I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband, our foster children and the few dozen students/staff in our school. We want to sincerely thank those who continue to pray for and financially support this ongoing mission on the northern coast of Honduras.
Through this post I would like to extend the offer to pray for you. Our family has developed the daily discipline of interceding in prayer for others each morning before beginning our daily activities, so I would just like to leave the door open should you feel you want our family to pray for you specifically. Our family is learning that many times we humans try to fight our ‘battles’ in our own strength or by our own means, but truly much of what we face has spiritual implications and must be fought through prayer before the Lord. My email address is JenniferZillyCanales@gmail.com should you feel led to contact us privately and share with us a personal struggle or concern. We have little to offer in general terms, but it would be our honor and joy to pray for you if you reach out to us.
I will keep this post fairly short; our daily commitments and service-oriented lifestyle continue on in much the same way as I’ve reported on this blog the last several months. We are thankful that God has opened up recent communication with several of the teens who lived with us for a season but currently find themselves outside our home. We’ve had the privilege of parenting 12 youth in all since 2013, and currently 5 continue living under our watchful care. We sense God is orchestrating much reconciliation among us and opening doors for new mentor-type relationships with several of our 7 foster sons and daughters who had dropped out of our lives for a season. This is a huge triumph!
I would ask for prayers regarding the publishing of my first book, as I’m in the midst of a possible change of publisher. There are many decisions to be made, and it is my hope that throughout the process God may be glorified and that many lives will be impacted as a final result. Thank you for your prayers!
God bless you and your loved ones, and please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of service or encouragement to you in any way.
Sincerely in Christ, Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission
The large wooden play structure we had designed was finished a few weeks ago by Domingo, one of our faithful team members who is a local pastor in his 50s who serves with us as the Christian Leadership teacher, Carpentry Club leader, and elementary math teacher. We love the way it turned out, and the kids are all over it every chance they get! It has added a very fun and dynamic dimension to recess and lunch hour, and it supports our overall mission to restore broken youth spiritually, emotionally and physically for God’s glory.
Living Waters Ranch to Enter a Three-Week Intensive Mid-Year Term
With our roughly-40 students (8 from our foster/adoptive family and about 30 from our local community who participate daily in our discipleship-based homeschool) we will be entering a three-week period of different classes as of next week to ‘shake things up’ while further equipping our youth with experiences and knowledge they need in order to continue growing and exploring God’s will for their lives. My husband Darwin will be giving several intensive choir workshops; I’ll be teaching a Biblically-based world geography class (in addition to a crash course in grammar along with several Speech/Communication workshops) with our older students; and each child/teen will have the option of ‘specializing’ in one of several areas, including English as a second language, Agriculture/Christian Leadership, Carpentry/Christian Leadership, etc. All students will be involved in twice-weekly art classes during this mid-term time, and we’ll continue faithfully with our Bible study and prayer groups as usual.
Updates Regarding Katy
The lawyer from the local government office has yet to fulfill her word to go out to Katy’s family’s home to investigate her living situation, although she promises to do so this upcoming week. Please pray for all the government workers involved, as they are overburdened with cases of child abuse, neglect, etc, and the personnel and their resources simply aren’t enough to manage each one with excellence. Our home and our hearts are prepared to accept Katy into our home if and when the Lord should bring her, and we continue our active communication with the government agency in hopes of her rescue.
Brayan and Darwin Compete in Local Race
My husband Darwin and Brayan, our 15-year-old son, competed last week in a large organized road race in the nearby city of La Ceiba along with Larry, a longtime spiritual mentor of ours, and several other local youth whom we have friendships with. Events such as these are almost unheard of in our area (there are generally very few organized sports teams for youth, and athletic training of any kind is uncommon), so Brayan and Darwin had been training together for several weeks prior as they got amped up for the big event. Brayan, who came into our lives as a very uncoordinated and broken 12-year-old in 2014, has really taken hold of long-distance running over the past couple months as he’s been training with Darwin and Erick, and he actually won third place in the youth category! I was unable to attend the race (I stayed at home with the rest of our kids), but they told me there were roughly 80 or so teen males who participated, and our son — who comes from very broken places, and whom God has been restoring and healing over the past several years in accordance with His will — came in third! Wow! We are very excited about his newfound self-discipline and motivation that Father God is inculcating in this young man whom we love so much, and Brayan is excited to travel with Darwin and Erick next month to compete in another road race in a city that lies 3 hours away.
As was written on our prior blog post, my health as of late had been quite weak as I was battling Typhoid fever and an aggressive virus. I’ve gone in several days over the past few weeks to a local clinic to receive IV fluids packed with vitamins and antibiotics, and they’ve done their job well! I’ve recuperated strength and energy and have even felt the desire to begin playing with the kids and exercising again. (A couple days ago I got into a pretty extreme game of Monkey-in-the-Middle with a large group of our students and had a blast). Thank you to all of you who have prayed for my recovery.
Teachers Attend 3-Day Conference
I am currently attending a 3-day conference with two of our teachers (Isis and Reina) in another city in Honduras as we seek to continue learning about this field that the Lord has placed us in. We’ve attended workshops on the legal side of managing a ministry, heard testimonies and advice from other people who have fostered/adopted kids, learned more about child psychology and how to nurture kids who have been through severe traumas, etc. It has been a fruitful time of making connections with others who serve in similar fields, learning from the experts, and also continuing to form the bond between the three of us as sisters in Christ. Below you’ll see a few silly photos we took when no one else at the conference was looking…
In a prior update I sought prayer for our little Gabriela who has been living with us almost two years now. Surprisingly, we found a biological family member of hers in a nearby city several weeks ago (the first contact we have had with any family member since she and her sister moved in with us in July 2015). We got their cellphone number and have since realized two structured family visits for Gabriela and her older sister Josselyn. The family visits have helped to fill in many of the gaps in the girls’ fragmented history, and one of those is their ages. Although the majority of their family members are illiterate and do not have a very accurate concept of time, dates, etc, several of them affirmed that Gabriela is roughly 10 years old and Josselyn 12. We continue to parent, love and guide them day after day in this new stage of monthly family visits and increased contact with their past, and due to Josselyn’s insistence we are doing the legal investigations to see if one or both of the girls can return to their biological family’s home, most likely with their grandparents. This is a very delicate process for all of us, as Josselyn is currently feeling a very strong pull to return to her familial roots and daily experiences pretty dramatic mood swings as she has even escaped twice from our home in recent weeks. We are approaching the possibility of her living with her biological family with an open mind and much prayer, but both girls arrived at our home in terrible shape in 2015 and had experienced much abuse and neglect at the hands of certain relatives, so we do not yet have peace about them returning to such an unstable situation despite Josselyn’s adamancy. Please pray with us for our two girls during this time, as the government will have the final say on where the girls will live. This week I am scheduled to accompany a government social worker to the girls’ grandparents’ home as part of the reintegration investigation. Please pray for peace over our household as well, as Josselyn is quite unstable emotionally, and that affects everyone in our family. Please continue to pray with us for both girls — for their healing, relationship with the Lord, future, etc — as any child who has been separated from their biological family struggles with great insecurities and doubts as to why they do not live with their family in addition to periods of very intense emotional angst. Pray that Father God would bless them both with wisdom to understand their past, gratitude towards Him for where they are in the present, and great faith in God as to their future. In particular, pray that God would illuminate Josselyn’s mind with the truth (as we feel that she is currently very confused), and that wherever she ends up she would continue to seek, love and obey Him. The attachment process when a new child/teen arrives in our family (and then the detachment process if/when they leave) is extremely taxing on Darwin’s and my emotions, and we currently feel very stretched thin emotionally. We appreciate your honest prayers.
Erick’s Young Men’s Retreat and Running Group
Earlier this month during ‘Holy Week’ (the week in Latin American culture leading up to Easter Sunday) Erick and Darwin organized a camping retreat for about a dozen young men, the majority of whom are in our school and others of which weekly attend the Bible study that Erick and his wife host in their home on Wednesday evenings. They all threw on their backpacks and headed up a remote path into the dense jungle behind our home to enjoy a campfire, sharing of stories and testimonies, several Bible studies, etc. For the majority of the young men, it was the first time they had ever done anything like that. We are excited about and blessed by the wisdom, energy, and sacrificial attitude that Erick and his family bring to this ministry in rural Honduras, as he is actively investing in and guiding many teenage boys during his free time and during vacations. He has also since formed a running group with the same young men as he is training with them several times per week to run in a 10K in a nearby city next month. Not only Erick but all of the Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us this year are taking great initiative to form relationships with and disciple the many youth in our homeschool-style school, both during ‘work’ hours and on nights/weekends. This is awesome!
Greater Organization Achieved in 2017
Although this may not be a particularly striking headline report to make, we are very excited about the organization, communication and daily structure we’ve been able to establish this year. During the first three years of this ministry (2013-2015), we oftentimes felt like our lips were flapping violently in the breeze and our hair was flying all over the place as the learning curve is pretty drastic for learning how to parent hurting children/teens, establish and grow a ministry from scratch, utilize and protect a rural 17-acre property in the middle of one of the world’s most dangerous countries, etc. Last year we had many breakthroughs as we opened our previously itty-bitty homeschool program to dozens of local youth through the creation of our discipleship-based high school, twice-weekly Bible study and prayer groups, Christian Leadership class, etc, although we still had many kinks to work out as we had been thrown into an entirely new arena. Now that we have more experience under our belts (and hopefully wisdom gained both through the ups and downs we’ve personally gone through in addition to increased and ongoing reading of Scripture, etc), this calendar year we are all taking a collective sigh of relief and gratitude as things are marching along without so many hiccups. This year we are serving more people than ever before, and with much less stress! Knowing how to manage a kitchen where about 50 people eat on any given day – calculating how many and which groceries to buy, how to keep the kitchen clean (and who cleans it on what day, and then making sure that person actually cleans it!), etc – is not something that comes in the owner’s manual, but by God’s grace this year things are running more smoothly and the overall organization of the property and its buildings (not just the kitchen) has improved drastically. Setting appropriate limits both with the surrounding community and with those within our household; discerning and then communicating the specific vision/mission the Lord is giving us; establishing and managing our kids’ and laborers’ many schedules/responsibilities; learning how to keep our guard dogs alive; discerning the next step in any new situation and taking it, etc, has been the ongoing task during these first few years of laboring under God’s grace and for His glory. Through many people’s generosity we’ve also been able to purchase a printer for our office (before we used to have to run to town every time we needed to print something!) and we’re in the final stages of finishing a large swing-set/play structure for our yard. Join us in thanking God for these advancements – some big, others very small – as we are daily learning how to be the best possible stewards of all that has been placed under our care. Yes!
Seeking Prayer for Sandra, Who Left Our Home
Sandra, a 16-year-old local teen who has sought refuge in our home on-and-off over the past year-and-a-half, recently decided to move out of our home. Ever since her escape from her mother’s house a couple months ago, she has been actively engaged in many occult activities that go directly in contrast with God’s will for her life. Several weeks ago Darwin and I sat down with Sandra and her mother (a very devout, humble Christian who works with us part-time) to try to get to the root of Sandra’s sporadic behavior, and she told us that she no longer desired to live with us nor study in our school. She has since moved out and we have lost all contact with her, as she is living in her mother’s home but not under her mother’s authority. We are deeply saddened by the very dangerous choices she is currently making, but we feel absolute certainty that God has called us to release her (as in, no longer worry about her nor try to ‘rescue’ her from her own poor decisions). Prior to her moving out we had invested much individualized prayer, conversations, etc, into her life as we sought to be faithful channels of God’s grace to her, but she ultimately made her decision and will pay the consequences. Although Darwin and I along with our kids are in absolute peace with all that we’ve done, said, given, etc in regards to our relationship with her, we do seek prayer on her behalf and that of her mom, who is daily faced with a very rebellious daughter who has placed herself near many dangers. We long for Sandra to return to God in repentance, as she confessed faith in Christ last year and was publicly baptized, thus making a lifelong commitment with God. Thank you for your prayers.
Praising God: Protection from Danger
We praise and thank God that roughly a year and a half has passed since the last burglary on our property. Although those within our walls (students and our children) oftentimes struggle with stealing money or small items from our office or backpacks, we are very happy that the issue we had experienced in 2013-2015 of late-night unknown neighbors stealing chicken, electric generators, cutting through fences, etc, has since ceased. Our night watchman — who does his rounds with nothing more than a flashlight — has been doing a very diligent job each night, and he and his family will soon be celebrating two years of living on our property with us. Five of their children are in our school, and we enjoy a very positive relationship with them. Please continue to pray for us in regard to the general issue of security, as Honduras is a very dangerous country. We thank God for His protection — over our lives and our property — that He has granted us, and we humbly ask that you might pray with us so that this divine protection against evil might continue. Praise be to God!
Yesterday evening at dusk our old Toyota truck pulled to a slow stop along a narrow strip of gravel road in our neighborhood as one of our students who had been riding in the truckbed prepared to jump off. This was his stop.
I reached over to touch Darwin’s arm, motioning for him to wait, and said, “I’d like to get out and say hi to Stanley’s mom. I’ll be right back.” I then paused and laughed to myself, murmuring under my breath, “This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve visited this house.”
Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who was sitting inside the cab with us, piped up and said, “Yeah, you’ve come to visit Stanley and his cousin Sindy quite a few times, right, Ma?”
I laughed even harder and admitted, “No, never Sindy. Just Stanley.”
Sindy and Stanley, who both live at this address, had been students in our seventh-grade program last year. While Sindy had shone brightly as a very high-acheiving and easily-managed student, her cousin Stanley had proved to be a roller coaster of volatile emotions and foolish choices. He seemed prone to making bad decisions and had wanted to drop out of school several times. He had even told Darwin that his life dream was to join a gang, and he had participated in a robbery at our home in 2015.
And so I hopped down from the passenger’s seat of our truck and shouted over to Stanley, who had just gotten down from our truckbed, “Is it okay if I say ‘hi’ to your mom real quick?”
His face suddenly dropped, an instinct probably acquired due to the many times I’d had to ‘say hi to his mom’ for negative reasons, but suddenly a huge smile appeared on his face as he realized this time he had nothing to hide. We both laughed as I patted him on that back and said, “This time it’s good news.”
I waited at the twine gate, but they quickly passed me through to the more intimate realm of their property. I guess after having visited a house so many times, you sort of become like family. Stanley’s mom suddenly appeared from behind the thin curtain hanging in the front door, and we embraced, as we have on many occasions. This time, however, instead of Stanley escaping out the back door or hanging his head low, refusing to look anyone in the eyes, he stood tall right next to his mom, proud.
His mother instinctively looked worried as she wondered what had merited my unannounced house visit (as in, what-has-my-son-done-this-time), but I quickly reassured her that this time I came to brag on him and announce the fantastic news that he had earned a daily average of 89% during his first week of intensive preparation and had exhibited an entirely new attitude among his peers and towards us. Tears welled up in his mom’s eyes as I told her that her son had even begun taking great leadership among his peers and is a godly example for the new students to follow. Respectful, attentive, enthusiastic and hard-working during the daily hour of physical training. He had even completed all of his homework over the last several days, which had never happened before.
And so we gave thanks to God, I embraced his mother one more time, and we were off to do similar visits with the other students who remained joyfully squeezed in our truckbed.
We went house to house down long, remote gravel roads as we embraced mothers and step-mothers — both ones we’ve already had a relationship with from last school year along with ones that we are just now meeting for the first time. We had, after all, just spent the entire afternoon at a local park with our students who had earned a daily average of 80% or higher during their first week of intensive preparation for the school year, and we were eager to bear that good news to their parents.
In our rural community that hobbles around, bound by laziness, apathy and self-pity (not to mention rampant violence and a culture of lies), to see teenagers — especially those who in years past have been on the margins of society, on the brink of self-destruction or turning into instruments to destroy others — become fully alive, read God’s Word, and suddenly acquire a dogged work ethic and new hope regarding their future truly is miraculous.
On one of our last stops, at a small one-room shack with several barefoot little girls running about in the dirt yard, we shared the news of Charlie’s revival with his step-mom, who truly cares for him and who had been quite worried last year as time and time again Charlie slipped into irresponsibility and self-pity before finally failing his school year entirely. We had worked hard to convince his dad and step-mom to allow him to keep studying with us after his first year was an apparent failure (for we know the secret that many local parents don’t: this battle for salvation, for transformation is one that is done over the long-haul and one that cannot be given up on if the first year or two or three don’t go as planned). Charlie, who is 13 years old but has the appearance of an 8 or 9-year-old due to malnutrition, stood tall, his chest puffed out and his face serene as we enthusiastically shared the news with his step-mom. Charlie had earned a daily average of 97% in his first week of intensive prep, and his gracious attitude, servants’ heart and leadership skills — things that were not visible in him last year — shone brightly. His step-mom glowed with joy as she commented that she, too, had seen a distinct change in him over the last several days.
As we said our goodbyes and began walking down that little rocky dirt path back to our car, our 15-year-old son Brayan, who did a phenomenal job in his first week of classes, turned around and said jokingly, “And my house visit?” (As in, are you gonna brag on me too?) I laughed, knowing that we had already bragged on him more than 653 times this past week and I said with a grin, “I think your mom already knows that you did a fantastic job.” He smiled like a little boy and reached out a long, muscular arm towards me and said, “You’re my mom!” and I nodded my head and laughed.
And so we’ve been reading a lot of the book of Proverbs and the students have been copying whole chapters for homework. We’ve been reviewing basic math, assigning personal reflections each night to get the kids thinking, and participating in quite intense physical exercises with them each afternoon. The majority of our students come to us with an extremely weak academic base and need to be taught (or re-taught) the basic of subtraction, multiplication, etc, along with basic grammatical norms and reading support. This can be a tedious process as many of our students have learning disabilities/delays, but this week — praise God! — it was fun and effective. All but two of our students attended every single day, which in and of itself is a great triumph because discouragement and lack of attendance tend to be rampant in the educational system in Honduras.
The first week of intensive prep involved roughly 20 students (those who are new to our program along with those who need additional support), and next week roughly 20 more will be joining us as we enter our second and final week of academic, spiritual and physical ‘bootcamp’ before the official school year begins in early February.
And so we took that small group of students who truly fulfilled that first week of ‘bootcamp’ with excellence to a local park to participate in games of soccer and volleyball, enjoy the pool, and generally play. We are very excited to be able to do this type of positive reinforcement (we call them ‘good consequences’) from the get-go to establish healthy limits and a good foundation of choices/consequences with our students as we enter into this year of intimate commitment with them.
Please pray with us for our students (and for our team of teachers, counselors and mentors) as we are beginning a new school year with more youth than we have ever had in our program before. Please pray also for my health, as my insomnia remains a daily constant, and I physically am weak and prone to acquiring viruses/infections, as I have one right now (high fever and throat infection that has lasted much longer than it should). The insomnia greatly affects my mood, daily energy levels, and my relationship with everyone around me. Pray that this burden may be taken from me so that I may be even more effective in this great work the Lord has put before us.
We recently had a sister in Christ, an American missionary who has been serving in Central America for several years, come stay in our home for the better part of a week to do all-day group counseling sessions with our girls to aid in their ongoing healing process from difficult situations they went through in their early childhood. We are very thankful for the investment of the counselor in our girls’ lives, and we are hoping to have her back 1-2 times per year over the long haul. Please continue to pray with us for our daughters’ healing and freedom in Christ as chains of abuse and sin are being broken from their past with their biological families.
New Initiative/Job Opportunity for Local Youth
Last month we began offering a short-term job opportunity for a select group of our students at the Living Waters Ranch. We held three open informational/training sessions with all the youth interested in the job, assigned an in-depth homework assignment as part of the selection process, and then chose 9 youth ages 12-15 who would be the official ‘tutors’ (think fun educational babysitters) for developmentally-challenged 8-year-olds Gabriela and Josue during the winter vacation months.
We are about six weeks into this new initiative, and thus far it has produced abundant blessing both for the young tutors and Gaby and Josue, who are being joyfully occupied with art class, basic literacy, P.E., hide-and-seek, etc, while Darwin and I thus have more free time to dedicate to our older kids and other responsibilities.
As part of the job, the teenage tutors have to read Heidi Baker’s book Compelled by Love, a Christian non-fiction book about how to live Jesus’ command to love the lost and the least. Before each ‘pay day’, the teens have to submit a lengthy summary of the chapters that were assigned in addition to a personal reflection on the subject matter covered.
There are almost zero employment opportunities for teenagers in our poverty-stricken rural area (and almost no one has the habit of reading long chapter books), so the experience thus far has been of great growth and blessing for our young tutors. We are excited about this new initiative because it keeps wiggle-worms Gaby and Josue occupied and growing while at the same time makes a lasting investment in the lives and development of the young people who are learning for the first time what it means to hold a real job, read a very impactful book and deepen their walk with Christ.
Educational Field Trip to Local Nature Reserve with Our Students; Darwin’s Recorder Ensemble Plays During Lunch
Several weeks ago we were invited by an internationally-known nature reserve in our small town to spend the morning bird-watching with professional guides, hiking through a forest, wandering through a butterfly farm and seeing many snakes up-close in a Serpentarium. It was a very special experience for all of our students, teachers and live-ins as they had never participated in such an event in such a breathtaking landscape. During lunch on-site, Darwin organized his small group of dedicated student musicians to play several pieces as a thank-you to the owners of the reserve who had received us that morning.
Prayer Needed for Continued Protection Against Local Violence
There is much senseless violence and fear in our immediate context. Just this week two of our beloved teachers were kidnapped by a masked taxi driver. One of them began praying out loud that God would protect them, and finally the masked driver miraculously let them leave as he was taking them to a very isolated part of the city. Weekly we hear about (or personally see) large commercial buses being burned by extortionists and rampant gang-related murder taking the lives of innocent citizens. Please pray with us so that we do not fall prey to this spirit of fear and that Father God would protect us from the deeds of evil men so that we may continue to peacefully fulfill His will for many years to come.
Twice-Weekly Bible Study and Worship Continue During Vacation Months
During the winter vacation months before our new school year starts up again in February, we are continuing to meet as a family twice a week to study God’s Word and grow in Him. A small group of our students and neighbors continue to attend as we are taking turns leading the discussion as a way of allowing leadership/growth opportunities to the precious young people God has placed in our lives. Brayan and Josselyn led the discussion on Thursday, and sisters Dayana and Gleny are scheduled to lead on Tuesday of this upcoming week.
Prayer Needed for Sleep Issue and General Vitality
More than local violence, police corruption or behavioral problems confronted in our household, the biggest struggle I’ve come against day after day has been insomnia. Despite many natural and prescription sleeping aids and other treatments I’ve tried, I frequently spend the entire night wide awake or sleep only a couple hours. It is very easy to become discouraged and/or fall into hyper-adrenaline rushes to combat utter exhaustion as I daily struggle with general irritability with those around me. Please pray for this very real battle that oftentimes has my sanity hanging from a thread as I’ve been constantly sleep deprived for several years.
Christian Youth Conference Participation
This past week we drove six hours across the country with two of our beloved teachers and our two oldest kids (Dayana and Brayan) to attend the first-ever Christian youth conference held by a respected organization that seeks to help at-risk youth and those growing up without their biological families to base their identity in Christ. It was a very busy three-day event with several speakers, team-building activities and small group discussion/prayer time. Events such as these are very uncommon in developing countries such as Honduras, so to be able to participate and continue growing in Christ with those we love was a very huge privilege. It was a very healthy experience to get out of our immediate context and meet other Christ-followers from around the country and be exposed once more to the truth we’ve come to know and love.