Tag Archives: Hendrix College alumni

The Narrow Path

Our 24-year-old Christian psychologist (red shirt) didn’t know what she was getting into when she decided to join the ‘narrow path’ group! Next to her (white shirt) is one of our teen foster daughters who likewise chose the difficult journey. Many of the girls in their knee-length uniform skirt finished the challenge with scuffed and even bloody knees. Several cried out of desperation as the journey of shame extended close to an hour and they wondered when it would end. Our teachers finished completely bathed in sweat and with dirt all over their clothes. It definitely was the more difficult path!

Twice weekly at the Living Waters Ranch all of our staff (a small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionaries/teachers plus my husband and me) and about 30 or so of our more mature students gather together in our large, cement-floored dining room for Bible study. We sit on wooden benches in a large, imperfect circle as we worship God together through song and then seek to grow together in knowledge of the truth and obedience as we study His Word.

We have gone through many different and very edifying topics this year: the existence of evil in the world, existential questions (and their Biblical answers), God’s desire that we connect with him and with other human beings (and that we not connect exclusively with technology/machines), several of Jesus’ parables and teachings, archeological evidence that backs the Bible’s veracity, our sexual identity as men and women made in God’s image, etc.

As has happened to me on many occasions, while I am reading the Bible or simply going about my daily business it is as though out of nowhere God deposits an idea or a direction into my mind that I am then to go share with everyone else during our group Bible study time. The following story is one such case.

A few weeks ago in my free time I was reading the book Jesus Calling, a wonderful devotional book. The certain page I was on mentioned something about the fact that we humans tend to pick the path of least resistance. I remember that the devotion itself was about an entirely different theme, but my eyes studied that one phrase about a dozen times as an idea was suddenly deposited very abruptly and undeniably into my mind, and my hand burned to write it down. I grabbed my little teal-colored spiral notebook where I do my planning for the twice-weekly Bible studies, and my hand furiously began tracing out a long, intricate plan. I felt that I had to write it down as quickly as possible so that the precious idea would not get lost among the many other thoughts that are always bouncing around my mind. Once all written down (including little drawings that gave more life to the overall idea), I became extremely surprised and excited. I couldn’t believe I had to wait two or three more days until the chance would arrive to put into action the idea that God had just given me! It would be a powerful illustration for all: presented the option to choose the easier way or that which promises immense difficulty, which will you choose? (And how can we then use this ‘game’ to better understand – and choose! – the narrow path of Christ which leads to eternal life?)

Crawling backwards several hundred yards on rocky terrain with his shoes on his hands, blindfold secured and a pencil gripped between his teeth as over a dozen teenagers mocked him and did all they could to obstruct his path: This is 29-year-old Erick, one of our extremely dedicated local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in the classroom, relational discipleship and organic agriculture with the teenagers in our Christ-centered homeschool program for disadvantaged youth.

The challenge would be simple: we would exit our concrete-floored dining room (our normal setting for Bible study) en masse in order to go out onto our front lawn to engage in a hands-on demonstration of what it means to choose between the narrow (hard) and the wide (easy) path. Many of our teens have heard this teaching of Jesus’ many times, but to live it in a condensed period in order to grant greater reflection? This would be the first time.

One of our teachers helped me to film the majority of the event (also a first, as we typically don’t film our Bible studies) as I began explaining to everyone that they would each be given to options:

Wide, Easy Path:

  • You can walk, run, give a friend a piggy-back ride, etc. (You may travel any way you choose.)
  • You can talk, joke, make fun of others, etc.
  • Your goal: reach the large fruit tree (beyond the Living Waters Ranch’s front gate) a few hundred meters from our starting spot.
  • (Oh, and please do everything you can to discourage and make fun of those on the narrow path. You can put obstacles in their path, try to confuse or distract them, etc, but please don’t physically harm them.) Have fun as much fun as possible!

Narrow, Hard Path:

  • You cannot travel as you choose. You must crawl backwards with a blindfold in place, effectively destroying your ability to see where you are going. You must also grip a pencil between your teeth, impeding your speech.
  • You may not talk with anyone. If you are lost and need help, the only thing you can say is, “Help! Help! Where am I going?” and if at any point your shoes come off your hands or your pencil falls out of your mouth, you must immediately say, “Forgive me.” You may not say anything else at any point.
  • You must not listen to or heed anyone’s voice but Jennifer’s.
  • Your end goal is the same as the other group’s (the large fruit tree a good distance off).
  • You are free to give up at any point and join the easier group.

As I explained the rather simple instructions to the large group in front of me, each person was completely free to join the “wide path” – the group that promised total ease, or the “narrow path” – that which physically would prove more challenging (not to mention the potential embarrassment at having to crawl backwards such a long distance in the manner I had proposed).

The plaid shirt belongs to 34-year-old Geraldina, the local Christian woman who serves with us in cooking and cleaning and is in one-on-one literacy classes as she learns to read and write for the first time in her life. She exhibited incredible bravery as she crossed the pile of tires without being able to see where she was going! (And they kept moving the tires as she tried to pass in order to make it more difficult.)

I thought that surely only two or three of our more outgoing teen boys would dare to join the “narrow path,” but much to my surprise 12 students and 3 teachers chose it by their own free will! They were very brave indeed.

A couple teens were indecisive and eventually chose the easier group with the rest of the roughly twenty participants. Let the games begin! (I had never orchestrated this type of large-group challenge before, so in my planning I thought we would take 15-20 minutes tops, but the whole ordeal extended beyond an hour.)

Those who had chosen the narrow path grabbed their blindfolds and submitted themselves to the embarrassing position on all fours as I egged the “wide path” participants on to make the lives of the “narrow path” participants as unbearable as possible.

Our 14-year-old foster daughter, Jackeline, on the hard path…

My 15 brave souls lined up, all totally blindfolded and unable to see, and they each had to crawl backwards through a hula-hoop that represented the moment of salvation. (This is part of the idea of “a door and a path” that I understand from God’s Word. We must first walk through the door of repentance and salvation – that first moment of trusting in Christ – and then there is a long path, oftentimes difficult, before us that extends until the end of our lives.)

The game got complicated quickly as some of my blindfolded participants sped off down the path, effectively beyond earshot, while I had to stay behind trying to guide those who dragged along slowly. I walked between blinded participants trying to guide and encourage them as best I could. More than one of them began scooting off in the wrong direction, heading for the middle of the cows’ pasture, and others bumped into the fence or couldn’t find the gate to pass through.

Those who were free to walk as they chose (those on the wide path, which represents the way of the world in which all is permitted) really did a phenomenal job making the crawlers’ lives impossible. At first they just tried to verbally discourage them, laugh at them and disorient them, but soon enough they got creative and began obstructing their path with tires and fallen branches. They even reached the point of picking up certain smaller students and completely relocating them in order to confuse them further and physically resisting the crawling people with their own weight and cunning. Crawling backwards blindfolded several hundred meters over rocks would have been a good enough lesson, but with the “evil” tactics of the other members they truly made the journey painful and nearly impossible. (And isn’t this a perfect illustration of the Christian life? Is it not true that those who are in the world try to discourage, disorient and make fun of those who are on the narrow path of Christ? Yes; this was panning out to be the perfect illustration of the spiritual walk with Christ – difficult; at times lonely; trusting a voice that you cannot see.)

The limited pages of this post do not allow me the space necessary to adequately explain the depths of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. What began as a let’s-see-how-this-goes teaching experiment turned out to be an epic battle between good and evil. It was the ultimate test of perseverance and faith, and as we meditated on the spiritual ramifications we felt like we were walking on sacred ground, discovering just what it takes to follow Christ until the end.

At one point after we crossed the threshold of the outer gate on our rural property and were then at-large in the outskirts of our town (a large, strange mass of people crawling around blindfolded while others shrieked and cackled as they threw tires in their path) a local young man and his friends stopped dead in their tracks, stunned and impressed by the strange game we were doing. This opened the door for one of our veteran teachers to talk to him about the way of Christ, and he stood with her, listening, for several minutes as he observed with awe the spectacle before him.

Every time he tried to go beneath the branch, they would lower it. When he would try to go over it, they would raise it up. They tormented him with this for several minutes before finally letting him pass!

The entire experience lasted much longer than any of us had imagined, and we went far beyond the time allotted for our bi-weekly Bible study. We had already passed the time for prayer groups and were willing to use up our recess time in order to finish what we had started. The only thing that mattered was the goal of reaching the fruit tree beyond the gate.

In Honduran culture, perseverance is not always a very strong point in our area as many people give up on their education, their families, etc, when confronted with difficulties, so the very fact that 15 people dared to participate in this daunting task (and 14 completed it; only 1 decided to give up) was reason to give thanks to God for the gritty character He is forming in those under our guidance. Wow!

Well, the biggest surprise was reserved for last. Once everyone reached their goal of arriving at the distant fruit tree, those on the narrow path soaked with sweat and dirty from head to toe (and many with very raw emotions after having been effectively bullied to their breaking point), everyone trudged back up the long, gravel path to our starting point: our large, concrete-floored dining room where our traditional wooden benches awaited us. Everyone thought the activity had finished, but I knew that the best was reserved for last: each person’s recompense for the path they had chosen.

Everyone trudged back into our dining room as their faces displayed that they were more than ready for this whole experiment to be over with. I sat them all down and then asked for those who were on the wide, easy path to stand in the middle of the circle. They all whooped and hollered and stood proudly in the middle of the wooden benches as I explained that they had definitely chosen what was easier and that they had been very astute to take care of their appearance so that no one would bully them. They had, after all, chosen what any intelligent person would choose: the path of least resistance. I congratulated them for their participation and then handed each of them a piece of candy, encouraging them to go ahead and eat their reward. They whooped and hollered again and then fell into sudden silence when they began opening their candy wrappers and popping into their mouths…balls of gooey flour! I had created “trick candy” the day before during a slot of free time I had – the candy wasn’t candy at all! Their reward was pure deceit…

They laughed and returned to their seats, effectively without any reward at all. I then asked the weary, bullied members of the narrow, difficult path to stand up in the middle of the circle of wooden benches. They studied me carefully, wondering what their prize would be. Was their going to be any prize at all, or just a simple pat-on-the-back of congratulation? I could barely contain my excitement, for I knew just what was in store for this brave, faithful group.

I began handing out an envelope for each one and then instructed them to open them all at once. What was inside? The Honduran equivalent of $10, which is a lot of money here, and a handmade coupon stating that they had also won a soda and a big bag of chips (a really popular snack in Honduran culture) and that two of their detentions would be erased at the end of the grading period (a big plus for any student in academic trouble).

They began squealing with delight and reveling in their extravagant reward – it was much greater than anything they had every imagined. In that moment our young psychologist, who is in her first year of service with us, unexpectedly broke out in tears and came over to me to receive a long hug.

Amidst the great celebration for those who had persevered in the difficult path, all of their trouble suddenly seemed forgotten as the prize greatly outweighed any difficulty they confronted along the grueling path.

There are so many parallels between this moring-hour challenge and the ongoing path for each one of us as we choose between the wide, easy path of the world (where any belief, action or attitude is permitted with great tolerance) and the narrow, difficult path of Christ that, in the end, provides a greater recompense than any of us could have ever imagined.

We spent the next two Bible studies reviewing the videos taken and discussing in-depth the many parallels between our game and the spiritual reality in each of our lives. Praise be to God for this wacky yet extremely effective idea He planted in me several weeks ago, and please continue to pray with us that each of the youth under our guidance would joyfully choose the narrow path of Christ and live for Him as they eagerly await the reward of an eternity with God.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. Please know that we could not operate the way we do as we touch lives with God’s Word and His love if it were not for your generosity in partnering with us. Thank you for trusting us, and God bless each of you. Please be encouraged by this story of the narrow path.

With gratitude and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew

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.

 

Personal Reflection: Our Current Season of Life and Ministry

I write to you from our rural homestead in Honduras, Central America where the Lord has planted us firmly with the purpose of parenting the orphaned, proclaiming His Word, teaching the ignorant, reaching out to the destitute in our area with tangible help and living a simple, honest life with and for Christ.

Next month my husband, who is a native Honduran whom I met here in Honduras while I was already walking the path the Lord had placed before me, and I will celebrate five years of marriage, and a few months after that we will celebrate five years of parenting the orphaned and ministering to the lost together for God’s glory. Four months after we married in 2013 our first three children arrived – the eldest of whom was 13 years old when she moved in, only 10 years younger than me.

The current season of life, of marriage, of ministry and parenting that we are in is definitely new. Our house used to be filled with childhood relics – baby dolls and stuffed animals, sound-it-out books for those learning to read for the first time, pint-sized clothes that fit malnourished frames, and the like.

Now – especially since two of our younger foster daughters left our home in January of this year to begin living with a stable Christian aunt – our home is full not of clingy, eyes-wide-because-everything-is-new-and-exciting children, but rather seasoned teenagers who have seen and heard just about everything, and now all that’s left is really believing it with all their heart and putting it into practice. Our two youngest will turn 10 and 11 within the next two months, and our older teens already have their eyes fixed on university goals and desires for marriage someday.

Our eldest daughter has learned to drive our old pickup and now routinely shuttles over a dozen of our teachers and local students to and from our home each day. She turns 18 in just a few months. One of our other teen daughters is now enrolled in a beauty class in our discipleship-based homeschool program and cut my hair not four days ago with the helpful oversight of her instructor. This upcoming week five of our kids will be traveling with my husband Darwin to one of Honduras’ largest cities to participate in a music concert by an internationally-renowned director. They have been preparing for weeks.

I, like our children, used to feel like everything was new and exciting – every new or meaningful encounter, every inquisitive question they asked me about God or His Word, every heart-warming interaction that occurred in our non-traditional family – I wrote it down and felt compelled to share it with the world. I was a heart-on-fire idealist for Christ; I wanted to change the world; I found deep meaning in everything; every day was an adventure.

This current season is not like that. This season is not bad or boring or disappointing; I simply think I’m entering new depths, new understanding that is necessary for this marathon race that I had originally misunderstood to be a sprint (and I definitely did get tired a few hundred meters into the wild dash).

We’re now more organized; our days are largely more predictable than they once were; our kids have less emotional meltdowns; we’ve grown in knowledge of His Word; and we’re now better equipped to handle the many situations thrown at us daily, whereas before most things used to catch us blindsided or throw us off balance.

We’ve invested what the Lord has given us – His Word and His love, material provision, relational availability, counsel, our very lives — in certain people here only to see them eventually turn their back on the Lord and on us. This has been heartbreaking, but after having occurred numerous times it is no longer surprising. We’ve seen people come to the Lord and others stray from their commitment to Him. We’ve seen people we love make God-honoring decisions, and we’ve seen others we love make the worst decision possible even after receiving great amounts of godly counsel. Sometimes our foster teens surprise us with Spirit-led revelation or genuine spiritual hunger in their lives, and at other times I am left frustrated at their selfishness and spiritual coldness (and mine).

Many profound, even tear-jerking things do still occur – and perhaps even more frequently so than before – in our household, and I do still receive revelations from the Lord, but I have not felt as compelled to write. Or perhaps I have not even known where to start.

From age 17 on I filled up one hand-written journal after another – in addition to several hundred pages of written logs on my laptop – as I fervently sought the Lord, asked Him my questions, searched high and low for my life’s calling and reflected on just about every event that unfolded in my daily life. It was through this incessant search – desperate even – that the Lord revealed to me at age 20 that my role in His Kingdom here on earth would be to be a mother to those who have none. With time He has expanded, deepened that call to now include the relational discipleship and integral teaching we dedicate ourselves to in our home for dozens of local youth in addition to the 8 who live in our home.

I had to learn Spanish, and I have learned it. I did not know if I was ever going to get married, but the Lord provided a faithful, loving husband for me (and permanent father for our children who all come from fatherless backgrounds). I had to be willing to give my own life away – give up on my own plans, relinquish my own ‘freedom’ and personal space – and the Lord has given not only me but also my husband the grace to live this lifestyle of radical hospitality in Christ, of Biblical parenthood for the orphaned and abandoned. Our lives are not our own; we are truly walking in our call.

Six or seven years ago there were so many unknowns in my life, so many questions I pleaded God to answer. I was like a little, impatient child tugging on their Father’s pants-leg and staring up at Him, waiting for the answers.

And He’s given them, and by some miracle I have believed – and not only in my heart but also with my life, with actions, with a daily walk. He’s been so generous, so gracious in our errors and mishaps; He has been such a good teacher, a patient Father to us in these first five years in the trenches!

So, my question – however absurd or naïve it may sound – is: now what? Not ‘now what?’ in the sense of we’re-going-to-now-move-to-another-place-and-do-something-entirely-different-with-our-lives, but in the sense of, really, what does the Lord now have for us? Right here, with these same kids who are now teens and in these same little multi-colored buildings where He’s taught us so much already – what is in store for this new season? Is it just more of the same, but a deepening of it, a downward plunge into greater depths of excellence, of wisdom, of divine communion? In many ways I am in need of a new word from Him.

This season has brought and continues to bring many blessings, two of which are the new teen girls who moved in with us late last year and have become integral parts of our family. This has been a new trek – becoming mom all over again, this time to girls well into adolescence who have already had many ‘moms.’ This journey has been beautiful and has proved to bring unexpected joy to our household in addition to the expected trials the girls present and the sacrifice required of my husband Darwin and I to parent them with grace, according to God’s Word.

This year – this season – I teach an advanced math class for 16 teen students in the Christian school we operate out of our home, and I share God’s Word three times weekly in our large group Bible study where we gather in our dining room with about 40 people or so. I teach a dynamic (and pretty funny) karate class on Wednesday afternoons, and I serve in a much less hands-on role administratively in our office this year, making sure all runs smoothly alongside of our dedicated Honduran staff. I handwash our clothes. I water the plants. I share the cooking load with our teenage girls (and our 10-year-old son Jason who loves to work in the kitchen). I listen to Christian sermons and teaching series online in my free time to continue growing. On weekends Darwin and I do maintenance and physical labor chores with our kids around our extensive rural property. We read the Word together as a family. I oversee our kids in their daily chores and academic activities. My husband and I play chauffer for our teens on their way to music and dance classes. I lend a listening ear and a prayerful heart to our local students who oftentimes seek me out to help them in conflict resolution or if they simply want to vent. On an ongoing basis I seek to discern, to listen, to whatever it is that God wants to teach us on this narrow, beautiful path with Him.

So, I’m not sure if this not-so-organized post will prove interesting or noteworthy to anyone who reads it, but I do thank all of you who pray for us and support this work on an ongoing basis. Please know that we continue onward with great faithfulness, and daily ask God to make grow these many seeds we are planting all around us. My writing patterns over the coming months may prove more sporadic as I have not been as led to write all our daily reflections as I have in years past, but this does not indicate that the work in Honduras is faltering or stagnant. We love Christ and daily seek to draw nearer to Him as our very lives are permanently marked with the good news of His salvation. His eternal Kingdom is our goal, and we desperately ask Him to bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

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.

The Reading Class Paparazzi

This morning I had the privilege of going room-to-room around our rural property to take each of our students out of their respective reading classes in order to take an individual photo of them.

After initially having signed up close to 70 students during our enrollment time in January, we currently have 60 who have persevered (this is normal in our area where drop-out rates are high and limited perspectives abound) and are already two-and-a-half weeks into a very rigorous, fun, and blessed year of Christian discipleship, academic classes, organic agriculture, music, and community service/evangelism with us.

Our students come from all walks of life — some are good, normal kids who come from stable families and simply need to grow in the truth of Christ; others are well into their teens and are just now entering primary school; still others have catastrophic backgrounds and are coming to know what it is to grow in a loving, God-fearing environment for the first time in their lives. This year we have several older teen boys (15-18 years old) who have decided to enter our discipleship-based homeschool after having spent the last several years of their lives working full-time or simply roaming our rural neighborhood without direction. The majority of our students have lost at least one of their parents, and even as we are in the mere beginnings of this year the Lord’s work has already begun to manifest itself in the lives of several of them.

So, this morning I walked out the front door of our cinderblock home and crossed our front yard as I entered the little bright-colored buildings to greet our precious children and teens for the second time today (the first time was this morning at 6:45am as they came streaming through our front gate, each one received by name with a hug and/or handshake). During this process of taking the individual shots, I also took photos of various groups of students who were enjoying their reading class out on our front lawn and alongside the shade of our front porch.

Enjoy the first batch of many photos that we will take this year. I didn’t include all 60 of our students, but here is a portion of them in no particular order…








Hidden Miracles of Servanthood

Many small, beautiful shifts in attitude and perspective that would go completely overlooked by the untrained eye have been occurring in our household over the last few weeks.

The ongoing — and literally daily — task of managing our household’s laundry is a job that honestly no one enjoys doing. With then-ten (now twelve) people in our household and no washing machine or clothes dryer, the task of juggling what’s clean and what’s dirty — and where to hang the wet clothes out to dry during the rainy season — can be taken as a great headache. Plus, two of our precious children who are developmentally challenged frequently wet their beds at night or have poo- and pee-accidents in their clothing (and on rugs and towels) during the daytime, so lump bedspreads, towels, sheets and underwear all stained in pee and poo in the mix with several bucketsful of dirt- and sweat-stained clothing from all our other kids (all of which is to be washed by hand in our outdoor washboard station one piece at a time), you’ve got to find a system that works and the right mentality in order to not feel constantly frustrated.

Oh, we’ve had the bleach fall in the hands of mischevious children, ruining dozens of pieces of clothing in their halfhearted attempts at washing. We’ve had all of our clothes hanging out to dry when a sudden unexpected rain storm comes through and wets every piece to the bone within minutes, thus leading us to have to wait another day or two (or three of four depending how long the rain lasts) for the clothes to dry. During the really intense part of the rainy season (like right now), we’ve had to hang clothes up to dry inside our humid house — over doors, on bunkbed posts, on hangers hanging from open doorways, etc — with floorfans blowing on them just so that our kids would be able to put on a semi-dry school uniform the next day and not go soaking wet (as they’ve had to do on occasions). Basically any and every issue that a large family might face with managing laundry (multiplied by our context in a third world country), we’ve faced it. This has been just one small, yet constant, aspect of our daily life.

Needless to say, I’ve perhaps been the captain of the protest march in all this. I’ve tried to hide my own bad attitude in regards to our laundry woes, but it has shined through spectacularly for all to see. Washing developmentally-challenged Gabriela and Josue’s poop-stained clothes, having to sprint out of whatever building I’m in to grab all the clothes off the line and throw them inside when the rains come (only to then have to string back all 176 pieces back up on the line an hour later once the rains passed), having to constantly keep an eye on where the bleach is and who’s using it, etc, has not been my favorite aspect of our life and service in Honduras. My mindset has been: this is all such a distraction, such a waste of time; I would rather be doing something “important” like teaching a Bible study, counseling our kids, directing a meeting with our teachers, praying with someone who needs help, etc, than dedicating so much time to such an endless household chore that — to me — was anything but ‘spiritual’ and revolutionary. After all, I wanted to see lives changed into the image of Jesus Christ, and spending hours every week moving around wet and dirty clothes seemed to me not to accomplish that end.

Well, all that changed. (Not the reality of our larger-than-life laundry monster, but my attitude). In these last couple weeks, in the quiet spaces within my own soul — during those times of silent prayer, of meditating upon God’s Word that’s already been written upon my heart, of giving thanks, of reflecting on all the good that God’s done — I’ve taken much initiative in going about my business when no one’s looking as I hang out the wet clothes to dry, fold those newly sun-dried clothes that no one wants to fold, wash my own and Darwin’s clothes without complaint, etc. In essence, what I used to avoid like the plague has now become a spiritual activity, a time alone with the Lord to keep my hands occupied and my heart focused on Him. I’ve said nothing of this to my kids and, truly, everyday as I’m engaging in these radically domestic activities in a joyful manner our kids are not even normally around. While they are in classes or when I have a spare moment between activities I’ll calmly walk out our front door and check one by one the different clothing articles hanging on the line: what’s dry, what still needs to dry more. Basically, I’ve made my peace with this aspect of our daily reality, and God has even allowed me to convert it into a form of Christlike servanthood, literally acting as a slave in our own home and doing gracefully the job that no one else wants to do.

Before, each week we would assign the gargantuan task of folding several bucketsful of laundry to one or two specific children (on a rotating basis), and whoever’s turn it was would complete the task, but not with anything that resembled joy (I believe dread would be the correct word). The rains would come, and no one would want to stop whatever they were doing to go take the clothes down. Oftentimes the clothes would get soaked several times and end up staying on the line for days, possibly even falling to the ground and getting dirty all over again. Everyone hoped their name wouldn’t be called to wash Gaby and Josue’s poopy clothes. Oftentimes folded, clean laundry would remain on our living room table for days at a time as no one would take initiative to deliver it to each person’s room. In short, the kids had completely adopted my own attitude toward our household’s laundry: they viewed it as a terrible inconvenience and hoped it wouldn’t be their turn on any given week to take on the task.

So, the miracle is this: as the Lord is radically changing my own attitude regarding the simplicity of this domestic routine, several of our kids have fallen suit without me saying anything. Anyone on the outside would easily overlook this subtle yet powerful change in our attitudes — Christ’s very nature being manifested among us — but to me it has been an overwhelming sign that God is with us and that He’s leading each of us (perhaps beginning with myself) into a deeper knowledge of what it means to truly live as Christ lived, to put on that servant’s towel, to consider others better than ourselves, and to serve as others’ slave even as we fully know our final destination in God’s glorious kingdom.

The first instance was as follows: Several days ago I had hand-washed mine and Darwin’s clothes and hung them out to dry on the line. At that point it was sunny, so the prospects of the clothes actually drying seemed good. I then headed over to our kitchen, got involved in other activities, a rain storm came (I thought nothing of my clothes drying on the line; I had forgot completely), and then a couple hours later I crossed our large front lawn (which in the last few weeks has become an epic muddy slip-and-slide) on my way back to the little orange house where my husband and I live with our now-10 foster children. I glanced at the series of long ropes strung out between our home and fence (in essence, a spider-web-like figure of clotheslines) and suddenly remembered that it had rained and I had forgotten to move my clothes. My eyes searched frantically for my dripping wet clothes, but not only were my clothes no longer on the line but neither were anyone else’s. My first reaction was to feel confused. What had happened?

I then swiveled my head to the left under our large front porch, which also holds a series of clotheslines (the only ones that are under a roof and thus protected from the rain.) There I saw mine and Darwin’s clothes, every last piece of laundry perfectly hung by what were obviously careful hands.

Although it probably sounds absurd, I had perhaps never felt more blessed in recent times. Someone saw that it was raining and moved our clothes to the safe haven under the porch, and they did so not haphazardly but with great care. And I didn’t even ask, and they didn’t even come to me to boast of what they’d done. For a moment I just stood there, dumbstruck in the midst of the first blessing of this kind that I’d ever experienced.

I then headed through our front door and began asking everyone I saw in a quiet tone, almost a whisper: “Did you move the clothes under the porch?” I felt like I was walking on sacred ground.

Oh, how many times have we had to go to each member of our household asking negative questions, such as, “Did you steal the money from our room?” or “Do you know who ate such-and-such food from the kitchen without permission?” Oh, how beautiful it is to have to find the ‘culprit’ of a good deed done in secret! Yes; Christ is with us.

I finally reached our eldest daughter, 17-year-old Dayana, who — just as much as anybody in our household — in times prior dreaded the entire laundry task and never volunteered herself to go above and beyond what was specifically required of her. I asked, “Hey, do you know who moved the clothes…?”

Her face radiated kindness as she answered, “Yeah, I noticed that it started raining…Gleny and Jason helped me.”

Me, mouth sort of dangling open: “Oh. Thank you.” I just sort of stared at her for a few moments.

And so that was the first miracle. No dead were raised; no terminally ill were healed and no blind gained their sight, but God did manage to turn some selfish hearts of stone into humble hearts bent toward servanthood, which in an of itself is a sort of resurrection from the dead and renewal of sight.

Later that night — or perhaps a couple days later; I do not remember exactly — I was again folding laundry and moving wet articles from one line to another in an attempt to care for the clothing that God has entrusted us as I then carried a large laundry basket full of dry clothes into our living room. I sat down on our sofa for a few moments to read the Bible with the bin of laundry at my feet (with several other bins still waiting outside) as I was fully prepared to fold them myself and then go door-to-door to give each of our kids their dry, folded clothes to stash in their dressers before doing the rounds again the following day (if it didn’t rain and thus soak all the other clothes that were waiting their turn on the line outside).

In the quiet of the evening hours — most of our kids already in their rooms for the night and a few candles lit in our living room to give off a cozy feel — our 13-year-old daughter Gleny came happily bouncing out of her bedroom through the bright-colored curtain that hangs in the doorway. Completely out of the blue, she asked me, “Ma, whose turn is it this week to fold the laundry?”

Seeing as God has secretly led me to stop assigning the task to our children (which only leads to my grumbling and theirs) but rather to do it myself and thus manage the task more organically, I stammered, “Uh…I don’t know.”

She piped up, obviously already with the plan in mind before presenting herself in the living room, “Okay, well I’ll go ahead and take this laundry basket to my room and take care of it tonight.”

I stared at her as words could not formulate themselves in my mouth as she picked up the huge metal tin with a contagious smile on her face — my Wild Gleny who used to always scream, cry and isolate herself so many times each day, who moved into our home in 2013 as a scared and extremely aggressive 9-year-old! — and disappeared behind her bedroom curtain before anything else could be said. (And, for the record, of all of our children Gleny has in times past been the least servant-oriented of all. She’s exploded in fits of rage and tears when her sisters have asked her to help sweep their bedroom floor or collaborate in simple maintenance activities in daily life. She has never offered up extra help in any capacity unless it is specifically asked of her, so this completely Spirit-prompted act of service I literally do count as a miracle upon her heart.)

And, sure enough, the next morning Darwin’s and my socks and shirts were neatly folded outside of our door as Gleny had done exactly what God had prompted her to do (that which I had tried for years to prompt her to do without much success). She had folded that heap of clothes and gone to each person’s room during the night to deliver whatever was theirs. I’d say that’s Christ’s work in her life.

So there have been many extremely small, exceedingly beautiful moments of servanthood such as these in our household in the last couple weeks. One afternoon as I was once again quietly at work with the daily laundry chore, I began to hear Bible stories being read aloud from our living room. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (who tends to be very uptight and high-achieving with her schoolwork and other activities, oftentimes forsaking resting in God’s presence for do-do-do) was sitting cuddled up on the couch with her 9-year-old special needs brother, reading to him one of our children’s Bibles. Jackeline — who normally “doesn’t have time” for things like that, who even has said she doesn’t like to read for fun and struggles to spend time in God’s Word! What an extravagant display of God’s love. As I went in and out of our living room, carrying with me large heaps of laundry flung over my shoulders, I walked carefully, again feeling as though I were treading sacred ground.

And the coolest part is that as the rest of the world perhaps zooms onward with all of its activity and “importance,” God is touching the unlikeliest of hearts and calling us to slow down with grace, to serve rather than be served, to live as Jesus lived.

Amen! Glory to God!

September 2017 Prayer Requests and Triumphs

Below are our current prayer requests and triumph reports from our life of service with Christ in Honduras. Thank you for your interest in supporting/following this work.
***All of the photos on this post were taken by Isabel Dayton during her visit to the Living Waters Ranch a couple months ago. Even though the work at the ranch has continued onward in my absence and I’m in frequent touch with those in Honduras, we don’t have any new photos at this time. (I’ll try to take some once I’m back in the routine of service next week.) Thank you and God bless!
1. We are coming to the end of our second full school year of Spirit-led “discipleship-based community homeschool” with roughly 40 students who meet daily in our home (the Living Waters Ranch) for a complete homeschool curriculum that we’ve designed/tweaked over these last two years as God has led. The Honduran school calendar runs from February — November, so we are nearing the end of school and are reflecting back on all that has happened this year. The Lord brought new key Honduran missionaries/teachers/pastors to our team; He brought additional students, all of whom come from very broken places; and we’ve all learned a lot (sometimes the hard way) and are actively drawing near to the Lord as we seek to walk alongside of the children/youth in our school in the Way of Christ. We simply give thanks to God for allowing us to participate on this great adventure and for the fact that many kids/teens are coming into a saving knowledge of Christ and are genuinely walking with Him. Nothing has been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. Classes will wind down and come to a close in November, and then all of our teachers and students will reconvene in early January to begin prayerfully planning for the new school year. Please continue to pray for God’s protection and blessing over our community homeschool — the lives of all our students, that of our teachers, the physical protection of our property where we live and serve, etc — as Honduras is a very dangerous country. He has protected us until now, so we eagerly press onward.
 
2. We thank God for His continued provision over our lives, as we have lacked nothing in these 5+ years of serving Christ by faith in Honduras. We thank God for His miraculous provision (in every sense of the word — financial provision, His way of bringing each of our local teachers/missionaries to work alongside of us, His provision of believers who actively intercede for this mission, people who lend us their expertise, the wisdom and discernment He has provided when we have needed it most, etc) and stand in awe of His power made manifest in our little corner of the globe. Thanks be to God.
 
3. We are currently facing several potential complications/frustrations in regards to the process of legally adopting 4 of the 8 children my husband and I are fostering. We have had to switch lawyers and are having to re-submit much of our paperwork, so please pray first and foremost that this process (which tends to put our nerves on end, especially as we are coming into close contact with a third-world government that suffers from great corruption, inefficacy, etc) would bring us great joy rather than stress, as we are earnestly convinced that God wants us to be family forever to our kids, and that makes the legal hassles and uncertainties worth it. Please pray that the government may have favor upon us, that everything would be expedited as much as possible, and that all monetary costs involved in the adoption would be provided for (as all of our needs are). Thank you.
4. I will give a quick update in regards to 12-year-old Josselyn, one of the young women who has formed part of our family since July 2015 and for whom many of you had been praying in months prior. She had gone through a very rough season earlier this year as she even ran away from our home twice in search of her biological family (where she had been sexually abused and generally neglected), thus I had solicited urgent prayer on her behalf. She continues to live with us to this day, and she has not run away again (or even threatened to do so) in these last several months. She and her little sister Gabriela (Gaby) are currently in a season of monthly monitored visits with their biological family members, and thus far we have been able to maintain a respectful relationship and kind with them, so we thank God for this emotional stability in Josselyn’s life as she has accepted that her home (at least for now) is with us, and we ask God’s continued blessing and guidance over these monthly family visits. We are unable to adopt these two girls because their biological family is still closely involved, so we simply ask that each day the Lord would accompany us as we seek to parent and love them without holding on too tightly or feeling threatened by their biological family. Our payer is that the peace of Christ reign in our relationship with our 2 girls and their biological family members, and that God’s will be freely done. Amen.
5. Lastly, as many were informed, I had come back to the States for roughly five-and-a-half weeks in August/September for emergency medical, spiritual and emotional intervention as I had reached a breaking point in Honduras and could not go on without receiving help. I had been struggling with debilitating insomnia for several years and, as a result, had contracted any and all viruses, tropical fevers, etc, one right after another and was spending more time in bed receiving shots/IVs/antibiotics than I was participating in our daily life of service, so I accepted my parents’ offer at help and came back to San Antonio, TX in search of healing. I’ve written about this journey in greater detail in the prior post, so you may click on it if you would like to know more about my healing journey. I will be heading home to Honduras in three days. Please continue to pray for my ongoing recovery so that I may be as healthy of an instrument as possible in God’s hands, and let us thank Him for fully orchestrating my visit to San Antonio, my diagnosis, several breakthroughs I experienced, provision to cover medical costs, etc. Thank you.
I could probably list many more prayer requests and triumphs, but I will leave it at that for now. If you or anyone you know is not currently receiving our periodic printed newsletter and would like to receive it (it contains photos, testimonies/stories, etc, very similar to this blog), please send me via email that person’s name and physical mailing address so that they may be included on the mailing list. Thank you again for partnering with us in this amazing Kingdom work; God bless you.
With peace and gratitude in Christ,
Jennifer, for Darwin and all of our kids/teachers

Another Healing Update

This is the third update I’m writing in regards to my search for healing from the chronic insomnia that I’ve struggled with for many years (which had then led me to all kinds of viruses, tropical fevers, etc, all of which sort of snowballed and caused me to get weaker and weaker, always awake the majority of nights and struggling through exhaustion on top of sickness. ) As one friend who met to pray with me a few weeks ago mentioned with a dry laugh, “You’ve been on a steady diet of IVs and antibiotics these last few years…” Thus, I came to Texas for a few weeks to seek out healing in every realm — spirit, mind and body — as I had reached a breaking point.

I was scheduled to return to Honduras today after having been in Texas since August 20th, but several days ago I decided to push my return flight back a week so that I may have a few additional days of rest as my body is still far from full strength. Thus I will be returning to Darwin, our kids, teaching, etc, next Friday (September 29th).

During the past week-and-a-half or so, all of the diagnostic tests (many, many bloodwork panels, stool cultures, saliva and urine samples, etc) finally came back with their results, and we’ve been able to find out several underlying issues that have been contributing to my insomnia and low-immune battle over these last several years.

I will explain: according to all the testing we’ve done, I have Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease (a thyroid disorder in which the thyroid gland, which controls many important functions in the body, attacks itself), a rampant fungal and yeast infection inside of my whole body (called Candida, which oftentimes begins when you take too many antibiotics, thus killing off the good bacteria in your gut and letting the bad bacteria run wild), sleep apnea, and a couple general disorders in which my body has not properly processed zinc and b-vitamins, which has led to a state of almost constant stress and anxiousness. Many of these things sort of ‘go together’ and affect one another, and all of them have been proven to cause insomnia, anxiety, high physical stress, low immune function, etc. I had even been having a lot of heart pain and difficulty breathing, and I discovered that that can also be attributed to the aforementioned disorders/problems. At least on the physical front, I am very thankful that we finally have these diagnoses and that I’m on a very rigorous treatment plan (including a general detox, high-quality supplements, Thyroid medication, immune support, a strict diet, etc) to begin healing.

All of this was discovered in the last week-and-a-half, so I’ve been following the regimen religiously, although it will probably take 2-3 months or so for everything to really get in my system so that I can begin noticing significant changes in the way I feel. My body has been so out-of-whack for so long that the physical healing process will not be an overnight phenomenon (although I would like it to be). In the meantime my doctors have prescribed me various heavy-duty sleep aids to help “knock me out” at night, but the pills have had little to no effect on my sleeping and have caused many weird side effects, so I’ve vowed to no longer take them but rather wait patiently upon the Lord for my integral healing while I continue following the long-term plan to correct the aforementioned disorders/stresses my body has been facing.

The Lord continues to bring several people alongside of me to pray for my healing, and — as I mentioned in the prior update — I feel that spiritually and emotionally I’ve had many breakthroughs and am being granted ‘new sight’ to see things the way Christ sees them, as I had prior been fighting against a lot of pessimism, self-condemnation, fear, etc. This aspect of my healing has been fascinating, at times two-steps-forward-then-one-step-back, and encouraging. I am so excited to return home to Darwin and our life in Honduras with renewed passion and faith as God ushers me into a new chapter with renewed outlook. More than anything, I believe this trip to the States has been about God reminding me what He’s already done. He really has been with us.

Darwin and I are in communication almost daily by phone, and he’s been able to share with me that the Lord is doing a big work in his own heart during this time as he is being convicted and set free from many negative thinking pattens, pessimism, fears, etc. It is very neat to see that even though Darwin cannot be here with me, the Lord is doing a very similar work in both of our hearts as He prepares us to be reunited next week. I believe these changes the Lord is doing deep down in our hearts will greatly affect (in a positive way) our children’s lives and our hidden life with Christ at the foothills of the mountains long-term.

The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.” However many times I had read that before, now for the first time I am actually learning to live in such a way, even if sleep still eludes me for now. Darwin and I have been through some hard hits and difficult learning experiences in these last few years together (Darwin’s kidnapping last year, many trials with our 8 children who all come from severely broken backgrounds, many robberies, a young marriage, my ongoing insomnia, etc) and in many ways we fell too often in the trap of worry, stress, wanting to try to control that which was out of our control, etc — in few words, we were basically not thinking about that which is noble, right and pure (we were not fully trusting and resting in God). So, we earnestly thank God that He is making this shift deep down in each of our hearts as He is drawing us nearer to Himself and releasing us from our fears, doubts and anxieties (however invisible this process still is on the outside). With time we hope it will bear great fruit for God’s glory.

As for everything in Honduras, our children are okay, our animals (cows, guard dogs, kitchen cats) are alive, and the daily outreach to disciple and teach our neighbors through our community homeschool program continues onward. I’ve been able to send a few long letters down to them to be read aloud during their group Bible study time when everyone (teachers, students, etc) is together in our dining room on Tuesdays/Thursdays. These letters have been a blessing and have provided encouragement both to me and to those who’ve read them as we maintain communication and love from afar, always encouraging one another in Christ.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the local Hondurans who labor alongside of us are pulling double-time to cover many of my duties and support Darwin in his single-parenting venture of our 8 wily (I mean ‘well-behaved’) children, so that has been a huge blessing. Really there have been no big hiccups, and they’ve even begun implementing several small changes/adjustments to the daily routines as the Lord leads. Yesterday all 40 students plus the teachers had an extended prayer and Bible study time in the morning and entered math class late because God had led them in another direction. Amen!

So, I will be returning home next Friday — fully knowing that the true healing process will be worked out over the months to come. I would like to sincerely thank those of you who have been praying for us and supporting us in various ways. God bless you.

 

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!

 

 

Learning to Persevere: The Family Footrace at Dawn

Several weeks ago my husband and I were evaluating the daily routines we’ve established to foster the integral growth and development of those in our household when a rather displeasing thought entered our minds and just wouldn’t wriggle out: rather than getting up at 5:15am each morning, let’s get up 30 minutes earlier so that we can go running as a family. Yeah! That’s just what we need to further inculcate discipline and overall health in each member of our household — go sprinting down a long, solitary road half-asleep in the pitch black with 8 kids! Sure!

Seeing as Darwin and I have both been involved in athletic training to some degree in our lives (plus the fact that we are willing to try anything that might give a positive result as we seek to ‘train up’ our 8 kids/teens in all that is good work ethic, self-discipline, integral health, etc, for God’s glory), we decided — despite our own desires to get a little more shut-eye each morning! — to give it a try the following morning.

I do not remember how we informed all the members of our diverse household — if I wrote the announcement on our family’s living room whiteboard or if we broke the news over dinner — but, needless to say, they were less than enthused.

The night prior to the big adventure, we informed everyone: when we come get you up in the morning, just put your tennis shoes on, brush your teeth and get to the front door as quickly as you possibly can. We’re not going to be rubbing our sleepy eyes and shuffling around the house aimlessly for 20 minutes (as some of our teens are accustomed to doing).

And so, the next morning the alarm sounded (it was a weekend, so we were able to sleep in a little longer and commence the run around 7:00am rather than in the wee morning hours), and our shoes were already on our feet before the last remnants of our dreams had fully left us. I went bed-to-bed jostling sleeping legs and patting tired backs as I informed in a sing-song voice, “Time to get up…we’re gonna go running. Get your shoes on…”

From that point on, everything went downhill. 12-year-old Gleny, one of our daughters who is most definitely not a morning person, received several back-to-back wake-up calls, but she ended up flopping over in bed and never actually getting up. 11-year-old developmentally-challenged Gabriela couldn’t find her tennis shoes, and everyone else had a tangibly bad attitude.

We filed out our front door and through the front gate with most of our kids grumbling and exchanging angry glances. As the run began, 16-year-old Brayan, who is extremely fit athletically and capable of beating most people in a footrace, ran slower than anyone else because he got distracted along the route when he saw the girl he liked. 9-year-old Josue, who suffers from several developmental delays, barely got to the front gate before he got tired and quit running. Our eldest daughter failed to exit our home on time as she took too long getting ready, and she came flying down the path in a less than punctual manner to catch up with us several minutes later. Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who loves to eat and is not typically known to be the queen of personal fitness, cried the entire way as she struggled to maintain a jog during the mile+ journey.

By the time we returned home, collecting stragglers and disgruntled teenagers along the way, everyone had gotten sour. By all accounts, the run had been a disaster.

As we returned home, we assigned a consequence to Gleny and Dayana, our two daughters who had not gotten ready on time. Darwin and I exchanged glances as we decided to wait a few hours before calling a family meeting to discuss the (abysmal) results of that day’s run. We gave everyone space and let everyone cool down emotionally from what had unintentionally turned out to be an absolutely terrible experience.

Later that afternoon, we all gathered in the kitchen for one of our periodic family meetings. Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, sat on our kitchen counter with her curly, afro-like hair as big as ever and her arms crossed defensively. She was leading the protest parade, and it was obvious that she was still bitter about the entire morning escapade. I sat on an ages-old rickety wooden stool as I looked around at discouraged, bitter faces. Had the run really ruined their day? Poor souls.

Darwin and I prayed, as we customarily do to begin any family meeting, and we began: “Well, the run this morning really went…terribly.” I let out a slight laugh and glanced around our large, open-air kitchen at our kids and teens, some of whom sat on the concrete floors, others standing with their backs resting against bright green walls. Dayana, arms still crossed, rolled her eyes in agreement.

Then, a ray of hope flashed across the faces of a few of our kids as I read their minds: Yeah, the whole running idea just didn’t work. At least we can say we tried! Now we can check that crazy idea off our list…Thanks for the experience, Mom and Dad!

I continued, knowing I would be dropping a bomb in their midst: “…Which is why we’re gonna do it again tomorrow. At 4:45am. Before classes. We are not going to quit just because it’s hard or just because it didn’t go well the first time. In our Christian walk we must persevere.”

Whatever flicker of hope had lit up their young, innocent eyes suddenly shut off, replaced by shock and rage. Darwin and I laughed together, as the entire idea of doing it again seemed absurd even to us. We had already tried, and it was a bust! Who on earth would want to repeat the completely negative and chaotic experience we had all been through that morning? Had we lost our minds?

As our kids glanced frantically at one another, hoping against hope that we were kidding, the second bomb was dropped: “…And not only will we run as a family tomorrow, but every single weekday for the next three weeks until vacation.”

Whoa!

Oh, there were protests and shaky-lip whimpers and rebellious teenage glances when the news was given, but let me tell you — that next morning at 4:45am our alarm sounded and everyone was up and successfully out of the house within 5 minutes! No complaints, no bad attitudes. Everyone ran the best they could, and the entire experience actually seemed almost fun! (As fun as it can possibly be to run down rocky gravel roads in the pitch black with drool still running down your chin hoping you don’t step on a poisonous snake!)

Well, we kept our word, and we ran with our kids for the next three weeks. And not only that — we’re currently at six weeks and counting!

Just this morning as we all shook the cobwebs from our sleepy minds at 4:45am, our little Gabriela — who first moved in with us two years ago as a severely malnourished and broken little girl who could barely walk, much less run — completed the entire 1.2 mile run for the first time (on prior runs she only got half-way due to exhaustion), arriving successfully at the finish line (the local highway intersection) at breakneck pace with Darwin running by her side! She even passed several of our older kids along the way! Wow!

And so we share this story of perseverance to encourage you in your daily walk.

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!

 

Living Waters Ranch Informational Video #4

Hand-washing clothes, a bike tour, girls’ choir and more! Here is the fourth of five homemade videos we filmed last week at our home in rural Honduras…

Informational Video #1

Below is the first of five videos that we filmed this week at the Living Waters Ranch with the purpose of being shown to a specific Texan church during their week-long vacation Bible school for kinder-5th graders and their leaders. The video, however, can prove interesting to anyone who would like to learn more about the day-to-day life and purpose enjoyed at the Living Waters Ranch. The 5 videos are best viewed in sequence…

(We filmed all 5 videos within a 24-hour timespan, but I kept changing my clothes and hairdo to make it look like each video was a different day!)

This first video is a bit slow-paced (it is the general overview), but the following four are a bit more lively…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7qHlVkXaeo

A Day Without Water: Superwoman Transformed Into a Desperately Dry Husk

[Written a few weeks ago]: This morning at 5:00am my husband and I rolled out of bed and made the usual rounds, patting sleepy backs and whispering early morning greetings as we went room-to-room waking our 8 kids up for a new day of classes and untold adventures.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan until one of our kids went to use a faucet to wet their toothbrush, and no water came out. We then tried the other faucets in our home to no avail, and a conclusion was quickly reached: we found ourselves absolutely without water. Upon reaching our kitchen (which on our rural property is not attached to our sleeping quarters), we discovered the kitchen faucet equally dry.

In the third world country where we live, the electricity frequently goes out, and there have been dozens of times in the past when we’ve been without water for up to a day or two, but today – in the midst of an extreme heat wave we’ve been experiencing for the last several days – the reality of being without water in our rural, no-air-conditioning home hit us (or at least me) unusually hard. We were no longer in the delightful rainy season in which we enjoy slightly cooler temperatures, but in the blistering hot, dry summer months.

16-year-old Dayana, the eldest of our kids, towel in hand, looked at me with her big, curly hair and asked, “Is it okay if I go down to the creek to bathe? I didn’t take a shower last night…”

Knowing that she is accustomed to taking a shower each morning – and the fact that we were facing the no-water situation – I agreed to her idea, and off she went. Soon her younger sister followed her, bar of soap in hand and towel flapping behind her as she raced off to the little creek – which was most likely also nearly dry – behind our home.

Several young voices, dry toothbrushes in hand, eyed me and asked, “Mom…how are we gonna brush our teeth?”

“Well, I guess we’re just gonna get cavities today…” I answered, already feeling choked up in the hot, humid air thinking about a whole day of smelly breath.

“And how are we gonna wash our hands…?”

“Not sure, sweetheart, but just don’t touch me…” I gave hugs and kisses on the tops of heads, trying strategically to avoid contact with their little hands that always seem to be touching floors, exploring the inside of their noses, etc. How on earth was I going to serve breakfast without having washed my own hands? All of us had been sick on and off the last few weeks with fevers and viruses, and the idea of falling ill again didn’t appeal to me.

I reached our kitchen around 5:40am after overseeing the general morning routine in our home. I glanced at the kitchen counter – where my husband Darwin and our 15-year-old son Brayan normally leave the large bucketful of fresh milk they get out of our two cows each morning – and saw nothing. I opened the fridge and peered in. Nothing. Where was the — ?

I glanced over at Darwin, who stood across the kitchen in his old raggy milking clothes that he wears each morning, and my eyes spoke the question for me. He answered, “Oh, the cows wouldn’t give any milk this morning. Their calves are getting so big that their utters are no longer producing. But the good news is that both cows are well along in their current pregnancy and should be birthing soon.”

No milk? I had gone to the grocery store the day prior to buy several big bulk-sized bags of Cornflakes and other cereals, but we never buy milk because we get it fresh from our cows each morning. Cornflakes without milk? I glanced at him, somewhat irritated as if it was his fault that he couldn’t squeeze out at least a few liters of nonexistent milk, and I suddenly felt a strange emotion: desperation. I was starting to feel like I was in some kind of apocalyptic nightmare, some kind of worldwide scarcity endemic that just might possibly sweep the planet in the coming years due to climate change, deforestation, rampant pollution, etc. Had we reached the point in which countries will war over water rather than petroleum?

Darwin added calmly, “Brayan said that we have powdered milk in the pantry.”

I laughed sarcastically, convinced that he was wrong, but I went to go check just in case. I took a few brisk steps and swung by head into our nearly bare pantry where our two ‘guard cats’ sleep. Several sacks of rice and beans; more than a few cartons of eggs; close to a dozen bottles of cooking oil. Pots and pans…and…

Bingo. My eyes landed on a lone canister of powdered milk. A large supermarket chain that donates expired and damaged goods to us about once a month had included a dinged-up can of powdered milk that we hadn’t used or even noticed due to our prior daily abundance of cows’ milk. I went to grab it when the accusatory words suddenly came out of my mouth, “But we don’t have water! How am I going to be able to prepare the powdered milk?!”

I suddenly felt very, very thirsty.

At that point Brayan spotted one single jug of emergency water that was sitting idly under one of our countertops. Atta boy. It would be enough to mix into the powdered milk and serve our family a glass of water for breakfast, but it wouldn’t get us all through the rest of the day, especially considering that roughly 50 people would need to eat (and drink) from our kitchen once our local students and teachers arrived.

I got to work preparing the powdered milk and serving the cereal bowls for our littlest ones while I then filled up my Nalgene water bottle to the brim with water from our emergency jug. I gulped deep as I felt the cool water sliding down my hot, dry throat. The feeling of desperation continued as I entertained the uneasy thought that that might be the last glass of water I would be able to drink in a long, long time. (And I’m the kind of person who is constantly thirsty and drinks many more than the recommended 8 glasses of water per day. A single glass in the morning wouldn’t cut it. Within an hour or two I would need more.)

By 6:15am I was already sweating bullets as my husband and I began organizing our dining room to receive all of our students and Christian laborers in our twice-weekly worship time and Bible study. As our kids came and went, each grabbing their breakfast cereal with powdered milk, we would laugh dryly (no pun intended) each time they would approach the sink, empty bowl in hand, to wash their dishes. They would turn the handle on the faucet, wait, look over at me, confused, and then suddenly remember that we didn’t have water. “What do I do with my breakfast dishes?” they would ask as I motioned for them to leave them next to the sink. (And if the water didn’t come back for several days? What would we do with the Mount Everest of dirty dishes?)

Back in our bathroom – that little cave-like room attached onto our bedroom for my husband’s and my use – our poor toilet quickly became a gurgling, stewing melting pot of nasty sights and odors. Seeing as we’re both seeking to take really good care of our health, we had taken certain vitamins to help cleanse our system, so between the two of us we had gone #2 three times in that porcelain pot before 7:00am. I had also gone pee two or three times, plus I was menstruating, so every time that toilet lid was lifted up, it felt like a bomb was set off in our bathroom. Each time I went to go use our restroom – which seemed to be more frequent than usual – I pranced around outside of the door for a moment or two, psyching myself up, took a big, deep breath – cheeks inflated with emergency reserve oxygen – and darted in, opened the lid as quickly as possible, did my business in the most efficient manner – covering my nose and mouth with part of my long skirt – shut the lid, and darted out, gasping for clean air on the other end.

Throughout this whole morning escapade, I housed a sense of thoughtful dread in my chest. Would the world come to this someday, and will it be sooner than we think? When will the world’s water sources dry up or get so contaminated after years of senseless pollution that they are no longer drinkable? In a matter of hours I had become a very philosophical, dry husk.

Take electricity or petroleum away from man, and he can survive, although without the luxuries he is accustomed to. Take water away – even for a very short time – and he gets put face to face with a life and death situation.

My morning – which I had thought would be all about normal affairs, human relationships, Bible study, preparing for classes, etc – suddenly became all-consumed by a single thought: water. Survival. Although externally I continued to joyfully fulfill the many duties (privileges) before me, internally I was becoming quite frantic. All I could think about were the sunburns on my arms and neck from day after day of walking under the blistering Honduran sun, the beads of sweat forming all over my body, and my dry throat. Everyone around me started to look sweaty and worn out; we were quickly becoming like a band of Israelites wandering around a very dry desert. When would it end?

We humans believe we are so powerful, so smart, so capable of taking on any difficult situation and coming out victorious – we’ve traveled and conquered the globe, learned new languages, earned advanced degrees, own many of the greatest comforts and luxuries the world can offer – but if you take water out of the equation, our own weakness gets put immediately in perspective. It turns out that we are not our own gods; we are not the all-powerful, super-independent individuals we’d like to think we are.

It turns out that, after all, each and every one of us is extremely fragile, surprisingly weak. We must be constantly sustained and cared for in order to survive. Taken out of a situation of comfort and security, we quickly become fearful and aggressive as our own mortality stares us in the face. Dry husks whose beauty and power disappear faster than the snacks in our pantry.

Just a few days ago as I was running errands in the nearby city of La Ceiba I passed by a little stand on the side of the road that sells newspapers. The daily headline had been printed out extra large and pasted on the outer wall of the stand so that passersby could see the news and hopefully be attracted to purchase the newspaper. My eyes felt automatically drawn to the large, colorful poster with the day’s breaking headlines although I knew, as usual, they would hold devastating news.

Sure enough, an oversized photo of an extremely fit man with rippling muscles in his 20s or 30s gave visual power to the text below: Local gym owner murdered.

I do not know why he was murdered — if he was involved in illegal business with the wrong crowd and it finally caught up with him, if he had refused to pay the ‘war tax’ to local extortionists or if he was simply an innocent victim to one of many senseless murders in our area, but what I do know is this: his large muscles and perfect physique could not save him, did not preserve his life. What’s more, I’m convinced that yesterday was a normal day for him — he probably went about his business without the idea of death having crossed his mind once. He probably woke up, went to work at the gym, and thought he had many years of vibrant life and excellent health before him. He might have even marveled at his own impressive body and thought that by doing so much exercise he was even extending his lifespan. I’m convinced that never in his wildest dreams did he think that his very own photo would make national headlines the next day to announce his sudden death.

And so, as I went about my own business on that extremely dry day, the reality of our human frailty — no matter how chiseled our muscles are or how much money we have saved up in the bank — suddenly became inescapable. As odd as it sounds, I thank God for this. Living here in the midst of rampant violence and gang activity, police corruption/unresponsiveness, devastating poverty all around, highly dangerous viruses and tropical illnesses and even uncomfortable physical elements such as scorching heat and no-water days, I am daily faced with my own mortality. I must daily come to grips with the fact that I need a Savior, that my own life dangles by a little thread with many roaming machetes threatening to cut it.

I may have all my accounts in order, put into practice a daily exercise routine, eat right, and live a healthy and respectful life by anyone’s standards, but when faced with a prolonged water outage or some angry neighbor carried toward violence (we know of far too many accounts in our area where one neighbor turns against another, oftentimes due to jealously or a simple misunderstanding, and a life is taken), my entire well-being — my very existence on Earth — is put into question.

That morning, in the midst of my own mortal insecurity as my thoughts frantically ran toward the obvious: my own physical discomfort and even possible danger if clean water did not start running out of our faucets as soon as possible, my eternal security in Christ was affirmed once more. For even if the worst happens — if there is a worldwide water crisis or the local gangs burst through our front gate or cancer hits close to home — nothing and nobody can take from us the eternal redemption we have in Christ Jesus. He is the only thing in the whole universe that doesn’t change, can’t be purchased, and doesn’t belong to this quickly-fading world. I felt as the Apostle Paul did, “Externally we are wasting away, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Several hours later, as everyone was drooping lower and lower due to the heat and lack of water, I went to the bathroom once more and instinctively went to flush the toilet even though it had not been able to be flushed all day. Like music to my ears, I heard a loud ‘whoosh’ of water as all the day’s waste was taken from the pot down through the plumbing. The water had come back! I ran outside, my long arms extended high in victory as if we had all just won the Olympic gold as I announced to everyone who would hear, “The water’s back! We have water! Praise God! Yes!”

Once I had sprinted to the nearest faucet to take in a big glass of water, wash my hands and brush my teeth, my own pending mortality got quietly placed back on the shelf. I felt like Superwoman — well-hydrated and ready for anything! Bring it on! Me? A mortal being only inches from death at any given moment? How could that be so? I felt great and looked great (except for the waterfalls of sweat cascading all over my body, but never mind those because I would soon wash all that away with a nice cold shower!)

As I rejoiced, feeling eternally young and fully alive — just because the water had come back! — the quiet voice of truth whispered to me, “It’s not true. You’re not Superwoman. Don’t get fooled into thinking you have everything under control or that this world is your home. Just because you now have all the human comforts at your fingertips — full belly, access to abundant water, roof over your head — does not mean that you can secure a life on Earth forever, nor should you desire to do so. I am your home; My Kingdom is your eternal home.” In my heart I repented for my sudden turn in attitude, my brusk ignorance of my own mortality as I suddenly felt myself to be the all-powerful (all-hydrated) being.

And so I encourage you, too, to see your own life and your own human frailty from an eternal perspective. Secure home, stable job, vibrant health, normal life — it can all come to an end at any moment, whether you live in a prosperous nation or a third world country. (And praise God that it is so! Praise Him that we don’t have to live on earth in the midst of such suffering, corruption and sickness forever!) We know that Jesus Himself is actively preparing for us another home, free of all death, sin and suffering. We are just passing through in this life. Let us be careful, lest we get too comfortable and forget that we will soon be face-to-face with the Living God.

Amen! Glory to God!