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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Okay, so nobody actually went undercover, but the following photos were taken by our dedicated team of Honduran missionaries/teachers in the midst of our daily efforts to connect with, teach and disciple the youth in our community homeschool program for God’s glory.
We are currently wrapping up the 2018 school year (the traditional Honduran school calendar runs from February to November) with over 40 full-time students involved in our little grassroots mission. Thank you to all who pray for and financially support this living expression of God’s love in Honduras.
Thank you and God bless! (I hope some of the photos made you laugh.)
I am writing this post as a follow-up to the post I wrote several days ago about our viewpoint on the immigration crisis.
For those who have taken our story in a very negative light, please forgive my words as it is not my intention to spark anyone’s anger nor am I associated with any political party. My goal in writing was to simply share our perspective — however imperfect it is — about what we see and experience in our day-to-day lives in a small town on the Northern Coast of Honduras. I do not claim to hold the answers nor is it my intention to judge those who are part of the caravan to the United States. I hold no answers and am in desperate need of God’s wisdom in order to conduct myself in my daily life.
Let us all pray that God would direct both Honduran and American leaders during this time to begin making positive changes that will enact long-term change and increased justice in Honduras.
We know that our only real hope is Christ (no matter what situation we are in) as this entire world is under condemnation and will come to an eventual end under God’s wrath. Let us seek Him in repentance and with great faith (and joy!) whether we live in material prosperity or in want; whether we are Hondurans or Americans; and whether we belong to a certain political party or to a different one. Jesus does not promise an escape (or salvation) from the current times in a material sense, but He does work in and around us in the midst of turbulent times for His glory as we trust and believe that He has overcome the world.
Please be encouraged, and even as we seek healthy, long-term solutions to cultivate dignity and justice in Honduras and other countries around the world, let us remember that this world is not our home and that our standing before God in Christ is much more important than our political, national or economic standing.
I approached the twig-and-barbed-wire gate under the drizzling rain and called out a friendly greeting. Very quickly three little girls came out to greet me, the smallest of which is adorably naughty. A big grin spread across her face and her eyes twinkled as she was pleased to see me. I greeted them warmly as their mom appeared at the gate only moments after her three daughters.
She is a young mother – 30 years of age, only two years older than I am – and very hard-working. We are currently in the Honduran rainy season, and she had a large black plastic trash bag clipped around her to keep her clothes semi-dry as she hand-washed her family’s laundry under a slight overhang in their rocky yard.
They motioned me through the gate and the mother and I shared a warm embrace. I tickled the little one’s belly and she let out several giggles as she tried to tickle me back. This was not the first time I had visited them, and our visits tended to be very light-hearted and filled with God’s grace.
This woman’s oldest daughter is a very kind and diligent young woman who has been in our discipleship-based homeschool program for three years now and has slowly climbed her way into a position of leadership, academic excellence and faithful perseverance among her fellow students. Many of her classmates have become discouraged and given up over the years since she entered in 2016, and her dogged persistence in remaining in our non-traditional (and very demanding) program has impressed and inspired many. She has won the honor of a paid tutoring position for other students and is one of three students in a university-level math class we offer. She’s 14 years old.
This specific visit occurred on a school day, so this eldest daughter was up at our home at the Living Waters Ranch participating in a normal day of Christian discipleship and academic classes. The mother shuttled me into a one-room open-air wooden shack that serves as their kitchen and multi-purpose room, and she allowed me to choose which plastic chair I wished to sit on. I chose the shorter chair, not wanting to appear bigger than she as we would be sitting down to talk about a very important subject.
We got situated – me in the shorter chair I had chosen and she in the slightly taller chair – as she looked at me expectantly, face bright. I sighed deeply, not sure where to start but fully confident that God would be with us as I had already prayed through this meeting before arriving.
Our knees almost touching, I began softly, “I heard that you are thinking about going to the United States…”
The day prior her daughter (who has come to be like an honorary member of our family as she frequently stays overnight to do homework or participate in sleepovers with our five teen foster daughters) had shared with me that her mom had unexpectedly brought up the topic of moving illegally to the United States several times in recent conversations with her daughters, and rather emphatically so. She was very scared by her mother’s impulsive plan, fearing that within a month or two her mother would sweep her and her three little sisters off to an uncertain future in a foreign land. I prayed with our beloved student and asked her permission to visit her mom in an attempt to convince her to stay. Her eyes bore into mine – filled with uncertainty and even fear but overcome by a very real trust she has in me (and in God) after three years of very close relationship with us – and slowly agreed, worrying that her mom would become angry with me or with her daughter who had betrayed the family’s plan to outsiders.
As many are aware of the press covering of the current drama of the large caravans of Hondurans and other Central Americans parading north to the United States border, we who are here in Honduras (on the other end of the equation) are deeply troubled as this wrong mindset affects many who are in our area, plus I personally feel ashamed and angry of the chaos many of the immigrants will thrust upon the United States.
Just last week a single father who had his three children in our school suddenly decided to withdraw them from our program, joined the illegal caravan in hopes of a better future, and rumors have it that his children appeared on the news a few days ago as now being held in the Honduran capital seven hours away from where we live (while Dad continues marching onward to the United States) where they will now be placed in an orphanage.
My husband Darwin and two of our teen foster daughters were driving home from a Christian ballet class around dinnertime a couple days ago and found the intersection of our rural neighborhood filled with close to 200 people all frantically trying to form another caravan to follow after the first. There were people screaming and trying to get more people to abandon their homes as they would gamble everything for their slice of the American Dream. My husband and teen daughters were devastated.There are many opposing views on the immigration crisis, but we stand firm in our belief that laws and protocols should be respected and if anyone (from any country) would desire to enter a foreign land it should be done so with the appropriate paperwork, under specific circumstances and with a respectful attitude. We are working very hard on our end to inform our students and their families of the harshness of the trip through Mexico and the reality of what will most likely wait for them if they even make it across the boarder. Our desire is to offer opportunities – educational, employment and in the realm of spiritual formation and involvement – right here in Honduras and teach this generation how to honor God with their lifestyle and choices here. I am teaching an intensive 5-week Geography class that the majority of our 40+ students and teachers participate in as we seek to bust many myths about illegal immigration and convince those under our care that a peaceful, dignified life before God and before men is possible right here in Honduras. Many of our teenage students have been very surprised by the information and photos presented in this class, and we thank God that many (possibly all) are being convinced to stay in Honduras rather than chase after an illusion (and an illegal illusion at that).
So — returning to the context of my visit with a local mother — I sat in that little wooden hut knee-to-knee with a woman not so different from me as those carefully-chosen words – almost whispered – came out of my mouth: “I heard that you are thinking about going to the United States…”
The look on her face suddenly changed as she was not expecting that to be the topic of our conversation. A barely audible gasp escaped from between her teeth and she continued to stare at me, waiting to see what else I would say. I continued, ever so gently, “…If you are willing, I would like to talk with you about that…”
Her facial expression changed once again – from the original gleeful expectation to quiet shock to an equally unexpected torrent of sadness – and she began to cry in my presence. I pulled my chair over even closer to her, ending up right next to her as I put my hand on her arm. She spoke, not at all mad but rather displaying raw sincerity that neither of us had ever dared to reveal during any of our prior visits. She expressed her own uncertainty, her frustration, her concern for her daughters’ safety and future, her desire to escape the material poverty she has known her whole life.
I listened to her very rational thoughts even as I prayed that God would convince this precious woman to stay put right here in our little neighborhood in Honduras. She spoke of her own emotions and loneliness only a few minutes before she herself began voicing all the objections – the crossing of the border in and of itself is illegal; the trip through Mexico is extremely dangerous for women and girls as the Mexican cartels have a tendency of kidnapping and raping immigrants; the promise of a ‘better life’ in the States is mostly an illusion; and so on. I continued listening as she finally became convinced (by voicing her own thoughts) that she would not be going illegally to the States and that she would continue to parent her four girls with dignity and love right here as that would honor God more than fleeing.
My heart rejoiced as she then began voicing all the reasons to stay – Honduras needs hard-working, God-honoring young people like her daughter; even though she lives in poverty they do not suffer from lack of food on the dinner table; we must work together as neighbors under the perfect will of God to make positive changes here.
After this emotional introduction to our conversation I ended up sitting there with her nearly two hours as we entered into several other topics, exchanging parenting stories and advice, encouraging one another, and laughing a lot along the way. We prayed together before I headed out, and I praised her once more for her bravery and faithfulness as a mother. Many mothers (especially in Honduran culture where there are many teen mothers who are not ready for parenthood) abandon their children or “give them as gifts” to other people. This woman – even though she gave birth to her firstborn at age 16 – has stood faithfully by all four of her girls every day of their lives and works extremely hard to maintain them with dignity. Just recently she took on a short-term position of shift work at a local fruit company, working all day until 10:00pm or 11:00pm at night and then hand-washing the big pile of clothes at 3:00am and making breakfast for her girls before heading out again the next day. Praise God for mothers like her!
So, this is a small story I share with you to inform and encourage you in regards to the current immigration crisis. I have on my list a visit I would like to pay to another beloved student’s mom this upcoming week who is likewise thinking about leaving Honduras in hopes of finding something better in the United States. Please pray with us for all the children and teens in our school (44 currently) and their parents, that God may fully convince them to stay in our area and be patient enough to see what He might do in their lives instead of getting swept up in a dangerous phenomenon that goes against established laws.
God bless you, and please pray with us for God’s will to be done in a powerful way in the midst of this immigration crisis.
This post is for those who routinely pray for us and the small mission the Lord has placed under our care in Honduras. Thank you for remembering us and for lifting up our requests to our Father, asking continually that His will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Request: Government Favor
In the past few weeks the need for government favor (and efficacy) has been pressed upon us greatly, as we must interact with the local government in the operation of our school, the adoption of our children, and in several other facets of our daily life and ministry here. There is much corruption and confusion, and it is very easy to feel oppressed and drained by the monster of a system we come up against.
We have been actively beating down bushes in our efforts to legally adopt three of our children (the oldest of which is now 18 years old) for the past several years. During the last 18+ months the government lawyer at the Honduran Child Protective Services office has been telling me that any day now they would be calling me to present myself in a courthouse that lies 2+ hours away from our house to take the next crucial step in the adoption process. To make a long (and excruciating) story short, the courthouse called our government lawyer two days ago at 2:00pm to notify her that I needed to present myself in the court (which is a 2+ hour drive from our home) that same day at 1:30pm (as in, half an hour before). That news reached me today, and I am absolutely devastated that we missed our court date (because they did not notify us on time) after roughly a year-and-a-half of waiting. We are now back to square one and wondering if we will ever truly be able to adopt our children (who in less than two weeks will be hitting their 5-year mark of living with us).
We also need government permission in order to open the next grade of our discipleship-based homeschool that we operate out of our rural homestead (we currently offer 1st grade through 9th grade), and after many confusing phone calls and vague answers we put together a detailed document seeking government permission to open 10th grade and they flatly refused without any real reason. There are a lot of politics involved in the Honduran education system, and my husband Darwin stayed up investigating the laws and re-writing our proposal until 2:00am this morning and is going back into town to try to speak directly with the mayor and several other officials. It is very important that we are able to open 10th grade (and then 11th, which is the last grade in Honduran high school) in order to persevere with the good work in the lives of the teens who have already been in our program several years. We want to be able to offer the last two grades of high school under our tutelage at the Living Waters Ranch so that our kids are not forced to finish their education in the less-than-acceptable public system fraught with fraud and mediocrity.
I will spare the details of our other frustrating experiences, and will conclude this request by simply asking that you would pray with us for radical change (and wisdom) in the Honduran government, as much in its personal members as in its overall structure, and that the overall oppression in the country would be lifted as its citizens and residents might be able to go about their daily affairs without constantly coming up against a huge metaphorical brick wall painted haphazardly with the phrases, “No,” “Not today,” or “It cannot be done.” Please pray also for my attitude in the midst of all this and that the work God desires to do in His Honduran people would flourish even in the midst of such debilitating inefficacy, corruption and potential despair.
Please consider our requests and pray with us so that God might tend to our legal needs so that we not be unduly drained or distracted from our principal purpose in Honduras, which is to love, teach and disciple children and youth (and the occasional adult) in the Way of Christ.
As I wrote in my previous post four days ago, local cattle thieves stole another one of our young dairy cows for the second time in 10 months, and the entire ordeal left us feeling discouraged, on high alert, and at a loss as to what our next move should be (or as to who the thief could have been).
Well, today I will write about the events that ensued after the initial shock we experienced on Sunday morning upon realizing that our foster daughter’s cow was no longer among our small herd. This is definitely a story worth telling, and I hope it encourages you to believe in God’s power if only we would cry out to Him.
My husband Darwin and our daughter Jackeline left home Sunday morning and spent the entire day out looking for our lost cow, asking our neighbors if they had seen her and reporting the robbery at the local police station. Monday was spent in similar fashion – Darwin made many phone calls, returned to the police station, consulted with more neighbors and took several trips out to the far end of our rural property to see the extent of the damage done to our fence and take pictures for evidence.
All our efforts seemed futile, especially in Honduras where police investigations are few to none and we had no real lead onto who might have taken our daughter’s cow. 14-year-old Jackeline, who had saved her money for a long time in order to buy the cow two years ago and hoped it would help get her through college, spent great amounts of time sprawled out on the couch in our living room, her eyes puffy from crying. On more than one occasion I sat down to listen to her as she anguished over the lost cow, which represented both a financial investment and a pet to her. Jackeline reminisced about her cow – hoping against hope that it might still be alive – and all the other kids told her to get over her loss. But she couldn’t.
One day passed, then another. By this time everyone knew rationally that the cow must have already been butchered and sold on the black market, because cattle thieves almost always act quickly so as not to get caught. Our other two cows that were stolen last November were butchered immediately upon being stolen. At dawn we found their bloody hides and severed heads thrown out in the field by our front gate. To think that this cow could still be alive several days after being stolen would have been naïve.
Monday night rolled around, and the details cannot be shared of the encounters but I will say that two key eye-witnesses came forth with fear and trembling (both of which are Christians). They saw who cut our fence and they knew who had our cow. Darwin shared with me in a hushed voice late at night in our bathroom as a huge spotlight was then suddenly illuminating the entire case before our very eyes. Adrenaline ran through our veins and we prayed together after discussing everything at length. What to do? Our eye-witnesses were too scared to come forth in public, and there would be no way to confront the thief on our own.
Then Tuesday came. That is generally my day to leave our rural homestead and spend 8-10 hours doing management, computer work and errands in town, so I left without a second thought. In my mind, it was all a closed case: the cow was already dead and we had to figure out what proactive steps we would be taking to assure the safety of the rest of our herd while we would wait in vain for the police to act upon our suspect.
About 3:00pm on Tuesday Darwin called me, informing me in an unnerving tone that he had gone with the local police again – hoping to bother them enough that they would act on the case just to get him off their backs – and they actually came out to our property and picked him up in an effort to go chase down the thief, who an informant had told Darwin was stationed in the pineapple fields right behind our property with the cow still alive. Darwin asked me for immediate prayer and as my heart raced faster I pleaded him not to get out of the police car or get directly involved in any kind of armed confrontation that might occur between the police and the thieves.
I hung up the phone, my heart now racing even more than before – in part from the adrenaline of knowing that against all odds the cow was still alive three days after being stolen and that there was a real chance that the police might capture those who had her, but even more for the danger that my husband would be diving into upon confronting the thief directly.
My car sped down the highway, the windows rolled down to let fresh air in because the A/C stopped working several months ago. Light droplets of rain landed on my arm as I prayed harder than I have in a long time. I prayed for protection for Darwin and all involved; I prayed that the thief would repent; I prayed for God’s favor and His justice in our hour of need. I felt God undeniably close, and I sensed that we were on the verge of some colossal battle, much of which would be fought in the heavenly realm. I continued to pray as I zipped down the highway that parallels the Caribbean Ocean and neared our rural property with my heart and head ablaze. Let Darwin live; may there be no blood shed today; may You utilize these police officers as true agents of justice; may the thief admit his deed and seek forgiveness and new life in Christ. If Darwin should die as a result (as his brother did two years ago when he spoke out against local cattle thieves), please give me the grace, perseverance and faith to continue onward in his absence, however hard it may be…
In Honduras, many such encounters with thieves result in someone’s death – either that of the thieves or those who try to confront them, so my emotions were rightly understood to be on edge. Our old pickup truck jostled up the long gravel road to our property as I found all of our kids to be doing just fine. Darwin had left them alone as he had to leave unexpectedly with the police officers, so I checked on our local tutors with their six after-school students and our seven foster kids to make sure everyone was on task as I then unpacked the car and waited anxiously for a call from Darwin.
After exchanging several phone calls with him to ask what progress had been made and to see if he was okay he finally arrived at home several hours later. The police had done the stake-out and had identified the area where they had been holding the cow but came up empty-handed. It was a bit of progress (or at least a scare for the thieves), but it wasn’t enough. Darwin and I felt frustrated, as we knew that was probably the only real attempt the police would be making to try to catch the culprit.
That night several additional phone calls were made in the stillness of our little bathroom as we sought to communicate once more with our eye-witnesses to see if they would have the courage to come forth and make another police report with us, but all were frozen with fear. We ended up talking to a local community leader who is a friend of ours and happens to be feared by many (and has recently become a Christian and attends the same church where Darwin is involved with a men’s group). We hesitantly shared with him our situation, certain that if anyone could do vigilante justice it would be him but at the same time unsure that he would believe us. The thief, after all, is a family member of his and he could very easily turn on us for having accused his kin.
The whole ordeal – holed up in our bathroom late at night, door shut and floor-fan turned on high speed to cover up our voices so that our 7 foster kids wouldn’t be able to hear our conversations – seemed like something straight out of a movie. Darwin and I sat on the little grey rug on our tile floor, alternating between making phone calls, praying, and discussing the matter between the two of us.
What had initially seemed like a lost case in which we would simply have to throw up our hands and try to turn lemons into lemonade had suddenly turned into a hot chase in which we might fall into grave danger if we made one wrong move.
While communicating with the local community leader whom we get along very well with as neighbors, Darwin shared with him who the thief in the matter was, and our neighbor fell silent. He wasn’t sure whether to believe us or defend his family member, whom he thought to be innocent. His reaction: he went to his relative’s house (the accused), and eventually put him on the phone with us. Darwin put the conversation on speakerphone, and chills ran through my body as the thief talked smoothly and casually, assuring us that he was a man of great morals and values and that he would never steal from anyone. He called us both by very respectful titles and assured us that we were local leaders in our community and that it would be a disgrace for anyone to steal from us. His flattering and reassuring words came rolling of his tongue so smoothly and so confidently that I glanced over at Darwin and wondered in my heart of hearts if we had gotten it all wrong. After all, I wanted desperately to believe him. It had all been a big mistake.
But the two eye-witnesses? The two people who know first-hand that this is the thief?
This man is an expert liar with years of experience. My body turned semi-cold as I contemplated this fact and the spiritual ramifications: does not Satan approach humanity this way – smooth, reassuring tongue, saying beautiful, promising things, but it is all a lie? Oh, he promises happiness, pleasure, eternal youth and more, but it all turns out to be nothing more than a breathtakingly beautiful mirage, not reality. He is persuasive and attractive, but in the end leads only to death.
We essentially got nowhere with our phone conversation, as the thief did not allow Darwin to get many words in. He even offered to come up to our property the next morning to peacefully smooth everything out in person, to which Darwin responded: “Better yet, let’s meet tomorrow morning at 7:00am at the police station to smooth everything out.” That definitely tripped up his previously-seamless speech as Darwin continued, “Look, I have an eye-witness who saw you cut through our fence. What I want is my cow. Tomorrow morning at the first hour I will be going to the police station again. What I want is my cow.”
The phone was passed back to our friend, who was more perplexed than before as to who might be telling the truth, and he assured us that he and his family would be praying.
The conversation soon came to a close, and Darwin expressed the fact that he was not blind to the fact that all of this might get him killed and that he truly had nothing against the thief and wanted what was best for him (an honest life lived in God’s light, not a lying life of thieves.) We hung up, both our hearts racing, and prayed. It would be a long night, and whatever would unfold in the next 12 hours would likely decide the fate of our cow, this case and possibly even our lives.
Wednesday morning (yesterday) we got up at 5:00am as is our custom, and I entered the three bedrooms where our kids sleep and jostled them awake, informing them that we would be having a family prayer meeting in our living room before beginning the day’s chores.
Everyone came shuffling out into our living room, from our eldest who is less than a week away from turning 18 to our youngest, a 10-year-old boy with special needs. We sat around our wooden table – everyone wishing they were still asleep – as Darwin and I tried to begin explaining as best we could (and without instilling fear or directly implying who the thief was) the progress of the case and the imminent danger that might be facing us if the thief tries to silence us or take revenge. It was a very heavy conversation, and in a very real sense I feared that it might be our last family meeting. Jackeline was overjoyed to hear that her cow was still alive, and she thanked God repeatedly for having heard her cries. Each person prayed, and among the many words I shared with my Lord, I said: “If it pleases You that we parent these children and youth and continue along in this work, then please protect our lives…” Our children gave thanks to God and prayed that the thief might repent, that he might return the cow voluntarily, and that God would protect Darwin and me.
After about twenty minutes or so around our wooden dining room table, we all stood up, enveloped in a very real heaviness, and began moving about our house doing our daily morning chores. We opened our front door to go out on the porch (where our kitchen is), and we immediately heard the call of our night watchman’s wife who was standing out by our front gate.
“The cow is back!” She called out in the still, dark morning.
We all froze.
The moon still hanging in the sky above our large, grassy property, we all began to glance at one another, some with incredulity in their eyes and others with raw joy.
Our neighbor continued, “She’s loose right next to our back fence!”
Darwin quickly got into action, sending two of our night watchman’s teenage sons to shuttle her onto our property quietly. I was still frozen as all of our kids began staring at me. God had answered our prayers, and rather immediately. The thieves had untied her and sent her back home. Justice had won out. No blood had been shed. God had won this victory – not with guns, hatred and violence but rather with prayer and unity among Christians.
I felt as though I was walking on holy ground as I made my way silently toward our cow pen. I was still dressed in my old baggy pajamas the light of day was barely creeping over the horizon. Was this all too good to believe? I looked on as our precious Jackeline rushed out to meet her cow and began checking her over from head to foot. Her snout and neck had deep marks on it were she had been roped up too tightly, and her body had scratches all over it. Jackeline stroked her large white cow who quite literally had come back to the land of the living by the mighty hand of God. She should have been slaughtered three days ago.
One of our night watchman’s young adult sons came up the path rather quickly on his bike. By Darwin’s instruction, he had gone out in the wee hours of the morning to keep a lookout on who might be coming or going along the road. He informed, “She didn’t come back on her own. They drug her across the pineapple field. There are tracks to prove it. The thieves brought her back.”
Darwin and I smiled and nodded. We had already figured that out – God had led the thieves to return what was never rightly theirs. This was something that only God could do, and He did.
This all seemed very surreal, and I stood for a long while under a tree in our front yard looking out over our grassy property and contemplating this mighty work of God. I felt that I didn’t even have words for my Lord – only admiration.
Darwin made several phone calls to inform our witnesses that the cows had come back, and they all rejoiced with us and commented that they had been praying fervently that God would act and return the cow to us (something that is unheard of in Honduran cattle culture). Our high-profile friend who had facilitated our phone conversation the night prior with the thief confessed that he finally believed us, and he apologized for his family member’s hostility toward us.
The morning moved quicker than I would have liked, and suddenly all of our 40+ local students and teachers were arriving for what (to them) would be a normal day of classes and Christian discipleship. I still felt like I was recovering from the intensity of the last several days and the fact that God made everything work out just as it should. I vowed that later that morning upon getting out of math class I would write a long, reconciliatory letter to the thief, assuring him that we don’t want ongoing wars with him and that we earnestly hope that he will seek God’s forgiveness and the new life offered to all through Christ.
It ended up being a 4-page handwritten letter written in Jesus’ name, and later that same day (yesterday) as I was running through our neighborhood for exercise I left the letter with a family member who promised to give it to him. I even saw the thief on my way back home as I jogged past his house, baseball cap on my head and tennis shoes on my feet, sweaty from head to toe under the hot mid-day sun. I glanced over as I saw him working on his front porch. I raised my hand hesitantly to wave, and he greeted me by name for the first time in the five years that we’ve been neighbors.
That was yesterday. Today has been a normal day, albeit somewhat sticky with the divine residue of all that God orchestrated in these last few days. We are still getting over all this, processing the implications, and giving thanks to God for His mighty hand. Our daughter Jackeline commented to me yesterday afternoon as we were preparing dinner that she would like to write a letter to the thief (although she still doesn’t know who it is) to let him know that she forgives him and hopes he will seek God’s will for his life. I smiled as I informed her that I had already done the same and that I could deliver her letter if and when she writes it. She seemed content with my reply, and we kept cutting broccoli and onions for the spaghetti sauce.
Please thank God with us for this mighty turn of events in these last few days, and I encourage you to recognize that this was, in fact, God’s justice entering into our fall world. Thank you to all of you who prayed for us in these last few days. We continue to hope for the thief’s salvation and transformation and would appreciate your prayers for him. God bless you.
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.
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.
Yesterday evening we sat around the wooden table in our living room to eat dinner together as a family. Two of our teen foster daughters had prepared a delicious chicken soup with rice. In our household our diet oftentimes consists of rice and beans, so this soup was a special treat. The plates and silverware were all laid out on our floral-print tablecloth that I had purchased at a local thrift store a couple months ago. A candle was placed in the middle of the setup, although on this occasion it remained unlit.
Eating dinner together as a family each night has not been one of our strong points during these first few years together as a foster family and ministry homestead. Oftentimes it has seemed like a triumph just to get to the finish line at the end of each day still standing, and to make any additional effort to prepare an evening banquet for close to a dozen people just seems overwhelming. Thus, on many occasions each person just warms up rice and beans that were leftover from lunch or whips up something light due to everyone’s distinct schedule (and Mom’s exhaustion).
Some of our kids go into town two evenings per week for their ballet class; one night a week we’re out at a neighbor’s house for a Bible study; some evenings Darwin is out counseling people in our neighborhood or organizing choir practices. Oftentimes our teens have group homework projects or are practicing their musical instruments in the evenings, thus it has not been easy to pin down all the highly active members of our household for a daily routine of eating together. I imagine that in any family if a daily dinner is going to be achieved, it must be carefully scheduled and protected.
So, that is what we’ve decided to do. At Darwin’s suggestion, on Sunday I designed a fairly simple daily dinner schedule (indicating whose turn it is to cook, as we already have a nightly cleaning schedule), and we’re committed to protect and enforce this even if fatigue or busyness threaten to put this priority on the back-burner.
Yesterday morning all seven of our foster kids had been in classes and Christian discipleship in our homeschool program that we operate out of our rural homestead from 7:00am — 3:00pm. I had taught group Bible study that morning; Darwin had taught classes all morning with his small group of wily second- and third-graders and directed the girls’ choir practice after lunch. Our eldest foster daughter had a one-on-one meeting with our Christian psychologist to continue navigating the waters of healing and restoration while also looking to the future to discern the vocation/purpose that the Lord has for her in these coming years. A couple of our girls had been in cooking class; I taught my math class with 16 teens earlier that morning before heading into town to attend a three-hour meeting with local government officials.
And so, we ate dinner as a family. Last night was our first attempt to follow this new dinner schedule, and it was successful. It was nothing spectacular, but we were together. At the beginning of the meal we all joined hands and bowed our heads as Darwin gave God thanks for the food, and then our 17-year-old daughter, the eldest, graciously served everyone’s food. Surprisingly she started with my plate, which was doubtlessly a gesture of friendship as we are both making the effort to improve our relationship after having gone through many rocky patches over these past few months. (This afternoon she and I have a ‘date’ planned as I’ve invited her on a bike ride around our neighborhood as an opportunity to spend more time together and connect.)
This new season has brought small but important changes such as our new family dinner routine that we will carefully put into practice.
Each night as our kids all head into their rooms for homework and rest, I put on a sermon or two on my laptop (connected to two little speakers) in the living room so that our household is flooded with Biblical teaching. This specifically has been a very pivotal change in our home, as over these past several months I have downloaded dozens of sermons from respected pastors from different parts of the world to come directly into our home and teach us each evening. Our kids are resting in their rooms or taking a shower in the quiet of the night and everyone is receiving Scriptural encouragement. This has been very fruitful, and we will continue to do this each evening as we sow seeds into their young lives (and our own lives) for God’s glory.
Another small change we’ve made is that our 10-year-old foster son Jason, who is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with his two older sisters, now accompanies Darwin each night to go walk down our long gravel entryway to lock the two gates on our rural property. This gives him ‘man time’ with Dad and teaches him that it will one day be his job to protect and care for his own family.
Yesterday evening as our dinner was coming to a close, one of our new foster teens who moved in with us late last year expressed a question she had after having read the book of Galatians in the Bible for a homework assignment I had given her. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had actually read it and with enough attention to want to ask me a question about what she had read. I asked her to bring her Bible to the dinner table to show me the verse she had a question about, so she darted off into her room and quickly reappeared at the table, Bible in hand. As she opened the Bible, she said to herself as she flipped through the pages, “Galatians. After Corinthians.”
It was so seemingly insignificant what she was saying, but it hit me like a train. It’s working! Many of our foster kids and local students are very used to hearing others teach them about God’s Word, but they had yet to develop the habit of reading it for themselves. To change that, several months ago we started a routine that each person in our family now individually reads the Bible as we all spread out in our living room on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and in the two classes that I teach in our community homeschool (advanced math and reading/writing) I now make all the students sit individually and read the Bible 15 minutes before starting each class and then they discuss in partners what they read for about 5 minutes afterward (to get them used to openly talking about God’s Word). In these last couple months they’ve read the whole book of John and of Romans; they are now in Acts and Luke. (This specific daughter of ours is in both my classes, so she receives a double-dose of Bible-reading!) This has thus far produced marvelous results, as many of the teens have commented in awe, “I always hear so-and-so saying that we should love one another, and now I get that it actually comes from the Bible! I just read it!”
Our foster daughter who had been well-versed in Christianity throughout her childhood in various foster homes and orphanages, several months ago had very little first-hand knowledge of the actual Bible. When asked to flip to a certain book, she had to go to the table of contents and spend several moments searching for it. For her to say, “Galatians. After Corinthians.” and find that tiny book in the midst of 65 others is of great encouragement to me as she is now getting to know God’s Word not based on what others tell her but based on her own time reading and exploring its depths. Praise God!
There is much more I could write, but for now I will leave it at that. Thank you so much to those who support this mission and pray for us regularly. I continue to sleep much better in recent months after having battled insomnia for so many years, and after being bedridden with Typhoid Fever a few weeks ago my health is currently fairly strong. My husband Darwin and I will be celebrating 5 years of marriage this Sunday, and all of the local Honduran missionaries and teachers who serve alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch are doing very well.
Please continue to pray for the restoration and transformation of our foster children/teens and local students into the image of Christ, and also pray that the Lord would continue to protect us physically as we live in a very violent part of the world.
This morning I had the privilege of going room-to-room around our rural property to take each of our students out of their respective reading classes in order to take an individual photo of them.
After initially having signed up close to 70 students during our enrollment time in January, we currently have 60 who have persevered (this is normal in our area where drop-out rates are high and limited perspectives abound) and are already two-and-a-half weeks into a very rigorous, fun, and blessed year of Christian discipleship, academic classes, organic agriculture, music, and community service/evangelism with us.
Our students come from all walks of life — some are good, normal kids who come from stable families and simply need to grow in the truth of Christ; others are well into their teens and are just now entering primary school; still others have catastrophic backgrounds and are coming to know what it is to grow in a loving, God-fearing environment for the first time in their lives. This year we have several older teen boys (15-18 years old) who have decided to enter our discipleship-based homeschool after having spent the last several years of their lives working full-time or simply roaming our rural neighborhood without direction. The majority of our students have lost at least one of their parents, and even as we are in the mere beginnings of this year the Lord’s work has already begun to manifest itself in the lives of several of them.
So, this morning I walked out the front door of our cinderblock home and crossed our front yard as I entered the little bright-colored buildings to greet our precious children and teens for the second time today (the first time was this morning at 6:45am as they came streaming through our front gate, each one received by name with a hug and/or handshake). During this process of taking the individual shots, I also took photos of various groups of students who were enjoying their reading class out on our front lawn and alongside the shade of our front porch.
Enjoy the first batch of many photos that we will take this year. I didn’t include all 60 of our students, but here is a portion of them in no particular order…
Today we walked over the black, burnt ground where the flaming tires and trees had burnt to ashes. Dozens of armed Honduran military agents lined the bridge, stone-faced like statues as rioters and political protesters gathered close by, screaming and waving flags. A large crowd had even formed a circle as one man beat a drum and began screaming out his hatred for a certain politician and his love for another. We walked carefully over the burnt ground, our shoes acquiring the sticky black tar from burnt tires as we asked God silently where our entry point would be. After all, at this same bridge there had been a dangerous riot the day prior, and a 9-year-old boy had been shot and killed.
We had awoken this morning at 2:30am with great enthusiasm, for we would be heading with 7 of our teens to a beautiful campground several hours away where many Christian retreats are held year-round. We had packed our bags with great joy in our hearts — the event promised to be fun, organized, and well-suited to the spiritual growth of our teens. We had attended the same event last year with two of our faithful teachers, and the conference had been full of dynamic teamwork activities, times of praise and worship, group activities designed around God’s Word, and a late-night bonfire complete with skits. Thus, yesterday was a day of packing suitcases, planning logistics and getting hyped-up emotionally, as we had been anticipating the event for weeks.
Well, we never got there. Any and all plans we had carefully sketched out for this day were completed wiped off our schedule, and God put before us an entirely different course of events.
There is currently much political unrest in Honduras, as the announcing of the new president after the recent elections has taken longer than expected in addition to there being suspected fraud in the counting of votes. The news stream is full of devastating counts of protests, break-ins at local businesses, the burning of tires and blockades at many of the major bridges along the highway. Many people are mad and have taken to the streets, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to be leaving any time soon.
So yesterday with much prayer (and hopeful spirits) we decided to go ahead and try to attend the conference, fully knowing that many of the bridges we would need to pass might possibly be blockades. Our plan: get up super early and try to beat the protesters (hoping they would sleep late and we would thus be able to slip past them in the wee hours of the morning on our merry way as we would drive past their empty protest stands).
All was going as planned for the first hour-and-a-half of our journey, as we zipped quietly down the only highway that parallels the northern coast of Honduras as it seemed that the rioters were still sleeping. We passed nine blockage points where the day prior people had cut down large trees and laid them out in the middle of the road as obstacles, but with a careful eye (and a strong brake on the car), they were avoided easily enough as we maneuvered around the lifeless obstacles in our path. At the couple roadblocks where there were a few lone policemen and tired on-lookers, we simply asked permission to pass and they let us through. Our car was packed to the brim with backpacks, props for our skit, snacks for the journey, and worship music playing on the inside of our pickup’s cabin. It looked like our plan just might work: we just might be able to slip by all the drama unnoticed, arriving at our destination before the day’s promised chaos commenced anew.
Around 5:00am or so we came upon a standstill on the highway. There were dozens of 18-wheelers completely stopped. With optimism still brimming in our hearts, I left our car with its emergency blinkers on and bounded out of the vehicle, jogging up ahead to try to see what the situation looked like and what we needed to do to pass our tenth obstacle.
As I reached a couple blocks ahead, there was an 18-wheeler parked completely perpendicular across the bridge, forming a rather formidable blockade that could not be passed by any vehicle. I approached the rather large group of men stationed at the roadblock with confidence and sincerity, greeting them and informing them that I had come in peace and simply desired to pass in order to attend a Christian conference with 7 of my kids and two of our teachers. The men — several of whom had their faces covered with rags or wore Satanic-looking masks — began asking for money and other gifts and started to form a semi-circle around me, affirming that they wouldn’t be letting anyone pass anytime soon. I suddenly realized that this roadblock would not be like those which we had crossed thus far. This had to be one of those violence-hungry gangs that wreak so much havoc in this country but that (in my world) seem to float about as ghosts, committing their crimes in darkness and disguise, as I had never really seen them face-to-face. Sensing danger in my spirit — but no fear of man — I politely thanked them for listening to my request and promptly began jogging away and back toward our vehicle.
After about an hour-and-a-half of waiting and praying (and uniting with other people like us who were on journeys home or out-of-town for business, with family, etc), we decided it most wise to try to return home before the previous 9 roadblocks were taken anew, lest we get stranded somewhere in between all the chaos and thus unable to arrive at the conference or back home. During this standstill process of discernment, the Lord led us to pray with one of the gang members who had previously denied our passage, as he approached us alone and began conversing. After doing so — and offering him food and drink after having spent the entire night “protecting the bridge,” we decided carefully along with another fellow traveller to try to brave the roads and return home. Other drivers had informed us that they had already been waiting at that same bridge 2-3 days without any budge, and they were forced to get hotels and go buy clothes and food for the prolonged wait. Once two gunshots went off close to where our vehicles sat, we took that as our cue and began zipping back down the road we had just braved in order to return home.
In all of this (and however crazy it all sounds), we had perfect peace and not once felt fear. That is the Lord’s work. (Alas, how many times recently has the Lord led us to the Scriptures about not fearing man; we are to fear the Lord alone. To read it and not put it into practice would be complete hypocrisy! Yes; we do not fear the gang members, but dare to recognize that Christ died for them as much as He died for us, and He longs for them to be saved and transformed with His love.)
And so we returned, this time not in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning but in the ever-increasing light of day. It was about 7:00am when we safely arrived home, encountering only a slight problem in one of the last of the 10 barriers, as rioters had taken up their post (all with their faces covered), and had lit many tires on fire and had completely blocked the passageway. With a little bit of polite convincing, they let us pass, but it was in no way a peaceful roadblock. As the sun was gaining strength in the sky above, so the anger of the rioters was gaining force as the day was only just beginning.
We arrived safely home, thanking God for his protection along the way and honestly not at all disappointed that we couldn’t attend the conference (I believe the Lord consoled us in this and provided us with His constant joy despite the circumstances, as we really had been very excited about attending).
Upon arrival, we gathered — my husband Darwin, our kids and our two teachers — in our barebones dining room at the base of the mountain and decided to pray. To pray for peace, for the rioters to stop and for a president to be declared (and for that president to be filled with the fear of the Lord and God’s perfect justice, that he might govern this suffering country with honor). We bowed our heads and prayed earnest prayers, asking for God’s mercy over Honduras and thanking Him for conserving our lives in what could have potentially been a devastating situation.
As we finished praying, we began singing many hymns and songs of praise, worshipping He who already is our president and King, He who need not be elected by men and who will be overthrown by no mortal. We declared our love for God around that rustic wooden table even as many rioters all around the country were continuing onward in their scandals, fires and protests.
During a song, eyes closed, I felt the Lord spoke to me and told me that our day wasn’t through yet. Even after getting up at 2:30am and having spent the last five hours dodging obstacles and trying to complete our road trip in vain, there was real work God had for us (beyond prayer). Prayer is good and appropriate, but we are also to be the hands and feet of Christ to a broken world, to take the good news of peace to those who still live in darkness. He placed a very clear command upon my heart: “Go to the rioters. Share My Word and My love with them.”
On a day when all sane, peace-seeking people stayed home, holed up in their homes in order to avoid any stray bullets or unneeded confrontations with unhappy political patrons, God sent us out. I immediately communicated this to those around me, and four of our more mature teens and our two teachers agreed to go with me. After arriving safely home (and having every reason to stay there), God was immediately sending us back out into the storm. Today was, after all, perhaps a day when the message of peace and salvation was most needed. We emptied out our car of all our backpacks and headed out with virtually nothing other than our Bibles. We would see where the Lord would lead us, as surely we wouldn’t have to go far to find people desperately in need of a message of peace.
As we passed the mile-long gravel road from our home leading back out to the main highway (where we had just come from), we decided to return to the last blockade we had passed on our way home, where there had been over a dozen masked, angry men lighting fires across the highway. We headed out in silence, driving about 10 minutes or so before seeing them on the horizon and slowing down, our hearts contemplative and yearning for God to give us the right words to say (and, for the men, ears to hear).
We parked our car carefully about 50 yards away, slowly got out of our vehicle, hands raised in signs of peace, and began walking carefully toward the flames and the masked men. The police had already arrived and were standing idly nearby, serving virtually zero purpose and they neither intervened nor supported the protesters. They were more like well-dressed onlookers in a very official vehicle.
We greeted the policemen warmly, as a couple of them we had seen before on prior occasions, and we asked if we could draw closer to the rioters in order to share God’s Word with them. They agreed, and we shouted friendly, careful greetings from a distance to the angry men, who by now were all watching us and on-guard for any foul play they thought we might pull.
I shouted to them that we came in peace, belonged to no political party, and simply wanted to share with them God’s Word. I asked if they would let us get closer to them.
Their defensive posture immediately changed as the leader agreed and invited us to draw nearer to the blockade, thus being able to converse freely with those whom most fear.
We approached as the masked men, several women and children, and other participants suddenly formed a great circle around us, curious as to what we would say to them.
We affirmed that we came in peace and were sent by God, and they said that they remembered when we had passed (and were undoubtedly surprised that we had returned). We introduced ourselves by name, asking the names of each present, and that broke the ice pretty well. Some of the masked men even began taking their masks off, while a couple others lost interest and continued adding more tires to the fire and shouting every time a car would approach. We were standing close to the blockade — the flames warmed our faces — off to the side of the highway with those who were interested in learning the truth, while the ruckus of the world’s lies for power and control continued onward not ten feet away.
The Lord gave us many words for those precious people as we shared the gospel of truth, the gospel of a good, forgiving God with them during this time of such political unrest. We read aloud great portions of the book of Romans and shared openly with them of our faith in Christ, that He — and no human president — is all humanity’s true hope at justice. Three of our kids (Dayana, Brayan and Jackeline) even shared wisdom and godly perspective with them, and one of our teachers also encouraged them in the way of Christ.
Some came and went, but two men — one of whom was middle-aged and had been the closed-off leader of the group at the beginning — stayed with us the entire time, eyes wide and hearts seemingly open. No one was forcing them to listen; we were simply sharing with them the good news that every human heart longs to hear. At the end we asked if we could pray for them, and several agreed. We even put our hands on them, assuring them that we carried no weapon other than that which is the most powerful of all — God’s love. At the end of our time together we shook hands and bid our farewells as we reminded them once more that God loves them and that there is a more excellent way than that of political aspirations and highway violence.
As we turned and left, we felt full of God’s joy albeit with a heavy heart. We got back in the car and continued to drive in silence, wondering where God would lead us next. It was definitely the first adventure of its kind for us, and at the most delicate of times. Yet we were at total peace and not once felt fear of the rioters.
Next we found the newly constructed blockade in our own neighborhood as we travelled those 10 minutes back down the highway. Masked protesters were everywhere, and several neighbors of ours were present, either as on-lookers or participants. There was a great cloud of black smoke rising up from the burning tires, and rocks and wood blockades had been put in place. Everyone was chanting about a certain politician, and — like in any other place — the situation was increasingly delicate.
As in the prior location, we carefully approached on foot and asked if we could share God’s Word with the people. They quickly agreed through their masks, and we decided to look for a stool of some kind to stand up on in order for the people to be able to hear us better, for there were many more people present here and much more dispersed. A local woman lent us a chair, and we took turns standing on it as we read Jesus’ teachings on loving our enemies as God loved us even when we were His enemies. We spoke loudly and lovingly of Honduras’ need for God’s love — that our hope must not be in any man (politician or otherwise) but rather in that of the living God, and we must obey His command to love our enemies. After all, so many look to a president or other type of leader to make a great change or heal the nation, but the change begins with each and every one of us as we drop to our knees before God in repentance. That is what will change this nation; the burning of tires and an excess of road blockages (not to mention other forms of violence experienced in these last few days all around the nation) will not bring about that change that so many citizens long for. Many people — most of whom were middle-aged men — listened attentively, as others passed by nonchalantly or cared little for the truth we were sharing. We concluded the sharing of God’s Word with a prayer for peace over our nation, and then we were on our way.
Our last stop would be that of the main bridge passageway into La Ceiba, about 30 minutes away (the trip made much longer due to the detour we had to take to avoid the road blockage along the main highway exiting our neighborhood). That was where the 9-year-old boy had been killed the day prior and where the majority of the violence was focused. We breathed deep, wondering if it was foolish to head straight-on into such a boiling pit of hatred and confusion but at the same time fully assured that those were the people who most desperately needing the message of peace.
We arrived and parked far away, walking carefully along the main road over fallen wires and much, much black ash. Some of our kids had acquired the sticky tar-like substance on their faces, and our noses burned with the unpleasant smell. People were everywhere, more so than in either of our previous two stops.
We stopped several times as we approached the bridge, consulting among ourselves as to where we should start. There was no way we would be able to talk with everyone at once, as there we factions of armed soldiers, police, and dozens of enthusiastic rioters. It looked like a war zone that at any point might break out in total chaos (as, in fact, had occurred the day prior). Everyone was on edge, and there were many onlookers.
As we stood on the side of the highway, unsure with whom to share the message (and how, without provoking the people’s anger), I asked God in my heart to show me who to talk to. During this short time, the screaming (and chanting) protesters invited us into their group and shuttled us across the highway, probably believing we had come to support them. They waved flags and chanted insults as we smiled politely and kept our mouths shut. We walked carefully among them, sensing that we would not be able to get a word in with their group, and in that moment I felt like God showed me a lone soldier at the end of the bridge who was unoccupied.
We crossed the highway again in the midst of many people and vehicles as I asked the solider if we could speak with him. Defensive and possibly scared, he asked what we wanted to talk about. We informed him that we wanted to share God’s Word with him and give a message of peace in turbulent times. His guard immediately dropped and he agreed.
At the time I believed it might have been only with this one soldier that we would have an open door, as everyone else was so dispersed and carefully supervising their respective group. I thanked God in my heart of hearts that this young soldier was open to hearing the truth, fully convinced that every life counts and that to even touch one person’s life is worth it. Maybe we had come to this busy bridge to share the gospel with this one young soldier.
The soldier quickly went to consult with the others lining the bridge, all fully armed and on guard, and he informed us, “I’ll call everyone over so that you can share the message with the whole group.”
They were going to abandon their post! My mouth dropped slightly open, as we had never arrived ‘prepared’ with a message but rather continuously asked God to put the right words in our mouths. Talk with the whole army? Oh, God, give us the words!
Within moments dozens of the fully armed, uniformed men left the bridge and walked down a small slope where they would be able to hear us. Others — some soldiers, some protesters and others uninvolved onlookers — began gathering above and behind us as we began to read aloud from the book of First John. God is love, and He showed us this love by sending Christ to die for us. If we say that we love God, we must also love people (even our enemies).
People kept coming — without anyone ever making an official announcement — as we read aloud nearly the whole book of First John, encouraging the people to receive God’s love and forgiveness through Christ and to begin showing it to one another. This is God’s perfect will; this is the path to peace. Many more continued to come, leaning to listen a message of peace in violent times. Alas, the opposing groups had come together — the soldiers and the rioters — but not in confrontation but rather as equal recipients of the truth of God, ears open as God’s love was being poured out.
As in the two prior cases, we will never know who truly listened to the message and what God will do with those seeds of truth that were sown today. On several occasions throughout the day I felt on the verge of weeping, and I’m still not entirely sure why — perhaps for joy or out of gratitude that God allowed us to enter the war zone as His messengers of peace or perhaps with fear and trembling, pleading that the words we spoke really were His words and that they will take deep root and give fruit for God’s glory. This we will never know, as the majority of the people we saw today we may never see again.
As we finished sharing the good news of peace near that tension-packed bride, our 16-year-old son Brayan (who himself aspires to be a soldier and/or a missionary) prayed over the soldiers and common folk with a simple, honest prayer asking for God’s will to be done and for the people to put their hope in Him rather than in a president who will never be able to live up to our expectations. He prayed for peace. And then we left, on foot as we crossed that bridge and went to drop one of our teachers off at her home. None of us were scheduled to return from the conference until Sunday evening, but this was the ‘conference’ that God had in mind all along. To be His peacemakers on the front lines of enemy territory.
As we crossed the bridge again, having left our teacher in her home, one local man who had heard us preach approached us and asked that we continue, as he affirmed that the gospel is for the people’s salvation and they must hear it. He was very sincere and encouraged us to continue sharing.
At that point another man, a rioter on the brink of taking control of the bridge with his angry crew, began shouting, “Get God’s Word out of here! We don’t want God’s Word here!” It sent chills down my spine, not because I feared that man but because that is, in fact, the attitude at large in the world today. We shake an angry fist at the eternally good God and scream in our own misery, “Get God’s Word out of here! We don’t want Him in our lives!” If only we truly believed that He came to give life in abundance and joyfully submitted our lives to His perfect will, we would finally experience that joy and peace that we so long for (and seek in all the wrong places).
So, politely disregarding the man who despised God’s Word, we took up a spot on the edge of the highway and continued onward preaching the message of repentance and God’s love as several ears received. Then we continued walking onward, largely in silence, as we approached our vehicle and began the long drive home. We had been up since 2:30am that morning, and it was then close to 2:00pm once we had finished the rounds the Lord had sent us on. We felt spent, exhausted, like soldiers after coming back from war. Joyful. Hopeful. Grateful. Fearless.
And so we share this with you as we ask for prayer right now for Honduras. There is great unrest, and we ask in Jesus’ name that you pray with us that God would illuminate the minds of those who are causing the violence and bring them to repentance so that there might be peace in this country. We pray against all political fraud and corruption, and that God might choose the right person for the presidency and fill that person with His wisdom and justice in order to govern with dignity. We pray also that God might send out other Christians to the streets during these times to preach the gospel as so many are in dire need of hearing the truth. Thank you for your prayers. God bless you.
I’ve been home now five days after having been away from Honduras six weeks for medical treatment and spiritual renewal in Christ, and it’s thus far been a journey of learning all over again many things I thought I already knew. How to really live in the joy and peace of Christ, for one — not just talk about it or read about it or even counsel others on how to do so, but to really live in Christ everyday and allow His peace to permeate me no matter how much activity is going on around me. Really, these last five days have been the beginning of a completely new era (from the inside out) — in my walk with the Lord, in my relationship with my husband and our children, in handling many responsibilities with grace, and in my daily walk of loving and serving those whom the Lord has so generously placed in our lives.
A truckload of screaming teenagers greeted Darwin and I on Sunday at the little local hotel where we had been staying since I arrived on Friday. (My first “re-initiation” upon returning to Honduras was with my husband as he picked me up from the airport — alone — and we got away for two nights before I saw the kids. We are both learning all over again what it means to love one another and live in the joy of Christ right here in our daily context, and truly these last five days have provided us a completely new beginning.)
So, that truckload enthusiastically unloaded on Sunday as Pastor Domingo and close to a dozen teenagers — some our kids, some our students — ding-donged impatiently on the front gate of the little hotel where Darwin and I had been staying. Everyone exploded out of the truck and began a hugging processional as each teen and I embraced before beginning the 20-minute journey up the highway to home, where the rest of our kids were waiting. That was Sunday.
In many ways, everything is the same — the same things are happening as before I left (the same little daily adventures, learning experiences and potential frustrations that come with living in a third world country and laying your life completely down so that Christ might live through you) but the Lord has given me an entirely new attitude to confront these situations. My surroundings are the same, but I’ve been given new sight (in the sense of seeing things the way God wants me to see/experience them).
There were welcome-home posters, hand-written letters of encouragement and prayer from each of our students and teachers, and many sweet moments along the way. Although I was returning home, in many ways I felt like tip-toeing around with a sneaky grin on my face, feeling like a welcome stranger as I was experiencing everything from an entirely new perspective (and without the feeling that I had to run-run-run and handle everything myself). In many ways, these first few days back in the full swing of the daily routine have been a lot about quietly observing and discerning all over again what God wants from me in this place. I’ve gotten up at 5:15am to brush our kids’ hair and get them ready for school; I’ve washed our clothes by hand on our front porch; I’ve gotten back into our administration activities; I’ve done everything I did before, but it’s now fun and enjoyable, whereas before I felt like I was constantly trying to battle off a wave of anxiousness night and day as every demand on my time seemed like too much.
On Monday we had a lengthy meeting with our team of teachers and mentors — those six people (including my husband Darwin) who held the fort down for six weeks during my absence, taking on my teaching, parenting and administrative duties without complaint — and person after person took the time to share, unhurried, what the Lord had been doing in their life since we had last seen each other in late August. God’s presence was near, and while we perhaps should have been handling school logistics, planning the upcoming calendar or “doing” something important and work-related, the Lord led us to take several hours to share and listen to one another, as each person independently told of huge breakthroughs in their walk with the Lord over the last several weeks, many with tears.
And, the truly remarkable thing is that every aspect of the work the Lord was doing in my own heart on a range of issues over these last several weeks — from my walk with Him to my freedom from many lies the enemy had led me to believe to my new way of viewing our students and loving them better — He was also working out in our teachers’ lives completely unbeknownst to me. He literally kept us all on the same page (and even advanced us a couple chapters along the path of true freedom in Christ!) even though we were geographically far away and had very little communication. Wow.
So, fast-forwarding to Tuesday (yesterday), I gave each student individually a big hug when they came streaming through our front gate at 6:40am, participated with everyone in Bible study and worship, took on my math class again and fully (and rather spontaneously) participated in every aspect of life and service in our home with a newfound spark in everything I did. (I’ve been getting 3-5 hours of sleep since getting back to Honduras and generally feel extremely at peace in God’s presence, which has radically changed my parenting style, general outlook and attitude, etc). I even spontaneously prepared like 8 blenders-full of garlic, cucumber, and other-vegetables smoothie for all of our teachers and students (like 50 people), which led to a lot of laughter, almost-vomiting and renewed health in many. It was great!
One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was a full-blown participant in Pastor Domingo’s military-style athletic training class. (I had arrived at his class after lunch with our oldschool digital camera to just take some silly pictures of the kids, but God had other plans.) The exercises were actually not incredibly difficult, but my non-athletic attire and the scorching heat/humidity did make for quite an interesting (and sweaty!) afternoon. After all was said and done and I went to our little bathroom to take a cold shower, a ton of dirt came falling out of my hair (and not to mention all over my clothes)!
Two Thursdays ago we held a baptism for our children, students and neighbors who desired to publicly be buried with Christ and raised with Him to new life.
God planted this desire in us because several of the children/youth in our school (and in our household) had confessed faith in Christ over the past months and years but had yet to be baptized. Also, a beloved adult neighbor of ours shared with us that she had long-since desired to be baptized but her local church refused to do so despite the fact that she had been faithfully attending the church and obeying God’s will for many years.
Taking that as our cue along with Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [He] has commanded [us],” we scheduled the baptism a couple days out and extended the invitation.
As a community, family and school, we have been faithfully proclaiming God’s Word to the same small group of people several times per week in our rustic dining room since February, so the baptism gave the opportunity of confession to those who have been exposed to God’s Word this year but perhaps had not come to confess faith in Christ in a public way.
We met up on a gravel road about a mile from our home alongside a local river. Some arrived walking; others found our car passing through town and hopped in the truckbed. Below are the photos that were taken during that beautiful morning.
(Written Sunday, October 23, 2016): About a week and a half ago on a Saturday I was frantically converting our office room into a makeshift guest room for my mom and step-dad who were already well on their way to our home. I had commanded kids to help me sweep and mop porches and tile floors (a job that never ends in our rural, open-air home filled with shedding dogs and all kinds of insects and dirt-caked barefoot kids) in a sincere attempt to make a warm welcome. I felt like the morning had gotten away from me with our long efforts with the lice shampoo and comb (for the fourth consecutive day), managing everyone’s chores and in-home musical practices, washing bucketfuls of clothes out in the spicket and counseling one of our daughters through a difficult situation.
It was already almost 2:00pm and I hadn’t even begun preparing lunch! I guess my idea to prepare a nice bouquet of flowers/plants from our yard to place on the table in our guest room will have to wait until their next visit…
I slid the slightly off-kilter old wicker table in our office room to one side as I flung the broom underneath, finding a whole lot more dirt and grime than you would in a sealed, air-conditioned home in the suburbs. Hadn’t we just swept and mopped this room top to bottom like yesterday?
My large, baggy pijamas – Pijamas! I had been up and buzzing about since five-something that morning and had yet to have 12.68 seconds to change into decent attire! Only crazy people are still wearing their pijamas at 2:00pm! – were drenched with sweat, soapy detergent suds and large droplets of lice shampoo as my long, gangly arm flung the broom all about the small room.
When wedged into one of the room’s corners and pulled quickly away, the broom brought with it a prize: fresh bat poo that had fallen from the gap in the ceiling. This, of course, is not new and is to be found in nearly all of the little buildings on our property. My eyes traced upward wearily as I saw that familiar little gap between the ceiling planks and the cinderblock wall. When on earth would we have time to fill in those cracks? Another thing to add to the to-to list! For now, I’ll just sweep it away. More will surely fall tomorrow…
I swept the powdery poo over to that pile of dirt and grime that was growing exponentially with each passing moment.
I was exhausted and frazzled but at the same time filled with great emotion at the thought of my mom and step-dad’s week-long visit that would begin any moment – Any moment! I need to go change my clothes and brush this nest of hair! And the kids! They’re all dirty! Where are they, anyway? Probably running about, dirtying the porches and staining their clothes… Oh…
In the midst of bat poo piles and lice shampoo suds, sweat pouring torrentially down my cheeks, (Had I even remembered to put deodorant on that morning?) I experienced the following very clear thought in the midst of quite a tsunami of mental activity and adrenaline pounding within me:
I could spend all day every day sweeping and mopping this one room (even if we get around to filling in the cracks in the ceiling), and it would never be enough. There’s always more to be done, another scuff mark on the floor to be polished away or a new little pile of dirt particles that floated in from the open window. Shoe tracks that appear instantaneously, cobwebs that seem to grow back instantly after having been whisped away. In an odd sense that may not even make sense, cleaning this one room would be a full life. I could stay in just this one room, sweeping and laboring for God’s glory, preparing guest rooms for beloved guests, and I would never finish the task.
With that first thought, many other, similar ones came flooding in:
I could spend all day every day just counseling and praying for our daughters — Or even just one of our daughters! Pick any one of them, and dedicate your life to loving and cultivating her, and the task will never be finished! — and that would be a full life, a complete life. A person could spend a life just teaching and guiding one classroom full of kids, and it would be a full life, bursting with divine purpose. Nevermind the other millions of schoolkids around the globe — a life fully dedicated before God to one classroom would be hugely impactful, eternally useful! I could spend an entire life just prayerfully planning and then proclaiming God’s Word in our home/mission — nevermind the parenting, the endless cleaning, reading classes, and grocery shopping! — and that would be utterly pleasing to God. To raise even just one child according to God’s will; to spend a life doing the small things, the invisible things with great joy as unto the Lord and not unto men. To spend a day – a life! – in fervent intersession for a lost world; to spend an entire afternoon – decade! – listening to and loving the broken children our Father has brought us. Even just one of these things — or many others that aren’t mentioned here! — taken on as God’s personal assingment, would consitute a life full of purpose.
Heavy under this newfound realization, I felt suddenly both terribly blessed and even more frantic than before. Why so much, Father? So full…
These thoughts of fullness have accompanied me over the week or so since then as our days have been perhaps more full than usual.
We are nearing the end of our first school year with the small discipleship-based school the Lord has led us to design, lead and teach, and the paperwork, planning, decision-making, meetings, classes, etc is off the wall. And none of us have a teaching certificate or have taken any kind of pedagogy class! Yes; our Father has chosen the unlikely to create a school for outcast youth from scratch and lead them to Him!
And to spend a life just cleaning floors, sweeping away bat poo would be enough, would satisfy You. These blessings are too precious, too demanding.
Over the past couple weeks our hair has been on fire, and I’m certain I’ve commented out loud more than a few times to my husband: “I haven’t even had time to write! When will I be able to write? Everything is just go, go, go and it doesn’t look to change anytime soon!”
If joy and gratitude have been the pillow, a to-the-bone exhaustion and a sense of constant frustration have been the fringe.
My own experience of childhood was as an only child with a stay-at-home mom who dedicated herself wholeheartedly to me. Now on the other side of motherhood as mom rather than as child, I feel dogged by a constant sense of guilt that I’m not able to give our 7 what I had in my own childhood. Oh, how many times do they approach me needing something or with some very long and involved tale they want to tell me, and I have my autoresponse as I go, zipping about teaching classes and running errands: ¨Wait just a few mintues! I’ll be right there — I’ve just gotta finish…¨
Seeing the drastic changes being brought about in the lives and character of our local students as they are being transformed by their knowledge of and obedience to God’s Word, we cannot deny that there are more youth from our neighborhood who might be eternally impacted — and then their children, grandchildren, for God’s glory! — if only they were consistently exposed to the truth, to God’s love, over time in an environment filled with faith in Christ.
As Jackie Pullinger, an English missionary with a powerful testimony who has been serving Christ in China for about 50 years, said: ¨I could spend my whole life loving the people on just one street.¨ And what about all the other streets?
How do we attend the many lost youth from our neighborhood without losing all intimate time with those under our roof?
And to think that even the simple task of sweeping away bat poo would constitute a full life, Lord…
How do we manage all that you have entrusted to us? What of those on the outside who remain lost, wandering? How to reach them, love them for Your glory, without dying of exhaustion in the process?
Our efforts will never be enough.
This evening after having spent a couple incredibly peaceful, blessed hours as a family – Darwin and I with the 7 kids/teens who the Lord has placed in our home – sitting around our square wooden dining room table doing homework, working on projects together, eating rare snacks and generally putting aside all else that demands our attention, the day’s light dissipated and our family’s Sabbath Hour began approaching quickly. Kids were commanded to shower and others to pick up their school notebooks and tuck them away in backpacks.
13-year-old Jackeline and 12-year-old Gleny were on kitchen/dining room duty, so they began washing the dishes, sweeping rather large floors, wiping down tabletops and cleaning electric stoves. Jackeline, who just this year has begun developing a healthier work ethic after having previously suffered from extreme laziness in almost all that she did, became visibly frantic as she suddenly had many things to do and not much time to do them in.
Fold the clothes on the table. Take them over to the house (our kitchen/dining room is separate from where we sleep). Wipe the countertop down with a soapy rag. Do it again. Do it slower. Put the food away. Don’t forget that your notebook is still on the table. Your sisters are calling for you to come, but you can’t go be with them yet because you’ve got to finish your kitchen job and do it well. Work with excellence.
I headed over to our house, crossing the high school building’s small porch as I batted away hungry mosquitos. I arrived at our nearly silent house as I began to write the next day’s schedule on the small whiteboard that is duct-taped next to our front door.
Suddenly that same Jackeline with her frizzy hair and rather tall, developed body came bursting forth much to my surprise.
I greeted her: “Aren’t you supposed to be in the ki–?”
“Yeah, yeah. I just came because I need to bathe Josue as well.” She breathed heavily, obviously agitated with all that she had to do. “I just – “ She approached the bathroom, realized it was occupied, and then pointed a finger at her little special-needs brother: “Just stay here, Josue. I’ll be right back. Gotta finish in the kitchen. When Jason gets out of the shower, go on into the bathroom stall and I’ll be right there –“
Josue looked wide-eyed at his stressed sister and shrugged, for he knows very few cares in his daily life with us. He looked up at me with a wide, toothy grin and smiled big. As quickly as his sister had appeared at our front door she disappeared back into the night, determined to finish her kitchen chore well.
I patted Josue on the back as my neck extended out our front door: “Jackeline!”
Not a moment later she appeared, even more frazzled. Had she forgotten something else, or was I going to add to the many demands that had already been placed on her? She greeted me with eager, hurried eyes.
“Jackeline…” My voice totally counteracted her overall tone as I spoke soft and slow, very intentional in my message to her: “Do not become anxious with the many things you have to do. Even in the midst of being ‘busy,’ God wants to fill you with His peace.”
She waited a moment to see if I had finished and then smiled a big, fake smile, still very stressed, and said, “Yes; yes; I know!” and turned to leave. Her and I had talked about this topic many times.
“Jackeline – Go with Christ’s joy even in the midst of many obligations!” My voice chased her in the darkness.
I felt that she heard me but that she still didn’t ‘get it.’ (Did I?) Every time she has an unusually heavy homework load or additional chores, it seems as though all joy is sucked from her body as she converts into some kind of super-focus, high-stress woman intent on checking things off the check-list, nothing more. (And don’t I do the same thing?)
I paused in front of the whiteboard as God spoke to my heart: “Bathe Josue. You, not her. I want to use you to bless thing young woman in the midst of the many responsibilities she is trying to fulfill.”
Now, bathing Josue (or changing his diaper or brushing his teeth, etc) is not something at all foreign to me. Darwin, Jackeline and I work together to shoulder the precious burden that he presents to our family. Many mornings Darwin gets him up and on the toilet around 5:15am, I follow with the showering and changing and then at some point later on during the day his older sister helps with his care and bathes him again.
But tonight? Tonight after I had spent over 7 hours that morning updating contracts (in the midst of my general duties as ‘mom’), drafting next year’s schedules and crafting one strategic brainstorm after another? Had I not already tended to Josue’s many needs throughout the day in addition to those of the other six? How many times do you have to cook before it’s ‘enough’?
He whispered again: “You. Go.”
In the blink of an eye, my voice became lovingly peppy as I led Josue into our bathroom to begin the familiar routine. Although very tired from the day, I was filled with a sense of rest once I submitted myself in obedience to my Father’s will.
Having showered Josue, I squatted in front of him to secure the little diaper velcro straps. He interrupted my intense focus as he smiled and said in his broken speech, ¨Hi Mom!¨ I looked up at him, surprised that he would be greeting me (is not bathing him just about getting the job done, not actually enjoying it or finding any real communion in the process? Oh, I have the same struggle as precious Jackeline…)
I looked up at him with his light-brown shaggy hair and breahted deep. Smiled. ¨Hi Josue. I love you.¨
Having finished, I sent little ones off to bedrooms and turned our CD player on soft with worship music. I began quietly moving around our bedroom as I organized papers, made plans for the next day, and put things in their place.
Several minutes later, recently-bathed Jackeline suddenly appeared, still a bit frazzled, in our open doorway with a big, sincere smile. She had successfully finished her job in the kitchen, gotten a shower, and was off to her room as we all entered into our Sabbath Hour.
I took a couple steps to the open doorway to meet her, where we both moved to hug one other, as we do several times throughout the day. Her head nestled easily into my shoulder as I rested my head on top of hers. She was still breathing heavily.
Without letting go, I said again: “Jackeline…There will always be things to do. We cannot decide that we will enjoy Christ’s peace only when there is nothing to do –“
She laughed and tried to wriggle free, “I know! I know…”
I held on tight, both of us giggling now, as I said, “I know you know, but I say this for both of us…”
Her body suddenly calmed down, realizing that this was not a motherly rebuke but rather a reminder from our Father of His desire to grant peace to both of these wayward daughters of His.
We both breathed deeply, still embracing in our little living room out in the foothools of some mountains in some violent country that has become world-famous for its catastrophic murder rate and gorgeous beaches, as we listened to the truth of God’s desire for us once more: to rest in His love, to live His peace, even in the storm – especially in the storm!
As I gave her a quick kiss on the top of the head, she smiled big and headed off to the room she shares with two of our other girls. I returned to my shuffling about in our dimly-lit bedroom, suddenly inundated with Christ’s peace for the first time in many weeks.
Exhausted to the core but beyond content with the work the Lord is etching out among us, I looked over at Darwin as he worked on planning his high school English classes. I carefully considered the many things I could begin doing, but God whispered in my consciousness: ¨Now you can write. It doesn’t matter that you’re tired. Do it now.¨
And so I did.
Even in the midst of year-end efforts and contract renewals and blazing this still-very-new parenting trail, Christ’s peace can be near. Even when our efforts will never be enough – even when we see the many, many roaming, lost youth in our neighborhood day after day, knowing we will never be able to reach them all with the good news of Christ – even as we live out the reality that the harvest is rich but the workers are few! – Christ is knocking on the door, desiring to enter our innermost soul and flood us with His perfect peace, which goes beyond the understanding of this world.