Tag Archives: Missionary Blog

1,140 Packets of Seasoning and 360 Servings of Baby Food: Government Dysfunction in Honduras

Back in mid-March of this year, at the beginning of the quarantine here in Honduras, my little black cell phone rang (think one of those old-school phones with an itty bitty screen and no internet access). It’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity to advance with the times and acquire a more modern cell phone; rather, I intentionally make a stand and dare to be content with less constant access to technology and ‘connection’.

But my cell phone and its lack of bells and whistles is not the subject of this post.

I reached to answer the call, seeing on the caller ID (yes, my phone does have that ‘app’) that it was the local child protective services. Although we enjoy a positive, civil relationship with the team of lawyers and social workers at the agency, every time they call 1,000 thoughts parade through my mind:

Is there some kind of problem with one of our kids’ cases? Will they inform me of some new legal requirement that we must jump through dozens of hoops to fulfill just to keep our kids under our care? Are they calling to ask us to take in a new child?

My husband and I have fostered 12 Honduran youth in the last six years, seven of which have now moved on, grown up and/or returned to their biological families. After suffering too many changes, upheavals and losses in our household, we decided several months ago not to receive any new people into our family for the next few years. We are currently waist-deep in the delicate, sacred task of parenting the five under our care, and we want to do so well, without a constant flow of people coming and going from our intimate family life.

So, I readied myself emotionally to say “no” should the voice on the other end of the line ask me to open up our home to take in a new youth. I breathed deeply, sent up a silent prayer, and answered.

The voice that greeted me belonged to an upbeat female lawyer in her late twenties whom I have worked closely with in times past, specifically throughout 4+ frustrating years of trying unsuccessfully to adopt several of our foster children. Since then, we have had little to no regular communication with the agency.

I silently kept a wave of emotions at bay and braced myself for whatever might come next.

“Hi Jennifer! We just want to check in to see how you all are doing in the midst of the virus scare. We will be dropping food off to all the homes, and you all are on our list. Do you have enough provisions currently? How are the children?”

She caught me entirely off guard with this unexpected conversation topic, as we have never received financial or material assistance from the local child protective agency nor from any branch of the Honduran government. They were really going to bring us a food donation? It was almost too good to be true.

Trying to quickly gain my footing after having been caught by total surprise at the agency’s generosity, I answered, “Thank you so much for thinking of us. We appreciate the offer and are  willing and grateful to receive anything that is within your power to give. However, if your supplies are limited, please donate to the homes that are in more desperate need.”

In an extremely perky tone, she assured me that there was enough food for all of the homes in our area and that they would gladly share with us a provision of food to help us make it through the quarantine. I thanked her again and asked when we should be expecting them, and she told me within 1-2 days’ time.

Several days passed, and that same caffeinated lawyer called me again. She asked me the specific ages and genders of our children, and I gave them to her (although she already has them on paper in her office and also via an online form I had already filled out): One male age 12; four females ages 15, 16, 16 and 17. She thanked me and hung up, assuring me that in a short time they would be bringing the donation of food and other items.

The following day she called me again and asked the exact same question about our children’s genders and ages. Again, I gave her the same information.

Yet again (I’m not kidding) the next day she called again. I glanced down at the caller ID on my cell phone’s tiny black screen, and wondered why on earth she deemed it necessary to speak to me again. I answered, hesitantly, and in her trademark perkiness she asked me to provide her with our children’s genders and ages (now for the third time in three days).

My manners getting momentarily put on the back-burner, I laughed out loud and asked with sincere confusion, “Again? Are you serious?I’ve already given that information to you twice…”

She laughed good-naturedly, spouted off some excuse that didn’t make any sense, and insisted on me telling her once more our children’s basic information that is already registered both in their office and online.

I took special time to annunciate over the phone as slow and clearly as possible, “One male…age 12…four females…ages 15, 16, 16 and 17…” I thought I would lose my mind if she called me again the next day asking for the same information.

Well, she did not call me again. A week or two passed, and a local friend of ours commented that she had seen on the news that the child protective agency announced that they had given food donations to all of the local children’s homes and foster families to support them in the midst of the Corona virus crisis. Our friend was pleased at this unexpected government gesture to help those in need and assumed that we, too, had received such a donation.

I bit my tongue. They never came to our property nor called to explain why.

A few more weeks passed, and finally that expensive government truck came plowing through our front gate and out popped that infamously perky lawyer in full face mask, gloves and full government uniform.

I stared on in disbelief, thinking:

Weeks ago they announced publicly that they had already given us food. If we had for some reason fallen on desperate need, we surely would have died of hunger by now (a full 5 weeks after her initial phone call)!

She and her assistant – a disheveled middle-aged man who wore absolutely no protective gear and didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about possible contamination (or professional presentation) – efficiently shuttled six cardboard boxes and one large plastic bag into our kitchen.

They took a very official photo of the woman and me in front of the food donation as proof to the government that they had helped the needy, and the woman asked me to sign a document confirming the event. All of this in the name of feeding hungry children in foster families and children’s homes.

As they were headed out the door not five minutes later, I thanked them for their generosity (and opened the door for the fully-protected lawyer who was afraid to touch our door handle). She then laughed heartily and said, “Sorry it took us so long to come!” And, leaning closer to me and lowering her voice into a whisper, she said good-naturedly, “Be careful with the breakfast cereals in the bag we gave you; I think they’re expired.”

My head swirling, I walked them to the front gate and waved goodbye as their vehicle roared off our property. My husband would be teaching our kids music for the next hour, so I walked in the scorching heat across our front lawn and back into our bright-orange kitchen.

Although the government agency had taken an inordinate amount of time to fulfill their promise and had brought us expired goods, I decided to be thankful for the donation and was even excited to rummage through the boxes and see what they had brought us. This would surely help offset our grocery bills for the next couple weeks in this highly uncertain time. I thanked God in my heart for His provision through them, and cut through the plastic tape of the first box with a knife.

My heart sunk, and confusion set in. Dozens upon dozens of packets of seasoning.

Seasoning? This can’t be right. I dug deeper in that first box to see if under that sea of packets there was something more substantial – packets of rice or beans or canned goods.

There wasn’t. The only thing that first box held were crazy amounts of seasoning – 570 packets, that is. How on earth are we going to use all this, and is this really what someone needs to receive in times of global crisis? Can eating packets of seasoning keep anyone alive?

Consciously turning off the flow of very negative and bewildering thoughts, I cleared my mind and decided to give the second box a try.

I cut the tape loose and opened the box, my heart expectantly full before it crashed to the floor again.

More seasoning. They had given us not 570 packets of seasoning, but now 1,140.

I began calculating futilely. If we use even two packets per day (which is a stretch), we’ll have enough seasoning for almost two years. There’s only one problem: it expires in three months.

Pushing my growing disappointment aside, I decided to kindle my hope anew and try the next four boxes.

Baby food in all four.

 Our dining room table covered in open boxes, inordinate amounts of seasoning and now 360 packets of baby food (for a household that has no residents under age 12), I stepped back in the silence of our home and just stared.

Only one thing remained that might actually be of some use to us: the bag of expired cereals the lawyer had warned me about. Numbly, I removed the three cereals in their dented boxes and placed them in a bin where we keep our breakfast foods.

The obvious thought was for our own loss: these items, intended for our benefit, would be of virtually no use to us. The underlying tragedy (and that which was of greater weight on my conscience) was that of our Honduran government’s total inefficiency and stunning lack of organization.

My mind wandered, and I couldn’t help but wonder in disbelief: Why on earth did the lawyer give us baby food after having asked me on three separate occasions the ages of our children? Surely, there are other homes that do have babies that could have benefited from this donation. What did those other homes receive? Did they give us this donation and take the professional picture just to make themselves look good?

The Honduran government’s alarmingly high levels of dysfunction can knock a person off their feet. Having lived here nearly 8 years, my head still spins in reaction to such bizarre events. Is this random nonsense due to mere ignorance on their part? Do they not know how to do their job better; did it not occur to them to review the contents of the donations before handing them over? (Surely, it would have been more effective to divide 1,140 packets of seasoning between dozens of different homes instead of dumping them in one single place, not to mention the fact that baby food needs to go to a home that has babies!)

Oftentimes, the third world (at least in my experience) is perfectly upside-down, and those who insist upon using logic only end up with increasing psychological damage. This donation, after all, was simply unhelpful, and I ended up feeling like a pawn in some political game I know next to nothing about.

After several pensive moments standing in silence around our dining room table, our kids’ music lesson came to an abrupt end and they came bounding into our kitchen.

“Hey Mom! What’s that big pile on the table? Why did the child protective agency come? Is everything okay?”

At that point I was already about ¾ of the way into organizing and bagging the baby food and seasoning into manageable portions to share with our neighbors who might benefit from it (as in, those who have babies in their home). I wearily announced, a slightly fake smile on my face, “Oh, the agency dropped this food off for us, but they aren’t really items we can use so we are going to re-donate them to our neighbors in need.”

In my heart of hearts I was grateful to God for the chance to participate in this unique re-gifting of the goods, as I knew we would be working as loving conduits to His purposes. Even so, the utter ineffectiveness of the government’s ‘aid’ still laid heavy on my mind.

Within a couple days’ time we carried the gifts on foot to bless eight households in our rural neighborhood. It was not difficult to identify who might be able to best benefit from the goods, and we enjoyed acting as deliverers of unexpected blessing. Our foster kids participated with us, dedicating the necessary care and attention to make sure the government’s food provision truly reached those who could use it.

There’s no perfect way to wrap this post up with a neat little bow. The story I’ve shared here is one little stitch among a vast national tapestry of dysfunction and inefficacy.

I simply share this with you to shed a little bit of light on the brokenness of the system down here, always with the hope that reforms and international intervention might help establish a healthier, functioning government (including a justice system that actually responds to crime) on which the people here can depend and thus thrive.

Please pray with us for these changes to occur, and that in the meantime God’s purposes might take root in Honduras in spite of the many exacerbating factors.

God bless and keep you and your loved ones.

With joy in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Current Prayer Request: Health for our Family (Typhoid Fever)

I write to you from our rural ministry homestead on the northern coast of Honduras to ask for prayer for my husband, our 5 foster children/teens (ages 12-17) and me.

This is a photo of the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve for God’s glory.

I had fallen very ill a little over two weeks ago, and after doing the necessary blood tests I realized I had Typhoid fever again, a tropical illness that has plagued me 1-2 times per year over the past several years (and the effects of which tend to last in my body 5-7 weeks each time). As I was largely bedridden and unable to fulfill many of my daily responsibilities, we began investigating further after a local medical professional suggested that everyone in our household do the Typhoid fever bloodwork to see if someone else is a carrier of the disease (without necessarily manifesting the symptoms).

So, several days ago my husband took all of our kids into town, and everyone’s blood results came back positive. (It’s no wonder why I had never truly ‘overcome’ Typhoid; everyone in my household is a carrier, so they kept passing it back to me once I would temporarily get better!)

This is the view of part of our cows’ grassy pasture out behind the little ‘casitas’ (houses/buildings) on our property. We are the last stop at the end of our gravel road!

I share all of this with you to ask for prayer for our family, as we are currently waist-deep in the process of undertaking a rigorous antibiotic treatment and trying to sterilize our home as much as possible (which is difficult living out on a ranch in the hot, humid Honduran climate without air-conditioning, with wire-mesh windows and many insects/other wild critters close by).

GENERAL UPDATES IN A NUTSHELL: We thank God that our daily school/discipleship outreach to roughly 45 youth in addition to our community service/evangelism continues onward with excellence (despite my poor health these last couple weeks) thanks to the dogged dedication of our team of Honduran missionary-teachers. We continually strive to be Jesus’ hands and feet to those around us, and I hope to share some recent photos/stories in an upcoming post. Additionally, my mom and step-dad will be visiting us in a couple days, and we await their visit anxiously.

This is a view from the inside of the fenced-in area where we do the majority of our daily teaching, Bible studies, music classes, etc.
This is our cozy little cinderblock home where my husband and I live happily with our 5 foster children/teens. In obedience to the call God has put on our lives we have parented 12 youth together in this home since 2013; 7 have moved on and returned to their biological families and/or are now living their lives as young adults.

God bless you, and we sincerely thank those who regularly lift us up in prayer before the Lord and/or financially support this mission. We could not serve in the way that we do without your generosity, sacrifice and commitment. Thank you!

Sincerely,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

April 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Possible New Horizons for Gabriela and Josselyn

In a prior update I sought prayer for our little Gabriela who has been living with us almost two years now. Surprisingly, we found a biological family member of hers in a nearby city several weeks ago (the first contact we have had with any family member since she and her sister moved in with us in July 2015). We got their cellphone number and have since realized two structured family visits for Gabriela and her older sister Josselyn. The family visits have helped to fill in many of the gaps in the girls’ fragmented history, and one of those is their ages. Although the majority of their family members are illiterate and do not have a very accurate concept of time, dates, etc, several of them affirmed that Gabriela is roughly 10 years old and Josselyn 12. We continue to parent, love and guide them day after day in this new stage of monthly family visits and increased contact with their past, and due to Josselyn’s insistence we are doing the legal investigations to see if one or both of the girls can return to their biological family’s home, most likely with their grandparents. This is a very delicate process for all of us, as Josselyn is currently feeling a very strong pull to return to her familial roots and daily experiences pretty dramatic mood swings as she has even escaped twice from our home in recent weeks. We are approaching the possibility of her living with her biological family with an open mind and much prayer, but both girls arrived at our home in terrible shape in 2015 and had experienced much abuse and neglect at the hands of certain relatives, so we do not yet have peace about them returning to such an unstable situation despite Josselyn’s adamancy. Please pray with us for our two girls during this time, as the government will have the final say on where the girls will live. This week I am scheduled to accompany a government social worker to the girls’ grandparents’ home as part of the reintegration investigation. Please pray for peace over our household as well, as Josselyn is quite unstable emotionally, and that affects everyone in our family. Please continue to pray with us for both girls — for their healing, relationship with the Lord, future, etc — as any child who has been separated from their biological family struggles with great insecurities and doubts as to why they do not live with their family in addition to periods of very intense emotional angst. Pray that Father God would bless them both with wisdom to understand their past, gratitude towards Him for where they are in the present, and great faith in God as to their future. In particular, pray that God would illuminate Josselyn’s mind with the truth (as we feel that she is currently very confused), and that wherever she ends up she would continue to seek, love and obey Him. The attachment process when a new child/teen arrives in our family (and then the detachment process if/when they leave) is extremely taxing on Darwin’s and my emotions, and we currently feel very stretched thin emotionally. We appreciate your honest prayers.

This is our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline, the proud new cow-owner I wrote about on last month’s general update blog. Her young female calf has grown considerably since the taking of this photo, and Jackeline goes out to the stable to take care of her, give her salt and garlic (to relieve her of internal parasites, etc) several times per week. We are very encouraged about the opportunities this growing calf might provide Jackeline in the future and pray that any financial gain she might provide would be used to glorify God and serve others.

 

Erick’s Young Men’s Retreat and Running Group

Earlier this month during ‘Holy Week’ (the week in Latin American culture leading up to Easter Sunday) Erick and Darwin organized a camping retreat for about a dozen young men, the majority of whom are in our school and others of which weekly attend the Bible study that Erick and his wife host in their home on Wednesday evenings. They all threw on their backpacks and headed up a remote path into the dense jungle behind our home to enjoy a campfire, sharing of stories and testimonies, several Bible studies, etc. For the majority of the young men, it was the first time they had ever done anything like that. We are excited about and blessed by the wisdom, energy, and sacrificial attitude that Erick and his family bring to this ministry in rural Honduras, as he is actively investing in and guiding many teenage boys during his free time and during vacations. He has also since formed a running group with the same young men as he is training with them several times per week to run in a 10K in a nearby city next month. Not only Erick but all of the Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us this year are taking great initiative to form relationships with and disciple the many youth in our homeschool-style school, both during ‘work’ hours and on nights/weekends. This is awesome!

Everybody hold your machete up! This photo was taken of Erick and Darwin’s group of ‘wild men’ when they came back from their overnight campout in the mountains. Two of our sons (Brayan, age 15, and Jason, age 9) participated in the event. Our 8-year-old son Josue stayed at home to protect the women!

 

Greater Organization Achieved in 2017

Although this may not be a particularly striking headline report to make, we are very excited about the organization, communication and daily structure we’ve been able to establish this year. During the first three years of this ministry (2013-2015), we oftentimes felt like our lips were flapping violently in the breeze and our hair was flying all over the place as the learning curve is pretty drastic for learning how to parent hurting children/teens, establish and grow a ministry from scratch, utilize and protect a rural 17-acre property in the middle of one of the world’s most dangerous countries, etc. Last year we had many breakthroughs as we opened our previously itty-bitty homeschool program to dozens of local youth through the creation of our discipleship-based high school, twice-weekly Bible study and prayer groups, Christian Leadership class, etc, although we still had many kinks to work out as we had been thrown into an entirely new arena. Now that we have more experience under our belts (and hopefully wisdom gained both through the ups and downs we’ve personally gone through in addition to increased and ongoing reading of Scripture, etc), this calendar year we are all taking a collective sigh of relief and gratitude as things are marching along without so many hiccups. This year we are serving more people than ever before, and with much less stress! Knowing how to manage a kitchen where about 50 people eat on any given day – calculating how many and which groceries to buy, how to keep the kitchen clean (and who cleans it on what day, and then making sure that person actually cleans it!), etc – is not something that comes in the owner’s manual, but by God’s grace this year things are running more smoothly and the overall organization of the property and its buildings (not just the kitchen) has improved drastically. Setting appropriate limits both with the surrounding community and with those within our household; discerning and then communicating the specific vision/mission the Lord is giving us; establishing and managing our kids’ and laborers’ many schedules/responsibilities; learning how to keep our guard dogs alive; discerning the next step in any new situation and taking it, etc, has been the ongoing task during these first few years of laboring under God’s grace and for His glory. Through many people’s generosity we’ve also been able to purchase a printer for our office (before we used to have to run to town every time we needed to print something!) and we’re in the final stages of finishing a large swing-set/play structure for our yard. Join us in thanking God for these advancements – some big, others very small – as we are daily learning how to be the best possible stewards of all that has been placed under our care. Yes!

This is the homeschool-style support group I teach in our dining room every Tuesday afternoon with a small group of some of our most marginalized students. Josue, our 8-year-old specials needs son (the one in the orange shirt looking at the camera), is my ‘assistant’ — he helps me encourage and supervise the other students, hand out the snack (and eat the snack), etc. We have seen great progress in this group of students since they joined us in January of this year, and many are actively seeking God’s will for their lives. Josue, who cannot learn in a normal classroom environment, also feels very important as my ‘assistant,’ which is a good niche for him to have. He is my right-hand man  in my advanced math class as well, and he helps Darwin in the many classes he teaches.

 

In my Tuesday afternoon support group we work a lot with open-ended art projects, team-building activities and Biblical study as we seek to ‘wake up’ and develop youth who have largely been left to their own devices since early childhood. Many of our students have spent years of their life out of school only to run wild around our rural neighborhood or wander aimlessly, so activities such as art, music, healthy physical touch, etc along with Biblical direction are crucial to cultivating their minds and lives for Christ.

 

These are two of our older teen boys who are new to our school this year. We are very proud of the decisions they are making and their sincerity of faith as they are coming to put their lives in align with God’s will. Their decision to study in our program and participate in the many additional faith-building activities we offer (such as the boys’ campout, Erick’s in-home Bible study, etc) is very countercultural for young men their age. Please pray with us for them, that God would fully transform their lives and build them into Christ-centered leaders (servants) to their generation.

 

Seeking Prayer for Sandra, Who Left Our Home

Sandra, a 16-year-old local teen who has sought refuge in our home on-and-off over the past year-and-a-half, recently decided to move out of our home. Ever since her escape from her mother’s house a couple months ago, she has been actively engaged in many occult activities that go directly in contrast with God’s will for her life. Several weeks ago Darwin and I sat down with Sandra and her mother (a very devout, humble Christian who works with us part-time) to try to get to the root of Sandra’s sporadic behavior, and she told us that she no longer desired to live with us nor study in our school. She has since moved out and we have lost all contact with her, as she is living in her mother’s home but not under her mother’s authority. We are deeply saddened by the very dangerous choices she is currently making, but we feel absolute certainty that God has called us to release her (as in, no longer worry about her nor try to ‘rescue’ her from her own poor decisions). Prior to her moving out we had invested much individualized prayer, conversations, etc, into her life as we sought to be faithful channels of God’s grace to her, but she ultimately made her decision and will pay the consequences. Although Darwin and I along with our kids are in absolute peace with all that we’ve done, said, given, etc in regards to our relationship with her, we do seek prayer on her behalf and that of her mom, who is daily faced with a very rebellious daughter who has placed herself near many dangers. We long for Sandra to return to God in repentance, as she confessed faith in Christ last year and was publicly baptized, thus making a lifelong commitment with God. Thank you for your prayers.

Here is a photo of Domingo, a local pastor/carpenter and one of the Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us, and his eldest son in the beginning stages of putting the large play structure together. We designed it from scratch several months ago, and we are very excited that within the week this ‘dream’ will become a reality for the many youth who spend their days at the Living Waters Ranch.

 

 

Praising God: Protection from Danger

We praise and thank God that roughly a year and a half has passed since the last burglary on our property. Although those within our walls (students and our children) oftentimes struggle with stealing money or small items from our office or backpacks, we are very happy that the issue we had experienced in 2013-2015 of late-night unknown neighbors stealing chicken, electric generators, cutting through fences, etc, has since ceased. Our night watchman — who does his rounds with nothing more than a flashlight — has been doing a very diligent job each night, and he and his family will soon be celebrating two years of living on our property with us. Five of their children are in our school, and we enjoy a very positive relationship with them. Please continue to pray for us in regard to the general issue of security, as Honduras is a very dangerous country. We thank God for His protection — over our lives and our property — that He has granted us, and we humbly ask that you might pray with us so that this divine protection against evil might continue. Praise be to God!

This is Reina, one of our faithful Christian laborers in her 50s whom God is utilizing (and at the same time transforming!) at the Living Waters Ranch, supporting a group of young girls during a Bible-study activity we held during Holy Week for our students who were on vacation from their normal classes with us.

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Choose Your Compass Carefully: A Reflection on Technology, Luxury and Following Christ

A few days ago our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline came home in the evening after having spent the day with her 8-year-old special needs brother Josue in a visit with their biological family members. I greeted them warmly at the door as Jackeline then plopped down on our little two-person floral print couch. I instinctively pulled up one of our old wicker stools as I then sat down on it a few feet in front of her. My eyes searched hers as wacky lil’ Josue began trying to do some kind of rear horsey-kick with his stubby hands grabbing the couch’s tired arm while pushing his legs up and back as he bounced about next to the couch.

Jackeline with her wild shoulder-length hair and beautiful round face did not look stressed out or worried, so I dared to ask: “How was the visit?”

That simple question was all it took for us to dive into an hour-plus conversation as she shared with me her many (very insightful) observations on the world outside of our family. (Some of our 8 foster children have regular monthly visits with their biological family members while others have gone years without hearing anything from their relatives.)

She began, voice accelerated as she entered her dramatic story-telling mode, “I asked my little cousin – you know him, the one who’s three years old – if he wanted to play cars.”

I nodded my head and smiled, for Darwin and I have met all of her biological relatives on several occasions and maintain a very positive relationship with them.

“Well, my little cousin said ‘yes’ to my invitation to play cars with him, and then he whipped out two cellphones out of nowhere and said, ‘Which one do you want?’” At this point her eyes are really wide open as she replays the shock she felt when the event happened. I felt like I was right there with her in live action!

I began giggling, and I glanced over and winked at Josue. He flashed me a big, toothy grin. Jackeline continued, “And I said, ‘What?! I asked you if you wanted to play cars with me, like toy cars….Sitting on the ground.’” She motioned with a hand weakened by shock the little back-and-forth movement as she rolled an imaginary toy car in the air.

By then I was really laughing, and she paused to reiterate the whole cellphone part: “I mean, he just whipped out not one, but two of those big fancy cellphones! Two! And he’s only three years old!” I nodded in agreement.

“So when I clarified that I wanted to play toy cars with him on the ground, he shrugged disinterestedly and said, ‘Boring,’ and then showed me the cellphones again, asking me which one I wanted to play on. He told me that he had some electronic app on the phone that was called ‘Cars’ that was more fun than what I had suggested.”

Her way of story-telling – hands moving about animatedly, passion displayed in her fluctuating tone of voice – was both hilarious and effective as she shed a lot of light on the utter absurdities of today’s world culture.

“And, like during the whole visit my little cousin ended up playing on both of the cellphones all by himself, and the television was on all the time! It was like…chaos. At one point he told me that he didn’t like one of the cellphones because it wasn’t as advanced as the other one, so he was going to give it to Charlie!”

I tilted my head, slightly confused because I had never heard mention of Charlie. She was quick to clarify: “That’s the cat!

She looked genuinely worried. Josue continued grinning and nodding enthusiastically as if he understood and agreed with the entire social commentary. I rejoiced in my heart that God is developing in Jackeline a very effective ‘truth filter’ – the ability to observe and even be immersed in what many people consider to be ‘normal’ while evaluating it from the perspective of God’s eternal Word. In effect, to be in the world but not of it.

I treasured this moment in my heart, for our precious – wild, at times immature, strikingly wise! – Jackeline, by God’s grace, is developing the ability to discern her surroundings. She will desperately need that ability, especially when she leaves our home and protection one day to enter the adult realm. In a wildly confused world that is quickly accepting all forms of sexual sin as ‘normal’ (in addition to  rampant materialism, a very isolated ‘individualism’, political corruption, etc), she is going to desperately need to be able to discern what is of God and what is not if she is to walk closely by His side in the world’s wild maze of infinite options and endless ‘ways.’

While I ruminated on all this, thanking God in my heart for the firm character and wise discernment He is forming in His daughter, she continued: “And then my grandma began telling me that it is really important for me to get a tablet and learn how to use it.”

I felt uneasy at the idea; she continued, laughing as she pointed at my reaction: “I told my grandma, ‘I don’t think my parents are gonna like that idea!’, but she said that it’s important because in daily life everyone uses one.”

At that we both began laughing, because although Darwin and I have never spoken openly against modern technological advancements, all of our kids can observe clearly that we are not addicted to them (nor do we own many of them). In our daily life we read books (those old kind made from trees); we enjoy the creativity God has given us to roll up our sleeves and do art projects; we teach classes and Bible studies in bare rooms on wooden benches; we use our hands (and sweat glands) to work around the house and yard; we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing task of developing the minds God has entrusted us; we spend ourselves joyfully on the task of binding up the brokenhearted and setting the captive free; we worship God through music; we care diligently for the various animals God has placed on our property. In a large sense, we are ‘unplugged.’

Jackeline continued, fully enjoying the process of story-telling, “And I said, ‘Grandma! But my parents are adults, and they don’t use a tablet in everyday life!’ And with that, my grandma was really surprised and asked how that was possible. I said, ‘Well, they only use their computers for like really extreme jobs, and they have no use for a calculator because they do the math in their heads!’” At that point I was rolling with laughter, and Josue continued glancing energetically between his older sister and I, eager to participate in the joy. “My grandma was shocked and had no reply! She had never heard of such a thing!”

You see, in our home my husband (who is Honduran) and I (who was born in America) have put a ‘stop’ to the endless advancements in technology and luxury that many in the world constantly chase after. We choose not to have hot water or air-conditioning; we all wash our clothes by hand; we have no television. Our kids do not have internet access; my cell phone is a little black apparatus with an itty bitty screen and old school keypad that probably made its world debut when your great-grandmother was in kindergarten. It doesn’t have any apps and can’t even take pictures. I’ve had my cellphone so many years that the part that sends text messages no longer even works. It’s only used for…*gasp*…making calls! People constantly ask me if I have ‘Whatsapp,’ and I finally had to confess the other day, “No; I don’t have ‘Whatsapp, and to be honest with you, I don’t even know what it is!

I lived my first two-and-a-half years in this country without a car; Darwin, the kids and I walked everywhere and took overcrowded public transportation, oftentimes waiting hours for the right bus to pass. Only now do we have our 16-year-old battered war vehicle; our Toyota pickup truck with a camper on the back. When we rumble by on the narrow gravel roads in our rural town, many of the neighborhood kids shout, “Chicken Coop! Chicken Coop!” because there are always so many little heads sticking out of it!

Probably within a few years – as the outside world continues its frenetic grasping at ‘new’ and ‘better’ while we remain joyfully content with a simple life in God’s presence – someone will probably label us as Amish.

I am currently away from home to attend a day-long conference several hours away from our little ‘home on the range.’ The majority of the other conference attendees – a mixture of local Honduran Christians and American missionaries – had their advanced cellphones with the big screens, cars that look to be in a lot better shape than ours, and their overall attitude (along with the content of their conversations) dripped with worldly enticement. I felt, as I do in many situations, out of place. Like I’m from a different tribe.

Several of the conference speakers spoke (inaccurately) of the need to correct and educate the local people in matters of technology; that we must show the poor that rather than washing their clothes in the river or in an old-fashioned washbin, they must learn to use a washing machine. (And with what money will they purchase and maintain one if they can barely put food on the table?) Rather than bathing with a bucket, they must learn to do so in a shower, with hot water if possible.

My heart grew heavy with each passing word pronounced by the well-intentioned Honduran speakers, for Christ did not come to improve the worldly conditions of the poor – to make them bilingual or grant them a college scholarship or purchase them a washing machine – but rather to preach the truth in the midst of a world drowning in lies; to pay the price none of us can pay in order to put us into right relationship with our Creator and our neighbor. Whether we claim to serve God at home or in a far-off nation, we must be very careful what ‘good news’ we are proclaiming with our words and lives: that of worldly prosperity (which, even at its best, not all can attain), or the everlasting Good News of a loving God who comes to redeem, to heal, to guide. Jesus went around proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!” I dare say that that should be our message as well.

In a video on human trafficking that we saw with our older girls in months past, there is a very sincere American missionary fighting the effects of the forced-prostitution industry in Asia, and he very accurately says, “This is not a matter of money and education. In the West there is abounding educational opportunities and plenty of money, but that has not solved the problem of evil. This (whether it is sex slavery, the problem of parentless children, the existence of violent gangs, political corruption, etc) is a spiritual problem.”

To be an overseas missionary — or to serve Christ anywhere — is not a matter of raffling off washing machines and giving college scholarships to help bump people up and out of poverty; it is of teaching others to know and follow Christ; to go to the ends of the earth making disciples, for we know that He will be with us until the end of the age.

Men like Adolf Hitler, Hugh Hefner and others – men with excessive power and know-how (men who have quite strategically gotten what they wanted out of life and whom  we can safely say probably did not bathe with a bucket) – have used their privileges, their intelligence, their money not for good but for evil. So we must be careful what we aspire for those whom we are serving. ‘Developing with the times’ and ‘learning the ways of the world’ do not in any way go hand-in-hand with the good news of Jesus Christ. They are two distinct messages with results that find themselves at opposite poles.

‘Helping the poor’ is not a question of bringing them up to the middle-class. If that is our goal and strategy, we may just be creating more ego-saturated materialism addicts whose hearts are even farther from God than they were to start with.

It is and always has been a battle deep within the human heart – whether the person is rich or poor. Light versus darkness. Truth versus lies. Live for the eternal or live for the temporal. Honor God with your life or believe the age-old lie Satan presented in the garden: “Take things into your own hands; you can be like your own gods!”

Last evening, as I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast hotel, I took a long walk. It was very serene — one of those rare moments of ‘alone time’. The cool breeze blew through my hair as I walked the sidewalks and nearly empty streets of an upper-middle-class neighborhood at dusk. Tall, impenetrable walls around each property. Two-and-three-story homes designed with breathtakingly beautiful architecture. Polished, highly protected people with polished, highly protected lives. No noise. No trash in the streets. I felt like I could have been perusing a wealthy neighborhood in any corner of the globe.

It is so easy to be drawn to what is most comfortable, and to then let our lives be dictated by our desire to protect the luxuries and comforts we have. As I walked the empty streets, the quiet breeze accompanying me as I reflected deeply upon the day’s conference, I felt both saddened at the way many in today’s world choose to live while simultaneously awed by God’s grace over our tiny lives and the way He has led us to take firm decisions, both for our own sake and for that of our children. We refuse to be guided by the world’s compass. Just because the world shouts “North!” does not mean that North is the way; it just might mean that the real way is South. At every turn, we must seriously consider whose voice we are heeding; that of the world’s or that of the quiet whisper of the only true shepherd.

(And, let us all remember that several times in Scripture it is noted that Satan is the prince of this world; the whole world is under his persuasion. Let us be careful lest we find ourselves as his unknowing accomplices. Nearly everyone takes the wide path that leads to destruction; few walk the narrow path that leads to life. If you find yourself saying, doing and thinking the same things as everyone else, stop and ask yourself what path you are on.)

My sandaled feet guided me along as my long skirt lapped at my legs in that quiet, perfectly insulated neighborhood, far from the mess of our daily life surrounded by hurting people in our simple cinderblock buildings. Surely in these nice homes bat droppings don’t constantly fall on their sofa and severely broken children don’t wipe poop on their walls!

A very dear family who visited us briefly in January later published on their prayer newsletter that we were ‘so poor’ – the guest room where they stayed was one of our classrooms with foam mattresses on the floor, and they observed that all we eat are rice and beans.

I continued walking, observing majestic homes that anybody would die to live in. Are we poor? I laughed at the question, for I believe we feel as the Apostle Paul felt: having nothing, we have everything. No, we are not poor: we are rich beyond measure, beyond cellphones and luxury bathrooms and insulated homes. We have infinite riches in Christ, for we know that this world is not our home; we are just passing through on our way to the eternal Kingdom where the true treasure is waiting.

Jesus said to be careful where your treasure is, for there your heart will be also. He said to store up treasures not here on earth – not worldly wealth, power, human comforts – but rather treasures in heaven. Lose your life for His sake in order to find it. Deny yourself, carry your cross and follow Him. We must not fall in love with the world and all that it offers; we are to be in the world but not of it. Renew your mind; allow God to transform you so that you may come to know His perfect will. In this life we will suffer, but we must take heart because He has overcome the world! He who affirms that he is united with God, must live as Jesus Christ lived.

And so, I humbly encourage you to evaluate your own life and carefully consider whether the fast-moving train of technology, luxury, over-eating, etc, is taking its many passengers toward a deeper relationship with their Creator, their Savior, or whether it intends to propel them blindly towards a darker fate. The world’s bandwagon has a megaphone that proclaims ‘Entertainment,’ ‘Ease,’ ‘Have it your way.’ Eat and drink, for tomorrow you die. Have we believed this message; have we blindly given our lives over to an untrustworthy system; have we jumped on the bandwagon that is leading many away from God’s heart and His eternal purpose?

We must all remember how Jesus lived among us and that He is calling us to live the same way –fully united with His Father’s will rather than fully rooted in the worldly system.

After all, our message is not a popular one just as Jesus’ wasn’t, but we proclaim it boldly and with great faith, for we know and love He who is guiding us.

All that is in the world will come to an end, but those who do the will of God will live forever.

Amen.

Thoughts on the Guatemalan Orphanage Tragedy

Friday evening as everyone was finishing the task of hand-washing their school uniform and getting everything in order after a long day I called a family meeting, something we normally do when there is a specific household issue we need to discuss or important news to be announced. I sent out young messengers to spread the word, and within minutes everyone was sitting in a circle in our rectangular living room – three on our little floral couch, one on an old wicker chair, and everyone else comfortably seated on the floor.

I sat cross-legged with the cool tile underneath me between teenage Brayan and little Gabriela with my laptop in front of me, a tool that does not typically accompany us in a family meeting or in our daily interactions with the kids.

As Darwin prayed to begin the meeting – everyone’s head bowed and eyes closed — out of nowhere a deep sorrow hijacked my emotions and tears suddenly came seeping out of my eyes. Something had been released from deep within me, and there was no stopping it.

Soon enough the prayer ended and everyone began staring at me – for I had called the meeting – and everyone seemed entirely caught off-guard by my tears as my whole body suddenly exhibited an attitude of mourning. Initially I had wanted to share the news article on my computer with our children in order to expand their worldview a bit, but once the moment came to do so, I was overcome with a wave of intense emotions that I couldn’t stave off.

A minute or two later, everyone just staring at me in silence, waiting, I opened up my computer, breathed deeply – trying to chase the sorrow back into its cage deep within my heart and slam the door shut before it tried to escape again – and began reading and explaining a news article that I had read earlier that day. Groping through rattled thoughts for where to start, I said slowly, “I don’t know if you know this, but many children who do not have their biological parents…end up in very dark places…”

In Guatemala, a Central American country that neighbors Honduras, an overcrowded, under-funded state orphanage experienced a fire and close to 40 teenage girls died on Wednesday. That much I had known from the day prior when my husband Darwin verbally shared the news with me, but I had not learned the extent of the details until sitting down to read several online news articles the next day.

In a facility prepared to care for roughly 400 kids and youth, it had been reported that there were close to 800 living there full-time, with 15-19 new children and teens arriving each day. Juvenile offenders – young men who had already gotten mixed up in a life of crime and gangs – lived intermixed with teen girls and child-abuse victims, creating a daily vortex of rape, gang activity within the orphanage walls, and all types of abuse. Death-threats were common among workers. Spoiled food was served to the children due to lack of sufficient government funding. The workers – who by no means were parental figures for the youth – worked 24-hour shifts with one worker for each group of 34 children/teens. (Think crowd control.) Hundreds had escaped over the last few years, and just this past week a group of disgruntled teens began rioting in the orphanage and physically assaulting the workers.

It was amidst this overall chaos that on Tuesday of this past week the riots intensified to such a degree that the Guatemalan police got involved. A group of 52 angry teenage girls who lived in the facility had to be physically detained due to the violence they had been inflicting on the orphanage’s workers, so someone decided to enclose them in a four meter by four-meter classroom under lock and key. Given thin mattresses to sleep on (52 teenage girls in a 16-square-meter space), it is alleged that one of them, in protest, lit one of the mattresses on fire, hoping to get the attention of the police and other authorities who stood close by on the outside of the classroom walls.

The news articles report that the police saw smoke seeping out from under the door and even heard the girls crying for help (they were burning alive), but no one reacted because they thought they were just angry and screaming for attention, as they had been during the prior riots.

Once someone finally unlocked the door, dozens had already burned to death, and others were so wounded that they soon died overnight in the hospital. Doctors and burn-specialists have been flown in from other countries to help treat the severity of the burns of those who are still fighting to survive.

And so this is the news I shared as I wept in front of our children, displaying such raw emotion that on very few occasions I have shown.

They just stared at me uneasily, for their world apart from their biological parents has been us. They have known no overcrowded government-run orphanages; they have known no shift-workers assigned the impossible task of herding mass numbers of severely broken children through the chaotic mazes of life in a place void of truth, of love.

What our kids have known are good-morning and good-night hugs with several other loving acts of touch sprinkled in throughout the day. Three square meals a day; family dinners filled with laughter; individual birthday parties and trips to the local corner store to buy ice cream after having gone to the park. Loving discipline; family and individual prayer; Spirit-led advice constantly at their disposal. Times of discord resolved through healthy confrontations; very firm and careful norms in our household to ensure that no sexual or physical abuse may blossom among siblings; family movie nights. An entire closet-full of clothes, many of which they themselves went to town to pick out; a listening ear from Darwin and I whenever they need it; a whole garrison of spiritual support though various Bible studies, prayer groups, and Christian mentors and psychologists. A family environment of forgiveness in which we all recognize that Christ took on our burden and set us free. Field trips to far-off places like the capital city of Tegucigalpa or a remote desert island off the coast. As our eldest daughter mentioned in her reflection journal, “I consider that God lives in my family.”

As I continued explaining the news article – the dark reality that so many parentless youth not only in Guatemala but around the world experience day after day as ‘normal life’ – I believe perhaps one or two of our older teens grasped at the fringes of what we were trying to communicate. The others looked thoughtful but perhaps not deeply affected.

My heart tore for those Guatemalan youth – not only those who died but all 750+ of the others who survived and have now been shipped off in large groups to other overcrowded orphanages, for we – here in this forgotten corner of the globe far from the public eye – have engaged in this daily battle that many do not even recognize exists. We know how hard it is to save even one, to see even one parentless child set free to actually experience the abundant life that Christ died in order to give us.

This full-on war does not die down – there are no peace treatises with the enemy army or times of rest when you can lay down your shield, your weapons. This is not a physical battle – if only it were that easy! If only it were a matter of removing the child or teen from the environment of abuse to make everything ‘better’! If only it were a matter of granting the child an education, a ‘better life’! When offered an education or the opportunity to follow Christ, the youth so often refuse, have been so confused — so blinded — that they want to return to their suffering!

To receive a teen whose entire family is used to resolving conflicts by utilizing violence – children who have witnessed their own parents be murdered; whose parents taught them to steal – to receive them into the truth; to connect them with a loving God in total submission to Him; this is the battle, and it’s over the long-haul. It is not a matter of shipping them off to a different place or increasing educational funding. It is a spiritual battle.

Oh, this is nothing like a top-secret military mission to break into enemy territory and rescue a suffering comrade from a foreign prison; it is far more intense! It is not a one-time rescue but rather a daily mission – sometimes several times in one day! – of bringing them back into the light; reminding them that their chains have already been broken; calling them once more to faithfulness to a loving God; daily walking alongside of them as we all humbly seek to live a life of forgiveness, justice, and faith that goes directly in contrast with all that the world proclaims.

This spiritual battle is a matter of literally standing at the entrance of Hell – this little rescue shop that God has so strategically placed so close to the flames! – and grabbing those who are on their way in, taking them into our household and then waging war against Satan on their behalf for their salvation, transformation and life. Darwin and I know this – we have the scars, the utter exhaustion to prove it – for 9 youth. Only nine. Nine!

Oh, we have spent ourselves on their behalf, oftentimes through fierce trials, times of intense darkness, times of prolonged prayer and fasting on their behalf. There have been numerous robberies within our own household; depression, accusations and lies have all had to be worked through on the journey towards healing. The battle has been grueling, and it continues each day, for we know that Satan is on the prowl, looking for whom to devour next. And parentless children are oftentimes the easiest prey.

Oh, to battle on behalf of the nine! I cannot imagine 800 who perhaps had no one battling for them. Perhaps no prayer; no good news; no forgiveness. Oh, the times we’ve taken hours to sit down with our teenage girls, listening to their complaints over sometimes petty matters and embracing them in their weeping, praying over them until God’s light once more entered their hearts! And those 52 in flames? The intense, all-out warfare required to save one abandoned teenage girl is a gargantuan task – you must be ready for battle as any seasoned solider trains himself for war. I cannot imagine those 52 who were left in that zoo of sexual abuse, gang activity, and total despair. Utterly parentless and without anyone to light their path.

Yes; Satan preys on parentless children. He loves to do this. We see this all around us in Honduras; those rowdy, sometimes naked little boys who run wild in the streets because Daddy isn’t around and mommy – at best – is at home tending to all her other kids – grow up to be tomorrow’s gang leaders, their hands steeped in blood and their thoughts fixed on destruction. When my husband was kidnapped last year by these same young men, their cell-phones blasted Satan-worshipping music as the heavy sounds sang of death. The young men – some of them mere teens — blasted his body with one rod after the other as he lay tied-up in the dirt, them cackling and roaring with laughter.

Children who do not have parents very frequently end up in very dark places and are then used by Satan to drag others into those same dark places. We know this too well.

To take a young woman whose mother, older sisters and extended female relatives are all prostitutes, and to look her in the eyes day after day – embrace her with God’s love! – and say, “God wants to adopt you as His daughter; and He is calling you to walk in purity. This is the path before you; walk in it in honor of your Father and your future husband.” Oh, this battle will never make the news headlines, but it is far more intense than a simple overseas raid, a fight for petroleum and world power! To win that battle against evil strongholds deep within the heart of that young woman is taxing beyond measure and valuable beyond rubies.

To take a child or teen – any among the multitudes! – and to cup them in your hands and say, “You. God has chosen you to worship His name, to serve Him unto the ends of the earth” in a culture that screams, “You! You will love money! You! You there! You have been destined to love pornography – or to love world travel or or pleasure or food or to love yourself! Yeah! Worship yourself! You deserve it! Bow down at the altar of Ego!”

This – this act of warfare against all that is untrue is where the true battle for humanity’s redemption lies. Truth pushing back the darkness, and just as any soldier who goes to battle on enemy territory must be prepared for anything, so, too, is the spiritual walk with Christ — being used by Him in enemy territory to set the captives free. Light in the darkness of the human heart, so used to being fooled by Satan’s lies.

And so, the breaking news of the 52 teen girls who were enclosed under lock and key, dozens of whom burned to death, is not a question of shaking our finger at the orphanage director or scolding the Guatemalan government for not having given them adequate funding (that is the problem with third world countries – even if they wanted to grant adequate funding, there is no money to do so), but rather to look deep at the absolute chaos that ensues when humanity lives completely given over to the lies of Satan. The lie that sex is not only for marriage – it is for anyone, anywhere, and we all deserve it. Boom. A young woman is pregnant because someone believed that lie. She never wanted to be a mother; the father is already gone. Who will raise the child? Perhaps she, but poorly, or – better yet, she thinks – she will give it to the orphanage so that she may continue living her life, which is replete with despair and lies to begin with. The child is then received as one of the 800 in a total zoo of sin and darkness, quickly being absorbed in that vortex of abuse, anger, and total confusion. Then, events such as the ones that happened last week are understood as just one manifestation of the human destruction that has already been happening around the globe for fatherless children for ages.

We have been studying closely with our children and all of our students over the past few weeks in our twice-weekly Bible study that the human being is the crown of all creation, the final touch to God’s creative work; we are the image-bearers! Satan is so obsessed with our destruction precisely due to that fact; he understands that we are the closest thing to God’s heart, that Father God so longs to have us as His children, His bride, His eternal companions. The human being was designed by a loving God to fulfill the ultimate purpose of being an instrument of that same love – to love God and to love one another! When that love is taken away – when a child or teen grows up without knowing that love, without receiving it, hearing it and experiencing it day after day — the worst of all tragedies happens. Broken image-bearers, cut off from their very life source, aliens to the love that they were destined to enjoy and share. Total human destruction.

After sharing the news Friday evening in our living room, my long legs pulled up to my chest as I sat on that tile floor, I spoke once more, looking at each of our kids in the eyes: “We will never know why, but for some reason – by God’s grace – He has placed each of you here rather than in a place like where those 800 lived.” Dark images darted uninvited across my mind as I imagined each of our of kids in a place like that, possibly even locked in that small room when that fire started. I breathed deeply and chased the thoughts away, for they were unbearable to consider.

What I did not say – what I felt was so obvious that I had to leave it unsaid, for I wanted them to arrive at the conclusion for themselves – was, “Now, react to God’s grace with gratitude. Serve Him joyfully, with thanksgiving overflowing from your heart. Do not murmur; never complain.”

Oh, they complain about the smallest of things! A nasty root of complaints has sprouted up among them in the last few weeks – everyone is rolling their eyes; this and that is ‘unfair;’ our kids are quick to judge, to accuse, to murmur. Just the day prior our 9-year-old Jason sat down to cry as I listened to him. His vision was so blurred by Satan’s lies as he complained about this and that, openly insulting Darwin and I. How unfair it is that his sister gets to play violin and he only gets to play piano! How terrible we are as parents that we let his older sisters go over to their friends’ house to play but he has to stay in our spacious yard to play soccer with his brothers! He wept, his brow furrowed and his little arms crossed as he fired great missiles at me for being a bad parent.

Son! Open your eyes.

That – our children’s ungratefulness towards God’s grace, His provision, His love and commitment displayed toward them day after day through us – is perhaps what had me by the throat more than anything else. But I said nothing, only prayed. Lord, open their eyes; illuminate their minds with Your truth. Enable them to worship You, to live a lifestyle of thanks.

And so the meeting came to a close several minutes later. Once more we bowed our heads to pray. Through tears I asked God to raise up our children to be the future parents to children and teens such as those who were in the overpacked orphanage. More than increased food provisions or better education they need Christ-centered parents who will walk with them – fight for them – on the narrow, beautiful path to freedom as sons and daughters of the living God. And in today’s world there aren’t many volunteers.

The prayer came to a close; everyone got up and left, possibly not deeply affected. I went to my cave-like little bathroom to sit on the light green rug and be alone. As I sat there several minutes, still pushing my full weight up against that inner dungeon door as the beast fought to break lose, I sensed that God spoke to me: “Just as I told my prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute so that he would come to intimately understand how I feel with unfaithful humanity, I have told you and Darwin to take in these children and teens – to love them as your own, to sacrifice your life and personal freedom in order to serve them – so that you can come to know first-hand how I feel with ungrateful, blind humanity. I who rescued all of you from the punishment you deserved – eternal life is at your fingertips if only you trust in My Son! – very rarely receive thanks. Rather, humanity – even those who have been adopted as my sons and daughters, those who trust in My name! – spend their days complaining, murmuring over the slightest of inconveniences. May gratitude and thanksgiving explode from within you! This is my message to You: never complain!

Moments later I arrived in our living room, for we had a family movie on our schedule for that evening. The kids bounced about, wildly gleeful, as I numbly chose the movie and got the laptop prepared on a small stool in front of where we would all be sitting – some on the small floral-print couch and others on a thin mattress that we had dragged out from one of the bedrooms to put on the floor. This is our weekly movie theater. I saw the movie – 12-year-old Josselyn with her head resting on my shoulder to my right and Darwin sprawled out to my left with my back resting against Jackeline’s legs who sat above and behind me on the couch – in a daze, still trying to make sense of the whole burning incident, its implications, and what God was trying to communicate to my heart.

The movie finished, and we sent everyone to brush their teeth. 13-year-old Jackeline, of course, complained. How terrible it is to brush your teeth! We gave everyone their good-night hug – it was already after 9:00pm, way past our normal Sabbath hour – and began walking them towards their respective bedrooms. I entered little Gabriela’s room as she stood right there in the middle of the floor looking sour. Her arms were crossed defensively and her little bottom lip was strategically sticking out in rebellion.

I touched her shoulder and mustered in the nicest tone possible: “Gaby, it’s time for bed. Tomorrow you’ll be getting up early to go into town with Dad, so you need to rest.”

Sure enough, as has become customary among the human race, she began complaining. I felt as though her murmuring sent long knives deep into my bones as raw images of the darkness in that Guatemalan orphanage flashed through my mind. Yes; it is so unfair to have to go to sleep in your own clean bed in the room you share with your biological sister after a day of classes, fun activities and a family movie! Yes; it is time to complain! We must complain!

I bit my lip, fighting off those images of little girls just like Gaby in that hellish orphanage who daily live under a dark cloak of sexual abuse, over-burdened shift workers, death threats and spoiled food. I helped her up into her top bunk and gently pushed her bangs back in order to kiss her forehead as she avoided eye contact and continued with the puckered-lip rebellion.

Closing the padlock on that deep dungeon door, the beast of sorrow raging about but contained, I gently called for her eye contact and, once I had it, I simply said, “Gaby, please know that God has rescued you; He loves you and He deserves your praise. Please don’t complain. Be grateful, little one, for all that He has done for you.” I repented in my heart, for in her own refusal to give thanks to God I saw myself on so many occasions.

Her facial expression didn’t change, but her eyes did drill mine. I ran my fingers through her hair once more, told her I loved her, and left the room.

The following night (which was yesterday), I sat on a cushion in our bedroom, the lights turned off as three little candle flames danced silently, giving our room a very calm, inviting look. I was reading the book Jesus Calling, thoughts still consumed with all that the Guatemalan tragedy could teach us. 12-year-old Gleny, who had spent the day in town in a local art school and then on a trip to the beach with Darwin and several of her siblings, appeared energetically in our doorway.

“Hi Mom! Can I come in and give you a hug?” She could barely contain her excitement, as I could tell she had had a good day. I smiled big and waved her in. My Wild Gleny who arrived at our home as a pint-sized ball of explosive emotions – I marveled at her in that soft candle light, as I do everyday. So tall; now more mature, calmer. Loving. Happy. I briefly imagined her at the overcrowded orphanage; I imagined all the other little girls who are just as much made in God’s image as her who are in the other orphanage. The beast within me rattled its cage, and I quickly tucked the keys into some remote safe.

This is the testimony God has given me to share right now. There are many different lessons that one can take from the tragic events that happened in the Guatemalan orphanage. Please pray with us for the survivors – those hundreds of children who have now been shipped to other large facilities where they will likely continue onward toward adulthood without ever experiencing the life grounded in love as God designed it. Pray, too, for our children who live with us – that their eyes would be opened to the marvelous grace of God that has saved them from having been in that burning room or having to fight daily for survival in a large institution such as the ones that many children and teens around the globe live in. Lastly, pray with us that God would raise up more people to go and be parents to the orphaned, abandoned and lost children and youth around the globe. This is a beautiful calling, and its importance cannot be overstated.

Let us all be thankful to God and give Him the praises He deserves. He is good and His love endures forever! Amen.

“God Lives In My Family”: Reflections From Our Eldest Daughter

A year-and-a-half ago I published a reflection on our very intense, heavily blessed journey with our now-16-year-old daughter Dayana, the eldest of the children we are fostering who we are in the process of legally adopting along with her younger siblings.

Now, nearly four years into our journey with her, I am publishing not my thoughts regarding our relationship but rather hers. Earlier today as I was waist-deep in finishing the process of weeding through the many stapled booklets of our students’ handwritten reflections, seeking small golden nuggets of wisdom and compelling stories — traces of God’s active work in their lives — I found myself fully absorbed by hers. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the 150+ pages of our other students’ journals, but this blog I will dedicate to the developing thoughts of a young woman whom my husband and I treasure more than she will ever know and alongside of whom we have fought tooth and nail for her salvation and transformation.

She is currently one of our top 8th-grade students in our small, discipleship-based homeschool program, and Darwin and I actively serve as her math, English, Bible and music teachers in addition to sharing with her the daily rhythms of family life in a large, mixed household.

The following paragraphs are separate excerpts taken from her 22-page stapled reflection journal written last month.

Dayana with her little biological brother Jason, who has also been living in our family since November 2013.

 

I give thanks to God because He has given me a big family full of love in Christ. What we do really well in my family is that whenever there is good or bad news to be shared, we communicate well…I consider that God lives in my family. We are all growing in the love and faith of the only King.

I have so many dreams for my life as an adult. I want to earn two college degrees: Architecture and Music. Another dream is that of helping needy people; be a counselor for youth and adults in accordance with God’s Word; raise children who do not have the protection of their [biological] parents; exercise the gifts the Lord has given me; be my children’s teacher and that of others; marry a man who serves Christ; be a writer or poet; write my own music; be a good wife and mom; show God’s love to the world; offer help free of charge to people who need help cleaning and organizing their homes; go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the truth about God; be an art teacher; be fully submitted to God’s will; live in England or Brazil (but now that I think about it, I will need to live fairly close to my parents so that they can take care of their grandchildren when my husband and I go on dates!); acquire love for my enemies…I can achieve these goals, but if they are not used for the good, it is as if they were never achieved. May it be God who guides my future and my dreams. Everything in God’s hands is good.

Knowing God and having a relationship with Him is not only about saying “I’m a Christian,” but about recognizing our sin and repenting with all our heart. I am a human being and fail every day, but I examine myself and repent. I love God and trust Him. He loves us, and we can prove His love because He sent His only Son to die for us. We do not deserve His forgiveness, but He loves us enough to extend His forgiveness to us. He is my everything.

I am studying at the Living Waters Ranch high school by my own free will. I truly want to be prepared to confront all that lies ahead in today’s world…If we look closely at the local public schools [in Honduras], they do not offer an adequate education, whereas here [at home] I do receive one…I am here to grow in God’s will; may God guide me in my learning, and may all that I learn be for His glory and in honor of Him.

A recent experience I’ve learned from was that of Sandra’s escape. Through that situation I’ve learned not to run away when things are difficult; God has not given us a spirit of cowardice. The whole situation was very difficult because I love her as a sister…God did great things [when we went to visit her the night she was found], and He used me in a great way. She talked with me at length, and I counseled her. I give thanks to God because He gave me the right words according to the truth in order to counsel her. If we run away, we are turning our back on God. Anything could have happened to Sandra, but God protected her. God is using the gift of leadership that He’s given me. 

…My parents have heavily impacted my life. They have not only been parents but have also been my counselors and teachers. They have shown me their love, something that not all parents do. I have had many struggles, but even so they love me. They correct me; they discipline me; they give me advice; they love me. Each day I am walking with them towards God. They have taught me to not fear in this world, to love others without taking notice of their defects, to walk in the light, to not lie, and to protect myself for my future husband…

My whole family is Christian by God’s grace. The majority of us have been baptized. We have all confessed our sin; we have repented. In other words, my family is worshipping God. Something that I have present in my mind and that we should all have present is that they [my family] are not going to save me when I am standing before God’s throne. Just because my family is Christian does not mean that they respond for me. No; we all have the responsibility to choose whether we follow God or not.

A terribly silly photo my dad took of Darwin and I with our 8 kids when he visited us in January (Sandra was not present at the taking of the photo). What a goofy crowd!

 

Please continue to pray with us for Dayana’s continued transformation and renewal; may she daily grow in her love of Christ as He continues to liberate her from the many chains of her past. Let us thank God for the powerful testimony He has already begun etching out in her, and may Darwin and I be granted great perseverance, faith and hope as we continue onward in our journey parenting her for God’s good pleasure. Amen!

January/February 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Teaching and Mentoring Responsibilities Evenly Distributed Among Team Members

Darwin and I along with the 5 faithful Christian laborers the Lord has placed alongside of us this year are evenly sharing the many daily responsibilities to teach and guide the 40+ youth in our homeschool-style program. This year we’ve added many new classes and extracurricular clubs such as: Agriculture, Advanced English, Carpentry, four different levels of math and reading classes according to each student’s capability, Advanced Music Theory, Sewing, Thought and Logic, Dance, after-school tutoring and others. I am currently directing the twice-weekly Bible study along with advanced math class, high-school-level art club, P.E., after-school tutoring for older students, and one afternoon per week of detention (think extreme military training for the kids who didn’t do their homework). Darwin is teaching 5th and 6th grade elementary school (combined homeschool-style in our dining room), piano club, basic and advanced music theory/recorder, advanced English, P.E., and Level 3 reading in addition to guiding a group of young men in our twice-weekly prayer groups. It has been very exhilarating thus far as we’ve implemented new classes and styles of teaching to better meet our students’ complex needs. Each Christian laborer is responsible for various groups of students each day, and thus far our new method is working seamlessly. We praise God for our new system of education as He’s been guiding us one step at a time over the last two years to make necessary changes, add new dynamics, etc in this beautiful effort to teach and disciple youth on the far margins of society for His glory.

michelle
This is Michelle, a 10-year-old student in first grade at the Living Waters Ranch.

 

geraldina1
This is Geraldina, Sandra’s mom who makes everything run in the kitchen. I caught her off guard with my request to take a photo of her earlier this week, but she was quick to strike a pose! She is now in her second year of having separated from her abusive husband, and she is faithfully seeking the Lord’s will for her and her four children as she valiantly seeks new, healthier beginnings.

Erick and Aracely Move to El Pino to Minister to Local Youth

Erick, who served alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch in 2014 and returned full-time as a teacher/mentor as of last month, has moved to our rural neighborhood with his wife and two young children so as to participate more fully in the ministry to the local youth who visit the Living Waters Ranch during daytime hours for discipleship and schooling. The house he is renting is strategically placed on the same block as roughly a dozen of the youth in our school, and he and his wife have opened their doors after-hours (nights and weekends) to form relationships with many of the teenage boys in our school who live close to them. He and his wife have taken tremendous God-directed initiative in our group effort to relationally disciple the many youth who the Lord is bringing to the Ranch, and we are thrilled that now our students have another safe, loving married couple to turn to on nights and weekends when Darwin and I are with the 10 who live with us. Erick is in the process of starting a Bible study in his home on Sunday nights for the youth, and he’s already begun taking several of them to church with him on the weekends. This type of initiative to reach out to lost youth in such a self-sacrificing way (giving up time with his family or to rest) is almost nonexistent in our neighborhood, and we are so thrilled that he and his wife are exhibiting such commitment to the Lord’s call on their lives. Please pray with us that the Lord would sustain and encourage them in their efforts, and that the many seeds that are being planted would give a great crop for God’s glory.

joel
This is 13-year-old Joel, a new student to the Living Waters Ranch. He had spent six years of his life in the public education system in our rural neighborhood without learning to read and write, so he is now on the second-grade level with us. He is a very special young many who is very immature for his age and struggles with learning disabilities, and God is teaching us many things through our relationship with him.
reina
This is Reina, a new local teacher who signed on to serve at the Living Waters Ranch this year. She has extensive experience teaching small children, so she has been an incredible blessing to our small group of rag-tag first grade students in addition to the academic support she gives to the teenagers at the Living Waters Ranch. She is typically very reserved and professional, so when she struck this pose, we were all shocked! Way to go!

Missionary Couple from Guatemala Trains the Team of Servants at the Living Waters Ranch

An American missionary couple who has been serving God in children’s ministry in Guatemala (a Central American country that neighbors Honduras) for several years came to stay at the Living Waters Ranch for a couple nights in January as they held intensive training sessions for our team of 7 Christian laborers (including Darwin and I). The couple has many years of experience working as Christian psychologists with severely abused and hurting children, so they freely shared their experiences and know-how with us so that our efforts to love and teach the children might bear great fruit for God’s glory. (Facilitating this training session was part of our 3-week process of team training in preparation to begin the new school year.)

sefora
This is 12-year-old Sefora, one of our new students who we’ve known since 2014 through Darwin’s youth choir. She is in art club, Christian Leadership, agriculture and academic support tutoring in addition to being one of our 7th grade students.

 

josue
This is 8-year-old Josue, our special-needs son who has been living with us a little over two years. He is our faithful ‘assistant’ and loves being involved in the many physical education activities and group games we offer. He has recently made great strides as he’s learned nearly overnight to use the bathroom and now has almost no need of the diapers he previously dirtied several times per day. He is also expanding his vocabulary rapidly (although he has his own ‘language’) and is developing better motor skills. We are so proud of him!

Gabriela’s Ongoing Healing Process

Little Gabriela, who we had guessed might be about 8 years old (she has no birth certificate or hospital records) is probably actually 10 or 11 years old because her body has recently begun entering the puberty process. We are honestly very scared about this because she is mentally and emotionally about 4 years old and daily struggles with many behavioral issues that a very small child would display. We urgently and humbly seek prayer regarding her continued healing process as the scars her sexually abusive step-father left in her life are deep. She daily struggles with basic personal hygiene norms, has extreme difficulties learning and does not play easily with the other children. Compared to where she was when she arrived in our family a year-and-a-half ago, she has come a very long way on the path to recapturing innocence, developing better motor skills and learning about a good God, but the path before her is still very long and uncertain. Pray for Darwin and I, that we may maintain great hope in God for her full recovery and that we may daily manifest God’s perfect love and patience with her in the midst of many trying moments.

charlie
This is 14-year-old Charlie, one of our students from last year who did not pass his grade due to  irresponsibility and lack of preparation. We love him dearly and are so proud of him. He’s returned to our 7th grade program this year and is now shining as one of our most consistent students. He is in Darwin’s prayer group, advanced music theory class, piano, art club and advanced English. He tends to struggle a bit academically but is very gifted in the arts. He is one of the students who was baptized last year, and he continues faithfully to seek the Lord’s will for his life.

 

cristian
This is 15-year-old Cristian, one of our spunky fifth grade students who was baptized last year. He is in Darwin’s twice-per-week prayer group and participates in piano, agriculture, dance and logic classes each week in addition to academic classes. He and his four siblings who study with us are the first ones in their family to enjoy an education, as their parents and the majority of their relatives are illiterate and never studied beyond third grade.

Prayer Requested to Expedite the Adoption Process

We have been actively involved in the legal adoption process of siblings Dayana (16), Gleny (12) and Jason (9) for roughly a year, and there has been almost zero progress, which is not surprising in Honduras. My legal residency status took nearly four years to get, so we are prepared to wait actively in this process as well. We ask that you would pray with us that the process would be expedited in Jesus’ name; that all the lawyers, judges and local government authorities involved would review our paperwork in an effective manner and that the three adoptions would come to completion this calendar year. God has planted the desire in us to begin the same adoption process with 15-year-old Brayan, so we ask for prayers as many legal ‘balls’ are being juggled at once.

genesis2
This is 15-year-old Genesis, the new addition to our household who moved from the other side of the country in response to the opportunity to study at the Living Waters Ranch. In the desert-like rural region she grew up in there are very few opportunities to study on the secondary level, and the education given is very poor. She’s been with us nearly a month and is actively involved in all the activities offered at the Ranch. Please continue to pray with us for her and the rest of our family as there are still many adjustments to be made/storms to be weathered as we establish a new ‘normal’ with ten kids/teens in our household.

 

eber
This is 17-year-old Eber, one of the oldest students in our high school. He is normally extremely shy, so he surprised us all when he struck this rather expressive (and scary!) pose. He is a slow learner and has struggled in his first few weeks in an environment with such strict discipline, homework expectations, etc, but Darwin has been faithful to go out and get him each time he’s gotten discouraged. Many young men his age in our area are involved in delinquent gangs, already have children or ‘wives’ or simply wander around on their bicycles all day without any direction in their lives, so we are very proud of him and thankful to God that Eber is with us. God has already begun speaking to him in a powerful way through our Bible studies and prayer groups, and he is in the beginning stages of transformation for God’s glory.

 

Gleny (12) and Dayana (16) Return to Art Class

Gleny and Dayana, biological sisters who have been living with us nearly three-and-a-half years, last month returned to a local art school every Saturday as we seek to develop the ‘hidden treasures’ (gifts, abilities and interests) in them. Gleny in particular is thrilled to the moon and back to be in the art class, and we give thanks to God for the local Christian woman who runs the school and serves as another very positive influence in our girls’ lives. The goal of having our girls in this class is to equip them with a diverse skill set (including musical training that they receive at home) that they will be able to use in their future to acquire gainful employment and/or to serve God and others.

yefri
This is 11-year-old Jeffrey, who is currently in first grade with us after having spent the majority of his life until now being a vagabond in our rural neighborhood. God is taming this ‘wild man’ with His love, and he’s learning healthy limits through his daily participation in our discipleship-focused homeschool at the Living Waters Ranch. Two of his older brothers are also in our school after having spent a large portion of their life without direction.

 

sindy
This is 13-year-old Sindy, one of our returning students who is now in 8th grade. She is one of the first people in her family to study on the high-school level, and she is currently participating in piano club with Darwin, agriculture classes, advanced music theory, and English classes in addition to the twice-weekly Bible studies that all students participate in and normal academic classes. She got the giggles when I started taking pictures of her!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

Depraved Humanity Loves to Judge Depraved Humanity: A Word to be Shared

Last weekend I struggled through one of those long, sleepless nights. I tossed and turned, thoughts bouncing and racing here and there until I finally got up in the wee hours of the morning to use the little restroom that connects onto the bedroom that my husband and I share.

Arms outstretched to feel my way toward the open doorway as my feet felt about carefully in the darkness, I suddenly took three quick, bounding steps and shot out an open palm to flip on the lightbulb in our bathroom. My trip thus far had been a success, for I hadn’t stepped on a scorpion. In and around our house they seem to come out, especially at night, and have oftentimes been found in the middle of my nightly path, in our bed with us, or inside the roll of toilet paper. Every time I get up in the middle of the night my blind feet wonder if they’ll accidentally find one.

As I flicked on that simple exposed bulb, suddenly shedding an extreme amount of light on tired eyes, something else flicked on inside of me: judgment. In a tiny corner of our sleeping cinderblock house in the foothills of some forgotten mountains in a country very few people desire to live in, my thoughts took a direct, unexpected turn toward a certain situation my husband and I were witnessing from afar, and I began to judge the situation – or rather the people involved.

As if on autopilot, I began engaging internally in the act of casting judgment, and I felt justified (as all judges do) in my opinion. It was clear to me that so-and-so had done wrong, and I began playing that delightful (dangerous) little game of judgment as I ruminated on the very few details I actually had about the situation. Couldn’t sleep; didn’t have the mental energy to get up and begin working on the computer or read the Bible. But judge? Oh, sure. At any hour.

The one-sided court case in my mind jumped to the ‘guilty’ verdict after a split-second-long hearing when something suddenly pierced me.

They were words that came out of nowhere, that shot right through the chaos of the courtroom and silenced me and all the other lawyers who backed me up. The din of judgment calmed, disappeared entirely in an instant.

Get off My throne.

I suddenly felt naked in that courtroom, ashamed. I had assumed the throne that wasn’t mine. I had dared to pass judgment on those who are the same as I. Depraved humanity loves to judge depraved humanity – one liar scoffing at another’s lies, one big ego pointing an accusatory finger at another’s bold egotism.

I understood and repented, still surprised by how clearly that word had reached me. My shame and shock were immediately replaced by joy and thankfulness, for He who is on the throne is a perfect, just judge, abounding in mercy and quick to forgive all who seek Him humbly. Scripture even tells us that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, acting as a lawyer on our behalf! And not a lawyer seeking to condemn but rather to redeem, to liberate. Thank you, Father, that You are the judge. The only trustworthy judge in the whole universe.

Feeling humbled in God’s presence and assured in His love, I quickly glanced at the short path to my destination, checking one last time for scorpions. I then turned off the bathroom light and returned bounding tip-toe-style to our small double-sized bed and crawled up and under our blanket, still in awe of what had just happened.

As I curled up in a small ball, an old pillow wedged between my knees in the pitch black room, I thought it a very special occasion that God would speak to me so clearly and so piercingly. I felt I was to share that bare revelation with others and began wondering how. Was I to plan next week’s Bible study around the theme of not judging others, for when we do so we falsely assume God’s throne as if we were the judge, denying Him?

My thoughts ruminated on this one question of how and when to share the word I received, for I felt He had spoken it to me not only for my own instruction but also for that of others. The wee morning hours dragged on as I searched in my heart what to do. Surely this throne-robbing is a habit that runs rampant among the human race, causing division, accusations and inflated egotism where Father God intends sacrificial love to reign. This word must be shared.

The following day my husband Darwin took our 10 kids (yes, the newcomer Genesis from the other side of the country arrived safe and sound and Sandra is still with us, transforming our 8 live-ins into 10) to the nearby city of La Ceiba for a day of music lessons, paint class, a trip to the beach and a day of errands and fun as I stayed at home planning the upcoming week, reading page after page of our local students’ journal collections and generally getting waist-deep in administrative tasks that simply can’t be done when our kids are at home with us. Several times I considered in my heart what to do with the word God had spoken to me earlier that morning, but I sensed I should wait. He would show me when the time comes.

And, sure enough, when our old pickup rolled through our gate with several little (but actually rather big) people hanging off the back with bright neon backpacks and big wind-blown hair, I went out to greet our increasingly large family that I had not seen for several hours that day. The boys greeted me warmly along with our younger girls, but several of our teen girls (yes; we have many!) seemed put-off. I wondered what had happened.

Moments later, as everyone began filtering into our beloved little home with its large front porch, I found one of our girls in the bathroom close to tears. Another one seemed to be eyeing the sad one from a safe distance. Then, out of nowhere, a clan of three powerful young women came marching toward me and asked to talk in private. I could already sense where this was going, for we have been in (and successfully resolved) situations like these more times than I could count.

It had been a long, productive day and I was on the brink of sending everyone to bed for our family’s Sabbath Hour so that we could all get a little bit of rest after an incredibly demanding week (as they all seem to be), so I hesitated for an instant before finally agreeing to invite them into our bedroom to sit cross-legged on the tile floor with me and get to the root of whatever was happening. Better to get it all out and resolve the problem now rather that let it fester until tomorrow.

Our three girls sat down huffing and puffing, fire just about spewing from their ears as they began openly and rather aggressively sharing with me their complaints regarding their other sisters. There had been team-forming, back-stabbing, hurt feelings and the like. The balance of powers (and friendships) had gone quite off-kilter with the sudden arrivals of 16-year-old Sandra and 15-year-old Genesis, and now it seemed like each one was wondering where they fit on the totem pole and who their closest ally was.

I thanked them for trusting me enough to share all their hurt with me, and then I told them that I would be inviting our other big girls in the room to join us – those whom these three had marked as ‘perpetrators’ – for we have a rule in our house that if someone has a problem or misunderstanding with someone else, everyone involved must be present to resolve the situation together to avoid any back-stabbing, gossiping or further misunderstandings. This also facilitates the forgiveness process and allows for everyone to pray together for peace and for God’s love to abound among us. (This is a weekly and sometimes daily process in our household – facilitating healthy confrontations among irate siblings, sometimes taking up to an hour or two to listen patiently to both parties and then, once everyone is calm, seek together a God-honoring solution. These many, many episodes of conflict resolution have been a secret, powerful ingredient that has enabled us to experience ongoing, deeply rooted joy and love in Christ in a highly mixed household whose inhabitants come from dysfunctional, abusive families.)

So there they sat, all five closed off and ready to attack. Several cried. Each one took their turn to share their point of view. Without fail, each and every one said essentially the same thing, although they themselves were blind to that fact: I felt rejected by you, so then I began rejecting you. I saw you hanging out with so-and-so, and I misinterpreted your actions to mean that you no longer loved me, so then I closed my heart off to you and began rejecting you as I perceived that you had rejected me.

Nearly an hour passed as everyone began winding down. Each person had taken their turn – many turns – and they had said all they had to say. They still had a little bit of fight left in them but their strength was largely fading due to the intense emotional sharing. Everyone had talked; everyone had listened. This is almost always my cue to begin talking (once they’ve finished), so I looked around our tight-knit circle with a soft smile on my face as I saw tired, but open faces. It was getting late, and the rest of our household was already quietly tucked into their bedrooms as my husband waited patiently on the couch in our living room. He didn’t dare enter the female battlefield of roller-coaster emotions, jealousy and teenage insecurity, and I didn’t blame him.

I could read our girls’ faces. They knew that they had nothing else to share — they had already told me that — so they thought, shrugging their tired shoulder,  ‘Why not take a few minutes at the end of the battle to listen to Mom? At least we know she has good intentions and wants to help – after all, we sought her out – and we know that she doesn’t take sides, even if each team is actively recruiting her.’

And, as if in an instant of revelation, I suddenly knew exactly what to share. My experience with God the night prior in the bathroom. Were not our girls blinded by their own judgment, just as I had been? Were they not each grabbing at God’s throne, desperate to assume to role of ‘Judge’ so they could stamp a ‘guilty’ verdict on each of their sisters, when they had all participated in the same gossiping, the same emotional warfare? How can one judge the other when they all do the same things? Yes; this was the moment God had chosen to share this word.

And so I did. Carefully, and with great detail and focus. Our girls seemed captivated and intrigued, for it seemed as though I had changed the subject entirely. After all, I was talking about my own struggle with judgment (for they had yet to understand that it was also their struggle). What does Mom’s late-night trip to the bathroom have to do with me?

This apparent change in focus disarmed them completely as they allowed themselves to be wrapped up in the moment. My voice soft and filled with overflowing excitement, I told them, “All day I’ve been wondering how to share this word and with whom, and now I understand that God intends this word for you. In the midst of my judgment last night – swept up just as you are now, casting judgment on others without even having all the information necessary to make a fair verdict – God’s voice pierced my spirit:

…Get off My throne.”

A silent gasp engulfed the entire room as I believe that same word that snatched me from my own inner courtroom the night before likewise liberated our girls in an instant. For the first time in perhaps the whole day – in the midst of emotional warfare, hurt feelings, judgment and back-stabbing – each one suddenly understood exactly what had been at play. They had each assumed the throne that was never theirs to assume: they had observed a negative glance or the unavailability of their sisters and quickly passed judgment, stamped a guilty verdict, assumed the all-powerful position of ‘Judge.’

I continued. “Even the best of lawyers and judges – having conducted very thorough investigations – will never have all the details. Did you know that many people are sentenced to prison each year without having committed the crime they were accused of? There have been studies that have shown that some people have wasted away – years of their life gone forever – in a jail cell, but the lawyers and judges were wrong. Or biased. Or they simply didn’t have all the information. There is only one Judge, and He’s perfect. We can trust Him, and the throne is His. It will never be ours –“

13-year-old Jackeline, who had been extremely heated and put-off only moments prior, added, eyes wide and sincere: “…We must get off His throne…”

With that new revelation alive among us, quickly the girls one after another began asking forgiveness and we prayed together before everyone finally went off to bed with a lightness, a joy that was far from them earlier that day. I smiled and thanked God in my heart.

Since then our 12-year-old daughter Josselyn shared with me in the ensuing days that God stopped her in her tracks as she began judging in her heart. She came up to me with wide eyes and her unkempt black hair one afternoon: “God just spoke to me! I had begun judging someone in my heart, and suddenly I heard, ‘Get off My throne.’”

13-year-old Jackeline shared with me several days later that during a visit with her biological family members, the adults present began a rather aggressive disagreement, each one casting judgment on the other, and she spoke up boldly, “Get off of God’s throne! Each of you is judging the other, but God is the only true judge!” Her family members, who are not Christians, just looked at her oddly, but they did calm down.

I thank God once more for this word He shared with me, and I hope it helps you in your daily life. There is only one Judge, and He is trustworthy! The throne is occupied!

Amen! Glory to God!

Full House: the Daring Practice of Christ-like Hospitality

About a week ago during our family’s daily ‘Sabbath Hour’ — the whole house covered in a precious blanket of silence, our kids peacefully in their rooms while our candle’s small flame danced soundlessly along our bedroom’s dark walls after a long day — my phone suddenly rang.

It was not too late to receive a phone call — about 8:00pm or so — but when your whole household is on its feet and showering at 4:45am and all day is spent meeting the needs of dozens of very precious, needy people (of all ages), any phone call received after nightfall seems like a bad prank.

I continued brushing my teeth in the little cave-like bathroom that connects to our bedroom, standing idly in my large, baggy pajamas as Darwin reached for the phone. After a quick verbal exchange, he held the phone out to me — a gift I did not want to receive — and informed me, somewhat confused, “It’s Genesis from Choluteca.”

Choluteca is one of Honduras’ 18 regions and is located at the other geographical extreme of our small Central American country. Darwin, three of our kids and I had gone there on a mission trip with our faith community back in January 2015 and then again once more in the ensuing months. The drive to that arid, destitute part of our country takes about 10-11 hours, and the people there are steeped in a poverty that is even more harsh than that of our wounded and limping neighborhood on the northern coast. Many of the people have only corn to eat and are without electricity and running water.

I accepted the phone hesitantly, still trying to grasp exactly who was on the other end and why on earth they would be calling after two full years of zero contact. I answered wearily only to be greeted by an extremely polite, upbeat female voice.

She began asking how our daughters were (by name) and how my husband and I had been. About five minutes into our conversation it dawned on me: this was Genesis, the young 13-year-old teen whose father was a devout believer and had so graciously received us in their home during our stay in their village. I suddenly remembered the instant connection we had had with her — especially that of the friendship our daughters Gleny and Dayana had formed with her — and how we had marveled at her maturity, faith and dogged work ethic. I remember having been very impressed by the young woman while we worked alongside of her, and I had left a letter for her inviting her to come visit us in the future if the opportunity presented itself.

With that lightbulb suddenly aglow in my mind — remembering who I was conversing with — I tip-toed over to our older girls’ bedroom (breaking the delicate Sabbath Hour with my loud phone conversation), and joyfully handed the phone over to Dayana and Gleny to greet their long lost friend and sister in Christ.

After talking at length with our girls, Genesis talked with Darwin and then again with me. Now probably 15 years old, she informed me that she was not currently studying because the educational opportunities — especially on the secondary level — in her region are extremely limited, and her family did not currently have the economic means to find other educational options for her.

Our joyful conversation came to an end and, well, we hung up the phone. Suddenly our little house fell back into that beautiful silent void as my husband and I just stared at each other from across our cozy, nearly dark bedroom. The little flame kept its rhythm as it lapped at the darkness.

Should I say it? No, right? I felt like God was urging me to speak, but it seemed in my best (selfish) interest to keep quiet. Who to obey?

After a moment or two passed, my voice suddenly came out, like a soft but very focused missile, as I felt I must speak so as not to fall into cowardice.

“I feel like God wants us to extend Genesis the invitation to come study in our school and live with us.”

Really? Now? How absurd! Had I not just that same morning ruminated over the current status of our very full household, giving thanks to God for the 8 precious little (and increasingly big) ones he’s placed with us, convinced in my heart that no one else would be added to the tribe this year?

Darwin just smiled, as I believe God has spoken the same instruction to his own heart. We talked briefly — about a minute or two — and then decided to call her back and extend the invitation. She is our sister in Christ, desires to study and grow but has had no open doors, and she suddenly calls us out of nowhere for the first time in two years. And we just happen to have an extra bed in our older girls’ room and are prepping to begin our second year with our discipleship-based high school. How could we possibly deny this was God’s doing? Were we about to cling to our own notions of control, living by sight rather than by faith?

So we called back, she answered, and we extended the invitation. It was received with immediate enthusiasm, and the phone was quickly passed to Genesis’ father and mother, with whom Darwin communicated the logistical details. Both parents were overjoyed and commented to Darwin that they had been praying for this opportunity for years. God was finally answering their plea through our obedience.

We quickly called in Dayana and Gleny, again breaking our family’s Sabbath Hour with news-sharing and late-night group praying. We told them of Genesis’ arrival, and the news was received with two big grins. Once the details were conveyed, 16-year-old Dayana eyed me and asked, “But she is going to study in the local high school, right?”

Darwin and I quickly glanced at one another, confused at her strange remark, and I answered, “Of course not! She’s going to study here. In the Living Waters Ranch. With you.”

Dayana looked uneasy and added, “But she’s going to be in ninth grade.”

My jaw just about dropped to the floor as Darwin and I suddenly locked eyes. Ninth grade? But our school only goes up to eighth grade! How had we possibly forgotten to ask her what grade she was going to be in? I suppose we had assumed she was on her way to 7th grade, which is the first year of high school in this country!

A wave of panic slammed us for about an instant before I threw my head back and laughed — of course Father God had hidden that detail from us until now so that our ‘sophisticated’ human wisdom didn’t come into play to reason our way out of obedience! Ha! It would have been all too easy to close the door knowing that we had a logical escape!

Darwin and I along with our two girls suddenly began laughing uncontrollably as we rejoiced in God’s wisdom, which is so much better than our own. Well, I guess we would be getting the books for the 9th-grade level of our homeschool program! We continued laughing. Genesis would participate in all the normal extracurricular, spiritual and academic activities we offer with our 40+ students who are 1st-8th grade, but just with slightly different books! Our Father certainly has a good sense of humor!

So the next day we shared the news of Genesis’ arrival with the rest of our clan during a family meeting, and then Darwin and our kids were off to an afternoon outing at the local river. Sandra, whose disappearance I had written about several weeks ago, would be going with them.

The next morning, the news of Genesis’ pending arrival still very fresh on our hearts, our eldest daughter Dayana began chit-chatting with me in our large, open-air kitchen as we were serving breakfast. I asked her how the river outing had gone the day before with her dad and siblings, and she began telling me all the grand tales of adventure and fun. So-and-so climbed up to the top of a large boulder-sized rock to jump off, the other one scraped their knee, and several local classmates who study at the Living Waters Ranch had come along to join in the ruckus.

As our conversation was coming to a close, she glanced over at me and added casually, “Yeah, and Sandra told me she’ll be moving back in with us in a few days.”

Jaw to the floor. (I suppose that happens to me quite frequently.) My mouth gaping wide open, I began sputtering, “Wh– what? S-s-? Sandra’s moving back in? She told you this?” I couldn’t get my footing! Father God, throw me a bone!

My mind began rapidly searching itself for connections, trying to make sense of this breaking news. I knew that Darwin had sat down with Sandra and her mom a few weeks ago to talk cold-turkey about Sandra’s poor decision-making and current vulnerability in our corrupt rural neighborhood, extending the invitation for her to come stay with us on a short-term basis as a way of deepening her spiritual roots, having more direct contact and counsel with us and eliminating all contact with rogue neighbors, but Sandra’s seemed disinterred in Darwin’s proposal at the time and, as far as I could tell, had turned it down completely.

Dayana continued, not too thrown off by my bewildered expression (I suppose she sees it quite frequently), “Yeah, she feels that the temptations in the neighborhood are very strong right now, and she wants to take you and Dad up on your offer to be more protected during this time.”

My initial reaction was that of offense, for I felt wronged that Sandra had communicated more fully with our daughter than with me, but then, throwing my ego with all of its limitless demands to one side, I just sat back and allowed myself to laugh again, knowing that God’s plans are always better than our own. Not 8 kids — nor even 9 with the unexpected arrival of Genesis! — but rather 10. Ten! If our house wasn’t full already, it was about to be with 12 inhabitants, including my husband and I.

Over the following days my husband and I confirmed the details with Sandra and her mom, sitting down to pray and seek God’s will together as we came to the decision that Sandra would be staying with us for two months. Due to her mom’s work schedule, Sandra had been home alone frequently, which led to her easily falling into temptation due to the lack of adult supervision and support. Sandra’s mom, a devout Christian, wanted what was best for Sandra but was unable to provide the firm boundaries and disciplinary structure Sandra desperately needed, so we would be coming alongside their family once more to serve as a sort of spiritual and emotional life support for her during this time of great vulnerability.

And so we are at peace. Sandra moved back in two days ago, and thus far the process of recovering innocence — of remembering Father God’s love and submitting herself to His perfect will —  is moving along quite joyfully. She’s back in her old room with our teen daughters, and we tuck her into bed each night. She returned to our discipleship-based high school after having struggled with wanting to drop out, and during her first week of classes she’s performed as one of the best students.

As for Genesis, she is on her way today. Darwin is scheduled to pick her and her mom up from the bus station this evening. We rejoice in the Lord at all times, and give thanks to Him for stretching us into these uncertain realms of hospitality to the least likely. Please pray with and for us during these times of transition and growth, and let us give thanks to God for granting us the privilege of being used by Him.

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!

Hello, My Name is ‘Ashamed.’

“It is so nice to meet you!” I extended a long arm toward the hunched-over young man in front of me, eager to make him feel genuinely welcome. He looked to be about 15 or 16 years old and sat motionless on one of the concrete benches in our front yard, staring at the soil at his feet.

An awkward moment passed, my open hand lingering in mid-air, waiting to be received in his. He finally extended his limp hand toward mine without ever lifting his eyes from the soil.

My husband Darwin and I stood under the shade of a large tree talking with a middle-aged woman who had come up to our rural property with three of her teenage children, hoping to enroll them in our homeschool-style high school beginning next school year. They had heard about the program though a neighbor who has her son enrolled with us.

The mother was very kind and alert, commenting to us that she wants her children to be instructed according to God’s Word — which does not happen in the local public high school where chaos generally reigns. Her sons, however, did not match her enthusiasm. They seemed depressed or entirely uninterested.

After Darwin and I had given her the information about registration day (when we will be meeting/evaluating possible new students), I then turned to the young man on the bench — the one who had very reluctantly shook my hand — and I asked with great sincerity, “What is your name?” I believe my tone of voice soared even higher than it should have in an attempt to counteract his attitude of total apathy.

Another moment or two passed as he remained unresponsive. I began opening my mouth to reiterate the same question when he finally blurted his full name at the ground.

Somewhat caught off guard with the force with which he spat his name and entirely unable to understand him due to the way he murmured, I asked again, love spewing out of my voice: “Could you look me in the eyes and tell me your name again?”

Everyone present seemed to be caught off guard by my loving insistence, as bad manners such as the ones he was displaying are often accepted as normal in our area. I continued to stare at the top of his head as his eyes remained glued to the soil at his feet. I insisted. Waited.

He finally raised his eyes if only for a split second to meet mine before immediately glancing downward again, again murmuring his full name without me being able to understand him.

His mother, very well-meaning, immediately interjected with a slight laugh, ready to explain her nearly-adult son’s strange behavior, “Oh, he’s ashamed.”

She said so with the tone of voice that you would use to answer, “He’s cold” if asked why your son was wearing a scarf and mittens.

The next morning I spoke on the phone with my own mother about the prior day’s event with the ‘ashamed’ young man, and she commented very accurately, “People [in Latin American culture] use ‘shame’ as a way of naming people. Like, ‘It’s a boy’ or ‘It’s a girl.’ ‘He’s ashamed.'”

So, in this culture where many people from birth carry the stamp “Ashamed” across their forehead (and all well-meaning family members defend their right to carry it), an interaction such as the one we had yesterday is not something new to us. How many of our local students or live-ins, upon arrival, actually looked us in the eyes, were not ‘ashamed’? Very few.

So when this young man’s mother wanted to come to her boy’s rescue, defending his debilitating sense of ‘shame’ as if it were a genetic condition or acceptable form of behavior, I laughed in a very kind way and said, “Oh, there’s no place for shame here.”

I glanced over at one of the other benches a few yards away where Brayan and Arlen sat. These two precious teenage students of ours had just finished participating in a very intense Round 5 of rock-hauling, endless push-ups and frog-jumps as part of their character-formation process. They were beet red and had waterfalls of sweat pouring down their faces as their white school uniform shirts were heavily stained with dirt. I addressed them for the first time in a rather loud voice, “Is there any reason to have shame, boys?”

They both sat, exhausted to the bone, staring me in the eyes, and shook their heads ‘no’ as they confirmed verbally, “Nope.”

I threw my head back and laughed in victory. Yes! Had we not just spent over an hour with these young men along with several other of their classmates, hauling rocks across our large yard and hurling them over the fence? Had we not been loudly proclaiming truth over them as they did so —

“Let’s go, boys! Our life on earth is but a breath! There is no time to waste; submit yourselves to God’s will because He is good and faithful! You have been made in God’s image and redeemed by Christ’s blood! God loves you enough to have sent Christ to die for you, and He wants to adopt us as His sons and daughters! Your life is infinitely valuable, and there is a bright future ahead of you, but you must take hold of it in faith! Haul those rocks!”

I continued yelling out one edifying comment after another, allowing godly instruction to flow from my mouth non-stop as the youth ran back and forth all around me, sweating, bending over, lifting and throwing rocks. Suddenly I realized that many of the themes and Bible verses we’ve been studying together all year were being proclaimed over these young people as they engaged in the very difficult activity of manual labor:

“God desires to raise you up to be fully equipped workers — disciples of Christ! — who are ready and willing for any good work! We know that the harvest is plenty but the workers are few! May YOU be the workers God is seeking; take hold of this moment as training for your future! God has an entire Kingdom prepared for those who love and obey Him, but we must persevere until the end! So persevere even now, hauling these rocks, even though it is difficult! You are doing such a great job! God’s Word says that even in difficulties, God desires that we remain rooted in His perfect joy — so even now find Christ in this moment of pain, even now be joyful! Run!”

By the end of the activity my throat was sore and raspy and the kids were dog-tired. So, when I glanced over at 15-year-olds Arlen and Brayan, both of which we’ve known and been closely involved with nearly three years (they were the first local youth we met shortly after moving here) and both of which struggled mightily in the beginning with looking you in the eyes, telling the truth, maintaining focus, receiving God’s Word, etc, I felt inundated with new hope for this slouched-over young man who all his life had been taught it acceptable to call himself “Ashamed.”

And so I laughed. I laughed right there under that shady tree because I know God is still in the business of redemption, that He has a big eraser in His hand to rub off “Ashamed” from this young man’s forehead and replace it with a giant stamp that reads “Loved.”

And while my own thoughts warned me, “This kid is bad news. What kind of influence will he be on the others?,” my heart rejoiced because I know that this is exactly the kind of young man God wants to call home, wants to renew.

And so, a couple days after our encounter with the ‘ashamed’ young man, I found myself coaching our two developmentally-challenged kiddos, Gaby and Josue (both age 8) as they worked together to haul several big plastic buckets full of dirty clothes to our outdoor washing area that lies a good walk from our front door.

They were both struggling to do so as their faces scrunched up in concentration and their little fingers sought to get the best grip on the buckets’ handles. Gaby grunted in exertion and Josue teetered back and forth as he sought to keep pace with Gaby. The buckets were heavy, and they were wondering if they actually had the strength (and coordination, teamwork, etc) to get the job done.

Seeing as we engage in this character-forming activity with these two little ones every Monday morning, I began encouraging them as usual. As we crossed our large grassy front lawn — me a couple paces in front of them — I began calling out: “Let’s go, Josue! You got it, Gaby! Let’s use your strength to serve God; utilize your bodies as instruments of justice! You can do this! We must work as unto Him and not for men!”

They inched across our front yard, each little one supporting one side of the bucket (and there were three more buckets waiting for them when they finished with the first!), each showing several visible signs of exertion but almost no reaction to all of my verbal encouragement and instruction. I continued:

“God is with us and He loves us, so there is no reason to be afraid — ”

Gaby suddenly piped up, interrupting me, and added, “or ashamed!”

She caught me entirely off guard, as she generally displays almost no understanding of God’s Word despite participating in numerous Bible studies and other Christian activities each week. Is this little person with a big-girl body but little-girl mind possibly absorbing — and understanding! — more than we had thought?

She continued, as if to erase all doubt from my mind: “We don’t have to be ashamed because God loves us! Gotta work for Him and not for men. Jesus died and came back to life!”

As we passed the small high school building and neared the kitchen with still quite a long distance between us and our final destination, Gaby and Josue all the while hauling the bucket one step at a time as a towering pile of dirty clothes rocked about perilously between them, I felt as though our Father allowed me to see them in a new light, to understand His love for us in a new way.

These two children who have been abused and neglected, who are not very attractive physically and have numerous behavioral issues, Josue who wears diapers, Gaby who mispronounces words, both of whom are lightyears behind their peers developmentally and socially — these kids who the whole world probably looks at with pity, who would give them every reason to be ‘ashamed’! — are learning the secret of freedom from all shame, all fear: God’s love. If the Creator of the universe loves you and longs to include you in His family, His kingdom, what on earth is there to be ashamed of? No shame; only gratitude. Joy.

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!

A Life Sweeping Away Bat Poo: Christ’s Peace in the Midst of ´Never Enough´

(Written Sunday, October 23, 2016): About a week and a half ago on a Saturday I was frantically converting our office room into a makeshift guest room for my mom and step-dad who were already well on their way to our home. I had commanded kids to help me sweep and mop porches and tile floors (a job that never ends in our rural, open-air home filled with shedding dogs and all kinds of insects and dirt-caked barefoot kids) in a sincere attempt to make a warm welcome. I felt like the morning had gotten away from me with our long efforts with the lice shampoo and comb (for the fourth consecutive day), managing everyone’s chores and in-home musical practices, washing bucketfuls of clothes out in the spicket and counseling one of our daughters through a difficult situation.

It was already almost 2:00pm and I hadn’t even begun preparing lunch! I guess my idea to prepare a nice bouquet of flowers/plants from our yard to place on the table in our guest room will have to wait until their next visit…

I slid the slightly off-kilter old wicker table in our office room to one side as I flung the broom underneath, finding a whole lot more dirt and grime than you would in a sealed, air-conditioned home in the suburbs. Hadn’t we just swept and mopped this room top to bottom like yesterday?

My large, baggy pijamas – Pijamas! I had been up and buzzing about since five-something that morning and had yet to have 12.68 seconds to change into decent attire! Only crazy people are still wearing their pijamas at 2:00pm! – were drenched with sweat, soapy detergent suds and large droplets of lice shampoo as my long, gangly arm flung the broom all about the small room.

When wedged into one of the room’s corners and pulled quickly away, the broom brought with it a prize: fresh bat poo that had fallen from the gap in the ceiling. This, of course, is not new and is to be found in nearly all of the little buildings on our property. My eyes traced upward wearily as I saw that familiar little gap between the ceiling planks and the cinderblock wall. When on earth would we have time to fill in those cracks? Another thing to add to the to-to list! For now, I’ll just sweep it away. More will surely fall tomorrow…

I swept the powdery poo over to that pile of dirt and grime that was growing exponentially with each passing moment.

I was exhausted and frazzled but at the same time filled with great emotion at the thought of my mom and step-dad’s week-long visit that would begin any moment – Any moment! I need to go change my clothes and brush this nest of hair! And the kids! They’re all dirty! Where are they, anyway? Probably running about, dirtying the porches and staining their clothes… Oh…

In the midst of bat poo piles and lice shampoo suds, sweat pouring torrentially down my cheeks, (Had I even remembered to put deodorant on that morning?) I experienced the following very clear thought in the midst of quite a tsunami of mental activity and adrenaline pounding within me:

I could spend all day every day sweeping and mopping this one room (even if we get around to filling in the cracks in the ceiling), and it would never be enough. There’s always more to be done, another scuff mark on the floor to be polished away or a new little pile of dirt particles that floated in from the open window. Shoe tracks that appear instantaneously, cobwebs that seem to grow back instantly after having been whisped away. In an odd sense that may not even make sense, cleaning this one room would be a full life. I could stay in just this one room, sweeping and laboring for God’s glory, preparing guest rooms for beloved guests, and I would never finish the task.

With that first thought, many other, similar ones came flooding in:

I could spend all day every day just counseling and praying for our daughters — Or even just one of our daughters! Pick any one of them, and dedicate your life to loving and cultivating her, and the task will never be finished! — and that would be a full life, a complete life. A person could spend a life just teaching and guiding one classroom full of kids, and it would be a full life, bursting with divine purpose. Nevermind the other millions of schoolkids around the globe — a life fully dedicated before God to one classroom would be hugely impactful, eternally useful! I could spend an entire life just prayerfully planning and then proclaiming God’s Word in our home/mission — nevermind the parenting, the endless cleaning, reading classes, and grocery shopping! — and that would be utterly pleasing to God. To raise even just one child according to God’s will; to spend a life doing the small things, the invisible things with great joy as unto the Lord and not unto men. To spend a day – a life! – in fervent intersession for a lost world; to spend an entire afternoon – decade! – listening to and loving the broken children our Father has brought us. Even just one of these things — or many others that aren’t mentioned here! — taken on as God’s personal assingment, would consitute a life full of purpose.

Heavy under this newfound realization, I felt suddenly both terribly blessed and even more frantic than before. Why so much, Father? So full…

These thoughts of fullness have accompanied me over the week or so since then as our days have been perhaps more full than usual.

We are nearing the end of our first school year with the small discipleship-based school the Lord has led us to design, lead and teach, and the paperwork, planning, decision-making, meetings, classes, etc is off the wall. And none of us have a teaching certificate or have taken any kind of pedagogy class! Yes; our Father has chosen the unlikely to create a school for outcast youth from scratch and lead them to Him!

And to spend a life just cleaning floors, sweeping away bat poo would be enough, would satisfy You. These blessings are too precious, too demanding.

Over the past couple weeks our hair has been on fire, and I’m certain I’ve commented out loud more than a few times to my husband: “I haven’t even had time to write! When will I be able to write? Everything is just go, go, go and it doesn’t look to change anytime soon!

If joy and gratitude have been the pillow, a to-the-bone exhaustion and a sense of constant frustration have been the fringe.

My own experience of childhood was as an only child with a stay-at-home mom who dedicated herself wholeheartedly to me. Now on the other side of motherhood as mom rather than as child, I feel dogged by a constant sense of guilt that I’m not able to give our 7 what I had in my own childhood. Oh, how many times do they approach me needing something or with some very long and involved tale they want to tell me, and I have my autoresponse as I go, zipping about teaching classes and running errands: ¨Wait just a few mintues! I’ll be right there — I’ve just gotta finish…¨

Seeing the drastic changes being brought about in the lives and character of our local students as they are being transformed by their knowledge of and obedience to God’s Word, we cannot deny that there are more youth from our neighborhood who might be eternally impacted — and then their children, grandchildren, for God’s glory! — if only they were consistently exposed to the truth, to God’s love, over time in an environment filled with faith in Christ.

As Jackie Pullinger, an English missionary with a powerful testimony who has been serving Christ in China for about 50 years, said: ¨I could spend my whole life loving the people on just one street.¨ And what about all the other streets?

How do we attend the many lost youth from our neighborhood without losing all intimate time with those under our roof?

And to think that even the simple task of sweeping away bat poo would constitute a full life, Lord…

How do we manage all that you have entrusted to us? What of those on the outside who remain lost, wandering? How to reach them, love them for Your glory, without dying of exhaustion in the process?

Our efforts will never be enough.

This evening after having spent a couple incredibly peaceful, blessed hours as a family – Darwin and I with the 7 kids/teens who the Lord has placed in our home – sitting around our square wooden dining room table doing homework, working on projects together, eating rare snacks and generally putting aside all else that demands our attention, the day’s light dissipated and our family’s Sabbath Hour began approaching quickly. Kids were commanded to shower and others to pick up their school notebooks and tuck them away in backpacks.

13-year-old Jackeline and 12-year-old Gleny were on kitchen/dining room duty, so they began washing the dishes, sweeping rather large floors, wiping down tabletops and cleaning electric stoves. Jackeline, who just this year has begun developing a healthier work ethic after having previously suffered from extreme laziness in almost all that she did, became visibly frantic as she suddenly had many things to do and not much time to do them in.

Fold the clothes on the table. Take them over to the house (our kitchen/dining room is separate from where we sleep). Wipe the countertop down with a soapy rag. Do it again. Do it slower. Put the food away. Don’t forget that your notebook is still on the table. Your sisters are calling for you to come, but you can’t go be with them yet because you’ve got to finish your kitchen job and do it well. Work with excellence.

I headed over to our house, crossing the high school building’s small porch as I batted away hungry mosquitos. I arrived at our nearly silent house as I began to write the next day’s schedule on the small whiteboard that is duct-taped next to our front door.

Suddenly that same Jackeline with her frizzy hair and rather tall, developed body came bursting forth much to my surprise.

I greeted her: “Aren’t you supposed to be in the ki–?”

“Yeah, yeah. I just came because I need to bathe Josue as well.” She breathed heavily, obviously agitated with all that she had to do. “I just – “ She approached the bathroom, realized it was occupied, and then pointed a finger at her little special-needs brother: “Just stay here, Josue. I’ll be right back. Gotta finish in the kitchen. When Jason gets out of the shower, go on into the bathroom stall and I’ll be right there –“

Josue looked wide-eyed at his stressed sister and shrugged, for he knows very few cares in his daily life with us. He looked up at me with a wide, toothy grin and smiled big. As quickly as his sister had appeared at our front door she disappeared back into the night, determined to finish her kitchen chore well.

I patted Josue on the back as my neck extended out our front door: “Jackeline!”

Not a moment later she appeared, even more frazzled. Had she forgotten something else, or was I going to add to the many demands that had already been placed on her? She greeted me with eager, hurried eyes.

“Jackeline…” My voice totally counteracted her overall tone as I spoke soft and slow, very intentional in my message to her: “Do not become anxious with the many things you have to do. Even in the midst of being ‘busy,’ God wants to fill you with His peace.”

She waited a moment to see if I had finished and then smiled a big, fake smile, still very stressed, and said, “Yes; yes; I know!” and turned to leave. Her and I had talked about this topic many times.

“Jackeline – Go with Christ’s joy even in the midst of many obligations!” My voice chased her in the darkness.

I felt that she heard me but that she still didn’t ‘get it.’ (Did I?) Every time she has an unusually heavy homework load or additional chores, it seems as though all joy is sucked from her body as she converts into some kind of super-focus, high-stress woman intent on checking things off the check-list, nothing more. (And don’t I do the same thing?)

I paused in front of the whiteboard as God spoke to my heart: “Bathe Josue. You, not her. I want to use you to bless thing young woman in the midst of the many responsibilities she is trying to fulfill.”

Now, bathing Josue (or changing his diaper or brushing his teeth, etc) is not something at all foreign to me. Darwin, Jackeline and I work together to shoulder the precious burden that he presents to our family. Many mornings Darwin gets him up and on the toilet around 5:15am, I follow with the showering and changing and then at some point later on during the day his older sister helps with his care and bathes him again.

But tonight? Tonight after I had spent over 7 hours that morning updating contracts (in the midst of my general duties as ‘mom’), drafting next year’s schedules and crafting one strategic brainstorm after another? Had I not already tended to Josue’s many needs throughout the day in addition to those of the other six? How many times do you have to cook before it’s ‘enough’?

He whispered again: “You. Go.”

In the blink of an eye, my voice became lovingly peppy as I led Josue into our bathroom to begin the familiar routine. Although very tired from the day, I was filled with a sense of rest once I submitted myself in obedience to my Father’s will.

Having showered Josue, I squatted in front of him to secure the little diaper velcro straps. He interrupted my intense focus as he smiled and said in his broken speech, ¨Hi Mom!¨ I looked up at him, surprised that he would be greeting me (is not bathing him just about getting the job done, not actually enjoying it or finding any real communion in the process? Oh, I have the same struggle as precious Jackeline…)

I looked up at him with his light-brown shaggy hair and breahted deep. Smiled. ¨Hi Josue. I love you.¨

Having finished, I sent little ones off to bedrooms and turned our CD player on soft with worship music. I began quietly moving around our bedroom as I organized papers, made plans for the next day, and put things in their place.

Several minutes later, recently-bathed Jackeline suddenly appeared, still a bit frazzled, in our open doorway with a big, sincere smile. She had successfully finished her job in the kitchen, gotten a shower, and was off to her room as we all entered into our Sabbath Hour.

I took a couple steps to the open doorway to meet her, where we both moved to hug one other, as we do several times throughout the day. Her head nestled easily into my shoulder as I rested my head on top of hers. She was still breathing heavily.

Without letting go, I said again: “Jackeline…There will always be things to do. We cannot decide that we will enjoy Christ’s peace only when there is nothing to do –“

She laughed and tried to wriggle free, “I know! I know…”

I held on tight, both of us giggling now, as I said, “I know you know, but I say this for both of us…”

Her body suddenly calmed down, realizing that this was not a motherly rebuke but rather a reminder from our Father of His desire to grant peace to both of these wayward daughters of His.

We both breathed deeply, still embracing in our little living room out in the foothools of some mountains in some violent country that has become world-famous for its catastrophic murder rate and gorgeous beaches, as we listened to the truth of God’s desire for us once more: to rest in His love, to live His peace, even in the storm – especially in the storm!

As I gave her a quick kiss on the top of the head, she smiled big and headed off to the room she shares with two of our other girls. I returned to my shuffling about in our dimly-lit bedroom, suddenly inundated with Christ’s peace for the first time in many weeks.

Exhausted to the core but beyond content with the work the Lord is etching out among us, I looked over at Darwin as he worked on planning his high school English classes. I carefully considered the many things I could begin doing, but God whispered in my consciousness: ¨Now you can write. It doesn’t matter that you’re tired. Do it now.¨

And so I did.

Even in the midst of year-end efforts and contract renewals and blazing this still-very-new parenting trail, Christ’s peace can be near. Even when our efforts will never be enough – even when we see the many, many roaming, lost youth in our neighborhood day after day, knowing we will never be able to reach them all with the good news of Christ – even as we live out the reality that the harvest is rich but the workers are few! – Christ is knocking on the door, desiring to enter our innermost soul and flood us with His perfect peace, which goes beyond the understanding of this world.

Amen! Glory to God!

The Praises of the Lamb: Remembering Our Purpose

I sit here squinting in the dull light at the several sheets of white paper splayed out around me, each one filled with scribbled phrases, arrows and scratch-outs as many, many hours have been put into the revision and expansion of our mission statement over these last several days.

My breath catches in my throat as I am thrown back by the words I jot down. Infinite purpose is being revealed before me as I wait and listen, type and understand.

This is one of those rare moments of seeing everything with perfect clarity.

The soft glow of my laptop illuminates the polished square dining table where I sit in a missionary couple’s empty home. My husband and I have been here on vacation for the last few days.

I laugh to myself as I think that we almost seem like a normal young couple in this quiet house with nice furnishings. No large, broken children hanging all over us and consuming our every moment; no dire crisis to be tended to; no grinding schedule of extreme hospitality and taxing interpersonal commitments.

But our Father knows He has brought us here not to revel in some temporal notion of ‘peace’ but rather to utilize this empty space — empty time, empty mental space — to sit down and seriously consider what He is doing in our midst.

To remember, to repent.

Darwin sits several yards away on a highly cushioned couch as he is absorbed by his own computer. Books are splayed out all around him on the coffee table and floor while today’s breakfast and lunch dishes accompany me at my work station. Half-empty mugs of herbal tea and plates sticky with food residue populate the glossy surface. Clay Aiken’s song “Mary Did You Know” repeats over and over again on YouTube as my fingers continue typing, my heart heavy under God’s glory.

My eyes trace the words on the open Word document. My posture before my Father is one of worship as I read the overarching purpose He’s given us:

To be compelled by a love for God and humanity; to be utilized as God’s instruments as He establishes His Kingdom among us in a dark and broken region.

When 8-year-old Gaby still struggles to put appropriate sexual norms into practice after having been broken under the insatiable lust of her stepfather; when difficult students are accepted into our discipleship program (and when they storm out only to return again); when our Father’s Kingdom is diligently – desperately – sought in early-morning prayer; when genuine confession and repentance and granted, that’s the purpose behind it all.

Beyond exhaustion, beyond any warm fuzzies or sense of adventure, beyond personal conflicts, struggles and victories as we live in the messy and the mundane alongside of other broken human beings in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, this is our mission:

To be God’s refuge for orphaned, abandoned, neglected and abused young people as we extend Christ-centered hospitality, healing and guidance to them with the goal of raising them up as powerful servant leaders to their generation, wholly submitted to Christ and equipped for any good work.

To serve as a holistic mentoring and discipleship center for local children, youth and adults as we diligently proclaim Truth and faithfully bind up those who have been broken in a society wrought with violent crime, sexual perversion, a corrupt and unresponsive justice system, educational inefficacy and devastating poverty; to cleanse and renew individuals with God’s grace as they learn to trust and follow Jesus in every area of their lives.

Is it really that big, Father? How on earth do I so quickly lose sight? How is it possible that I get so easily wrapped up in my own feelings and frustrations — so consumed by my own needs and desires — looking for personal gratification and recognition when the task is so much bigger than us, so much more beautiful than anything we can offer?

Wow.

And when little girls who’ve been thrown out as trash learn to trust their Savior; when the Word of Truth is proclaimed in that rustic dining room day after day after week after year; when our teenage girls slowly shed destructive patterns and adopt God-honoring attitudes, this is who we are:

A community of individuals being healed and set free as we experience and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

When our high school students still haven’t developed the habit of doing their homework; when the justice system fails to put child molesters and rapists behind bars; when my husband is kidnapped and miraculously spared his life by those same gang lords who’ve paid off the police and the political officials; when my own patience comes to its end and I must cry out to the Living God, the vision He’s given us has not changed:

To be a prophetic community of believers, living in accordance with God’s Word and utilizing music, writing, preaching and other avenues of communication to function as God’s messengers both to our immediate region and around the world.

Did I have to leave home for a few days in order to have Him open my eyes to the weight of the work He’s etching out among us? Did He have to guide these gangly fingers to write it in order for my heart to remember it, to continue trusting the Good Shepherd in the midst of our daily walk through the wilderness?

My eyes absorb the words on the screen, and I begin to understand.

To actively fight the many evils in our region with prayer and fasting, interceding for God’s Kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.

Oh, those messy, after-hours battles that we’ve fought with tears – at times totally desperate, trusting in the freedom Christ won for us even when those chains of sin and abuse are so hard to be broken, holding our girls and weeping – that’s what it’s been all about.

Not ten minutes prior my fingers added to the open Word document what I have so mightily struggled with:

To assume a posture of long-term commitment in our relationships with the people the Lord places in our lives, accepting the responsibility of patiently coming alongside of them without seeking immediate results or personal recognition.

Oh, on a daily basis this war must be fought and won against my own ego, as I so pompously strain for that “thank you,” that look of gratefulness that hasn’t come, that medal of honor for going the extra mile.

As that soft glow continues to illuminate me, He whispers: Faithfully persevere until the end, and I will work all things out for the good of those who love Me and have been called according to My purpose. No immediate results; no personal recognition. You must become less so that My power may be made manifest in you.

The music continues to proclaim the same Truth that He confirms upon my spirit.

I read:

To adopt the attitude of Jesus, constantly asking that the Father’s will be fulfilled rather than our own; to carry our cross and follow Christ, spending ourselves on God’s will.

Oh, how often I’ve grumbled under the weight of this cross! How often I’ve eyed others’ lives – the personal time I think they have that I don’t – and how often have I looked for those short-cuts just to arrive at the end of the day a little less scarred, less spent. Forgive me, Lord.

Clay Aiken’s voice rises as he reminds me that all – even the blind like me – shall sing the praises of the Lamb, the praises of He who chooses to redeem and utilize the unlikeliest of people – alas, we are all the unlikeliest of people, for the whole of humanity is a disgruntled group of murderous prostitutes!

Is that not the purpose of all things, of our very lives? To sing the praises of the Lamb, to be joyfully consumed by the praises of He in whom we find our salvation from this world, from Satan’s grasp, from ourselves? Is not the great task of all humanity to not lose or forsake our relationship with the Living God — to not  trade Him for our fanatical busyness, distorted ego and that heaping pile of daily obligations and distractions? To repent, to believe that the Kingdom is near and that the King is good?

The glory of God rests heavy in the room, on my heart, as I am nearly brought to weeping, amazed that the Creator of all things would choose us – me in all my daily failings – for this work. How is it possible?

My eyes continue to dart between documents, between paragraphs, as He reminds me the great purpose He has called us to:

To embrace the fact that lives are transformed through relationship; to focus primarily not on tasks, programs or appearances but on cultivating deep, sacrificial relationships as lasting transformation is achieved for God’s glory.

How many times have I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom, cleaning toilets rather than wiping noses! Oh, forgive me, Father, for even now as I sit here a sense of dread is creeping in as I think of all the demanding emotional and behavioral needs that will meet me at our front gate tomorrow upon our return home. Accompany me once more, Father, and fill me with You so that what the kids receive isn’t me, but You.

This is Your work; it never was ours and it never could be.

May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.