Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Here are photos that were taken at our yearend celebratory event with our students, teachers/missionaries and local community a few weeks ago at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve as Christ’s body.
(I have not updated the blog recently due to the fact that our 10 foster kids/teens are on vacation from our community homeschool program, and I’ve been dedicating more ‘momma’ time to them as they’ve needed me to be more present in the home and put the majority of my administrative/communication duties on hold for now). God bless you, and please continue praying for the unstable political scene in Honduras, as the chaos has calmed down for now but is rumored to heat up again after the holidays.
We recently had a sister in Christ, an American missionary who has been serving in Central America for several years, come stay in our home for the better part of a week to do all-day group counseling sessions with our girls to aid in their ongoing healing process from difficult situations they went through in their early childhood. We are very thankful for the investment of the counselor in our girls’ lives, and we are hoping to have her back 1-2 times per year over the long haul. Please continue to pray with us for our daughters’ healing and freedom in Christ as chains of abuse and sin are being broken from their past with their biological families.
New Initiative/Job Opportunity for Local Youth
Last month we began offering a short-term job opportunity for a select group of our students at the Living Waters Ranch. We held three open informational/training sessions with all the youth interested in the job, assigned an in-depth homework assignment as part of the selection process, and then chose 9 youth ages 12-15 who would be the official ‘tutors’ (think fun educational babysitters) for developmentally-challenged 8-year-olds Gabriela and Josue during the winter vacation months.
We are about six weeks into this new initiative, and thus far it has produced abundant blessing both for the young tutors and Gaby and Josue, who are being joyfully occupied with art class, basic literacy, P.E., hide-and-seek, etc, while Darwin and I thus have more free time to dedicate to our older kids and other responsibilities.
As part of the job, the teenage tutors have to read Heidi Baker’s book Compelled by Love, a Christian non-fiction book about how to live Jesus’ command to love the lost and the least. Before each ‘pay day’, the teens have to submit a lengthy summary of the chapters that were assigned in addition to a personal reflection on the subject matter covered.
There are almost zero employment opportunities for teenagers in our poverty-stricken rural area (and almost no one has the habit of reading long chapter books), so the experience thus far has been of great growth and blessing for our young tutors. We are excited about this new initiative because it keeps wiggle-worms Gaby and Josue occupied and growing while at the same time makes a lasting investment in the lives and development of the young people who are learning for the first time what it means to hold a real job, read a very impactful book and deepen their walk with Christ.
Educational Field Trip to Local Nature Reserve with Our Students; Darwin’s Recorder Ensemble Plays During Lunch
Several weeks ago we were invited by an internationally-known nature reserve in our small town to spend the morning bird-watching with professional guides, hiking through a forest, wandering through a butterfly farm and seeing many snakes up-close in a Serpentarium. It was a very special experience for all of our students, teachers and live-ins as they had never participated in such an event in such a breathtaking landscape. During lunch on-site, Darwin organized his small group of dedicated student musicians to play several pieces as a thank-you to the owners of the reserve who had received us that morning.
Prayer Needed for Continued Protection Against Local Violence
There is much senseless violence and fear in our immediate context. Just this week two of our beloved teachers were kidnapped by a masked taxi driver. One of them began praying out loud that God would protect them, and finally the masked driver miraculously let them leave as he was taking them to a very isolated part of the city. Weekly we hear about (or personally see) large commercial buses being burned by extortionists and rampant gang-related murder taking the lives of innocent citizens. Please pray with us so that we do not fall prey to this spirit of fear and that Father God would protect us from the deeds of evil men so that we may continue to peacefully fulfill His will for many years to come.
Twice-Weekly Bible Study and Worship Continue During Vacation Months
During the winter vacation months before our new school year starts up again in February, we are continuing to meet as a family twice a week to study God’s Word and grow in Him. A small group of our students and neighbors continue to attend as we are taking turns leading the discussion as a way of allowing leadership/growth opportunities to the precious young people God has placed in our lives. Brayan and Josselyn led the discussion on Thursday, and sisters Dayana and Gleny are scheduled to lead on Tuesday of this upcoming week.
Prayer Needed for Sleep Issue and General Vitality
More than local violence, police corruption or behavioral problems confronted in our household, the biggest struggle I’ve come against day after day has been insomnia. Despite many natural and prescription sleeping aids and other treatments I’ve tried, I frequently spend the entire night wide awake or sleep only a couple hours. It is very easy to become discouraged and/or fall into hyper-adrenaline rushes to combat utter exhaustion as I daily struggle with general irritability with those around me. Please pray for this very real battle that oftentimes has my sanity hanging from a thread as I’ve been constantly sleep deprived for several years.
Christian Youth Conference Participation
This past week we drove six hours across the country with two of our beloved teachers and our two oldest kids (Dayana and Brayan) to attend the first-ever Christian youth conference held by a respected organization that seeks to help at-risk youth and those growing up without their biological families to base their identity in Christ. It was a very busy three-day event with several speakers, team-building activities and small group discussion/prayer time. Events such as these are very uncommon in developing countries such as Honduras, so to be able to participate and continue growing in Christ with those we love was a very huge privilege. It was a very healthy experience to get out of our immediate context and meet other Christ-followers from around the country and be exposed once more to the truth we’ve come to know and love.
This past Saturday we celebrated the joint birthdays of Jackeline (13) and Dayana (16), two of the young women the Lord has placed in our household as daughters. Although they are not biological sisters, they were both born on October first, so they decided to have a shared birthday party (with two separate cakes, of course).
We handed our digital camera off to many small, eager photographers who very contentedly ran here and there, functioning as the event’s paparazzi. They did a pretty good job with the photos!
During these past few days there has been a palpable sense of preparation– of everyone preparing for something – permeating nearly every occurrence in our household. I can’t speak for our kids, but my own anticipation for this time had been growing exponentially in these past few weeks, for I know that I hold in my hands some secret key that many others have yet to find nor search for.
This week all 8 of our kids, Darwin and I are on vacation from all our normal activities for ‘Holy Week’ (the week leading up to Easter that can be taken as the American equivalent of Spring Break).
In our household, every time there is any kind of extended vacation such as this, everyone knows what to expect, and they do so with well-intentioned groans and good-natured murmuring, although I know that deep down they rejoice. They know without fail that Mom will spend considerable time each evening elaborating long, specific lists of goals, homework assignments, and other guided activities for each person on the whiteboard outside of their bedroom door. And each person is expected to meet these goals with diligence and joy before 5:00pm the following day.
My heart quickens with giddiness just thinking about it, because as many squander their precious free time, we busy ourselves with the joyful art of preparation, knowing our Father has something in store for us and wanting to be prepared when the time comes.
A quote that I stumbled upon during my college years that has greatly marked my outlook every since is this:
The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
And although I have never breathed mention of this quote to Darwin or our kids (nor do we have it painted in huge, bold letters over our front door, although that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea), the reality of its words is already deeply imprinted upon our hours and days.
So while the rest of our neighbors or even our beloved students who study at our school most likely spend these 9 days of vacation wandering aimlessly (as is the favorite pastime of youth in our neighborhood), watching hour after hour of television or idly chit-chatting and gossiping on their front porches, we are toiling upward in the night.
Each day our 6 kids who can read and write have a host of healthy, guided activities to set about doing: study specific chapters from the Bible, play piano or recorder for a certain amount of time, practice the times tables with a certain sibling, go to a quiet place with so-and-so to share and pray, write a letter of friendship or encouragement for someone else, write a reflection or list of life goals, study English as a second language for an hour, stand up and read out loud 45 minutes from any book of their choosing, or participate in our version of cross-fit training (100 push-ups, 100 frog-jumps, and 10 laps to and from the far gate, etc). Each person (ages 8-15) must manage their list of 4-8 activities by themselves, checking off each activity throughout the day as it is completed. When 5:00pm rolls around, the goal is that each person has finished all that was assigned to them.
In the beginning (as in, until very recently) this was like trying to herd cats on steroids (as my dad would say), especially with the younger kids who generally used to get distracted or were moved to acts of disobedience every 16.45 seconds, but after months (and, for some of them, over two years) of consistent encouragement, fair discipline, modeling by example, dogged persistence, and real-world consequences, by now everyone is well-adjusted to Mom’s terrible habit of expecting everyone to toil upward in the night with her. By some act of divine grace, they’ve recognized that, although in the here-and-now they would rather do as they please, long-term it really is what’s best for them and, as such, they have decided to hop on board willingly with all this crazy business of toiling while just about everyone else they know does the exact opposite.
A couple nights ago 8-year-old Jason, who has been known to be quite the procrastinator and not the best general manager of his time and resources (by golly, he’s only 8!), approached me at 5:00pm as we were all setting the table for dinner and said in a very even, mature tone, although clearly disappointed with himself: “Mom, I need a consequence because I didn’t finish all of my goals on time. I got most of them done, but I’m still working on writing all the times tables from 0-10.”
I squatted down in front of him and said in a very sympathetic tone, “Well, everyone who did finish their goals will get pudding with their dinner and then your Dad and I will watch a movie with them afterward, so your consequence is that you don’t get the pudding and will have to go to bed early instead of watching the movie.” I shrugged innocently and added: “Maybe tomorrow you will manage your time better.”
The consequence seemed clear and fair to him, so he smiled, nodded in agreement, and we continued lightheartedly with the dinner preparations.
The next day he got up early and worked (independently of any adult help or encouragement) more diligently and joyfully than I have ever seen him work, and finished all of his goals not by 5:00pm but by 1:00pm. And, that night, he got his chocolate pudding at dinner and got to watch the movie in addition to having quite a bit of free time in the afternoon to play after having finished his goals!
Something that brings me great joy in a sneaky sort of way is that among the 7th grade students from our local community who study at our home/mission, our eldest daughter, Dayana (15 years old), has quickly and efficiently distinguished herself among them without any conscious effort. The other students are literally astounded by many of her abilities, whether it is the fact that she plays piano quite well and already gives classes, is Darwin’s very capable assistant in the choir and frequently teaches the sopranos by herself, or that she delivered several lethal blows in the class’ first organized debate, speaking with such authority and confidence as if she were already a well-trained lawyer. On the first set of quizzes that rolled around, she was the only student who passed, and right now as we are ending the first grading period, she is the only student who has an ‘A’ average. While others glaze over in Bible study, she participates actively and wisely, and she has to turn away many classmates who seek her help in group projects or homework assignments because she knows they will only distract her.
One day as she and I were discussing the reality of her overwhelming success thus far in our 7th-grade program (which is the first year in high school according to the Honduran system), she laughed earnestly and said, “And I thought I wouldn’t do well in high school!”
I, too, laughed with her, amazed at all the Lord has done with her young life in less than two and a half years of living in our home (after two years of living with a foster mom before us), and I asked with a careful tone: “Do your classmates know that you didn’t enter first grade until you were 11 years old?” Understanding that my goal was not to shame her for the fact that her biological parents never put her in school but rather to point out the impressive fact that all of her academic, musical, and Christ-like developments have been made in four years’ time, she looked over at me with a sly grin and said, “…No.”
Upon hearing her answer I believe I threw my head back and let out a laugh that came rumbling up from my gut. If only they knew: Dayana is not some genius; she has simply mastered the art of toiling upward in the night.
So at 6:30am on any given day as our 26 students (16 in high school and 10 in elementary) come pouring in our front gate, many drawn to those beautiful notes coming from the keyboard just inside the schoolhouse door, eyes wide when they peek their head in and see it is 15-year-old Dayana playing Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, I smile because I know she practiced 2-4 hours every day during her vacations and continues to do so an hour each afternoon after getting out of her academic classes. It’s not luck or some special gifting; she’s a toiler.
Or when 8-year-old Jason’s principal at his private Christian school comments to us with wide, sincere eyes that she is shocked by Jason’s turnaround from a rude, immature student to one of the most well-adjusted, stable students in his class in less than a year’s time, I smile because I know all the toiling upward we’ve done with him while the rest of the world was sleeping.
So Tuesday of this week of vacations each of our kids set about accomplishing the different assignments on their whiteboard, certain activities intended for spiritual or relational growth while other focused on more practical skills such as math, reading and public speaking. It quickly became evident – to my total surprise – that not even one of our kids needed encouragement or redirection because each one was already so joyfully entrenched in their interdisciplinary assignments, so I did something I have literally never done before: with the rain in a constant drizzle outside, lowering the usually hot tropical climate to an almost-nippy cool, I got out a blanket and author Ted Dekker’s new book and curled up on the couch in our living room to read.
You must understand: Darwin and I are typically in constant motion from about 5:00am until about 8:00pm – going to and from the office or school buildings to supervise, teach and counsel, correcting and disciplining so-and-so or attending to such-and-such semi-crisis, talking with him-and-her about their attitudes or going after the lost sheep who stormed out in anger, working on paperwork or accounting, attending to various visitors, etc.
But Tuesday was different. I looked around me, taking in with careful observation all that I saw: Dayana peacefully holed up in the school building, producing beautiful notes from the piano; Sandra in her bedroom, her voice soaring high as she practiced the different choir songs; Jackeline and Jason rather dynamically practicing the times tables with flash cards; Josselyn writing a reflection on what she had read from the book of John; Gleny at our square wooden table a few feet from me, contentedly coloring a large graphic drawing of flowers and such; my husband Darwin finally having 5 seconds of free time to study his English textbooks and audio tapes, his materials spread out as he studied uninterrupted in our dining room; and Josue and Gaby playing with some degree of focus with blocks and stuffed animals on the floor beside me. I assessed and re-assessed the situation, thoroughly convinced that at any moment someone would urgently need me or possibly explode with anger or need to be encouraged to manage their time more wisely, but, despite all odds, each person continued onward in serenity and efficiency, managing themselves with a self-discipline that I had never before seen in such perfect bloom.
Seeing that everything was quite under control, I hesitantly sat down on the couch – a sacred act which does not happen often, as we have the widely-accepted rule that no one can sit on the couch until evening once everyone has bathed and has on clean clothes – with my book in hand, waiting to see what would happen. I tentatively read a few pages, constantly lifting my eyes from the written plot to supervise and verbally encourage/praise the little ones around me, until the daring thought struck me: I think I could actually remove myself from active involvement in this situation and…nothing bad would happen. Cool! I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna get out the blanket, curl up and really relax! Is this possible?! I’m sitting – no, laying! – on the couch at noon! Whoa!
So that day – for the first time that I can recall – I curled up horizontally on our little couch with multi-colored cushions under a big quilt and spent several hours devouring my new book. Yes, Gaby came over more than a dozen times to pat me, sit on me, put her stuffed animal cat in my face and generally try to reel me into her love trap, but the general tranquility and diligence around me continued on unabated the rest of the day as each child/teen reached all of their goals way before the designated hour, and did so with grace. My heart smiled as I reached out in gratitude to our Good Father, thanking him for these seeds of diligence and wisdom that He has planted among us and allowed to begin bearing such fruit.
So in our household, we are learning that it’s not about taking in orphaned and abandoned children and giving them a toothbrush, a safe place to sleep and three square meals a day and assuming we’ve done our job well; it’s about toiling with them upward in the night, taking what was broken, thrown-away and abused and seeking God’s power to transform, renew, and germinate in such a way that we all – Darwin and I included – become increasingly useful instruments in His hands. It’s about throwing aside what eats our time, what only distracts and destroys, and secretly plodding onward toward a new calling, a new Kingdom, while the rest of the world sleeps. It’s about seeking to prepare the little ones one day after the next with such a dogged perseverance that the world may very well call us unrealistic or too demanding, so that they may be found prepared and willing in the hour when He may call and reveal the purpose He has for them.
First 3 Weeks of Classes in Living Waters Ranch High School and Elementary School a Success
Since the first day of classes on Wednesday, February 3rd we have enjoyed a surprisingly smooth and joyful transition into hosting 30 students ages 8-20 in our home/mission every day Monday-Friday for academic classes (grades 1-7), Bible studies, music and art lessons, etc. The students have said many times that they wish they had to come to classes on Saturdays too!
They start trickling in through our front gate each morning at 6:30am — (due to our disciplinary system that includes a very detailed contract that each student and their parents signed before enrolling, everyone’s learned quite quickly to be punctual for 7:00am classes!) — and they leave between 1:00-3:30pm each afternoon depending on the specific day of the week.
Please continue to pray that this new outreach would bear much fruit for the Kingdom, and that many children/youth who are not yet willing vessels for God’s love would come to know and submit to Him through the various ways the gospel is taught and lived at the Living Waters Ranch. Pray also that the Lord would grant us wisdom, perseverance, and vision so as to impact the children/youth from our rural neighborhood in the deepest way possible for His glory.
We’ve received notice from our lawyer that all of our legal paperwork, accounting, organizational reports, etc, from 2011-2015 have been officially received by the Honduras government in the capital city, which is a huge step. That process lasted several months, so now at least we have in hand a signed and stamped copy that proves that our documents have been received and are being processed.
Please continue to pray for God’s hand over this entire process — that the government officials may work effectively and transparently, and that the Lord may grant us peace in the midst of continued waiting.
Brayan Returns to Living Waters Ranch School as Fifth Grade Student
Brayan, our young neighbor who lived under our roof as a son during 8 months and has continued his on-and-off relationship with us since, recently moved back to our rural neighborhood and, after a period of discernment, has been accepted into our discipleship-based elementary school program into a class with four other teen boys five days a week. He is doing incredibly well, and we are all thrilled to have him so close as he continues to grow and develop into a man after God’s own heart.
Let us give thanks to God for all that is happening in Brayan’s life, and pray with us that Brayan’s decision-making would continue following its current pattern.
Dayana (age 15) Begins Teaching Beginners’ Piano
Dayana, the eldest of the 8 children/youth the Lord has placed in our home as sons and daughters, recently began teaching weekly piano lessons to three young neighbors of ours along with 11-year-old Josselyn, one of our 8. In these last few months Dayana has begun taking on many new leadership roles in our home/mission. She is the only one of our kids who is in our 7th-grade Living Waters Ranch High School, and it is exhilarating to see her very quickly and naturally taking on leadership roles among her peers (all 15 of which are from our rural neighborhood), participating more than anyone else in our twice-weekly Bible study, and aiding our new teacher in various ways.
Let us give thanks to God for the ways He is enabling her to develop according to His will, and please pray with us for her continued protection, purity, and joy.