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Are You a King Kong or a Thor? (A Reflection on Obedience and Response)

On our rural ministry homestead in Honduras we have three watchdogs that patrol the fenced-in area of our large grassy property. Their job is to make sure that no intruders get close to the little rainbow-colored buildings that serve as discipleship school, office and home. 

During daytime hours we keep all three dogs locked away in a pen behind our home so that they don’t have any interaction with our students or daytime visitors. Once everyone leaves at about 4:30pm, we let the dogs out and they enjoy intermingling with our family while also assuring that no unwanted visitors enter our remote property.

Two of the dogs are Dobermans, named King Kong and Xena. They serve their purpose well, as most people see them from afar with their large black bodies and clipped ears and don’t desire to get any closer. The third of our guard dogs is Thor, a Pit Bull puppy given to us a few months ago by a relative who was unable to care for him. While the Dobermans are poised, majestic and ready to defend our property at a moment’s notice, the Pit Bull is a bit more clumsy, goofy and outgoing.

King Kong and Xena

Yesterday afternoon my husband, several of our foster kids and I were eating and chatting on our front porch, which is currently where we have our fridge and our makeshift outdoor kitchen space while we have been working towards getting the area closed-in. Our three dogs are always eager to be close to the family, and suddenly the two Dobermans (King Kong and Xena) were excitedly — and more than a bit intrusively — approaching my husband to see if he might share his food with them. Tails wagging, the snouts of both dogs came dangerously close to my husband’s sandwich as he was sitting in a plastic chair with his food on their nose-level. In that moment one of our teen foster daughters — several yards away — made a sharp “Shhh!” sound to correct the dogs, and they immediately responded to the verbal correction and laid down at his feet, totally obedient. He kept eating in peace as we all continued to share the events of the day.

I thought, impressed, “Wow. Our dogs were extremely obedient just now. One sharp sound — without even saying their names! — and they immediately recognized their error and backed off. I sure wish our kids reacted in such an immediate, obedient manner when they are verbally corrected…Or I myself…”

To contrast the immediate, total obedience of our Dobermans (which was not an isolated incident yesterday but rather characterizes their overall demeanor), I will now share with you something that happened moments ago with Thor, our beloved Pit Bull puppy who is nothing like his older counterparts.

Little Thor when he arrived at our home several months ago

Today is Saturday, and this morning I got up before the other members of our household and quietly went out onto our front porch to serve myself a cup of water and grab some breakfast. As I sat down in the still morning hours on a concrete bench overlooking the vast green pasture where our cows were grazing, of course all three dogs eagerly came over to greet me and see what I was eating.

I don’t share people food with our dogs (and they know that), so the Dobermans immediately left me and my breakfast alone and sat quietly on the porch near me but without excessive bothering. Thor, however, jumped right up on the bench with me (which is a big no-no), so I began verbally trying to scare him off while I tried to protect my food at the same time. His snout danced up and down, enthralled by the smell of my breakfast, and I shook my hands in a shooing fashion and began scolding him louder and louder, assuming that my agitated posture and sharp tone of voice would send him the message that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that he would react accordingly.

Well, that didn’t happen. The Dobermans looked on, totally poised and well-behaved, while little Thor stayed put on the bench right next to me, intent on disobeying because he liked the idea of tasting a morsel of my breakfast. 

Several unsuccessful moments passed of me trying to shoo him off when I realized that he had zero intent of obeying me. I then grabbed a marker off the table that one of our students had left from the day prior and began thumping him with it — on his rear end at first, and then when that had no effect I kept thumping and shooing him on his back and then finally on his head.

I don’t enjoy beating our animals (and I don’t think thumping him with a bright pink marker can be classified as that), but he looked visibly hurt that I was treating him in such a harsh manner.

But he still made no move to get down off the bench.

Several more moments went by of me thumping and harshly scolding him while he just looked at me with these big, sad eyes as if he had no idea what he had done wrong or what he could do to escape from the torment.

Finally our two Dobermans dashed off to bark at something they sensed on the other side of the fence, and that distracted Thor just enough to cause him to clumsily jump down from the bench and follow them in their valiant defense of our property.

Our three guard dogs together

I laughed in relief and began eating my breakfast in peace as the dogs had finally left me alone, but suddenly the lesson — and the striking contrast between our dogs’ responses to correction — began to be made clear in my mind, and I dwelt on this for the following several minutes. 

I felt as if the Lord was telling me that we humans tend to fall into one of the two categories that our dogs had so perfectly embodied: that of quick, willing submission (loving, responsive obedience) or stubborn foolishness (chronic disobedience).

How many times has the Lord (either through His Word, through another person or through His Spirit moving within us) indicated to us something that we should repent of, something that needed to be changed or left behind, etc?

How many times have we reacted like King Kong and Xena, the ultra-obedient Dobermans? Perhaps very few.

How many times have we reacted as clumsy Thor, even getting beaten up a little bit along the way and getting our feelings hurt but even so never truly submitting, never actually learning the lesson at hand? Perhaps too many.

I leave you with this simple reflection inspired by ordinary events as we each consider before the Lord if we have truly been obedient to His call or His correction, if we have heard His voice or read His Word and truly reacted, or if we too often remain put in our foolish ways and refuse to change, to submit, wondering why things aren’t turning out so well for us in the process. If only we would obey, the torment might cease! Have we refused time and again to forgive, to break free from an addiction, to fulfill Christ’s command to love unselfishly?

God bless you and keep you in your daily affairs, and may He illuminate each of us so that we might come to know the perfect obedience of Christ even in the midst of suffering and trial. To God be the glory.

With peace and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Monthly Update: March 2019

We greet you from our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras, Central America with this month’s general update. May God grant both you and us increasing wisdom, faith and love in Christ Jesus.

We are in the full-swing of a new year of academic classes, relational discipleship and Christian community here at the Living Waters Ranch. My husband Darwin and I continue to raise our 7 foster children/teens in addition to serving as directors and teachers in the school we operate out of our home. Our team of local Honduran missionaries who serve alongside of us are doing a phenomenal job, and we continually give thanks to God that He allows us to participate with Him  to reach humanity with the gospel.

In this specific post I will share a current prayer request along with photos taken of our girls’ organic agriculture class. This class is one of many character-building activities which we teach on an ongoing basis, and this specific group meets twice weekly under the leadership of one of our local missionaries who has a deep passion for Christ, God’s creation and training youth to have an honorable work ethic.

Gotta love cutting back unruly bush with a machete! (Surely this is every teenage girl’s dream!) Just be careful not to step on a venomous snake!
In this photo you can see the pineapple patch we’ve planted along with part of the green bean area and some plantain trees.
This is one of our new students this year, an 11-year-old local girl who lives with her family. We tend to have more young men in our school than young women because many parents are hesitant to enroll their daughters in a rigorous program that includes agriculture and intensive physical training exercises, but there are indeed a few brave parents out there!

Prayer Request for Protection in the Midst of Much Government Supervision/Scrutiny

As our little discipleship school has grown since its inception in 2014, we have recently attracted much attention from the local educational authorities due to our unique perspective and potential competition with the local public schools (which is something we never intended).

We now receive very frequent (and sometimes unfriendly) supervisions, and the local authorities have been critical of many of our teaching methods since they are not commonly found in the over-crowded, oftentimes mediocre public institutions. My husband is also now constantly swamped with countless reports that the authorities are asking for weekly, and we sense that all of this might be an effort on the government’s behalf to try to overwhelm us or find some flaw so that they would have reason to potentially close us down.

Please pray for protection for us against the evil forces that are very active in the Honduran government, and pray for peace of mind for my husband who is on the frontlines against these constant attacks/distractions. He oftentimes has to lose several hours of sleep at night in order to fulfill the endless rounds of paperwork the authorities ask of him.

We do not want to feel fearful or worried in the midst of all this, nor do we want all of our energies to go towards trying to please a system that is decidedly in our contrast. We desire to live in peace with everyone and respect the government authorities as much as is in our power to do so.

Thus, we humbly ask for prayer in all of these matters as our earnest hope is to be free from excessive government obligations in order to dedicate our energies toward discipling, loving and teaching the youth the Lord has placed under our care for His glory.

This is Erick, a local Honduran Christian who has been serving full-time at the Living Waters Ranch for several years. In addition to preaching Christ in the classroom and in the context of extracurricular classes, he and his wife hold an open-door ministry in their home in our rural neighborhood after-hours and on weekends. They lead a discipleship group out of their living room and have a small group of local youth who frequent their home at all hours seeking biblical advice, a kind listening ear or a loving refuge. One of Erick’s goals is to train up the teens in his discipleship group to go out and share God’s Word with local drug addicts and thieves that are so commonly found in our area.
This is Paola, one of our foster daughters who this year will reach her 2-year anniversary of living with us. God has been very active in her life, and she aspires to be a pastor when she is older.
This is Carolina, another one of our foster daughters, who is eating a piece of the raw yucca plant that our girls harvested in agriculture class. (Gotta love that silly face!)

Plucking weeds — a never-ending job in Honduras where things tend to grow quickly!
This is Gleny, another one of our foster daughters who has been living in our family over 5 years and is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with her 2 biological siblings. We’ve decided to educate our foster children in our community homeschool program so that we have closer daily contact with them and so that they might be formed for Christ’s purposes and not the world’s.

Thank you to all of those who pray for and financially support this mission. May the Lord’s peace rest over your life and home.

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers!

Missionary Work in Honduras: First Update of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, and God bless you.

With gratitude,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Undercover Photos: Integral Learning and Discipleship 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

I Dare You to Stay: Fighting Illegal Immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Honduran caravan currently on its way to the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrations of Life and Belonging

In the past four days we have celebrated two birthdays in our large, God-designed household — one of our new foster daughters turned 16, and one of our girls who’s been in our household nearly five years and is in the process of being adopted by us turned 14.

Since answering the call to Biblical parenthood to the orphaned and abandoned five years ago, my husband and I have vacillated in our response to birthdays. The first year or so each birthday was largely extravagant due to the newness of the whole affair and our desire to make our new children feel welcomed and loved, but then over the ensuing 2-3 years birthdays became routine and even boring (largely due to the fact that we’ve had up to 10 children/teens in our family at a time, which makes for a whole lot of birthdays). We stopped going the extra mile and settled for simple birthday wishes and little to no gifts.

Well, this year we are diving back into (and now with more depth, increased love and hours of dedicated thoughtfulness and planning) the act of blessing our 7 children in a unique way on their birthday as we celebrate with them all God has done in their lives and the precious gift that they are to my husband and me.

The following photos were taken in our 10′ x 20′ living room around the wooden table where we eat meals, have family meetings, do homework, pray together and enjoy art projects. We give thanks to God for allowing us to rediscover the joy of celebrating the beauty of our children and making them feel treasured on their birthday.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. God bless you, and may you be encouraged by the sheer joy displayed on our children’s faces as they know they are loved by God and by many more.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family

Yesterday was our daughter Gleny’s 14th birthday. She came to us when she was a malnourished and very scared 9-year-old, and now she is a beautiful and blossoming young woman growing in God’s grace. Gleny has been known to struggle in her relationships with her siblings due to her very strong and even dominating temperament, so it was very special to see everyone reach out to and support her last night on her birthday (and to see the way she responded with love and gratitude). I especially enjoy the way her older biological sister (Dayana, purple t-shirt) is looking upon her in this photo, as the Lord has done a lot this year to restore the relationship of sisterhood between these two after many years of emotional distance (despite always having lived in the same household). Praise God for the way He is healing our children.
This is the birthday poster board I designed with two of our teen girls for Gleny’s birthday.
A couple nights prior one of our new foster daughters, Carolina, celebrated her 16th birthday. She has lived with us nearly a year and has been in the child welfare system since early childhood. We feel called by God to legally adopt her once she turns 21 years old, and she is very excited about this. (Certain children/teens in Honduras are adoptable before age 21 and others must wait until 21 for various legal reasons, so she will continue to live with us as our daughter in Christ until she can legally become our daughter once she turns 21.) She wanted ice cream instead of a cake, so we stuck the candles in two tubs of ice cream!
This particular daughter of ours loves pulling pranks on other people, so included in the gifts we got her were plastic glasses, buckteeth, a pirate’s patch and fake snot. (It ended up being fun for the whole family!)
What a pretty birthday girl!

This is Josue, our special-needs foster son who has been living with us over three years. He’s a total ham and loves getting in on the action with everyone else!

Our 11-year-old with the fake snot! Too funny!

Don’t I have a really handsome husband?

Even though this picture turned out a bit blurry, I love it because our eldest (almost 18) is normally quite serious and note prone to doing anything “childish.” It really touched my heart that she got in on the fun right alongside everyone else!

Last but not least…Try not to laugh…I grabbed a big blue bow that was on top of one of our girls’ presents and put it on Darwin! (I had put it on myself first, but then our kids encouraged me to try it on him as well…) Our kids started cracking up and calling out, “Mom! Your present has arrived! It’s Dad!”
Gotta love this photo! (Even though Darwin doesn’t!) He started speaking in a nonexistent foreign language with his birthday bow on his head…He had us all rolling!

 

That’s all for now! God bless you!

Request for Prayer and Encouragement

To all who pray for and support this mission:

I ask that you would pray for us during this season specifically in regards to our emotional reserves and spiritual endurance.

The relational work we are dedicated to in Honduras requires us to be on the clock 24/7, and our ‘personal time’ almost always includes at least half a dozen young people who need to be lovingly supervised and tended to. (This can be very taxing on my introverted tendencies, as I oftentimes feel drained being around people all the time and wish everyone would just leave me alone for a couple hours.)

We spend our Monday-Friday working hours in teaching, community discipleship and administration out of our home-mission at the Living Waters Ranch, and then as our daytime teaching staff and local students leave we are then ‘on’ during nights and weekends with our 7 children who live with us full-time, 5 of which are teenagers with very delicate and pressing needs. (Oftentimes there is no dividing line between what is work and what is rest/personal time, and frequently the teens we serve in our home are those who end up draining us even more with their poor attitudes and criticism of us.) Please pray that the Lord would grant our children grateful hearts who are willing to serve and bless in Jesus’ name, as that would greatly alleviate the burden we shoulder in our home and grant us allies in our home-ministry.

I share this with you as I seek prayer for our marriage and our personal growth with the Lord (and that of our children), as the majority of our energy is spent actively proclaiming the truth to broken people and helping them resolve their crises. Thus, oftentimes little energy is available to intentionally cultivate our marriage or delve deeper in our personal walk with the Lord (and seek healing for our own brokenness).

(And, as a side note, thanks to God’s healing hand I am sleeping a lot better as my insomnia has greatly dissipated in these last few months without taking any kind of sleeping medication, but even so I am facing exhaustion and potential discouragement due to the many demands we face each day from 5:00am until bedtime.)

We are committed to continue in this daily effort as family to the orphaned/abandoned and lighthouse of hope to the lost for as many years as the Lord allows (and we have seen many breakthroughs and transformation in and around us in these last several years since beginning the journey), thus we are currently searching to see what Spirit-led changes can be made in our approach to ensure that we don’t fall prey to total burnout. We always seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse, and many times I lend a compassionate ear to our teen girls’ deep emotional struggles and spiritual searches and then reach the end of the day wondering who will lend me a listening ear because my husband is likewise as exhausted as I am or is working in our home office until late at night.

As a last note (and please forgive me for such a heavy and potentially discouraging post), I feel that I am personally in pressing need of words of encouragement at this time. Our lifestyle and the demands on my time have not permitted me to maintain any of my old friendships or cultivate new ones, so I find myself frequently lonely or tackling the many tasks before me by myself. As one of our spiritual mentors told my husband and I at the beginning of this journey several years ago, “It’s lonely to lead.” We have found this to be true, as the lifestyle the Lord has blessed us with does not grant many companions along the way.

So, if you read this blog and are able to reply with a sincere word of encouragement for me personally (or for Darwin), I would be extremely grateful and it would go a long way.

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

Personal Reflection and Family Update

Yesterday evening we sat around the wooden table in our living room to eat dinner together as a family. Two of our teen foster daughters had prepared a delicious chicken soup with rice. In our household our diet oftentimes consists of rice and beans, so this soup was a special treat. The plates and silverware were all laid out on our floral-print tablecloth that I had purchased at a local thrift store a couple months ago. A candle was placed in the middle of the setup, although on this occasion it remained unlit.

Eating dinner together as a family each night has not been one of our strong points during these first few years together as a foster family and ministry homestead. Oftentimes it has seemed like a triumph just to get to the finish line at the end of each day still standing, and to make any additional effort to prepare an evening banquet for close to a dozen people just seems overwhelming. Thus, on many occasions each person just warms up rice and beans that were leftover from lunch or whips up something light due to everyone’s distinct schedule (and Mom’s exhaustion).

Some of our kids go into town two evenings per week for their ballet class; one night a week we’re out at a neighbor’s house for a Bible study; some evenings Darwin is out counseling people in our neighborhood or organizing choir practices. Oftentimes our teens have group homework projects or are practicing their musical instruments in the evenings, thus it has not been easy to pin down all the highly active members of our household for a daily routine of eating together. I imagine that in any family if a daily dinner is going to be achieved, it must be carefully scheduled and protected.

So, that is what we’ve decided to do. At Darwin’s suggestion, on Sunday I designed a fairly simple daily dinner schedule (indicating whose turn it is to cook, as we already have a nightly cleaning schedule), and we’re committed to protect and enforce this even if fatigue or busyness threaten to put this priority on the back-burner.

Yesterday morning all seven of our foster kids had been in classes and Christian discipleship in our homeschool program that we operate out of our rural homestead from 7:00am — 3:00pm. I had taught group Bible study that morning; Darwin had taught classes all morning with his small group of wily second- and third-graders and directed the girls’ choir practice after lunch. Our eldest foster daughter had a one-on-one meeting with our Christian psychologist to continue navigating the waters of healing and restoration while also looking to the future to discern the vocation/purpose that the Lord has for her in these coming years. A couple of our girls had been in cooking class; I taught my math class with 16 teens earlier that morning before heading into town to attend a three-hour meeting with local government officials.

And so, we ate dinner as a family. Last night was our first attempt to follow this new dinner schedule, and it was successful. It was nothing spectacular, but we were together. At the beginning of the meal we all joined hands and bowed our heads as Darwin gave God thanks for the food, and then our 17-year-old daughter, the eldest, graciously served everyone’s food. Surprisingly she started with my plate, which was doubtlessly a gesture of friendship as we are both making the effort to improve our relationship after having gone through many rocky patches over these past few months. (This afternoon she and I have a ‘date’ planned as I’ve invited her on a bike ride around our neighborhood as an opportunity to spend more time together and connect.)

This new season has brought small but important changes such as our new family dinner routine that we will carefully put into practice.

Each night as our kids all head into their rooms for homework and rest, I put on a sermon or two on my laptop (connected to two little speakers) in the living room so that our household is flooded with Biblical teaching. This specifically has been a very pivotal change in our home, as over these past several months I have downloaded dozens of sermons from respected pastors from different parts of the world to come directly into our home and teach us each evening. Our kids are resting in their rooms or taking a shower in the quiet of the night and everyone is receiving Scriptural encouragement. This has been very fruitful, and we will continue to do this each evening as we sow seeds into their young lives (and our own lives) for God’s glory.

Another small change we’ve made is that our 10-year-old foster son Jason, who is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with his two older sisters, now accompanies Darwin each night to go walk down our long gravel entryway to lock the two gates on our rural property. This gives him ‘man time’ with Dad and teaches him that it will one day be his job to protect and care for his own family.

Yesterday evening as our dinner was coming to a close, one of our new foster teens who moved in with us late last year expressed a question she had after having read the book of Galatians in the Bible for a homework assignment I had given her. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had actually read it and with enough attention to want to ask me a question about what she had read. I asked her to bring her Bible to the dinner table to show me the verse she had a question about, so she darted off into her room and quickly reappeared at the table, Bible in hand. As she opened the Bible, she said to herself as she flipped through the pages, “Galatians. After Corinthians.”

It was so seemingly insignificant what she was saying, but it hit me like a train. It’s working! Many of our foster kids and local students are very used to hearing others teach them about God’s Word, but they had yet to develop the habit of reading it for themselves. To change that, several months ago we started a routine that each person in our family now individually reads the Bible as we all spread out in our living room on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and in the two classes that I teach in our community homeschool (advanced math and reading/writing) I now make all the students sit individually and read the Bible 15 minutes before starting each class and then they discuss in partners what they read for about 5 minutes afterward (to get them used to openly talking about God’s Word). In these last couple months they’ve read the whole book of John and of Romans; they are now in Acts and Luke. (This specific daughter of ours is in both my classes, so she receives a double-dose of Bible-reading!) This has thus far produced marvelous results, as many of the teens have commented in awe, “I always hear so-and-so saying that we should love one another, and now I get that it actually comes from the Bible! I just read it!”

Our foster daughter who had been well-versed in Christianity throughout her childhood in various foster homes and orphanages, several months ago had very little first-hand knowledge of the actual Bible. When asked to flip to a certain book, she had to go to the table of contents and spend several moments searching for it. For her to say, “Galatians. After Corinthians.” and find that tiny book in the midst of 65 others is of great encouragement to me as she is now getting to know God’s Word not based on what others tell her but based on her own time reading and exploring its depths. Praise God!

There is much more I could write, but for now I will leave it at that. Thank you so much to those who support this mission and pray for us regularly. I continue to sleep much better in recent months after having battled insomnia for so many years, and after being bedridden with Typhoid Fever a few weeks ago my health is currently fairly strong. My husband Darwin and I will be celebrating 5 years of marriage this Sunday, and all of the local Honduran missionaries and teachers who serve alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch are doing very well.

Please continue to pray for the restoration and transformation of our foster children/teens and local students into the image of Christ, and also pray that the Lord would continue to protect us physically as we live in a very violent part of the world.

God bless you.

 

Music Concert Adventure

Last week Darwin loaded up five of our foster children and over a dozen of his local choir youth onto a rented bus along with a few adult chaperones and made the 3-hour drive to San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city to participate in their biggest concert yet. An internationally-trained director conducted one of Honduras’ largest orchestras and led approximately 200 children and teenagers from around the country as they sang classical masterpieces they had been practicing for months for this specific event.

Darwin’s group from our rural town of El Pino plus several of his students whom he teaches in the nearby city of La Ceiba on Saturdays. They had never sung in (or stepped foot in) a building so fancy!
Before going out to sing on stage, Darwin always rounds everyone up to make a massage train so that everyone relaxes!

I can see some familiar faces in that big choir!
Our boys are the ones without ties!
This is Aracely, one of our beloved teachers/missionaries who serves alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch, with our son Jason (left) and his best friend Francisco who spends about 8 hours in our home each day for Christian discipleship, academics and extracurricular classes alongside of our other students.
Here’s Darwin (teal shirt) with a group of our older teen boys, several of which we’ve been closely involved with over four years for God’s glory. 16-year-old Cristian (far right) arrived at our front gate in 2014 malnourished and illiterate as he and his little brother were simply seeking out friendship and a snack. He and four of his siblings have now all been in school with us during these last four years, and both of his parents are employed with us and actually live on our property in the watchman’s house.

Here is a video taken of one of the songs our kids sang:

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God bless you!

Spontaneous Photo Shoot: Jackeline’s Reading Perch

A couple days ago after our discipleship-based community homeschool classes had let out at 3:00pm and our local students had returned to their homes in our rural neighborhood, I crossed our quiet front yard and caught sight of our 14-year-old foster daughter reading a Christian novel while perched on top of our large play structure that is normally swarmed with kids during recess time. It warmed my heart to see her so still and at peace while reading for pleasure (she used to hate reading, and we’ve been intentionally working on this not only with her but with all of our kids), and the sight of her way up there overlooking the beautiful pastures inspired me to go grab our little digital camera and take a few undercover photos of her…

When I got up close for one of my shots of her, my cover was broken and she started laughing when she saw me!
Our 15-year-old foster daughter Carolina — who moved in with us about six months ago — watched from close by and laughed while enjoying our spontaneous photo-taking antics.
Soon enough both Carolina and another foster daughter of ours, 14-year-old Paola, joined in the fun and started swinging on the monkey bars below Jackeline’s reading spot. (Great focus, Jackeline! She just kept on reading as if they weren’t there!)
The jungle gym is not only for little kids, but also for teens! Our kids are very playful…
…And so are their parents! Now it’s my turn! (At this point Jackeline’s taking photos from her perch!)

This is a photo Jackeline took of our cows’ barn in the distance and the mountains behind our property.
Our 16-year-old son Brayan, whom we are in the process of legally adopting, has greatly grown in his maturity/initiative in these last few weeks with the help of a local tutor. He finished his homework early (which used to never happen), so he went out front to enjoy a couple hours playing with the soccer ball! Good boy!

One last shot of Jackeline on her reading perch at dusk…beautiful!


Amen! Glory to God!

The Reading Class Paparazzi

This morning I had the privilege of going room-to-room around our rural property to take each of our students out of their respective reading classes in order to take an individual photo of them.

After initially having signed up close to 70 students during our enrollment time in January, we currently have 60 who have persevered (this is normal in our area where drop-out rates are high and limited perspectives abound) and are already two-and-a-half weeks into a very rigorous, fun, and blessed year of Christian discipleship, academic classes, organic agriculture, music, and community service/evangelism with us.

Our students come from all walks of life — some are good, normal kids who come from stable families and simply need to grow in the truth of Christ; others are well into their teens and are just now entering primary school; still others have catastrophic backgrounds and are coming to know what it is to grow in a loving, God-fearing environment for the first time in their lives. This year we have several older teen boys (15-18 years old) who have decided to enter our discipleship-based homeschool after having spent the last several years of their lives working full-time or simply roaming our rural neighborhood without direction. The majority of our students have lost at least one of their parents, and even as we are in the mere beginnings of this year the Lord’s work has already begun to manifest itself in the lives of several of them.

So, this morning I walked out the front door of our cinderblock home and crossed our front yard as I entered the little bright-colored buildings to greet our precious children and teens for the second time today (the first time was this morning at 6:45am as they came streaming through our front gate, each one received by name with a hug and/or handshake). During this process of taking the individual shots, I also took photos of various groups of students who were enjoying their reading class out on our front lawn and alongside the shade of our front porch.

Enjoy the first batch of many photos that we will take this year. I didn’t include all 60 of our students, but here is a portion of them in no particular order…








Teen Training by Way of the Sweet Tooth

In our large, mixed family in which my husband and I have fostered 11 children and teens in the last four-and-a-half-years, we’ve had to find (and most times create) different methods — however wacky they might turn out to be — in order to train our precious little ones in the ways of righteousness.

Well, our ‘little ones’ are no longer little, as the majority of our kids now lie in the age range of 13-17 years old. Simple rebukes, time-outs or other common disciplinary procedures designed for small children just don’t do the trick (especially not with ours, who arrived in our home already on their way to puberty or several years into it). So, in addition to regular times of prayer, Biblical counsel and healthy family time, we’ve gotten creative in the way that we train our teens.

One constant struggle in our household (mainly among our 5 teenage girls) is that of gossiping, hurt feelings, and the like. On many occasions we’ve facilitated very on-edge conflict resolutions among our girls, always guided by prayer and asking for Christ’s peace to cover each of us in the process. By God’s grace our girls have come a long way, and they now have better (and more loving) communication skills that most of their peers but there are still certain ‘tweaks’ that we hope to make in the attitudes and behaviors in our home.

With that being said, a few nights ago a plan struck me: I would go innocently pop by our girls’ rooms to encourage them in love, and each time I would do so I would give them some kind of tiny treat. One of our girls was out for the night at a friend’s house, so our teen girls numbered four for that night. Two in one room; two in the other.

Knowing too well the attitudes we had been facing in our home in the last few weeks between these four (and their tendency to form teams against one another), I asked God for an extra dose of joy and began my absurd rounds, all in the name of brotherly (or rather sisterly) love.

I had already hugged each of our kids and bid them goodnight not 15 minutes prior, so at this point no one was expecting me to come back by again. It was still early, so I knew they would be doing homework or chit-chatting quietly in their rooms. It was a perfect opportunity for a lesson in God’s love.

I approached the first room, a black curtain hung in the doorway (our kids don’t have doors on their rooms). We had just recently painted our kids’ rooms for the first time in a few years, and this particular room now sported a beautiful turquoise blue with black music notes painted along one wall. I knocked on the frame around the curtain and asked in a joyful tune if I could come in.

They quickly answered, telling me to pass. This was Team 1, and I was determined to do all that was in my power to assure that their nightly ‘sleepover party’ didn’t turn into a gossiping match against their other sisters. I slid the curtain open, my face now beaming through it as I greeted our two precious teens with my wide, energetic eyes as they sat quietly on their floor doing the math homework I had assigned them. They looked up at me expectantly, waiting to see what I needed.

My voice rose high as I accentuated the end of the question: “Are you two loving each other?”

Their brows furrowed a little, not expecting that question, and nodded ‘yes.’ They were less than enthused with their guest.

Another question on the heels of the first: “Are you loving your other two sisters who are in the other room…?”

One of them, now a bit on the defensive, answered, “We’re not even talking about them! We’re doing our math homework.”

I kept going, undeterred, “Oh, I’m not accusing you of talking poorly of them. I’m only asking. I can see you’re both working really hard….But you’re sure you’re loving your sisters even in thought and spirit?”

A small smile cracked the lips of one of our girls, and she answered, “Yessss, Mom. In thought and spirit we love them.” The other one arched an eyebrow, which seemed to say otherwise.

That’s okay, I thought. We’ll work on that.

I kept prodding, “Okay, because as daughters of God we love others even when they aren’t present, right?”

Then they started giggling at their crazy mom who was bent on teaching them to not back-stab others, “Yesssss, Mom!

With that I whipped out my left hand that had been hidden on the other side of their curtain, revealing two little packages of Oreo cookies. “Praise God!!! I’m so proud of you girls for loving your sisters. Here are some cookies.”

I threw the cookies toward them as they reached out responsive hands to grab them in the air, now squealing with excitement. This game was not only a little weird, but also fun!

I then entered fully into their room, passing the threshold and bending down to kiss each of them on top of their head. Then I was gone, out in our living room commencing the long journey (of about a yard and a half) to reach the doorway where our other two teen girls were. This time a bright mixture of pinks and purples greeted me from the curtain dangling in their doorway.

Knock-knock. “Girls, can I come in?” My voice was sing-song, and surely they already knew what was up because in our house you can practically hear every conversation that goes on from one room to the next.

They let me pass, and in this room, too, I kept my left hand hidden behind the curtain with the treats held firmly in it. I asked them the same questions, if they were loving their sisters.

One of our teens, not at all amused and having had a pretty rough week with one of our daughters in the other room blew me off and replied, “Uh, sure. We’re loving them.” The other girl present, one of our new daughters who has only been with us a few months, looked a bit confused by my question and sing-song voice.

I wasn’t convinced, so I continued prodding with all love, “Are you loving them not only in speech and in action but also in thought and in spirit?”

The same teen replied, “Um, honestly, no. My thoughts toward them are not very loving.”

I kept going, appreciating her honesty: “Okay, then we’re going to change those thoughts. Think a loving thought about her, because that is what God wants from us. Love.”

Her face betrayed anything but enthusiasm as she then murmured something about having a nice thought about her sister, although her attitude had not really changed. I encouraged them to love and honor their sisters for love of God, not only in their presence but also behind their backs. Hesitating on whether or not they really deserved the cookies, I headed in anyway and tossed them their incentive. They both looked surprised as they received their chocolate cookies (a rare treat in Honduras), and I went to each one and gave them a kiss on top of their head. Then I left.

Only two or three minutes passed before I entered my bedroom stash and grabbed more treats, ready to do my second round of many. I went to both rooms, knocking first and then asking each group similar questions as to whether they were truly loving their sisters and honoring them in thought, deed, speech, soul and spirit. (Each time I went I made the questions longer and a bit sillier). By now they understood what was happening and answered the questions quickly and enthusiastically, waiting for their treat. After answering the questions and receiving their prize I would give each one a kiss on the top of the head and a pat on the back or a hug.

And so every few minutes — repeating itself more than five or six times — I would make the rounds to the two rooms, trying to intercept/distract/combat against any potential gossiping or bad attitudes that could easily happen during our family’s Sabbath Hour when we don’t have as much contact with them. Each time their reactions (and facial expressions) got happier, and they came to laugh really hard about the craziness of it all.

At one point — now over 30 minutes or so into the outrageous process and with our girls enjoying a small fortune of sweets — I entered the second room and the girls were laughing so hard that they were almost crying. After I asked my questions and they affirmed their love for their sisters, I went to toss them a bag of chips and they both blurted, “We thought you were going to bring lollipops!” and began howling with laughter as if that was the funniest thing anyone had ever said. I’m not sure why they thought I was going to bring lollipops or why it was so funny to them, but they both began rolling on the floor and pointing at one another with uncontrollable laughter as they struggled to breathe. I stood in the doorway and contemplated what joy can do to a person. They looked absolutely beautiful, much more so than when I first appeared and they were put-off and closed down emotionally. Now the fun could not be contained!

On my following round (which ended up being my last), I entered their same doorway and asked them the now-infamous questions. Their faces were still speckled-red and tears were brimming in their eyes from their laughing fit as they now felt eager to answer my questions. One of them, the one who was first so unenthused, actually invented a song and began sining really loud about how much she loved her sisters (by name, even including the one she hasn’t typically gotten along with!) and finished her performance off by adding, “I love my sisters in deed, in word, in thought, in soul, in spirit, with my nose, with my knees, and with my hair.” With that the laughing fit overtook her again and she began rolling around the floor, pointing at different body parts of hers and gasping that she loved her sister with her ears, her elbows, etc.

By now I was laughing along with them, and in that moment I whipped out a lollipop for my singing daughter. Her eyes grew wider (the lollipop was what she had wanted all along), and she squealed really loud and kept going with her proclamations of love as she received her reward. The other one, seeing the other lollipop in my hand, began laughing hysterically and singing her own song about how much she loves her sisters. It was a total riot, and she won her lollipop!

So, that is our crazy story that took place four nights ago in our little cinderblock home at the base of the mountains in a third world country deeply scarred by hatred and sin. It may not be much, but I share it with you so that we may all be encouraged to love one another (face to face and behind our backs) for love of God. Our Father designed us to love Him and love one another, and I believe a bit more riotous laughter within God’s perfect will can go a long way to heal certain scars caused by sin. There is a Way more excellent than that of resentment, relational wars and lack of forgiveness, and it is that of love in Christ. Be encouraged!

God bless you!

 

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