Here in Honduras we continue under many general restrictions that have served as a great frustration to us over the past 11 months, but we are determined not to put our grassroots Christian school on hold and leave our students’ lives adrift until this season of global uncertainty passes.
Our internet access in rural Honduras is highly unstable and the majority of our students come from families with very low economic flexibility, which means they don’t have consistent access to technology in their homes. This has made our attempts at ‘virtual education’ nearly impossible.
Thus, with a bit of creativity, risk and prayer, we’ve designed a largely off-site school program this year that we have begun as of February 2, the first official day of classes. We are not allowed to hold normal classes and activities on our Ranch as we would in normal times (this prohibition is currently in effect for all Honduran educational institutions), so we’ve decided to direct the majority of our school’s activities on a local church campus, in a backyard pavilion at one of our teachers’ homes, and in a local park. We’ve divided our student body into small groups in each location.
This year our students are still involved in evangelism activities, community service, dance class, Bible studies, P.E. class, organic agriculture and all the normal academic pursuits enjoyed under typical circumstances, just in varying locations. My husband Darwin is excited to have started up his youth choir again, seeking to involve many of the local youth in our town who are not enrolled in any school and spend much of their day wandering without purpose.
We ask that you pray for us as we implement this counter-cultural off-site program and that the local educational authorities do not interfere in our sincere attempts to continue educating, molding and loving our students for God’s glory.
I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband, our foster children and the few dozen students/staff in our school. We want to sincerely thank those who continue to pray for and financially support this ongoing mission on the northern coast of Honduras.
Through this post I would like to extend the offer to pray for you. Our family has developed the daily discipline of interceding in prayer for others each morning before beginning our daily activities, so I would just like to leave the door open should you feel you want our family to pray for you specifically. Our family is learning that many times we humans try to fight our ‘battles’ in our own strength or by our own means, but truly much of what we face has spiritual implications and must be fought through prayer before the Lord. My email address is JenniferZillyCanales@gmail.com should you feel led to contact us privately and share with us a personal struggle or concern. We have little to offer in general terms, but it would be our honor and joy to pray for you if you reach out to us.
I will keep this post fairly short; our daily commitments and service-oriented lifestyle continue on in much the same way as I’ve reported on this blog the last several months. We are thankful that God has opened up recent communication with several of the teens who lived with us for a season but currently find themselves outside our home. We’ve had the privilege of parenting 12 youth in all since 2013, and currently 5 continue living under our watchful care. We sense God is orchestrating much reconciliation among us and opening doors for new mentor-type relationships with several of our 7 foster sons and daughters who had dropped out of our lives for a season. This is a huge triumph!
I would ask for prayers regarding the publishing of my first book, as I’m in the midst of a possible change of publisher. There are many decisions to be made, and it is my hope that throughout the process God may be glorified and that many lives will be impacted as a final result. Thank you for your prayers!
God bless you and your loved ones, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of service or encouragement to you in any way.
Sincerely in Christ, Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission
We write to you from our ranch homestead in Honduras on the starting line of another Central American rainy season. We sincerely hope you and your loved ones are well and thriving despite the pandemic.
The Honduran post office finally opened up after having been closed the past six months, but they are only mailing letters to a short list of American cities, and for 16 times the normal price! Needless to say, our hand-written thank-you notes to those who support this mission have still been unable to be sent! : ) Via this post we would, however, like to extend our sincere thanks to all those who continue to pray for and financially support this little mission in this corner of the world. It has been and remains our intention to be a small, flickering flame to those around us for God’s glory, lighting others’ paths and encouraging those near and far in the truth of Christ. Please continue to pray for us that God might grant us persevering faith so that this purpose might be accomplished.
We continue to operate our small Christian school long-distance as the majority of our students are now receiving their education out of our teachers’ homes. My husband frequently does house-visits to several of our students’ homes in order to encourage them and oversee their progress, both spiritually and academically. We are waist-deep in many agricultural and maintenance projects on our ranch where we live and serve, and I have put on the hat of “stay-at-home mom” for the past six months as my days have largely revolved around the constant care of our five foster teens and the daily management of our household as I’m currently not teaching classes, directing meetings with our teachers, etc, in the traditional sense.
We would ask for prayer during this time for sleep issues in our household. I’ve struggled with nearly constant insomnia for about 15 years, and recently a couple of our teenage foster daughters have begun complaining about sleepless nights and ensuing fatigue during the day. My nearly constant state of sleeplessness and now that of some of our children is perhaps the most consistent and disconcerting factor in our household. We don’t know what the root cause of this is, and the remedies we’ve tried thus far have proved ineffective, so we simply ask for prayer in this respect for our family. Under such circumstances it is easy to feel discouraged and adrift as you just try to get through each day. Thank you for your prayers!
Every morning as a family we have a devotional and pray together before commencing the day’s activities. We’d like to encourage you to join us in prayer for the worldwide pandemic and all that it implies. God bless you and your loved ones in your daily affairs, and may we each live in accordance with God’s will and with our hopes placed firmly in His promises.
Greetings to all from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras.
I’m relieved to inform you that the political crisis has calmed down a bit lately, and the roads have been open with no noticeable protests for the last several weeks. We continue to pray that peace and justice might prevail in Honduras and that God might grant our leaders true wisdom so as to effect God-honoring, long-term solutions for this hurting nation.
Below I share with you a diverse set of photos (and detailed explanations!) from our daily life of service in this little corner of the world…
God bless you, and thank you for your continued prayers and support. Please pray that the Lord might increasingly shine His light through us and that many might come to repentance and saving faith in Christ through this hidden yet faithful work.
Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission
PS — Please feel free to contact me directly at JenniferZillyCanales@yahoo.com if you would like to share any personal prayer requests with me and/or reach out with any questions, suggestions or concerns.
We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. Below is a variety of photos we’ve taken in our daily academic and discipleship activities in the family-oriented community homeschool we operate out of our home, the Living Waters Ranch.
At the end of the photos there is a brief prayer request for those who might lift us up before the Lord in prayer during this time. God bless you all, and we give our sincere thanks to those who financially support and/or pray for us and those whom we care for. To God be the glory in all.
Book report presentation
Without going into too many details, I will share that our home with our 7 foster children/teens ages 12-18 is currently going through a couple very painful upheavals/trials, and there are likely to be some big changes around the corner for our family in the coming weeks. Fostering/adopting young people who come from very dysfunctional backgrounds is not easy, and our relationship with a couple of our older girls is reaching a very precarious state as they are making very poor/dangerous decisions and refuse to submit to our authority, seek the Lord on the matter, or take our advice. Please pray that the Lord might grant all of us (my husband, myself and our children) peace during this volatile time, and that the Lord would take control of any and all changes that need to take place in order to assure the safety, wellbeing and spiritual growth of those in our household for God’s glory. Thank you for praying for us.
From time to time I enjoy posting photo galleries from our daily life and ministry in rural Honduras for those outside of our immediate context who probably wonder what exactly our days look like here.
Our normal daily commitment involves getting up at 4:45am and dedicating our waking hours to a fairly organized schedule of teaching, discipling, community evangelism, homemaking and deepening our walk with the Lord alongside of many people (mainly teenagers) for God’s glory until about 8:00pm or so when we retire for the day.
In the midst of our daily efforts to share hope with those nearest to us and proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom (in word and deed), we give God all the glory for His transformative work in this little corner of the globe.
God bless you, and I hope you enjoy the following photos taken by Jessica, one of our beloved local missionary-teachers. Please continue to pray for Honduras’ current political crisis and that the Lord might grant this nation peace.
God bless you, and thank you for your prayers and support.
A couple months ago a young man in our discipleship-based homeschool began asking when we would hold a baptism because he wanted to be baptized. He is an older teen who has only been in our school since February of this year, and he had previously lived his life quite adrift in our rural neighborhood without any real knowledge of God. He had been abandoned by both of his parents at a young age, and the disorderly reputation he established henceforth was quite well-known. (To be more exact, one of our teen foster daughters mentioned to me that they had gone as a group to his house in January and invited him to enroll in school on our rural ministry homestead specifically because he was so desperately lost.)
Thus, we were all surprised to see this precious teen’s newborn faith blossoming up within him and the new way in which he spoke and acted with deepened sincerity. The Lord was truly changing him, and he was eagerly soaking up all the Biblical teaching and guidance he could get in his search for Christ. He came to us repeatedly over the ensuing months in the midst of our daily relationship with him, explaining to us his faith in Christ and that he eagerly desired to be baptized as an important step in his walk with the Lord.
Through this one young man’s faithful insistence, we felt the Lord guiding us to open up the opportunity to the 40+ youth in our small school to see if there was anyone else who likewise wished to be baptized as a public proclamation of their faith in Christ.
The following photos record the event that took place in a local river earlier this month. We know that these photos do not capture a final declaration of faith and salvation but rather the very beginning of a lifelong walk under the lordship of Christ. Please pray with us that these youth might be granted the perseverance, wisdom and faith to continuing cultivating this life with Christ for the rest of their days and that they might not so easily drift back into the complacency and sin from which they came. We truly hope that the Holy Spirit might ensure that this work of faith in their hearts might reach completion and that God might be glorified through their lives as his beloved sons and daughters.
God bless you, and thank you to all who pray for and financially support this little mission on the northern coast of Honduras. We love the role the Lord has given us in His Kingdom and thank Him for your generous participation in this work. To Him be the glory.
Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission
All of these photos were taken by Randy and Marcia Orban who were visiting us during the time the baptism took place.
I write to you from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern strip of Honduras.
Please enjoy the following collection of photos taken from our daily life of love and Christian discipleship among the youth whom we serve through our little discipleship school. (We have many newer photos we’ve taken in the last several days, but first I want to share this batch before revealing the others.)
Farther down I have also included a new prayer request in addition to follow-up regarding our previous prayer request shared several weeks ago.
Thank you to all those who had prayed for our previous request in regards to our relationship with the local educational authorities – my husband has had a few unforeseen breakthroughs in our communication with them and we are currently enjoying a more peaceful season under their supervision although still with great paperwork demands and certain external pressures. Please keep this ongoing petition for peace with government authorities in prayer (and that their ever-changing regulations might not become a stumbling block or distraction to the calling the Lord has given us to form young people in Christ), but let us also give thanks to God for having acted on our behalf in the last few weeks! Thank you for praying.
NEW PRAYER REQUEST
I now will ask for prayer in regard to my sleeping patterns, as the arrival of our newest teen foster daughter (named Soad) roughly five weeks ago has triggered my insomnia and I have had great difficulty sleeping each night since.
Her arrival was accepted out of obedience to God as He called us to offer our family to her, and we are fully convinced that we made the right decision. Nonetheless, some of her behaviors in these first several weeks have been very taxing on me personally and on our family as a whole, and we are looking to God for continued healing for her and wisdom for us in how to best parent her for God’s glory.
Also, our other 6 foster children are all going through their own emotional ups and downs and insecurities with having a new “instant sibling” in our house. Last night we had a very long and productive family meeting in which many laid their feelings bare in a very honest and loving way and at the end we all prayed together, but there is still a long way to go to establish a “new normal” for all and assure God’s best for everyone in our household.
Please pray with us for Soad, that her transition into our family might bring with it peace and joy to her heart (and the hearts of our other 6), and for me, that the Lord might grant me total peace and trust — especially at night — as I rest in Him and don’t try to take things on in my own strength. Thank you, and God bless.
The government agency called twice, and I said no both times without giving it a second thought.
My husband Darwin and I had decided between the two of us that we would not be receiving any additional foster children for at least the next several years. Most of our foster children are currently teenagers whose delicate needs require our full attention, plus our little discipleship-based homeschool that we run out of our rural homestead has been growing to such an extent that directing, teaching and community discipling has become a beautiful yet very time-consuming daily venture.
A few weeks ago we reintegrated Josue, our special-needs foster son, back into a healthy family situation with his biological grandmother, and afterward things in our house actually became almost normal — calmer, more organized, fairly predictable — for the first time in almost six years.
My husband and I breathed deep and contemplated those in our household — five teenage daughters and one pre-teen son, some as long-term fosters and others in the process of being legally adopted by us.
After going through numerous ups and downs as new parents and having had up to 10 in our home at a time, 6 seemed manageable and even easy. The house even seemed tangibly cleaner than usual and I thanked God that we had survived the brutal years of unwanted poo- and pee- disasters with 2 special needs foster children. On the walls, on the rug, in the bed — you name it. But those days were over, at least for the time being…
My selfish prayer seemed like it just might come true, “Oh God, I just want a normal life. At least slightly normal, slightly calm. My husband and I have virtually no ‘personal time’ and oftentimes feel stretched thin. I don’t even know what it means to sustain a normal friendship with normal people anymore. We love our kids dearly and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You have called us to parent them for Your glory, but sometimes it is so hard and their healing process is messy at best. Please grant us some sense of normalcy and ease in this season in Jesus’ name. I’m exhausted.”
No-more-kids and We-want-a-sane-household have been our soft battlecries over the last several months, and it almost seemed like we were achieving our desired goal.
Until the government agency called twice.
My husband and I have every right to say no when they call us about receiving a new child or teen into our family, and I absolutely exercised that right in the name of defending my own sanity. What was our motto? No-more-kids, and I was sticking to my guns.
Well, as many of us know, oftentimes our own plans are just that: our own plans, not God’s. As I said my second ‘no’ over the phone to the government social worker whom I know and get along with very well, I was ready to politely hang up the phone and carry on with my business when the Lord led me to consider the possibility of laying my own plans — my own sanity, my own control — on the altar in the name of love.
What I did next — pause long enough to ask the social worker the details about the person at hand — brought with it a God-designed tidal wave that utterly and completely wiped out all of our own plans for normalcy and familial stability.
Thirteen year-old girl. Has already lived as an adult man’s wife. Dad’s not in the picture. Mom is highly unstable. Needs a family.
As I listened in silence to all the details I probably could have imagined on my own — for the majority of cases are very similar in the aspects of familial abandonment/irresponsibility and some element of sexual abuse — the social worker actually began pleading. “We have nowhere else to put her.”
Emotionally detached as much as possible from the phone conversation (because sometimes it is easier not to feel too deeply), I thought ‘Of course. Most people are scared to death about receiving teenagers, especially those with adult sexual experiences. They came looking for us because they know we love our teen girls and have had a large measure of success with them…’
The social worker continued, “If you receive her, you would be giving her…an opportunity at life.”
An opportunity to live. To find life in Christ. To know joy. To grow up in a family like any normal 13-year-old girl.
By this point in the conversation the Lord was working mightily on my heart, and I asked more questions before telling the social worker that we would agree to meet the girl but would make no over-the-phone commitment to take her in before seeing her face-to-face and talking with her. The social worker was ecstatic.
After hanging up, I went directly to our little office building we share with our local Honduran missionaries/teachers who serve alongside of us in our community homeschool. I found one of our female teachers fairly unoccupied and asked her for prayer and counsel. She quickly accepted, and we sat down next to each other on the little purple couch in the prayer room in our office building and closed the door for more privacy.
I shared openly and extensively with her, both secretly excited about the possibility of extending “an opportunity at life” to one more person while also tense and scared about all that could go wrong.
I voiced my thoughts as she listened attentively, “I mean, we could take her in, but there are a thousand other teen girls in her same situation — dysfunctional family, history of sexual abuse/sin —“
Our beloved teacher nodded quietly, fully aware that in our area of Honduras there are numerous cases of 12- and 13-year-old girls who already live with their “boyfriends” or who daily endure unhealthy home-lives. The need is oftentimes overwhelming.
I continued, “And, it just wouldn’t be realistic to take in a thousand of them. I mean, we can’t be family to a thousand.” My argument sounded right-on, and I felt I was gaining momentum. Our teacher nodded in agreement again, quietly listening as I verbally processed the storm within me.
But in that very moment the Lord struck me deep and to such an extent that His very words came out of my own mouth, dripping with conviction as I made a 180 degree turn in my argument. I said slowly, “But He’s not asking us to take in a thousand. They called us about one. Only one.”
I felt like in that moment I had surrendered to His will in one fatal blow. ‘You won,’ I thought with great heaviness mixed with the first fruits of joy welling up in my heart. He was indeed calling us to start over again with a new lost daughter of His. Not with a thousand, but with just one. And I would obey not only willingly but with a joy that very few can understand.
My teacher friend and I sat in silence several moments as the weight of the situation — and the enormity of the decision being considered — sat heavily between us. I repeated, “He’s just asking us to take in one…”
At the end of our conversation she prayed with me for the young woman in question and that the Lord might grant my husband and I the love, strength and wisdom to accept this new challenge if He should so desire us to take it on.
Fast-forward three days.
We went into the government-run complex to meet the young woman, her psychologist and the lawyers/social worker involved in her case. We asked the key questions we needed to ask, got our kids involved in the process of meeting her and exchanging several question-answer games with her, and throughout the entire encounter we felt the undeniable peace of God as confirmation. We would soon be parents to six teenage daughters and one pre-teen son.
The adjustment would of course be difficult for all, as our home tends to be in total upheaval for the ensuing 3-6 months each time a new person arrives as new friendships are forged and the teenage hierarchy is re-shuffled as everyone tries to find out all over again where they fit on the totem pole. There are oftentimes feelings of jealously and insecurity to be carefully dealt with in our kids who’ve been with us the longest, and Mom and Dad have to engage in the dogged task of forging a close relationship with a new, possibly frightened teen all over again.
Even so, it is a small price to be paid in comparison with what our Lord did on the cross to save us all, and it is the way in which He has called my husband and I to share in His sufferings (and likewise eventually share in His glory). To love the lost; to be parents to the fatherless; to extend hospitality and grace to those who might even make us suffer greatly in the short-term for having done so.
I spoke with the social worker and her eyes grew like saucers when I said yes, and the young woman (Soad, pronounced So-add) enthusiastically said that she would like to move in the same day.
That night — about two-and-a-half weeks ago — my husband and I prepared a foam mattress on our bedroom floor for our new arrival. Instead of moving her in with our teen girls all at once, we decided to have her with us for the first week in order to help ease her transition more calmly while also forging some semblance of parent-child bond with her in a condensed amount of time.
We sat down on the cool tile floor next to her mattress and asked if we could pray for her. She said yes. After doing so we tucked her into bed — our teenage-sized new baby! — and gave her a hug and a kiss before climbing into our own bed not three feet from hers.
My husband quickly drifted off into sweet slumber as I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, hot room. My heart raced for joy as I listened closely trying to identify if our new daughter had already fallen asleep or was still wide awake as I was. Did she feel welcome and loved here? Would we be able to form a close bond with time, or would she prove distant and guarded? Would she sleep throughout the night or wake up screaming with nightmares? What if she stopped breathing right there on her mattress?
My mind raced with a thousand thoughts as I thanked God in my heart for who He is and for leading us on this wild adventure, especially because it was never our plan to begin with. The minutes turned to hours as I periodically tried to steal glances at our new daughter’s still form in our dark room, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I drifted off to sleep in spite of the heavenly joy that I felt might burst right out through my bones…
We thank God for these processes He takes us through as He draws us closer to His own heart and enables us to participate in His quest to reach lost humanity. Please pray for us during this time, especially for our other kids as they adjust to having to share Mom and Dad with someone new. God bless you all, and thank you to those who pray for and financially support this little mission in rural Honduras. To God be the glory.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
This post is for those who routinely pray for us and the small mission the Lord has placed under our care in Honduras. Thank you for remembering us and for lifting up our requests to our Father, asking continually that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Request: Government Favor
In the past few weeks the need for government favor (and efficacy) has been pressed upon us greatly, as we must interact with the local government in the operation of our school, the adoption of our children, and in several other facets of our daily life and ministry here. There is much corruption and confusion, and it is very easy to feel oppressed and drained by the monster of a system we come up against.
We have been actively beating down bushes in our efforts to legally adopt three of our children (the oldest of which is now 18 years old) for the past several years. During the last 18+ months the government lawyer at the Honduran Child Protective Services office has been telling me that any day now they would be calling me to present myself in a courthouse that lies 2+ hours away from our house to take the next crucial step in the adoption process. To make a long (and excruciating) story short, the courthouse called our government lawyer two days ago at 2:00pm to notify her that I needed to present myself in the court (which is a 2+ hour drive from our home) that same day at 1:30pm (as in, half an hour before). That news reached me today, and I am absolutely devastated that we missed our court date (because they did not notify us on time) after roughly a year-and-a-half of waiting. We are now back to square one and wondering if we will ever truly be able to adopt our children (who in less than two weeks will be hitting their 5-year mark of living with us).
We also need government permission in order to open the next grade of our discipleship-based homeschool that we operate out of our rural homestead (we currently offer 1st grade through 9th grade), and after many confusing phone calls and vague answers we put together a detailed document seeking government permission to open 10th grade and they flatly refused without any real reason. There are a lot of politics involved in the Honduran education system, and my husband Darwin stayed up investigating the laws and re-writing our proposal until 2:00am this morning and is going back into town to try to speak directly with the mayor and several other officials. It is very important that we are able to open 10th grade (and then 11th, which is the last grade in Honduran high school) in order to persevere with the good work in the lives of the teens who have already been in our program several years. We want to be able to offer the last two grades of high school under our tutelage at the Living Waters Ranch so that our kids are not forced to finish their education in the less-than-acceptable public system fraught with fraud and mediocrity.
I will spare the details of our other frustrating experiences, and will conclude this request by simply asking that you would pray with us for radical change (and wisdom) in the Honduran government, as much in its personal members as in its overall structure, and that the overall oppression in the country would be lifted as its citizens and residents might be able to go about their daily affairs without constantly coming up against a huge metaphorical brick wall painted haphazardly with the phrases, “No,” “Not today,” or “It cannot be done.” Please pray also for my attitude in the midst of all this and that the work God desires to do in His Honduran people would flourish even in the midst of such debilitating inefficacy, corruption and potential despair.
Please consider our requests and pray with us so that God might tend to our legal needs so that we not be unduly drained or distracted from our principal purpose in Honduras, which is to love, teach and disciple children and youth (and the occasional adult) in the Way of Christ.
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.
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.
Twice weekly at the Living Waters Ranch all of our staff (a small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionaries/teachers plus my husband and me) and about 30 or so of our more mature students gather together in our large, cement-floored dining room for Bible study. We sit on wooden benches in a large, imperfect circle as we worship God together through song and then seek to grow together in knowledge of the truth and obedience as we study His Word.
We have gone through many different and very edifying topics this year: the existence of evil in the world, existential questions (and their Biblical answers), God’s desire that we connect with him and with other human beings (and that we not connect exclusively with technology/machines), several of Jesus’ parables and teachings, archeological evidence that backs the Bible’s veracity, our sexual identity as men and women made in God’s image, etc.
As has happened to me on many occasions, while I am reading the Bible or simply going about my daily business it is as though out of nowhere God deposits an idea or a direction into my mind that I am then to go share with everyone else during our group Bible study time. The following story is one such case.
A few weeks ago in my free time I was reading the book Jesus Calling, a wonderful devotional book. The certain page I was on mentioned something about the fact that we humans tend to pick the path of least resistance. I remember that the devotion itself was about an entirely different theme, but my eyes studied that one phrase about a dozen times as an idea was suddenly deposited very abruptly and undeniably into my mind, and my hand burned to write it down. I grabbed my little teal-colored spiral notebook where I do my planning for the twice-weekly Bible studies, and my hand furiously began tracing out a long, intricate plan. I felt that I had to write it down as quickly as possible so that the precious idea would not get lost among the many other thoughts that are always bouncing around my mind. Once all written down (including little drawings that gave more life to the overall idea), I became extremely surprised and excited. I couldn’t believe I had to wait two or three more days until the chance would arrive to put into action the idea that God had just given me! It would be a powerful illustration for all: presented the option to choose the easier way or that which promises immense difficulty, which will you choose? (And how can we then use this ‘game’ to better understand – and choose! – the narrow path of Christ which leads to eternal life?)
The challenge would be simple: we would exit our concrete-floored dining room (our normal setting for Bible study) en masse in order to go out onto our front lawn to engage in a hands-on demonstration of what it means to choose between the narrow (hard) and the wide (easy) path. Many of our teens have heard this teaching of Jesus’ many times, but to live it in a condensed period in order to grant greater reflection? This would be the first time.
One of our teachers helped me to film the majority of the event (also a first, as we typically don’t film our Bible studies) as I began explaining to everyone that they would each be given to options:
Wide, Easy Path:
You can walk, run, give a friend a piggy-back ride, etc. (You may travel any way you choose.)
You can talk, joke, make fun of others, etc.
Your goal: reach the large fruit tree (beyond the Living Waters Ranch’s front gate) a few hundred meters from our starting spot.
(Oh, and please do everything you can to discourage and make fun of those on the narrow path. You can put obstacles in their path, try to confuse or distract them, etc, but please don’t physically harm them.) Have fun as much fun as possible!
Narrow, Hard Path:
You cannot travel as you choose. You must crawl backwards with a blindfold in place, effectively destroying your ability to see where you are going. You must also grip a pencil between your teeth, impeding your speech.
You may not talk with anyone. If you are lost and need help, the only thing you can say is, “Help! Help! Where am I going?” and if at any point your shoes come off your hands or your pencil falls out of your mouth, you must immediately say, “Forgive me.” You may not say anything else at any point.
You must not listen to or heed anyone’s voice but Jennifer’s.
Your end goal is the same as the other group’s (the large fruit tree a good distance off).
You are free to give up at any point and join the easier group.
As I explained the rather simple instructions to the large group in front of me, each person was completely free to join the “wide path” – the group that promised total ease, or the “narrow path” – that which physically would prove more challenging (not to mention the potential embarrassment at having to crawl backwards such a long distance in the manner I had proposed).
I thought that surely only two or three of our more outgoing teen boys would dare to join the “narrow path,” but much to my surprise 12 students and 3 teachers chose it by their own free will! They were very brave indeed.
A couple teens were indecisive and eventually chose the easier group with the rest of the roughly twenty participants. Let the games begin! (I had never orchestrated this type of large-group challenge before, so in my planning I thought we would take 15-20 minutes tops, but the whole ordeal extended beyond an hour.)
Those who had chosen the narrow path grabbed their blindfolds and submitted themselves to the embarrassing position on all fours as I egged the “wide path” participants on to make the lives of the “narrow path” participants as unbearable as possible.
My 15 brave souls lined up, all totally blindfolded and unable to see, and they each had to crawl backwards through a hula-hoop that represented the moment of salvation. (This is part of the idea of “a door and a path” that I understand from God’s Word. We must first walk through the door of repentance and salvation – that first moment of trusting in Christ – and then there is a long path, oftentimes difficult, before us that extends until the end of our lives.)
The game got complicated quickly as some of my blindfolded participants sped off down the path, effectively beyond earshot, while I had to stay behind trying to guide those who dragged along slowly. I walked between blinded participants trying to guide and encourage them as best I could. More than one of them began scooting off in the wrong direction, heading for the middle of the cows’ pasture, and others bumped into the fence or couldn’t find the gate to pass through.
Those who were free to walk as they chose (those on the wide path, which represents the way of the world in which all is permitted) really did a phenomenal job making the crawlers’ lives impossible. At first they just tried to verbally discourage them, laugh at them and disorient them, but soon enough they got creative and began obstructing their path with tires and fallen branches. They even reached the point of picking up certain smaller students and completely relocating them in order to confuse them further and physically resisting the crawling people with their own weight and cunning. Crawling backwards blindfolded several hundred meters over rocks would have been a good enough lesson, but with the “evil” tactics of the other members they truly made the journey painful and nearly impossible. (And isn’t this a perfect illustration of the Christian life? Is it not true that those who are in the world try to discourage, disorient and make fun of those who are on the narrow path of Christ? Yes; this was panning out to be the perfect illustration of the spiritual walk with Christ – difficult; at times lonely; trusting a voice that you cannot see.)
The limited pages of this post do not allow me the space necessary to adequately explain the depths of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. What began as a let’s-see-how-this-goes teaching experiment turned out to be an epic battle between good and evil. It was the ultimate test of perseverance and faith, and as we meditated on the spiritual ramifications we felt like we were walking on sacred ground, discovering just what it takes to follow Christ until the end.
At one point after we crossed the threshold of the outer gate on our rural property and were then at-large in the outskirts of our town (a large, strange mass of people crawling around blindfolded while others shrieked and cackled as they threw tires in their path) a local young man and his friends stopped dead in their tracks, stunned and impressed by the strange game we were doing. This opened the door for one of our veteran teachers to talk to him about the way of Christ, and he stood with her, listening, for several minutes as he observed with awe the spectacle before him.
The entire experience lasted much longer than any of us had imagined, and we went far beyond the time allotted for our bi-weekly Bible study. We had already passed the time for prayer groups and were willing to use up our recess time in order to finish what we had started. The only thing that mattered was the goal of reaching the fruit tree beyond the gate.
In Honduran culture, perseverance is not always a very strong point in our area as many people give up on their education, their families, etc, when confronted with difficulties, so the very fact that 15 people dared to participate in this daunting task (and 14 completed it; only 1 decided to give up) was reason to give thanks to God for the gritty character He is forming in those under our guidance. Wow!
Well, the biggest surprise was reserved for last. Once everyone reached their goal of arriving at the distant fruit tree, those on the narrow path soaked with sweat and dirty from head to toe (and many with very raw emotions after having been effectively bullied to their breaking point), everyone trudged back up the long, gravel path to our starting point: our large, concrete-floored dining room where our traditional wooden benches awaited us. Everyone thought the activity had finished, but I knew that the best was reserved for last: each person’s recompense for the path they had chosen.
Everyone trudged back into our dining room as their faces displayed that they were more than ready for this whole experiment to be over with. I sat them all down and then asked for those who were on the wide, easy path to stand in the middle of the circle. They all whooped and hollered and stood proudly in the middle of the wooden benches as I explained that they had definitely chosen what was easier and that they had been very astute to take care of their appearance so that no one would bully them. They had, after all, chosen what any intelligent person would choose: the path of least resistance. I congratulated them for their participation and then handed each of them a piece of candy, encouraging them to go ahead and eat their reward. They whooped and hollered again and then fell into sudden silence when they began opening their candy wrappers and popping into their mouths…balls of gooey flour! I had created “trick candy” the day before during a slot of free time I had – the candy wasn’t candy at all! Their reward was pure deceit…
They laughed and returned to their seats, effectively without any reward at all. I then asked the weary, bullied members of the narrow, difficult path to stand up in the middle of the circle of wooden benches. They studied me carefully, wondering what their prize would be. Was their going to be any prize at all, or just a simple pat-on-the-back of congratulation? I could barely contain my excitement, for I knew just what was in store for this brave, faithful group.
I began handing out an envelope for each one and then instructed them to open them all at once. What was inside? The Honduran equivalent of $10, which is a lot of money here, and a handmade coupon stating that they had also won a soda and a big bag of chips (a really popular snack in Honduran culture) and that two of their detentions would be erased at the end of the grading period (a big plus for any student in academic trouble).
They began squealing with delight and reveling in their extravagant reward – it was much greater than anything they had every imagined. In that moment our young psychologist, who is in her first year of service with us, unexpectedly broke out in tears and came over to me to receive a long hug.
Amidst the great celebration for those who had persevered in the difficult path, all of their trouble suddenly seemed forgotten as the prize greatly outweighed any difficulty they confronted along the grueling path.
There are so many parallels between this moring-hour challenge and the ongoing path for each one of us as we choose between the wide, easy path of the world (where any belief, action or attitude is permitted with great tolerance) and the narrow, difficult path of Christ that, in the end, provides a greater recompense than any of us could have ever imagined.
We spent the next two Bible studies reviewing the videos taken and discussing in-depth the many parallels between our game and the spiritual reality in each of our lives. Praise be to God for this wacky yet extremely effective idea He planted in me several weeks ago, and please continue to pray with us that each of the youth under our guidance would joyfully choose the narrow path of Christ and live for Him as they eagerly await the reward of an eternity with God.
Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. Please know that we could not operate the way we do as we touch lives with God’s Word and His love if it were not for your generosity in partnering with us. Thank you for trusting us, and God bless each of you. Please be encouraged by this story of the narrow path.
With gratitude and joy in Christ,
Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew