Tag Archives: Discipleship

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:

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God bless you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Full House: the Daring Practice of Christ-like Hospitality

About a week ago during our family’s daily ‘Sabbath Hour’ — the whole house covered in a precious blanket of silence, our kids peacefully in their rooms while our candle’s small flame danced soundlessly along our bedroom’s dark walls after a long day — my phone suddenly rang.

It was not too late to receive a phone call — about 8:00pm or so — but when your whole household is on its feet and showering at 4:45am and all day is spent meeting the needs of dozens of very precious, needy people (of all ages), any phone call received after nightfall seems like a bad prank.

I continued brushing my teeth in the little cave-like bathroom that connects to our bedroom, standing idly in my large, baggy pajamas as Darwin reached for the phone. After a quick verbal exchange, he held the phone out to me — a gift I did not want to receive — and informed me, somewhat confused, “It’s Genesis from Choluteca.”

Choluteca is one of Honduras’ 18 regions and is located at the other geographical extreme of our small Central American country. Darwin, three of our kids and I had gone there on a mission trip with our faith community back in January 2015 and then again once more in the ensuing months. The drive to that arid, destitute part of our country takes about 10-11 hours, and the people there are steeped in a poverty that is even more harsh than that of our wounded and limping neighborhood on the northern coast. Many of the people have only corn to eat and are without electricity and running water.

I accepted the phone hesitantly, still trying to grasp exactly who was on the other end and why on earth they would be calling after two full years of zero contact. I answered wearily only to be greeted by an extremely polite, upbeat female voice.

She began asking how our daughters were (by name) and how my husband and I had been. About five minutes into our conversation it dawned on me: this was Genesis, the young 13-year-old teen whose father was a devout believer and had so graciously received us in their home during our stay in their village. I suddenly remembered the instant connection we had had with her — especially that of the friendship our daughters Gleny and Dayana had formed with her — and how we had marveled at her maturity, faith and dogged work ethic. I remember having been very impressed by the young woman while we worked alongside of her, and I had left a letter for her inviting her to come visit us in the future if the opportunity presented itself.

With that lightbulb suddenly aglow in my mind — remembering who I was conversing with — I tip-toed over to our older girls’ bedroom (breaking the delicate Sabbath Hour with my loud phone conversation), and joyfully handed the phone over to Dayana and Gleny to greet their long lost friend and sister in Christ.

After talking at length with our girls, Genesis talked with Darwin and then again with me. Now probably 15 years old, she informed me that she was not currently studying because the educational opportunities — especially on the secondary level — in her region are extremely limited, and her family did not currently have the economic means to find other educational options for her.

Our joyful conversation came to an end and, well, we hung up the phone. Suddenly our little house fell back into that beautiful silent void as my husband and I just stared at each other from across our cozy, nearly dark bedroom. The little flame kept its rhythm as it lapped at the darkness.

Should I say it? No, right? I felt like God was urging me to speak, but it seemed in my best (selfish) interest to keep quiet. Who to obey?

After a moment or two passed, my voice suddenly came out, like a soft but very focused missile, as I felt I must speak so as not to fall into cowardice.

“I feel like God wants us to extend Genesis the invitation to come study in our school and live with us.”

Really? Now? How absurd! Had I not just that same morning ruminated over the current status of our very full household, giving thanks to God for the 8 precious little (and increasingly big) ones he’s placed with us, convinced in my heart that no one else would be added to the tribe this year?

Darwin just smiled, as I believe God has spoken the same instruction to his own heart. We talked briefly — about a minute or two — and then decided to call her back and extend the invitation. She is our sister in Christ, desires to study and grow but has had no open doors, and she suddenly calls us out of nowhere for the first time in two years. And we just happen to have an extra bed in our older girls’ room and are prepping to begin our second year with our discipleship-based high school. How could we possibly deny this was God’s doing? Were we about to cling to our own notions of control, living by sight rather than by faith?

So we called back, she answered, and we extended the invitation. It was received with immediate enthusiasm, and the phone was quickly passed to Genesis’ father and mother, with whom Darwin communicated the logistical details. Both parents were overjoyed and commented to Darwin that they had been praying for this opportunity for years. God was finally answering their plea through our obedience.

We quickly called in Dayana and Gleny, again breaking our family’s Sabbath Hour with news-sharing and late-night group praying. We told them of Genesis’ arrival, and the news was received with two big grins. Once the details were conveyed, 16-year-old Dayana eyed me and asked, “But she is going to study in the local high school, right?”

Darwin and I quickly glanced at one another, confused at her strange remark, and I answered, “Of course not! She’s going to study here. In the Living Waters Ranch. With you.”

Dayana looked uneasy and added, “But she’s going to be in ninth grade.”

My jaw just about dropped to the floor as Darwin and I suddenly locked eyes. Ninth grade? But our school only goes up to eighth grade! How had we possibly forgotten to ask her what grade she was going to be in? I suppose we had assumed she was on her way to 7th grade, which is the first year of high school in this country!

A wave of panic slammed us for about an instant before I threw my head back and laughed — of course Father God had hidden that detail from us until now so that our ‘sophisticated’ human wisdom didn’t come into play to reason our way out of obedience! Ha! It would have been all too easy to close the door knowing that we had a logical escape!

Darwin and I along with our two girls suddenly began laughing uncontrollably as we rejoiced in God’s wisdom, which is so much better than our own. Well, I guess we would be getting the books for the 9th-grade level of our homeschool program! We continued laughing. Genesis would participate in all the normal extracurricular, spiritual and academic activities we offer with our 40+ students who are 1st-8th grade, but just with slightly different books! Our Father certainly has a good sense of humor!

So the next day we shared the news of Genesis’ arrival with the rest of our clan during a family meeting, and then Darwin and our kids were off to an afternoon outing at the local river. Sandra, whose disappearance I had written about several weeks ago, would be going with them.

The next morning, the news of Genesis’ pending arrival still very fresh on our hearts, our eldest daughter Dayana began chit-chatting with me in our large, open-air kitchen as we were serving breakfast. I asked her how the river outing had gone the day before with her dad and siblings, and she began telling me all the grand tales of adventure and fun. So-and-so climbed up to the top of a large boulder-sized rock to jump off, the other one scraped their knee, and several local classmates who study at the Living Waters Ranch had come along to join in the ruckus.

As our conversation was coming to a close, she glanced over at me and added casually, “Yeah, and Sandra told me she’ll be moving back in with us in a few days.”

Jaw to the floor. (I suppose that happens to me quite frequently.) My mouth gaping wide open, I began sputtering, “Wh– what? S-s-? Sandra’s moving back in? She told you this?” I couldn’t get my footing! Father God, throw me a bone!

My mind began rapidly searching itself for connections, trying to make sense of this breaking news. I knew that Darwin had sat down with Sandra and her mom a few weeks ago to talk cold-turkey about Sandra’s poor decision-making and current vulnerability in our corrupt rural neighborhood, extending the invitation for her to come stay with us on a short-term basis as a way of deepening her spiritual roots, having more direct contact and counsel with us and eliminating all contact with rogue neighbors, but Sandra’s seemed disinterred in Darwin’s proposal at the time and, as far as I could tell, had turned it down completely.

Dayana continued, not too thrown off by my bewildered expression (I suppose she sees it quite frequently), “Yeah, she feels that the temptations in the neighborhood are very strong right now, and she wants to take you and Dad up on your offer to be more protected during this time.”

My initial reaction was that of offense, for I felt wronged that Sandra had communicated more fully with our daughter than with me, but then, throwing my ego with all of its limitless demands to one side, I just sat back and allowed myself to laugh again, knowing that God’s plans are always better than our own. Not 8 kids — nor even 9 with the unexpected arrival of Genesis! — but rather 10. Ten! If our house wasn’t full already, it was about to be with 12 inhabitants, including my husband and I.

Over the following days my husband and I confirmed the details with Sandra and her mom, sitting down to pray and seek God’s will together as we came to the decision that Sandra would be staying with us for two months. Due to her mom’s work schedule, Sandra had been home alone frequently, which led to her easily falling into temptation due to the lack of adult supervision and support. Sandra’s mom, a devout Christian, wanted what was best for Sandra but was unable to provide the firm boundaries and disciplinary structure Sandra desperately needed, so we would be coming alongside their family once more to serve as a sort of spiritual and emotional life support for her during this time of great vulnerability.

And so we are at peace. Sandra moved back in two days ago, and thus far the process of recovering innocence — of remembering Father God’s love and submitting herself to His perfect will —  is moving along quite joyfully. She’s back in her old room with our teen daughters, and we tuck her into bed each night. She returned to our discipleship-based high school after having struggled with wanting to drop out, and during her first week of classes she’s performed as one of the best students.

As for Genesis, she is on her way today. Darwin is scheduled to pick her and her mom up from the bus station this evening. We rejoice in the Lord at all times, and give thanks to Him for stretching us into these uncertain realms of hospitality to the least likely. Please pray with and for us during these times of transition and growth, and let us give thanks to God for granting us the privilege of being used by Him.

Amen! Glory to God!

First Report of the New School Year: the Positive Reinforcement of Play

Yesterday evening at dusk our old Toyota truck pulled to a slow stop along a narrow strip of gravel road in our neighborhood as one of our students who had been riding in the truckbed prepared to jump off. This was his stop.

I reached over to touch Darwin’s arm, motioning for him to wait, and said, “I’d like to get out and say hi to Stanley’s mom. I’ll be right back.” I then paused and laughed to myself, murmuring under my breath, “This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve visited this house.”

Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who was sitting inside the cab with us, piped up and said, “Yeah, you’ve come to visit Stanley and his cousin Sindy quite a few times, right, Ma?”

I laughed even harder and admitted, “No, never Sindy. Just Stanley.”

Sindy and Stanley, who both live at this address, had been students in our seventh-grade program last year. While Sindy had shone brightly as a very high-acheiving and easily-managed student, her cousin Stanley had proved to be a roller coaster of volatile emotions and foolish choices. He seemed prone to making bad decisions and had wanted to drop out of school several times. He had even told Darwin that his life dream was to join a gang, and he had participated in a robbery at our home in 2015.

And so I glanced over at Jackeline, who was a bit confused, and I smiled at her as I knew perhaps the depths and lengths I personally had been through with young, rebellious Stanley were a precious secret that only God and I shared (and Stanley’s mom). After all, I had showed up unexpected on their doorstep on several occasions looking for him, and twice I had even danced in that little strip of gravel road to try to convince him to come back to the Ranch, to continue seeking God’s will for his life.

And so I hopped down from the passenger’s seat of our truck and shouted over to Stanley, who had just gotten down from our truckbed, “Is it okay if I say ‘hi’ to your mom real quick?”

His face suddenly dropped, an instinct probably acquired due to the many times I’d had to ‘say hi to his mom’ for negative reasons, but suddenly a huge smile appeared on his face as he realized this time he had nothing to hide. We both laughed as I patted him on that back and said, “This time it’s good news.”

I waited at the twine gate, but they quickly passed me through to the  more intimate realm of their property. I guess after having visited a house so many times, you sort of become like family. Stanley’s mom suddenly appeared from behind the thin curtain hanging in the front door, and we embraced, as we have on many occasions. This time, however, instead of Stanley escaping out the back door or hanging his head low, refusing to look anyone in the eyes, he stood tall right next to his mom, proud.

His mother instinctively looked worried as she wondered what had merited my unannounced house visit (as in, what-has-my-son-done-this-time), but I quickly reassured her that this time I came to brag on him and announce the fantastic news that he had earned a daily average of 89% during his first week of intensive preparation and had exhibited an entirely new attitude among his peers and towards us. Tears welled up in his mom’s eyes as I told her that her son had even begun taking great leadership among his peers and is a godly example for the new students to follow. Respectful, attentive, enthusiastic and hard-working during the daily hour of physical training. He had even completed all of his homework over the last several days, which had never happened before.

And so we gave thanks to God, I embraced his mother one more time, and we were off to do similar visits with the other students who remained joyfully squeezed in our truckbed.

We went house to house down long, remote gravel roads as we embraced mothers and step-mothers — both ones we’ve already had a relationship with from last school year along with ones that we are just now meeting for the first time. We had, after all, just spent the entire afternoon at a local park with our students who had earned a daily average of 80% or higher during their first week of intensive preparation for the school year, and we were eager to bear that good news to their parents.

In our rural community that hobbles around, bound by laziness, apathy and self-pity (not to mention rampant violence and a culture of lies), to see teenagers — especially those who in years past have been on the margins of society, on the brink of self-destruction or turning into instruments to destroy others — become fully alive, read God’s Word, and suddenly acquire a dogged work ethic and new hope regarding their future truly is miraculous.

On one of our last stops, at a small one-room shack with several barefoot little girls running about in the dirt yard, we shared the news of Charlie’s revival with his step-mom, who truly cares for him and who had been quite worried last year as time and time again Charlie slipped into irresponsibility and self-pity before finally failing his school year entirely. We had worked hard to convince his dad and step-mom to allow him to keep studying with us after his first year was an apparent failure (for we know the secret that many local parents don’t: this battle for salvation, for transformation is one that is done over the long-haul and one that cannot be given up on if the first year or two or three don’t go as planned). Charlie, who is 13 years old but has the appearance of an 8 or 9-year-old due to malnutrition, stood tall, his chest puffed out and his face serene as we enthusiastically shared the news with his step-mom. Charlie had earned a daily average of 97% in his first week of intensive prep, and his gracious attitude, servants’ heart and leadership skills — things that were not visible in him last year — shone brightly. His step-mom glowed with joy as she commented that she, too, had seen a distinct change in him over the last several days.

As we said our goodbyes and began walking down that little rocky dirt path back to our car, our 15-year-old son Brayan, who did a phenomenal job in his first week of classes, turned around and said jokingly, “And my house visit?” (As in, are you gonna brag on me too?) I laughed, knowing that we had already bragged on him more than 653 times this past week and I said with a grin, “I think your mom already knows that you did a fantastic job.” He smiled like a little boy and reached out a long, muscular arm towards me and said, “You’re my mom!” and I nodded my head and laughed.

And so we’ve been reading a lot of the book of Proverbs and the students have been copying whole chapters for homework. We’ve been reviewing basic math, assigning personal reflections each night to get the kids thinking, and participating in quite intense physical exercises with them each afternoon. The majority of our students come to us with an extremely weak academic base and need to be taught (or re-taught) the basic of subtraction, multiplication, etc, along with basic grammatical norms and reading support. This can be a tedious process as many of our students have learning disabilities/delays, but this week — praise God! — it was fun and effective. All but two of our students attended every single day, which in and of itself is a great triumph because discouragement and lack of attendance tend to be rampant in the educational system in Honduras.

The first week of intensive prep involved roughly 20 students (those who are new to our program along with those who need additional support), and next week roughly 20 more will be joining us as we enter our second and final week of academic, spiritual and physical ‘bootcamp’ before the official school year begins in early February.

And so we took that small group of students who truly fulfilled that first week of ‘bootcamp’ with excellence to a local park to participate in games of soccer and volleyball, enjoy the pool, and generally play. We are very excited to be able to do this type of positive reinforcement (we call them ‘good consequences’) from the get-go to establish healthy limits and a good foundation of choices/consequences with our students as we enter into this year of intimate commitment with them.

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Miss Ligia, one of our beloved local teachers (who by trained profession is a lawyer) who has signed on for another full year shepherding wily, precious youth for God’s glory. She squeezed in that little truckbed with 13 youth on the journey to the park!

 

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A photo our 9-year-old son Jason took from the inside of the truckbed as more and more youth piled on! Everybody make room!

 

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Darwin explaining behavioral expectations and guidelines as we arrived at the park. Although this is a weekly trip we make as a family, the majority of our students had never had the privilege to enter, so it was a new experience for most. We hit a ‘home run’ by treating each kid to a soda and ice cream, which was also a very special treat that the majority of the local youth in our neighborhood very rarely if ever experience!

 

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Stanley, left, with whom we have a long and treasured history and Eduardo, right, a new student who just entered our high school program this past week

 

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Miss Isis, one of our very dedicated local teachers who has been with us since August 2015, leading Michelle to the pool. Michelle is 10 years old although she physically appears to be about 5 or 6 due to extreme poverty/malnutrition. She has been in school with us several times over the last two years but has had very little constancy in her education because her family moves frequently. She is currently in first grade learning the basics of reading and writing with our daughter Gabriela.

 

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Charlie (back left), one of our other students who did not pass seventh grade last year and was hesitant about re-entering, enjoyed a phenomenal first week at the Ranch alongside of his cousin, Nixon (front right), who just entered our program this year.

 

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Our 12-year-old daughter Gleny, who does not officially enter her classes with us until this upcoming Tuesday, helped out tremendously during the first week of intensive prep as she spent several hours tutoring a new student in reading and math. We are so proud of her!

 

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Our 15-year-old son Brayan, who had a 99% average in his first week of classes/intensive training, enjoying a soccer game alongside of his new classmate Eduardo. Brayan has never been a good student (he repeated fifth grade with us several times), but a change has occurred in him and he has begun taking great initiative with his homework, assuming positive male leadership among his peers (something that is also new), and showing a newfound gratitude and enthusiasm in all that he does. Praise God for this transformation!

 

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Darwin, who is naturally a very gifted swimmer, got in the soccer mix as he, Dayana and Brayan (our two oldest kids) teamed up in an intense math of 3-on-3 against three of our local students. In this photo he and Stanley are going full force for the ball! (Not bad, Darwin, considering the kids are 20 years younger than him!)

 

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Please pray with us for our students (and for our team of teachers, counselors and mentors) as we are beginning a new school year with more youth than we have ever had in our program before. Please pray also for my health, as my insomnia remains a daily constant, and I physically am weak and prone to acquiring viruses/infections, as I have one right now (high fever and throat infection that has lasted much longer than it should). The insomnia greatly affects my mood, daily energy levels, and my relationship with everyone around me. Pray that this burden may be taken from me so that I may be even more effective in this great work the Lord has put before us.

Amen! Glory to God!

The Praises of the Lamb: Remembering Our Purpose

I sit here squinting in the dull light at the several sheets of white paper splayed out around me, each one filled with scribbled phrases, arrows and scratch-outs as many, many hours have been put into the revision and expansion of our mission statement over these last several days.

My breath catches in my throat as I am thrown back by the words I jot down. Infinite purpose is being revealed before me as I wait and listen, type and understand.

This is one of those rare moments of seeing everything with perfect clarity.

The soft glow of my laptop illuminates the polished square dining table where I sit in a missionary couple’s empty home. My husband and I have been here on vacation for the last few days.

I laugh to myself as I think that we almost seem like a normal young couple in this quiet house with nice furnishings. No large, broken children hanging all over us and consuming our every moment; no dire crisis to be tended to; no grinding schedule of extreme hospitality and taxing interpersonal commitments.

But our Father knows He has brought us here not to revel in some temporal notion of ‘peace’ but rather to utilize this empty space — empty time, empty mental space — to sit down and seriously consider what He is doing in our midst.

To remember, to repent.

Darwin sits several yards away on a highly cushioned couch as he is absorbed by his own computer. Books are splayed out all around him on the coffee table and floor while today’s breakfast and lunch dishes accompany me at my work station. Half-empty mugs of herbal tea and plates sticky with food residue populate the glossy surface. Clay Aiken’s song “Mary Did You Know” repeats over and over again on YouTube as my fingers continue typing, my heart heavy under God’s glory.

My eyes trace the words on the open Word document. My posture before my Father is one of worship as I read the overarching purpose He’s given us:

To be compelled by a love for God and humanity; to be utilized as God’s instruments as He establishes His Kingdom among us in a dark and broken region.

When 8-year-old Gaby still struggles to put appropriate sexual norms into practice after having been broken under the insatiable lust of her stepfather; when difficult students are accepted into our discipleship program (and when they storm out only to return again); when our Father’s Kingdom is diligently – desperately – sought in early-morning prayer; when genuine confession and repentance and granted, that’s the purpose behind it all.

Beyond exhaustion, beyond any warm fuzzies or sense of adventure, beyond personal conflicts, struggles and victories as we live in the messy and the mundane alongside of other broken human beings in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, this is our mission:

To be God’s refuge for orphaned, abandoned, neglected and abused young people as we extend Christ-centered hospitality, healing and guidance to them with the goal of raising them up as powerful servant leaders to their generation, wholly submitted to Christ and equipped for any good work.

To serve as a holistic mentoring and discipleship center for local children, youth and adults as we diligently proclaim Truth and faithfully bind up those who have been broken in a society wrought with violent crime, sexual perversion, a corrupt and unresponsive justice system, educational inefficacy and devastating poverty; to cleanse and renew individuals with God’s grace as they learn to trust and follow Jesus in every area of their lives.

Is it really that big, Father? How on earth do I so quickly lose sight? How is it possible that I get so easily wrapped up in my own feelings and frustrations — so consumed by my own needs and desires — looking for personal gratification and recognition when the task is so much bigger than us, so much more beautiful than anything we can offer?

Wow.

And when little girls who’ve been thrown out as trash learn to trust their Savior; when the Word of Truth is proclaimed in that rustic dining room day after day after week after year; when our teenage girls slowly shed destructive patterns and adopt God-honoring attitudes, this is who we are:

A community of individuals being healed and set free as we experience and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

When our high school students still haven’t developed the habit of doing their homework; when the justice system fails to put child molesters and rapists behind bars; when my husband is kidnapped and miraculously spared his life by those same gang lords who’ve paid off the police and the political officials; when my own patience comes to its end and I must cry out to the Living God, the vision He’s given us has not changed:

To be a prophetic community of believers, living in accordance with God’s Word and utilizing music, writing, preaching and other avenues of communication to function as God’s messengers both to our immediate region and around the world.

Did I have to leave home for a few days in order to have Him open my eyes to the weight of the work He’s etching out among us? Did He have to guide these gangly fingers to write it in order for my heart to remember it, to continue trusting the Good Shepherd in the midst of our daily walk through the wilderness?

My eyes absorb the words on the screen, and I begin to understand.

To actively fight the many evils in our region with prayer and fasting, interceding for God’s Kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, those messy, after-hours battles that we’ve fought with tears – at times totally desperate, trusting in the freedom Christ won for us even when those chains of sin and abuse are so hard to be broken, holding our girls and weeping – that’s what it’s been all about.

Not ten minutes prior my fingers added to the open Word document what I have so mightily struggled with:

To assume a posture of long-term commitment in our relationships with the people the Lord places in our lives, accepting the responsibility of patiently coming alongside of them without seeking immediate results or personal recognition.

Oh, on a daily basis this war must be fought and won against my own ego, as I so pompously strain for that “thank you,” that look of gratefulness that hasn’t come, that medal of honor for going the extra mile.

As that soft glow continues to illuminate me, He whispers: Faithfully persevere until the end, and I will work all things out for the good of those who love Me and have been called according to My purpose. No immediate results; no personal recognition. You must become less so that My power may be made manifest in you.

The music continues to proclaim the same Truth that He confirms upon my spirit.

I read:

To adopt the attitude of Jesus, constantly asking that the Father’s will be fulfilled rather than our own; to carry our cross and follow Christ, spending ourselves on God’s will.

Oh, how often I’ve grumbled under the weight of this cross! How often I’ve eyed others’ lives – the personal time I think they have that I don’t – and how often have I looked for those short-cuts just to arrive at the end of the day a little less scarred, less spent. Forgive me, Lord.

Clay Aiken’s voice rises as he reminds me that all – even the blind like me – shall sing the praises of the Lamb, the praises of He who chooses to redeem and utilize the unlikeliest of people – alas, we are all the unlikeliest of people, for the whole of humanity is a disgruntled group of murderous prostitutes!

Is that not the purpose of all things, of our very lives? To sing the praises of the Lamb, to be joyfully consumed by the praises of He in whom we find our salvation from this world, from Satan’s grasp, from ourselves? Is not the great task of all humanity to not lose or forsake our relationship with the Living God — to not  trade Him for our fanatical busyness, distorted ego and that heaping pile of daily obligations and distractions? To repent, to believe that the Kingdom is near and that the King is good?

The glory of God rests heavy in the room, on my heart, as I am nearly brought to weeping, amazed that the Creator of all things would choose us – me in all my daily failings – for this work. How is it possible?

My eyes continue to dart between documents, between paragraphs, as He reminds me the great purpose He has called us to:

To embrace the fact that lives are transformed through relationship; to focus primarily not on tasks, programs or appearances but on cultivating deep, sacrificial relationships as lasting transformation is achieved for God’s glory.

How many times have I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom, cleaning toilets rather than wiping noses! Oh, forgive me, Father, for even now as I sit here a sense of dread is creeping in as I think of all the demanding emotional and behavioral needs that will meet me at our front gate tomorrow upon our return home. Accompany me once more, Father, and fill me with You so that what the kids receive isn’t me, but You.

This is Your work; it never was ours and it never could be.

May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Learning to be Effective Communicators: Lights, Cameras, Action!

Yesterday in our 7th-grade classroom I gave a workshop on body language, active listening skills, and conflict mediation. What started off as many points jotted down and enthusiastically explained on the whiteboard quickly turned into a riotous time of skits, partner work, and dynamic learning as we explored new territory on how to be more effective (and compassionate) communicators.

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Stanley and Rolan, local students in our discipleship-based high school program, practicing active/respectful listening in a dynamic role-play

 

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We touched on the fact that body language, tone of voice and facial expression constitute the large majority of communication (whereas the actual words spoken account for a small percentage of the overall message conveyed) in addition to explaining the difference between an active and passive listener, open as opposed to closed body language, the importance of allowing the other person to speak first, how to diffuse a potentially explosive situation, conflict mediation, etc. Miss Ligia and Miss Isis, our secondary and primary teachers, even participated in the workshop in order to learn more about a topic very few Honduran schools ever touch on.

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Miss Isis in a silly skit with Sindy, one of our local students. Both were extremely shy and hesitant to come up to the front at the beginning of the class, but soon enough they were participating with great joy!

 

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In Honduras where the majority of people – even educated adults – don’t employ basic active listening skills and many people struggle to maintain eye contact in a conversation or group setting, the workshop proved to be not only fun but also extremely important in our students’ development as equipped instruments in God’s hands.

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15-year-old Sandra and 14-year-old Elalf demonstrating active listening skills in a skit

 

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The students practicing active listening skills in pairs

 

Many youth and adults in this country suffer from a very deep sense of what they call ‘shame’, limiting them in their self-expression and initiative, and completely incapacitating them in the more difficult arenas of public speaking and conflict mediation. Many of our students have been very reluctant to read out loud, pray in front of others, voice an opinion, or have to stand in front of their peers and give any kind of presentation, so our dynamic activity yesterday – standing up to read the different points elaborated on the whiteboard, going to the front of the classroom with a partner to act out different silly skits, etc – constituted a huge step for all of our students in being able to freely and lovingly express themselves without wilting under that dark cloud of constant shame.

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Messy, an extremely shy local student who has slowly begun expressing more joy as she learns to participate without fear.

 

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At the beginning of our time together everyone – even the teachers! – were nervous about having to ‘put themselves out there’ in a potentially embarrassing skit, but as our time progressed everyone – even the shyest students who typically fade too easily into the background – were laughing hysterically, participating in numerous skits, trying on the different wigs and hats I had brought with me, etc.

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Cristian and Rolan, both local students in our 7th grade program, participating in a rather silly conflict resolution. (Great wig, Rolan!)

 

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As we have witnessed (especially in these last few months), many people in this nation problem-solve by way of violence. You said something I didn’t like, so I’ll go and kill you. You look like someone who belongs to the gang I’m against, so I’m gonna kidnap you. You stole from me, so I’ll shoot you. Learning alongside our students yesterday how to problem-solve by way of loving confrontation, humble listening, and asking/granting forgiveness rather than by resorting to violence may save lives long-term. What a privilege to be involved in this process!

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Dayana, our eldest daughter whom we are in the process of legally adopting, in an intense role-play with Miss Ligia, our secondary teacher, as they sought to resolve a heated dispute peacefully.

 

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We wrote across the whiteboard in large letters, each person taking their turn to stand up and read aloud: “…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” — James 1:19

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Elalf and I entering a dramatic skit about conflict resolution. (To make the class even more interesting, I dressed up in a high school uniform over my normal clothes and added a fun hat and purse!)

 

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He had stolen my slipper, after all!

 

The lighting in several of the photos came out poorly, but I hope you enjoy them and the riotous joy they contain! Praise God for this huge step of teaching young Hondurans how to be more effective, loving communicators for God’s glory!

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There’s a lot of information to copy down in your notebook! Try to keep up!

 

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Gotta love this photo of Miss Ligia on her way to the bathroom!

 

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Amen! Glory to God!

Alone Before the Throne: My Last Day at the Episcopal School

A few weeks ago I taught my last youth leadership class in the Episcopal School, that old light-teal-colored three-story building in downtown La Ceiba where the Lord first began training me back in 2012 for the work He has currently entrusted us.

As the magnitude of the work at the Living Waters Ranch (where my husband and I live and labor 7 days a week) has grown over these past two and a half years, we have recently made the decision to withdraw from our part-time labors at the Episcopal School in order to focus entirely on our Father’s purposes in our little rural town on the outskirts of La Ceiba.

So I arrived about an hour before class on that final Monday with my black suitcase filled with dry erase markers, my students’ journals and little candy treats. In a very real way I was burdened with joy, with gratitude.

I asked one of the full-time teachers at the school to unlock the multi-purpose/storage room for me. I had been assigned that room during the last couple months once the air-conditioned upstairs library room had become highly coveted among the other teachers.

As he unlocked that utterly undesirable room at the end of the first-floor passageway, I sighed as I found my classroom as I had found it every Monday prior: desks in total disarray, someone else’s trash littering the ground, boxes of this-and-that thrown about in the back, supplies from some other teacher’s project left haphazardly about, a couple rouge foosball tables here and there to add to the overall eye-sore effect. Some little empty milk cartons tossed about on the tile floor, a layer of very tangible dust covering almost everything.

I set my black suitcase – my mobile classroom, in effect – down along one of the walls and calmly set about ordering half of the classroom while pushing all that I didn’t need to the other half.

Seeing as I had always preferred that my students sit on the floor, every Monday I would lift and move the desks and chairs, creating a very free floorspace for us to sit in a circle and grow together.

Boxes, foosball tables and other miscellaneous objects moved to the back half of the classroom, whiteboard wiped down, trash ‘swept’ away with my foot because a broom was not found. Laptop turned on with Spanish praise and worship music now majestically filling the unlikeliest of spaces. Ready.

As I participated in this familiar routine for the last time, the heaviness in the room became palpable. Standing still, my eyes travelled up to the itty-bitty windows at the top of the back wall of the classroom, opened to allow in the smallest amount of light and fresh breeze. An overgrown tree-plant from outside extended a few of its nosy branches into our sacred space.

In this room – in my posture before the Lord – stillness had become my close friend.

This is God’s will. His Word being preached, His children being instructed not from a grand stage but in abandoned rooms.

God’s wisdom seems like foolishness to the worldly ‘wise’ while He laughs at human ‘wisdom’ and calls us all to become fools for His sake. I’m sure that every other teacher and employee at this school is certain nothing good could ever happen in this dirty storage room, but if only they knew what I know, what my students know! Here we find the Master; here we learn His ways.

How many times during my first year in Honduras when I was 22 years old and single did I find Him two rooms over in what was then my first-grade classroom all alone at the end of a hard day, praising His name in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulties?

After having been promised 12-15 manageable students in my bilingual first grade classroom as a first-time teacher fresh out of college and living on my own in a new country, it turned out that 28 had been entrusted to my care, none of which showed any mercy to their young teacher who had zero training or experience. Oh, how difficult that first year was, but how closely I felt His hand over me, over my little ones! How many times did I reach the point of weeping – whether for joy, out of profound gratitude, or exhausted by frustration – in this old, teal-colored building tragically situated in the city that has recently been considered to be the murder capital of the world? How many times have I found Him here, alone, as I do even now on what is my last day? Thank You, Father, for these precious moments of stillness in Your presence.

As in any marital situation or large family, in our daily work at the Living Waters Ranch with the 8 children/youth the Lord has brought us to raise as His sons and daughters mixed in with the 20+ other youth from our rural neighborhood who frequent our home/mission for school and discipleship, it is all too easy to get swept-up in a group mentality. It becomes natural to ‘put family first,’ or enjoy the general feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.’ Now that we’ve become accustomed to loving one another for God’s glory, what on earth would we do if someday we become separated?

While these are not bad thoughts, we must understand that each person’s journey begins and ends standing alone before His throne.

It was alone that I began this journey with my Lord back in 2012, certain of His calling on my life whether single or married – I had not even met my husband and had no idea who my children would be! – and here I was alone once again as this precious chapter was being closed. Four years after the journey began, there I stood deeply scarred and torn — formed — by the myriad experiences the Lord had led me through henceforth.

Likewise, at some point in the unknown future – possibly losing spouse and/or children to tragedy, as is all too common here and in the world at large – I may return to such a state of singleness, aloneness in the Lord’s presence.

As every person must come to wholly recognize in their own lives, my beloved husband and the children whom I so adore do not constitute my walk with the Lord; He is who He is whether the blessing of their presence is granted me or taken away. The Lord’s mission is not realized exclusively on ‘mission bases’ in the foothills of majestic mountains or in organized church environments; it is also realized in hectic urban schools and abandoned storage rooms like the one in which I found myself.

So my students began arriving about half an hour later in their two separate groups: first hour with my fourth- and fifth-graders, second hour with my sixth- and seventh-graders, most of whom I had known since Day 1 of entering the Kindergarten-12th grade Episcopal School in 2012. Coaching them in extracurricular basketball teams, being the full-time first-grade teacher of some, getting to know one another during organized visits to our home/mission out in the countryside, preaching the message during their scheduled ‘church’ time on several occasions, or guiding them weekly through the personalized spiritual formation process in the various extracurricular programs the Lord had guided me to design over the past years. Oh, how many hours I had spent reading their journals, excitedly scribbling this or that insight the Lord had given me to continue forming them according to His wisdom and perfect love!

So our last day together was almost unbearably heavy yet ethereally light as the children and I shared some unspoken understanding, so obvious that no one dared cheapen it with words: The Lord has indeed moved among us. Their eyes said it as we opened up the Word one last time to reflect, sieve, press deeper and farther. My eyes said it as I searched their faces; undoubtedly the Truth had already begun consuming a small corner of their souls. Fan the flame, I prayed silently as I moved and taught among their cross-legged semi-circle on the floor.

The Lord placed the words in my mouth to teach His little ones: “None of this – none of these past four years of deep friendship, warm hugs, long letters and uncommon lessons – was from me or about you; it’s all about Him. Seek Him. Everything we have done and said here comes straight from His Word, straight from His heart. Carry the torch; continue the search; allow Him to transform your mind, your sight.”

Then, an uncommon, daring thought. I ventured to put it into words, praying they would understand: “Kids, if you’ve seen something different in me — and I’m certain you have — if you’ve wondered how on earth ‘Miss Jennifer’ always looks so joyful or why she really loves and treasures you while perhaps other adults generally do not or why she seems to see things differently than others  –”

As I sat among them in our tight circle, their eyes were trained on me and confirmed that, yes, they had unmistakably noticed something different about me during these last four years of close friendship, of discipleship that digs deep, sheds light on the darkness, transcends normal ‘teacher-student’ boundaries.

I dared to continue: “– It is God at work within me, the Creator of the universe manifesting Himself among us through me. It’s not ‘me.’ ‘Miss Jennifer’ is actually quite the gossiper, the money-lover, the lazy fool without God. If you’ve seen a distinct joy, a different perspective, an eternal hope, any pinch of wisdom, that is actually God within me, acting through me. If you’ve felt drawn to me as a teacher, it is because you have felt drawn to God. His Word teaches that He actually comes and lives within those who are submitted to His will; that is one of the ways He manifests Himself to humanity in the world today. So now on our last day together I beg you to keep reflecting on all that we’ve learned together, and may you see God Himself in my actions among you. And if you’ve seen any impatience or bad attitude, that’s ‘me;’ that’s not Him. That’s what’s left over of the ‘Miss Jennifer’ without God, and He’s still in the process of transforming that part, renewing and cleansing. But please know that God has indeed been moving among us, acting in and through us to make Himself and His perfect love known to us, and that He longs to work in such ways in and through each of you, thus captivating humanity with the utterly attractive nature of all that He is.”

Many things were said on that last Monday together, while at the same time very little was said while much was understood. It was a Great Commission of sorts, a sending out of those who have started the training process to continue onward with great faith while going out and training others to love and follow the Father in similar fashion.

As the last of my students left, my heart heavy as I embraced each one, I ended that day as I had started it. It was, in fact, how I had started this entire journey nearly four years ago: joyfully alone, trusting,  in an abandoned room in that old teal-colored building, focused on my Father alone.