Tag Archives: Family

Learning to Pray With Eyes Wide Open

A couple weeks ago I embarked on a very special journey with our 18-year-old foster daughter who has been a beloved member of our family since she was an awkward and insecure 11-year-old. She has now graduated high school, runs her own small business with a friend, works part-time in our ministry teaching classes to a group of preteens with learning disabilities and is waist-deep in the admission process to enter a local university. 

Of all the 14 youth who have called our house “home” over the past 8+ years, my dad jokes that he does not ever worry about this particular daughter of ours. She’s got her head screwed on straight, is kind-hearted and often seems older than her years. After being tossed about by many devastating storms as a child, the Lord has miraculously given back to her the years that were lost and has granted her exceeding levels of wisdom, financial savvy, loyalty and faith. 

She and I stood in line a couple Fridays ago, large hiking backpacks strapped to our backs and tickets in hand, as we waited to board the ferry that would take us out to one of Honduras’ islands for the weekend. I would be accompanying her to meet her biological father for the first time in her life. (He lives on the island and works as a fisherman.) Emotions were high, and I secretly hoped that this elusive man who had been the epitome of an absentee father would not crush our beautiful daughter’s heart to pieces. I was afraid her expectations were too high, and my husband and I had carefully (and perhaps unsuccessfully) tried to prepare her for this wild-card weekend experience.

As we were in the large commercial ferry’s waiting area, dozens of other passengers from around the world were likewise awaiting the boat that would transport them to Caribbean island paradise. We saw people of all shapes, sizes and colors, and honestly it was as much enthralling as it was overwhelming. Mind you, I have not left Honduran soil in five years’ time, and throughout this time I have been largely confined to our remote ranch in a rural part of Honduras that receives little to no international traffic. We basically see our same rural, materially poor neighbors day in and day out, and this has been my daughter’s experience not for the past five years but for the majority of her short lifetime. (In short, we are moderately sheltered from many of the “modern” plagues that are ravishing wealthier and more developed nations.)

Now, I must confess that this reflection is not in essence about our weekend spent getting to know our foster daughter’s biological father. It is rather about a spiritual discipline I’m learning to develop that is highly applicable and urgently necessary across the globe in today’s worldwhere too often what is wrong is considered right, and what is right is considered wrong.

So, I literally felt like we had been transported to another country (or perhaps another planet!) as we sat quietly waiting to board the ferry when a certain man caught my eye.

He was stocky and broad-shouldered as any man is, but he was dressed extravagantly as a woman and had long, womanly hair that was perfectly styled. He wore makeup and employed explicitly feminine gestures. I found myself subtly studying him and felt genuinely sad for him in my heart. 

Throughout this past decade that I’ve lived in Honduras with very little “worldly” exposure I knew the world had changed much, and I oftentimes find myself reading up on these things online in order to remain well-informed and to know how to pray accordingly.

But this time I was not reading an article online about the transgender tidal wave or the far-reaching effects of the “sexual revolution”; I was witnessing it in person a few yards away, a real man – a real soul – who has been so deceived and swept up by this cultural phenomenon that he has tried to shed his very masculine identity (as God created him) in favor of a pseudo personality that he believes fits him better.

I glanced over at my daughter as she sat quietly, her hands in her lap and her gaze contentedly far off in some distant place in front of her, no doubt lost in her own thoughts as she considered the pending ramifications of meeting her biological father within a few hours’ time. 

Heart heavy, I began to pray in silence for the transgendered man. And I mean, really pray.

A short time later, then aboard the ferry, a woman who appeared to be lesbian or transgendered was seated a few arms’ lengths from us as the boat bobbed up and down on the ocean waves. My daughter pulled the hood of her sweater down over her eyes and tried to uncomfortably curl up in a ball on the ferry’s seat near me as she fought seasickness. Seeing as I generally cannot sleep (or even let down my guard) in public spaces, I sat there wide awake and glanced again at the woman seated near us, and I began to pray silently for her with my eyes wide open. 

At one point I got up during the hour-and-forty-five-minute ferry ride and went nearly sliding across the aisle in order to go buy snacks. I was not sea-sick at all; I was hungry! As I clung to a rung on the ferry’s wall, I came across the transgendered man that I had seen and prayed for in the waiting area. With a heavy heart, I returned to my seat several minutes later (snacks in hand) and resumed my silent prayer for both of these people, eyes wide open.

How often do we lose time waiting mindlessly in the doctor’s office, standing in line at the bank, sitting idly on airplanes or waiting impatiently for meetings to commence? How often has the Lord put people in our midst who need Him – who desperately need prayer – but we haven’t had the self-discipline or the faithful presence of mind to truly pray for these people?

What if we as Christians made the commitment to pray – truly pray – for these people whom we come across in our workplaces, neighborhoods and in daily newsreels? What if we as God’s people learned to pray with our eyes wide open?

Upon arriving on the island – within moments of meeting our precious girl’s biological father with all the roller coaster of emotions in tow – I saw yet another transgendered man exiting the ferry, this one with a sparkling crown in his hands. 

Another earnest prayer, eyes wide open.

Over the weekend, my precious daughter and I not only met her biological father and spent many memorable moments with him in Caribbean paradise, but we also witnessed many extravagant, shameless displays of humanity’s descent into depravity. Everything that I had been reading on reputable internet sources over the past several years came alive before our very eyes all around us. My heart broke in a million pieces for these people, but I didn’t let that keep me from turning to the Lord in prayer – right there on the beach, in local restaurants, in the midst of so much human brokenness.

Pray with me. Let us learn to pray with our eyes wide open. 

First Updates of 2022: Foster Family Diary

Dear friends and family,

Happy New Year to each of you! May we all be intent on seeking God’s perfect will for our lives, families and workplaces in this new season. I hope each of you enjoyed a restful and fruitful holiday season alongside your loved ones and that the new year of 2022 brings with it new heights and depths of wisdom, conviction, revival and God-given purpose in each of our lives. 

Through this post I extend our sincere gratitude to those who prayed for and financially supported this grassroots ministry in 2021. We thank God for your partnership and friendship, and we want you to know that the scope and effectiveness of this humble work is able to increase and multiply due to your faithful generosity. Thank you!

In this post I will share with you several edifying anecdotes from our annual December break as a family in which we were able to take a small sabbatical from our ongoing service in our school and local community (without ever leaving Honduras!). I hope that some of the ideas presented herein might prove insightful and maybe even be applied to your own families as you see fit.

Sincerely, Jennifer (for Darwin and family/ministry)

Foster Family Diary

December 9, 2021: My husband and I sat down with our 6 foster teenagers to prayerfully write down our short- and long-term goals. Our 13-year-old special needs son (who cannot read or write) happily got to work “writing down his goals” right alongside everyone else. At the end of the activity when each person shared, he “read” his goals confidently: go jogging every day, learn more Bible verses, give thanks each day and take the dog for a walk(all things he already does on a daily basis). Hurrah for Josue’s admirable goals!

December 13, 2021: This Christmas season my husband and I are making a concerted effort to do more “mini-adventures” as a family. My chronic insomnia has oftentimes kept us from being more active with our foster kids, but we have decided to make more of an intentional effort to spend quality time together lately in spite of the circumstances or difficulties. Eight years into the parenting journey, all of our foster kids are now teenagers who will soon grow up and have lives of their own. We thank God for these precious treasures He has blessed us with, and we’re determined to create loving memories with them for God’s glory.

December 21, 2021: With the support and encouragement of our daughters and a dear friend, I have recently begun the arduous task of translating my book into Spanish. At first my (breakneck!) speed was one page per hour, but now I’ve hit a stride and am up to two pages per hour! I hope to be able to share with the Latin American community our testimony of life, faith and lessons learned in the Lord that are presented through my book. Pray that the Lord would grant me perseverance and diligence in this monumental task!

December 22, 2021: During these few weeks of family vacation from work and school, my husband set a goal for himself to paint more. (He’s never been enrolled in art classes – it’s a new talent he’s wanting to develop!) The other day a couple of our kids were busy happily painting and drawing around our dining room table with a local friend of theirs, and Darwin got right into the mix with them for several hours! Way to go, Pa!

December 26, 2021: All of our foster teenagers (except our special needs son) are getting their toes wet out in the “real world” engaging in various work-related learning experiences this holiday season. (They earn a dailypay of 4-8 dollars for 8+ hours of work. Such is the typical minimum wage in the developing world.) One of our girls is working as a babysitter and assistant bread-maker; another is working in sales at a local clothing store. Two of our teens are working voluntarily with a local family that butchers and sells chickens for a living. We are so proud of their consistency and integrity in the workplace! 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “…Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands…” and Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”

December31, 2021: Our “family challenge” this month was for each person to read five books that they had never read before. Surprisingly, five of our teenage sons and daughters accepted the challenge and read an incredible variety of edifying books throughout December! Way to go, readers! We’ve also begun reading through the entire Bible as a family each morning, beginning in Genesis. We invite you to join the challenge! 

My book that was published in 2021 is available on Amazon. If you are interested in acquiring several copies to sell in your church’s bookstore, in your workplace or among your loved ones, you can contact me directly to arrange a bulk shipment:

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.

 

Standing at the Gates of Hell

The two new young women I wrote about in the previous post arrived at our front gate on Monday of this week (three days ago), and it has been a very intense and exceedingly blessed three days with them. They are two young women (ages 14 and 15, not related biologically) who have been through many hard hits in life (and dealt some hard hits in return), and we feel utterly convinced that after having bounced around in various foster homes and orphanages the Lord brought them to our home to find stability, permanent family, healing and, ultimately, a transforming relationship with Christ.

In these first three days with them we’ve shared many moments that are too delicate to share on this blog, but in increasing measure the joy of the Lord is experienced in our household as Darwin, our 8 kids who’ve been with us for several years and I are truly collaborating together — as the body of Christ — to extend God’s love to two teens who literally no one else was willing to receive.

Two days ago after some shocking news was revealed to us about one of our new arrivals, I experienced many moments of ‘becoming undone’ emotionally as we sought to appropriately deal with the information and its implications in the way that God saw fit. It was a day of bitter weeping, much prayer and a very serious family meeting so that our 8 would all be on the same page — united in Christ — with Darwin and I so as to love these two teen girls (and protect those who are already in our household) in a way that very likely they had not priorly been loved.

At the end of that very trying, stretching day (Tuesday), I sat at the long wooden table in our living room next to our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline who quietly went about completing her math homework (I’m her math teacher) by candlelight as the Lord enveloped our household in that blessed nightly silence during our family’s “sabbath hour.” It had been perhaps the most difficult day we had experienced as a family in some time, and yet I felt the Lord’s presence and His hand over the entire situation more strongly than ever before. I sat next to Jackeline stroking her back as she continued hard at work, wooden pencil in hand and notebook illuminated by the little candle in front of her. We stayed like that for a long time — me stroking her back, her working on her homework, the rest of our kids quietly tucked into their rooms for the night along with our two new arrivals — when I asked her, “Jackeline, you know that I love you, right?”

This is something that we communicate frequently to our kids, so without skipping a beat she immediately took her concentration away from her schoolwork, penetrated my eyes with hers with striking joy, and said  with a big nod and a smile, “Yup.”

I smiled, still sensing the Lord increasingly near in the midst of the rescue mission He had very unexpectedly sent our family on to go after the souls of these two young women who would have very likely become prostitutes within the next couple years had He not intervened. Then I bent in closer towards Jackeline, my hand still patting her back as she had quickly resumed her schoolwork, and I whispered, “You know, you’re one of my favorites.”

This time the smile overtook her face as her eyes came up to meet mine again and she let out a little laugh and said, “I know!”

We both laughed at that, and then I said, “You wanna know a secret?”

She nodded her head ‘yes,’ momentarily forgetting her math homework. I continued, “I’ve never felt happier in my life, and it’s because I’ve never felt nearer to the Lord.”

She studied my eyes for a few moments — fully knowing the day that our family had just lived, how our obedience to Christ was put to the test in a big way once we received the news we did about one of our new foster daughters — and then she nodded quietly in agreement, understanding what that joy is that goes beyond fluctuating ‘happiness’ and is found only within God’s will.

Her pencil quickly resumed moving back and forth as she calculated numbers and solved algebraic equations. I continued contemplating the beauty of our Lord and what it means to serve Him in this great rescue mission, literally tackling people off the path as they’re headed into Hell. I felt like weeping — for joy, for pain over what each of our children (and so many others all around the world) have suffered, for the great privilege that our Lord allows us to serve Him in such a way — but I had already wept so much that day that I felt dry, emptied. At peace. So I just thanked Him in my heart. In the face of what almost any sane person would call an impossible situation, I never felt closer to Him, more convinced of His burning desire to rescue these two young ladies from the snares of the enemy.

So we give thanks for all 10 of our children and we enter into yet another chapter of our life and service with Christ now with 7 daughters and 3 sons, all of whom come from devastating circumstances and whom have found (or are finding) healing and freedom in God’s eternal family through Christ. There are many things to pray for — perhaps even urgently so, desperately so — but for now all I can think to do is give thanks. Our new girls’ names are Carolina and Paola. Please pray with us for their salvation and transformation into the image of Christ, and for our other 8 kids, that God would use them mightily to minister to their two new housemates as we band together as a family to stand at the gates of Hell, blocking the entrance and joyfully receiving those whom the Lord chooses to rescue, whatever the personal cost may be. Thank you. To God be the glory and praise forever. Amen.

“Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.”

— C.T. Studd

 

Work, Prayer, Study, Community: New Daily Rhythms Captured Behind the Lens

This past week we enjoyed the visit of Keith and Tamara Carroll with their adopted son, Mike, from San Antonio, Texas.

Below are several of the photos that Tamara took during their visit. We have enjoyed many changes and new faces in this new year as we have added the discipleship-based secondary school, expanded the elementary school, grown in our Bible study teaching among our neighbors, and generally learned many, many lessons as the Lord continues to guide the work He is accomplishing in and through us in Honduras.

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Trying to move our two calves away from our front gate at 6:30am so the students can pass!

 

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The students begin arriving by foot or bicycle up the long dirt path to our home/mission

 

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Chit-chatting before classes begin at 7:00am

 

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Miss Isis, our elementary school teacher, in class with her students, all of whom are very behind academically and/or have never been in school before. Several of them are learning how to read and write for the first time in our program after having failed out of and/or repeated grades in the public school system .

 

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Three of our second-graders: Josselyn (age 11), Yexon (age 11) and Paola (age 8). Josselyn has been in our family since July 2015, and the other two are our night watchman’s children.

 

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Darwin, Miss Isis, and I with her 10 elementary students. I think we forgot to do our homework or something, because the kids are scolding us!

 

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Isis and her students (Brayan, Josselyn and Gaby are included in this group)

 

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Darwin with some of his choir kids before practice

 

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Community lunch for our 26 students (10 in elementary and 16 in secondary) before Bible study on Tuesdays and Thursdays

 

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Goliath, our Rottweiler, loves to play soccer with the students at recess!

 

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Miss Ligia, our 7th-grade teacher, in class

 

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Our high schoolers (all in 7th grade) with Darwin in Music Theory class

 

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In recorder class with Darwin

 

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Darwin giving P.E. class to our high schoolers under the hot midday sun!

 

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Our eldest daughter Dayana (age 15), one of our 7th-graders, coming in what looks like first place with her classmate Dariela. After the first marking period, Dayana came out with the highest average among her classmates, 91%!

 

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Darwin, Miss Ligia, and I with our 16 high school students (Sandra and Dayana are included in this group)

 

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Miss Isis’ prayer group

 

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Darwin’s prayer group meets to pray in a tree behind the schoolhouse!

 

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My prayer group, in which we finally had a huge breakthrough on Thursday when two of the older teen boys, skeptics, began asking a lot of fantastic questions and opening their hearts to hear responses based on the Truth of God’s Word.

 

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Miss Martha (our nurse, cook, and reading teacher), Miss Isis (her daughter, the elementary teacher), and I after classes

 

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Gaby, who has been in our family since July 2015, and I. Since she doesn’t have a birth certificate and we don’t know how old she is, we’ve taken the liberty to decide that her birthday will be June 3rd! She’ll be turning 8 years old!

 

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Brayan’s back! The young man who lived with us for 8 months and continues to call us “Pa” and “Ma,” is now back in school with us 5 days a week along with faithful participation in choir, Bible study, prayer group, etc.

 

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Brayan had to stay after school to clean our dining room because he was joking around too much in choir practice! We’re all  a work in progress!

 

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Darwin sitting in our front yard after classes as our kids and students enjoy a pick-up soccer game

 

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This is Sandra, the newest addition to our family! She is 15 years old and is a student in our high school program along with our other 15-year-old daughter, Dayana. Please continue to pray for her protection as the situation with her abusive step-father is still far from being resolved.

 

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Our first series of family photos now that our family has expanded and we have 8 kids after the arrival of Sandra (age 15) last month!

 

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Everybody grab somebody!

 

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I think 8-year-old Jason’s shorts went a little too far north when Dayana picked him up!

 

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Brayan jumped in for the last photo!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Josselyn’s Living Room Theology Class

Several of our older kids have begun giving 7-year-olds Gabriela and Josue ‘tutoring’ during different 30-minute afternoon time-slots throughout the week to help stimulate our two littlest ones who are the most developmentally behind schedule. Thus far the classes have been a selection of Play-Doh, P.E. (tossing a ball back-and-forth, doing sprints across our front yard, spinning in circles, etc.), coloring, and playing with wooden blocks. It has been a very rewarding experience for all — perhaps even more so for the tutors than for Gaby and Josue.

This Saturday 11-year-old Josselyn (who is Gabriela’s biological sister and the 7th of our 8 kids to move in with us roughly 7 months ago) was the teacher for the designated tutoring time. She took the initiative to lean a large whiteboard against the wall in our living room and set up two wooden stools for her students. I sat on the floor in our bedroom organizing paperwork with our door open into the living room so that I, too, could ‘sit in’ on the class.

Josselyn, who just learned how to read, write and do basic math for the first time in her life since moving in with us in July 2015, up until Saturday had not been one of our more dynamic tutors. She had generally been in charge of the ‘coloring book’ tutoring sessions and, by what we could tell, had fulfilled her once-a-week class out of nothing more than a sense of duty to her little sister.

But something had changed. On Saturday she began enthusiastically writing the vowels on the whiteboard (which Gaby and Josue have no idea how to read), and soon enough she had them sing-songing the vowels in some catchy tune she had made up. Gaby and Josue were thoroughly engaged in the class, and at some point she even had Gaby counting with her up to 20 (Josue does not talk other than a handful of one- or two-syllable sounds). I felt like a permanent smile was glued on my face as I continued organizing several stacks of legal paperwork, students’ exams, and mission statements as the rest of our kids played in our front yard. My husband Darwin and our eldest daughter, 15-year-old Dayana, were in the nearby city of La Ceiba that morning in their weekly English class.

Far exceeding the 30-minute recommended time, Josselyn then dispatched her students to a short ‘recess,’ telling me with a big grin that she wanted to keep teaching them other subjects even though she didn’t have to. She then informed me quite seriously, “The other tutors don’t know how to manage Josue and Gaby, and that’s why they behave so poorly. But I just tell them that if they don’t listen up and participate, I’ll take their recess away. That seems to work just fine.”

I, too, took a ‘recess’ and crossed our front lawn to the little office building to bring more folders for my organizational efforts. When I crossed the threshold of our front door into our living room several minutes later, I was somewhat startled to hear Josselyn – who had already called her students in from recess and had them sitting obediently on their stools to continue the class – saying in a very even tone with more authority than perhaps I have ever heard her talk, and much less teach: “Of course we are going to die, because we are made of the dust of the earth.”

As I passed by them on my few-yard journey to our bedroom, I looked at Josselyn, intrigued, and she informed me, “Now we’re in Bible class.”

I nodded, very interested to hear what Josselyn-the-teacher (who did not have a Bible in hand) would be instructing her two very immature students on the Truth. (From the psychological evaluations we’ve had done, Gaby is roughly 4 years old mentally/emotionally and Josue is 3, and both suffer intermediate to severe developmental delays due to distinctive situations of abuse they suffered before arriving at our home. Josue is in a special-needs pre-school class at a private school five mornings a week, and this past week we moved Gaby down from first grade in a private school to kindergarten in our own school to help cater her needs.)

A few words about Josselyn: she has very short hair that is just starting to grow out after having arrived at our front gate with nearly buzzed-off hair with huge bald patches, and she is very, very small for her age due to malnutrition suffered in her early childhood (she’s about the size of a 7- or 8-year-old, and nobody knows how old she really is because she doesn’t have a birth certificate and was never registered with the government, although our dentist’s approximation is that she’s 11 or 12 years old).

So I continued organizing my mountain of paperwork, but this time with my mind much more focused on the theology class coming from our living room than on the manila folders in front of me.

Josselyn covered the beginning of Genesis with remarkable accuracy, instructing Gaby and Josue with all authority on themes that she has been learning in our weekly Discipleship Group but that, honestly, I had thought were beyond her. Of our 8 kids/teens, she does not tend to have a lot of questions, prayer requests, or comments during the various Bible studies we participate in each week, and I had (very mistakenly) thought that perhaps she was distracted amidst other thoughts, possibly not even hearing the instruction around her, although she had come to give her life to Christ in one of our community Bible studies a few months ago and we had seen distinct changes in her since then.

As I heard nugget after nugget of profound, God-inspired wisdom flowing easily from her mouth, I quickly realized I needed to be writing it all down so as not to forget her exact words. So, without her realizing it, I grabbed an old notebook from one of the many piles of paperwork around me and I began to scribble in a fat, blue marker as quickly as I could everything that she was teaching. Her words, verbatim, were as follows:

“God is love. He’s the only true love we’ve got. The love of a person is small, but that of God is big – bigger and bigger – and He won’t turn His back on you. Not even your mom loves you as much as He does. And if you repent, He’ll be there. But if we don’t repent, when we die we’ll be in front of God and He’ll say: ‘I don’t know you.’”

After Josselyn had instructed several times and in many different ways that God is love, Josue started echoing her every time she said ‘God,’ him answering with “A-moh!” (his way of saying ‘amor,’ which is ‘love’ in Spanish.) Every time she said ‘God’ in any context, Josue’s little voice echoed: “A-moh…” And I think Josue was onto something: every time we think about God, our knee-jerk reaction should be to meditate on His love.

She continued, changing the subject: “If I tell you to do whatever you want because you run your own life – like, go and have a lot of women — am I a good friend?”

Josue, who wears diapers, answered shyly: “No.”

Josselyn: “Isn’t that right that I’m not? A good friend would tell you to submit to God’s will and give away what you have to people who need it more than you do, and God will bless you.”

She continued: “Life is hard, even for children. A lot of kids can just run around and play, but they don’t even know what they do. But once you arrive in adulthood, things will be harder.” She swings her gaze over to me and confirms: “Right, Jennifer?” I laughed. “One day you two will be big, but you’ve got to start believing in God even now when you’re small. You don’t have to go around fighting – God says let there be peace and freedom, but no fights and wars.”

Josue started to giggle nervously, and Josselyn corrected him: “We don’t have to laugh at God’s Word. This isn’t like ‘A, B, C’ in first grade, Josue – this is the True Word, and I’m not lying.”

Josue shaped up, and she continued, now teaching on the crucifixion, Lazarus, and the end of the world. “Not even the angels know when the end of the world will come, only God – right, Jennifer?”

Her two pupils sat with total focus, listening to their young teacher who, by some miracle, already has God’s Word stitched deeply in her heart. She addressed her students: “Do you have a question about how God is?”

Gaby, stuttering and mispronouncing certain words, as is the way she always talks: “The—the…chapters say that we must love one another.”

Josselyn: “Very well, Gaby, but first we must love God.”

“If I believe I am bigger than God, we are believing Satan, the Father of Lies. If I say I want to be the queen because God’s dead, who’s talking crazy? Me, right? Because I’m from the dust of the Earth, and God is the Father of Truth.”

At some point the class started winding down, and the teacher asked me what time it was. “2:20pm,” I answered.

She laughed out loud and said, “I think I’m gonna keep going until nighttime!”

That Makes Eight

Yesterday around 5:00pm several of our kids were out in our large front yard playing soccer with our neighbors while others were playing board games in our house and our eldest was giving a beginners’ piano class to two young neighbors in our school building. I began to dish out the rice and beans, pasta, and chocolate cake for dinner after a surprisingly productive afternoon in which all of our kids wowed me with their initiative and finished all their homework with excellence before 3:30pm.

When it comes to serving food in our home, you’ve got to be good at math.

Whenever the time comes to take out the cups, plates and forks, you’ve got to do a quick mental head-count of who will be eating: Dayana and Jackeline are out at church with such-and-such local family, so that’s 7 kids – 2 that are not currently present = 5 kids that will be eating here + Darwin and I, so that’s 7 of everything. Got it.

Or: Today for the twice-weekly community lunch/Bible study, we’ll be serving food for the 12 students in elementary school + 16 from high school (but Arnold didn’t come today because he’s sick, so that makes 15) + the 2 teachers + Miss Martha + Darwin and I + our 2 middle-aged neighbors who will be attending + our other 5 kids who are out at school but will be home in about an hour and will need to eat + perhaps 6 other young neighbors who might show up = about 45. Does anyone have a calculator?!

But last night, seeing as our kids, Darwin and I were home together and Miss Martha and the other laborers, students, neighbors, etc had all left by 3:00pm (as they do each day Monday-Friday), I put my mind on autopilot and began taking out 9 of everything, which has been our magic number since July when Josselyn and Gabriela moved in. 7 kids + 2 adults.

As I began lining up all the plates on our kitchen counter, however, something felt odd. I counted the plates again. Yup; 9 plates. 7 kids + 2 adults, right? 7 kids…My mind wandered around somewhat confused until the still-very-new thought hit me: No! Now they’re 8 kids! Ha! That’s what was missing. Our new ‘magic number’ is 10. I quickly added an additional plate, and suddenly everything seemed to make sense.

A couple months ago our 12-year-old daughter Jackeline, who has now been in our family a full year, made a comment to me in a silly tone of voice: “If any new kids arrive in our family in this next year, I sure hope they’re younger than me.” I had laughed and – thoroughly convinced myself – assured her that I did not think more kids would be arriving in this next year or two, seeing as our hearts and schedules were already quite full with 7.

Well, Jackeline’s wish didn’t come true.

Last Thursday, our second day of classes with all of our elementary and secondary students who now study in our home/mission 5 days a week, one of our new 7th-grade students approached us for prayer after Bible study. My husband, the two teachers (Miss Isis and Miss Ligia), and I sat around her in our dining room as she began sharing with us her concern for her mother’s health. As we asked careful questions, she continued to open up until the root of the issue was exposed: her step-father is physically and sexually abusive (and has been for the last 6 years), putting her life in very real danger and causing tremendous stress and pain to her mother as well. The mother had gone to the police several times, explaining the situation and filing official reports, but, as is frequently the case here, nothing had been done. As the story continued to unravel — taking on the horrific shape of so many others we’ve heard too many times — I felt a very strong prompting in my chest from the Lord, so I asked to speak to my husband in private before continuing with the conversation/prayer.

He and I walked briskly outside and I told him: “Gabriela and Josselyn were rescued out of this exact kind of situation. I feel that God wants us to offer her refuge,” and he immediately confirmed. Our conversation must have lasted all of 19 seconds; we then re-entered the dining room, offered her the invitation to escape the abuse by coming to live with us, and she told us that she would talk with her mom and let us know. We prayed with her – for her mom, for her step-father, for God’s will to be done.

Several days passed, and then on Tuesday of this week she approached me with a large grin on her face, asking to talk with Darwin and me. My heart leapt and sunk all at the same time – guessing quite accurately what she would be telling us – and, sure enough, she informed us that she and her mom had discussed it and that her mom wanted to take us up on the offer of refuge for her daughter because she truly is in danger with her step-father.

So, phone calls were made, a meeting with the local government-run child protective agency’s office was made, we signed all the documents with the lawyer, the psychological evaluation was completed, and yesterday morning (Thursday) as she came walking up our long gravel road in her school uniform to attend classes, she brought with her an additional grocery bag filled with all of her belongings.

Her name is Sandra, and she’s 15 years old. Darwin and I are already in communication with her mom to see what more can be done with the official complaints the mother has filed with the police, although right now our hope in the system of justice here on earth (and especially in Honduras) is realistically dim. In the coming weeks/months we will continue to be in contact with her mom to see what plan of escape or new beginning can be made for the mom and her other three children (all of which are biological children of the stepdad and who, for that reason, he treats well), although we still do not have many details or much information at all.

Please pray with us not only for her adjustment to living in our home, but also for the mom’s protection and step-father’s salvation and transformation. Sandra and her mom are both authentic Christians, very humble, and have a very real understanding of and love for God’s Word. Please pray that the Lord’s hand would be over this entire situation/process and that, if possible, Sandra can be reunited with her mom in the right timing and once the familial situation is no longer dangerous.

So, yesterday 12-year-old Jackeline (the same one who didn’t want another older sister to push her down the totem pole) enthusiastically took Sandra out to our rural property’s mango tree, to the little stream behind our home, and traipsing around here and there, giving her new ‘big sister’ a genuine welcome. Sandra’s face shined with joy as our other girls took her out to play soccer; I fixed up her bed with clean sheets and a hand-written welcome note, 8-year-old Jason asked me sheepishly to introduce him to the newest of his now-6 sisters, and I prepared 8 tupperware containers with our kids’ snacks for school today instead of the traditional 7. Thanks to the mysteries of God’s perfect will, the entire transition has seemed surprisingly light-hearted and even fun.

So, of our 8 kids/teens, some of them consider us to be their authentic parents while others view us as loving mentor-figures the Lord has placed in their path. Some call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ without hesitation while others call us by our first names. Some may be reunited with their blood families if it is God’s will, whereas others may be officially adopted into the ‘Canales-Zilly’ household if the Lord permits it.

Lines are blurry, but everyone is growing in grace.

If someone asks us how many sons and daughters we have, I don’t know if we should answer “7 with 1 honored guest” (because Sandra may very well return to her mother soon if the situation with the step-father is taken care of) or if everyone is automatically included, making it 8 without thinking twice. Lines will doubtlessly become blurrier if and when we have any biological children, but of this I am convinced: the Lord is forming us into a tribe, a people after His own heart. He is erasing divisions created by Man; He is uniting us by Jesus’ blood rather than our own, calling us home to His eternal family that is formed by those who submit themselves to the Good Father’s will. And by some act of miraculous grace, He is enabling our stubborn mouths to freely proclaim: “Father, may Your will be done, not mine…”

Glory to God!

The Great Pyramid of Daughters

When you’ve got enough daughters to start making a legitimate human pyramid, you know you’re in a class of your own…

Cheers to Dayana (15), Jackeline (12), Gleny (11), Josselyn (11) and Gabriela (7). We adore these five daughters of the King and are astonished at the magnitude of the good work the Lord has begun in each of their lives in such a short time.

I think the three on the bottom finally understood the benefits of all the pushups, frog-jumps and wind-sprints I tend to make them do…We were preparing for this:

The Great Pyramid of Daughters

(with the help of one faithful dad)…

 

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After having taken these pictures on a family outing to the beach this past Saturday, I reflected with my husband on the symbolism of these photos that jumps out at me: the three on the bottom of the pyramid, who have all been with us 1-2 years, serve as the sturdy base for the newer building blocks — the two biological sisters on top who’ve been with us 6 months. And, as is the case in our daily rhythms of life, Gabriela is the one who needs constant help, support and encouragement, so it is suiting that in the photos Darwin is physically holding her up. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Darwin — a man — is the one present to help them build their structure, as is Father God in all of our lives. After having been abused, abandoned and mistreated by other father figures in their lives, finally a man with God’s own heart is placed alongside of them to hold them up as Father God continues to strengthen them — each person in their correct place, working together to keep one another from falling — according to His good will…

And, of course, there is struggle and laughter throughout the journey…

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