Tag Archives: CTEN

The Cow is Returned: God’s Power in Action

As I wrote in my previous post four days ago, local cattle thieves stole another one of our young dairy cows for the second time in 10 months, and the entire ordeal left us feeling discouraged, on high alert, and at a loss as to what our next move should be (or as to who the thief could have been).

Well, today I will write about the events that ensued after the initial shock we experienced on Sunday morning upon realizing that our foster daughter’s cow was no longer among our small herd. This is definitely a story worth telling, and I hope it encourages you to believe in God’s power if only we would cry out to Him.

My husband Darwin and our daughter Jackeline left home Sunday morning and spent the entire day out looking for our lost cow, asking our neighbors if they had seen her and reporting the robbery at the local police station. Monday was spent in similar fashion – Darwin made many phone calls, returned to the police station, consulted with more neighbors and took several trips out to the far end of our rural property to see the extent of the damage done to our fence and take pictures for evidence.

All our efforts seemed futile, especially in Honduras where police investigations are few to none and we had no real lead onto who might have taken our daughter’s cow. 14-year-old Jackeline, who had saved her money for a long time in order to buy the cow two years ago and hoped it would help get her through college, spent great amounts of time sprawled out on the couch in our living room, her eyes puffy from crying. On more than one occasion I sat down to listen to her as she anguished over the lost cow, which represented both a financial investment and a pet to her. Jackeline reminisced about her cow – hoping against hope that it might still be alive – and all the other kids told her to get over her loss. But she couldn’t.

One day passed, then another. By this time everyone knew rationally that the cow must have already been butchered and sold on the black market, because cattle thieves almost always act quickly so as not to get caught. Our other two cows that were stolen last November were butchered immediately upon being stolen. At dawn we found their bloody hides and severed heads thrown out in the field by our front gate. To think that this cow could still be alive several days after being stolen would have been naïve.

Monday night rolled around, and the details cannot be shared of the encounters but I will say that two key eye-witnesses came forth with fear and trembling (both of which are Christians). They saw who cut our fence and they knew who had our cow. Darwin shared with me in a hushed voice late at night in our bathroom as a huge spotlight was then suddenly illuminating the entire case before our very eyes. Adrenaline ran through our veins and we prayed together after discussing everything at length. What to do? Our eye-witnesses were too scared to come forth in public, and there would be no way to confront the thief on our own.

Then Tuesday came. That is generally my day to leave our rural homestead and spend 8-10 hours doing management, computer work and errands in town, so I left without a second thought. In my mind, it was all a closed case: the cow was already dead and we had to figure out what proactive steps we would be taking to assure the safety of the rest of our herd while we would wait in vain for the police to act upon our suspect.

About 3:00pm on Tuesday Darwin called me, informing me in an unnerving tone that he had gone with the local police again – hoping to bother them enough that they would act on the case just to get him off their backs – and they actually came out to our property and picked him up in an effort to go chase down the thief, who an informant had told Darwin was stationed in the pineapple fields right behind our property with the cow still alive. Darwin asked me for immediate prayer and as my heart raced faster I pleaded him not to get out of the police car or get directly involved in any kind of armed confrontation that might occur between the police and the thieves.

I hung up the phone, my heart now racing even more than before – in part from the adrenaline of knowing that against all odds the cow was still alive three days after being stolen and that there was a real chance that the police might capture those who had her, but even more for the danger that my husband would be diving into upon confronting the thief directly.

My car sped down the highway, the windows rolled down to let fresh air in because the A/C stopped working several months ago. Light droplets of rain landed on my arm as I prayed harder than I have in a long time. I prayed for protection for Darwin and all involved; I prayed that the thief would repent; I prayed for God’s favor and His justice in our hour of need. I felt God undeniably close, and I sensed that we were on the verge of some colossal battle, much of which would be fought in the heavenly realm. I continued to pray as I zipped down the highway that parallels the Caribbean Ocean and neared our rural property with my heart and head ablaze. Let Darwin live; may there be no blood shed today; may You utilize these police officers as true agents of justice; may the thief admit his deed and seek forgiveness and new life in Christ. If Darwin should die as a result (as his brother did two years ago when he spoke out against local cattle thieves), please give me the grace, perseverance and faith to continue onward in his absence, however hard it may be…

In Honduras, many such encounters with thieves result in someone’s death – either that of the thieves or those who try to confront them, so my emotions were rightly understood to be on edge. Our old pickup truck jostled up the long gravel road to our property as I found all of our kids to be doing just fine. Darwin had left them alone as he had to leave unexpectedly with the police officers, so I checked on our local tutors with their six after-school students and our seven foster kids to make sure everyone was on task as I then unpacked the car and waited anxiously for a call from Darwin.

After exchanging several phone calls with him to ask what progress had been made and to see if he was okay he finally arrived at home several hours later. The police had done the stake-out and had identified the area where they had been holding the cow but came up empty-handed. It was a bit of progress (or at least a scare for the thieves), but it wasn’t enough. Darwin and I felt frustrated, as we knew that was probably the only real attempt the police would be making to try to catch the culprit.

That night several additional phone calls were made in the stillness of our little bathroom as we sought to communicate once more with our eye-witnesses to see if they would have the courage to come forth and make another police report with us, but all were frozen with fear. We ended up talking to a local community leader who is a friend of ours and happens to be feared by many (and has recently become a Christian and attends the same church where Darwin is involved with a men’s group). We hesitantly shared with him our situation, certain that if anyone could do vigilante justice it would be him but at the same time unsure that he would believe us. The thief, after all, is a family member of his and he could very easily turn on us for having accused his kin.

The whole ordeal – holed up in our bathroom late at night, door shut and floor-fan turned on high speed to cover up our voices so that our 7 foster kids wouldn’t be able to hear our conversations – seemed like something straight out of a movie. Darwin and I sat on the little grey rug on our tile floor, alternating between making phone calls, praying, and discussing the matter between the two of us.

What had initially seemed like a lost case in which we would simply have to throw up our hands and try to turn lemons into lemonade had suddenly turned into a hot chase in which we might fall into grave danger if we made one wrong move.

While communicating with the local community leader whom we get along very well with as neighbors, Darwin shared with him who the thief in the matter was, and our neighbor fell silent. He wasn’t sure whether to believe us or defend his family member, whom he thought to be innocent. His reaction: he went to his relative’s house (the accused), and eventually put him on the phone with us. Darwin put the conversation on speakerphone, and chills ran through my body as the thief talked smoothly and casually, assuring us that he was a man of great morals and values and that he would never steal from anyone. He called us both by very respectful titles and assured us that we were local leaders in our community and that it would be a disgrace for anyone to steal from us. His flattering and reassuring words came rolling of his tongue so smoothly and so confidently that I glanced over at Darwin and wondered in my heart of hearts if we had gotten it all wrong. After all, I wanted desperately to believe him. It had all been a big mistake.

But the two eye-witnesses? The two people who know first-hand that this is the thief?

This man is an expert liar with years of experience. My body turned semi-cold as I contemplated this fact and the spiritual ramifications: does not Satan approach humanity this way – smooth, reassuring tongue, saying beautiful, promising things, but it is all a lie? Oh, he promises happiness, pleasure, eternal youth and more, but it all turns out to be nothing more than a breathtakingly beautiful mirage, not reality. He is persuasive and attractive, but in the end leads only to death.

We essentially got nowhere with our phone conversation, as the thief did not allow Darwin to get many words in. He even offered to come up to our property the next morning to peacefully smooth everything out in person, to which Darwin responded: “Better yet, let’s meet tomorrow morning at 7:00am at the police station to smooth everything out.” That definitely tripped up his previously-seamless speech as Darwin continued, “Look, I have an eye-witness who saw you cut through our fence. What I want is my cow. Tomorrow morning at the first hour I will be going to the police station again. What I want is my cow.”

The phone was passed back to our friend, who was more perplexed than before as to who might be telling the truth, and he assured us that he and his family would be praying.

The conversation soon came to a close, and Darwin expressed the fact that he was not blind to the fact that all of this might get him killed and that he truly had nothing against the thief and wanted what was best for him (an honest life lived in God’s light, not a lying life of thieves.) We hung up, both our hearts racing, and prayed. It would be a long night, and whatever would unfold in the next 12 hours would likely decide the fate of our cow, this case and possibly even our lives.

Wednesday morning (yesterday) we got up at 5:00am as is our custom, and I entered the three bedrooms where our kids sleep and jostled them awake, informing them that we would be having a family prayer meeting in our living room before beginning the day’s chores.

Everyone came shuffling out into our living room, from our eldest who is less than a week away from turning 18 to our youngest, a 10-year-old boy with special needs. We sat around our wooden table – everyone wishing they were still asleep – as Darwin and I tried to begin explaining as best we could (and without instilling fear or directly implying who the thief was) the progress of the case and the imminent danger that might be facing us if the thief tries to silence us or take revenge. It was a very heavy conversation, and in a very real sense I feared that it might be our last family meeting. Jackeline was overjoyed to hear that her cow was still alive, and she thanked God repeatedly for having heard her cries. Each person prayed, and among the many words I shared with my Lord, I said: “If it pleases You that we parent these children and youth and continue along in this work, then please protect our lives…” Our children gave thanks to God and prayed that the thief might repent, that he might return the cow voluntarily, and that God would protect Darwin and me.

After about twenty minutes or so around our wooden dining room table, we all stood up, enveloped in a very real heaviness, and began moving about our house doing our daily morning chores. We opened our front door to go out on the porch (where our kitchen is), and we immediately heard the call of our night watchman’s wife who was standing out by our front gate.

“The cow is back!” She called out in the still, dark morning.

We all froze.

The moon still hanging in the sky above our large, grassy property, we all began to glance at one another, some with incredulity in their eyes and others with raw joy.

Our neighbor continued, “She’s loose right next to our back fence!”

Darwin quickly got into action, sending two of our night watchman’s teenage sons to shuttle her onto our property quietly. I was still frozen as all of our kids began staring at me. God had answered our prayers, and rather immediately. The thieves had untied her and sent her back home. Justice had won out. No blood had been shed. God had won this victory – not with guns, hatred and violence but rather with prayer and unity among Christians.

I felt as though I was walking on holy ground as I made my way silently toward our cow pen. I was still dressed in my old baggy pajamas the light of day was barely creeping over the horizon. Was this all too good to believe? I looked on as our precious Jackeline rushed out to meet her cow and began checking her over from head to foot. Her snout and neck had deep marks on it were she had been roped up too tightly, and her body had scratches all over it. Jackeline stroked her large white cow who quite literally had come back to the land of the living by the mighty hand of God. She should have been slaughtered three days ago.

One of our night watchman’s young adult sons came up the path rather quickly on his bike. By Darwin’s instruction, he had gone out in the wee hours of the morning to keep a lookout on who might be coming or going along the road. He informed, “She didn’t come back on her own. They drug her across the pineapple field. There are tracks to prove it. The thieves brought her back.”

Darwin and I smiled and nodded. We had already figured that out – God had led the thieves to return what was never rightly theirs. This was something that only God could do, and He did.

This all seemed very surreal, and I stood for a long while under a tree in our front yard looking out over our grassy property and contemplating this mighty work of God. I felt that I didn’t even have words for my Lord – only admiration.

Darwin made several phone calls to inform our witnesses that the cows had come back, and they all rejoiced with us and commented that they had been praying fervently that God would act and return the cow to us (something that is unheard of in Honduran cattle culture). Our high-profile friend who had facilitated our phone conversation the night prior with the thief confessed that he finally believed us, and he apologized for his family member’s hostility toward us.

The morning moved quicker than I would have liked, and suddenly all of our 40+ local students and teachers were arriving for what (to them) would be a normal day of classes and Christian discipleship. I still felt like I was recovering from the intensity of the last several days and the fact that God made everything work out just as it should. I vowed that later that morning upon getting out of math class I would write a long, reconciliatory letter to the thief, assuring him that we don’t want ongoing wars with him and that we earnestly hope that he will seek God’s forgiveness and the new life offered to all through Christ.

It ended up being a 4-page handwritten letter written in Jesus’ name, and later that same day (yesterday) as I was running through our neighborhood for exercise I left the letter with a family member who promised to give it to him. I even saw the thief on my way back home as I jogged past his house, baseball cap on my head and tennis shoes on my feet, sweaty from head to toe under the hot mid-day sun. I glanced over as I saw him working on his front porch. I raised my hand hesitantly to wave, and he greeted me by name for the first time in the five years that we’ve been neighbors.

That was yesterday. Today has been a normal day, albeit somewhat sticky with the divine residue of all that God orchestrated in these last few days. We are still getting over all this, processing the implications, and giving thanks to God for His mighty hand. Our daughter Jackeline commented to me yesterday afternoon as we were preparing dinner that she would like to write a letter to the thief (although she still doesn’t know who it is) to let him know that she forgives him and hopes he will seek God’s will for his life. I smiled as I informed her that I had already done the same and that I could deliver her letter if and when she writes it. She seemed content with my reply, and we kept cutting broccoli and onions for the spaghetti sauce.

Please thank God with us for this mighty turn of events in these last few days, and I encourage you to recognize that this was, in fact, God’s justice entering into our fall world. Thank you to all of you who prayed for us in these last few days. We continue to hope for the thief’s salvation and transformation and would appreciate your prayers for him. God bless you.

Glory to God!

Cattle Thieves Return

Early this morning our watchman’s wife came up to our gate to inform us that cattle thieves had broken into our property last night and stolen again for the second time in ten months.

Last year they took our two adult milking cows and butchered them silently outside of our front gate, leaving us without milk and with an orphaned calf on our hands. Last night the victim was a young adult female whom our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline had saved for and purchased with the hope of the cow providing her a legacy of calves and milk, which could potentially pay for her college education or set her up to make at least a partial living off of cattle-raising within the next ten or twenty years.

We had taken several proactive steps since the first cattle robbery to secure our cows in a well-lit pen between our fence and our watchman’s home, but just the same the thieves arrived so quietly that no one heard them and we suspect they drugged our watchdogs (a common act down here) because they didn’t even bark. To leave with the cow, they just cut through several sections of our barbed-wire fence, which now must be repaired.

The cow they chose last night had been severely malnourished when our daughter bought it from a neighbor at a reasonable price about two years ago, and we’ve seen the cow gain strength and beauty as she had just recently reached maturity and would be ready to become a mom (and thus finally produce milk) at some point over the coming year. Many of our other kids did not understand our daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit: Why would a teenage girl buy a cow with her money instead of something more immediately useful and interesting? Several adults who know her (including my husband and I) had marveled at Jackeline’s maturity and eye for long-term gain as she had invested in the cow and had placed great hopes on her to provide (at least in part) for her future.

This morning I went into her room and jostled her awake on her bottom bunk. As she rolled over, my hand patting her leg gently to greet her, I informed her of the news as her face froze for several moments, her eyes trained on mine. My words came out dryly, “They stole your cow last night.” When she didn’t seem to register what I was saying, I added, “The thieves. They returned and took your cow.”

For those of you who are not familiar with Honduran law and justice, it is largely myth (as in, it doesn’t exist). Two years ago my husband’s brother was shot dead point-blank in a nearby town, there were several eye-witnesses and people knew the name and address of the killer, and after many trips to both the local and regional police station nothing was done in attempt to find the killer or do justice. Ten months ago when they stole our first two cows I walked off under misting rain down the long gravel road that meets the highway as I found a police officer on foot watching traffic. I informed him of the tragic robbery and slaughter that had occurred only hours before (as in, “Please help us hunt these people down”), and the police officer only shrugged and told me that he wasn’t surprised because that kind of thing happens all the time. He and his comrades arrived in their brand new, decked-out police truck two weeks later to our property (which lies about 1.5 miles from the police station), and gave us our condolences for our loss. I looked at them in shock and thought, “Condolences? You came here — two weeks after the fact! — to simply give us your condolences?! My grandmother could give me her condolences! You are the POLICE — do your job and fight for justice!”

In Honduran culture it is very common that when somebody has something that others don’t (for example, a cow or a nice cellphone, etc), someone will come and steal it from them to assure that no one gets ahead or experiences much success at all. Extortion here is high — many small businesses or people who are experiencing some humble level of prosperity are forced to pay the gang lords a monthly “war tax” or they will be killed. Cattle thieves are also common: why go through the long and difficult process of buying cattle when it is much easier to simply steal? (This is the general thought among those who are given over to a life of crime here, especially because the police provide virtually no threat to those who break the law.)

Many people leave Honduras and flock to the United States for this same reason — endemic injustice that refuses to allow people to prosper in the quietness of their own endeavors and hard work. If you prosper too much, you become the next target.

So, we ask for prayer. It is very easy to fall into cynicism or a fatalistic attitude of “Why try?” We are on a very tight budget as a ministry, and our small herd of cows — two of which provide milk — help alleviate our grocery bills of buying milk and represent a humble emergency-type fund in case at some point we are desperately low on money. My husband is now thinking about selling off our four younger cows and maintaining only our two momma cows that give milk plus a male for future mating, but even so the thieves could return at any point at take our remaining cows or that of our watchman’s family. Please pray for discernment in regard to how we should most efficiently use our rural property without becoming a magnet for thieves.

We desire to live a quiet, honest life here in rural Honduras reaching out the the poor and lost with the good news of Christ and practical education and discipleship to equip people as instruments of God’s hope, love and justice right here — without people leaving Honduras in search of a better life elsewhere. Please pray with us that the seeds in which we are sowing in the lives of the nearly-50 young people in our school will provide a good fruit that will glorify God and that we would not be easily discouraged as we know that our final prize and rest will be with God for all eternity.

God bless each of you, and please pray with and for us at this time, for protection over our property and for some semblance of real justice here on earth (even as we know that God will bring about real, perfect justice at the end of the times). Thank you.

Celebrations of Life and Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family

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

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

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

Don’t I have a really handsome husband?

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

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

 

That’s all for now! God bless you!

A Quiet Reflection on Love, Loss and Hope for the Future

First of all, thank you to all of you who responded to our previous blog post with sincere comments and to those who emailed me directly with words of encouragement. God bless each of you, and thank you for your availability and prayers.

A few Saturdays ago I sat around the rectangular wooden table in our family room with two of our teenage foster daughters. More than a complete spread of notebooks, office supplies, backpacks and books took over the surface area as we began working contentedly, the front door wide open to let in light and what little breeze there was. Every evening we eat dinner around this same table with its floral-print tablecloth, each person elbow-to-elbow with those next to them. We drag over the piano bench so that there will be enough seats for everyone.

On this particular occasion, the three of us gathered at this table with the intention of working on our ‘homework’ — my girls on math and grammar assignments; me on planning and administration. I serve as their math, grammar, Bible, chess and P.E. teacher in the homeschool program we operate out of our home for roughly 50 teens (our 7 fosters and  41 local youth), but when we’re not in classes I’m just their mom. My husband and I do much role-hopping throughout the week, and with God’s grace it has become normal to us.

That particular day my husband Darwin, three of our foster children and a half dozen of our local students had taken the trip into town for a day of art and music classes while I stayed on our rural homestead with our other 4 foster children. This is, in fact, the routine split-up that occurs every Saturday.

For this very reason, Saturdays are one of my favorite days of the week. I treasure when my husband and I split up our kids so that we can invest more individualized time in each one (and take a little break from the general havoc of having our complete swarm of busy-bees present). When all 7 are together (or 10, which is the number we used to have), everything just sort of turns into crowd control, which is not much fun for me.

So, our preciously quiet Saturdays grant a much slower pace and allow me increased one-on-one time with the small group that stays at home with me all day. Monday through Friday we’re “on” as close to 60 people invade our home (and need guidance, love, surveillance, prayer, classes, organization, etc.) from 6:45am until 4:00pm, so the few moments when all is still and quiet are truly a gift.

I glanced out beyond our chain-linked fence to watch our small herd of milking cows roam about our large, grassy property. After the cattle thieves had broken in and slaughtered our two adult milking cows last November, leaving us devastated (and scared), we’ve recuperated and our new momma cow just gave birth recently to a little male. My husband and two of our kids milk her every morning at 5:00am, and at least for now we don’t have to buy milk at the grocery store.

My eyes traced our expansive lawn as I took in the view of the flowering plants and the bright-colored clothes hanging on the clothesline. When the masses leave, this rural property turns into a quiet haven, a peaceful paradise. It is home and ministry to us at the same time. It is the center of our community outreach and evangelism and at the same time serves as my own refuge after long, tiring days of service.

On Saturdays I move about slower than usual, oftentimes in baggy, old clothes and my curly hair up in a messy bun as I relish in the quieter pace to reflect, seek God’s ongoing direction, remember.

I stood barefoot on our front lawn, no one looking for me or needing me, as I studied with joy our special-needs son Josue as he teetered about our silent yard on his dearly loved but extremely beaten-up bicycle. He can spend hours on that little bike without saying a word, and on this particular occasion he didn’t even realize I was watching him.

Our other daughter was practicing piano in the stillness of the purple-colored house next to ours that during the week serves as our high school building. I contemplated with joy her simple, sure notes that she played so beautifully.

After meandering around the yard a few more minutes, I crossed the threshold into our living room, returning to where our two girls awaited me. I took one glance at my to-do pile and realized that I didn’t want to do any of it. By the look on my girls’ faces, they were thinking just the same about their homework.

I slipped out of our living room and crossed the yard again, still barefoot. I entered that little purple building that lies a stone’s throw from our family’s home. I passed silently by our daughter playing the piano and entered the little community office we share during the week with our small team of Honduran missionaries/teachers. I grabbed a couple boxes of oil pastels, paper and envelopes, feeling invigorated as I was about to break all the rules and put aside my endless stacks of ‘adult homework’ for the day.

Re-entering our living room once more, I sat down on a wooden chair next to our two girls with a smile and quickly began diving into my unspoken art project. Our girls stared at me, mischievously  happy to see me acting somewhat like a small child.

What was I doing? I was taking my part in going the extra mile, and joyfully so. At a staff meeting the day prior our small team had agreed to split up the task of writing individual letters of encouragement, friendship and spiritual orientation for the roughly-50 youth in our homeschool. Each child and teen would receive 2 letters (from different people), meaning we would need a total of almost 100 personalized, creative letters with decorated envelopes if possible. We had done just this same task a couple weeks prior in an effort to reach out to our students on a very individualized, thoughtful level to encourage them in their walk with the Lord and to express our sincere love and appreciation for them.

A few of our letters prepared for the youth we love, disciple and teach

This ended up being a big hit, as most of our students had never received such long, inspiring and touching letters from adults in their lives. One 14-year-old teen boy commented innocently to his teacher after having received his two uplifting letters, “I had no idea that people could write such kind letters without them being directed toward a dating relationship.” This, after all, has been a big struggle among our teen students. If and when they do write any kind of personal letter to a classmate, it is normally an inappropriate effort at expressing ‘love’ to their secret boyfriend or girlfriend.

So, God has given us the task of setting a powerful, loving example of just what it means to write a letter under God’s perfect will and with His purposes in mind. Our letters are all about pure encouragement, godly counsel and sincere appreciation, and they come from the mature adults in their lives, not from their immature peers who are seeking affirmation and identity in all the wrong places.

This particular round of letters would not be handed over for another two weeks (and that is why it had not been on my ‘urgent’ to-do list for the day), but it suddenly seemed more important and desirable than all the other potential tasks at hand.

My list of letter recipients included 14 students ages 6-18, so I began decorating envelopes with the oil pastels and expressing my sincere thoughts on paper for these youth whom I have grown to know and love dearly.

My two girls immediately took interest in my little project and asked what I was doing. It didn’t take long until they, too, put their homework aside and asked to borrow some oil pastels. All three of us began drawing and coloring with great interest, and suddenly several hours had gone by without us really noticing at all.

Waist-deep in the whole process, I began writing my letter to Alejandra, a very petite and soft-spoken 10-year-old in fourth grade. She is the younger sister of Sandra, a local teen with whom we have a deep, beautiful and — currently — tragic history.

Sandra, now 17 years old, came into our lives almost three years ago as a very submissive and responsible teen who was looking for refuge from a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father. She moved into our patchwork family for about 10 months until her mother (Geraldina), a brave and very faithful Christian woman, was able to escape the situation of abuse and move out on her own. She recovered her daughter Sandra under her care only to then pass through immense difficulties with her increasingly rebellious daughter. My husband and I stayed in the picture as Sandra’s teachers in our homeschool program and we began employing her mom. We likewise sought to serve as two additional counselors and supporters alongside of her mom as she struggled to control the reigns on her daughter’s new behavioral problems. Sandra had come to the know the Lord under our care and asked to be baptized along with her mom, grandfather and little sister, but the decisions she began making months later did not reflect God’s desire for her life.

This up-and-down continued over the next couple years, and she even moved back in with us for several months last year as a last-resort effort to guide her in the truth once she refused to obey her mom’s authority in the home. From there it is a sad story of her escaping from her mom’s home more than once and making a series of very dangerous decisions, all of which culminated in her running away with a young man she barely knew several months ago.

Sandra has approached us hesitantly for counsel since then, and several weeks ago we met with her in the privacy of her grandma’s home to speak truth and light into her life, all of which she listened to with bold, sincere eyes. We prayed with her at her request and embraced her. She still calls us Mom and Dad, a habit she got into while living in our home. (She has a different name for her real mom and for me, but they both mean mom.) We left our meeting with her unsure how to feel, and since then we’ve seen her several times around our rural neighborhood with the guy (she didn’t take any part of our advice and they are still living together out of wedlock), and just recently they moved across the country looking for manual labor jobs in order to survive as an uneducated, underage couple completely outside of God’s will.

So, when I picked up my black pen to write what should have been a very happy, upbeat letter to her 10-year-old littler sister, a very unexpected heaviness came over me and I had to fight back tears. I didn’t see this emotional storm within me coming, as I have remained publicly very calm and rational about Sandra’s decision-making and demise over the past several months. As my mom mentioned to me on the phone recently, it is probably easier to feel angry than sad, and that’s why I’ve kept so outwardly cool about something that has actually ripped me apart.

So, as I began writing about my sincere appreciation and hopes in the Lord for her precious little sister (who looks and acts just like her, thus reminding me of her constantly), all the intense sadness that I’ve been holding at bay for months came crashing in.

I wanted to say, totally deflated and serene, to no one in particular, “This letter should have been for Sandra, not for her little sister…I am now giving her little sister all the advice that she herself didn’t take. Oh, the work the Lord assigned us was in her, not in her little sister…but she has turned her back on the Lord and given herself over to sin. We loved her so much, and now she’s gone. …WHY…?

I felt like banging my fists on the table or locking myself in my bedroom only to lose myself in the locked-up emotions I had refused to experience in prior months. It definitely is much less painful to stay cool and collected (angry even) than to allow yourself to feel the weight of the sadness of broken dreams, lost souls.

I did not hit the table or leave the room; I continued writing the letter to her little sister, which turned out to be much longer than I had intended.

The letter ended up being very joyful but profoundly sincere. As a final touch, I drew bright-colored hearts all around the margins of the letter. I re-read it several times, thinking each time more about Sandra than about her little sister, and tried to hide the intense emotions that threatened to come out at any moment.

This year, Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) continues to labor alongside of us in cooking and cleaning as the Lord is doing great things in her life, and Sandra’s two little sisters are in school with us for the first time. Another young family member of Sandra’s is now also in school with us, and all are doing very well. Everyone is here except the one who God brought to us first: Sandra.

God places people in our lives to love and guide, and it is heartbreaking when they go astray and refuse to come back. Love is not costless, and it requires sacrifice and risk to truly love as God loves.

Well, last Thursday was the official day to hand over our hand-written labor of love to the youth the Lord has placed under our care. Each of our local teachers/missionaries brought their stack — some decorated; others more plain but just as sincere — as I would then organize them all and head into the classrooms to deliver them.

A few of our teachers handing over their letters in the purple-colored little office that we all share. It’s the big day!

Once all my companions left to go to their respective classrooms at 7:00am, I had too much fun sifting through the letters and admiring the great love, detail and effort that was surely put into each one.

My plan was to take pictures of our students’ joy while opening their letters, but I quickly realized that doing so would invade their privacy and taint the beauty of the moment. Thus, I discretely took as few photos as possible, and only in the classrooms where I felt unspoken permission to take them…

Our three first graders reading their letters with the help of their tutor/teacher, a local teen male who has been involved at the Living Waters Ranch under our guidance for roughly four years.
What a picture! I love this — four of our big, extremely active teen boys (ages 13-18) caught all in silence, reading very tender letters of encouragement and spiritual direction from Christian adults who love them dearly!
A part of our sixth grade class opening their letters
Our foster daughter Gleny (smiling), with her teacher and a few classmates as they opened their letters
My husband Darwin reading letters with his spunky group of second- and third-graders, all of whom come from unique family situations/difficult personal backgrounds
Two of our seventh-grade girls reading their personalized letters from their beloved teachers

Thank God for the small acts of kindness that He leads us to take in order to recognize, love and guide those whom He has put in our path. (One of our 16-year-old boys who typically suffers from great immaturity and doesn’t display much emotional depth informed me very sincerely the afternoon that I handed out the envelopes, “I still haven’t read my two letters yet…I’m gonna wait until I get home, get changed, turn the fan on, and then in the stillness of my home I’m gonna really take my time to read them…”) Wow! Praise God that something so simple as a letter can truly impact someone’s life in the love of God.

Also, as a last note, Geraldina (the mother of Sandra’s little sister whom I wrote one of my lengthy letters to), came up to me that afternoon with a huge smile on her face thanking me for the beautiful letter I had written her young daughter. She caught me off guard when she mentioned, “Alejandra is so very encouraged by what you wrote about God’s plan to grant her a Christian husband someday.” My jaw hung down around my ankles as I honestly didn’t even remember having written that in the letter, but it makes total sense. In a culture where so many women settle for a life of marital abuse and neglect with men who know nothing of God’s sacrificial love, that little comment in her long letter spoke life — and hope — into her young life. There are godly men out there; wait in purity and seek God first. God desires for you to enjoy your marriage with a Christian man, not to be one more woman disillusioned by an unfaithful or abusive husband. God declares that you are worth it; He paid the blood of His Son in order to adopt you as His daughter.

In conclusion (yes, this has been a very long post — hopefully you enjoyed a big cup of coffee while you were reading it!), thank you for your prayers and support, and God bless each of you. May the Lord give you the grace to love abundantly those whom He has placed near to you. Take every opportunity you have to share words of light and truth with them, and may we trust God to do the rest.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

Request for Prayer and Encouragement

To all who pray for and support this mission:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

The Narrow Path

Our 24-year-old Christian psychologist (red shirt) didn’t know what she was getting into when she decided to join the ‘narrow path’ group! Next to her (white shirt) is one of our teen foster daughters who likewise chose the difficult journey. Many of the girls in their knee-length uniform skirt finished the challenge with scuffed and even bloody knees. Several cried out of desperation as the journey of shame extended close to an hour and they wondered when it would end. Our teachers finished completely bathed in sweat and with dirt all over their clothes. It definitely was the more difficult path!

Twice weekly at the Living Waters Ranch all of our staff (a small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionaries/teachers plus my husband and me) and about 30 or so of our more mature students gather together in our large, cement-floored dining room for Bible study. We sit on wooden benches in a large, imperfect circle as we worship God together through song and then seek to grow together in knowledge of the truth and obedience as we study His Word.

We have gone through many different and very edifying topics this year: the existence of evil in the world, existential questions (and their Biblical answers), God’s desire that we connect with him and with other human beings (and that we not connect exclusively with technology/machines), several of Jesus’ parables and teachings, archeological evidence that backs the Bible’s veracity, our sexual identity as men and women made in God’s image, etc.

As has happened to me on many occasions, while I am reading the Bible or simply going about my daily business it is as though out of nowhere God deposits an idea or a direction into my mind that I am then to go share with everyone else during our group Bible study time. The following story is one such case.

A few weeks ago in my free time I was reading the book Jesus Calling, a wonderful devotional book. The certain page I was on mentioned something about the fact that we humans tend to pick the path of least resistance. I remember that the devotion itself was about an entirely different theme, but my eyes studied that one phrase about a dozen times as an idea was suddenly deposited very abruptly and undeniably into my mind, and my hand burned to write it down. I grabbed my little teal-colored spiral notebook where I do my planning for the twice-weekly Bible studies, and my hand furiously began tracing out a long, intricate plan. I felt that I had to write it down as quickly as possible so that the precious idea would not get lost among the many other thoughts that are always bouncing around my mind. Once all written down (including little drawings that gave more life to the overall idea), I became extremely surprised and excited. I couldn’t believe I had to wait two or three more days until the chance would arrive to put into action the idea that God had just given me! It would be a powerful illustration for all: presented the option to choose the easier way or that which promises immense difficulty, which will you choose? (And how can we then use this ‘game’ to better understand – and choose! – the narrow path of Christ which leads to eternal life?)

Crawling backwards several hundred yards on rocky terrain with his shoes on his hands, blindfold secured and a pencil gripped between his teeth as over a dozen teenagers mocked him and did all they could to obstruct his path: This is 29-year-old Erick, one of our extremely dedicated local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in the classroom, relational discipleship and organic agriculture with the teenagers in our Christ-centered homeschool program for disadvantaged youth.

The challenge would be simple: we would exit our concrete-floored dining room (our normal setting for Bible study) en masse in order to go out onto our front lawn to engage in a hands-on demonstration of what it means to choose between the narrow (hard) and the wide (easy) path. Many of our teens have heard this teaching of Jesus’ many times, but to live it in a condensed period in order to grant greater reflection? This would be the first time.

One of our teachers helped me to film the majority of the event (also a first, as we typically don’t film our Bible studies) as I began explaining to everyone that they would each be given to options:

Wide, Easy Path:

  • You can walk, run, give a friend a piggy-back ride, etc. (You may travel any way you choose.)
  • You can talk, joke, make fun of others, etc.
  • Your goal: reach the large fruit tree (beyond the Living Waters Ranch’s front gate) a few hundred meters from our starting spot.
  • (Oh, and please do everything you can to discourage and make fun of those on the narrow path. You can put obstacles in their path, try to confuse or distract them, etc, but please don’t physically harm them.) Have fun as much fun as possible!

Narrow, Hard Path:

  • You cannot travel as you choose. You must crawl backwards with a blindfold in place, effectively destroying your ability to see where you are going. You must also grip a pencil between your teeth, impeding your speech.
  • You may not talk with anyone. If you are lost and need help, the only thing you can say is, “Help! Help! Where am I going?” and if at any point your shoes come off your hands or your pencil falls out of your mouth, you must immediately say, “Forgive me.” You may not say anything else at any point.
  • You must not listen to or heed anyone’s voice but Jennifer’s.
  • Your end goal is the same as the other group’s (the large fruit tree a good distance off).
  • You are free to give up at any point and join the easier group.

As I explained the rather simple instructions to the large group in front of me, each person was completely free to join the “wide path” – the group that promised total ease, or the “narrow path” – that which physically would prove more challenging (not to mention the potential embarrassment at having to crawl backwards such a long distance in the manner I had proposed).

The plaid shirt belongs to 34-year-old Geraldina, the local Christian woman who serves with us in cooking and cleaning and is in one-on-one literacy classes as she learns to read and write for the first time in her life. She exhibited incredible bravery as she crossed the pile of tires without being able to see where she was going! (And they kept moving the tires as she tried to pass in order to make it more difficult.)

I thought that surely only two or three of our more outgoing teen boys would dare to join the “narrow path,” but much to my surprise 12 students and 3 teachers chose it by their own free will! They were very brave indeed.

A couple teens were indecisive and eventually chose the easier group with the rest of the roughly twenty participants. Let the games begin! (I had never orchestrated this type of large-group challenge before, so in my planning I thought we would take 15-20 minutes tops, but the whole ordeal extended beyond an hour.)

Those who had chosen the narrow path grabbed their blindfolds and submitted themselves to the embarrassing position on all fours as I egged the “wide path” participants on to make the lives of the “narrow path” participants as unbearable as possible.

Our 14-year-old foster daughter, Jackeline, on the hard path…

My 15 brave souls lined up, all totally blindfolded and unable to see, and they each had to crawl backwards through a hula-hoop that represented the moment of salvation. (This is part of the idea of “a door and a path” that I understand from God’s Word. We must first walk through the door of repentance and salvation – that first moment of trusting in Christ – and then there is a long path, oftentimes difficult, before us that extends until the end of our lives.)

The game got complicated quickly as some of my blindfolded participants sped off down the path, effectively beyond earshot, while I had to stay behind trying to guide those who dragged along slowly. I walked between blinded participants trying to guide and encourage them as best I could. More than one of them began scooting off in the wrong direction, heading for the middle of the cows’ pasture, and others bumped into the fence or couldn’t find the gate to pass through.

Those who were free to walk as they chose (those on the wide path, which represents the way of the world in which all is permitted) really did a phenomenal job making the crawlers’ lives impossible. At first they just tried to verbally discourage them, laugh at them and disorient them, but soon enough they got creative and began obstructing their path with tires and fallen branches. They even reached the point of picking up certain smaller students and completely relocating them in order to confuse them further and physically resisting the crawling people with their own weight and cunning. Crawling backwards blindfolded several hundred meters over rocks would have been a good enough lesson, but with the “evil” tactics of the other members they truly made the journey painful and nearly impossible. (And isn’t this a perfect illustration of the Christian life? Is it not true that those who are in the world try to discourage, disorient and make fun of those who are on the narrow path of Christ? Yes; this was panning out to be the perfect illustration of the spiritual walk with Christ – difficult; at times lonely; trusting a voice that you cannot see.)

The limited pages of this post do not allow me the space necessary to adequately explain the depths of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. What began as a let’s-see-how-this-goes teaching experiment turned out to be an epic battle between good and evil. It was the ultimate test of perseverance and faith, and as we meditated on the spiritual ramifications we felt like we were walking on sacred ground, discovering just what it takes to follow Christ until the end.

At one point after we crossed the threshold of the outer gate on our rural property and were then at-large in the outskirts of our town (a large, strange mass of people crawling around blindfolded while others shrieked and cackled as they threw tires in their path) a local young man and his friends stopped dead in their tracks, stunned and impressed by the strange game we were doing. This opened the door for one of our veteran teachers to talk to him about the way of Christ, and he stood with her, listening, for several minutes as he observed with awe the spectacle before him.

Every time he tried to go beneath the branch, they would lower it. When he would try to go over it, they would raise it up. They tormented him with this for several minutes before finally letting him pass!

The entire experience lasted much longer than any of us had imagined, and we went far beyond the time allotted for our bi-weekly Bible study. We had already passed the time for prayer groups and were willing to use up our recess time in order to finish what we had started. The only thing that mattered was the goal of reaching the fruit tree beyond the gate.

In Honduran culture, perseverance is not always a very strong point in our area as many people give up on their education, their families, etc, when confronted with difficulties, so the very fact that 15 people dared to participate in this daunting task (and 14 completed it; only 1 decided to give up) was reason to give thanks to God for the gritty character He is forming in those under our guidance. Wow!

Well, the biggest surprise was reserved for last. Once everyone reached their goal of arriving at the distant fruit tree, those on the narrow path soaked with sweat and dirty from head to toe (and many with very raw emotions after having been effectively bullied to their breaking point), everyone trudged back up the long, gravel path to our starting point: our large, concrete-floored dining room where our traditional wooden benches awaited us. Everyone thought the activity had finished, but I knew that the best was reserved for last: each person’s recompense for the path they had chosen.

Everyone trudged back into our dining room as their faces displayed that they were more than ready for this whole experiment to be over with. I sat them all down and then asked for those who were on the wide, easy path to stand in the middle of the circle. They all whooped and hollered and stood proudly in the middle of the wooden benches as I explained that they had definitely chosen what was easier and that they had been very astute to take care of their appearance so that no one would bully them. They had, after all, chosen what any intelligent person would choose: the path of least resistance. I congratulated them for their participation and then handed each of them a piece of candy, encouraging them to go ahead and eat their reward. They whooped and hollered again and then fell into sudden silence when they began opening their candy wrappers and popping into their mouths…balls of gooey flour! I had created “trick candy” the day before during a slot of free time I had – the candy wasn’t candy at all! Their reward was pure deceit…

They laughed and returned to their seats, effectively without any reward at all. I then asked the weary, bullied members of the narrow, difficult path to stand up in the middle of the circle of wooden benches. They studied me carefully, wondering what their prize would be. Was their going to be any prize at all, or just a simple pat-on-the-back of congratulation? I could barely contain my excitement, for I knew just what was in store for this brave, faithful group.

I began handing out an envelope for each one and then instructed them to open them all at once. What was inside? The Honduran equivalent of $10, which is a lot of money here, and a handmade coupon stating that they had also won a soda and a big bag of chips (a really popular snack in Honduran culture) and that two of their detentions would be erased at the end of the grading period (a big plus for any student in academic trouble).

They began squealing with delight and reveling in their extravagant reward – it was much greater than anything they had every imagined. In that moment our young psychologist, who is in her first year of service with us, unexpectedly broke out in tears and came over to me to receive a long hug.

Amidst the great celebration for those who had persevered in the difficult path, all of their trouble suddenly seemed forgotten as the prize greatly outweighed any difficulty they confronted along the grueling path.

There are so many parallels between this moring-hour challenge and the ongoing path for each one of us as we choose between the wide, easy path of the world (where any belief, action or attitude is permitted with great tolerance) and the narrow, difficult path of Christ that, in the end, provides a greater recompense than any of us could have ever imagined.

We spent the next two Bible studies reviewing the videos taken and discussing in-depth the many parallels between our game and the spiritual reality in each of our lives. Praise be to God for this wacky yet extremely effective idea He planted in me several weeks ago, and please continue to pray with us that each of the youth under our guidance would joyfully choose the narrow path of Christ and live for Him as they eagerly await the reward of an eternity with God.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. Please know that we could not operate the way we do as we touch lives with God’s Word and His love if it were not for your generosity in partnering with us. Thank you for trusting us, and God bless each of you. Please be encouraged by this story of the narrow path.

With gratitude and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew

Better Yet, Don’t Do Your Chores (A Funny Yet Effective Parenting Technique)

The following is a true (and slightly hilarious) story that occurred in our home this very morning.

Over these past 4+ years of learning to parent the children and teenagers the Lord has blessed us with, we’ve read many Christian parenting books and sought advice from many trusted people in our attempts to relate to our young ones in a loving yet firm manner.

Our 13-year-old daughter Gleny, whom we are in the process of legally adopting with her two siblings, came into our lives as a rather angry and malnourished 9-year-old. In her tiny body with big, frizzy hair she experienced very intense mood swings and bouts of unexpected screaming and crying during her first couple years with us. We kept praying for her but oftentimes wondered what would become of her if the Lord did not heal her treacherous emotional swings. Although there is still much more work to be done, we have without a doubt seen the Lord calming her wild heart and granting her more peaceful, loving and happy emotions in recent times. She has experienced great advancements – academic, spiritual and developmental – in her nearly-five years in our family, and after great academic struggles in primary school she is now one of the best students in her class of ten 7th-graders in the little high school we operate out of our home. She has been very consistent in her violin lessons for over a year now, and we’re discovering that she’s a talented painter as well. She knows God’s Word and is very quick to engage in meaningful conversation about Him.

Well, all of this to point out the many triumphs in my precious Gleny’s life…but I will now point out a recent struggle and how I am working (with humor and grace) to resolve it.

Although she manages almost without flaw her many homework and group project assignments in our high school, she has not found the technique (or rather, desire) to fulfill her household chores every morning.

In our home we get up at 5:00am as each person gets busy doing the various tasks assigned to them. Darwin goes to milk the cow with two of our kids; our eldest sweeps our home and porch; Jason feeds the cat; I empty all the trash cans and tidy up the living room. Others clean the bathroom; some fold clothes; and so goes the routine.

Our goal is to leave our home clean and tidy before walking out the door and entering a full day of classes and Christian discipleship on our rural property from 6:45am-4:00pm, and on most days we reach this goal pretty darn well. We are a well-oiled machine.

Except for the squeaky parts (and, yes, Gleny is one of them.) On most days I walk on bare feet into the stillness of the room she shares with two of her sisters and quietly stroke her feet or pat her arm as I lovingly wake her up only to pass by again 20 or 30 minutes later to find her sleeping again. Everyone else is on their feet taking a shower, making their bed or going about their daily duties, and I have to call her name loudly just so that she’ll sit up in bed, startled.

Once up, she meanders around our house in a daze for nearly an hour, oftentimes spending an inordinate amount of time making her bed or going to the bathroom. (I suspect she’s taking a nap on the toilet.)

I have tried many techniques to try to rouse her and incite her to fulfill the only chore she has each morning (everyone else has 2-3 chores and they fulfill them without complaint), but I have oftentimes been left frustrated after reminding her two or three times to go do her chore only to find that she never does it.

Well, this morning a new idea occurred to me, and it worked like magic. I pulled back three bedroom door curtains and entered three silent bedrooms to awake 7 sleepy people this morning as usual, and we were off. Little Jason was taking the fruit and vegetable remains from the day prior out to the cows’ stable; Jackeline was washing the dishes; my husband was cleaning our bathroom; I was feeding the dogs.

I passed by Gleny’s room just to make sure she was up, which I suspected she wasn’t. “Gleny!” I called from the other side of the curtain, a good half-hour after having gone to wake her up the first time, and her older sister replied, “She’s not up yet.”

Instead of feeling frustrated with our chronic (but precious) squeaky wheel, I responded joyfully, “Oh, that’s okay. Just let her be!”

I’m sure everyone who heard me was surprised by my response, but I kept on my merry way – look for little Josue’s socks; help him put his shoes on; go get a bar of soap for Jackeline; take my vitamins.

Well, at some point Gleny did get up and asked permission to use our bathroom to take a shower. I felt almost giddy (in a naughty-child type of sense) as I thought I-hope-she-doesn’t-do-her-chore-this-morning. I-hope-she-gives-me-the-chance-to-do-what-I-want-to-do!

6:45am rolled around and all of our local teachers and uniformed students began streaming through our front gate. At this point family time (and house-cleaning time) is over and we enter our sacred daily routine of service to the poor, the proclamation of God’s Word, and humble love to the lost. God has sent several dozen local young people our way who spend the majority of their waking hours under our guidance as we seek to draw them nearer to Christ. We teach the ignorant, encourage the faint of heart, discipline the unruly and include many in this beautiful lifestyle with and for Christ. It is a very good, rich life. We love what we do.

Soon enough I forgot all about Gleny and whether or not she had done her chore of picking up whatever was left laying about in our outdoor washing station.

I began hugging little kids and teenage girls and extending my hand and a warm pat on the back to teen boys. It is our morning routine. I slipped into the office to greet each of our teachers and I watched as little ones began playing on the rope swings dangling from the trees in our yard.

Fifteen minutes or so later – once each group had been tucked away in their respective classrooms – I walked back over to our home (which is about 5-10 paces from our school).

Gleny! I suddenly remembered. I headed for our outdoor washing station (called a ‘pila’ in Spanish) on the edge of our porch where we wash our household’s clothes, shoes and bedding.

Yes! Ah-HAH! My eyes alit with glee as I saw the many rags and tidbits thrown about the washing station. Gleny had not done her job!

I got to work doing the job myself, laughing all the while. I hand-washed a shirt and several underpants and rags that had been left half-washed and sitting in a pan; I collected the long blue rope that was laying haphazardly on the ground; I collected the many shoes that were scattered about; I picked up and re-hung the clothes that had fallen off the line. Perfect.

Upon finishing my job, I headed straight into our little cinderblock home (still laughing to myself) and wrote on our family’s living-room whiteboard the following message that will be read by all later this afternoon once they get out of classes and come streaming into our home:

Blessings to you, Gleny! Don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t clean up the washing station this morning; I took 10-15 minutes to do it once you were in class. Now you can go ahead and cover my job of washing the boys’ clothes this Friday since I did your job this morning. I am available to fulfill your responsibilities when you need help! I love you. –Mom

So I am now at peace and will happily cover her morning duty when she ‘forgets’ to do it – and then she will have to take one of my jobs!

I had instituted this same technique a year ago with another one of our teen daughters with fantastic and rather quick results. One afternoon she did not do some chore of hers, so I switched roles with her (unbeknownst to her) and vegged out in her room watching a movie with one of our other daughters. When she walked in, shocked to find me slouched out on her floor without a care in the world, I informed her, “Oh, I did your chore because you forgot, so now you’ve got to do mine. Normally I make dinner, bathe your little brother, bring in the dry clothes from the line, feed the dogs, supervise all your siblings and help them resolve any conflict they might have. I hope you have a great time, sweetie. Don’t come look for me; I’m enjoying this great movie with your sister.” She was left with her jaw hanging down around her ankles, and sure enough she got busy doing my long list of chores while I enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon and evening. From that day forward, every time she considered not fulfilling her chores I amiably offered to do them for her and she would scream, “No; they’re mine! I’m on it!” because she didn’t want to assume my long list of chores. Score!

This parenting idea and many others can be found in Danny Silk’s phenomenal book Loving Our Kids on Purpose. It sure beats nagging and frustration! (And I certainly hope she neglects the washing station again tomorrow so that I can assign her another one of my jobs!)

God bless you and keep you!

Mid-Year Update 2018

In June my husband Darwin and I celebrated 5 years of faithful marriage, and later this year in November we will celebrate our 5-year anniversary of parenting fatherless children together for God’s glory. The Lord has used our marriage to parent 11 children and teens thus far, 7 of which continue under our full-time care, and close to 100 have passed through the discipleship-based homeschool program we operate out of our home for local youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thank you to all who have supported us along the way, and please know that we are committed to continue onward in this lifestyle of service to the poor, Christian hospitality and relational discipleship as long as the Lord allows.

One of the local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in our school took the following photos a couple weeks ago during a mid-year celebration day at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve. Darwin, our 7 foster children and I practiced several nights in a row to put together a surprise dance that we would perform in front of our all of our students and teachers! As you can tell by the very happy faces behind us (below), they loved it!

In a country where many families have been broken apart and the majority of our students’ parents are largely absent from their lives, we treasure these moments where Darwin and I can put on display the love and joy of the Lord knit together in family unity.

We work very hard teaching Bible studies, doing one-on-one and group counseling/prayer sessions, and leading by example so that the youth in our home and school may live for Christ instead of falling prey to the many wrong attitudes and behaviors that abound in Honduran society. After many long days (and nights) doing the trench work of digging deep in souls and teaching the youth both in and out of the classroom, we really enjoyed this light-hearted mid-year break as we simply danced and made a lot of people laugh! (I don’t think we’ll be going on tour any time soon!)

Below are more photos taken during our mid-year fun activity day at the Living Waters Ranch. In addition to our family dance, we all enjoyed a Christian rap performance by three of our teen boys, several soccer matches, traditional Honduran yard games and a motivational workshop by our Christian psychologist (below, yellow shirt).

We are now in the second half of our 2018 efforts to disciple and teach, as the Honduran school calendar runs from February-November. There are currently 48 youth enrolled full-time in our program who visit our home each day from 6:45am-3:00/4:00pm for Christian discipleship, academic classes, extracurricular and service-oriented activities, etc. Over a dozen have dropped out since January due to family instability, poor decision-making, etc, and we continue onward with a highly committed group of young people who are taking full advantage of the life-giving opportunity God has granted them to be part of a loving Christian community dedicated to their integral growth in Christ.


 As for our family status apart from our general ministry to our local community, the purpose the Lord has given us is to welcome children and teens who were unwanted or uncared for by their biological relatives into our patchwork family so that they might come to know the redemptive love of God. Some come and others go as many eventually go live with a stable biological family member; others will stay forever as this is the only home they know.

Please pray for us in the ongoing adoption process for those who have chosen us to be their forever family, and pray with us for our sons’ and daughters’ complete healing and transformation in Christ after having come from very traumatic childhoods. On many days our home seems like a warzone between good and evil, light and darkness, as there are many generational chains from our children’s biological families that must be broken so that they may be free to live for Christ. Pray that we may be granted the grace of loving one another well and that our fellowship with the Lord would increase daily.

Thank you to those who pray for and support this mission. Without you we would not be able to touch the lives the Lord brings our way.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family 

 

The Living Waters Ranch: Christian family to the orphaned and integral discipleship/education to the lost

The Birthday Chase: Let the Eggs and Flour Fly!

Yesterday was my husband Darwin’s 35th birthday, and our foster kids and local students who study in our discipleship-based homeschool program had been scheming for quite some time about the birthday surprise they would deliver to their beloved teacher and father: the classic Honduran tradition (which is typically only done to youth) of cracking raw eggs on his head and filling him with flour.

The day of the surprise attack, Darwin sensed danger as I gathered in a huddle with several of our teens near our front porch, so he snuck out of our front gate, locked it so no one could follow him, and began running away. Two of our stronger teen boys hopped the fence in the blink of an eye (which is typically a big no-no, but on this specific occasion it just made sense), and began sprinting after him down the dirt path.

Well, that was just the beginning of the impromptu fun as Darwin ended up running all over our property in a zig-zag as roughly a dozen teens chased him through the tall grass where our cows graze. He looked like a wild bull who needed a rather large team to corral him! They finally cornered him and gave him his birthday surprise: eggs on his head and flour everywhere, but what they didn’t expect was that he would soon begin chasing them to take revenge!

It was a lovely half-hour or so of wild laughter and healthy fun all over our rural property, which we thank God for because in this country many teenagers do not have the opportunity to engage in safe, loving play (and much less with loving male Christian leaders who teach and disciple them on a daily basis). We see all over the Honduran news devastating murders and acts of extortion; what most people never hear about (and much less experience) is this type of loving camaraderie and innocent fun within the context of God’s perfect will. Most of our teens (both those who live with us as sons and daughters and those who visit our home during daytime hours for school) come from devastating childhoods and never really learned to play (and much less have sustained joy in the Lord), so events such as these highlight a very real joy that the Lord is allowing to flow in our daily activities as we seek Him alongside of these precious teens.

So, praise be to God for this afternoon snapshot of joy in a land replete in despair and violence. Enjoy the photos…

A good group of our students and foster kids gathered around the gate to watch the action on the other side — Darwin had locked the gate and tried to run away so that the teens wouldn’t be able to break eggs on his head and cover him in flour!
After Darwin’s failed wild goose chase (he was the wild goose who failed to escape), he started taking vengeance on the students, chasing and grabbing them one by one and rubbing his eggy hair all over their clothes! (In this photo he’s hunting one of our local 16-year-old tutors who serves alongside of us on the far right side of the photo.)
I was filming a video of our students’ surprise birthday attack on Darwin!
We’ve got the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China going on here (and they keep jumping from one side to the other because the gate’s locked and Darwin’s got the key!)
Total mayhem!
Here comes Darwin after his solid defeat! (But he’s not done taking revenge…)

One year older, and definitely with a more mature look! All 35-year-olds sport raw eggs and flour, don’t they?
He’s tired after having run all over the front pasture for several minutes trying to escape the scheming students, but he’s got enough spark left in him to take on one of the leaders of the attack: one of our 16-year-old local students! This will be a good match (and let’s see whose shirt gets ripped)!

It was a tie! Man, what happened to Darwin? He looks like he’s coming back from an all-out war zone! (His belt is undone, his clothes are all dirty and his shirt is un-zipped!)
They’re still coming at him with more eggs! (They had buried them several days prior in preparation for the big birthday surprise, so the eggs were especially ripe!)
Everybody scram! You might be Darwin’s next victim of revenge!
To top off the whole event, our girls start singing happy birthday!
This is Darwin posing with Carolina, one of our foster daughters who served as one of the egg-smashing masterminds. After the initial escapade, Darwin chased her down and rubbed his messy hair all over her clothes! Ha!
Well, by the end of the ‘birthday party’, there were more victims than just Darwin! Everybody started throwing eggs and flour on anybody they could get their hands on!


Ok, the fun’s over! Now it’s time to do the daily clean-up rounds! Boys, go grab a broom and get to sweepin’!

Now everybody’s cleaning up in our outdoor washing station! Nobody wants to go home a mess!
Here’s one of our foster daughters helping a local student wash her hair! We don’t want any parents mad at us because their kids smell like rotten egg!

Ok, time to head home! (Some leave walking; others on bikes; others in our pickup.) Well done with Darwin’s birthday surprise!

Praise be to God!

Multiplying Responsibility Like Bunnies

The latest greatest on our rural homestead in Honduras is the arrival of our five bunnies! Many local friends of ours had recommended that we get involved in bunny care as a way of producing small quantities of meat for our family’s consumption, so we finally did so when a local woman was looking to sell her adult bunnies at a good price.

A couple weeks ago we started off with four females and a male…and we’ve already got babies! The care-taking of our precious bunnies has been a huge hit for our kids, as they’ve been given the task of feeding them several times a day, which includes going out to the pasture to cut grass with a machete for them and chopping up fruit and veggies for their consumption. The bunnies were very skittish when they first arrived and we were told that they couldn’t be held, but our kids have been working hard to domesticate them, and one of our teen daughters in particular has become quite a delightful bunny tamer. She helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that each of the babies gets enough to eat, and she’s constantly checking to make sure they’re okay. (Our kids consider themselves too old and mature to play with stuffed animals, but cuddling the bunnies is fair game! We love it!)

Here are a few photos!

Our 10-year-old son Jason whom we are in the process of legally adopting squeezed into the bunny hutch! My husband Darwin and I are enjoying having the bunnies on our homestead because their presence is teaching our kids more responsibility, how to gently care for God’s creation, and they are healthy entertainment! (We’ve chosen not to have a television in our home, and our kids don’t have internet access.)
Our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline LOVES the bunnies! She’s offered to feed them three times per day, and every morning and evening she helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that her babies get enough sustenance! Jackeline is also very involved in the care and upkeep of our small herd of milking cows and is excited about the pig pen we are in the process of constructing. We are very proud of the new, very mature character the Lord is forming in her as He transforms her with His love.

Here is our eldest, 17-year-old Dayana, whom we are also in the process of adopting. She’s not too fond of the animals, but — fear not! — Jackeline is close by to make sure everyone’s okay.
This is 15-year-old Carolina, another one of our beloved foster teens. She moved in with us late last year and is doing extremely well in our household.
Jackeline took several portraits with the bunnies!
Here are the babies when they were just a couple days old! When our kids first saw them, they asked if they were rats!


      Amen! Glory to God!

Lord, How Do You Choose? A Testimony of the Miraculous

A beloved local pastor who labors alongside of us part-time teaching carpentry classes and leading our youth in community evangelism was diagnosed a few weeks ago with a devastating tumor on his spinal chord. Our staff and students at the Living Waters Ranch along with the pastor’s family, his church congregation and many households in our rural town were devastated. Hospital conditions in Honduras are not the best, especially when considering an extremely delicate surgery on someone’s spinal chord. His wife feared the worst; his church congregation went into fervent prayer and began holding fundraisers to pay for the expensive surgery; and doctors said that he would likely need to spend up to two years in bed recovering from the removal of the large mass. And this is our beloved pastor who is as strong as a rock, oftentimes hauling huge wooden boards to and fro in his carpentry shop, with much greater physical strength than some of our stronger teen boys!

Thus, my husband Darwin and our three foster sons went to visit him several days ago as they prayed with him, consoled his wife and accompanied him as he lied in bed awaiting the looming surgery. The sudden diagnosis seemed surreal to us all.

In Honduras, there are many (true) tales of people going in for routine surgeries in large, public hospitals and what should have been routine takes a turn for the worst due to lack of clinical care, hygiene issues, etc. We’ve even heard several testimonies of families who have lost young women who’ve gone to the hospitals to give birth and their bodies are later found maimed or chopped up in trash bags behind the hospital. These are extreme cases, but here underfunded, understaffed public hospitals do not generally inspire confidence, especially not when it comes to such a delicate surgery as the removal of a tumor from someone’s spinal chord.

Thus, these last few weeks we’ve all been carefully praying for our dear pastor friend and waiting with uncertainty for what might turn out to be the loss of his life or the paralyzation of his legs if anything goes wrong in the surgery.

With all of this looming in the air, yesterday after teaching my advanced math class I headed out during my free period to visit the homes of several of our students. I enjoyed several encouraging (and sometimes hilarious) visits with well-meaning but sometimes under-equipped parents as I went home-to-home in our rural neighborhood where poverty and unpunished crime abound.

At one point I was sitting in a plastic lawn chair on a dirt lawn with two sunburned parents who work very hard in the local pineapple fields as I sought to counsel them on how to better parent their extremely gifted but often rebellious teenage son who is in our discipleship-based homeschool program. We’ve had a close relationship with this family for several years, and their son has many natural leadership giftings and considers himself to be quite grown-up at the ripe old age of 16, so I started speaking frankly to his parents. (After all, last year we bumped him down a grade for immature and inconsistent behavior, and this year his attendance and homework completion had been up and down with many bright, promising spots along the way.) After assuring the parents several times that we love their son dearly and desperately want God’s purposes to be fulfilled in his life, I laid it out cold-turkey, “Look, the Bible says that if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The parents’ eyes grew and the normally-serious mom even let out a surprised burst of laughter as I began explaining that many teen boys in our area live like little kings — they have a cellphone, three square meals a day, total freedom to do whatever they want…and zero responsibilities. No job; no work. Their parents (who themselves are very hard-working and barely making ends meet) pick up the bill on their boys’ irresponsibility and let them become comfortable vagabonds or — worse — ripe pick for the local gangs. So, I advised these particular parents to take God’s Word and put it into action with the authority the Lord has given them as this young man’s parents: don’t serve him dinner until he sits his butt down and starts working on the homework that’s long overdue. A simple limit, but firm. This seemed to be a new concept to the parents, and I reiterated the biblical nature of this advice time and again, encouraging them to assume their role as their son’s authority and not leave him to his own means, which includes endless vagabonding, going to the river for hours on end, and getting mixed up in the wrong crowd. After praying with the parents, I headed for my next stop.

At the next house a similar visit was held as I met with another set of local parents on their front porch. A few emaciated dogs eyed me suspiciously from a few yards away. At this particular house, however, there was someone else present as well: our student’s blind 90-year-old great-grandmother. I have read many counts (both directly from the Bible and from modern-day Christians) of God healing blind people, and this — seeing God heal the sick and disabled — has been a longing of mine for many years. Beyond asking God for His wisdom in my life, I’m oftentimes found asking Him to grant me the privilege of seeing the miraculous — visions, healings, etc. I’ve been reading a book that details the fact that, as Christians, we should not be doing the possible but rather the impossible — that which is only possible with God. I wanted God to do the impossible through me!

And so, on this particular occasion yesterday after encouraging another one of our students’ parents, I felt very clearly that God was leading me to pray that this blind old lady would get her vision back. These kinds of prayers make me nervous, as I know full well that God can heal her, but I’m not quite sure what response to have if or when He doesn’t heal the person. Plus, thus far in my life the Lord has not chosen to use me as an instrument of His divine healing. Why start now, and won’t I end up looking like a fool if He doesn’t heal her? After all, I don’t want to illusion her if it is God’s plan that she continue blind for the rest of her life.

Well, my faith somehow seemed to increase and I dared to pray with this woman, who is a devout Christian. In another plastic lawn chair (which is the furniture that most people have here, both inside their house and out) under a simple overhang very close to the edge of the jungle as the rumbling river passed by on the other side of their house, I bowed my head and prayed as best I could that God would heal His daughter’s eyes. She prayed along with me, and I began to sincerely feel that He would heal her.

When we finished praying, I took my hand off her eyes and asked enthusiastically if she could see. She could not.

I felt sad but at the same time vowed to pray for her again the next time I saw her (which turned out to be today as I ended up visiting their house two days in a row.) I embraced her and said goodbye to the parents as I headed out and off to my next house visit. I couldn’t help feeling let down, as I felt that God had given me the faith and even the expectation of a miracle, but it didn’t come through.

Later that day (yesterday) all of our local students left our home around 3:00pm and our 8 foster kids and I got to work washing our clothes by hand in our outdoor washing station and doing school homework for the next day.

Once evening came, three of our foster teens and I attended a discipleship group in the home of a local married couple that labors with us for God’s glory. We gathered around their cement living room floor in the humid air for over an hour worshipping God and learning more of the life of Christ before we bid our farewells and climbed aboard the three-wheeled mototaxi, a form of public transportation that is a combination between a motorcycle and a traditional car. (My husband Darwin was about a half-hour away in the city of La Ceiba taking three of our daughters to their Christian ballet class, and he had two of our other sons with him as company.) Thus, the three who were with me got aboard the tiny mototaxi with me at dusk as we were leaving the discipleship group and headed for home.

At that moment the wife of the married couple who directs the discipleship group and who labors alongside of us during daytime hours at the Living Waters Ranch came running out to the dirt road where we were boarding the bright red mototaxi.

She had forgotten to tell us something. Somewhat out of breath, she came near the mototaxi and said with great excitement, “Jennifer! The pastor is healed. He went to the hospital earlier today for his final exam before entering surgery tomorrow, and the doctors found that his tumor is gone!”

Her eyes trained on ours with great joy as our three teens who were with me stared at her, both shocked and overjoyed. One of our girls’ jaws just about dropped to the floorboard as she processed the information.

Our dear married friend continued: “He no longer needs the surgery! He’s at home now and will be fine. God healed him!”

Eyes aglow with faith come alive, our teens and I thanked her for the wonderful news and we began zipping off the rocking path up to our rural property. Our teens commented among themselves, amazed at what God had done — we had all been praying for just this!

I stared up at the starry night sky through the open side of the little mototaxi as the night wind whipped my face. Amazed, my only question towards God was: “Lord, how do You choose?”

I marvelled at God — just hours earlier I had asked Him for a miracle for the blind old lady, and it had not been granted. Our pastors’ healing, however, was granted miraculously (which I honestly did not expect). I smiled big as I stared up at the sky, marveling at the mysteriousness of God. Again I repeated deep down in my heart as I admired my Father: “Lord, how do You choose?” Of course, this question probably will not be answered in this lifetime, but I can still wonder in awe of the Great Healer.

And so, I leave you with this little testimony. God is great; He is alive; and His ways are mysterious. He is to be praised! Amen.

Updates and Prayer Requests from the First Quarter of 2018

Construction of Annex

A friend of ours who serves as a missionary to Honduras felt the Lord lead him to help us construct an addition on the back of our dining room/kitchen in order to accommodate the increased number of people we are serving this year. The dining room (where we hold our group Bible studies/worship times in addition to being our lunchroom and multi-purpose classroom) will be doubled in size, and a classroom will be added on as well. This is the first time we’ve made any real structural changes/additions onto the property since the leadership of the Living Waters Ranch was granted us in 2012, and we are very thankful to our missionary friend for financially covering this cost and directing the construction workers in the process.

Our existing dining room/kitchen (yellow building) with the annex being built out back

Josselyn and Gabriela Return to Their Biological Family

Two of our foster daughters (ages 13 and 11) who moved in with us in July 2015 as they escaped situations of abuse and neglect were recently moved out of our home and under the protection of a loving, stable Christian aunt. After performing the legal investigation to see if the home and family members would prove safe for the girls, they were officially moved in with their aunt in mid-January. Unlike the rest of our foster kids, these two always longed to return to their biological family, so this move was considered a triumph. The girls’ aunt has been raising their little brother since birth, and she had always hoped to receive the girls as well (which we did not know until several months ago when we were in contact with her for the first time). We continue to pray for the girls and are in phone contact with them from time to time. We currently have 8 foster kids/teens in our family ages 9-17, and we do not anticipate receiving more in the foreseeable future as we’re trying to establish ‘normal’ with those whom we have after having gone through many emotionally taxing adjustments over the past several months with the arrival of our two new teen girls (15-year-old Carolina and 14-year-old Paola) in October 2017 and now the departure of Josselyn and Gaby not two months ago.

This was little Gabriela (Gaby) shortly after moving in with us in 2015. A biological family member had shaved her head and she was deeply malnourished and emotionally broken after having been the recipient of her step-father’s sexual abuse. Of the 11 kids we’ve fostered, she has perhaps had the most behavioral problems and daily challenges.
Living under our care over two years, Gaby overcame some of her developmental and emotional delays although there was still much work to be done. She defied all odds and even learned to read and write, something we initially thought would not be within her mental reach. Darwin and I were prepared to be her lifelong caretakers and had even offered to adopt her and Josselyn, so now the fact that they are no longer with us is somewhat of an emotional shock to our system. We hope all the best for them in their new home and that their loving aunt can meet Gaby’s many needs.
Josselyn, just like her younger sister Gaby, came to us with her hair extremely short, malnourished, and never having gone to school. She came to confess faith in Christ while in our home, was baptized, and in our accelerated homeschool program was able to catch up academically by doing two grades in one year. This year she is in sixth grade and studying at a local school close to her aunt’s home. She has more intellectual capacity than her younger sister but always lacked a certain degree of common sense and faithfulness, so our greatest prayer for her in this new season of her life is that God may grant her the wisdom and the faith to put into practice the many things we tried to teach her.
This is a photo we took of Josselyn a few months ago (after having been under our care over two years). She’s grown so much!

New Teacher/Missionary Added to Team

Due to our increased number of students this year (60 in 2018; 35 last year), we saw the necessity of acquiring another local teacher/missionary to serve alongside of us in the classroom, in discipleship activities, and administratively in the office in order to alleviate the burden the rest of us were feeling with the larger number of youth being served. A sister in Christ whom we’ve known several years through a mentor of ours recently graduated college and was on a job hunt (which in Honduras can be increasingly difficult due to the scarcity of jobs available), and we snagged her before anyone else could! She has a passion for Christ and has a long history of working with children and youth, so she has been a great fit in these first few weeks on the job. Our team is now composed of 8 full-time and 6 part-time Honduran workers/missionaries including my husband and me.

Some of our foster teens and local students helping shovel gravel during a day of organized maintenance/construction activities
Two of our girls doing their homework by candlelight in our living room. Our kids make fun of me because I’m very old-fashioned!

Thank you for your prayers and support! God bless you.

Hot Tea With a Special Guest: January 2018 Updates and Prayer Requests

Thank you to all of those who have been lifting us up in prayer. We have seen several marked differences in our household and an overall calming down of the rough waves we had passed through. Thank you for asking our Father that His peace might reign and rule in our hearts. Please continue to pray for my ongoing battle with insomnia, as these last six weeks or so have been incredibly difficult and I’ve spent the majority of each night wide awake and unable to sleep more than a couple hours. (During the ensuing daytime hours I struggle with dizziness, discouragement and extreme fatigue.) This greatly affects my focus, energy, mood, etc (and not to mention the way I interact with and invest in all those around me), so I humbly ask for prayer and healing on this account. Thank you.

During this month of January we’ve been engaging in a variety of activities as we’re gearing up for a new year of community discipleship and integral education that will officially commence on February fifth. This month we’ve been offering daily intensive math and reading tutoring for our new high school students, one-on-one literacy classes to Geraldina (Sandra’s mom), various small-scale construction and property maintenance projects, general administration, house visits and evangelism in our rural neighborhood, many prayer meetings and times of fine-tuning our vision with our local missionaries, P.E. classes with our teachers (this has been hilarious!), etc.

Below are photos taken during the recent visit of Kyshia, a beloved missionary and blossoming friend of ours who has served the Lord in Honduras over 30 years and raised 17 abandoned/orphaned Honduran children as part of her life’s work. She lives in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and made the 7-hour drive up to our home to listen to, counsel and pray with all of our kids and local missionaries individually. She had a ‘tea party’ with each one and was able to reach down deep into each one’s heart and touch them with God’s love. She has an extremely special sense of humor and had us all rolling with laughter almost non-stop as she stayed in our guest house for a few days with her 30-year-old special-needs foster son who she is still taking care of. This is an ongoing relationship we are hoping to cultivate on a regular basis over the coming years as the Lord begins to use her as an integral member in His ministry in this little corner of the world. (She even took care of our 10 kids one evening so that Darwin and I could get away for a date! Not many people are capable of adequately handling our rowdy bunch, but she definitely could because she has the experience!) I hope you enjoy the photos.

God bless you in this new year, and thank you again for praying for and supporting the Lord’s work in and through us.

Our 9-year-old special needs son Josue looking for extra sugar at the bottom of his cup in his ‘tea party’ with Kyshia

Carminda, our night watchman’s wife, in her counseling and prayer time with Kyshia
Erick, who serves alongside of his wife not only at the Living Waters Ranch but also during his nights and weekends out of his own home in our rural neighborhood as they relationally disciple many rogue youth who are looking for guidance and hope in Christ
Aracely, Erick’s wife who is now serving alongside of us part-time and who has been a powerful instrument of blessing in our kids’ lives over the past several years as their ‘aunt’
Reina, one of our local teachers who is entering her second year of service with us, in her time of rest and renewal with Kyshia
Geraldina, a local woman who has an extremely powerful testimony in the Lord. Her teenage daughter (Sandra) found refuge in our home two years ago as Geraldina knew her daughter was in danger due to an out-of-control step-father. Geraldina, who due to circumstances and extreme poverty never went to school and has lived under the yoke of abusive relationships since childhood, has since left the abusive man (which in this culture is extremely difficult if not impossible for an illiterate woman with four kids), has begun working with us first part-time and now full-time, has recovered her teenage daughter, and has since purchased a small plot of land and constructed a decent home for her and her four children to live in. The abusive ex-husband has sought her out non-stop over the past two years and even threatened her on numerous occasions, but her faith in the Lord has been her shield against him. She is a very humble, strong woman with a sincere faith in Christ who is coming out of her shell as she’s been included in our community where God’s love is manifested daily. She is now in intensive tutoring sessions with one of our teachers in order to learn to read and write for the first time in her life, and it has literally been amazing to see her transformation over the past two years since we met her. Please give thanks to God with us for all that He’s done in her life.
Our kids in an art activity with Kyshia while Darwin and I were away on our date


Glory to God!

2017 Yearend Update

Friday we finished up our last day of regular classes, Bible study and dynamic group activities as the Honduran school year is coming to a close. In the ensuing days there has been much cleaning out of classrooms and office spaces, great administrative effort to close up the year well, and the moving of furniture from one little building to another to convert our primary schoolhouse into a quaint (and rather bare) guesthouse/multi-purpose building for our vacation time.

On Monday we had our last official meeting with our small but extremely devoted team of Honduran teachers/missionaries to pray together and wrap everything up logistically. But, rather than it just being the 7 of us sitting in a circle in one of our classrooms to direct the usual meeting, we had a special guest. One of our male students who has just completed his first full year of classes and discipleship with us at the Living Waters Ranch had asked permission to come to the all-adult meeting in order to share his testimony and thank us for leading him to the Lord. We’ve known him on and off for nearly four years, and he’s always been extremely timid and seemingly on the verge of joining a gang or escaping illegally to the United States. (Alas, he was one of the local vagabonds last year who mocked our students who got baptized in the river near his home! Look at all the Lord has done in him since!)

This particular young man is on the cusp of turning 18 years old and is just now finishing 7th grade. He sat in our midst in his skinny jeans with a soccer shirt and metal chain hanging casually from around his neck. On the outside, he looked like any other male teen in our area, but his eyes were aglow with life, with joy, and you could sense he was at total peace. As we each greeted him warmly at the beginning of the meeting, asking him how he felt, he kept shaking his head back and forth with a huge smile on his face (not typical of any male teen around these parts), and said more than once, “I’m just so happy about all the changes that are going on inside of me…”

All eyes trained on him – alas, this was the first time any of our students had asked permission to come to one of our planning meetings in order to share their testimony! – he began speaking, full of confidence and wisdom, as he ended up pouring his heart out for nearly an hour about how his relationship with Christ has completely changed his entire perspective. We knew this to be true as we had seen a dramatic transformation in him after many, many seeds of truth were sown in him through our Bible studies, prayer groups, individual counsel and encouragement with Darwin and Erick, and his 7th grade teacher’s spiritual investment in his life everyday in the classroom. His heart had gone from cold and disinterested to burning hot for God, and just a few weeks ago he made the decision to give his life to the Lord. He spoke with great joy and accuracy about how he used to be a vagabond; used to live totally immersed in sexual sin; used to not love his brothers and parents (and much less his enemies); used to fear the many dangerous men who roam about our neighborhood (without fearing the Lord). Now, knowing Christ and fully experiencing God’s love for him, his whole life is changing. Now he expresses love and gratitude to his family members; he asks forgiveness when he’s sinned; he listens to praise music rather than worldly music; he longs for his life to bear good fruit for God’s glory; and he loves to be close to God’s Word. If I were to write everything he said, it would take pages. In short, God radically changed the course of this young man’s life, and He is now using him as a Godly influence to reach other teens in our neighborhood with the message of Christ (not to mention his immediate family who is directly impacted by the life of God now in him).

That definitely makes every ounce of effort worth it (and leads us to give thanks to God for making all those little seeds – however imperfectly they were sown – take root and grow)!

And so today is our official celebration day as each of our students and their families will come over for an entire afternoon of year-end presentations and activities, including choir performances, a 2-mile road race involving the local community, a PowerPoint presentation of all the photos we’ve taken this year, and several other musical and dance performances by our students. At the end of the event, our students will receive their official report cards, and then we won’t see the majority of them again until January (if, in fact, they decide to continue studying with us next year).

This is a sentimental and slightly delicate time of year emotionally, as we know that a handful of the students whom we love will not be returning next year. For some, they never caught the vision or aren’t willing to persevere long enough for God to begin to work in their lives; for others, they prefer to attend the local public high school where corruption abounds and it is much easier to slip under the radar without having done much work at all. Despite our earnest, repeated efforts to seek out and encourage the lost sheep, there were over a dozen local youth who dropped out throughout the course of the year. We see them now roaming our rural neighborhood largely as vagabonds without any direction, and we always greet them warmly and remind them that they have an open door here if they should ever decide to return.

We understand that just about everything that is taught and lived here at the Living Waters Ranch is very counter-cultural (and goes against the general worldly stream as a whole), so on the one hand we are really surprised and grateful that so many of our students have been granted the divine wisdom and dogged willingness to want to participate at all! (Now that’s a good perspective to have! Praise God!)

We are officially ending our second school year of discipleship-based community homeschool with 35 full-time students, 5 part-time students and our special-needs foster son Josue, who serves as everyone’s ‘assistant’ and best friend. Several of our more faithful students have communicated enthusiastically to Darwin and me that no matter what, they’ll be back next year to continue growing in Christ with us and acquiring a vast array of academic and life skills. That makes our heart grow in joy and gratitude, as we earnestly desire to walk long-term with each of the youth under our care, not only the 10 who live with us as sons and daughters but also those from our local neighborhood who spend the majority of their daytime hours in our home and classrooms.

And so, today we will say goodbye and enter a new (albeit very short) season of vacation from the typical community hospitality and teaching we participate in 10-11 months of the year. Our local teachers/missionaries and students will have free time to spend with their families and continue to grow in God’s will as Darwin and I will work privately at the ongoing task of taming our 10 foster kids/teens with God’s love.

In these next few days Darwin has many choir events back-to-back as he will be shuttling his young singers all over the place to spread joy and sing hymns. Erick, one of the local missionaries who labors alongside of us, has great plans to take the teenagers who participate in the youth group he hosts in his home (several of which are our foster children) to a local prison to minister to the prisoners and – on another occasion – to downtown La Ceiba to pray for the homeless and drug-addicts. Several of our older teens also have plans to visit the poor and sick in our neighborhood during their vacation time as they seek to bless Christ in disguise.

Sandra, the local teen who lived with us for a season before returning to live with her mother, will be coming up to our home almost daily to give one-on-one literacy classes to her mom, who due to extreme poverty and social disadvantage never learned to read and write. Our daughter Jackeline will likewise be giving intensive math tutoring classes to our two new daughters (Carolina, 15 and Paola, 14) in the hope of getting them up to speed for next school year. Several of our foster teens, two of our teachers and I will be heading out of town to attend a Christian youth conference this weekend, and on Monday we’ll be receiving a visit from a very special friend and missionary who has been serving in Honduras over 25 years. Then my dad comes down for several days (which our kids are especially stoked about).

During these vacation times we will continue to wash our clothes by hand; between all 12 of us we’ll take turns cooking family meals 2-3 times a day; and we’ll continue to ask for God’s grace as we learn to love Him and one another.

Although I feel that I have more to write now than ever, I will most likely take a break from maintaining the blog in December as I devote myself more fully to the cultivation of our children and our relationship with Christ, especially because our kids will not be in classes and will need me to be more fully present.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog and keep us in your prayers before the Lord. For those who are wondering about my ongoing healing from chronic insomnia, it is still a daily battle. In addition to my natural supplements, I have begun taking a strong prescription sleeping aid that does help me get a full night’s sleep, but it leaves me feeling drugged and dizzy all the next day. If I don’t take it, I don’t sleep. If I do, then I feel really weird the whole next day. (So I’m left to choose the lesser of two evils).

Please continue to pray for my integral health, sincere love and joy in our marriage (amidst many daily commitments which sometimes put great pressure on our relationship), and God’s protection over our lives and property. There is much to be thankful for. He has done mighty things this year. Praise God!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. God bless you.

The Miracle Dinner: Give It All Away to Make Room For the Impossible

Darwin and I stood out just beyond our front gate in a circle with our 10 foster kids ages 9-17. A million tiny lights twinkled above as we took in the perfectly still night on our rural property near the mountains. In a country where corruption, widespread despair and unpunished violence are the norm, to look another human being in the eye — alas! one that does not even share your blood! — and to really feel God’s love for that person truly is a sign of our Father’s active work in the world. We all held hands in that blessed circle that night, each person in perfect peace as our kids waited for what Darwin and I were going to tell them.

Earlier that day Darwin had told me that one of our beloved local students that we’ve been closely discipling and teaching for two years was probably going to have to drop out of our community homeschool in order to begin working full-time because his father had lost his job and his family thus had no means of purchasing food. The love that God has given us for this student is immense, and we knew full well the poverty his family was in when his father did have a job: several family members live together in a one-room wooden shack with a dirt floor and suffer what we can imagine to be immense daily hardship. And now that our student’s father — the sole provider of the household — had gotten laid off, how would they survive?

As Darwin shared this devastating news with me, the Lord immediately put an instruction upon my heart, “Share your rice and beans with them.”

We had just received a day or two prior two big sacks of rice and two big sacks of beans (each weighing like 50 pounds). The Lord had already led us to give away one sack of each, thus leaving one of each for our family’s consumption and daily use in our community kitchen where we serve lunch to roughly 45 people on schooldays. For us, rice and beans are not a cute side dish but literally our steak and potatoes that we eat 2-3 times each day. It is our daily bread. To give away that which was given to us — to supply our own very real economic need as we seek to feed many hungry mouths each day — would surely be foolish, right? It would be poor administration of that which was given to sustain us. Downright crazy! If we were to give away our rice and beans, what would we eat?

Even as these extremely logical objections showered my mind, my heart was already convinced; ready to obey, and to do so joyfully. To participate with the living God as His hands and feet to the most vulnerable? Surely there is no greater privilege than this! Count us in.

(As I share this story and the rest of the ensuing events, I do so not to call attention upon ourselves but rather to serve as witnesses to God’s active work in the world with the great hope of stirring you on toward great faith, obedience and good deeds in Jesus’ name.)

Then, completely unexpectedly, the Lord spoke another command to my heart: “Not only your rice and beans, but also all the other food you purchased this morning.”

Wha– ?

Oh, I had made my peace with giving away our bulk-sized sacks full of rice and beans, but also those specialty items I had purchased that same day at the local grocery store? Those spaghetti noodles, cartons of eggs, and frozen chickens that would serve as delicious — and sometimes rare — compliments to our general menu of strictly rice and beans? Surely if we gave away all of that food as well (which, again, was destined toward a great purpose: to feed our foster children and local students, all of whom come from backgrounds of devastating poverty and malnutrition), we would be committing a great act of irresponsibility. To give away not only our rice and beans but also the additional food would literally leave us with nothing! (And it is not a mere question of running back to the supermarket to buy more.) That food was destined to be our provision — our daily sustenance — for then next week or so!

Then Jesus’ words entered my mind, right on the heels of His command: “If you are asked to carry a load one mile, carry it two miles. Go the extra mile for love of Me. Don’t give just your rice and beans; give it all.”

Oh, how many times do we congratulate ourselves on giving away our leftovers, that which we never truly wanted or needed! But to give away all that we have for love of God? Oh, this is pure, raw obedience. This is the kind of stuff miracles are made of! Surely God was making room for the impossible. I ruminated on His second command, still trying to reason myself out of it.

Hours later, then under that beautiful starry night sky in that blessed circle with my husband and our 10 kids, we made the announcement. Carefully, in hushed voices, we informed our children of our student’s (their friend’s) great economic need and that God had spoken to our hearts that He would supply their need through us. Our kids listened attentively, some with a sparkle in their eyes.

I spoke, “God told me to give them our big sacks of rice and beans.”

I breathed as I felt like I was taking a running start as I was about to go free-falling over a giant cliff, “…and all the other food in our kitchen.

That was it! That was what God wanted me to say!

Total peace flooded my body, and all those noisy objections were at once silenced.

I continued, then full of confidence in God’s perfect will (especially when it goes completely against all human logic), “So, now all of you will head into our kitchen, and whatever God leads you to give away, grab it and we’re going to load it up in our truck. Remember, we don’t give away what we don’t like; we give to God the best of what we have.”

Their eyes trained on ours, smiles grew on their faces as Darwin and I indicated to them that it was their moment to participate, to act as God’s warriors of compassion on the front lines of the war. They squealed and raced off through our front gate and into our large, concrete-floored kitchen as if they were hot on the trail of delicious treats in some competitive Easter-egg hunt.

Darwin and I followed in their enthusiastic footsteps and we entered our kitchen to find our 10 kids in a frenzy, grabbing egg cartons and frozen chickens, salt, and the like. Our eldest son, 16-year-old Brayan, had one of the big sacks of rice or beans on his shoulder as he carried the incredibly heavy bag out the door. Others grabbed bananas and just about every food that moments before was sitting idly on our pantry’s shelf.

At one point, as the frenzy was winding down, one of our daughters reached for a bag of Cornflakes to add to the giving bag. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline intervened, eyes full of sincerity and joy as she stopped her sister, “Better yet, let’s give away the bag of granola. I like the granola more.”

Oh, she got it! To give away that which one likes more. Jackeline prefers granola; thus that is what the Lord led her to give away. Yes!

And so within a time span of five minutes or so our kitchen was completely emptied — all but one frozen chicken, some toilet paper and possibly that bag of Cornflakes that Jackeline left behind. We bounded out to our vehicle — everyone helping shoulder loads, carry bags and load the whole prize up into our truckbed.

As everyone got on board, we instructed our kids to be as quiet as possible, as this act should be done in secret. This was not about us; it was about obedience to God’s call to love. After all, Jesus said that to feed those who don’t have food is to feed Christ Himself. We were on a sacred mission to feed Christ in disguise. Surely there is no greater fun, no greater rush of adrenaline that to live in a constant gamble for God! Our hearts were bursting with joy.

And so we rumbled quietly down that pitch dark gravel road to a lonely corner on the edge of a pineapple field where our beloved student lives. It appeared that no one was home. This encouraged us, as we would then be able to leave everything in their front yard as a total surprise gift without being recognized as the ones who were used by God in the process.

A few emaciated dogs howled near the house as our girls asked us nervously, “And if thieves come and take the food before the family returns home?”

My honest, immediate response, “May God bless the thieves.”

Their eyes grew as they stared at me in disbelief, although deep down they knew that to be true. Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. It was what God had been teaching us in word and deed over the last several weeks. This was just one more experience of stepping out in faith.

Forgetting the flashlights at home, I used my itty bitty cellphone to light a path through the overgrowth as everyone shuffled out of the car and began unloading the food as quietly as possible so as not to alert the neighbors. Oh, what a reverse robbery! Arriving in secret to give rather than to steal! Blessed be the name of the Lord, for He loves these reconnaissance missions.

Once everything was unloaded, we quickly re-entered our old pickup truck and rumbled back up that rocky trail to our rural homestead. We could feel God’s presence unspeakably near.

As I look back on these events — which happened a few weeks ago — I cannot remember if it was that same night or the next day, but what I will now share with you is the truly surprising part of the whole story.

As we were left with nearly no food in the house, we joyfully went about our business without giving a second thought to our empty pantry. I even got wrapped up in a deep conversation with Carolina, our new 15-year-old daughter who moved in with us last month, and our scheduled dinner hour completely escaped me. As she and I wrapped up our conversation with prayer and a long hug, I glanced at the clock and realized I had not fulfilled my “momma” duty very well to prepare dinner (but what was there to prepare anyway?), so I assured our hungry kiddos that I would head over to our kitchen and see what I could scrap up to make dinner.

In that moment our teenage son Brayan came through our front door and said, “Dinner’s ready.”

My head cocked to one side and one eyebrow probably instinctively raised high as I asked, “What? Really? Who made dinner?” (And what on earth did they make? Dry Cornflakes and a couple squares of toilet paper to go with it?)

“Yup! Dinner’s ready,” asserted Brayan as I continued to stare on in incredulity. He clarified, “Carminda brought dinner over. Everything’s served.”

Carminda — our night-watchman’s wife who works with us part-time during the week in cleaning and cooking but who has no commitment whatsoever to make dinner for us on a weekend. It was Sunday. And, let it be known that she had never made dinner for us before when it wasn’t specifically her day to come work and prepare food (nor had anyone else).

(Plus — just to go further in my explanation of these events — she had no idea that we had just given away all of our food.) It was already late and she should have thought that we had already eaten dinner. What had prompted her? That is for God to know and for us to marvel at in awe and joy.

So I walked — taking careful steps as if walking on holy ground — across our front lawn and over to our community kitchen building that also serves as our family’s kitchen. There on our wooden dining room table were two big pots — one with a chicken-and-vegetable soup, the other with hot, fresh rice — and (if I remember correctly) she had also made fresh tortillas for us. A full meal. And she wasn’t even there, beaming with a big smile to see our reaction to her generosity. She — herself a poor woman who frequently doesn’t have enough food to feed her own family — had simply prepared us an extravagant meal, dropped it off almost as if in secret, and went on her merry way.

I stared at the food in silence.

Our kids enthusiastically opened up the pots to take a sneak-peek at what was inside as everyone’s stomachs were growling. It smelled so good! Our kids ran to the sink to wash their hands then sat down, squeezed together like sardines, around our rectangular table as they waited anxiously for Darwin and I to sit down with them so that we could all pray together and then eat.

I waited a few more moments, my heart exploding in a thousand fireworks of faith. Surely this is a miracle of God’s provision!

As we sat down to give thanks for that food — the miracle food that showed up when we had given away all that we had — Darwin and I explained with steadiness in our voice and joy shining forth from our faces that we were truly living a miracle. Never before had anything like this happened to us, and it could not simply be explained away by common human reason. Truly God had led us to give it all away, and truly He had prompted our poor, blessed neighbor to prepare food for us even as she had no idea of our act of total obedience.

And so we ate with great joy and thanksgiving. And, dare I say, many other events — some small, some big — of this same breed have been happening around here in these past few weeks. Miracles of generosity and miracles of provision. I hope to write about more of them soon. Be encouraged as we are encouraged, and let us all give ourselves fully over to the will of the living God. He is mysterious in His ways, and great in love and mercy!

Amen! Glory to God!