Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017...(dot, dot, dot)

2017...(dot, dot, dot)

Those three little dots after a date, or after a phrase, hold so much unknown!  What do they hold for 2017?  How much living, dying, joy, pain, success, failure, tears and laughter are hidden in those three little ink spots?

We may not know what those ink spots hold for this coming year, but we can know who holds each of the more than 31 million upcoming seconds contained in the dates whose commas will be followed by 2017.

"But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hands."  
Psalm 31:14-15a

The anticipation that comes with following Christ can nearly take your breath away!  Not knowing what the future holds, yet having the privilege of personally knowing the One for whom the future has already passed, creates a security beyond human comprehension and provides the freedom to move fully into a future fully safe in His hands!

Those of us entrusted with the leadership of Fishers of Men Ministries feel this sense of anticipation as we begin to get glimpses of what the Lord may desire to do in this year!  In upcoming blogs, I will share more about His moving here at Refuge Ranch, but today I want to share with you what we trust the Lord has prepared for the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades!

2017 Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade Calendar
(Local one or two day crusades are written in normal font; while bold font represents full length crusades.)

January 21

Iglesia Cristiana de Paz, 
Ixtapaluca, State of Mexico

1 & 2
3 & 4

EMMC Inventory
EMMC Conference

February 13 - 20

Comala & Remudadero, Colima

March 4

Chalco, State of Mexico

March 15 -18

Chilpancingo, Guerrero

April 1& 2

El Triunfo, Mexico City

April 10 -15

Durango, Durango

May 8- 12

Teziutlan, Puebla

June 12 - 19

Oaxaca & Puebla

12 & 13
14 & 15

EMMC Inventory
EMMC Conference


Jalapa de Diaz, Oaxaca

September 4 - 10

Uruapan & Lombardía, Michoacán

October 3 - 12

Los Mochis**

November 6 - 10


November 18

Xola, Mexico City
December 4 - 8

Cuautla, Texcala, Morelos

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness." Matthew 9:35

The Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade (EMMC) teams seek to emulate this verse as they take the good news of the kingdom to the towns and villages mentioned above, working through the local church and healing as many diseases and sicknesses as the Lord empowers them to heal!

Thank you for praying for each of these crusades: for the volunteers, their safety, the provision for all of the earthly resources required to carry out a crusade (anywhere from $1500 to $2500 for a weeklong crusade during which hundreds of individuals receive free personal care and attention), the local churches that host each of the crusades, and, most importantly, for each and every individual that will receive free medical care and have the opportunity to believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and find true and eternal healing from the greatest illness of all....sin!

We especially covet your prayers for Adrian and Vero Tovar and their son, Isaac, as they lead the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade ministry!

So, let's get on with the dot, dot, dot and see what God has in store for 2017!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Very Important Ministry News

Dear Beloved Supporters of Fishers of Men,

Greetings from Refuge Ranch! 

The Lord has certainly been moving, for some in unexpected ways, but we are encouraged to share with you His doings!

This past week, on Thursday, October 27, 2016, a group of five men who love the Lord, consisting of:  Pastor Kirk Hanger (the founding pastor of the church we attend in Mexico), Pastor Ruben Bonilla (the lead pastor of the church we attend), Pastor Dave Claassen (my father), Dan Claassen (Julie’s brother) and Adrian Tovar (staff member of Fishers of Men at Refuge Ranch), met with Victor Zaragoza.  Concerned with specific character issues, certain sins, such as pride, and other behaviors that have hindered Victor’s ability to be the man that God desires him to be as husband, father and co-director of Fishers of Men, they confronted him in love and in accordance with Matthew 18.  The confrontation was carried out with the full knowledge and consent of the Fishers of Men Board of Directors.  

By the grace of God, Victor acknowledged his need for restoration and help in these and other areas of his life.  Therefore, the group of men shared with him a plan for such restoration, including leaving the following morning to spend an undefined amount of time living with Pastor Kirk and Marilyn Hanger in Alexandria, Virginia where Pastor Kirk will mentor Victor, as well as Victor receiving professional therapy.

So, last Friday, Victor departed with Pastor Kirk to Virginia to take part in this restorative process for an undesignated period of time.  All financial support for Victor’s restoration is coming from personal funds.

The ministry of Fishers of Men, both at Refuge Ranch and through the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades, continues to be carried out in Mexico.

I will continue to serve as co-director of Fishers of Men, alongside the leadership of the Fishers of Men Board of Directors, as well as, obviously, leading the ministry at Refuge Ranch as the mother of our 18 children.  I will continue to build up our children’s lives in the love and truth found only in Jesus Christ, just as the building of the new house continues to move forward!  The Lord has graciously provided through you!  In fact, every Friday our family pours 8 more columns! 
Just a few more weeks and all of the first floor columns will be poured and we will begin to prep the site for the pouring of the floor!

Adrian Tovar, Victor’s very capable right hand man and Fishers of Men staff member, has taken over the leadership of the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades.  The remaining crusades on the 2016 schedule will be carried out as planned and we are beginning to schedule 2017, by the grace of God.

Obviously, we covet your prayers and continued support during this challenging, yet hopeful time as we anticipate Victor’s eventual return to our family and the ministry.

Please feel free to contact myself with any of your questions or concerns, but I do request that any communication with our children be limited to expressions of love and support. 

Through all of this we are confident that, “He who began a good work in you (each of us) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 1:6)

May God be honored and glorified in and through our lives!

Confident in Christ,

Julie Zaragoza

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Healing Rejection

Cleaning Danny's tomb to celebrate his third Heavenly birthday
This past Thursday our family celebrated our son Danny’s third Heavenly Birthday in the same way we have each year since his passing.  Getting up before the sun we prepared over 200 sandwiches, loaded 2 8 foot tables, 40 liters of lemonade, 400 evangelistic fliers, fifteen members of our family, one Grandpa and one Grandma, and two staff members in two vehicles and drove the two hours to Danny’s hospital, the National Pediatric Institute in Mexico City.

Preparing 200 sandwiches to give away

       Later that evening, as we reflected on the day, our ten-year-old daughter, Ana, made an interesting comment.
      “Mom,” she began, “the people today were afraid of being rejected.  So, when they would come up to the table, I would reach out with the sandwich towards them.  Then they would take the sandwich and say, ‘thank you’, and I would say, ‘No, THANK YOU!’.”
      A perspective packed with punch!

Here you can see Ana, in the pink sweater, reaching down to get more sandwiches out of the box to hand out.
      You see, not every 10-year- old would have the emotional perception to pick up on adults fearing rejection.  But Ana does.  Ana knows about rejection.  Ana still fears rejection. 

     Ana joined our family while she was still swimming in amniotic fluid.  I watched the ultrasound screen the day we discovered she was a girl!  I heard her first cries through the door of the hospital birthing room as her biological mother brought her into this world.  I breastfed her for the first time before she had even seen the sun rise twice.  Why would she know about rejection?
     Because she was rejected in the womb.
     Despite the temptation to choose another destiny, by the grace of God, Ana’s mother chose life.
     By the will of God, He chose us as her family.
     Now, by the love of God, Ana knows what acceptance is.
     But, the scar of rejection never goes away.  The wound heals, but the scar stays, just clear enough so that Ana can pour the soothing salve of love on another wound.

      Ruth, whom I carried in the womb, and who arrived in this world 9 months to the day before Ana, just assumes that everybody in the world feels loved and accepted!  After all, she always has been!  Ana just assumes that everybody in the world must at least have a small fear of being rejected.  After all, she always has!
      They both shared my bosom for nearly 2 years….the rocking chair….my nighttime hours….my heart, tears, laughter and corrections and now, 10 years of loving!  One still assumes acceptance and one still fears rejection.
     But, on Thursday, Ana, without even knowing it, took another step forward in her healing as she helped.
Ana, in the pink sweater on the right, helping to hand out sandwiches with our family.
     Ana perceived the fear.  But now, rather than succumbing to her own fear of rejection she could reach out.
     After all, stretching out a sandwich to a lonely and hungry family member of an ill child is sure to be met with acceptance!  It was the perfect exercise in risking rejection….almost no possibility of failure.  Assured success in reaching out!
      Hence, her resounding, “No, THANK YOU!”.  You see, the individual receiving the sandwich was truly grateful for the gesture and the gift.  But, Ana was truly grateful, too!  Without even knowing it, she was grateful for the opportunity to reach out and heal somebody else’s fear of rejection while, at the same time, healing her own!
      This little conversation began one of my own with the Lord.  Each time I visit Danny’s grave, remember his laugh, imagine his arms wrapped around my legs I sense the Lord whispering to my soul, “Thank you.”

      That is when I respond, “No, THANK YOU!”  Thank you for his life, thank you for his love and even, thank you for all you have done through his death.  You, Lord, were merciful to him and good to us!  We have known You better and now, each year, on Danny’s Heavenly birthday, many hear the Good News and have the opportunity to know True Life, Jesus Christ!  And, through sharing True Life, our children find fuller life…..like Ana!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Weeds and Seeds

     I have been pulling weeds lately.  You see, it is rainy season here in central Mexico.  From roughly the beginning of July until the end of October it rains at some point every day, usually towards late afternoon or evening and sometimes even into the night.  That also means that it is growing season…not only for the farmers, but for the weeds!

     We have two specific areas of Refuge Ranch for which I have greater aspirations than weed patches!  The first sits next to our playground and will one day be a grassy, beautiful soccer field!  The second is the ridge behind the new main house construction where, one day, our new dining room, kitchen and office windows will look out upon a hill of wild flowers.  In the meantime, there are weeds.  Lots of weeds.
Our playground area with the "to be" soccer field in the background.
The cow even helps me pull up weeds!
     So, every morning, during my prayer walk, I pull up 10 weeds in each of these areas per circuit around the property.   Along the way, I have discovered a lot about weeds and their roots…and a lot about my own spiritual condition!

The ridge behind the new house construction.
     Today I will share with you about my favorite kind of weed.  Oops!  To start with, one should probably not have a “favorite” kind of weed, but I do!  These weeds are the little weeds!  They are short, new, small and have little or almost no root system!  I can actually pull them up with one hand and even pull them up with the hand in which I am grasping 8 other small weeds that I have already pulled!

     Sometimes it is difficult to decide whether to concentrate on the larger weeds or the smaller weeds.  For several days in a row, I will concentrate on the larger weeds, which look worse, take up more space and prove more troublesome, rationalizing that the smaller weeds aren’t very large nor burdensome and can wait to be pulled.  Guess what happens in those few days?  The small weeds become large weeds, some to the point that the strength of my hands does not suffice to pull up the weed with the entire root system, when, just a few days earlier, I could have easily removed the plant, roots and all, from the soil with just one hand!

     While I cannot ignore the larger weeds, letting them grow nearly into bushes, I certainly cannot ignore the smaller weeds!  In fact, by dedicating due attention to the smaller weeds, I can actually save myself the trouble of having to deal with larger weeds later on!

     Oh, that my heart would understand this same principle!  How many times can I see a “small sin” lurking in my soul and fall into the comfortable and false conclusion that I can let it lie for a time?  Lord, have mercy on me when I come back to my heart’s garden and that little weed is now a bush, far too large to be discarded simply through daily devotions, but requiring the spade of a counselor’s assistance or the pastor’s accountability.

     Oh, to keep our heart free of the little weeds!  This requires daily weeding at the hand of the Master Gardener, Jesus, through the attention of the Holy Spirit!  Time, on a daily basis, spent in God’s Word and in communication with Him through prayer, will pull up those new, small, nearly rootless weeds without a problem….never to become bushy and bothersome sins!

     So, we probably shouldn’t have a “favorite” kind of weed nor a “favorite” kind of sin, but, if so, may our “favorite” ones be the small ones, the ones that have not yet had the opportunity to grow.  The ones that the light and love of daily exposure to God’s truth can pull up so simply!  Have you ever thought about the fact that EVERY sin starts out as a “small” sin?  On my walks, I have observed that no weed starts out as a large weed!  They all start out small!  If I can pluck them all when they are small I would never have to deal with a large weed!

     So, let’s get a pluckin’ by letting God remove those small sins on a daily basis and we won’t ever have to deal with the large ones!

     Now, quite the opposite of pulling weeds is planting seeds!  If you are reading this blog you have been a seed planter through Fishers of Men!  Whether through your prayers, your giving or having served here in Mexico at some point in time, you have invested in planting the seeds of God’s kingdom!  Some of those seeds have grown and are now producing fruit, which contains more seeds being planted in others’ lives!

     If I could only count the ways, but here are just a few!

Our daughter, Martita, and her husband, Leonel, began seminary classes this week in Guerrero so that they can be best prepared to serve the Lord together!

These are five of our children that served at our church's VBS this year:
(left to right) Miguel (music), Angie (VBS director), Fidel (kitchen), Leo (teacher's assistant), Josiah (sports)
When I was a little girl our family used "Our Daily Bread" booklet for family devotions.  So, it was special for me to be able to get sample copies of that devotional resource in Spanish that will enable families and individuals in our church to sign up for the quarterly publication free of charge and grow in their relationship with the Lord through daily devotions.  Several of our girls loved helping me hand out the devotionals!

Children's church last evening at our church where I had the privilege of leading worship with our children:  Josiah on the drums, Leo on guitar and Ruth and Carolina on vocals.
Ruth had the incredible honor of sharing God's word with the children....
and David the privilege of praying for his big sister before she preached!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Treading U.S. Soil to Plant Some Seeds

Victor and I feel honored and excited to be spending a busy weekend in southeast Michigan/northwest Ohio area to plant seeds and give God all the glory for what He has done, is doing and will do in and through Fishers of Men!

Our time will be divided between three dearly beloved groups:  the annual meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, my home church, Mayfair Plymouth Congregational Christian Church, and the faithful congregation of Grace Bible Fellowship in Petersburg, Michigan.

I always find it so energizing to tell God's story of Fishers of Men time and time again!  With good reason the Psalmist says: "Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits."  (Psalm 103:2)  How wonderful to remember His faithfulness throughout all these years and know that He continues to be faithful and that greater things are yet to come!

Stay tuned to hear more about the seeds planted, the seedlings watered and, we pray and trust, about a harvest brought in!

Victor and I at the Fishers of Men missions stand
The mission signs of the ministries represented at the annual meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. 

Victor and I with members of the Mission Society of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches

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 Heaven....no 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 family....to 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 fountains....at 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!