Tag Archives: Refuge for abuse victims

A Quiet Reflection on Love, Loss and Hope for the Future

First of all, thank you to all of you who responded to our previous blog post with sincere comments and to those who emailed me directly with words of encouragement. God bless each of you, and thank you for your availability and prayers.

A few Saturdays ago I sat around the rectangular wooden table in our family room with two of our teenage foster daughters. More than a complete spread of notebooks, office supplies, backpacks and books took over the surface area as we began working contentedly, the front door wide open to let in light and what little breeze there was. Every evening we eat dinner around this same table with its floral-print tablecloth, each person elbow-to-elbow with those next to them. We drag over the piano bench so that there will be enough seats for everyone.

On this particular occasion, the three of us gathered at this table with the intention of working on our ‘homework’ — my girls on math and grammar assignments; me on planning and administration. I serve as their math, grammar, Bible, chess and P.E. teacher in the homeschool program we operate out of our home for roughly 50 teens (our 7 fosters and  41 local youth), but when we’re not in classes I’m just their mom. My husband and I do much role-hopping throughout the week, and with God’s grace it has become normal to us.

That particular day my husband Darwin, three of our foster children and a half dozen of our local students had taken the trip into town for a day of art and music classes while I stayed on our rural homestead with our other 4 foster children. This is, in fact, the routine split-up that occurs every Saturday.

For this very reason, Saturdays are one of my favorite days of the week. I treasure when my husband and I split up our kids so that we can invest more individualized time in each one (and take a little break from the general havoc of having our complete swarm of busy-bees present). When all 7 are together (or 10, which is the number we used to have), everything just sort of turns into crowd control, which is not much fun for me.

So, our preciously quiet Saturdays grant a much slower pace and allow me increased one-on-one time with the small group that stays at home with me all day. Monday through Friday we’re “on” as close to 60 people invade our home (and need guidance, love, surveillance, prayer, classes, organization, etc.) from 6:45am until 4:00pm, so the few moments when all is still and quiet are truly a gift.

I glanced out beyond our chain-linked fence to watch our small herd of milking cows roam about our large, grassy property. After the cattle thieves had broken in and slaughtered our two adult milking cows last November, leaving us devastated (and scared), we’ve recuperated and our new momma cow just gave birth recently to a little male. My husband and two of our kids milk her every morning at 5:00am, and at least for now we don’t have to buy milk at the grocery store.

My eyes traced our expansive lawn as I took in the view of the flowering plants and the bright-colored clothes hanging on the clothesline. When the masses leave, this rural property turns into a quiet haven, a peaceful paradise. It is home and ministry to us at the same time. It is the center of our community outreach and evangelism and at the same time serves as my own refuge after long, tiring days of service.

On Saturdays I move about slower than usual, oftentimes in baggy, old clothes and my curly hair up in a messy bun as I relish in the quieter pace to reflect, seek God’s ongoing direction, remember.

I stood barefoot on our front lawn, no one looking for me or needing me, as I studied with joy our special-needs son Josue as he teetered about our silent yard on his dearly loved but extremely beaten-up bicycle. He can spend hours on that little bike without saying a word, and on this particular occasion he didn’t even realize I was watching him.

Our other daughter was practicing piano in the stillness of the purple-colored house next to ours that during the week serves as our high school building. I contemplated with joy her simple, sure notes that she played so beautifully.

After meandering around the yard a few more minutes, I crossed the threshold into our living room, returning to where our two girls awaited me. I took one glance at my to-do pile and realized that I didn’t want to do any of it. By the look on my girls’ faces, they were thinking just the same about their homework.

I slipped out of our living room and crossed the yard again, still barefoot. I entered that little purple building that lies a stone’s throw from our family’s home. I passed silently by our daughter playing the piano and entered the little community office we share during the week with our small team of Honduran missionaries/teachers. I grabbed a couple boxes of oil pastels, paper and envelopes, feeling invigorated as I was about to break all the rules and put aside my endless stacks of ‘adult homework’ for the day.

Re-entering our living room once more, I sat down on a wooden chair next to our two girls with a smile and quickly began diving into my unspoken art project. Our girls stared at me, mischievously  happy to see me acting somewhat like a small child.

What was I doing? I was taking my part in going the extra mile, and joyfully so. At a staff meeting the day prior our small team had agreed to split up the task of writing individual letters of encouragement, friendship and spiritual orientation for the roughly-50 youth in our homeschool. Each child and teen would receive 2 letters (from different people), meaning we would need a total of almost 100 personalized, creative letters with decorated envelopes if possible. We had done just this same task a couple weeks prior in an effort to reach out to our students on a very individualized, thoughtful level to encourage them in their walk with the Lord and to express our sincere love and appreciation for them.

A few of our letters prepared for the youth we love, disciple and teach

This ended up being a big hit, as most of our students had never received such long, inspiring and touching letters from adults in their lives. One 14-year-old teen boy commented innocently to his teacher after having received his two uplifting letters, “I had no idea that people could write such kind letters without them being directed toward a dating relationship.” This, after all, has been a big struggle among our teen students. If and when they do write any kind of personal letter to a classmate, it is normally an inappropriate effort at expressing ‘love’ to their secret boyfriend or girlfriend.

So, God has given us the task of setting a powerful, loving example of just what it means to write a letter under God’s perfect will and with His purposes in mind. Our letters are all about pure encouragement, godly counsel and sincere appreciation, and they come from the mature adults in their lives, not from their immature peers who are seeking affirmation and identity in all the wrong places.

This particular round of letters would not be handed over for another two weeks (and that is why it had not been on my ‘urgent’ to-do list for the day), but it suddenly seemed more important and desirable than all the other potential tasks at hand.

My list of letter recipients included 14 students ages 6-18, so I began decorating envelopes with the oil pastels and expressing my sincere thoughts on paper for these youth whom I have grown to know and love dearly.

My two girls immediately took interest in my little project and asked what I was doing. It didn’t take long until they, too, put their homework aside and asked to borrow some oil pastels. All three of us began drawing and coloring with great interest, and suddenly several hours had gone by without us really noticing at all.

Waist-deep in the whole process, I began writing my letter to Alejandra, a very petite and soft-spoken 10-year-old in fourth grade. She is the younger sister of Sandra, a local teen with whom we have a deep, beautiful and — currently — tragic history.

Sandra, now 17 years old, came into our lives almost three years ago as a very submissive and responsible teen who was looking for refuge from a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father. She moved into our patchwork family for about 10 months until her mother (Geraldina), a brave and very faithful Christian woman, was able to escape the situation of abuse and move out on her own. She recovered her daughter Sandra under her care only to then pass through immense difficulties with her increasingly rebellious daughter. My husband and I stayed in the picture as Sandra’s teachers in our homeschool program and we began employing her mom. We likewise sought to serve as two additional counselors and supporters alongside of her mom as she struggled to control the reigns on her daughter’s new behavioral problems. Sandra had come to the know the Lord under our care and asked to be baptized along with her mom, grandfather and little sister, but the decisions she began making months later did not reflect God’s desire for her life.

This up-and-down continued over the next couple years, and she even moved back in with us for several months last year as a last-resort effort to guide her in the truth once she refused to obey her mom’s authority in the home. From there it is a sad story of her escaping from her mom’s home more than once and making a series of very dangerous decisions, all of which culminated in her running away with a young man she barely knew several months ago.

Sandra has approached us hesitantly for counsel since then, and several weeks ago we met with her in the privacy of her grandma’s home to speak truth and light into her life, all of which she listened to with bold, sincere eyes. We prayed with her at her request and embraced her. She still calls us Mom and Dad, a habit she got into while living in our home. (She has a different name for her real mom and for me, but they both mean mom.) We left our meeting with her unsure how to feel, and since then we’ve seen her several times around our rural neighborhood with the guy (she didn’t take any part of our advice and they are still living together out of wedlock), and just recently they moved across the country looking for manual labor jobs in order to survive as an uneducated, underage couple completely outside of God’s will.

So, when I picked up my black pen to write what should have been a very happy, upbeat letter to her 10-year-old littler sister, a very unexpected heaviness came over me and I had to fight back tears. I didn’t see this emotional storm within me coming, as I have remained publicly very calm and rational about Sandra’s decision-making and demise over the past several months. As my mom mentioned to me on the phone recently, it is probably easier to feel angry than sad, and that’s why I’ve kept so outwardly cool about something that has actually ripped me apart.

So, as I began writing about my sincere appreciation and hopes in the Lord for her precious little sister (who looks and acts just like her, thus reminding me of her constantly), all the intense sadness that I’ve been holding at bay for months came crashing in.

I wanted to say, totally deflated and serene, to no one in particular, “This letter should have been for Sandra, not for her little sister…I am now giving her little sister all the advice that she herself didn’t take. Oh, the work the Lord assigned us was in her, not in her little sister…but she has turned her back on the Lord and given herself over to sin. We loved her so much, and now she’s gone. …WHY…?

I felt like banging my fists on the table or locking myself in my bedroom only to lose myself in the locked-up emotions I had refused to experience in prior months. It definitely is much less painful to stay cool and collected (angry even) than to allow yourself to feel the weight of the sadness of broken dreams, lost souls.

I did not hit the table or leave the room; I continued writing the letter to her little sister, which turned out to be much longer than I had intended.

The letter ended up being very joyful but profoundly sincere. As a final touch, I drew bright-colored hearts all around the margins of the letter. I re-read it several times, thinking each time more about Sandra than about her little sister, and tried to hide the intense emotions that threatened to come out at any moment.

This year, Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) continues to labor alongside of us in cooking and cleaning as the Lord is doing great things in her life, and Sandra’s two little sisters are in school with us for the first time. Another young family member of Sandra’s is now also in school with us, and all are doing very well. Everyone is here except the one who God brought to us first: Sandra.

God places people in our lives to love and guide, and it is heartbreaking when they go astray and refuse to come back. Love is not costless, and it requires sacrifice and risk to truly love as God loves.

Well, last Thursday was the official day to hand over our hand-written labor of love to the youth the Lord has placed under our care. Each of our local teachers/missionaries brought their stack — some decorated; others more plain but just as sincere — as I would then organize them all and head into the classrooms to deliver them.

A few of our teachers handing over their letters in the purple-colored little office that we all share. It’s the big day!

Once all my companions left to go to their respective classrooms at 7:00am, I had too much fun sifting through the letters and admiring the great love, detail and effort that was surely put into each one.

My plan was to take pictures of our students’ joy while opening their letters, but I quickly realized that doing so would invade their privacy and taint the beauty of the moment. Thus, I discretely took as few photos as possible, and only in the classrooms where I felt unspoken permission to take them…

Our three first graders reading their letters with the help of their tutor/teacher, a local teen male who has been involved at the Living Waters Ranch under our guidance for roughly four years.
What a picture! I love this — four of our big, extremely active teen boys (ages 13-18) caught all in silence, reading very tender letters of encouragement and spiritual direction from Christian adults who love them dearly!
A part of our sixth grade class opening their letters
Our foster daughter Gleny (smiling), with her teacher and a few classmates as they opened their letters
My husband Darwin reading letters with his spunky group of second- and third-graders, all of whom come from unique family situations/difficult personal backgrounds
Two of our seventh-grade girls reading their personalized letters from their beloved teachers

Thank God for the small acts of kindness that He leads us to take in order to recognize, love and guide those whom He has put in our path. (One of our 16-year-old boys who typically suffers from great immaturity and doesn’t display much emotional depth informed me very sincerely the afternoon that I handed out the envelopes, “I still haven’t read my two letters yet…I’m gonna wait until I get home, get changed, turn the fan on, and then in the stillness of my home I’m gonna really take my time to read them…”) Wow! Praise God that something so simple as a letter can truly impact someone’s life in the love of God.

Also, as a last note, Geraldina (the mother of Sandra’s little sister whom I wrote one of my lengthy letters to), came up to me that afternoon with a huge smile on her face thanking me for the beautiful letter I had written her young daughter. She caught me off guard when she mentioned, “Alejandra is so very encouraged by what you wrote about God’s plan to grant her a Christian husband someday.” My jaw hung down around my ankles as I honestly didn’t even remember having written that in the letter, but it makes total sense. In a culture where so many women settle for a life of marital abuse and neglect with men who know nothing of God’s sacrificial love, that little comment in her long letter spoke life — and hope — into her young life. There are godly men out there; wait in purity and seek God first. God desires for you to enjoy your marriage with a Christian man, not to be one more woman disillusioned by an unfaithful or abusive husband. God declares that you are worth it; He paid the blood of His Son in order to adopt you as His daughter.

In conclusion (yes, this has been a very long post — hopefully you enjoyed a big cup of coffee while you were reading it!), thank you for your prayers and support, and God bless each of you. May the Lord give you the grace to love abundantly those whom He has placed near to you. Take every opportunity you have to share words of light and truth with them, and may we trust God to do the rest.

Sincerely,

Jennifer

June/July 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Answers in Regards to Katy’s Case

A couple months ago I wrote about my encounter with Katy, the younger biological sister of two of our foster daughters. Since then there has been much back-and-forth communication with the local government agency in regards to rescuing Katy out of what might be a situation of abuse/neglect (as was the case for her two sisters), and several weeks ago the agency’s lawyer finally made the visit to investigate Katy’s living situation further. The lawyer informed us that she saw nothing out of order and that the final verdict is that Katy will remain living with her biological family. The lawyer did comment, however, that it appears that Katy has a mental illness in addition to the girls’ mother, whom the lawyer met in person (I have yet to meet her, but we have heard stories about her). That is the agency’s final answer, so we choose to be at peace with this, and we hope and pray that Katy is, in fact, safe and well-cared-for with her biological family (as is the hope for any child). This information regarding the mother’s mental illness also helps us as we parent 11-year-old Gabriela, whom we also suspect has some degree of mental illness, which might be genetic or incurred due to sexual abuse. Please continue to pray for little Gabriela (Gaby) and her 13-year-old sister Josselyn as both girls this month reached their two-year anniversary of living in the protection of our home. Pray also for our relationship with the girls’ biological family, as we are currently in a season of supervised family visits each month and are carefully handling this relationship so that it may produce blessing for all involved.

My husband Darwin gives weekly music lessons not only in our community homeschool for local students but also individually with the majority of our foster/adopted children. This is a photo he took of a late-night ‘orchestra’ training as he brought everybody together to practice their instrument for several hours prior to a public recital they would be hosting. Darwin is currently offering recorder, piano, guitar, violin and choir lessons to more than a couple dozen at-risk youth in our rural neighborhood free of charge.
Darwin singing opera with a broom as a microphone on the front porch of our elementary school house
13-year-old Sindy (right), one of our extremely involved local students, enjoying the antics of “Mr. Darwin,” her beloved teacher

Christ’s Functioning Body: Relational Discipleship/Community Development in Our Rural Neighborhood

We are so thrilled and thankful that the team of local teachers, mentors and pastors that God has united this year at the Living Waters Ranch continues to work in harmony as we seek to open our homes and lives to lost youth for God’s glory. Domingo, a local pastor in his 50’s with a background in military service has opened up his church and his carpentry shop after-hours to the teenagers in our program, and local young couple Erick and Aracely have gone to extraordinary lengths to receive the local teens in their home at all hours as God has stationed them in a strategic part of our neighborhood close to several of our local students. They have been used by God to give advice and counsel, pray, direct a weekly youth Bible study, lend a hand in service to poor neighbors, etc, out of a response to serve Christ in integral discipleship. Many of our local teenage students, especially the young men, have been deeply impacted by Erick’s commitment, openness and example, and we are seeing very real transformation occur in the lives of several of them. Please join with us in thanking God for His provision in these faithful laborers as we are truly serving as Christ’s body (several different functions but with the same overall purpose) to instruct these youth in the Way of Christ with the hope of training them up to be useful instruments in God’s hands.

Jeffrey, one of our 12-year-old local students in first grade at the Living Waters Ranch, doing a community service project under Erick’s guidance on the weekend (they were helping build a home for a local single mom).
Here are several more of our local youth involved in the community service project Erick designed for those who participate in his discipleship group. (Community service projects among Hondurans are generally very rare, so this step to reach out and show God’s tangible love to a neighbor is a really huge step that these youth had likely never been guided to take before.)

Here is a photo Erick and his wife took during a recent youth group gathering in their home on a Monday night. Three of our teenagers (Brayan, Dayana and Jackeline) participate in addition to several of our local students and neighbors. Erick is a highly gifted and knowledgeable teacher of God’s Word, and he has a passion to form humble, dedicated followers of Christ.

Guard Dog’s Puppies to be Used as Instrument of Blessing to Neighbors

Although this headline might not be the most important on the list, just the same we are very excited that one of our guard dogs recently gave birth to five healthy puppies. The pups’ dad is our Rottweiler, so they promise to be large and fearsome (at least in appearance). Good, large guard dogs in Honduras are extremely valuable (and sometimes difficult to come by), so we are thankful that we will be able to bless several of our key neighbors with a healthy puppy that will in turn patrol their property.

This is our 9-year-old son Jason enjoying our puppies a few days after they were born…

Christian Psychologist Invests in Our Girls’ Healing During a Week of Intensive Workshops and Group Therapy

Last month (June 2017) we enjoyed the visit of a dear missionary who has been living in Central America many years. She first spent time with our girls during a week of intensive activities in December 2016. We are thankful for this key relationship and influence in our girls’ development into healthy, wise daughters of God, and we look forward to receiving her in our home again at the end of the year.

This is our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, who has been living with us almost four years and whom we are in the process of legally adopting
This is 13-year-old Jackeline who has been living in our family two-and-a-half years and who has undergone drastic transformations in her character and work ethic for God’s glory
This is 13-year-old Josselyn enjoying a goofy moment! You go, girl!

In Good Standing with Local Government; Prayer Sought that Blessing and Healthy Communication Might Continue

Enjoying good communication and mutual understanding with authorities in Honduras is not something that is perhaps easily achieved or sustained as corruption may always lie just around the corner in addition to the fact that many laws and governmental expectations seem to be ever-changing and interpreted differently by each person. Thus, we plainly thank God for His constant protection over us and for having bestowed His blessing upon the numerous relationships we hold with local authorities (police, educational authorities, etc). Please pray with us that peace and good standing may continue, as the task of updating and presenting paperwork, seeking out meetings, etc, is ongoing as we earnestly desire to do everything with the highest integrity possible.

This is our 12-year-old daughter Gleny, who has been living in our family almost four years, giving a dynamic tutoring session with our two most developmentally-challenged kids, Gabriela (11) and Josue (9). Gleny is a fantastic teacher, and she loves working with little kids!

Experience and Wisdom Gained This Year; Students’ Growth and Development Noteworthy

As we’ve reached (and crossed!) the half-way point of another year serving as Christ’s messengers in rural Honduras, we thank God for the experience and wisdom we’ve gained. We are now a year-and-a-half into the journey of directing a discipleship-based community high school (and expanding elementary school) in our rural homestead, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way! We truly thank God for the progress gained, both in our experience as leaders/servants and in the lives of the children and youth in our program, who likewise are experiencing revolutionary changes in their lives as God is impacting and transforming them with the good news of peace with God through Jesus Christ. As we enter the second half of our school year (the Honduran school calendar goes from January/February — late November), we currently have 37 full-time students plus a small handful of local youth who participate in select activities/Bible studies we offer but are not completely engaged every day. Praise God!

These were the only four students who successfully avoided after-school detention during the second grading period (two months)! They were very diligent to complete their homework on time and fulfill all expectations placed upon them. Keep up the good work! (We told all our other students to pick these guys’ brains to see what their secret is so that they can hopefully avoid going to detention as well!)
These were the students who achieved academic excellence in the second grading period!
This crowd had perfect attendance during the months of April and May! Way to go! (I remember last year when it was a huge struggle just getting the kids to come to class! Thank God for these wonderful blessings of progress and maturity in our students!)

Prayer Sought for Ongoing Unity and Development in Our Large Foster/Adoptive Family of 10

Please continue to pray for Darwin and I as we are nearing the four-year mark of parenting children who come from very broken places. Our eldest daughter will be turning 17 years old in three months (oh my gosh!), and our youngest son (Josue, who has special needs) just turned 9. As everyone is making a quick sprint towards maturity, please pray for us as we continue to fine-tune our skills as parents. Pray that our kids (and teens) would always be given a soft, malleable heart in regard to discipline and correction, and pray with us that God would truly grant our kids wisdom and grace as they grow in Christ. We have seen tremendous strides in each of our kids’ lives since they’ve been under our care, and we humbly ask that Father God may grant us perseverance, abundant love and the Biblical wisdom needed to truly parent these kids well. During this second half of the year, God has led me to teach less classes in our discipleship-based community homeschool in order to be more present to our 8 kids as just plain ‘mom’, faithfully prepare family dinners each day, etc. (I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom and run an organization/ministry! Pray for me!) Below are photos we took during our weeklong family retreat last month. These periodic family retreats are a simple yet powerful step we’re taking to strengthen family ties and form healthy memories together in our family that’s building its nest behind schedule. 

Darwin playing music on the porch of the little rustic 2-room cabin we rented.

Jackeline and I embarking on our wild kayaking adventure from one island to another. Little did we know just how difficult it would be, as the current was particularly strong that day as it threatened to carry us out to high seas! Arriving (and safely returning) from the arduous journey was probably the hardest thing either of us had done in quite some time! (We look so happy in this photo because we had yet to commence the journey and had no idea how hard it would be! The next day Darwin and our 16-year-old son Brayan tried completing the same journey, but they returned because Brayan got scared!)
Kayaking together proved to be an excellent experience in teamwork and communication (and emotional control, as both of us felt like screaming or crying on several occasions!)

 

Nice swim goggles, Josue!

 

Who wants pancakes for dinner?!


 

Amen! Glory to God!