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Fall 2019 in Rural Honduras: Photos, Updates and Prayer Requests

Greetings to all from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras.

I’m relieved to inform you that the political crisis has calmed down a bit lately, and the roads have been open with no noticeable protests for the last several weeks. We continue to pray that peace and justice might prevail in Honduras and that God might grant our leaders true wisdom so as to effect God-honoring, long-term solutions for this hurting nation.

Below I share with you a diverse set of photos (and detailed explanations!)  from our daily life of service in this little corner of the world…

This was a campout that several of our local missionary-teachers and students went on during a recent school vacation. These types of events are organized in order to dedicate additional time to disciple our students, offer healthy recreational activities for them,  and pour into their lives beyond the classroom for God’s glory. We offer several campouts such as these throughout the year, and many of our teenage students participate.

Darwin and a select group of our students (including two of our foster kids) were recently invited to sing on television with our new guitar/choir teacher (the man in the vest on the far left). He is a very talented local musician who composes up-beat songs with Christian and ecological messages.

This is 11-year-old Josue, a special-needs young man who lived with us as one of our foster children for over 4 years before moving in with his maternal grandmother earlier this year. We still see him frequently (and invite him to all of our family birthday parties), and he will actually be coming back under our full-time care during the upcoming months as his grandma will be out of the country for work until roughly March 2020. (Grandma feeds him really well and doesn’t let him play much outdoors, but we already have a plan for how we are going to help him regain the active health he enjoyed before!)
Several weeks ago my husband and several of our local students’ moms got together to celebrate my 29th birthday alongside of all of our students, teachers and foster kids. We miraculously cut the cake into over 60 pieces in order to make sure everybody got a piece! (I dare you to count ’em!)
You gotta be good at math to cut this cake!

Waiting for their little piece of cake!
One of our local students, an 8th-grader, explains his recent science project to a group of onlookers.      
This is my husband Darwin with a group of his English class students on a special field trip into the city of La Ceiba to eat pizza. Some of our local students never get out of our little rural town, so experimenting a change of environment tends to be very exciting. (One of our local teens had never seen the ocean even though the nearest beach is only a few miles away from our town. That was remedied as Darwin organized a large group field trip out to the beach earlier this year.)
This is Jeffrey, a local 15-year-old youth who has been in our school for the last several years. Currently in 4th grade, he has several developmental delays  and comes from a severely disintegrated home, as his father and one of his brothers left earlier this year for the United States, leaving him, his mother and two of his brothers behind. Jeffrey requires a lot of individualized attention as he has dislexia and ADHD, and my husband Darwin has a very soft spot for him. We are very proud of Jeffrey for choosing to stay in school and be exposed to daily biblical teaching, as it is very popular for teenage boys in our neighborhood to simply roam the streets or get mixed up in trouble.
This is a photo taken in Darwin’s group piano class earlier this month. Music is a fundamental element we try to inculcate in all of our students as part of their integral development, healing from past traumas, and preparation for life and God’s service.
Whenever our foster children have a birthday, we like to take the opportunity to write them love letters and little notes of affirmation and encouragement. These specific index cards were part of 16-year-old Paola’s celebration, and a few of them read “You are strong in Christ,” “Your life is of great worth,” “God has been good to you,” and “You are beautiful!”
Birthday parties are so much more fun with disguises!

Prayer is an integral part of life in our home. On this specific occasion we were praying for God’s blessing, wisdom and salvation over one of our foster kids on their birthday.
Several weeks ago I began teaching an intensive World Geography class to all of our students, focusing on current world trends and how we should react to said trends from a God-honoring standpoint. A recent topic for the class was the ever-increasing LGBT influence around the globe and how we as Christians should stand firm on the Bible’s clear teachings concerning homosexuality and God’s design of man and woman, biblical marriage, etc. As part of the class curriculum I asked all of our students to look up Bible verses specifically addressing these gender- and identity- issues, and to write them on index cards, poster boards, etc, in a loving and clear way with the goal of communicating truth and edifying one another as God created them. We have since filled two of our school’s bulletin boards with this precious information, and we continue to influence our students and foster kids to live a God-honoring life, not giving in to what the world claims is normal but rather standing firm on the Rock of truth.

Here are two of our beloved local missionary-teachers participating in a recent game of blindfolded Chinese freeze tag alongside of our students. (One is a lawyer by profession and the other is a trained beautician, but both have been called by God to lay down their lives and traditional plans in order to love, teach and disciple the next generation of Hondurans for God’s glory.)

This is Darwin doing the father-daughter dance with one of our foster daughters (Gleny) who recently turned 15, which is a big birthday in this culture.
Here is Erick (purple shirt), one of our extremely influential local missionary-teachers leading up a Saturday effort to clean up the streets in our neighborhood — a never-ending job done with grace and dedication!
Who knew that picking up trash could be so much fun?

God bless you, and thank you for your continued prayers and support. Please pray that the Lord might increasingly shine His light through us and that many might come to repentance and saving faith in Christ through this hidden yet faithful work. 

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

PS — Please feel free to contact me directly at JenniferZillyCanales@yahoo.com if you would like to share any personal prayer requests with me and/or reach out with any questions, suggestions or concerns.

Love of God and Humanity: A Photo Tour of Organic Christian Ministry

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) in Honduras, Central America. Below I’d like to share with you a general update using photos taken in our daily life of hospitality, teaching and discipleship for God’s glory.

My husband Darwin and I continue to foster our five children/teens ages 12-17 with the hope of being able to legally adopt them if we are granted legal favor and efficacy with the local authorities. (We’ve been trying to adopt for over four years now with very little progress, but we continue to raise our children joyfully with the hope of becoming their legal, permanent family someday.)

Our small, dedicated team of local Honduran missionary-teachers is well and thriving, and we continue to work alongside of them to serve 40 youth from our local community daily through our school and concentrated evangelistic/service activities.

I pray all is well with you and that you are encouraged to plant deep roots in the truth God has revealed to humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. God bless you.

This is Abigail, a 15-year-old local youth who participated in our small discipleship-based homeschool for two years as a student and this year is one of three tutors at the Living Waters Ranch. We’ve designed the “tutor” position as  a work-study program for a selected group of our older, mature teens so that they can gain leadership experience in the realm of Christian service while also earning a small monthly stipend. (This is a huge blessing for them, as our rural neighborhood has very high unemployment rates — especially among teens and young adults — and a large percentage of the population lives in stark poverty.)
This is a group of  teens in our school during one of my P.E. classes recently. We oftentimes design wacky, team-building exercises that leave everyone not only sweating but also laughing! (One of the main goals behind this is to break down barriers of distrust, pride, racism and bullying in order to fully live out Christ’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.)
Great picture! Here are our four foster daughters (ages 15-17) accompanied by Sindy (in yellow), one of our local tutors in our work-study leadership program. The objective: do a quarter-mile run without letting go of their teammates!
Here are a few of our local students in our small 8th-grade homeroom class, which takes place in our  multi-purpose dining room on the property where my husband and I live and serve. Many of the students in our school are behind academically and/or come from very precarious backgrounds. We receive them onto our property each day with the hope of expressing God’s love to them in many tangible ways in addition to equipping them for the future as wholly faithful followers of Christ ready for any good work.
This is Gabriela, a preteen who is new to our school this year. She lives with her dad, who is now a born-again believer after having had a very rough past, and two brothers.
In addition to art classes, we also include music, organic agriculture, Christian dance, Bible studies, swimming, evangelistic opportunities and other dynamic learning experiences into our normal weekly schedule at the Living Waters Ranch as part of our students’ integral formation.

Many of our classes involve mixed age-groups, pairing older teens with preteens. We do this mainly because we want to cultivate a family-style environment (we continue to call our school “homeschool” even though we now have 40 students enrolled), and for that reason we do not have mass numbers of students  in each grade/age group. Individualized attention with each student is a priority, and much of the discipleship that goes on around here takes place in the context of one-on-one and/or small group mentoring relationships.
Happy birthday to you, Isaac! We do not celebrate all of our 40 students’ birthdays individually, but the Lord put it on our hearts to do a special celebration for Isaac, a precious young man who is new to our school this year and recently took the step to be baptized. His mom left the family for the United States several years ago, and he has been living alone with his dad ever since. We figure that a mom normally is the one in charge of making a birthday cake for their son and putting together the festivities, so we were privileged to step in and fill that role on Isaac’s special day. He was brought to tears at the surprise and told us it was the first time anyone had celebrated his birthday.

We recently celebrated Indian Day, which is an important holiday to remember Honduran heritage. (My husband Darwin on the far left always dresses up and covers himself in clay/mud for Indian Day in addition to playing tunes on his wooden flute…) The kids love it!
This is Ivania, a local 10-year-old who is one of the younger students in our school. (We generally accept children from 10 years up through 19 years of age, with most of our students being teenagers). She was decked out in the full costume for Indian Day!
Here is a group of our preteen boys participating in a reflection/discipleship activity on our front lawn. (Our foster son Jason, age 12, is included here.)
This photo is not especially dazzling, but it does go to show that our students are responsible for doing the after-school cleanup everyday. We’ve established a system of rotating clean-up  groups to inculcate increased responsibility and general hygiene awareness in all of our youth as diligent disciples of Christ. This is particularly important because many people in this culture throw  trash on the ground and let it accumulate in public areas (causing environmental contamination, increased risk of diseases, etc.), which is a general woe we are actively fighting.
On many occasions throughout the year we organize service trips into our rural neighborhood to do trash pick-up, which is a colossal job. As mentioned above, there is not much cultural appreciation for clean streets and green areas (creation care) in our town, but we are content to try to make a humble dent in the overall problem and — hopefully — set a good example for our neighbors to follow. (This is also great character-development for our students!)
In several sectors of our rural town there is no organized system of trash pick-up, so most people simply dump their trash out on the street in front of their home. It is not uncommon to see dirty diapers, empty Coke bottles and all sorts of trash strewn about on or near public walkways. One of our local missionary-teachers is working with the local mayor and governing authorities to see what can be done about this potentially easily-solved problem, but progress is very slow.
Sharon Washburn, veteran missionary in Honduras and founder of a well-known Christian high school several hours away, has come out several times recently to do educational expositions for our students. This greatly enriches their understanding of the world and allows them to learn from a new perspective.

As part of her presentation, she taught the world cultures material to a group of our older students first, who then were in charge of teaching the material to the younger students.
All of our students are in weekly organic agriculture classes with Erick, one of our local missionary-teachers who has truly extensive knowledge and inspiring passion for creation care. In addition to cultivating an honest work ethic in our youth, Erick also uses the class as an outlet for additional discipleship and Christian reflection.
Here are a few of our preteens working in the pineapple patch.

This is Sindy, one of our enthusiastic tutors who has been involved full-time at the Living Waters Ranch for the last four years, enjoying a rambutan fruit on an educational hike.

 

God bless you with peace and salvation in Christ Jesus, and please continue to remember us in your prayers. I have more photos to share, but I will save them for next time!

If you are not on our mailing list and would like to be in order to receive our bi-monthly printed newsletter with testimonies and prayer requests, you may contact me directly at: JenniferZillyCanales@yahoo.com to send me your full name and mailing address.

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and mission/family

Photo Update and Prayer Request

We send you our warm greetings from our rural ministry homestead in Honduras. Below is a variety of photos we’ve taken in our daily academic and discipleship activities in the family-oriented community homeschool we operate out of our home, the Living Waters Ranch.

At the end of the photos there is a brief prayer request for those who might lift us up before the Lord in prayer during this time. God bless you all, and we give our sincere thanks to those who financially support and/or pray for us and those whom we care for. To God be the glory in all.

My husband Darwin’s P.E. class with the older teen boys in our school
A couple of our students on a 2-mile jog down to the main highway and back to our rural property
Group Bible study on a creative outfit day in which all of our students were invited to come to school dressed with attire from biblical times
One of our beloved local missionary-teachers and two of our foster kids on biblical-attire day
This local student of ours surely had to cross some Arabian desert in order to get to school on biblical-attire day! (Too precious!)
A couple months ago my husband, our foster children and I planted several flowers around our rural property, and they are beginning to bloom.
A photo my husband took of his sixth-grade class on a Saturday educational outing into the city of La Ceiba
The same sixth-grade group visiting the beach
Our boys on silly hat day
Our girls on silly hat day
The following are photos taken in math class on silly hat day…

Book report presentation

A group of our students rehearsing in a local church before their big choir presentation in San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in Honduras which is about a 3-hour drive from our town

Official rehearsal with the choir director and several other national choir groups
Final presentation
My husband, who serves as the choir director at the Living Waters Ranch, congratulating the man who directed the overall event in San Pedro Sula
One of our highly dedicated local missionary-teachers with a group of our students at the choir event
My husband Darwin posing with the local woman who donated lunch for the event
Playing in the rain: one of the precious local youth in our discipleship-based community homeschool who was recently baptized and is now walking with the Lord
A group of our teens (two of our foster daughters and a handful of local students) in our front lawn after classes let out for the day
Three of our local boys playing soccer in front of our home during recess
A favorite pasttime of Honduran youth: picking mangos during mango season
A group of our students beneath one of our mango trees looking for fruit
Somebody found a ripe mango!
Exam time for a group of our high school students
Outdoor music lessons with my husband
God’s creation right next to our front porch


Prayer Request:

Without going into too many details, I will share that our home with our 7 foster children/teens ages 12-18 is currently going through a couple very painful upheavals/trials, and there are likely to be some big changes around the corner for our family in the coming weeks. Fostering/adopting young people who come from very dysfunctional backgrounds is not easy, and our relationship with a couple of our older girls is reaching a very precarious state as they are making very poor/dangerous decisions and refuse to submit to our authority, seek the Lord on the matter, or take our advice. Please pray that the Lord might grant all of us (my husband, myself and our children) peace during this volatile time, and that the Lord would take control of any and all changes that need to take place in order to assure the safety, wellbeing and spiritual growth of those in our household for God’s glory. Thank you for praying for us.

 

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Photo Update: A Day in the Life

From time to time I enjoy posting photo galleries from our daily life and ministry in rural Honduras for those outside of our immediate context who probably wonder what exactly our days look like here.

Our normal daily commitment involves getting up at 4:45am and dedicating our waking hours to a fairly organized schedule of teaching, discipling, community evangelism,  homemaking and deepening our walk with the Lord alongside of many people (mainly teenagers) for God’s glory until about 8:00pm or so when we retire for the day.

In the midst of our daily efforts to share hope with those nearest to us and proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom (in word and deed), we give God all the glory for His transformative work in this little corner of the globe.

God bless you, and I hope you enjoy the following photos taken by Jessica, one of our beloved local missionary-teachers. Please continue to pray for Honduras’ current political crisis and that the Lord might grant this nation peace.

One of our foster daughters in organic agriculture class on our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch)

One of our four math classes offered in our discipleship-based community homeschool that we operate out of our home
Our pre-teen boys (all local students with the exception of our 11-year-old foster son) in their weekly art class on one of our porches

My husband Darwin teaching a large group of choir students
Some of our girls dressed in their wacky attire for “Mismatched Clothes Day”
One of our local missionary-teachers supporting our cook in a basic literacy class
A public swimming hole close to our property where we oftentimes go on nature hikes with our foster children and/or local students
A healthy, fun outing one of our local missionary-teachers did with her small group of 7th grade students
Traditional classroom work during the morning hours
One of our precious foster daughters in a school presentation on our rural ministry property
My husband Darwin with some of his 6th grade students who came to school dressed with foreign attire for world culture awareness
One of our young local students who came dressed as a Vietnamese child!
Another one of our local treasures who came to school dressed as a German businessman!
An endless task in Honduras: keeping weeds out of the garden!
One of our beloved local students who has been faithfully involved in Christian discipleship and integral education at the Living Waters Ranch for the last several years
Some of our teen girls working in the middle of a planted field under the leadership of one of our local missionary-teachers
More weed-pulling to ensure that the crops have a chance to grow!

Our official photo from Come-To-School-Dressed-As-A-Superhero Day!
I was dressed as “She Who Has the Power to Erase Detentions” (my made-up superpower that all the kids loved and wanted me to exercise on their behalf)!
One of our beloved local missionary-teachers teaching a Christian dance routine with our foster daughters and local female students     
An organized road race in the city of La Ceiba we participated in with our 7 foster children and several of our local students. (Our foster son and five of his classmates took the first six places in the youth category!)

Our kitchen table

 

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers and support.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Baptism: A Public Proclamation of Faith in Christ

A couple months ago a young man in our discipleship-based homeschool began asking when we would hold a baptism because he wanted to be baptized. He is an older teen who has only been in our school since February of this year, and he had previously lived his life quite adrift in our rural neighborhood without any real knowledge of God. He had been abandoned by both of his parents at a young age, and the disorderly reputation he established henceforth was quite well-known. (To be more exact, one of our teen foster daughters mentioned to me that they had gone as a group to his house in January and invited him to enroll in school on our rural ministry homestead specifically because he was so desperately lost.)

Thus, we were all surprised to see this precious teen’s newborn faith blossoming up within him and the new way in which he spoke and acted with deepened sincerity. The Lord was truly changing him, and he was eagerly soaking up all the Biblical teaching and guidance he could get in his search for Christ. He came to us repeatedly over the ensuing months in the midst of our daily relationship with him, explaining to us his faith in Christ and that he eagerly desired to be baptized as an important step in his walk with the Lord.

Through this one young man’s faithful insistence, we felt the Lord guiding us to open up the opportunity to the 40+ youth in our small school to see if there was anyone else who likewise wished to be baptized as a public proclamation of their faith in Christ.

The following photos record the event that took place in a local river earlier this month. We know that these photos do not capture a final declaration of faith and salvation but rather the very beginning of a lifelong walk under the lordship of Christ. Please pray with us that these youth might be granted the perseverance, wisdom and faith to continuing cultivating this life with Christ for the rest of their days and that they might not so easily drift back into the complacency and sin from which they came. We truly hope that the Holy Spirit might ensure that this work of faith in their hearts might reach completion and that God might be glorified through their lives as his beloved sons and daughters.

God bless you, and thank you to all who pray for and financially support this little mission on the northern coast of Honduras. We love the role the Lord has given us in His Kingdom and thank Him for your generous participation in this work. To Him be the glory.

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

This is the young man who came to us repeatedly asking to be baptized. He has begun participating in community service projects and praying for those in our local community, and he recently expressed his new understanding that God is his Father even if he doesn’t know his earthly father.

Our newest foster daughter sought us out a few weeks after moving into our household and told us she wanted to invite Jesus into her heart and be baptized. This is the start of new life!

This is another one of our teen foster daughters who will soon reach her two-year anniversary of living with us. God has done and continues to do great things in her life.   



All of these photos were taken by Randy and Marcia Orban who were visiting us during the time the baptism took place.

May 2019: Photos and a Prayer Request

I write to you from the Living Waters Ranch, our rural ministry homestead on the northern strip of Honduras.

Please enjoy the following collection of photos taken from our daily life of love and Christian discipleship among the youth whom we serve through our little discipleship school. (We have many newer photos we’ve taken in the last several days, but first I want to share this batch before revealing the others.)

Farther down I have also included a new prayer request in addition to follow-up regarding our previous prayer request shared several weeks ago.

Twice-weekly Bible study with our younger students (ages 12 and under)
After-school dance class with all of our female students and foster daughters

A devotional during an after-school Christian dance class

Math tutoring
My husband Darwin teaching an introductory choir class
Boys’ organic agriculture class on the Living Waters Ranch property (where we live, teach and serve for God’s glory)
Two local students working in the pineapple patch
Learning a good work ethic in organic agriculture class

One of our local Honduran missionary-teachers who has been serving alongside of us in discipleship/education for the last three years
The entryway of our rural ministry homestead
My husband Darwin leading our teen boys’ weekly P.E. class

One of our local students doing a presentation on the book he read in Spanish class
One of our foster daughters presenting publicly as a character from the novel she read
My high school Spanish class the day of their book presentations (they had to come dressed as a character from the book they read)
English class competition
One of our local missionary-teachers leading a couple teen disciples in a community service project (leveling out a very rocky road)
Our newest missionary-teacher leading our pre-teen boys after a Christian dance presentation

 

Thank you to all those who had prayed for our previous request in regards to our relationship with the local educational authorities – my husband has had a few unforeseen breakthroughs in our communication with them and we are currently enjoying a more peaceful season under their supervision although still with great paperwork demands and certain external pressures. Please keep this ongoing petition for peace with government authorities in prayer (and that their ever-changing regulations might not become a stumbling block or distraction to the calling the Lord has given us to form young people in Christ), but let us also give thanks to God for having acted on our behalf in the last few weeks! Thank you for praying.

NEW PRAYER REQUEST

I now will ask for prayer in regard to my sleeping patterns, as the arrival of our newest teen foster daughter (named Soad) roughly five weeks ago has triggered my insomnia and I have had great difficulty sleeping each night since. 

Her arrival was accepted out of obedience to God as He called us to offer our family to her, and we are fully convinced that we made the right decision. Nonetheless, some of her behaviors in these first several weeks have been very taxing on me personally and on our family as a whole, and we are looking to God for continued healing for her and wisdom for us in how to best parent her for God’s glory. 

Also, our other 6 foster children are all going through their own emotional ups and downs and insecurities with having a new “instant sibling” in our house. Last night we had a very long and productive family meeting in which many laid their feelings bare in a very honest and loving way and at the end we all prayed together, but there is still a long way to go to establish a “new normal” for all and assure God’s best for everyone in our household.

Please pray with us for Soad, that her transition into our family might bring with it peace and joy to her heart (and the hearts of our other 6), and for me, that the Lord might grant me total peace and trust — especially at night — as I rest in Him and don’t try to take things on in my own strength. Thank you, and God bless.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Heavenly Joy Bursting Out Through My Bones: The Effects of a Radical Change of Plans

The government agency called twice, and I said no both times without giving it a second thought. 

My husband Darwin and I had decided between the two of us that we would not be receiving any additional foster children for at least the next several years. Most of our foster children are currently teenagers whose delicate needs require our full attention, plus our little discipleship-based homeschool that we run out of our rural homestead has been growing to such an extent that directing, teaching and community discipling has become a beautiful yet very time-consuming daily venture.

A few weeks ago we reintegrated Josue, our special-needs foster son, back into a healthy family situation with his biological grandmother, and afterward things in our house actually became almost normal — calmer, more organized, fairly predictable — for the first time in almost six years.

My husband and I breathed deep and contemplated those in our household — five teenage daughters and one pre-teen son, some as long-term fosters and others in the process of being legally adopted by us. 

After going through numerous ups and downs as new parents and having had up to 10 in our home at a time, 6 seemed manageable and even easy. The house even seemed tangibly cleaner than usual and I thanked God that we had survived the brutal years of unwanted poo- and pee- disasters with 2 special needs foster children. On the walls, on the rug, in the bed — you name it. But those days were over, at least for the time being…

My selfish prayer seemed like it just might come true, “Oh God, I just want a normal life. At least slightly normal, slightly calm. My husband and I have virtually no ‘personal time’ and oftentimes feel stretched thin. I don’t even know what it means to sustain a normal friendship with normal people anymore. We love our kids dearly and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You have called us to parent them for Your glory, but sometimes it is so hard and their healing process is messy at best. Please grant us some sense of normalcy and ease in this season in Jesus’ name. I’m exhausted.”

No-more-kids and We-want-a-sane-household have been our soft battlecries over the last several months, and it almost seemed like we were achieving our desired goal.

Until the government agency called twice. 

My husband and I have every right to say no when they call us about receiving a new child or teen into our family, and I absolutely exercised that right in the name of defending my own sanity. What was our motto? No-more-kids, and I was sticking to my guns.

Well, as many of us know, oftentimes our own plans are just that: our own plans, not God’s. As I said my second ‘no’ over the phone to the government social worker whom I know and get along with very well, I was ready to politely hang up the phone and carry on with my business when the Lord led me to consider the possibility of laying my own plans — my own sanity, my own control — on the altar in the name of love. 

What I did next — pause long enough to ask the social worker the details about the person at hand — brought with it a God-designed tidal wave that utterly and completely wiped out all of our own plans for normalcy and familial stability.

Thirteen year-old girl. Has already lived as an adult man’s wife. Dad’s not in the picture. Mom is highly unstable. Needs a family.

As I listened in silence to all the details I probably could have imagined on my own — for the majority of cases are very similar in the aspects of familial abandonment/irresponsibility and some element of sexual abuse — the social worker actually began pleading. “We have nowhere else to put her.”

Emotionally detached as much as possible from the phone conversation (because sometimes it is easier not to feel too deeply), I thought ‘Of course. Most people are scared to death about receiving teenagers, especially those with adult sexual experiences. They came looking for us because they know we love our teen girls and have had a large measure of success with them…’

The social worker continued, “If you receive her, you would be giving her…an opportunity at life.”

An opportunity to live. To find life in Christ. To know joy. To grow up in a family like any normal 13-year-old girl.

By this point in the conversation the Lord was working mightily on my heart, and I asked more questions before telling the social worker that we would agree to meet the girl but would make no over-the-phone commitment to take her in before seeing her face-to-face and talking with her. The social worker was ecstatic.

After hanging up, I went directly to our little office building we share with our local Honduran missionaries/teachers who serve alongside of us in our community homeschool. I found one of our female teachers fairly unoccupied and asked her for prayer and counsel. She quickly accepted, and we sat down next to each other on the little purple couch in the prayer room in our office building and closed the door for more privacy.

I shared openly and extensively with her, both secretly excited about the possibility of extending “an opportunity at life” to one more person while also tense and scared about all that could go wrong. 

I voiced my thoughts as she listened attentively, “I mean, we could take her in, but there are a thousand other teen girls in her same situation — dysfunctional family, history of sexual abuse/sin —“

Our beloved teacher nodded quietly, fully aware that in our area of Honduras there are numerous cases of 12- and 13-year-old girls who already live with their “boyfriends” or who daily endure unhealthy home-lives. The need is oftentimes overwhelming.

I continued, “And, it just wouldn’t be realistic to take in a thousand of them. I mean, we can’t be family to a thousand.” My argument sounded right-on, and I felt I was gaining momentum. Our teacher nodded in agreement again, quietly listening as I verbally processed the storm within me.

But in that very moment the Lord struck me deep and to such an extent that His very words came out of my own mouth, dripping with conviction as I made a 180 degree turn in my argument. I said slowly, “But He’s not asking us to take in a thousand. They called us about one. Only one.”

I felt like in that moment I had surrendered to His will in one fatal blow. ‘You won,’ I thought with great heaviness mixed with the first fruits of joy welling up in my heart. He was indeed calling us to start over again with a new lost daughter of His. Not with a thousand, but with just one. And I would obey not only willingly but with a joy that very few can understand.

My teacher friend and I sat in silence several moments as the weight of the situation — and the enormity of the decision being considered — sat heavily between us. I repeated, “He’s just asking us to take in one…”

At the end of our conversation she prayed with me for the young woman in question and that the Lord might grant my husband and I the love, strength and wisdom to accept this new challenge if He should so desire us to take it on.

Fast-forward three days.

We went into the government-run complex to meet the young woman, her psychologist and the lawyers/social worker involved in her case. We asked the key questions we needed to ask, got our kids involved in the process of meeting her and exchanging several question-answer games with her, and throughout the entire encounter we felt the undeniable peace of God as confirmation. We would soon be parents to six teenage daughters and one pre-teen son. 

The adjustment would of course be difficult for all, as our home tends to be in total upheaval for the ensuing 3-6 months each time a new person arrives as new friendships are forged and the teenage hierarchy is re-shuffled as everyone tries to find out all over again where they fit on the totem pole. There are oftentimes feelings of jealously and insecurity to be carefully dealt with in our kids who’ve been with us the longest, and Mom and Dad have to engage in the dogged task of forging a close relationship with a new, possibly frightened teen all over again.

Even so, it is a small price to be paid in comparison with what our Lord did on the cross to save us all, and it is the way in which He has called my husband and I to share in His sufferings (and likewise eventually share in His glory). To love the lost; to be parents to the fatherless; to extend hospitality and grace to those who might even make us suffer greatly in the short-term for having done so.

I spoke with the social worker and her eyes grew like saucers when I said yes, and the young woman (Soad, pronounced So-add) enthusiastically said that she would like to move in the same day. 

That night — about two-and-a-half weeks ago — my husband and I prepared a foam mattress on our bedroom floor for our new arrival. Instead of moving her in with our teen girls all at once, we decided to have her with us for the first week in order to help ease her transition more calmly while also forging some semblance of parent-child bond with her in a condensed amount of time. 

We sat down on the cool tile floor next to her mattress and asked if we could pray for her. She said yes. After doing so we tucked her into bed — our teenage-sized new baby! — and gave her a hug and a kiss before climbing into our own bed not three feet from hers. 

My husband quickly drifted off into sweet slumber as I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, hot room. My heart raced for joy as I listened closely trying to identify if our new daughter had already fallen asleep or was still wide awake as I was. Did she feel welcome and loved here? Would we be able to form a close bond with time, or would she prove distant and guarded? Would she sleep throughout the night or wake up screaming with nightmares? What if she stopped breathing right there on her mattress?

My mind raced with a thousand thoughts as I thanked God in my heart for who He is and for leading us on this wild adventure, especially because it was never our plan to begin with. The minutes turned to hours as I periodically tried to steal glances at our new daughter’s still form in our dark room, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I drifted off to sleep in spite of the heavenly joy that I felt might burst right out through my bones…

 

A photo of my husband and our seven kids taken on my husband’s birthday two days after Soad’s arrival. (She is in the pink tank top on Darwin’s right.)

We thank God for these processes He takes us through as He draws us closer to His own heart and enables us to participate in His quest to reach lost humanity. Please pray for us during this time, especially for our other kids as they adjust to having to share Mom and Dad with someone new. God bless you all, and thank you to those who pray for and financially support this little mission in rural Honduras. To God be the glory.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Are You a King Kong or a Thor? (A Reflection on Obedience and Response)

On our rural ministry homestead in Honduras we have three watchdogs that patrol the fenced-in area of our large grassy property. Their job is to make sure that no intruders get close to the little rainbow-colored buildings that serve as discipleship school, office and home. 

During daytime hours we keep all three dogs locked away in a pen behind our home so that they don’t have any interaction with our students or daytime visitors. Once everyone leaves at about 4:30pm, we let the dogs out and they enjoy intermingling with our family while also assuring that no unwanted visitors enter our remote property.

Two of the dogs are Dobermans, named King Kong and Xena. They serve their purpose well, as most people see them from afar with their large black bodies and clipped ears and don’t desire to get any closer. The third of our guard dogs is Thor, a Pit Bull puppy given to us a few months ago by a relative who was unable to care for him. While the Dobermans are poised, majestic and ready to defend our property at a moment’s notice, the Pit Bull is a bit more clumsy, goofy and outgoing.

King Kong and Xena

Yesterday afternoon my husband, several of our foster kids and I were eating and chatting on our front porch, which is currently where we have our fridge and our makeshift outdoor kitchen space while we have been working towards getting the area closed-in. Our three dogs are always eager to be close to the family, and suddenly the two Dobermans (King Kong and Xena) were excitedly — and more than a bit intrusively — approaching my husband to see if he might share his food with them. Tails wagging, the snouts of both dogs came dangerously close to my husband’s sandwich as he was sitting in a plastic chair with his food on their nose-level. In that moment one of our teen foster daughters — several yards away — made a sharp “Shhh!” sound to correct the dogs, and they immediately responded to the verbal correction and laid down at his feet, totally obedient. He kept eating in peace as we all continued to share the events of the day.

I thought, impressed, “Wow. Our dogs were extremely obedient just now. One sharp sound — without even saying their names! — and they immediately recognized their error and backed off. I sure wish our kids reacted in such an immediate, obedient manner when they are verbally corrected…Or I myself…”

To contrast the immediate, total obedience of our Dobermans (which was not an isolated incident yesterday but rather characterizes their overall demeanor), I will now share with you something that happened moments ago with Thor, our beloved Pit Bull puppy who is nothing like his older counterparts.

Little Thor when he arrived at our home several months ago

Today is Saturday, and this morning I got up before the other members of our household and quietly went out onto our front porch to serve myself a cup of water and grab some breakfast. As I sat down in the still morning hours on a concrete bench overlooking the vast green pasture where our cows were grazing, of course all three dogs eagerly came over to greet me and see what I was eating.

I don’t share people food with our dogs (and they know that), so the Dobermans immediately left me and my breakfast alone and sat quietly on the porch near me but without excessive bothering. Thor, however, jumped right up on the bench with me (which is a big no-no), so I began verbally trying to scare him off while I tried to protect my food at the same time. His snout danced up and down, enthralled by the smell of my breakfast, and I shook my hands in a shooing fashion and began scolding him louder and louder, assuming that my agitated posture and sharp tone of voice would send him the message that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that he would react accordingly.

Well, that didn’t happen. The Dobermans looked on, totally poised and well-behaved, while little Thor stayed put on the bench right next to me, intent on disobeying because he liked the idea of tasting a morsel of my breakfast. 

Several unsuccessful moments passed of me trying to shoo him off when I realized that he had zero intent of obeying me. I then grabbed a marker off the table that one of our students had left from the day prior and began thumping him with it — on his rear end at first, and then when that had no effect I kept thumping and shooing him on his back and then finally on his head.

I don’t enjoy beating our animals (and I don’t think thumping him with a bright pink marker can be classified as that), but he looked visibly hurt that I was treating him in such a harsh manner.

But he still made no move to get down off the bench.

Several more moments went by of me thumping and harshly scolding him while he just looked at me with these big, sad eyes as if he had no idea what he had done wrong or what he could do to escape from the torment.

Finally our two Dobermans dashed off to bark at something they sensed on the other side of the fence, and that distracted Thor just enough to cause him to clumsily jump down from the bench and follow them in their valiant defense of our property.

Our three guard dogs together

I laughed in relief and began eating my breakfast in peace as the dogs had finally left me alone, but suddenly the lesson — and the striking contrast between our dogs’ responses to correction — began to be made clear in my mind, and I dwelt on this for the following several minutes. 

I felt as if the Lord was telling me that we humans tend to fall into one of the two categories that our dogs had so perfectly embodied: that of quick, willing submission (loving, responsive obedience) or stubborn foolishness (chronic disobedience).

How many times has the Lord (either through His Word, through another person or through His Spirit moving within us) indicated to us something that we should repent of, something that needed to be changed or left behind, etc?

How many times have we reacted like King Kong and Xena, the ultra-obedient Dobermans? Perhaps very few.

How many times have we reacted as clumsy Thor, even getting beaten up a little bit along the way and getting our feelings hurt but even so never truly submitting, never actually learning the lesson at hand? Perhaps too many.

I leave you with this simple reflection inspired by ordinary events as we each consider before the Lord if we have truly been obedient to His call or His correction, if we have heard His voice or read His Word and truly reacted, or if we too often remain put in our foolish ways and refuse to change, to submit, wondering why things aren’t turning out so well for us in the process. If only we would obey, the torment might cease! Have we refused time and again to forgive, to break free from an addiction, to fulfill Christ’s command to love unselfishly?

God bless you and keep you in your daily affairs, and may He illuminate each of us so that we might come to know the perfect obedience of Christ even in the midst of suffering and trial. To God be the glory.

With peace and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Just for Fun: Come to Math Class Dressed Like a Genius!

This is currently my third year of designing and teaching a dynamic math/logic class in the small high school we operate out of our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras.

For these past several weeks my students and I have been thoroughly enjoying a small book called “The Moscow Puzzles” that includes various real-life math and logic problems.

For a recent exam, I announced that each student who desired could come dressed as a genius or professional mathematician, which is a big deal considering all students normally come in their white- and navy blue uniform everyday. Some kids got very creative with this and came in borrowed glasses, bowties and professional attire while I, too, got in on the fun and dressed as the very serious supposed Russian author of the logic book we’ve been studying. (I gave myself the made-up name Professor Ivanka Zolushka Popovski Romanov, had a thick Russian accent throughout the class and would only answer the kids’ questions if they called me by my full Russian name).

At the Living Waters Ranch we daily disciple, love and sow into the lives of our students for God’s glory, and just occasionally we have riotous fun as well…

Enjoy the pictures! God bless you.

Genius photo! (These are about half of my students, as the others had decided not to come dressed for the occasion.)
Explaining the rules of the test: I had to use a “translator” so that the kids could understand my heavy Russian accent. (One of our foster daughters who is also one of my math students, standing at my right, helped “translate.”)
These were the male and female winners of the costume competition! (One of our foster daughters dressed as a “NASA Supervisor” and even made a name badge to go along with her attire, and the young man in the photo is one of our new students this year who dressed as a young businessman.) Too cute!

Who knew taking a math exam could be so fun?

Monthly Update: March 2019

We greet you from our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras, Central America with this month’s general update. May God grant both you and us increasing wisdom, faith and love in Christ Jesus.

We are in the full-swing of a new year of academic classes, relational discipleship and Christian community here at the Living Waters Ranch. My husband Darwin and I continue to raise our 7 foster children/teens in addition to serving as directors and teachers in the school we operate out of our home. Our team of local Honduran missionaries who serve alongside of us are doing a phenomenal job, and we continually give thanks to God that He allows us to participate with Him  to reach humanity with the gospel.

In this specific post I will share a current prayer request along with photos taken of our girls’ organic agriculture class. This class is one of many character-building activities which we teach on an ongoing basis, and this specific group meets twice weekly under the leadership of one of our local missionaries who has a deep passion for Christ, God’s creation and training youth to have an honorable work ethic.

Gotta love cutting back unruly bush with a machete! (Surely this is every teenage girl’s dream!) Just be careful not to step on a venomous snake!
In this photo you can see the pineapple patch we’ve planted along with part of the green bean area and some plantain trees.
This is one of our new students this year, an 11-year-old local girl who lives with her family. We tend to have more young men in our school than young women because many parents are hesitant to enroll their daughters in a rigorous program that includes agriculture and intensive physical training exercises, but there are indeed a few brave parents out there!

Prayer Request for Protection in the Midst of Much Government Supervision/Scrutiny

As our little discipleship school has grown since its inception in 2014, we have recently attracted much attention from the local educational authorities due to our unique perspective and potential competition with the local public schools (which is something we never intended).

We now receive very frequent (and sometimes unfriendly) supervisions, and the local authorities have been critical of many of our teaching methods since they are not commonly found in the over-crowded, oftentimes mediocre public institutions. My husband is also now constantly swamped with countless reports that the authorities are asking for weekly, and we sense that all of this might be an effort on the government’s behalf to try to overwhelm us or find some flaw so that they would have reason to potentially close us down.

Please pray for protection for us against the evil forces that are very active in the Honduran government, and pray for peace of mind for my husband who is on the frontlines against these constant attacks/distractions. He oftentimes has to lose several hours of sleep at night in order to fulfill the endless rounds of paperwork the authorities ask of him.

We do not want to feel fearful or worried in the midst of all this, nor do we want all of our energies to go towards trying to please a system that is decidedly in our contrast. We desire to live in peace with everyone and respect the government authorities as much as is in our power to do so.

Thus, we humbly ask for prayer in all of these matters as our earnest hope is to be free from excessive government obligations in order to dedicate our energies toward discipling, loving and teaching the youth the Lord has placed under our care for His glory.

This is Erick, a local Honduran Christian who has been serving full-time at the Living Waters Ranch for several years. In addition to preaching Christ in the classroom and in the context of extracurricular classes, he and his wife hold an open-door ministry in their home in our rural neighborhood after-hours and on weekends. They lead a discipleship group out of their living room and have a small group of local youth who frequent their home at all hours seeking biblical advice, a kind listening ear or a loving refuge. One of Erick’s goals is to train up the teens in his discipleship group to go out and share God’s Word with local drug addicts and thieves that are so commonly found in our area.
This is Paola, one of our foster daughters who this year will reach her 2-year anniversary of living with us. God has been very active in her life, and she aspires to be a pastor when she is older.
This is Carolina, another one of our foster daughters, who is eating a piece of the raw yucca plant that our girls harvested in agriculture class. (Gotta love that silly face!)

Plucking weeds — a never-ending job in Honduras where things tend to grow quickly!
This is Gleny, another one of our foster daughters who has been living in our family over 5 years and is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with her 2 biological siblings. We’ve decided to educate our foster children in our community homeschool program so that we have closer daily contact with them and so that they might be formed for Christ’s purposes and not the world’s.

Thank you to all of those who pray for and financially support this mission. May the Lord’s peace rest over your life and home.

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

 

Leading a Thirsty Horse to Water Only to Watch Him Walk Away

A very strange thing has happened here. The tiny school we originally started out of our own home five years ago as a loving, Christ-centered outreach for local vagabonds and at-risk kids now includes a student population we never intended to serve: stable, bright middle-class students.

What was originally intended to be a rescue shop within a yard of hell for those on the farthest margins of society has been largely rejected by that population and embraced by another.

Yes, we still have a few rag-tag ex-vagabonds and rogue teens among our group of students this year (and many who have been abandoned by their mothers who left them to chase the American Dream), but we’ve been utterly surprised to receive new, stable families into our program who are not looking for a last-ditch rescue effort for troubled youth but rather a legitimate Christian school (and a dynamic extended family and discipleship program) for their growing children.

Our priority over these first several years of relational ministry in rural Honduras has been the least and the lost — those who are on the verge of entering gangs, those who have been overlooked by society and possibly not given a fair shot, those who have never stepped foot in a church building. Through many efforts, sincere friendships, prayers and tears, however, the majority of those whom we hoped to serve have opted out of a relationship with us (and opportunities to get an education, heal from their past, acquire life skills and learn to walk with Christ) in favor of a continued life of ease and sin on the streets. This has been bewildering, frustrating and devastating for my husband and I.

As the majority have now chosen the path of least resistance, we have been left seriously wondering if we should have prayed harder or done something differently in order to reach these teens in a more effective way. The most logical answer we come to is that they are simply people with God-given free will who have decided to use that free will in a way that does not glorify God.

My husband Darwin even made resumes and secured healthy employment for several of our local teens over the Christmas holidays in order to keep them busy/focused so that they would not fall astray (and because the majority of them say that they really want to be able to make an income). Darwin spoke with the manager of a local clothing store in order to get a job for one of our beloved teen boys, and Darwin spent several hours going around town with the young man buying the clothes he would need for his daily work uniform. The young man only showed up for the first day of work and then decided not to go back because it was ‘too hard’ being on his feet so many hours.

Over the December-January holidays Darwin organized outings to go fishing with these local teen boys (many of whom come from broken homes), watch Christian movies with them, visit their homes, counsel and pray with their parents, etc. We opened up the door for some of them to come live with us in order to escape unhealthy home situations, which several turned down. After great sacrifices on Darwin’s part (on many days he spent more time with the teen boys than he did with me and our 7 foster kids), all but a small handful have since turned their backs on us and have dropped out of our school in favor of doing absolutely nothing at all in this current season of their lives. We’ve even offered agriculture jobs on our rural property to these same local young men in order to provide them an honest income doing productive work, and all but two have turned down the offer to work without any real reason.

I share this with you not to judge these youth or complain about our experiences with them, but rather to openly share some of the confusing and very turbulent emotions we’ve gone through over these past several weeks as we’ve been confronted with the reality that many of those whom we love dearly and earnestly want to shepherd in the Lord are simply unwilling. Many people ask God to grant them a heart for the lost — love for humanity, to see people the way God sees them. Our experience is that the painful blessing in holding this God-given perspective is that there is much heartbreak in store as many of those whom you grow to love end up making decisions that lead to their own destruction and alienation from the Lord. This is perhaps part of the sorrow that Christ knew so well.

Thus, our new motto (however unfamiliar it still feels on our lips) is: We want to work with youth who want to be worked with. The season has now passed of us dropping everything in order to look for those who’ve run off and try to convince them time and again to do what is best for them (even against their own will): live for God, prepare for the future, live an honest life, etc. We have effectively let go (both physically and emotionally, which is much harder) of these teens and are now entering a new year and season of working with eager, young lives who really want what we are offering and whose parents are on-board with the nitty-gritty discipleship and formation process.

I would also like to share a new missions/global perspective with you based on our experience,  however hard it may be to believe: some people are materially poor, uneducated and/or far from God not because they were offered no opportunities or because no one has shared the gospel with them, but rather because — even after being pled to work, get an education or seek the Lord — they refused. This is hard to swallow and sounds very harsh, but this is the reality we come up against time and again (and we are not alone in this; many local pastors and missionaries have the same experience).

Also: many people believe that youth join gangs because they are looking for love/acceptance. This might be true in many cases, but I no longer believe it to be true in all. In our experience we have offered a very genuine, vibrant love and acceptance into a healthy, biblical community to many youth, and they are simply not interested (mainly because it is ‘too hard’).

Will they now turn to gangs or anti-social groups looking for a sense of belonging? We have no way of knowing; time will tell, but we can know for sure that if they do so it is not because they have known no love or have experienced only rejection in their lives, thus turning to the gangs as a last resort. They were given open doors and pled to walk through them, but they ran away from the love that was being offered them.

A couple weeks ago Darwin and I had a heart-to-heart talk with one of our favorite teen boys who had been in school with us for the past two years. We sat on little wooden stools in our empty, quiet dining room on a Sunday afternoon. We listened to his home struggles, tried to give him biblical advice as far as he would listen, affirmed our love of him, and at the end prayed for him through tears. We had offered to employ him and even help his family with food donations if only he would remain in relationship with us through his daily participation at the Living Waters Ranch (which, after all, is not for our benefit but rather his). At the end of the entire encounter — which lasted over an hour — I asked him if we could embrace him, which is a physical boundary I do not typically cross with our male students. He nodded yes, and my husband and I tightly held his 16-year-old body between us for several minutes as all of us fought off tears. Even after such an experience, the young man decided to drop out of our school/discipleship program and can now be spotted wandering the streets of our rural neighborhood, as he is now neither working nor going to school. His dad is in the process of leaving illegally for the States with one of his younger brothers even after Darwin tried on several occasions to convince the dad to stay.

These types of loss — and we have over a dozen other similar stories — leave us with an aching void in our chest but at the same time we know there is nothing else we can do beyond open the door, share the good news of Christ, participate in an honest and loving relationship with the person, extend opportunities and give wise counsel. If the person refuses, we can only watch them go, even knowing the likely myriad of consequences they will face due to their poor decisions.

So, please pray for these young lives who have unexplainably chosen to go astray, and — however strange it may sound — please pray for my husband and me, as these losses deeply affect us and are not easily forgotten. Pray that these young people might come to a genuine repentance and that they might begin to honor the Lord with their lives — whether that is in the context of a relationship with us at the Living Waters Ranch or elsewhere.

Thank you to all of you who regularly pray for this mission and support this work financially. God bless you, and please know that we do the best we can to administer our time, energies and funds in order to be effective servants, parents, teachers and missionaries for God’s glory.

Below I will include some photos that were taken within the last couple weeks of our new batch of local youth who are eager to learn and grow alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch this year. We currently have a little over 50 students, the number of which tends to flux a bit throughout the year. Among them are many children being raised by single dads, teens living with aunts or grandparents because their mothers abandoned them to go to the United States, and — as I mentioned above — some new students who come from more stable, middle-class families.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers!

Missionary Work in Honduras: First Update of 2019

After going over 5 weeks without even touching my computer, I will now try to pick up from where I left off…

We are currently in our annual period of preparation as we will begin a new year of personalized classes and Christian discipleship on our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) at the beginning of February. 

My husband, our seven foster children and I enjoyed a very low-key December in Honduras as we worked around our rural property together as a family doing various maintenance projects, paint jobs and groundskeeping activities. We immersed ourselves in several fruitful activities such as going on long walks, visiting a botanical garden, studying God’s Word as a family each night at dinner, engaging in various service projects in our local community and carving out time for each person to see their biological family members and/or close family friends. My mom and step-dad visited us before Christmastime, and my dad is planning a visit down here in early February.

Our foster kids painted smiley-face t-shirts with encouraging slogans on the front as they went out into our rural neighborhood on several occasions to pick up trash, as it is very common in our area for people to throw their trash directly on the ground or along the road instead of seeking out a trash can. We consider this to be a humble and gracious act of community service, as they are doing a less-than-glamorous job that rarely anyone takes the initiative to do. We hope to set forth an example of loving responsibility and encourage those in our community to take care of God’s creation and value the area in which they are raising their families.
Mission accomplished: over a dozen black trash bags reached our trash bin!
My husband Darwin was able to visit his dad, who is well into his 80s, several times during the Christmas holidays. Darwin and his dad are two of the only Christians in their family. His dad spent the majority of his life on the wrong path until finding the Lord less than 10 years ago. Darwin is the youngest of 18 siblings.
One of our foster daughters and several of our local students participated in an art competition in the nearby city of La Ceiba around Christmastime. They had been faithfully attending art workshops every Saturday for the past several months before the year-end event.
Last year my husband started an official swim club as part of the integral education we offer at the Living Waters Ranch, and he trained this rowdy bunch for several months before taking them on a special outing to a local beach. Many youth in our area do not have  positive outlets for play, exercise and healthy friendships, so activities such as this swim club are very important in the lives of our foster children and local students as we seek to form them for God’s glory.

Our night watchman and his family moved out of the little rainbow-colored house on our property after three years of committed relationship with them for God’s glory, and we have now converted their old home into a new “hospitality house” for local teen boys who are looking to engage in work, study and the search for Christ within safe confines. This is a new direction the Lord is taking us in, and my husband Darwin has done a phenomenal job overseeing, encouraging and working alongside of our new teen neighbors in their first several weeks living on our property. The house can hold 2-4 mature residents.

Our committed team of local Honduran missionaries/professionals recently returned to the Living Waters Ranch after several weeks of rest at home with their families, and together we are currently receiving and evaluating the dozens of local youth who are hoping to enter our grassroots Christian school this year.

Many of those who have wandered up the long gravel road to our rural property in these last couple weeks are youth we’ve known closely for several years who are looking to re-enter our school as they persevere with their commitment to cultivating their minds, bodies and very beings for Christ while others are completely new to our program and have sought us out as the local public schools have failed them and they are looking for something different and more effective. Some come from stable, loving families while others are on the outer fringes of society with almost zero stability in their lives. One local teenage vagabond whom we dearly love has been in and out of our school for the past four or five years and after a series of bad decisions last year has surprised us all with a very humble desire to try once again. He’s 17 years old and in second grade, and throughout these first several days of meetings and evaluations he has surprised us all with the great joy and commitment he’s displaying. These kinds of stories encourage us to keep hope alive.

A group of some of our male students in their evaluation period a few days ago prior to enrollment. (We put them through several physical fitness/endurance tests in addition to teamwork activities in order to build their character.)

A group of our female students building their pyramid in competition with the boys…

Our first two P.E. classes of the pre-enrollment evaluation period this month occurred on rainy, muddy days. Everybody went home with wet, dirty clothes and a big smile on their faces!
Pushups!

This year the Lord has brought a local college graduate with a heart for missions to serve alongside of us full-time, and we are honored that she will begin teaching Christian dance, advanced English and other subjects in our school in addition to leading prayer groups, teaching Bible studies and going house-to-house in our rural neighborhood to share the gospel with our neighbors. A local married couple who has been serving alongside of us for several years just recently finished the construction of their own home in our rural neighborhood where they have an open-door policy with local teens who seek them out after-hours for prayer, counsel, youth group and simply living and serving alongside of them for God’s glory. This couple is an integral part of our ministry, and their home is basically an extension of the Living Waters Ranch about a half-mile down the road smack dab in the middle of our local neighborhood.

Not only did we have P.E. class in the rain and mud for our students; we’re also in the process of physically conditioning our staff and foster kids! (And it’s a great bonding activity…) We all got ridiculously dirty and had a blast even though our muscles hurt so bad after the first day that we could barely walk…

 In the upcoming weeks we will be receiving two students of ours (brothers, ages 14 and 8) into our home as resident-guests as they want to continue receiving the love, integral development and Christian discipleship in our school but would not be able to unless they move in with us due to family issues. So, my husband and I will soon have 9 young people under our full-time care with several dozen more in our school during daytime hours in addition to the small group of young men now living in our rainbow hospitality house. Each facet of this ministry the Lord has entrusted us has its specific purposes, and we feel at peace with and excited about each of them.

There are many more details I could share — some tedious, some heart-warming — but I will try to ensure that my first post of the new year is not overwhelmingly long. We send our sincere gratitude to those who pray for and financially support this mission, and we earnestly ask for prayer as we desire to live as Christ in each facet of our lives here in Honduras (in marriage, with our foster children/live-ins, to the youth in our school and hospitality house, with our dedicated staff, to our local neighbors, etc). Please pray that the Lord might grant us the wisdom, grace and faith necessary to continue onward with this work of love throughout many years to come and that in due time the lives of the young people we are cultivating might give a precious fruit for His glory.

Thank you, and God bless you.

With gratitude,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Cattle Thieves Return

Early this morning our watchman’s wife came up to our gate to inform us that cattle thieves had broken into our property last night and stolen again for the second time in ten months.

Last year they took our two adult milking cows and butchered them silently outside of our front gate, leaving us without milk and with an orphaned calf on our hands. Last night the victim was a young adult female whom our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline had saved for and purchased with the hope of the cow providing her a legacy of calves and milk, which could potentially pay for her college education or set her up to make at least a partial living off of cattle-raising within the next ten or twenty years.

We had taken several proactive steps since the first cattle robbery to secure our cows in a well-lit pen between our fence and our watchman’s home, but just the same the thieves arrived so quietly that no one heard them and we suspect they drugged our watchdogs (a common act down here) because they didn’t even bark. To leave with the cow, they just cut through several sections of our barbed-wire fence, which now must be repaired.

The cow they chose last night had been severely malnourished when our daughter bought it from a neighbor at a reasonable price about two years ago, and we’ve seen the cow gain strength and beauty as she had just recently reached maturity and would be ready to become a mom (and thus finally produce milk) at some point over the coming year. Many of our other kids did not understand our daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit: Why would a teenage girl buy a cow with her money instead of something more immediately useful and interesting? Several adults who know her (including my husband and I) had marveled at Jackeline’s maturity and eye for long-term gain as she had invested in the cow and had placed great hopes on her to provide (at least in part) for her future.

This morning I went into her room and jostled her awake on her bottom bunk. As she rolled over, my hand patting her leg gently to greet her, I informed her of the news as her face froze for several moments, her eyes trained on mine. My words came out dryly, “They stole your cow last night.” When she didn’t seem to register what I was saying, I added, “The thieves. They returned and took your cow.”

For those of you who are not familiar with Honduran law and justice, it is largely myth (as in, it doesn’t exist). Two years ago my husband’s brother was shot dead point-blank in a nearby town, there were several eye-witnesses and people knew the name and address of the killer, and after many trips to both the local and regional police station nothing was done in attempt to find the killer or do justice. Ten months ago when they stole our first two cows I walked off under misting rain down the long gravel road that meets the highway as I found a police officer on foot watching traffic. I informed him of the tragic robbery and slaughter that had occurred only hours before (as in, “Please help us hunt these people down”), and the police officer only shrugged and told me that he wasn’t surprised because that kind of thing happens all the time. He and his comrades arrived in their brand new, decked-out police truck two weeks later to our property (which lies about 1.5 miles from the police station), and gave us our condolences for our loss. I looked at them in shock and thought, “Condolences? You came here — two weeks after the fact! — to simply give us your condolences?! My grandmother could give me her condolences! You are the POLICE — do your job and fight for justice!”

In Honduran culture it is very common that when somebody has something that others don’t (for example, a cow or a nice cellphone, etc), someone will come and steal it from them to assure that no one gets ahead or experiences much success at all. Extortion here is high — many small businesses or people who are experiencing some humble level of prosperity are forced to pay the gang lords a monthly “war tax” or they will be killed. Cattle thieves are also common: why go through the long and difficult process of buying cattle when it is much easier to simply steal? (This is the general thought among those who are given over to a life of crime here, especially because the police provide virtually no threat to those who break the law.)

Many people leave Honduras and flock to the United States for this same reason — endemic injustice that refuses to allow people to prosper in the quietness of their own endeavors and hard work. If you prosper too much, you become the next target.

So, we ask for prayer. It is very easy to fall into cynicism or a fatalistic attitude of “Why try?” We are on a very tight budget as a ministry, and our small herd of cows — two of which provide milk — help alleviate our grocery bills of buying milk and represent a humble emergency-type fund in case at some point we are desperately low on money. My husband is now thinking about selling off our four younger cows and maintaining only our two momma cows that give milk plus a male for future mating, but even so the thieves could return at any point at take our remaining cows or that of our watchman’s family. Please pray for discernment in regard to how we should most efficiently use our rural property without becoming a magnet for thieves.

We desire to live a quiet, honest life here in rural Honduras reaching out the the poor and lost with the good news of Christ and practical education and discipleship to equip people as instruments of God’s hope, love and justice right here — without people leaving Honduras in search of a better life elsewhere. Please pray with us that the seeds in which we are sowing in the lives of the nearly-50 young people in our school will provide a good fruit that will glorify God and that we would not be easily discouraged as we know that our final prize and rest will be with God for all eternity.

God bless each of you, and please pray with and for us at this time, for protection over our property and for some semblance of real justice here on earth (even as we know that God will bring about real, perfect justice at the end of the times). Thank you.

Celebrations of Life and Belonging

In the past four days we have celebrated two birthdays in our large, God-designed household — one of our new foster daughters turned 16, and one of our girls who’s been in our household nearly five years and is in the process of being adopted by us turned 14.

Since answering the call to Biblical parenthood to the orphaned and abandoned five years ago, my husband and I have vacillated in our response to birthdays. The first year or so each birthday was largely extravagant due to the newness of the whole affair and our desire to make our new children feel welcomed and loved, but then over the ensuing 2-3 years birthdays became routine and even boring (largely due to the fact that we’ve had up to 10 children/teens in our family at a time, which makes for a whole lot of birthdays). We stopped going the extra mile and settled for simple birthday wishes and little to no gifts.

Well, this year we are diving back into (and now with more depth, increased love and hours of dedicated thoughtfulness and planning) the act of blessing our 7 children in a unique way on their birthday as we celebrate with them all God has done in their lives and the precious gift that they are to my husband and me.

The following photos were taken in our 10′ x 20′ living room around the wooden table where we eat meals, have family meetings, do homework, pray together and enjoy art projects. We give thanks to God for allowing us to rediscover the joy of celebrating the beauty of our children and making them feel treasured on their birthday.

Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this mission. God bless you, and may you be encouraged by the sheer joy displayed on our children’s faces as they know they are loved by God and by many more.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family

Yesterday was our daughter Gleny’s 14th birthday. She came to us when she was a malnourished and very scared 9-year-old, and now she is a beautiful and blossoming young woman growing in God’s grace. Gleny has been known to struggle in her relationships with her siblings due to her very strong and even dominating temperament, so it was very special to see everyone reach out to and support her last night on her birthday (and to see the way she responded with love and gratitude). I especially enjoy the way her older biological sister (Dayana, purple t-shirt) is looking upon her in this photo, as the Lord has done a lot this year to restore the relationship of sisterhood between these two after many years of emotional distance (despite always having lived in the same household). Praise God for the way He is healing our children.
This is the birthday poster board I designed with two of our teen girls for Gleny’s birthday.
A couple nights prior one of our new foster daughters, Carolina, celebrated her 16th birthday. She has lived with us nearly a year and has been in the child welfare system since early childhood. We feel called by God to legally adopt her once she turns 21 years old, and she is very excited about this. (Certain children/teens in Honduras are adoptable before age 21 and others must wait until 21 for various legal reasons, so she will continue to live with us as our daughter in Christ until she can legally become our daughter once she turns 21.) She wanted ice cream instead of a cake, so we stuck the candles in two tubs of ice cream!
This particular daughter of ours loves pulling pranks on other people, so included in the gifts we got her were plastic glasses, buckteeth, a pirate’s patch and fake snot. (It ended up being fun for the whole family!)
What a pretty birthday girl!

This is Josue, our special-needs foster son who has been living with us over three years. He’s a total ham and loves getting in on the action with everyone else!

Our 11-year-old with the fake snot! Too funny!

Don’t I have a really handsome husband?

Even though this picture turned out a bit blurry, I love it because our eldest (almost 18) is normally quite serious and note prone to doing anything “childish.” It really touched my heart that she got in on the fun right alongside everyone else!

Last but not least…Try not to laugh…I grabbed a big blue bow that was on top of one of our girls’ presents and put it on Darwin! (I had put it on myself first, but then our kids encouraged me to try it on him as well…) Our kids started cracking up and calling out, “Mom! Your present has arrived! It’s Dad!”
Gotta love this photo! (Even though Darwin doesn’t!) He started speaking in a nonexistent foreign language with his birthday bow on his head…He had us all rolling!

 

That’s all for now! God bless you!

Request for Prayer and Encouragement

To all who pray for and support this mission:

I ask that you would pray for us during this season specifically in regards to our emotional reserves and spiritual endurance.

The relational work we are dedicated to in Honduras requires us to be on the clock 24/7, and our ‘personal time’ almost always includes at least half a dozen young people who need to be lovingly supervised and tended to. (This can be very taxing on my introverted tendencies, as I oftentimes feel drained being around people all the time and wish everyone would just leave me alone for a couple hours.)

We spend our Monday-Friday working hours in teaching, community discipleship and administration out of our home-mission at the Living Waters Ranch, and then as our daytime teaching staff and local students leave we are then ‘on’ during nights and weekends with our 7 children who live with us full-time, 5 of which are teenagers with very delicate and pressing needs. (Oftentimes there is no dividing line between what is work and what is rest/personal time, and frequently the teens we serve in our home are those who end up draining us even more with their poor attitudes and criticism of us.) Please pray that the Lord would grant our children grateful hearts who are willing to serve and bless in Jesus’ name, as that would greatly alleviate the burden we shoulder in our home and grant us allies in our home-ministry.

I share this with you as I seek prayer for our marriage and our personal growth with the Lord (and that of our children), as the majority of our energy is spent actively proclaiming the truth to broken people and helping them resolve their crises. Thus, oftentimes little energy is available to intentionally cultivate our marriage or delve deeper in our personal walk with the Lord (and seek healing for our own brokenness).

(And, as a side note, thanks to God’s healing hand I am sleeping a lot better as my insomnia has greatly dissipated in these last few months without taking any kind of sleeping medication, but even so I am facing exhaustion and potential discouragement due to the many demands we face each day from 5:00am until bedtime.)

We are committed to continue in this daily effort as family to the orphaned/abandoned and lighthouse of hope to the lost for as many years as the Lord allows (and we have seen many breakthroughs and transformation in and around us in these last several years since beginning the journey), thus we are currently searching to see what Spirit-led changes can be made in our approach to ensure that we don’t fall prey to total burnout. We always seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse, and many times I lend a compassionate ear to our teen girls’ deep emotional struggles and spiritual searches and then reach the end of the day wondering who will lend me a listening ear because my husband is likewise as exhausted as I am or is working in our home office until late at night.

As a last note (and please forgive me for such a heavy and potentially discouraging post), I feel that I am personally in pressing need of words of encouragement at this time. Our lifestyle and the demands on my time have not permitted me to maintain any of my old friendships or cultivate new ones, so I find myself frequently lonely or tackling the many tasks before me by myself. As one of our spiritual mentors told my husband and I at the beginning of this journey several years ago, “It’s lonely to lead.” We have found this to be true, as the lifestyle the Lord has blessed us with does not grant many companions along the way.

So, if you read this blog and are able to reply with a sincere word of encouragement for me personally (or for Darwin), I would be extremely grateful and it would go a long way.

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers.

In Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission