This past Saturday our rickety 2001 cab-and-a-half truck carried a few additional rabble-rousers in its precious load as it went rumbling up that long gravel mountain road to our mentors’ home.
We were headed to our faith community’s annual 2-mile road race, and five of our students/choir members were invited for the special 2-day event. (Organized road races or almost any other kind of healthy, fun activity very rarely occur in our part of the world, so when they do it’s a really big deal.)
We would be spending the night in a cabin — Darwin and I and 12 wily youth — on our mentors’ property so we could also attend the weekly Discipleship Group that would be held the following morning.
Everyone’s arms and backpacks were filled with pillows, blankets, Bibles, a change of clothes, and toothbrushes (well, I think some of the kids forgot those…) as everyone squeezed in for the journey. (Of course, our car has held up to 20-25 people on certain choir trips, but this load of 14 was nonetheless interesting due to the additional luggage each person brought.)
So our car faithfully made the hour-and-fifteen-minute trip from our rural property through the city of La Ceiba and up a remote mountain road as faces poked out windows and people sat perilously perched on backpacks. Watch out for the potholes!
I had honestly felt quite anxious about the trip, dogged by a sense of dread about inviting five teen boys to accompany our family on an overnight trip — those same boys that our daughters have had crushes on at different times! Red alert!
But, remembering the scripture we have been studying for quite some time as a family/community (Philippians 4:4-7), I very intentionally began waging war against that astute opponent named Worry, pleading God to replace my anxiety with Christ’s perfect peace. I desired to trust God rather than cling to my own illusion of control, so I prayed vigorously for our potentially precarious situation, that God would be glorified in everyone’s behavior and attitudes (even in mine).
May You protect the youth from any flirting or inappropriate behavior, and may You protect me from falling prey to Worry. May we all draw nearer to You during this trip, Jesus, and may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
As we jostled up the pot-hole-splattered road I continued to pray silently as I fought diligently to shake Worry from where it perched on my shoulder, snarling and extending its long claws toward my neck.
I remembered: Rather than worry, pray. Place all your concerns on Christ, for He cares for us. Rejoice in Father God at all times, giving Him thanks in every situation.
We had, after all, talked extensively with our kids — especially our girls — about behavior expectations prior to embarking on the journey, and everyone knew they had to stay together as a group with Darwin and I, so I finally just let loose and dared to trust God.
I slowly felt the Christ’s unexplainable peace overcome my petty grasp at control as He shooed away Worry.
Released from those claws that had so adeptly inched toward my neck only moments prior, my body suddenly skipped from dread to an electrified sense of newfound glee — a God-given ecstasy that is granted even in the most unexpected of circumstances.
I glanced over at Darwin, who this time found himself in the passenger’s seat. My eyes lit up with mischief as I thrust the steering wheel to the left and then suddenly to the right, propelling the car in a wild zig-zag pattern up that long, empty road as the kids squealed with delight and everyone hung on for dear life, hair flying and backpacks sliding everywhere. I threw my head back and laughed as Darwin stared at me disapprovingly after having just eaten his lunch and suddenly feeling nauseous.
Mustering a benign scold as the car continued onward in its rambunctious zig-zag, he advised: “With so many kids in the back, I sure hope they don’t whack their heads…”
My whole body now rejoicing in an all-consuming grin, I reeled with increasing laughter: “Nonsense! They love when I do this…”
As knuckles turned pale, grasping desperately at the car’s slippery surface and young throats let out joyous whoops, we finally came to an (intentionally) abrupt stop along the road. It was time to take pictures!
Ten of the youth participated in the road race in addition to Darwin and I, and — Praise God! — the two-day event proved fruitful and blessed.
Everyone’s behavior was exemplary — our young male students behaved as perfect gentlemen, lovingly submitting themselves to our authority, and our girls shone brightly with God’s glory as they put into practice appropriate social norms as they interacted wisely with the opposite sex. (Oh, this has been a long and gruesome battle to recapture innocence, to submit to a pure God in a culture so stained by sexual sin, abuse and trickery! Through tears we thank Him for these small — huge! — steps of progress, of prayers answered and lives being liberated from Satan’s grasp.)
Saturday evening as we sat around the (very) long wooden table in our mentors’ rustic dining room, I was taken aback, suddenly caught up in awe. I looked across the table.
There sat Darwin enjoying his dinner and engaging in joyful conversation, surrounded by those same five young men whom I didn’t want to invite. I studied their faces, aglow with life, with innocence, that too many youth here rarely — if ever — experience.
Too many young men in this country (world?) experience deadening boredom, terrible deeds cloaked in darkness, paralyzing shame, utter purposelessness. But joy? What young men actually dare to seek true joy in the Living God?
Those who trust they will find it, find Him.
I carefully allowed the moment to ingrain itself in my memory, receiving it as if it were a portrait of God’s active, redeeming work in the world, His daring rescue mission on enemy territory.
I studied Exson, this 18-year-old who can barely read, he who since becoming our student in our discipleship-based 7th-grade program in February of this year has very quickly (and unexpectedly) become like an extended member of our family. He who only a few days prior stayed after class with his 14-year-old sister Messy (who is also in our program, pictured to the right) to talk with me, both sharing through sincere emotion how much God is touching their lives, transforming them. This same young man who very easily could have fallen into those murderous gangs that so many local young men his age have fallen into, but — by divine grace — has rather fallen into the trap of God’s love.
Yes, it scares me silly to include an 18-year-old young man who has only been deeply exposed to God’s Word in the last several months and who is still on the verge of making a decision for Christ in the same family outing with our daughters, but is this not God’s radical plan? To come for the sick, the lost, to set up a rescue shop within a yard of hell? (See: A Rescue Shop Within a Yard of Hell and By God’s Design: Zebras in Honduras)
Oh, how many times have I resisted Christ’s command to love boundlessly – how meticulously have I set up those strict, self-protecting barrier lines! You can come to this certain point, and then you’ll come no further. We receive you in our home all week long, but our weekends will be spent exclusively on those 7, 8, 9 who call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’. You’ve reached your limit! No more grace!
And how many times has my Father lovingly said, “Jennifer, My will goes beyond your comfort zone. When you are weak – tired, spent – I am strong. Receive these boys — speak to them of Me, show them a more excellent way – even when it doesn’t fit comfortably in your agenda. The manmade boundaries of ‘personal time’ have no meaning in my Kingdom. My extravagant love for humanity culminated in my own gruesome death, and I’ve called you to follow Me in the same way. Die so that you may live, so that My love may be made known to all mankind.”
My eyes traced the lit-up faces of the other young men, two of which have wholeheartedly received the Gospel and three of which are constantly infiltrated by the good news of Jesus, exposed to the Truth of the Kingdom. It’s only a matter of time.
These young men — some of whom live in shanties with many malnourished family members, others who not two years ago did not know the alphabet. Others who have stolen from us, been led to ask forgiveness, start anew. Several of whom have stormed off our property, frustrated by the strict discipline, the command to love, swearing they would never come back.
But there they were.
Against all odds — even against my own will! — there they were, populating the long wooden table that does not typically have a seat reserved for them. Surely God is doing something in them, in me.
Around 8:30pm after engaging in riotous competitions — push-ups, planks, leg-lifts, etc — we all headed to the primitive cabin we would be staying in. Darwin and I with our 7 kids in one section, our 5 neighbor-student boys in a separate part.
As I moved quietly about in the dim room, illuminating the simple space with my headlamp as I searched for my toothbrush, I heard Brayan’s low voice softly permeating the wall that separated us. Against all odds (alas, that is a phrase that seems to be used in our daily vocabulary!), Brayan was leading the other young men as they sought to memorize the Bible verses for the next morning.
“Be full of joy in the Lord always. I will say again, be full of joy.” After Brayan’s voice I heard other, quieter voices, echoing the same. A unanimous call to joy in the Living God, that joy that the world cannot strip from us.
I smiled as his gravelly voice floated toward me. It was the same verse the Lord used to rescue me earlier that day from those long fingers of Worry that threatened to choke me.
He continued, oblivious to the fact that I could hear him, seeking to impress no one but his Father: “Let all men see that you are gentle and kind. The Lord is coming soon. Do not worry about anything. But pray and ask God for everything you need. And when you pray, always give thanks. And God’s peace will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The peace that God gives is so great that we cannot understand it.”
I was unable to constrain my joy any longer as it came violently bubbling up in my chest – that same Brayan whom we loved as a son, who left our care only to wander aimlessly during many months, who has since returned wholeheartedly to Christ, to us, is now leading other lost young men on the Way! I let out a silly whoop in the darkness and engaged our prodigal son in that growing inside joke we have about being full of joy: “Brayan, be full of joy! Always be full of joy in the Lord!”
My infectious giggles rose high as he suddenly stopped reading, obviously caught off guard by my interruption from the other side of the wall. He paused just long enough to let out a good-natured scold that undoubtedly came through a big, cheesy grin: “Ma, now I don’t want to hear a lot of ruckus tonight. Behave yourself.”
Amen! Glory to God!