Tag Archives: Testimony

Heavenly Joy Bursting Out Through My Bones: The Effects of a Radical Change of Plans

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…

 

A photo of my husband and our seven kids taken on my husband’s birthday two days after Soad’s arrival. (She is in the pink tank top on Darwin’s right.)

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.

With peace and gratitude in Christ,

Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission

Kindness Training

Yesterday in our large, mixed household in rural Honduras we did a new thing. We invented kindness training.

Our foster kids/teens oftentimes struggle with asking for things politely or humbly submitting to authority figures. Rather than asking, “Could you please…[fill in the blank],” oftentimes we hear people barking at their siblings, “Give me [fill in the blank] or go do [fill in the blank]” without actually asking or adding a kind ‘please’ onto it. Many times we’ve verbally corrected them, instructing them how to politely ask for something rather than demanding it, but this has brought little behavioral change.

Likewise, when sent to do something or given an order by an authority, many a time we hear murmuring or complaints like, “Why is it always me?” or “I don’t want to… [fill in the blank.]”

Several months ago we had even reached the point of washing out all of our mouths with soap (my husband and I included) because we had all been misusing the free speech the Lord has given us. We lined up one by one in the kids’ bathroom after a long, serious family meeting and took turns scrubbing out the insides of our mouths as a consequence for getting snippy with one another and participating in complaints and gossip. It was a bitter lesson!

Thus, yesterday morning as I was pondering on just how we might improve this politeness dynamic in our household, an idea occurred to me: kindness training. Now, of course, I had no idea what that was nor did it probably exist before we did it for the first time last night, but it turned out great once the brainstorm kept flowing in my mind and the idea was developed.

Last evening we drove into our rural neighborhood to pick five of our teens up from their weekly youth group in the home of a local Honduran missionary couple whom we serve with, and we brought them all home in time for dinner, as is our Monday routine. As the rice and beans were heating up on our gas stove, rather than everyone sitting around idly talking about how their day went, I called everyone together and informed them that we would be doing a family activity (which any teenager absolutely loves…not) and that everybody had to come to the dining room. Two of our teen girls tried to cleverly escape by ‘going to the bathroom,’ but they quickly got called back. Soon enough everyone was present and waiting for instruction.

We would go one by one, taking turns standing up in front of the rest of our family members as those in the ‘audience’ would then ask something of the person standing in the middle or give them a loving order. The goal in all this: learn to ask things with kindness and to respond likewise.

I went first in order to show them how it goes. Darwin took the lead: “Jennifer, could you please go get me a glass of water?”

I responded quickly and earnestly, “Sure! My pleasure.”

Then others followed suit, each person taking their turn to ask me to go close the gate, check the food on the stove, etc. Each person asked rather than demanded (being sure to attach a sincere ‘please’ on what they were asking), and as far as I was able to do what they were asking I responded sincerely and with a joyful attitude. I was willing to serve and not at all inclined toward grumbling or laziness; this was the example to follow.

As I finished my turn, I sat down and we waited to see who would go next. One of our extremely precious teen girls who has a reputation for being more than a bit explosive in our household — especially when people ask her to do things or help out, heaven forbid! — jumped up with a spring in her step, eager to be the next volunteer. Our eyes all widened and we wondered how this would go! Would she grow sulky or irritated as we asked her to complete the various hypothetical things we were about to say?

She had a big smile on her face — this was miracle #1! I don’t remember who was the first brave soul to ask something of her, but soon enough we were all taking turns politely asking her to help sweep the floor, go wash her clothes, take a shower promptly, etc. Each time she responded politely — this was miracle #2! Wow!

And so we all took turns, learning how to ask things of others with grace (rather than demanding them) and how to humbly submit to another’s request as we seek to serve one another with the same attitude that Christ showed us. After about twenty minutes or so everyone had done the rounds. It was time for dinner!

Once we had eaten, two of our younger sons and I were on kitchen duty so we began washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and putting everything away. I was stationed at the sink when another one of our teen girls — who typically doesn’t really pay much attention to the people around her when she’s going to reach for something and most definitely doesn’t normally say ‘please’ — came over to the sink where I was — and without invading my personal space and brushing right past me — patiently stood behind me, waiting her turn, and asked in a very natural, polite fashion: “Mom, could you please fill my cup with water?”

I froze, at first inclined to laugh out loud because I thought she was doing it on purpose as a sort of joke since we had all just practiced asking politely for things. I answered slowly, without turning around to look at her, “Yes…it’s my pleasure.”

With my response, her eyes grew wide, she gasped slightly and squealed, “Hey! I did it!” She was surprised that she had actually put into practice what we had all just learned. At that we both laughed.

Again this morning — the following day after our first kindness training as a family last night — I overheard a conversation between our two youngest boys as they were getting ready for school and one asked the other for something in an extremely polite and patient fashion. They could not even see me and had no idea I could hear them — wow!

In like manner, a few weeks ago in our first advanced math class of the new year at the Living Waters Ranch where we live and serve, I informed my 18 teenage students that each day as they entered my classroom they would have to greet me. Upon hearing this, many started to smirk and giggle at my request — I was actually instructing them that they had to shake my hand, look me in the eyes, and tell me, “Good morning.” How absurd! I continued as I informed them, quite seriously, that at the end of each class they would likewise have to shake my hand again and verbally thank me for the class. Many looked very surprised at this, as this type of training seems a bit audacious (and makes the teacher saying all this seem a bit self-centered), but I told them that the benefit was not meant for me but rather that I desired to train them to be polite and thankful with all of their other teachers and in all situations, both with God and with people. Well, my students and I are now several weeks into this process and they are now fully trained to greet me kindly at the beginning of the class and thank me at the end of the class — and not only that, but I’ve overheard them doing it also with their other teachers at the most unexpected of moments! Yes!

And so, these are small stories about attitude shifts and how to cultivate a more gentle spirit in the way we interact with those around us for God’s glory. Be encouraged! (Maybe you can even try these wacky but effective methods in your own home or workplace!)

Amen! Glory to God!

Teen Training by Way of the Sweet Tooth

In our large, mixed family in which my husband and I have fostered 11 children and teens in the last four-and-a-half-years, we’ve had to find (and most times create) different methods — however wacky they might turn out to be — in order to train our precious little ones in the ways of righteousness.

Well, our ‘little ones’ are no longer little, as the majority of our kids now lie in the age range of 13-17 years old. Simple rebukes, time-outs or other common disciplinary procedures designed for small children just don’t do the trick (especially not with ours, who arrived in our home already on their way to puberty or several years into it). So, in addition to regular times of prayer, Biblical counsel and healthy family time, we’ve gotten creative in the way that we train our teens.

One constant struggle in our household (mainly among our 5 teenage girls) is that of gossiping, hurt feelings, and the like. On many occasions we’ve facilitated very on-edge conflict resolutions among our girls, always guided by prayer and asking for Christ’s peace to cover each of us in the process. By God’s grace our girls have come a long way, and they now have better (and more loving) communication skills that most of their peers but there are still certain ‘tweaks’ that we hope to make in the attitudes and behaviors in our home.

With that being said, a few nights ago a plan struck me: I would go innocently pop by our girls’ rooms to encourage them in love, and each time I would do so I would give them some kind of tiny treat. One of our girls was out for the night at a friend’s house, so our teen girls numbered four for that night. Two in one room; two in the other.

Knowing too well the attitudes we had been facing in our home in the last few weeks between these four (and their tendency to form teams against one another), I asked God for an extra dose of joy and began my absurd rounds, all in the name of brotherly (or rather sisterly) love.

I had already hugged each of our kids and bid them goodnight not 15 minutes prior, so at this point no one was expecting me to come back by again. It was still early, so I knew they would be doing homework or chit-chatting quietly in their rooms. It was a perfect opportunity for a lesson in God’s love.

I approached the first room, a black curtain hung in the doorway (our kids don’t have doors on their rooms). We had just recently painted our kids’ rooms for the first time in a few years, and this particular room now sported a beautiful turquoise blue with black music notes painted along one wall. I knocked on the frame around the curtain and asked in a joyful tune if I could come in.

They quickly answered, telling me to pass. This was Team 1, and I was determined to do all that was in my power to assure that their nightly ‘sleepover party’ didn’t turn into a gossiping match against their other sisters. I slid the curtain open, my face now beaming through it as I greeted our two precious teens with my wide, energetic eyes as they sat quietly on their floor doing the math homework I had assigned them. They looked up at me expectantly, waiting to see what I needed.

My voice rose high as I accentuated the end of the question: “Are you two loving each other?”

Their brows furrowed a little, not expecting that question, and nodded ‘yes.’ They were less than enthused with their guest.

Another question on the heels of the first: “Are you loving your other two sisters who are in the other room…?”

One of them, now a bit on the defensive, answered, “We’re not even talking about them! We’re doing our math homework.”

I kept going, undeterred, “Oh, I’m not accusing you of talking poorly of them. I’m only asking. I can see you’re both working really hard….But you’re sure you’re loving your sisters even in thought and spirit?”

A small smile cracked the lips of one of our girls, and she answered, “Yessss, Mom. In thought and spirit we love them.” The other one arched an eyebrow, which seemed to say otherwise.

That’s okay, I thought. We’ll work on that.

I kept prodding, “Okay, because as daughters of God we love others even when they aren’t present, right?”

Then they started giggling at their crazy mom who was bent on teaching them to not back-stab others, “Yesssss, Mom!

With that I whipped out my left hand that had been hidden on the other side of their curtain, revealing two little packages of Oreo cookies. “Praise God!!! I’m so proud of you girls for loving your sisters. Here are some cookies.”

I threw the cookies toward them as they reached out responsive hands to grab them in the air, now squealing with excitement. This game was not only a little weird, but also fun!

I then entered fully into their room, passing the threshold and bending down to kiss each of them on top of their head. Then I was gone, out in our living room commencing the long journey (of about a yard and a half) to reach the doorway where our other two teen girls were. This time a bright mixture of pinks and purples greeted me from the curtain dangling in their doorway.

Knock-knock. “Girls, can I come in?” My voice was sing-song, and surely they already knew what was up because in our house you can practically hear every conversation that goes on from one room to the next.

They let me pass, and in this room, too, I kept my left hand hidden behind the curtain with the treats held firmly in it. I asked them the same questions, if they were loving their sisters.

One of our teens, not at all amused and having had a pretty rough week with one of our daughters in the other room blew me off and replied, “Uh, sure. We’re loving them.” The other girl present, one of our new daughters who has only been with us a few months, looked a bit confused by my question and sing-song voice.

I wasn’t convinced, so I continued prodding with all love, “Are you loving them not only in speech and in action but also in thought and in spirit?”

The same teen replied, “Um, honestly, no. My thoughts toward them are not very loving.”

I kept going, appreciating her honesty: “Okay, then we’re going to change those thoughts. Think a loving thought about her, because that is what God wants from us. Love.”

Her face betrayed anything but enthusiasm as she then murmured something about having a nice thought about her sister, although her attitude had not really changed. I encouraged them to love and honor their sisters for love of God, not only in their presence but also behind their backs. Hesitating on whether or not they really deserved the cookies, I headed in anyway and tossed them their incentive. They both looked surprised as they received their chocolate cookies (a rare treat in Honduras), and I went to each one and gave them a kiss on top of their head. Then I left.

Only two or three minutes passed before I entered my bedroom stash and grabbed more treats, ready to do my second round of many. I went to both rooms, knocking first and then asking each group similar questions as to whether they were truly loving their sisters and honoring them in thought, deed, speech, soul and spirit. (Each time I went I made the questions longer and a bit sillier). By now they understood what was happening and answered the questions quickly and enthusiastically, waiting for their treat. After answering the questions and receiving their prize I would give each one a kiss on the top of the head and a pat on the back or a hug.

And so every few minutes — repeating itself more than five or six times — I would make the rounds to the two rooms, trying to intercept/distract/combat against any potential gossiping or bad attitudes that could easily happen during our family’s Sabbath Hour when we don’t have as much contact with them. Each time their reactions (and facial expressions) got happier, and they came to laugh really hard about the craziness of it all.

At one point — now over 30 minutes or so into the outrageous process and with our girls enjoying a small fortune of sweets — I entered the second room and the girls were laughing so hard that they were almost crying. After I asked my questions and they affirmed their love for their sisters, I went to toss them a bag of chips and they both blurted, “We thought you were going to bring lollipops!” and began howling with laughter as if that was the funniest thing anyone had ever said. I’m not sure why they thought I was going to bring lollipops or why it was so funny to them, but they both began rolling on the floor and pointing at one another with uncontrollable laughter as they struggled to breathe. I stood in the doorway and contemplated what joy can do to a person. They looked absolutely beautiful, much more so than when I first appeared and they were put-off and closed down emotionally. Now the fun could not be contained!

On my following round (which ended up being my last), I entered their same doorway and asked them the now-infamous questions. Their faces were still speckled-red and tears were brimming in their eyes from their laughing fit as they now felt eager to answer my questions. One of them, the one who was first so unenthused, actually invented a song and began sining really loud about how much she loved her sisters (by name, even including the one she hasn’t typically gotten along with!) and finished her performance off by adding, “I love my sisters in deed, in word, in thought, in soul, in spirit, with my nose, with my knees, and with my hair.” With that the laughing fit overtook her again and she began rolling around the floor, pointing at different body parts of hers and gasping that she loved her sister with her ears, her elbows, etc.

By now I was laughing along with them, and in that moment I whipped out a lollipop for my singing daughter. Her eyes grew wider (the lollipop was what she had wanted all along), and she squealed really loud and kept going with her proclamations of love as she received her reward. The other one, seeing the other lollipop in my hand, began laughing hysterically and singing her own song about how much she loves her sisters. It was a total riot, and she won her lollipop!

So, that is our crazy story that took place four nights ago in our little cinderblock home at the base of the mountains in a third world country deeply scarred by hatred and sin. It may not be much, but I share it with you so that we may all be encouraged to love one another (face to face and behind our backs) for love of God. Our Father designed us to love Him and love one another, and I believe a bit more riotous laughter within God’s perfect will can go a long way to heal certain scars caused by sin. There is a Way more excellent than that of resentment, relational wars and lack of forgiveness, and it is that of love in Christ. Be encouraged!

God bless you!

 

A Constant Gamble for God: Passing the Torch of Love from One Hand to Another

Several weeks ago after a busied trip into the city to do those errands that never end, on my way back home I turned off the main highway and took the drive into one of those dangerous neighborhoods where they say you have to pass with your windows down so that the gang lords can identify who comes and goes.

In this particular neighborhood we’ve come and gone dozens of times visiting different people, so I rolled my windows down without a second thought and began making my way carefully over the neglected pavement eaten up by so many potholes.

I turned down one side road and then another, pulling to a stop in front of a small collection of homes, although I couldn’t remember which one it was. I hopped out – I believe it was raining on that particular day – and knocked on the door of a blue-colored house. I thought that was the right house, anyway. Blue.

A woman opened the door with wide eyes, unsure who I was and what my business was. I immediately realized I had knocked on the wrong door. I quickly apologized and asked if she knew which home belonged to the woman I was looking for. She knew. Two houses down, she told me.

I jumped over puddles, my bright blue rain-jacket shielding my blouse from the falling raindrops. Two houses down, also a blue house. At least I got the blue part right.

 I stooped on the tiny porch, taking the hood of my rain-jacket down under the cover of the roof above. All the windows were closed and there was no sound coming from inside. It looked like no one was home, especially in this culture where people who are home have their doors and windows open, several people lounging on the porch or washing clothes in the front yard and occasionally high-volume music blasting from some stereo.

I knocked once and waited, then again and waited. As I was about to turn and leave, the door opened, ever so slowly, and a woman’s gaze met mine. At first she looked like she suspected trouble – frightened and ready to close the door immediately – but as she recognized me her countenance immediately changed and a genuine smile, albeit a surprised one, overtook her tired face.

We embraced one another as we have on so many other occasions and she quickly let me pass the threshold.

“And the kids?” Her face brightened even more as she glanced behind me, waiting to see her special-needs son and teenage daughter.

I apologized for not having brought them with me (alas, they are always with us!) and told her that the purpose of my surprise visit was not a once-per-month visit between our foster children and their biological family members but rather a visit between two adult women, between she and I.

This definitely caught her off guard, as we’ve never done such a thing in our three years of knowing one another, but she quickly accepted and showed me where to sit in the completely quiet, still home with all of its windows firmly shut. As I sat on the only couch in the living room, rather than sitting across the small room in one of the arm chairs she commented on how she preferred to be closer and sat not two feet from me on that couch. It felt right and natural.

What ensued was a free-flowing conversation that lasted over an hour between Josue and Jackeline’s mom and myself.

For months – years perhaps – the idea of becoming more involved with this woman has been floating around our hearts and minds, swelling up and speaking out at different times. More than once we’ve considered aloud between my husband and I providing this down-and-out shut-in a part-time job with us and a new start. When her two precious children first moved in with us back in January 2015 their stay in our home was meant to be a temporary solution until she could find a steady job and place to live. Three to four months they had told us. Well, a few months has turned into a few years, and she’s been unable to find any kind of stable work or place to stay. The news has always been the same, and her situation – as much economic as emotional and spiritual – has been stagnant if not declining, and up until now we really didn’t know what move to make, if any.

Employ an emotionally unstable woman who probably desperately needs a counselor in our home working with at-risk kids? Is that really a good idea? But have not many people – not only children and teens but adults as well – come to know the Lord alongside of us, and could us being more involved in her life and showing her God’s love on a more regular basis not possibly lead to her salvation and renewal? If her kids’ lives are worth the risk and investment, is not hers as well?

So that idea (without any concrete answers) had been floating around our consciousness for quite some time when our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline (who is this woman’s biological daughter) came to me out of the blue – as she oftentimes does – and informed me with great conviction that Darwin and I should give her mom a job. She and her mother have never gotten along well and still have a pretty tumultuous relationship, but she informed me through tears, “I just want my mom to know Jesus.”

So that was all it took. I talked with Darwin, and we sensed that it was finally time to act. I would go to her house unannounced (because her cellphone no longer worked so we had no way to call) and I would propose the idea to her: a healthy way out of unemployment, more physical closeness with her children, being included perhaps for the first time in her life in a loving, vibrant Christian community and hopefully a drawing near to Christ as well.

One of those very familiar questions began to show itself in my mind: Do we have the finances to provide a job for her—? before it was quickly dismissed. After all, God has called us to do many crazy things over these last few years, and He’s always provided a way to make it happen.

Well, the details of our in-depth conversation have since been lost on me, but I do know one thing: the Lord did send me there that day, and He did use me to listen to a very broken woman who desperately needs loving companionship and a new start in life. I said little; she spoke much. Several times throughout our conversation I reached across the little couch to pat her shoulder as she shared with me her struggles. Several times she mentioned her belief that only God could help her; that she had been flirting with Satan too long and that it was time to make a change and give her life over to God. I continued to listen, hope swelling in my chest.

She mentioned her kids many times – which strangely enough are also my kids now. It was surreal listening to this mother who desperately loves these same kids whom I have grown to dearly love. Toward the end of our conversation I walked over to a coffee table in the small house – her sister’s house where she’s been living in a spare room for several months – and saw an 8’ x 10’ photo of now-14-year-old Jackeline when she was a toddler. This woman holds the memories of the kids when they were little, and the memories from these last three years have largely been made with us. Between us there was no sense of competition or anger but rather of gratitude and deep respect from both parties. Surely God had orchestrated this whole thing.

So I left, and she said she would call me in the next few weeks once a family situation was resolved to see if she could come serve alongside of us two days per week. Serve in what capacity, I had no idea, but Darwin and I were ready to step out into the unknown as God was in the process of preparing just one more miracle of life and redemption.

Our initial conversation was several weeks ago. Yesterday was Momma Ingrid’s first day of work. We can say that it was lacking in any drama and full of spiritual blessing. She arrived on time, quite timid but ready to participate. Many years ago she was a secretary in a bank (a prestigious job in this society where many people are illiterate and do hard labor for a living) before falling on hard times and bad decisions, so we decided to make her our official secretary at the Living Waters Ranch (a job that never before existed). Darwin worked with her a couple hours in the office that all of our staff share in order to show her the ropes, and she joyfully went about with general office tasks for the rest of the day. She saw her kids throughout the day, participated in Bible study and prayer group in the morning, and smiled more than she normally does. Several times throughout the day she told Darwin and I that she doesn’t need to get paid; she’s just happy to help and see her kids. We listened, thanked her for her thoughtfulness and willingness to serve but assured her that we will be paying her.

She’ll be coming back again on Wednesday.

And so, yesterday at 3:00pm as I left our home with all of our teachers and Momma Ingrid piled in our old pickup truck to go drop everyone off after a long day’s work, Momma Ingrid didn’t go home to her sister’s vacant house.

Geraldina, a woman in her early 30s (just like Momma Ingrid) who was in a similar position as her not two years ago – her teenage daughter Sandra had come to live with us until her mom could get back on her feet – will be voluntarily hosting Momma Ingrid (who she just met yesterday for the first time) in her home as an act of radical Christian hospitality to the downtrodden for love of God.

What?

Yes, an illiterate single mom of four who has suffered hunger, abuse and rejection who now works with us full-time and is learning to read and write for the first time – who went against all cultural norms and left behind her abusive husband in order to get her daughter back and even build her own wooden home! – will be extending an arm of charity and love to a woman not so different from herself.

Is it not the rich who help the poor, the powerful who help the weak?

Not this time.

So yesterday in our pickup truck after dropping all our teachers off and Momma Ingrid at Geraldina’s home, I turned to 17-year-old Sandra (Geraldina’s daughter) who sat in the passenger’s seat right next to me. She lived in our home for almost a year and continues being like a daughter to Darwin and I, and we get to see her everyday now that our community homeschool program started its 2018 classes a couple weeks ago. I patted her leg and asked sincerely, “What do you think about having Momma Ingrid live in your house?”

I was expecting her to hesitate or to comment that she was nervous about having an emotionally broken woman in her personal space, but she piped up, “It was my idea!”

My jaw must have dropped down to the floorboard as I sputtered – “Wha–?” I was definitely not expecting her to say that.

“Yeah. When Jackeline mentioned to us that Momma Ingrid would be working at the Ranch and had nowhere to stay, I told my mom that we should receive her in our home. Last year in Bible study you encouraged all of us to receive the homeless and broken in our homes as a way of ministering to Christ and, well, we’re gonna start with her.”

Goosebumps ran through my body even as they do now as I remember yesterday’s events and type this all down. Are not the poor – are not Sandra and her mom, Geraldina, people themselves who have known deep poverty their whole lives — to wallow in self-pity or look for some scheme to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’? But – to forsake their own poverty (the thousands of legitimate excuses they could have to explain why they couldn’t possibly take Momma Ingrid in, especially as no one was asking them to do so!) and to extend a hand of loving hope – even receiving her in their own humble home! – yes, that is God’s work among us.

So, Momma Ingrid spent her fist night in Sandra and Geraldina’s home last night in our rural neighborhood, and we’ll be seeing her again tomorrow as she comes up for her second day of work. Please give thanks to God with us for Sandra and Geraldina’s walk of faith and obedience as they are receiving a woman they have no relation to into their home, and pray with us blessings of harmony, service and humble love among them as they figure out how to live together. God bless you.

A Need Powerfully Supplied: The Mysterious Ways of the Living God

Several days ago, God spoke powerfully through us in our community Bible study time about the passage in Matthew 25 regarding the coming of Christ and how He will judge the nations. Everyone will get split up in one of two groups: those who showed compassion to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned; and those who didn’t. This passage might be well-known by most Christians and even potentially overlooked or minimized in its importance, but it provides striking clarity on the heart of Christ for the marginalized (and just where our heart should be as well). He says that those who took in the homeless (or orphaned or widowed); those who went to visit the sick and imprisoned; those who shared their food (and time, love) with the hungry and thirsty were not merely fulfilling some noble notion of ‘charity’ or even reaching some high moral standard. Christ said that as we’ve done unto the most vulnerable, we’ve done unto Him.

Now that’s huge.

To feed the hungry or to take in an abandoned teen or to visit and pray for those in prison is not to ‘be a good person’ or even live some moral ideal of compassion for the human race; Christ Himself (and this is a mystery that we cannot understand) is found in the needy, and He will judge us at the end of the world according to the times we’ve paid attention to Him and met His needs or by the ways we’ve ignored, overlooked and rejected Him, preferring to meet our own needs and live for the luxuries of this world rather than loving Him by loving those who suffer. To love the poor is to love Christ in disguise. Wow. This is how we can touch the heart of God.

So that (in very few words) is what we’ve been learning in our community Bible study time that we have every morning with our 10 foster kids, our local teachers/missionaries, our 30 local students, a few neighbors, my husband and me. We gather in a big circle (or more like an entirely imperfect rectangle) on wooden benches. No frills, no microphone, no stage, no professionally-made signs and banners. We simply come together as fellow human beings (of all ages) made in the image of God who desperately want to know the truth, to experience Christ and to live for Him rather than to live for the lies the world offers.

To be a Christian is to really follow Christ; to seek Him out in His many disguises; to live a life fully given over to the ways of justice and far removed from the lagoon of sin and selfishness. To live in such a way is eternally rich far beyond money; to trust in God in such a way (and to be used by Him to touch not only the heart of humanity but God’s very own heart!) is truly worth our very lives.

Warning: this post is going to be pretty long. (Go grab a cup of coffee, or stop reading and miss out on the best part!)

In these past few weeks God has been instructing us in just what it means to live for Christ. It is not (as many might believe) to live by a list of rules or to live listing off all that we don’t do; to avoid the bad (but also neglect the good). To live with and for Christ is to be led by the Living God to lose it all in this world in order to gain it all in the next; to die to ego and selfish desires in order to be filled with the richness of Christ, even now in our mortal bodies. Many people have a very low view of what it means to be ‘Christian,’ so God has been leading us deeper into the richness of what it means to truly follow Christ (and not simply attend church once or twice or six times per week and continue living like everyone else in the world).

As the hour-long Bible study time came to an end several days ago, our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline approached me, visibly shaken, and asked to speak with me in private. It was not really the right time, as everyone was supposed to go to their respective prayer groups, and that day I was going to take on about 10 teen girls to cover one of our teachers who was unable to be present that morning because she had to take her daughter to the hospital.

I eyed Jackeline wondering what potential catastrophic news she was going to share with me (alas, our kids — and especially our teenage girls — frequently ask to speak with me in private, and sometimes what they reveal can be downright troubling). I began to speak my objections, but in her eyes I saw a certain desperation and she reiterated, “I really need to talk with you in private. Now.

Did it have to do with a boy? What on earth could she have to share with me that couldn’t wait another minute?  I felt my blood pressure rise.

I sighed deeply and told the other girls who were waiting for me to go to another prayer group because I would be speaking in private with Jackeline. The girls looked confused (as probably did I), and I walked somberly with Jackeline from our large dining room where we had just studied God’s Word over to our little orange-colored cinderblock home not a stone’s throw away. I prayed silently that God would give me the strength to properly address whatever urgent news Jackeline was about to tell me even as I fought off the anxiousness that wanted to flood my veins.

We passed into the bedroom my husband and I share (the quiet, private place where most of our more intimate conversations with our kids occur), and she immediately sat down on the little purple couch-chair wedged in the corner and I sat on the tile floor in front of her, my heart beating fairly quickly and unsure what to expect. She looked deeply moved or on the verge of some kind of breakdown; it was hard to tell which.

I looked up at her and waited. She began gushing words, “I feel…like God spoke to me this morning in the Bible study. And…all the money I’ve been saving for the future…I feel like God wants me to take it all out and share it with the needy — to buy food for the hungry. God really touched my heart this morning, and I don’t want to live for myself. I want to seek out how to love Christ, visit the sick. I felt like God revealed to me how I can really love Him! I really want to do it, to go into downtown La Ceiba to find the homeless and the drug addicts — maybe we can make bags of food for them — and share with them who Christ is. We have to go!

All her words came rushing out like a river with a particularly strong current, and then she began crying.

I blinked a couple times, completely relieved that what she had to share with me wasn’t bad news at all (there was no confession of some secret boyfriend or any other bad deed done!), and at the same time I rejoiced in my heart of hearts for the beautiful work the Lord continues to etch out in our daughter. What a wonderful talk in private. Yes; let’s have more of these! Praise God!

I extended an arm towards her, and she came tumbling — or rather melting — off the couch and into my arms as I held her in a long hug.

Once she calmed down — alas, I believe it was for joy that she was crying — she reassumed her position on the couch and began sharing with me the rest of her conviction, “Today I have evangelism class. We’re gonna head out in like 20 minutes to go visit people’s houses and pray with people — ”

I nodded and smiled, still completely content (and more than pleasantly surprised) with her new God-designed attitude. It was true that she was in our new “Evangelism” class, and she would be heading out with four of our other foster children, a couple local students and two teachers to spend three hours sharing God’s Word in our destitute neighborhood. This was a new class (really not a class at all but rather a growth activity in the school of real life with Christ) that the Lord had led us to create at the end of our school year, and a group of our more spiritually mature teenagers had enlisted. Rather than dedicating their morning to one more academic pursuit, they wanted to go reach the lost in the same way that they had been reached.

Jackeline continued as I listened, “And, I feel like we’re not supposed to go visit people that we already know, but rather those who are completely lost — the sick, those with AIDS.”

She was speaking full of passion, and I was just trying to soak it all in, giving thanks in my heart once more for His active work in each of our lives.

Then, unexpectedly, “And, this morning when you were teaching about how we are to share our food with the hungry — there are so many people without food, and if we feed them we are feeding Christ Himself! — I feel like God wants us to take the food out of our pantry this morning and go share it with the poor people we’re going to visit.”

I felt like a somewhat unpleasant shock had been sent through my veins (or, perhaps more accurately, a train had blindsided me), and for some reason — probably out my ego’s desire to defend itself — I almost felt like throwing my head back and laughing out loud sarcastically. Go give our food away? Again?! Had we not just emptied our pantry not two weeks prior? After our miracle dinner, inevitably I had to go back to the grocery store in the ensuing days to replenish the lost rice, beans, eggs, etc. It was never in our budget to do so, especially with the pending adoption fees which we still were nowhere close to being able to pay! How could we possibly keep giving away all of our food when we have so many other legitimate financial needs? Could this really be from the Lord? If we keep having to go buy more food (because we keep giving it all away), how on earth will we pay the adoption lawyer? Oh, God, help us! (And please stop leading us toward such radical acts of obedience!)

The breath taken out of my lungs as those thoughts of self-protection hammered my mind, I stared at Jackeline, my face frozen in fear and hesitation. She leaned in toward me, eyes full of sincerity and faith, waiting for my permission. She even looked slightly perplexed at why it was taking me so long to respond. I was, after all, the one who had given the Bible study that morning, who had called the youth to live this radical lifestyle of faith in Christ, going beyond what is comfortable in order to live completely given over to God! To share your food and lose your life for Christ! Oh, what a hypocrite I would be now if I refused that which the Lord had prompted in our precious daughter. 

The objections came to my mind again — The adoption! Jennifer! Do you not remember that you need to find (and who knows from where!) that huge lump sum in order to make your beloved children forever yours! God has called you to this adoption; how dare you squander your money on these crazy food giveaways and forsake the adoption! The lawyer is doing a phenomenal job and very soon she will be asking for her first payment; and you have nothing! Don’t be a fool!

I swallowed and began answering carefully, encouraged by my daughter’s faith and praying that God would grant me the same, “Wonderful. Yes. I’m so grateful that God is speaking to you in so many ways and that you are being joyfully obedient. Go into our pantry and take what is most necessary. Eggs. Beans. Rice. Go bless the people for love of God. I’m so proud of you.”

She squealed with delight, gave me a big hug, and then she was off. Off to tell her two leaders of the news — that they would not only be visiting people to share God’s Word, but that they would also be able to bless each poverty-stricken household with a provision of food. They would be putting into immediate practice that which they had learned that morning.

I remained sitting on my bedroom floor for a few moments, heavy with material loss and at the same time fully thankful, trusting. But it wasn’t easy.

I then got up, praying to God that I had made the right decision (even as I knew I had), and headed wearily over to our kitchen. As I stood at our sink — staring out at the majestic mountains just beyond  — I could see Jackeline in my peripheral vision enthusiastically emptying out the huge sack of beans I had just gone to purchase and carefully shuttling out all the cartons of eggs. In my waning faith, I could see money being poured out, leaving our hands even as I knew that God would use it to bless others. But us? The adoption? I would once again need to go to the grocery store to buy food to replenish that which was so joyfully given away, and that would be money that we wouldn’t be able to put toward adopting our kids. I felt heavy, albeit joyful.

Seeing our beloved daughter so joyfully giving away all our food (for the second time in like two weeks), I turned away, literally feeling like I could not watch. May God bless our evangelism team in their obedience to give freely, because right now I certainly cannot do so.

For the last several weeks — ever since we had felt confirmation from God in regards to choosing a highly experienced adoption lawyer — our cry to God has been for the financial provision to complete the process. The lawyer is giving us an over 60% discount from what she normally charges, but even so the payment was way beyond our reach. We had gathered with our children to pray on more than one occasion, asking God for the funds. We had considered selling our milking cows in order to pay for part of the adoption, and then they were unexpectedly killed by cattle thieves. After weeks of prayer and hesitation, I even felt led to make a phone call to a wealthy family friend, taking up the courage to ask straight out for the funds for the adoption (something I’ve never done before), and much to my disappointment he agreed to help with a small part, but not all. That had been a very hard day, although I was thankful for the part he was willing to give. It felt like doors were closing; funds were already tight, and I couldn’t help but wonder where on earth we were going to get that money to pay the adoption lawyer, especially with all the recent extravagant giving the Lord had led us to do.

I had wept; Darwin and I had prayed; we had gathered with our children on numerous occasions, informing them of our financial impotency and telling them, too, to pray that God would make a way. Nevertheless, in the midst of many trials and unplanned giving, we felt even more confident in God’s perfect provision than ever before.

During this time, however, rather than God’s miraculous provision coming to us for the adoption, God had better yet been leading us to give away. In many ways — not only in those I’ve mentioned on this blog and the one prior — we had been led by the Living Lord to give away much, and to do so joyfully. Surely none of this made sense; we were waiting to receive, but God had instructed us rather to give, and to do so extravagantly, with everything we have. Even so — in the midst of loss and unmet expectations, our confidence in Christ and His provision remained constant, even though we had no idea when or how He would provide.

And then, a few days ago, I went to the bank in downtown La Ceiba, the third largest city in Honduras that lies about 30 minutes away from our rural neighborhood where we live and serve. I was in town to run a few errands, go to a doctors’ appointment, and check our financial status in the bank. It had been the first time in many weeks that I was going to be in the city doing these types of errands, as I’ve been trying to be a stay-at-home-mom as much as possible for our 10 kids. (One of our beloved local teachers has been helping me tremendously with our different errands so that I can be more present in the home.)

I headed into the small branch of the familiar bank that I’ve been going to for over five years now. When they passed me to one of the little customer service desks, I presented my Honduran residency card and the Living Waters Ranch account number, asking the bank worker to write down on a slip of paper the exact amounts we had in our savings and checking account. (In Honduras we cannot check our funds electronically without jumping through about 1,000 hoops, so I have to present myself in person at the bank in order to find out these numbers.)

Now, I am no accounting expert (nor is it our goal to become whizzes at managing numbers but rather to dedicate our lives to rescuing lost people), but neither am I haphazard with our finances or totally clueless as to how to manage money. My dad trained me from a very early age in the basics of wise money management, and during a period in my life I spent much free time reading money management books and learning from financial teacher Dave Ramsey.

As with any household or organization, its leaders know at any given point just about how much is coming in and how much is going out. We do live by faith, so — however many times I’ve been led to feel worried about our financial security — God has continuously called us back to radical faith in Him, our Provider, but just the same we do not neglect our financial responsibility in the least.

So there I was in the bank. In my mind I was well-informed that our savings account held almost zero funds, as we had transferred them to our checking account several weeks ago. I sat idly in that red cushioned bank chair in the unfamiliar air-conditioning — feeling out of place, my boots caked with mud in such a polished, sterile environment — and the emotionless bank worker slipped me the little paper with our numbers on it.

I glanced at the amount in our checking account — the equivalent of $15. I laughed to myself, as I knew it had to be low. But then my eyes took in the number in our savings account (that which should have been extremely low, so low as to not even take it into account), and it had not only the exact amount we needed for the adoption, but a little bit more.

My eyes grew and I looked up at the man behind the computer. I told him, “This number has to be incorrect. In our savings account we don’t have this amount of funds. Please check again.”

He scoffed and assured me that he had not made a mistake. I insisted, “Please check again. I really think this number is wrong.”

He reluctantly checked again, confirming that the written amount really was in our savings account. The money for the adoption. But how?

I probed further — “Who deposited this money, and when?” I felt like my head was spinning.

He crossed his arms and informed me that he couldn’t give me that information. I demanded (in an entirely unpolished manner), “I’m the one who manages our organization’s funds, and I’ve been doing so for over five years at this bank! Please give me the information if you are able to do so!”

Responding to that slight nudge, he glanced back at his computer screen. He then uttered my own name, mentioning that the money came in a transfer that I had facilitated on September first. When I was back in the States, sick for several weeks and recovering. It was the same money that I had transferred down to Honduras — that which is a collection of the donations from those who support this work.

But we had already spent that money.

Chills ran through my body.

Yes; the transfer I facilitated on September first. I remember well; I have the amount recorded in a log I keep on my computer. An accumulation of donations that I transferred down to Honduras all at once, as we do every month or so. But we had already transferred that specific money into our checking account and had spent it to pay our teachers, purchase food, buy shoes for our kids, do property repairs, etc. In short, those funds had already been invested into the daily maintenance of the mission over the past couple months. Hadn’t they?

(I realize that what I’m about to say oversteps the bounds of rational sanity and that many who read this will not believe what I’m about to write) — but I dare consider that God multiplied the money. (Either that or there was some huge flaw in our accounting of which I am the sole manager and could not possibly overlook.) Either way, I was absolutely convinced that we didn’t have the funds for the adoption, and all along — during each of the trials over the past several weeks and each time we were led to step out in abundant generosity — the funds for the adoption were already waiting in our account.

I had lived the last several weeks believing that our savings account should have been close to zero — for we had transferred the money into checking, and had already spent it in our daily ministry affairs of loving and serving! — but it had been there all along. God had led us to give, and to do so extravagantly and in a time that we believed we were in great economic need, but He had already supplied that need ever since that transfer was made (and doubled?) at the beginning of September. We had been led through a series of faith-stretching acts only to find at the end that He had already supplied our greatest need (that of the adoption funds) even before He led us to give it all away.

And — to me this is funny and shines with the mysteriousness of God’s ways — I used to visit the bank every week and micro-manage our funds, thanks to my own anxiousness and resulting in my own frustration. If funds were at a certain point, I left the bank feeling secure. If they were low, I left feeling worried. What small faith!

This time I hadn’t gone to the bank in over two months (although I had still been managing our daily accounting via our checkbook, etc), and I experienced one of the biggest surprises of my life.

And so I headed over to the head bank a few blocks away and confirmed with another source that those mystery funds (miracle funds) really were there, and then I transferred them to our checking account. That night we shared the astonishing news with our four kids/teens we are in the process of adopting, and their eyes were aglow with wonder. God really had provided, and it wasn’t necessarily through some rich benefactor or by us selling off our cattle and other earthly belongings: He had taken things into His own hands this time and multiplied (or at least kept hidden from our knowledge) that which we believed should no longer have been there.

This morning I am in the city of La Ceiba again, and I even went back to the bank to try to investigate further to see if this really was some miracle of divine provision or just an accounting slip-up (honestly we don’t care which; either way God has given us the funds to adopt our kids, and we were led through many stretching steps of faith all the while believing we were without funds). I went to one branch; they were unexpectedly closed due to a freak flooding incident within the bank. I went to another branch; they denied me further information regarding our account history (even though on prior occasions they’ve given it to me), telling me to go check our P.O. box to find our bank statements from the last few months. I walked several blocks on foot to our P.O. box, opened it up for the first time in quite a while, and found nothing. No bank statements! The bank was behind over three months on sending out their statements! I thus have no human way of knowing if this really was a miraculous multiplication of funds! 

As I walked out of the post office, I laughed out loud along the littered sidewalk of La Ceiba and thanked God in my heart of hearts, for I dare to believe that it is His good pleasure to hide these secrets from me so that I may continue onward in my state of wonder, humility and faith. I don’t need to know all the details; I must  only trust and obey!

After all, we read God’s Word and find the stories of the times Jesus multiplied the extremely small provision of fish and bread in order to feed thousands, and then we live our daily lives depending entirely upon our own resources and methods. My mind continues to spin as I search in vain for answers, and I feel as though I’m teetering on the edge of reason (or perhaps have lost sight of it altogether!), but the Lord has definitely increased my faith! I will now begin to pray over our food pantry with my husband and our kids, that God will multiply our food so that we may be able to continue sharing abundantly with all those whom He chooses to bless through us.

So — with fear and trembling and great joy — I share with you this bewildering story of God’s provision and His gentle leadings toward obedience, toward total commitment, knowing that He fully knows our needs and is fully capable of meeting them in His own way.

God is great! Amen!

November 2017 Triumphs and Prayer Requests

Four-Year Anniversary of Being Family to the Fatherless and Serving in Our Local Community

On November first we celebrated four years of parenting Dayana (17), Gleny (13) and Jason (10), the first sibling group we began parenting in 2013. We praise and thank God for the transformative, restorative work He’s done in the children’s lives and in our own during these four years, and we stand in awe at how He has made grow deep roots of love and commitment among us for His glory. From those initial three kids God has sprung out the ensuing discipleship-based community homeschool in our rural homestead where we currently educate roughly 40 children and teenagers according to the Way of Christ, not to mention the group of incredibly dedicated teachers and local Honduran missionaries whom the Lord has brought one by one to serve alongside of us in this beautiful life of service and continual growing. We celebrate these first four years with great joy and are expectant for what He will do in the coming years!

Update on the Two Orphaned Calves Left After the Slaughter

Our two orphaned calves left behind after their moms were unexpectedly slaughtered by cattle thieves a couple weeks ago are now happily being bottle-fed every day as they are still in the initial stages of their growth. We thank God for His grace in allowing the calves (one male, one female) to be born before their mothers were killed, thus leaving behind new life in the wake of tragic death. The rest of our cows have been left in peace since the devastating event, and we’ve been granted increasing measures on peace during these times. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

A teamwork-building exercise among six of our students (including our son Jason, second from the right)

Three Weeks of Intensive/Creative Classes to Finish the School Year

As we near the end of the Honduran school calendar, this week we began offering different, intensive classes to finish off the semester with a ‘bang.’ Having already finished the traditional math, science and language classes, etc, we are now offering an entirely new schedule that includes the following: carpentry, evangelism, community service, cooking class, penal law, orchestra, agriculture, world history and various levels of swimming, among others. During these three weeks I am teaching karate, bootcamp (hard physical exercise military-style) and leading our hour-long group Bible study time, which we are now enjoying every morning rather than only twice per week. Our students and teachers are all excited, as we incorporate and respect personal choice in the daily rhythm of our life of service at the Living Waters Ranch (the students enjoy great freedom to choose the classes they want to specialize in according to their interests/giftings, which is highly uncommon in Honduran culture where most things are decided for children/teens without their input). We thank God for this school year that is coming to a close and for all the seeds that have been sewn for His glory. It is literally so much fun to serve, teach, love, disciple and parents these kids (and make them sweat and heave in bootcamp)! What a privilege!

Cooking Club


Local Pastors Pray For and Prophesy Over Our 10 Foster Kids/Teens

A couple days ago a local pastoral couple came to talk with and counsel Darwin and I for several hours, and then they gathered all 10 of our foster kids/teens ages 9-17 in a tight circle in our living room to pray individually for each one. Many of our teens had been seeking spiritual breakthrough in their walk with Christ, and by their reactions and later comments they received it that night. The pastor even had prophetic words for several of our teenagers that deeply encouraged them. The entire experienced extended so long that the pastors entirely missed the church commitment they were supposed to attend at 6:30pm! (They finally left our home around 7:30pm.) We are grateful for this encounter (the first of its kind) with this local pastoral couple, and we thank God for touching our children’s lives through them. The pastor helped many of our teens to forgive those who had abused and abandoned them in their childhood. One of our new daughters (Carolina, age 15) who moved in only a few weeks ago, received the Lord for the first time, and our other new daughter (Paola, age 14) received many prophetic words and encouragement about the ways in which God desires to pour out His wisdom over her life and use her in mighty ways for His kingdom. She later expressed to our eldest daughter that she had always wanted to be a Christian but wasn’t sure how until she was praying with the pastor and felt God begin to move in her life. God is immeasurably mysterious in the ways in which He touches the lives of His sons and daughters, and we are excited to continue drawing nearer!

Christian Psychologist Found for Gabriela’s Healing Process

Not by coincidence, those same pastors who prayed over our children have an adult daughter in her early 20s who recently graduated from a local university with a degree in psychology. We had long been searching for (or, more accurately, waiting for) God to present the right Christlike psychologist for our kids, especially for our developmentally-challenged 10-year-old daughter Gabriela (Gaby) who suffered sexual abuse and many other traumas before arriving at our home. Thus, God has now provided Nataly, the pastors’ daughter, who is working one-on-one with Gaby every Saturday and will very likely join our team full-time as of January 2018. We are very excited about our developing friendship with Nataly and her parents as God is placing more and more people in our lives to encourage, teach and labor alongside of us in this great redemptive work. Praise God!

Darwin’s choir practices always start off with a massage chain to get everyone’s shoulders loosened up! (This particular day was girls’ choir.)

Experienced Catholic Lawyer Found for Adoption Process; Prayers Sought for Financial Provision and Government Favor

After my trip to the capital city of Tegucigalpa several weeks ago to interview 3 potential adoption lawyers, the Lord made it very clear to us who the best person for the job would be. We are now working with a female lawyer named Martha who has roughly 30 years of experience as a lawyer in Honduras, and she has dedicated the majority of her practice to domestic and international adoptions. She is a Catholic Christian and deeply believes that every child deserves a family (and not just a temporary solution/orphanage), and she has a record of doing just that for hundreds of Honduran children (which is extremely uncommon because most Hondurans are not prone to adopt children). She has already begun working on our adoption of four of our ten children. (Our desire is to be real family to all of our kids and to legally adopt them if they are able to be adopted. Some of our kids cannot be adopted because their biological families are still in the picture and may potentially receive them anew in their homes, so in the meantime we are joyfully family to all of our kids, whether they are legally adopted or not). The lawyer is extremely up-front, passionate and professional, and she’s giving us more than a 50% discount from what she normally charges, but even so we don’t yet have the funds to complete the adoption. We humbly ask for prayer in this regard, as we wait upon the Lord for provision/direction in order to complete the adoption process of Dayana, Gleny, Jason and Brayan in the most efficient manner possible. Thank you!

Gaby taking a “shower” in our outdoor washing station fully dressed…Oh gosh!

Two New Teen Girls Find Permanency in Our Home; Possible Adoption in the Future

Our two newest arrivals (Paola and Carolina), both of whom had bounced around among dysfunctional biological family members’ households and orphanages/foster homes for several years before arriving at our front gate, have both confirmed that they desire to become permanent members of our family. Darwin and I have felt incredible peace (and passion) about this and have pushed hard (in a good sense) to make them feel welcomed and loved as they were expecting to be rejected by yet another household when they arrived at our home. They had known great suffering and bad behavior (both that which they received from others and that which they learned to inflict upon others), so God has literally been breaking chains of wrong thinking, establishing new behavioral norms based on love, and infiltrating their souls with His truth. Our 8 kids/teens who have been with us several years have been used mightily by God in this process to model Christlike behavior, counsel our two new girls in the context of friendship/sisterhood, and express to them God’s unconditional love. We are already seeing great changes in their attitude and outlook and, as I mentioned above, they both had encounters with Christ via the pastors’ visit. We daily affirm to them that they are no longer rejected; that we want to be in their weddings and be their kids’ grandparents (in essence, be what a normal family is to their children for the whole of their life). They have been surprised by much (or perhaps all) of this as they had never before received such intense welcome, and they’ve responded to the hugs and physical affection we’ve shown them (as they had not previously received hugs in their other foster homes/orphanages). They had literally gone the extent of their childhoods without knowing they were loved by anyone until about three weeks ago. We have even talked to them about our desire to adopt them (once our adoption of the first four is complete), and they are very open to and excited about the idea of finally having a real family. There is so much I could write, but suffice it to say that we’re all ecstatic and that God is doing what only He can do. Please continue to pray that all chains of abuse, sexual sin, rejection, lies, stealing, etc would be completely broken off in Jesus’ name and that they would truly pass from death unto life. Praise God!

Amen! Glory to God!

New Beginnings: My Return to Honduras

I’ve been home now five days after having been away from Honduras six weeks for medical treatment and spiritual renewal in Christ, and it’s thus far been a journey of learning all over again many things I thought I already knew. How to really live in the joy and peace of Christ, for one — not just talk about it or read about it or even counsel others on how to do so, but to really live in Christ everyday and allow His peace to permeate me no matter how much activity is going on around me. Really, these last five days have been the beginning of a completely new era (from the inside out) — in my walk with the Lord, in my relationship with my husband and our children, in handling many responsibilities with grace, and in my daily walk of loving and serving those whom the Lord has so generously placed in our lives.

A truckload of screaming teenagers greeted Darwin and I on Sunday at the little local hotel where we had been staying since I arrived on Friday. (My first “re-initiation” upon returning to Honduras was with my husband as he picked me up from the airport — alone — and we got away for two nights before I saw the kids. We are both learning all over again what it means to love one another and live in the joy of Christ right here in our daily context, and truly these last five days have provided us a completely new beginning.)

So, that truckload enthusiastically unloaded on Sunday as Pastor Domingo and close to a dozen teenagers — some our kids, some our students — ding-donged impatiently on the front gate of the little hotel where Darwin and I had been staying. Everyone exploded out of the truck and began a hugging processional as each teen and I embraced before beginning the 20-minute journey up the highway to home, where the rest of our kids were waiting. That was Sunday.

In many ways, everything is the same — the same things are happening as before I left (the same little daily adventures, learning experiences and potential frustrations that come with living in a third world country and laying your life completely down so that Christ might live through you) but the Lord has given me an entirely new attitude to confront these situations. My surroundings are the same, but I’ve been given new sight (in the sense of seeing things the way God wants me to see/experience them).

There were welcome-home posters, hand-written letters of encouragement and prayer from each of our students and teachers, and many sweet moments along the way. Although I was returning home, in many ways I felt like tip-toeing around with a sneaky grin on my face, feeling like a welcome stranger as I was experiencing everything from an entirely new perspective (and without the feeling that I had to run-run-run and handle everything myself). In many ways, these first few days back in the full swing of the daily routine have been a lot about quietly observing and discerning all over again what God wants from me in this place. I’ve gotten up at 5:15am to brush our kids’ hair and get them ready for school; I’ve washed our clothes by hand on our front porch; I’ve gotten back into our administration activities; I’ve done everything I did before, but it’s now fun and enjoyable, whereas before I felt like I was constantly trying to battle off a wave of anxiousness night and day as every demand on my time seemed like too much.

On Monday we had a lengthy meeting with our team of teachers and mentors — those six people (including my husband Darwin) who held the fort down for six weeks during my absence, taking on my teaching, parenting and administrative duties without complaint — and person after person took the time to share, unhurried, what the Lord had been doing in their life since we had last seen each other in late August. God’s presence was near, and while we perhaps should have been handling school logistics, planning the upcoming calendar or “doing” something important and work-related, the Lord led us to take several hours to share and listen to one another, as each person independently told of huge breakthroughs in their walk with the Lord over the last several weeks, many with tears.

And, the truly remarkable thing is that every aspect of the work the Lord was doing in my own heart on a range of issues over these last several weeks — from my walk with Him to my freedom from many lies the enemy had led me to believe to my new way of viewing our students and loving them better — He was also working out in our teachers’ lives completely unbeknownst to me. He literally kept us all on the same page (and even advanced us a couple chapters along the path of true freedom in Christ!) even though we were geographically far away and had very little communication. Wow.

So, fast-forwarding to Tuesday (yesterday), I gave each student individually a big hug when they came streaming through our front gate at 6:40am, participated with everyone in Bible study and worship, took on my math class again and fully (and rather spontaneously) participated in every aspect of life and service in our home with a newfound spark in everything I did. (I’ve been getting 3-5 hours of sleep since getting back to Honduras and generally feel extremely at peace in God’s presence, which has radically changed my parenting style, general outlook and attitude, etc). I even spontaneously prepared like 8 blenders-full of garlic, cucumber, and other-vegetables smoothie for all of our teachers and students (like 50 people), which led to a lot of laughter, almost-vomiting and renewed health in many. It was great!

So…

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was a full-blown participant in Pastor Domingo’s military-style athletic training class. (I had arrived at his class after lunch with our oldschool digital camera to just take some silly pictures of the kids, but God had other plans.) The exercises were actually not incredibly difficult, but my non-athletic attire and the scorching heat/humidity did make for quite an interesting (and sweaty!) afternoon. After all was said and done and I went to our little bathroom to take a cold shower, a ton of dirt came falling out of my hair (and not to mention all over my clothes)!

Every Tuesday afternoon all 40 of our students (ages 7-18) divide up into their various P.E. groups — swimming, long-distance running, dance, little kids’ games, and military training. This was a photo I took from my first experience attending Pastor Domingo’s military training class! (I was standing it the taller grass behind the instructor doing whatever squats/push-ups the students were doing while I took the photos, so that’s why some of the students are laughing).

Bottoms up! I struck the same pose as the students (with the camera shooting photos from between my legs), so that’s why this photo came out upside-down!
Our 9-year-old special needs son Josue participated right alongside everyone else! (At this point, I was belly-down in the grass after having been in a one-armed planking position taking photos.)
Okay, everybody line up for a brisk jog around the property! (Roy, our 18-year-old student on the far left who was leading the activity, was very calmly advising all the students to be careful with the large rocks and unexpected holes scattered across the terrain they would be running on, all of which are well hidden under the tall grass where our cows graze). Who needs a track or a gym?!
Well, I earnestly desired to try to run the lap around our 17-acre property with our students, but they left me behind in the blink of an eye! (I was too busy looking out for the potholes below me and trying not to sprain an ankle). So, changing plans, I grabbed a huge stick off the ground and decided to dart off in the other direction and plan a surprise attack on the students once they came to the end of their run. Before I knew what was happening, Isis, one of our young Honduran teachers, was right behind me!

And we were off like lightning (really, really slow lightning) as we began running mischeviously toward our hiding spot, where we would jump out with our sticks to surprise the unsuspecting students…
Gotta love this photo! When Darwin saw it, he said we looked like cave-women. (This photo really captures the whole spirit of our spontaneous game).
There were no photos of our actual attacks (perhaps for good reason!), so this is the last visual record we have of our cavewoman attack… (And, in case you were wondering, almost none of the students were surprised. Only like two screamed. The rest just looked at us and shook their heads every time we launched ourselves out from behind the parked car and screamed with our sticks when the various groups of students passed.)
At one point our students got ahold of the camera and started taking their own pictures!

After our big stick-bearing cavewoman scare (which actually wasn’t that big of a scare for most), it was time to do some mountain-climbers, ab work and squat jumps! (This will be the last time I wear a nice blouse and jeans to any military-training class!)
You go, Josue! (He and I have had a wonderful time together since me getting home on Sunday).
Okay, enough of that class! I headed up the gravel path to the inside yard where I found Miss Reina and Miss Ligia (two of our other teachers) leading a hilarious P.E. class for our littler tykes. I arrived to find several students (even some of our teenagers who wandered over before I did and decided to join in!) blind-folded and trying to find their way across our uneven, rock-filled yard. It was such a simple game, but it was a riot!
There goes Sandra (in the middle of the three) blind-folded and with the bright fire-fighter pants on for the competition! (We have a costume closet of things we’ve purchased at a local thrift store that we use for silly occasions such as these). Our daughter Gabriela (Gaby) is on the left, and a local student participates on the right.
Be careful, Sindy! (She was particularly scared about not being able to see, so I periodically yelled out, “Sindy, snake!” and she would jump around and scream. But she would get her revenge when I took up the blindfold a few minutes later…)
Uh-oh! Sandra got lost and started heading for our house!

        

Okay, my turn! (Man, was it scary not knowing where I was going, and they made me do it walking backwards!)
I kept trying to feel the ground to try to find the rocks — I didn’t want to roll an ankle! (Look at how dirty the back of my blouse got!)
Sandra kept trying to make me trip!
Got off track and almost went right out the front gate! (Sandra wouldn’t give me any verbal cues — she just kept laughing!)
Now she’s putting tires in my path!
One of the last games of the day was limbo! (A tall person really can’t compete with short kids on that one…)


 Amen! Glory to God!

Choose Your Compass Carefully: A Reflection on Technology, Luxury and Following Christ

A few days ago our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline came home in the evening after having spent the day with her 8-year-old special needs brother Josue in a visit with their biological family members. I greeted them warmly at the door as Jackeline then plopped down on our little two-person floral print couch. I instinctively pulled up one of our old wicker stools as I then sat down on it a few feet in front of her. My eyes searched hers as wacky lil’ Josue began trying to do some kind of rear horsey-kick with his stubby hands grabbing the couch’s tired arm while pushing his legs up and back as he bounced about next to the couch.

Jackeline with her wild shoulder-length hair and beautiful round face did not look stressed out or worried, so I dared to ask: “How was the visit?”

That simple question was all it took for us to dive into an hour-plus conversation as she shared with me her many (very insightful) observations on the world outside of our family. (Some of our 8 foster children have regular monthly visits with their biological family members while others have gone years without hearing anything from their relatives.)

She began, voice accelerated as she entered her dramatic story-telling mode, “I asked my little cousin – you know him, the one who’s three years old – if he wanted to play cars.”

I nodded my head and smiled, for Darwin and I have met all of her biological relatives on several occasions and maintain a very positive relationship with them.

“Well, my little cousin said ‘yes’ to my invitation to play cars with him, and then he whipped out two cellphones out of nowhere and said, ‘Which one do you want?’” At this point her eyes are really wide open as she replays the shock she felt when the event happened. I felt like I was right there with her in live action!

I began giggling, and I glanced over and winked at Josue. He flashed me a big, toothy grin. Jackeline continued, “And I said, ‘What?! I asked you if you wanted to play cars with me, like toy cars….Sitting on the ground.’” She motioned with a hand weakened by shock the little back-and-forth movement as she rolled an imaginary toy car in the air.

By then I was really laughing, and she paused to reiterate the whole cellphone part: “I mean, he just whipped out not one, but two of those big fancy cellphones! Two! And he’s only three years old!” I nodded in agreement.

“So when I clarified that I wanted to play toy cars with him on the ground, he shrugged disinterestedly and said, ‘Boring,’ and then showed me the cellphones again, asking me which one I wanted to play on. He told me that he had some electronic app on the phone that was called ‘Cars’ that was more fun than what I had suggested.”

Her way of story-telling – hands moving about animatedly, passion displayed in her fluctuating tone of voice – was both hilarious and effective as she shed a lot of light on the utter absurdities of today’s world culture.

“And, like during the whole visit my little cousin ended up playing on both of the cellphones all by himself, and the television was on all the time! It was like…chaos. At one point he told me that he didn’t like one of the cellphones because it wasn’t as advanced as the other one, so he was going to give it to Charlie!”

I tilted my head, slightly confused because I had never heard mention of Charlie. She was quick to clarify: “That’s the cat!

She looked genuinely worried. Josue continued grinning and nodding enthusiastically as if he understood and agreed with the entire social commentary. I rejoiced in my heart that God is developing in Jackeline a very effective ‘truth filter’ – the ability to observe and even be immersed in what many people consider to be ‘normal’ while evaluating it from the perspective of God’s eternal Word. In effect, to be in the world but not of it.

I treasured this moment in my heart, for our precious – wild, at times immature, strikingly wise! – Jackeline, by God’s grace, is developing the ability to discern her surroundings. She will desperately need that ability, especially when she leaves our home and protection one day to enter the adult realm. In a wildly confused world that is quickly accepting all forms of sexual sin as ‘normal’ (in addition to  rampant materialism, a very isolated ‘individualism’, political corruption, etc), she is going to desperately need to be able to discern what is of God and what is not if she is to walk closely by His side in the world’s wild maze of infinite options and endless ‘ways.’

While I ruminated on all this, thanking God in my heart for the firm character and wise discernment He is forming in His daughter, she continued: “And then my grandma began telling me that it is really important for me to get a tablet and learn how to use it.”

I felt uneasy at the idea; she continued, laughing as she pointed at my reaction: “I told my grandma, ‘I don’t think my parents are gonna like that idea!’, but she said that it’s important because in daily life everyone uses one.”

At that we both began laughing, because although Darwin and I have never spoken openly against modern technological advancements, all of our kids can observe clearly that we are not addicted to them (nor do we own many of them). In our daily life we read books (those old kind made from trees); we enjoy the creativity God has given us to roll up our sleeves and do art projects; we teach classes and Bible studies in bare rooms on wooden benches; we use our hands (and sweat glands) to work around the house and yard; we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing task of developing the minds God has entrusted us; we spend ourselves joyfully on the task of binding up the brokenhearted and setting the captive free; we worship God through music; we care diligently for the various animals God has placed on our property. In a large sense, we are ‘unplugged.’

Jackeline continued, fully enjoying the process of story-telling, “And I said, ‘Grandma! But my parents are adults, and they don’t use a tablet in everyday life!’ And with that, my grandma was really surprised and asked how that was possible. I said, ‘Well, they only use their computers for like really extreme jobs, and they have no use for a calculator because they do the math in their heads!’” At that point I was rolling with laughter, and Josue continued glancing energetically between his older sister and I, eager to participate in the joy. “My grandma was shocked and had no reply! She had never heard of such a thing!”

You see, in our home my husband (who is Honduran) and I (who was born in America) have put a ‘stop’ to the endless advancements in technology and luxury that many in the world constantly chase after. We choose not to have hot water or air-conditioning; we all wash our clothes by hand; we have no television. Our kids do not have internet access; my cell phone is a little black apparatus with an itty bitty screen and old school keypad that probably made its world debut when your great-grandmother was in kindergarten. It doesn’t have any apps and can’t even take pictures. I’ve had my cellphone so many years that the part that sends text messages no longer even works. It’s only used for…*gasp*…making calls! People constantly ask me if I have ‘Whatsapp,’ and I finally had to confess the other day, “No; I don’t have ‘Whatsapp, and to be honest with you, I don’t even know what it is!

I lived my first two-and-a-half years in this country without a car; Darwin, the kids and I walked everywhere and took overcrowded public transportation, oftentimes waiting hours for the right bus to pass. Only now do we have our 16-year-old battered war vehicle; our Toyota pickup truck with a camper on the back. When we rumble by on the narrow gravel roads in our rural town, many of the neighborhood kids shout, “Chicken Coop! Chicken Coop!” because there are always so many little heads sticking out of it!

Probably within a few years – as the outside world continues its frenetic grasping at ‘new’ and ‘better’ while we remain joyfully content with a simple life in God’s presence – someone will probably label us as Amish.

I am currently away from home to attend a day-long conference several hours away from our little ‘home on the range.’ The majority of the other conference attendees – a mixture of local Honduran Christians and American missionaries – had their advanced cellphones with the big screens, cars that look to be in a lot better shape than ours, and their overall attitude (along with the content of their conversations) dripped with worldly enticement. I felt, as I do in many situations, out of place. Like I’m from a different tribe.

Several of the conference speakers spoke (inaccurately) of the need to correct and educate the local people in matters of technology; that we must show the poor that rather than washing their clothes in the river or in an old-fashioned washbin, they must learn to use a washing machine. (And with what money will they purchase and maintain one if they can barely put food on the table?) Rather than bathing with a bucket, they must learn to do so in a shower, with hot water if possible.

My heart grew heavy with each passing word pronounced by the well-intentioned Honduran speakers, for Christ did not come to improve the worldly conditions of the poor – to make them bilingual or grant them a college scholarship or purchase them a washing machine – but rather to preach the truth in the midst of a world drowning in lies; to pay the price none of us can pay in order to put us into right relationship with our Creator and our neighbor. Whether we claim to serve God at home or in a far-off nation, we must be very careful what ‘good news’ we are proclaiming with our words and lives: that of worldly prosperity (which, even at its best, not all can attain), or the everlasting Good News of a loving God who comes to redeem, to heal, to guide. Jesus went around proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!” I dare say that that should be our message as well.

In a video on human trafficking that we saw with our older girls in months past, there is a very sincere American missionary fighting the effects of the forced-prostitution industry in Asia, and he very accurately says, “This is not a matter of money and education. In the West there is abounding educational opportunities and plenty of money, but that has not solved the problem of evil. This (whether it is sex slavery, the problem of parentless children, the existence of violent gangs, political corruption, etc) is a spiritual problem.”

To be an overseas missionary — or to serve Christ anywhere — is not a matter of raffling off washing machines and giving college scholarships to help bump people up and out of poverty; it is of teaching others to know and follow Christ; to go to the ends of the earth making disciples, for we know that He will be with us until the end of the age.

Men like Adolf Hitler, Hugh Hefner and others – men with excessive power and know-how (men who have quite strategically gotten what they wanted out of life and whom  we can safely say probably did not bathe with a bucket) – have used their privileges, their intelligence, their money not for good but for evil. So we must be careful what we aspire for those whom we are serving. ‘Developing with the times’ and ‘learning the ways of the world’ do not in any way go hand-in-hand with the good news of Jesus Christ. They are two distinct messages with results that find themselves at opposite poles.

‘Helping the poor’ is not a question of bringing them up to the middle-class. If that is our goal and strategy, we may just be creating more ego-saturated materialism addicts whose hearts are even farther from God than they were to start with.

It is and always has been a battle deep within the human heart – whether the person is rich or poor. Light versus darkness. Truth versus lies. Live for the eternal or live for the temporal. Honor God with your life or believe the age-old lie Satan presented in the garden: “Take things into your own hands; you can be like your own gods!”

Last evening, as I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast hotel, I took a long walk. It was very serene — one of those rare moments of ‘alone time’. The cool breeze blew through my hair as I walked the sidewalks and nearly empty streets of an upper-middle-class neighborhood at dusk. Tall, impenetrable walls around each property. Two-and-three-story homes designed with breathtakingly beautiful architecture. Polished, highly protected people with polished, highly protected lives. No noise. No trash in the streets. I felt like I could have been perusing a wealthy neighborhood in any corner of the globe.

It is so easy to be drawn to what is most comfortable, and to then let our lives be dictated by our desire to protect the luxuries and comforts we have. As I walked the empty streets, the quiet breeze accompanying me as I reflected deeply upon the day’s conference, I felt both saddened at the way many in today’s world choose to live while simultaneously awed by God’s grace over our tiny lives and the way He has led us to take firm decisions, both for our own sake and for that of our children. We refuse to be guided by the world’s compass. Just because the world shouts “North!” does not mean that North is the way; it just might mean that the real way is South. At every turn, we must seriously consider whose voice we are heeding; that of the world’s or that of the quiet whisper of the only true shepherd.

(And, let us all remember that several times in Scripture it is noted that Satan is the prince of this world; the whole world is under his persuasion. Let us be careful lest we find ourselves as his unknowing accomplices. Nearly everyone takes the wide path that leads to destruction; few walk the narrow path that leads to life. If you find yourself saying, doing and thinking the same things as everyone else, stop and ask yourself what path you are on.)

My sandaled feet guided me along as my long skirt lapped at my legs in that quiet, perfectly insulated neighborhood, far from the mess of our daily life surrounded by hurting people in our simple cinderblock buildings. Surely in these nice homes bat droppings don’t constantly fall on their sofa and severely broken children don’t wipe poop on their walls!

A very dear family who visited us briefly in January later published on their prayer newsletter that we were ‘so poor’ – the guest room where they stayed was one of our classrooms with foam mattresses on the floor, and they observed that all we eat are rice and beans.

I continued walking, observing majestic homes that anybody would die to live in. Are we poor? I laughed at the question, for I believe we feel as the Apostle Paul felt: having nothing, we have everything. No, we are not poor: we are rich beyond measure, beyond cellphones and luxury bathrooms and insulated homes. We have infinite riches in Christ, for we know that this world is not our home; we are just passing through on our way to the eternal Kingdom where the true treasure is waiting.

Jesus said to be careful where your treasure is, for there your heart will be also. He said to store up treasures not here on earth – not worldly wealth, power, human comforts – but rather treasures in heaven. Lose your life for His sake in order to find it. Deny yourself, carry your cross and follow Him. We must not fall in love with the world and all that it offers; we are to be in the world but not of it. Renew your mind; allow God to transform you so that you may come to know His perfect will. In this life we will suffer, but we must take heart because He has overcome the world! He who affirms that he is united with God, must live as Jesus Christ lived.

And so, I humbly encourage you to evaluate your own life and carefully consider whether the fast-moving train of technology, luxury, over-eating, etc, is taking its many passengers toward a deeper relationship with their Creator, their Savior, or whether it intends to propel them blindly towards a darker fate. The world’s bandwagon has a megaphone that proclaims ‘Entertainment,’ ‘Ease,’ ‘Have it your way.’ Eat and drink, for tomorrow you die. Have we believed this message; have we blindly given our lives over to an untrustworthy system; have we jumped on the bandwagon that is leading many away from God’s heart and His eternal purpose?

We must all remember how Jesus lived among us and that He is calling us to live the same way –fully united with His Father’s will rather than fully rooted in the worldly system.

After all, our message is not a popular one just as Jesus’ wasn’t, but we proclaim it boldly and with great faith, for we know and love He who is guiding us.

All that is in the world will come to an end, but those who do the will of God will live forever.

Amen.

“God Lives In My Family”: Reflections From Our Eldest Daughter

A year-and-a-half ago I published a reflection on our very intense, heavily blessed journey with our now-16-year-old daughter Dayana, the eldest of the children we are fostering who we are in the process of legally adopting along with her younger siblings.

Now, nearly four years into our journey with her, I am publishing not my thoughts regarding our relationship but rather hers. Earlier today as I was waist-deep in finishing the process of weeding through the many stapled booklets of our students’ handwritten reflections, seeking small golden nuggets of wisdom and compelling stories — traces of God’s active work in their lives — I found myself fully absorbed by hers. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the 150+ pages of our other students’ journals, but this blog I will dedicate to the developing thoughts of a young woman whom my husband and I treasure more than she will ever know and alongside of whom we have fought tooth and nail for her salvation and transformation.

She is currently one of our top 8th-grade students in our small, discipleship-based homeschool program, and Darwin and I actively serve as her math, English, Bible and music teachers in addition to sharing with her the daily rhythms of family life in a large, mixed household.

The following paragraphs are separate excerpts taken from her 22-page stapled reflection journal written last month.

Dayana with her little biological brother Jason, who has also been living in our family since November 2013.

 

I give thanks to God because He has given me a big family full of love in Christ. What we do really well in my family is that whenever there is good or bad news to be shared, we communicate well…I consider that God lives in my family. We are all growing in the love and faith of the only King.

I have so many dreams for my life as an adult. I want to earn two college degrees: Architecture and Music. Another dream is that of helping needy people; be a counselor for youth and adults in accordance with God’s Word; raise children who do not have the protection of their [biological] parents; exercise the gifts the Lord has given me; be my children’s teacher and that of others; marry a man who serves Christ; be a writer or poet; write my own music; be a good wife and mom; show God’s love to the world; offer help free of charge to people who need help cleaning and organizing their homes; go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the truth about God; be an art teacher; be fully submitted to God’s will; live in England or Brazil (but now that I think about it, I will need to live fairly close to my parents so that they can take care of their grandchildren when my husband and I go on dates!); acquire love for my enemies…I can achieve these goals, but if they are not used for the good, it is as if they were never achieved. May it be God who guides my future and my dreams. Everything in God’s hands is good.

Knowing God and having a relationship with Him is not only about saying “I’m a Christian,” but about recognizing our sin and repenting with all our heart. I am a human being and fail every day, but I examine myself and repent. I love God and trust Him. He loves us, and we can prove His love because He sent His only Son to die for us. We do not deserve His forgiveness, but He loves us enough to extend His forgiveness to us. He is my everything.

I am studying at the Living Waters Ranch high school by my own free will. I truly want to be prepared to confront all that lies ahead in today’s world…If we look closely at the local public schools [in Honduras], they do not offer an adequate education, whereas here [at home] I do receive one…I am here to grow in God’s will; may God guide me in my learning, and may all that I learn be for His glory and in honor of Him.

A recent experience I’ve learned from was that of Sandra’s escape. Through that situation I’ve learned not to run away when things are difficult; God has not given us a spirit of cowardice. The whole situation was very difficult because I love her as a sister…God did great things [when we went to visit her the night she was found], and He used me in a great way. She talked with me at length, and I counseled her. I give thanks to God because He gave me the right words according to the truth in order to counsel her. If we run away, we are turning our back on God. Anything could have happened to Sandra, but God protected her. God is using the gift of leadership that He’s given me. 

…My parents have heavily impacted my life. They have not only been parents but have also been my counselors and teachers. They have shown me their love, something that not all parents do. I have had many struggles, but even so they love me. They correct me; they discipline me; they give me advice; they love me. Each day I am walking with them towards God. They have taught me to not fear in this world, to love others without taking notice of their defects, to walk in the light, to not lie, and to protect myself for my future husband…

My whole family is Christian by God’s grace. The majority of us have been baptized. We have all confessed our sin; we have repented. In other words, my family is worshipping God. Something that I have present in my mind and that we should all have present is that they [my family] are not going to save me when I am standing before God’s throne. Just because my family is Christian does not mean that they respond for me. No; we all have the responsibility to choose whether we follow God or not.

A terribly silly photo my dad took of Darwin and I with our 8 kids when he visited us in January (Sandra was not present at the taking of the photo). What a goofy crowd!

 

Please continue to pray with us for Dayana’s continued transformation and renewal; may she daily grow in her love of Christ as He continues to liberate her from the many chains of her past. Let us thank God for the powerful testimony He has already begun etching out in her, and may Darwin and I be granted great perseverance, faith and hope as we continue onward in our journey parenting her for God’s good pleasure. Amen!

Depraved Humanity Loves to Judge Depraved Humanity: A Word to be Shared

Last weekend I struggled through one of those long, sleepless nights. I tossed and turned, thoughts bouncing and racing here and there until I finally got up in the wee hours of the morning to use the little restroom that connects onto the bedroom that my husband and I share.

Arms outstretched to feel my way toward the open doorway as my feet felt about carefully in the darkness, I suddenly took three quick, bounding steps and shot out an open palm to flip on the lightbulb in our bathroom. My trip thus far had been a success, for I hadn’t stepped on a scorpion. In and around our house they seem to come out, especially at night, and have oftentimes been found in the middle of my nightly path, in our bed with us, or inside the roll of toilet paper. Every time I get up in the middle of the night my blind feet wonder if they’ll accidentally find one.

As I flicked on that simple exposed bulb, suddenly shedding an extreme amount of light on tired eyes, something else flicked on inside of me: judgment. In a tiny corner of our sleeping cinderblock house in the foothills of some forgotten mountains in a country very few people desire to live in, my thoughts took a direct, unexpected turn toward a certain situation my husband and I were witnessing from afar, and I began to judge the situation – or rather the people involved.

As if on autopilot, I began engaging internally in the act of casting judgment, and I felt justified (as all judges do) in my opinion. It was clear to me that so-and-so had done wrong, and I began playing that delightful (dangerous) little game of judgment as I ruminated on the very few details I actually had about the situation. Couldn’t sleep; didn’t have the mental energy to get up and begin working on the computer or read the Bible. But judge? Oh, sure. At any hour.

The one-sided court case in my mind jumped to the ‘guilty’ verdict after a split-second-long hearing when something suddenly pierced me.

They were words that came out of nowhere, that shot right through the chaos of the courtroom and silenced me and all the other lawyers who backed me up. The din of judgment calmed, disappeared entirely in an instant.

Get off My throne.

I suddenly felt naked in that courtroom, ashamed. I had assumed the throne that wasn’t mine. I had dared to pass judgment on those who are the same as I. Depraved humanity loves to judge depraved humanity – one liar scoffing at another’s lies, one big ego pointing an accusatory finger at another’s bold egotism.

I understood and repented, still surprised by how clearly that word had reached me. My shame and shock were immediately replaced by joy and thankfulness, for He who is on the throne is a perfect, just judge, abounding in mercy and quick to forgive all who seek Him humbly. Scripture even tells us that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, acting as a lawyer on our behalf! And not a lawyer seeking to condemn but rather to redeem, to liberate. Thank you, Father, that You are the judge. The only trustworthy judge in the whole universe.

Feeling humbled in God’s presence and assured in His love, I quickly glanced at the short path to my destination, checking one last time for scorpions. I then turned off the bathroom light and returned bounding tip-toe-style to our small double-sized bed and crawled up and under our blanket, still in awe of what had just happened.

As I curled up in a small ball, an old pillow wedged between my knees in the pitch black room, I thought it a very special occasion that God would speak to me so clearly and so piercingly. I felt I was to share that bare revelation with others and began wondering how. Was I to plan next week’s Bible study around the theme of not judging others, for when we do so we falsely assume God’s throne as if we were the judge, denying Him?

My thoughts ruminated on this one question of how and when to share the word I received, for I felt He had spoken it to me not only for my own instruction but also for that of others. The wee morning hours dragged on as I searched in my heart what to do. Surely this throne-robbing is a habit that runs rampant among the human race, causing division, accusations and inflated egotism where Father God intends sacrificial love to reign. This word must be shared.

The following day my husband Darwin took our 10 kids (yes, the newcomer Genesis from the other side of the country arrived safe and sound and Sandra is still with us, transforming our 8 live-ins into 10) to the nearby city of La Ceiba for a day of music lessons, paint class, a trip to the beach and a day of errands and fun as I stayed at home planning the upcoming week, reading page after page of our local students’ journal collections and generally getting waist-deep in administrative tasks that simply can’t be done when our kids are at home with us. Several times I considered in my heart what to do with the word God had spoken to me earlier that morning, but I sensed I should wait. He would show me when the time comes.

And, sure enough, when our old pickup rolled through our gate with several little (but actually rather big) people hanging off the back with bright neon backpacks and big wind-blown hair, I went out to greet our increasingly large family that I had not seen for several hours that day. The boys greeted me warmly along with our younger girls, but several of our teen girls (yes; we have many!) seemed put-off. I wondered what had happened.

Moments later, as everyone began filtering into our beloved little home with its large front porch, I found one of our girls in the bathroom close to tears. Another one seemed to be eyeing the sad one from a safe distance. Then, out of nowhere, a clan of three powerful young women came marching toward me and asked to talk in private. I could already sense where this was going, for we have been in (and successfully resolved) situations like these more times than I could count.

It had been a long, productive day and I was on the brink of sending everyone to bed for our family’s Sabbath Hour so that we could all get a little bit of rest after an incredibly demanding week (as they all seem to be), so I hesitated for an instant before finally agreeing to invite them into our bedroom to sit cross-legged on the tile floor with me and get to the root of whatever was happening. Better to get it all out and resolve the problem now rather that let it fester until tomorrow.

Our three girls sat down huffing and puffing, fire just about spewing from their ears as they began openly and rather aggressively sharing with me their complaints regarding their other sisters. There had been team-forming, back-stabbing, hurt feelings and the like. The balance of powers (and friendships) had gone quite off-kilter with the sudden arrivals of 16-year-old Sandra and 15-year-old Genesis, and now it seemed like each one was wondering where they fit on the totem pole and who their closest ally was.

I thanked them for trusting me enough to share all their hurt with me, and then I told them that I would be inviting our other big girls in the room to join us – those whom these three had marked as ‘perpetrators’ – for we have a rule in our house that if someone has a problem or misunderstanding with someone else, everyone involved must be present to resolve the situation together to avoid any back-stabbing, gossiping or further misunderstandings. This also facilitates the forgiveness process and allows for everyone to pray together for peace and for God’s love to abound among us. (This is a weekly and sometimes daily process in our household – facilitating healthy confrontations among irate siblings, sometimes taking up to an hour or two to listen patiently to both parties and then, once everyone is calm, seek together a God-honoring solution. These many, many episodes of conflict resolution have been a secret, powerful ingredient that has enabled us to experience ongoing, deeply rooted joy and love in Christ in a highly mixed household whose inhabitants come from dysfunctional, abusive families.)

So there they sat, all five closed off and ready to attack. Several cried. Each one took their turn to share their point of view. Without fail, each and every one said essentially the same thing, although they themselves were blind to that fact: I felt rejected by you, so then I began rejecting you. I saw you hanging out with so-and-so, and I misinterpreted your actions to mean that you no longer loved me, so then I closed my heart off to you and began rejecting you as I perceived that you had rejected me.

Nearly an hour passed as everyone began winding down. Each person had taken their turn – many turns – and they had said all they had to say. They still had a little bit of fight left in them but their strength was largely fading due to the intense emotional sharing. Everyone had talked; everyone had listened. This is almost always my cue to begin talking (once they’ve finished), so I looked around our tight-knit circle with a soft smile on my face as I saw tired, but open faces. It was getting late, and the rest of our household was already quietly tucked into their bedrooms as my husband waited patiently on the couch in our living room. He didn’t dare enter the female battlefield of roller-coaster emotions, jealousy and teenage insecurity, and I didn’t blame him.

I could read our girls’ faces. They knew that they had nothing else to share — they had already told me that — so they thought, shrugging their tired shoulder,  ‘Why not take a few minutes at the end of the battle to listen to Mom? At least we know she has good intentions and wants to help – after all, we sought her out – and we know that she doesn’t take sides, even if each team is actively recruiting her.’

And, as if in an instant of revelation, I suddenly knew exactly what to share. My experience with God the night prior in the bathroom. Were not our girls blinded by their own judgment, just as I had been? Were they not each grabbing at God’s throne, desperate to assume to role of ‘Judge’ so they could stamp a ‘guilty’ verdict on each of their sisters, when they had all participated in the same gossiping, the same emotional warfare? How can one judge the other when they all do the same things? Yes; this was the moment God had chosen to share this word.

And so I did. Carefully, and with great detail and focus. Our girls seemed captivated and intrigued, for it seemed as though I had changed the subject entirely. After all, I was talking about my own struggle with judgment (for they had yet to understand that it was also their struggle). What does Mom’s late-night trip to the bathroom have to do with me?

This apparent change in focus disarmed them completely as they allowed themselves to be wrapped up in the moment. My voice soft and filled with overflowing excitement, I told them, “All day I’ve been wondering how to share this word and with whom, and now I understand that God intends this word for you. In the midst of my judgment last night – swept up just as you are now, casting judgment on others without even having all the information necessary to make a fair verdict – God’s voice pierced my spirit:

…Get off My throne.”

A silent gasp engulfed the entire room as I believe that same word that snatched me from my own inner courtroom the night before likewise liberated our girls in an instant. For the first time in perhaps the whole day – in the midst of emotional warfare, hurt feelings, judgment and back-stabbing – each one suddenly understood exactly what had been at play. They had each assumed the throne that was never theirs to assume: they had observed a negative glance or the unavailability of their sisters and quickly passed judgment, stamped a guilty verdict, assumed the all-powerful position of ‘Judge.’

I continued. “Even the best of lawyers and judges – having conducted very thorough investigations – will never have all the details. Did you know that many people are sentenced to prison each year without having committed the crime they were accused of? There have been studies that have shown that some people have wasted away – years of their life gone forever – in a jail cell, but the lawyers and judges were wrong. Or biased. Or they simply didn’t have all the information. There is only one Judge, and He’s perfect. We can trust Him, and the throne is His. It will never be ours –“

13-year-old Jackeline, who had been extremely heated and put-off only moments prior, added, eyes wide and sincere: “…We must get off His throne…”

With that new revelation alive among us, quickly the girls one after another began asking forgiveness and we prayed together before everyone finally went off to bed with a lightness, a joy that was far from them earlier that day. I smiled and thanked God in my heart.

Since then our 12-year-old daughter Josselyn shared with me in the ensuing days that God stopped her in her tracks as she began judging in her heart. She came up to me with wide eyes and her unkempt black hair one afternoon: “God just spoke to me! I had begun judging someone in my heart, and suddenly I heard, ‘Get off My throne.’”

13-year-old Jackeline shared with me several days later that during a visit with her biological family members, the adults present began a rather aggressive disagreement, each one casting judgment on the other, and she spoke up boldly, “Get off of God’s throne! Each of you is judging the other, but God is the only true judge!” Her family members, who are not Christians, just looked at her oddly, but they did calm down.

I thank God once more for this word He shared with me, and I hope it helps you in your daily life. There is only one Judge, and He is trustworthy! The throne is occupied!

Amen! Glory to God!

Bringing in Lost Sheep: The Dangerous Duo Hits the Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He began walking faster. Away from us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen! Glory to God!