The government agency called twice, and I said no both times without giving it a second thought.
My husband Darwin and I had decided between the two of us that we would not be receiving any additional foster children for at least the next several years. Most of our foster children are currently teenagers whose delicate needs require our full attention, plus our little discipleship-based homeschool that we run out of our rural homestead has been growing to such an extent that directing, teaching and community discipling has become a beautiful yet very time-consuming daily venture.
A few weeks ago we reintegrated Josue, our special-needs foster son, back into a healthy family situation with his biological grandmother, and afterward things in our house actually became almost normal — calmer, more organized, fairly predictable — for the first time in almost six years.
My husband and I breathed deep and contemplated those in our household — five teenage daughters and one pre-teen son, some as long-term fosters and others in the process of being legally adopted by us.
After going through numerous ups and downs as new parents and having had up to 10 in our home at a time, 6 seemed manageable and even easy. The house even seemed tangibly cleaner than usual and I thanked God that we had survived the brutal years of unwanted poo- and pee- disasters with 2 special needs foster children. On the walls, on the rug, in the bed — you name it. But those days were over, at least for the time being…
My selfish prayer seemed like it just might come true, “Oh God, I just want a normal life. At least slightly normal, slightly calm. My husband and I have virtually no ‘personal time’ and oftentimes feel stretched thin. I don’t even know what it means to sustain a normal friendship with normal people anymore. We love our kids dearly and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that You have called us to parent them for Your glory, but sometimes it is so hard and their healing process is messy at best. Please grant us some sense of normalcy and ease in this season in Jesus’ name. I’m exhausted.”
No-more-kids and We-want-a-sane-household have been our soft battlecries over the last several months, and it almost seemed like we were achieving our desired goal.
Until the government agency called twice.
My husband and I have every right to say no when they call us about receiving a new child or teen into our family, and I absolutely exercised that right in the name of defending my own sanity. What was our motto? No-more-kids, and I was sticking to my guns.
Well, as many of us know, oftentimes our own plans are just that: our own plans, not God’s. As I said my second ‘no’ over the phone to the government social worker whom I know and get along with very well, I was ready to politely hang up the phone and carry on with my business when the Lord led me to consider the possibility of laying my own plans — my own sanity, my own control — on the altar in the name of love.
What I did next — pause long enough to ask the social worker the details about the person at hand — brought with it a God-designed tidal wave that utterly and completely wiped out all of our own plans for normalcy and familial stability.
Thirteen year-old girl. Has already lived as an adult man’s wife. Dad’s not in the picture. Mom is highly unstable. Needs a family.
As I listened in silence to all the details I probably could have imagined on my own — for the majority of cases are very similar in the aspects of familial abandonment/irresponsibility and some element of sexual abuse — the social worker actually began pleading. “We have nowhere else to put her.”
Emotionally detached as much as possible from the phone conversation (because sometimes it is easier not to feel too deeply), I thought ‘Of course. Most people are scared to death about receiving teenagers, especially those with adult sexual experiences. They came looking for us because they know we love our teen girls and have had a large measure of success with them…’
The social worker continued, “If you receive her, you would be giving her…an opportunity at life.”
An opportunity to live. To find life in Christ. To know joy. To grow up in a family like any normal 13-year-old girl.
By this point in the conversation the Lord was working mightily on my heart, and I asked more questions before telling the social worker that we would agree to meet the girl but would make no over-the-phone commitment to take her in before seeing her face-to-face and talking with her. The social worker was ecstatic.
After hanging up, I went directly to our little office building we share with our local Honduran missionaries/teachers who serve alongside of us in our community homeschool. I found one of our female teachers fairly unoccupied and asked her for prayer and counsel. She quickly accepted, and we sat down next to each other on the little purple couch in the prayer room in our office building and closed the door for more privacy.
I shared openly and extensively with her, both secretly excited about the possibility of extending “an opportunity at life” to one more person while also tense and scared about all that could go wrong.
I voiced my thoughts as she listened attentively, “I mean, we could take her in, but there are a thousand other teen girls in her same situation — dysfunctional family, history of sexual abuse/sin —“
Our beloved teacher nodded quietly, fully aware that in our area of Honduras there are numerous cases of 12- and 13-year-old girls who already live with their “boyfriends” or who daily endure unhealthy home-lives. The need is oftentimes overwhelming.
I continued, “And, it just wouldn’t be realistic to take in a thousand of them. I mean, we can’t be family to a thousand.” My argument sounded right-on, and I felt I was gaining momentum. Our teacher nodded in agreement again, quietly listening as I verbally processed the storm within me.
But in that very moment the Lord struck me deep and to such an extent that His very words came out of my own mouth, dripping with conviction as I made a 180 degree turn in my argument. I said slowly, “But He’s not asking us to take in a thousand. They called us about one. Only one.”
I felt like in that moment I had surrendered to His will in one fatal blow. ‘You won,’ I thought with great heaviness mixed with the first fruits of joy welling up in my heart. He was indeed calling us to start over again with a new lost daughter of His. Not with a thousand, but with just one. And I would obey not only willingly but with a joy that very few can understand.
My teacher friend and I sat in silence several moments as the weight of the situation — and the enormity of the decision being considered — sat heavily between us. I repeated, “He’s just asking us to take in one…”
At the end of our conversation she prayed with me for the young woman in question and that the Lord might grant my husband and I the love, strength and wisdom to accept this new challenge if He should so desire us to take it on.
Fast-forward three days.
We went into the government-run complex to meet the young woman, her psychologist and the lawyers/social worker involved in her case. We asked the key questions we needed to ask, got our kids involved in the process of meeting her and exchanging several question-answer games with her, and throughout the entire encounter we felt the undeniable peace of God as confirmation. We would soon be parents to six teenage daughters and one pre-teen son.
The adjustment would of course be difficult for all, as our home tends to be in total upheaval for the ensuing 3-6 months each time a new person arrives as new friendships are forged and the teenage hierarchy is re-shuffled as everyone tries to find out all over again where they fit on the totem pole. There are oftentimes feelings of jealously and insecurity to be carefully dealt with in our kids who’ve been with us the longest, and Mom and Dad have to engage in the dogged task of forging a close relationship with a new, possibly frightened teen all over again.
Even so, it is a small price to be paid in comparison with what our Lord did on the cross to save us all, and it is the way in which He has called my husband and I to share in His sufferings (and likewise eventually share in His glory). To love the lost; to be parents to the fatherless; to extend hospitality and grace to those who might even make us suffer greatly in the short-term for having done so.
I spoke with the social worker and her eyes grew like saucers when I said yes, and the young woman (Soad, pronounced So-add) enthusiastically said that she would like to move in the same day.
That night — about two-and-a-half weeks ago — my husband and I prepared a foam mattress on our bedroom floor for our new arrival. Instead of moving her in with our teen girls all at once, we decided to have her with us for the first week in order to help ease her transition more calmly while also forging some semblance of parent-child bond with her in a condensed amount of time.
We sat down on the cool tile floor next to her mattress and asked if we could pray for her. She said yes. After doing so we tucked her into bed — our teenage-sized new baby! — and gave her a hug and a kiss before climbing into our own bed not three feet from hers.
My husband quickly drifted off into sweet slumber as I lay staring at the ceiling in the dark, hot room. My heart raced for joy as I listened closely trying to identify if our new daughter had already fallen asleep or was still wide awake as I was. Did she feel welcome and loved here? Would we be able to form a close bond with time, or would she prove distant and guarded? Would she sleep throughout the night or wake up screaming with nightmares? What if she stopped breathing right there on her mattress?
My mind raced with a thousand thoughts as I thanked God in my heart for who He is and for leading us on this wild adventure, especially because it was never our plan to begin with. The minutes turned to hours as I periodically tried to steal glances at our new daughter’s still form in our dark room, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I drifted off to sleep in spite of the heavenly joy that I felt might burst right out through my bones…
We thank God for these processes He takes us through as He draws us closer to His own heart and enables us to participate in His quest to reach lost humanity. Please pray for us during this time, especially for our other kids as they adjust to having to share Mom and Dad with someone new. God bless you all, and thank you to those who pray for and financially support this little mission in rural Honduras. To God be the glory.
As I drove down the bumpy gravel road in our old pickup truck, endless pineapple fields stretching out on either side of the dusty strip, I began to pray, for I knew if I didn’t my mind would immediately race to the task of worrying and jumping to conclusions, which I am learning brings no positive result in addition to going against God’s will for His children.
After all, the shiny new silver truck with a neat government logo pasted on the outside was following me. Today was the official visit the Honduran government’s child protective service would make to two of our daughters’ biological family’s household to determine whether the house and its members were apt to receive our girls, who have been living under our protection since July 2015. We had never done any kind of investigational visit like this before, and I knew that when dealing with the Honduran government I had to hide my own emotions and play by certain rules if I wanted to preserve the good standing we have thus far enjoyed with them.
I breathed deeply, trying to keep my thoughts neutral and my heart fixed on the perfect peace that is available to us at all times through Christ Jesus. I whispered, alone in the car, as I journeyed farther and farther into the middle of nowhere, guiding the large vehicle behind me: “Lord, if it is Your plan and Your desire that the girls return to their biological family, I pray that You would make that very clear to all involved. Convince the government social worker and grant Darwin and me peace in our heart about the decision.” Because, Lord knows, at that point neither Darwin nor I had peace about one or both of our girls leaving the protection of our home to return to what we perceived to be a highly unstable, dangerous situation with their biological family. We were only realizing the legal investigations because Josselyn was pushing hard to do so, and it was our duty in the eyes of the law to reunite our girls with their family if at all possible.
After several weeks of phone calls, emails and visits to the little building that manages all of the cases for local abandoned, abused and orphaned children (which there are too many of) in attempts to organize this visit – a grasping at some kind of closure, some kind of answer for our 12-year-old Josselyn and for us to know what direction to head in during this new season — the day had finally arrived. Pint-sized Josselyn with her shaggy black hair had her heart set on moving back in with her biological family members after having gotten in touch with them on a chance encounter downtown a couple months ago, and today we would most likely receive our answer.
I continued onward as I started to doubt that I even remembered where the house was located. In Honduras there are no street signs (or street names), and on this long, dusty stretch everything looked about the same to me. I continued praying: “Lord, on the contrary, if it is not Your will that our girls go back to their family, convince the social worker of that, and grant Josselyn peace in her heart when we have to tell her the news. Whichever way this all goes, I ask that Your peace reign over the situation and over our hearts. May Your will be done; not ours. Show us all the way, and give us the grace and strength to walk in it.”
Several minutes later I spotted the only landmark I remembered from the prior visit I had made to the home – a small tin overhang above the front gate, a twine-and-twig contraption that could not effectively keep anyone in or out. I pulled to a stop, and the large government vehicle behind me followed suit.
Within moments I led the social worker, a very kind local Christian woman whom we don’t yet have much experience with, and the car’s driver down a narrow dirt path and crossed the threshold into our girls’ grandparents’ very simple home. Their small dirt backyard gave way to an endless sea of pineapple fields.
The girls’ grandmother, an extremely frail but alert woman, immediately received us with a hug and the customary kiss on the cheek, eagerly pulling out two plastic chairs to accommodate us in their otherwise totally bare living room. We sat down, me with a smile on my face and my lips sealed firmly shut. This very official visit was technically to be had between the social worker and the family; I was lucky to be present and knew my role was not to be an active one. Despite having been the day-to-day hands-on mom, counselor and teacher for the girls for nearly the last two years, the government sees Darwin and I – and others in our area who serve God in similar capacities – as nothing more than an emergency, short-term shelter rather than a living, breathing family – the very hands and feet of God to rescue those who are so close to the flames! – so the social worker looked to Grandma to get all the details straight rather than to Darwin and I.
Thus the interview process started with several straggling aunts, uncles and cousins of all ages quietly gathering around the open windows and doors to observe the conversation at hand.
The social worker, very eager to reunite lost children with their families (which in theory sounds excellent), began discussing with Grandma the logistics of placing both of her long-lost granddaughters under her legal care. I kept my tongue firmly placed between my teeth, intent on saying nothing. It was clear to me that Grandma and the social worker did not know – or did not want to tell – the whole story, and they had not invited me to speak, so I did not.
The social worker took out a very formal stapled questionnaire that she began filling out as Grandma began answering her questions. One of the first was: “How many people live in your home?”
It seemed simple enough; in the quietness of my own mind I had assumed that Grandma and Grandpa lived alone. There always seemed to be a whole lot of family members everywhere, but I had guessed that they all lived close by and simply enjoyed spending time together during daytime hours, seeing as no one had a stable job and none of the children were in school. Lots of free, idle time; thus, let’s spend it together.
After the social worker’s question, there was an odd pause. Grandma glanced over at her husband, and it became clear that neither of them knew the answer. They sent one of the young aunts to take a head count, and she came back a few minutes later with the answer: “17.”
The social worker’s eyes grew wide as she glanced in surprise at the lines her paper permitted her for that section: there were only ten spaces. She began asking one-by-one the names of all who lived there, ages, genders, etc, as she had to turn her page over and extend the section in her own freehand on the back of the sheet.
Grandma, oftentimes contradicting herself and having to consult constantly with other relatives as to the names, ages, and current whereabouts of those who live under her roof – a three-bedroom, one bath house – began naming several sons and grandsons of hers in their teens and twenties who live and sleep under her roof. I bit down even harder on my tongue as dark images darted across my mind, knowing full well that both of our girls had been severely sexually abused by their very own family members.
During our first supervised family visit several weeks ago, Josselyn later told one of our older daughters that I had had a lengthy conversation with one of her uncles who had raped her, and that ‘everything seemed okay now’ because I had had a pleasant conversation with him – completely unbeknownst to me that he had been one of the perpetrators – and that she would be fine living with him because he had treated me nicely and I got along well with him.
Roughly ten teenage and young adult men – none of whom study or have stable jobs and who have a known history of sexually abusing children – living and sleeping alongside of our two girls in a tiny house that holds only two or three beds? Over my dead body. Righteous anger was quickly awakened within me, but I still said nothing.
The social worker began asking about the girls’ future education, if and when they move back in. Grandma was very hesitant about this, as absolutely none of her dozens of grandchildren are in school, and all of the adults are illiterate. They move frequently and have no stable employment and, although they can afford sodas and candies and cell phones (as so many poor Honduran families do), they have no money for the kids’ education.
At some point during the conversation Grandma mentioned that the girls’ biological mom – whom many family members have told us is highly emotionally unstable and became irate when she heard the news that her daughters visited several weeks ago, thinking that we were going to leave them with her – was ‘out’ with Papo, the infamous stepfather who developed the habit of raping our daughter Gabriela while she lived under his care.
At the mention on his name, I couldn’t take it any longer – even though I had written and submitted official reports to the local government office regarding the nature of our girls’ sexual abuse (there was even a police raid to Papo’s home at the time of Gabriela’s rescue in order to put him behind bars, but he escaped the raid and the police have made no further attempt to pursue him), it was clear that the social worker had no idea who we were dealing with. She continued inquiring calmly about the mom and step-dad, when I very carefully raised a finger and asked if I could speak.
My plastic chair positioned carefully in a triangular position between the other two chairs – my attempt to show my support and collaboration with both parties equally – I spoke up, my voice quivering slightly with rage, “That man – the girls’ stepdad – is the same one who sexually abused Gabriela. I absolutely do not feel right about having her return to live anywhere in proximity to that man – “
The social worker’s eyes grew wide once more as she glanced over at Grandma to clear up the issue. Grandma, possibly wanting to defend her family members or her own integrity or simply unversed on the real issue at hand, began claiming that Gabriela was crazy and that it was all a lie. Gaby was fine and had never been abused. She always used to say bad words and take her clothes off in Grandma’s house, but Grandma knew that she did so because she was crazy.
I spoke up again, this time without asking permission, still trying to keep my voice calm while I was not at all pleased with the idea that we had such a cloud of witnesses around us, eavesdropping on such a delicate issue: “When Gaby first moved in with us roughly two years ago she constantly took her clothes off in public, tried to have sexual relations with any boy or man who was close to her, screamed and talked loudly about Papo – her stepdad – saying that she was gonna put him in jail, and her own sister affirms that Papo had taken Gabriela as his young lover from a very early age on. Her mind and body had been damaged to such an extent that she had become borderline special-needs, oftentimes struggling with self-loathing, learning disabilities and constant disciplinary issues, and the recovery process has been grueling.” (She was about seven or eight years old when she was rescued out of that situation, and we have no idea of knowing for how many years he had been mistreating her prior to that.)
I was desperate to tell the truth while not openly offending this very poor, fragile family. All the people around us had been created in God’s image just as much as I had been, and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had paid the price of their redemption. God truly loves these people – even the abusers – and desires for them to be saved and renewed. I could not judge these people nor look down upon them, but I could do whatever was necessary to assure that these two girls did not fall back into a very dark pit. Lord, forgive me if I am over-stepping my bounds.
I had put my cards quite strongly on the table, and I had put myself at risk of being called biased or even possibly against the family reintegration process (which is a cardinal sin in Honduras). The social worker, obviously alarmed by all the information I was sharing (even though I had shared it with her and her colleagues before, possibly having fallen on deaf ears until now), began probing Grandma on the topic as she continued denying the whole thing as the list of lies and excuses lengthened.
As the conversation continued onward amiably but very professionally, the social worker jotting down all of her official notes, someone suddenly appeared in the doorway and I felt what little air I had in my lungs jump right out.
Everything around me disappeared as my eyes locked in on her extremely small frame and shaved head. She was even wearing a white dress, which was actually just a shirt that reached her waist. She wore no pants; little undies and a white shirt were all. Her eyes seemed glazed over and travelled up and across the walls.
The dialogue between the social worker and Grandma continued onward as I suddenly felt lost in space. None of the other ten or fifteen family members present even noticed her arrival. She was like a small, almost unconscious ghost. Frail and broken – probably much tinier than whatever her real age was – and with a shaved head and white dress.
I let out a slight gasp, my whole body being slammed with very strong memories of the other little angel in the white dress as I glanced over at a teen male who stood a few feet from me. I pointed a finger at the little girl and asked with deep respect and awe, “That is Katy, isn’t it?”
He affirmed casually that, yes, that was Katy. I continued staring at her – looking past Grandma to that little, lost figure with the shaved head who stood idly near her chair, eyes still glazed over and far, far away.
I spoke again without permission, this time to no one in particular, “That is Josselyn and Gabriela’s little sister. Katy.”
Oh, I knew her when I saw her because that is exactly how our Gabriela arrived under our care in 2015: shaved head riddled with scars and open wounds; lost, far-off look in the eyes; strikingly similar facial features; extremely small frame; she was even wearing a white dress the day we met her.
I felt an immediate connection with that little girl that goes beyond explanation. I felt that I knew her already; I even felt that she was Gabriela herself two years ago. I stared at her little bitty legs that led up to her underwear in plain sight and her white, nearly see-through shirt that fell slightly off one shoulder. I tried to make eye contact with her several times, but her glossed-over stare seemed to look right past me. Only a couple times did her eyes actually find mine as a very quick, very tiny smile tugged at one side of her tired cheeks before the glossy stare overtook her again. After standing idly in the doorway for what seemed an eternity, she then began hobbling over toward the adjacent room. A family member who was not present at that moment had commented to me on a prior visit that she had just begun walking recently due to severe malnutrition. Exactly like Gaby.
I do not remember the specifics of the rest of the conversation; just that I got up from my seat and sat down on the concrete floor right next to Katy and began stroking her arm and back, as I would with any of our kids. I felt that she was mine even though she had no idea who I was. Her eyes never met mine, and even the loving physical touch could not snap her out of her zombie-like state. I patted my lap and asked if she wanted to sit with me, but she neither looked at me nor responded.
At one point Grandma glanced over at me, visibly confused as I no longer displayed my happy, neutral smile. My countenance had grown dark and I silently fought back an onslaught of tears and rage.
The visit was concluded with cordial hugs, handshakes and on-the-cheek customary kisses, and we soon began walking back to the main road where our vehicles awaited us.
Once we were out of the family’s earshot, I dared to ask the social worker, “What were your thoughts on the visit?”
She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and commented very sincerely, “It seems to me that they don’t always tell the truth.”
I let out a long, unexpected sigh and dared to probe further, knowing I was trodding on fragile ground: “In your opinion, do you think that it will be best for the girls to return to their family?”
Just weeks prior when I met with the same social worker to inform her of the family’s whereabouts and of Josselyn’s desire to move back in with them, her immediate, upbeat response was, “Great! It’s always better for kids to be with their family.”
This time, however – having seen first-hand the situation in which one or both of the girls would be diving into – she responded without wasting a beat, “No way. The girls would be entering a situation of sexual abuse upon returning to their home. Plus none of the kids who live with Grandma are in school and they move so frequently that we would lose all follow-up with them. I will file the report, but in my opinion, they shouldn’t go back there.”
I let out a slight laugh of pure glee as it dawned on me that God had granted my humble request and thus confirmed His will for our girls. He opened the social worker’s eyes to the real situation at hand, helped her to detect the many lies, and convinced her that our girls should not return there. Now the only thing left (and perhaps most difficult of all), would be sharing the news with Josselyn, who had so longed to return to what she had convinced herself was the ideal life.
Feeling compelled by God to speak out about Katy’s situation, I shared with the social worker my concern for the little girl. She looked exactly as Gaby did upon arrival to our home, and I feared the worst: now that abusive step-dad Papo no longer has access to Gaby, he has probably begun abusing little Katy in the same way. The social worker seemed to understand (there are so many cases such as these that the elements of surprise and rage oftentimes don’t even come into play for those who work daily in this sphere), and I affirmed to her that if and when the government should remove her from the familial situation, we would be more than willing to accept her.
On the car ride home I prayed fervently for Josselyn – that God would console her heart upon receiving the news that she would not be able to return to her family, and that He would grant her His perfect peace to understand why. Upon arriving home I spoke with Darwin – who had been teaching classes all morning – to inform him of the news, and I wept in his presence of my encounter with Katy.
About an hour later we arranged to talk in private with Josselyn. Darwin prayed as the three of us – Darwin, Josselyn and I – held hands with heads bowed in one of our empty classrooms, the teachers and students having already returned home for the evening. By God’s grace we were able to share the news well, and although silent tears rolled down Josselyn’s dark cheeks, she did not turn violent or seem carried toward total despair. We continued talking and praying with her afterward and embraced her in a ‘sandwich hug,’ something we do with all of our kids (Darwin on one side and me on the other, both of us embracing the little person who stands between us.) We had — have — no other choice but to throw ourselves at God’s feet, asking for mercy and for His perfect peace in the face of what could possibly turn into total depression and despair for His daughter Josselyn.
Darwin then left to tend to the rest of our kids as the open conversation – by this time not so heavy – continued between Josselyn and I for quite some time. I then carefully asked Josselyn’s permission to share the news with the rest of our kids, seeing as they all knew about that day’s official visit and were eager to know the result. She consented, saying that it was okay for us to talk about it with the rest of our household but that she preferred not to be present. I agreed, and she went out front with little Gaby to play ball and climb the mango tree with a few young neighbors.
The news was shared with our other six kids – even the news of my experience meeting little Katy – and 16-year-old Dayana, our eldest, was the first to suggest that Katy should come live under our protection. 13-year-old Jackeline was rightfully enraged and surprised that the police had not put step-dad Papo behind bars (even though we had previously shared this information with our children), and a very heavy but peaceful solemnity came over the room where we prayed over and discussed with our children serious details and realities that are far from most households. We reiterated the utter importance of maintaining all forms of sexual abuse and misconduct far from our household; we affirmed our love and commitment to each of our kids; we spoke tenderly of the need to have compassion and patience for Josselyn during this time. As we left the meeting, I was certain God met us there as He had also that morning in the official visit and earlier that afternoon when we spoke with Josselyn.
Later that evening, I found Dayana playing piano and gave her a long hug followed by a kiss on the top of the head as I told her how amazed I was with the heart – the compassion – God was forming in her. The suggestion she had made during the earlier family meeting to receive Katy into our home was nothing short of a miracle, for we all know the extreme adjustments, sacrifices and general household instability that follow the addition of any new child. Surely God was granting Dayana His own heart for those on the margins; surely He was transforming her into a daughter of the King.
That night as everyone was quietly tucked into their bedrooms for our family’s daily Sabbath Hour, Darwin and I arrived at Josselyn and Gaby’s quarters and asked to come in. As we passed through their floral-print door curtain, we found both sisters quietly sitting on their tile floor, working on homework and puzzles. We sat down with them as we informed little Gaby that I had had the privilege of meeting her sister Katy that morning, and that Katy reminded me a lot of Gaby. Her eyes grew wide at the sound of her sister’s name, and I smiled at her and told her that Darwin and I would like to pray with them for Katy.
The sisters’ hands instinctively extended towards ours as the four of us formed an imperfect circle on their tile floor. We prayed for Katy, asking God’s protection over her life and that He would indicate to us what we are to do in this situation. As we finished praying, we embraced each of the sisters and gave them a kiss on the top of their head as we then left their room for the night.
That was Wednesday, two days ago. Please pray with us, both for Josselyn’s continued acceptance and peace with the fact that she will not legally be able to return to her family’s care along with Katy’s very delicate situation, knowing that multitudes of other boys and girls around the globe also silently face sexual abuse day after day. Pray that the local authorities would move to investigate Katy’s living situation and that, if it is God’s will, she would come to our home to be raised in a God-fearing way along with her sisters.
Amen. To God be the glory, for He hears us and comes to our encounter.
We are seeking active prayer on behalf of Sandra, the 16-year-old young woman who lived with us for 8 months in 2016 as Sandra’s mother sought refuge for her daughter from a situation of abuse with the mother’s then-husband, Sandra’s step-father.
Sandra moved back in with her mom, who has been a devout Christian trapped in deep poverty and abusive relationships nearly her whole life, in August. Her mother valiantly left behind the abusive step-father as she took great steps, trusting only in God without even having the tools that most people would consider necessary to start a new life – a job, the ability to read and write, childcare for her three younger children.
God has provided in many different and powerful ways for Sandra’s mom and her family of four children in this past year, and our relationship with her mom (Geraldina) has deepened as she has begun laboring part-time with us at the Living Waters Ranch, participating in prayer meetings with the rest of our team, inviting us to her home for fellowship and holding many personal conversations with Darwin and me as she has actively sought Godly counsel and friendship.
We hold this sweet family very dear to our hearts as they exemplify faith in Christ and total dependence on Him, and we daily admire Geraldina’s bravery as she goes against cultural norms to be a steadfast single mom walking in purity, constantly seeking God’s will for her family despite tremendous odds.
Last night around 11:00pm Geraldina called us in tears as she told us that Sandra had run away from home, leaving a note saying not to look for her. Darwin, our 8 kids and I had all spent time with Sandra earlier that day and she did not show any signs of her plan nor did she communicate anything to us, but last night it came to light that several people knew of her plan but did not think she was serious, therefore committing the grave error of not telling us or Geraldina.
According to those who knew of her plan, she left with a long-distance boyfriend (who she had never met face-to-face) who is a gang member in another part of the country that is about a 4-5 hour-drive’s distance away. In Honduras, droves of young women get lost in this confused search for love and acceptance as they get carried away by violent men and become sex slaves, accomplices to the gang’s Satanic activities or murder victims. This happened about a month ago to another young women we know in our neighborhood. Her parents did not give her permission to have a boyfriend, so an unknown car pulled up in front of their house, she mounted, and the only news they have is that her friends believe she is living in a gang-infested area with other runaways.
At this point we have no information on the whereabouts of Sandra – Darwin left home last night at midnight with our 15-year-old son Brayan to search for her in our small town and console her mother, and he went out again at 5:00am to scour the strip of highway that runs through our small rural town to see if he might find her catching a bus or leaving town. Nothing.
Last night after having received Geraldina’s devastating call we sat in a tight circle on the tile floor in our bedroom as we prayed with our four teen/pre-teen daughters for Sandra. It came to light that Sandra had invited one of our other daughters to escape with her earlier that day, but our daughter had refused to go. We praise and thank God that she had the strength and wisdom to not accompany Sandra down this dangerous path.
Please pray with us that God might illuminate Sandra’s mind so that she might see past any lies of the Enemy to see clearly the decisions she is making – how they are affecting her own health, that of her family and that of her relationship with God. Please pray that she might find a way to escape if she is, in fact, already in a situation of sexual sin or danger and that she may choose to trust in the abundant love that Father God has for her rather than the fleeting, twisted lusts the world offers. Please pray with us for repentance and renewal of her commitment with Christ and that Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) would experience God’s love and compassion during this incredibly difficult time. Thank you.
I sit here squinting in the dull light at the several sheets of white paper splayed out around me, each one filled with scribbled phrases, arrows and scratch-outs as many, many hours have been put into the revision and expansion of our mission statement over these last several days.
My breath catches in my throat as I am thrown back by the words I jot down. Infinite purpose is being revealed before me as I wait and listen, type and understand.
This is one of those rare moments of seeing everything with perfect clarity.
The soft glow of my laptop illuminates the polished square dining table where I sit in a missionary couple’s empty home. My husband and I have been here on vacation for the last few days.
I laugh to myself as I think that we almost seem like a normal young couple in this quiet house with nice furnishings. No large, broken children hanging all over us and consuming our every moment; no dire crisis to be tended to; no grinding schedule of extreme hospitality and taxing interpersonal commitments.
But our Father knows He has brought us here not to revel in some temporal notion of ‘peace’ but rather to utilize this empty space — empty time, empty mental space — to sit down and seriously consider what He is doing in our midst.
To remember, to repent.
Darwin sits several yards away on a highly cushioned couch as he is absorbed by his own computer. Books are splayed out all around him on the coffee table and floor while today’s breakfast and lunch dishes accompany me at my work station. Half-empty mugs of herbal tea and plates sticky with food residue populate the glossy surface. Clay Aiken’s song “Mary Did You Know” repeats over and over again on YouTube as my fingers continue typing, my heart heavy under God’s glory.
My eyes trace the words on the open Word document. My posture before my Father is one of worship as I read the overarching purpose He’s given us:
To be compelled by a love for God and humanity; to be utilized as God’s instruments as He establishes His Kingdom among us in a dark and broken region.
When 8-year-old Gaby still struggles to put appropriate sexual norms into practice after having been broken under the insatiable lust of her stepfather; when difficult students are accepted into our discipleship program (and when they storm out only to return again); when our Father’s Kingdom is diligently – desperately – sought in early-morning prayer; when genuine confession and repentance and granted, that’s the purpose behind it all.
Beyond exhaustion, beyond any warm fuzzies or sense of adventure, beyond personal conflicts, struggles and victories as we live in the messy and the mundane alongside of other broken human beings in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, this is our mission:
To be God’s refuge for orphaned, abandoned, neglected and abused young people as we extend Christ-centered hospitality, healing and guidance to them with the goal of raising them up as powerful servant leaders to their generation, wholly submitted to Christ and equipped for any good work.
To serve as a holistic mentoring and discipleship center for local children, youth and adults as we diligently proclaim Truth and faithfully bind up those who have been broken in a society wrought with violent crime, sexual perversion, a corrupt and unresponsive justice system, educational inefficacy and devastating poverty; to cleanse and renew individuals with God’s grace as they learn to trust and follow Jesus in every area of their lives.
Is it really that big, Father? How on earth do I so quickly lose sight? How is it possible that I get so easily wrapped up in my own feelings and frustrations — so consumed by my own needs and desires — looking for personal gratification and recognition when the task is so much bigger than us, so much more beautiful than anything we can offer?
And when little girls who’ve been thrown out as trash learn to trust their Savior; when the Word of Truth is proclaimed in that rustic dining room day after day after week after year; when our teenage girls slowly shed destructive patterns and adopt God-honoring attitudes, this is who we are:
A community of individuals being healed and set free as we experience and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
When our high school students still haven’t developed the habit of doing their homework; when the justice system fails to put child molesters and rapists behind bars; when my husband is kidnapped and miraculously spared his life by those same gang lords who’ve paid off the police and the political officials; when my own patience comes to its end and I must cry out to the Living God, the vision He’s given us has not changed:
To be a prophetic community of believers, living in accordance with God’s Word and utilizing music, writing, preaching and other avenues of communication to function as God’s messengers both to our immediate region and around the world.
Did I have to leave home for a few days in order to have Him open my eyes to the weight of the work He’s etching out among us? Did He have to guide these gangly fingers to write it in order for my heart to remember it, to continue trusting the Good Shepherd in the midst of our daily walk through the wilderness?
My eyes absorb the words on the screen, and I begin to understand.
To actively fight the many evils in our region with prayer and fasting, interceding for God’s Kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.
Oh, those messy, after-hours battles that we’ve fought with tears – at times totally desperate, trusting in the freedom Christ won for us even when those chains of sin and abuse are so hard to be broken, holding our girls and weeping – that’s what it’s been all about.
Not ten minutes prior my fingers added to the open Word document what I have so mightily struggled with:
To assume a posture of long-term commitment in our relationships with the people the Lord places in our lives, accepting the responsibility of patiently coming alongside of them without seeking immediate results or personal recognition.
Oh, on a daily basis this war must be fought and won against my own ego, as I so pompously strain for that “thank you,” that look of gratefulness that hasn’t come, that medal of honor for going the extra mile.
As that soft glow continues to illuminate me, He whispers: Faithfully persevere until the end, and I will work all things out for the good of those who love Me and have been called according to My purpose. No immediate results; no personal recognition. You must become less so that My power may be made manifest in you.
The music continues to proclaim the same Truth that He confirms upon my spirit.
To adopt the attitude of Jesus, constantly asking that the Father’s will be fulfilled rather than our own; to carry our cross and follow Christ, spending ourselves on God’s will.
Oh, how often I’ve grumbled under the weight of this cross! How often I’ve eyed others’ lives – the personal time I think they have that I don’t – and how often have I looked for those short-cuts just to arrive at the end of the day a little less scarred, less spent. Forgive me, Lord.
Clay Aiken’s voice rises as he reminds me that all – even the blind like me – shall sing the praises of the Lamb, the praises of He who chooses to redeem and utilize the unlikeliest of people – alas, we are all the unlikeliest of people, for the whole of humanity is a disgruntled group of murderous prostitutes!
Is that not the purpose of all things, of our very lives? To sing the praises of the Lamb, to be joyfully consumed by the praises of He in whom we find our salvation from this world, from Satan’s grasp, from ourselves? Is not the great task of all humanity to not lose or forsake our relationship with the Living God — to not trade Him for our fanatical busyness, distorted ego and that heaping pile of daily obligations and distractions? To repent, to believe that the Kingdom is near and that the King is good?
The glory of God rests heavy in the room, on my heart, as I am nearly brought to weeping, amazed that the Creator of all things would choose us – me in all my daily failings – for this work. How is it possible?
My eyes continue to dart between documents, between paragraphs, as He reminds me the great purpose He has called us to:
To embrace the fact that lives are transformed through relationship; to focus primarily not on tasks, programs or appearances but on cultivating deep, sacrificial relationships as lasting transformation is achieved for God’s glory.
How many times have I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom, cleaning toilets rather than wiping noses! Oh, forgive me, Father, for even now as I sit here a sense of dread is creeping in as I think of all the demanding emotional and behavioral needs that will meet me at our front gate tomorrow upon our return home. Accompany me once more, Father, and fill me with You so that what the kids receive isn’t me, but You.
This is Your work; it never was ours and it never could be.
May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
This past Saturday, July ninth, was little Gabriela’s one-year anniversary since moving into our home.
Although her annual landmark was written in large print on our family calendar hung on our living room wall, the day honestly came and went without much hoopla. Get up early, everyone does their chores, eat together, wash dishes, study God’s Word in our dining room, counsel the kids through various mini-crisis throughout the day, wash more dishes, seek one another out in love and forgiveness, spend a few hours supporting the older ones in their studies, watch a movie in the evening as a family.
In years past we celebrated not every year but every month a child was with us, for everything was so new and so difficult that each day survived was an incredible triumph. I remember celebrating Dayana, Gleny and Jason’s two-month, five-month, eight-month, year- and two-year anniversary with big poster boards, tender hugs, hand-written love notes, cake, balloons, and the like.
Now, however, with a bustling household of eight live-ins and even more students and Christian laborers, all of whom have many birthdays and countless anniversaries, the celebrations are becoming less extravagant as our days are now much more full of planned activity than they were before.
So on Gaby’s one-year anniversary as she and I walked hand-in-hand out to Dingo’s pen to fill up his dog bowl together, the Lord utilized that small time-frame to open my mind beyond the daily, the immediate, and allow the memories of an entire year spent with Gaby to flood over me, receiving each one with a heavy-laden gratitude, rattled by joy.
Gaby, whom one year ago I had met for the first time, that little ANGEL IN THE WHITE DRESS with the shaved head, the dozens of bald patches that revealed peach-colored scalp all over. Gaby, that skinny little girl who had been so hammered by pain and darkness that there wasn’t much little girl left at all. Jaded prostitute in the body of a malnourished seven-year-old, a mere babe who’d undergone more than many adult women do in a lifetime.
Screaming, profanity, undressing in public, sexual talk, running off, stealing, destroying books and toys, lying, kicking.
Gaby, who months after having moved in began to shed the first of many, many layers of pain and anger, leaving her an empty shell, a little ghost. All she had known was rape, sexual games, abuse, neglect. So you take all that away, and what’s left? She was our hollow little girl who we desperately wanted to fill with the Father’s love.
Alas, in many ways she still is.
Gaby, who even now, one year later, is still so desperately broken. Her psychologist informed me just a few days ago that Gaby has made many strides and is mentally now on the level of the average 3-year-old. And before?
Oh, Gaby, our little girl who the world has treated as trash and who still struggles to understand, to receive, when we tell her she’s a princess of the King. Gaby who still wets the bed and struggles to put into practice appropriate sexual norms and whose fine motor skills are still so terribly far behind. Can’t draw a square, can’t hold a pencil or a fork properly. Can hardly open a door. Doesn’t know the alphabet, can’t write her name. Miraculously learned the colors, can count to 10 with help. Loves singing in Darwin’s choir, has learned to pray for others in her broken, hard-to-understand way of talking.
So she and I walked this past Saturday, hand-in-hand, as we always do, as she eagerly offered to help me fill up Dingo’s dog bowl. She loves to help me. I’m her favorite person, after all, which is an incredibly demanding blessing. She physically looks to be eight or nine or ten years old (she has no birth certificate, no record of her existence in this country’s vast archives) but has the intense emotional needs of a toddler, you see. I hold her heavy body in my long arms, kiss her on the forehead and nose, bounce her on my knees, cradle her now-quite-large body as you would a baby.
And it’s never enough.
She wants to be in my arms all the time, under my skin, in my womb.
As we’re hugging each other or as I’m cradling her, she’ll look me in the eyes and whimper, “I miss you, Mom.” I want to cry to the heavens, “How do you miss me?! I’m right here! I cannot be any closer! Oh, Father, fill up this little one because I simply cannot! Fill her with Your love! We need You, Father!”
Crossing our grassy front yard together on Saturday, wearily contemplating the utter fullness of this past year with her in all of our ups and downs, all our little triumphs that when marked on paper or pronounced aloud seem like nothing at all, I asked God what He thought about all this, about Gaby.
After all, I’ve asked the World and I’ve asked myself quite a few times and, honestly, the answer isn’t very encouraging. She’s got the body of a third-grader but the mind of a three-year-old. She may never fully recuperate, may end up living with us for the rest of her life as she struggles onward well into her teens and adulthood with promiscuous sexual behavior, theft and destruction. She may never learn to talk correctly, may present these incredibly intense emotional needs for many years to come without any apparent result. She´s a heavy load that no one can carry.
Gaby and I were nearing Dingo’s pen. Not a moment after having asked God what He thought of our Gaby and the work we are doing of raising her, He sliced through my whirlwind of woes with this piercing question:
“Are you loving her, and are you teaching her to love Me?”
Borne somewhere in the deepest recesses of my inner being — overcoming the daily exhaustion and general discouragement like a powerful wind — a peace blew over every corner of my being and my busy thoughts were immediately settled as I recognized the truth:
We had reached Dingo’s pen in a few short steps that to me expanded into eternity. She was probably chattering on about this and that, always with her stubby little hand firmly grasped in mine, but I did’t hear her in that moment. What I heard, my inner being completely stilled, was this:
“Then all that is being done with and for Gabriela is a success. The purpose of the entire universe is to love Me with all that you are and to love one another as yourselves. If you are doing that and teaching Gaby to do the same, you are fulfilling the one and only purpose I have set for mankind to fulfill. Nothing else matters.¨
So we continue onward with great hope, a hope not placed in Gaby and her performance (or even her behavior, which in the two days since her anniversary has been utterly atrocious), but a great hope — a pure hope, one that cannot be grabbed and dirtied by this world — in the God who is love, the God who revealed Himself to mankind as a poor, humble, powerful man who gave Himself up for us, taking on the punishment we deserve. This same God who calls us simply to love — not to change the world, invent something new or reach great heights of human ‘success.’ We are simply to love — love Him with all that we have and all that we are, and love one another as we love ourselves.
And in all of our imperfect efforts of loving, failing, seeking forgiveness and returning to love again, He is pleased. If Gaby never learns to assimilate into normal, productive adult society, if she’s always a step behind but is being shown God’s love and being taught to love Him in return, her life will be a raging success. I imagine Him jumping for joy, cheering us on as perhaps the world mocks, asks for more.
So our journey with Gaby is one of God’s slow miracles, etched out over time and with the promise of great eternal rewards.
And when I am tempted to become impatient, when I tempted to give in to despair, to want to push her hard and fast toward ‘normalty,’ I ask that God might remind me of what He taught me just two days ago out at Dingo’s pen with Gaby’s hand in mine:
As long as we are wrapped up in the divine task of love, we are fulfilling the ultimate goal for the entire universe. Nothing else matters.
At the Living Waters Ranch we are currently riding quite a thrilling learning curve, seeing as none of us has previously done the kind of work that the Lord has currently assigned us.
Special-needs kids, sexual abuse victims, parenting teenagers who spent their childhood in someone else’s family, teaching God’s Word weekly to dozens of people, intimately guiding the hearts and lives of wounded youth, mounds of (sometimes confusing) legal documents to be continually written and updated, designing and then operating a new high school, seeking to cultivate an intentional Christian community, financially stewarding a growing ministry, managing (and guiding, loving, investing in) a team of Christian workers, legal adoptions, a herd of milking cows?
Our hair is blown-back and our lips are flapping in the intense wind as we daily engage in the outrageous privilege of learning on the fly, utilizing every spare second of freetime to absorb new teachings, devour the Word, go and learn from those ahead of us, listen to sermons directing our steps into this unknown territory of children’s ministry, devour books on topics such as sexual abuse/spiritual warfare/leadership training, sit down to pray and seek guidance together as Christ’s body, and make 1,459 mistakes along the way.
Let us give thanks to our Father who calls the unlikely, and then — miraculously! — equips them to go out and proclaim His name! Amen!
Miss Isis, Primary Teacher and Christian Laborer, Will Move to the Living Waters Ranch in July
Miss Isis, our young primary teacher who has been roughing it with us in the ‘wilderness’ among rogue youth, hard-learned lessons and joy abounding since August of last year, will be moving into a spare bedroom in our office/special needs building with her year-and-a-half-old daughter at the beginning of July.
She is a native Honduran and has been called to leave her family’s home, sell the majority of her belongings, and take the huge step of faith to begin living on our mission base 7 days a week as a way of deepening her walk with the Lord. The step she is taking is very counter-cultural and has been difficult for her family to accept, but it is such a privilege to see that she is assured even moreso that Jesus is calling her into deeper intimacy with Himself.
She is a sponge, has grown exponentially in these 10+ months of laboring alongside of us, and is a tireless worker in proclaiming the incredible grace of a good God.
We are so proud of her and are excited about taking the step to include her into our growing family/community at the Living Waters Ranch as our Father continues to mold us into His family, a beautiful expression of His love for wounded, rebellious humanity.
Sandra’s Mom Begins Attending Bible Study
15-year-old Sandra, who moved in with us in February of this year due to a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father and about whom I have written many updates and prayer requests since then, continues to hold a very precious relationship with her mother.
Sandra´s mom, who is still trapped in a difficult relationship with Sandra´s step-dad but doesn’t have the financial means to leave him with her three younger kids, visits Sandra weekly at our home/mission and has begun to attend Bible study in our dining room with us as she continues to seek refuge in the warrior God who loves her and is constantly seeking to protect her heart from the harsh circumstances in this world. Two of Sandra’s younger sisters (who are not in danger with Sandra´s step-dad because he is their biological father and treats them well) have also become actively involved in Darwin´s youth choir, and their mom is now attending first grade at a school for illiterate adults on Saturdays as she desires to be able to read God’s Word for herself.
Please continue to pray for this precious woman as she continues to seek God’s will in the midst of an unhealthy marriage relationship and deep poverty.
Celebration of Four Years Living in Honduras, Three Years of Marriage
The 5th of this month I celebrated my four-year anniversary since moving to Honduras as a recent college graduate in 2012, and on the 24th Darwin and I will celebrate three years of marriage. Glory to God for these milestones!
Prayer for Additional Supporters
Due to the fact that this is the first year we have offered our discipleship-based 5-day-per-week high school program along with our new special-needs classroom to local youth from our (destitute, gang-riddled) rural neighborhood, we have higher monthly expenses than we have had in years past as we are now serving more people. Each month more is going out than coming in, so I am humbly expressing our need to see if anyone is called to join with us to fill it.
My husband and I currently toil joyfully alongside of four full-time Christian laborers (local Honduran missionaries serving as teachers, prayer leaders, etc) whom the Lord has brought to the Living Waters Ranch and from which they earn their living. All four full-time laborers have been added on in the last year, and thus salaries — however meager they are — are currently a heavy (but entirely necessary) financial burden in addition to the many other monthly expenses we incur (medical/dental/basic care costs for the 8 who live with us full-time, food, administration, legal fees, educational materials for our students, etc).
There are currently 18 individuals/families and 3 churches who financially support this work monthly and several others who give generously from time to time.
Please pray with us that the Lord would raise up a handful more of faithful individuals/families to partner with us in this incredible expression of God’s Kingdom among us here in Honduras. If you or anyone you know is called to participate with us in this work, you can go to http://www.CTEN.org/jenniferzilly
For all of you who read our urgent prayer request several days ago and have been praying about the situation with the police in our rural neighborhood: miraculously, the police came to our property yesterday and have promised to send a periodic police patrol up and down our long gravel road to keep watch for the child molester. The police interviewed several of our students who know who the man is, and the police chief gave his personal phone number to all of the students to call him in case they spot the man or encounter danger. After dozens of phone calls and many unfilled promises on the police’s part up until now, it is literally HUGE that they have even done as much as they’ve done in coming out to our property and beginning to address the issue. Let us give thanks to God for moving the policemen’s hearts toward justice and compassion, and may we now pray that they fulfill their word and send the patrol.
Also: after talking with the same 3 police officers who came out to our home/mission yesterday about the situation with 15-year-old Sandra’s abusive step-father who has been following and threatening her, later that night we got news from Sandra’s mom that the police had actually shown up at his home (which almost never happens — he had been sexually and physically abusive over 6 years, official complaints/reports had been filed, phone calls made, etc, all to no avail until now), and he hid under the bed over an hour before finally coming out, obviously very shaken up. He has to present himself in court today around noon (in about an hour), and Sandra’s mom (who does not know how to read or write) has to present the case in front of lawyers, a judge, etc. Last night Sandra and I prayed for her mom’s protection, seeing as he could have been moved to an extreme rage for having been reported, but this morning when Sandra called her mom to see how the night had gone, she miraculously said that the abusive step-dad had, rather than beating her, been on his knees weeping, saying he wants to change, go with her to church, etc. I just went by Sandra’s mom’s home to pray with her for strength (I was hoping to find the man as well and be able to talk and pray with him, but he was at work).
Please pray that God’s hand continues to guide these two situations, and let us rejoice for the very real steps that have been taken by the police between yesterday and today to begin enacting justice on a human scale. Let us continue to pray fervently for Sandra’s step-dad’s genuine repentance and rebirth in Christ!
There are certain destructive behavioral patterns that we are discovering first-hand are extremely common in young women who have suffered sexual and/or other types of abuse. One after another the daughters in our household – the five older ones ranging in age between 11-15 – are revealing these patterns of behavior with striking similitude. Please join us in prayer with and for their total liberation from bondage, destructive behaviors, feelings of inadequacy/being unwanted, etc, so that they can walk in wholeness and freedom as is God’s good plan for their lives. Pray that they may truly see Father God as a good, protective, loving parent and that they may turn wholeheartedly to Him to find strength, refuge, and Truth. We have seen several small, tangible victories in our girls’ walk with Christ in regards to these ongoing battles, but there is still much territory to be gained.
Battle Against Typhoid Fever
On Monday I was diagnosed with two strains of Typhoid Fever after having struggled with constant fever, weakness, migraines and confusion during the past 3+ weeks. I had previously gone in to get bloodwork to test for Dengue Fever and a host of other possibilities (the tests came back negative), so I got several IV treatments and injections at a local clinic in hopes of fighting off my undiagnosed fever as if it were a common virus that’s been going around, but the treatments had no effect. I am thankful that we finally know what I have so that we can treat it – I am currently on a 5-day series of shots in the butt that are specifically designed to combat Typhoid Fever, so hopefully by Saturday or Sunday I should be feeling much better. These past few days I’ve been restricted to bed-rest, which has been frustrating but probably for the best. Please continue to pray for my ongoing struggles with insomnia as well – my sleep patterns improved a bit during the month of February, but in the past couple weeks I’ve returned to old patterns of tossing and turning several nights a week without being able to fall asleep.
Prayer Groups Established with Students
Last week the Lord steered us in a new direction: we now have prayer groups every Tuesday and Thursday for about half an hour immediately after we finish our Bible study with the 28 students (elementary + high school), the laborers (teachers, cook, cleaning lady, Darwin and I), and our 8 kids. Each of the laborers break off into a small group with several students/kids to share needs, give thanks, and pray. It has thus far been a very rewarding experience: at least half of our students are not Christians, so perhaps for the first time in their lives they are learning that God hears us and that He’s interested in our needs, triumphs, struggles, etc. Please pray with us against a spirit of joking or teasing (I have about 12 students in my group, and probably because they are nervous or afraid of what the others in the group may think, have adopted a too-playful attitude and are tempted toward poking fun at others or laughing constantly.) Please pray that all of us (students, laborers, etc) may receive a deeper revelation of God’s love and sovereignty and that we may turn to Him with deep reverence and gratitude. Pray also that His Spirit may move among us freely and that students may be brought to genuine repentance and renewal as we seek to bless God’s heart and seek His will.
Yesterday my husband, our high school teacher and I had a meeting with a 16-year-old single mom who is interested in enrolling in our new seventh-grade class.
We sat together around a concrete picnic table under the breezy shade of a tree in our front yard as it was explained to us that she and her one-month-old son moved to our rural town to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother was murdered last month while someone was stealing her cellphone. I didn’t hear all the details on her father’s situation, but he is also dead.
Just three or four days ago my husband informed me that a dear neighbor of ours had received news that his younger brother – a Christian man in his early thirties who lives in Honduras’ capital city – was also murdered recently when someone jumped him for his cellphone.
About two months ago a famous Honduran soccer player in his early twenties was murdered in the parking lot of a small shopping center in the nearby city of La Ceiba that Darwin and I frequent. The night following the murder Darwin and his youth choir held a Christmas recital at the same location.
A few months ago as a family we attended the funeral of a dear friend of ours’ dad, a security guard for a local pawn shop who was gunned down in broad daylight.
Last week as Darwin and I rolled down a rocky street in our 2001 pickup, I asked him casually if so-and-so neighbor, the daughter of an elderly couple we know well, is a single mom. He answered “yes,” and then added that she’s single because someone had killed her husband.
The piercing question — that can neither be answered nor entertained in the slightest if one wants to live with peace – that has been invading my thoughts over these past few days is: “Who’s next?”
The utterly chaotic and unstable situation on Planet Earth is a reality quickly accepted when you live in Honduras. Here there is generally very little white-washing of sin, no careful cloaking of death, no tasteful hiding of the elderly, the sick and morbid behind a safe curtain to shield anyone else from catching sight. Everyone seems to know that death is close and that no one is exempt from being its next victim.
In most cases, the murderers keep on murdering, the thieves keep on stealing until someone kills them (as was the case with a 16-year-old neighbor of ours), and those who break the law in other ways continue doing so because the Justice system. Does. Nothing.
Just last week as I was in the government’s child protective agency’s office in a meeting with one of the agency’s lawyers, a wonderful Christian woman with whom we hold a very positive relationship, I asked about 7-year-old Gabriela’s step-father’s court proceedings, a naïve hope for resolution permeating my question. The lawyer, knowing all too well the system in which we find ourselves here, let out a sigh and informed me that the specific investigative branch that was in charge of looking into the stepfather’s case had been shut down. The government, in hopes of perhaps creating a ‘better’ investigative branch, opened up a different operation only to put all the previous cases so far back that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they are ‘out of sight and out of mind,’ meaning that Gabriela’s stepfather, who took her as if she were his adult lover and openly proclaimed to others that she was such, is loose – at large, not behind bars – and may very well never receive any earthly consequence for his pervertedness, seeing as the new cases have taken precedence over the old and now 7 months have passed since he should have been caught in the first place. It is what they had promised us.
For a few moments, all hope, all energy drained out of my body as I could do no more than stare at the lawyer lifelessly, wanting to slip away into some other reality, full of rage but at the same time sucked dry by a sorrow so strong that I almost felt as if I could not move. Everything within me seemed suddenly paralyzed, while the following thought methodically stamped itself across my mind:
My thoughts came to a standstill at this conclusion, everything tuning dizzy and dark – I mean, why would he not? With no pending consequence, no apparent court case or investigation, no police searching for him, no repentance that we know of, why not find another little girl and continue unfazed?
My thoughts — suddenly both slowed and sharpened by an acute emotional exhaustion — began: How could this possibly be happening?Who’s next?Wh-who will be the next little girl to have her world smashed to pieces, slamming her behind mentally and emotionally, perhaps for the rest of her life? Gaby wetting her pants so frequently — so, so, SO behind in every sense of the word, hours and hours of holding her, praying over her for restoration — the gargantuan although imperfect effort that has been made to give Gaby a sense of ‘normal,’ all the talks to teach her that taking her clothes off and dancing sensually in front of others isn’t God’s plan for her, and…and – there’s probably another little girl out there, who –
If it is said that Jesus is a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with the profoundest of grief, with each passing day He is giving me a deeper glimpse into why that is so.
So that afternoon as I drove up the lonely gravel road toward our rural property speckled with little melon-colored buildings, I raised my eyes to the mountainous backdrop before me and began praying the only words that seemed to make any sense: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come. May Your kingdom come, Your will be done, one Earth as it is in heaven. Come, Lord Jesus. Please come.”
Replete with exhaustion, the gaping hole in my chest allowed for a sudden flooding-in of praises toward our Father God who is just, who is trustworthy, and who stands in such raw, utter contrast to all that is wrong in our world, all that is wrong in me. So, against all logic my heart let out a welp of joy – a desperate cry for hope – as my eyes travelled up the mountains before me, taken to such depths of sorrow that the Lord lifted me up to some new perspective of His sovereignty, His perfect justice in the face of what can only be classified as bewilderingly tragic unfairness — total, inexplicable lunacy.
So when I climbed out of our pickup and entered our dining room, little Gaby turned around from where she was sitting at the table to greet me with a big smile, her face painted like a kitten.
From that moment on I believe I lost my patience with anyone and everyone, snapping here and there at Darwin and the kids as I felt that I was on the verge of exploding from the inside out. It wasn’t until over dinner that I asked each person individually for forgiveness and, for better or worse, wept in front of the kids and shared with them the news of Gaby’s stepfather (which, of course, is the news of nothing at all, more of the same). Some of our kids looked appropriately intrigued at seeing me utterly undone, while others looked moved toward a compassion I had not yet seen in them, but I believe all of them understood: Our hope is not and cannot be in this world.
In the days following I have had several similar episodes of sorrow, weeping, and praise. If I didn’t know the end of the story (Christ’s total victory over sin and death), I know that personally I could not continue in this work because, from our human perspective, perhaps no territory is being gained at all. We’re just losing time and resources, wasting our lives on a fight that simply cannot be won. But – against all logic, I continue to raise my eyes to the mountains before me as my spirit cries out: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come now. May Your kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Without You, nothing makes sense. Come.”
Yesterday around 5:00pm several of our kids were out in our large front yard playing soccer with our neighbors while others were playing board games in our house and our eldest was giving a beginners’ piano class to two young neighbors in our school building. I began to dish out the rice and beans, pasta, and chocolate cake for dinner after a surprisingly productive afternoon in which all of our kids wowed me with their initiative and finished all their homework with excellence before 3:30pm.
When it comes to serving food in our home, you’ve got to be good at math.
Whenever the time comes to take out the cups, plates and forks, you’ve got to do a quick mental head-count of who will be eating: Dayana and Jackeline are out at church with such-and-such local family, so that’s 7 kids – 2 that are not currently present = 5 kids that will be eating here + Darwin and I, so that’s 7 of everything. Got it.
Or: Today for the twice-weekly community lunch/Bible study, we’ll be serving food for the 12 students in elementary school + 16 from high school (but Arnold didn’t come today because he’s sick, so that makes 15) + the 2 teachers + Miss Martha + Darwin and I + our 2 middle-aged neighbors who will be attending + our other 5 kids who are out at school but will be home in about an hour and will need to eat + perhaps 6 other young neighbors who might show up = about 45. Does anyone have a calculator?!
But last night, seeing as our kids, Darwin and I were home together and Miss Martha and the other laborers, students, neighbors, etc had all left by 3:00pm (as they do each day Monday-Friday), I put my mind on autopilot and began taking out 9 of everything, which has been our magic number since July when Josselyn and Gabriela moved in. 7 kids + 2 adults.
As I began lining up all the plates on our kitchen counter, however, something felt odd. I counted the plates again. Yup; 9 plates. 7 kids + 2 adults, right? 7 kids…My mind wandered around somewhat confused until the still-very-new thought hit me: No! Now they’re 8 kids! Ha! That’s what was missing. Our new ‘magic number’ is 10. I quickly added an additional plate, and suddenly everything seemed to make sense.
A couple months ago our 12-year-old daughter Jackeline, who has now been in our family a full year, made a comment to me in a silly tone of voice: “If any new kids arrive in our family in this next year, I sure hope they’re younger than me.” I had laughed and – thoroughly convinced myself – assured her that I did not think more kids would be arriving in this next year or two, seeing as our hearts and schedules were already quite full with 7.
Well, Jackeline’s wish didn’t come true.
Last Thursday, our second day of classes with all of our elementary and secondary students who now study in our home/mission 5 days a week, one of our new 7th-grade students approached us for prayer after Bible study. My husband, the two teachers (Miss Isis and Miss Ligia), and I sat around her in our dining room as she began sharing with us her concern for her mother’s health. As we asked careful questions, she continued to open up until the root of the issue was exposed: her step-father is physically and sexually abusive (and has been for the last 6 years), putting her life in very real danger and causing tremendous stress and pain to her mother as well. The mother had gone to the police several times, explaining the situation and filing official reports, but, as is frequently the case here, nothing had been done. As the story continued to unravel — taking on the horrific shape of so many others we’ve heard too many times — I felt a very strong prompting in my chest from the Lord, so I asked to speak to my husband in private before continuing with the conversation/prayer.
He and I walked briskly outside and I told him: “Gabriela and Josselyn were rescued out of this exact kind of situation. I feel that God wants us to offer her refuge,” and he immediately confirmed. Our conversation must have lasted all of 19 seconds; we then re-entered the dining room, offered her the invitation to escape the abuse by coming to live with us, and she told us that she would talk with her mom and let us know. We prayed with her – for her mom, for her step-father, for God’s will to be done.
Several days passed, and then on Tuesday of this week she approached me with a large grin on her face, asking to talk with Darwin and me. My heart leapt and sunk all at the same time – guessing quite accurately what she would be telling us – and, sure enough, she informed us that she and her mom had discussed it and that her mom wanted to take us up on the offer of refuge for her daughter because she truly is in danger with her step-father.
So, phone calls were made, a meeting with the local government-run child protective agency’s office was made, we signed all the documents with the lawyer, the psychological evaluation was completed, and yesterday morning (Thursday) as she came walking up our long gravel road in her school uniform to attend classes, she brought with her an additional grocery bag filled with all of her belongings.
Her name is Sandra, and she’s 15 years old. Darwin and I are already in communication with her mom to see what more can be done with the official complaints the mother has filed with the police, although right now our hope in the system of justice here on earth (and especially in Honduras) is realistically dim. In the coming weeks/months we will continue to be in contact with her mom to see what plan of escape or new beginning can be made for the mom and her other three children (all of which are biological children of the stepdad and who, for that reason, he treats well), although we still do not have many details or much information at all.
Please pray with us not only for her adjustment to living in our home, but also for the mom’s protection and step-father’s salvation and transformation. Sandra and her mom are both authentic Christians, very humble, and have a very real understanding of and love for God’s Word. Please pray that the Lord’s hand would be over this entire situation/process and that, if possible, Sandra can be reunited with her mom in the right timing and once the familial situation is no longer dangerous.
So, yesterday 12-year-old Jackeline (the same one who didn’t want another older sister to push her down the totem pole) enthusiastically took Sandra out to our rural property’s mango tree, to the little stream behind our home, and traipsing around here and there, giving her new ‘big sister’ a genuine welcome. Sandra’s face shined with joy as our other girls took her out to play soccer; I fixed up her bed with clean sheets and a hand-written welcome note, 8-year-old Jason asked me sheepishly to introduce him to the newest of his now-6 sisters, and I prepared 8 tupperware containers with our kids’ snacks for school today instead of the traditional 7. Thanks to the mysteries of God’s perfect will, the entire transition has seemed surprisingly light-hearted and even fun.
So, of our 8 kids/teens, some of them consider us to be their authentic parents while others view us as loving mentor-figures the Lord has placed in their path. Some call us ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ without hesitation while others call us by our first names. Some may be reunited with their blood families if it is God’s will, whereas others may be officially adopted into the ‘Canales-Zilly’ household if the Lord permits it.
Lines are blurry, but everyone is growing in grace.
If someone asks us how many sons and daughters we have, I don’t know if we should answer “7 with 1 honored guest” (because Sandra may very well return to her mother soon if the situation with the step-father is taken care of) or if everyone is automatically included, making it 8 without thinking twice. Lines will doubtlessly become blurrier if and when we have any biological children, but of this I am convinced: the Lord is forming us into a tribe, a people after His own heart. He is erasing divisions created by Man; He is uniting us by Jesus’ blood rather than our own, calling us home to His eternal family that is formed by those who submit themselves to the Good Father’s will. And by some act of miraculous grace, He is enabling our stubborn mouths to freely proclaim: “Father, may Your will be done, not mine…”