Tag Archives: Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our three first graders reading their letters with the help of their tutor/teacher, a local teen male who has been involved at the Living Waters Ranch under our guidance for roughly four years.
What a picture! I love this — four of our big, extremely active teen boys (ages 13-18) caught all in silence, reading very tender letters of encouragement and spiritual direction from Christian adults who love them dearly!
A part of our sixth grade class opening their letters
Our foster daughter Gleny (smiling), with her teacher and a few classmates as they opened their letters
My husband Darwin reading letters with his spunky group of second- and third-graders, all of whom come from unique family situations/difficult personal backgrounds
Two of our seventh-grade girls reading their personalized letters from their beloved teachers

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Jennifer

The Narrow Path

Our 24-year-old Christian psychologist (red shirt) didn’t know what she was getting into when she decided to join the ‘narrow path’ group! Next to her (white shirt) is one of our teen foster daughters who likewise chose the difficult journey. Many of the girls in their knee-length uniform skirt finished the challenge with scuffed and even bloody knees. Several cried out of desperation as the journey of shame extended close to an hour and they wondered when it would end. Our teachers finished completely bathed in sweat and with dirt all over their clothes. It definitely was the more difficult path!

Twice weekly at the Living Waters Ranch all of our staff (a small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionaries/teachers plus my husband and me) and about 30 or so of our more mature students gather together in our large, cement-floored dining room for Bible study. We sit on wooden benches in a large, imperfect circle as we worship God together through song and then seek to grow together in knowledge of the truth and obedience as we study His Word.

We have gone through many different and very edifying topics this year: the existence of evil in the world, existential questions (and their Biblical answers), God’s desire that we connect with him and with other human beings (and that we not connect exclusively with technology/machines), several of Jesus’ parables and teachings, archeological evidence that backs the Bible’s veracity, our sexual identity as men and women made in God’s image, etc.

As has happened to me on many occasions, while I am reading the Bible or simply going about my daily business it is as though out of nowhere God deposits an idea or a direction into my mind that I am then to go share with everyone else during our group Bible study time. The following story is one such case.

A few weeks ago in my free time I was reading the book Jesus Calling, a wonderful devotional book. The certain page I was on mentioned something about the fact that we humans tend to pick the path of least resistance. I remember that the devotion itself was about an entirely different theme, but my eyes studied that one phrase about a dozen times as an idea was suddenly deposited very abruptly and undeniably into my mind, and my hand burned to write it down. I grabbed my little teal-colored spiral notebook where I do my planning for the twice-weekly Bible studies, and my hand furiously began tracing out a long, intricate plan. I felt that I had to write it down as quickly as possible so that the precious idea would not get lost among the many other thoughts that are always bouncing around my mind. Once all written down (including little drawings that gave more life to the overall idea), I became extremely surprised and excited. I couldn’t believe I had to wait two or three more days until the chance would arrive to put into action the idea that God had just given me! It would be a powerful illustration for all: presented the option to choose the easier way or that which promises immense difficulty, which will you choose? (And how can we then use this ‘game’ to better understand – and choose! – the narrow path of Christ which leads to eternal life?)

Crawling backwards several hundred yards on rocky terrain with his shoes on his hands, blindfold secured and a pencil gripped between his teeth as over a dozen teenagers mocked him and did all they could to obstruct his path: This is 29-year-old Erick, one of our extremely dedicated local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in the classroom, relational discipleship and organic agriculture with the teenagers in our Christ-centered homeschool program for disadvantaged youth.

The challenge would be simple: we would exit our concrete-floored dining room (our normal setting for Bible study) en masse in order to go out onto our front lawn to engage in a hands-on demonstration of what it means to choose between the narrow (hard) and the wide (easy) path. Many of our teens have heard this teaching of Jesus’ many times, but to live it in a condensed period in order to grant greater reflection? This would be the first time.

One of our teachers helped me to film the majority of the event (also a first, as we typically don’t film our Bible studies) as I began explaining to everyone that they would each be given to options:

Wide, Easy Path:

  • You can walk, run, give a friend a piggy-back ride, etc. (You may travel any way you choose.)
  • You can talk, joke, make fun of others, etc.
  • Your goal: reach the large fruit tree (beyond the Living Waters Ranch’s front gate) a few hundred meters from our starting spot.
  • (Oh, and please do everything you can to discourage and make fun of those on the narrow path. You can put obstacles in their path, try to confuse or distract them, etc, but please don’t physically harm them.) Have fun as much fun as possible!

Narrow, Hard Path:

  • You cannot travel as you choose. You must crawl backwards with a blindfold in place, effectively destroying your ability to see where you are going. You must also grip a pencil between your teeth, impeding your speech.
  • You may not talk with anyone. If you are lost and need help, the only thing you can say is, “Help! Help! Where am I going?” and if at any point your shoes come off your hands or your pencil falls out of your mouth, you must immediately say, “Forgive me.” You may not say anything else at any point.
  • You must not listen to or heed anyone’s voice but Jennifer’s.
  • Your end goal is the same as the other group’s (the large fruit tree a good distance off).
  • You are free to give up at any point and join the easier group.

As I explained the rather simple instructions to the large group in front of me, each person was completely free to join the “wide path” – the group that promised total ease, or the “narrow path” – that which physically would prove more challenging (not to mention the potential embarrassment at having to crawl backwards such a long distance in the manner I had proposed).

The plaid shirt belongs to 34-year-old Geraldina, the local Christian woman who serves with us in cooking and cleaning and is in one-on-one literacy classes as she learns to read and write for the first time in her life. She exhibited incredible bravery as she crossed the pile of tires without being able to see where she was going! (And they kept moving the tires as she tried to pass in order to make it more difficult.)

I thought that surely only two or three of our more outgoing teen boys would dare to join the “narrow path,” but much to my surprise 12 students and 3 teachers chose it by their own free will! They were very brave indeed.

A couple teens were indecisive and eventually chose the easier group with the rest of the roughly twenty participants. Let the games begin! (I had never orchestrated this type of large-group challenge before, so in my planning I thought we would take 15-20 minutes tops, but the whole ordeal extended beyond an hour.)

Those who had chosen the narrow path grabbed their blindfolds and submitted themselves to the embarrassing position on all fours as I egged the “wide path” participants on to make the lives of the “narrow path” participants as unbearable as possible.

Our 14-year-old foster daughter, Jackeline, on the hard path…

My 15 brave souls lined up, all totally blindfolded and unable to see, and they each had to crawl backwards through a hula-hoop that represented the moment of salvation. (This is part of the idea of “a door and a path” that I understand from God’s Word. We must first walk through the door of repentance and salvation – that first moment of trusting in Christ – and then there is a long path, oftentimes difficult, before us that extends until the end of our lives.)

The game got complicated quickly as some of my blindfolded participants sped off down the path, effectively beyond earshot, while I had to stay behind trying to guide those who dragged along slowly. I walked between blinded participants trying to guide and encourage them as best I could. More than one of them began scooting off in the wrong direction, heading for the middle of the cows’ pasture, and others bumped into the fence or couldn’t find the gate to pass through.

Those who were free to walk as they chose (those on the wide path, which represents the way of the world in which all is permitted) really did a phenomenal job making the crawlers’ lives impossible. At first they just tried to verbally discourage them, laugh at them and disorient them, but soon enough they got creative and began obstructing their path with tires and fallen branches. They even reached the point of picking up certain smaller students and completely relocating them in order to confuse them further and physically resisting the crawling people with their own weight and cunning. Crawling backwards blindfolded several hundred meters over rocks would have been a good enough lesson, but with the “evil” tactics of the other members they truly made the journey painful and nearly impossible. (And isn’t this a perfect illustration of the Christian life? Is it not true that those who are in the world try to discourage, disorient and make fun of those who are on the narrow path of Christ? Yes; this was panning out to be the perfect illustration of the spiritual walk with Christ – difficult; at times lonely; trusting a voice that you cannot see.)

The limited pages of this post do not allow me the space necessary to adequately explain the depths of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. What began as a let’s-see-how-this-goes teaching experiment turned out to be an epic battle between good and evil. It was the ultimate test of perseverance and faith, and as we meditated on the spiritual ramifications we felt like we were walking on sacred ground, discovering just what it takes to follow Christ until the end.

At one point after we crossed the threshold of the outer gate on our rural property and were then at-large in the outskirts of our town (a large, strange mass of people crawling around blindfolded while others shrieked and cackled as they threw tires in their path) a local young man and his friends stopped dead in their tracks, stunned and impressed by the strange game we were doing. This opened the door for one of our veteran teachers to talk to him about the way of Christ, and he stood with her, listening, for several minutes as he observed with awe the spectacle before him.

Every time he tried to go beneath the branch, they would lower it. When he would try to go over it, they would raise it up. They tormented him with this for several minutes before finally letting him pass!

The entire experience lasted much longer than any of us had imagined, and we went far beyond the time allotted for our bi-weekly Bible study. We had already passed the time for prayer groups and were willing to use up our recess time in order to finish what we had started. The only thing that mattered was the goal of reaching the fruit tree beyond the gate.

In Honduran culture, perseverance is not always a very strong point in our area as many people give up on their education, their families, etc, when confronted with difficulties, so the very fact that 15 people dared to participate in this daunting task (and 14 completed it; only 1 decided to give up) was reason to give thanks to God for the gritty character He is forming in those under our guidance. Wow!

Well, the biggest surprise was reserved for last. Once everyone reached their goal of arriving at the distant fruit tree, those on the narrow path soaked with sweat and dirty from head to toe (and many with very raw emotions after having been effectively bullied to their breaking point), everyone trudged back up the long, gravel path to our starting point: our large, concrete-floored dining room where our traditional wooden benches awaited us. Everyone thought the activity had finished, but I knew that the best was reserved for last: each person’s recompense for the path they had chosen.

Everyone trudged back into our dining room as their faces displayed that they were more than ready for this whole experiment to be over with. I sat them all down and then asked for those who were on the wide, easy path to stand in the middle of the circle. They all whooped and hollered and stood proudly in the middle of the wooden benches as I explained that they had definitely chosen what was easier and that they had been very astute to take care of their appearance so that no one would bully them. They had, after all, chosen what any intelligent person would choose: the path of least resistance. I congratulated them for their participation and then handed each of them a piece of candy, encouraging them to go ahead and eat their reward. They whooped and hollered again and then fell into sudden silence when they began opening their candy wrappers and popping into their mouths…balls of gooey flour! I had created “trick candy” the day before during a slot of free time I had – the candy wasn’t candy at all! Their reward was pure deceit…

They laughed and returned to their seats, effectively without any reward at all. I then asked the weary, bullied members of the narrow, difficult path to stand up in the middle of the circle of wooden benches. They studied me carefully, wondering what their prize would be. Was their going to be any prize at all, or just a simple pat-on-the-back of congratulation? I could barely contain my excitement, for I knew just what was in store for this brave, faithful group.

I began handing out an envelope for each one and then instructed them to open them all at once. What was inside? The Honduran equivalent of $10, which is a lot of money here, and a handmade coupon stating that they had also won a soda and a big bag of chips (a really popular snack in Honduran culture) and that two of their detentions would be erased at the end of the grading period (a big plus for any student in academic trouble).

They began squealing with delight and reveling in their extravagant reward – it was much greater than anything they had every imagined. In that moment our young psychologist, who is in her first year of service with us, unexpectedly broke out in tears and came over to me to receive a long hug.

Amidst the great celebration for those who had persevered in the difficult path, all of their trouble suddenly seemed forgotten as the prize greatly outweighed any difficulty they confronted along the grueling path.

There are so many parallels between this moring-hour challenge and the ongoing path for each one of us as we choose between the wide, easy path of the world (where any belief, action or attitude is permitted with great tolerance) and the narrow, difficult path of Christ that, in the end, provides a greater recompense than any of us could have ever imagined.

We spent the next two Bible studies reviewing the videos taken and discussing in-depth the many parallels between our game and the spiritual reality in each of our lives. Praise be to God for this wacky yet extremely effective idea He planted in me several weeks ago, and please continue to pray with us that each of the youth under our guidance would joyfully choose the narrow path of Christ and live for Him as they eagerly await the reward of an eternity with God.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. Please know that we could not operate the way we do as we touch lives with God’s Word and His love if it were not for your generosity in partnering with us. Thank you for trusting us, and God bless each of you. Please be encouraged by this story of the narrow path.

With gratitude and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew

Mid-Year Update 2018

In June my husband Darwin and I celebrated 5 years of faithful marriage, and later this year in November we will celebrate our 5-year anniversary of parenting fatherless children together for God’s glory. The Lord has used our marriage to parent 11 children and teens thus far, 7 of which continue under our full-time care, and close to 100 have passed through the discipleship-based homeschool program we operate out of our home for local youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thank you to all who have supported us along the way, and please know that we are committed to continue onward in this lifestyle of service to the poor, Christian hospitality and relational discipleship as long as the Lord allows.

One of the local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in our school took the following photos a couple weeks ago during a mid-year celebration day at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve. Darwin, our 7 foster children and I practiced several nights in a row to put together a surprise dance that we would perform in front of our all of our students and teachers! As you can tell by the very happy faces behind us (below), they loved it!

In a country where many families have been broken apart and the majority of our students’ parents are largely absent from their lives, we treasure these moments where Darwin and I can put on display the love and joy of the Lord knit together in family unity.

We work very hard teaching Bible studies, doing one-on-one and group counseling/prayer sessions, and leading by example so that the youth in our home and school may live for Christ instead of falling prey to the many wrong attitudes and behaviors that abound in Honduran society. After many long days (and nights) doing the trench work of digging deep in souls and teaching the youth both in and out of the classroom, we really enjoyed this light-hearted mid-year break as we simply danced and made a lot of people laugh! (I don’t think we’ll be going on tour any time soon!)

Below are more photos taken during our mid-year fun activity day at the Living Waters Ranch. In addition to our family dance, we all enjoyed a Christian rap performance by three of our teen boys, several soccer matches, traditional Honduran yard games and a motivational workshop by our Christian psychologist (below, yellow shirt).

We are now in the second half of our 2018 efforts to disciple and teach, as the Honduran school calendar runs from February-November. There are currently 48 youth enrolled full-time in our program who visit our home each day from 6:45am-3:00/4:00pm for Christian discipleship, academic classes, extracurricular and service-oriented activities, etc. Over a dozen have dropped out since January due to family instability, poor decision-making, etc, and we continue onward with a highly committed group of young people who are taking full advantage of the life-giving opportunity God has granted them to be part of a loving Christian community dedicated to their integral growth in Christ.


 As for our family status apart from our general ministry to our local community, the purpose the Lord has given us is to welcome children and teens who were unwanted or uncared for by their biological relatives into our patchwork family so that they might come to know the redemptive love of God. Some come and others go as many eventually go live with a stable biological family member; others will stay forever as this is the only home they know.

Please pray for us in the ongoing adoption process for those who have chosen us to be their forever family, and pray with us for our sons’ and daughters’ complete healing and transformation in Christ after having come from very traumatic childhoods. On many days our home seems like a warzone between good and evil, light and darkness, as there are many generational chains from our children’s biological families that must be broken so that they may be free to live for Christ. Pray that we may be granted the grace of loving one another well and that our fellowship with the Lord would increase daily.

Thank you to those who pray for and support this mission. Without you we would not be able to touch the lives the Lord brings our way.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family 

 

The Living Waters Ranch: Christian family to the orphaned and integral discipleship/education to the lost

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.

Personal Reflection: Our Current Season of Life and Ministry

I write to you from our rural homestead in Honduras, Central America where the Lord has planted us firmly with the purpose of parenting the orphaned, proclaiming His Word, teaching the ignorant, reaching out to the destitute in our area with tangible help and living a simple, honest life with and for Christ.

Next month my husband, who is a native Honduran whom I met here in Honduras while I was already walking the path the Lord had placed before me, and I will celebrate five years of marriage, and a few months after that we will celebrate five years of parenting the orphaned and ministering to the lost together for God’s glory. Four months after we married in 2013 our first three children arrived – the eldest of whom was 13 years old when she moved in, only 10 years younger than me.

The current season of life, of marriage, of ministry and parenting that we are in is definitely new. Our house used to be filled with childhood relics – baby dolls and stuffed animals, sound-it-out books for those learning to read for the first time, pint-sized clothes that fit malnourished frames, and the like.

Now – especially since two of our younger foster daughters left our home in January of this year to begin living with a stable Christian aunt – our home is full not of clingy, eyes-wide-because-everything-is-new-and-exciting children, but rather seasoned teenagers who have seen and heard just about everything, and now all that’s left is really believing it with all their heart and putting it into practice. Our two youngest will turn 10 and 11 within the next two months, and our older teens already have their eyes fixed on university goals and desires for marriage someday.

Our eldest daughter has learned to drive our old pickup and now routinely shuttles over a dozen of our teachers and local students to and from our home each day. She turns 18 in just a few months. One of our other teen daughters is now enrolled in a beauty class in our discipleship-based homeschool program and cut my hair not four days ago with the helpful oversight of her instructor. This upcoming week five of our kids will be traveling with my husband Darwin to one of Honduras’ largest cities to participate in a music concert by an internationally-renowned director. They have been preparing for weeks.

I, like our children, used to feel like everything was new and exciting – every new or meaningful encounter, every inquisitive question they asked me about God or His Word, every heart-warming interaction that occurred in our non-traditional family – I wrote it down and felt compelled to share it with the world. I was a heart-on-fire idealist for Christ; I wanted to change the world; I found deep meaning in everything; every day was an adventure.

This current season is not like that. This season is not bad or boring or disappointing; I simply think I’m entering new depths, new understanding that is necessary for this marathon race that I had originally misunderstood to be a sprint (and I definitely did get tired a few hundred meters into the wild dash).

We’re now more organized; our days are largely more predictable than they once were; our kids have less emotional meltdowns; we’ve grown in knowledge of His Word; and we’re now better equipped to handle the many situations thrown at us daily, whereas before most things used to catch us blindsided or throw us off balance.

We’ve invested what the Lord has given us – His Word and His love, material provision, relational availability, counsel, our very lives — in certain people here only to see them eventually turn their back on the Lord and on us. This has been heartbreaking, but after having occurred numerous times it is no longer surprising. We’ve seen people come to the Lord and others stray from their commitment to Him. We’ve seen people we love make God-honoring decisions, and we’ve seen others we love make the worst decision possible even after receiving great amounts of godly counsel. Sometimes our foster teens surprise us with Spirit-led revelation or genuine spiritual hunger in their lives, and at other times I am left frustrated at their selfishness and spiritual coldness (and mine).

Many profound, even tear-jerking things do still occur – and perhaps even more frequently so than before – in our household, and I do still receive revelations from the Lord, but I have not felt as compelled to write. Or perhaps I have not even known where to start.

From age 17 on I filled up one hand-written journal after another – in addition to several hundred pages of written logs on my laptop – as I fervently sought the Lord, asked Him my questions, searched high and low for my life’s calling and reflected on just about every event that unfolded in my daily life. It was through this incessant search – desperate even – that the Lord revealed to me at age 20 that my role in His Kingdom here on earth would be to be a mother to those who have none. With time He has expanded, deepened that call to now include the relational discipleship and integral teaching we dedicate ourselves to in our home for dozens of local youth in addition to the 8 who live in our home.

I had to learn Spanish, and I have learned it. I did not know if I was ever going to get married, but the Lord provided a faithful, loving husband for me (and permanent father for our children who all come from fatherless backgrounds). I had to be willing to give my own life away – give up on my own plans, relinquish my own ‘freedom’ and personal space – and the Lord has given not only me but also my husband the grace to live this lifestyle of radical hospitality in Christ, of Biblical parenthood for the orphaned and abandoned. Our lives are not our own; we are truly walking in our call.

Six or seven years ago there were so many unknowns in my life, so many questions I pleaded God to answer. I was like a little, impatient child tugging on their Father’s pants-leg and staring up at Him, waiting for the answers.

And He’s given them, and by some miracle I have believed – and not only in my heart but also with my life, with actions, with a daily walk. He’s been so generous, so gracious in our errors and mishaps; He has been such a good teacher, a patient Father to us in these first five years in the trenches!

So, my question – however absurd or naïve it may sound – is: now what? Not ‘now what?’ in the sense of we’re-going-to-now-move-to-another-place-and-do-something-entirely-different-with-our-lives, but in the sense of, really, what does the Lord now have for us? Right here, with these same kids who are now teens and in these same little multi-colored buildings where He’s taught us so much already – what is in store for this new season? Is it just more of the same, but a deepening of it, a downward plunge into greater depths of excellence, of wisdom, of divine communion? In many ways I am in need of a new word from Him.

This season has brought and continues to bring many blessings, two of which are the new teen girls who moved in with us late last year and have become integral parts of our family. This has been a new trek – becoming mom all over again, this time to girls well into adolescence who have already had many ‘moms.’ This journey has been beautiful and has proved to bring unexpected joy to our household in addition to the expected trials the girls present and the sacrifice required of my husband Darwin and I to parent them with grace, according to God’s Word.

This year – this season – I teach an advanced math class for 16 teen students in the Christian school we operate out of our home, and I share God’s Word three times weekly in our large group Bible study where we gather in our dining room with about 40 people or so. I teach a dynamic (and pretty funny) karate class on Wednesday afternoons, and I serve in a much less hands-on role administratively in our office this year, making sure all runs smoothly alongside of our dedicated Honduran staff. I handwash our clothes. I water the plants. I share the cooking load with our teenage girls (and our 10-year-old son Jason who loves to work in the kitchen). I listen to Christian sermons and teaching series online in my free time to continue growing. On weekends Darwin and I do maintenance and physical labor chores with our kids around our extensive rural property. We read the Word together as a family. I oversee our kids in their daily chores and academic activities. My husband and I play chauffer for our teens on their way to music and dance classes. I lend a listening ear and a prayerful heart to our local students who oftentimes seek me out to help them in conflict resolution or if they simply want to vent. On an ongoing basis I seek to discern, to listen, to whatever it is that God wants to teach us on this narrow, beautiful path with Him.

So, I’m not sure if this not-so-organized post will prove interesting or noteworthy to anyone who reads it, but I do thank all of you who pray for us and support this work on an ongoing basis. Please know that we continue onward with great faithfulness, and daily ask God to make grow these many seeds we are planting all around us. My writing patterns over the coming months may prove more sporadic as I have not been as led to write all our daily reflections as I have in years past, but this does not indicate that the work in Honduras is faltering or stagnant. We love Christ and daily seek to draw nearer to Him as our very lives are permanently marked with the good news of His salvation. His eternal Kingdom is our goal, and we desperately ask Him to bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

God bless you.

Lord, How Do You Choose? A Testimony of the Miraculous

A beloved local pastor who labors alongside of us part-time teaching carpentry classes and leading our youth in community evangelism was diagnosed a few weeks ago with a devastating tumor on his spinal chord. Our staff and students at the Living Waters Ranch along with the pastor’s family, his church congregation and many households in our rural town were devastated. Hospital conditions in Honduras are not the best, especially when considering an extremely delicate surgery on someone’s spinal chord. His wife feared the worst; his church congregation went into fervent prayer and began holding fundraisers to pay for the expensive surgery; and doctors said that he would likely need to spend up to two years in bed recovering from the removal of the large mass. And this is our beloved pastor who is as strong as a rock, oftentimes hauling huge wooden boards to and fro in his carpentry shop, with much greater physical strength than some of our stronger teen boys!

Thus, my husband Darwin and our three foster sons went to visit him several days ago as they prayed with him, consoled his wife and accompanied him as he lied in bed awaiting the looming surgery. The sudden diagnosis seemed surreal to us all.

In Honduras, there are many (true) tales of people going in for routine surgeries in large, public hospitals and what should have been routine takes a turn for the worst due to lack of clinical care, hygiene issues, etc. We’ve even heard several testimonies of families who have lost young women who’ve gone to the hospitals to give birth and their bodies are later found maimed or chopped up in trash bags behind the hospital. These are extreme cases, but here underfunded, understaffed public hospitals do not generally inspire confidence, especially not when it comes to such a delicate surgery as the removal of a tumor from someone’s spinal chord.

Thus, these last few weeks we’ve all been carefully praying for our dear pastor friend and waiting with uncertainty for what might turn out to be the loss of his life or the paralyzation of his legs if anything goes wrong in the surgery.

With all of this looming in the air, yesterday after teaching my advanced math class I headed out during my free period to visit the homes of several of our students. I enjoyed several encouraging (and sometimes hilarious) visits with well-meaning but sometimes under-equipped parents as I went home-to-home in our rural neighborhood where poverty and unpunished crime abound.

At one point I was sitting in a plastic lawn chair on a dirt lawn with two sunburned parents who work very hard in the local pineapple fields as I sought to counsel them on how to better parent their extremely gifted but often rebellious teenage son who is in our discipleship-based homeschool program. We’ve had a close relationship with this family for several years, and their son has many natural leadership giftings and considers himself to be quite grown-up at the ripe old age of 16, so I started speaking frankly to his parents. (After all, last year we bumped him down a grade for immature and inconsistent behavior, and this year his attendance and homework completion had been up and down with many bright, promising spots along the way.) After assuring the parents several times that we love their son dearly and desperately want God’s purposes to be fulfilled in his life, I laid it out cold-turkey, “Look, the Bible says that if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The parents’ eyes grew and the normally-serious mom even let out a surprised burst of laughter as I began explaining that many teen boys in our area live like little kings — they have a cellphone, three square meals a day, total freedom to do whatever they want…and zero responsibilities. No job; no work. Their parents (who themselves are very hard-working and barely making ends meet) pick up the bill on their boys’ irresponsibility and let them become comfortable vagabonds or — worse — ripe pick for the local gangs. So, I advised these particular parents to take God’s Word and put it into action with the authority the Lord has given them as this young man’s parents: don’t serve him dinner until he sits his butt down and starts working on the homework that’s long overdue. A simple limit, but firm. This seemed to be a new concept to the parents, and I reiterated the biblical nature of this advice time and again, encouraging them to assume their role as their son’s authority and not leave him to his own means, which includes endless vagabonding, going to the river for hours on end, and getting mixed up in the wrong crowd. After praying with the parents, I headed for my next stop.

At the next house a similar visit was held as I met with another set of local parents on their front porch. A few emaciated dogs eyed me suspiciously from a few yards away. At this particular house, however, there was someone else present as well: our student’s blind 90-year-old great-grandmother. I have read many counts (both directly from the Bible and from modern-day Christians) of God healing blind people, and this — seeing God heal the sick and disabled — has been a longing of mine for many years. Beyond asking God for His wisdom in my life, I’m oftentimes found asking Him to grant me the privilege of seeing the miraculous — visions, healings, etc. I’ve been reading a book that details the fact that, as Christians, we should not be doing the possible but rather the impossible — that which is only possible with God. I wanted God to do the impossible through me!

And so, on this particular occasion yesterday after encouraging another one of our students’ parents, I felt very clearly that God was leading me to pray that this blind old lady would get her vision back. These kinds of prayers make me nervous, as I know full well that God can heal her, but I’m not quite sure what response to have if or when He doesn’t heal the person. Plus, thus far in my life the Lord has not chosen to use me as an instrument of His divine healing. Why start now, and won’t I end up looking like a fool if He doesn’t heal her? After all, I don’t want to illusion her if it is God’s plan that she continue blind for the rest of her life.

Well, my faith somehow seemed to increase and I dared to pray with this woman, who is a devout Christian. In another plastic lawn chair (which is the furniture that most people have here, both inside their house and out) under a simple overhang very close to the edge of the jungle as the rumbling river passed by on the other side of their house, I bowed my head and prayed as best I could that God would heal His daughter’s eyes. She prayed along with me, and I began to sincerely feel that He would heal her.

When we finished praying, I took my hand off her eyes and asked enthusiastically if she could see. She could not.

I felt sad but at the same time vowed to pray for her again the next time I saw her (which turned out to be today as I ended up visiting their house two days in a row.) I embraced her and said goodbye to the parents as I headed out and off to my next house visit. I couldn’t help feeling let down, as I felt that God had given me the faith and even the expectation of a miracle, but it didn’t come through.

Later that day (yesterday) all of our local students left our home around 3:00pm and our 8 foster kids and I got to work washing our clothes by hand in our outdoor washing station and doing school homework for the next day.

Once evening came, three of our foster teens and I attended a discipleship group in the home of a local married couple that labors with us for God’s glory. We gathered around their cement living room floor in the humid air for over an hour worshipping God and learning more of the life of Christ before we bid our farewells and climbed aboard the three-wheeled mototaxi, a form of public transportation that is a combination between a motorcycle and a traditional car. (My husband Darwin was about a half-hour away in the city of La Ceiba taking three of our daughters to their Christian ballet class, and he had two of our other sons with him as company.) Thus, the three who were with me got aboard the tiny mototaxi with me at dusk as we were leaving the discipleship group and headed for home.

At that moment the wife of the married couple who directs the discipleship group and who labors alongside of us during daytime hours at the Living Waters Ranch came running out to the dirt road where we were boarding the bright red mototaxi.

She had forgotten to tell us something. Somewhat out of breath, she came near the mototaxi and said with great excitement, “Jennifer! The pastor is healed. He went to the hospital earlier today for his final exam before entering surgery tomorrow, and the doctors found that his tumor is gone!”

Her eyes trained on ours with great joy as our three teens who were with me stared at her, both shocked and overjoyed. One of our girls’ jaws just about dropped to the floorboard as she processed the information.

Our dear married friend continued: “He no longer needs the surgery! He’s at home now and will be fine. God healed him!”

Eyes aglow with faith come alive, our teens and I thanked her for the wonderful news and we began zipping off the rocking path up to our rural property. Our teens commented among themselves, amazed at what God had done — we had all been praying for just this!

I stared up at the starry night sky through the open side of the little mototaxi as the night wind whipped my face. Amazed, my only question towards God was: “Lord, how do You choose?”

I marvelled at God — just hours earlier I had asked Him for a miracle for the blind old lady, and it had not been granted. Our pastors’ healing, however, was granted miraculously (which I honestly did not expect). I smiled big as I stared up at the sky, marveling at the mysteriousness of God. Again I repeated deep down in my heart as I admired my Father: “Lord, how do You choose?” Of course, this question probably will not be answered in this lifetime, but I can still wonder in awe of the Great Healer.

And so, I leave you with this little testimony. God is great; He is alive; and His ways are mysterious. He is to be praised! Amen.

Friday Spy: My Undercover Photo Shoot of Marimba Players, Pig Pits and More

Several hours after our group Bible study this morning, I grabbed our old-fashioned digital camera and headed undercover (well, not quite) to each of our intensive classes that we hold every Friday for our more mature students. Most of our teens tried to run away or hide their faces when they realized I was taking pictures, but even so I got a few shots that are worth sharing.

The following are photos taken of the following intensive 3-hour classes: Music/Orchestra (piano, violin, recorder, marimba and guitar), English as a second language, and organic agriculture/discipleship. Normally during this early afternoon time-slot there is also a group in community evangelism, but this week that class was cancelled because the local pastor who directs the group is in surgery. Thank you to all of you who support this redemptive work and/or pray for God’s continued guidance and protection over us.

This is Ariel, one of our older local teen boys who comes from a very chaotic, undisciplined home life learning to play the marimba.
These are two of our daughters whom we are in the process of adopting. Musical training – paired with ongoing relational Christian discipleship – is one of our techniques to redeem broken teens and heal them through healthy, dynamic activities for God’s glory.
Paola (left), one of our new foster daughters who moved in with us about six months ago, with a local teen as they learn to play the recorder.
The builders are making great progress on the dining room annex! (For the last couple weeks our community kitchen with its fridge, stove, pantry, etc  has been moved to our front porch! Thank goodness we’ve got a big porch!)

The classes imparted at the Living Waters Ranch are not confined to normal classroom walls: we oftentimes teach outdoors, go on prayer walks with our students, and interact with the beautiful Honduran habitat around our buildings as part of the youth’s integral learning experience.
This is Miss Ligia’s English as a second language class. Everyone got the giggles and tried to hide their faces when I entered with the camera!
Nobody wanted to show their face!
When I got close to her with the camera, she got the giggles! What a beautiful smile!
Now back outside with the beginners’ recorder class on the porch!
This is our new Christian psychologist who is multi-talented! In addition to helping greatly in the integral psychological/spiritual healing of our youth in Christ, she has also been instrumental teaching in the classroom, leading a group of teen girls in twice-weekly prayer time and freely sharing her God-given talents through various outlets.
One of our local Honduran missionaries has a great passion to pair organic agriculture with small-group Christian discipleship, so several of these agriculture/discipleship classes are given throughout the week to the 60 youth in our program who desire to participate. In these photos our 16-year-old foster son Brayan is working with a local teen to dig a 12-foot-deep hole to receive the waste from the pig pen we are building. These activities cultivate work ethic, perseverance and strength of character in our teens in addition to a deepened love of God’s Word.

They’ve been working on this pit for weeks — one rock at a time!
Two of our local teachers/missionaries work alongside of our students to cultivate the land organically as they learn more about their Creator and how to care for His creation.
This is the little plot our kids have been working so hard on. They’ve planted plantains and banana trees here.

After my escapade out in the pasture, I passed back through our front gate and found one of our musicians hard at work in his song notebook.
My last stop: a posed photo with three of our beloved recorder players (our foster daughter Jackeline, far left, and two local teens who have been in our program full-time over two years). Lookin’ good!
Who knew that teenagers could be this cute?
This is our foster daughter Jackeline. She is a talented mathematician, an avid cow-farmer and a great big sister to special-needs Josue. The Lord has done great things to transform her since she first moved in with us over three years ago, and we love her dearly.

 

Nobody else was willing to participate in an impromptu photo shoot, so I headed back across our front lawn to our cinderblock home to finish up my admin duties for the day! God bless you!

Updates and Prayer Requests from the First Quarter of 2018

Construction of Annex

A friend of ours who serves as a missionary to Honduras felt the Lord lead him to help us construct an addition on the back of our dining room/kitchen in order to accommodate the increased number of people we are serving this year. The dining room (where we hold our group Bible studies/worship times in addition to being our lunchroom and multi-purpose classroom) will be doubled in size, and a classroom will be added on as well. This is the first time we’ve made any real structural changes/additions onto the property since the leadership of the Living Waters Ranch was granted us in 2012, and we are very thankful to our missionary friend for financially covering this cost and directing the construction workers in the process.

Our existing dining room/kitchen (yellow building) with the annex being built out back

Josselyn and Gabriela Return to Their Biological Family

Two of our foster daughters (ages 13 and 11) who moved in with us in July 2015 as they escaped situations of abuse and neglect were recently moved out of our home and under the protection of a loving, stable Christian aunt. After performing the legal investigation to see if the home and family members would prove safe for the girls, they were officially moved in with their aunt in mid-January. Unlike the rest of our foster kids, these two always longed to return to their biological family, so this move was considered a triumph. The girls’ aunt has been raising their little brother since birth, and she had always hoped to receive the girls as well (which we did not know until several months ago when we were in contact with her for the first time). We continue to pray for the girls and are in phone contact with them from time to time. We currently have 8 foster kids/teens in our family ages 9-17, and we do not anticipate receiving more in the foreseeable future as we’re trying to establish ‘normal’ with those whom we have after having gone through many emotionally taxing adjustments over the past several months with the arrival of our two new teen girls (15-year-old Carolina and 14-year-old Paola) in October 2017 and now the departure of Josselyn and Gaby not two months ago.

This was little Gabriela (Gaby) shortly after moving in with us in 2015. A biological family member had shaved her head and she was deeply malnourished and emotionally broken after having been the recipient of her step-father’s sexual abuse. Of the 11 kids we’ve fostered, she has perhaps had the most behavioral problems and daily challenges.
Living under our care over two years, Gaby overcame some of her developmental and emotional delays although there was still much work to be done. She defied all odds and even learned to read and write, something we initially thought would not be within her mental reach. Darwin and I were prepared to be her lifelong caretakers and had even offered to adopt her and Josselyn, so now the fact that they are no longer with us is somewhat of an emotional shock to our system. We hope all the best for them in their new home and that their loving aunt can meet Gaby’s many needs.
Josselyn, just like her younger sister Gaby, came to us with her hair extremely short, malnourished, and never having gone to school. She came to confess faith in Christ while in our home, was baptized, and in our accelerated homeschool program was able to catch up academically by doing two grades in one year. This year she is in sixth grade and studying at a local school close to her aunt’s home. She has more intellectual capacity than her younger sister but always lacked a certain degree of common sense and faithfulness, so our greatest prayer for her in this new season of her life is that God may grant her the wisdom and the faith to put into practice the many things we tried to teach her.
This is a photo we took of Josselyn a few months ago (after having been under our care over two years). She’s grown so much!

New Teacher/Missionary Added to Team

Due to our increased number of students this year (60 in 2018; 35 last year), we saw the necessity of acquiring another local teacher/missionary to serve alongside of us in the classroom, in discipleship activities, and administratively in the office in order to alleviate the burden the rest of us were feeling with the larger number of youth being served. A sister in Christ whom we’ve known several years through a mentor of ours recently graduated college and was on a job hunt (which in Honduras can be increasingly difficult due to the scarcity of jobs available), and we snagged her before anyone else could! She has a passion for Christ and has a long history of working with children and youth, so she has been a great fit in these first few weeks on the job. Our team is now composed of 8 full-time and 6 part-time Honduran workers/missionaries including my husband and me.

Some of our foster teens and local students helping shovel gravel during a day of organized maintenance/construction activities
Two of our girls doing their homework by candlelight in our living room. Our kids make fun of me because I’m very old-fashioned!

Thank you for your prayers and support! God bless you.

A Refuge for Misfits

Yesterday as I was taking four of our foster children to the dentist in the city that lies about a half hour from our rural homestead, my phone rang.

It was my husband: “Three more kids just arrived wanting to enroll in our homeschool program this year.”

I breathed deep, knowing that the number of local children and teens who had already enrolled in these past few weeks had greatly surpassed any established limit we would have liked to set. A few days prior I had shuffled through all the enrollment papers in our office, assuming the sum total would be up around 50, about 10 or 15 more than last year.

But my eyes grew wide as I saw that the count was 63. Considering our limited resources and experience, we decided to close the enrollment period. 63 students — almost all of whom come from devastating backgrounds — would be more than enough, seeing as we were facing almost double the amount of students we finished last year with in November.

And then the next day three more local students arrived at our front gate and I felt God lead me to accept them (despite my own personal preferences). 66!

Now Darwin is calling me about three more! We’re getting close to 70, and we don’t have the tables, chairs or really the classroom space to comfortably have so many people running around our home! Help!

Darwin gave me more details about the prospective new students: “It’s a single dad who is raising his three kids because his wife left him when he had a stroke several years ago. He’s unable to work and lives in a room in a little church where a local pastor is economically supporting him and his three children.”

Then there was a moment of silence over the phone as we both considered what this meant.

God has placed us in our rural neighborhood stricken by deep poverty and suffering for this exact purpose: to shine as Christ’s lights in the darkness and extend the love and mercy of God to this hurting corner of the world. If this disabled single father does not fit within the parameters of the mission the Lord has given us, then I’m not sure who does. Surely we must accept them.

Darwin continued: “…And there’s one more as well. It’s a teen boy who’s on his way to ninth grade and last year was unable to study at the local high school because he didn’t have the money to do so. He’s very eager to learn but hasn’t had the opportunity to do so.”

Even in the midst of my own fears and desire for control (and love of small numbers), I breathed deeply – a streak of excitement passing through my chest as I contemplated all the lost and broken people the Lord is entrusting us for healing, “Of course; bring them all in,” I answered over the phone as I zipped down the highway. That was the answer God had placed on both of our hearts.

Teenagers – always more teenagers! The group of young people the Lord has sent us this year is turning out to be quite a ragtag bunch (and that’s just the way we want it). There are many private schools in our area who look for the best, most well-behaved students with good credentials and decent family backgrounds. Our search is just about the opposite: we look for and receive those on the farthest margins, those who are likely within a short distance of falling into gangs or becoming local vagabonds (if they aren’t already).

This year we’re receiving a young man who is already in his early twenties who will be entering third grade with us and another third-grade student who is a teen on the cusp of 15 or 16 years old who is a notorious vagabond in our area with bright purple-died hair who has tried school several times but has thus far always dropped out. We have hope that this time God will give him the perseverance and grace to finish the year, and maybe even several more after that.

Another teen is entering who finished primary school five years ago and dropped out of school since then. He’s now 16 and will be entering 7th grade with us. What made him want to enroll in a God-fearing community homeschool program that is heavy on discipline, love and truth when all that he’s been accustomed to is probably the opposite? Why not continue roaming our neighborhood aimlessly or simply enroll in the local public high school, where everything is easier and cheating/corruption are easily overlooked? We have no idea, but we thank God that this young man and roughly 70 others will be willingly exposed to God’s Word and the truth of His love day after day under our guidance.

There are many other similar stories – many fatherless children and teens who will be entering our school where they will finally have loving, Christian adult males to lead them; many coming from malnutrition and deep poverty who physically look several years younger than they actually are; others who come from the public school system discouraged and rejected after years of trying to learn and failing. The Lord is creating a small, beautiful haven for misfits, and He will be the one to fortify this work, for He is the one who brought so many young people to us.

I contemplated all this as I drove up the long gravel road to our home the other day. Crossing through our rural neighborhood I saw one of our new male students – a 15-year-old who will be entering 6th grade after having been a local vagabond for the past several years – meandering around the streets on his bike. I gave him a double-honk from inside our car to greet him, and then all of a sudden he changed course and began darting up the path in front of my old pickup truck as fast as he could.

This particular young man has had quite a bit of contact with us this month, even coming up to our home to participate in our riotous P.E. classes with our teachers (as in, our teachers are the students). Darwin had met him several months ago when he took our kids to a local field to play soccer, and he’s been developing a relationship with him ever since.

I smiled and continued driving onward, me now following him as he began pedaling as fast as he could up the slighting inclined path to our home. The car continued to rumble along as he passed as quickly as he could over uneven terrain, rocks and puddles so as to keep his lead on me. Were we in a race? I didn’t think so. I had no idea what was happening, but I enjoyed the game and he seemed really intent on beating me to our gate.

Making the last turn up to our property, our home and the majestic mountains just beyond now in full eyesight, the young man finally reached his destination, threw his bike to one side in one fluid motion and pulled open our front gate, panting and smiling big.

I rolled down my window as I directed the car to pass through the opening. Leaning over to greet the young victor, I thanked him for opening the gate for me. Had he really gone out of his way and beat me up the path just for that? Just to show me an act of kindness? Surely he must have had other business up here…

Still panting, he informed me through my open window: “I wanted to come open the gate for you!” An enormous smile flooded the precious, soon-to-be ex-vagabond’s face.

Chills ran through my body as I suddenly realized I was the recipient of a very extravagant display of friendship and favor. I immediately thanked God in my heart, feeling that the good work in this young man’s life had already begun, and that He used this simple boy to even touch my own heart with His love.

I pulled all the way through the gate; he closed it behind me; and he was off. Mission accomplished!

Many young boys in disadvantaged Honduran neighborhoods such as ours begin working with local gangs from about age 10 on, participating in horrible crimes and Satanic worship perhaps for lack of a better place to belong. Our 16-year-old foster son Brayan (whom we are in the process of legally adopting), has commented to us several times that if God had not placed us in his path when he was 12 years old, he would probably belong to a gang by now or be dead. So, we thank God that he is bringing in the vagabonds and lost young men and women who very well may be within a yard of Hell, and we praise Him that He’s brining them home, bringing them to a knowledge and experience of God’s love for them through Christ.

Please pray with us for this increasing group of children and teens whom the Lord has entrusted us as we are finishing off our preparations for the new year of discipleship and integral education that will begin Monday, February 5th.

God bless you!

2017 Yearend Update

Friday we finished up our last day of regular classes, Bible study and dynamic group activities as the Honduran school year is coming to a close. In the ensuing days there has been much cleaning out of classrooms and office spaces, great administrative effort to close up the year well, and the moving of furniture from one little building to another to convert our primary schoolhouse into a quaint (and rather bare) guesthouse/multi-purpose building for our vacation time.

On Monday we had our last official meeting with our small but extremely devoted team of Honduran teachers/missionaries to pray together and wrap everything up logistically. But, rather than it just being the 7 of us sitting in a circle in one of our classrooms to direct the usual meeting, we had a special guest. One of our male students who has just completed his first full year of classes and discipleship with us at the Living Waters Ranch had asked permission to come to the all-adult meeting in order to share his testimony and thank us for leading him to the Lord. We’ve known him on and off for nearly four years, and he’s always been extremely timid and seemingly on the verge of joining a gang or escaping illegally to the United States. (Alas, he was one of the local vagabonds last year who mocked our students who got baptized in the river near his home! Look at all the Lord has done in him since!)

This particular young man is on the cusp of turning 18 years old and is just now finishing 7th grade. He sat in our midst in his skinny jeans with a soccer shirt and metal chain hanging casually from around his neck. On the outside, he looked like any other male teen in our area, but his eyes were aglow with life, with joy, and you could sense he was at total peace. As we each greeted him warmly at the beginning of the meeting, asking him how he felt, he kept shaking his head back and forth with a huge smile on his face (not typical of any male teen around these parts), and said more than once, “I’m just so happy about all the changes that are going on inside of me…”

All eyes trained on him – alas, this was the first time any of our students had asked permission to come to one of our planning meetings in order to share their testimony! – he began speaking, full of confidence and wisdom, as he ended up pouring his heart out for nearly an hour about how his relationship with Christ has completely changed his entire perspective. We knew this to be true as we had seen a dramatic transformation in him after many, many seeds of truth were sown in him through our Bible studies, prayer groups, individual counsel and encouragement with Darwin and Erick, and his 7th grade teacher’s spiritual investment in his life everyday in the classroom. His heart had gone from cold and disinterested to burning hot for God, and just a few weeks ago he made the decision to give his life to the Lord. He spoke with great joy and accuracy about how he used to be a vagabond; used to live totally immersed in sexual sin; used to not love his brothers and parents (and much less his enemies); used to fear the many dangerous men who roam about our neighborhood (without fearing the Lord). Now, knowing Christ and fully experiencing God’s love for him, his whole life is changing. Now he expresses love and gratitude to his family members; he asks forgiveness when he’s sinned; he listens to praise music rather than worldly music; he longs for his life to bear good fruit for God’s glory; and he loves to be close to God’s Word. If I were to write everything he said, it would take pages. In short, God radically changed the course of this young man’s life, and He is now using him as a Godly influence to reach other teens in our neighborhood with the message of Christ (not to mention his immediate family who is directly impacted by the life of God now in him).

That definitely makes every ounce of effort worth it (and leads us to give thanks to God for making all those little seeds – however imperfectly they were sown – take root and grow)!

And so today is our official celebration day as each of our students and their families will come over for an entire afternoon of year-end presentations and activities, including choir performances, a 2-mile road race involving the local community, a PowerPoint presentation of all the photos we’ve taken this year, and several other musical and dance performances by our students. At the end of the event, our students will receive their official report cards, and then we won’t see the majority of them again until January (if, in fact, they decide to continue studying with us next year).

This is a sentimental and slightly delicate time of year emotionally, as we know that a handful of the students whom we love will not be returning next year. For some, they never caught the vision or aren’t willing to persevere long enough for God to begin to work in their lives; for others, they prefer to attend the local public high school where corruption abounds and it is much easier to slip under the radar without having done much work at all. Despite our earnest, repeated efforts to seek out and encourage the lost sheep, there were over a dozen local youth who dropped out throughout the course of the year. We see them now roaming our rural neighborhood largely as vagabonds without any direction, and we always greet them warmly and remind them that they have an open door here if they should ever decide to return.

We understand that just about everything that is taught and lived here at the Living Waters Ranch is very counter-cultural (and goes against the general worldly stream as a whole), so on the one hand we are really surprised and grateful that so many of our students have been granted the divine wisdom and dogged willingness to want to participate at all! (Now that’s a good perspective to have! Praise God!)

We are officially ending our second school year of discipleship-based community homeschool with 35 full-time students, 5 part-time students and our special-needs foster son Josue, who serves as everyone’s ‘assistant’ and best friend. Several of our more faithful students have communicated enthusiastically to Darwin and me that no matter what, they’ll be back next year to continue growing in Christ with us and acquiring a vast array of academic and life skills. That makes our heart grow in joy and gratitude, as we earnestly desire to walk long-term with each of the youth under our care, not only the 10 who live with us as sons and daughters but also those from our local neighborhood who spend the majority of their daytime hours in our home and classrooms.

And so, today we will say goodbye and enter a new (albeit very short) season of vacation from the typical community hospitality and teaching we participate in 10-11 months of the year. Our local teachers/missionaries and students will have free time to spend with their families and continue to grow in God’s will as Darwin and I will work privately at the ongoing task of taming our 10 foster kids/teens with God’s love.

In these next few days Darwin has many choir events back-to-back as he will be shuttling his young singers all over the place to spread joy and sing hymns. Erick, one of the local missionaries who labors alongside of us, has great plans to take the teenagers who participate in the youth group he hosts in his home (several of which are our foster children) to a local prison to minister to the prisoners and – on another occasion – to downtown La Ceiba to pray for the homeless and drug-addicts. Several of our older teens also have plans to visit the poor and sick in our neighborhood during their vacation time as they seek to bless Christ in disguise.

Sandra, the local teen who lived with us for a season before returning to live with her mother, will be coming up to our home almost daily to give one-on-one literacy classes to her mom, who due to extreme poverty and social disadvantage never learned to read and write. Our daughter Jackeline will likewise be giving intensive math tutoring classes to our two new daughters (Carolina, 15 and Paola, 14) in the hope of getting them up to speed for next school year. Several of our foster teens, two of our teachers and I will be heading out of town to attend a Christian youth conference this weekend, and on Monday we’ll be receiving a visit from a very special friend and missionary who has been serving in Honduras over 25 years. Then my dad comes down for several days (which our kids are especially stoked about).

During these vacation times we will continue to wash our clothes by hand; between all 12 of us we’ll take turns cooking family meals 2-3 times a day; and we’ll continue to ask for God’s grace as we learn to love Him and one another.

Although I feel that I have more to write now than ever, I will most likely take a break from maintaining the blog in December as I devote myself more fully to the cultivation of our children and our relationship with Christ, especially because our kids will not be in classes and will need me to be more fully present.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog and keep us in your prayers before the Lord. For those who are wondering about my ongoing healing from chronic insomnia, it is still a daily battle. In addition to my natural supplements, I have begun taking a strong prescription sleeping aid that does help me get a full night’s sleep, but it leaves me feeling drugged and dizzy all the next day. If I don’t take it, I don’t sleep. If I do, then I feel really weird the whole next day. (So I’m left to choose the lesser of two evils).

Please continue to pray for my integral health, sincere love and joy in our marriage (amidst many daily commitments which sometimes put great pressure on our relationship), and God’s protection over our lives and property. There is much to be thankful for. He has done mighty things this year. Praise God!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. God bless you.

The Miracle Dinner: Give It All Away to Make Room For the Impossible

Darwin and I stood out just beyond our front gate in a circle with our 10 foster kids ages 9-17. A million tiny lights twinkled above as we took in the perfectly still night on our rural property near the mountains. In a country where corruption, widespread despair and unpunished violence are the norm, to look another human being in the eye — alas! one that does not even share your blood! — and to really feel God’s love for that person truly is a sign of our Father’s active work in the world. We all held hands in that blessed circle that night, each person in perfect peace as our kids waited for what Darwin and I were going to tell them.

Earlier that day Darwin had told me that one of our beloved local students that we’ve been closely discipling and teaching for two years was probably going to have to drop out of our community homeschool in order to begin working full-time because his father had lost his job and his family thus had no means of purchasing food. The love that God has given us for this student is immense, and we knew full well the poverty his family was in when his father did have a job: several family members live together in a one-room wooden shack with a dirt floor and suffer what we can imagine to be immense daily hardship. And now that our student’s father — the sole provider of the household — had gotten laid off, how would they survive?

As Darwin shared this devastating news with me, the Lord immediately put an instruction upon my heart, “Share your rice and beans with them.”

We had just received a day or two prior two big sacks of rice and two big sacks of beans (each weighing like 50 pounds). The Lord had already led us to give away one sack of each, thus leaving one of each for our family’s consumption and daily use in our community kitchen where we serve lunch to roughly 45 people on schooldays. For us, rice and beans are not a cute side dish but literally our steak and potatoes that we eat 2-3 times each day. It is our daily bread. To give away that which was given to us — to supply our own very real economic need as we seek to feed many hungry mouths each day — would surely be foolish, right? It would be poor administration of that which was given to sustain us. Downright crazy! If we were to give away our rice and beans, what would we eat?

Even as these extremely logical objections showered my mind, my heart was already convinced; ready to obey, and to do so joyfully. To participate with the living God as His hands and feet to the most vulnerable? Surely there is no greater privilege than this! Count us in.

(As I share this story and the rest of the ensuing events, I do so not to call attention upon ourselves but rather to serve as witnesses to God’s active work in the world with the great hope of stirring you on toward great faith, obedience and good deeds in Jesus’ name.)

Then, completely unexpectedly, the Lord spoke another command to my heart: “Not only your rice and beans, but also all the other food you purchased this morning.”

Wha– ?

Oh, I had made my peace with giving away our bulk-sized sacks full of rice and beans, but also those specialty items I had purchased that same day at the local grocery store? Those spaghetti noodles, cartons of eggs, and frozen chickens that would serve as delicious — and sometimes rare — compliments to our general menu of strictly rice and beans? Surely if we gave away all of that food as well (which, again, was destined toward a great purpose: to feed our foster children and local students, all of whom come from backgrounds of devastating poverty and malnutrition), we would be committing a great act of irresponsibility. To give away not only our rice and beans but also the additional food would literally leave us with nothing! (And it is not a mere question of running back to the supermarket to buy more.) That food was destined to be our provision — our daily sustenance — for then next week or so!

Then Jesus’ words entered my mind, right on the heels of His command: “If you are asked to carry a load one mile, carry it two miles. Go the extra mile for love of Me. Don’t give just your rice and beans; give it all.”

Oh, how many times do we congratulate ourselves on giving away our leftovers, that which we never truly wanted or needed! But to give away all that we have for love of God? Oh, this is pure, raw obedience. This is the kind of stuff miracles are made of! Surely God was making room for the impossible. I ruminated on His second command, still trying to reason myself out of it.

Hours later, then under that beautiful starry night sky in that blessed circle with my husband and our 10 kids, we made the announcement. Carefully, in hushed voices, we informed our children of our student’s (their friend’s) great economic need and that God had spoken to our hearts that He would supply their need through us. Our kids listened attentively, some with a sparkle in their eyes.

I spoke, “God told me to give them our big sacks of rice and beans.”

I breathed as I felt like I was taking a running start as I was about to go free-falling over a giant cliff, “…and all the other food in our kitchen.

That was it! That was what God wanted me to say!

Total peace flooded my body, and all those noisy objections were at once silenced.

I continued, then full of confidence in God’s perfect will (especially when it goes completely against all human logic), “So, now all of you will head into our kitchen, and whatever God leads you to give away, grab it and we’re going to load it up in our truck. Remember, we don’t give away what we don’t like; we give to God the best of what we have.”

Their eyes trained on ours, smiles grew on their faces as Darwin and I indicated to them that it was their moment to participate, to act as God’s warriors of compassion on the front lines of the war. They squealed and raced off through our front gate and into our large, concrete-floored kitchen as if they were hot on the trail of delicious treats in some competitive Easter-egg hunt.

Darwin and I followed in their enthusiastic footsteps and we entered our kitchen to find our 10 kids in a frenzy, grabbing egg cartons and frozen chickens, salt, and the like. Our eldest son, 16-year-old Brayan, had one of the big sacks of rice or beans on his shoulder as he carried the incredibly heavy bag out the door. Others grabbed bananas and just about every food that moments before was sitting idly on our pantry’s shelf.

At one point, as the frenzy was winding down, one of our daughters reached for a bag of Cornflakes to add to the giving bag. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline intervened, eyes full of sincerity and joy as she stopped her sister, “Better yet, let’s give away the bag of granola. I like the granola more.”

Oh, she got it! To give away that which one likes more. Jackeline prefers granola; thus that is what the Lord led her to give away. Yes!

And so within a time span of five minutes or so our kitchen was completely emptied — all but one frozen chicken, some toilet paper and possibly that bag of Cornflakes that Jackeline left behind. We bounded out to our vehicle — everyone helping shoulder loads, carry bags and load the whole prize up into our truckbed.

As everyone got on board, we instructed our kids to be as quiet as possible, as this act should be done in secret. This was not about us; it was about obedience to God’s call to love. After all, Jesus said that to feed those who don’t have food is to feed Christ Himself. We were on a sacred mission to feed Christ in disguise. Surely there is no greater fun, no greater rush of adrenaline that to live in a constant gamble for God! Our hearts were bursting with joy.

And so we rumbled quietly down that pitch dark gravel road to a lonely corner on the edge of a pineapple field where our beloved student lives. It appeared that no one was home. This encouraged us, as we would then be able to leave everything in their front yard as a total surprise gift without being recognized as the ones who were used by God in the process.

A few emaciated dogs howled near the house as our girls asked us nervously, “And if thieves come and take the food before the family returns home?”

My honest, immediate response, “May God bless the thieves.”

Their eyes grew as they stared at me in disbelief, although deep down they knew that to be true. Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. It was what God had been teaching us in word and deed over the last several weeks. This was just one more experience of stepping out in faith.

Forgetting the flashlights at home, I used my itty bitty cellphone to light a path through the overgrowth as everyone shuffled out of the car and began unloading the food as quietly as possible so as not to alert the neighbors. Oh, what a reverse robbery! Arriving in secret to give rather than to steal! Blessed be the name of the Lord, for He loves these reconnaissance missions.

Once everything was unloaded, we quickly re-entered our old pickup truck and rumbled back up that rocky trail to our rural homestead. We could feel God’s presence unspeakably near.

As I look back on these events — which happened a few weeks ago — I cannot remember if it was that same night or the next day, but what I will now share with you is the truly surprising part of the whole story.

As we were left with nearly no food in the house, we joyfully went about our business without giving a second thought to our empty pantry. I even got wrapped up in a deep conversation with Carolina, our new 15-year-old daughter who moved in with us last month, and our scheduled dinner hour completely escaped me. As she and I wrapped up our conversation with prayer and a long hug, I glanced at the clock and realized I had not fulfilled my “momma” duty very well to prepare dinner (but what was there to prepare anyway?), so I assured our hungry kiddos that I would head over to our kitchen and see what I could scrap up to make dinner.

In that moment our teenage son Brayan came through our front door and said, “Dinner’s ready.”

My head cocked to one side and one eyebrow probably instinctively raised high as I asked, “What? Really? Who made dinner?” (And what on earth did they make? Dry Cornflakes and a couple squares of toilet paper to go with it?)

“Yup! Dinner’s ready,” asserted Brayan as I continued to stare on in incredulity. He clarified, “Carminda brought dinner over. Everything’s served.”

Carminda — our night-watchman’s wife who works with us part-time during the week in cleaning and cooking but who has no commitment whatsoever to make dinner for us on a weekend. It was Sunday. And, let it be known that she had never made dinner for us before when it wasn’t specifically her day to come work and prepare food (nor had anyone else).

(Plus — just to go further in my explanation of these events — she had no idea that we had just given away all of our food.) It was already late and she should have thought that we had already eaten dinner. What had prompted her? That is for God to know and for us to marvel at in awe and joy.

So I walked — taking careful steps as if walking on holy ground — across our front lawn and over to our community kitchen building that also serves as our family’s kitchen. There on our wooden dining room table were two big pots — one with a chicken-and-vegetable soup, the other with hot, fresh rice — and (if I remember correctly) she had also made fresh tortillas for us. A full meal. And she wasn’t even there, beaming with a big smile to see our reaction to her generosity. She — herself a poor woman who frequently doesn’t have enough food to feed her own family — had simply prepared us an extravagant meal, dropped it off almost as if in secret, and went on her merry way.

I stared at the food in silence.

Our kids enthusiastically opened up the pots to take a sneak-peek at what was inside as everyone’s stomachs were growling. It smelled so good! Our kids ran to the sink to wash their hands then sat down, squeezed together like sardines, around our rectangular table as they waited anxiously for Darwin and I to sit down with them so that we could all pray together and then eat.

I waited a few more moments, my heart exploding in a thousand fireworks of faith. Surely this is a miracle of God’s provision!

As we sat down to give thanks for that food — the miracle food that showed up when we had given away all that we had — Darwin and I explained with steadiness in our voice and joy shining forth from our faces that we were truly living a miracle. Never before had anything like this happened to us, and it could not simply be explained away by common human reason. Truly God had led us to give it all away, and truly He had prompted our poor, blessed neighbor to prepare food for us even as she had no idea of our act of total obedience.

And so we ate with great joy and thanksgiving. And, dare I say, many other events — some small, some big — of this same breed have been happening around here in these past few weeks. Miracles of generosity and miracles of provision. I hope to write about more of them soon. Be encouraged as we are encouraged, and let us all give ourselves fully over to the will of the living God. He is mysterious in His ways, and great in love and mercy!

Amen! Glory to God!

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!

The “Living Waters Bridge” — Braving the Rainy Season

In Honduras when there are heavy rains, almost everything comes to a hault. Schools cancel classes; certain businesses close down for the day; people stay in their homes. We are currently in the midst of a pretty strong tropical storm, so via the radio we’ve heard over the past couple days that most schools are on “red alert” and thus have cancelled classes. The rains have been constant, and there has been pretty severe flooding.

At the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, we do not consider weather inconveniences to be sufficient reason to halt the work the Lord has entrusted us, and all of our students and teachers know this well. Rain or shine (literally) — even when all other local schools are closed down and their students remain cooped up at home all day — we continue onward with the lifestyle of discipleship, outreach and teaching with Christ as our guide.

So, as the rains pounded all last night and the radio announced that schools would be closed down, my husband and I awoke to our usual 5:00am alarm and got our 10 kids up and ready for school. We laughed and said, “Although certain students in other schools may not be able to receive their education today due to flooding, seeing as y’all are homeschooled, I’m pretty sure we can reach the classroom!”

Everyone in our household put on their uniform in the dim morning light and got ready for a “normal” school day, although we were pretty sure almost none of our local students would brave the heavy rains (everyone arrives on foot or bicycle). A few of our teachers even called saying that the roads were closed and that they wouldn’t be able to come in. Our kids hoped against hope that we would throw up our hands and give in, but we headed to our large cement-floored dining room to get ready for worship and Bible study as we would on any other Thursday, fully convinced that it might just be our family in there without our 30 local students and teachers joining us.

As we quietly served breakfast — the rains pounding down on our tin roof nonstop and our front yard converting itself into a large lagoon — our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline shouted, “One’s coming up the path!”

Sure enough, one of our faithful students — going completely against every cultural norm in this country — had decided to walk up muddy, flooded paths under heavy rain to attend classes even when all other schools in our area were on break today.

Then another came. Then another. Before we knew it, all but about three or four of our students had arrived.

We laughed as each student tried to figure out exactly how to enter through our front gate, seeing as the large lagoon-ocean of muddy water had created quite the obstacle to cross. Then our 13-year-old daughter Gleny said, “Why don’t we put down tires to make a path?” Perfect!

That was all it took for several soaking wet collaborators to begin seeking out and hauling over various old tires that we use for different P.E. activities. We were forming the “Living Waters Bridge” for our dedicated students and teachers to pass across without having to get ankle-to-knee-deep in water! Soon enough everyone was laughing wildly and helping one another across the slippery “bridge” as they crossed the threshold onto our property for classes.

And so we enjoyed an extended worship time with all who showed up, and just as we were about to break into our prayer groups, a car pulled up with three of our teachers who had been delayed due to the flooded roads. Everyone had made it!

Glory to God! Enjoy the photos…

The “Living Waters Bridge”!
(This is actually a reenactment of the real arrival of our students. The first time around we didn’t have the camera, so we sent everyone out again so we could take photos!)

 

Hidden Miracles of Servanthood

Many small, beautiful shifts in attitude and perspective that would go completely overlooked by the untrained eye have been occurring in our household over the last few weeks.

The ongoing — and literally daily — task of managing our household’s laundry is a job that honestly no one enjoys doing. With then-ten (now twelve) people in our household and no washing machine or clothes dryer, the task of juggling what’s clean and what’s dirty — and where to hang the wet clothes out to dry during the rainy season — can be taken as a great headache. Plus, two of our precious children who are developmentally challenged frequently wet their beds at night or have poo- and pee-accidents in their clothing (and on rugs and towels) during the daytime, so lump bedspreads, towels, sheets and underwear all stained in pee and poo in the mix with several bucketsful of dirt- and sweat-stained clothing from all our other kids (all of which is to be washed by hand in our outdoor washboard station one piece at a time), you’ve got to find a system that works and the right mentality in order to not feel constantly frustrated.

Oh, we’ve had the bleach fall in the hands of mischevious children, ruining dozens of pieces of clothing in their halfhearted attempts at washing. We’ve had all of our clothes hanging out to dry when a sudden unexpected rain storm comes through and wets every piece to the bone within minutes, thus leading us to have to wait another day or two (or three of four depending how long the rain lasts) for the clothes to dry. During the really intense part of the rainy season (like right now), we’ve had to hang clothes up to dry inside our humid house — over doors, on bunkbed posts, on hangers hanging from open doorways, etc — with floorfans blowing on them just so that our kids would be able to put on a semi-dry school uniform the next day and not go soaking wet (as they’ve had to do on occasions). Basically any and every issue that a large family might face with managing laundry (multiplied by our context in a third world country), we’ve faced it. This has been just one small, yet constant, aspect of our daily life.

Needless to say, I’ve perhaps been the captain of the protest march in all this. I’ve tried to hide my own bad attitude in regards to our laundry woes, but it has shined through spectacularly for all to see. Washing developmentally-challenged Gabriela and Josue’s poop-stained clothes, having to sprint out of whatever building I’m in to grab all the clothes off the line and throw them inside when the rains come (only to then have to string back all 176 pieces back up on the line an hour later once the rains passed), having to constantly keep an eye on where the bleach is and who’s using it, etc, has not been my favorite aspect of our life and service in Honduras. My mindset has been: this is all such a distraction, such a waste of time; I would rather be doing something “important” like teaching a Bible study, counseling our kids, directing a meeting with our teachers, praying with someone who needs help, etc, than dedicating so much time to such an endless household chore that — to me — was anything but ‘spiritual’ and revolutionary. After all, I wanted to see lives changed into the image of Jesus Christ, and spending hours every week moving around wet and dirty clothes seemed to me not to accomplish that end.

Well, all that changed. (Not the reality of our larger-than-life laundry monster, but my attitude). In these last couple weeks, in the quiet spaces within my own soul — during those times of silent prayer, of meditating upon God’s Word that’s already been written upon my heart, of giving thanks, of reflecting on all the good that God’s done — I’ve taken much initiative in going about my business when no one’s looking as I hang out the wet clothes to dry, fold those newly sun-dried clothes that no one wants to fold, wash my own and Darwin’s clothes without complaint, etc. In essence, what I used to avoid like the plague has now become a spiritual activity, a time alone with the Lord to keep my hands occupied and my heart focused on Him. I’ve said nothing of this to my kids and, truly, everyday as I’m engaging in these radically domestic activities in a joyful manner our kids are not even normally around. While they are in classes or when I have a spare moment between activities I’ll calmly walk out our front door and check one by one the different clothing articles hanging on the line: what’s dry, what still needs to dry more. Basically, I’ve made my peace with this aspect of our daily reality, and God has even allowed me to convert it into a form of Christlike servanthood, literally acting as a slave in our own home and doing gracefully the job that no one else wants to do.

Before, each week we would assign the gargantuan task of folding several bucketsful of laundry to one or two specific children (on a rotating basis), and whoever’s turn it was would complete the task, but not with anything that resembled joy (I believe dread would be the correct word). The rains would come, and no one would want to stop whatever they were doing to go take the clothes down. Oftentimes the clothes would get soaked several times and end up staying on the line for days, possibly even falling to the ground and getting dirty all over again. Everyone hoped their name wouldn’t be called to wash Gaby and Josue’s poopy clothes. Oftentimes folded, clean laundry would remain on our living room table for days at a time as no one would take initiative to deliver it to each person’s room. In short, the kids had completely adopted my own attitude toward our household’s laundry: they viewed it as a terrible inconvenience and hoped it wouldn’t be their turn on any given week to take on the task.

So, the miracle is this: as the Lord is radically changing my own attitude regarding the simplicity of this domestic routine, several of our kids have fallen suit without me saying anything. Anyone on the outside would easily overlook this subtle yet powerful change in our attitudes — Christ’s very nature being manifested among us — but to me it has been an overwhelming sign that God is with us and that He’s leading each of us (perhaps beginning with myself) into a deeper knowledge of what it means to truly live as Christ lived, to put on that servant’s towel, to consider others better than ourselves, and to serve as others’ slave even as we fully know our final destination in God’s glorious kingdom.

The first instance was as follows: Several days ago I had hand-washed mine and Darwin’s clothes and hung them out to dry on the line. At that point it was sunny, so the prospects of the clothes actually drying seemed good. I then headed over to our kitchen, got involved in other activities, a rain storm came (I thought nothing of my clothes drying on the line; I had forgot completely), and then a couple hours later I crossed our large front lawn (which in the last few weeks has become an epic muddy slip-and-slide) on my way back to the little orange house where my husband and I live with our now-10 foster children. I glanced at the series of long ropes strung out between our home and fence (in essence, a spider-web-like figure of clotheslines) and suddenly remembered that it had rained and I had forgotten to move my clothes. My eyes searched frantically for my dripping wet clothes, but not only were my clothes no longer on the line but neither were anyone else’s. My first reaction was to feel confused. What had happened?

I then swiveled my head to the left under our large front porch, which also holds a series of clotheslines (the only ones that are under a roof and thus protected from the rain.) There I saw mine and Darwin’s clothes, every last piece of laundry perfectly hung by what were obviously careful hands.

Although it probably sounds absurd, I had perhaps never felt more blessed in recent times. Someone saw that it was raining and moved our clothes to the safe haven under the porch, and they did so not haphazardly but with great care. And I didn’t even ask, and they didn’t even come to me to boast of what they’d done. For a moment I just stood there, dumbstruck in the midst of the first blessing of this kind that I’d ever experienced.

I then headed through our front door and began asking everyone I saw in a quiet tone, almost a whisper: “Did you move the clothes under the porch?” I felt like I was walking on sacred ground.

Oh, how many times have we had to go to each member of our household asking negative questions, such as, “Did you steal the money from our room?” or “Do you know who ate such-and-such food from the kitchen without permission?” Oh, how beautiful it is to have to find the ‘culprit’ of a good deed done in secret! Yes; Christ is with us.

I finally reached our eldest daughter, 17-year-old Dayana, who — just as much as anybody in our household — in times prior dreaded the entire laundry task and never volunteered herself to go above and beyond what was specifically required of her. I asked, “Hey, do you know who moved the clothes…?”

Her face radiated kindness as she answered, “Yeah, I noticed that it started raining…Gleny and Jason helped me.”

Me, mouth sort of dangling open: “Oh. Thank you.” I just sort of stared at her for a few moments.

And so that was the first miracle. No dead were raised; no terminally ill were healed and no blind gained their sight, but God did manage to turn some selfish hearts of stone into humble hearts bent toward servanthood, which in an of itself is a sort of resurrection from the dead and renewal of sight.

Later that night — or perhaps a couple days later; I do not remember exactly — I was again folding laundry and moving wet articles from one line to another in an attempt to care for the clothing that God has entrusted us as I then carried a large laundry basket full of dry clothes into our living room. I sat down on our sofa for a few moments to read the Bible with the bin of laundry at my feet (with several other bins still waiting outside) as I was fully prepared to fold them myself and then go door-to-door to give each of our kids their dry, folded clothes to stash in their dressers before doing the rounds again the following day (if it didn’t rain and thus soak all the other clothes that were waiting their turn on the line outside).

In the quiet of the evening hours — most of our kids already in their rooms for the night and a few candles lit in our living room to give off a cozy feel — our 13-year-old daughter Gleny came happily bouncing out of her bedroom through the bright-colored curtain that hangs in the doorway. Completely out of the blue, she asked me, “Ma, whose turn is it this week to fold the laundry?”

Seeing as God has secretly led me to stop assigning the task to our children (which only leads to my grumbling and theirs) but rather to do it myself and thus manage the task more organically, I stammered, “Uh…I don’t know.”

She piped up, obviously already with the plan in mind before presenting herself in the living room, “Okay, well I’ll go ahead and take this laundry basket to my room and take care of it tonight.”

I stared at her as words could not formulate themselves in my mouth as she picked up the huge metal tin with a contagious smile on her face — my Wild Gleny who used to always scream, cry and isolate herself so many times each day, who moved into our home in 2013 as a scared and extremely aggressive 9-year-old! — and disappeared behind her bedroom curtain before anything else could be said. (And, for the record, of all of our children Gleny has in times past been the least servant-oriented of all. She’s exploded in fits of rage and tears when her sisters have asked her to help sweep their bedroom floor or collaborate in simple maintenance activities in daily life. She has never offered up extra help in any capacity unless it is specifically asked of her, so this completely Spirit-prompted act of service I literally do count as a miracle upon her heart.)

And, sure enough, the next morning Darwin’s and my socks and shirts were neatly folded outside of our door as Gleny had done exactly what God had prompted her to do (that which I had tried for years to prompt her to do without much success). She had folded that heap of clothes and gone to each person’s room during the night to deliver whatever was theirs. I’d say that’s Christ’s work in her life.

So there have been many extremely small, exceedingly beautiful moments of servanthood such as these in our household in the last couple weeks. One afternoon as I was once again quietly at work with the daily laundry chore, I began to hear Bible stories being read aloud from our living room. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (who tends to be very uptight and high-achieving with her schoolwork and other activities, oftentimes forsaking resting in God’s presence for do-do-do) was sitting cuddled up on the couch with her 9-year-old special needs brother, reading to him one of our children’s Bibles. Jackeline — who normally “doesn’t have time” for things like that, who even has said she doesn’t like to read for fun and struggles to spend time in God’s Word! What an extravagant display of God’s love. As I went in and out of our living room, carrying with me large heaps of laundry flung over my shoulders, I walked carefully, again feeling as though I were treading sacred ground.

And the coolest part is that as the rest of the world perhaps zooms onward with all of its activity and “importance,” God is touching the unlikeliest of hearts and calling us to slow down with grace, to serve rather than be served, to live as Jesus lived.

Amen! Glory to God!

Standing at the Gates of Hell

The two new young women I wrote about in the previous post arrived at our front gate on Monday of this week (three days ago), and it has been a very intense and exceedingly blessed three days with them. They are two young women (ages 14 and 15, not related biologically) who have been through many hard hits in life (and dealt some hard hits in return), and we feel utterly convinced that after having bounced around in various foster homes and orphanages the Lord brought them to our home to find stability, permanent family, healing and, ultimately, a transforming relationship with Christ.

In these first three days with them we’ve shared many moments that are too delicate to share on this blog, but in increasing measure the joy of the Lord is experienced in our household as Darwin, our 8 kids who’ve been with us for several years and I are truly collaborating together — as the body of Christ — to extend God’s love to two teens who literally no one else was willing to receive.

Two days ago after some shocking news was revealed to us about one of our new arrivals, I experienced many moments of ‘becoming undone’ emotionally as we sought to appropriately deal with the information and its implications in the way that God saw fit. It was a day of bitter weeping, much prayer and a very serious family meeting so that our 8 would all be on the same page — united in Christ — with Darwin and I so as to love these two teen girls (and protect those who are already in our household) in a way that very likely they had not priorly been loved.

At the end of that very trying, stretching day (Tuesday), I sat at the long wooden table in our living room next to our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline who quietly went about completing her math homework (I’m her math teacher) by candlelight as the Lord enveloped our household in that blessed nightly silence during our family’s “sabbath hour.” It had been perhaps the most difficult day we had experienced as a family in some time, and yet I felt the Lord’s presence and His hand over the entire situation more strongly than ever before. I sat next to Jackeline stroking her back as she continued hard at work, wooden pencil in hand and notebook illuminated by the little candle in front of her. We stayed like that for a long time — me stroking her back, her working on her homework, the rest of our kids quietly tucked into their rooms for the night along with our two new arrivals — when I asked her, “Jackeline, you know that I love you, right?”

This is something that we communicate frequently to our kids, so without skipping a beat she immediately took her concentration away from her schoolwork, penetrated my eyes with hers with striking joy, and said  with a big nod and a smile, “Yup.”

I smiled, still sensing the Lord increasingly near in the midst of the rescue mission He had very unexpectedly sent our family on to go after the souls of these two young women who would have very likely become prostitutes within the next couple years had He not intervened. Then I bent in closer towards Jackeline, my hand still patting her back as she had quickly resumed her schoolwork, and I whispered, “You know, you’re one of my favorites.”

This time the smile overtook her face as her eyes came up to meet mine again and she let out a little laugh and said, “I know!”

We both laughed at that, and then I said, “You wanna know a secret?”

She nodded her head ‘yes,’ momentarily forgetting her math homework. I continued, “I’ve never felt happier in my life, and it’s because I’ve never felt nearer to the Lord.”

She studied my eyes for a few moments — fully knowing the day that our family had just lived, how our obedience to Christ was put to the test in a big way once we received the news we did about one of our new foster daughters — and then she nodded quietly in agreement, understanding what that joy is that goes beyond fluctuating ‘happiness’ and is found only within God’s will.

Her pencil quickly resumed moving back and forth as she calculated numbers and solved algebraic equations. I continued contemplating the beauty of our Lord and what it means to serve Him in this great rescue mission, literally tackling people off the path as they’re headed into Hell. I felt like weeping — for joy, for pain over what each of our children (and so many others all around the world) have suffered, for the great privilege that our Lord allows us to serve Him in such a way — but I had already wept so much that day that I felt dry, emptied. At peace. So I just thanked Him in my heart. In the face of what almost any sane person would call an impossible situation, I never felt closer to Him, more convinced of His burning desire to rescue these two young ladies from the snares of the enemy.

So we give thanks for all 10 of our children and we enter into yet another chapter of our life and service with Christ now with 7 daughters and 3 sons, all of whom come from devastating circumstances and whom have found (or are finding) healing and freedom in God’s eternal family through Christ. There are many things to pray for — perhaps even urgently so, desperately so — but for now all I can think to do is give thanks. Our new girls’ names are Carolina and Paola. Please pray with us for their salvation and transformation into the image of Christ, and for our other 8 kids, that God would use them mightily to minister to their two new housemates as we band together as a family to stand at the gates of Hell, blocking the entrance and joyfully receiving those whom the Lord chooses to rescue, whatever the personal cost may be. Thank you. To God be the glory and praise forever. Amen.

“Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.”

— C.T. Studd