I ask that you would pray for us during this season specifically in regards to our emotional reserves and spiritual endurance.
The relational work we are dedicated to in Honduras requires us to be on the clock 24/7, and our ‘personal time’ almost always includes at least half a dozen young people who need to be lovingly supervised and tended to. (This can be very taxing on my introverted tendencies, as I oftentimes feel drained being around people all the time and wish everyone would just leave me alone for a couple hours.)
We spend our Monday-Friday working hours in teaching, community discipleship and administration out of our home-mission at the Living Waters Ranch, and then as our daytime teaching staff and local students leave we are then ‘on’ during nights and weekends with our 7 children who live with us full-time, 5 of which are teenagers with very delicate and pressing needs. (Oftentimes there is no dividing line between what is work and what is rest/personal time, and frequently the teens we serve in our home are those who end up draining us even more with their poor attitudes and criticism of us.) Please pray that the Lord would grant our children grateful hearts who are willing to serve and bless in Jesus’ name, as that would greatly alleviate the burden we shoulder in our home and grant us allies in our home-ministry.
I share this with you as I seek prayer for our marriage and our personal growth with the Lord (and that of our children), as the majority of our energy is spent actively proclaiming the truth to broken people and helping them resolve their crises. Thus, oftentimes little energy is available to intentionally cultivate our marriage or delve deeper in our personal walk with the Lord (and seek healing for our own brokenness).
(And, as a side note, thanks to God’s healing hand I am sleeping a lot better as my insomnia has greatly dissipated in these last few months without taking any kind of sleeping medication, but even so I am facing exhaustion and potential discouragement due to the many demands we face each day from 5:00am until bedtime.)
We are committed to continue in this daily effort as family to the orphaned/abandoned and lighthouse of hope to the lost for as many years as the Lord allows (and we have seen many breakthroughs and transformation in and around us in these last several years since beginning the journey), thus we are currently searching to see what Spirit-led changes can be made in our approach to ensure that we don’t fall prey to total burnout. We always seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse, and many times I lend a compassionate ear to our teen girls’ deep emotional struggles and spiritual searches and then reach the end of the day wondering who will lend me a listening ear because my husband is likewise as exhausted as I am or is working in our home office until late at night.
As a last note (and please forgive me for such a heavy and potentially discouraging post), I feel that I am personally in pressing need of words of encouragement at this time. Our lifestyle and the demands on my time have not permitted me to maintain any of my old friendships or cultivate new ones, so I find myself frequently lonely or tackling the many tasks before me by myself. As one of our spiritual mentors told my husband and I at the beginning of this journey several years ago, “It’s lonely to lead.” We have found this to be true, as the lifestyle the Lord has blessed us with does not grant many companions along the way.
So, if you read this blog and are able to reply with a sincere word of encouragement for me personally (or for Darwin), I would be extremely grateful and it would go a long way.
Today we walked over the black, burnt ground where the flaming tires and trees had burnt to ashes. Dozens of armed Honduran military agents lined the bridge, stone-faced like statues as rioters and political protesters gathered close by, screaming and waving flags. A large crowd had even formed a circle as one man beat a drum and began screaming out his hatred for a certain politician and his love for another. We walked carefully over the burnt ground, our shoes acquiring the sticky black tar from burnt tires as we asked God silently where our entry point would be. After all, at this same bridge there had been a dangerous riot the day prior, and a 9-year-old boy had been shot and killed.
We had awoken this morning at 2:30am with great enthusiasm, for we would be heading with 7 of our teens to a beautiful campground several hours away where many Christian retreats are held year-round. We had packed our bags with great joy in our hearts — the event promised to be fun, organized, and well-suited to the spiritual growth of our teens. We had attended the same event last year with two of our faithful teachers, and the conference had been full of dynamic teamwork activities, times of praise and worship, group activities designed around God’s Word, and a late-night bonfire complete with skits. Thus, yesterday was a day of packing suitcases, planning logistics and getting hyped-up emotionally, as we had been anticipating the event for weeks.
Well, we never got there. Any and all plans we had carefully sketched out for this day were completed wiped off our schedule, and God put before us an entirely different course of events.
There is currently much political unrest in Honduras, as the announcing of the new president after the recent elections has taken longer than expected in addition to there being suspected fraud in the counting of votes. The news stream is full of devastating counts of protests, break-ins at local businesses, the burning of tires and blockades at many of the major bridges along the highway. Many people are mad and have taken to the streets, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to be leaving any time soon.
So yesterday with much prayer (and hopeful spirits) we decided to go ahead and try to attend the conference, fully knowing that many of the bridges we would need to pass might possibly be blockades. Our plan: get up super early and try to beat the protesters (hoping they would sleep late and we would thus be able to slip past them in the wee hours of the morning on our merry way as we would drive past their empty protest stands).
All was going as planned for the first hour-and-a-half of our journey, as we zipped quietly down the only highway that parallels the northern coast of Honduras as it seemed that the rioters were still sleeping. We passed nine blockage points where the day prior people had cut down large trees and laid them out in the middle of the road as obstacles, but with a careful eye (and a strong brake on the car), they were avoided easily enough as we maneuvered around the lifeless obstacles in our path. At the couple roadblocks where there were a few lone policemen and tired on-lookers, we simply asked permission to pass and they let us through. Our car was packed to the brim with backpacks, props for our skit, snacks for the journey, and worship music playing on the inside of our pickup’s cabin. It looked like our plan just might work: we just might be able to slip by all the drama unnoticed, arriving at our destination before the day’s promised chaos commenced anew.
Around 5:00am or so we came upon a standstill on the highway. There were dozens of 18-wheelers completely stopped. With optimism still brimming in our hearts, I left our car with its emergency blinkers on and bounded out of the vehicle, jogging up ahead to try to see what the situation looked like and what we needed to do to pass our tenth obstacle.
As I reached a couple blocks ahead, there was an 18-wheeler parked completely perpendicular across the bridge, forming a rather formidable blockade that could not be passed by any vehicle. I approached the rather large group of men stationed at the roadblock with confidence and sincerity, greeting them and informing them that I had come in peace and simply desired to pass in order to attend a Christian conference with 7 of my kids and two of our teachers. The men — several of whom had their faces covered with rags or wore Satanic-looking masks — began asking for money and other gifts and started to form a semi-circle around me, affirming that they wouldn’t be letting anyone pass anytime soon. I suddenly realized that this roadblock would not be like those which we had crossed thus far. This had to be one of those violence-hungry gangs that wreak so much havoc in this country but that (in my world) seem to float about as ghosts, committing their crimes in darkness and disguise, as I had never really seen them face-to-face. Sensing danger in my spirit — but no fear of man — I politely thanked them for listening to my request and promptly began jogging away and back toward our vehicle.
After about an hour-and-a-half of waiting and praying (and uniting with other people like us who were on journeys home or out-of-town for business, with family, etc), we decided it most wise to try to return home before the previous 9 roadblocks were taken anew, lest we get stranded somewhere in between all the chaos and thus unable to arrive at the conference or back home. During this standstill process of discernment, the Lord led us to pray with one of the gang members who had previously denied our passage, as he approached us alone and began conversing. After doing so — and offering him food and drink after having spent the entire night “protecting the bridge,” we decided carefully along with another fellow traveller to try to brave the roads and return home. Other drivers had informed us that they had already been waiting at that same bridge 2-3 days without any budge, and they were forced to get hotels and go buy clothes and food for the prolonged wait. Once two gunshots went off close to where our vehicles sat, we took that as our cue and began zipping back down the road we had just braved in order to return home.
In all of this (and however crazy it all sounds), we had perfect peace and not once felt fear. That is the Lord’s work. (Alas, how many times recently has the Lord led us to the Scriptures about not fearing man; we are to fear the Lord alone. To read it and not put it into practice would be complete hypocrisy! Yes; we do not fear the gang members, but dare to recognize that Christ died for them as much as He died for us, and He longs for them to be saved and transformed with His love.)
And so we returned, this time not in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning but in the ever-increasing light of day. It was about 7:00am when we safely arrived home, encountering only a slight problem in one of the last of the 10 barriers, as rioters had taken up their post (all with their faces covered), and had lit many tires on fire and had completely blocked the passageway. With a little bit of polite convincing, they let us pass, but it was in no way a peaceful roadblock. As the sun was gaining strength in the sky above, so the anger of the rioters was gaining force as the day was only just beginning.
We arrived safely home, thanking God for his protection along the way and honestly not at all disappointed that we couldn’t attend the conference (I believe the Lord consoled us in this and provided us with His constant joy despite the circumstances, as we really had been very excited about attending).
Upon arrival, we gathered — my husband Darwin, our kids and our two teachers — in our barebones dining room at the base of the mountain and decided to pray. To pray for peace, for the rioters to stop and for a president to be declared (and for that president to be filled with the fear of the Lord and God’s perfect justice, that he might govern this suffering country with honor). We bowed our heads and prayed earnest prayers, asking for God’s mercy over Honduras and thanking Him for conserving our lives in what could have potentially been a devastating situation.
As we finished praying, we began singing many hymns and songs of praise, worshipping He who already is our president and King, He who need not be elected by men and who will be overthrown by no mortal. We declared our love for God around that rustic wooden table even as many rioters all around the country were continuing onward in their scandals, fires and protests.
During a song, eyes closed, I felt the Lord spoke to me and told me that our day wasn’t through yet. Even after getting up at 2:30am and having spent the last five hours dodging obstacles and trying to complete our road trip in vain, there was real work God had for us (beyond prayer). Prayer is good and appropriate, but we are also to be the hands and feet of Christ to a broken world, to take the good news of peace to those who still live in darkness. He placed a very clear command upon my heart: “Go to the rioters. Share My Word and My love with them.”
On a day when all sane, peace-seeking people stayed home, holed up in their homes in order to avoid any stray bullets or unneeded confrontations with unhappy political patrons, God sent us out. I immediately communicated this to those around me, and four of our more mature teens and our two teachers agreed to go with me. After arriving safely home (and having every reason to stay there), God was immediately sending us back out into the storm. Today was, after all, perhaps a day when the message of peace and salvation was most needed. We emptied out our car of all our backpacks and headed out with virtually nothing other than our Bibles. We would see where the Lord would lead us, as surely we wouldn’t have to go far to find people desperately in need of a message of peace.
As we passed the mile-long gravel road from our home leading back out to the main highway (where we had just come from), we decided to return to the last blockade we had passed on our way home, where there had been over a dozen masked, angry men lighting fires across the highway. We headed out in silence, driving about 10 minutes or so before seeing them on the horizon and slowing down, our hearts contemplative and yearning for God to give us the right words to say (and, for the men, ears to hear).
We parked our car carefully about 50 yards away, slowly got out of our vehicle, hands raised in signs of peace, and began walking carefully toward the flames and the masked men. The police had already arrived and were standing idly nearby, serving virtually zero purpose and they neither intervened nor supported the protesters. They were more like well-dressed onlookers in a very official vehicle.
We greeted the policemen warmly, as a couple of them we had seen before on prior occasions, and we asked if we could draw closer to the rioters in order to share God’s Word with them. They agreed, and we shouted friendly, careful greetings from a distance to the angry men, who by now were all watching us and on-guard for any foul play they thought we might pull.
I shouted to them that we came in peace, belonged to no political party, and simply wanted to share with them God’s Word. I asked if they would let us get closer to them.
Their defensive posture immediately changed as the leader agreed and invited us to draw nearer to the blockade, thus being able to converse freely with those whom most fear.
We approached as the masked men, several women and children, and other participants suddenly formed a great circle around us, curious as to what we would say to them.
We affirmed that we came in peace and were sent by God, and they said that they remembered when we had passed (and were undoubtedly surprised that we had returned). We introduced ourselves by name, asking the names of each present, and that broke the ice pretty well. Some of the masked men even began taking their masks off, while a couple others lost interest and continued adding more tires to the fire and shouting every time a car would approach. We were standing close to the blockade — the flames warmed our faces — off to the side of the highway with those who were interested in learning the truth, while the ruckus of the world’s lies for power and control continued onward not ten feet away.
The Lord gave us many words for those precious people as we shared the gospel of truth, the gospel of a good, forgiving God with them during this time of such political unrest. We read aloud great portions of the book of Romans and shared openly with them of our faith in Christ, that He — and no human president — is all humanity’s true hope at justice. Three of our kids (Dayana, Brayan and Jackeline) even shared wisdom and godly perspective with them, and one of our teachers also encouraged them in the way of Christ.
Some came and went, but two men — one of whom was middle-aged and had been the closed-off leader of the group at the beginning — stayed with us the entire time, eyes wide and hearts seemingly open. No one was forcing them to listen; we were simply sharing with them the good news that every human heart longs to hear. At the end we asked if we could pray for them, and several agreed. We even put our hands on them, assuring them that we carried no weapon other than that which is the most powerful of all — God’s love. At the end of our time together we shook hands and bid our farewells as we reminded them once more that God loves them and that there is a more excellent way than that of political aspirations and highway violence.
As we turned and left, we felt full of God’s joy albeit with a heavy heart. We got back in the car and continued to drive in silence, wondering where God would lead us next. It was definitely the first adventure of its kind for us, and at the most delicate of times. Yet we were at total peace and not once felt fear of the rioters.
Next we found the newly constructed blockade in our own neighborhood as we travelled those 10 minutes back down the highway. Masked protesters were everywhere, and several neighbors of ours were present, either as on-lookers or participants. There was a great cloud of black smoke rising up from the burning tires, and rocks and wood blockades had been put in place. Everyone was chanting about a certain politician, and — like in any other place — the situation was increasingly delicate.
As in the prior location, we carefully approached on foot and asked if we could share God’s Word with the people. They quickly agreed through their masks, and we decided to look for a stool of some kind to stand up on in order for the people to be able to hear us better, for there were many more people present here and much more dispersed. A local woman lent us a chair, and we took turns standing on it as we read Jesus’ teachings on loving our enemies as God loved us even when we were His enemies. We spoke loudly and lovingly of Honduras’ need for God’s love — that our hope must not be in any man (politician or otherwise) but rather in that of the living God, and we must obey His command to love our enemies. After all, so many look to a president or other type of leader to make a great change or heal the nation, but the change begins with each and every one of us as we drop to our knees before God in repentance. That is what will change this nation; the burning of tires and an excess of road blockages (not to mention other forms of violence experienced in these last few days all around the nation) will not bring about that change that so many citizens long for. Many people — most of whom were middle-aged men — listened attentively, as others passed by nonchalantly or cared little for the truth we were sharing. We concluded the sharing of God’s Word with a prayer for peace over our nation, and then we were on our way.
Our last stop would be that of the main bridge passageway into La Ceiba, about 30 minutes away (the trip made much longer due to the detour we had to take to avoid the road blockage along the main highway exiting our neighborhood). That was where the 9-year-old boy had been killed the day prior and where the majority of the violence was focused. We breathed deep, wondering if it was foolish to head straight-on into such a boiling pit of hatred and confusion but at the same time fully assured that those were the people who most desperately needing the message of peace.
We arrived and parked far away, walking carefully along the main road over fallen wires and much, much black ash. Some of our kids had acquired the sticky tar-like substance on their faces, and our noses burned with the unpleasant smell. People were everywhere, more so than in either of our previous two stops.
We stopped several times as we approached the bridge, consulting among ourselves as to where we should start. There was no way we would be able to talk with everyone at once, as there we factions of armed soldiers, police, and dozens of enthusiastic rioters. It looked like a war zone that at any point might break out in total chaos (as, in fact, had occurred the day prior). Everyone was on edge, and there were many onlookers.
As we stood on the side of the highway, unsure with whom to share the message (and how, without provoking the people’s anger), I asked God in my heart to show me who to talk to. During this short time, the screaming (and chanting) protesters invited us into their group and shuttled us across the highway, probably believing we had come to support them. They waved flags and chanted insults as we smiled politely and kept our mouths shut. We walked carefully among them, sensing that we would not be able to get a word in with their group, and in that moment I felt like God showed me a lone soldier at the end of the bridge who was unoccupied.
We crossed the highway again in the midst of many people and vehicles as I asked the solider if we could speak with him. Defensive and possibly scared, he asked what we wanted to talk about. We informed him that we wanted to share God’s Word with him and give a message of peace in turbulent times. His guard immediately dropped and he agreed.
At the time I believed it might have been only with this one soldier that we would have an open door, as everyone else was so dispersed and carefully supervising their respective group. I thanked God in my heart of hearts that this young soldier was open to hearing the truth, fully convinced that every life counts and that to even touch one person’s life is worth it. Maybe we had come to this busy bridge to share the gospel with this one young soldier.
The soldier quickly went to consult with the others lining the bridge, all fully armed and on guard, and he informed us, “I’ll call everyone over so that you can share the message with the whole group.”
They were going to abandon their post! My mouth dropped slightly open, as we had never arrived ‘prepared’ with a message but rather continuously asked God to put the right words in our mouths. Talk with the whole army? Oh, God, give us the words!
Within moments dozens of the fully armed, uniformed men left the bridge and walked down a small slope where they would be able to hear us. Others — some soldiers, some protesters and others uninvolved onlookers — began gathering above and behind us as we began to read aloud from the book of First John. God is love, and He showed us this love by sending Christ to die for us. If we say that we love God, we must also love people (even our enemies).
People kept coming — without anyone ever making an official announcement — as we read aloud nearly the whole book of First John, encouraging the people to receive God’s love and forgiveness through Christ and to begin showing it to one another. This is God’s perfect will; this is the path to peace. Many more continued to come, leaning to listen a message of peace in violent times. Alas, the opposing groups had come together — the soldiers and the rioters — but not in confrontation but rather as equal recipients of the truth of God, ears open as God’s love was being poured out.
As in the two prior cases, we will never know who truly listened to the message and what God will do with those seeds of truth that were sown today. On several occasions throughout the day I felt on the verge of weeping, and I’m still not entirely sure why — perhaps for joy or out of gratitude that God allowed us to enter the war zone as His messengers of peace or perhaps with fear and trembling, pleading that the words we spoke really were His words and that they will take deep root and give fruit for God’s glory. This we will never know, as the majority of the people we saw today we may never see again.
As we finished sharing the good news of peace near that tension-packed bride, our 16-year-old son Brayan (who himself aspires to be a soldier and/or a missionary) prayed over the soldiers and common folk with a simple, honest prayer asking for God’s will to be done and for the people to put their hope in Him rather than in a president who will never be able to live up to our expectations. He prayed for peace. And then we left, on foot as we crossed that bridge and went to drop one of our teachers off at her home. None of us were scheduled to return from the conference until Sunday evening, but this was the ‘conference’ that God had in mind all along. To be His peacemakers on the front lines of enemy territory.
As we crossed the bridge again, having left our teacher in her home, one local man who had heard us preach approached us and asked that we continue, as he affirmed that the gospel is for the people’s salvation and they must hear it. He was very sincere and encouraged us to continue sharing.
At that point another man, a rioter on the brink of taking control of the bridge with his angry crew, began shouting, “Get God’s Word out of here! We don’t want God’s Word here!” It sent chills down my spine, not because I feared that man but because that is, in fact, the attitude at large in the world today. We shake an angry fist at the eternally good God and scream in our own misery, “Get God’s Word out of here! We don’t want Him in our lives!” If only we truly believed that He came to give life in abundance and joyfully submitted our lives to His perfect will, we would finally experience that joy and peace that we so long for (and seek in all the wrong places).
So, politely disregarding the man who despised God’s Word, we took up a spot on the edge of the highway and continued onward preaching the message of repentance and God’s love as several ears received. Then we continued walking onward, largely in silence, as we approached our vehicle and began the long drive home. We had been up since 2:30am that morning, and it was then close to 2:00pm once we had finished the rounds the Lord had sent us on. We felt spent, exhausted, like soldiers after coming back from war. Joyful. Hopeful. Grateful. Fearless.
And so we share this with you as we ask for prayer right now for Honduras. There is great unrest, and we ask in Jesus’ name that you pray with us that God would illuminate the minds of those who are causing the violence and bring them to repentance so that there might be peace in this country. We pray against all political fraud and corruption, and that God might choose the right person for the presidency and fill that person with His wisdom and justice in order to govern with dignity. We pray also that God might send out other Christians to the streets during these times to preach the gospel as so many are in dire need of hearing the truth. Thank you for your prayers. God bless you.
A few weeks ago I taught my last youth leadership class in the Episcopal School, that old light-teal-colored three-story building in downtown La Ceiba where the Lord first began training me back in 2012 for the work He has currently entrusted us.
As the magnitude of the work at the Living Waters Ranch (where my husband and I live and labor 7 days a week) has grown over these past two and a half years, we have recently made the decision to withdraw from our part-time labors at the Episcopal School in order to focus entirely on our Father’s purposes in our little rural town on the outskirts of La Ceiba.
So I arrived about an hour before class on that final Monday with my black suitcase filled with dry erase markers, my students’ journals and little candy treats. In a very real way I was burdened with joy, with gratitude.
I asked one of the full-time teachers at the school to unlock the multi-purpose/storage room for me. I had been assigned that room during the last couple months once the air-conditioned upstairs library room had become highly coveted among the other teachers.
As he unlocked that utterly undesirable room at the end of the first-floor passageway, I sighed as I found my classroom as I had found it every Monday prior: desks in total disarray, someone else’s trash littering the ground, boxes of this-and-that thrown about in the back, supplies from some other teacher’s project left haphazardly about, a couple rouge foosball tables here and there to add to the overall eye-sore effect. Some little empty milk cartons tossed about on the tile floor, a layer of very tangible dust covering almost everything.
I set my black suitcase – my mobile classroom, in effect – down along one of the walls and calmly set about ordering half of the classroom while pushing all that I didn’t need to the other half.
Seeing as I had always preferred that my students sit on the floor, every Monday I would lift and move the desks and chairs, creating a very free floorspace for us to sit in a circle and grow together.
Boxes, foosball tables and other miscellaneous objects moved to the back half of the classroom, whiteboard wiped down, trash ‘swept’ away with my foot because a broom was not found. Laptop turned on with Spanish praise and worship music now majestically filling the unlikeliest of spaces. Ready.
As I participated in this familiar routine for the last time, the heaviness in the room became palpable. Standing still, my eyes travelled up to the itty-bitty windows at the top of the back wall of the classroom, opened to allow in the smallest amount of light and fresh breeze. An overgrown tree-plant from outside extended a few of its nosy branches into our sacred space.
In this room – in my posture before the Lord – stillness had become my close friend.
This is God’s will. His Word being preached, His children being instructed not from a grand stage but in abandoned rooms.
God’s wisdom seems like foolishness to the worldly ‘wise’ while He laughs at human ‘wisdom’ and calls us all to become fools for His sake. I’m sure that every other teacher and employee at this school is certain nothing good could ever happen in this dirty storage room, but if only they knew what I know, what my students know! Here we find the Master; here we learn His ways.
How many times during my first year in Honduras when I was 22 years old and single did I find Him two rooms over in what was then my first-grade classroom all alone at the end of a hard day, praising His name in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulties?
After having been promised 12-15 manageable students in my bilingual first grade classroom as a first-time teacher fresh out of college and living on my own in a new country, it turned out that 28 had been entrusted to my care, none of which showed any mercy to their young teacher who had zero training or experience. Oh, how difficult that first year was, but how closely I felt His hand over me, over my little ones! How many times did I reach the point of weeping – whether for joy, out of profound gratitude, or exhausted by frustration – in this old, teal-colored building tragically situated in the city that has recently been considered to be the murder capital of the world? How many times have I found Him here, alone, as I do even now on what is my last day? Thank You, Father, for these precious moments of stillness in Your presence.
As in any marital situation or large family, in our daily work at the Living Waters Ranch with the 8 children/youth the Lord has brought us to raise as His sons and daughters mixed in with the 20+ other youth from our rural neighborhood who frequent our home/mission for school and discipleship, it is all too easy to get swept-up in a group mentality. It becomes natural to ‘put family first,’ or enjoy the general feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.’ Now that we’ve become accustomed to loving one another for God’s glory, what on earth would we do if someday we become separated?
While these are not bad thoughts, we must understand that each person’s journey begins and ends standing alone before His throne.
It was alone that I began this journey with my Lord back in 2012, certain of His calling on my life whether single or married – I had not even met my husband and had no idea who my children would be! – and here I was alone once again as this precious chapter was being closed. Four years after the journey began, there I stood deeply scarred and torn — formed — by the myriad experiences the Lord had led me through henceforth.
Likewise, at some point in the unknown future – possibly losing spouse and/or children to tragedy, as is all too common here and in the world at large – I may return to such a state of singleness, aloneness in the Lord’s presence.
As every person must come to wholly recognize in their own lives, my beloved husband and the children whom I so adore do not constitute my walk with the Lord; He is who He is whether the blessing of their presence is granted me or taken away. The Lord’s mission is not realized exclusively on ‘mission bases’ in the foothills of majestic mountains or in organized church environments; it is also realized in hectic urban schools and abandoned storage rooms like the one in which I found myself.
So my students began arriving about half an hour later in their two separate groups: first hour with my fourth- and fifth-graders, second hour with my sixth- and seventh-graders, most of whom I had known since Day 1 of entering the Kindergarten-12th grade Episcopal School in 2012. Coaching them in extracurricular basketball teams, being the full-time first-grade teacher of some, getting to know one another during organized visits to our home/mission out in the countryside, preaching the message during their scheduled ‘church’ time on several occasions, or guiding them weekly through the personalized spiritual formation process in the various extracurricular programs the Lord had guided me to design over the past years. Oh, how many hours I had spent reading their journals, excitedly scribbling this or that insight the Lord had given me to continue forming them according to His wisdom and perfect love!
So our last day together was almost unbearably heavy yet ethereally light as the children and I shared some unspoken understanding, so obvious that no one dared cheapen it with words: The Lord has indeed moved among us. Their eyes said it as we opened up the Word one last time to reflect, sieve, press deeper and farther. My eyes said it as I searched their faces; undoubtedly the Truth had already begun consuming a small corner of their souls. Fan the flame, I prayed silently as I moved and taught among their cross-legged semi-circle on the floor.
The Lord placed the words in my mouth to teach His little ones: “None of this – none of these past four years of deep friendship, warm hugs, long letters and uncommon lessons – was from me or about you; it’s all about Him. Seek Him. Everything we have done and said here comes straight from His Word, straight from His heart. Carry the torch; continue the search; allow Him to transform your mind, your sight.”
Then, an uncommon, daring thought. I ventured to put it into words, praying they would understand: “Kids, if you’ve seen something different in me — and I’m certain you have — if you’ve wondered how on earth ‘Miss Jennifer’ always looks so joyful or why she really loves and treasures you while perhaps other adults generally do not or why she seems to see things differently than others –”
As I sat among them in our tight circle, their eyes were trained on me and confirmed that, yes, they had unmistakably noticed something different about me during these last four years of close friendship, of discipleship that digs deep, sheds light on the darkness, transcends normal ‘teacher-student’ boundaries.
I dared to continue: “– It is God at work within me, the Creator of the universe manifesting Himself among us through me. It’s not ‘me.’ ‘Miss Jennifer’ is actually quite the gossiper, the money-lover, the lazy fool without God. If you’ve seen a distinct joy, a different perspective, an eternal hope, any pinch of wisdom, that is actually God within me, acting through me. If you’ve felt drawn to me as a teacher, it is because you have felt drawn to God. His Word teaches that He actually comes and lives within those who are submitted to His will; that is one of the ways He manifests Himself to humanity in the world today. So now on our last day together I beg you to keep reflecting on all that we’ve learned together, and may you see God Himself in my actions among you. And if you’ve seen any impatience or bad attitude, that’s ‘me;’ that’s not Him. That’s what’s left over of the ‘Miss Jennifer’ without God, and He’s still in the process of transforming that part, renewing and cleansing. But please know that God has indeed been moving among us, acting in and through us to make Himself and His perfect love known to us, and that He longs to work in such ways in and through each of you, thus captivating humanity with the utterly attractive nature of all that He is.”
Many things were said on that last Monday together, while at the same time very little was said while much was understood. It was a Great Commission of sorts, a sending out of those who have started the training process to continue onward with great faith while going out and training others to love and follow the Father in similar fashion.
As the last of my students left, my heart heavy as I embraced each one, I ended that day as I had started it. It was, in fact, how I had started this entire journey nearly four years ago: joyfully alone, trusting, in an abandoned room in that old teal-colored building, focused on my Father alone.