We send you our warm greetings from our ranch homestead in Honduras. I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are healthy and thriving despite the pandemic.
We send our sincere thanks to all those who continue financially supporting and praying for this small mission even in the midst of so much global uncertainty. We appreciate you and thank God for His provision through you. Several months ago one of our local missionary-teachers (Lawny) helped me write thank-you notes to all those who actively support us, but the Honduran post office has been closed since March so we’ve been unable to send them! If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll reach you by Christmas! : )
Here in Honduras we continue indefinitely under quarantine and general restrictions, although we have learned to make the best of it. Our small staff of missionary-teachers continues to diligently work and educate our students, but now they do so mainly out of their own homes. The majority of our teachers live in close geographical context to our students, so they have begun teaching and giving tutoring sessions in their own living rooms and on their own porches, receiving small groups of students at a time. One of our local missionary couples (Erick and Aracely) still directs an intensive discipleship group 1-2 times per week out of their home and continues to organize community service and evangelism projects on a regular basis.
We are currently digging a professional well on our ranch, as water issues have plagued us for these past several years. The NGO Primero Agua is helping us install this addition free of charge, and we’ve been hosting their men in our home for the past couple weeks. They will most likely have to wait to finish the project until early next year as our property is plagued by many rocks and they need a more advanced drill to get past them all.
Today I officially sent in the manuscript of my first book to a self-publishing company, and these next few months will be dedicated to editing and marketing. The title is Hidden Treasures: An American Living in the Developing World Wrestles with Significance, Faith and Suffering. This has been my main project throughout these past few months of quarantine, and I hope the book will serve as a small flame to light the paths of many for God’s glory. In my book I use pseudonyms to protect our children’s identities, and I will begin doing so here on this blog as well. So, in the following posts don’t be surprised if I stop mentioning our kids’ real names!
My husband, our five foster teens and I are doing exceedingly well. We continue to run daily as a family and are currently on the cusp of reaching 30,000 pages read in quarantine! We have, however, been without internet for about three months now, which has both complicated and simplified our lives.
As I drove down the bumpy gravel road in our old pickup truck, endless pineapple fields stretching out on either side of the dusty strip, I began to pray, for I knew if I didn’t my mind would immediately race to the task of worrying and jumping to conclusions, which I am learning brings no positive result in addition to going against God’s will for His children.
After all, the shiny new silver truck with a neat government logo pasted on the outside was following me. Today was the official visit the Honduran government’s child protective service would make to two of our daughters’ biological family’s household to determine whether the house and its members were apt to receive our girls, who have been living under our protection since July 2015. We had never done any kind of investigational visit like this before, and I knew that when dealing with the Honduran government I had to hide my own emotions and play by certain rules if I wanted to preserve the good standing we have thus far enjoyed with them.
I breathed deeply, trying to keep my thoughts neutral and my heart fixed on the perfect peace that is available to us at all times through Christ Jesus. I whispered, alone in the car, as I journeyed farther and farther into the middle of nowhere, guiding the large vehicle behind me: “Lord, if it is Your plan and Your desire that the girls return to their biological family, I pray that You would make that very clear to all involved. Convince the government social worker and grant Darwin and me peace in our heart about the decision.” Because, Lord knows, at that point neither Darwin nor I had peace about one or both of our girls leaving the protection of our home to return to what we perceived to be a highly unstable, dangerous situation with their biological family. We were only realizing the legal investigations because Josselyn was pushing hard to do so, and it was our duty in the eyes of the law to reunite our girls with their family if at all possible.
After several weeks of phone calls, emails and visits to the little building that manages all of the cases for local abandoned, abused and orphaned children (which there are too many of) in attempts to organize this visit – a grasping at some kind of closure, some kind of answer for our 12-year-old Josselyn and for us to know what direction to head in during this new season — the day had finally arrived. Pint-sized Josselyn with her shaggy black hair had her heart set on moving back in with her biological family members after having gotten in touch with them on a chance encounter downtown a couple months ago, and today we would most likely receive our answer.
I continued onward as I started to doubt that I even remembered where the house was located. In Honduras there are no street signs (or street names), and on this long, dusty stretch everything looked about the same to me. I continued praying: “Lord, on the contrary, if it is not Your will that our girls go back to their family, convince the social worker of that, and grant Josselyn peace in her heart when we have to tell her the news. Whichever way this all goes, I ask that Your peace reign over the situation and over our hearts. May Your will be done; not ours. Show us all the way, and give us the grace and strength to walk in it.”
Several minutes later I spotted the only landmark I remembered from the prior visit I had made to the home – a small tin overhang above the front gate, a twine-and-twig contraption that could not effectively keep anyone in or out. I pulled to a stop, and the large government vehicle behind me followed suit.
Within moments I led the social worker, a very kind local Christian woman whom we don’t yet have much experience with, and the car’s driver down a narrow dirt path and crossed the threshold into our girls’ grandparents’ very simple home. Their small dirt backyard gave way to an endless sea of pineapple fields.
The girls’ grandmother, an extremely frail but alert woman, immediately received us with a hug and the customary kiss on the cheek, eagerly pulling out two plastic chairs to accommodate us in their otherwise totally bare living room. We sat down, me with a smile on my face and my lips sealed firmly shut. This very official visit was technically to be had between the social worker and the family; I was lucky to be present and knew my role was not to be an active one. Despite having been the day-to-day hands-on mom, counselor and teacher for the girls for nearly the last two years, the government sees Darwin and I – and others in our area who serve God in similar capacities – as nothing more than an emergency, short-term shelter rather than a living, breathing family – the very hands and feet of God to rescue those who are so close to the flames! – so the social worker looked to Grandma to get all the details straight rather than to Darwin and I.
Thus the interview process started with several straggling aunts, uncles and cousins of all ages quietly gathering around the open windows and doors to observe the conversation at hand.
The social worker, very eager to reunite lost children with their families (which in theory sounds excellent), began discussing with Grandma the logistics of placing both of her long-lost granddaughters under her legal care. I kept my tongue firmly placed between my teeth, intent on saying nothing. It was clear to me that Grandma and the social worker did not know – or did not want to tell – the whole story, and they had not invited me to speak, so I did not.
The social worker took out a very formal stapled questionnaire that she began filling out as Grandma began answering her questions. One of the first was: “How many people live in your home?”
It seemed simple enough; in the quietness of my own mind I had assumed that Grandma and Grandpa lived alone. There always seemed to be a whole lot of family members everywhere, but I had guessed that they all lived close by and simply enjoyed spending time together during daytime hours, seeing as no one had a stable job and none of the children were in school. Lots of free, idle time; thus, let’s spend it together.
After the social worker’s question, there was an odd pause. Grandma glanced over at her husband, and it became clear that neither of them knew the answer. They sent one of the young aunts to take a head count, and she came back a few minutes later with the answer: “17.”
The social worker’s eyes grew wide as she glanced in surprise at the lines her paper permitted her for that section: there were only ten spaces. She began asking one-by-one the names of all who lived there, ages, genders, etc, as she had to turn her page over and extend the section in her own freehand on the back of the sheet.
Grandma, oftentimes contradicting herself and having to consult constantly with other relatives as to the names, ages, and current whereabouts of those who live under her roof – a three-bedroom, one bath house – began naming several sons and grandsons of hers in their teens and twenties who live and sleep under her roof. I bit down even harder on my tongue as dark images darted across my mind, knowing full well that both of our girls had been severely sexually abused by their very own family members.
During our first supervised family visit several weeks ago, Josselyn later told one of our older daughters that I had had a lengthy conversation with one of her uncles who had raped her, and that ‘everything seemed okay now’ because I had had a pleasant conversation with him – completely unbeknownst to me that he had been one of the perpetrators – and that she would be fine living with him because he had treated me nicely and I got along well with him.
Roughly ten teenage and young adult men – none of whom study or have stable jobs and who have a known history of sexually abusing children – living and sleeping alongside of our two girls in a tiny house that holds only two or three beds? Over my dead body. Righteous anger was quickly awakened within me, but I still said nothing.
The social worker began asking about the girls’ future education, if and when they move back in. Grandma was very hesitant about this, as absolutely none of her dozens of grandchildren are in school, and all of the adults are illiterate. They move frequently and have no stable employment and, although they can afford sodas and candies and cell phones (as so many poor Honduran families do), they have no money for the kids’ education.
At some point during the conversation Grandma mentioned that the girls’ biological mom – whom many family members have told us is highly emotionally unstable and became irate when she heard the news that her daughters visited several weeks ago, thinking that we were going to leave them with her – was ‘out’ with Papo, the infamous stepfather who developed the habit of raping our daughter Gabriela while she lived under his care.
At the mention on his name, I couldn’t take it any longer – even though I had written and submitted official reports to the local government office regarding the nature of our girls’ sexual abuse (there was even a police raid to Papo’s home at the time of Gabriela’s rescue in order to put him behind bars, but he escaped the raid and the police have made no further attempt to pursue him), it was clear that the social worker had no idea who we were dealing with. She continued inquiring calmly about the mom and step-dad, when I very carefully raised a finger and asked if I could speak.
My plastic chair positioned carefully in a triangular position between the other two chairs – my attempt to show my support and collaboration with both parties equally – I spoke up, my voice quivering slightly with rage, “That man – the girls’ stepdad – is the same one who sexually abused Gabriela. I absolutely do not feel right about having her return to live anywhere in proximity to that man – “
The social worker’s eyes grew wide once more as she glanced over at Grandma to clear up the issue. Grandma, possibly wanting to defend her family members or her own integrity or simply unversed on the real issue at hand, began claiming that Gabriela was crazy and that it was all a lie. Gaby was fine and had never been abused. She always used to say bad words and take her clothes off in Grandma’s house, but Grandma knew that she did so because she was crazy.
I spoke up again, this time without asking permission, still trying to keep my voice calm while I was not at all pleased with the idea that we had such a cloud of witnesses around us, eavesdropping on such a delicate issue: “When Gaby first moved in with us roughly two years ago she constantly took her clothes off in public, tried to have sexual relations with any boy or man who was close to her, screamed and talked loudly about Papo – her stepdad – saying that she was gonna put him in jail, and her own sister affirms that Papo had taken Gabriela as his young lover from a very early age on. Her mind and body had been damaged to such an extent that she had become borderline special-needs, oftentimes struggling with self-loathing, learning disabilities and constant disciplinary issues, and the recovery process has been grueling.” (She was about seven or eight years old when she was rescued out of that situation, and we have no idea of knowing for how many years he had been mistreating her prior to that.)
I was desperate to tell the truth while not openly offending this very poor, fragile family. All the people around us had been created in God’s image just as much as I had been, and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had paid the price of their redemption. God truly loves these people – even the abusers – and desires for them to be saved and renewed. I could not judge these people nor look down upon them, but I could do whatever was necessary to assure that these two girls did not fall back into a very dark pit. Lord, forgive me if I am over-stepping my bounds.
I had put my cards quite strongly on the table, and I had put myself at risk of being called biased or even possibly against the family reintegration process (which is a cardinal sin in Honduras). The social worker, obviously alarmed by all the information I was sharing (even though I had shared it with her and her colleagues before, possibly having fallen on deaf ears until now), began probing Grandma on the topic as she continued denying the whole thing as the list of lies and excuses lengthened.
As the conversation continued onward amiably but very professionally, the social worker jotting down all of her official notes, someone suddenly appeared in the doorway and I felt what little air I had in my lungs jump right out.
Everything around me disappeared as my eyes locked in on her extremely small frame and shaved head. She was even wearing a white dress, which was actually just a shirt that reached her waist. She wore no pants; little undies and a white shirt were all. Her eyes seemed glazed over and travelled up and across the walls.
The dialogue between the social worker and Grandma continued onward as I suddenly felt lost in space. None of the other ten or fifteen family members present even noticed her arrival. She was like a small, almost unconscious ghost. Frail and broken – probably much tinier than whatever her real age was – and with a shaved head and white dress.
I let out a slight gasp, my whole body being slammed with very strong memories of the other little angel in the white dress as I glanced over at a teen male who stood a few feet from me. I pointed a finger at the little girl and asked with deep respect and awe, “That is Katy, isn’t it?”
He affirmed casually that, yes, that was Katy. I continued staring at her – looking past Grandma to that little, lost figure with the shaved head who stood idly near her chair, eyes still glazed over and far, far away.
I spoke again without permission, this time to no one in particular, “That is Josselyn and Gabriela’s little sister. Katy.”
Oh, I knew her when I saw her because that is exactly how our Gabriela arrived under our care in 2015: shaved head riddled with scars and open wounds; lost, far-off look in the eyes; strikingly similar facial features; extremely small frame; she was even wearing a white dress the day we met her.
I felt an immediate connection with that little girl that goes beyond explanation. I felt that I knew her already; I even felt that she was Gabriela herself two years ago. I stared at her little bitty legs that led up to her underwear in plain sight and her white, nearly see-through shirt that fell slightly off one shoulder. I tried to make eye contact with her several times, but her glossed-over stare seemed to look right past me. Only a couple times did her eyes actually find mine as a very quick, very tiny smile tugged at one side of her tired cheeks before the glossy stare overtook her again. After standing idly in the doorway for what seemed an eternity, she then began hobbling over toward the adjacent room. A family member who was not present at that moment had commented to me on a prior visit that she had just begun walking recently due to severe malnutrition. Exactly like Gaby.
I do not remember the specifics of the rest of the conversation; just that I got up from my seat and sat down on the concrete floor right next to Katy and began stroking her arm and back, as I would with any of our kids. I felt that she was mine even though she had no idea who I was. Her eyes never met mine, and even the loving physical touch could not snap her out of her zombie-like state. I patted my lap and asked if she wanted to sit with me, but she neither looked at me nor responded.
At one point Grandma glanced over at me, visibly confused as I no longer displayed my happy, neutral smile. My countenance had grown dark and I silently fought back an onslaught of tears and rage.
The visit was concluded with cordial hugs, handshakes and on-the-cheek customary kisses, and we soon began walking back to the main road where our vehicles awaited us.
Once we were out of the family’s earshot, I dared to ask the social worker, “What were your thoughts on the visit?”
She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and commented very sincerely, “It seems to me that they don’t always tell the truth.”
I let out a long, unexpected sigh and dared to probe further, knowing I was trodding on fragile ground: “In your opinion, do you think that it will be best for the girls to return to their family?”
Just weeks prior when I met with the same social worker to inform her of the family’s whereabouts and of Josselyn’s desire to move back in with them, her immediate, upbeat response was, “Great! It’s always better for kids to be with their family.”
This time, however – having seen first-hand the situation in which one or both of the girls would be diving into – she responded without wasting a beat, “No way. The girls would be entering a situation of sexual abuse upon returning to their home. Plus none of the kids who live with Grandma are in school and they move so frequently that we would lose all follow-up with them. I will file the report, but in my opinion, they shouldn’t go back there.”
I let out a slight laugh of pure glee as it dawned on me that God had granted my humble request and thus confirmed His will for our girls. He opened the social worker’s eyes to the real situation at hand, helped her to detect the many lies, and convinced her that our girls should not return there. Now the only thing left (and perhaps most difficult of all), would be sharing the news with Josselyn, who had so longed to return to what she had convinced herself was the ideal life.
Feeling compelled by God to speak out about Katy’s situation, I shared with the social worker my concern for the little girl. She looked exactly as Gaby did upon arrival to our home, and I feared the worst: now that abusive step-dad Papo no longer has access to Gaby, he has probably begun abusing little Katy in the same way. The social worker seemed to understand (there are so many cases such as these that the elements of surprise and rage oftentimes don’t even come into play for those who work daily in this sphere), and I affirmed to her that if and when the government should remove her from the familial situation, we would be more than willing to accept her.
On the car ride home I prayed fervently for Josselyn – that God would console her heart upon receiving the news that she would not be able to return to her family, and that He would grant her His perfect peace to understand why. Upon arriving home I spoke with Darwin – who had been teaching classes all morning – to inform him of the news, and I wept in his presence of my encounter with Katy.
About an hour later we arranged to talk in private with Josselyn. Darwin prayed as the three of us – Darwin, Josselyn and I – held hands with heads bowed in one of our empty classrooms, the teachers and students having already returned home for the evening. By God’s grace we were able to share the news well, and although silent tears rolled down Josselyn’s dark cheeks, she did not turn violent or seem carried toward total despair. We continued talking and praying with her afterward and embraced her in a ‘sandwich hug,’ something we do with all of our kids (Darwin on one side and me on the other, both of us embracing the little person who stands between us.) We had — have — no other choice but to throw ourselves at God’s feet, asking for mercy and for His perfect peace in the face of what could possibly turn into total depression and despair for His daughter Josselyn.
Darwin then left to tend to the rest of our kids as the open conversation – by this time not so heavy – continued between Josselyn and I for quite some time. I then carefully asked Josselyn’s permission to share the news with the rest of our kids, seeing as they all knew about that day’s official visit and were eager to know the result. She consented, saying that it was okay for us to talk about it with the rest of our household but that she preferred not to be present. I agreed, and she went out front with little Gaby to play ball and climb the mango tree with a few young neighbors.
The news was shared with our other six kids – even the news of my experience meeting little Katy – and 16-year-old Dayana, our eldest, was the first to suggest that Katy should come live under our protection. 13-year-old Jackeline was rightfully enraged and surprised that the police had not put step-dad Papo behind bars (even though we had previously shared this information with our children), and a very heavy but peaceful solemnity came over the room where we prayed over and discussed with our children serious details and realities that are far from most households. We reiterated the utter importance of maintaining all forms of sexual abuse and misconduct far from our household; we affirmed our love and commitment to each of our kids; we spoke tenderly of the need to have compassion and patience for Josselyn during this time. As we left the meeting, I was certain God met us there as He had also that morning in the official visit and earlier that afternoon when we spoke with Josselyn.
Later that evening, I found Dayana playing piano and gave her a long hug followed by a kiss on the top of the head as I told her how amazed I was with the heart – the compassion – God was forming in her. The suggestion she had made during the earlier family meeting to receive Katy into our home was nothing short of a miracle, for we all know the extreme adjustments, sacrifices and general household instability that follow the addition of any new child. Surely God was granting Dayana His own heart for those on the margins; surely He was transforming her into a daughter of the King.
That night as everyone was quietly tucked into their bedrooms for our family’s daily Sabbath Hour, Darwin and I arrived at Josselyn and Gaby’s quarters and asked to come in. As we passed through their floral-print door curtain, we found both sisters quietly sitting on their tile floor, working on homework and puzzles. We sat down with them as we informed little Gaby that I had had the privilege of meeting her sister Katy that morning, and that Katy reminded me a lot of Gaby. Her eyes grew wide at the sound of her sister’s name, and I smiled at her and told her that Darwin and I would like to pray with them for Katy.
The sisters’ hands instinctively extended towards ours as the four of us formed an imperfect circle on their tile floor. We prayed for Katy, asking God’s protection over her life and that He would indicate to us what we are to do in this situation. As we finished praying, we embraced each of the sisters and gave them a kiss on the top of their head as we then left their room for the night.
That was Wednesday, two days ago. Please pray with us, both for Josselyn’s continued acceptance and peace with the fact that she will not legally be able to return to her family’s care along with Katy’s very delicate situation, knowing that multitudes of other boys and girls around the globe also silently face sexual abuse day after day. Pray that the local authorities would move to investigate Katy’s living situation and that, if it is God’s will, she would come to our home to be raised in a God-fearing way along with her sisters.
Amen. To God be the glory, for He hears us and comes to our encounter.
The other day I had off from my teaching duties, so I found myself in the nearby city of La Ceiba running errands and buying groceries during the morning hours while all of our kids were at home in classes with the rest of our teachers.
On a whim, I pulled our old white pickup truck to a stop in front of a phenomenal new two-story resale shop that is quickly becoming famous in our area for its incredible deals.
Although we do not normally purchase toys for our children for several reasons (they have not been prone to taking care of the few toys that they have received, plus we do not want them to think that they have to have some kind of advanced or electronic toy in order to be happy), on this particular occasion I bounded up the long winding ramp to the second story to investigate the toy section.
A new idea had occurred to me: get a variety of versatile, oldschool-style toys and then store them all in one or two big Tupperware bins. You take them all out to play creatively for an hour or two, and then you put it all back in the bin when you’re done. Bingo!
As the majority of the members of our household are quickly leaving behind childhood and boldly entering adolescence, I’ve recently felt it urgent and necessary to create safe moments of childlike play – to protect moments of pure fun, of boundless imagination — for our kids before all sense of childhood soon gets lost. (A very respected friend of ours also recently called me a slave driver due to the amount of responsibility we are daily inculcating in our kids through their extensive musical practices, household chore expectations, homework load, etc, so I’m trying to learn to ease off a bit on the ‘duties’ and increase the ‘fun’…)
And so I perused the long, wearhouse-like rows and dug deep through dozens of stuffed animals and old plastic and wooden toys, finding incredible bargains on puppets, silly stuffed animals, an enormous purple plastic egg, a variety of outrageous hats and costume parts, and bits and pieces of old toys that probably no one else would think to purchase. A long vacuum-cleaner tube; stacking shelves meant for kitchen use; little foam cubes. My shopping cart’s contents resembled the leaning tower of Pisa as I headed for the checkout with a big grin on my face.
That evening, as our 12-year-old daughter Gleny helped me take the price tags off everything and stuff it all in two bright green containers I had purchased, we decided to have a night of creative play as a family instead of our traditional Friday-night movie.
With each family member wearing some kind of silly hat — Darwin with a bright green baseball hat on sideways, two of our teenage girls wearing french barrettes, Gleny wearing a dog hat with long, floppy ears and Gaby sporting a tall top hat that came straight from Alice in Wonderland — we spread out in our cozy living room to play together. A couple of our kids were absorbed in an intense chess match while several of the littler ones played gleefully with the new array of secondhand toys I had brought home. Darwin and I with our older teens played Cranium on our tile floor as each person tried on several different wild hats throughout the process.
The next day our 12-year-old Gleny was prepping for her weekly tutoring session with little Gabriela. Several of our kids in addition to Darwin and our teachers are working with Gaby right now as she is in the beginning stages of learning how to read. Gleny grabbed the little syllable book to read with Gaby when a thought occurred to me: “Gleny! Better yet, instead of reading with Gaby, play with her.”
Ever since we met Gleny as an explosive, affectionate 9-year-old in 2013 she has been a master at creative play. Given very few tools she can create a very elaborate drama with this and that character, a princess to be rescued, a mansion made of legos, etc. I remember the day special-needs Josue moved in as an insecure 6-year-old in 2015, Gleny immediately had him sitting down on a small stool in our living room with a makeshift stethoscope around his neck as he tended to her daughter, a sick stuffed animal bunny. She has been known to organize an entire army out of her siblings and lead them valiantly as they all run around the yard with sticks and ‘bows and arrows,’ creating forts and shelters under different bushes. She has a beautiful imagination, and now that she is on the cusp of entering adolescence, much of that has been lost — or neglected — lately. Now that she wears a training bra and is in our advanced math class with her older sisters, I suspect she has tried to hide that very childlike aspect of her personality in order to fit in with her more mature peers. Just the night prior she had exhibited great enthusiasm with me as she discovered and helped take the price tags off of the quirky new toys, but once the chance came to play with them, she kept her distance and chose rather to join in the older kids with the chess match.
And so, when I suggested to her that her tutoring be that of play rather than one more reading session, her eyes lit up mischievously. Because, after all, she would be the ‘teacher,’ so no one could say that it wasn’t cool for her to be playing with the toys. I smiled big and said, “Gleny, you have a phenomenal imagination, and Gaby — and Josue — both need a lot of help developing their creativity. You can take the new bins out, and simply play with them. You would be great at that.”
She jumped up immediately, grabbed the two big bins and called her young students to join her on our front porch as she quickly began guiding them in the delicate art of creative play. Each person with a hat; each person with a stuffed animal. Let the creative play commence.
Peeking out through the slats in our windows as the minutes drew nearer to an hour, my heart grew with joy as I saw our future teacher Gleny exercising radiantly one of the gifts the Lord has given her. I grabbed our little digital camera and snapped a few photos while hoping not to distract from the whole play process…
High School Students Studying Ted Dekker’s Historical-Based Novel “30 A.D.” About the Life of Jesus
A couple months ago Miss Ligia (our high school teacher) and I began reading Ted Dekker’s novel “30 A.D.” with our thirteen 7th-grade students. The majority of our students had never read an entire book before on any subject (most schools here do not assign books to read nor is reading in general a common pastime for most Hondurans), so tackling a 398-paged historical novel with teens who read on a very low reading level has been quite the task. The book itself is phenomenal, and although several of the students have struggled mightily to develop the discipline of actually reading the chapters and the mental capacity to understand the content, it has been a very rewarding experience enriched with discussions, quizzes, group work, etc, as we seek to deepen our knowledge and love of Christ with our local students. After our students finish the novel at the end of the month we have missionary biographies prepared for them to read!
Prayer Needed for Gabriela’s Intense Emotional Needs
I am very humbly asking for prayer for Gabriela (nicknamed ‘Gaby’) and for my attitude towards her. She has been living with us a little over a year, and we’ve decided to say she’s eight years old (although it’s very likely she’s 9, 10 or 11 because no one knows how old she really is), but mentally and emotionally she is on the level of a three-year-old.
She is by far the most emotionally demanding of all of our children, and I get drained very quickly in her presence as she is extremely clingy, wants to be held constantly, wets her pants and her bed nearly every day/night, struggles when I pay attention to the other kids (or when I try to do any other task), and behaves as a toddler would although physically she is a big kid and has already begun wearing a training bra. Her personality in general is very loud, repetitive and annoying, so most of our other kids do not actively spend time with her, leaving me as one of her only loving companions (besides special-needs Josue who is her best friend).
I have begun talking and praying with her extensively about the fact that only God can fill her emotional void; I love her and God utilizes me in her life to show her His love and affection, but I alone will never be enough to fill her up.
Please pray with me that this message would penetrate into her heart and that she would earnestly seek God as her eternal Father, for He is the only One who truly satisfies. Please pray for me also, as being Gaby’s mom is an extremely exhausting affair (although an incredible blessing); pray that the Lord would grant me the patience, unconditional love and energy to love her the way Jesus does. I feel hounded almost constantly by guilt because I simply do not have the superhuman strength to attend to all of her emotional needs to the extent that she wants, and I sense that she oftentimes feels rejected by me. Please pray that God would liberate me of these feelings of guilt and replace them with trust in Him.
Legal Progress Report: Documents from 2011-2015 Finally Processed, Approved (!)
After having compiled and trying to submit a rather extensive portfolio of legal documents, photos, letters, etc, to the capital’s government office in Tegucigalpa since 2014, we were notified about two weeks ago that everything finally went through and we are in good standing with the government after quite a bit of organizational confusion that occurred when the leadership of the Living Waters Ranch was transferred from Teresa Devlin (the founder) to my husband and me in 2012.
We thank and praise God for this great news (and huge relief!) that we are finally up-to-date and have been accepted/recognized by the government as a legally operated NGO (non-profit) who fulfills the national requirements. Praise God!
Prayer for Ongoing Insomnia
Several years have passed and I still struggle each night with insomnia, sleeping about 2-5 hours per night. I’m exhausted to the bone and frequently struggle with irritability toward those around me. It seems like several times per day I have to humble myself and go ask forgiveness from those who were the victims of my snappy attitude or impatience.
Please pray that God would give me the perseverance and energy to continue to fulfill His will and that I may be granted deep, restorative sleep so that I may be an increasingly useful instrument in His hands.
Miss Martha to Rest from Chronic Pains
Miss Martha, our beloved sister in Christ in her late 50s who serves alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch as the cook, literacy teacher and nurse, notified us last week that she has made the difficult decision to stop serving at the Ranch and spend a season resting at home due to several chronic pains she has been struggling with for many months. The work at the Ranch is very physical – a lot of walking between buildings, bending over, carrying things, playing with kids, etc, and due to the intense pains in her left leg, one of her hands, and her neck/arms, she feels that she can no longer continue in the work. We love her dearly and will continue to see her every Tuesday as she plans on continuing her participation in the ‘Christian Leadership’ class.
Please pray with us for her healing and that the Lord would continue the good work that He has begun in her.
Much Time Consumed Each Week with Trips to Local Government Offices
Although we are up-to-date with the capital offices in Tegucigalpa, there are many smaller, local government branches that have different requirements that organizations like ours must fulfill, so in the last few weeks Darwin’s and my time has been largely consumed with waiting in said government offices, turning in paperwork, having meetings, etc, in addition to the many daily hands-on tasks with our kids and students. We’ve been going to the Social Security Office, Board of Education, and several others (I’m not sure how they would translate in English) in somewhat exhausting/frustrating circles as we’re trying to jump through the many required hoops to ensure that we are legally covered in every possible respect should anyone come and bring accusations or complaints (such attitudes of accusation and of wanting to see others fall is very common here and can be very dangerous). Several nights recently Darwin has not gotten home until 7:00 or 8:00pm after having been away all day jumping said hoops.
Please pray with us that all these errands, etc, would not distract from the purpose God has given us to proclaim His Word and invest in the lives of the children/youth for His glory, and that we would be able to meet all the requirements quickly and efficiently.
Coming Up On 1-Year Anniversary with Nightwatchman’s Family
Next month will mark one year of living in relationship with the family of our nightwatchman at the Living Waters Ranch. By God’s grace we have been able to develop a very healthy relationship with them as we serve one another for God’s glory. Four of their kids are in our elementary school as they are learning to read, write and do basic math along with their participation in Bible study, choir, various after-school ‘clubs’, etc, and the nightwatchman’s wife helps serve in our kitchen and cleaning a few days per week. During this almost-one-year that our watchman has been doing his rounds each night with a flashlight, we haven’t had any robberies.
Please continue to pray with us for our relationship with this family and that our Father may continue to grow us all up in love, wisdom and Truth as we serve one another as neighbors for His glory.
School Schedule Revamped, Extracurricular ‘Clubs’ Instituted for Local Students
After having completed nearly six months of our new discipleship-based elementary and secondary schools at the Living Waters Ranch (13 students in secondary and 12 in primary), we’ve overhauled the weekly schedule to now include a variety of extracurricular ‘clubs’ that Darwin, our Christian laborers and I direct Monday-Friday in the afternoons once the students get out of their morning classes.
Students must participate in at least two ‘clubs’ (which could also be known as ‘electives’), but if they desire to participate in more (or all!), they are encouraged to do so. Available clubs include: sports, art, Christian leadership, cooking class, math, and recorder (music). Others participate in choir and private piano lessons with Darwin, although they are not counted as clubs.
This new way of directing our school has had the desired effect; the students are excited that they are able to choose what most interests them (the majority of schools here do not allow students to choose activities or classes; all is pre-chosen for them as all students — despite ability and interests — are grouped together constantly), and they are developing skills (team work, musical ability, spiritual leadership qualities, more ample mathematical understanding, healthy artistic expression, cooking skills, etc) that will aid them both now and in their future as adults.
Please pray with us that God would continue to guide us in the ongoing development of these clubs (and new clubs that we want to institute in the future!), and that all may be done for His glory.
Extreme Tick Infestation, Another Guard Dog Dies
For the past several months we have been engaged in an ongoing battle against the infestation of tens of thousands of ticks all over the fenced-in part of our yard in and around the little buildings where we live and teach.
We have sought professional advice and contracted different people to come out and fumigate the property, and all to no avail. Just this past week Dingo, our most aggressive guard dog, fell ill with a mysterious disease and died suddenly. All three of our guard dogs (now two that Dingo has passed) have struggled mightily against the tick infestation, as the little buggers are constantly attaching themselves onto our dogs in droves. We bathe them with anti-tick shampoo, give them anti parasitic pills that supposedly ward off ticks, but, despite our efforts, hundreds of little baby ticks and bigger, inflated ticks are constantly sucking the life out of our dogs, leaving them thin and weak. This was the case with Dingo, and we learned that the ticks can cause an infection in the dog’s system, which can lead to death.
We are very concerned about our remaining two dogs (who are currently in medical treatment to fight against the same tick-caused infection that led to our other dog’s death) and are taking every possible measure to try to rid our rural property of ticks, but it seems like nothing is working. Please pray with us that a solution might be found and that our remaining two dogs might recuperate strength and vitality after such a long-standing battle against these parasites.
Miss Isis’ Move to the Living Waters Ranch a Success
Isis, our sister in Christ who was shown on the previous blog post with Gaby and Josue, made her scheduled move to begin living at the Living Waters Ranch at the beginning of this month. Thus far we have enjoyed a very healthy and dynamic relationship with her, good communication, and mutual joy as we are all growing together in Christ, sharing a common kitchen, and deepening our relationships with one another for God’s glory.
Please continue to pray that God’s will would be done in and through us and in our relationship with Isis, and let us give thanks for the great work of transformation and healing that He is doing in her life (and ours!).
Gabriela (8) and Josselyn (12), Sisters, Celebrate Their 1-Year Anniversary in Our Home
After having been rescued out of two distinct situations of sexual abuse and extreme neglect last July, Gabriela and Josselyn continue living under our roof and have enjoyed one full year of healing and growth.
During this year with them Josselyn has completed first and second grade in an accelerated homeschool program (and entered third grade last week with Miss Isis as her teacher), and Gabriela has begun recuperating a sense of innocence and play in what was a very twisted childhood she had previously experienced with her biological family. Josselyn has accepted Christ as her Savior during this time and Gaby has begun to pray for others.
Let us give thanks to God for these precious sisters, and please pray with us that our Father may continue to transform and heal them according to His good will.
Three New Students Join Our Primary School Program
Marina (age 14, third grade), Bayron (age 14, second grade) and Michelle (age 8, first grade) have joined our primary school program this past week as a new academic period has begun.
Marina, one of our night watchman’s four children who are in our program, decided to return to our school after having dropped out at the end of last year. The majority of our students, especially those in primary, are not accustomed to any kind of daily schedule or long-term commitments as they were used to generally roaming the streets, sleeping all day and wasting their lives away prior to having entered our school. Last year Marina had struggled mightily with our school’s behavioral expectations and academic load, resigned to spend her life in front of the television and doing simple errands around our neighborhood on her bicycle (as countless youth in our rural neighborhood do). We are very excited that she became bored with that lifestyle and by God’s grace has returned to study alongside of her younger siblings.
Please pray with us for her perseverance, perspective and emotional health as she and her siblings are blazing a trail (that of attending school) that almost no one in their family has taken.
Jason (9) Begins Learning Piano, Sandra (16) Violin
Jason, who has been living under our roof almost three years, this month began taking piano lessons from his older sister, Dayana (15). We now have four of our kids in weekly piano lessons while Sandra (16), who has lived with us six months, has begun taking violin classes.
Please pray with us that all of the skills our kids are developing (musical or otherwise) would be put to joyful use in God’s service as they become increasingly useful instruments in His hands.
Young Dairy Cow Gives Birth, Provides Fresh Milk Daily
One of our two young adult dairy cows just gave birth to her second calf, a healthy male. Darwin milks her every morning at 5:00am before the daily buzz of activities begins, and we are so thankful that we now have several liters of fresh, organic milk for our growing kids to drink each day. This helps alleviate grocery costs and obviously helps fortify our kids physically. Our other adult cow, who is very far along in her second pregnancy, is due to give birth within the next few weeks.
Twice-Weekly Bible Study, Worship, and Prayer Groups Continue
We continue to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays with our students, live-ins, and Christian laborers in our large dining room to study God’s Word together, sing His praises, and then break up into small groups to pray. We are seeing much fruit from these activities as our students are growing in the knowledge and love of God and are in the beginning stages of being transformed in a very real way for God’s glory.
Please pray with us that the many seeds of Truth that are being planted in our students’ lives both in group settings and one-on-one situations may bear fruit in their due time.
At the Living Waters Ranch we are currently riding quite a thrilling learning curve, seeing as none of us has previously done the kind of work that the Lord has currently assigned us.
Special-needs kids, sexual abuse victims, parenting teenagers who spent their childhood in someone else’s family, teaching God’s Word weekly to dozens of people, intimately guiding the hearts and lives of wounded youth, mounds of (sometimes confusing) legal documents to be continually written and updated, designing and then operating a new high school, seeking to cultivate an intentional Christian community, financially stewarding a growing ministry, managing (and guiding, loving, investing in) a team of Christian workers, legal adoptions, a herd of milking cows?
Our hair is blown-back and our lips are flapping in the intense wind as we daily engage in the outrageous privilege of learning on the fly, utilizing every spare second of freetime to absorb new teachings, devour the Word, go and learn from those ahead of us, listen to sermons directing our steps into this unknown territory of children’s ministry, devour books on topics such as sexual abuse/spiritual warfare/leadership training, sit down to pray and seek guidance together as Christ’s body, and make 1,459 mistakes along the way.
Let us give thanks to our Father who calls the unlikely, and then — miraculously! — equips them to go out and proclaim His name! Amen!
Miss Isis, Primary Teacher and Christian Laborer, Will Move to the Living Waters Ranch in July
Miss Isis, our young primary teacher who has been roughing it with us in the ‘wilderness’ among rogue youth, hard-learned lessons and joy abounding since August of last year, will be moving into a spare bedroom in our office/special needs building with her year-and-a-half-old daughter at the beginning of July.
She is a native Honduran and has been called to leave her family’s home, sell the majority of her belongings, and take the huge step of faith to begin living on our mission base 7 days a week as a way of deepening her walk with the Lord. The step she is taking is very counter-cultural and has been difficult for her family to accept, but it is such a privilege to see that she is assured even moreso that Jesus is calling her into deeper intimacy with Himself.
She is a sponge, has grown exponentially in these 10+ months of laboring alongside of us, and is a tireless worker in proclaiming the incredible grace of a good God.
We are so proud of her and are excited about taking the step to include her into our growing family/community at the Living Waters Ranch as our Father continues to mold us into His family, a beautiful expression of His love for wounded, rebellious humanity.
Sandra’s Mom Begins Attending Bible Study
15-year-old Sandra, who moved in with us in February of this year due to a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father and about whom I have written many updates and prayer requests since then, continues to hold a very precious relationship with her mother.
Sandra´s mom, who is still trapped in a difficult relationship with Sandra´s step-dad but doesn’t have the financial means to leave him with her three younger kids, visits Sandra weekly at our home/mission and has begun to attend Bible study in our dining room with us as she continues to seek refuge in the warrior God who loves her and is constantly seeking to protect her heart from the harsh circumstances in this world. Two of Sandra’s younger sisters (who are not in danger with Sandra´s step-dad because he is their biological father and treats them well) have also become actively involved in Darwin´s youth choir, and their mom is now attending first grade at a school for illiterate adults on Saturdays as she desires to be able to read God’s Word for herself.
Please continue to pray for this precious woman as she continues to seek God’s will in the midst of an unhealthy marriage relationship and deep poverty.
Celebration of Four Years Living in Honduras, Three Years of Marriage
The 5th of this month I celebrated my four-year anniversary since moving to Honduras as a recent college graduate in 2012, and on the 24th Darwin and I will celebrate three years of marriage. Glory to God for these milestones!
Prayer for Additional Supporters
Due to the fact that this is the first year we have offered our discipleship-based 5-day-per-week high school program along with our new special-needs classroom to local youth from our (destitute, gang-riddled) rural neighborhood, we have higher monthly expenses than we have had in years past as we are now serving more people. Each month more is going out than coming in, so I am humbly expressing our need to see if anyone is called to join with us to fill it.
My husband and I currently toil joyfully alongside of four full-time Christian laborers (local Honduran missionaries serving as teachers, prayer leaders, etc) whom the Lord has brought to the Living Waters Ranch and from which they earn their living. All four full-time laborers have been added on in the last year, and thus salaries — however meager they are — are currently a heavy (but entirely necessary) financial burden in addition to the many other monthly expenses we incur (medical/dental/basic care costs for the 8 who live with us full-time, food, administration, legal fees, educational materials for our students, etc).
There are currently 18 individuals/families and 3 churches who financially support this work monthly and several others who give generously from time to time.
Please pray with us that the Lord would raise up a handful more of faithful individuals/families to partner with us in this incredible expression of God’s Kingdom among us here in Honduras. If you or anyone you know is called to participate with us in this work, you can go to http://www.CTEN.org/jenniferzilly
We are currently facing many difficulties with the students in our discipleship-based school program. The general attitude in our poverty-stricken rural neighborhood is one stained with a deep sense of laziness, ingratitude, self-pity and dishonesty, all of which is brought onto our property daily as the students pass through our gates.
Weekly we face many instances of cheating, blatant disrespect and/or a total refusal to complete basic assignments, and many times when we look for healthy ways to discipline/correct such behavior the students´ parents come to their rescue, defending and justifying their children´s dishonesty and laziness. Sometimes the family members even accuse us, and in one instance a student´s family got the local educational authorities involved to come against us because we are determined to hold honest, just standards in this culture of complicity that only breeds more ignorance and evil-doing. This is very frustrating and saddening for us, and it makes for long and sometimes seemingly unfruitful days.
Just this morning my husband and I had to rearrange our plans last-minute and go make three personal house visits to talk with certain students and their parents after having confronted a severe situation of cheating/lying/scoffing. Likewise, we have other students who simply don´t come to school or their moms send notes to the teacher saying their child is sick when in fact they aren´t (that happened this morning as well.)
Please pray for us during this continued period of discernment/learning as we are still in our first 4-5 months of our first school year with these programs and students. All of our local students come from the public school system where they were accostumed to missing as many days of school as they wanted, cheating with zero consequence, and passing their grade no matter the effort given because the Honduran government has declared that all students must pass their grade whether they actually learned anything or not. (There are thousands of cases nationwide each year of students who at the end of the school year have earned a 30% or 60%, etc, but the teacher is forced to write ¨70%¨ on the report card and pass the unprepared, lazy child onto the next grade). That system produces, as we know too well, students who are 15 or 18 years old in 7th grade who still don’t know the times tables and don’t understand why it might be important to learn them.
So, please pray with and for us, that we may be granted a right view of these cultural ills and thus know how to inculcate a genuine sense of self-discipline, punctuality, responsibility, truth-telling, dogged work ethic, etc, in these students who are accostumed to the exact opposite. Furthermore, may our Father grant us the perseverance and wisdom to not become discouraged or too caught-up in certain details that, eternally viewed, do not matter as much as our daily labor of sharing God’s Word with the students, loving and guiding them according to His good will, and praying with and for them.
It is a very fine line, because if we implement the godly discipline we believe in and know to be very healthy for rebellious, lost youth, we would currently be left very likely with only one or two students (because the rest would have stormed out or been expelled). On the other hand, if we are too flexible and ¨understanding,¨ very quickly everything becomes permissible and we fall prey to the same evil that plagues the public schools.
Just this morning two of our teen boys from primary school expelled themselves after having reached their fifth strike, a very reasonable discipline system we have put in place to protect both ourselves and our students from contaminating our home/mission with an attitude of uncurbed rebellion. Prior to being expelled their general attitude was deeply marked by a defiant laziness, too many unexcused tardies, cheating during exams (and laughing when getting caught…and then yelling at us and accusing us of being unfair for not having let them cheat), and disrespectful attitudes, oftentimes proclaiming to their teacher that they wouldn’t be coming back the next day because our school is ¨too strict.¨
I share these frustrations so that you may go before the Lord with us in search of the answers.
A handful of students in both primary and secondary are truly succeeding in our program, are actively absorbing God’s Word as it is presented to them, and are in the beautiful beginning stages of being transformed by their knowledge of the Truth. Let us give thanks to God for the receptivity and work ethic of these students, and may the Lord continue to protect them against attacks from the enemy. May His will be done in and among us, and may He continue to guide us with all wisdom, justice and love as we seek to earnestly shepherd the rogue youth He has brought to us for His glory. Amen!
Below you’ll find this month’s general life/ministry updates and prayer requests along with photos our kids and I took a couple Saturdays ago as we were all doing chores, giving tutoring classes to Gaby and Josue, and generally participating in various activities around the house as a family.
Special Needs/Early Education Room Created, New Teacher Added
Due to the high costs of our special-needs son Josue’s private transportation and monthly school fees, we made the move to begin educating him at home for about the same cost (while being able to implement several positive changes not only for his benefit but for many others as well). A local Christian woman has been added to our team of laborers as Josue’s full-time tutor/teacher, and we’ve transformed what was our guest room to now be Josue’s classroom! Not only Josue but also 7-year-old Gaby (who also suffers developmental delays due to severe abuse suffered before she arrived at our home) and three little boys from our neighborhood also benefit from our new special needs/early education classroom, thus freeing up our primary teacher (Miss Isis) to focus more intensively on the other students who are more advanced and can already read, write, and participate in a normal classroom environment. Gaby and Josue’s new classroom has floor mats, a mini trampoline, many stuffed animals, balls, art supplies, a little skateboard, whiteboard, and everything else our little munchkins need to continue developing intellectually and emotionally in a safe, fun environment! I think our older kids are jealous!
Breakthroughs of Confession and Repentance
In the past several weeks we have experienced several surprising breakthroughs with our teen daughters in the realm of confession and repentance. We give thanks to God for these incredibly sweet moments of light as we are all coming into a fuller understanding of God’s grace, and we ask that you continue to pray with us for their continued transformation as daughters of the King!
General Health Updates
My struggle with insomnia continues onward with basically zero progress. Each night I’ve been sleeping roughly 1-4 hours and am unable to take naps during the day. I’ve begun seeing a Christian massage therapist/counselor to help detoxify my body and find ways (both physical and spiritual) to manage my stress levels better, but even so I have not been able to attain normal sleep patterns. Darwin and all of our kids are enjoying wonderful health!
We have submitted our very large manila folder full of bank reports, personal recommendation letters, our marriage certificate, proof of purchase of our car, and many other letters/documents to our lawyer in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, and we are officially in the midst of adopting Dayana (15), Gleny (11) and Jason (8), the first three kids to move in with us in November 2013. The cost ended up being higher than we had originally anticipated, but even so we’ve been able to make the first of the three payments. Please pray with us that our Father will provide the funds each step of the way to make their adoption a reality.
April Grocery Bills Cut Back Drastically
Last month we began a rice-and-beans-only fast for an indefinite period of time in an attempt to cut back on what were quickly becoming extremely high grocery bills due to the fact that many people get fed in our kitchen. Well, the fast was a raging success — last month we spent roughly ONE THIRD of what we had previously been spending each month on food products. Right now in the month of May we have continued onward with this fasting mentality, although not as strictly as last month. Please pray with us that we will be able to find sustainable ways to cut back on grocery spending while still investing in a fairly diverse diet for our growing kids.
Darwin, Jennifer and Team of Christian Laborers Studying Danny Silk’s Book “Loving Our Kids on Purpose”
We are currently studying a fantastically dynamic book targeted at parents, teachers and mentors. The process thus far of reading, underlining, etc, and then coming together throughout the week to sit down, pray together, and discuss new insights has been enjoyable and very helpful as we are seeking to grow in effectiveness while also training our beloved laborers in this work the Lord has entrusted us.
May 27 and 28 I will be attending a conference about 5 hours away with Isis (our Primary Teacher/Christian laborer) to continue growing together and learning from other missionaries and laborers across the country who are dedicated to similar labors with at-risk youth. Darwin and I have benefited greatly from attending this annual conference during the last two years, and this year we sensed that Isis and I were to attend while he stayed back with the kids and students.