Tag Archives: Latin America

Grassroots Honduran Education: A Cultural Tour

I write this post mainly for those living outside of Honduras who wish to gain a deeper understanding of a few of the key cultural factors that characterize grassroots Honduran education. Below I humbly share with you a series of photos taken on our rural ministry homestead over the past few weeks along with their respective explanations about different aspects of traditional Honduran culture (as I understand them in my 7 years of living here).

If you find this post informative and would like me to exhibit another facet of our life here (possibly the day-to-day realities of fostering in our Honduran context, etc), you may leave a comment at the end or contact me personally with your request.

God bless you, and thank you for your interest in and support of this work. To God be all the glory.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

This is one of our local students doing his English homework. All across Honduras English is generally taught as the preferred second language, and there are numerous bilingual schools here that place a great emphasis on learning fluent English. In our rural context we’ve found it quite difficult to awaken within our students the desire to learn a foreign language, but in more urban settings it is very common. Many jobs in Honduras nowadays require workers to be bilingual.
Working the land is a very normal part of daily life in our rural town. Many of our students’ parents work in the local Standard Fruit pineapple field, and it is very common here for families and individuals to plant fruit trees and other crops (such as corn, beans, etc.) in their yard in order to help diminish food costs.
All of our students are in weekly organic agriculture classes under the tutelage of one of our very passionate local missionary-teachers. Most other local schools do not offer a hands-on agriculture class, but basic knowledge of different plants and farming techniques is common due to the local culture.
While schools in the United States generally have air-conditioning (especially in the South), only the more elite Honduran schools have this luxury for their students. It is not uncommon for our teachers to take their students out to our front lawn and teach class under a tree for this reason: our classrooms can get very hot and stuffy, especially in the dry season.
In Honduras old tires are recycled and used for many different purposes. Some people cut them in half and fill them with water and/or feed mix for their farm animals; others cut them up in different creative ways to transform them into flowerpots; others (like us) use them as sturdy outdoor chairs.
While this photo of our foster children was not taken on our ministry homestead but rather at a restaurant in our local town, it does show a very common typical Honduran food: baleadas. This dish  can be compared to Mexican tacos and includes a combination of beans, cheese and/or meat inside of a tortilla. This is one of the most famous foods in Honduras, and it  can be eaten at any time of the day.
The collection of firewood is a very common task in our area for males of all ages due to the fact that a good percentage of  local families use a wood-burning stove to prepare their meals. Other families (like ours) use a gas-powered stove, and very few use an electric stove.
This is one of our local students petting one of our young bulls. It is very common in our area to see cattle walking down the main roads of our town or simply grazing in an open field. Our cows roam our rural property freely  and oftentimes interact with us at different moments throughout the day. (They love to push our inner gate open and sneak in to eat the clothes hanging on our clothesline!)
It is common for schools to hold a ‘traditional games’ day at least once a year and participate in activities such as: potato sack races, balance-an-egg-on-a-spoon competitions, etc.
Most Hondurans have much more contact with their natural environment than Americans do. Many general assemblies and group activities are held outdoors (preferably under a leafy tree). For this reason, many activities are postponed and/or canceled when there are heavy rains.
Most families and even schools do not readily have many art supplies available. Those who have artistic giftings generally use recycled materials such as old CDs, empty Coke bottles, etc, to do various creative projects.
The traditional school uniform across the nation includes dark blue pants/skirt and a white shirt. Some private schools require  a specialized uniform for their students, but we adhere to the general school standards in regards to attire. Most of our students (including our foster children) have only one uniform, and they hand-wash it each day when they get home from school and hang it up to dry for the next day.
This is a photo taken from one of our recent co-ed P.E. classes. Most local schools do not have a very effective physical education program nor is there a very strong culture of  organized sports. While you can find  gymnasiums in Honduras’ larger cities, in a small town like ours there are typically no organized workout centers.
While most Americans have P.E. class inside a gym, on an asphalt court or on the track, most Honduran schools do not have an official sports building  and/or equipment to facilitate athletic training. We hold our P.E. classes on our front lawn, rain or shine, and we implement a series of exercises that don’t require any special equipment (such as sit-ups, push-ups, squat jumps, wind sprints, dynamic team-building exercises, etc.) Some of our students do not own tennis shoes, so they joyfully participate barefoot, in flip-flops  or in their more formal school shoes.
There is not much of an exercise/physical fitness culture in our town beyond pick-up soccer games among teenage boys, but most people do walk and/or ride bikes quite a bit due to the fact that very few people own cars.

Our school is swimming upstream against the local belief that girls can’t/shouldn’t do rigorous exercise. Most local parents are initially against our fairly dynamic P.E. program, but soon they come to appreciate it as they see their daughters happier and more physically healthy over time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and mission/family

Monthly Update: March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With joy,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

 

 

Multiplying Responsibility Like Bunnies

The latest greatest on our rural homestead in Honduras is the arrival of our five bunnies! Many local friends of ours had recommended that we get involved in bunny care as a way of producing small quantities of meat for our family’s consumption, so we finally did so when a local woman was looking to sell her adult bunnies at a good price.

A couple weeks ago we started off with four females and a male…and we’ve already got babies! The care-taking of our precious bunnies has been a huge hit for our kids, as they’ve been given the task of feeding them several times a day, which includes going out to the pasture to cut grass with a machete for them and chopping up fruit and veggies for their consumption. The bunnies were very skittish when they first arrived and we were told that they couldn’t be held, but our kids have been working hard to domesticate them, and one of our teen daughters in particular has become quite a delightful bunny tamer. She helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that each of the babies gets enough to eat, and she’s constantly checking to make sure they’re okay. (Our kids consider themselves too old and mature to play with stuffed animals, but cuddling the bunnies is fair game! We love it!)

Here are a few photos!

Our 10-year-old son Jason whom we are in the process of legally adopting squeezed into the bunny hutch! My husband Darwin and I are enjoying having the bunnies on our homestead because their presence is teaching our kids more responsibility, how to gently care for God’s creation, and they are healthy entertainment! (We’ve chosen not to have a television in our home, and our kids don’t have internet access.)
Our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline LOVES the bunnies! She’s offered to feed them three times per day, and every morning and evening she helps ‘milk’ momma bunny so that her babies get enough sustenance! Jackeline is also very involved in the care and upkeep of our small herd of milking cows and is excited about the pig pen we are in the process of constructing. We are very proud of the new, very mature character the Lord is forming in her as He transforms her with His love.

Here is our eldest, 17-year-old Dayana, whom we are also in the process of adopting. She’s not too fond of the animals, but — fear not! — Jackeline is close by to make sure everyone’s okay.
This is 15-year-old Carolina, another one of our beloved foster teens. She moved in with us late last year and is doing extremely well in our household.
Jackeline took several portraits with the bunnies!
Here are the babies when they were just a couple days old! When our kids first saw them, they asked if they were rats!


      Amen! Glory to God!

First Update of the New Year

January 13, 2017: It has been over a month since I last wrote as we’ve unplugged from nearly all internet and administrative duties over the last several weeks. With great joy we finished off the year 2016 dedicating nearly every moment to the careful daily task of ‘building our nest’ with the 8 children our Father has placed under our (His) wings, three of which are already well into their adolescence.

Our daily rhythm has been slower as our beloved local Honduran laborers have been on vacation and our large rural property has been populated only by our family (Darwin, our 8 kiddos and I) and our night watchman’s quiet family. In these last few weeks there has been much time spent character-building, bond-forming and behavior-training as there has been less movement of people and activities on our rural property. We’ve been able to focus more fully on those under our roof who are blossoming into beautiful young men and women in the blink of an eye.

 

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16-year-old Dayana, who has been living with us as our daughter for over three years and whom we are in the process of legally adopting, with Darwin

 

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12-year-old Gleny, who has been living with us since November 2013 with her two siblings, will be entering our discipleship-focused homeschool program after having attended a local private school these last two years.

 

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Brayan, who first moved in with us when he was 12 years old in 2014 and nearly fit under my armpit, now is nearly as tall as Darwin!

 

We’ve enjoyed weekly trips with our kids to a local park to swim and play, numerous family movie nights with popcorn and ice cream treats, and many family work days as we’ve slapped on our rubber boots and old clothes to do property maintenance, painting, and repairs together. We’ve moved furniture from one building to the next, cleaned out our classrooms’ stuffed-to-the-brim bookshelves, taken down doors, spent countless man hours sanding window bars, and gotten our fingernails dirty in just about every way imaginable.

We even got away for a few nights in December with our kids and escaped to a desert island off the coast to explore the ocean, go snorkeling, kayak, and fish. (Our kids caught a venomous snake, an octopus, a lobster, an eel, and even a few normal fish!) It was a new and exciting experience for everyone, and all ten of us squeezed into a little two-room rustic cabin that stood on pillars with the ocean’s waves passing underneath.

 

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8-year-old Josue, who will soon be celebrating his two-year anniversary of living with us. He and his older sister Jackeline have monthly contact with their biological family, and by God’s grace we maintain a very positive relationship with their relatives.

 

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9-year-old Jason and 15-year-old Brayan, roommates and brothers in Christ, enjoying the snorkel sets we rented to explore the ocean off the coast of where we live in Honduras.

 

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Dayana and Gleny, biological sisters, learning to put into daily practice God’s perfect love despite personality and age differences

 

Darwin has begun reading through the Bible page-by-page, devouring many chapters each night, and two of our daughters have begun doing the same. 8-year-old Gabriela, who is lightyears behind her peers developmentally due to severe abuse suffered in her early childhood, has spent many hours each day receiving classes from her faithful tutors (local teenagers who are our students during the school year) and, miraculously, is in the very beginning stages of learning to write the letters and begin working with numbers. She will be entering first grade alongside of a few local students in our homeschool-style program in a couple weeks.

15-year-old Brayan, who has been successfully living with us for nearly three months now for ‘Round Two’ of being a member of our household, has been waking up early with Darwin every morning to go milk the cows, which has been a wonderful bonding activity for father and son and likewise a phenomenal work-ethic-building activity for Brayan as he is acquiring more maturity and consistency.

 

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Darwin and I exploring the ocean in a kayak. The waves booted us out of the kayak twice!

 

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Walking hand-in-hand with the little ones, who developmentally are about 3-5 years old

 

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Our beloved Wild Man, Cow-Milker and Big Brother who is acquiring a surprising amount of maturity, humility and wisdom as he continues his daily walk with Christ

 

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Darwin and Brayan at dawn (or dusk? who knows?) fishing on the pier

 

These slow-paced vacation times have also allowed for many long one-on-one discussions, intimate times of confession and repentance, and conflict resolutions among siblings. Family foot-rubs, late nights spent giggling and story-sharing with our teenage girls, praying together as we sit cross-legged on the tile floor to give thanks to Father God.

I’ve also been dedicating a chunk of time nearly every day to teaching our six oldest kids (ages 9-16) math classes homeschool-style as we gather around a long wooden table in one of our empty classrooms and I stand at the front with the whiteboard, scribbling numbers all over the place as we work to fill in many educational gaps they’ve suffered due to chaotic, no-school childhoods before arriving at our home.

 

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Gleny and I after having jumped off the pier

 

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The tribe the Lord has formed among us: 10 people of various ages (and races) from six different biological families all living under one roof, united as family by Christ’s blood

 

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Darwin overseeing his young fishermen

 

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Our precious pianist (we call her “Beethoven’s great-granddaughter”) and adventure-loving big sister who is daily taking steps to find healing and freedom in Christ

 

Our local students will return to us full-time January 24 as we currently find ourselves in a three-week stage of preparation, brainstorms, communal prayer, strategic meetings and book discussions as we are seeking God’s perfect will for this new school year (the Honduran school year begins at the end of January/beginning of February and finishes in late November).

We currently have 40 students (ages 8-18) signed up to study at the Living Waters Ranch this school year (including the 8 who live with us), with all but 2 of our 25 students from 2016 returning in addition to several new additions.

 

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12-year-old Josselyn, who has been living with us a year-and-a-half and who is daily being transformed by God’s love as she learns and grows within healthy limits

 

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Accompanying our young sailors on their sea vessel destined for Africa

 

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Our 8. (The five more adventurous ones jumping while the three keep-it-safers hid out on the float below)

 

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Developmentally-challenged Gaby and Josue ‘kayaking’ on the shore. (We kept the life jackets on those two at all times — even during mealtimes and when they went to the bathroom!)

 

As our influence in the community is growing, God has brought more workers to labor alongside of us in these times of planting, watering and harvesting. Miss Isis and Miss Ligia, who were featured on this blog several times throughout the year 2016, have committed to continuing their service for God’s glory in 2017, and three additional teachers/mentors have been added to our team: Domingo, a well-respected local pastor in his fifties (who is the father of one of our students) and who has experience in military service and as a carpenter; Reina, a local Christian teacher in her late forties who has many years of experience in the classroom and had approached us many months ago wanting to work with us due to the comments her neighbors had shared with her about our purpose and vision; and Erick, the very wise young man who lived at the Living Waters Ranch with us for nearly a year in 2013/2014 and who has a very strong gifting in evangelism and discipleship.

 

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13-year-old Jackeline and 16-year-old Dayana, roommates and sisters in Christ, exploring the coral reefs around the island

 

It has been a very special privilege in these first couple weeks of 2017 to be in such gifted, dedicated company as we’ve all put our heads together as a team – as Christ’s body – to search out God’s will for us as his sons and daughters, as a beacon of light in our very dark neighborhood, as a school for many youth who would not otherwise study, as a ‘rescue shop within a yard of hell.’ Our kids have actively participated in these meetings (oftentimes lasting 3-4 hours with many different speakers, activities, moments of prayer, etc) as they are taking an increasingly active role in participating in the ministry the Lord has entrusted us.

Thank you to all who read this blog and share with us your generous support, prayer and counsel. Please continue to pray for us as we are in the formative stages of this new year of service and love for God’s glory.

Amen!

Bringing in Lost Sheep: The Dangerous Duo Hits the Streets

“Don’t make me do this again.” I shook my head back and forth slowly as I repressed a smile. Had it really come to this again?

I looked across the nearly bare living room in the cinderblock house at the young man slouched in the torn-up armchair. He was put-off and determined not to register for school next year.

Despite our attempts to encourage him he had dropped out of our yearend two-week intensive academic catch-up program and was embarrassed to come back again next school year only to repeat 7th grade.

This was now my third visit to this young man’s house in a very short time, and this time I had brought Miss Ligia, our worldly-lawyer-turned-Christian-teacher with me as backup. It was registration day, and he had pulled a no-show, as expected.

Having heard this 15-year-old young man’s testimony of faith in Christ on various occasions and having seen first-hand the beginning stages of a very real transformation in his character as he had been involved all year with us in Bible study, prayer groups, Christian Leadership and other faith-building activities in addition to daily academic classes, we refused to allow him to simply ‘disappear’ into the multitudes of lost young men who wander the streets in our rural neighborhood and eventually fall into a life of crime.

This unexpected onslaught of rebellion and negative attitudes he had been experiencing in the last few weeks was surely an attack from the enemy, and we – as God’s hands and feet (and voice) on earth, had to intervene with the truth, bring him back into the fold.

So Miss Ligia and I left the rest of the team behind at the Living Waters Ranch as they continued receiving new and old students for registration day, and we hopped in our old Toyota pickup and headed down that long gravel road in search of that same young man who is becoming infamous for his disappearing act.

So when we arrived at the young man’s home, he – not surprisingly – was nowhere to be found. His mom received us with a big, warm hug at the little front gate made of twigs and barbed wire, and quickly let us inside. (Each time I arrive unannounced at their home, the greeting gets warmer and I am allowed farther into their home.)

We quickly devised a plan to hide behind the front door to scare the daylights out of the young man as he would likely come strolling home at any moment. (And if he didn’t return home soon? Well, we would be waiting for quite some time…)

After all, traditional butt-chewings are falling out of style (due to their ineffectiveness), and new, crazier approaches are in.

One of his family members, a female student who had already gone earlier that day with her mom to register with us for next school year, got in on the plan and was set to give us the cue when she saw him coming up the dirt path.

Miss Ligia and I – wedged like two sardines behind the open front door – began giggling uncontrollably. The student’s father – who had not been present during my previous rendezvous to convince his son to keep studying – just stared at us oddly, undoubtedly concerned why two adult women – his son’s teachers! – were laughing like little girls (and poking each other) while hiding behind his front door. Why on earth had his wife let us inside?

A few minutes later our student sure enough came home. His young female relative gave us two quick knocks on the door to cue us, and we began in a loud, spooky voice, “Sta-a-a-n-le-yyyy, Co-o-o-o-ome ba-a-a-a-a-ck tooooo the Raaaaanch!”

He jumped back and began laughing for an instant as we came tumbling out from behind the door, but once his mom pulled out the little wooden stools for us to sit on and talk cold turkey, he turned cold (turkey).

After a couple minutes of utterly useless communication – his mom chewing his butt and him slouching even lower in the ratty armchair, refusing to look us in the eyes – I said, dead serious, “Don’t make me do this again.”

His mom continued, undeterred, “If this boy doesn’t go back to school, what’s he gonna do? He’ll go straight to the street, I know it. Just goes to the street every time to wander around and get into trouble. The street –“

I interrupted her tirade rather boldly, and said, “Well, if he goes to the street, you can bet that I’ll be right there waiting for him. In the street. Dancing. Let’s go, Miss Ligia!”

I grabbed the 29-year-old lawyer with her beautiful flat-ironed long black hair and fake fingernails and before you could say “Footloose” we were both out the front door and in the gravel street.

This time my dancing was accompanied by loud proclamations that I’m sure the entire neighborhood could hear (and that was the point). Miss Ligia began some rather creative steps and arm combinations as we both spun about on the narrow street. The neighbors from the wooden-plank house across the way all came out to watch:

“Hello everybody! Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen! We’re here because this young man, Stanley Rafael Torres, does not want to study! Yup; that’s right! He just wants to wander the streets, but we’re here because we really like this kid and want the best for him! If you’re with us and want Stanley to study and seek God’s will for his life, shout ‘Yeah!’”

No one but Miss Ligia shouted “Yeah!,” not even the middle-aged man who happened to be strolling by. (He avoided all eye contact with us despite my best efforts.)

Miss Ligia continued her contemporary dancing as I did mine, her complementing my steps as I admired hers. We refused to be denied.

“We’re just gonna keep on dancing until this precious young man – did I mention his name is Stanley Rafael Torres? – decides to get his butt back in school!” My voice projected itself all around as our footwork just kept getting fancier. “God has a plan for his life, and we’re here to make sure it gets carried to completion! If you agree that Stanley should go back to school, shout ‘Yeah!’”

Again, no one shouted. This time a teen boy passed by not three feet from us. I looked him in the eyes and repeated, “If you’re with us, shout ‘Yeah!’”, hoping to get some crowd support.

He began walking faster. Away from us.

Soon enough Stanley – our stubborn run-away student – had whipped out his cellphone as was filming our antics as he sat watching us on his tiny front lawn.

Several minutes of rather aerobic dancing (think Billy Blanks in a floral blouse and skinny jeans) passed before I teetered over to the twine hammock in their front yard and collapsed under the heat of the Honduran sun. Miss Ligia and I panted dramatically before getting up again and continuing onward, determined not to leave the street until we had collected the prize. We were committed and there was no turning back.

His mom suddenly appeared from behind the front door curtain with two little pink plastic cups of cold water for us. She wanted us to continue!

We glugged down the water, sweat pouring down our temples and large earrings swinging to and fro with our rhythmic dancing until I suddenly heard Miss Ligia say, “He said ‘yes’!”

I looked up, snapped out of the intense focus required to choreograph an original interpretive dance, and Stanley, still video-taping us, smiled big. He agreed to come back!

I continued dancing a little bit more – this time out of joy rather than as a tool of persuasion – as he went inside to change.

“Careful he doesn’t slip out the back door! Somebody get an eye on the kid!” We laughed and waited for him as I continued my two-step in the street, Miss Ligia and I drenched in sweat, bathed in victory.

The moment he appeared out the front door with his mom, we threw him in the car and headed straight back up the road to the Ranch. We had other scheduled stops (other run-away students) on our agenda after him, but we couldn’t risk that he would change his mind or jump out of the car. So off we went!

Sure enough, we arrived safe and sound (and he only jumped out of the car once, but continued walking in the right direction, following the car rather than bolting away) and he registered again for 7th grade, which he will begin at the end of January when all of our students return. God’s love: 1. Shame: 0.

As we finished the very quick registration process, Miss Ligia and I with Stanley and his mom jumped back into our old Toyota pickup along with four of our other returning students and someone’s little sister. We headed back into our rural town to drop them off and continue onward with the rest of our scheduled rescue missions.

Charlie, a very precious 13-year-old student who likewise had not passed our 7th grade program due to immaturity and many absences, was next on our list. Stanley, with a very happy grin on his face as he sat in the car’s backseat, promised to show us the way to Charlie’s house (it would be Charlie’s first house-call.)

Everything was going fine as we were a couple minutes into our very short drive when somebody shouted, “There he is!”

My attention snapped to the left, seeing a small dark speck along a far-off gravel path that had been identified to be Charlie. I felt paralyzed – what to do? If we drop off Stanley and his mom first, Charlie might keep on walking (where was he going?) and we would lose all chance of finding him. I had to act fast!

In a split-second decision, I glanced over at Stanley and his mom and blurted, “You okay with participating in this rescue mission?” and, before they could reply, I swerved the car to the left and began rather quickly bouncing up that rocky path.

Nearing the small boy in tattered clothes and dirty flip-flops, I forced the car into park in the middle of the road, put on my flashers and hopped out of the vehicle. This had to be a surprise attack, otherwise he would surely run.

I sprinted around the far side of the vehicle and came upon him as I said, panting, “Charlie! Come back. We love you. Today is registration day, and we’ve been waiting for you.”

As expected, he wouldn’t look me in the eyes and was very mopey, on the verge of some kind of extreme self-pity attack. Was ashamed and discouraged, had no plan, no desire. He was on his way to the river, the favorite pastime of the dozens of lost youth in our neighborhood who have no daily commitments. No school; no work; just wandering around gravel roads aimlessly and wasting their lives away at the river before eventually turning to crime and vice.

Soon enough Stanley’s mom – who is in no way related to Charlie – hopped out of the passenger’s seat of the car and began participating in the rescue attempt. Miss Ligia came out, too, and several of Charlie’s old classmates formed a large cloud of loving witnesses in the truckbed.

Seeing as we were getting nowhere – all of our well-intentioned persuasive techniques only seemed to propel him further down the well of despair – I clapped my hands vigorously and called upon my sidekick, “Miss Ligia! You know what we’ve gotta do!”

My sweat-stains growing exponentially in my nice floral blouse, I turned in a wide circle and announced as loud as I could (and that’s pretty darn loud), “Okay! Charlie Anthony “Tony” Rodriguez doesn’t want to study, so his teacher and I are gonna start dancing to convince him to continue trusting in God’s good plan for his life! This is all for Charlie Anthony “Tony” Rodriguez! Gosh we love this kid, and God loves him more! Hit it, Miss Ligia!”

So we began Act II of the Dancing Rescue Mission (within a yard of hell) as we began prancing about on that very rocky road in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rural homesteads steeped in poverty. Stone-cold Charlie broke down almost instantly and began laughing. His classmates – who had not been present for Act I and had no idea that Miss Ligia and I were such talented dancers – began cheering as everyone looked at little Charlie expectantly. Would such an extravagant display of love convince him to return?

After a bit more dancing and a few more loving words of encouragement, he hopped in the truckbed and we zipped him off to registration day.

With Charlie in the backseat, I turned as I was driving to look at him: “Charlie, you know that this is not about you being our ‘student’. If you are in 7th grade or 8th grade, that makes no difference. This is about the work that God has already begun in your life, and we want to be able to continue to walk with you day after day after year as He continues to teach and transform you according to His love.”

He smiled shyly, as you do when you’re completely convinced of what someone is telling you.

I added, wanting to make sure he understood that we do not see him merely as some poor teen or sub-par student, “Charlie, you decided to get baptized last month. In Christ we’re family.”

He spoke up for the first time, visibly content. “I know,” he smiled big and glanced up at me after having had his eyes trained on the floorboards.

That afternoon – several hours after the rescue mission with Miss Ligia – my husband Darwin and I and the 8 kids/teens the Lord has placed in our family had arrived at the local park for an afternoon of play. As we hopped out of the car, Darwin began dancing in a very silly fashion and making up nonsense songs to get the kids to laugh. He extended an arm toward me to include me in the goofy routine, but I sighed wearily and said, “Oh, I’ve had enough dancing for one day…”

Darwin and the kids looked at me, perplexed – had I not spent the day just as everyone else, signing up students and stapling paperwork? – and I began telling them the story…

Amen! Glory to God!

A Most Unusual Butt-Chewing

Yesterday morning something rather peculiar happened on a lone side street in our rural neighborhood.

Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of an intensive two-week academic catch-up program for our high school students who, even after nearly a year of being under our care, are still experiencing the effects of the incredibly weak academic foundation they brought with them from their experiences in the local public elementary schools.

My husband and I have felt a lot of hype building up to these two weeks of intensive tutoring sessions for our weakest students as we are excited to be able to focus exclusively on those who are in most dire need of help. (Our six academically sound students who passed our 7th-grade program with no problems began their school vacation as of yesterday while the seven who need additional help will be coming for the next two weeks.)

Darwin would be teaching classes on Monday while Miss Ligia, the official 7th grade teacher, would be helping paint the entryway and bathroom of our little high school building. Everyday we would be taking turns between Darwin, Miss Ligia and myself.

Well, 7:00am rolled around and Darwin took attendance (which is extremely easy to do when the group is so small and you intimately know each person!). One of our teenage boys (the one whom I wrote about in the previous blog who shared his testimony in the Christian Leadership class) wasn’t present. I asked the other students if they knew why he hadn’t shown up – please tell me he’s on his deathbed or got an emergency call from China to travel on business! – as one of our other boys shrugged and said he had seen his classmate moping around his family’s porch that morning while the rest of the students began their walk up that long gravel road to our home.

I was alarmed that our M.I.A. student decided to play hookie on such an important day – their performance (and most importantly attendance!) during this two-week intensive program would determine whether or not they passed 7th grade! I thought he had matured quite a bit. Well, I mean, he definitely had. But why would he pull a no-show on the first day? How many times do I need to be reminded that the process of transformation is just that – a process. Everything takes time.

I felt disappointed, as I had sincerely been rooting for the kid to make a big, last-minute redemption of the school year and finish strong.

I shook it off and continued getting all the household business in order before I could leave in our old truck to spend the day in town working on the computer and running errands.

About an hour later as everything was finally in place and I rolled out the front gate, I felt God calling me to pass by our rogue student’s home and see what had happened, why he wasn’t in class. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time we’ve made a house call to go chase down run-away students (See: By God’s Design: Zebras in Honduras), but in my heart I felt as though I shouldn’t have to do so, that by golly he should have just pulled himself up by the bootstraps and gotten his little bum to class on time just like everyone else.

As I rumbled down that rocky road that passes through the little neighborhood where the majority of our students live, I finally gave in and turned the steering wheel down the narrow side road that leads to his home. Yes; God’s will is always greater than my own, and, yes, this young man was going to receive a loving house-call even though he probably didn’t deserve it because we’ve all received a free salvation that we most definitely don’t deserve.

I pulled to a stop a couple paces in front of his house and, suddenly experiencing an unexpected surge of energy and God-given joy, hopped out of the car as several neighbors whom I don’t know observed me carefully from a distance. I threw up my arm in a generous wave and sent them enthusiastic verbal greetings through a big smile, which threw them off as they, in turn, decided to greet me warmly.

I approached the small gate to our student’s home and called a general good-morning greeting through the thin curtain that hung in the front doorway.

Very quickly our student’s older sister, who happens to be the mother of another one of our students, came out to greet me with a big smile and, of course, she immediately knew why I was there. She began rattling off all that had happened that morning – the misunderstandings, the bad attitudes, the self-pity – and that, despite her incessant scolding of her younger brother as she tried to get his butt up and off to school, he wouldn’t budge. He was discouraged and had decided that it wasn’t worth going.

In a culture/neighborhood that is steeped in very low self-esteem and almost zero perseverance, a story such as this one is no longer surprising to me. What is surprising is that God is granting me a healthy dose of compassion for these youth who I used to think just needed a swift kick in the rear and a thorough butt-chewing.

I smiled genuinely as I listened to his very well-intentioned sister. When she started to lose a bit of steam, I asked if I could talk with her brother. He is, after all, 15 years old and should very well be present if and when any butt-chewing should occur.

I caught her off guard when I asked to speak face-to-face with the culprit (aren’t we all used to just getting riled up and gossiping without reaching any kind of actual conclusion?), and she immediately called her little brother’s name three times (really loudly) before he finally appeared from behind the front door’s curtain.

I smiled big when I saw him (He came out! He didn’t hide and refuse to show his face! Let’s count that as a victory! Atta boy!), and he returned the smile, although it was obviously tainted with a bit of shame for having skipped out on a very important responsibility that we are both directly involved in.

I spent a moment or two saying with great sincerity things that have been said to this precious young man dozens of times before: “You can do this. Don’t give up. We truly love and treasure you and are committed to doing everything possible to see you succeed, but you’ve also got to do your part. We love you and really do miss you when you don’t show up.”

In our first couple years of this ministry to broken youth, I thought it absurd and entirely unnecessary that we found ourselves saying the same things over and over to the same people day after day. Can you say ‘broken record’? Can you say ‘broken record’? How many times do we have to reiterate that we love the person, that we believe God has a plan for their life? How many times do we have to give the same advice to someone before they actually believe us, before they put it into action?

My thought on this has changed drastically over the last couple months as the Lord has revealed to me that I, too, have heard the same things over and over for years, and I am still slow to believe. How many times have I read, heard – preached! – that God is love and that He truly loves each one of us enough to have sent Christ to reconcile us with Himself, adopt us as His very own sons and daughters, heirs to an eternal Kingdom brimming with life, justice and joy, and even so in my heart I doubt, think Surely His love is for others, but not for me. It’s too good to be true. Oh, truly I am just like this immature young man, for I must hear the same things over and over again for years, and even so I struggle to receive, to rest in the truth.

And so, before much more time passed, I layed out my ultimatum with intense eyes and joy permeating my voice: “Look, if you don’t go get your butt ready to go to school, I’m gonna start dancing right here in the middle of the street until you get really embarrassed and decide to get ready.”

I had no idea where that came from (I’ve definitely never said anything like that before), and his older sister, very enthusiastic to support any butt-chewing I might be handing out, let out an immediate, “Yeah! You heard her!” before her face contorted oddly, finally realizing the absurdity of what I had said. Huh?

They suddenly both looked at me, eyes ablaze with wonder – was this tall, gangly white woman who is crazy about telling others about God really about to start dancing in public? It couldn’t be so.

To erase any doubt from their minds, I bowed low in a dramatic, silly curtsy and began thrusting my long arms to one side and the other, an undoubtedly awkward mixture of ‘groovy’ and ‘ridiculous.’

I spun in large circles and began some strange combination of fancy footwork that in no way kept the same beat as my wild arm motions.

A small boy on a bicycle rode by me on the street and nearly fell off as his eyes widened and his head swiveled around, unable to believe what he was seeing.

The neighbor ladies who had carefully observed and then greeted me only minutes prior also watched from a distance, alerted by the extremely joyful behavior being displayed. Who on earth would dance so freely – and so terribly! – on their street, especially in the face of such circumstances that typically provoke despair? Why, I must be crazy (or have a hope for this young man that goes beyond the despair of this world.)

My smile grew wider and wider as I informed our beloved student: “You see, I’m gonna keep dancing until you go get ready for school. Yup, I’m gonna keep on embarrassing you…”

Both our student and his adult sister laughed out loud, their eyes aglow with wonder – what an incredibly unusual butt-chewing! – as they watched me from but a couple yards away in their desolate front yard.

I only had to dance another ten seconds or so before he finally nodded his head, fully convinced that I would gladly continue my uncoordinated interpretive dancing until he really did get his butt ready for school.

I gave his sister another big, warm hug and laughed all the way to the car as I then continued on with my errands as planned.

That evening as my husband – who had been the one to give classes that morning while I had been away running errands – and I were talking over dinner, I asked him if our no-show student had arrived after all for his classes. He confirmed that he certainly did arrive and had a fabulous attitude throughout the day.

As Darwin continued to talk to me about that morning’s events in the classroom, he mentioned that it was curious that when the young man arrived late for class, he came through the front door not angry or ashamed but rather with a very innocent grin on his face. Why would that be?

I bit my lip and asked, “…Did he tell you how I convinced him to come to school…?”

Amen! Glory to God!