Tag Archives: Serve God

Missionary Work in Honduras: First Update of 2019

After going over 5 weeks without even touching my computer, I will now try to pick up from where I left off…

We are currently in our annual period of preparation as we will begin a new year of personalized classes and Christian discipleship on our rural ministry homestead (the Living Waters Ranch) at the beginning of February. 

My husband, our seven foster children and I enjoyed a very low-key December in Honduras as we worked around our rural property together as a family doing various maintenance projects, paint jobs and groundskeeping activities. We immersed ourselves in several fruitful activities such as going on long walks, visiting a botanical garden, studying God’s Word as a family each night at dinner, engaging in various service projects in our local community and carving out time for each person to see their biological family members and/or close family friends. My mom and step-dad visited us before Christmastime, and my dad is planning a visit down here in early February.

Our foster kids painted smiley-face t-shirts with encouraging slogans on the front as they went out into our rural neighborhood on several occasions to pick up trash, as it is very common in our area for people to throw their trash directly on the ground or along the road instead of seeking out a trash can. We consider this to be a humble and gracious act of community service, as they are doing a less-than-glamorous job that rarely anyone takes the initiative to do. We hope to set forth an example of loving responsibility and encourage those in our community to take care of God’s creation and value the area in which they are raising their families.
Mission accomplished: over a dozen black trash bags reached our trash bin!
My husband Darwin was able to visit his dad, who is well into his 80s, several times during the Christmas holidays. Darwin and his dad are two of the only Christians in their family. His dad spent the majority of his life on the wrong path until finding the Lord less than 10 years ago. Darwin is the youngest of 18 siblings.
One of our foster daughters and several of our local students participated in an art competition in the nearby city of La Ceiba around Christmastime. They had been faithfully attending art workshops every Saturday for the past several months before the year-end event.
Last year my husband started an official swim club as part of the integral education we offer at the Living Waters Ranch, and he trained this rowdy bunch for several months before taking them on a special outing to a local beach. Many youth in our area do not have  positive outlets for play, exercise and healthy friendships, so activities such as this swim club are very important in the lives of our foster children and local students as we seek to form them for God’s glory.

Our night watchman and his family moved out of the little rainbow-colored house on our property after three years of committed relationship with them for God’s glory, and we have now converted their old home into a new “hospitality house” for local teen boys who are looking to engage in work, study and the search for Christ within safe confines. This is a new direction the Lord is taking us in, and my husband Darwin has done a phenomenal job overseeing, encouraging and working alongside of our new teen neighbors in their first several weeks living on our property. The house can hold 2-4 mature residents.

Our committed team of local Honduran missionaries/professionals recently returned to the Living Waters Ranch after several weeks of rest at home with their families, and together we are currently receiving and evaluating the dozens of local youth who are hoping to enter our grassroots Christian school this year.

Many of those who have wandered up the long gravel road to our rural property in these last couple weeks are youth we’ve known closely for several years who are looking to re-enter our school as they persevere with their commitment to cultivating their minds, bodies and very beings for Christ while others are completely new to our program and have sought us out as the local public schools have failed them and they are looking for something different and more effective. Some come from stable, loving families while others are on the outer fringes of society with almost zero stability in their lives. One local teenage vagabond whom we dearly love has been in and out of our school for the past four or five years and after a series of bad decisions last year has surprised us all with a very humble desire to try once again. He’s 17 years old and in second grade, and throughout these first several days of meetings and evaluations he has surprised us all with the great joy and commitment he’s displaying. These kinds of stories encourage us to keep hope alive.

A group of some of our male students in their evaluation period a few days ago prior to enrollment. (We put them through several physical fitness/endurance tests in addition to teamwork activities in order to build their character.)

A group of our female students building their pyramid in competition with the boys…

Our first two P.E. classes of the pre-enrollment evaluation period this month occurred on rainy, muddy days. Everybody went home with wet, dirty clothes and a big smile on their faces!
Pushups!

This year the Lord has brought a local college graduate with a heart for missions to serve alongside of us full-time, and we are honored that she will begin teaching Christian dance, advanced English and other subjects in our school in addition to leading prayer groups, teaching Bible studies and going house-to-house in our rural neighborhood to share the gospel with our neighbors. A local married couple who has been serving alongside of us for several years just recently finished the construction of their own home in our rural neighborhood where they have an open-door policy with local teens who seek them out after-hours for prayer, counsel, youth group and simply living and serving alongside of them for God’s glory. This couple is an integral part of our ministry, and their home is basically an extension of the Living Waters Ranch about a half-mile down the road smack dab in the middle of our local neighborhood.

Not only did we have P.E. class in the rain and mud for our students; we’re also in the process of physically conditioning our staff and foster kids! (And it’s a great bonding activity…) We all got ridiculously dirty and had a blast even though our muscles hurt so bad after the first day that we could barely walk…

 In the upcoming weeks we will be receiving two students of ours (brothers, ages 14 and 8) into our home as resident-guests as they want to continue receiving the love, integral development and Christian discipleship in our school but would not be able to unless they move in with us due to family issues. So, my husband and I will soon have 9 young people under our full-time care with several dozen more in our school during daytime hours in addition to the small group of young men now living in our rainbow hospitality house. Each facet of this ministry the Lord has entrusted us has its specific purposes, and we feel at peace with and excited about each of them.

There are many more details I could share — some tedious, some heart-warming — but I will try to ensure that my first post of the new year is not overwhelmingly long. We send our sincere gratitude to those who pray for and financially support this mission, and we earnestly ask for prayer as we desire to live as Christ in each facet of our lives here in Honduras (in marriage, with our foster children/live-ins, to the youth in our school and hospitality house, with our dedicated staff, to our local neighbors, etc). Please pray that the Lord might grant us the wisdom, grace and faith necessary to continue onward with this work of love throughout many years to come and that in due time the lives of the young people we are cultivating might give a precious fruit for His glory.

Thank you, and God bless you.

With gratitude,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

A Heart That Longs for the Eternal Rest

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing in Lost Sheep: The Dangerous Duo Hits the Streets

“Don’t make me do this again.” I shook my head back and forth slowly as I repressed a smile. Had it really come to this again?

I looked across the nearly bare living room in the cinderblock house at the young man slouched in the torn-up armchair. He was put-off and determined not to register for school next year.

Despite our attempts to encourage him he had dropped out of our yearend two-week intensive academic catch-up program and was embarrassed to come back again next school year only to repeat 7th grade.

This was now my third visit to this young man’s house in a very short time, and this time I had brought Miss Ligia, our worldly-lawyer-turned-Christian-teacher with me as backup. It was registration day, and he had pulled a no-show, as expected.

Having heard this 15-year-old young man’s testimony of faith in Christ on various occasions and having seen first-hand the beginning stages of a very real transformation in his character as he had been involved all year with us in Bible study, prayer groups, Christian Leadership and other faith-building activities in addition to daily academic classes, we refused to allow him to simply ‘disappear’ into the multitudes of lost young men who wander the streets in our rural neighborhood and eventually fall into a life of crime.

This unexpected onslaught of rebellion and negative attitudes he had been experiencing in the last few weeks was surely an attack from the enemy, and we – as God’s hands and feet (and voice) on earth, had to intervene with the truth, bring him back into the fold.

So Miss Ligia and I left the rest of the team behind at the Living Waters Ranch as they continued receiving new and old students for registration day, and we hopped in our old Toyota pickup and headed down that long gravel road in search of that same young man who is becoming infamous for his disappearing act.

So when we arrived at the young man’s home, he – not surprisingly – was nowhere to be found. His mom received us with a big, warm hug at the little front gate made of twigs and barbed wire, and quickly let us inside. (Each time I arrive unannounced at their home, the greeting gets warmer and I am allowed farther into their home.)

We quickly devised a plan to hide behind the front door to scare the daylights out of the young man as he would likely come strolling home at any moment. (And if he didn’t return home soon? Well, we would be waiting for quite some time…)

After all, traditional butt-chewings are falling out of style (due to their ineffectiveness), and new, crazier approaches are in.

One of his family members, a female student who had already gone earlier that day with her mom to register with us for next school year, got in on the plan and was set to give us the cue when she saw him coming up the dirt path.

Miss Ligia and I – wedged like two sardines behind the open front door – began giggling uncontrollably. The student’s father – who had not been present during my previous rendezvous to convince his son to keep studying – just stared at us oddly, undoubtedly concerned why two adult women – his son’s teachers! – were laughing like little girls (and poking each other) while hiding behind his front door. Why on earth had his wife let us inside?

A few minutes later our student sure enough came home. His young female relative gave us two quick knocks on the door to cue us, and we began in a loud, spooky voice, “Sta-a-a-n-le-yyyy, Co-o-o-o-ome ba-a-a-a-a-ck tooooo the Raaaaanch!”

He jumped back and began laughing for an instant as we came tumbling out from behind the door, but once his mom pulled out the little wooden stools for us to sit on and talk cold turkey, he turned cold (turkey).

After a couple minutes of utterly useless communication – his mom chewing his butt and him slouching even lower in the ratty armchair, refusing to look us in the eyes – I said, dead serious, “Don’t make me do this again.”

His mom continued, undeterred, “If this boy doesn’t go back to school, what’s he gonna do? He’ll go straight to the street, I know it. Just goes to the street every time to wander around and get into trouble. The street –“

I interrupted her tirade rather boldly, and said, “Well, if he goes to the street, you can bet that I’ll be right there waiting for him. In the street. Dancing. Let’s go, Miss Ligia!”

I grabbed the 29-year-old lawyer with her beautiful flat-ironed long black hair and fake fingernails and before you could say “Footloose” we were both out the front door and in the gravel street.

This time my dancing was accompanied by loud proclamations that I’m sure the entire neighborhood could hear (and that was the point). Miss Ligia began some rather creative steps and arm combinations as we both spun about on the narrow street. The neighbors from the wooden-plank house across the way all came out to watch:

“Hello everybody! Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen! We’re here because this young man, Stanley Rafael Torres, does not want to study! Yup; that’s right! He just wants to wander the streets, but we’re here because we really like this kid and want the best for him! If you’re with us and want Stanley to study and seek God’s will for his life, shout ‘Yeah!’”

No one but Miss Ligia shouted “Yeah!,” not even the middle-aged man who happened to be strolling by. (He avoided all eye contact with us despite my best efforts.)

Miss Ligia continued her contemporary dancing as I did mine, her complementing my steps as I admired hers. We refused to be denied.

“We’re just gonna keep on dancing until this precious young man – did I mention his name is Stanley Rafael Torres? – decides to get his butt back in school!” My voice projected itself all around as our footwork just kept getting fancier. “God has a plan for his life, and we’re here to make sure it gets carried to completion! If you agree that Stanley should go back to school, shout ‘Yeah!’”

Again, no one shouted. This time a teen boy passed by not three feet from us. I looked him in the eyes and repeated, “If you’re with us, shout ‘Yeah!’”, hoping to get some crowd support.

He began walking faster. Away from us.

Soon enough Stanley – our stubborn run-away student – had whipped out his cellphone as was filming our antics as he sat watching us on his tiny front lawn.

Several minutes of rather aerobic dancing (think Billy Blanks in a floral blouse and skinny jeans) passed before I teetered over to the twine hammock in their front yard and collapsed under the heat of the Honduran sun. Miss Ligia and I panted dramatically before getting up again and continuing onward, determined not to leave the street until we had collected the prize. We were committed and there was no turning back.

His mom suddenly appeared from behind the front door curtain with two little pink plastic cups of cold water for us. She wanted us to continue!

We glugged down the water, sweat pouring down our temples and large earrings swinging to and fro with our rhythmic dancing until I suddenly heard Miss Ligia say, “He said ‘yes’!”

I looked up, snapped out of the intense focus required to choreograph an original interpretive dance, and Stanley, still video-taping us, smiled big. He agreed to come back!

I continued dancing a little bit more – this time out of joy rather than as a tool of persuasion – as he went inside to change.

“Careful he doesn’t slip out the back door! Somebody get an eye on the kid!” We laughed and waited for him as I continued my two-step in the street, Miss Ligia and I drenched in sweat, bathed in victory.

The moment he appeared out the front door with his mom, we threw him in the car and headed straight back up the road to the Ranch. We had other scheduled stops (other run-away students) on our agenda after him, but we couldn’t risk that he would change his mind or jump out of the car. So off we went!

Sure enough, we arrived safe and sound (and he only jumped out of the car once, but continued walking in the right direction, following the car rather than bolting away) and he registered again for 7th grade, which he will begin at the end of January when all of our students return. God’s love: 1. Shame: 0.

As we finished the very quick registration process, Miss Ligia and I with Stanley and his mom jumped back into our old Toyota pickup along with four of our other returning students and someone’s little sister. We headed back into our rural town to drop them off and continue onward with the rest of our scheduled rescue missions.

Charlie, a very precious 13-year-old student who likewise had not passed our 7th grade program due to immaturity and many absences, was next on our list. Stanley, with a very happy grin on his face as he sat in the car’s backseat, promised to show us the way to Charlie’s house (it would be Charlie’s first house-call.)

Everything was going fine as we were a couple minutes into our very short drive when somebody shouted, “There he is!”

My attention snapped to the left, seeing a small dark speck along a far-off gravel path that had been identified to be Charlie. I felt paralyzed – what to do? If we drop off Stanley and his mom first, Charlie might keep on walking (where was he going?) and we would lose all chance of finding him. I had to act fast!

In a split-second decision, I glanced over at Stanley and his mom and blurted, “You okay with participating in this rescue mission?” and, before they could reply, I swerved the car to the left and began rather quickly bouncing up that rocky path.

Nearing the small boy in tattered clothes and dirty flip-flops, I forced the car into park in the middle of the road, put on my flashers and hopped out of the vehicle. This had to be a surprise attack, otherwise he would surely run.

I sprinted around the far side of the vehicle and came upon him as I said, panting, “Charlie! Come back. We love you. Today is registration day, and we’ve been waiting for you.”

As expected, he wouldn’t look me in the eyes and was very mopey, on the verge of some kind of extreme self-pity attack. Was ashamed and discouraged, had no plan, no desire. He was on his way to the river, the favorite pastime of the dozens of lost youth in our neighborhood who have no daily commitments. No school; no work; just wandering around gravel roads aimlessly and wasting their lives away at the river before eventually turning to crime and vice.

Soon enough Stanley’s mom – who is in no way related to Charlie – hopped out of the passenger’s seat of the car and began participating in the rescue attempt. Miss Ligia came out, too, and several of Charlie’s old classmates formed a large cloud of loving witnesses in the truckbed.

Seeing as we were getting nowhere – all of our well-intentioned persuasive techniques only seemed to propel him further down the well of despair – I clapped my hands vigorously and called upon my sidekick, “Miss Ligia! You know what we’ve gotta do!”

My sweat-stains growing exponentially in my nice floral blouse, I turned in a wide circle and announced as loud as I could (and that’s pretty darn loud), “Okay! Charlie Anthony “Tony” Rodriguez doesn’t want to study, so his teacher and I are gonna start dancing to convince him to continue trusting in God’s good plan for his life! This is all for Charlie Anthony “Tony” Rodriguez! Gosh we love this kid, and God loves him more! Hit it, Miss Ligia!”

So we began Act II of the Dancing Rescue Mission (within a yard of hell) as we began prancing about on that very rocky road in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rural homesteads steeped in poverty. Stone-cold Charlie broke down almost instantly and began laughing. His classmates – who had not been present for Act I and had no idea that Miss Ligia and I were such talented dancers – began cheering as everyone looked at little Charlie expectantly. Would such an extravagant display of love convince him to return?

After a bit more dancing and a few more loving words of encouragement, he hopped in the truckbed and we zipped him off to registration day.

With Charlie in the backseat, I turned as I was driving to look at him: “Charlie, you know that this is not about you being our ‘student’. If you are in 7th grade or 8th grade, that makes no difference. This is about the work that God has already begun in your life, and we want to be able to continue to walk with you day after day after year as He continues to teach and transform you according to His love.”

He smiled shyly, as you do when you’re completely convinced of what someone is telling you.

I added, wanting to make sure he understood that we do not see him merely as some poor teen or sub-par student, “Charlie, you decided to get baptized last month. In Christ we’re family.”

He spoke up for the first time, visibly content. “I know,” he smiled big and glanced up at me after having had his eyes trained on the floorboards.

That afternoon – several hours after the rescue mission with Miss Ligia – my husband Darwin and I and the 8 kids/teens the Lord has placed in our family had arrived at the local park for an afternoon of play. As we hopped out of the car, Darwin began dancing in a very silly fashion and making up nonsense songs to get the kids to laugh. He extended an arm toward me to include me in the goofy routine, but I sighed wearily and said, “Oh, I’ve had enough dancing for one day…”

Darwin and the kids looked at me, perplexed – had I not spent the day just as everyone else, signing up students and stapling paperwork? – and I began telling them the story…

Amen! Glory to God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our efforts will never be enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He whispered again: “You. Go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I did.

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

Amen! Glory to God!