Tag Archives: Discipleship

Following Jesus, Our Lord Who Sought Out the Tax Collectors, Prostitutes and Sinners

(The following is a rather long story, but well worth the read…)

In our rural town about a half-hour drive outside of one of Honduras’ major cities, it is not uncommon for sporadic murders to take place. Oftentimes our neighbors will inform us that a dead body was found thrown out in the local pineapple fields or seen alongside the highway that runs right through the middle of our town.

In six years of living here, we’ve personally known several people whose lives have been taken by murder, and it is totally expected that the police will take no action to investigate or punish these violent crimes.

Several weeks ago my husband, our 7 foster children and I were driving at about 10 miles per hour in our old Toyota pickup truck through our sleepy town towards the highway. It was almost Easter Sunday, and we suddenly noticed a large crowd of people standing about alongside the road. We always drive with our windows rolled down in order to get more of a breeze inside the hot truck cabin, and my husband casually extended an arm outside of the truck to point at the crowd, commenting, “Oh, I bet a local church is doing some kind of Easter parade for the resurrection.”

He slowed down even more as all of us began peering at the crowd. I began waving at the people, extending a friendly greeting as I searched for familiar faces among them. Soon I realized that something just didn’t seem right as everyone stared on rather gloomily, and they hardly looked like they were parading in triumph to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

Darwin was the first to notice the dead body covered haphazardly with a bloody bedsheet in someone’s front yard, and he muttered something under his breath and sped up the car a tad in order to move all of us past what he realized was not a parade but rather a crime scene.

I glanced over at him, searching his face for clues, and then glanced back out the passenger’s window when I then realized what he had seen. I let out a slight gasp, looked away, and immediately stopped waving at everyone as chills covered my body. Our daughters who were inside the cabin with us grew totally silent as we all considered the tragedy.

The police station is located only a few blocks away, but there were no police to be found among the somber crowd and we knew that they most likely would show up hours or even days later just to say they were sorry about the family’s loss (if they even decided to show up at all). 

We continued onward in silence for several minutes as we all wondered who had been killed and why. Was it gang-related? Did two late-night drunks get in a fight? Was it a meticulously planned murder, or was it a crime of passion that developed in the blink of an eye?

Not two weeks earlier another dead body was seen (this one uncovered) along the same main road as my husband shuttled a group of our pre-teen students up to our rural ministry homestead for another day of classes and discipleship. Many of the kids had immaturely pointed and laughed, because to them it is entirely normal to see corpses.

On our way back home several hours after having passed by the almost-Easter crime scene, my husband cautiously stopped by a local shop near our home to inquire about the victim of the murder. (It is extremely important not to get too involved in the details or fall into gossiping or finger-pointing when such a crime occurs, because if your comments reach the wrong ears the perpetrators might target you as the next victim in order to silence you.)

My husband Darwin simply asked who the victim had been (and not why he had been killed or by whom), and the shop owner let out a belly laugh and pointed to a house a few doors down and said in an unnecessarily loud voice, “It was Roberto! They took him out!” He shook his head as if it were a shame and continued laughing about his neighbor’s tragic murder as Darwin and I just stared at him, surprised and deeply saddened by his response.

Another grown man and a teenage boy were with the shop owner, and they, too, began laughing and joking about their neighbor’s murder. Darwin excused us politely from their presence, and we continued driving onward toward home, again in silence. 

The victim in question was a man we had seen and greeted on occasion but not known personally. He was the young live-in boyfriend of a notorious middle-aged woman about whom we have heard many terrible rumors. 

Fast-forward a few days.

I was again in our old white pickup truck, but this time alone. I had been running a few errands in our town before I began rumbling back up that long gravel road to our rural property. As I passed the home of the man who had been murdered — which lies less than a half-mile from where we live — a sudden and unmistakeable impression from the Lord was pressed upon me in regards to the woman who survived him: “Go console her.”

The command came to me entirely unexpectedly as I was immediately in front of her home, but the car continued in motion almost a block as I considered what I had been instructed to do. I felt surprised and at the same time excited that the Lord had so clearly spoken to me, but I began to reason that it would just be too much of a hassle to turn the car around at this point. It would have been nice to go console the woman whose live-in boyfriend had just been murdered — it was, in fact, what Jesus probably would have done — but maybe another day. Or maybe never.

The car kept rolling up that gravel road — farther and farther from her home as I tried to reason my way out of obedience — when I finally turned the car around and parked in front of her home. God had won. I breathed deeply — praying that the Lord would give me the right words and that He might open the woman’s heart to receive something from Him — and I got out of the car and approached the twig-and-barbed wire front gate.

Most people in our rural town recognize my husband Darwin and I as the directors/teachers of our little discipleship school and know generally that we are doing Christian work in our neighborhood, but there are still many people whom we don’t know personally. This woman was one such case, as we had passed by her home just about every day and waved to her as she hand-washed her clothes in her front yard or as her children played on the porch, but we had yet to take the next step to really get to know one another. (Although last year we were tempted to call the police or storm up to her front porch personally to rebuke her for the harmful and potentially illegal influence she was having on several of our male students.)

As I stood at her front gate and gave a general greeting to alert her of my presence, one of her teenage daughters came out of the house and stared at me. I informed her with a smile, “I was passing by your home when God directed me to come visit you — “

I wasn’t sure at that moment what else I was going to say, but that seemed to be the signal she needed. Before I could say anything else, she invited me in and showed me a place on their living room couch.

Several little children and a few young adult women were hanging around in the small living space and suddenly staring at me, waiting. I began, at once totally sure, “God directed me to come here to visit you. My husband and I heard about what happened, and we are really sorry…”

The command the Lord had impressed so undeniably upon me was, “Console her,” not “Confront her about whether or not she has been selling drugs to the neighborhood boys and tempting them sexually” nor even “Share the gospel with her” at this time. I remembered this as I asked the Lord once more for direction. He wanted me to console her, regardless of who she is and what she had done.

The woman appeared from around the corner and immediately sat next to me on the small couch without any physical or emotional barriers between us as if we were old friends. I put my hand on her knee and explained once more that the Lord had specifically sent me to visit her to console her for the murder of her live-in boyfriend. I asked her how she felt and reiterated several times that we were very sorry for her loss (always without getting involved in the details or the who-done-it questions). Trust was quickly established among us as I listened to her, and she began sobbing as I embraced her in a comforting hug. I felt like I was consoling one of our teenage foster daughters in one of their moments of crisis, but this time it was our precious neighbor who is in her mid-40s. 

After twenty minutes or so of consoling her in this way, I offered to pray for her if she should accept my doing so even though she is not a Christian. She eagerly agreed, and I held her hands in mine and prayed that in His timing God might grant her salvation, peace and transformation in Christ for His glory. I did not expect God to do anything in that specific moment, but I trusted he could bring her to repentance and saving faith by His own methods in His own timing. 

Throughout the entire encounter all of the young people around us observed us quietly, and at the time of my departure I hugged several of them and left with joy in my heart, knowing that the Lord had very clearly worked through me.

A couple weeks passed, and I was again in our car but this time with a group of our teen foster daughters and local students sharing food with our neighbors and praying for people. The outing was going very well as the young women would go door-to-door offering to bless our neighbors with a provision of rice, beans, flour and oil and pray for them as well if they were willing to receive prayer. 

We were coming to the end of our journey when we passed in front of the woman’s house whom I had visited and consoled. She was not on our list to visit in that moment, but she came out of her house and approached me while I sat in the car. I greeted her warmly, and she asked if I could share a Bible with her because she had just begun going to church and was now seeking the Lord. My eyes grew wide and I informed her that I didn’t have an extra Bible with me just then but that I could get one for her in the next few days.

As our teen girls exited the last official house on our route, I informed them that I felt like God was leading us to one more home: that of my new friend who had asked for the Bible. Several of our girls seemed hesitant and others downright scared, as this woman’s negative reputation is pretty well-known in our neighborhood. Her teenage daughters had even verbally insulted our girls on many occasions without reason. This would definitely be a powerful lesson in loving their enemies as Christ taught us to and praying for people who don’t fall into their category of “family” or “best friends.”

The girls looked at me as if to ask, “Are you sure?”, and I assured them that she would be very open to prayer and that she had recently begun seeking the Lord. I would wait in the car because I wanted them to learn to serve as Christ’s messengers without an adult constantly leading them. 

As they began walking quietly toward that same twig-and-barbed wire front gate I whispered to one of my foster daughters who was toward the back of the group, “She needs a lot of hugs. Make sure you give her one.” I winked at her, and the look in my eyes encouraged her not to be scared; that this, in fact, was the Lord’s will and a powerful way of sharing His love with a woman few people draw near to.

I waited in the car quite a long time before all of our girls came filing out from within that same house that I had visited a couple weeks prior. Their expressions had changed drastically and suddenly reflected great measures of peace and joy. They piled back into the car with me as they lovingly bid farewell to the woman whom they had been reluctant to visit. 

Pulling away from her home, I turned around in my seat to ask one of our local students how the experience had been. She beamed and answered, “Oh, it was so good. She was really open to receiving prayer and several of us prayed for her. At the end we each took turns giving her a hug, and that really touched her. I think she needed that.”

I smiled and thanked God in my heart as we rumbled back up that long gravel road to our ministry homestead, the car now empty of the sacks of food it had held but each young woman full of a profound experience of Christ’s love in and through them. 

To God be the glory!

May 2019: Photos and a Prayer Request

I write to you from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern strip of Honduras.

Please enjoy the following collection of photos taken from our daily life of love and Christian discipleship among the youth whom we serve through our little discipleship school. (We have many newer photos we’ve taken in the last several days, but first I want to share this batch before revealing the others.)

Farther down I have also included a new prayer request in addition to follow-up regarding our previous prayer request shared several weeks ago.

Twice-weekly Bible study with our younger students (ages 12 and under)
After-school dance class with all of our female students and foster daughters

A devotional during an after-school Christian dance class

Math tutoring
My husband Darwin teaching an introductory choir class
Boys’ organic agriculture class on the Living Waters Ranch property (where we live, teach and serve for God’s glory)
Two local students working in the pineapple patch
Learning a good work ethic in organic agriculture class

One of our local Honduran missionary-teachers who has been serving alongside of us in discipleship/education for the last three years
The entryway of our rural ministry homestead
My husband Darwin leading our teen boys’ weekly P.E. class

One of our local students doing a presentation on the book he read in Spanish class
One of our foster daughters presenting publicly as a character from the novel she read
My high school Spanish class the day of their book presentations (they had to come dressed as a character from the book they read)
English class competition
One of our local missionary-teachers leading a couple teen disciples in a community service project (leveling out a very rocky road)
Our newest missionary-teacher leading our pre-teen boys after a Christian dance presentation

 

Thank you to all those who had prayed for our previous request in regards to our relationship with the local educational authorities – my husband has had a few unforeseen breakthroughs in our communication with them and we are currently enjoying a more peaceful season under their supervision although still with great paperwork demands and certain external pressures. Please keep this ongoing petition for peace with government authorities in prayer (and that their ever-changing regulations might not become a stumbling block or distraction to the calling the Lord has given us to form young people in Christ), but let us also give thanks to God for having acted on our behalf in the last few weeks! Thank you for praying.

NEW PRAYER REQUEST

I now will ask for prayer in regard to my sleeping patterns, as the arrival of our newest teen foster daughter (named Soad) roughly five weeks ago has triggered my insomnia and I have had great difficulty sleeping each night since. 

Her arrival was accepted out of obedience to God as He called us to offer our family to her, and we are fully convinced that we made the right decision. Nonetheless, some of her behaviors in these first several weeks have been very taxing on me personally and on our family as a whole, and we are looking to God for continued healing for her and wisdom for us in how to best parent her for God’s glory. 

Also, our other 6 foster children are all going through their own emotional ups and downs and insecurities with having a new “instant sibling” in our house. Last night we had a very long and productive family meeting in which many laid their feelings bare in a very honest and loving way and at the end we all prayed together, but there is still a long way to go to establish a “new normal” for all and assure God’s best for everyone in our household.

Please pray with us for Soad, that her transition into our family might bring with it peace and joy to her heart (and the hearts of our other 6), and for me, that the Lord might grant me total peace and trust — especially at night — as I rest in Him and don’t try to take things on in my own strength. Thank you, and God bless.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Monthly Update: March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers!

Missionary Work in Honduras: First Update of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, and God bless you.

With gratitude,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Current Prayer Request

This post is for those who routinely pray for us and the small mission the Lord has placed under our care in Honduras. Thank you for remembering us and for lifting up our requests to our Father, asking continually that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Request: Government Favor

In the past few weeks the need for government favor (and efficacy) has been pressed upon us greatly, as we must interact with the local government in the operation of our school, the adoption of our children, and in several other facets of our daily life and ministry here. There is much corruption and confusion, and it is very easy to feel oppressed and drained by the monster of a system we come up against.

Juan Orlando Hernandez, the current Honduran president around whom there are many accusations of fraud in last year’s elections. It recently came to light that he was involved in faking his sister’s death in a helicopter crash several months ago so that she could escape the country during all the election drama. She recently returned (alive), and they admitted that the whole helicopter crash was a lie.

We have been actively beating down bushes in our efforts to legally adopt three of our children (the oldest of which is now 18 years old) for the past several years. During the last 18+ months the government lawyer at the Honduran Child Protective Services office has been telling me that any day now they would be calling me to present myself in a courthouse that lies 2+ hours away from our house to take the next crucial step in the adoption process. To make a long (and excruciating) story short, the courthouse called our government lawyer two days ago at 2:00pm to notify her that I needed to present myself in the court (which is a 2+ hour drive from our home) that same day at 1:30pm (as in, half an hour before). That news reached me today, and I am absolutely devastated that we missed our court date (because they did not notify us on time) after roughly a year-and-a-half of waiting. We are now back to square one and wondering if we will ever truly be able to adopt our children (who in less than two weeks will be hitting their 5-year mark of living with us).

We also need government permission in order to open the next grade of our discipleship-based homeschool that we operate out of our rural homestead (we currently offer 1st grade through 9th grade), and after many confusing phone calls and vague answers we put together a detailed document seeking government permission to open 10th grade and they flatly refused without any real reason. There are a lot of politics involved in the Honduran education system, and my husband Darwin stayed up investigating the laws and re-writing our proposal until 2:00am this morning and is going back into town to try to speak directly with the mayor and several other officials. It is very important that we are able to open 10th grade (and then 11th, which is the last grade in Honduran high school) in order to persevere with the good work in the lives of the teens who have already been in our program several years. We want to be able to offer the last two grades of high school under our tutelage at the Living Waters Ranch so that our kids are not forced to finish their education in the less-than-acceptable public system fraught with fraud and mediocrity.

I will spare the details of our other frustrating experiences, and will conclude this request by simply asking that you would pray with us for radical change (and wisdom) in the Honduran government, as much in its personal members as in its overall structure, and that the overall oppression in the country would be lifted as its citizens and residents might be able to go about their daily affairs without constantly coming up against a huge metaphorical brick wall painted haphazardly with the phrases, “No,” “Not today,” or “It cannot be done.” Please pray also for my attitude in the midst of all this and that the work God desires to do in His Honduran people would flourish even in the midst of such debilitating inefficacy, corruption and potential despair.

Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras

Please consider our requests and pray with us so that God might tend to our legal needs so that we not be unduly drained or distracted from our principal purpose in Honduras, which is to love, teach and disciple children and youth (and the occasional adult) in the Way of Christ.

God bless you.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Personal Reflection and Family Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you.

 

Music Concert Adventure

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

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

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

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

https://web.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fweb.facebook.com%2Fannie.cruz.3760%2Fvideos%2F1292042567594162%2F&show_text=0&width=560

God bless you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A Refuge for Misfits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

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!

The “Living Waters Bridge” — Braving the Rainy Season

In Honduras when there are heavy rains, almost everything comes to a hault. Schools cancel classes; certain businesses close down for the day; people stay in their homes. We are currently in the midst of a pretty strong tropical storm, so via the radio we’ve heard over the past couple days that most schools are on “red alert” and thus have cancelled classes. The rains have been constant, and there has been pretty severe flooding.

At the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, we do not consider weather inconveniences to be sufficient reason to halt the work the Lord has entrusted us, and all of our students and teachers know this well. Rain or shine (literally) — even when all other local schools are closed down and their students remain cooped up at home all day — we continue onward with the lifestyle of discipleship, outreach and teaching with Christ as our guide.

So, as the rains pounded all last night and the radio announced that schools would be closed down, my husband and I awoke to our usual 5:00am alarm and got our 10 kids up and ready for school. We laughed and said, “Although certain students in other schools may not be able to receive their education today due to flooding, seeing as y’all are homeschooled, I’m pretty sure we can reach the classroom!”

Everyone in our household put on their uniform in the dim morning light and got ready for a “normal” school day, although we were pretty sure almost none of our local students would brave the heavy rains (everyone arrives on foot or bicycle). A few of our teachers even called saying that the roads were closed and that they wouldn’t be able to come in. Our kids hoped against hope that we would throw up our hands and give in, but we headed to our large cement-floored dining room to get ready for worship and Bible study as we would on any other Thursday, fully convinced that it might just be our family in there without our 30 local students and teachers joining us.

As we quietly served breakfast — the rains pounding down on our tin roof nonstop and our front yard converting itself into a large lagoon — our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline shouted, “One’s coming up the path!”

Sure enough, one of our faithful students — going completely against every cultural norm in this country — had decided to walk up muddy, flooded paths under heavy rain to attend classes even when all other schools in our area were on break today.

Then another came. Then another. Before we knew it, all but about three or four of our students had arrived.

We laughed as each student tried to figure out exactly how to enter through our front gate, seeing as the large lagoon-ocean of muddy water had created quite the obstacle to cross. Then our 13-year-old daughter Gleny said, “Why don’t we put down tires to make a path?” Perfect!

That was all it took for several soaking wet collaborators to begin seeking out and hauling over various old tires that we use for different P.E. activities. We were forming the “Living Waters Bridge” for our dedicated students and teachers to pass across without having to get ankle-to-knee-deep in water! Soon enough everyone was laughing wildly and helping one another across the slippery “bridge” as they crossed the threshold onto our property for classes.

And so we enjoyed an extended worship time with all who showed up, and just as we were about to break into our prayer groups, a car pulled up with three of our teachers who had been delayed due to the flooded roads. Everyone had made it!

Glory to God! Enjoy the photos…

The “Living Waters Bridge”!
(This is actually a reenactment of the real arrival of our students. The first time around we didn’t have the camera, so we sent everyone out again so we could take photos!)

 

A Day in the Life: Friday at the Living Waters Ranch

Today I whipped out my camera and went undercover (well, not quite) into each classroom throughout the day to capture what a typical Friday at the Living Waters Ranch looks like. The only classes missing from my visual log are Darwin’s girls’ choir class, my advanced math after-school tutoring and Erick’s “Men of Honor” discipleship group.

Enjoy!

My first stop was Miss Ligia’s small 7th grade class. Our daughter Jackeline and her classmates were taking an exam!

 

Our special-needs son Josue accompanied me on my photo-taking escapade. This is his pose on one of our famous skateboards. (I purchased three old skateboards at a thrift store, and the kids love them!)

 

My next stop was our dining room — Darwin’s homeschool-style class with fifth and sixth graders, many of whom are well into their teens and behind academically. We’ve received three new students into this group in the last two weeks. (This photo shows only the sixth graders.)

 

Here are Darwin’s fifth-graders hard at work at our dining table.

 

Erick’s first class of the day was with our rag-tag group of first and second graders, the majority of whom are overcoming learning disabilities and developmental delays.

 

When I arrived at Miss Isis’ combined third-fourth grade class, I found our 10-year-old son Jason teaching our two developmentally behind third graders (the two boys sitting down, both age 11). Way to go, Jason!

 

This is Miss Isis with Paola, one of our night watchman’s children who has been in school with us since 2015. She and her four siblings are some of the first in their family to learn to read and write.

 

Geraldina (Sandra’s mom) was hard at work in the kitchen preparing lunch for 50 people! Thankfully the water hadn’t gone out, as it occasionally does!

 

After visiting all the classrooms during the morning hours, little Josue and I went for a short walk around our rural property. This is the view of the Living Waters Ranch from the front gate.

 

This is our growing herd of milking cows! We started with two cows a few years ago and now we’re up to 12! We invested in the purchase of six young cows a couple weeks ago as we seek to expand our herd, thus wisely utilizing the large grassy property where we serve.

 

This is Carminda, our watchman’s wife, washing the clothes. One day per week our 8 foster kids and I wash, and one day per week she comes to help us wash. Everything is by hand!

 

Is it already recess time? Here is a lively skateboard competition between our son Jason and a local girl. They got nervous when I started taking pictures!

 

We have more male students than females, but the few girls we do have are tough as nails. You go, girl!

 

Dangling from thin air on the left are two girls swinging from our tree rope! Recess is so much fun!

 

Now it’s little Lester’s turn!

 

Okay, the fun’s over, kids (and teachers)! Back to class! Now everyone changes classrooms and heads to their respective English classes…

 

Our office looks like quite the library! Miss Ligia is getting her books ready for her Level 2 English class!

 

My husband Darwin teaches “Level 3” English with the most advanced students we have. He’s been working hard with them for a year-and-a-half to introduce them into their second language.

 

Our 16-year-old daughter Dayana is in Darwin’s English class. Sandra (fourth from the right), who used to live with us, came back to the Living Waters Ranch full-time as a student about a month ago after having spent several months down the wrong path. We are honored to continue cultivating a relationship with her for God’s glory.

 

Our quirkiest (I mean, most precious) kids aren’t quite ready to learn English, so they receive extra help with basic Spanish reading and writing skills!

 

This is 10-year-old Daniela who had great struggles in the local public school system. Her mom brought her to the Living Waters Ranch in January of this year as she was frustrated that her daughter had not been able to learn to read and write. Daniela’s been with us full-time every since, and she just passed first grade in our accelerated program and is now a second-grader with great success. All she needed was a little bit of individualized attention!

 

Here are two young teen boys who likewise didn’t enjoy success in the public school system. Young men such as these in our area have a propensity to fall into gangs and delinquency, so we consider it God’s will that He brought them to us to learn the way of Christ.

 

Here’s Miss Reina with two of her basic Spanish tutoring students. (Our daughter Gabriela is the one without the ponytail.)

 

Here’s Miss Ligia in action in her English class! Our community homeschool/discipleship center is quickly becoming known and respected in our local community as a legitimate educational institution that stands for justice and truth in a country whose educational institutions oftentimes suffer from corruption, complacency and inefficacy. Several local kids and teens are joining our classes as they seek a genuine integral education, something almost unheard-of in our area.

 

The other English teacher at the Living Waters Ranch is Erick. Man, it smelled like teenage sweat in that crowded room!

 

This is Alejandro, a 14-year-old local student in second grade with us, reading a children’s Bible. He had gotten up to 6th or 7th grade in the public school system without having learned virtually anything, so now he’s receiving intensive tutoring to help get him up to speed as we seek to cultivate his life integrally for God’s glory.

 

Daniela was reading the Bible with Miss Isis, but she got nervous when I started taking pictures!

 

This is little Ever, the youngest son of our night watchman, reading a children’s Bible. He is our youngest student at 7 years old.

 

Time to change classes again! Everybody go to your reading class according to your skill level! All students are divided up into four distinct levels, and this is our most advanced reading class — Miss Ligia’s crew of high schoolers who are currently reading one of Ted Dekker’s novels with strong spiritual foundations. What a breath of fresh air (literally)!


  

Reading is not a commonly cultivated practice among most Hondurans, so the fact that our teenagers are learning to read a 300+ paged novel is no small feat. They already finished another novel earlier this year and frequently study the Bible along with whatever God-honoring novel they are reading. Many of our students who were previously averse to reading are now enthusiastically asking for more books!

 

Next I visited Darwin’s Level 3 reading class, one of the largest classes (there were about five other students in the classroom at the far right that wouldn’t fit in the photo!). Darwin has taken on the gargantuan task of teaching to read, annunciate correctly and develop an honorable work ethic to those youth who are not among our most successful students. The fact that they all have their pencil in hand and are sitting down is a huge triumph in this culture! 10 points for Darwin!

 

This is 13-year-old Liliana, one of the new students who joined us recently. We had met her a few years ago through Darwin’s youth choir, but then she moved away and had been out of school for several years. She just entered with us on the 5th-grade level, and she’s quickly finding her niche and always has a big grin on her face. Many young women in our area who are not in school get ‘married’ to older men in their early teens, so we are excited and honored to have Liliana with us as we expose her daily to the truth of Christ and how to live a life of purity in God’s sight.

 

Sandra got nervous when I caught her in the kitchen with her mom and started taking pictures! We’ve had a long history with her and her mom, and we are very thankful that she’s decided to return to the Living Waters Ranch as a student and continue seeking God’s will for her life. Sandra’s mom continues to serve alongside of us part-time, and we enjoy a very blessed relationship with her.



Lunch time! Roughly 50 hungry people came streaming into our kitchen for their lunch of rice, beans and potatoes. I stood on a wooden stool to take the following shots…This is Brayan, our 16-year-old son who was one of our first four students in our experimental homeschool program that we started in 2014 as we struck out from the beaten path to develop a discipleship-based educational alternative geared at restoring broken youth for God’s glory.

 

All of our 40 students eat lunch in our home every weekday, and everyone is responsible for washing their own dishes when they finish!

 

Lunchtime sure is fun…for some people! My next stop was detention, an hour-long daily event for the students who for various reasons need a little extra help in the discipline department. We take very seriously our duty to discipline and train up the youth under our care according to God’s Word, and we believe it is vitally important to their development into useful, grateful human beings. Detention is never empty!

 

These folks were also in detention, and they all started laughing when I entered with the camera! Nobody wants to get caught on film in detention! (They were in the process of doing 150 squats.)

 

After visiting those precious kids in detention, I returned to the kitchen to take more photos! Here’s Darwin enjoying his lunch with our daughter Jackeline and Miss Ligia.

 

Another skateboard competition on the porch of our high school building!

 

This is Marlon, another new student who entered the Living Waters Ranch discipleship-based community homeschool in these past couple weeks. He is a young man from our neighborhood who began spending time with Erick and attending our Bible studies before he decided to withdraw completely from the public school where he was studying and dive into a completely different environment at the Living Waters Ranch. He mentioned to us that at his other school the teacher spent the majority of the day playing on her cellphone, and many students didn’t even show up for class.

 

Another fun lunchtime activity on Fridays is Darwin’s outdoor recorder class.

 

The boys always love playing soccer! We’ve designed our daily schedule to have an extended lunchtime so that the kids can develop healthy friendships, play together, practice their instruments, etc.

 

 

Good news: if you didn’t get sent to detention all week, a prize awaits you on Friday! Miss Isis and Miss Ligia are getting the Friday snack ready for those students who were responsible and wise during the week. We love this weekly practice because it further inculcates in our students an understanding of the reality that they reap what they sow.

 

This is Miss Ligia and Miss Reina’s after-school cooking class! During this time the older boys are in “Men of Honor” with Erick, and the rest of the girls are in Darwin’s girls’ choir.

 

Well, we’re coming to the end of the day! This was my workstation in our living room where I worked on administration all day (…well, when I wasn’t playing the role of ‘paparazzi.’)

 

Josue, our 9-year-old son with special needs, was a great photography assistant! To wind down from a hard day’s work, he decided to spend some good time ‘repairing’ his bicycle on our porch…

 

Amen! Glory to God!

 

 

The Cross in Daily Life: A Story

A few months ago I was listening to an online podcast by Frank Viola about the ingredient that is perhaps most important in authentic Christian community (and that which we most often overlook because it is the most painful): the cross. Not the cross which Jesus bore, which we frequently remember and give thanks for, but that cross which He called us to bear when He instructed His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. He who loves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

Without this element of the cross, genuine Christian community cannot exist.

To understand what is meant by “the cross,” GotQuestions.org informs: To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop. Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

Now, when you live alone or perhaps congregate in a large church setting where you simply file in and take your pew anonymously, it is easy enough to avoid this cross. If you participate in a civil meeting over a cup of coffee or an hour-long Bible study gathering, it is easy enough to carefully sweep your sin to one side and forget all notions of the cross, of dying to self. After all, anyone can be a ‘good person’ for an hour or two within reasonable parameters.

However, when you engage in deeper human contact (‘collisions’ might possibly be the more accurate word), the reality of the cross — that each person must die to their own selfish desires so that God’s will may flourish among the group without inflated egos getting in the way — becomes entirely obvious and necessary. When you are around another human being in a transparent setting long enough — whether it be as a family or in a marriage relationship, as a close-knit group of friends or in some other context of nitty-gritty human relationships, sooner rather than later the problem of sin — of bad tempers, impatience, lies, jealously, etc — is going to arise, and we must know how to deal with it if the relationship is going to thrive under God’s will and for His glory.

By human nature no one wants to ask forgiveness, admit they were wrong, listen to another’s ideas before their own, or humbly submit to another’s authority. Thus; the cross. Jesus calls us to die to our own wills; to literally crucify our desires, plans, and the demands of our ego. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me. And it hurts. I mean, really hurts. When you do so, it sort of feels like you’re dying to all that you are because, well, you are.

What I am about to share is one such story that occurred in our household only a few days ago.

On Sunday my husband and six of our foster/adopted children spent the entire day away from home visiting Darwin’s extended family members in a neighboring town while I chose to stay at home and rest with two of our sons. I spent the day organizing mounds of paperwork in our home and office, cooking meals for our two boys, spending time with them and practicing piano.

During that day I called my husband a couple times to try to find out if I was expected to cook dinner for him and our other six kids that evening (sometimes when we visit Darwin’s extended family members we eat dinner in their home while on other occasions we return home early and eat in our own kitchen); thus I did not know their expected return time nor if they would be arriving hungry. I am not a particularly enthused cook, so I not-so-secretly hoped that they would arrive home with bellies already full.

On both occasions, however, Darwin did not answer my calls as it appeared his cellphone was turned off. Thus, I waited until about 7:00pm (we normally eat dinner at about 5:00pm, so it was reasonable to think they had already eaten). When they still had not returned home (or called to let me know any details as to their dinner plans), I felt quite like Pontius Pilate as I “washed my hands clean” of any dinner-making responsibility and began cleaning the kitchen. Although it had been a quiet, easy day, I was feeling a bit tired from such a long week and was looking forward to putting away the last of the dishes and heading to our room for an early rest (in our household we get up at 4:45am).

Lo and behold, at about 7:45pm as wacky lil’ Josue and I are finishing off the last of the kitchen duties, I spot two large headlights approaching our front gate. Honestly, my immediate thought was: Run and hide! Pretend you’re asleep!  I knew full well they would be entering what had been our nearly-silent household with much noise, enthusiasm and stories (so late!), plus I ran the risk of them not having eaten, which would then usher me into the responsibility of preparing dinner from scratch for 7 hungry people (which is no small task in any country).

I decided to play it cool as they came bounding in our previously peaceful kitchen. Suddenly there were hugs, loud greetings, a dozen heavy feet pounding on the cement floor and, of course, many wild stories of conquest and adventure that had to be told.

I smiled wearily as I asked in a very nonchalant manner, “Hey, um, you guys ate dinner at your aunts’ and uncles’ home, right?” I bit my tongue in expectation as I waited for them to say ‘yes.’

Several heads snapped toward me at the mention of dinner and answered, “No. We ate lunch with our aunts and uncles, but that was hours ago.”

My face dropped. I tried again, still hopeful, “But, I mean, are y’all like just a little bit hungry or really hungry? I mean, it’s pretty late.”

13-year-old Jackeline, one of our precious daughters who never has a problem with her appetite, piped up, “Well I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m really hungry.”

Hoping I had heard her wrong, I asked with the last of my fading hopes, “You’re not really hungry?”

“No; I said I’m really hungry. What’s for dinner?” She looked around at our empty, sparkling kitchen.

And that’s when I lost my cool. Darwin came strolling into our kitchen after what had probably been a lovely day visiting his family members. I greeted him sharply, “I called you twice to ask if I was supposed to prepare dinner for everyone, and you didn’t answer or return my calls! Now everyone’s hungry and I didn’t prepare anything because you people came home so late that I thought you had already eaten! Zero communication!” I huffed and puffed and threw the refrigerator door open. I wanted to stick my head in and cry. Everyone seemed surprised, as I do not typically behave in such a manner.

I was immediately ashamed for my outburst but continued to feel justified in my anger (and extremely tired), so I continued murmuring a bit about how we need to have better communication and how I had already cleaned the kitchen (which in our large, rustic kitchen is a gargantuan task) and was ready to go rest for the night. I was determined to win the gold medal in bad attitudes, and there seemed to be no turning back.

Seeing as they are extremely resilient, our kids kept bounding toward me with their great tales of their visit to Grandpa Joaquin’s farm — their encounter with an angry pig mom when they touched her piglets; their visit to the crocodile-infested river; how Josselyn cut her nose with a machete while opening a coconut. I half-heartedly listened to their stories as I began pulling things out of the fridge, warming up a pot of beans and figuring out what the heck I would feed these 7 hungry people (and who would clean the kitchen up afterwards, because it certainly wouldn’t be me).

Well, the dinner routine was brought to completion and everyone ate, although I felt like a mad porcupine throughout the process. About an hour later everyone was finally tucked in their rooms in what had turned out to be a less-than-punctual Sabbath Hour, and I felt convicted about my sour attitude. Soon enough I laid down to rest and thought, “Tomorrow I will ask for forgiveness via our family’s dry-erase board — I will write a note to everyone asking for forgiveness for my bad attitude,” but I sensed in my heart that writing it on the board would be too easy — would not truly be ‘carrying my cross’ and admitting my mistake, my sin (which we all hate to do). God wanted me to go to each person individually, humble myself — die to all that is my pride, my ego! — and ask forgiveness for my terrible attitude. I determined in my heart to do so, even though the very thought made me want to scream bloody murder. (Admit I was wrong? Humble myself in front of our kids? I would rather stub my toe or bruise my funny bone!) But this is the way of the cross, and the Lord is guiding me in it, however loudly I scream in resistance.

And so early the next morning — which was Monday of this week — I found myself washing dishes in our large rustic kitchen as Dayana and Jason (our 16-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old brother) were serving their breakfast. I breathed deeply as I looked beyond the rusting wire mesh on our panoramic windows out towards our grazing cows and beyond to the mountain range behind our property. My heart suddenly began beating faster as I knew this was the moment God has designated for me to begin the humiliating death-to-ego process. Oh Lord, why couldn’t I have just written a general note to all on our family’s whiteboard? Why must You lead me to ask forgiveness not once, but on multiple occasions for the same error? Please, no!

Before I could ‘reason’ my way out of obedience, I turned around to face our two unsuspecting kids and said all at once, “Please forgive me for my bad attitude last night.” Oh, I wanted to add so much more to that simple phrase — I longed to justify my attitude or subtly excuse my misbehavior with sophisticated words, but the Lord would not have it to be so!

They both looked up at me, smiled softly and answered, “We forgive you.”

No excuses; no justifications; no guilt.

I breathed deeply again, but this time in relief. “Thank you.” I held their eye contact for a good moment or two before I turned around again and continued washing the dishes. Even though I still felt close to the agonizing cries of my own death, I suddenly felt lighter. Something had been restored among us. I believe it was God’s blessing.

Two down. Several more to go.

Moments later 13-year-old Josselyn with her unkempt black hair came in the kitchen, put-off because she had wanted to spend the morning chit-chatting with her friends but had to hand-wash the clothes as a disciplinary procedure for an infraction she incurred. She huffed and puffed as she passed by me in our kitchen, on her way to grab more soap and detergent before heading back outside to continue the laborious process of washing. I declared over her what she didn’t want to hear, “I know you want to spend time with your friends, but right now your responsibility is to wash the clothes with Jackeline. Finish the task at hand, and then you can see your friends.” Her bad attitude was tangible (as mine had been the night prior), and as she and her dark cloud began exiting our kitchen I called her name. She quickly reappeared, her eyes trained on mine but not at all happy.

I breathed deeply, again feeling like someone was about to push me off a cliff — heels dug in, arms flailing, facing imminent death! — and I said softly, “Hey, I wanted to ask your forgiveness for my bad attitude last night.”

Her face immediately changed — she smiled! — and she came over to give me a big hug. Wow!

Three down.

Less than an hour later I was sitting at one of the pianos in our high school building to practice a new piece when my husband Darwin came up behind me to give me a warm bear-hug. My cue from God could not have been more clear: Now! Ask his forgiveness now.

And suddenly, once more, I felt like every ounce of ‘me’ was being put under immediate threat. My ego was facing the death penalty. I felt scared and angry, like a cornered wolf. I don’t want to die! Anything but this! Please! 

I suddenly went tumbling over the ledge of the cliff, my descent made ever the faster due to the weight of the large cross I was carrying —

“Pleaseforgivemeformybadattitudelastnight.” It all came rolling off my tongue so fast because I knew that if I didn’t say it quickly, then it might never come out. I glanced down at the black and white keys in front of me as Darwin’s hug didn’t loosen.

“You’re forgiven.” He smiled at his dead wife.

Okay! Please change the subject…and quickly! Ouch, that was painful!

Not long after that I came face-to-face again with that terrible sensation of being pushed over a cliff as I humbled myself and asked forgiveness from Jackeline and Gleny, the other two recipients of my undeserved vitriol the night prior.

And so that was my experience this week with the cross, and since then several of our children and teens have followed this example and have humbled themselves — without excuses or justifications — to seek me out asking for forgiveness for their various bad attitudes or misbehaviors. Look at how all that works!

Amen! Glory to God!

 

A Heart That Longs for the Eternal Rest

A couple nights ago our 8 kids were tucked in their bedrooms in our little cinderblock house, several already asleep while others drew or read quietly in their quarters. It was our family’s daily Sabbath Hour.

The electricity had gone out several hours prior, so our otherwise pitch dark house held small pockets of light provided by a few strategically-placed candles. The old wicker table in our living room housed a large display of folders, papers and office materials where I had been working with a headlamp strapped to my forehead the last couple hours. My husband Darwin was in our office in the adjacent building on our rural property finishing his own ‘homework’ by flashlight.

I stood wearily in our living room after having survived a day that involved directing a 6-hour-long crucial planning meeting with our team of teachers/mentors/pastors, another six hours or so of paperwork, a constant waterfall of sweat dripping over my body accompanied by more than a few mosquito bites, and managing our 8 kids (and all their shenanigans) in the midst of it all. Although my work performance (at least in the meeting) had been high, my attitude was quickly taking a turn for the worst as I felt bogged by a sense of guilt that I had not given our children the time and attention they had needed from me that day.

Living in a household with 8 youth ranging from special needs children to abuse victims to active teenagers is not exactly conducive to cultivating a focused work environment, as every 5 minutes or so someone comes asking for a new pencil, seeking permission for something or announcing World War III. Then the heavy rains started, and the thunder spooked our oversized guard dogs to such an extent that they began frantically pushing their way past our kids into our house, which further added to what was quickly becoming an impossible work environment.

My thoughts limped toward the obvious: hopefully the electricity would come back on at some point during the next several hours so that all the food in our refrigerator wouldn’t spoil. Plus we still had to make copies of each of our students’ mid-year evaluations, but without electricity our photocopier was useless.

Oh well.

Dry-erase marker in hand, I began jotting down the next day’s predicted schedule along with general family news on our living-room whiteboard. I felt ready for a really long nap, but there was still more work to be done in preparation for the new semester of classes that would begin the next day. After having been on a mid-year week-long vacation, all of our local students  would be returning to commence the second half of the school year.

Our family had gotten away from home for that full week in order to breathe deeply and distance ourselves from the usual pounding of activities, demands on our time, dozens of local people constantly in our home, etc. We had rented an itty-bitty rustic cabin on a desert island off the Honduran coast, and for that week it felt like we had stepped into someone else’s life. In the blink of an eye (or rather in the hour-long boatride that led us away from the mainland) I was transformed into a relaxed, fun and funny stay-at-home mom who didn’t have the weight of dozens of other people’s struggles, the administration of an NGO and the constant threat of local violence on her shoulders.

The intense demands on our time and emotional reserves were greatly decreased during that week, and even the mosquitos and scorching heat were kept at bay. We were the only inhabitants there besides the local married couple who looks after the place, so even the constant supervision we are normally engaged in with our teenagers was lightened as there was no immediate temptation to search out their next potential crush. We laughed and played with our kids; we prayed together as a family; we stayed up late talking to and enjoying one another and slept late the next morning (‘late’ as in 7:00am). We cooked and ate every meal together as a family; there were no errands or legal concerns or fear of being the next victim of so much senseless violence that occurs in this country. We kayaked together; we swam in the ocean with our kids; we played chess and fished. I was no one’s boss and no one’s teacher; I was free to just be ‘mom,’ something I’m still trying to learn to do gracefully.

And so on Sunday as we left that beautiful desert island where the refreshing breeze whips constantly and you don’t even need to know what time it is, our senses were immediately accosted by the ugliness, the utter rawness of the reality we were re-entering on mainland Honduras. Whereas natural beauty, human silence and the crashing of ocean waves had accompanied us on that little island, our eyes and ears were suddenly under constant attack. One of our teenage daughters even cried as we left our little haven and re-entered the reality of living unprotected in a country dripping in corruption and devastating poverty.

The water transitioned from crystal clear to totally opaque upon arriving at the coast: floating trash and littered streams greeted us. Upon loading ourselves and our luggage into our pickup truck, Darwin began the awkward zig-zag, dancing haphazardly down the highway as he jolted between dozens of huge potholes. Two or three times he didn’t react quick enough and the car slammed down into the holes as everyone screamed. Destroyed roads; beggars; trash strewn about; idle, lost people at every turn; palpable human negligence and sin everywhere you look. Those on the inside of the cabin with us were enveloped in a solemn silence as we all felt the sting of re-entering our reality in third-world Honduras who frequently tops the worldwide ranking of homicide per capita. Danger suddenly seemed close and mistrust closer as we were very literally re-entering the battlefield whether we were ready or not.

And so as I stood propped-up near that light green wall in our living room filling our family’s whiteboard, I reflected sadly on the fact that the transition back home the day prior had not exactly been smooth as each of us was feeling the sudden demands to perform on a superhuman level, to fulfill duty, to detect possible danger (and somehow avoid it) and to re-open our home daily to dozens of people, the majority of whom are very broken and untrustworthy.

As my hand continued moving, dry-erase marker in hand, a small person suddenly came out of their room and was standing by my side, looking up at me. It was Jason, our son who is on the cusp of turning 10 years old this month.

My immediate thought was to send him back to his room or onward toward the bathroom (whichever his destiny might be), but I took a deep breath — fighting through exhaustion to put a genuine smile on my face — as he asked innocently, “Can you come pray with me?”

Who can say no to that? I put the marker down and followed him through the curtain into the room he shares with our other two boys, who were already sound asleep. It was a hot, sticky night, and there was no refreshing ocean breeze anywhere closeby.

He scurried up and into his top bunk as I took off my headlamp and laid the small light at the foot of his bed so I could see our sweet son. I looked at him expectantly, waiting to hear a couple quick prayer requests but instead received the beginning of a very long, quite animated discussion involving many different topics.

I realized that the prayer time would doubtlessly come at the end, but what he had really wanted wasn’t a quick bedtime prayer but rather his mom, who had been almost entirely absent from him emotionally throughout the day. I stood next to his wooden bunk, my hands stroking his feet as he began enthusiastically commenting this and that to me as he sat up in his bed in the dark room.

He is quickly becoming a Bible expert as he’s read every children’s Bible we have cover-to-cover several times, so he dove right into deep theological questions regarding idol worship, Baal, and whether or not people in today’s world still worship false gods. We discussed freely the book of Hosea, Genesis, and other texts as he rapidly jumped from one topic to another as soon as he was satisfied with the answer I had given him. He then began expressing his excitement about choosing his new classes the next day, and asked several intelligent questions regarding what he had observed that day in the planning meeting (he had requested to be present in our team meeting which turned into the 6-hour-long mammoth meeting, so he gained a lot of valuable inside knowledge that our other kids didn’t have). Through a huge grin on his face he talked of his new upcoming ‘masks and theater’ class that he’ll be in; the military-training P.E. class he hoped to join with Pastor Domingo; and his general comments regarding the next day’s promising events.

Jumping between theology and his daily reality as a 9-year-old, a new question suddenly dawned on him as his eyes swung toward me: “Mom, why is it so hard for some people to believe?” He began explaining his question as he quoted some text about Zacchaeus from the New Testament as my mind felt suddenly numbed by his question. The question had floored me. Why is it so hard for some people to believe? Better yet, why is it so hard for me to believe — trust, find peace and joy in — Christ in the midst of our demanding and at times dangerous daily reality? How is it possible that I’m at peace on a remote desert island but feel constantly persecuted by stress once placed back within the confines of our daily environment?

And so I began to answer his question, as he had asked it in search of an answer. I discussed briefly the reality of spiritual warfare (that Satan is actively involved in convincing us in subtle ways not to trust in God, as is evidenced from the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden) in addition to several other comments. I then breathed deeply and shared with him the fact that in the midst of many pressures that day I had even lost the eternal perspective. Even as Christians it can be difficult for us to have faith; we must ask God to grant us more.

My last word had hardly left my mouth as he experienced a burst of energy and sat up even taller in his bed as his next question came bouncing out, “Mom, when’s my hair gonna grow?”

I laughed and followed him down the path of the new topic, now far from theology. Moments later, as I felt I was wilting lower and lower, the wooden rungs of the bunk being the only thing keeping me from collapsing on the floor, I asked him what his prayer requests were so as to wrap up our time together. His answer: “That I won’t have nightmares tonight. And that God would grant me wisdom.”

And so I prayed over our son that God would give him deep sleep and protect him from nightmares and that He would fill Jason with wisdom. After our ‘amen,’ I tucked him in and made my way over to our bedroom, still captivated by Jason’s question about faith. As my thoughts still drew me back to the beauty of our time on the island, I felt God gave me my answer, rooted in His perfect peace:

What I most longed for was not the temporary rest on a beautiful island, which even at its best is not an entire rest from all struggle, as even on our vacation our kids at times behaved as little toots and had to be corrected, counseled and disciplined. Even at its best a total distancing of oneself from earthly drama can never be complete, for within each and every one of us is the battle between good and evil, between Christ’s light and the darkness of sin. On that busy Monday full of meetings and stressors, what I was most longing for was not another vacation or even a change of scenery: in the depths of my being I longed for God’s Kingdom, that glorious place of eternal rest and communion with the living God.

And that thought energized me, for I knew — had experienced! — just how beautiful and blessed our time had been during that week in a peaceful place surrounded by God’s unadulterated creation, although tainted by our sin. And how much more awesome will God’s eternal kingdom be, where true justice will reign! Oh, I can’t wait to be there. Lord, please grant me the faith that I lack in order to persevere through mosquitos and sickness and threats of violence and trial — and even my own struggles with sin, which sometimes seem to be the last ones to be addressed because everyone else’s needs are so pressing! — in order to arrive successfully at that beautiful eternal rest with You.

And with that, I took a shower and crawled into bed, my body still exhausted and knowing that my alarm clock would sound before the sun came up, but with a renewed energy in my soul, knowing that the promise of rest — of real justice — is drawing near, and that is the eternal reward for which we are so arduously working. Amen! Glory to God!