Tag Archives: Jesus

The Cow is Returned: God’s Power in Action

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.

Glory to God!

The Narrow Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide, Easy Path:

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

Narrow, Hard Path:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With gratitude and joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

November 2017 Triumphs and Prayer Requests

Four-Year Anniversary of Being Family to the Fatherless and Serving in Our Local Community

On November first we celebrated four years of parenting Dayana (17), Gleny (13) and Jason (10), the first sibling group we began parenting in 2013. We praise and thank God for the transformative, restorative work He’s done in the children’s lives and in our own during these four years, and we stand in awe at how He has made grow deep roots of love and commitment among us for His glory. From those initial three kids God has sprung out the ensuing discipleship-based community homeschool in our rural homestead where we currently educate roughly 40 children and teenagers according to the Way of Christ, not to mention the group of incredibly dedicated teachers and local Honduran missionaries whom the Lord has brought one by one to serve alongside of us in this beautiful life of service and continual growing. We celebrate these first four years with great joy and are expectant for what He will do in the coming years!

Update on the Two Orphaned Calves Left After the Slaughter

Our two orphaned calves left behind after their moms were unexpectedly slaughtered by cattle thieves a couple weeks ago are now happily being bottle-fed every day as they are still in the initial stages of their growth. We thank God for His grace in allowing the calves (one male, one female) to be born before their mothers were killed, thus leaving behind new life in the wake of tragic death. The rest of our cows have been left in peace since the devastating event, and we’ve been granted increasing measures on peace during these times. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

A teamwork-building exercise among six of our students (including our son Jason, second from the right)

Three Weeks of Intensive/Creative Classes to Finish the School Year

As we near the end of the Honduran school calendar, this week we began offering different, intensive classes to finish off the semester with a ‘bang.’ Having already finished the traditional math, science and language classes, etc, we are now offering an entirely new schedule that includes the following: carpentry, evangelism, community service, cooking class, penal law, orchestra, agriculture, world history and various levels of swimming, among others. During these three weeks I am teaching karate, bootcamp (hard physical exercise military-style) and leading our hour-long group Bible study time, which we are now enjoying every morning rather than only twice per week. Our students and teachers are all excited, as we incorporate and respect personal choice in the daily rhythm of our life of service at the Living Waters Ranch (the students enjoy great freedom to choose the classes they want to specialize in according to their interests/giftings, which is highly uncommon in Honduran culture where most things are decided for children/teens without their input). We thank God for this school year that is coming to a close and for all the seeds that have been sewn for His glory. It is literally so much fun to serve, teach, love, disciple and parents these kids (and make them sweat and heave in bootcamp)! What a privilege!

Cooking Club


Local Pastors Pray For and Prophesy Over Our 10 Foster Kids/Teens

A couple days ago a local pastoral couple came to talk with and counsel Darwin and I for several hours, and then they gathered all 10 of our foster kids/teens ages 9-17 in a tight circle in our living room to pray individually for each one. Many of our teens had been seeking spiritual breakthrough in their walk with Christ, and by their reactions and later comments they received it that night. The pastor even had prophetic words for several of our teenagers that deeply encouraged them. The entire experienced extended so long that the pastors entirely missed the church commitment they were supposed to attend at 6:30pm! (They finally left our home around 7:30pm.) We are grateful for this encounter (the first of its kind) with this local pastoral couple, and we thank God for touching our children’s lives through them. The pastor helped many of our teens to forgive those who had abused and abandoned them in their childhood. One of our new daughters (Carolina, age 15) who moved in only a few weeks ago, received the Lord for the first time, and our other new daughter (Paola, age 14) received many prophetic words and encouragement about the ways in which God desires to pour out His wisdom over her life and use her in mighty ways for His kingdom. She later expressed to our eldest daughter that she had always wanted to be a Christian but wasn’t sure how until she was praying with the pastor and felt God begin to move in her life. God is immeasurably mysterious in the ways in which He touches the lives of His sons and daughters, and we are excited to continue drawing nearer!

Christian Psychologist Found for Gabriela’s Healing Process

Not by coincidence, those same pastors who prayed over our children have an adult daughter in her early 20s who recently graduated from a local university with a degree in psychology. We had long been searching for (or, more accurately, waiting for) God to present the right Christlike psychologist for our kids, especially for our developmentally-challenged 10-year-old daughter Gabriela (Gaby) who suffered sexual abuse and many other traumas before arriving at our home. Thus, God has now provided Nataly, the pastors’ daughter, who is working one-on-one with Gaby every Saturday and will very likely join our team full-time as of January 2018. We are very excited about our developing friendship with Nataly and her parents as God is placing more and more people in our lives to encourage, teach and labor alongside of us in this great redemptive work. Praise God!

Darwin’s choir practices always start off with a massage chain to get everyone’s shoulders loosened up! (This particular day was girls’ choir.)

Experienced Catholic Lawyer Found for Adoption Process; Prayers Sought for Financial Provision and Government Favor

After my trip to the capital city of Tegucigalpa several weeks ago to interview 3 potential adoption lawyers, the Lord made it very clear to us who the best person for the job would be. We are now working with a female lawyer named Martha who has roughly 30 years of experience as a lawyer in Honduras, and she has dedicated the majority of her practice to domestic and international adoptions. She is a Catholic Christian and deeply believes that every child deserves a family (and not just a temporary solution/orphanage), and she has a record of doing just that for hundreds of Honduran children (which is extremely uncommon because most Hondurans are not prone to adopt children). She has already begun working on our adoption of four of our ten children. (Our desire is to be real family to all of our kids and to legally adopt them if they are able to be adopted. Some of our kids cannot be adopted because their biological families are still in the picture and may potentially receive them anew in their homes, so in the meantime we are joyfully family to all of our kids, whether they are legally adopted or not). The lawyer is extremely up-front, passionate and professional, and she’s giving us more than a 50% discount from what she normally charges, but even so we don’t yet have the funds to complete the adoption. We humbly ask for prayer in this regard, as we wait upon the Lord for provision/direction in order to complete the adoption process of Dayana, Gleny, Jason and Brayan in the most efficient manner possible. Thank you!

Gaby taking a “shower” in our outdoor washing station fully dressed…Oh gosh!

Two New Teen Girls Find Permanency in Our Home; Possible Adoption in the Future

Our two newest arrivals (Paola and Carolina), both of whom had bounced around among dysfunctional biological family members’ households and orphanages/foster homes for several years before arriving at our front gate, have both confirmed that they desire to become permanent members of our family. Darwin and I have felt incredible peace (and passion) about this and have pushed hard (in a good sense) to make them feel welcomed and loved as they were expecting to be rejected by yet another household when they arrived at our home. They had known great suffering and bad behavior (both that which they received from others and that which they learned to inflict upon others), so God has literally been breaking chains of wrong thinking, establishing new behavioral norms based on love, and infiltrating their souls with His truth. Our 8 kids/teens who have been with us several years have been used mightily by God in this process to model Christlike behavior, counsel our two new girls in the context of friendship/sisterhood, and express to them God’s unconditional love. We are already seeing great changes in their attitude and outlook and, as I mentioned above, they both had encounters with Christ via the pastors’ visit. We daily affirm to them that they are no longer rejected; that we want to be in their weddings and be their kids’ grandparents (in essence, be what a normal family is to their children for the whole of their life). They have been surprised by much (or perhaps all) of this as they had never before received such intense welcome, and they’ve responded to the hugs and physical affection we’ve shown them (as they had not previously received hugs in their other foster homes/orphanages). They had literally gone the extent of their childhoods without knowing they were loved by anyone until about three weeks ago. We have even talked to them about our desire to adopt them (once our adoption of the first four is complete), and they are very open to and excited about the idea of finally having a real family. There is so much I could write, but suffice it to say that we’re all ecstatic and that God is doing what only He can do. Please continue to pray that all chains of abuse, sexual sin, rejection, lies, stealing, etc would be completely broken off in Jesus’ name and that they would truly pass from death unto life. Praise God!

Amen! Glory to God!

The ‘Praise Parade’: Follow-Up to Friday’s Cow Massacre

Last Friday I wrote about the sudden, tragic deaths of our two adult milking cows at the hands of professional cattle thieves. It was a heavy, sullen morning (as I wrote about in the previous post), but today I’m going to write about the events that occurred later that afternoon.

That same day our car had broken down, so our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline approached us around noon, the air around all of us heavy due to the shock we were still experiencing from what had happened to our cows earlier that morning, and asked carefully, “…Are we still going to go to the park today?” She was one of the few in our discipleship-based community homeschool who had gone the entire month without a single detention, so she was fishing to see if the prize would get pushed back or forgotten altogether due to the heavy atmosphere plus the fact that we had no vehicle to reach our destination.

I confirmed to her that, yes, we would still be going to the park. On foot. After all, we had announced the end-of-the-month trip-to-the-park prize weeks earlier as an incentive to our students to be diligent with their responsibilities, and we earnestly try to fulfill our word.

So Friday afternoon at 3:00pm we rounded up our small group of local students plus our own kiddos who had gone the entire month without getting sent to detention (it was a small group indeed!) and we informed them that we would walk from our remote rural property down to a local park for the afternoon of fun we had promised them.

And so that is how we went. Emotionally heavy and on the brink of exhaustion we closed up our little houses and front gate and began walking down that long gravel path exiting our property.

As Darwin and I walked hand-in-hand to our outer front gate, we noticed that all the teens who had walked out of the gate ahead of us were waiting patiently in a big group right near the bloody hides we had discovered that same morning.

We thanked them for waiting for us, and I began walking alongside of 17-year-old Sandra — the local teen who lived with us for a season and who has been restored to her biological mom after the mom (who cannot read or write but has a beautiful relationship with God) valiantly left behind her abusive husband, established healthy boundaries and began serving with us part-time. I walked and giggled alongside of Sandra– to whom we serve as her ‘second family’ — extending my long legs to kick her in the butt when she walked in front of me.

Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) and several other students and children/teens of ours were accompanying us, some kicking around a soccer ball as they walked; others walking in pairs and small groups, laughing and chit-chatting. Sandra had a little portable speaker device blasting upbeat Christian music, and before we knew it we all literally began singing and dancing down that path, traipsing over the path of slaughter with light footsteps filled with laughter and joy.

The music blasted, proclaiming of the inner fount of joy in every believer as I began doing some silly dance moves. I looked over at Sandra’s mom — a very quiet and timid woman with fierce faith in Christ — and I laughed out loud and said, “Hey! This is like a parade for Jesus!” She laughed along with me as I hip-bumped Sandra and we were all consumed in laughter and praises in the most unlikely of places.

And so we passed — dancing/running on foot and with praise music blasting — those same neighboring properties I had visited earlier that day to share with them the weight of our tragedy. I felt eyes trained on our joyous parade as I could feel their unspoken question from where they stood or worked in their yards: How on earth are these people so joyous (and so childish!) — how dare they dance and sing?! — after what just happened to them this morning?

Thus our parade of praise continued onward for close to a mile as we dropped Sandra and her mom off near their home (after much effort and saving, they’ve constructed their own wood-planked home, a refuge where Geraldina can raise Sandra and her other three children free of the step-father’s abuse) and we continued onward toward the park, hand-in-hand with our children, all of our burdens literally laid at the foot of the cross.

So the miracle in the midst of the tragedy is that God has granted us increasing joy and freedom; we haven’t fallen into fear, anger or worry. Our 16-year-old son Brayan has been working diligently with our night watchman to make an enclosed corral for our cows each night (so that they are closer to our home and thus perhaps harder to reach by thieves), and we continue onward with great assurance in our Provider and Protector, no matter what happens in the coming months and years.

Sunday morning — two days after the morning massacre and the afternoon praise parade — I sat in a small circle in Erick and Aracely’s home (a local couple whom the Lord has brought to labor alongside of us and who work very closely with the teens in our neighborhood in discipleship/hospitality) for a time of worship, Bible study and prayer. Geraldina, Sandra’s mom (one of the participants in the praise parade two days prior) sat right next to me.

Each person freely shared what the Lord was doing in their lives, and after a couple people had spoken I began to share with them what the Lord was doing in our own hearts through what had happened to our cows only two days prior. Everyone in our intimate circle knew exactly what had happened (news spreads fast here), and all had shared in our sorrow over the injustice of the matter. Erick, after all, had lived with and served alongside of us in 2014 and helped care for the two cows who were slaughtered and felt deeply enraged by the news.

However, the Lord opened my mouth to speak of the incident not as a story of woe, fear or self-pity but rather of power, joy and freedom in Christ. I spoke freely of the Lord’s abundant blessing in ‘lending’ us the cows for the four years we had them. They were, after all, given to us as a gift from Darwin’s family. We had not purchased them; we had paid virtually nothing in their daily care and had reaped great gains (milk and the selling of their calves) with little effort on our part. Their living on our property and birthing several calves had all been part of God’s grace. The Lord gives and He takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. We can be upset that the cows were taken away, or we can rejoice over the season of grace that the Lord allowed us.

In that moment I began laughing and mentioned our completely impromptu “praise parade” the same day of the massacre. I glanced over at Geraldina, Sandra’s mom, as she smiled and agreed that the Lord truly had given us all joy in the midst of what could have potentially been a prolonged period of mourning and fear.

Once I finished sharing, Geraldina spoke up. She has been a desperately poor woman (materially) the majority of her life, but she has been closely walking with Christ for several years and has deep communion with Him. Rejected by most people and well-acquainted with suffering, but approved (and highly treasured by) the Most High. On many occasions she has talked with Darwin and I in private to share with us different dreams the Lord gives her, many of which have come true. We have oftentimes marveled at this gift; for it was the Lord — through a dream — that directed her to us for the first time in 2016 and told her that her daughter Sandra would find refuge in our home to escape the step-father’s abuse until the mom, too, could escape in the ensuing months.

She began, carefully. Oftentimes we have to lean in close to hear her, as she speaks very softly. She laughed a little and admitted, “Sandra tells me I’m crazy when I share with her the different dreams the Lord gives me…but this one I feel like I have to share.”

We all leaned in closer. We knew she wasn’t crazy. She continued. “The night the cows were killed, I was overcome with an intense fever and anguish in my spirit, although I didn’t know why. I felt extremely ill and like I could sense in my body that something terrible was going to happen, but at the time I didn’t know what it was. That night I dreamt that there was a great massacre; there was blood everywhere — but I couldn’t tell who or what was killed. Then, in the next part of the dream I was with several of you and we were all dancing and singing praises to God, like in a parade down a long path.”

I sat not 8 inches from her, eyes wide with wonder. She continued, now stating the obvious, “And then, the next morning — Friday — I went to work at the Ranch and heard the news of the cows and understood that was what God had revealed to me in the dream. And then, later that day, we all began dancing and singing praises to God in our ‘parade.'” She began giggling, as we all knew that we had never — literally never — before had any other kind of ‘praise parade’ (and much less after a tragic slaughter). After all, we would have taken our car (thus eliminating any opportunity for a ‘parade’) had it not been broken down. What were the chances? This dream had truly come from God. He had planned all along to turn our mourning into dancing. Beauty for ashes. Wow.

And so we continue onward with great faith as He is working out among us many such miracles of grace, moments of wonder, divine joy and communion with other believers. Be encouraged as we are!

Glory to God! Amen!

Maintaining Peace in the Storm: Gleny’s Hard-Earned Lesson

Earlier this afternoon around 3:30pm as all of our daily classes were letting out and teachers and students were heading home, our 12-year-old daughter Gleny approached me with a rather solemn countenance and responded to my hug with sagging shoulders: “Mom, can I talk to you in private about something that happened today?”

I breathed deeply, as I was sure whatever news she was going to share with me wasn’t positive. A key that my husband and I are learning as we share our lives alongside of very broken and hurting people is how to actively and sacrificially love them without getting ‘infected’ by their sin, pessimism, complaints, etc. Centering myself before God’s presence, asking for His unfailing peace and joy even in the midst of whatever she was about to share, I answered cheerfully, “Sure. Just let me go grab my things.”

I headed to our dining room to grab my keys and teaching supplies, as I had just finished leading a dynamic homeschool-style support class for a group of 12 of our students who come from more marginalized backgrounds whom I meet with every Tuesday afternoon. We had read together several chapters of the book of John; we had done several silly, team-building activities out on the lawn; I had shared a snack and story-time with them; we finished with an open-ended art project using oil pastels. It had been a blessed time as both I and my students weekly look forward to our time together, and I immediately rejected the thought that Gleny’s Debby-downer attitude would put a damper on all the positive work that God had done that day.

As Gleny and I passed into the bedroom my husband and I share, I breathed deeply again, and internally braced myself for anything. In these Mom-can-I-talk-with-you-in-private chats that we’ve had on numerous occasions with all of our kids, the spectrum of topics that they approach us about ranges from entirely innocent to utterly tragic. Just the night prior we had had several of these types of conversations back-to-back with our teen girls as a couple startling situations were brought into the light and carefully dealt with.

I sat on the floor, waiting for her to join me. From her dull countenance came the words: “Can I close the door?”

“Of course.” Okay. I breathed even deeper. Whatever she was about to share was gonna be really private.

She stood several feet from me, refusing to sit down. She began defensively: “Something happened that I really didn’t like.”

Of course. I nodded and allowed her to continue. “Today in agriculture class Brayan was bothering me, saying that I like this certain boy.”

I thanked God in my heart that this was the ‘big deal.’ This sort of ‘bad day’ we can deal with without much sweat; it is much more taxing when our kids come to us to share inside knowledge of a robbery, group lie or scandal, etc, that other siblings have participated in.

Brayan, our 15-year-old son who is a bit immature for his age, had pushed Gleny’s buttons. That I could deal with easy enough. Thank you, God.

She continued, very upset and close to tears. “I mean, several of my classmates bother me about this, saying that I like this boy. And I don’t! I just…I just wanted to grab a rock and throw it at him, but I decided not to…”

I spoke up for the first time, wanting to show her that I was with and for her: “I’m so glad you didn’t. That’s great self-control, sweetheart.”

She nearly cut me off as she apparently had not finished her statement, “…because I didn’t want the rock to hit the teacher.”

I bit my lip and tried not to laugh, “Oh.”

That led to a nearly hour-long conversation between my Wild Gleny and me as I gave her my honest perspective: I could and would talk with Brayan about not teasing her, but even so that would not guarantee that he (and not to mention all the other students who don’t live in our household) would entirely leave her alone forever. The task at hand was that of learning how to deal with jokes, teasing and bullying in a God-honoring, healthy way. After all, I reminded Gleny of something that she already knew: we cannot control others; we can only control ourselves. That is the power that God has given us and that we will ultimately have to give an account for. 

Several minutes into our conversation she warmed up a bit and came and sat down on the tile floor next to me as I put my arm around her.

Gleny came to us as a scared, aggressive 9-year-old in a very tiny, malnourished body. Her previously toothy, wide-gapped smile has since grown into a beautiful, brilliant smile that can light up a whole room. She was the first of our kids to start calling me ‘Mom,’ and she accepted Jesus early on in her time in our household and was baptized publicly last year. God’s work in her life is clearly evident as her extreme outbursts and fits of rage used to occur several times daily, and God has since been softening her heart and teaching her how to love and respond peacefully. Even so, she still struggles mightily with jealously, with being one of the younger siblings, and with a general emotional immaturity that frequently leads her to react with tears or harsh words when she feels she’s in a tough situation.

And so I began giving her some great ideas. “Gleny, when Brayan – or whoever else – comes at you, taunting and embarrassing you by saying that you like a certain boy, the first thing you need to do is control your face.” I showed her a very happy, eyebrows-high face. She immediately covered her face and giggled. I looked ridiculous.

“If people tease you and your face immediately turns into the one that you were showing me when we first came in this room to talk, everyone will know that they can push your buttons. It’s too easy. People who are out to tease are looking for a reaction; they want to make you mad or sad. So don’t let them. You know that God desires us to be joyful and at peace all the time, so the task at hand is to not allow others to rob the joy that Christ gives you. Just because someone teases or pokes fun at you doesn’t mean that you have to fall into a well of sadness or suddenly get angry and start throwing rocks. God desires for your joy to be permanent, for the peace He gives us to be unwavering despite what other people may do or say.”

“So first, your face.” I again flashed an extremely happy, silly face at her, and we both laughed.

“Mom! Stop it! When you look like that it makes me laugh!”

“That’s the point. If you can show this face – “ and I did the really happy face again “ – to those who are trying to push your buttons, by the end of it both you and them are gonna be laughing. But if you show the sad or mad face, they’ll keep going because they’ll know they’ve got you. You’ve lost your peace and joy.”

I kept going. “And that’s like a shield that God gives you – the shield of faith, to protect the joy and peace that He’s put in us. Don’t let people come and take it away from you.”

“Then, with the face, you say something really upbeat like ‘God bless you!’ or ‘Hey, I sure do like you, bro!’ or ‘You’re too funny!’ and then you leave. If the person follows you to try to push your buttons again, you just give another big, happy face and another loving, neutral comment and you walk away again. If you’re still really upset on the inside, then you pray and ask God to protect and restore His peace in your heart.”

I leaned even closer and arched my eyebrows in a juicy secret-telling kind of way. “You wanna know what, Gleny?”

She smiled big, eyes trained on mine, ready for whatever I was about to say.

“I know this works because I do it all the time with you kids.”

She perked up and gasped slightly. “That’s right! You do it a lot with Gaby!”

I nodded and added, “I sure do. And with you. You remember yesterday when you got really mad at me when I asked you to wash your blanket, and I showed you my happy face, gave you a loving comment and left the scene until you calmed down and were ready to talk peacefully?”

The light of understanding dawned across her face. Man, this stuff really does work! This must be Mom’s secret ingredient to not losing her mind in the midst of the daily battlefield.

Minutes later she and I were off hand-in-hand to the kitchen to eat some dinner. We both entered the dining room laughing amongst ourselves as I continued to encourage her to ‘practice the face’ and to have her peaceful, loving one-liners ready for the next time someone insults her. Three of our other daughters – who were busy preparing a cake to take to one of their classes the next day – stared at us oddly, as it was clear to everyone that Gleny and I had some great new inside joke.

A couple minutes passed when Gleny casually mentioned to no one in particular that she was going to begin taking one of the vitamins on our shelf to help with a small eye irritation she was experiencing. This was not a big piece of news to any of us, as we’ve all taken that vitamin from time to time for different minor health issues, so no one said anything. Gleny grabbed the little plastic bottle and turned her back to everyone as she bent over to put it in the fridge.

Standing a few feet away from Gleny, our backs toward one another and several of our other teen girls present, I said very nonchalantly, with only a slight tinge of naughty attitude, “Only fools take that vitamin.”

Suddenly several pairs of eyes were drilling me in shock, and more than one mouth was left dangling wide open. No one could understand why such a negative, critical comment would have come out of my mouth, as Darwin and I are very intentional about the way we speak to one another in our household.

Gleny did a 180 from where she stood bent-over near the fridge, her face displaying utter confusion, convinced she must have heard me wrong: “Wha–?!”

I winked at her and smiled, whispering, “The face. Give me a good face.”

After a couple more moments’ pause, she suddenly burst out in laughter, finally understanding what I was doing: I was training her in the safety of our own relationship how to react to insults with love and grace. I was waiting for her to give me a big, loving face and a positive comment. This training was proving harder for her than she had thought.

Moments later, as Gleny was serving her dinner, she grabbed a can of tuna from our pantry and began pouring a little bit on top of her rice and beans.

I glanced over at her and said with disgust, “Only crazy people eat tuna.”

She snapped her head up at me, eyes wide, and blurted immediately in her own defense, “…No!” 

Her eyes searched mine, again not understanding why I had so openly sought to offend her, until she quickly realized that I had just done it again. She threw her head back and laughed out loud and she stomped her feet with glee. We were both rolling with laughter. I flashed her a delightful, slightly crazy face.

Our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline, who is very expressive and hysterical with her general expressions, furrowed her brow in an extreme way, glancing between Gleny and me, and said, “This strange mother-daughter interaction is really creeping me out.”

Our other girls just stared at me, not sure if they were allowed to laugh with us – what would they even be laughing at, anyway? – or if they should feel offended on behalf of Gleny. Afterall, everyone in our family knows not to go around bothering Gleny, because she’s really explosive and gets her feelings hurt really easily. Bad Mom!

Less than a minute later, as the other girls finished pouring the cake batter into the pan, someone mentioned that Jackeline had accidentally left the oven door open, and the cat had jumped in (the oven was not yet turned on). I glanced over and commented, “Oh, I bet it was Gleny who opened the oven. It was her fault.”

Gleny shot a surprised look over at me, her jaw dangling down around her ankles again, and gasped, “Why?!”

This time it only took her a split second to realize what I had done as she and I both burst out into laughter. She was not passing the tests I was sending her! She had yet to give me a happy face and a loving comment!

Jackeline stared at us strangely as she asked, “What on earth is going on between you two?”

Gleny and I just kept laughing hysterically and sending each other really big, happy faces from across the kitchen.

A couple minutes later 16-year-old Dayana, Gleny’s biological sister, began chit-chatting to me about something silly from one of her classes that day, and I gave her a warm hug and mentioned with a slightly negative tone, “Of course you would think that because you’re that weird girl’s older sister.”

Gleny’s eyes shot up to meet mine as she flashed me a huge – brilliant! – sincerely happy face and stuck out an enthusiastic finger: “That’s right!”

She was ready for it this time! She got it! She really got it!

She extended her hand to meet mine in a triumphant high-five as her joy jumped off her and onto everyone in the room, although only she and I knew what was really going on. I had insulted her – called her weird! – and she responded lovingly!

Things calmed down for a few minutes as everyone began eating their dinner until Jackeline came over and mixed the very little English she knows (as in, like one or two words) into an all-Spanish sentence to ask me a question about how long to bake the cake. (In our household we communicate with one another almost exclusively in Spanish although some of our older kids are in beginners-level English classes). Gleny approached me, impressed that Jackeline had tried to put into practice a little bit of English, and said, “Mom! Did you hear what Jackeline said?! She said the first word in English and the rest in Spanish!” I had not even noticed, but Gleny found it very funny.

I saw this as another open door, so I said, “At least she speaks better English than you do.”

Gleny gave me a beautiful, glowing face and smiled big, affirming: “That’s …okay!…that she speaks better English than I do!” Again she gave me a big high-five and an enthusiastic pat on the back. Good girl! 

Jackeline just stared at us for a few moments and then rolled her eyes, not quite sure whether to believe the whole love-your-enemies and love-those-who-persecute-you drama that was being played out so vividly around her.

Several times throughout dinner I reached across the table and pulled a small strand of Gleny’s hair and poked annoyingly at her ribs. Each time she responded with a lovely, sincere face, a friendly pat on the shoulder and “Many blessings to you!”

About an hour or so later, the endorphins having died down after our riotous training session, Gleny approached me with a rather dull countenance. Oh, no. “Mom, I don’t want to be in violin anymore.”

I gave her a beautiful, loving, happy face and answered neutrally, “You are my favorite violinist, sweetheart.”

That was not the answer she was looking for. She became visibly agitated and entered into that blessed whine: “Mo-om! Please? Can I drop out of violin?”

Feeling her negativity being rather aggressively thrust onto me, I answered with a smile: “I love you, Gleny. You need to persevere with the violin; your dad and I have already talked with you about this. I’m gonna go take a shower now. Catcha later.”

As I began walking to our bathroom, distancing myself as much as possible from her bad attitude, I heard my name being hurled at my back: “Mo-om!”

At our family’s Sabbath Hour – all of our kids on the cusp of entering their rooms for the night – Gleny dramatically threw herself on me one more time, batting her eyes like an innocent little dove: “Mom! The violin! Please!

I embraced her closely – fitting her perfectly under my armpit – as I gave her several little kisses on the forehead and affirmed, “You are absolutely the most precious violin player I’ve ever met. Good night.”

I began walking away as she threw herself at me, grabbing my arm in desperation. (I felt as though she would soon be grabbing my ankles as I dragged her across the floor towards my bedroom, but the situation thankfully did not come to that.) In need of loosening her from me, I said with a big, happy face, “Okay…your bedtime will be earlier tomorrow…”

And her eyes grew wide; she released me immediately and disappeared behind the curtain as she entered her bedroom on schedule.

And, about 10 minutes later, the miracle happened. As I sat peacefully at my laptop computer, curled up in a little nook in our bedroom as several candles let off a soft glow and pleasing scent, the fan producing a refreshing breeze as our entire home entered into its nightly rest, I heard a beautiful noise coming from the other end of our cinderblock home. It was a violin. Gleny was practicing.

Amen! Glory to God!

Glue Sandwiches: The Definition of a Chaotic Life

Recently 8-year-old Gabriela (who is about 4 years old developmentally and is prone to being quite off-the-wall in her general speech and re-telling of daily events) commented to me across our large dining room table as several of our other kids were arriving home from school, her face all scrunched up and her arms waving about wildly:

“Ma! Isn’t that right that this morning you grabbed that piece of bread and poured glue all over it?” Her stubby, uncoordinated hands mimicked the action of pouring glue all over an imaginary slice of bread as she smiled big.

12-year-old Gleny walked through the dining room door in her school uniform and too-full backpack in tow, overhearing her little sister’s odd comment. She glanced over at me and rolled her eyes in response to the little one’s crazy tale. Glue on a sandwich?

Gabriela continued, unaware that anyone else was listening to her: “And Ma! You – you grabbed that bread and put…put…what’s that called? What’d you put all over it?” Her enthusiasm grew with each passing moment.

I glanced up from where I was folding the clothes, a little grin growing on my face, and I helped her out: “Deodorant.”

“Dodorat! Yeah! And then! And then – you, Ma, you picked up the bread and you poured hydrada – what’s it called?”

I continued folding clothes and smiling. I knew Gleny was staring at me in disbelief, but I didn’t look at her. “Hydrogen peroxide. ”

Hydraden peroside! Yeah. You poured it all over the bread, and then you asked who wanted to eat it!” She wagged a short finger back and forth and said, “Not me!” Her giggle grew and overtook her small frame as her body shook with delight. She repeated, “Not me! Nobody wanted to eat it!”

A moment passed as little Gabriela paused to recall other details.

Her eyes lit up. “And then, Ma, you stomped on the cellphone and broke it! I saw you!”

Gleny, who had grabbed her lunch from the kitchen and began making her way toward Gabriela and I at the table, had the strangest expression on her face as she wondered why on earth I was encouraging little Gabriela in her odd fantasy. She glanced at me again, and I just smiled innocently without interrupting Gabriela nor defending her.

What Gleny didn’t know was that her oddball little sister who has a very real struggle with lying and tends to ‘stretch’ the truth may not have been as off-the-mark this time as she might have thought…

Earlier that morning in our twice-weekly Bible study time with all of our students and Christian laborers (Gleny and two of our other children were not present because this year they have been attending a local private school) I had wanted to make a point. I knew that many of our students and laborers were growing in the truth of God’s Word due to distinct character transformations we’ve seen and sincere comments of faith people have shared with me, but I felt frustrated that frequently as we came together on Tuesday and Thursday mornings the majority of the people seemed to have ‘forgotten’ what we had learned together in the prior meeting. Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday as I enthusiastically asked what they remembered from the prior Bible Study, I was frequently met with blank stares and discouraging shrugs as our students would murmur, “I don’t remember.”

You don’t remember? You don’t remember that just two days ago we talked extensively about the joy-filled life, that God expects us to live day by day giving Him thanks and rejoicing in Him – even in the midst of difficulties — because in Him we have a hope that cannot be altered, an Eternal Father who has invited us to share His entire Kingdom with Him, and He Himself has paid our entrance with His Son’s own blood? Must we start again from ground zero, say it all again because you’ve ‘forgotten’?

So I got a bit creative and entered our Bible study time with some special supplies. As we finished our time of praise and worship, Darwin leading us on the keyboard, I took my place along one of the long wooden benches in our rustic dining room and informed everyone very plainly, “Okay, go ahead and open up your Bibles to the book of Philipians. We’re gonna keep reading chapters two and four about the importance of rejoicing in the Lord at all times.”

I grabbed a children’s book and held it upside down in my hands, very seriously searching the contents for Philippians chapters two and four.

As my brow furrowed in concentration and my fingers flipped through the upside-down pages, the atmosphere in our concrete-floored dining room suddenly fell awkward as several silent moments passed.

Then, two or three brave souls began to giggle. Then, everyone.

I looked up, an utterly surprised expression plastered across my face, and asked, “Well what on earth are you laughing at? Open up your Bibles!”

Someone said, “Uh…that’s not a Bible.” More giggles sprinkled about.

I pretended to be taken aback. I turned the book around and began investigating the cover carefully, “Well, how on earth do you know that?” I squinted my eyes and searched for clear evidence among the large drawings and bold font on the bookcover.

“Well, you people, I certainly didn’t tell you just now that this wasn’t a Bible? You mean, at some point in your life someone taught you what a Bible looks like, and, based on that knowledge, you were able to decifer just now – without any problems whatsoever – that this, in fact, is not a Bible?”

Everyone around the circle nodded slowly as they stared at me, slightly confused. Man, she’s talkin’ weird.

“Dang!” I sighed, impressed by their extremely accurate use of past knowledge, and closed the book. I took one last good look at it as I turned it upside down, inspecting it one more time. “And you mean, you didn’t forget? I mean, I imagine they taught you quite a while ago, or was it just this morning that someone reminded you what a Bible looks like?”

The majority of the roughly 30 people in attendance just stared with a couple verbally affirming that, yes, in fact, they were taught long ago what a Bible is and isn’t and that they had not forgotten the valuable piece of information since then.

I put the book to one side, shaking my head in amazement, and I continued onward, murmuring to myself, “Wow. They didn’t forget. Man, they’ve got a good memory…”

I suddenly changed the topic.

“Look, I’m real sorry, but I didn’t have time to eat breakfast before Bible Study and I’m really hungry, so if you don’t mind I’m gonna go ahead and eat real quick.” I pulled out a couple pieces of wheat bread and placed them on a bright blue plastic plate in my lap as I looked at all the blank faces around the oblong rectangle, seeking everyone’s approval.

Everyone just stared at me, somewhat confused – was this truly the appropriate time to be eating breakfast? – but no one protested.

I opened the two slices of bread as if I were about to prepare a sandwich and began applying the ingredients little Gabriela had quite accurately recalled – glue, deodorant, hydrogen peroxide. (She forgot to mention the q-tips that I sprinkled in between), and then I cut the gooey sandwhich into four pieces with a pair of scissors. Anybody want a slice?

Nearly everyone pulled their head back in disgust, voicing the absurdity of my offer. “Gross! No!”

My jaw dropped open. “W-what? You don’t want a slice? I mean, I’ll share it with you. C’mon.”

“No way! You put glue all over it! And…deodorant!” A riot was breaking out as many voices chimed in at once. Who on earth would voluntarily eat a sandwich like that?

“Well, now what do you mean you don’t want to eat glue or q-tips? Why not? I don’t get it.” I threw my hands up in frustration, looking around the circle for someone who would want to share my sandwich with me. No one?

“Glue’s not meant to be eatin’! You could die!” A cacophony of voices rose from all around.

“Well, what on earth is it for?” I sighed dramatically, determined to find answers.

“For…sticking things together!”

I put my hands on my hips, my mouth still slightly agape with brow furrowed. “And how do you know that? I mean, I certainly didn’t teach you guys that just now. Gosh, you people seem to know so many things.”

The kids began catching on. This was a game. Their eyes twinkled with mischief as they shouted: “Someone taught us when we were younger!”

“Ohhh. Someone taught you at some point in your life that glue is not meant for bread?”

Everyone in unison, exasperated: “Yes!”

“And you mean you haven’t, like, forgotten?”

Dozens of voices crescendoed: “No!”

“Because, I mean, you probably learned it for the first time like a long, long time ago. Or was it just last Tuesday?”

“It was a long time ago! But we haven’t forgotten!”

“And, you mean you’ve put into practice this knowledge of glue-is-for-sticking-things-together-and-not-for-eating ever since then with positive results?”

Everyone at once: “Yes!”

I sat back, resting slightly against the cinderblock wall behind me. “Ahhh. I see. You learned.

I let my statement hang in the air a few moments. A few eyes lit up. They were getting it.

We continued onward.

Socks on my hands. Skirt on my head. Household appliances wrapped in sticky laminate paper. ‘Drinking’ my bottle of water by pouring it on my knee. Trying to open a pillow with my keys.

“Gosh, I just – ah, excuse me. This dang cellphone of mine just keeps on buzzing. I mean, I just… I just can’t stand this phone. Everyone’s always calling me. I think I’m gonna just go ahead and turn it off so I can get a bit of peace and quiet for once.”

Everyone’s eyes were trained on me as I grabbed the little black cellphone that looked exactly like my own (no ‘Smart’ cellphone by any stretch of the imagination) and threw it violently on the ground at my feet before emphatically stamping it under my heel repeatedly, my sandaled feet crushing the small device before I picked it up quite calmly and broke it completely in two, my tone of voice remaining utterly even: “Whew. I’m so glad I turned my cellphone off.”

Several mouths gaped open, as they were convinced I had, in fact, completely destroyed my actual cellphone. (What they didn’t know is that it was an old cellphone that no longer worked.) No she’s really gone overboard.

“That’s not how you turn off a cellphone! You completely ruined it! To turn it off you’ve just gotta press the little button!” Many students were seriously worried.

My mouth dropped open in shock. “What? What do you mean that’s not how you turn a cellphone off? How dare you say that?”

Everyone in unison: “Someone taught us!”

“Oh, you mean a family member or friend taught you once that that’s not how you turn a cellphone off, and since then you’ve actually been able to remember that information?”

“Yes!”

“But…surely you were taught that valuable piece of information long ago, right? Or was it like last Thursday? I mean, it’s hard to remember things from like two or three days ago, right?”

“They taught us a long time ago, but we haven’t forgotten!”

I sat back again, impressed by their ability to remember important information. “Lookie there. And, putting into practice this information has been useful to you in daily life, or have you daily tried to destroy your cellphone as I just did?”

Everybody laughed as mental lightbulbs began doing off. Ah. There’s a lot of things we’ve learned – maybe we were only taught once, maybe even by mere observation – and that knowledge has stuck with us. What’s more, we’ve relied on that information to make daily decisions about how to live, what’s important to us, how to lead a successful life. Why, then, are we so easily content with saying we’ve ‘forgotten’ a lesson on the truth that we’ve learned but two days ago (or ten minutes ago)? Is this not a grave problem that must be confronted?

Is this not one of the Satan’s invisible strongholds in our lives — that we have become a people ready and able to learn anything and everything — how to operate complicated technology, how to drive a car (or bicycle, motorcycle, plane!), how to store countless trivia and academic information in our minds — yet we fail to learn the truth, are slow to grasp what can actually save us? We are experts in the details of life that, in the end, have zero effect on our relationship with our Creator. Begin talking to us about eternal matters — about life and death, sin and justice, truth and lie — and people’s minds shut off. Sure; I read the entire manual for my new SmartPhone or tablet and can now adeptly maneuver every button, every screen, every app with perfect execution and confidence, but what was that again that so-and-so shared with me — or that I read personally, that I’ve heard dozens of times over and over again in different ways! — about the truth, about a loving God who goes beyond this world, who holds the keys to death and Hell? I don’t remember.

Holding the destroyed cellphone in my hands, I continued, “I’ve gotta ask. If someone lives ‘forgetting’ all they are taught, failing to put into practice what they know – pouring glue on sandwiches and destroying cellphones in a misguided attempt to turn them off – what kind of life is that?

A short silence engulfed the room as everyone thought about the question. After a couple moments, a soft voice from across the circle said, “…a chaotic life.”

“A chaotic life!” My finger enthusiastically pointed at the person with the prize answer.

They’re with me. I dared onward into the real territory, the actual lesson of the morning. “And a life that is spent receiving God’s Word in one ear and letting it fall right out the other, a life that never actually puts into practice what God’s Word teaches?” I continued, putting it into the specific context of the lesson we had been learning for several weeks – “A life spent ‘forgetting’ to rejoice in the Lord always, a life spent rather complaining, gossiping, and murmuring, never content? A life spent refusing to embrace the goodness of God, ‘forgetting’ to give thanks in all occasions and never experiencing the joy found in Christ? What kind of life would that be?”

Two or three youth answered together as I believe many others, too, found the answer silently in their minds: “…A chaotic life.”

I bent forward, my voice even, serious. “We musn’t forget. Just as in daily life we cannot afford to forget that 2+2 is four – or have to learn it over and over again every day for years – we cannot forget that we are all in need of a Savior. Even as we’ve just become angry with another person, Jesus says we’re no different than a murderer. Just as we cannot afford to ‘forget’ that a toothbrush is for teeth and not for brushing our hair, even moreso – infinitely more so! – we absolutely cannot forget every Word of truth, every word of hope, of eternal instruction that we have been learning here together twice a week for this entire year.”

I continued, “So many people see the simple act of ‘forgetting’ what we’ve learned about God as an innocent act of negligence, but the Psalms say that those who ‘forget’ about God are wicked. Can you think why?”

Someone from across the room spoke: “Because…apart from union with Christ, we’re all wicked. So…if we forget the One who saves us from our wickedness — who grants us His own justice, then we’re right back in the same boat with the wicked.”

Another teen spoke up, “If we forget God, then…we’re back in the group with Adam and Eve. Without Christ’s power over sin and death. Satan wins.”

“Yes! And so, kids, every Tuesday and Thursday that we meet here — and every other time that you go to church with your family or are exposed to God’s Word in other contexts — I do not want you to lazily shrug and say that you ‘forgot’ what it is we’re learning together. This is serious business. I want to be able to run into you guys in town in 20 or 40 years and be able to talk about things we’ve learned together this year. This is so absolutely important. We cannot forget. Forgetting the truth is the equivalent of rejecting the truth – never putting it into practice – and living a life of chaos, a life that doesn’t make sense, a life that is full of suffering and, in the end, leads to destruction.”

Serious, listening faces stared back at me. We had gone from a hoot-and-holler cellphone-destroying riot to touching the heart of God’s desire for us – to remember Him in all that we do, to heed His Word and put into practice every single one of His teachings so that we would not be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.

May our Father empower us to remember every word He has spoken to us, and may He defend us against the thief who desires only to steal, kill and destroy the truth that has been planted in us!

Amen! Glory to God!

Worshipping Death: What Happens When We Reject the Life-Giver

Yesterday morning (Sunday) at 4:41am the startling, loud sing-song tone of Darwin’s cellphone rattled us both out of a very profound sleep. We bolted upward, shaking loose the cobwebs from sleepy minds as our attention snapped to that peace-shattering jingle lighting up our dark bedroom about a yard away.

Darwin reached for the phone, both of our nerves suddenly on edge. Who would call so early on a Sunday?

The night prior a dear neighbor who lives on the rural property adjacent to ours had called in the night with the disturbing news that two armed gunmen had stormed their property. Luckily, the young woman and her family had enclosed themselves in, hurriedly securing the small padlock on the inside of their front door as the aggressors forcefully passed through their gate, throwing a knife under the door and threatening to break in. Without touching our neighbor, the men had fled to the mountainside behind our property when a couple local watchmen showed up to scare them off. We called the police in an optimistic attempt to enact justice in this land ruled by anarchy and, as expected, they never came.

In this country where anything goes, we’ve been granted the grace of understanding that the only real justice is the one Creator God will enact at the end of time upon the inception of His kingdom.

So now, 24 hours after the initial phone conversation with our neighbor, both Darwin and I thought we were receiving some kind of unnerving follow-up call. After all, we had heard the gunshots the night before. Had the gunmen come back, and why? Had they raped our dear neighbor? Who were they, and what did they really want? Why storm the home of a very poor single mom and her four kids? The violence never makes sense, but, even so, we keep searching in vain for answers.

Darwin, in one swift motion throwing off any last remains of the deep sleep he had enjoyed only but a half-second prior, clicked the little button on his cell-phone, brought it up to his ear and mustered a somewhat startled but under-control greeting.

I squinted at him, not a foot away as I sat propped-up on my elbow, the small glow of his cell-phone the only light available to help my eyes see. I tried to read his expression but couldn’t.

The conversation was quick and stressful and, in retrospect, I do not remember what was said. When the conversation was finished, I looked at him expectantly and asked if it was that dreaded follow-up call to the night before.

“Who was it?” I asked, my heart now beating quickly as the rest of my body still felt drugged from having been dragged out of such a profound sleep – that precious, rare sleep that almost always eludes me.

“It was my sister.”

His sister? She had nothing to do with our neighbor from the night before. His sister lives over 30 minutes away in another rural town, and –

“My brother got murdered.”

The words register in my mind.

Murder. It’s always murder. Darwin almost got murdered after having been kidnapped by local gang lords not three months ago, but they miraculously spared his life (Read: Triumphing Against the Blows of Fear). This time death came not only to flirt but was fully consummated. Not with Darwin’s life, but with his brother’s. He’s really dead. His wife and two kids really will never get him back.

It was one of Darwin’s older brothers, one of many in his family to make his living off of cattle and livestock. He had spoken out in a public place against some local men who had been stealing his cows. They didn’t like his comments, showed up on a motorcycle on his walk home late last night, and shot him point-blank. Another one of Darwin’s brothers was walking right next to him when he got murdered.

In this world where the Great Reversal reigns – that great confusion of trust where the people of planet Earth have rejected the good, loving God, deciding rather to wholeheartedly trust and obey the lord of death and lies – a murder like this or any gross deed at all is not surprising. Terrible, yes, but not surprising.

When you turn your back on the Life-Giver, you get death. When the vast majority of the inhabitants of planet Earth shout in unison that they do not want the love, the joy, the abundant life and Truth of their own Creator – the free redemption, the extravagant invitation to participate in an eternal Kingdom, renewed with true peace and justice! – when the nations roar that they prefer their own sin, rejoice in their own darkness, desire nothing beyond their own control and understanding, perhaps they do not know that they are voluntarily choosing the exact opposite of all that God so freely offers: pain, confusion, suffering. Death. Not only physical (which comes eventually to all), but an eternal, spiritual death, cut off from the Life-Giver. The father of lies – Satan himself – has utterly blinded humanity. So many live under this great deception.

And then when there’s dreadful human suffering all across the globe – AIDS victims, riots, marital unfaithfulness, teen pregnancy, drug trafficking, terrorist threats, communism on the horizon, deep-rooted depression and self-loathing widespread – those same people who turned their backs of the Life-Giver shake an angry fist at Him, accusing Him for not having showed up, for not having forced humanity’s hand, for not having magically made everything “okay”.

Oh, but He respects our freedom – wants to win our love freely, not by compulsion. He who is faithful is waiting for us – this generation of prostitutes, for we have been utterly unfaithful with the One who bought us back at a high price. We have prostituted ourselves – our lives, our souls – to the love of money, to the great lie that there is no God (alas, we like to believe we are our own gods!). He lies in wait – broken-hearted, abandoned by His own creation as men and women across the globe spit in the face of the only One who can actually save them from their own misery, exchange their sorrow for joy.

We prefer deeds of darkness, prefer all that is lie, all that is deception. We openly defame the God who wants to share all of creation with us, who has not given up on us even though He would have every right to do so. We ignore Him, accuse Him — We kill Him! We did so 2,000 years ago and continue doing so each and every day henceforth! — and then wonder why there’s so much chaos in our world, our lives. “What is Truth?” We ask sarcastically as if there is no answer.

We have edged out the One who actually saves, who actually loves until the point of death. We want nothing to do with Him. We prefer to worship ourselves, to worship the evil one who comes masked as a beautiful lie – he who comes with great promises of fulfillment, but always deceives, leaves you empty. Just a little more money, and then you’ll be happy. Just a little more pornography, and you’ll be satisfied. Enjoy your life – Buy! Eat! Drink! Travel! – because life is short and it has no meaning. God is dead.

Lies!

This is the Great Deception, the Great Reversal. We want to throw God off His throne – throw Him into the dirt; trample Him! — putting Satan in His high place. We bow down and worship. And die.

So, no, it’s not at all surprising that something so tragic would happen. Of course it would. It does.

The phone rang again, only moments after the first call, shattering the dark silence, my many thoughts. Darwin answered. His eldest brother, weeping, shared the same news.

So another human being has now found himself standing in the presence of the just, holy God, giving an account of his life without ever having believed that he would, in fact, find himself in said position. During many of our trips out to see Darwin’s family we have boldly, lovingly shared the good news of redemption, of a caring God who longs for a worshipping people, but there has been little to no visible result thus far. And now it’s too late.

I don’t remember what was said between Darwin and I Sunday morning after those two phone calls, but there weren’t many words. No tears. Just an even deeper, shared, appreciation for God’s justice in the face of such bewildering, maddening injustice. Yes; there is a good, trustworthy God who is just and loves justice. Our world does not know His justice because we have chosen not to know Him. But here – in our little cinderblock home in this little country raped by senseless violence we, alongside of so many other little people scattered all around the globe in the most diverse of places – we choose to love and trust He who saves us, He who promises to enact a final, unbiased judgment, He who promises to end all wars and bring an everlasting peace, a new Kingdom with a benevolent King. We really believe this, and we dare to participate in His joy even when the world screams Pain.

After all, just two days prior one of our 14-year-old high school students had shared the news with us that one of his old classmates was recently found dead in a field. Our student’s sister was crossing the overgrown field on foot when she stumbled over the young teen’s corpse.

On Thursday as our community Bible study was coming to a close in our dining room and all students and Christian laborers were flowing out those swinging front doors, each prepared to return to work and study, the wife of our night watchman informed me with wide eyes that the news had just come to her that a dead body had been found in a local swimming hole that many of our students frequent. Nobody knew whose body it was and, honestly, there are probably very few who care. It’s just another dead body in a country that wreaks of death.

All this – the armed gunmen, the two local murders, now Darwin’s brother – in the last three days.

In the dead of night – in the dead silence of Honduras’ many dead – Darwin commented in an even tone, “In the United States people die from sickness or old age. Here people die by murder. If someone here actually makes it to old age, it’s – it’s…really surprising…”

We both layed there, wide awake without much further exchange of words at all. I tried to fall back into that heavenly sleep I had so violently been stripped from, but we had both reached the point of no return.

After several minutes, the sun still hiding its face, Darwin informed me, restless, “I’m gonna go milk the cows.” He got up, as he does in the wee hours of every morning, slipped on his black rubber boots along with an old pair of work clothes and headed out the door without another word.

Cows. Darwin went with the cows. Darwin’s brother had cows, and he tried to protect them from being stolen, and he was killed. Someday will they come for our cows too? Are those armed gunmen out there right now, waiting to strike?

Many years ago Darwin and I came to understand that our lives in and of themselves – our own desires, our control, our own goals and hopes – are worth nothing. United with God in His purposes, our lives become infinitely worthy, useful in His hands, rich beyond money. We lost our lives in order to find them, and – Oh! – how we have discovered such a satisfying, hidden life in Christ. But our kids? I cannot help but wonder… If someday our lives are taken, who will raise them? Did they come under our care only to one day become orphans again, abandoned to the harsh fate of parentless children in a world that knows no true justice? Lord, may You keep us alive so that we might finish the task You’ve given us…

Another hour passed and soon enough all the kids were up, everyone getting ready for our weekly Sunday trip out to spend the day with our faith community over an hour away. 8-year-old Gaby came bounding toward me as I shuffled about the house, still in my pijamas: “Ma! Mommy! I didn’t pee in my bed last night! Come! Come and see! My bed is dry!” She squealed with delight over her triumph as I let her little stubby hand grab mine, leading me through the bright teal curtain into her bedroom as she jumped up and down for joy, so proud of her own achievement. I swept my hand across the plastic mattress covering, allowing a big smile to spread across my face – it was dry!

The kids received the news of their uncle’s murder just about as we did: saddened by the devastating loss but not at all surprised. If we were to sit down with our kids and make a collective family list of all the murders that have skimmed close to our lives – all the family members, neighbors and local townspeople who have been murdered – we would need many sheets of paper.

So I wobbled over to our little cave-like bathroom, feeling the effects of the too-early wake-up call, and stared dumbly at the dark circles under my eyes as they reflected tiredly back at me in the little three-inch mirror hanging from a piece of bright yellow yarn that’s been duck-taped above our bathroom sink.

Unimpressed by the reflection of my exhausted face, I tried to prepare myself emotionally and physically to spend that day and the next by myself on combat duty as Darwin would be heading out to his parents’ home to accompany his family members during the funeral preparations.

Suddenly I heard Darwin’s easy footsteps enter our bedroom behind me. He was singing a hymn about God’s love as he began changing out of his cow-milking clothes and into the nicer attire he would be wearing out to his family’s property.

Shirt changed. Pants changed. Looking for the right pair of shoes.

He kept singing softly as he moved about our bedroom, probably oblivious that I was a couple yards behind him in the entryway of our bathroom.

About a half-hour later we all piled into our cab-and-a-half truck, a handful of the kids comfortably in the truckbed with the rest of us tucked in the cab. This time I would be driving as I would drop Darwin off at the main intersection for him to take public transportation out to his family’s home. As he left the vehicle, he gave me a quick kiss and said, “Pray for me.”

A little over an hour later we came barreling over the bumpy mountain roads and came to a screeching stop (our breaks are very touchy) in front of our mentors’ home as the kids and I unloaded. As we crossed the threshold of their small front gate, Josselyn, our 12-year-old daughter who is the only one of our kids to call us by our first names rather than ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ and who is a very successful third-grade student after having learned to read and write for the first time last year upon moving in with us in July 2015 – this same Josselyn whose uncombed short, black hair almost always resembles a rat’s nest – came up to me with wide, sincere eyes and said, “Darwin told us to pray for him.”

I smiled, patted her on the back and assured her, “Yes, I know. We’re going to.”

She seemed satisfied with my answer and darted off to help the others get the breakfast plates ready. Every Sunday we eat granola and cows’ milk at our mentors’ home before entering into the Discipleship Group.

Many breakfast dishes, spoons, cups of water and such in place on both sides of the long wooden table, I asked who would like to lead us in prayer.

That same Josselyn, who can tend to be timid when it comes to public prayer or participating in any kind of group setting, shot up her thin arm.

I smiled and nodded, we all clasped hands, eyes closed in unison and she began to pray:

“Thank you, God… For this day. And this food…We pray now for the man – who killed our uncle…. May You forgive him—“

She stopped there. We waited. It seemed she was searching for the right words, as she oftentimes does in prayer and in conversation. Her words tend to come out a bit haltingly, as if there were some loose socket in her mind caused by years of abuse and neglect, but God’s own heart has begun to shine through her in a way that surpasses the most elegant of words.

Many moments went by before she continued in that same abrupt fashion:

“We pray also for…Darwin. May you allow him – to give You thanks…even when things are difficult…Amen.”

This morning (Monday) my phone rang at 5:31am. Luckily, the majority of our household was already up and getting ready. Three of our kids were already in the kitchen eating breakfast as I ran from the living room to our bedroom nightstand (which is a plastic bucket turned over) to answer the call. I assumed it would be Darwin, because he knows we’re up early.

I answered and, sure enough, it was him. I asked how things were going out at his parents’ home with the preparations for his brother’s funeral, and he answered in an even tone: “My mom died.”

A void opened up in my chest, and all my words seemed to quickly fall into that void, disappear. What to say?

He explained: Having experienced a very emotional reaction to the death of her son the day prior, she had a heart attack and died shortly after arriving at the emergency room.

He continued: “Tomorrow morning will be the funeral, and I think you and the kids should come…”

So we made the plans via phone, and I hung up. Kids still shuffling about the house, getting ready in the wee hours of dawn. Gaby came hurdling toward me from her bedroom, ecstatic: “Ma! Mommy! I didn’t wet the bed last night! Come look! Come and smell my bed!”

I bent down to receive her love tackle with open arms, making a quick mental note that I would inform our kids of their grandmother’s passing that night over dinner. Now was not the time.

I took Josue to the bathroom, changed his diaper, brushed his teeth. Received a local single mom (the same mom whose home the gunmen had stormed a couple nights prior) at our front gate around 5:50am to show her the ropes of our kitchen and cleaning routines as she will be laboring alongside of us now two days a week. Got the clothes ready to haul out to the washing spicket, carried the bucket of cows’ milk to our kitchen. Fed the dogs, greeted our students as they come trickling through our front gate.

After assuring that everything was in place – students in their classrooms, breakfast plates put away – I began heading for our front gate. On the way, our night watchman’s wife came up to me, once again with wide eyes, and informed me that two more dead bodies have been found in our small rural town. According to what she heard, one of the bodies had a message taped to it: “16 more to go.”

I thanked her for the information, very intentionally refusing to fall prey to the fear trap, and threw my black Jansport backpack in our truck and began heading out along the bumpy gravel road toward town. I would be spending the day at a small local hideout that has internet access, because I hadn’t checked my email or done any computer work in the last 7 days.

As the car rumbled down the shady road lined with tall trees and bushy green plants on either side, I took my husband’s lead from the day prior and I began to sing. I sang alone in the car below the shadow of the tall trees about God’s justice – how I long for His justice, and the way to experience it is to live according to His will, receiving freely the redemption He’s offered us in Jesus – our escape from our own punishment, our own depravity.

My voice – pure in spirit but probably raspy and tired to the ears – filled our empty car as I allowed my heart and mind to be consumed with joy. Justice does exist, and He has a name. I know Him, and He’s my Father. With our small hands tenderly grasping that Hand that created the whole universe, we will triumph in the end. Justice is near.

 

What Michael Jackson, Mother Teresa and Francisco Morazan Can Teach Us About Our Knowledge of God

A few weeks ago we began our twice-weekly Bible study in a rather unusual way. Glancing at the dozen or so words wildly scribbled on the index card in my lap to guide us, I began throwing out the names of well-known international and local celebrities or heroes one by one to see how much we truly knew about each person.

There we sat next to and across from one another on an assortment of wooden benches in our dining room that is quickly becoming too small. Sitting around the rectangular-shaped bench-formation were our high school and elementary students, teachers, our own 8 kids, Darwin and I with a couple other laborers (Miss Martha and Alma, a local woman who helps clean a couple days a week) and a neighbor or two. There were about 40 or so people present.

I started off with the most famous man in all of Honduran history. There are schools, companies, streets, and even one of the 18 Honduran departments (the equivalent of a state or geographical region) named after this man, and — without fail — every September during the patriotic celebrations there are students all over the country participating in very important parades with banners and musical bands to honor this man and what he did for Honduras.

“Francisco Morazan.”

Anyone and everyone who was at least 8 years old displayed some kind of really strong reaction upon hearing such a familiar name. Some, sighs with a big smile. Others a loud, “Hey!” Still others nodding their heads up and down enthusiastically, like Yeah, I know all about him. It’s Francisco Morazan, for goodness’ sake! I graduated from Francisco Morazan elementary school last year, and I’ve been attending parades in his honor from the time I was in my mother’s womb. Please!

I let the reactions die down and asked the group, “Who is he?”

As if they had known ahead of time what I would ask and had rehearsed their answer, nearly everyone shouted out with utter confidence in their supreme patriotic knowledge (while simultaneously passing judgment on me for presumably not knowing): “He’s a national hero!

My response: “Yes…But, I mean, who is he? Why was he a national hero?”

For a moment or two I had them all, as the majority looked like I had just knocked the wind out of them. ‘National hero’ didn’t say it all?

Then my husband and Derbin, a neighbor of ours who is a 9th grade student at the local public high school, began spouting off quite a few textbook-style details about Francisco Morazan, much to everyone else’s amazement.

I pressed deeper: “Do we know how many kids he had? Was he faithful to his wife? What did he like to do in his free time? Did he lose his patience easily?”

To those questions no one had answers. The point had been made.

I perked up in the now-very-sullen emotional atmosphere, gave a friendly slap on the back to whoever was sitting next to me, and said convincingly to the group, “Gosh, we sure do know a whole lot about him! We know Francisco Morazan just like he were our own brother, right?”

Everyone’s eyes began to light up in agreement with my statement due to my positive tone of voice, but then several students registered the absurdity of what I was saying. Their response: “Uh, no, we don’t know him as if he were our own brother.” Staring at the floor, probably disappointed in themselves for not having absorbed the least bit of information about their favorite national hero after having studied him in school year after year, several students added,  “We hardly know anything about him at all.”

Me, sympathetically, “Ohh, darn. I guess we don’t know much about him at all. Well, why not? How could we actually find out if he lived with true joy, if he genuinely wanted to serve his country or only his self-interest, what his weaknesses were?”

After a bit more probing and explaining, the group arrived at the conclusion that we would have had to intentionally study in-depth about this man from reliable resources to be able to answer the real question of who this man was (and not just his basic, ‘national hero’ profile of wars won and laws passed) or, better yet, as someone from across our rectangle wisely said, “We’d have to have known him. Personally.”

“That’s right. But we haven’t done all the investigations, and we definitely don’t know him personally. So we should just go ahead and jump to conclusions, assuming we know all about him, judging on the incredibly small amount of information we have available to us, right?”

They all got it: “No,” they answered in almost a whisper.

“Well, what if we hit the books, go do in-depth research on his life, habits, read his old diary entries, etc — what if we really do our best to figure out what kind of man Francisco Morazan was beyond his impressive public profile? How much would this information really be able to impact our daily lives, decisions and future?”

Some looked uneasy but gave their answer: “Uh, not much at all. He’s dead.”

“Yeah, right? Okay, well let’s give it a go with some more names.”

I was shocked that the names ‘Nelson Mandela’ and ‘Mother Teresa’ earned only blank stares from the youth sitting around me on all sides. My thought: We’ve got a lot to teach these kids!

We named Barak Obama, the current Honduran president (Juan Orlando Hernandez), several other national heroes from Honduran history (with results strikingly similar to those of Francisco Morazan), certain famous actors, well-known Biblical characters (John the Baptist, Adam from the Garden of Eden), etc. Each time, without fail, the group thought they knew the person very well (as in, had heard their name before and had at least a vague idea of their profession), but, in the end, knew almost nothing at all, at least not the most important details of their character, convictions and deepest motivations. And I, without fail, would conclude each round with, “Hey! Isn’t that great? We know so-and-so so well that it almost seems like they’re our blood relative, right?” By now they had caught on and realized that, no, we didn’t know any of these people even a little bit because we haven’t studied their lives in-depth or known them personally. We just hear a name and jump to a conclusion, assuming we already know everything when, in fact, we know nothing. And, each time I posed the question about how much it would truly affect our life trajectory, our decisions and future if we were to do that in-depth search on such-and-such person to find out who they really were, the year they got married, what their vices and personal victories were, each time the answer came back: “Not much at all.”

Then, a new name: “Michael Jackson.”

Upon hearing his name, a loud roar went up among the students, threatening to blow the tin roof right off our dining room. Brayan, the young man who used to live with us who is now back in the picture as our 5th-grade student, had the strongest reaction of all. Sitting a couple yards to my left, his eyes grew abnormally large, he pointed an extended finger to me as if I had just told a hilarious joke, and echoed, “Michael Jackson!”

Once the hoots and hollers died down, I singled him out: “Brayan, you had a pretty strong reaction. What do you know about Michael Jackson?

Brayan, suddenly nervous for being put under the spotlight: “Uh…he’s a singer.”

Me: “…And? What else?”

That was it. He knew nothing else.

Certain other students knew a few hearsay details about Michael Jackson, but even their knowledge was incredibly limited and based on gossip and/or what they’d heard or seen on television. I asked: “Do we know where he was born? If he professed some kind of belief in God? If he really did abuse children as some have said of him? How did he treat the people closest to him?”

Many, by now accustomed to the knowledge that they knew almost nothing at all about all the people they thought they ‘knew,’ just looked at me with blank stares, admitting defeat. Others, those with a bit more confidence and information, began: “Well, I saw in the newspaper or read online…”

After a couple minutes of discussion, I reminded everyone that even what we read in the media can be biased, written to cover so-and-so’s backside or to accuse unjustly, invented, or well-meaning but based on misinformation. Imperfect, sin-stained humans — all stained by a terrible egotism, fueled by the desire to be our own gods, to command our destiny — oftentimes without firsthand information writing about others from their same fallen species  and many of which do so against strict deadlines and with certain reader expectations. Oftentimes the naked truth simply doesn’t come out in the media, however much we’d like to think that it does.

By now, we were all admitting that we know almost nothing about anybody — whether that be because we haven’t really studied the person’s life or the source of information (internet, newspaper, hearsay, etc) isn’t completely reliable. One of the teenagers in our rectangular-shaped think-tank laughed and said for me, “We know Michael Jackson as if he were our own brother, right?”

At that, we all laughed.

After continuing on with a few more names, we finally arrived at the last name scribbled on the index card in my lap. I think by now many of the youth had forgotten we were in Bible study because we had spent the good part of an hour playing our not-too-impressive trivia game. We had all laughed quite a bit — mostly at our own ignorance — and, hopefully, the message had been clearly given that we shouldn’t jump to such quick conclusions about others because, really, we know very little (if nothing at all) and most likely will continue knowing very little because it is extremely difficult if not impossible to jump into the inner circle, the thought world — beyond what the media does or doesn’t tell us, beyond what their polished biographies proclaim —  of Barak Obama or such-and-such Famous Person to truly search out their intentions, private goals and raw character to know who they truly are, where they stand. And even if we did somehow attain such intimate knowledge, how much would it even affect us?

The last name: “Jesus Christ.”

Upon hearing His name, almost everyone in the circle let out a long sigh of understanding or expectation, the emotional environment now appropriately heavy as the youth then saw where we were going with all this trivia nonsense. No one was quick to say anything.

A good portion of our students are skeptics while a handful have come to place their faith in Christ in recent weeks and months under our guidance. Very few have any solid foundation of faith established beyond these Bible studies and prayer groups that we have only just recently begun.

Dayana, our eldest and in whom we — along with many others — have invested more time, one-on-one Biblical study, teaching, prayer, counsel and fasting than in any other child of ours, began saying what many others could not. I had to stop her, because I know that she knows Jesus, but our goal was to reach the group at-large.

I asked the group: “Who is He?”

One 11-year-old boy in second grade who is tremendously shy, has had rather extreme behavioral struggles and who just weeks ago became a Christian (the first to do so in his family), said barely above a whisper, “Powerful.”

Another from across the room: “Savior.”

Derbin, our teenage neighbor who has grown up in a loving, Christian family and who has dedicated much effort to his walk with Christ now in his adolescence, began picking up where Dayana had left off, explaining with authority Jesus’ miracles, some of His teachings, the way He treated the poor, etc, while the rest of the group stayed quiet. I imagined — or at least hoped — they were asking themselves what they really knew about Jesus, if they really knew Him at all or had just heard His name tossed about and proclaimed here and there, written on church signs and bumper stickers. Francisco Morazan, Michael Jackson, and Jesus Christ — we know them all as if they were our blood brothers, right?

I explained what I think they were already catching onto: “Many, many, many people here — and probably all around the world — say they know Jesus. They’ve heard that He’s the ‘Son of God’ or that He lived and died thousands of years ago, and they think that is enough to make a snap judgement about Him and consider that they have Him figured out. Just in the same way that we fool ourselves into believing we know all about Francisco Morazan because we know he’s a ‘national hero,’ we think we’ve got Jesus figured out because we attended church a few times way back when or have seen the outside cover of a Bible once or twice in our life, have heard rumors that He rose from the dead or was born to a virgin. But do we know how He treated women, prostitutes even? Why was He killed, and by whom exactly? What did He teach about money? What does He do even now in today’s world, and what on earth does it mean to be His follower?

Many people around the circle began to nod and chuckle appropriately, because the connection was being made.

“If Jesus really is the savior of all mankind, really did walk on water, really does love us and died to grant us peace with God — or, on the contrary, if everything about Him is just a big lie, if He’s just some Santa Clause figure up in the sky to make us feel better about ourselves — how much does this affect us?”

Several people from across the circle, some new understanding dawning behind their eyes: “Infinitely so.”

Me: “Yeah, right? If He is God or isn’t God — that knowledge has the capacity to change the trajectory of our entire lives! If He is a humble servant or rather some celestial tyrant, God-Made-Man or just some ancient myth, these are things worth knowing, knowledge that can actually change how we live and die! So is it worth investigating, putting in the time and effort to know Him?”

People around the circle began nodding and affirming verbally that, yes, this search actually is worth it.

“Literally, several times per month, people here ask me who I am and what I do. When I mention the Lord’s work that I’m involved in, without fail, every person whom I talk to immediately says something along the lines of, ‘Oh, yup. The things of God are the best. That’s the most important thing.’ Whether it’s a taxi driver, someone I meet in a store, or whoever, no one has ever looked at me like I’m crazy or asked, ‘Well, now, what are you talking about? I don’t know this God you refer to.’ Everyone, everyone, acts as if we’re all on the same page, we all know Jesus well and understand that He’s ‘the most important thing’. But the question I’m gonna start asking these same people is, ‘What are the things of God? Who is God?‘ because, really, I think a lot of people don’t have the slightest clue — they know Him no better than they do Francisco Morazan or Michael Jackson, are satisfied with knowing woefully little — if nothing at all — and for that reason they do not seek Him. They have fooled themselves into believing they already know Him.

“So here, in this little dining room out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere, we are commencing a search, a quest, admitting that many of us actually do not know Jesus beyond the one- or two-word titles assigned to Him. Savior, Prince of Peace, Son of God — yes. But there is so much more! We will never begin to seek Him fervently if we’re fooled into thinking we already know all there is to know about Him. Case closed, quick judgment made, and we carry on with our lives. No! Today let’s admit that many know Him no more than we know Mother Teresa or President Juan Orlando Hernandez, but we can, in fact, know Him — both through God’s Word (which is not written as newspapers and magazine articles are, based on human opinions and folly!) and through His Spirit. And this search is actually worth it and has the capacity to change everything.

So please pray with and for us during this time of fervent searching, of teaching what many believe they already know, of receiving new revelations from God and asking that He may touch all of our lives in ways that go beyond knowledge and into experience. Amen!

Who’s Next? [A Reflection on Suffering and God’s Sovereignty]

Yesterday my husband, our high school teacher and I had a meeting with a 16-year-old single mom who is interested in enrolling in our new seventh-grade class.

We sat together around a concrete picnic table under the breezy shade of a tree in our front yard as it was explained to us that she and her one-month-old son moved to our rural town to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother was murdered last month while someone was stealing her cellphone. I didn’t hear all the details on her father’s situation, but he is also dead.

Just three or four days ago my husband informed me that a dear neighbor of ours had received news that his younger brother – a Christian man in his early thirties who lives in Honduras’ capital city – was also murdered recently when someone jumped him for his cellphone.

About two months ago a famous Honduran soccer player in his early twenties was murdered in the parking lot of a small shopping center in the nearby city of La Ceiba that Darwin and I frequent. The night following the murder Darwin and his youth choir held a Christmas recital at the same location.

A few months ago as a family we attended the funeral of a dear friend of ours’ dad, a security guard for a local pawn shop who was gunned down in broad daylight.

Last week as Darwin and I rolled down a rocky street in our 2001 pickup, I asked him casually if so-and-so neighbor, the daughter of an elderly couple we know well, is a single mom. He answered “yes,” and then added that she’s single because someone had killed her husband.

The piercing question — that can neither be answered nor entertained in the slightest if one wants to live with peace – that has been invading my thoughts over these past few days is: “Who’s next?”

The utterly chaotic and unstable situation on Planet Earth is a reality quickly accepted when you live in Honduras. Here there is generally very little white-washing of sin, no careful cloaking of death, no tasteful hiding of the elderly, the sick and morbid behind a safe curtain to shield anyone else from catching sight. Everyone seems to know that death is close and that no one is exempt from being its next victim.

In most cases, the murderers keep on murdering, the thieves keep on stealing until someone kills them (as was the case with a 16-year-old neighbor of ours), and those who break the law in other ways continue doing so because the Justice system. Does. Nothing.

Just last week as I was in the government’s child protective agency’s office in a meeting with one of the agency’s lawyers, a wonderful Christian woman with whom we hold a very positive relationship, I asked about 7-year-old Gabriela’s step-father’s court proceedings, a naïve hope for resolution permeating my question. The lawyer, knowing all too well the system in which we find ourselves here, let out a sigh and informed me that the specific investigative branch that was in charge of looking into the stepfather’s case had been shut down. The government, in hopes of perhaps creating a ‘better’ investigative branch, opened up a different operation only to put all the previous cases so far back that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they are ‘out of sight and out of mind,’ meaning that Gabriela’s stepfather, who took her as if she were his adult lover and openly proclaimed to others that she was such, is loose – at large, not behind bars – and may very well never receive any earthly consequence for his pervertedness, seeing as the new cases have taken precedence over the old and now 7 months have passed since he should have been caught in the first place. It is what they had promised us.

For a few moments, all hope, all energy drained out of my body as I could do no more than stare at the lawyer lifelessly, wanting to slip away into some other reality, full of rage but at the same time sucked dry by a sorrow so strong that I almost felt as if I could not move. Everything within me seemed suddenly paralyzed, while the following thought methodically stamped itself across my mind:

He’s…probably…found…another…                      …and…

My thoughts came to a standstill at this conclusion, everything tuning dizzy and dark – I mean, why would he not? With no pending consequence, no apparent court case or investigation, no police searching for him, no repentance that we know of, why not find another little girl and continue unfazed?

My thoughts — suddenly both slowed and sharpened by an acute emotional exhaustion — began: How could this possibly be happening? Who’s next? Wh-who will be the next little girl to have her world smashed to pieces, slamming her behind mentally and emotionally, perhaps for the rest of her life? Gaby wetting her pants so frequently — so, so, SO behind in every sense of the word, hours and hours of holding her, praying over her for restoration — the gargantuan although imperfect effort that has been made to give Gaby a sense of ‘normal,’ all the talks to teach her that taking her clothes off and dancing sensually in front of others isn’t God’s plan for her, and…and – there’s probably another little girl out there, who –

If it is said that Jesus is a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with the profoundest of grief, with each passing day He is giving me a deeper glimpse into why that is so.

So that afternoon as I drove up the lonely gravel road toward our rural property speckled with little melon-colored buildings, I raised my eyes to the mountainous backdrop before me and began praying the only words that seemed to make any sense: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come. May Your kingdom come, Your will be done, one Earth as it is in heaven. Come, Lord Jesus. Please come.”

Replete with exhaustion, the gaping hole in my chest allowed for a sudden flooding-in of praises toward our Father God who is just, who is trustworthy, and who stands in such raw, utter contrast to all that is wrong in our world, all that is wrong in me. So, against all logic my heart let out a welp of joy – a desperate cry for hope – as my eyes travelled up the mountains before me, taken to such depths of sorrow that the Lord lifted me up to some new perspective of His sovereignty, His perfect justice in the face of what can only be classified as bewilderingly tragic unfairness — total, inexplicable lunacy.

So when I climbed out of our pickup and entered our dining room, little Gaby turned around from where she was sitting at the table to greet me with a big smile, her face painted like a kitten.

From that moment on I believe I lost my patience with anyone and everyone, snapping here and there at Darwin and the kids as I felt that I was on the verge of exploding from the inside out. It wasn’t until over dinner that I asked each person individually for forgiveness and, for better or worse, wept in front of the kids and shared with them the news of Gaby’s stepfather (which, of course, is the news of nothing at all, more of the same). Some of our kids looked appropriately intrigued at seeing me utterly undone, while others looked moved toward a compassion I had not yet seen in them, but I believe all of them understood: Our hope is not and cannot be in this world.

In the days following I have had several similar episodes of sorrow, weeping, and praise. If I didn’t know the end of the story (Christ’s total victory over sin and death), I know that personally I could not continue in this work because, from our human perspective, perhaps no territory is being gained at all. We’re just losing time and resources, wasting our lives on a fight that simply cannot be won. But – against all logic, I continue to raise my eyes to the mountains before me as my spirit cries out: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come now. May Your kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Without You, nothing makes sense. Come.”

That Makes Eight

Yesterday around 5:00pm several of our kids were out in our large front yard playing soccer with our neighbors while others were playing board games in our house and our eldest was giving a beginners’ piano class to two young neighbors in our school building. I began to dish out the rice and beans, pasta, and chocolate cake for dinner after a surprisingly productive afternoon in which all of our kids wowed me with their initiative and finished all their homework with excellence before 3:30pm.

When it comes to serving food in our home, you’ve got to be good at math.

Whenever the time comes to take out the cups, plates and forks, you’ve got to do a quick mental head-count of who will be eating: Dayana and Jackeline are out at church with such-and-such local family, so that’s 7 kids – 2 that are not currently present = 5 kids that will be eating here + Darwin and I, so that’s 7 of everything. Got it.

Or: Today for the twice-weekly community lunch/Bible study, we’ll be serving food for the 12 students in elementary school + 16 from high school (but Arnold didn’t come today because he’s sick, so that makes 15) + the 2 teachers + Miss Martha + Darwin and I + our 2 middle-aged neighbors who will be attending + our other 5 kids who are out at school but will be home in about an hour and will need to eat + perhaps 6 other young neighbors who might show up = about 45. Does anyone have a calculator?!

But last night, seeing as our kids, Darwin and I were home together and Miss Martha and the other laborers, students, neighbors, etc had all left by 3:00pm (as they do each day Monday-Friday), I put my mind on autopilot and began taking out 9 of everything, which has been our magic number since July when Josselyn and Gabriela moved in. 7 kids + 2 adults.

As I began lining up all the plates on our kitchen counter, however, something felt odd. I counted the plates again. Yup; 9 plates. 7 kids + 2 adults, right? 7 kids…My mind wandered around somewhat confused until the still-very-new thought hit me: No! Now they’re 8 kids! Ha! That’s what was missing. Our new ‘magic number’ is 10. I quickly added an additional plate, and suddenly everything seemed to make sense.

A couple months ago our 12-year-old daughter Jackeline, who has now been in our family a full year, made a comment to me in a silly tone of voice: “If any new kids arrive in our family in this next year, I sure hope they’re younger than me.” I had laughed and – thoroughly convinced myself – assured her that I did not think more kids would be arriving in this next year or two, seeing as our hearts and schedules were already quite full with 7.

Well, Jackeline’s wish didn’t come true.

Last Thursday, our second day of classes with all of our elementary and secondary students who now study in our home/mission 5 days a week, one of our new 7th-grade students approached us for prayer after Bible study. My husband, the two teachers (Miss Isis and Miss Ligia), and I sat around her in our dining room as she began sharing with us her concern for her mother’s health. As we asked careful questions, she continued to open up until the root of the issue was exposed: her step-father is physically and sexually abusive (and has been for the last 6 years), putting her life in very real danger and causing tremendous stress and pain to her mother as well. The mother had gone to the police several times, explaining the situation and filing official reports, but, as is frequently the case here, nothing had been done. As the story continued to unravel — taking on the horrific shape of so many others we’ve heard too many times — I felt a very strong prompting in my chest from the Lord, so I asked to speak to my husband in private before continuing with the conversation/prayer.

He and I walked briskly outside and I told him: “Gabriela and Josselyn were rescued out of this exact kind of situation. I feel that God wants us to offer her refuge,” and he immediately confirmed. Our conversation must have lasted all of 19 seconds; we then re-entered the dining room, offered her the invitation to escape the abuse by coming to live with us, and she told us that she would talk with her mom and let us know. We prayed with her – for her mom, for her step-father, for God’s will to be done.

Several days passed, and then on Tuesday of this week she approached me with a large grin on her face, asking to talk with Darwin and me. My heart leapt and sunk all at the same time – guessing quite accurately what she would be telling us – and, sure enough, she informed us that she and her mom had discussed it and that her mom wanted to take us up on the offer of refuge for her daughter because she truly is in danger with her step-father.

So, phone calls were made, a meeting with the local government-run child protective agency’s office was made, we signed all the documents with the lawyer, the psychological evaluation was completed, and yesterday morning (Thursday) as she came walking up our long gravel road in her school uniform to attend classes, she brought with her an additional grocery bag filled with all of her belongings.

Her name is Sandra, and she’s 15 years old. Darwin and I are already in communication with her mom to see what more can be done with the official complaints the mother has filed with the police, although right now our hope in the system of justice here on earth (and especially in Honduras) is realistically dim. In the coming weeks/months we will continue to be in contact with her mom to see what plan of escape or new beginning can be made for the mom and her other three children (all of which are biological children of the stepdad and who, for that reason, he treats well), although we still do not have many details or much information at all.

Please pray with us not only for her adjustment to living in our home, but also for the mom’s protection and step-father’s salvation and transformation. Sandra and her mom are both authentic Christians, very humble, and have a very real understanding of and love for God’s Word. Please pray that the Lord’s hand would be over this entire situation/process and that, if possible, Sandra can be reunited with her mom in the right timing and once the familial situation is no longer dangerous.

So, yesterday 12-year-old Jackeline (the same one who didn’t want another older sister to push her down the totem pole) enthusiastically took Sandra out to our rural property’s mango tree, to the little stream behind our home, and traipsing around here and there, giving her new ‘big sister’ a genuine welcome. Sandra’s face shined with joy as our other girls took her out to play soccer; I fixed up her bed with clean sheets and a hand-written welcome note, 8-year-old Jason asked me sheepishly to introduce him to the newest of his now-6 sisters, and I prepared 8 tupperware containers with our kids’ snacks for school today instead of the traditional 7. Thanks to the mysteries of God’s perfect will, the entire transition has seemed surprisingly light-hearted and even fun.

So, of our 8 kids/teens, some of them consider us to be their authentic parents while others view us as loving mentor-figures the Lord has placed in their path. Some call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ without hesitation while others call us by our first names. Some may be reunited with their blood families if it is God’s will, whereas others may be officially adopted into the ‘Canales-Zilly’ household if the Lord permits it.

Lines are blurry, but everyone is growing in grace.

If someone asks us how many sons and daughters we have, I don’t know if we should answer “7 with 1 honored guest” (because Sandra may very well return to her mother soon if the situation with the step-father is taken care of) or if everyone is automatically included, making it 8 without thinking twice. Lines will doubtlessly become blurrier if and when we have any biological children, but of this I am convinced: the Lord is forming us into a tribe, a people after His own heart. He is erasing divisions created by Man; He is uniting us by Jesus’ blood rather than our own, calling us home to His eternal family that is formed by those who submit themselves to the Good Father’s will. And by some act of miraculous grace, He is enabling our stubborn mouths to freely proclaim: “Father, may Your will be done, not mine…”

Glory to God!