Thursday, August 27, 2015

Doorbells, Mailboxes and Water Fountains

     This past June I faced the unique experience of traveling to the U.S. twice in one month! Dates and commitments worked out in such a way that, after over a year of not visiting the U.S., I made both a personal and a ministry motivated trip within a week of one another!
     These back-to-back experiences, the activities in which I engaged, the people with whom I traveled and the amount of time spent in the U.S. led to some interesting feelings, challenges, blessings and lessons!

      For the first trip, (Lord willing I can share about the second trip another time), was a personal trip to Florida on which our three biological children accompanied me, which represented the first time I have traveled with just the three of them ever! The legal status of our other children makes it impossible for them to travel outside of Mexico and, not wanting to emphasize that difference, we had never made such a trip before. Time and circumstances, the Lord's peace and His provision, provided the opportunity to visit my parents in their new retirement location near my brother's place in Florida. What a joy to experience Grandpa and Grandma's (Dave and Diann Claassen's) new home, visit Uncle Dan and Aunt Teri and cousins, as well as have so many great experiences with Josiah, Caleb and Ruth; but, just as my heart rejoiced as I sat at the Mexico City airport waiting for our flight to Tampa, my heart broke by not having the opportunity to experience those same joys with ALL of my children!  Can't wait for borders, no passports, no visas, no guardianship papers!

      Despite the fact that Grandpa and Grandma live quite close to Disney World, we didn't even need to visit there because doorbells, mailboxes and water fountains provided more than sufficient entertainment!

     You see, several of those apparatuses, while they may exist in urban areas in Mexico, do not have a use where we live! Doorbells? Due to the warm climate (rarely ever below 50 degrees Farenheit nor above 75 degrees Farenheit), our doors stand open most of the day! Since we live on the top of a hill, we can see, and hear, visitors driving up the road long before they can even see the house! No doorbells for us!  (Unless our two Saint Bernards count as doorbells...they certainly advise us of any visitors!) 

     However, Caleb became fascinated with Grandpa and Grandma's doorbell! Every time, and I mean every time, he left the house he would ring the doorbell before coming back in! He even started going outside just so he could ring the doorbell!  Eventually, whenever the doorbell rang, my mom and I would look at each other, laugh and say, “It's Caleb!”

Caleb in front of Grandpa and Grandma's house...ready to the ring the doorbell!
     Mailboxes? Here in Mexico our mailman comes directly to our home, on a motorcycle, only when we have mail...which is usually once a month when our phone bill arrives! Ruth loved Grandpa and Grandma's mailbox! Most days we would go someplace as a a park, to the zoo, to the store, but, as soon as we would get home, Ruth would make a beeline to the mailbox! She became especially excited when Grandma asked her to mail a letter and explained about raising the little red flag!

Josiah riding bike in front of Grandpa and Grandma's house...and I see a mailbox!
     Water fountains? These definitely do not exist in Mexico as the water is not generally safe to drink. So, everywhere we go we have to take along water bottles. With a family of 20, that results in a lot of water bottles! Josiah found it a relief, and rather fascinating, that we didn't take along water bottles because there would be water the store, in the park, at the zoo, at church, in the library! We all knew that wherever we were, Josiah would scout out the nearest water fountain....and be sure to try it out!

Water fountain time!
     My heart ached with a certain melancholy, a certain longing, a certain sadness, yet a certain entertainment and joy to watch my kids be thoroughly enraptured by doorbells, mailboxes and water fountains....three items that formed such a normal part of my growing up that I never even gave them any thought!

     Those three items became symbols to me of the “left behind” as a result of obediently following God's call on my life to Mexico. As a parent, part of raising kids is sharing with them things that formed a part of who you were as a child and young person. Watching my kids' fascination with doorbells, mailboxes and water fountains, I had to come face to face with how different their lives are compared to my life at their age...not bad, just really different! Heck...they speak two languages and love hot sauce...two things I didn't know existed until I was 16!

     I would never, ever consider not following God's purposes for my life, nor regret having done so, just to have a doorbell, a mailbox and some water fountains around. However, those funny little things did cause a tinge of nostalgia in my heart (not to mention the bike riding around the block!).

     I wonder if Jesus ever felt nostalgia? Did anything here on earth ever remind him of streets of gold, or angels' voices or living among the cosmos....that He created? Did Jesus ever miss the throne or His Father's immediate presence? Did he ever tire of dusty feet or a grumbly tummy that required sustenance several times a day, rather than His self-sustaining Heavenly existence?

     I don't know. But, I think I can come to the conclusion that if we are to obey Almighty God's purposes, if we desire to be used to shine His light among others' darkness, if we hope to live a life that goes beyond our breathing years on this planet, then we might have to give up doorbells, mailboxes and water fountains, or maybe even streets of gold and angelic choruses'.

     Is Jesus calling you to give up any of  your own doorbells, mailboxes or water fountains?  

"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death
        even death on a cross!"
Philippians 2:5-8

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Beginning of Something Bigger: by guest blogger - Joanna Marshall

What a joy to have another guest blogger this week!  My heart sings to see those that the Lord calls to Mexico,obey His call and then share His marvelous works with others!  Today's blog touched my heart in a special way as Joanna's story reminds me so much of my own journey of God's call on my life to Mexico.  How rewarding and enriching to see the next generation (I don't feel old enough to be saying that!) of those whom the Lord is raising up for His service around the globe!  Enjoy Joanna's journey!  -  Julie Zaragoza

I barely remember the first time I met Victor and Julie Zaragoza, because I was so young. I met them in a little country church called Shiloh Christian Church. When I first met them, they had only one son, Josiah. I don’t remember what Victor preached about. Presumably, they were at my family’s church to tell us about their call and their dream for their ministry. I remember thinking that Victor talked really fast and I thought that Julie being able to speak both languages was absolutely amazing.

When I was in second grade, my parents left with a group from my church in February to help Julie and Victor build a house where they would be able to adopt children. My parents made the decision to leave my older brother and myself in the U.S. with the thought that we were too young to bring on a mission trip that would be mostly construction. However, on the way back, my mom told my dad that when they went back to Mexico they needed to bring my brother and me.

It wasn’t until after fourth grade, when I was ten years old, that I made my first trip to Mexico. The flights were a bit crazy and we did not arrive at the Ranch until the following morning when I got to see the one story house that my parents had helped build on their trip. At that point, it had 2 bedrooms and the Zaragoza's had six kids (I think). That week was spent shoveling sand into buckets that could then be dumped into a concrete mixer to pour the foundation for the building that is not part of the school. That week, I fell in love with the people at the Ranch.

After that trip, my family decided that we were being called to Mexico to live there more permanently. (There is more to that story, but this is growing long quite quickly).

My family made one more trip to Refuge Ranch in the summer after my sixth grade year, when I was 12. On this trip, which was also with a work team from my church, we helped build a retaining wall so that the dirt didn’t wash out from under the foundation we had poured two years before. This time, the Zaragoza’s had 11 kids, a 2 story house, and the foundation we had poured was now the school building for them.

When I was 13, my parents sold our house and we made the long drive down to Refuge Ranch and stayed there for 2 years. During that time, I went on my first EMMC. I fell in love with all of the Zaragoza’s, the land, the language, the culture, and the people here.  I watched in amazement as God allowed the Zaragoza family to grow from 12 children to 18 children during those 2 short years.

Now, three and a half years later, I am back in Mexico. I am 19 years old. Over the past week and a half, while I have been in Mexico, God has been moving in my heart and confirming what I have known since a young age. I am called to do foreign mission work south of the United States border. Even though I may have ignored Him during some years of my life, it is abundantly clear, and I cannot deny, that if I am to follow Jesus, it will mean living in a country that is not my own.

While on this trip, I went on an EMMC, and I was able to work with Dr. Ellie, a gynecologist. I watched nursing students put I.V.s in and learned a lot about the medical/physical side of things. While on crusade, Victor preached about being called by God. God showed me His mercy and forgiveness as I realized that I had nearly forgotten what His voice sounded like. God turned me around and pointed me in the direction of his path.

Pictures from Joanna's time in Mexico:

This is Joanna (on the left) with Jamie Musselman, one of her best friends, who,
due to Joanna's influence, is currently serving here at Refuge Ranch since last October. 

Ruth coloring.

Joel getting ready to clean teeth on the crusade.

The evangelistic clown team on the crusade with Victor in the background.

Joanna with two little somebodies!

Jamie with a little somebody, too.....David!

The Mexican mountains saying goodbye to Joanna....and ready to say hello again in the Lord's timing!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

From a First Timer....the Catemaco Crusade Experience

Welcome to our guest blogger....Sydney Butikofer from Iowa!  Sydney, a college student, was one of the U.S. volunteers on the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade (EMMC) to Catemaco, Veracruz during the first week of June.  It is always refreshing hearing from a "first-timer" about their experience in Mexico with Fishers of Men!  I believe you will be refreshed and, Lord willing, even challenged to follow in Jesus' footsteps, just as Sydney did!
I had an incredible and life-changing time in Mexico serving on this medical mission crusade, as it was my first time being out of the country and working on the team. We went to Catemaco, Veracruz, a city known as the capitol of witchcraft in Mexico. Included on our team were family doctors, dentists, nurses, evangelists, and a surgeon. I had the opportunity of assisting the surgeon. We even got our own operating room, which was very cool!
Each morning started out with a time of worship for the team followed by a message and breakfast. After breakfast, everyone set off to their own tasks. I, along with two other college girls, got to assist Dr. Karkow with the surgeries he performed. We removed many moles and cysts, along with other minor skin operations. Once we were done working for the day, we would go back to the church and hang out with the people there. I absolutely loved spending time with the children (even though they liked to make fun of my poor Spanish).
During our time there, over 1,100 medical services were provided for the people. Everyone who was seen then sat with a member of the team and had the Gospel message shared with them. Even with witchcraft being so prevalent, God worked in the hearts of the people as over 250 people accepted Christ, including some witches. It was so humbling for me to see how grateful the people were, especially since most of them had never had this kind of medical treatment before.

My favorite story is of one girl who, after surgery, told Dr. Karkow he was the best, to which he replied, “I’m just a sinner. It’s God who’s the best.” This is so true! God really used this trip, others on the crusade, and the people of Catemaco to open up my heart to a whole world of His people.
 Below, I have include a couple of pictures. 
Our surgical team: me (Sydney), Devin, Dr. Karkow, Katie, and our amazing translator Diana

Katie, Devin, and me spending time with some of the children of Catemaco.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In the Meantime....

Victor, my husband, is on an Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade this week leading an international, interdisciplinary, multilingual team of over 30 volunteers as they share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in cooperation with a local body of believers in Catemaco, Veracruz, the Mexican witchcraft capital of the nation. 
Here is some of the international flavor on this crusade: Dr. Bill (seated) with three American pre-med students listening to a patient's needs (seated in the white blouse) while our second eldest daughter, Diana (standing in white), translates.

In the meantime, back at the Ranch....I, Julie, am.....hmmm...I think I just am!

Me....just being.  (I had Alejandro take this of me just a few minutes ago as I worked on this very blog.  No staging here...this is real life in central Mexico on a Tuesday afternoon at 5:30 p.m.)

Victor and the team, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are pushing back spiritual darkness with the light of Jesus Christ in a town full of witchcraft and evil practices.
The team hard at work on the crusade in Catemaco, Veracruz

In the meantime, back at the Ranch, we are.....catching mice!

I hate mice! The first night Victor was gone, Caleb and I saw three mice in the living of whom scurried into my bedroom! So, yesterday, our eldest, Angie, went to the store and bought three sticky mice traps. (I don't know how to set those springy mouse traps.) Last night, I went into the bathroom...and a mouse ran into the corner. I quickly set one of those sticky traps by the door with some peanut butter in the middle of the sticky stuff and, within 5 minutes, we had our first mouse! Problem...what to do with the mouse?! The kids were already in bed, but Josiah heard the little commotion and came to my rescue, discarding the mouse while I looked the other way while standing on a chair. Two more mice promptly fell in another trap within 20 minutes. Martha, Jocelin and Josiah rescued me from those mice by discarding them while I hid on my bed. BUT...I still heard another one rustling about in the night. The hunt continues!

Insert imaginary picture here: just use your imagination for the mouse scenes. I thought I would spare you any actual pictures!

Victor and the team, through the truth of Jesus Christ, are leading person after person to the throne of grace to have their sins washed away.
Leonel (on the right), who is the youth pastor at our church, our daughter Martita's boyfriend and, Lord willing,  our future son-in-law, sharing the Gospel with a young woman during this crusade to Catemaco, Veracruz.

In the meantime, back at the Ranch, we do some washing, too! Dishes, lots and lots of dishes. Oh, and clothes too.....and sheets, and towels and rags! Oh, and faces and hair and fingernails and hands!

Victor and the team begin each day with group devotions where they hear the Word, sing His praises and join in one Spirit.
The team during morning devotions on Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, back at the Ranch, we do family devotions too! We hear the Word, sing His praises and.....well, let's just leave it that! The 'joining in one Spirit' part becomes a bit more complicated when the youngest kids fight over the couch during worship time.

Insert your multi-media imagination of three children trying to scramble for the same overstuffed chair and then having to sing a worship song with grumpy faces because somebody else got to the chair before them.  Sitting in the right chair is, after all, one of the most important things on the face of this earth!

Victor coordinates the team as they each carry out their God-ordained and God-given talents, abilities and assignments: from surgery to dental to pharmacy to counseling.

Dr. Leslie, one of our faithful Mexican dentists, working on a patient just yesterday!
In the meantime, back at the Ranch, I check the job chart for the fifth time in one day and look for the child who is supposed to be washing dishes. OK, got him....where did the dish rinser go? Oh, she got tired of waiting for the washer. Finally, good, let's see, we've got the dish drier, the dish putter-awayer, the dish rinser....where did the dish washer go? (hint: “dish washer” refers to a child who washes dishes, not an electronic home appliance)
Our 'job chart central' on the refrigerator.

So many times in our lives we can see where the Lord has placed others and desire their place of service, the way the Lord uses them, their circumstances. We can even get jealous about suffering, thinking that another person's suffering requires less suffering than our suffering!

Oh, for the ability to be content. Oh, for the ability to trust: to trust that God has truly created me...for this...right now. Oh, for the ability to believe that He truly is working out a purpose and good through all things. Oh, for the ability to see the ordinary as extraordinary and the mundane as holy.

Oswald Chambers' words recorded in “My Utmost for His Highest” speak to that need: “It does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God – but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people – and this is not learned in five minutes.”

Oh, for the ability to do drudgery for Jesus! And, oh, for the ability to see that drudgery as He sees it...and, suddenly, well, at least ever so slowly, we realize that it isn't drudgery!

OK, let me give it a try. My new opening sentence: Julie, home at Refuge Ranch this week, is leading a multi-age, multi-colored, bilingual group of 15 children and youth, while also coordinating a multi-faceted staff, as they work jointly towards the carrying out of daily tasks resulting in the teaching, forming, healing, inspiring, loving and shaping of the next generation of followers of Jesus Christ!

So, do you have some mice to catch this week? Then, let's catch some mice for Jesus! (And, in the meantime, wash some dishes, and mop some floors, and check some homework, etc..:-) )

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fishing for a Family

Our family recently returned from one of our favorite vacation spots on the Pacific Coast. A Christian acquaintance of ours cuts us an incredible deal to rent her place on the beach....just perfect for our family!

Within a few minutes' drive from the bungalows sits a salt water lagoon, one of our kids' favorite places to explore with its bathtub-like warm water, seagulls, crabs and shells galore! Since my brother introduced the boys to fishing last year, the lagoon has become a favorite fishing hole, especially for 15 year old Alejandro!

Alejandro fishing at the lagoon...first with a fishing pole and then the local way...with a stick, fishing line and a hook!

This year, Alejandro spent some time fishing with the poles involved, just a stick, fishing line and a hook, which they send out into the water with a whirling movement reminiscent of David slinging the pebble at Goliath. One one excursion, we arrived at the lagoon and began to lather ourselves in sunscreen. Alejandro, stick and fishing line in hand, turned and said to me, with a disappointed tone in his voice: “There's nobody else fishing!”

Now, being the expert fisherwoman that I am (ha ha ha ha!), I assumed that a lack of competition would be good news!  However, Alejandro quickly clarified his dilemma, “Mom, I was going to ask the other guys for bait!”

Alejandro had gone fishing with no bait! (That's a whole other blog and spiritual lesson!)

Always trying to teach our children the purpose of family, I calmly responded, “Alejandro, therein lies one of the benefits of having a father. Ask Dad and he can get you some bait.” At Victor's suggestion, Alejandro inquired at the little restaurant to see if they had any bait available. They ended up giving Alejandro some bait for free and he happily spent the next few hours fishing!

Thankfully, the spiritual lesson has lasted much longer than those few hours!

As an adoptive mom of 18 children, I have witnessed first hand, and felt in my heart firsthand, the difference between those of our children who fully embrace their place in our family and those who do not.

Alejandro, a work in process like all of our children, and each of us, still remains a bit rougher around the edges than most. He joined our family over three years ago at age 11. By the time he reached our doorstep, and our hearts, he had lived in at least 7 different living situations in those 11 years, including on the street, in a stranger's home, at various motels and in an informal halfway house for adult male alcoholics. Alejandro readily identifies Victor and I as his parents, yet, he hasn't quite internalized what it actually means to have a Dad and Mom. For example, if you have a Dad and Mom you don't have to finagle bait from strangers; you can ask Dad and Mom and they, within their capabilities and considering what is healthy and best for you, will actually give you the desires of your heart!

I began to wonder if we don't do the same with our Heavenly Father. We are adopted, too, you know!

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry,Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15

He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Ephesians 1:5

WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD! But, do we really embrace being God's son or daughter? Do we enjoy all the benefits of being a child of the Creator, Owner and Sustainer of the universe on a daily basis? We marvel at what life might be like as the child of a famous actor or actress, of the President or some rich oil tycoon, but I am the daughter of the CEO and CFO of the universe!

As an adoptive mother, I find nothing more heartbreaking, and at times frustrating, than to know how much I love each of my children, to know that I have fully accepted them as sons and daughters, and then to watch them reject that love, or that position, and the needless suffering they endure simply because they refuse to fully accept their adoption and live in the abundance that sonship or daughtership affords!

The Zaragoza Family March 2015
Front row:  Carolina, David, Ana, Ruth
Middle row: Fatima, Miguel, Victor, Julie, Caleb, Jocelin
Back row: Fidel, Alejandro, Lolis, Martita, Martha, Angie, Diana, Leo, Josiah
With Jesus in Heaven:  Danny
Alejandro's fishing incident illustrated this reality in a very small, and actually quite insignificant, way. However, upon returning from vacation, our 17 year old daughter Lolis upped the stakes by deciding to permanently return to her hometown and extended biological family. While we would not normally allow a child to make such a decision, Lolis had begun to act in ways hurtful to her life and health in order get what she wanted. So, through the guidance of both our Heavenly Counselor (the Holy Spirit) and the advice of our family's earthly counselor, we felt peace that loving Lolis meant letting her go! So, on Monday, March 16, Victor and I and Martita (Lolis' older biological sister and our third eldest), accompanied Lolis back to her hometown. We reassured her time and time again that 'once our daughter, always our daughter'; that she can count on us throughout her lifetime. However, sadly, she will not enjoy the benefits of her daughtership until she fully accepts the fact that she is our daughter!

As an adoptive mom, I know that my Heavenly Father understands me! How sad and frustrated He must feel at times! He knows how much he loves us and He knows all that He has prepared for us and yet then watches us suffer, stumble and endure times of  great lacking and suffering, not because He is incapable of providing for us or sustaining us, but because we have rendered ourselves incapable of receiving all He has for us due to the fact that we have not fully embraced our sonship or daughtership!

As an adopted daughter of God, watching Lolis and Alejandro not fully embrace their earthly adoption has spurred me on to more fully embrace, and enjoy, my Heavenly adoption and all of its incredible, literally out-of-this-world benefits!

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are a child of the King of the Universe! Embrace it! Accept your son or daughtership! Enjoy having God as Father! Approach the throne of grace with full confidence! Let's not loose out on being coheirs with Christ by asking strangers for what our Father is fully capable and willing to give us!

If you have never prayed to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and is the day! It would be an honor and privilege to help you become a son or daughter of God! If you would like to belong to an eternal family, then I invite you to pray the following prayer (or you can do so with your own words):

Dear God, on this day I come before you desiring to be your child. I know that I have sinned and that my sin has separated me from you. However, I understand that you sent your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross to pay for my sins and then brought Him back to life winning the victory over sin and death. Please forgive me for my sins. I accept your gift of forgiveness. Please come into my heart and life and be my Father! Thank you because I know now that I will spend the rest of this life enjoying a relationship with You, getting to know You and depending on You, and I will spend all of eternity with You in Heaven. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Shake, Rattle and Roll!

This year at Refuge Ranch started with a whole lot of shaking and rattling and we are ready to God's grace, in His strength and according to His will in 2015!

The Lord truly blessed our family and the ministry at Refuge Ranch with the visit of an incredible work team from Pennsylvania, here from January 10-17.  The team consisted of 10 high school seniors from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and six adults, including fearless leaders Jen and Beth, as well as Dave Moyer, his machines and guys!

Six years ago, the Lord led Dave, owner of a construction company in Pennsylvania, to invest his knowledge, time and resources in the lives and ministry of Refuge Ranch.  The land, and our lives, have not looked the same since!  Through connections at Volvo, Dave gets three huge earth moving machines which he and his guys use for the whole week to move tons and tons and tons of dirt, transforming our land to better enable us to transform lives!  That's where the shaking and rattling came from...the machines working actually make the windows on our current home rattle and you can feel the earth shake!

The youth on the team worked incredibly hard and painted the outside of our current home, as well as the other building at Refuge Ranch, which houses staff rooms, our school, the medical crusade warehouse and our dining room.  I thought those buildings were white, until they got painted!  Now they ARE white and look beautiful!

After that, the team finished pouring the last portions of the cement footers for the main house and even helped tie the first rebar footers, as well as bending lots and lots of rebar for the foundation.  It was amazing!
Bending rebar
Tying the first rebar footers for the new house!  (Notice: my Mom makes a great rebar supervisor! :-)
The new house with all the footers poured and the first rebar being laid.
In the two weeks since the team shared their lives with us, the Lord has revealed to me a parallel of the work done that week and the shaking up that He is doing in my own life.  On one of those first afternoons, our kids stood horrified as they watched Dave and his guys tear down the three trees standing in our playground area, dismantle the slide and swings and turn the only grass on our property into a dustbowl.  One by one, our children came to me with reprimanding voices, tiny hands on their hips, demanding to know what was going on and why I was permitting such destruction!  I calmly explained the vision of the new park: at least 5 times as large as the old park, totally flat and with sufficient room for the slide, swings, and teeter-totter, as well as new playground equipment and a soccer field, all with nice grass!  They stopped their complaining, but by no means were they convinced of our seeming madness.

You see, I have a very clear vision in my mind for what the new park will look like, and the utter confidence that it will come to be, so watching trees go and grass disappear do not bother me, nor does putting up with lots and lots of dust or the lack of a playground for now.  I can clearly see where we are heading and understand the reason for the apparent destruction.  Our kids don't have that same vision...they just have to trust!  Where the kids see destruction, I see construction!

I realized that many times recently I had come into devotions or near to the throne of God with the same reprimanding voice and my not-so-little hands stuck firmly on my hips as I demanded that God explain to me the apparent destruction He was allowing in certain areas of my life.  All I could see were trees toppling and grass disappearing and seeming nothingness replace what had appeared to be green and growing.  Then, one day, He gently reminded me:  He has a vision of what is coming!  He knows that to bring to completion those good and perfect plans for my life, there are other things that need to be removed, changed, and transformed first.  To my eyes, and my heart, it looks, and feels, like a whole lot of destruction.  Pointless and painful destruction.  Just like my kids felt that we were destroying their play area, I sometimes feel that God allows things to enter my life that threaten to utterly destroy me.  But, just as I, their mother, tried my best to comfort them that I have a greater, more beautiful plan in mind, and nearly begged that they trust me, my Heavenly Father knows that He has a greater, more beautiful plan in mind, and begs me in His Word to trust Him!

I know, by faith, that our main house and the accompanying playground will one day be finished, yet I really have very little power to fulfill such a promise.  My Heavenly Father promises to finish what He has started in my life, but, unlike me, He has the power to fulfill that promise!

In the meantime, construction, whether on the land or in our hearts, is just plain messy!  But, bring it on...there's some building going on around here and when the dust settles the playground, the house...and I...will be just beautiful!

"...being confident of this, 
that he who began a good work in you 
will carry it on to completion 
until the day of Christ Jesus."
Philippians 1:6


Enjoy these pictures showing part of the transformation process at Refuge Ranch!  I assure you that similar transformations are simultaneously occurring in the lives and hearts of our children....just can't take pictures of those processes!

The playground and new house area in May 2014...less than a year ago!

The playground and new house area being transformed by Dave and his crew: January 2015.

This is Refuge Ranch in 2008.  In this picture we weren't even using the second story of our current home yet.
This is Refuge Ranch today...literally TODAY (I took this picture this morning!).  The new house construction is on the left (incomplete in this picture), with the new parking area, the graveled ramp up to our current home..and the school/staff/warehouse/dining room building is just off camera to the right.

This is what transformation looks and sounds like!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Ships Passing in the Night

This past Sunday night Victor and I acted like two ships passing in the night!

My ship came into home port at 10:30 p.m., along with our five eldest daughters, Angie, Diana, Martita, Lolis and Martha. Victor's ship left home port the same night, but at 3:00 a.m. So, we shared the same dock (our bed) for about a total of three and half hours!

You see, the girls' and my ship had spent the weekend, literally, in the port of Acapulco, Guerrero!

Acapulco, Guerrero
The Lord gave me the privilege of helping lead a pastor's wives' conference, alongside of missionary Barb Conner, on Friday and Saturday. Some thirty pastor's wives from Southern Baptist Churches throughout the state of Guerrero attended the two day event where they learned about the importance of supporting each other through regular times of meeting for prayer, Bible study, fellowship and accountability. This greatly excited me as this embodies exactly what the ladies of the staff here at Refuge Ranch and I do each Friday morning. I would be hard pressed to fully explain all that those gathering times have meant for my own heart and life, my marriage, my parenthood and the ministry here! So, I enthusiastically supported all that Barb shared to encourage and train the ladies in that area.  In addition, I had the opportunity to share a session regarding finding one's identity in Christ (a lifetime message the Lord has placed in and on my heart) as well as a time of testimony of the Lord's working in my life and family.

My five girls and I with fellow conference leader and missionary, Barb, as well as the women's leaders of the state of Guerrero who organized these two events so wonderfully!

Then, on Sunday, the Lord gave me the gift of leading a one day conference for young ladies entitled: “The Power of Purity: God's Plan for your Sexuality”...another one of my passions (no pun intended!)! Forty-seven young women ranging in age from 12 years old through their mid 20's attended! We had a good time and I pray that the seeds planted may grow into strong and fruitful commitments to purity throughout those precious girls' lives.

The Purity Conference

The young ladies hard at work looking up Bible verses about finding their identity in Christ.
"If you know you are a Princess of the King then you will act like a Princess of the King and will look for a Prince of the King that will treat you like the Princess of the King that you know you are!"
During some time off on Saturday afternoon and evening, my girls and I had a great time at the beach, going to dinner and visiting one of the most popular tourist sites in Acapulco, La Quebrada, where divers free dive off of very high cliffs into the Pacific Ocean.

My girls and I modeling our life jackets before our trip on the banana! (Lolis was taking the picture)
Bananas away!
My beautiful daughters at La Quebrada!

Victor's ship, while in our home port all weekend attending to our other 12 little sailors, set sail at 3 a.m. Monday morning, along with all of the other Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade volunteers' boats. They soon traded their ships for a plane as they boarded a flight at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning to Ciudad Juarez for this week's crusade.

Ships ahoy....I mean, take flight!

The Crusade Team at the Mexico City airport ready to go!

This is the first EMMC that has required our team to travel by plane! For some team members, including our own Refuge Ranch staff member ,Vero, it was not only their first time going on crusade by plane, but the first time they had ever even flown! The Lord, in His faithfulness and mercy, provided tickets at a price that made flying even cheaper than having made the 24 hour drive with two crusade vehicles. Each of the volunteers paid for a portion of their own ticket and Fishers of Men, through generous donor contributions, covered the remaining portion, as well as other crusade costs.

Victor on board!

The Crusade Team deplaning in Ciudad Juarez.

Thanking the Lord at the airport in Ciudad Juarez for a safe arrival.
Arriving in Ciudad Juarez, the Fishers of Men team joined forces with the local pastor, Joel, and his wife, Amber, as well as other believers from the Villa Esperanza Church, as well as with Canadian volunteers with the organization Christlike Ministries. So, a three nation effort, Canada, United States and Mexico, has joined forces for something greater than even NAFTA! They have joined forces to share the Good News of Jesus Christ through meeting the physical needs of the people so that many may come to know the Lord in a personal way!

The crusade flier that was distributed locally to invite people to take advantage of this week's crusade and Sunday's special evening tent service!

After getting back into home port, I spent Monday cleaning deck here at home and reorganizing my ropes and supplies, as well as attending to our sailors, before we started our home port routine of school and chores on Tuesday.

I thank the Lord Jesus for being our anchor wherever He sets our sails and we thank you for providing the financial support to keep these ships in “ship shape”: fueled, loaded with the necessary provisions to carry out the mission with which the Creator of the Seas has entrusted us and conditioned to make the sailing as effective as possible!  (Remember: if you would like to financially support this "float" you may do so very simply on the home page of our website: by clicking on "donate" and using the secure PayPal system to make a one time donation or set up a monthly contribution, which greatly helps our budgeting and administration.)

Thank you for your prayers that sustain our float during stormy waters, that encourage during rough seas and that celebrate with us for each stretch of calm, each port visited and each mission completed!

While Victor and my ships rarely “pass in the night” like this past weekend, and is not something we relish, it was actually a privilege this time around because it was done in obedience to the Master Mariner...our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!