Tag Archives: Rural Mission

Grassroots Honduran Education: A Cultural Tour

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

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

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

Sincerely in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

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

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

Updates and Prayer Requests from the First Quarter of 2018

Construction of Annex

A friend of ours who serves as a missionary to Honduras felt the Lord lead him to help us construct an addition on the back of our dining room/kitchen in order to accommodate the increased number of people we are serving this year. The dining room (where we hold our group Bible studies/worship times in addition to being our lunchroom and multi-purpose classroom) will be doubled in size, and a classroom will be added on as well. This is the first time we’ve made any real structural changes/additions onto the property since the leadership of the Living Waters Ranch was granted us in 2012, and we are very thankful to our missionary friend for financially covering this cost and directing the construction workers in the process.

Our existing dining room/kitchen (yellow building) with the annex being built out back

Josselyn and Gabriela Return to Their Biological Family

Two of our foster daughters (ages 13 and 11) who moved in with us in July 2015 as they escaped situations of abuse and neglect were recently moved out of our home and under the protection of a loving, stable Christian aunt. After performing the legal investigation to see if the home and family members would prove safe for the girls, they were officially moved in with their aunt in mid-January. Unlike the rest of our foster kids, these two always longed to return to their biological family, so this move was considered a triumph. The girls’ aunt has been raising their little brother since birth, and she had always hoped to receive the girls as well (which we did not know until several months ago when we were in contact with her for the first time). We continue to pray for the girls and are in phone contact with them from time to time. We currently have 8 foster kids/teens in our family ages 9-17, and we do not anticipate receiving more in the foreseeable future as we’re trying to establish ‘normal’ with those whom we have after having gone through many emotionally taxing adjustments over the past several months with the arrival of our two new teen girls (15-year-old Carolina and 14-year-old Paola) in October 2017 and now the departure of Josselyn and Gaby not two months ago.

This was little Gabriela (Gaby) shortly after moving in with us in 2015. A biological family member had shaved her head and she was deeply malnourished and emotionally broken after having been the recipient of her step-father’s sexual abuse. Of the 11 kids we’ve fostered, she has perhaps had the most behavioral problems and daily challenges.
Living under our care over two years, Gaby overcame some of her developmental and emotional delays although there was still much work to be done. She defied all odds and even learned to read and write, something we initially thought would not be within her mental reach. Darwin and I were prepared to be her lifelong caretakers and had even offered to adopt her and Josselyn, so now the fact that they are no longer with us is somewhat of an emotional shock to our system. We hope all the best for them in their new home and that their loving aunt can meet Gaby’s many needs.
Josselyn, just like her younger sister Gaby, came to us with her hair extremely short, malnourished, and never having gone to school. She came to confess faith in Christ while in our home, was baptized, and in our accelerated homeschool program was able to catch up academically by doing two grades in one year. This year she is in sixth grade and studying at a local school close to her aunt’s home. She has more intellectual capacity than her younger sister but always lacked a certain degree of common sense and faithfulness, so our greatest prayer for her in this new season of her life is that God may grant her the wisdom and the faith to put into practice the many things we tried to teach her.
This is a photo we took of Josselyn a few months ago (after having been under our care over two years). She’s grown so much!

New Teacher/Missionary Added to Team

Due to our increased number of students this year (60 in 2018; 35 last year), we saw the necessity of acquiring another local teacher/missionary to serve alongside of us in the classroom, in discipleship activities, and administratively in the office in order to alleviate the burden the rest of us were feeling with the larger number of youth being served. A sister in Christ whom we’ve known several years through a mentor of ours recently graduated college and was on a job hunt (which in Honduras can be increasingly difficult due to the scarcity of jobs available), and we snagged her before anyone else could! She has a passion for Christ and has a long history of working with children and youth, so she has been a great fit in these first few weeks on the job. Our team is now composed of 8 full-time and 6 part-time Honduran workers/missionaries including my husband and me.

Some of our foster teens and local students helping shovel gravel during a day of organized maintenance/construction activities
Two of our girls doing their homework by candlelight in our living room. Our kids make fun of me because I’m very old-fashioned!

Thank you for your prayers and support! God bless you.

2017 Yearend Update

Friday we finished up our last day of regular classes, Bible study and dynamic group activities as the Honduran school year is coming to a close. In the ensuing days there has been much cleaning out of classrooms and office spaces, great administrative effort to close up the year well, and the moving of furniture from one little building to another to convert our primary schoolhouse into a quaint (and rather bare) guesthouse/multi-purpose building for our vacation time.

On Monday we had our last official meeting with our small but extremely devoted team of Honduran teachers/missionaries to pray together and wrap everything up logistically. But, rather than it just being the 7 of us sitting in a circle in one of our classrooms to direct the usual meeting, we had a special guest. One of our male students who has just completed his first full year of classes and discipleship with us at the Living Waters Ranch had asked permission to come to the all-adult meeting in order to share his testimony and thank us for leading him to the Lord. We’ve known him on and off for nearly four years, and he’s always been extremely timid and seemingly on the verge of joining a gang or escaping illegally to the United States. (Alas, he was one of the local vagabonds last year who mocked our students who got baptized in the river near his home! Look at all the Lord has done in him since!)

This particular young man is on the cusp of turning 18 years old and is just now finishing 7th grade. He sat in our midst in his skinny jeans with a soccer shirt and metal chain hanging casually from around his neck. On the outside, he looked like any other male teen in our area, but his eyes were aglow with life, with joy, and you could sense he was at total peace. As we each greeted him warmly at the beginning of the meeting, asking him how he felt, he kept shaking his head back and forth with a huge smile on his face (not typical of any male teen around these parts), and said more than once, “I’m just so happy about all the changes that are going on inside of me…”

All eyes trained on him – alas, this was the first time any of our students had asked permission to come to one of our planning meetings in order to share their testimony! – he began speaking, full of confidence and wisdom, as he ended up pouring his heart out for nearly an hour about how his relationship with Christ has completely changed his entire perspective. We knew this to be true as we had seen a dramatic transformation in him after many, many seeds of truth were sown in him through our Bible studies, prayer groups, individual counsel and encouragement with Darwin and Erick, and his 7th grade teacher’s spiritual investment in his life everyday in the classroom. His heart had gone from cold and disinterested to burning hot for God, and just a few weeks ago he made the decision to give his life to the Lord. He spoke with great joy and accuracy about how he used to be a vagabond; used to live totally immersed in sexual sin; used to not love his brothers and parents (and much less his enemies); used to fear the many dangerous men who roam about our neighborhood (without fearing the Lord). Now, knowing Christ and fully experiencing God’s love for him, his whole life is changing. Now he expresses love and gratitude to his family members; he asks forgiveness when he’s sinned; he listens to praise music rather than worldly music; he longs for his life to bear good fruit for God’s glory; and he loves to be close to God’s Word. If I were to write everything he said, it would take pages. In short, God radically changed the course of this young man’s life, and He is now using him as a Godly influence to reach other teens in our neighborhood with the message of Christ (not to mention his immediate family who is directly impacted by the life of God now in him).

That definitely makes every ounce of effort worth it (and leads us to give thanks to God for making all those little seeds – however imperfectly they were sown – take root and grow)!

And so today is our official celebration day as each of our students and their families will come over for an entire afternoon of year-end presentations and activities, including choir performances, a 2-mile road race involving the local community, a PowerPoint presentation of all the photos we’ve taken this year, and several other musical and dance performances by our students. At the end of the event, our students will receive their official report cards, and then we won’t see the majority of them again until January (if, in fact, they decide to continue studying with us next year).

This is a sentimental and slightly delicate time of year emotionally, as we know that a handful of the students whom we love will not be returning next year. For some, they never caught the vision or aren’t willing to persevere long enough for God to begin to work in their lives; for others, they prefer to attend the local public high school where corruption abounds and it is much easier to slip under the radar without having done much work at all. Despite our earnest, repeated efforts to seek out and encourage the lost sheep, there were over a dozen local youth who dropped out throughout the course of the year. We see them now roaming our rural neighborhood largely as vagabonds without any direction, and we always greet them warmly and remind them that they have an open door here if they should ever decide to return.

We understand that just about everything that is taught and lived here at the Living Waters Ranch is very counter-cultural (and goes against the general worldly stream as a whole), so on the one hand we are really surprised and grateful that so many of our students have been granted the divine wisdom and dogged willingness to want to participate at all! (Now that’s a good perspective to have! Praise God!)

We are officially ending our second school year of discipleship-based community homeschool with 35 full-time students, 5 part-time students and our special-needs foster son Josue, who serves as everyone’s ‘assistant’ and best friend. Several of our more faithful students have communicated enthusiastically to Darwin and me that no matter what, they’ll be back next year to continue growing in Christ with us and acquiring a vast array of academic and life skills. That makes our heart grow in joy and gratitude, as we earnestly desire to walk long-term with each of the youth under our care, not only the 10 who live with us as sons and daughters but also those from our local neighborhood who spend the majority of their daytime hours in our home and classrooms.

And so, today we will say goodbye and enter a new (albeit very short) season of vacation from the typical community hospitality and teaching we participate in 10-11 months of the year. Our local teachers/missionaries and students will have free time to spend with their families and continue to grow in God’s will as Darwin and I will work privately at the ongoing task of taming our 10 foster kids/teens with God’s love.

In these next few days Darwin has many choir events back-to-back as he will be shuttling his young singers all over the place to spread joy and sing hymns. Erick, one of the local missionaries who labors alongside of us, has great plans to take the teenagers who participate in the youth group he hosts in his home (several of which are our foster children) to a local prison to minister to the prisoners and – on another occasion – to downtown La Ceiba to pray for the homeless and drug-addicts. Several of our older teens also have plans to visit the poor and sick in our neighborhood during their vacation time as they seek to bless Christ in disguise.

Sandra, the local teen who lived with us for a season before returning to live with her mother, will be coming up to our home almost daily to give one-on-one literacy classes to her mom, who due to extreme poverty and social disadvantage never learned to read and write. Our daughter Jackeline will likewise be giving intensive math tutoring classes to our two new daughters (Carolina, 15 and Paola, 14) in the hope of getting them up to speed for next school year. Several of our foster teens, two of our teachers and I will be heading out of town to attend a Christian youth conference this weekend, and on Monday we’ll be receiving a visit from a very special friend and missionary who has been serving in Honduras over 25 years. Then my dad comes down for several days (which our kids are especially stoked about).

During these vacation times we will continue to wash our clothes by hand; between all 12 of us we’ll take turns cooking family meals 2-3 times a day; and we’ll continue to ask for God’s grace as we learn to love Him and one another.

Although I feel that I have more to write now than ever, I will most likely take a break from maintaining the blog in December as I devote myself more fully to the cultivation of our children and our relationship with Christ, especially because our kids will not be in classes and will need me to be more fully present.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog and keep us in your prayers before the Lord. For those who are wondering about my ongoing healing from chronic insomnia, it is still a daily battle. In addition to my natural supplements, I have begun taking a strong prescription sleeping aid that does help me get a full night’s sleep, but it leaves me feeling drugged and dizzy all the next day. If I don’t take it, I don’t sleep. If I do, then I feel really weird the whole next day. (So I’m left to choose the lesser of two evils).

Please continue to pray for my integral health, sincere love and joy in our marriage (amidst many daily commitments which sometimes put great pressure on our relationship), and God’s protection over our lives and property. There is much to be thankful for. He has done mighty things this year. Praise God!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. God bless you.

“Backpack, Baby, Tower”: Old-Fashioned Fun Coupled with Healthy Physical Touch

Last Friday we organized an afternoon of competitive games, footraces, teamwork exercises and good ole fashioned sweaty fun to celebrate with our students and teachers who have persevered and really put forth a good effort in their classes.

One striking deficiency in Honduran culture (and perhaps world culture as a whole) that Darwin and I oftentimes reflect upon is the lack of healthy, loving physical touch. Many parents in our area aren’t physically affectionate with their own children; spouses do not hug or hold hands; friends do not support one another via hugs, high-fives and the like.

Due to the fact that the God who is love created us to be social beings in need of physical touch, the tragedy is that many young people (and old people) who never received loving, healthy physical touch seek it out in wrong ways. In this culture (and, again, perhaps in world culture as a whole) there is a lot of pushing and shoving, rape, problem solving via violence, physical and sexual abuse, other forms of sexual sin, etc. Trying to fill the void of healthy physical touch (hugs, pats on the back, loving caresses from an attentive mother, etc), many turn to violence and sin as they desperately seek physical contact with other human beings.

Truly, this point needs to be meditated upon very seriously as we consider how we are treating one another, beginning with the members of our own household.

And so, on Friday afternoon just about every game we organized included healthy (and sometimes hilarious) physical touch as an integral part of the activity. One of our favorites (that we learned last year at a youth retreat) is “Backpack, Baby, Tower.” Everybody teams up in pairs of two (boys with boys; girls with girls), and the leader (who doesn’t have a partner) stands in the middle of all the pairs of people and shouts out “Baby!” and in each team of two one of the people has to pick up the other person and cradle them as if he/she were their baby. Then, “Backpack!” and each pair has to quickly shuffle position to throw one of the two on their back as if they were a backpack. (“Tower” is much easier and more boring: the two people in each team simply raise their arms high and clasp hands, but nonetheless it is still healthy physical touch.) The game is an absolute riot, as the leader calls out the different commands one after another, and everyone ends up swinging around their partner from the cradling position to the backpack position as quickly as possible, everyone panting and laughing hysterically. It is an instant friendship-maker and gives everyone involved a really strong dose of healthy physical touch and riotous laughter.

And, the best part of all, is that our teachers who serve as local Honduran missionaries participate right alongside of our foster children and students! 34-year-old Geraldina, Sandra’s mom, who serves in the community kitchen and general cleaning activities (because she hasn’t yet learned to read and write), had finished all of her duties early on Friday, so we invited her to participate right alongside of everyone else. She sent her daughter to run home and bring her some comfortable clothes to ‘play’ in (she was wearing a dress), and literally for the first time in her life she played. After a childhood (and early adulthood) of intense suffering, poverty, abuse and rejection, the Lord is restoring her even in an area as innocent (and oftentimes overlooked) as fun, healthy touch and intense, gut-wrenching laughter. She was laughing perhaps harder than anyone else — and this from a woman who used to be too timid to greet people and had never received hugs before she began working with us earlier this year (and now she receives several daily)!

So, I share this with you to encourage each of us to earnestly show love (not only in words but also in appropriate, loving touch) to those whom the Lord has put in our lives, because God can use it to truly alter people’s lives and serve in the process of healing wounded souls. Thus I boast in the Lord of the transformative work He’s begun in each of us — not only in the children and teens whom we serve, but also in the adults who participate in this ministry. Praise be to God!

This is Geraldina (Sandra’s mom) in the process of the “backpack” position with her teammate Jackeline, one of our foster daughters. Two of our other daughters (Josselyn and Gaby) are in the background.

Way to go, boys! (This is the “baby” position). Erick, who serves not only at the Living Waters Ranch with us but also in our rural neighborhood alongside of his wife in relationship discipleship, played hard on Friday afternoon right alongside of all the kids and teens.
Here are two of our teachers (Isis, far left and Ligia, far right) participating in the “baby” posiiton with our girls!
Jackeline holding Sandra’s mom in the “baby” position! (How silly! What a big baby!)
Of all the photos we took on Friday, I believe this is my favorite of all, because it shows just how hard Geraldina was laughing throughout all the activities. She — not only her teenage daughter — is finding healing, acceptance and joy as the Lord is filling and freeing her in new ways. (She was laughing like this on and off throughout the whole afternoon, and she later told us that she had never laughed so hard or felt so joyful).
Here is our 17-year-old daughter Dayana (whom we are in the process of legally adopting) carrying her teacher in the “backpack” position!
Hurry up! Now everybody’s got to change positions! Now it’s “baby”! (Gotta love Miss Ligia’s face as she tries to pick Dayana up.)
Ariel, one of our local teens, carrying Erick as his “backpack”!
Our 9-year-old special needs son Josue and 7-year-old Ever (the youngest son of our night watchman) trying to figure out how to do “backpack”!
Josue needed to pick Ever up (because he’s bigger and older), but Josue decided to be the “baby”!
Elalf and Donaris, two of our local male students, enjoying the “baby” position! Everyone was cracking up as we constantly changed from one position to another!
Erick holding Roy, one of our 18-year-old local students. What a precious baby!
Now switch! (Erick is now Roy’s baby!)
Our daughter Gleny trying to hold up Miss Ligia, her teacher!
Another game we played on Friday was a leg-wrestling type of match standing up. You have to try to get your partner to lower their raised-up foot! Sandra went up against her mom, Geraldina!
Sandra and her mom
Our daughter Jackeline competing against Dayra, a local student.
This hilarious shot was taken during an intense match of Chinese freeze tag. Erick wiped out!
Next up, we’re gonna make a big circle and pass a ton of basketballs and volleyballs around clockwise. If you let one drop, you’re out! (The circle gets smaller and smaller, and everyone is passing balls one right after the other.) This is great for teamwork and hand-eye coordination!


No afternoon of fun is complete without at least a couple rounds of hide-and-seek! (Our daughter Dayana hid in our outdoor trashcan with the lid on!)

Amen! Glory to God!

The “Living Waters Bridge” — Braving the Rainy Season

In Honduras when there are heavy rains, almost everything comes to a hault. Schools cancel classes; certain businesses close down for the day; people stay in their homes. We are currently in the midst of a pretty strong tropical storm, so via the radio we’ve heard over the past couple days that most schools are on “red alert” and thus have cancelled classes. The rains have been constant, and there has been pretty severe flooding.

At the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, we do not consider weather inconveniences to be sufficient reason to halt the work the Lord has entrusted us, and all of our students and teachers know this well. Rain or shine (literally) — even when all other local schools are closed down and their students remain cooped up at home all day — we continue onward with the lifestyle of discipleship, outreach and teaching with Christ as our guide.

So, as the rains pounded all last night and the radio announced that schools would be closed down, my husband and I awoke to our usual 5:00am alarm and got our 10 kids up and ready for school. We laughed and said, “Although certain students in other schools may not be able to receive their education today due to flooding, seeing as y’all are homeschooled, I’m pretty sure we can reach the classroom!”

Everyone in our household put on their uniform in the dim morning light and got ready for a “normal” school day, although we were pretty sure almost none of our local students would brave the heavy rains (everyone arrives on foot or bicycle). A few of our teachers even called saying that the roads were closed and that they wouldn’t be able to come in. Our kids hoped against hope that we would throw up our hands and give in, but we headed to our large cement-floored dining room to get ready for worship and Bible study as we would on any other Thursday, fully convinced that it might just be our family in there without our 30 local students and teachers joining us.

As we quietly served breakfast — the rains pounding down on our tin roof nonstop and our front yard converting itself into a large lagoon — our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline shouted, “One’s coming up the path!”

Sure enough, one of our faithful students — going completely against every cultural norm in this country — had decided to walk up muddy, flooded paths under heavy rain to attend classes even when all other schools in our area were on break today.

Then another came. Then another. Before we knew it, all but about three or four of our students had arrived.

We laughed as each student tried to figure out exactly how to enter through our front gate, seeing as the large lagoon-ocean of muddy water had created quite the obstacle to cross. Then our 13-year-old daughter Gleny said, “Why don’t we put down tires to make a path?” Perfect!

That was all it took for several soaking wet collaborators to begin seeking out and hauling over various old tires that we use for different P.E. activities. We were forming the “Living Waters Bridge” for our dedicated students and teachers to pass across without having to get ankle-to-knee-deep in water! Soon enough everyone was laughing wildly and helping one another across the slippery “bridge” as they crossed the threshold onto our property for classes.

And so we enjoyed an extended worship time with all who showed up, and just as we were about to break into our prayer groups, a car pulled up with three of our teachers who had been delayed due to the flooded roads. Everyone had made it!

Glory to God! Enjoy the photos…

The “Living Waters Bridge”!
(This is actually a reenactment of the real arrival of our students. The first time around we didn’t have the camera, so we sent everyone out again so we could take photos!)

 

Living Waters Ranch Informational Video #4

Hand-washing clothes, a bike tour, girls’ choir and more! Here is the fourth of five homemade videos we filmed last week at our home in rural Honduras…

Informational Video #1

Below is the first of five videos that we filmed this week at the Living Waters Ranch with the purpose of being shown to a specific Texan church during their week-long vacation Bible school for kinder-5th graders and their leaders. The video, however, can prove interesting to anyone who would like to learn more about the day-to-day life and purpose enjoyed at the Living Waters Ranch. The 5 videos are best viewed in sequence…

(We filmed all 5 videos within a 24-hour timespan, but I kept changing my clothes and hairdo to make it look like each video was a different day!)

This first video is a bit slow-paced (it is the general overview), but the following four are a bit more lively…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7qHlVkXaeo

A Rag-Tag Group of Godly Young Men: The Art of Transformation

Yesterday we began our three-week period of intensive, dynamic ‘mid-year’ classes with our roughly-40 students to shake things up a bit and further serve them in their integral development as loving, joyful beings under the headship of loving, joyful God.

After Bible study, prayer groups, and group geography class in the ‘movie theater’ (the students called it that because we used a projector to show large images and maps on the wall, something we had never done before because we just purchased the projector a few days ago), all of our students divided up into two groups: the girls with Darwin for choir class (I participated as a very naughty student in the choir, and the girls loved it), and all the boys in our large dining room for art class with the rest of the teachers.

At one point I snuck out of the little building where we were having choir to go check on the boys in their first large-group art class, and I found them all very much hard at work, collaborating with one another and thoroughly enjoying the whole creative process. I have absolutely no idea what the actual project was (they seemed to be divided up in several groups according to age/ability/interest as some were working with cardboard, others with string and hot glue guns, others with simple paper and crayons), but God’s peace among them was tangible and I marveled at the beauty of what God is doing deep in their hearts.

I share with you the following photos that were taken of roughly 20 young men that we absolutely adore and are so proud of. Some of them we have known and been closely discipling for two to three years while others entered our lives but four months ago. Many of these young men have dropped out of school several times, entertained the idea of moving illegally to the United States, or become dangerously close to becoming teen fathers. They are quite the rag-tag group — some are naturally very bright and well-adjusted; others have been orphaned or had family struggles and no longer live under the protection of their parents; others suffer mild to severe learning disabilities; all of whom are growing in the knowledge and love of God. Especially in our rural community and the general Honduran culture, seeing young men become brilliantly alive in God’s love –actively seeking out His Word, submitting their lives to His will, recognizing and developing their God-given ‘hidden treasures’  and talents in order to more fully serve Christ — is no common occurrence. There is a high percentage of young men in our neighborhood who are vagabonds and thieves, oftentimes committing themselves to the service of the local gangs who end their lives before age 20. Thus, with great astonishment at God’s active work in these precious young men’s lives, I share with you the following photos we took yesterday…

This is Charlie, one of our high school students who didn’t pass his grade with us last year but has valiantly come back again to give it a second try (after much persuasion), and this year he is one of our more consistent and joyful students. He was baptized last year, and he has become actively involved in the search for God, both at the Living Waters Ranch and in his personal life with his family.
A year or two ago I don’t think we could have ever imagined that our dining room would become so multi-purpose! Sometimes several times daily we move around the tables and benches to transform the space into whatever we need it to be. We use this room for our twice-weekly Bible study, 5th and 6th grade homeschool, worship time, academic support group, dance club, the new geography class, and now group art lessons!
This young man on the left is Eduardo, a 14-year-old who joined us at the beginning of the Honduran school year in January. He had dropped out of the local public high school last year and recently experienced a bout of depression/discouragement and came dangerously close to dropping out of our program as well. Darwin, the teachers and I have all had productive one-on-one conversations with him over the last several weeks to encourage him to continue seeking God’s will for his life and to stay put at the Living Waters Ranch so that he can keep growing, and after a recent visit Darwin paid to his house to talk with his mom he has experienced a change for the better and is now participating more fully and seems to be genuinely happy and engaged.

This is Miss Ligia, a local lawyer who came to us by divine appointment and has been serving with us as a teacher for a year-and-a-half. She always has wonderful arts and crafts projects for the kids, and this is a particular blessing in our context because the majority of our students have poor fine motor skills and/or developmental delays, so the act of measuring, cutting with scissors, painting, etc, is very therapeutic and aids them in their recovery from past traumas/neglect.

This is Brayan, our 15-year-old son who has experienced healing and freedom on many levels over these past several years. He is not the best student and still struggles with emotional immaturity at times, but his heart and his soul are being renewed with God’s love, and he knows who he is as one of Father God’s beloved children. He will be finishing 6th grade this year and entering our high school program (which begins at the 7th-grade level) next January.
Something that happens in our discipleship-focused community homeschool (the name just keeps getting longer!) that doesn’t happen in most other schools is that students of different ages and grade levels have a lot of contact with one another, which we believe cultivates in them compassion for one another along with mentor-like relationships that blossom among the students. In this photo is 14-year-old Cristian (right) who comes from a very poor family and had never been in school before joining us in 2014 and is now in 6th grade as one of our best overall students is working alongside of Alejandro (left) a 12-year-old who had gone through the public elementary school system his whole childhood, successfully finishing 6th grade and supposedly ready for high school but without the basic knowledge of knowing how to read, write and do math, so he entered four months ago with us on the second-grade level and is learning for the first time the basic academic- and life-skills that the public schools failed to teach him.


Our littler/less mature male students (and sons!) were at this long wooden table as they experimented with crayons, oils pastels and paints. Most public (and even some private) schools in Honduras do not have art supplies for students, and it is uncommon to find these kinds of basic enrichment activities in most Honduran homes, so for many children/youth the act of taking time to draw, paint and be creative is a rare treat and can go a long way towards restoring and developing them for God’s glory.

Here’s Erick (one of our extremely faithful and wise local Christian teachers/mentors) helping out with the boys’ art class. I think he might have preferred to direct a prayer group or teach agriculture class, but he was a great sport, and I’m sure the boys loved having him with them during their art time!

Reina was the hot-glue-gun-master! Here she is working with Yexon, one of our night watchman’s children who just passed fourth grade in our accelerated homeschool program for older students.

                       

Amen! Glory to God!

Loving, Joyful Youth Under the Headship of Loving, Joyful God

Recently we organized an all-day event of various old-fashioned  yard games for our students and neighbors. We very intentionally incorporated games that involve teamwork, healthy physical touch, riotous laughter, coordination, and sensory development as many of the youth the Lord has placed in our lives come from very broken places and are in the beginning stages of being restored and renewed by God’s love under our care.

The majority of our young friends are very immature for their age due to not having received vital components in their early childhood (such as adequate parental attention, Biblical guidance, loving discipline, etc), thus they lack healthy self-esteem, an accurate understanding of who God created them to be and the basic tools necessary to confront reality in a godly way. Knowing that these ‘lacks’ in a child or teen’s life propel many toward a life of crime, depression and/or sexual deviancy, we understand that spending a day full of godly friendship, intense laughter and team-building activities goes a long way towards restoring and forming healthy individuals who respond to God’s love and interact with others in a loving way.

In our corner of the globe here in Latin America (as around the world), there is much competition, violence and physical intimidation/abuse among peers and families, so learning to use one’s physical strength to bless others, carry a teammate, etc, is a very important aspect of learning to receive and then be instruments of God’s love in daily life. Patting someone on the back in encouragement, receiving a hug from a trustworthy adult, learning how to give (or receive) a piggy-back ride, etc, are really big steps toward their recovery into loving, joyful beings under the headship of the loving, joyful God.

Furthermore, many of our kiddos have very poor motor skills/physical coordination due to malnutrition and under-stimulation in their early childhood, so all the activities we do with them are geared toward stimulating them toward integral health, growth and abundance according to God’s perfect will for their lives.

So, one of the first games on our agenda was a crazy partner activity. I stood among the many teams of two and shouted out “Backpack!” and the teens had to grab their partner and fling them on their back. Then “Baby!,” which they then scrambled to cradle their friend’s weight in their arms as if they were a precious (oversized) newborn. And so the game went, me shouting out one wild command after another until everyone was panting and heaving, either from laughter or exhaustion…

‘Backpack’, everybody! Get up there!

What a beautiful baby! Don’t let him fall!

One of the next games on the day’s agenda was a fan-favorite that I introduced to them last year: Chinese freeze-tag! My husband Darwin and one of our 50-year-old local teachers (Reina) got in the mix as everyone was running wildly around our yard!

Watch out, Jackeline! Your teacher is gaining on you! Run, Reina, run! (She was such a good sport — she came out on one of her days off in order to participate in all the games with the kids without having any idea what would be in store!)

Look at Darwin go! Our eldest daughter Dayana was hot on his heals, and he was determined not to get caught!

The next game was an old classic: the water balloon toss! Every time you throw it, you’ve gotta take a step back!

Then: hide-and-seek!

I hid in an outdoor trashcan (with the lid on!) and no one found me until one of the teen boys casually walked by, took the lid off, and went to throw some trash on my head! My legs are so long that I had quite the hard time uncurling my body to get out from the tight space once the game was over!

Hey! Who’s hiding out on the school building’s roof?

Next up: a new game I read about on the internet! Everybody has to hop on one leg and use the other one (no hands allowed!) to try to push their partner over! It’s like standing-up leg wrestling. Let’s see who’s got the best balance and endurance!

When Darwin and Brayan went head-to-head (below), neither one wanted to lose! Thank God that we have two very strong, godly men in our household!

Then it was my turn to go up against tough-as-nails Paola! After a pretty intense go of it I finally beat her as I ended up hopping on one leg after her all around the yard!

The grand finale! Teenagers Cristian and Derbin went at it for several minutes while the spectators looked on!

Who likes watermelon?! Did I mention that you can’t use your hands? Eat up, boys!

One of the last games was one I invented right on the spot, and it turned out to be a riot! I warned the kids that they would be participating in the world debut of a new game…They had to crawl on all fours with a spoon in their mouth before reaching bowls of shortening (like Crisco) and flour on the ground. They then had to fill the spoon with one of the ingredients before crawling to their teammate at the other end of the yard to start spreading the delicious ingredients all over their face. The object of the game? Who knows, but it was really funny to watch!

Watch out, kids! Here comes Darwin with a huge spoonful of flour! Run and hide!

Hey! I told them to just put the Crisco on their victims’ — er, I mean teammates’  — face! Poor Josue was covered from head to toe! (And poor Darwin and I who had to bathe him and Gaby afterwards! The real prize awaited me the next day when I went to wash his clothes — and we don’t have a washing machine!)

Now it’s Reina’s turn! You go, girl!

Yup! We successfully finished the game! How do I know? Because all the Crisco and flour were emptied from the bowls and applied successfully to the kids (and Darwin, far left)! This is a game everybody can win, right?

Our 16-year-old daughter Dayana (middle, red shirt) was not too happy with me because it took her lightyears to pick all the Crisco and flour — which turned into a dreadlock-like substance — from her very thick, curly hair! Needless to say, I don’t think she’ll be requesting the game at her next birthday party!

And, last but not least, at the end of the day-long event, our 8-year-old special-needs son Josue followed me into the kitchen where I snapped this priceless shot of him. It is my new favorite picture: every mother’s worst nightmare! He looks like a naughty little guy who’ll get into anything when momma’s not looking (which is actually quite true)!

Now that’s a face only a mother could love!

Amen! Glory to God!

April 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

Possible New Horizons for Gabriela and Josselyn

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

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

 

Erick’s Young Men’s Retreat and Running Group

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

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

 

Greater Organization Achieved in 2017

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Seeking Prayer for Sandra, Who Left Our Home

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

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

 

 

Praising God: Protection from Danger

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

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

 

Amen! Glory to God!

March 2017 Updates and Prayer Requests

A Young Entrepreneur: Jackeline’s Cow

Darwin and I have been actively educating our children and teens in the realm of godly stewardship (how to wisely and generously manage their finances) for several years. Each of our foster children have several weekly chores that they are responsible for, and they receive a small income for them every other week. In a recent family meeting we shared with them the idea of investing their savings in the purchase of a young dairy calf, which will eventually grow at almost no cost and can then be sold (or kept to have babies). Jackeline, one of our teenage daughters, very enthusiastically embraced our suggestion and has since utilized the money she had been saving in order to purchase a young female dairy cow from a neighbor who sold it to us at a great price. Her calf now lives on our large rural property with our small herd that Darwin manages and milks each morning with our 15-year-old son Brayan. We are very excited that she has made this wise investment, and the cow – especially if it gives birth several times, whose calves can then be sold – has the potential to provide the income to send Jackeline to college, help transition her into adulthood, etc. You go, girl!

The following are photos from Pastor Domingo’s weekly Carpentry Club. He is a local pastor whose son entered our high school last year. He is now involved part-time as one of our Christian laborers and teaches elementary-level math, supports one of our prayer groups, teaches a Christian leadership class and does weekly house visits to our students’ homes in addition to leading the Carpentry Club. He is in the process of finishing a large swing set structure that will soon be installed in the Living Waters Ranch’s front yard.

A House Full of Pianists

Our eldest daughter, 16-year-old Dayana, continues faithfully onward in her piano studies as she is now in her third year of playing music under Darwin’s guidance. Every Saturday she goes into the nearby city of La Ceiba as Darwin’s assistant to teach piano lessons to a small group of young students. She has a dogged work ethic and has been extremely consistent in practicing roughly ten hours each week. Six of our other children are also in piano and/or violin, and just recently I, too, began practicing piano on a daily basis. Several months ago I felt God was nudging me toward learning more hymns and worship songs on the piano (I took lessons for about six months upon moving to Honduras in 2012), and as of this past week I am joyfully walking in obedience! I sat down at the piano bench for the first time in several months on Saturday to learn a new hymn, and I ended up practicing for five hours! In these past six days I’ve practiced 13 hours and learned two new worship songs!  It is becoming a daily routine in our household that once our students and teachers leave around 3:45pm, several of us head to the schoolhouse (where the two big pianos are and several keyboards) to tap away for an hour or two. We praise God for this aspect of our daily lives and are encouraged as we see the majority of our kids develop the self-discipline and focus required to learn a musical instrument for God’s glory.

This is a photo of our four full-time Christian laborers (Reina, Erick, Isis and Ligia) taken during a team-building workshop we held in January. (Pastor Domingo was not present at the taking of the photo.) We give thanks to God for His faithful (and extremely hard-working) servants!

Relational Discipleship

We are thrilled and blessed that all of our Christian laborers have begun actively forming relationships with our students after-hours and on the weekends. Three of them live in our tiny rural neighborhood while two daily take a bus in from a nearby city. Erick, whose story I mentioned on a prior blog, has started a weekly Bible study in his home for several of our teen boys, and Pastor Domingo has opened up his home on the weekends to several of our students whom he has joyfully put to work sanding and sawing in his carpentry shop. He has also received several students in the church he leads in his front yard, and our other teachers recently organized a riotous hiking/swimming outing to a local nature spot on a Sunday. We are thankful that God is allowing us to form a holistic ‘lifeline’ for these children and youth who may not have other loving, God-fearing adults in their lives.

This is a photo of Miss Isis’ weekly dance club. Four of our kids (Dayana, Brayan, Sandra and Josselyn) are in this class, and I think the two hours that they get footloose in our dining room are the highlight of their week!

 

Here is a photo from Erick’s weekly Christian Leadership after-school club. (He teaches the class with a certain group of students on Wednesdays, and Pastor Domingo has a different group on Tuesdays.) Reina, who is one of our teachers, participates in the class as a student along with Geraldina, Sandra’s mom who manages the kitchen.

Genesis Returns Home

Genesis, the teenager who had moved from across the country to live with us and study in our high school, unfortunately made the decision to return home to her family. She struggled with great mood swings and general negativity during her four weeks living in our home, and despite our best efforts to encourage, pray for, and try to convince her to continue studying and preparing herself to fulfill God’s will for her life (she had said that she wanted to become a lawyer, learn piano and return to her rural village fully equipped to serve God), she decided to return home about two weeks ago to her dry, very poor rural region where she has almost zero educational opportunities and no plan. Please pray with us for her, as we do not believe she made the correct decision but hope all the best for her according to God’s will for her life.

Here are photos taken during Darwin’s Advanced English class. Two local young people who are not students in our school participate in the classes as well. Darwin loves to go around speaking English to all of our students, but very few of them have any idea what he’s talking about!

Working as a Team: Learning to Delegate Tasks

Amidst our many daily responsibilities as parents, directors of the Living Waters Ranch and teachers, Darwin and I are learning which tasks can be delegated and to whom. We are very excited and blessed that we have now delegated all of our legal communications with our lawyer who resides seven hours away in the capital city (in Honduras your lawyer has to live in the capital city if you want to experience any progress because that is where all the legal action takes place) to Miss Ligia, one of our faithful teachers who is a trained lawyer. She has taken great initiative to communicate and move forward with our capital-city lawyer in the adoptions that are currently in-process along with several other general legal procedures. We thank God for the team of very hard-working local Hondurans He has placed at our side and for the fact that Darwin and I are learning to rely upon them so that we do not get stretched too thin.

The following are photos taken during my secondary-level Art Club. On this particular day the students’ creativity was unleashed as they used clay, pipe cleaners and goggly eyes to design their own city/world — they could choose between the ‘Earth’ theme or, more fun, ‘Outer Space!’

Prayer for Sandra

We are currently seeking prayer for Sandra, the local teen who we met last year when she entered our homeschool-style high school and then later moved in with us for seven months to escape a situation of sexual abuse in the home. She has since moved back in with us nearly two months ago due to various dangers and bad decisions she was facing in our rural neighborhood. She has sought Darwin and I out in private to talk/listen, confess different things she had hidden, and seek prayer for her life, but she is still extremely unstable and, according to what our other daughters have told us, seems to be on the cusp of dropping out of our high school and returning to our rural neighborhood to live a life of purposelessness and sin. She is extremely bright and has many God-given talents, but lacks perseverance and steadfast faith to see things through. She was baptized last year and has expressed to us several times that God has placed the desire on her heart to begin ministering to a group of young children who wander aimlessly around our neighborhood through the creation of a weekly Bible study, but she is easily distracted and has yet to take any steps toward fulfilling this specific call God has on her life. We love her dearly and have been through quite a bit with her thus far, and we are seeking prayer once more that God would illuminate her mind and that she would remain firm in her decision to love and follow Christ.

A few weeks ago Darwin and I celebrated our two-year anniversary of parenting 13-year-old Jackeline (the proud new cow-owner) and her 8-year-old special needs brother Josue. We took them out to a local restaurant while Erick and his wife Aracely came over to our house to stay with the rest of our kids. Jackeline and Josue continue to have monthly contact with their biological relatives, and by God’s grace we maintain a very positive relationship with them.

Insomnia Progress

There is finally good news to be reported about my insomnia! Over the past two months I have been visiting a very professional local physical/massage therapist twice weekly as a last-ditch resort to finding the root of my sleep disorder. She has found several stress-related physical problems that have remained hidden over the last several years, and she has been working with me extensively on how to manage my stress levels better so that they don’t take root and turn into physical problems. My sleeping has improved drastically over these past two months although there is still much progress to be made. At home we have also made several positive changes to help manage stress levels better (such as the aforementioned delegating of tasks along with my new daily routine of playing worship songs on the piano), and I have begun sleeping much better. Please continue to pray for me as this will probably be an ongoing battle over the course of my lifetime (learning to trust in God and lay all my cares/stresses at the foot of the cross). Praise God for this progress!

This is Miss Ligia teaching the Beginners’ English after-school club. We keep class sizes small in order to create a family-like atmosphere that enables individualized contact and relational discipleship. Our teachers spend their recess and lunch period playing and talking with our students in addition to being their prayer group leaders on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This is Miss Ligia’s elementary-level Art Club!

 

Amen! Glory to God!

First Update of the New Year

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Gleny and I after having jumped off the pier

 

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

 

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Darwin overseeing his young fishermen

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Accompanying our young sailors on their sea vessel destined for Africa

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Amen!

Glue Sandwiches: The Definition of a Chaotic Life

Recently 8-year-old Gabriela (who is about 4 years old developmentally and is prone to being quite off-the-wall in her general speech and re-telling of daily events) commented to me across our large dining room table as several of our other kids were arriving home from school, her face all scrunched up and her arms waving about wildly:

“Ma! Isn’t that right that this morning you grabbed that piece of bread and poured glue all over it?” Her stubby, uncoordinated hands mimicked the action of pouring glue all over an imaginary slice of bread as she smiled big.

12-year-old Gleny walked through the dining room door in her school uniform and too-full backpack in tow, overhearing her little sister’s odd comment. She glanced over at me and rolled her eyes in response to the little one’s crazy tale. Glue on a sandwich?

Gabriela continued, unaware that anyone else was listening to her: “And Ma! You – you grabbed that bread and put…put…what’s that called? What’d you put all over it?” Her enthusiasm grew with each passing moment.

I glanced up from where I was folding the clothes, a little grin growing on my face, and I helped her out: “Deodorant.”

“Dodorat! Yeah! And then! And then – you, Ma, you picked up the bread and you poured hydrada – what’s it called?”

I continued folding clothes and smiling. I knew Gleny was staring at me in disbelief, but I didn’t look at her. “Hydrogen peroxide. ”

Hydraden peroside! Yeah. You poured it all over the bread, and then you asked who wanted to eat it!” She wagged a short finger back and forth and said, “Not me!” Her giggle grew and overtook her small frame as her body shook with delight. She repeated, “Not me! Nobody wanted to eat it!”

A moment passed as little Gabriela paused to recall other details.

Her eyes lit up. “And then, Ma, you stomped on the cellphone and broke it! I saw you!”

Gleny, who had grabbed her lunch from the kitchen and began making her way toward Gabriela and I at the table, had the strangest expression on her face as she wondered why on earth I was encouraging little Gabriela in her odd fantasy. She glanced at me again, and I just smiled innocently without interrupting Gabriela nor defending her.

What Gleny didn’t know was that her oddball little sister who has a very real struggle with lying and tends to ‘stretch’ the truth may not have been as off-the-mark this time as she might have thought…

Earlier that morning in our twice-weekly Bible study time with all of our students and Christian laborers (Gleny and two of our other children were not present because this year they have been attending a local private school) I had wanted to make a point. I knew that many of our students and laborers were growing in the truth of God’s Word due to distinct character transformations we’ve seen and sincere comments of faith people have shared with me, but I felt frustrated that frequently as we came together on Tuesday and Thursday mornings the majority of the people seemed to have ‘forgotten’ what we had learned together in the prior meeting. Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday as I enthusiastically asked what they remembered from the prior Bible Study, I was frequently met with blank stares and discouraging shrugs as our students would murmur, “I don’t remember.”

You don’t remember? You don’t remember that just two days ago we talked extensively about the joy-filled life, that God expects us to live day by day giving Him thanks and rejoicing in Him – even in the midst of difficulties — because in Him we have a hope that cannot be altered, an Eternal Father who has invited us to share His entire Kingdom with Him, and He Himself has paid our entrance with His Son’s own blood? Must we start again from ground zero, say it all again because you’ve ‘forgotten’?

So I got a bit creative and entered our Bible study time with some special supplies. As we finished our time of praise and worship, Darwin leading us on the keyboard, I took my place along one of the long wooden benches in our rustic dining room and informed everyone very plainly, “Okay, go ahead and open up your Bibles to the book of Philipians. We’re gonna keep reading chapters two and four about the importance of rejoicing in the Lord at all times.”

I grabbed a children’s book and held it upside down in my hands, very seriously searching the contents for Philippians chapters two and four.

As my brow furrowed in concentration and my fingers flipped through the upside-down pages, the atmosphere in our concrete-floored dining room suddenly fell awkward as several silent moments passed.

Then, two or three brave souls began to giggle. Then, everyone.

I looked up, an utterly surprised expression plastered across my face, and asked, “Well what on earth are you laughing at? Open up your Bibles!”

Someone said, “Uh…that’s not a Bible.” More giggles sprinkled about.

I pretended to be taken aback. I turned the book around and began investigating the cover carefully, “Well, how on earth do you know that?” I squinted my eyes and searched for clear evidence among the large drawings and bold font on the bookcover.

“Well, you people, I certainly didn’t tell you just now that this wasn’t a Bible? You mean, at some point in your life someone taught you what a Bible looks like, and, based on that knowledge, you were able to decifer just now – without any problems whatsoever – that this, in fact, is not a Bible?”

Everyone around the circle nodded slowly as they stared at me, slightly confused. Man, she’s talkin’ weird.

“Dang!” I sighed, impressed by their extremely accurate use of past knowledge, and closed the book. I took one last good look at it as I turned it upside down, inspecting it one more time. “And you mean, you didn’t forget? I mean, I imagine they taught you quite a while ago, or was it just this morning that someone reminded you what a Bible looks like?”

The majority of the roughly 30 people in attendance just stared with a couple verbally affirming that, yes, in fact, they were taught long ago what a Bible is and isn’t and that they had not forgotten the valuable piece of information since then.

I put the book to one side, shaking my head in amazement, and I continued onward, murmuring to myself, “Wow. They didn’t forget. Man, they’ve got a good memory…”

I suddenly changed the topic.

“Look, I’m real sorry, but I didn’t have time to eat breakfast before Bible Study and I’m really hungry, so if you don’t mind I’m gonna go ahead and eat real quick.” I pulled out a couple pieces of wheat bread and placed them on a bright blue plastic plate in my lap as I looked at all the blank faces around the oblong rectangle, seeking everyone’s approval.

Everyone just stared at me, somewhat confused – was this truly the appropriate time to be eating breakfast? – but no one protested.

I opened the two slices of bread as if I were about to prepare a sandwich and began applying the ingredients little Gabriela had quite accurately recalled – glue, deodorant, hydrogen peroxide. (She forgot to mention the q-tips that I sprinkled in between), and then I cut the gooey sandwhich into four pieces with a pair of scissors. Anybody want a slice?

Nearly everyone pulled their head back in disgust, voicing the absurdity of my offer. “Gross! No!”

My jaw dropped open. “W-what? You don’t want a slice? I mean, I’ll share it with you. C’mon.”

“No way! You put glue all over it! And…deodorant!” A riot was breaking out as many voices chimed in at once. Who on earth would voluntarily eat a sandwich like that?

“Well, now what do you mean you don’t want to eat glue or q-tips? Why not? I don’t get it.” I threw my hands up in frustration, looking around the circle for someone who would want to share my sandwich with me. No one?

“Glue’s not meant to be eatin’! You could die!” A cacophony of voices rose from all around.

“Well, what on earth is it for?” I sighed dramatically, determined to find answers.

“For…sticking things together!”

I put my hands on my hips, my mouth still slightly agape with brow furrowed. “And how do you know that? I mean, I certainly didn’t teach you guys that just now. Gosh, you people seem to know so many things.”

The kids began catching on. This was a game. Their eyes twinkled with mischief as they shouted: “Someone taught us when we were younger!”

“Ohhh. Someone taught you at some point in your life that glue is not meant for bread?”

Everyone in unison, exasperated: “Yes!”

“And you mean you haven’t, like, forgotten?”

Dozens of voices crescendoed: “No!”

“Because, I mean, you probably learned it for the first time like a long, long time ago. Or was it just last Tuesday?”

“It was a long time ago! But we haven’t forgotten!”

“And, you mean you’ve put into practice this knowledge of glue-is-for-sticking-things-together-and-not-for-eating ever since then with positive results?”

Everyone at once: “Yes!”

I sat back, resting slightly against the cinderblock wall behind me. “Ahhh. I see. You learned.

I let my statement hang in the air a few moments. A few eyes lit up. They were getting it.

We continued onward.

Socks on my hands. Skirt on my head. Household appliances wrapped in sticky laminate paper. ‘Drinking’ my bottle of water by pouring it on my knee. Trying to open a pillow with my keys.

“Gosh, I just – ah, excuse me. This dang cellphone of mine just keeps on buzzing. I mean, I just… I just can’t stand this phone. Everyone’s always calling me. I think I’m gonna just go ahead and turn it off so I can get a bit of peace and quiet for once.”

Everyone’s eyes were trained on me as I grabbed the little black cellphone that looked exactly like my own (no ‘Smart’ cellphone by any stretch of the imagination) and threw it violently on the ground at my feet before emphatically stamping it under my heel repeatedly, my sandaled feet crushing the small device before I picked it up quite calmly and broke it completely in two, my tone of voice remaining utterly even: “Whew. I’m so glad I turned my cellphone off.”

Several mouths gaped open, as they were convinced I had, in fact, completely destroyed my actual cellphone. (What they didn’t know is that it was an old cellphone that no longer worked.) No she’s really gone overboard.

“That’s not how you turn off a cellphone! You completely ruined it! To turn it off you’ve just gotta press the little button!” Many students were seriously worried.

My mouth dropped open in shock. “What? What do you mean that’s not how you turn a cellphone off? How dare you say that?”

Everyone in unison: “Someone taught us!”

“Oh, you mean a family member or friend taught you once that that’s not how you turn a cellphone off, and since then you’ve actually been able to remember that information?”

“Yes!”

“But…surely you were taught that valuable piece of information long ago, right? Or was it like last Thursday? I mean, it’s hard to remember things from like two or three days ago, right?”

“They taught us a long time ago, but we haven’t forgotten!”

I sat back again, impressed by their ability to remember important information. “Lookie there. And, putting into practice this information has been useful to you in daily life, or have you daily tried to destroy your cellphone as I just did?”

Everybody laughed as mental lightbulbs began doing off. Ah. There’s a lot of things we’ve learned – maybe we were only taught once, maybe even by mere observation – and that knowledge has stuck with us. What’s more, we’ve relied on that information to make daily decisions about how to live, what’s important to us, how to lead a successful life. Why, then, are we so easily content with saying we’ve ‘forgotten’ a lesson on the truth that we’ve learned but two days ago (or ten minutes ago)? Is this not a grave problem that must be confronted?

Is this not one of the Satan’s invisible strongholds in our lives — that we have become a people ready and able to learn anything and everything — how to operate complicated technology, how to drive a car (or bicycle, motorcycle, plane!), how to store countless trivia and academic information in our minds — yet we fail to learn the truth, are slow to grasp what can actually save us? We are experts in the details of life that, in the end, have zero effect on our relationship with our Creator. Begin talking to us about eternal matters — about life and death, sin and justice, truth and lie — and people’s minds shut off. Sure; I read the entire manual for my new SmartPhone or tablet and can now adeptly maneuver every button, every screen, every app with perfect execution and confidence, but what was that again that so-and-so shared with me — or that I read personally, that I’ve heard dozens of times over and over again in different ways! — about the truth, about a loving God who goes beyond this world, who holds the keys to death and Hell? I don’t remember.

Holding the destroyed cellphone in my hands, I continued, “I’ve gotta ask. If someone lives ‘forgetting’ all they are taught, failing to put into practice what they know – pouring glue on sandwiches and destroying cellphones in a misguided attempt to turn them off – what kind of life is that?

A short silence engulfed the room as everyone thought about the question. After a couple moments, a soft voice from across the circle said, “…a chaotic life.”

“A chaotic life!” My finger enthusiastically pointed at the person with the prize answer.

They’re with me. I dared onward into the real territory, the actual lesson of the morning. “And a life that is spent receiving God’s Word in one ear and letting it fall right out the other, a life that never actually puts into practice what God’s Word teaches?” I continued, putting it into the specific context of the lesson we had been learning for several weeks – “A life spent ‘forgetting’ to rejoice in the Lord always, a life spent rather complaining, gossiping, and murmuring, never content? A life spent refusing to embrace the goodness of God, ‘forgetting’ to give thanks in all occasions and never experiencing the joy found in Christ? What kind of life would that be?”

Two or three youth answered together as I believe many others, too, found the answer silently in their minds: “…A chaotic life.”

I bent forward, my voice even, serious. “We musn’t forget. Just as in daily life we cannot afford to forget that 2+2 is four – or have to learn it over and over again every day for years – we cannot forget that we are all in need of a Savior. Even as we’ve just become angry with another person, Jesus says we’re no different than a murderer. Just as we cannot afford to ‘forget’ that a toothbrush is for teeth and not for brushing our hair, even moreso – infinitely more so! – we absolutely cannot forget every Word of truth, every word of hope, of eternal instruction that we have been learning here together twice a week for this entire year.”

I continued, “So many people see the simple act of ‘forgetting’ what we’ve learned about God as an innocent act of negligence, but the Psalms say that those who ‘forget’ about God are wicked. Can you think why?”

Someone from across the room spoke: “Because…apart from union with Christ, we’re all wicked. So…if we forget the One who saves us from our wickedness — who grants us His own justice, then we’re right back in the same boat with the wicked.”

Another teen spoke up, “If we forget God, then…we’re back in the group with Adam and Eve. Without Christ’s power over sin and death. Satan wins.”

“Yes! And so, kids, every Tuesday and Thursday that we meet here — and every other time that you go to church with your family or are exposed to God’s Word in other contexts — I do not want you to lazily shrug and say that you ‘forgot’ what it is we’re learning together. This is serious business. I want to be able to run into you guys in town in 20 or 40 years and be able to talk about things we’ve learned together this year. This is so absolutely important. We cannot forget. Forgetting the truth is the equivalent of rejecting the truth – never putting it into practice – and living a life of chaos, a life that doesn’t make sense, a life that is full of suffering and, in the end, leads to destruction.”

Serious, listening faces stared back at me. We had gone from a hoot-and-holler cellphone-destroying riot to touching the heart of God’s desire for us – to remember Him in all that we do, to heed His Word and put into practice every single one of His teachings so that we would not be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.

May our Father empower us to remember every word He has spoken to us, and may He defend us against the thief who desires only to steal, kill and destroy the truth that has been planted in us!

Amen! Glory to God!

Forming Character The Old-Fashioned Way: One Rock at a Time

“Snake! Snake! It nearly bit me!” Cristian, a very shy, gangly 12-year-old student who has been a shining star in our intensive two-week program, shrieked as he pulled his hand back.

His five male classmates and I immediately arrived on the scene, intrigued by the snake sighting.

The young men had obediently commenced that morning’s character-forming project bending over, grabbing rocks of all sizes and then pitching them over the chain-link fence (the fenced-in area around the four little buildings that constitute the Living Waters Ranch has rocks everywhere you step, so I’ve taken it on as my personal project to move them to the open pasture where they’re out from underfoot). As the boys began crouching and hauling, unearthing and slinging, I had casually warned my teenage comrades, “Be careful, boys. There’s a boa that lives somewhere around here. Hopefully the rock you grab doesn’t happen to be his favorite hiding place.”

They had looked at me, dumbstruck, several of them with a smirk on their face as they assumed I was kidding.

[Seeing as I participated rather enthusiastically in competitive basketball teams and year-round athletic training from second grade until my high school graduation, I have taken these two weeks with our students as a bootcamp of sorts. (And I’ve had a little too much fun managing that bootcamp.)

Two days prior, as we neared thirty minutes or so of doing the rather demanding activity of launching rocks, everyone drenched in sweat under the hot Honduran sun, I clapped my hands vigorously and barked out orders, “That’s it! You’ve done great! Now hustle up – we’re gonna go around to the other side of the fence where you’ve just thrown all the rocks, and we’re gonna pick ‘em up and throw ‘em back on this side!”

They had all frozen and swiveled to look at me – the first time they had actually shown any recognition of all the noise I had been making – and their jaws dropped open. One of the boys expressed everyone’s thoughts, “That’s a crazy person’s work! No way!”

I had bent backward, thrown my head back and let out a belly laugh before recovering my rigid coaching tone of voice, “I’m just joking, kids! Now get your butts inside and we’re gonna continue reading more chapters of Proverbs and work out the kinks of long-division! You’ve done a phenomenal job! Hustle up now! Teamwork on three!”]

So this morning I laughed as I looked at their faces, unsure whether I was joking or not about the boa. (Our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline was standing by giggling and nodding her head in agreement, for she knew we had seen the boa several times and, thus, my warning was legitimate.)

“Nope, this one’s for real, boys. Good luck, and keep a tight watch on your fingers. I’d hate for anybody to lose one.”

They gaped and protested. I laughed. “No need to worry, boys. It’s not venomous. The only thing to fear is its long fangs. Just a slight sting, nothing more. Now fling those rocks! Let’s put everything you’re learning from the book of Proverbs into practice and form you into wise, hard-working young men for God’s glory! Hurl!”

As I stood right there on the sideline, shouting incessant verbal instruction and lavishing on praise, my throat started to ache due to my extreme coaching style. Not a moment passed that I wasn’t yelling some edifying comment or specific instruction to those young soldiers-in-training.

“That’s it, Exson! Keep it going, boys! We’re developing a good work ethic in you guys so that one day you will be useful instruments in God’s hands! Great job, Charlie! What great strength, Arnold! Wow, you guys have great perseverance! Keep slinging ‘em one after the other!”

Arms extended backward like catapults as rocks soared one after the other high over the fence. Fingernails turned black with dirt and muscles were put to the test as larger stones were taken on one by one and heaved over the precipice with great exertion.

“You need to run from Point A to Point B! Have a sense of urgency, boys! You don’t walk; you run! Show me that you deserve to pass seventh grade! Let’s go, boys! Use your strength to serve God; dedicate your bodies to serve justice!”

As the young men picked up their pace, heeding my verbal instruction to run from one rock to another rather than taking an easy stroll, sweat pouring mightily down their temples, I continued in my edifying verbal barrage: “May God form hard workers out of you, young men! You’re doing such a fantastic job! Keep it up, so that some day you can serve God, be responsibly married and provide for your family with the sweat of your brow! Remember that no good woman wants to marry a lazy man!”

A couple of the young men who had shown no prior interest in any of my many loud verbal proclamations until my last comment, stopped in their tracks, stared at me, and then let out a slight laugh before they kept on running.

All of our students are very familiar with the book of Hosea (the prophet whom God instructed to marry an unfaithful prostitute so that Hosea — and all those who would then come to know his story henceforth — would know how God, forever faithful, feels with unfaithful humanity who is constantly wandering off to prostitute itself to Satan). Making the connection between my comment about their future wives and the Scripture that we’ve been studying for months, Arlen, a 15-year-old student who ran past me with a rather large rock cradled in his hands, glanced up at me and asked with a tricky grin, “But we’re not gonna have a wife like Hosea’s, right?”

I laughed and praised God in my heart for all these young men are learning about His Word.

So, in these first four days of intensive work with those students who throughout the year had become notorious for playing hooky, not turning in homework on time and generally displaying rather irresponsible behavior day after day, we have enlisted them in a military-style boot camp founded on God’s Word in a very intentional attempt to form these young men (and woman) into disciplined, wise youth who are rooted in the truth. (And we’ve loved every minute of it even if they haven’t!)

With tears nearly welling up in my eyes, we’ve seen lazy, unmotivated young men begin to be transformed into hardworking, positive young men who leave all excuses aside, roll up their sleeves and get to work diligently. Now that there are less students to manage (the academically solid students are already on vacation), we can address and correct bad work habits individually, take the time to go over basics that they should have learned years ago, and go at a pace that they can understand and take hold of. Heck, I think these four days of intensive small-group military-style training have been more helpful to them than perhaps the entire school year in the normal classroom environment with all the other students and general distractions.

So when skinny Cristian with his Mohawk and wide eyes jumped back and set off the snake alarm, we all immediately showed up on the scene. Undoubtedly their thought was: Heck! She wasn’t kidding!

As we all drew near, Exson, the oldest student in our program who turned 18 this year, took the lead and grabbed a stick. He valiantly began removing rock after rock as his young friend informed him: “Right there! It disappeared into the dirt right there!”

Exson poked the stick about as we all bent over, faces forming an elevated circle above the suspected snake location while we all held our breath. It has almost bitten Cristian.

A moment or two passed as our hearts beat faster. Suddenly two eyes and a small head burst upward from the soil with lightning speed as I instinctively let out a blood-curdling scream and pulled my head up and away.

Not only did it almost bite Cristian; now it’s gonna bite all of us! The boa wants vengeance! If, in fact, it actually is the non-venomous boa and not one of the many poisonous snakes that are also found on this mountainside! Who can tell the difference anyway? Everybody run for your life!

My hands flew up to cover my face as if that would protect my ankles from the attacking fangs. The boys, too, had jumped back in surprise and let out similar gasps.

Everything happened in a half-second blur of terror and adrenaline before it registered in my mind: Wait, that wasn’t a snake. It was a gecko.

A gecko. 

We all began laughing hysterically as Cristian, who is typically very reserved, grabbed his chest in relief and sighed in very dramatic fashion.

After the boys had a good laugh at my squealy reaction, I resumed by coach-like authority and commanded, “Alright, back to work. Twenty more minutes of intense labor until recess, and I must warn you to watch out for the geckos. They are, after all, the most dangerous of all animals. More dangerous than a shark, more menacing than a lion, the gecko, young men, is to be feared above all other creatures. Now sling those rocks over the fence and watch out for gecko fangs!”

Amen! Glory to God!

Buried in Baptism, Raised with Christ

Two Thursdays ago we held a baptism for our children, students and neighbors who desired to publicly be buried with Christ and raised with Him to new life.

God planted this desire in us because several of the children/youth in our school (and in our household) had confessed faith in Christ over the past months and years but had yet to be baptized. Also, a beloved adult neighbor of ours shared with us that she had long-since desired to be baptized but her local church refused to do so despite the fact that she had been faithfully attending the church and obeying God’s will for many years.

Taking that as our cue along with Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [He] has commanded [us],” we scheduled the baptism a couple days out and extended the invitation.

As a community, family and school, we have been faithfully proclaiming God’s Word to the same small group of people several times per week in our rustic dining room since February, so the baptism gave the opportunity of confession to those who have been exposed to God’s Word this year but perhaps had not come to confess faith in Christ in a public way.

We met up on a gravel road about a mile from our home alongside a local river. Some arrived walking; others found our car passing through town and hopped in the truckbed. Below are the photos that were taken during that beautiful morning.

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Before beginning the baptisms in a local river, we gathered together with our foster kids, the majority of our students, our three teachers, our night watchman and his wife, my mom and step-dad and several other neighbors to read aloud the majority of the book of Romans as we all meditated on what it means to be buried with Christ in baptism and thus raised with Him in new life.

 

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My husband Darwin as we went down to the river

 

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Miss Luz (a local believer who serves as our special needs teacher), Darwin and I praying before receiving those who desired to be baptized

 

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The first one to come down to the river to be baptized was Sandra’s mom, Geraldina (pictured above in the yellow blouse). Sandra is a 15-year-old local teen who lived with us for the greater part of this year in refuge of a situation of abuse at home with her step-dad. Sandra’s mom has been a very sincere, humble believer for many years and was finally able to escape from the control of the abusive step-father several months ago as she has valiantly been looking for new, healthier beginnings for her and her four children (Sandra included). When we finished praying and looked to the shore to see who wanted to be baptized first, she was standing there eagerly with a big smile on her face. Praise God!

 

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Sandra, Geraldina’s daughter (who has also been like a daughter to us during this past year as she lived under our roof from February to August), was the second person to get baptized!

 

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16-year-old Dayana, our eldest daughter who has been living with us almost three years and whom we are in the process of legally adopting, was next!

 

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Risen to new life in Christ!

 

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Jackeline, our 13-year-old daughter who has been living under our roof nearly two years, was next in line!

 

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12-year-old Josselyn, another one of our precious daughters (we have quite a few!) also decided to get baptized publicly!

 

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My ‘Wild Gleny’ was the next one in line! Praise God for this huge step in her life! May God continue to be glorified in and through her!

 

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This is Cristian, a 13-year-old young man in our primary school who is one of our night watchman’s children. He arrived at our front gate roughly two years ago without ever having entered school. He and three of his siblings have been studying in our homeschool-style primary school program ever since, and they’ve learned to read, write and do basic math in addition to being continually exposed to God’s love. In the accelerated program he’s in for older students, Cristian is about to graduate fourth grade with very good grades. He also plays recorder in Darwin’s musical group and is a very faithful member in the weekly Christian Leadership class I teach.

 

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Cristian was the only one of his siblings who decided to get baptized. During the sharing of God’s Word before the baptism, God touched Cristian’s parents’ hearts to make a commitment to Christ as well, so they are in the process of legalizing their marital union as they’ve asked us to help them plan a double celebration in the upcoming months: their wedding and baptism!

 

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Here comes Brayan! We are so proud of this young man who lived with us for 8 months in 2014 and continues to be like a son to us. He’s been in 5th grade with us for nearly three years, and in these past few months he’s begun to develop a really good work ethic even though academically he continues to struggle due to abuse/neglect suffered in his early childhood. He’s becoming quite the gentleman and remains very involved in Bible study, Christian Leadership, and several other clubs at the Living Waters Ranch in addition to accompanying us on various family outings. A couple days prior to the actual baptism when we announced that those who wanted to get baptized would be able to do so, he was the first one to raise his hand and announce in front of the large group that he wanted to be baptized!

 

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Our 9-year-old son Jason was next!

 

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Charlie, a 13-year-old precious young man in our secondary school program (7th grade) also decided to get baptized. Please pray with us for Charlie and the commitment he has made to follow Christ, as he recently left his parents’ home and has been making very poor choices. He will most likely not pass 7th grade as our school year comes to a close next month, so please pray for wisdom and an increased work ethic on his part as he actively seeks for God to transform him according to His good will.

 

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This elderly man is Sandra’s great-grandfather. He accompanied Sandra, her mom, and younger siblings at the baptismal event to support them but had not planned on being baptized himself. Upon hearing God’s Word, he felt called to become a ‘new creature’ in Christ, so he, too, entered the waters to proclaim faith in the Savior. He was very excited to do so and has since asked us for a Bible to deepen his understanding of God’s will.

 

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One of Sandra’s younger sisters, Paoli, was next! She is one of the great-granddaughters of the elderly man who was baptized.

 

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Rolan, a very kind young man in our 7th-grade program, was the last one to get baptized. He is always very attentive during Bible study and has a mind that is very hungry for the truth. He had talked with us at length a couple days before the baptism about the many questions he had about getting baptized, and we were wonderfully surprised that he took the leap to publicly proclaim his faith in Christ as he entered the waters two days later at the public event. He is one of our better students academically and recently told us that he has been very content this year to be in our program as he had not previously had people in his life to lovingly guide him according to God’s Word.

 

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Amen! Glory to God!