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