I send you our warm greetings on behalf of my husband, our dedicated ministry staff and extended family here in rural Honduras at the Living Waters Ranch. I hope this post finds you physically healthy and spiritually in-tune with God’s will for your life during this unique season.
The last several updates I’ve posted on this blog have been very general and upbeat as I’ve painted with broad strokes the overall scene in which we currently find ourselves along with joint triumphs and adventures we’ve shared as a ministry and family over these past several months.
To change the perspective slightly, this post will be written from a more personal perspective, much the same way as I used to write our blog updates in the early years of our life and ministry overseas. Although doubtlessly riddled with my own insecurities and weaknesses, I hope this post proves to be a blessing and encouragement to you and that God might be glorified through the words and perspective I share.
Several weeks ago I became our grassroots school’s fifth-grade teacher after an unexpected personnel change mid-year left us with a void needing to be filled. I sensed God calling me to step up to the plate, and although this somewhat drastic schedule change for me has greatly added to my weekly juggling routine, I have found renewed joy in my increased contact with these young children, as our 6 foster teens at home are already well beyond that developmental stage and are quickly approaching adulthood. I have six rowdy boys and one extremely shy little girl in my fifth grade classroom, and being their teacher has proved a new, blessed challenge that has put my creativity, love and faith to the test. The greatest challenge of all has been (and continues to be) to entrust these young lives to the Lord on a daily basis and try to faithfully protect their innocence in the midst of a world culture bent on corruption and moral failure. On many occasions after a day spent with my precious fifth-graders I have felt defeated and overwhelmed at all the filth these young lives have already been exposed to, and I find myself before the Father in prayer, undone and unsure how to guide these little ones along the blessed narrow path when so many evil forces seem bent on enticing them away from it.
Earlier this month I celebrated my 31st birthday in a low-key celebration alongside some of our family and friends here. We had a small bonfire on our front lawn with one of our young staff members playing worship music on the guitar, and teenagers (and adults!) ran about delighted by their firecrackers and silly pranks. Reminiscing, I remember having moved to Honduras when I was 21 years old and freshly graduated from college. I am now 10 years older. Physically I still feel like I’m close to 20 years old, as I eat healthy and train athletically five days a week and have begun playing pickup basketball on a local rundown court with our teenage male students (hence my sprained ankle and wrist that have plagued me these last several weeks), but in my heart I often battle against a certain heaviness and burden for all that I’ve seen and been exposed to in these 31 years. I carefully ponder these things and give them over to the Lord’s care, as my own youth is giving way to a new season as I likewise see the world around me change at a shocking pace. I oftentimes prayerfully (and, sometimes, fearfully) wonder what the world will be like in a short 5-years’ time and what price I will pay for the faith that up until now has come so easy.
This October will mark 4 years since my last visit to the United States (or any other country outside Honduras, for that matter). Weekly I read articles on the Christian Post and try to remain healthily informed from afar, and frequently my heart aches in response to what I read. I have no plans at this point for a visit to the States, and I wonder if I do step foot on American soil at some point in another year or two if I will even recognize my homeland (or feel welcome in it). Without a doubt, Honduras has many dire problems of its own and lawlessness has long since wrecked many lives here, but I feel at least temporarily safe and beyond reach at the base of these mountains and daily feel led into deep reflection and prayer about the state of the world at large.
I will leave it at that for now. This is the first time I’ve written – really written – since my publishing journey. May the Lord bless and strengthen us all for the days ahead, and may He teach each one of us how to experience genuine hope and joy in these difficult times. To Him be all the glory.
First of all, thank you to all of you who responded to our previous blog post with sincere comments and to those who emailed me directly with words of encouragement. God bless each of you, and thank you for your availability and prayers.
A few Saturdays ago I sat around the rectangular wooden table in our family room with two of our teenage foster daughters. More than a complete spread of notebooks, office supplies, backpacks and books took over the surface area as we began working contentedly, the front door wide open to let in light and what little breeze there was. Every evening we eat dinner around this same table with its floral-print tablecloth, each person elbow-to-elbow with those next to them. We drag over the piano bench so that there will be enough seats for everyone.
On this particular occasion, the three of us gathered at this table with the intention of working on our ‘homework’ — my girls on math and grammar assignments; me on planning and administration. I serve as their math, grammar, Bible, chess and P.E. teacher in the homeschool program we operate out of our home for roughly 50 teens (our 7 fosters and 41 local youth), but when we’re not in classes I’m just their mom. My husband and I do much role-hopping throughout the week, and with God’s grace it has become normal to us.
That particular day my husband Darwin, three of our foster children and a half dozen of our local students had taken the trip into town for a day of art and music classes while I stayed on our rural homestead with our other 4 foster children. This is, in fact, the routine split-up that occurs every Saturday.
For this very reason, Saturdays are one of my favorite days of the week. I treasure when my husband and I split up our kids so that we can invest more individualized time in each one (and take a little break from the general havoc of having our complete swarm of busy-bees present). When all 7 are together (or 10, which is the number we used to have), everything just sort of turns into crowd control, which is not much fun for me.
So, our preciously quiet Saturdays grant a much slower pace and allow me increased one-on-one time with the small group that stays at home with me all day. Monday through Friday we’re “on” as close to 60 people invade our home (and need guidance, love, surveillance, prayer, classes, organization, etc.) from 6:45am until 4:00pm, so the few moments when all is still and quiet are truly a gift.
I glanced out beyond our chain-linked fence to watch our small herd of milking cows roam about our large, grassy property. After the cattle thieves had broken in and slaughtered our two adult milking cows last November, leaving us devastated (and scared), we’ve recuperated and our new momma cow just gave birth recently to a little male. My husband and two of our kids milk her every morning at 5:00am, and at least for now we don’t have to buy milk at the grocery store.
My eyes traced our expansive lawn as I took in the view of the flowering plants and the bright-colored clothes hanging on the clothesline. When the masses leave, this rural property turns into a quiet haven, a peaceful paradise. It is home and ministry to us at the same time. It is the center of our community outreach and evangelism and at the same time serves as my own refuge after long, tiring days of service.
On Saturdays I move about slower than usual, oftentimes in baggy, old clothes and my curly hair up in a messy bun as I relish in the quieter pace to reflect, seek God’s ongoing direction, remember.
I stood barefoot on our front lawn, no one looking for me or needing me, as I studied with joy our special-needs son Josue as he teetered about our silent yard on his dearly loved but extremely beaten-up bicycle. He can spend hours on that little bike without saying a word, and on this particular occasion he didn’t even realize I was watching him.
Our other daughter was practicing piano in the stillness of the purple-colored house next to ours that during the week serves as our high school building. I contemplated with joy her simple, sure notes that she played so beautifully.
After meandering around the yard a few more minutes, I crossed the threshold into our living room, returning to where our two girls awaited me. I took one glance at my to-do pile and realized that I didn’t want to do any of it. By the look on my girls’ faces, they were thinking just the same about their homework.
I slipped out of our living room and crossed the yard again, still barefoot. I entered that little purple building that lies a stone’s throw from our family’s home. I passed silently by our daughter playing the piano and entered the little community office we share during the week with our small team of Honduran missionaries/teachers. I grabbed a couple boxes of oil pastels, paper and envelopes, feeling invigorated as I was about to break all the rules and put aside my endless stacks of ‘adult homework’ for the day.
Re-entering our living room once more, I sat down on a wooden chair next to our two girls with a smile and quickly began diving into my unspoken art project. Our girls stared at me, mischievously happy to see me acting somewhat like a small child.
What was I doing? I was taking my part in going the extra mile, and joyfully so. At a staff meeting the day prior our small team had agreed to split up the task of writing individual letters of encouragement, friendship and spiritual orientation for the roughly-50 youth in our homeschool. Each child and teen would receive 2 letters (from different people), meaning we would need a total of almost 100 personalized, creative letters with decorated envelopes if possible. We had done just this same task a couple weeks prior in an effort to reach out to our students on a very individualized, thoughtful level to encourage them in their walk with the Lord and to express our sincere love and appreciation for them.
This ended up being a big hit, as most of our students had never received such long, inspiring and touching letters from adults in their lives. One 14-year-old teen boy commented innocently to his teacher after having received his two uplifting letters, “I had no idea that people could write such kind letters without them being directed toward a dating relationship.” This, after all, has been a big struggle among our teen students. If and when they do write any kind of personal letter to a classmate, it is normally an inappropriate effort at expressing ‘love’ to their secret boyfriend or girlfriend.
So, God has given us the task of setting a powerful, loving example of just what it means to write a letter under God’s perfect will and with His purposes in mind. Our letters are all about pure encouragement, godly counsel and sincere appreciation, and they come from the mature adults in their lives, not from their immature peers who are seeking affirmation and identity in all the wrong places.
This particular round of letters would not be handed over for another two weeks (and that is why it had not been on my ‘urgent’ to-do list for the day), but it suddenly seemed more important and desirable than all the other potential tasks at hand.
My list of letter recipients included 14 students ages 6-18, so I began decorating envelopes with the oil pastels and expressing my sincere thoughts on paper for these youth whom I have grown to know and love dearly.
My two girls immediately took interest in my little project and asked what I was doing. It didn’t take long until they, too, put their homework aside and asked to borrow some oil pastels. All three of us began drawing and coloring with great interest, and suddenly several hours had gone by without us really noticing at all.
Waist-deep in the whole process, I began writing my letter to Alejandra, a very petite and soft-spoken 10-year-old in fourth grade. She is the younger sister of Sandra, a local teen with whom we have a deep, beautiful and — currently — tragic history.
Sandra, now 17 years old, came into our lives almost three years ago as a very submissive and responsible teen who was looking for refuge from a situation of sexual abuse with her step-father. She moved into our patchwork family for about 10 months until her mother (Geraldina), a brave and very faithful Christian woman, was able to escape the situation of abuse and move out on her own. She recovered her daughter Sandra under her care only to then pass through immense difficulties with her increasingly rebellious daughter. My husband and I stayed in the picture as Sandra’s teachers in our homeschool program and we began employing her mom. We likewise sought to serve as two additional counselors and supporters alongside of her mom as she struggled to control the reigns on her daughter’s new behavioral problems. Sandra had come to the know the Lord under our care and asked to be baptized along with her mom, grandfather and little sister, but the decisions she began making months later did not reflect God’s desire for her life.
This up-and-down continued over the next couple years, and she even moved back in with us for several months last year as a last-resort effort to guide her in the truth once she refused to obey her mom’s authority in the home. From there it is a sad story of her escaping from her mom’s home more than once and making a series of very dangerous decisions, all of which culminated in her running away with a young man she barely knew several months ago.
Sandra has approached us hesitantly for counsel since then, and several weeks ago we met with her in the privacy of her grandma’s home to speak truth and light into her life, all of which she listened to with bold, sincere eyes. We prayed with her at her request and embraced her. She still calls us Mom and Dad, a habit she got into while living in our home. (She has a different name for her real mom and for me, but they both mean mom.) We left our meeting with her unsure how to feel, and since then we’ve seen her several times around our rural neighborhood with the guy (she didn’t take any part of our advice and they are still living together out of wedlock), and just recently they moved across the country looking for manual labor jobs in order to survive as an uneducated, underage couple completely outside of God’s will.
So, when I picked up my black pen to write what should have been a very happy, upbeat letter to her 10-year-old littler sister, a very unexpected heaviness came over me and I had to fight back tears. I didn’t see this emotional storm within me coming, as I have remained publicly very calm and rational about Sandra’s decision-making and demise over the past several months. As my mom mentioned to me on the phone recently, it is probably easier to feel angry than sad, and that’s why I’ve kept so outwardly cool about something that has actually ripped me apart.
So, as I began writing about my sincere appreciation and hopes in the Lord for her precious little sister (who looks and acts just like her, thus reminding me of her constantly), all the intense sadness that I’ve been holding at bay for months came crashing in.
I wanted to say, totally deflated and serene, to no one in particular, “This letter should have been for Sandra, not for her little sister…I am now giving her little sister all the advice that she herself didn’t take. Oh, the work the Lord assigned us was in her, not in her little sister…but she has turned her back on the Lord and given herself over to sin. We loved her so much, and now she’s gone. …WHY…?”
I felt like banging my fists on the table or locking myself in my bedroom only to lose myself in the locked-up emotions I had refused to experience in prior months. It definitely is much less painful to stay cool and collected (angry even) than to allow yourself to feel the weight of the sadness of broken dreams, lost souls.
I did not hit the table or leave the room; I continued writing the letter to her little sister, which turned out to be much longer than I had intended.
The letter ended up being very joyful but profoundly sincere. As a final touch, I drew bright-colored hearts all around the margins of the letter. I re-read it several times, thinking each time more about Sandra than about her little sister, and tried to hide the intense emotions that threatened to come out at any moment.
This year, Sandra’s mom (Geraldina) continues to labor alongside of us in cooking and cleaning as the Lord is doing great things in her life, and Sandra’s two little sisters are in school with us for the first time. Another young family member of Sandra’s is now also in school with us, and all are doing very well. Everyone is here except the one who God brought to us first: Sandra.
God places people in our lives to love and guide, and it is heartbreaking when they go astray and refuse to come back. Love is not costless, and it requires sacrifice and risk to truly love as God loves.
Well, last Thursday was the official day to hand over our hand-written labor of love to the youth the Lord has placed under our care. Each of our local teachers/missionaries brought their stack — some decorated; others more plain but just as sincere — as I would then organize them all and head into the classrooms to deliver them.
Once all my companions left to go to their respective classrooms at 7:00am, I had too much fun sifting through the letters and admiring the great love, detail and effort that was surely put into each one.
My plan was to take pictures of our students’ joy while opening their letters, but I quickly realized that doing so would invade their privacy and taint the beauty of the moment. Thus, I discretely took as few photos as possible, and only in the classrooms where I felt unspoken permission to take them…
Thank God for the small acts of kindness that He leads us to take in order to recognize, love and guide those whom He has put in our path. (One of our 16-year-old boys who typically suffers from great immaturity and doesn’t display much emotional depth informed me very sincerely the afternoon that I handed out the envelopes, “I still haven’t read my two letters yet…I’m gonna wait until I get home, get changed, turn the fan on, and then in the stillness of my home I’m gonna really take my time to read them…”) Wow! Praise God that something so simple as a letter can truly impact someone’s life in the love of God.
Also, as a last note, Geraldina (the mother of Sandra’s little sister whom I wrote one of my lengthy letters to), came up to me that afternoon with a huge smile on her face thanking me for the beautiful letter I had written her young daughter. She caught me off guard when she mentioned, “Alejandra is so very encouraged by what you wrote about God’s plan to grant her a Christian husband someday.” My jaw hung down around my ankles as I honestly didn’t even remember having written that in the letter, but it makes total sense. In a culture where so many women settle for a life of marital abuse and neglect with men who know nothing of God’s sacrificial love, that little comment in her long letter spoke life — and hope — into her young life. There are godly men out there; wait in purity and seek God first. God desires for you to enjoy your marriage with a Christian man, not to be one more woman disillusioned by an unfaithful or abusive husband. God declares that you are worth it; He paid the blood of His Son in order to adopt you as His daughter.
In conclusion (yes, this has been a very long post — hopefully you enjoyed a big cup of coffee while you were reading it!), thank you for your prayers and support, and God bless each of you. May the Lord give you the grace to love abundantly those whom He has placed near to you. Take every opportunity you have to share words of light and truth with them, and may we trust God to do the rest.
Students Enrolled in Discipleship-Based Secondary School
After beginning with 40+ candidates for our new 7th-grade section of secondary school that we will begin teaching five days a week at the Living Waters Ranch, we now have 15 students ages 11-17 from our rural neighborhood along with our eldest daughter who have fulfilled all the enrollment requirements, attended the mandatory meetings with their parent(s), brought all their documents, signed the student contract, etc.
About half of the students already have a relationship with us through their participation in choir, Bible study, agriculture, etc, and the other half are completely new to us as they simply responded to our announcement in the local schools or heard about the program through a neighbor.
The parents of the students who have officially enrolled are thrilled at our rather simple, God-fearing program (which includes several weekly Bible studies, musical involvement, a family-like atmosphere, and very clear, Biblical norms), because the educational experience that many have had in the public institutions has been that of classrooms with 45+ students per teacher, students with 25+ absences who still ‘pass’ their grade, used condoms littering the playground, sixth grade classrooms in which a great percentage of the kids still don’t know how to read, zero art or music classes, absentee or uncommitted teachers, etc.
Please pray for us, the 7th-grade teacher (Miss Ligia), the students and their families during this time of newness, continued decision-making, etc, as we finish preparations of the new classroom, continue designing the extracurricular activities and training the teacher (who has never taught before because she is a lawyer), put into practice school norms, etc. Pray that each activity, effort, conversation, etc, may be centered on God’s will and pleasing to Him. May Christ continually be made known in and through us to the students, parents, and among those of us who are laboring at the Ranch.
All the teens will be arriving at our front gate in their uniforms for their first day of school on Wednesday, February 3rd!
Jackeline (12) and Gabriela (7) Accepted into New School
This past month has been filled with many surprises, one of which is that after an entrance exam/evaluation, both Jackeline (our 12-year-old daughter who just celebrated one year of living in our family along with her 7-year-old special needs brother) and Gabriela (our 7-year-old popcorn kernel who’s been buzzing around our home for six months now along with her 11-year-old sister) were accepted into the same private Christian elementary school that Jason (8) and Gleny (11) were in last year and will be entering again this upcoming week to start a new school year.
So, four of our seven kids will all be in the same school, which we are thrilled about. Jackeline and Gleny will be classmates in the school’s only fifth grade class with roughly 12-14 students, and Jason will be in third grade and Gabriela in first. It was a long shot for the school to accept Jackeline (and an even longer shot for them to accept Gabriela, who is behind developmentally due to severe abuse), so I gave a big hug to the school’s director when she gave me the good news! We earnestly give thanks to God for this wonderful opportunity for both of them to be in a truly loving, disciplined school environment everyday where they can learn and grow alongside of peers their age, seeing as the elementary school we have at the Living Waters Ranch is geared toward literacy in older students and, although it could work for them, may not be the most effective option.
Everything seems a bit hectic (in a good sense) as we are in the process of buying school uniforms, PE uniforms, sizing up school shoes, making several trips to local office supply stores for notebooks, compasses, rulers, etc, meeting teachers and school directors, and organizing transportation for each child. Everyone (including Josue, who will be returning to his special needs school in the nearby city of La Ceiba and Dayana and Josselyn, who will continue their education at the Living Waters Ranch) will be entering school on Wednesday, February 3!
Please pray for Jackeline and Gabriela’s adjustment to a new school environment, and that their behavior and attitudes would be honoring to God. Pray for their overall self-discipline and effort, that they would take this opportunity as the blessing that it is and use it to grow further into the Lord’s will for their life.
Community Lunch and Bible Study to be Held Twice Weekly
In September 2015, we began holding a once-weekly community lunch and Bible study in our dining room, and we’ve seen much fruit from this initiative to share God’s Word with our neighbors. After receiving confirmation from several people that we should begin holding it twice a week, we have decided to begin doing so on February 3rd along with the commencement of a new year of primary and secondary school, choir activities, etc.
We have several elderly neighbors who attend along with some middle-aged married couples and several children and youth from our neighborhood, plus all of the primary and secondary students who will participate as part of their school curriculum. We are excited and honored to be able to share God’s Word with our neighbors who attend because the majority of which don’t attend church or hear the Word of God in any other place. Please pray that the Lord would continue to provide inspiration and guide the discussions/teachings that we prepare, and that those who participate would truly be persuaded toward the Truth.
Child/Youth Leadership Program and Basketball Team in Local School
This past month I returned to my part-time assignment in La Ceiba’s Episcopal School to continue training/guiding the children and youth there in God’s Word.
I have renamed the “Gifted and Talented Program” in two different sections: “Child Leadership” (4th-5th grade) and “Youth Leadership” (6th-7th grade), both of which meet weekly and are targeted at raising up leaders in the next generation who are founded on Christ. I have had basically the same group of students for three years now, so I am very excited and honored to see the work the Lord will continue to etch out among us. In addition, I am continuing to coach the (now co-ed) basketball team at the same school for the fourth year in a row, with students ages 8-15. Our eldest daughter (Dayana, age 15 in 7th grade) participates weekly in the Youth Leadership program, and five of our kids (Dayana, Gleny, Jason, Jackeline and Josselyn) participate in the co-ed basketball team.
Blossoming Relationship with Isis, our Primary Education Teacher
Our relationship with Miss Isis, our 22-year-old Honduran teacher who runs the elementary-section of our government-registered school program at the Living Waters Ranch (1st-6th grade for older students who are behind academically), has truly been one of the biggest surprises of these past six months.
She began working alongside of us in August as a temporary help when our sister Jenae Matikke felt called to move to the nearby city of La Ceiba, and it quickly became apparent that the Lord had great plans to accomplish both in and through her at the Living Waters Ranch. She worked three days per week the last five months of 2015, and for the duration of 2016 she has a contract to labor five days per week in teaching, discipleship, and general care-giving.
On Wednesday, February 3rd she will receive her 12 students (one of which is our daughter, Josselyn, and the other 11 of which are neighbors from our rural neighborhood ages 8-20) for their first day of classes after having spent the entire month of January in preparation, planning, design of her new classroom, meetings/interviews with potential students, etc.
The Lord has also guided her to design and begin leading a new weekly Bible study geared at small children, which is different from the other twice-weekly Bible study we will be teaching for older participants. This will also start on February 3. Let us give thanks for her life and for her willingness to serve the Lord’s purposes!