Tag Archives: Orphan Care

Mid-Year Update 2018

In June my husband Darwin and I celebrated 5 years of faithful marriage, and later this year in November we will celebrate our 5-year anniversary of parenting fatherless children together for God’s glory. The Lord has used our marriage to parent 11 children and teens thus far, 7 of which continue under our full-time care, and close to 100 have passed through the discipleship-based homeschool program we operate out of our home for local youth who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thank you to all who have supported us along the way, and please know that we are committed to continue onward in this lifestyle of service to the poor, Christian hospitality and relational discipleship as long as the Lord allows.

One of the local Honduran missionaries who serves alongside of us in our school took the following photos a couple weeks ago during a mid-year celebration day at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve. Darwin, our 7 foster children and I practiced several nights in a row to put together a surprise dance that we would perform in front of our all of our students and teachers! As you can tell by the very happy faces behind us (below), they loved it!

In a country where many families have been broken apart and the majority of our students’ parents are largely absent from their lives, we treasure these moments where Darwin and I can put on display the love and joy of the Lord knit together in family unity.

We work very hard teaching Bible studies, doing one-on-one and group counseling/prayer sessions, and leading by example so that the youth in our home and school may live for Christ instead of falling prey to the many wrong attitudes and behaviors that abound in Honduran society. After many long days (and nights) doing the trench work of digging deep in souls and teaching the youth both in and out of the classroom, we really enjoyed this light-hearted mid-year break as we simply danced and made a lot of people laugh! (I don’t think we’ll be going on tour any time soon!)

Below are more photos taken during our mid-year fun activity day at the Living Waters Ranch. In addition to our family dance, we all enjoyed a Christian rap performance by three of our teen boys, several soccer matches, traditional Honduran yard games and a motivational workshop by our Christian psychologist (below, yellow shirt).

We are now in the second half of our 2018 efforts to disciple and teach, as the Honduran school calendar runs from February-November. There are currently 48 youth enrolled full-time in our program who visit our home each day from 6:45am-3:00/4:00pm for Christian discipleship, academic classes, extracurricular and service-oriented activities, etc. Over a dozen have dropped out since January due to family instability, poor decision-making, etc, and we continue onward with a highly committed group of young people who are taking full advantage of the life-giving opportunity God has granted them to be part of a loving Christian community dedicated to their integral growth in Christ.


 As for our family status apart from our general ministry to our local community, the purpose the Lord has given us is to welcome children and teens who were unwanted or uncared for by their biological relatives into our patchwork family so that they might come to know the redemptive love of God. Some come and others go as many eventually go live with a stable biological family member; others will stay forever as this is the only home they know.

Please pray for us in the ongoing adoption process for those who have chosen us to be their forever family, and pray with us for our sons’ and daughters’ complete healing and transformation in Christ after having come from very traumatic childhoods. On many days our home seems like a warzone between good and evil, light and darkness, as there are many generational chains from our children’s biological families that must be broken so that they may be free to live for Christ. Pray that we may be granted the grace of loving one another well and that our fellowship with the Lord would increase daily.

Thank you to those who pray for and support this mission. Without you we would not be able to touch the lives the Lord brings our way.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family 

 

The Living Waters Ranch: Christian family to the orphaned and integral discipleship/education to the lost

Family Photo Shoot: Celebrating Five Years of Marriage

Yesterday my husband and I reached five years of marriage, and as part of the celebration we decided to organize a family photo shoot.

Our previous official family photos were taken in November of last year, and several changes have occurred in our family since then. Josselyn and Gabriela, biological sisters who lived with us over two years, moved in with a Christian aunt and uncle of theirs in January of this year, and our teenage foster son Brayan left our home very abruptly in April of this year and did not return. (I plan on writing more about this at some point in the coming weeks.)

I informed our seven foster children/teens in preparation for the shoot: Take a bath, brush your hair, and put on something you won’t be embarrassed to see yourself in several years from now, because I’m totally going to show these photos at your wedding. They laughed and headed for the showers, as we had all gotten pretty stinky that morning working around our home and yard as a family. Some of our teen girls had been cutting back the weeds with a machete and bathing our guard dogs; others had been hand-washing their clothes and chasing our small herd of milking cows around our rural property in order to give them their anti-parasitic. Gleny had done painting touch-ups around our two school buildings, and two of our other kids had helped me clean our house from top to bottom.

So, before heading out on our dinner date we asked our beloved Honduran teacher who had come over to take care of our kids if she could help us take a series of family photos near the entrance of our rural property. Unbeknownst to us, she enjoys photography and did a phenomenal job with our impromptu shoot!

To many who see these photos, they may seem like nothing more than normal — even beautiful — shots of a normal, happy family. We know, however, that this family unity has not been automatic and that we’ve even had to fight for joy in these past 4+ years with our extremely mixed family who comes from all kinds of broken places.

These photos are extremely precious to me, and I treasure the sheer joy and love that radiates from our children’s faces, as I know well where they’ve come from and the battles we’ve fought alongside of them in Christ and won. God bless you!

Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (second from the left) randomly decided to dress like some kind of teenage rebel or punk rapper, which is hilarious because she is a wonderful student, is very mature and has a tender heart toward God. We’re not sure why she whipped out this interesting attire for our family photo shoot, but I’ll certainly be showing these photos at her wedding someday!


When Darwin bent down, I thought he was going to give me a kiss (and all of our kids could sense this from me), so they all burst out laughing when he stood back up without noticing that I was waiting for a kiss.
He’s gonna make it all better!
I love the look on Carolina’s face (the one in the red shirt). It’s as if she wants to say, “Look at what I have to put up with!)

Now it’s time to get in groups of three with the strongest person in each group carrying the other two! (Darwin’s got it the easiest because our two boys are the smallest in the family!)
Already carrying Gleny’s weight on my back, I told Paola (camouflage pants), “We’re just gonna pretend that I’m picking you up. Keep one leg on the ground!”
Great underpants, Josue!

I managed to get our two oldest daughters (17 and 15) off the ground at the same time! Those are two big babies I’ve got!

Our eldest daughter wanted to carry Darwin and our cute hippie-rapper wanted to carry me and one of our other girls at the same time! We’ve got some pretty strong gals in our family!

Glory to God! Thank you for your prayers and support. May God continue to be glorified through our family, and may our foster children and those we minister to in our neighborhood continue to experience freedom in Christ in ever-increasing measure.

Personal Reflection and Family Update

Yesterday evening we sat around the wooden table in our living room to eat dinner together as a family. Two of our teen foster daughters had prepared a delicious chicken soup with rice. In our household our diet oftentimes consists of rice and beans, so this soup was a special treat. The plates and silverware were all laid out on our floral-print tablecloth that I had purchased at a local thrift store a couple months ago. A candle was placed in the middle of the setup, although on this occasion it remained unlit.

Eating dinner together as a family each night has not been one of our strong points during these first few years together as a foster family and ministry homestead. Oftentimes it has seemed like a triumph just to get to the finish line at the end of each day still standing, and to make any additional effort to prepare an evening banquet for close to a dozen people just seems overwhelming. Thus, on many occasions each person just warms up rice and beans that were leftover from lunch or whips up something light due to everyone’s distinct schedule (and Mom’s exhaustion).

Some of our kids go into town two evenings per week for their ballet class; one night a week we’re out at a neighbor’s house for a Bible study; some evenings Darwin is out counseling people in our neighborhood or organizing choir practices. Oftentimes our teens have group homework projects or are practicing their musical instruments in the evenings, thus it has not been easy to pin down all the highly active members of our household for a daily routine of eating together. I imagine that in any family if a daily dinner is going to be achieved, it must be carefully scheduled and protected.

So, that is what we’ve decided to do. At Darwin’s suggestion, on Sunday I designed a fairly simple daily dinner schedule (indicating whose turn it is to cook, as we already have a nightly cleaning schedule), and we’re committed to protect and enforce this even if fatigue or busyness threaten to put this priority on the back-burner.

Yesterday morning all seven of our foster kids had been in classes and Christian discipleship in our homeschool program that we operate out of our rural homestead from 7:00am — 3:00pm. I had taught group Bible study that morning; Darwin had taught classes all morning with his small group of wily second- and third-graders and directed the girls’ choir practice after lunch. Our eldest foster daughter had a one-on-one meeting with our Christian psychologist to continue navigating the waters of healing and restoration while also looking to the future to discern the vocation/purpose that the Lord has for her in these coming years. A couple of our girls had been in cooking class; I taught my math class with 16 teens earlier that morning before heading into town to attend a three-hour meeting with local government officials.

And so, we ate dinner as a family. Last night was our first attempt to follow this new dinner schedule, and it was successful. It was nothing spectacular, but we were together. At the beginning of the meal we all joined hands and bowed our heads as Darwin gave God thanks for the food, and then our 17-year-old daughter, the eldest, graciously served everyone’s food. Surprisingly she started with my plate, which was doubtlessly a gesture of friendship as we are both making the effort to improve our relationship after having gone through many rocky patches over these past few months. (This afternoon she and I have a ‘date’ planned as I’ve invited her on a bike ride around our neighborhood as an opportunity to spend more time together and connect.)

This new season has brought small but important changes such as our new family dinner routine that we will carefully put into practice.

Each night as our kids all head into their rooms for homework and rest, I put on a sermon or two on my laptop (connected to two little speakers) in the living room so that our household is flooded with Biblical teaching. This specifically has been a very pivotal change in our home, as over these past several months I have downloaded dozens of sermons from respected pastors from different parts of the world to come directly into our home and teach us each evening. Our kids are resting in their rooms or taking a shower in the quiet of the night and everyone is receiving Scriptural encouragement. This has been very fruitful, and we will continue to do this each evening as we sow seeds into their young lives (and our own lives) for God’s glory.

Another small change we’ve made is that our 10-year-old foster son Jason, who is in the process of being legally adopted by us along with his two older sisters, now accompanies Darwin each night to go walk down our long gravel entryway to lock the two gates on our rural property. This gives him ‘man time’ with Dad and teaches him that it will one day be his job to protect and care for his own family.

Yesterday evening as our dinner was coming to a close, one of our new foster teens who moved in with us late last year expressed a question she had after having read the book of Galatians in the Bible for a homework assignment I had given her. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had actually read it and with enough attention to want to ask me a question about what she had read. I asked her to bring her Bible to the dinner table to show me the verse she had a question about, so she darted off into her room and quickly reappeared at the table, Bible in hand. As she opened the Bible, she said to herself as she flipped through the pages, “Galatians. After Corinthians.”

It was so seemingly insignificant what she was saying, but it hit me like a train. It’s working! Many of our foster kids and local students are very used to hearing others teach them about God’s Word, but they had yet to develop the habit of reading it for themselves. To change that, several months ago we started a routine that each person in our family now individually reads the Bible as we all spread out in our living room on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and in the two classes that I teach in our community homeschool (advanced math and reading/writing) I now make all the students sit individually and read the Bible 15 minutes before starting each class and then they discuss in partners what they read for about 5 minutes afterward (to get them used to openly talking about God’s Word). In these last couple months they’ve read the whole book of John and of Romans; they are now in Acts and Luke. (This specific daughter of ours is in both my classes, so she receives a double-dose of Bible-reading!) This has thus far produced marvelous results, as many of the teens have commented in awe, “I always hear so-and-so saying that we should love one another, and now I get that it actually comes from the Bible! I just read it!”

Our foster daughter who had been well-versed in Christianity throughout her childhood in various foster homes and orphanages, several months ago had very little first-hand knowledge of the actual Bible. When asked to flip to a certain book, she had to go to the table of contents and spend several moments searching for it. For her to say, “Galatians. After Corinthians.” and find that tiny book in the midst of 65 others is of great encouragement to me as she is now getting to know God’s Word not based on what others tell her but based on her own time reading and exploring its depths. Praise God!

There is much more I could write, but for now I will leave it at that. Thank you so much to those who support this mission and pray for us regularly. I continue to sleep much better in recent months after having battled insomnia for so many years, and after being bedridden with Typhoid Fever a few weeks ago my health is currently fairly strong. My husband Darwin and I will be celebrating 5 years of marriage this Sunday, and all of the local Honduran missionaries and teachers who serve alongside of us at the Living Waters Ranch are doing very well.

Please continue to pray for the restoration and transformation of our foster children/teens and local students into the image of Christ, and also pray that the Lord would continue to protect us physically as we live in a very violent part of the world.

God bless you.

 

The Unusual Tribe of Three: Quality Time on Our Rural Homestead

Yesterday my husband Darwin went into the city with 6 of our foster children for a day of dentist visits, music classes and errands, leaving me on our rural ministry homestead with two of our foster children. From time to time we like to divide our eight foster kids up into smaller groups so that they get more individualized attention, so this turned out to be one such occasion. A couple weeks ago Darwin took our three boys on a ‘man date’ to pray for the sick and then eat ice cream together, and he took one of our girls on a one-on-one afternoon date in the city not too long ago, which made her feel very special. This time my little group was composed of quite an interesting combination of people: one of our new teen girls who moved in with us about six months ago, and our 9-year-old special needs son who has lived with us over three years.

Thanks to the addition of a new Honduran teacher/missionary a couple months ago who now helps with the teaching, administrative and discipleship load my husband and I share with our small team at the Living Waters Ranch, I’ve been relieved of many of the administrative tasks that used to dominate my time. It has always been a fine line of being an available stay-at-home mom for our kids while also balancing the responsibilities entrusted to me to direct, evangelize and teach in our little mission and the surrounding community. Thus, with the addition of our new team member the balance of service-in-the-home and service-to-the-community has been made easier for me and has allowed me more stress-free time with our kids for God’s glory.

So, we enjoyed a completely spontaneous day of agricultural activities and physical work, something I don’t normally participate in (because in recent years I’ve been ‘too busy’). We each slapped on a pair of black rubber boots (the cultural sign of a Honduran who’s ready to work in the field), we grabbed three rusty machetes and began traipsing around our rural property under the blistering sun engaging in untold adventures. There were no schedules and no rush. We were simply enjoying being together (our strange tribe of three) while simultaneously rejoicing in the breathtakingly beautiful creation our Father has placed so close to us. We ended up investigating native plants, exploring the creek behind our property (and I nearly fell into a rather deep part when I precariously tried to cross the waters via a broken tree limb that looked a lot stronger than it was), cooking from scratch in our temporarily-outdoor kitchen on our porch, taking care of our bunnies, planting a few plants, watering them, and doing various physical-labor chores around our property.

It was a sweaty, peaceful day as we truly loved one another and reveled in the beauty of the Creator, much as I imagine Adam and Eve did in the garden so many years ago — blessed, uninterrupted enjoyment of Father God, His creation, and one another.

Near the end of our day together, it occurred to me to take out our little digital camera and take a few photos together. At first they were very shy and unenthused, but after a few shots they really got into it. We even taught Josue how to hold the camera and take (somewhat off-kilter) shots!

Enjoy our rather simple yet joyful photos of a momma called by God and her precious little ones (who aren’t so little). God bless you!

Josue and I posing in front of the little plants we planted near our fence. We’ve both got our working boots on!
Carolina (15) and Josue (9)
Josue learning to take photos…his finger managed to make it in several of them!

They are such hard workers! (We enjoyed about a half hour together shoveling dirt/rocks in our front yard.)

Time to help momma bunny give milk to her five babies in our living room!
The little guy was so enthusiastically drinking milk that his feet were up in the air!

   

Josue sure is a lot of fun!
Tickle time!
Gotta love this photo of Josue’s buttcheeks! We laughed hard when we saw this photo — he was intent on tickling me and didn’t realize that he probably should have been wearing a belt!

Now Josue’s taking the photos!

After balancing Carolina up with my legs, we had a wipe out!
Now let’s head over to the mango tree!

This is one of my favorite photos! Absolutely beautiful!
Time to jump down! Be careful!



Here come the buttcheeks again! You really do need a belt, Josue!
One of the last chores of the day — washing the clothes in our outdoor washing station!

Josue learned how to rake the leaves! Good boy!
At the end of the day, I sent Josue to go take a shower to get all the dirt and grime off. As he finished showering and changed into his pijamas, I asked (without seeing him), “Josue, did you shower with soap?” because sometimes he tries to only bathe with water. Carolina, seeing Josue come around the corner, began laughing and assured me, “Oh, he certainly did bathe with soap.” Perplexed, I began to ask how she could possibly know that when I saw the same evidence — Josue had big globs of soap in his hair and ears! He sure did shower with soap!

Amen! Glory to God!

Spontaneous Photo Shoot: Jackeline’s Reading Perch

A couple days ago after our discipleship-based community homeschool classes had let out at 3:00pm and our local students had returned to their homes in our rural neighborhood, I crossed our quiet front yard and caught sight of our 14-year-old foster daughter reading a Christian novel while perched on top of our large play structure that is normally swarmed with kids during recess time. It warmed my heart to see her so still and at peace while reading for pleasure (she used to hate reading, and we’ve been intentionally working on this not only with her but with all of our kids), and the sight of her way up there overlooking the beautiful pastures inspired me to go grab our little digital camera and take a few undercover photos of her…

When I got up close for one of my shots of her, my cover was broken and she started laughing when she saw me!
Our 15-year-old foster daughter Carolina — who moved in with us about six months ago — watched from close by and laughed while enjoying our spontaneous photo-taking antics.
Soon enough both Carolina and another foster daughter of ours, 14-year-old Paola, joined in the fun and started swinging on the monkey bars below Jackeline’s reading spot. (Great focus, Jackeline! She just kept on reading as if they weren’t there!)
The jungle gym is not only for little kids, but also for teens! Our kids are very playful…
…And so are their parents! Now it’s my turn! (At this point Jackeline’s taking photos from her perch!)

This is a photo Jackeline took of our cows’ barn in the distance and the mountains behind our property.
Our 16-year-old son Brayan, whom we are in the process of legally adopting, has greatly grown in his maturity/initiative in these last few weeks with the help of a local tutor. He finished his homework early (which used to never happen), so he went out front to enjoy a couple hours playing with the soccer ball! Good boy!

One last shot of Jackeline on her reading perch at dusk…beautiful!


Amen! Glory to God!

Family of 12

Yesterday we tread across our large, muddy front yard under the misting rain to go ask our night-watchman’s wife if she would be willing to take a few photos of our family later that day. We hadn’t yet taken any pictures with our new daughters (Paola, age 14 and Carolina, age 15) since they had moved in several weeks ago, and we decided that yesterday was as good a day as any to go ahead and schedule the family photo shoot. Our neighbor agreed; it suddenly stopped raining; we picked a nice garden-like spot in front of our little cinderblock house for our photo backdrop; and we took the following series of photos all in a time span of about 10 minutes.

Praise be to God!

Everybody grab a partner and get in close for the first shot! We gotta hurry before it starts raining again!

Now switch partners! Grab somebody new! (I ended up grabbing two — Jason on my back and Gaby in my arms!)

Change it up again! (Our Rottweiler — named Goliath — decided to hop in this shot! He was eager for us to play ball with him…)
Here’s my husband Darwin with our 16-year-old son Brayan with Jackeline and our new daughter Paola behind them.
Everybody get with a new family member! (The young woman whom I’m with in this photo is Carolina, our new 15-year-old daughter. She happens to look a lot like our daughter Dayana, and our other new daughter looks a lot like Jackeline!)

Grab somebody new again! (And this time try to hang them upside down by their feet…not so easy to do with our 17-year-old daughter!)
Our dogs kept trying to take part in the photo shoot! (This is Freckles trying to greet Jason while Jackeline holds him upside-down!)
Carolina with our developmentally-challenged daughter Gabriela (Gaby)

Hang on just a couple more seconds! (Way to go, Darwin!)
Now it’s my turn for a piggy-back ride! (Thanks, Jackeline!)
Everybody tickle your neighbor (and try not to fall off)!

One last shot! Everybody get in position! (The camera was about to lose its battery…plus we were all tired)!
What a big baby I’ve got! I hope I don’t drop you, Paola!

Amen! Glory to God!

Dancing Barefoot to Andrea Bocelli: Marriage on the Mission Field

Two times in the past month my husband Darwin and I have organized a “date” in the living room of our little cinderblock home to dance together to romantic music. Many a time over the past four years we’ve organized different dates or outings together to go to dinner or even get away from home together for a couple nights every few months or so (which is increasingly hard to do because not many people can adequately handle our growing number of children, all of whom are experts at eating alive any and all “babysitters” who are not fully and completely trained and full of supernatural energy/wisdom), but we consider it important for our 10 foster kids/teens to be able to get a ‘sneak peek’ of our hidden life together as a couple rather than only witnessing the work-work-work all day long, during which we oftentimes behave more as co-workers than husband and wife. Frequently the first time we actually sit down to enjoy one another is late at night when we are behind our closed bedroom door or away at a restaurant where our kids can’t see us.

Thus, we’ve had two official dancing “dates” right there in our living room for any and all to see. We understand the importance (as much for our kids as for us) of us having a strong marriage, so we’re working to cultivate it in Christ and put it on display to encourage/teach our kids what a healthy, joyful, godly marriage relationship looks like (which they didn’t witness in their biological families).

The first time this happened was several Saturdays ago. I had been at home with about half of our kids washing clothes by hand, doing different chores, overseeing their individual piano practices, cooking meals, etc, as Darwin had spent the majority of the day in the nearby city of La Ceiba with the other half of our kids teaching music classes and running errands. Around 4:30pm as I looked at the clock and knew Darwin would be getting home soon, I went to take a shower, shave my legs and armpits (a luxury that I oftentimes don’t have time for!), and put on a new black sleeveless dress. Casual but classy, reaching beyond my knees. I put on a pair of simple silver dangly earrings and headed barefoot out of our home to cross our large front yard to reach our kitchen (which is not connected to our actual house).

Each of our kids as they saw me for the first time had a very similar reaction, “Ma! Wha–? You look so pretty! Where are you going?” Normally after a long day, I take a shower and put on my old oversized pajamas that are less than flattering. Never had I gotten all dolled up on a Saturday night without having a specific plan of going somewhere special.

I laughed at each one’s sincere reaction, thanking them for their nice comments and telling them with a twinkle in my eye that I had a date scheduled with my “boyfriend” that evening (that’s what I call Darwin to make our kids laugh). We were going to dance. Each one sort of looked at me, intrigued by this new information. They smiled big, although they appeared a bit confused. I continued walking barefoot, my long black dress lapping at my calves as I reached our kitchen to serve dinner. After family dinner we would shoo all of our kids into their rooms for our family’s daily sabbath hour and we would dance.

I glanced over at our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline in the kitchen and said, “You know, it was dancing that your Pa and I had our first kiss.”

Her eyes widened in shock and she scolded, “Ma!”

I laughed and shrugged innocently.

And so Darwin arrived in our old Toyota pickup with many heads sticking out of the truckbed just in time for dinner. We all ate together and then headed back out across our front lawn into our little bunkhouse-style home where we shower and sleep each night with our now-10 foster children ages 9-17.

The Lord started this blessed journey off with 3 kids that He brought us in 2013 (whom we are in the process of legally adopting along with one other), then He brought more in His timing. Now we’ve got people sleeping on the floor because there aren’t enough beds, and the shower rotations require increased humility (and speed) as we all share the 2 showers in our home! We never planned on receiving older kids and teenagers; after all, most people desire to foster/adopt/raise babies and smaller children because they are supposedly cuter and arrive with less baggage. That, too, had been our original plan, but God had better plans. He’s brought us those who didn’t really fit anywhere else — special needs children, sexual abuse victims who need many years to emotionally and spiritually heal, misfit teenagers, those who have a gigantic chip on their shoulder after having been in the ‘system’ for over a decade. The icing on this beautiful, God-designed cake He is making of our family was the arrival of two 14- and 15-year-old girls less than a month ago. We had no plans of receiving anyone else into our household anytime soon, but God gave us His peace and brought us two young ladies who had bounced from one foster home and orphanage to another, under a constant cloud of rejection and rebellious behavior before finally arriving at our home and finding permanency (they’ve both affirmed that they finally feel at peace somewhere and don’t desire to be moved anywhere else, and we’ve even begun talking with them about the possibility of us legally adopting them, with total disregard to whatever their behavior may look like as they heal over the coming years). Thus, our household is now a lovely patchwork of broken people whom God is healing with His love.

6:30pm or so rolled around, and several of our teen girls (we now have 7 daughters ages 17, 15, 14, 14, 13, 12 and 11) sat squeezed together like sardines on the little couch in our living room, eyes sparkling and staring at us. They could barely contain their excitement as they elbowed one another and leaned toward us with bright faces. “We’re ready!” A couple of them clapped with joy.

They thought we were going to put on a show!

Darwin and I both laughed as he got the cd player ready. He had showered and changed, sporting a nice button-down teal-colored shirt and black slacks with his hair neatly combed. He looked very handsome. We were both barefoot. We would be dancing to one of Andrea Bocelli’s romantic cds, but it most definitely wouldn’t be a show! We laughed at our girls’ eagerness to see us dance and lovingly shooed them off to their rooms, much to their disappointment. We told everyone that they were free to watch from their open doorways, but we weren’t looking to have an actual ‘audience’ within arm’s reach in the living room with us.

And so the music started and some of our girls squealed and several excited faces shined from one of the three bedrooms where our kids sleep. Others pretended not to be interested in the living room spectacle of Pa and Ma slow-dancing to romantic music, but as I looked over Darwin’s shoulder I could see them stealing glances our way and biting back smiles. Brayan, our 16-year-old son, stood in his open doorway watching, probably taking notes on how his Pa woos his Ma.

Darwin and I held each other close, our feet moving slowly as we swayed back and forth to the music. I bit my lip and held back laughter, as I loved the reactions our kids were having. This — dancing close to Andrea Bocelli’s music — was, after all, one of our first encounters as a couple back in March of 2013 (three months before we got married), and it was both astonishing and beautiful to think of all that God had orchestrated in the four-and-a-half years since. Our first round back in 2013 was in private; now we had an audience of the blessed children and teens the Lord had brought us! Single in 2013 with great hopes of parenting the orphaned together for God’s glory; married in 2017 several years into the fulfillment of that sacred mission.

As we continued dancing for close to an hour, some of our kids got bored and closed their bedroom curtains (they don’t have doors), retreating into their rooms to participate in other quiet activities while others walked right past us supposedly needing to ‘use the bathroom,’ but I suspect they wanted to secretly be closer to the action. Again, I smiled in my heart of hearts, thanking God for all that He’s done.

Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline, whom I write about frequently and who is quite special to us after an extremely rough start in our home back in 2015, went tip-toeing through our living room — not three feet from us — on her way back to her room after using the bathroom as Andrea Bocelli’s voice sang of some passionate kiss long overdue. Her eyes grew wide and she squealed in shock (as if she had heard something she wasn’t supposed to) and darted into her room, hiding quickly behind her curtain. Darwin and I both cracked up.

So that living room dance date with my “boyfriend” has occurred now two times, and both occasions have given similar results. Our girls squeal; Brayan takes notes; and our kids steal glances at Pa and Ma moving around our itty bitty living room to beautiful romantic music.

I share this with you because I frequently write about our children or what God is doing in our surrounding neighborhood through the Living Waters Ranch, but I haven’t dedicated many posts to our marriage journey and how God has and continues to use us together to display His extravagant love to our children. So that’s that! Glory to God!

A Day in the Life: Friday at the Living Waters Ranch

Today I whipped out my camera and went undercover (well, not quite) into each classroom throughout the day to capture what a typical Friday at the Living Waters Ranch looks like. The only classes missing from my visual log are Darwin’s girls’ choir class, my advanced math after-school tutoring and Erick’s “Men of Honor” discipleship group.

Enjoy!

My first stop was Miss Ligia’s small 7th grade class. Our daughter Jackeline and her classmates were taking an exam!

 

Our special-needs son Josue accompanied me on my photo-taking escapade. This is his pose on one of our famous skateboards. (I purchased three old skateboards at a thrift store, and the kids love them!)

 

My next stop was our dining room — Darwin’s homeschool-style class with fifth and sixth graders, many of whom are well into their teens and behind academically. We’ve received three new students into this group in the last two weeks. (This photo shows only the sixth graders.)

 

Here are Darwin’s fifth-graders hard at work at our dining table.

 

Erick’s first class of the day was with our rag-tag group of first and second graders, the majority of whom are overcoming learning disabilities and developmental delays.

 

When I arrived at Miss Isis’ combined third-fourth grade class, I found our 10-year-old son Jason teaching our two developmentally behind third graders (the two boys sitting down, both age 11). Way to go, Jason!

 

This is Miss Isis with Paola, one of our night watchman’s children who has been in school with us since 2015. She and her four siblings are some of the first in their family to learn to read and write.

 

Geraldina (Sandra’s mom) was hard at work in the kitchen preparing lunch for 50 people! Thankfully the water hadn’t gone out, as it occasionally does!

 

After visiting all the classrooms during the morning hours, little Josue and I went for a short walk around our rural property. This is the view of the Living Waters Ranch from the front gate.

 

This is our growing herd of milking cows! We started with two cows a few years ago and now we’re up to 12! We invested in the purchase of six young cows a couple weeks ago as we seek to expand our herd, thus wisely utilizing the large grassy property where we serve.

 

This is Carminda, our watchman’s wife, washing the clothes. One day per week our 8 foster kids and I wash, and one day per week she comes to help us wash. Everything is by hand!

 

Is it already recess time? Here is a lively skateboard competition between our son Jason and a local girl. They got nervous when I started taking pictures!

 

We have more male students than females, but the few girls we do have are tough as nails. You go, girl!

 

Dangling from thin air on the left are two girls swinging from our tree rope! Recess is so much fun!

 

Now it’s little Lester’s turn!

 

Okay, the fun’s over, kids (and teachers)! Back to class! Now everyone changes classrooms and heads to their respective English classes…

 

Our office looks like quite the library! Miss Ligia is getting her books ready for her Level 2 English class!

 

My husband Darwin teaches “Level 3” English with the most advanced students we have. He’s been working hard with them for a year-and-a-half to introduce them into their second language.

 

Our 16-year-old daughter Dayana is in Darwin’s English class. Sandra (fourth from the right), who used to live with us, came back to the Living Waters Ranch full-time as a student about a month ago after having spent several months down the wrong path. We are honored to continue cultivating a relationship with her for God’s glory.

 

Our quirkiest (I mean, most precious) kids aren’t quite ready to learn English, so they receive extra help with basic Spanish reading and writing skills!

 

This is 10-year-old Daniela who had great struggles in the local public school system. Her mom brought her to the Living Waters Ranch in January of this year as she was frustrated that her daughter had not been able to learn to read and write. Daniela’s been with us full-time every since, and she just passed first grade in our accelerated program and is now a second-grader with great success. All she needed was a little bit of individualized attention!

 

Here are two young teen boys who likewise didn’t enjoy success in the public school system. Young men such as these in our area have a propensity to fall into gangs and delinquency, so we consider it God’s will that He brought them to us to learn the way of Christ.

 

Here’s Miss Reina with two of her basic Spanish tutoring students. (Our daughter Gabriela is the one without the ponytail.)

 

Here’s Miss Ligia in action in her English class! Our community homeschool/discipleship center is quickly becoming known and respected in our local community as a legitimate educational institution that stands for justice and truth in a country whose educational institutions oftentimes suffer from corruption, complacency and inefficacy. Several local kids and teens are joining our classes as they seek a genuine integral education, something almost unheard-of in our area.

 

The other English teacher at the Living Waters Ranch is Erick. Man, it smelled like teenage sweat in that crowded room!

 

This is Alejandro, a 14-year-old local student in second grade with us, reading a children’s Bible. He had gotten up to 6th or 7th grade in the public school system without having learned virtually anything, so now he’s receiving intensive tutoring to help get him up to speed as we seek to cultivate his life integrally for God’s glory.

 

Daniela was reading the Bible with Miss Isis, but she got nervous when I started taking pictures!

 

This is little Ever, the youngest son of our night watchman, reading a children’s Bible. He is our youngest student at 7 years old.

 

Time to change classes again! Everybody go to your reading class according to your skill level! All students are divided up into four distinct levels, and this is our most advanced reading class — Miss Ligia’s crew of high schoolers who are currently reading one of Ted Dekker’s novels with strong spiritual foundations. What a breath of fresh air (literally)!


  

Reading is not a commonly cultivated practice among most Hondurans, so the fact that our teenagers are learning to read a 300+ paged novel is no small feat. They already finished another novel earlier this year and frequently study the Bible along with whatever God-honoring novel they are reading. Many of our students who were previously averse to reading are now enthusiastically asking for more books!

 

Next I visited Darwin’s Level 3 reading class, one of the largest classes (there were about five other students in the classroom at the far right that wouldn’t fit in the photo!). Darwin has taken on the gargantuan task of teaching to read, annunciate correctly and develop an honorable work ethic to those youth who are not among our most successful students. The fact that they all have their pencil in hand and are sitting down is a huge triumph in this culture! 10 points for Darwin!

 

This is 13-year-old Liliana, one of the new students who joined us recently. We had met her a few years ago through Darwin’s youth choir, but then she moved away and had been out of school for several years. She just entered with us on the 5th-grade level, and she’s quickly finding her niche and always has a big grin on her face. Many young women in our area who are not in school get ‘married’ to older men in their early teens, so we are excited and honored to have Liliana with us as we expose her daily to the truth of Christ and how to live a life of purity in God’s sight.

 

Sandra got nervous when I caught her in the kitchen with her mom and started taking pictures! We’ve had a long history with her and her mom, and we are very thankful that she’s decided to return to the Living Waters Ranch as a student and continue seeking God’s will for her life. Sandra’s mom continues to serve alongside of us part-time, and we enjoy a very blessed relationship with her.



Lunch time! Roughly 50 hungry people came streaming into our kitchen for their lunch of rice, beans and potatoes. I stood on a wooden stool to take the following shots…This is Brayan, our 16-year-old son who was one of our first four students in our experimental homeschool program that we started in 2014 as we struck out from the beaten path to develop a discipleship-based educational alternative geared at restoring broken youth for God’s glory.

 

All of our 40 students eat lunch in our home every weekday, and everyone is responsible for washing their own dishes when they finish!

 

Lunchtime sure is fun…for some people! My next stop was detention, an hour-long daily event for the students who for various reasons need a little extra help in the discipline department. We take very seriously our duty to discipline and train up the youth under our care according to God’s Word, and we believe it is vitally important to their development into useful, grateful human beings. Detention is never empty!

 

These folks were also in detention, and they all started laughing when I entered with the camera! Nobody wants to get caught on film in detention! (They were in the process of doing 150 squats.)

 

After visiting those precious kids in detention, I returned to the kitchen to take more photos! Here’s Darwin enjoying his lunch with our daughter Jackeline and Miss Ligia.

 

Another skateboard competition on the porch of our high school building!

 

This is Marlon, another new student who entered the Living Waters Ranch discipleship-based community homeschool in these past couple weeks. He is a young man from our neighborhood who began spending time with Erick and attending our Bible studies before he decided to withdraw completely from the public school where he was studying and dive into a completely different environment at the Living Waters Ranch. He mentioned to us that at his other school the teacher spent the majority of the day playing on her cellphone, and many students didn’t even show up for class.

 

Another fun lunchtime activity on Fridays is Darwin’s outdoor recorder class.

 

The boys always love playing soccer! We’ve designed our daily schedule to have an extended lunchtime so that the kids can develop healthy friendships, play together, practice their instruments, etc.

 

 

Good news: if you didn’t get sent to detention all week, a prize awaits you on Friday! Miss Isis and Miss Ligia are getting the Friday snack ready for those students who were responsible and wise during the week. We love this weekly practice because it further inculcates in our students an understanding of the reality that they reap what they sow.

 

This is Miss Ligia and Miss Reina’s after-school cooking class! During this time the older boys are in “Men of Honor” with Erick, and the rest of the girls are in Darwin’s girls’ choir.

 

Well, we’re coming to the end of the day! This was my workstation in our living room where I worked on administration all day (…well, when I wasn’t playing the role of ‘paparazzi.’)

 

Josue, our 9-year-old son with special needs, was a great photography assistant! To wind down from a hard day’s work, he decided to spend some good time ‘repairing’ his bicycle on our porch…

 

Amen! Glory to God!

 

 

A Heart That Longs for the Eternal Rest

A couple nights ago our 8 kids were tucked in their bedrooms in our little cinderblock house, several already asleep while others drew or read quietly in their quarters. It was our family’s daily Sabbath Hour.

The electricity had gone out several hours prior, so our otherwise pitch dark house held small pockets of light provided by a few strategically-placed candles. The old wicker table in our living room housed a large display of folders, papers and office materials where I had been working with a headlamp strapped to my forehead the last couple hours. My husband Darwin was in our office in the adjacent building on our rural property finishing his own ‘homework’ by flashlight.

I stood wearily in our living room after having survived a day that involved directing a 6-hour-long crucial planning meeting with our team of teachers/mentors/pastors, another six hours or so of paperwork, a constant waterfall of sweat dripping over my body accompanied by more than a few mosquito bites, and managing our 8 kids (and all their shenanigans) in the midst of it all. Although my work performance (at least in the meeting) had been high, my attitude was quickly taking a turn for the worst as I felt bogged by a sense of guilt that I had not given our children the time and attention they had needed from me that day.

Living in a household with 8 youth ranging from special needs children to abuse victims to active teenagers is not exactly conducive to cultivating a focused work environment, as every 5 minutes or so someone comes asking for a new pencil, seeking permission for something or announcing World War III. Then the heavy rains started, and the thunder spooked our oversized guard dogs to such an extent that they began frantically pushing their way past our kids into our house, which further added to what was quickly becoming an impossible work environment.

My thoughts limped toward the obvious: hopefully the electricity would come back on at some point during the next several hours so that all the food in our refrigerator wouldn’t spoil. Plus we still had to make copies of each of our students’ mid-year evaluations, but without electricity our photocopier was useless.

Oh well.

Dry-erase marker in hand, I began jotting down the next day’s predicted schedule along with general family news on our living-room whiteboard. I felt ready for a really long nap, but there was still more work to be done in preparation for the new semester of classes that would begin the next day. After having been on a mid-year week-long vacation, all of our local students  would be returning to commence the second half of the school year.

Our family had gotten away from home for that full week in order to breathe deeply and distance ourselves from the usual pounding of activities, demands on our time, dozens of local people constantly in our home, etc. We had rented an itty-bitty rustic cabin on a desert island off the Honduran coast, and for that week it felt like we had stepped into someone else’s life. In the blink of an eye (or rather in the hour-long boatride that led us away from the mainland) I was transformed into a relaxed, fun and funny stay-at-home mom who didn’t have the weight of dozens of other people’s struggles, the administration of an NGO and the constant threat of local violence on her shoulders.

The intense demands on our time and emotional reserves were greatly decreased during that week, and even the mosquitos and scorching heat were kept at bay. We were the only inhabitants there besides the local married couple who looks after the place, so even the constant supervision we are normally engaged in with our teenagers was lightened as there was no immediate temptation to search out their next potential crush. We laughed and played with our kids; we prayed together as a family; we stayed up late talking to and enjoying one another and slept late the next morning (‘late’ as in 7:00am). We cooked and ate every meal together as a family; there were no errands or legal concerns or fear of being the next victim of so much senseless violence that occurs in this country. We kayaked together; we swam in the ocean with our kids; we played chess and fished. I was no one’s boss and no one’s teacher; I was free to just be ‘mom,’ something I’m still trying to learn to do gracefully.

And so on Sunday as we left that beautiful desert island where the refreshing breeze whips constantly and you don’t even need to know what time it is, our senses were immediately accosted by the ugliness, the utter rawness of the reality we were re-entering on mainland Honduras. Whereas natural beauty, human silence and the crashing of ocean waves had accompanied us on that little island, our eyes and ears were suddenly under constant attack. One of our teenage daughters even cried as we left our little haven and re-entered the reality of living unprotected in a country dripping in corruption and devastating poverty.

The water transitioned from crystal clear to totally opaque upon arriving at the coast: floating trash and littered streams greeted us. Upon loading ourselves and our luggage into our pickup truck, Darwin began the awkward zig-zag, dancing haphazardly down the highway as he jolted between dozens of huge potholes. Two or three times he didn’t react quick enough and the car slammed down into the holes as everyone screamed. Destroyed roads; beggars; trash strewn about; idle, lost people at every turn; palpable human negligence and sin everywhere you look. Those on the inside of the cabin with us were enveloped in a solemn silence as we all felt the sting of re-entering our reality in third-world Honduras who frequently tops the worldwide ranking of homicide per capita. Danger suddenly seemed close and mistrust closer as we were very literally re-entering the battlefield whether we were ready or not.

And so as I stood propped-up near that light green wall in our living room filling our family’s whiteboard, I reflected sadly on the fact that the transition back home the day prior had not exactly been smooth as each of us was feeling the sudden demands to perform on a superhuman level, to fulfill duty, to detect possible danger (and somehow avoid it) and to re-open our home daily to dozens of people, the majority of whom are very broken and untrustworthy.

As my hand continued moving, dry-erase marker in hand, a small person suddenly came out of their room and was standing by my side, looking up at me. It was Jason, our son who is on the cusp of turning 10 years old this month.

My immediate thought was to send him back to his room or onward toward the bathroom (whichever his destiny might be), but I took a deep breath — fighting through exhaustion to put a genuine smile on my face — as he asked innocently, “Can you come pray with me?”

Who can say no to that? I put the marker down and followed him through the curtain into the room he shares with our other two boys, who were already sound asleep. It was a hot, sticky night, and there was no refreshing ocean breeze anywhere closeby.

He scurried up and into his top bunk as I took off my headlamp and laid the small light at the foot of his bed so I could see our sweet son. I looked at him expectantly, waiting to hear a couple quick prayer requests but instead received the beginning of a very long, quite animated discussion involving many different topics.

I realized that the prayer time would doubtlessly come at the end, but what he had really wanted wasn’t a quick bedtime prayer but rather his mom, who had been almost entirely absent from him emotionally throughout the day. I stood next to his wooden bunk, my hands stroking his feet as he began enthusiastically commenting this and that to me as he sat up in his bed in the dark room.

He is quickly becoming a Bible expert as he’s read every children’s Bible we have cover-to-cover several times, so he dove right into deep theological questions regarding idol worship, Baal, and whether or not people in today’s world still worship false gods. We discussed freely the book of Hosea, Genesis, and other texts as he rapidly jumped from one topic to another as soon as he was satisfied with the answer I had given him. He then began expressing his excitement about choosing his new classes the next day, and asked several intelligent questions regarding what he had observed that day in the planning meeting (he had requested to be present in our team meeting which turned into the 6-hour-long mammoth meeting, so he gained a lot of valuable inside knowledge that our other kids didn’t have). Through a huge grin on his face he talked of his new upcoming ‘masks and theater’ class that he’ll be in; the military-training P.E. class he hoped to join with Pastor Domingo; and his general comments regarding the next day’s promising events.

Jumping between theology and his daily reality as a 9-year-old, a new question suddenly dawned on him as his eyes swung toward me: “Mom, why is it so hard for some people to believe?” He began explaining his question as he quoted some text about Zacchaeus from the New Testament as my mind felt suddenly numbed by his question. The question had floored me. Why is it so hard for some people to believe? Better yet, why is it so hard for me to believe — trust, find peace and joy in — Christ in the midst of our demanding and at times dangerous daily reality? How is it possible that I’m at peace on a remote desert island but feel constantly persecuted by stress once placed back within the confines of our daily environment?

And so I began to answer his question, as he had asked it in search of an answer. I discussed briefly the reality of spiritual warfare (that Satan is actively involved in convincing us in subtle ways not to trust in God, as is evidenced from the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden) in addition to several other comments. I then breathed deeply and shared with him the fact that in the midst of many pressures that day I had even lost the eternal perspective. Even as Christians it can be difficult for us to have faith; we must ask God to grant us more.

My last word had hardly left my mouth as he experienced a burst of energy and sat up even taller in his bed as his next question came bouncing out, “Mom, when’s my hair gonna grow?”

I laughed and followed him down the path of the new topic, now far from theology. Moments later, as I felt I was wilting lower and lower, the wooden rungs of the bunk being the only thing keeping me from collapsing on the floor, I asked him what his prayer requests were so as to wrap up our time together. His answer: “That I won’t have nightmares tonight. And that God would grant me wisdom.”

And so I prayed over our son that God would give him deep sleep and protect him from nightmares and that He would fill Jason with wisdom. After our ‘amen,’ I tucked him in and made my way over to our bedroom, still captivated by Jason’s question about faith. As my thoughts still drew me back to the beauty of our time on the island, I felt God gave me my answer, rooted in His perfect peace:

What I most longed for was not the temporary rest on a beautiful island, which even at its best is not an entire rest from all struggle, as even on our vacation our kids at times behaved as little toots and had to be corrected, counseled and disciplined. Even at its best a total distancing of oneself from earthly drama can never be complete, for within each and every one of us is the battle between good and evil, between Christ’s light and the darkness of sin. On that busy Monday full of meetings and stressors, what I was most longing for was not another vacation or even a change of scenery: in the depths of my being I longed for God’s Kingdom, that glorious place of eternal rest and communion with the living God.

And that thought energized me, for I knew — had experienced! — just how beautiful and blessed our time had been during that week in a peaceful place surrounded by God’s unadulterated creation, although tainted by our sin. And how much more awesome will God’s eternal kingdom be, where true justice will reign! Oh, I can’t wait to be there. Lord, please grant me the faith that I lack in order to persevere through mosquitos and sickness and threats of violence and trial — and even my own struggles with sin, which sometimes seem to be the last ones to be addressed because everyone else’s needs are so pressing! — in order to arrive successfully at that beautiful eternal rest with You.

And with that, I took a shower and crawled into bed, my body still exhausted and knowing that my alarm clock would sound before the sun came up, but with a renewed energy in my soul, knowing that the promise of rest — of real justice — is drawing near, and that is the eternal reward for which we are so arduously working. Amen! Glory to God!

Family Roll Call! (Informational Video #2)

Here is the second homemade informational video we recorded this past week! (Even though it starts off by giving a ‘Vacation Bible School’ greeting, the video is intended for general audiences!)

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.