Recently we organized an all-day event of various old-fashioned yard games for our students and neighbors. We very intentionally incorporated games that involve teamwork, healthy physical touch, riotous laughter, coordination, and sensory development as many of the youth the Lord has placed in our lives come from very broken places and are in the beginning stages of being restored and renewed by God’s love under our care.
The majority of our young friends are very immature for their age due to not having received vital components in their early childhood (such as adequate parental attention, Biblical guidance, loving discipline, etc), thus they lack healthy self-esteem, an accurate understanding of who God created them to be and the basic tools necessary to confront reality in a godly way. Knowing that these ‘lacks’ in a child or teen’s life propel many toward a life of crime, depression and/or sexual deviancy, we understand that spending a day full of godly friendship, intense laughter and team-building activities goes a long way towards restoring and forming healthy individuals who respond to God’s love and interact with others in a loving way.
In our corner of the globe here in Latin America (as around the world), there is much competition, violence and physical intimidation/abuse among peers and families, so learning to use one’s physical strength to bless others, carry a teammate, etc, is a very important aspect of learning to receive and then be instruments of God’s love in daily life. Patting someone on the back in encouragement, receiving a hug from a trustworthy adult, learning how to give (or receive) a piggy-back ride, etc, are really big steps toward their recovery into loving, joyful beings under the headship of the loving, joyful God.
Furthermore, many of our kiddos have very poor motor skills/physical coordination due to malnutrition and under-stimulation in their early childhood, so all the activities we do with them are geared toward stimulating them toward integral health, growth and abundance according to God’s perfect will for their lives.
So, one of the first games on our agenda was a crazy partner activity. I stood among the many teams of two and shouted out “Backpack!” and the teens had to grab their partner and fling them on their back. Then “Baby!,” which they then scrambled to cradle their friend’s weight in their arms as if they were a precious (oversized) newborn. And so the game went, me shouting out one wild command after another until everyone was panting and heaving, either from laughter or exhaustion…
‘Backpack’, everybody! Get up there!
What a beautiful baby! Don’t let him fall!
One of the next games on the day’s agenda was a fan-favorite that I introduced to them last year: Chinese freeze-tag! My husband Darwin and one of our 50-year-old local teachers (Reina) got in the mix as everyone was running wildly around our yard!
Watch out, Jackeline! Your teacher is gaining on you! Run, Reina, run! (She was such a good sport — she came out on one of her days off in order to participate in all the games with the kids without having any idea what would be in store!)
Look at Darwin go! Our eldest daughter Dayana was hot on his heals, and he was determined not to get caught!
The next game was an old classic: the water balloon toss! Every time you throw it, you’ve gotta take a step back!
I hid in an outdoor trashcan (with the lid on!) and no one found me until one of the teen boys casually walked by, took the lid off, and went to throw some trash on my head! My legs are so long that I had quite the hard time uncurling my body to get out from the tight space once the game was over!
Hey! Who’s hiding out on the school building’s roof?
Next up: a new game I read about on the internet! Everybody has to hop on one leg and use the other one (no hands allowed!) to try to push their partner over! It’s like standing-up leg wrestling. Let’s see who’s got the best balance and endurance!
When Darwin and Brayan went head-to-head (below), neither one wanted to lose! Thank God that we have two very strong, godly men in our household!
Then it was my turn to go up against tough-as-nails Paola! After a pretty intense go of it I finally beat her as I ended up hopping on one leg after her all around the yard!
The grand finale! Teenagers Cristian and Derbin went at it for several minutes while the spectators looked on!
Who likes watermelon?! Did I mention that you can’t use your hands? Eat up, boys!
One of the last games was one I invented right on the spot, and it turned out to be a riot! I warned the kids that they would be participating in the world debut of a new game…They had to crawl on all fours with a spoon in their mouth before reaching bowls of shortening (like Crisco) and flour on the ground. They then had to fill the spoon with one of the ingredients before crawling to their teammate at the other end of the yard to start spreading the delicious ingredients all over their face. The object of the game? Who knows, but it was really funny to watch!
Watch out, kids! Here comes Darwin with a huge spoonful of flour! Run and hide!
Hey! I told them to just put the Crisco on their victims’ — er, I mean teammates’ — face! Poor Josue was covered from head to toe! (And poor Darwin and I who had to bathe him and Gaby afterwards! The real prize awaited me the next day when I went to wash his clothes — and we don’t have a washing machine!)
Now it’s Reina’s turn! You go, girl!
Yup! We successfully finished the game! How do I know? Because all the Crisco and flour were emptied from the bowls and applied successfully to the kids (and Darwin, far left)! This is a game everybody can win, right?
Our 16-year-old daughter Dayana (middle, red shirt) was not too happy with me because it took her lightyears to pick all the Crisco and flour — which turned into a dreadlock-like substance — from her very thick, curly hair! Needless to say, I don’t think she’ll be requesting the game at her next birthday party!
And, last but not least, at the end of the day-long event, our 8-year-old special-needs son Josue followed me into the kitchen where I snapped this priceless shot of him. It is my new favorite picture: every mother’s worst nightmare! He looks like a naughty little guy who’ll get into anything when momma’s not looking (which is actually quite true)!
Over the past several days I’ve spent close to a dozen hours reading our students’ ‘books’ — long handwritten reflections that they’ve carefully torn out of their school notebooks and stapled together. During the three weeks of intensive preparation that finished last Friday, every evening our students were given one or more reflection themes as homework to get them thinking and engage their hearts and minds. Reading their sincere reflections has allowed us to enter the inner world of each student, to know them better and witness close-hand the transformative work the Lord has begun in them.
Some of the reflection themes had to do with their current or future family while others were about their relationship with God, how they spent their school vacations, a situation they had to face with bravery or their personal opinion regarding whether or not cell phones are a healthy tool for teenagers to have. The writing prompts were all very open-ended, and the responses were intriguing.
Although our precious students have many grammatical errors, the heart of their message — the Truth shining forth from their small pencil-written letters and unorganized paragraphs — caught me off guard. It is for this reason that I’ve translated several excerpts from their writings to include them on this blog to encourage those around the world with the good work the Lord has begun in many young lives in Honduras. Seeing as I’ve only got about halfway through the enormous stack of reflections (each ‘book’ is 15+ pages), there will probably be another blog with additional excerpts in the upcoming days.
The following excerpts were written by Honduran youth ages 12-17 who are all currently in poverty, many of which do not live with their biological parents due to situations of abuse and neglect, and some of whom spent the first 10-12 years of their life without entering school. Some have been raised in devout Christian families while others found Christ through their relationship with us at the Living Waters Ranch.
I believe that God is the only one who can liberate us of all evil. We humans are very difficult because we tend to resist our divine Eternal Father and don’t want to be guided by Him, and that is why there are so many problems in life. – New female student, age 15 (8th grade)
My first week at the Living Waters Ranch high school was very special. God has been changing my life ever since I entered this new school. He has changed my whole life because now I read the Bible, which I never did before. I now pray every night. I am learning more about Jesus Christ, and God has changed my life, and I am so happy about that. Another thing that makes me happy is that God has cured me of the evil I did last year. I believe He has forgiven me.–New male student, age 14 (7th grade)
I suffered a lot with my biological mom because we did not have a stable home…We were vagabonds; we did not know how to read. In order to provide food for my siblings and I, my mom prostituted herself. My dad had other women. I do not want to suffer like my mom did…That is basically what happened with my biological family, but by the grace of God my siblings and I stayed alive and together.— One of our daughters, age 12 (6th grade)
I was lost, and God, through the Christian brethren at the Living Waters Ranch, opened my eyes…He sent His son to pay for us. Thanks to God, my life has changed for the better. God loves me. God is the answer to all problems. We must repent with all our heart, and He will understand. He is my father. He is like a lifesaver; in the middle of the ocean we must cling to Him. I was so far from God – a lot of television, just wandering around without purpose, dirty language, very irresponsible. Everything bad that happened to me I blamed God. I used to say, “If God is good, why did He let this happen to me?” I was so wrong, but God – through the Christians at the Ranch – opened my eyes.– Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)
Here in our neighborhood there was a man who liked the easy life. He was a drunkard and liked to play cards. He was also involved in drugs. One day he began reflecting over his life, and he began to seek God. He is now a pastor; he has two children and they follow him everywhere. He is so thankful to God for the change He made in him. This story has helped me because I feel that God is doing the same thing in me.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
God gave Himself up for all of us on the cross of Calvary so that we would have life in abundance. The Bible specifically tells us about the love that God has for us and what God is capable of as He transforms men. God makes no exception of people – we are poor, rich, small and big, and He takes no note of race or language. We are all important to Him, and God acts in various ways to liberate us from the error of sin that the whole world finds itself in. Many are in gangs or are drunkards; others have different errors but God sends people that He has already liberated so that they can talk to us, to those whom God wants to save. God’s Word says that even in our mother’s womb God chose us to be saved.– New male student, age 14 (7th grade)
In my life I want God to make me into one of His instruments. I want to counsel other youth and speak to them of the love God has for them. I also want to help street children, those without responsible parents. I would like to guide them on the right path. One day [last year] when I was in Bible study and my mom was talking about drug addicts and street children, I felt that God touched my heart and I sensed in my heart that God wants me to be the person to help those people, to share with them the good news that God has for them. I would also like to start a mission base just like the Living Waters Ranch in order to raise children and be the mom that they never had, to be a blessing to their lives.. — One of our daughters, age 16 (8th grade)
One verse that I read in the Bible this past week that impacted me is Proverbs 11:4. It says: “When you stand before the Great Judge, your riches will not be able to save you; only doing what is just will liberate you from death.” This means that not even the richest person can buy their own life in God’s presence. It makes me think that being rich would not help me because salvation is not bought with money.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
Nowadays all the youth stop studying in order to spend time on their cellphone. I spent three years [they were actually only two, but he always says three] in fifth grade because I was distracted with my cellphone. If I were you, I would put my cellphone away so that you don’t lose points. Plus, the teacher will take the cellphone away from you. I am very proud of myself because I no longer have a cellphone, and now I am more focused than I could have ever imagined, and I thank God for that. This is my opinion.— One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)
To me, a problem in our neighborhood is that there is a lot of trash on the ground. We should not throw it on the ground because is takes a million years to renew itself, and that’s a long time.— One of our daughters, age 12 (6th grade)
When I began writing the Proverbs [for homework during the Intensive Preparation], at first I did not want to copy them, but then all of a sudden I felt that I wanted to do it because I found a lot of great advice that would prove helpful in my life. I now feel that every time I sit down to write the Proverbs, God is telling me, “I am waiting for you. Sit down and write, and you will be blessed by my teachings.” Also, if one hopes to correct himself, he’s got to read Proverbs. In that way we will not join up with the foolish. – Returning male student, age 15 (5th grade)
One day Brayan and I were in a verbal spat on the porch, so Pa Darwin came and sent us both out to the yard to pull up weeds for a good while. I have a phrase that I invented: “Sometimes hard things happen, but it’s better to shut your mouth.” — One of our daughters, age 12 (4th grade)
In my life I already have experiences and I have seen how God manifests Himself through those who obey His Word.– New male student, age 14 (7th grade)
When I’m an adult, I want my children to be Christ-centered leaders, just like their parents.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
Me in the past, I was a cow-herder. I did not know anything; I was not a Christian until I met Darwin and Jennifer. I started to talk with them, and I became a child of God. I am now a follower of Jesus Christ. When I was little I suffered a lot. Now that I am a Christian I enjoy the love of God and I do not ignore people. When someone insults me, the only thing I do is say, “God bless you.” Now the moments of my life are better than they were before. — One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)
Proverbs 8:36 was very impactful in my life because it says “Those that offend Me put their life in danger; to hate Me is to love death.” This impacted me because the teaching is that he who hates God is a lover of death and of Satan. The people in this world don’t know what they do; they go to church but keep sinning against God. We people play with God, but we do not truly think that our body has a limit, and that limit is death. But even so we rebel against the goodness of God. — Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
When I’m grown up, I want my wife and I to be responsible parents. I will give thanks to God for the wife He gives me. Also, with my wife I want to help needy people — those who need help raising their children. I want to have 3 biological children and 5 adopted ones, and I want to be faithful to them. I want to form them into well-educated sons and daughters, receiving them from different places. I want to be a loving husband and a loving person. I also desire for God to guide my wife and I on the path of justice; may He give us the hope of really and truly helping others in the same way that God changed me. — One of our sons, age 15 (6th grade)
[In regards to the 3 weeks of intensive preparation] …I learned that if I don’t turn in my homework, I have to go to detention and I lose a lot of points…I learned that if I put forth a good effort, good things happen. – Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)
I want to study at the Living Waters Ranch because I want to honor my parents. I am going to learn how to be a Christian leader. The teachers treasure and love me, and I them. Thanks to the teachers, I feel extremely encouraged because they say I’m off to a good start and that I should keep up the same pace until the end. I know that we students sometimes get really foolish and don’t do our homework, but thanks to God that now the Living Waters Ranch has detention.— Returning male student, age 15 (7th grade)
One of my dreams is to become a gynecologist, but if I don’t do that, then I’d like to be a pediatrician in order to help needy children. Another dream that I have is to be a prophet. Each day I ask God to grant me more and more wisdom…— Returning male student, age 14 (8th grade)
In the earlier years of my life, my relationship with Satan was perfect, but my relationship with God was terrible. I did not know God’s love. The Lord called me several times, but I never responded… Now, years later, I have the knowledge of God and I know Him personally. He is marvelous and powerful. Satan is a nobody. Satan promises to offer you things that he himself doesn’t even have. Now I love God with all my heart. I accepted Christ and am 100% submitted to His will.— New male student, age 17 (8th grade)
Friday afternoon we celebrated the birthday of not one person but eight — one of our daughters, six of our students, and one of our teachers.
After a busy week that presented many unexpected demands (as they all tend to be), I hustled over to our community kitchen about an hour before all of our students would get out of class and began whipping up strawberry cake batter and decorating bright-colored poster boards to hang up in our dining room. I sprinted over and popped my head in our three classrooms to let all of our students know that they were invited to stay from 12:30-2:30pm for our community birthday celebration if they wanted to. (To my surprise, all but a couple enthusiastically accepted the dreadfully informal invitation and stuck around for the party.)
I then hustled back over to our kitchen as the clocked ticked down. The students would all pour out of their classrooms in like 16 minutes, and the cake wasn’t even ready, much less iced, and I still needed to finish the meager decorations and plan what on earth I would actually do with like 25 people for two hours of planned group activities that I hadn’t planned!
Well, with quite a bit of creative improvisation and rugged team-work with our beloved teachers, what seemed to me to be a pretty last-minute, poorly planned effort turned out to be a raging hoot and holler.
The gold medal goes to Miss Ligia (age 29, high school teacher) and Miss Isis (age 22, elementary school teacher) for putting themselves out there and participating with their students in all of the games and competitions I thrust upon them! Neither one is naturally very athletic, but they both got their hands (and heads, knees, and more!) dirty right alongside of their students.
In a country deeply wounded by murder, petty theft, betrayal, corruption and an almost tangible feeling of inadequacy and despair, it truly was beautiful to spend an afternoon enjoying godly friendship — helping one another up, cheering one another on, working as a team, whooping and roaring with side-splitting laughter, praying over those whose birthdays we were celebrating, and running until you can’t breathe anymore.
In this land deeply lacerated — tormented — by teen pregnancy and unbridled delinquency, what a blessing it is to see teens playing together — loving rather than hating, supporting rather than destroying, giggling rather than being overcome by desperation, participating in a raw innocence that comes from the Father rather than falling prey to Satan’s treacherousness.
Rouge teens on a forgotten corner of the earth who might otherwise be involved in gangs — many of whom are recognizing and confessing for the first time in their lives that they are addicted to pornography — learning the heart of the Father, asking earnest questions and seeking out the Truth. Young women emerging from devastating situations of abuse and abandonment clinging to the freedom offered them in Christ rather than remaining trapped in the oppressive environment of despair, single-motherhood and self-loathing the world around them offers. Desperately poor youth learning the riches of a just, redeeming God.
As we grow together as a community — as a patchwork family, a school, a discipleship center — in the knowledge and love of our Father, He concedes us an uncommon joy, a wild delight. So here’s to His uncommon ways, His active work among His people from every tribe, tongue and nation in today’s world.
Below are the photos I took of the unexpectedly joyous occasion we had on Friday as we delighted in a glimpse of heaven in the midst of a land that oftentimes seems trapped in hell. Praise God for the utterly liberating work He is unleashing among us!
Amen! Glory to our Father who establishes His Kingdom in the most unlikely of places!