Tag Archives: CTEN Missionary

Communication Sabbatical + Year-End Request

I send you our warm greetings from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead in Honduras.

I write to inform you of two things:

  1. I will be taking a communication sabbatical from this blog during the next four weeks. I hope to spend more focused time with my husband and our 6 foster children as all of us will have our annual  month-long break from our normal school, work and ministry activities.
  2. Our ministry income has unexpectedly come up short these last three months and our funds are currently much lower than they should be. If you desire to support this mission through a year-end tax-deductible donation, you can do so electronically through the following link: DONATE LIVING WATERS RANCH.

Please pray for us during this upcoming month as my husband Darwin and I seek to slow down and rediscover how to live a quiet, private life before the Lord while cultivating our foster children/teens in Christ.

We will be working on several agricultural and maintenance projects with our foster children around our rural property in addition to blessing our neighbors through small evangelistic/service-oriented activities in our rural neighborhood. We recently invested in a small herd of sheep for our farm, and we are in the process of teaching our four teenage daughters to drive. As a family we will be doing a lot of cooking and domestic labors as we slow down this month, and my parents will also be visiting us soon.

Thank you to all who pray for us and support this mission financially. We could not serve in the way that we do without you. God bless you, and may your holiday season abound in rest, joy and the Lord’s perfect peace. I look forward to being in touch in mid-January.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Last Photo Update of the Year 2019

We send you our warm greetings from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. Below is quite an extensive album of photos displaying our daily life and ministry in our hidden corner of the world. To God be all the glory, and we sincerely thank those who pray for and financially support this ongoing mission to teach, parent and disciple Honduran youth in Jesus’ name.

This is Erick, one of our highly dedicated local missionary-teachers posing with one of our students in a recent boys’ retreat/campout on a local beach. These extracurricular events are organized several times a year as a way of further deepening our investment in our students’ lives as we guide them in the way of Christ.
Here is a group of 5 of our local students, all 7th-graders, at a late-night get-together on someone’s front lawn to do homework together. (Many families in our neighborhood do not have very spacious homes, so they’ll move a plastic table and chairs on the front lawn in order to do homework or entertain guests.) Two of these young men were baptized by us this year.
Here is my husband Darwin’s little orchestra in one of their twice-weekly practices. (In our area of Honduras there are little to no orchestras and/or musical training, so the ongoing discipline and passion it takes to organize such a group is a big achievement here.)

This is one of our older teen students in a recent community service project in our local community. A big part of what we do is serve our students/youth, but from there we train them to humbly serve others as Christ taught (so that the blessing does not stop with them but rather multiplies and blesses others).
This is my husband Darwin in a recent choir performance in a local mall. He trains our more mature/disciplined students and foster children to sing Christian and classical songs in several different languages, and they oftentimes get invited to sing in public venues.

This is Fernando, another one of our local missionary-teachers who works alongside of Darwin to teach guitar and choir to a group of our students. He is also an agricultural engineer and has many years of experience teaching at the university level here in Honduras.
This is Jessica (far left), another one of our local missionary-teachers, at a road race with the family of one of our students. We as a ministry strive to be involved in the local community and connect with our students and their families not only in the classroom but also in their daily lives for God’s glory.
This is a group choir practice in which Lawny, one of our very high-energy local missionary-teachers is teaching our students fun hand-movements to go with each song.

More trash pick-up! As you might have seen in some of our previous posts, we as a ministry are periodically involved in local trash pick-up, as the culture here does not typically reflect much discipline/order as far as trash collection goes. Many people throw their trash alongside public walkways, and we have taken it upon ourselves to begin setting a good example and serving where/when we can.

This is Aracely, one of our beloved local missionary-teachers on her 30th birthday. We surprised her by celebrating alongside of our entire team in our little office building.
My husband Darwin, who is our tiny school’s 6th-grade teacher, did a  fundraiser with his students throughout several months in order to earn enough money to help them buy part of their school uniforms/supplies for next school year (which here starts in February). This is a big deal here, as many students’ families struggle to purchase their kids’ school materials each year.
These are the butter cookies my husband and his students baked and sold during months in order to raise money to buy their school supplies. Talk about hands-on training in microenterprise and perseverance!
This is Brayan, one of our foster children who lived with us on-and-off for several years before eventually leaving home last year. He has since entered the Honduran military and recently completed his basic training, which is an honorable achievement for him. He even came to stay with us recently on his 10-day leave, and we were able to pray with/for him and continue investing in him in this new stage of his life.
Kyshia, a Christian missionary who has served in Honduras nearly 40 years, has become a close friend and mentor for my husband and me. Recently, she came out to our ministry property to do a hands-on workshop with our entire staff on the topic of sexual abuse and what our response should be as Christians.

My husband Darwin is a talented swimmer (self-taught) and now leads several weekly swimming classes for our students in a local river a short walk from our ministry property. This photo shows his group of older teen boys enjoying flexing their muscles.

This is the coast of La Ceiba, the nearest local city to our ministry property and a site where we oftentimes organize school field trips.
Here is Darwin’s group of younger teen boys toying with the idea of jumping off the ledge into the river to begin class…

This is our foster daughter Paola “studying” for one of her final exams a few weeks ago in our living room. I caught her sleeping on the job and couldn’t resist snapping this shot!
The visual quality of this photo is not great, but it sure does provide a good laugh! This is Josue, our special-needs foster son who is back living with us for a few months doing his “cool” pose with my sunglasses.
Here is my husband Darwin with three of our teenage foster daughters in our recent year-end school event. (The traditional school calendar in Honduras ends in late November.)
This is a recent dinner I served in our home with our foster children. Most meals include some combination of beans and/or rice with eggs, cheese, etc.
Here is one of our local students in organic agriculture class on our rural ministry homestead. All of our students are involved in agricultural training as a means of character/spiritual development under the faithful tutelage of one of our local missionary-teachers.

This is one of our foster daughters with her biological nephew. Several of our foster children are in monthly contact with their biological family members and we enjoy cultivating a healthy relationship with them.
This is our staff of missionary-teachers and tutors  who serve at the Living Waters Ranch. (My husband Darwin was on the mike and for that reason cannot be seen in the photo.)
Here is my husband Darwin on a recent field trip with some of his 6th-grade students.
Darwin also teaches swimming with our female students and foster daughters. Several of them have lost their fear of water through this class and have learned to swim various strokes for the first time in their lives.

God bless you! Thank you for allowing us to share!

 

 

Grassroots Honduran Education: A Cultural Tour

I write this post mainly for those living outside of Honduras who wish to gain a deeper understanding of a few of the key cultural factors that characterize grassroots Honduran education. Below I humbly share with you a series of photos taken on our rural ministry homestead over the past few weeks along with their respective explanations about different aspects of traditional Honduran culture (as I understand them in my 7 years of living here).

If you find this post informative and would like me to exhibit another facet of our life here (possibly the day-to-day realities of fostering in our Honduran context, etc), you may leave a comment at the end or contact me personally with your request.

God bless you, and thank you for your interest in and support of this work. To God be all the glory.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

This is one of our local students doing his English homework. All across Honduras English is generally taught as the preferred second language, and there are numerous bilingual schools here that place a great emphasis on learning fluent English. In our rural context we’ve found it quite difficult to awaken within our students the desire to learn a foreign language, but in more urban settings it is very common. Many jobs in Honduras nowadays require workers to be bilingual.
Working the land is a very normal part of daily life in our rural town. Many of our students’ parents work in the local Standard Fruit pineapple field, and it is very common here for families and individuals to plant fruit trees and other crops (such as corn, beans, etc.) in their yard in order to help diminish food costs.
All of our students are in weekly organic agriculture classes under the tutelage of one of our very passionate local missionary-teachers. Most other local schools do not offer a hands-on agriculture class, but basic knowledge of different plants and farming techniques is common due to the local culture.
While schools in the United States generally have air-conditioning (especially in the South), only the more elite Honduran schools have this luxury for their students. It is not uncommon for our teachers to take their students out to our front lawn and teach class under a tree for this reason: our classrooms can get very hot and stuffy, especially in the dry season.
In Honduras old tires are recycled and used for many different purposes. Some people cut them in half and fill them with water and/or feed mix for their farm animals; others cut them up in different creative ways to transform them into flowerpots; others (like us) use them as sturdy outdoor chairs.
While this photo of our foster children was not taken on our ministry homestead but rather at a restaurant in our local town, it does show a very common typical Honduran food: baleadas. This dish  can be compared to Mexican tacos and includes a combination of beans, cheese and/or meat inside of a tortilla. This is one of the most famous foods in Honduras, and it  can be eaten at any time of the day.
The collection of firewood is a very common task in our area for males of all ages due to the fact that a good percentage of  local families use a wood-burning stove to prepare their meals. Other families (like ours) use a gas-powered stove, and very few use an electric stove.
This is one of our local students petting one of our young bulls. It is very common in our area to see cattle walking down the main roads of our town or simply grazing in an open field. Our cows roam our rural property freely  and oftentimes interact with us at different moments throughout the day. (They love to push our inner gate open and sneak in to eat the clothes hanging on our clothesline!)
It is common for schools to hold a ‘traditional games’ day at least once a year and participate in activities such as: potato sack races, balance-an-egg-on-a-spoon competitions, etc.
Most Hondurans have much more contact with their natural environment than Americans do. Many general assemblies and group activities are held outdoors (preferably under a leafy tree). For this reason, many activities are postponed and/or canceled when there are heavy rains.
Most families and even schools do not readily have many art supplies available. Those who have artistic giftings generally use recycled materials such as old CDs, empty Coke bottles, etc, to do various creative projects.
The traditional school uniform across the nation includes dark blue pants/skirt and a white shirt. Some private schools require  a specialized uniform for their students, but we adhere to the general school standards in regards to attire. Most of our students (including our foster children) have only one uniform, and they hand-wash it each day when they get home from school and hang it up to dry for the next day.
This is a photo taken from one of our recent co-ed P.E. classes. Most local schools do not have a very effective physical education program nor is there a very strong culture of  organized sports. While you can find  gymnasiums in Honduras’ larger cities, in a small town like ours there are typically no organized workout centers.
While most Americans have P.E. class inside a gym, on an asphalt court or on the track, most Honduran schools do not have an official sports building  and/or equipment to facilitate athletic training. We hold our P.E. classes on our front lawn, rain or shine, and we implement a series of exercises that don’t require any special equipment (such as sit-ups, push-ups, squat jumps, wind sprints, dynamic team-building exercises, etc.) Some of our students do not own tennis shoes, so they joyfully participate barefoot, in flip-flops  or in their more formal school shoes.
There is not much of an exercise/physical fitness culture in our town beyond pick-up soccer games among teenage boys, but most people do walk and/or ride bikes quite a bit due to the fact that very few people own cars.

Our school is swimming upstream against the local belief that girls can’t/shouldn’t do rigorous exercise. Most local parents are initially against our fairly dynamic P.E. program, but soon they come to appreciate it as they see their daughters happier and more physically healthy over time.

Heavenly Joy Bursting Out Through My Bones: The Effects of a Radical Change of Plans

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…

 

A photo of my husband and our seven kids taken on my husband’s birthday two days after Soad’s arrival. (She is in the pink tank top on Darwin’s right.)

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.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Just for Fun: Come to Math Class Dressed Like a Genius!

This is currently my third year of designing and teaching a dynamic math/logic class in the small high school we operate out of our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras.

For these past several weeks my students and I have been thoroughly enjoying a small book called “The Moscow Puzzles” that includes various real-life math and logic problems.

For a recent exam, I announced that each student who desired could come dressed as a genius or professional mathematician, which is a big deal considering all students normally come in their white- and navy blue uniform everyday. Some kids got very creative with this and came in borrowed glasses, bowties and professional attire while I, too, got in on the fun and dressed as the very serious supposed Russian author of the logic book we’ve been studying. (I gave myself the made-up name Professor Ivanka Zolushka Popovski Romanov, had a thick Russian accent throughout the class and would only answer the kids’ questions if they called me by my full Russian name).

At the Living Waters Ranch we daily disciple, love and sow into the lives of our students for God’s glory, and just occasionally we have riotous fun as well…

Enjoy the pictures! God bless you.

Genius photo! (These are about half of my students, as the others had decided not to come dressed for the occasion.)
Explaining the rules of the test: I had to use a “translator” so that the kids could understand my heavy Russian accent. (One of our foster daughters who is also one of my math students, standing at my right, helped “translate.”)
These were the male and female winners of the costume competition! (One of our foster daughters dressed as a “NASA Supervisor” and even made a name badge to go along with her attire, and the young man in the photo is one of our new students this year who dressed as a young businessman.) Too cute!

Who knew taking a math exam could be so fun?

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!

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.

 

Personal Reflection: Our Current Season of Life and Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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!

Kindness Training

Yesterday in our large, mixed household in rural Honduras we did a new thing. We invented kindness training.

Our foster kids/teens oftentimes struggle with asking for things politely or humbly submitting to authority figures. Rather than asking, “Could you please…[fill in the blank],” oftentimes we hear people barking at their siblings, “Give me [fill in the blank] or go do [fill in the blank]” without actually asking or adding a kind ‘please’ onto it. Many times we’ve verbally corrected them, instructing them how to politely ask for something rather than demanding it, but this has brought little behavioral change.

Likewise, when sent to do something or given an order by an authority, many a time we hear murmuring or complaints like, “Why is it always me?” or “I don’t want to… [fill in the blank.]”

Several months ago we had even reached the point of washing out all of our mouths with soap (my husband and I included) because we had all been misusing the free speech the Lord has given us. We lined up one by one in the kids’ bathroom after a long, serious family meeting and took turns scrubbing out the insides of our mouths as a consequence for getting snippy with one another and participating in complaints and gossip. It was a bitter lesson!

Thus, yesterday morning as I was pondering on just how we might improve this politeness dynamic in our household, an idea occurred to me: kindness training. Now, of course, I had no idea what that was nor did it probably exist before we did it for the first time last night, but it turned out great once the brainstorm kept flowing in my mind and the idea was developed.

Last evening we drove into our rural neighborhood to pick five of our teens up from their weekly youth group in the home of a local Honduran missionary couple whom we serve with, and we brought them all home in time for dinner, as is our Monday routine. As the rice and beans were heating up on our gas stove, rather than everyone sitting around idly talking about how their day went, I called everyone together and informed them that we would be doing a family activity (which any teenager absolutely loves…not) and that everybody had to come to the dining room. Two of our teen girls tried to cleverly escape by ‘going to the bathroom,’ but they quickly got called back. Soon enough everyone was present and waiting for instruction.

We would go one by one, taking turns standing up in front of the rest of our family members as those in the ‘audience’ would then ask something of the person standing in the middle or give them a loving order. The goal in all this: learn to ask things with kindness and to respond likewise.

I went first in order to show them how it goes. Darwin took the lead: “Jennifer, could you please go get me a glass of water?”

I responded quickly and earnestly, “Sure! My pleasure.”

Then others followed suit, each person taking their turn to ask me to go close the gate, check the food on the stove, etc. Each person asked rather than demanded (being sure to attach a sincere ‘please’ on what they were asking), and as far as I was able to do what they were asking I responded sincerely and with a joyful attitude. I was willing to serve and not at all inclined toward grumbling or laziness; this was the example to follow.

As I finished my turn, I sat down and we waited to see who would go next. One of our extremely precious teen girls who has a reputation for being more than a bit explosive in our household — especially when people ask her to do things or help out, heaven forbid! — jumped up with a spring in her step, eager to be the next volunteer. Our eyes all widened and we wondered how this would go! Would she grow sulky or irritated as we asked her to complete the various hypothetical things we were about to say?

She had a big smile on her face — this was miracle #1! I don’t remember who was the first brave soul to ask something of her, but soon enough we were all taking turns politely asking her to help sweep the floor, go wash her clothes, take a shower promptly, etc. Each time she responded politely — this was miracle #2! Wow!

And so we all took turns, learning how to ask things of others with grace (rather than demanding them) and how to humbly submit to another’s request as we seek to serve one another with the same attitude that Christ showed us. After about twenty minutes or so everyone had done the rounds. It was time for dinner!

Once we had eaten, two of our younger sons and I were on kitchen duty so we began washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and putting everything away. I was stationed at the sink when another one of our teen girls — who typically doesn’t really pay much attention to the people around her when she’s going to reach for something and most definitely doesn’t normally say ‘please’ — came over to the sink where I was — and without invading my personal space and brushing right past me — patiently stood behind me, waiting her turn, and asked in a very natural, polite fashion: “Mom, could you please fill my cup with water?”

I froze, at first inclined to laugh out loud because I thought she was doing it on purpose as a sort of joke since we had all just practiced asking politely for things. I answered slowly, without turning around to look at her, “Yes…it’s my pleasure.”

With my response, her eyes grew wide, she gasped slightly and squealed, “Hey! I did it!” She was surprised that she had actually put into practice what we had all just learned. At that we both laughed.

Again this morning — the following day after our first kindness training as a family last night — I overheard a conversation between our two youngest boys as they were getting ready for school and one asked the other for something in an extremely polite and patient fashion. They could not even see me and had no idea I could hear them — wow!

In like manner, a few weeks ago in our first advanced math class of the new year at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, I informed my 18 teenage students that each day as they entered my classroom they would have to greet me. Upon hearing this, many started to smirk and giggle at my request — I was actually instructing them that they had to shake my hand, look me in the eyes, and tell me, “Good morning.” How absurd! I continued as I informed them, quite seriously, that at the end of each class they would likewise have to shake my hand again and verbally thank me for the class. Many looked very surprised at this, as this type of training seems a bit audacious (and makes the teacher saying all this seem a bit self-centered), but I told them that the benefit was not meant for me but rather that I desired to train them to be polite and thankful with all of their other teachers and in all situations, both with God and with people. Well, my students and I are now several weeks into this process and they are now fully trained to greet me kindly at the beginning of the class and thank me at the end of the class — and not only that, but I’ve overheard them doing it also with their other teachers at the most unexpected of moments! Yes!

And so, these are small stories about attitude shifts and how to cultivate a more gentle spirit in the way we interact with those around us for God’s glory. Be encouraged! (Maybe you can even try these wacky but effective methods in your own home or workplace!)

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!

 

A Constant Gamble for God: Passing the Torch of Love from One Hand to Another

Several weeks ago after a busied trip into the city to do those errands that never end, on my way back home I turned off the main highway and took the drive into one of those dangerous neighborhoods where they say you have to pass with your windows down so that the gang lords can identify who comes and goes.

In this particular neighborhood we’ve come and gone dozens of times visiting different people, so I rolled my windows down without a second thought and began making my way carefully over the neglected pavement eaten up by so many potholes.

I turned down one side road and then another, pulling to a stop in front of a small collection of homes, although I couldn’t remember which one it was. I hopped out – I believe it was raining on that particular day – and knocked on the door of a blue-colored house. I thought that was the right house, anyway. Blue.

A woman opened the door with wide eyes, unsure who I was and what my business was. I immediately realized I had knocked on the wrong door. I quickly apologized and asked if she knew which home belonged to the woman I was looking for. She knew. Two houses down, she told me.

I jumped over puddles, my bright blue rain-jacket shielding my blouse from the falling raindrops. Two houses down, also a blue house. At least I got the blue part right.

 I stooped on the tiny porch, taking the hood of my rain-jacket down under the cover of the roof above. All the windows were closed and there was no sound coming from inside. It looked like no one was home, especially in this culture where people who are home have their doors and windows open, several people lounging on the porch or washing clothes in the front yard and occasionally high-volume music blasting from some stereo.

I knocked once and waited, then again and waited. As I was about to turn and leave, the door opened, ever so slowly, and a woman’s gaze met mine. At first she looked like she suspected trouble – frightened and ready to close the door immediately – but as she recognized me her countenance immediately changed and a genuine smile, albeit a surprised one, overtook her tired face.

We embraced one another as we have on so many other occasions and she quickly let me pass the threshold.

“And the kids?” Her face brightened even more as she glanced behind me, waiting to see her special-needs son and teenage daughter.

I apologized for not having brought them with me (alas, they are always with us!) and told her that the purpose of my surprise visit was not a once-per-month visit between our foster children and their biological family members but rather a visit between two adult women, between she and I.

This definitely caught her off guard, as we’ve never done such a thing in our three years of knowing one another, but she quickly accepted and showed me where to sit in the completely quiet, still home with all of its windows firmly shut. As I sat on the only couch in the living room, rather than sitting across the small room in one of the arm chairs she commented on how she preferred to be closer and sat not two feet from me on that couch. It felt right and natural.

What ensued was a free-flowing conversation that lasted over an hour between Josue and Jackeline’s mom and myself.

For months – years perhaps – the idea of becoming more involved with this woman has been floating around our hearts and minds, swelling up and speaking out at different times. More than once we’ve considered aloud between my husband and I providing this down-and-out shut-in a part-time job with us and a new start. When her two precious children first moved in with us back in January 2015 their stay in our home was meant to be a temporary solution until she could find a steady job and place to live. Three to four months they had told us. Well, a few months has turned into a few years, and she’s been unable to find any kind of stable work or place to stay. The news has always been the same, and her situation – as much economic as emotional and spiritual – has been stagnant if not declining, and up until now we really didn’t know what move to make, if any.

Employ an emotionally unstable woman who probably desperately needs a counselor in our home working with at-risk kids? Is that really a good idea? But have not many people – not only children and teens but adults as well – come to know the Lord alongside of us, and could us being more involved in her life and showing her God’s love on a more regular basis not possibly lead to her salvation and renewal? If her kids’ lives are worth the risk and investment, is not hers as well?

So that idea (without any concrete answers) had been floating around our consciousness for quite some time when our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline (who is this woman’s biological daughter) came to me out of the blue – as she oftentimes does – and informed me with great conviction that Darwin and I should give her mom a job. She and her mother have never gotten along well and still have a pretty tumultuous relationship, but she informed me through tears, “I just want my mom to know Jesus.”

So that was all it took. I talked with Darwin, and we sensed that it was finally time to act. I would go to her house unannounced (because her cellphone no longer worked so we had no way to call) and I would propose the idea to her: a healthy way out of unemployment, more physical closeness with her children, being included perhaps for the first time in her life in a loving, vibrant Christian community and hopefully a drawing near to Christ as well.

One of those very familiar questions began to show itself in my mind: Do we have the finances to provide a job for her—? before it was quickly dismissed. After all, God has called us to do many crazy things over these last few years, and He’s always provided a way to make it happen.

Well, the details of our in-depth conversation have since been lost on me, but I do know one thing: the Lord did send me there that day, and He did use me to listen to a very broken woman who desperately needs loving companionship and a new start in life. I said little; she spoke much. Several times throughout our conversation I reached across the little couch to pat her shoulder as she shared with me her struggles. Several times she mentioned her belief that only God could help her; that she had been flirting with Satan too long and that it was time to make a change and give her life over to God. I continued to listen, hope swelling in my chest.

She mentioned her kids many times – which strangely enough are also my kids now. It was surreal listening to this mother who desperately loves these same kids whom I have grown to dearly love. Toward the end of our conversation I walked over to a coffee table in the small house – her sister’s house where she’s been living in a spare room for several months – and saw an 8’ x 10’ photo of now-14-year-old Jackeline when she was a toddler. This woman holds the memories of the kids when they were little, and the memories from these last three years have largely been made with us. Between us there was no sense of competition or anger but rather of gratitude and deep respect from both parties. Surely God had orchestrated this whole thing.

So I left, and she said she would call me in the next few weeks once a family situation was resolved to see if she could come serve alongside of us two days per week. Serve in what capacity, I had no idea, but Darwin and I were ready to step out into the unknown as God was in the process of preparing just one more miracle of life and redemption.

Our initial conversation was several weeks ago. Yesterday was Momma Ingrid’s first day of work. We can say that it was lacking in any drama and full of spiritual blessing. She arrived on time, quite timid but ready to participate. Many years ago she was a secretary in a bank (a prestigious job in this society where many people are illiterate and do hard labor for a living) before falling on hard times and bad decisions, so we decided to make her our official secretary at the Living Waters Ranch (a job that never before existed). Darwin worked with her a couple hours in the office that all of our staff share in order to show her the ropes, and she joyfully went about with general office tasks for the rest of the day. She saw her kids throughout the day, participated in Bible study and prayer group in the morning, and smiled more than she normally does. Several times throughout the day she told Darwin and I that she doesn’t need to get paid; she’s just happy to help and see her kids. We listened, thanked her for her thoughtfulness and willingness to serve but assured her that we will be paying her.

She’ll be coming back again on Wednesday.

And so, yesterday at 3:00pm as I left our home with all of our teachers and Momma Ingrid piled in our old pickup truck to go drop everyone off after a long day’s work, Momma Ingrid didn’t go home to her sister’s vacant house.

Geraldina, a woman in her early 30s (just like Momma Ingrid) who was in a similar position as her not two years ago – her teenage daughter Sandra had come to live with us until her mom could get back on her feet – will be voluntarily hosting Momma Ingrid (who she just met yesterday for the first time) in her home as an act of radical Christian hospitality to the downtrodden for love of God.

What?

Yes, an illiterate single mom of four who has suffered hunger, abuse and rejection who now works with us full-time and is learning to read and write for the first time – who went against all cultural norms and left behind her abusive husband in order to get her daughter back and even build her own wooden home! – will be extending an arm of charity and love to a woman not so different from herself.

Is it not the rich who help the poor, the powerful who help the weak?

Not this time.

So yesterday in our pickup truck after dropping all our teachers off and Momma Ingrid at Geraldina’s home, I turned to 17-year-old Sandra (Geraldina’s daughter) who sat in the passenger’s seat right next to me. She lived in our home for almost a year and continues being like a daughter to Darwin and I, and we get to see her everyday now that our community homeschool program started its 2018 classes a couple weeks ago. I patted her leg and asked sincerely, “What do you think about having Momma Ingrid live in your house?”

I was expecting her to hesitate or to comment that she was nervous about having an emotionally broken woman in her personal space, but she piped up, “It was my idea!”

My jaw must have dropped down to the floorboard as I sputtered – “Wha–?” I was definitely not expecting her to say that.

“Yeah. When Jackeline mentioned to us that Momma Ingrid would be working at the Ranch and had nowhere to stay, I told my mom that we should receive her in our home. Last year in Bible study you encouraged all of us to receive the homeless and broken in our homes as a way of ministering to Christ and, well, we’re gonna start with her.”

Goosebumps ran through my body even as they do now as I remember yesterday’s events and type this all down. Are not the poor – are not Sandra and her mom, Geraldina, people themselves who have known deep poverty their whole lives — to wallow in self-pity or look for some scheme to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’? But – to forsake their own poverty (the thousands of legitimate excuses they could have to explain why they couldn’t possibly take Momma Ingrid in, especially as no one was asking them to do so!) and to extend a hand of loving hope – even receiving her in their own humble home! – yes, that is God’s work among us.

So, Momma Ingrid spent her fist night in Sandra and Geraldina’s home last night in our rural neighborhood, and we’ll be seeing her again tomorrow as she comes up for her second day of work. Please give thanks to God with us for Sandra and Geraldina’s walk of faith and obedience as they are receiving a woman they have no relation to into their home, and pray with us blessings of harmony, service and humble love among them as they figure out how to live together. God bless you.

A Refuge for Misfits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!