had arrived at his class after lunch with our oldschool digital camera to just take some silly pictures of the kids, but God had other plans.) The exercises were actually not incredibly difficult, but my non-athletic attire and the scorching heat/humidity did make for quite an interesting (and sweaty!) afternoon. After all was said and done and I went to our little bathroom to take a cold shower, a ton of dirt came falling out of my hair (and not to mention all over my clothes)!

Every Tuesday afternoon all 40 of our students (ages 7-18) divide up into their various P.E. groups — swimming, long-distance running, dance, little kids’ games, and military training. This was a photo I took from my first experience attending Pastor Domingo’s military training class! (I was standing it the taller grass behind the instructor doing whatever squats/push-ups the students were doing while I took the photos, so that’s why some of the students are laughing).

Bottoms up! I struck the same pose as the students (with the camera shooting photos from between my legs), so that’s why this photo came out upside-down!
Our 9-year-old special needs son Josue participated right alongside everyone else! (At this point, I was belly-down in the grass after having been in a one-armed planking position taking photos.)
Okay, everybody line up for a brisk jog around the property! (Roy, our 18-year-old student on the far left who was leading the activity, was very calmly advising all the students to be careful with the large rocks and unexpected holes scattered across the terrain they would be running on, all of which are well hidden under the tall grass where our cows graze). Who needs a track or a gym?!
Well, I earnestly desired to try to run the lap around our 17-acre property with our students, but they left me behind in the blink of an eye! (I was too busy looking out for the potholes below me and trying not to sprain an ankle). So, changing plans, I grabbed a huge stick off the ground and decided to dart off in the other direction and plan a surprise attack on the students once they came to the end of their run. Before I knew what was happening, Isis, one of our young Honduran teachers, was right behind me!

And we were off like lightning (really, really slow lightning) as we began running mischeviously toward our hiding spot, where we would jump out with our sticks to surprise the unsuspecting students…
Gotta love this photo! When Darwin saw it, he said we looked like cave-women. (This photo really captures the whole spirit of our spontaneous game).
There were no photos of our actual attacks (perhaps for good reason!), so this is the last visual record we have of our cavewoman attack… (And, in case you were wondering, almost none of the students were surprised. Only like two screamed. The rest just looked at us and shook their heads every time we launched ourselves out from behind the parked car and screamed with our sticks when the various groups of students passed.)
At one point our students got ahold of the camera and started taking their own pictures!

After our big stick-bearing cavewoman scare (which actually wasn’t that big of a scare for most), it was time to do some mountain-climbers, ab work and squat jumps! (This will be the last time I wear a nice blouse and jeans to any military-training class!)
You go, Josue! (He and I have had a wonderful time together since me getting home on Sunday).
Okay, enough of that class! I headed up the gravel path to the inside yard where I found Miss Reina and Miss Ligia (two of our other teachers) leading a hilarious P.E. class for our littler tykes. I arrived to find several students (even some of our teenagers who wandered over before I did and decided to join in!) blind-folded and trying to find their way across our uneven, rock-filled yard. It was such a simple game, but it was a riot!
There goes Sandra (in the middle of the three) blind-folded and with the bright fire-fighter pants on for the competition! (We have a costume closet of things we’ve purchased at a local thrift store that we use for silly occasions such as these). Our daughter Gabriela (Gaby) is on the left, and a local student participates on the right.
Be careful, Sindy! (She was particularly scared about not being able to see, so I periodically yelled out, “Sindy, snake!” and she would jump around and scream. But she would get her revenge when I took up the blindfold a few minutes later…)
Uh-oh! Sandra got lost and started heading for our house!

        

Okay, my turn! (Man, was it scary not knowing where I was going, and they made me do it walking backwards!)
I kept trying to feel the ground to try to find the rocks — I didn’t want to roll an ankle! (Look at how dirty the back of my blouse got!)
Sandra kept trying to make me trip!
Got off track and almost went right out the front gate! (Sandra wouldn’t give me any verbal cues — she just kept laughing!)
Now she’s putting tires in my path!
One of the last games of the day was limbo! (A tall person really can’t compete with short kids on that one…)


 Amen! Glory to God!

September 2017 Prayer Requests and Triumphs

Below are our current prayer requests and triumph reports from our life of service with Christ in Honduras. Thank you for your interest in supporting/following this work.
***All of the photos on this post were taken by Isabel Dayton during her visit to the Living Waters Ranch a couple months ago. Even though the work at the ranch has continued onward in my absence and I’m in frequent touch with those in Honduras, we don’t have any new photos at this time. (I’ll try to take some once I’m back in the routine of service next week.) Thank you and God bless!
1. We are coming to the end of our second full school year of Spirit-led “discipleship-based community homeschool” with roughly 40 students who meet daily in our home (the Living Waters Ranch) for a complete homeschool curriculum that we’ve designed/tweaked over these last two years as God has led. The Honduran school calendar runs from February — November, so we are nearing the end of school and are reflecting back on all that has happened this year. The Lord brought new key Honduran missionaries/teachers/pastors to our team; He brought additional students, all of whom come from very broken places; and we’ve all learned a lot (sometimes the hard way) and are actively drawing near to the Lord as we seek to walk alongside of the children/youth in our school in the Way of Christ. We simply give thanks to God for allowing us to participate on this great adventure and for the fact that many kids/teens are coming into a saving knowledge of Christ and are genuinely walking with Him. Nothing has been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. Classes will wind down and come to a close in November, and then all of our teachers and students will reconvene in early January to begin prayerfully planning for the new school year. Please continue to pray for God’s protection and blessing over our community homeschool — the lives of all our students, that of our teachers, the physical protection of our property where we live and serve, etc — as Honduras is a very dangerous country. He has protected us until now, so we eagerly press onward.
 
2. We thank God for His continued provision over our lives, as we have lacked nothing in these 5+ years of serving Christ by faith in Honduras. We thank God for His miraculous provision (in every sense of the word — financial provision, His way of bringing each of our local teachers/missionaries to work alongside of us, His provision of believers who actively intercede for this mission, people who lend us their expertise, the wisdom and discernment He has provided when we have needed it most, etc) and stand in awe of His power made manifest in our little corner of the globe. Thanks be to God.
 
3. We are currently facing several potential complications/frustrations in regards to the process of legally adopting 4 of the 8 children my husband and I are fostering. We have had to switch lawyers and are having to re-submit much of our paperwork, so please pray first and foremost that this process (which tends to put our nerves on end, especially as we are coming into close contact with a third-world government that suffers from great corruption, inefficacy, etc) would bring us great joy rather than stress, as we are earnestly convinced that God wants us to be family forever to our kids, and that makes the legal hassles and uncertainties worth it. Please pray that the government may have favor upon us, that everything would be expedited as much as possible, and that all monetary costs involved in the adoption would be provided for (as all of our needs are). Thank you.
4. I will give a quick update in regards to 12-year-old Josselyn, one of the young women who has formed part of our family since July 2015 and for whom many of you had been praying in months prior. She had gone through a very rough season earlier this year as she even ran away from our home twice in search of her biological family (where she had been sexually abused and generally neglected), thus I had solicited urgent prayer on her behalf. She continues to live with us to this day, and she has not run away again (or even threatened to do so) in these last several months. She and her little sister Gabriela (Gaby) are currently in a season of monthly monitored visits with their biological family members, and thus far we have been able to maintain a respectful relationship and kind with them, so we thank God for this emotional stability in Josselyn’s life as she has accepted that her home (at least for now) is with us, and we ask God’s continued blessing and guidance over these monthly family visits. We are unable to adopt these two girls because their biological family is still closely involved, so we simply ask that each day the Lord would accompany us as we seek to parent and love them without holding on too tightly or feeling threatened by their biological family. Our payer is that the peace of Christ reign in our relationship with our 2 girls and their biological family members, and that God’s will be freely done. Amen.
5. Lastly, as many were informed, I had come back to the States for roughly five-and-a-half weeks in August/September for emergency medical, spiritual and emotional intervention as I had reached a breaking point in Honduras and could not go on without receiving help. I had been struggling with debilitating insomnia for several years and, as a result, had contracted any and all viruses, tropical fevers, etc, one right after another and was spending more time in bed receiving shots/IVs/antibiotics than I was participating in our daily life of service, so I accepted my parents’ offer at help and came back to San Antonio, TX in search of healing. I’ve written about this journey in greater detail in the prior post, so you may click on it if you would like to know more about my healing journey. I will be heading home to Honduras in three days. Please continue to pray for my ongoing recovery so that I may be as healthy of an instrument as possible in God’s hands, and let us thank Him for fully orchestrating my visit to San Antonio, my diagnosis, several breakthroughs I experienced, provision to cover medical costs, etc. Thank you.
I could probably list many more prayer requests and triumphs, but I will leave it at that for now. If you or anyone you know is not currently receiving our periodic printed newsletter and would like to receive it (it contains photos, testimonies/stories, etc, very similar to this blog), please send me via email that person’s name and physical mailing address so that they may be included on the mailing list. Thank you again for partnering with us in this amazing Kingdom work; God bless you.
With peace and gratitude in Christ,
Jennifer, for Darwin and all of our kids/teachers

Learning to Persevere: The Family Footrace at Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoa!

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

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

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

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

Amen! Glory to God!

A Heart That Longs for the Eternal Rest

A couple nights ago our 8 kids were tucked in their bedrooms in our little cinderblock house, several already asleep while others drew or read quietly in their quarters. It was our family’s daily Sabbath Hour.

The electricity had gone out several hours prior, so our otherwise pitch dark house held small pockets of light provided by a few strategically-placed candles. The old wicker table in our living room housed a large display of folders, papers and office materials where I had been working with a headlamp strapped to my forehead the last couple hours. My husband Darwin was in our office in the adjacent building on our rural property finishing his own ‘homework’ by flashlight.

I stood wearily in our living room after having survived a day that involved directing a 6-hour-long crucial planning meeting with our team of teachers/mentors/pastors, another six hours or so of paperwork, a constant waterfall of sweat dripping over my body accompanied by more than a few mosquito bites, and managing our 8 kids (and all their shenanigans) in the midst of it all. Although my work performance (at least in the meeting) had been high, my attitude was quickly taking a turn for the worst as I felt bogged by a sense of guilt that I had not given our children the time and attention they had needed from me that day.

Living in a household with 8 youth ranging from special needs children to abuse victims to active teenagers is not exactly conducive to cultivating a focused work environment, as every 5 minutes or so someone comes asking for a new pencil, seeking permission for something or announcing World War III. Then the heavy rains started, and the thunder spooked our oversized guard dogs to such an extent that they began frantically pushing their way past our kids into our house, which further added to what was quickly becoming an impossible work environment.

My thoughts limped toward the obvious: hopefully the electricity would come back on at some point during the next several hours so that all the food in our refrigerator wouldn’t spoil. Plus we still had to make copies of each of our students’ mid-year evaluations, but without electricity our photocopier was useless.

Oh well.

Dry-erase marker in hand, I began jotting down the next day’s predicted schedule along with general family news on our living-room whiteboard. I felt ready for a really long nap, but there was still more work to be done in preparation for the new semester of classes that would begin the next day. After having been on a mid-year week-long vacation, all of our local students  would be returning to commence the second half of the school year.

Our family had gotten away from home for that full week in order to breathe deeply and distance ourselves from the usual pounding of activities, demands on our time, dozens of local people constantly in our home, etc. We had rented an itty-bitty rustic cabin on a desert island off the Honduran coast, and for that week it felt like we had stepped into someone else’s life. In the blink of an eye (or rather in the hour-long boatride that led us away from the mainland) I was transformed into a relaxed, fun and funny stay-at-home mom who didn’t have the weight of dozens of other people’s struggles, the administration of an NGO and the constant threat of local violence on her shoulders.

The intense demands on our time and emotional reserves were greatly decreased during that week, and even the mosquitos and scorching heat were kept at bay. We were the only inhabitants there besides the local married couple who looks after the place, so even the constant supervision we are normally engaged in with our teenagers was lightened as there was no immediate temptation to search out their next potential crush. We laughed and played with our kids; we prayed together as a family; we stayed up late talking to and enjoying one another and slept late the next morning (‘late’ as in 7:00am). We cooked and ate every meal together as a family; there were no errands or legal concerns or fear of being the next victim of so much senseless violence that occurs in this country. We kayaked together; we swam in the ocean with our kids; we played chess and fished. I was no one’s boss and no one’s teacher; I was free to just be ‘mom,’ something I’m still trying to learn to do gracefully.

And so on Sunday as we left that beautiful desert island where the refreshing breeze whips constantly and you don’t even need to know what time it is, our senses were immediately accosted by the ugliness, the utter rawness of the reality we were re-entering on mainland Honduras. Whereas natural beauty, human silence and the crashing of ocean waves had accompanied us on that little island, our eyes and ears were suddenly under constant attack. One of our teenage daughters even cried as we left our little haven and re-entered the reality of living unprotected in a country dripping in corruption and devastating poverty.

The water transitioned from crystal clear to totally opaque upon arriving at the coast: floating trash and littered streams greeted us. Upon loading ourselves and our luggage into our pickup truck, Darwin began the awkward zig-zag, dancing haphazardly down the highway as he jolted between dozens of huge potholes. Two or three times he didn’t react quick enough and the car slammed down into the holes as everyone screamed. Destroyed roads; beggars; trash strewn about; idle, lost people at every turn; palpable human negligence and sin everywhere you look. Those on the inside of the cabin with us were enveloped in a solemn silence as we all felt the sting of re-entering our reality in third-world Honduras who frequently tops the worldwide ranking of homicide per capita. Danger suddenly seemed close and mistrust closer as we were very literally re-entering the battlefield whether we were ready or not.

And so as I stood propped-up near that light green wall in our living room filling our family’s whiteboard, I reflected sadly on the fact that the transition back home the day prior had not exactly been smooth as each of us was feeling the sudden demands to perform on a superhuman level, to fulfill duty, to detect possible danger (and somehow avoid it) and to re-open our home daily to dozens of people, the majority of whom are very broken and untrustworthy.

As my hand continued moving, dry-erase marker in hand, a small person suddenly came out of their room and was standing by my side, looking up at me. It was Jason, our son who is on the cusp of turning 10 years old this month.

My immediate thought was to send him back to his room or onward toward the bathroom (whichever his destiny might be), but I took a deep breath — fighting through exhaustion to put a genuine smile on my face — as he asked innocently, “Can you come pray with me?”

Who can say no to that? I put the marker down and followed him through the curtain into the room he shares with our other two boys, who were already sound asleep. It was a hot, sticky night, and there was no refreshing ocean breeze anywhere closeby.

He scurried up and into his top bunk as I took off my headlamp and laid the small light at the foot of his bed so I could see our sweet son. I looked at him expectantly, waiting to hear a couple quick prayer requests but instead received the beginning of a very long, quite animated discussion involving many different topics.

I realized that the prayer time would doubtlessly come at the end, but what he had really wanted wasn’t a quick bedtime prayer but rather his mom, who had been almost entirely absent from him emotionally throughout the day. I stood next to his wooden bunk, my hands stroking his feet as he began enthusiastically commenting this and that to me as he sat up in his bed in the dark room.

He is quickly becoming a Bible expert as he’s read every children’s Bible we have cover-to-cover several times, so he dove right into deep theological questions regarding idol worship, Baal, and whether or not people in today’s world still worship false gods. We discussed freely the book of Hosea, Genesis, and other texts as he rapidly jumped from one topic to another as soon as he was satisfied with the answer I had given him. He then began expressing his excitement about choosing his new classes the next day, and asked several intelligent questions regarding what he had observed that day in the planning meeting (he had requested to be present in our team meeting which turned into the 6-hour-long mammoth meeting, so he gained a lot of valuable inside knowledge that our other kids didn’t have). Through a huge grin on his face he talked of his new upcoming ‘masks and theater’ class that he’ll be in; the military-training P.E. class he hoped to join with Pastor Domingo; and his general comments regarding the next day’s promising events.

Jumping between theology and his daily reality as a 9-year-old, a new question suddenly dawned on him as his eyes swung toward me: “Mom, why is it so hard for some people to believe?” He began explaining his question as he quoted some text about Zacchaeus from the New Testament as my mind felt suddenly numbed by his question. The question had floored me. Why is it so hard for some people to believe? Better yet, why is it so hard for me to believe — trust, find peace and joy in — Christ in the midst of our demanding and at times dangerous daily reality? How is it possible that I’m at peace on a remote desert island but feel constantly persecuted by stress once placed back within the confines of our daily environment?

And so I began to answer his question, as he had asked it in search of an answer. I discussed briefly the reality of spiritual warfare (that Satan is actively involved in convincing us in subtle ways not to trust in God, as is evidenced from the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden) in addition to several other comments. I then breathed deeply and shared with him the fact that in the midst of many pressures that day I had even lost the eternal perspective. Even as Christians it can be difficult for us to have faith; we must ask God to grant us more.

My last word had hardly left my mouth as he experienced a burst of energy and sat up even taller in his bed as his next question came bouncing out, “Mom, when’s my hair gonna grow?”

I laughed and followed him down the path of the new topic, now far from theology. Moments later, as I felt I was wilting lower and lower, the wooden rungs of the bunk being the only thing keeping me from collapsing on the floor, I asked him what his prayer requests were so as to wrap up our time together. His answer: “That I won’t have nightmares tonight. And that God would grant me wisdom.”

And so I prayed over our son that God would give him deep sleep and protect him from nightmares and that He would fill Jason with wisdom. After our ‘amen,’ I tucked him in and made my way over to our bedroom, still captivated by Jason’s question about faith. As my thoughts still drew me back to the beauty of our time on the island, I felt God gave me my answer, rooted in His perfect peace:

What I most longed for was not the temporary rest on a beautiful island, which even at its best is not an entire rest from all struggle, as even on our vacation our kids at times behaved as little toots and had to be corrected, counseled and disciplined. Even at its best a total distancing of oneself from earthly drama can never be complete, for within each and every one of us is the battle between good and evil, between Christ’s light and the darkness of sin. On that busy Monday full of meetings and stressors, what I was most longing for was not another vacation or even a change of scenery: in the depths of my being I longed for God’s Kingdom, that glorious place of eternal rest and communion with the living God.

And that thought energized me, for I knew — had experienced! — just how beautiful and blessed our time had been during that week in a peaceful place surrounded by God’s unadulterated creation, although tainted by our sin. And how much more awesome will God’s eternal kingdom be, where true justice will reign! Oh, I can’t wait to be there. Lord, please grant me the faith that I lack in order to persevere through mosquitos and sickness and threats of violence and trial — and even my own struggles with sin, which sometimes seem to be the last ones to be addressed because everyone else’s needs are so pressing! — in order to arrive successfully at that beautiful eternal rest with You.

And with that, I took a shower and crawled into bed, my body still exhausted and knowing that my alarm clock would sound before the sun came up, but with a renewed energy in my soul, knowing that the promise of rest — of real justice — is drawing near, and that is the eternal reward for which we are so arduously working. Amen! Glory to God!

Thoughts on the Guatemalan Orphanage Tragedy

Friday evening as everyone was finishing the task of hand-washing their school uniform and getting everything in order after a long day I called a family meeting, something we normally do when there is a specific household issue we need to discuss or important news to be announced. I sent out young messengers to spread the word, and within minutes everyone was sitting in a circle in our rectangular living room – three on our little floral couch, one on an old wicker chair, and everyone else comfortably seated on the floor.

I sat cross-legged with the cool tile underneath me between teenage Brayan and little Gabriela with my laptop in front of me, a tool that does not typically accompany us in a family meeting or in our daily interactions with the kids.

As Darwin prayed to begin the meeting – everyone’s head bowed and eyes closed — out of nowhere a deep sorrow hijacked my emotions and tears suddenly came seeping out of my eyes. Something had been released from deep within me, and there was no stopping it.

Soon enough the prayer ended and everyone began staring at me – for I had called the meeting – and everyone seemed entirely caught off-guard by my tears as my whole body suddenly exhibited an attitude of mourning. Initially I had wanted to share the news article on my computer with our children in order to expand their worldview a bit, but once the moment came to do so, I was overcome with a wave of intense emotions that I couldn’t stave off.

A minute or two later, everyone just staring at me in silence, waiting, I opened up my computer, breathed deeply – trying to chase the sorrow back into its cage deep within my heart and slam the door shut before it tried to escape again – and began reading and explaining a news article that I had read earlier that day. Groping through rattled thoughts for where to start, I said slowly, “I don’t know if you know this, but many children who do not have their biological parents…end up in very dark places…”

In Guatemala, a Central American country that neighbors Honduras, an overcrowded, under-funded state orphanage experienced a fire and close to 40 teenage girls died on Wednesday. That much I had known from the day prior when my husband Darwin verbally shared the news with me, but I had not learned the extent of the details until sitting down to read several online news articles the next day.

In a facility prepared to care for roughly 400 kids and youth, it had been reported that there were close to 800 living there full-time, with 15-19 new children and teens arriving each day. Juvenile offenders – young men who had already gotten mixed up in a life of crime and gangs – lived intermixed with teen girls and child-abuse victims, creating a daily vortex of rape, gang activity within the orphanage walls, and all types of abuse. Death-threats were common among workers. Spoiled food was served to the children due to lack of sufficient government funding. The workers – who by no means were parental figures for the youth – worked 24-hour shifts with one worker for each group of 34 children/teens. (Think crowd control.) Hundreds had escaped over the last few years, and just this past week a group of disgruntled teens began rioting in the orphanage and physically assaulting the workers.

It was amidst this overall chaos that on Tuesday of this past week the riots intensified to such a degree that the Guatemalan police got involved. A group of 52 angry teenage girls who lived in the facility had to be physically detained due to the violence they had been inflicting on the orphanage’s workers, so someone decided to enclose them in a four meter by four-meter classroom under lock and key. Given thin mattresses to sleep on (52 teenage girls in a 16-square-meter space), it is alleged that one of them, in protest, lit one of the mattresses on fire, hoping to get the attention of the police and other authorities who stood close by on the outside of the classroom walls.

The news articles report that the police saw smoke seeping out from under the door and even heard the girls crying for help (they were burning alive), but no one reacted because they thought they were just angry and screaming for attention, as they had been during the prior riots.

Once someone finally unlocked the door, dozens had already burned to death, and others were so wounded that they soon died overnight in the hospital. Doctors and burn-specialists have been flown in from other countries to help treat the severity of the burns of those who are still fighting to survive.

And so this is the news I shared as I wept in front of our children, displaying such raw emotion that on very few occasions I have shown.

They just stared at me uneasily, for their world apart from their biological parents has been us. They have known no overcrowded government-run orphanages; they have known no shift-workers assigned the impossible task of herding mass numbers of severely broken children through the chaotic mazes of life in a place void of truth, of love.

What our kids have known are good-morning and good-night hugs with several other loving acts of touch sprinkled in throughout the day. Three square meals a day; family dinners filled with laughter; individual birthday parties and trips to the local corner store to buy ice cream after having gone to the park. Loving discipline; family and individual prayer; Spirit-led advice constantly at their disposal. Times of discord resolved through healthy confrontations; very firm and careful norms in our household to ensure that no sexual or physical abuse may blossom among siblings; family movie nights. An entire closet-full of clothes, many of which they themselves went to town to pick out; a listening ear from Darwin and I whenever they need it; a whole garrison of spiritual support though various Bible studies, prayer groups, and Christian mentors and psychologists. A family environment of forgiveness in which we all recognize that Christ took on our burden and set us free. Field trips to far-off places like the capital city of Tegucigalpa or a remote desert island off the coast. As our eldest daughter mentioned in her reflection journal, “I consider that God lives in my family.”

As I continued explaining the news article – the dark reality that so many parentless youth not only in Guatemala but around the world experience day after day as ‘normal life’ – I believe perhaps one or two of our older teens grasped at the fringes of what we were trying to communicate. The others looked thoughtful but perhaps not deeply affected.

My heart tore for those Guatemalan youth – not only those who died but all 750+ of the others who survived and have now been shipped off in large groups to other overcrowded orphanages, for we – here in this forgotten corner of the globe far from the public eye – have engaged in this daily battle that many do not even recognize exists. We know how hard it is to save even one, to see even one parentless child set free to actually experience the abundant life that Christ died in order to give us.

This full-on war does not die down – there are no peace treatises with the enemy army or times of rest when you can lay down your shield, your weapons. This is not a physical battle – if only it were that easy! If only it were a matter of removing the child or teen from the environment of abuse to make everything ‘better’! If only it were a matter of granting the child an education, a ‘better life’! When offered an education or the opportunity to follow Christ, the youth so often refuse, have been so confused — so blinded — that they want to return to their suffering!

To receive a teen whose entire family is used to resolving conflicts by utilizing violence – children who have witnessed their own parents be murdered; whose parents taught them to steal – to receive them into the truth; to connect them with a loving God in total submission to Him; this is the battle, and it’s over the long-haul. It is not a matter of shipping them off to a different place or increasing educational funding. It is a spiritual battle.

Oh, this is nothing like a top-secret military mission to break into enemy territory and rescue a suffering comrade from a foreign prison; it is far more intense! It is not a one-time rescue but rather a daily mission – sometimes several times in one day! – of bringing them back into the light; reminding them that their chains have already been broken; calling them once more to faithfulness to a loving God; daily walking alongside of them as we all humbly seek to live a life of forgiveness, justice, and faith that goes directly in contrast with all that the world proclaims.

This spiritual battle is a matter of literally standing at the entrance of Hell – this little rescue shop that God has so strategically placed so close to the flames! – and grabbing those who are on their way in, taking them into our household and then waging war against Satan on their behalf for their salvation, transformation and life. Darwin and I know this – we have the scars, the utter exhaustion to prove it – for 9 youth. Only nine. Nine!

Oh, we have spent ourselves on their behalf, oftentimes through fierce trials, times of intense darkness, times of prolonged prayer and fasting on their behalf. There have been numerous robberies within our own household; depression, accusations and lies have all had to be worked through on the journey towards healing. The battle has been grueling, and it continues each day, for we know that Satan is on the prowl, looking for whom to devour next. And parentless children are oftentimes the easiest prey.

Oh, to battle on behalf of the nine! I cannot imagine 800 who perhaps had no one battling for them. Perhaps no prayer; no good news; no forgiveness. Oh, the times we’ve taken hours to sit down with our teenage girls, listening to their complaints over sometimes petty matters and embracing them in their weeping, praying over them until God’s light once more entered their hearts! And those 52 in flames? The intense, all-out warfare required to save one abandoned teenage girl is a gargantuan task – you must be ready for battle as any seasoned solider trains himself for war. I cannot imagine those 52 who were left in that zoo of sexual abuse, gang activity, and total despair. Utterly parentless and without anyone to light their path.

Yes; Satan preys on parentless children. He loves to do this. We see this all around us in Honduras; those rowdy, sometimes naked little boys who run wild in the streets because Daddy isn’t around and mommy – at best – is at home tending to all her other kids – grow up to be tomorrow’s gang leaders, their hands steeped in blood and their thoughts fixed on destruction. When my husband was kidnapped last year by these same young men, their cell-phones blasted Satan-worshipping music as the heavy sounds sang of death. The young men – some of them mere teens — blasted his body with one rod after the other as he lay tied-up in the dirt, them cackling and roaring with laughter.

Children who do not have parents very frequently end up in very dark places and are then used by Satan to drag others into those same dark places. We know this too well.

To take a young woman whose mother, older sisters and extended female relatives are all prostitutes, and to look her in the eyes day after day – embrace her with God’s love! – and say, “God wants to adopt you as His daughter; and He is calling you to walk in purity. This is the path before you; walk in it in honor of your Father and your future husband.” Oh, this battle will never make the news headlines, but it is far more intense than a simple overseas raid, a fight for petroleum and world power! To win that battle against evil strongholds deep within the heart of that young woman is taxing beyond measure and valuable beyond rubies.

To take a child or teen – any among the multitudes! – and to cup them in your hands and say, “You. God has chosen you to worship His name, to serve Him unto the ends of the earth” in a culture that screams, “You! You will love money! You! You there! You have been destined to love pornography – or to love world travel or or pleasure or food or to love yourself! Yeah! Worship yourself! You deserve it! Bow down at the altar of Ego!”

This – this act of warfare against all that is untrue is where the true battle for humanity’s redemption lies. Truth pushing back the darkness, and just as any soldier who goes to battle on enemy territory must be prepared for anything, so, too, is the spiritual walk with Christ — being used by Him in enemy territory to set the captives free. Light in the darkness of the human heart, so used to being fooled by Satan’s lies.

And so, the breaking news of the 52 teen girls who were enclosed under lock and key, dozens of whom burned to death, is not a question of shaking our finger at the orphanage director or scolding the Guatemalan government for not having given them adequate funding (that is the problem with third world countries – even if they wanted to grant adequate funding, there is no money to do so), but rather to look deep at the absolute chaos that ensues when humanity lives completely given over to the lies of Satan. The lie that sex is not only for marriage – it is for anyone, anywhere, and we all deserve it. Boom. A young woman is pregnant because someone believed that lie. She never wanted to be a mother; the father is already gone. Who will raise the child? Perhaps she, but poorly, or – better yet, she thinks – she will give it to the orphanage so that she may continue living her life, which is replete with despair and lies to begin with. The child is then received as one of the 800 in a total zoo of sin and darkness, quickly being absorbed in that vortex of abuse, anger, and total confusion. Then, events such as the ones that happened last week are understood as just one manifestation of the human destruction that has already been happening around the globe for fatherless children for ages.

We have been studying closely with our children and all of our students over the past few weeks in our twice-weekly Bible study that the human being is the crown of all creation, the final touch to God’s creative work; we are the image-bearers! Satan is so obsessed with our destruction precisely due to that fact; he understands that we are the closest thing to God’s heart, that Father God so longs to have us as His children, His bride, His eternal companions. The human being was designed by a loving God to fulfill the ultimate purpose of being an instrument of that same love – to love God and to love one another! When that love is taken away – when a child or teen grows up without knowing that love, without receiving it, hearing it and experiencing it day after day — the worst of all tragedies happens. Broken image-bearers, cut off from their very life source, aliens to the love that they were destined to enjoy and share. Total human destruction.

After sharing the news Friday evening in our living room, my long legs pulled up to my chest as I sat on that tile floor, I spoke once more, looking at each of our kids in the eyes: “We will never know why, but for some reason – by God’s grace – He has placed each of you here rather than in a place like where those 800 lived.” Dark images darted uninvited across my mind as I imagined each of our of kids in a place like that, possibly even locked in that small room when that fire started. I breathed deeply and chased the thoughts away, for they were unbearable to consider.

What I did not say – what I felt was so obvious that I had to leave it unsaid, for I wanted them to arrive at the conclusion for themselves – was, “Now, react to God’s grace with gratitude. Serve Him joyfully, with thanksgiving overflowing from your heart. Do not murmur; never complain.”

Oh, they complain about the smallest of things! A nasty root of complaints has sprouted up among them in the last few weeks – everyone is rolling their eyes; this and that is ‘unfair;’ our kids are quick to judge, to accuse, to murmur. Just the day prior our 9-year-old Jason sat down to cry as I listened to him. His vision was so blurred by Satan’s lies as he complained about this and that, openly insulting Darwin and I. How unfair it is that his sister gets to play violin and he only gets to play piano! How terrible we are as parents that we let his older sisters go over to their friends’ house to play but he has to stay in our spacious yard to play soccer with his brothers! He wept, his brow furrowed and his little arms crossed as he fired great missiles at me for being a bad parent.

Son! Open your eyes.

That – our children’s ungratefulness towards God’s grace, His provision, His love and commitment displayed toward them day after day through us – is perhaps what had me by the throat more than anything else. But I said nothing, only prayed. Lord, open their eyes; illuminate their minds with Your truth. Enable them to worship You, to live a lifestyle of thanks.

And so the meeting came to a close several minutes later. Once more we bowed our heads to pray. Through tears I asked God to raise up our children to be the future parents to children and teens such as those who were in the overpacked orphanage. More than increased food provisions or better education they need Christ-centered parents who will walk with them – fight for them – on the narrow, beautiful path to freedom as sons and daughters of the living God. And in today’s world there aren’t many volunteers.

The prayer came to a close; everyone got up and left, possibly not deeply affected. I went to my cave-like little bathroom to sit on the light green rug and be alone. As I sat there several minutes, still pushing my full weight up against that inner dungeon door as the beast fought to break lose, I sensed that God spoke to me: “Just as I told my prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute so that he would come to intimately understand how I feel with unfaithful humanity, I have told you and Darwin to take in these children and teens – to love them as your own, to sacrifice your life and personal freedom in order to serve them – so that you can come to know first-hand how I feel with ungrateful, blind humanity. I who rescued all of you from the punishment you deserved – eternal life is at your fingertips if only you trust in My Son! – very rarely receive thanks. Rather, humanity – even those who have been adopted as my sons and daughters, those who trust in My name! – spend their days complaining, murmuring over the slightest of inconveniences. May gratitude and thanksgiving explode from within you! This is my message to You: never complain!

Moments later I arrived in our living room, for we had a family movie on our schedule for that evening. The kids bounced about, wildly gleeful, as I numbly chose the movie and got the laptop prepared on a small stool in front of where we would all be sitting – some on the small floral-print couch and others on a thin mattress that we had dragged out from one of the bedrooms to put on the floor. This is our weekly movie theater. I saw the movie – 12-year-old Josselyn with her head resting on my shoulder to my right and Darwin sprawled out to my left with my back resting against Jackeline’s legs who sat above and behind me on the couch – in a daze, still trying to make sense of the whole burning incident, its implications, and what God was trying to communicate to my heart.

The movie finished, and we sent everyone to brush their teeth. 13-year-old Jackeline, of course, complained. How terrible it is to brush your teeth! We gave everyone their good-night hug – it was already after 9:00pm, way past our normal Sabbath hour – and began walking them towards their respective bedrooms. I entered little Gabriela’s room as she stood right there in the middle of the floor looking sour. Her arms were crossed defensively and her little bottom lip was strategically sticking out in rebellion.

I touched her shoulder and mustered in the nicest tone possible: “Gaby, it’s time for bed. Tomorrow you’ll be getting up early to go into town with Dad, so you need to rest.”

Sure enough, as has become customary among the human race, she began complaining. I felt as though her murmuring sent long knives deep into my bones as raw images of the darkness in that Guatemalan orphanage flashed through my mind. Yes; it is so unfair to have to go to sleep in your own clean bed in the room you share with your biological sister after a day of classes, fun activities and a family movie! Yes; it is time to complain! We must complain!

I bit my lip, fighting off those images of little girls just like Gaby in that hellish orphanage who daily live under a dark cloak of sexual abuse, over-burdened shift workers, death threats and spoiled food. I helped her up into her top bunk and gently pushed her bangs back in order to kiss her forehead as she avoided eye contact and continued with the puckered-lip rebellion.

Closing the padlock on that deep dungeon door, the beast of sorrow raging about but contained, I gently called for her eye contact and, once I had it, I simply said, “Gaby, please know that God has rescued you; He loves you and He deserves your praise. Please don’t complain. Be grateful, little one, for all that He has done for you.” I repented in my heart, for in her own refusal to give thanks to God I saw myself on so many occasions.

Her facial expression didn’t change, but her eyes did drill mine. I ran my fingers through her hair once more, told her I loved her, and left the room.

The following night (which was yesterday), I sat on a cushion in our bedroom, the lights turned off as three little candle flames danced silently, giving our room a very calm, inviting look. I was reading the book Jesus Calling, thoughts still consumed with all that the Guatemalan tragedy could teach us. 12-year-old Gleny, who had spent the day in town in a local art school and then on a trip to the beach with Darwin and several of her siblings, appeared energetically in our doorway.

“Hi Mom! Can I come in and give you a hug?” She could barely contain her excitement, as I could tell she had had a good day. I smiled big and waved her in. My Wild Gleny who arrived at our home as a pint-sized ball of explosive emotions – I marveled at her in that soft candle light, as I do everyday. So tall; now more mature, calmer. Loving. Happy. I briefly imagined her at the overcrowded orphanage; I imagined all the other little girls who are just as much made in God’s image as her who are in the other orphanage. The beast within me rattled its cage, and I quickly tucked the keys into some remote safe.

This is the testimony God has given me to share right now. There are many different lessons that one can take from the tragic events that happened in the Guatemalan orphanage. Please pray with us for the survivors – those hundreds of children who have now been shipped to other large facilities where they will likely continue onward toward adulthood without ever experiencing the life grounded in love as God designed it. Pray, too, for our children who live with us – that their eyes would be opened to the marvelous grace of God that has saved them from having been in that burning room or having to fight daily for survival in a large institution such as the ones that many children and teens around the globe live in. Lastly, pray with us that God would raise up more people to go and be parents to the orphaned, abandoned and lost children and youth around the globe. This is a beautiful calling, and its importance cannot be overstated.

Let us all be thankful to God and give Him the praises He deserves. He is good and His love endures forever! Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Diplomas, Choir Songs, and More: Our Yearend Celebration in Photos

We recently celebrated our end-of-the-year academic promotion and music recital with our students and their families. Each of our 25 students (12 in elementary and 13 in high school) received diplomas for the different extracurricular clubs they had participated in — Sports Club, Christian Leadership, Art Club, etc — along with their official certificate for having passed their grade. Darwin’s musical group performed various piano and recorder pieces along with singing several songs, and the students from Cooking Club prepared delicious snacks for all the guests.

We handed the camera off to several kids as they dashed about as undercover paparazzi, but the camera’s battery died before the majority of the invitees arrived and the actual event began!

Enjoy the photos from the set-up…

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Some of our teachers and students preparing the decorations for the event in the porch of the small building that serves as our high school/music training center/office.

 

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Miss Luz, a local Christian woman who served with us this year as the special needs teacher and prayer group leader, was putting the finishing touches on the snacks…

 

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The two cats we got recently to help with a rat infestation in our pantry — Kitchen Guard and Rat Police — were making sure everything was going smoothly with the snack preparation.

 

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Charlie, a 13-year-old local student who did not pass our 7th-grade discipleship program due to immaturity and a general lack of academic preparedness, was very brave and showed up for the event even though he wouldn’t be receiving the official certificate for having passed his grade. He is a faithful member of Darwin’s recorder group, so he participated in the music recital and was awarded several diplomas for his consistent participation in Christian Leadership and other extracurricular clubs. (This is one of the young men I wrote about in the previous post whom we tracked down and convinced to enroll again next year even though he was upset he didn’t pass this year.)

 

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13-year-old Arnold, one of our local students who passed our 7th grade program after much blood, sweat and tears (or something like that) during our two-week intensive yearend bootcamp, was helping his teacher tape up the decorations.

 

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While everyone was stressed out, zipping around from one decoration to the next and getting diplomas and everything in order, I took advantage of the microphone set up for Darwin’s choir and had a little too much fun playing the event’s quite animated ‘announcer’…

 

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Anybody know any good jokes?

 

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Miss Ligia (high school teacher, left) and Miss Isis (elementary teacher, right) enjoyed my jokes.

 

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Our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline getting ready to sing and play piano. She passed fifth grade with flying colors in a local private school and is currently doing sixth grade (the last grade in elementary school according to the Honduran educational system) right now during school vacation so that she will be able to enter 7th grade (the first year of high school) in our discipleship program in February. We are very (very, very) proud of her as she has experienced a dramatic transformation after having spent a very difficult first year with us in 2015 that was riddled with laziness, depression and very poor decision-making. Keep it up, girl!

 

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How many more people, tables and musical instruments can we fit on the porch? Keep ’em coming!

 

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Yexon, the 12-year-old son of our night watchman who has been in school with us along with three of his siblings for two years. He passed both second and third grade this year in our accelerated elementary program for students who are academically behind. He’s trying to look serious for the photo!

 

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Josue, our 8-year-old son with special needs who has been living with us for almost two years, enjoyed running around our yard while everyone else frantically made preparations for the event. Exercise is a great way to keep away the stress!

 

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Go, Josue, go! Feel those endorphins!

 

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And he just kept on running and laughing!

 

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Where’s Josue?

 

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Gotta pass right through the mud puddle!

 

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9-year-old Jason and 15-year-old Brayan, two of our pianists (and sons), enjoyed playing a few songs on the keyboard as the beginning of the event drew near.

 

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People are arriving!

 

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Darwin had many choir and musical ensemble members to get ready for the big outdoor event. Everybody get in line to get your red ribbon!

 

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15-year-old Marina and 10-year-old Paola (both of whom look much younger than they are due to malnutrition they suffered in early childhood), two of our faithful elementary school students, arrived at the event with several of their siblings and mother. They are both on their way to fourth grade in our accelerated program after having spent their early childhood in deep poverty with no education. They are some of the first people in their very large family to learn to read and write and be involved consistently in school. We are so proud of them!

 

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Our 12-year-old daughter Gleny — who we are in the process of legally adopting along with her two siblings — had had enough of my antics with the microphone!

 

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Arnold, one of our local students who generally displays a ‘too cool for this’ attitude, has recently confessed how much his experiences this year at the Living Waters Ranch have meant to him. In the last couple weeks he and Darwin and I have made many phone calls and house visits to persuade his parents to allow him to continue studying with us (the father, who is not a Christian, was looking for a more ‘traditional’ educational experience for his son). After much effort, his parents finally agreed and understood that this is the best place for their son to study and grow in God’s will, and Arnold has since come to sign the enrollment papers for next year! Praise God!

 

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These precious young women are 16-year-olds Sandra and Dayana, our two eldest daughters and two of our students who successfully passed our 7th grade program. Sandra is successfully living with her biological mom again as the mom has valiantly left behind the abusive step-father to look for new, healthier beginnings. Dayana continues to live with us as we are in the process of legally adopting her.

 

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Here are three of our strapping young gentlemen getting ready for the big event. For teenage boys who are accustomed to wandering gravel roads in torn, dirty clothing and surviving year after year in suffocating poverty, getting ‘squeaky clean’ and all dressed up in formal attire to participate in an organized music concert (that they’ve been practicing for for months) is a really big deal. All three of them were baptized in October and have signed the enrollment papers to come back again next year.

 

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Our daughter Dayana

 

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Derbin, a local young man who is not our full-time student because we do not offer the grade he is in (ninth), but who participates very faithfully in choir, piano, Christian Leadership and Bible study, was excited to attend the event with several of his young siblings. Nice mustache!

 

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Lookin’ sharp, Charlie!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Against All Odds: Carrying a Load Full of Joy

This past Saturday our rickety 2001 cab-and-a-half truck carried a few additional rabble-rousers in its precious load as it went rumbling up that long gravel mountain road to our mentors’ home.

We were headed to our faith community’s annual 2-mile road race, and five of our students/choir members were invited for the special 2-day event. (Organized road races or almost any other kind of healthy, fun activity very rarely occur in our part of the world, so when they do it’s a really big deal.)

We would be spending the night in a cabin — Darwin and I and 12 wily youth — on our mentors’ property so we could also attend the weekly Discipleship Group that would be held the following morning.

Everyone’s arms and backpacks were filled with pillows, blankets, Bibles, a change of clothes, and toothbrushes (well, I think some of the kids forgot those…) as everyone squeezed in for the journey. (Of course, our car has held up to 20-25 people on certain choir trips, but this load of 14 was nonetheless interesting due to the additional luggage each person brought.)

So our car faithfully made the hour-and-fifteen-minute trip from our rural property through the city of La Ceiba and up a remote mountain road as faces poked out windows and people sat perilously perched on backpacks. Watch out for the potholes!  

I had honestly felt quite anxious about the trip, dogged by a sense of dread about inviting five teen boys to accompany our family on an overnight trip — those same boys that our daughters have had crushes on at different times! Red alert!

But, remembering the scripture we have been studying for quite some time as a family/community (Philippians 4:4-7), I very intentionally began waging war against that astute opponent named Worry, pleading God to replace my anxiety with Christ’s perfect peace. I desired to trust God rather than cling to my own illusion of control, so I prayed vigorously for our potentially precarious situation, that God would be glorified in everyone’s behavior and attitudes (even in mine).

May You protect the youth from any flirting or inappropriate behavior, and may You protect me from falling prey to Worry. May we all draw nearer to You during this trip, Jesus, and may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

As we jostled up the pot-hole-splattered road I continued to pray silently as I fought diligently to shake Worry from where it perched on my shoulder, snarling and extending its long claws toward my neck.

I remembered: Rather than worry, pray. Place all your concerns on Christ, for He cares for us. Rejoice in Father God at all times, giving Him thanks in every situation.

We had, after all, talked extensively with our kids — especially our girls — about behavior expectations prior to embarking on the journey, and everyone knew they had to stay together as a group with Darwin and I, so I finally just let loose and dared to trust God.

I slowly felt the Christ’s unexplainable peace overcome my petty grasp at control as He shooed away Worry.

Released from those claws that had so adeptly inched toward my neck only moments prior, my body suddenly skipped from dread to an electrified sense of newfound glee — a God-given ecstasy that is granted even in the most unexpected of circumstances.

I glanced over at Darwin, who this time found himself in the passenger’s seat. My eyes lit up with mischief as I thrust the steering wheel to the left and then suddenly to the right, propelling the car in a wild zig-zag pattern up that long, empty road as the kids squealed with delight and everyone hung on for dear life, hair flying and backpacks sliding everywhere. I threw my head back and laughed as Darwin stared at me disapprovingly after having just eaten his lunch and suddenly feeling nauseous.

Mustering a benign scold as the car continued onward in its rambunctious zig-zag, he advised: “With so many kids in the back, I sure hope they don’t whack their heads…”

My whole body now rejoicing in an all-consuming grin, I reeled with increasing laughter: “Nonsense! They love when I do this…”

As knuckles turned pale, grasping desperately at the car’s slippery surface and young throats let out joyous whoops, we finally came to an (intentionally) abrupt stop along the road. It was time to take pictures!

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Ten of the youth participated in the road race in addition to Darwin and I, and — Praise God! — the two-day event proved fruitful and blessed.

Everyone’s behavior was exemplary — our young male students behaved as perfect gentlemen, lovingly submitting themselves to our authority, and our girls shone brightly with God’s glory as they put into practice appropriate social norms as they interacted wisely with the opposite sex. (Oh, this has been a long and gruesome battle to recapture innocence, to submit to a pure God in a culture so stained by sexual sin, abuse and trickery! Through tears we thank Him for these small — huge! — steps of progress, of prayers answered and lives being liberated from Satan’s grasp.)

Saturday evening as we sat around the (very) long wooden table in our mentors’ rustic dining room, I was taken aback, suddenly caught up in awe. I looked across the table.

There sat Darwin enjoying his dinner and engaging in joyful conversation, surrounded by those same five young men whom I didn’t want to invite. I studied their faces, aglow with life, with innocence, that too many youth here rarely — if ever — experience.

Too many young men in this country (world?) experience deadening boredom, terrible deeds cloaked in darkness, paralyzing shame, utter purposelessness. But joy? What young men actually dare to seek true joy in the Living God?

 Those who trust they will find it, find Him.

 I carefully allowed the moment to ingrain itself in my memory, receiving it as if it were a portrait of God’s active, redeeming work in the world, His daring rescue mission on enemy territory.

I studied Exson, this 18-year-old who can barely read, he who since becoming our student in our discipleship-based 7th-grade program in February of this year has very quickly (and unexpectedly) become like an extended member of our family. He who only a few days prior stayed after class with his 14-year-old sister Messy (who is also in our program, pictured to the right) to talk with me, both sharing through sincere emotion how much God is touching their lives, transforming them. This same young man who very easily could have fallen into those murderous gangs that so many local young men his age have fallen into, but — by divine grace — has rather fallen into the trap of God’s love.

Yes, it scares me silly to include an 18-year-old young man who has only been deeply exposed to God’s Word in the last several months and who is still on the verge of making a decision for Christ in the same family outing with our daughters, but is this not God’s radical plan? To come for the sick, the lost, to set up a rescue shop within a yard of hell? (See: A Rescue Shop Within a Yard of Hell  and By God’s Design: Zebras in Honduras)

Oh, how many times have I resisted Christ’s command to love boundlessly – how meticulously have I set up those strict, self-protecting barrier lines! You can come to this certain point, and then you’ll come no further. We receive you in our home all week long, but our weekends will be spent exclusively on those 7, 8, 9 who call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’. You’ve reached your limit! No more grace!

And how many times has my Father lovingly said, “Jennifer, My will goes beyond your comfort zone. When you are weak – tired, spent – I am strong. Receive these boys — speak to them of Me, show them a more excellent way – even when it doesn’t fit comfortably in your agenda. The manmade boundaries of ‘personal time’ have no meaning in my Kingdom. My extravagant love for humanity culminated in my own gruesome death, and I’ve called you to follow Me in the same way. Die so that you may live, so that My love may be made known to all mankind.”

My eyes traced the lit-up faces of the other young men, two of which have wholeheartedly received the Gospel and three of which are constantly infiltrated by the good news of Jesus, exposed to the Truth of the Kingdom. It’s only a matter of time.

These young men — some of whom live in shanties with many malnourished family members, others who not two years ago did not know the alphabet. Others who have stolen from us, been led to ask forgiveness, start anew. Several of whom have stormed off our property, frustrated by the strict discipline, the command to love, swearing they would never come back.

But there they were.

Against all odds — even against my own will! — there they were, populating the long wooden table that does not typically have a seat reserved for them. Surely God is doing something in them, in me.

Around 8:30pm after engaging in riotous competitions — push-ups, planks, leg-lifts, etc — we all headed to the primitive cabin we would be staying in. Darwin and I with our 7 kids in one section, our 5 neighbor-student boys in a separate part.

As I moved quietly about in the dim room, illuminating the simple space with my headlamp as I searched for my toothbrush, I heard Brayan’s low voice softly permeating the wall that separated us. Against all odds (alas, that is a phrase that seems to be used in our daily vocabulary!), Brayan was leading the other young men as they sought to memorize the Bible verses for the next morning.

“Be full of joy in the Lord always. I will say again, be full of joy.” After Brayan’s voice I heard other, quieter voices, echoing the same. A unanimous call to joy in the Living God, that joy that the world cannot strip from us.

I smiled as his gravelly voice floated toward me. It was the same verse the Lord used to rescue me earlier that day from those long fingers of Worry that threatened to choke me.

He continued, oblivious to the fact that I could hear him, seeking to impress no one but his Father: “Let all men see that you are gentle and kind. The Lord is coming soon. Do not worry about anything. But pray and ask God for everything you need. And when you pray, always give thanks. And God’s peace will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The peace that God gives is so great that we cannot understand it.”

I was unable to constrain my joy any longer as it came violently bubbling up in my chest – that same Brayan whom we loved as a son, who left our care only to wander aimlessly during many months, who has since returned wholeheartedly to Christ, to us, is now leading other lost young men on the Way! I let out a silly whoop in the darkness and engaged our prodigal son in that growing inside joke we have about being full of joy: “Brayan, be full of joy! Always be full of joy in the Lord!

My infectious giggles rose high as he suddenly stopped reading, obviously caught off guard by my interruption from the other side of the wall. He paused just long enough to let out a good-natured scold that undoubtedly came through a big, cheesy grin: “Ma, now I don’t want to hear a lot of ruckus tonight. Behave yourself.”

Amen! Glory to God!