Friday, December 31, 2010

The Butterfly Effect Mark

For Christmas this year we found a nice little book under our family Christmas tree. It is a short book that you would expect to read in one sitting, but also a book that could change how you look at every day and every thing you do. It is called The Butterfly Effect and it is written by Andy Andrews. The butterfly effect is a scientific principle that can be applied to all aspects of life. According to the book, Edward Lorenz presented the hypothesis to the New York Academy of Science. Simply stated it says:
A butterfly could flap its wings and set molecules of air in motion, which would move other molecules of air, in turn moving more molecules of air-- eventually capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the planet.
I do not know how scientifically Mr. Lorenz made his presentation, but he was not taken seriously, actually laughed out of the conference. However, more than 30 years later, the principle was proven true and has become a law known as The Law of Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions.

I do not want to ruin the book for you, you should read it for yourself. But the premise of the book is that everything you do matters. Everything?!?! Yes, everything no matter how big or how small. I have said for a while that we need to pay attention to what we are doing because someone else may be paying attention to what we are doing. I know this is true here at Refuge Ranch. The smallest children copy everything they see, and the oldest ones question who you really are when you screw up.

It is really cool to spend time with little Danny. He repeats every word you say and asks questions about everything you do. Two or three months ago I was repairing a little wooden chair that had come apart for some reason. Many of the glue joints had loosened up, so the chair was in several pieces, which I had spread out on the sidewalk in front of our apartment. Danny, who is always interested in the current project, came to see what I was doing.

Danny checking out the pieces of the chair.

I told him about the pieces and how I thought they were supposed to fit together. He was very interested in the project and wanted to help. This is the point when I am put to the test in many projects, allowing people to help me. (I tend to want to do things my way, and have trouble watching.) Some of the pieces fit pretty tightly, so they needed some coaxing with a hammer. I had my long handled, 24 oz. framing hammer handy and that was what I was planning to use. Danny wanted to try it out too, so I showed him where to hit it.

"Hit it right here Danny"

Wow! He is a natural. Even with the extra large hammer, he hit it right where I showed him.

Danny making the repair!!

We continued to glue and assemble the chair until finally we had it all back together. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the completed chair with Danny sitting in it. He was too busy looking for something else to use the hammer on.

How does this relate to The Butterfly Effect? This is a time with Danny that I will always cherish. What caused it to happen? Was it one of the older children who sat in the chair and possibly leaned back, breaking the chair? Was it possibly because the person who built the chair did not use enough glue or nails? Was there a shortage of glue at the factory because the person who orders glue missed work? Did the person who missed work, miss work because his wife just had a baby or was there a death in his family? How is it that Danny came along at that time? Had he just gotten up from a nap? Did someone make a loud noise in the house and wake him up? Were some of the kids chasing each other and making a loud noise? Why were the kids running and making noise in the house?

All of these events lead to other events. It does not matter how small or insignificant an event seems, each event has an impact on another event. My parents gave us this little book, probably as encouragement and to make us think. The really cool thing is to know that God is in control. He can use events, even when we screw up, for the good of the Kingdom.

Have a blessed new year, making an impact with everything you do.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Monday, December 27, 2010

Transforming Refuge Ranch Project

Well, this is the official announcement of the launching of the Project: Transforming Refuge Ranch. This project consists of raising the $20,000.00 in funding needed to bring 220 power to Refuge Ranch!

This is the official announcement of the END of the Transforming Refuge Ranch Project because God has provided all the funds - all $20,000!


Praise God!

He is amazing and His people are too!

Here's the story: When we moved to Refuge Ranch seven years ago it was no more than an overgrown hillside. We cleared the land and the Lord provided for the building of our one-story home. At that point, in order to have electricity, Victor built our own wooden electrical poles leading from our house and up the hill about a 1/4 of a mile to our closest neighbor's house. The neighbor kindly allowed us to tap into his electricity and we would pay a portion of his bill each month. However, since the transformer was about a 1/4 of a mile from the neighbor's house, then he and his two sons' homes pulled electricity before the wires traveled another 1/4 of a mile to our house - by the time the electricity got to our house there was nearly no electricity to speak of. We could not read after dark and we would run the washing machine off of a gas generator.

Then, several years later we were able to get an actual contract with the electric company and have our own meter and electrical connection. However, the meter is now about a 1/4 of a mile down the hill and our electrical service is still very weak and undependable. We have three buildings running off this connection: Cirino's house, our two-story house and the main house, which includes the Marshall's apartment, the school, the dining room/warehouse and staff quarters. This means that the Marshalls do not have a refrigerator, their computer shuts down numerous times throughout the day, if the milk pasteurizer is running then nothing else electrical works, the washing machine cannot spin at full speed due to the lack of electricity, etc., etc., etc., - you get the idea!

Finally, this past year we were able to contact a Mexican contractor and begin the process of getting an estimate of the cost of purchasing our own private transformer and bringing 220 power up to Refuge Ranch. In the meantime, several individuals began donating towards the unannounced project and Ashleigh Weis organized the Refuge Ranch Cookbook fundraiser. We had not officially launched the 'Transforming Refuge Ranch" project to raise the funds, as we were waiting for the final estimate for the project and also wanted to assure that the proper permits were in place before we began promoting the project.

However, the Lord had other plans in mind! Within two weeks time, we received the final estimate, the permits were secured and the work team from Upper Deer Creek Church, who will arrive at Refuge Ranch on January 31st, expressed their passion and willingness to do all the on-site electrical preparations needed in order to hook into the new 220 system. We were so grateful for how the project was progressing, but were still in need of a little over $15,000 in order to complete the project. We did not even have the chance to officially launch the fund raising campaign, when we received a phone call from a donor who committed to providing the $15,000! How do you respond to something like that?! Thank you just does not seem like enough! When I asked to whom I should give the credit, the donor's response was: "Give God the credit!"

So, thank you, Lord Jesus, for your undeserved faithfulness and generosity! May our lives bring you honor and glory!

The goal is for the transformer, new wiring and electrical posts to be installed before or while the Upper Deer Creek work team is here from January 31 to February 6 so that they can have the honor and joy of "flipping the switch" and giving Refuge Ranch the electrical power that we need so that, with God's power, we can continue to transform lives!

We appreciate your prayers throughout this month that the Mexican contractor can get his part of the work done and ready for the Upper Deer Creek team's arrival on January 31st!

To God be the Glory!

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
Ephesians 3:20-21

Thursday, December 23, 2010 Lucy

Shell ornament to remind us of our time in Acapulco-made by Joanna

A friend made these for us when we got married

I made these stockings one year for Christmas
A friend gave me this carousel that really turns
Recognize this family?

A few days after we returned to Mexico, we went on a search for the perfect Christmas tree. We went to a tree farm nearby, without jackets, gloves, hats, or boots. There was no need for hot chocolate when we returned home because the weather was beautiful and sunny. Weird, huh?

Soon we were busy stringing lights on the tree and listening to Christmas carols. Then out came the boxes of ornaments. I love this part, opening the boxes, and remembering each ornament and when it was given or made, and the people who gave or made them.

Mark has quite a few handmade stitched ornaments made by his mom, his grandma Mac, and his aunt Ginger. My mom has also stitched some snowmen and made angels out of pasta. Each one is placed on the tree with reminders of their makers.

We also put up the ornaments that Aaron and Joanna have made through the years. There are the Santas they each made in 2nd grade from little flower pots turned upside down. There are angels made from construction paper and aluminum foil. There are snowflakes made from pipe cleaners and glitter. There are numerous ornaments they have made with their photos in them. They always make us laugh. And of course, there are the "baby's first Christmas" ornaments with photos as well.

I also have school ornaments. I have a stocking with my name on one side, and the year "1973" on the other side. I think I was in Mrs. Gotshall's class when a room-mom gave us those stockings. I also have ornaments that students have given me. One is a glass ball with black and gold paint inside and a Panther paw painted on the outside for the Pioneer Panthers! Mark has a Santa he made when he was little that is practically falling apart now!

We also have ornaments that represent something about us. I have a soccer ball from the time when I was a "ball girl" for the soccer team at Huntington College. Mark has one with Greek letters on it from his years in the Sigma Chi fraternity at Hanover College. He also has an ornament with a fireman on it that reminds us of his time as a volunteer fireman in Royal Center, IN. Aaron has one from his time spent in marching band, and there is a snowman on the tree that Joanna made during her time in Student Council. She also loves to paint, so she has painted pictures on some glass balls. We also have an ornament of the old Shiloh Church to remind us of family and friends there.

Probably the largest number of ornaments on our tree revolve around the Christmas story. We have ornaments with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, ornaments with the three wise men, ornaments with the shepherds, and ornaments with angels. Of course, there is a large star at the top of the tree.

Remembering the real reason for the season is easy when I sit and look at our tree. It tells the story of Jesus' birth, and the ripple effects that has had on our lives through the people represented there. The tree is full of memories and reminders of our Savior who came to redeem the world. The tree itself is also a reminder of God's mercy to us. We went in search of the "perfect" tree for Christmas, but Jesus died on the perfect tree over 2,000 years ago. And the perfect gift wasn't found under the tree, but on it! Praise God for the perfect gift He gave that first Christmas, the life of His Son, Jesus Christ!

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!--2 Corinthians 9:15

Merry CHRISTmas to all the world!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hepatitis A

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This blog (and the identical email I have sent) is to ask you to pray for our family and inform you of the latest developments here. About two months ago, Cirino's (our mason/farmhand's) daughter, Berenice, was diagnosed with Hepatitis A. At that point we were caring for her and her brother during the day while Cirino worked. Upon knowing the diagnosis, we asked Cirino to keep his kids at his place in order to prevent others from being infected. When Ruth got sick about three weeks ago she was then diagnosed with Hepatitis A. Despite our best efforts at hand washing, bleaching the bathrooms on a daily basis and even cancelling school an entire day and washing every surface in the house, school and dining room/warehouse with bleach, I was diagnosed with Hepatitis A and Bronchitis on Sunday and Angie was diagnosed with Hepatitis A on Monday.

You can read more about Hepatitis A at any of the following links:

Basically, Hepatitis A is a virus that affects liver function. It is passed from an infected person to another through fecal/mouth contact that can come from not properly washing one's hands, etc. Hepatitis A does not cause permanent liver damage. There is no medication with which to treat it and requires lots of rest and fluids to get better.

There is a vaccine for Hepatitis A, so anybody making travel plans to Mexico, at any point in time, should get the vaccine. For example, the Marshall family and my parents have had the vaccine. (We were wondering why I never got the vaccine, but the vaccine came into use after I had already started my many travels to Mexico, so it was never brought to my attention that I should get the vaccine.)

Here in Mexico, the Hepatitis A vaccine is considered experimental. However, after doing research, we have found a pediatrician in Monterrey, Mexico who can supply us with the vaccine so that we can vaccinate the rest of our family and staff before this continues to grow. Lord willing, the vaccines will arrive here tomorrow. The incubation period for Hepatitis A is 15-40 days, so even if we vaccinate everybody, somebody else could be infected already and not have shown signs of the virus yet. The vaccine will not prevent them, if already infected, from getting sick, but it will prevent this from growing.

Our family will not be going to church for an entire month, or going anywhere, as we do our best to not spread the Hepatitis any further. Once the month has passed we will be home clear because, if anybody else is infected, they will show symptoms within that month, and everybody will be vaccinated so that will prevent further infections. (Once you have had Hep A you are immune for life. Yeah!)

On a personal note, Angie and I have been put on bed rest for a month. I am hoping that as I feel better I can do a few things throughout the day, but total rest is very important for the liver to recuperate and for no permanent damage to be done to the liver. My blood tests also revealed low counts of just about everything: red blood cells, white blood cells, sodium, potassium, etc., which aren't strictly connected to the Hepatitis A, so it is important that I gets lots of rest. For any of you who know me personally, resting is not my forte! So, the Lord has His way of speaking to us! My theme verse right now is: "Be still and know that I am God." Well, I am still!

Please pray for:
  • recovery for Angie and I
  • patience, strength and wisdom for Victor as he cares for me and carries the load of the family and ministry, a load we usually share
  • patience for the older girls, Martita, Diana, Lolis and Martha, as we depend more on their help with the little ones, since both Angie and I are sick. This is especially true when getting kids up in the morning and ready for bed at night.
  • continued understanding for the younger kids as Christmas has been postponed. We didn't even have the gifts bought yet when I got sick last week. In fact I got sick the day Victor and I were going to go shopping. So, this year, Lord willing, we will follow Mexican tradition and give gifts on Three King's Day on January 6.
  • that our entire family will be open and willing to learn the lessons the Lord has prepared for us as we spend a month together here at home
  • strength and patience for staff throughout this entire time
  • for financial provision to cover the medical costs: Up to now we have spent a total of $1850.00 U.S. dollars on lab work, doctor, meds and the vaccines. The vaccine is costing $900 pesos per shot and we need vaccines for 19 people. Fishers of Men had an emergency medical account with a balance of $998. We have wiped out that account, leaving us no cushion in the event of another medical emergency. (Medical care in Mexico is very poor and is government run. There is no such thing as medical insurance here.)
While this is illness is bothersome and, at times, painful, the hardest part is not being a part of daily life - not being able to run to a child's side when I hear them fall; not being able to rock Daniel to sleep at night; missing meals, etc., but I am so thankful that this is an illness that does not require me to be in the hospital or on an IV, but requires simple, disciplined rest to get better. Thank you for your prayers that continue to sustain us!

Still in the Lord's service,
Julie Zaragoza

Monday, December 20, 2010

"The Results are In" by Ashleigh

I wanted to posted again about the cookbooks and the result of the fundraiser so that you all would know about it since so many of you made it worth while. As I was preparing the recipes for the cookbook I was praying that I would be able to sell 70 books. I calculated that if I sold around 70 cookbooks it would make a little over $500 of profit! Figuring that I couldn't just afford to give $500 but I could invest my time to produce it I thought it would be worth while. :)

So, with much prayer and effort on the part of those who promoted the cookbook for me I can very happily announce that we sold 142 cookbooks! :) I sent a check to Fishers of Men for $1,250 this past week! That was more then double what I was planning on needing in order to make it a successful venture! Thank you all for your support with this fundraiser for 220 power at the Ranch. It blessed me to see the enthusiastic response from all of you.

Thank you so much,

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coming Lucy

We are back at the Ranch after almost a month of time in the United States. It was a bittersweet trip for me as the first part of our time in Indiana was spent at the hospital with my grandma, and then attending her funeral. Many mentioned that it was definitely God's timing for me to be there for her at that time. She had two goals for the last few months. One was to reach her 96th birthday (which was October 26), and the other was to see our family. Then she was apparently ready to "go home." Praise God that "home" for her is with Jesus, and we can rest peacefully, knowing that is where she is spending all her days now.

We also spent quite a bit of time making presentations about Fishers of Men and our home here at Refuge Ranch. If I added it up correctly, and include Aaron and Joanna's presentations to the high school Spanish classes, I believe we made 22 presentations! Aaron kept saying that we weren't getting to do much "vacationing" on this vacation! We replied that it really wasn't a vacation! We felt that it was important to speak with as many people as possible about what God is doing in Mexico. I'm hoping, of course, that many of you will feel the call for short term mission projects, and come visit us here while you work! If you need any information about how to go about planning a trip, just ask! We are all willing to help prepare people to serve God here at the Ranch or on an Evangelical Medical Mission Crusade.

One thing we really enjoyed while we were home was all the good food. We love Rosa and her good cooking, but it is also nice to have some of the comfort foods we grew up with. Don't even ask how much weight we all gained while we were home! Mom made peanut brittle, chocolate covered pretzels, and other goodies to munch on, besides all the wonderful meals she prepared. Mark's mom also made some requested favorites of ours. I also got to do some cooking myself, which I don't do much here because we don't have our own refrigerator.

Spending Thanksgiving with both our families was an extra blessing we received while we were home. We got the traditional foods from both our families since Mark's parents came to share it with us too. We met our new neice (Luiza from Brazil is an exchange student staying with my brother's family), and reconnected with all the other neices and nephews who may have not remembered us after a year away!

We also spent plenty of time with our friends. This was interesting because Aaron's friends are now driving so they came to pick him up and take him out. Before, the parents were doing all the driving! Joanna's friends planned a whole weekend at Emma's so she could also see KitKat (Our cat that the Groff's graciously adopted when we moved). Mark and I also got to take some time to just hang out, go shopping, and eat out at favorite restaurants.

Lots of other things happened while we were home. We have a critter story to share in a future blog, a brand new baby was born (I have friends I graduated with who are now grandparents...How is that possilbe?!), and a new Walmart came to Logansport (It's a small town so that is big news!). I got to drive again, Mark got new workboots, Aaron got to help his grandpa on the farm, and Joanna got to amaze all her friends and family with her expertise of the Spanish language and learn some Portugese from Luiza. We thank all of you who greeted us so warmly and treated us so well while we were there.

It was wonderful to be home, and yet, it was good to get back home here to Refuge Ranch too. I sent Julie a message one day in which I commented about being "home," and that I would share more with her when we got "home." Home is now more than one place, and not really any place. We feel at home here, with the comfort of our own beds and pillows (Remember what it is like to sleep in someone else's bed and use someone else's pillows?), with our own stuff. But there are days when we miss home in the states too... when we can't seem to have a real conversation with people we care about because of the language barrier, or we miss a birthday or holiday back home, or we need some spiritual nourishment and can't understand the sermon at church! When we were in the states, there were days when I wished I could be two places at once. Reading about Thanksgiving here at the Ranch in Julie's blog made me realize that I hated missing that Thanksgiving too. Our first morning back, Ana and Danny greeted us with arms open wide, waiting to be picked up and hugged.

That is kind of how I picture it will be when we get to our real home in Heaven. Jesus will be excited to see us and pick us up in His arms and hug us tight! And we will truly feel "at home" because we will truly be HOME. He'll have our pictures on His refrigerator, and He'll have rooms prepared just for us with our favorite pillows on the beds. He'll prepare our favorite meals and it will feel like the best family reunion ever. I can not wait!

"But our citizenship is in Heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." Philippians 3:20

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Spoiled by God

"The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Fear the LORD, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing."

Psalm 34:7-9

The Bible tells us to "taste and see that the Lord is good." In modern language you could say: "Try Him out! You'll like Him!" The other day I was clothes shopping and the seller offered for me to try on the clothing. Since this was a street vendor my first thought was "Where?", but they can be pretty ingenious! He had rigged up a corner of his stall with some sheets to form a little changing booth. So, I tried on the skirt and blouse. He knew that there would be a better chance of me purchasing the outfit if I only tried it out. The place didn't even have a mirror, but the feel of a new outfit, and the approval of my husband :-), led to a sale for this vendor. You see, he knew that if I only tried it out, I would like it. The Psalmist knew the same thing! If you only taste, try out, a bit of the Lord, you will see that He is good!

I have already shared with you throughout the month of November the huge blessing that the women's retreat in Acapulco was, not only for the 141 women who attended, but for myself personally. I then shared with you the story of my best Thanksgiving ever due to the sacrificial love of two of our staff members and my children. But, this past weekend has led me to feel totally spoiled by God!

Victor and I had been wanting to take an overnighter together for over a month. Now, when I was growing up, my parents, on every President's Day in February, would go on an overnighter together. My brother and I got to spend the night with a wonderful lady from church, Marilyn Chinnis, who would take us cross country skiing and other fun stuff to keep us distracted from the fact that Mom and Dad weren't around. As much as I hated being without my parents, I knew that time was important to their marriage and, hence, to our family. I thank the Lord, on nearly a daily basis, that my parents have a strong marriage after 38 years together and for the example they were to my brother and I as to how to care for and work in, and on, a marriage. But, if we do the math, they got an overnighter once a year and had two children. I have twelve children. That means I get an overnighter with my husband six times a year, right? :-)

So, Victor and I decided to spend our time in a quaint town nestled in the shadow of some very impressive cliffs in the state of Morelos, about 45 minutes from Refuge Ranch, Tepoztlan. (We took several work groups there to visit this summer.) We looked online and found what appeared to be a nice little "hotel" and made our reservation. It turned out to be an incredible gift from God!

We arrived by driving over cobblestone streets that got increasingly narrower, bumpier and further away from the center of the village. (Exactly what we wanted- away from people!) We pulled up to the huge metal gate, knocked, and were let into a mini paradise! The hotel turned out to be a conglomeration of several different buildings spread throughout beautifully cared for gardens and lawns. The retired owner had lived on the property in his own beautiful home for several years, but, seeing the beauty of his surroundings and the cost of upkeep on such a large and gorgeous home, decided to turn the property into a romantic getaway.

Victor and I stayed in a precious cabin set away from the other buildings. (Check out the website at: My camera is broken and the website wouldn't let me copy pictures.)

I really don't think that I am going to be able to accurately describe what those 36 hours meant for me or did for me! God is simply just so good! We arrived and settled in, took a nap, went down to the village where Victor bought me three new outfits of my favorite style of clothing (long skirts and typical blouses) and a beautiful floral arrangement with my favorite flowers (Cala Lilies). We had a nice afternoon dinner with a gorgeous view of the cliffs, then spent part of the evening sitting in the heated jacuzzi under God's incredible starry expanse. From there, we retired to the cabin where there was a fire in the fireplace and ate pizza! On Saturday, we slept in, had a delicious breakfast, read for awhile and then went back into town to start some Christmas shopping.

God spoiled me so much that when the cook brought out our breakfast, she had served Victor's eggs with tortillas and refried beans and mine with toast! Here, nobody can eat without their tortillas. While I like tortillas, fried eggs are not complete without toast to sop up the egg yolk! However, I am very used to having to look after myself and hunt down the bread and toast it at home or, at a restaurant, having to order toast and getting it long after my eggs are cold, or eaten. The cook/waitress/cleaning lady came out of the kitchen and I asked for toast....she was already bringing it out before I had even asked for it! Do you see what I mean when I say that I was spoiled by God? He even gave me perfectly toasted toast without asking for it! I mean, really! God loves me so much that He made sure I had hot toast with breakfast! He is the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the world and He paid attention to my toast!

Without wanting to sound like Paul, but following his example: I have lived in Mexico for over 7 years. I have spent Christmas after Christmas, Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving without my extended family. I missed by grandfather's funeral. I have a niece who is a year and a half old whom I have never met. I spent my honeymoon picking up missionaries at the border, getting bit by gnats in Alabama (Lousiana? Arkansas? Who knows - I really don't want to remember the place.); rescuing a drowning man while wearing a white sundress and sandals; and outdriving a tornado. We slept on the living room floor of a borrowed apartment for our first week of married life, after the lovely honeymoon and then, the day we were to move into our mobile home, discovered the water heater had malfunctioned and the place had flooded. By the age of 21 I was helping my fiancee plant a church and was basically copastoring with him by the age of 22. I have done laundry for 6 by hand, hunted down medical care for broken bones, eaten cow's head tacos and watched the most beautiful sunrises over volcanoes and beaches. If you add the ages of my biological children and the number of years that we have had each of our adopted children, I have a total of over 50 years of parenting experience. (Check out 2 Corinthians 11 and 12!)

However, this is craziness, my intention in sharing this is to say that the last 13 years of life have not been years in the lap of luxury, nor a walk down easy street. But, in the moment in which I want to complain, or even worst, boast, I cannot - because Christ has given so much more for me! I cannot - because others give so much more than me! In the moment that I am tempted to think: "I deserve a bit of pampering", the Holy Spirit reins me in and nearly shouts at me: "Hold it there! Deserve? You want to talk about deserving? You deserve hell and condemnation." It is only by the grace of God.....! It is only by the grace of God that I am who I am. It is only by the grace of God that I am were I am. It is only by the grace of God that I do what I do. It is only by the grace of God that any good comes out of my life!

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I stand in awe of the fact that I deserve hell and condemnation, but in His grace, God offers me His love, forgiveness and eternal life. And He doesn't stop there! Not only does he grant me freely His mercy, but He gives me the incredible privilege to be an instrument of His grace in the lives of others! Then, not only does He grant me the incredible privilege to be used by Him (by His grace only), but then He spoils me like this past month!

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

This past month felt like living out Isaiah 35:1-2, 6-7:

"The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow."

In the month of November, God spoiled me by allowing me to watch Him work, and be a part of His working, in the lives of the women at the retreat. In the Sundays since the retreat we have started a women's Bible study at church. Thirty-nine women attended the first week and 56 this past week! Then, the Lord gave me a beautiful Thanksgiving where He touched my children's hearts to love me in a very tangible way! Then, God topped it all off by giving me an incredible weekend in a beautiful place with my husband, and touched Victor's heart to be more sensitive and attentive to me than he has ever been before! As I have been reflecting on all of these wonderful gifts from God I see more and more of them around me: every time one of my kids hugs me, says "I love you" or calls me "Mom"; every time Victor fixes a broken lamp or doorknob; every time Martha pronounces her English correctly; every time the sun comes up beside Popocatepetl and sets behind the hills; every time the phone rings and one of the kids shouts out: "It's Grandpa and Grandma!"; every time...., every time...., every time....

While God is sooooo good and has spoiled me soooo much, His goodness simply prompts me to want to be even better and serve Him even more!

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Best Thanksgiving Ever

It turned out to be, literally, my best Thanksgiving ever, in part because it was the Thanksgiving that wasn't going to be!

Thanksgiving, if you have never given it any thought, is strictly a U.S. holiday. After all, it celebrates God's provision and faithfulness in the lives of the first Pilgrims to our nation and the way in which He met their needs through the Indians' generosity in teaching local agricultural techniques. Therefore, no other nation in the world celebrates Thanksgiving. It is a day that goes by totally unperceived by anybody else in the world, other than United Statesens! (I know that is a new word, but that is what we are called in Spanish and it makes more sense than "Americans" because there are a lot more people in North and South American than just us!)

Ever since we moved to Mexico our Thanksgiving experiences have been varied. There were several years in which we did nothing. The prospect of preparing a huge dinner by myself full of food that my family is not used to and doesn't always like in order to share a tradition that nobody fully understood or appreciated was not my idea of fun! One year my mom was here, so we worked together on the meal and even made the kids wear Indian headresses and Pilgrim bonnets after we taught them the Thanksgiving story. Can I just say that the picture from that Thanksgiving dinner was of some of the grumpiest little Pilgrims and Indians that I have ever seen? Two years ago, U.S. staff member Ashleigh was here at Refuge Ranch, so I had a bit more help to prepare dinner and help to rally the family around eating weird foods for a holiday they did not grow up celebrating. Last year, the Marshall family had only lived in Mexico for about a month, but we celebrated Thanksgiving with enough food for an army and spent the entire day before cooking in preparation for the big meal.

The big question this year was: Will there be Thanksgiving at Refuge Ranch? Victor kept asking (I think he was worried about the grocery bill). The kids really didn't care, they just wanted to know if there was Thanksgiving to know when we were going to go get the Christmas tree. Becky, a Mexican crusade volunteer who lived in the U.S. for over 10 years, would call and ask because she has joined us for Thanksgiving on other occasions, since she also appreciates the day due to her time in the U.S. My answer? NO!

Victor would be arriving from crusade on Thanksgiving day. I was here at the ranch with only two staff members, both Mexican, and the thought of cooking the entire meal was daunting, especially after barely surviving recent daily life with so many in the family ill. However, the biggest reason for not wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving was not a physical reason, but emotional.

I didn't want to have to face my kids' indifference!

Our adopted children, before coming to our home, had rarely, or ever, celebrated anything, whether that be birthdays, Christmas, vacations, etc. While these celebrations are part of our life as a family, such celebrations are greeted with varying responses. Some children join in wholeheartedly. For others, celebrating now just reminds them of all the times they should have celebrated before and never had the opportunity to do so. So, celebrations are like pouring salt in an open wound. (These celebrations help cleanse the wound, much like salt does, but the process is painful for all involved.) Others simply don't know how to react to so much joy and celebration, so indifference and setting themselves apart is the easiest way to go!

With Victor gone on crusade and no other U.S. staff, I did not have the emotional energy to try and make everybody experience Thanksgiving. Well, Wednesday afternoon, our staff member Ana pulled me aside and asked me if I was OK. That was all it took for the tears to flow!

I explained how Thanksgiving was probably my favorite holiday because of its purpose - thanking God! I reminisced what Thanksgiving was like as a child - the most beautiful church service of the year and spending time at home with my parents and brother. Simple, yet beautiful. I shared how my parents were probably driving to church right then and that my brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece (who I still have not met in person) would be at my parents house the next day. I tried to communicate the restlessness inside me: I would not want to be in the U.S. because that would mean not being with my husband and children - my most precious treasures on the face of the earth. There is no where else I want to be besides Refuge Ranch, but that doesn't mean that there aren't times where I don't miss something that is happening back at my childhood home; or miss the simplicity of what I know others are celebrating, without all the complexities of having 12 children who aren't all related, who come from different backgrounds, nearly half of whom are going through puberty, etc. Besides all that, Thanksgiving is another "thing" that sets me apart from people here, a people I so desperately want to be a part of. My children, besides being adopted, have a Mom who looks different from everybody else, including them, who screws up her Spanish every once in a while and has a different perspective on life than many. While I do my best to diminish those differences, and the Lord has nearly erased them, there are times when those differences seem glaring - like on Thanksgiving!

So, after supper on Wednesday, Ana says to me: "I am going to meet with the girls and teach them how to use the new disinfecting wet ones." (We had bought some of those Clorox disinfecting wet ones to help keep down on germs spreading.) I thought to myself: "How complicated can using wet ones be?" But, I decided not to inquire further. About 10 minutes later, all of my girls came into the living room, along with Renata and Erika (staff daughters) and they all started hugging me. Now, as a mom, when your children simply come up and hug you what is your first reaction? "Ok, what did you do?!" I thought: "Wow, that was some moving Clorox wet-one session!" Then they asked me to sit down on the couch. Now I was getting really worried!

Then, Ana began to share how she and Magda had talked together and had then talked with the girls about how important Thanksgiving was to me and, together, they had all decided that they wanted to help me celebrate Thanksgiving - from the bottom of their hearts and with all their willingness! That was all it took to make the tears flow again! Folks, I don't think I have ever felt so deeply loved by my children and staff EVER! For my kids to willingingly celebrate a holiday, and then to celebrate a holiday that isn't "theirs", to go through tons of work to eat food they don't even really like - all because they love me and want me to be happy and loved - wow, wow, wow! I am crying again as I write this! I have been crying for joy for the last three days and am going to be dehydrated soon!

It was 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday and we had NO groceries for a Thanksgiving meal. As for the menu - no problem! It would be the same as all the years growing up: turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, Grandma Blom's cherry jello, Grandma Blom's corn casserole, Grandma Blom's pecan pie (wow, if it weren't for Grandma Blom we couldn't have Thanksgiving dinner!), and sweet potato casserole (something I have added as an adult to our menu). So, we went grocery shopping! Mind you, the closest Wal Mart is 30 minutes away and we took all the kids with us (except Diana, who stayed home with Magda and Angie who was on crusade with Victor). We got back home at 10:30 p.m. loaded with two turkeys and lots of aluminum baking pans!

Yesterday was incredible! From 8 a.m. until dinner at 4 p.m. the kids worked like I have never seen them work before. Diana, Erika, Lolis and Martha made eight batches of jello and corn casserole (multiply the menu by 5). Fidel and Jocelin made the pie crust. Martita made the pie filling and finished making 7 pecan pies! (She could go into business they were so delicious!) Josiah and Renata made the dinner rolls, 48 of them. Magda made the mashed potatoes and hot fruit punch (a Mexican favorite of mine). Ana made the sweet potato casserole. I made the turkeys. Why did I make the turkeys? Because all you do is put them in the special little turkey bag, put them in the oven and leave them alone! The more I stay out of the kitchen, the better for everybody! I am a much better supervisor than cook. (Besides I had to taste test everything first because I was the only one who knew what everything was supposed to taste like! Come on, somebody had to do the job!) Caleb and Ruth weren't feeling well, so they spent most of the day in bed. (Caleb is fighting a cold and Ruth is getting stronger everyday - an upcoming blog will tell you more about that!) I had the idea for a Thanksgiving tree, so Ana made a big felt tree for the wall of the warehouse/dining room (my craft talent parallels my cooking abilities) and, during dinner, we wrote down our gratitudes on colored paper leaves and taped them to the tree. (I will post a picture later of our Gratitude Tree.) So, Caleb, Ruth and Ana helped cut out leaves.

The Jello and Corn crew: Diana, Lolis, Erika and Martha (not pictured)

The Roll Crew: Josiah and Renata

The Pie Crust Crew: Fidel and Jocelin

Martita making the best pecan pies ever!
(As a Mom, no matter how the would have turned out they would have been the best pecan pies ever because my daughter made them with all her love.)

Little Ana cutting out leaves for the Gratitude Tree.

Big Ana making the Gratitude Tree.

Daniel, on the other hand, made a huge discovery yesterday. He came running into the house, pulled on my sleeve and asked me to go outside with him. We have a small picket fence and gate around a flower garden on one side/front of the house. He had figured out how to unlatch the gate and swing on it! He spent the longest time swinging on that little gate and dying laughing! It was great! One of his sisters scolded him, but I let him keep swinging for many reasons: 1) I don't know how much longer Daniel will be around to swing on a gate. A broken gate can be fixed, his broken heart may not be able to be fixed. So, let his broken heart enjoy a gate, even if the gate breaks. (This same logic does not apply to teeth brushing, picking up toys and other non-negotiables!) 2) He was so overjoyed at his discovery I couldn't dampen that joy with a "no." 3) I remember swinging on the gate at Grandpa and Grandma's farm and it filled my heart with joy, wonder and awe to remember being a little blondie, visiting the farm in Minnesota, never imagining the day that I would be all grown up, watching my adopted son, a little brownie, swing on a gate in Mexico! I mean, is God crazy or what? Watching something as simple as swinging on a gate come full circle was more an act of worship and awe at God's ways and I didn't want to interrupt such a holy moment!

Back to Thanksgiving: I called Victor as he and the team travelled back home from Veracruz yesterday and told him we were going to have Thanksgiving! He had planned on dropping off some of the team members closer to Mexico City, but we asked him to bring them all on out to the Ranch - including Becky! At 3:30 the kids were all bathed and looking handsome, when the team arrived and were invited to sit down to their first ever Thanksgiving meal. I shared the story about Thanksgiving and then the even more touching story of how yesterday's meal was really a love offering from my children (more tears!). More than 35 of us sat down to the most wonderful Thanksgiving meal ever!

As a teenager, I had always wanted to invite people over for Thanksgiving, people who had no place to go. But, as a pastor's daughter, after Dad had given and given and given, he needed home to be a peaceful and quiet place...and he was right. But, good thing that I grew up in a peaceful and quiet home because those would not be two words used to describe our home now!

This Thanksgiving was a dream come true:
  • in Mexico where I was always meant to live and be
  • with the 12 most wonderful children on the face of this earth
  • Victor arrived from doing the work God has called him/us to do despite all he had been and done in his life before Christ
  • sharing the table with wonderful staff and volunteers
  • having Thanksgiving dinner with over 35 people present!
  • best of all - my kids all had genuine smiles on their faces while they ate food they aren't used to for a holiday they hadn't known while growing up - all because they love their Mommy with the love of Christ!

The food was excellent, the fellowship was sweet, our Gratitude Tree is full of colorful fall leaves and my heart doesn't fit in my chest. Thank you, Jesus!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Harvest Time!

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:36-38

"Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." John 4:35

It has been harvest time around here lately in so many ways! First of all, it is fall and is literally, in the physical sense of the word, harvest time! Here in Mexico harvest is done the old-fashioned way by putting cornstalks in cornshocks (is that the right word?) - tepee-like structures. There is nothing more beautiful than a bright blue fall sky and a field full of cornshocks - wow!

I have experienced several other types of harvests in the last week. A little over a week ago I attended and helped lead a women's retreat for our church - Mujer de Gracia (Woman of Grace). This began as a women's retreat for ladies from our church, but the Lord exploded it into something so much bigger! Over 140 women attended the retreat, which was held in Acapulco, Guerrero!

All of the women praising the Lord on the beach during devotions Sunday morning!

There are truly not words to describe all that the Lord did that weekend! I had read the verses that I printed above throughout my whole life. But, up to now, my experience with spiritual harvests had included a whole lot of hard work and perseverance. If I have learned anything from my Dad, a pastor, it has been perseverance as he has stayed at the same church for over 35 years, faithfully serving during ups and downs, times of great growth, slow growth and no growth; getting up every morning at 5 a.m. to diligently follow his call to write and then receive reject letter after reject letter from publishing houses. My ministry experience has been much the same - sharing the Gospel with individuals numerous times until they finally accept the Lord, then walking with them as they slowly grow in the Lord, tripping as they go.

However, this women's retreat was a new experience in harvesting for the Lord! It was as if the Holy Spirit had been working on these ladies' hearts for years and they were just waiting for somebody to come along and pick the fruit! And pick fruit we did! Over 25 ladies accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior FOR THE FIRST TIME and 8 of them were baptized in the Pacific Ocean during our devotions on Sunday morning!

Victor and Daniel Caceres baptizing together.

The eight women that were baptized praying after their baptism.

Many of the ladies who made decisions for Christ had heard the Gospel before, on numerous occasions, from family members and friends, but had had hard and callous hearts towards the Lord. Several didn't even want to go to the retreat, but did so because it was a cheap vacation in Acapulco. Others went on the retreat with the intention of going to bars and dance halls while in Acapulco! But, did they ever get the surprise of their lives when the Holy Spirit moved in their hearts and they ended up accepting Jesus Christ! The women were so hungry for love, God's love! It was sheer joy to dish up hugs, encouragement and God's healing Word in abundance!

Me giving morning devotions to the women on the beach! Now that was fun!

The women truly were "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd". Many come from abusive childhoods and are now married to abusive and alcoholic men. One woman came after her husband just left her for another man! Another woman's husband just left her for another woman, while her two sons are homosexuals - one was just married and is a transvestite and the other is in prison. Another told me about accompanying her husband to the table dance bar in desperation that he would accept and love her!

However, its was incredible to watch the transformation that took place in their lives, hearts and faces in only 4 days! They left the retreat with Jesus as their shepherd - no longer lost and wandering, but full of purpose, direction, hope, joy, peace and love! Praise the Lord!

The retreat also gave me the opportunity to harvest several other kinds of harvests! One was with my own children. Adrian, Vero and Ana (three staff members) stayed at home with the kids and....the kids did great! When I have left on other occasions, that has not always been the case, but I felt like the fact that things went smoothly at home was a harvest of having sown love and security into our children's lives over the years, as well as having sown the vision to love the children in our staff's lives.

I was actually the fruit of the third type of harvest. Our main conference speaker at the retreat was Martelisa Caceres. She and her husband Daniel worked for the Indiana State Baptist Convention when Victor and I were pastoring in Logansport, IN (from 1997-2003). Daniel was Victor's supervisor, but came to be like Victor's father. Both Daniel and Martelisa came to Acapulco last week and Victor and I were able to spend some time with them. I told them that all that the Lord was doing in the women's retreat was also a harvest of the time and effort that they had invested in our lives by mentoring, teaching and loving us when we were in Indiana. It was an honor to have them present and witness the way the Lord used Victor and I through the retreat.

Martelisa and Daniel Caceres with Victor and myself

This same type of harvest applies to my own parents. Had it not been for the years and years that they faithfully planted the seeds of God's word, His purposes and plans, and true love in my heart and life as a little girl, I would not be the woman that I am today. Not to even mention the fact that they continue to plant seeds of encouragement in my life on nearly a daily basis, along with consistent and fervent prayer, that I can be a faithful servant of the Lord - like they have been and are!

Finally, the last harvest that I witnessed was a precious gift from God just for me! There are times in our lives when the Lord truly pampers us - not as spoiled children, but as faithful servants. After leaving Logansport over 7 years ago to follow God's call on our lives to come to Mexico, I doubted I would ever have women friends like I had in Logansport. We live over an hour from our church here in Mexico and the simple fact of raising 12 children and coordinating a ministry takes up most of my time! However, in the planning and preparation for this retreat God has blessed me with three wonderful women - all very unique and in different places with the Lord, but who love me dearly and whom I have grown to love - FRIENDS! Yeah! The Lord also blessed me with showers of encouragement from the many ladies who attended the retreat. This year has been a very difficult year emotionally, and their words of love and encouragement were truly a balm from Heaven, a salve for my soul and I cannot thank my Heavenly Father enough for such a special, undeserved and precious gift from Him!

So, run, go and find the harvest! It truly is waiting - just for you!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"220 Power at Refuge Ranch" by Ashleigh

For those of you who are newer to the blog let me kntroduce myself. My name is Ashleigh Weis. I lived at Refuge Ranch for over two years and returned to the states this past spring. Since then I have been working on different fundraisers in the attempt of helping raise the $16,000 needed for 220 power at Refuge Ranch. I talked to Julie about posting on the blog my most recent idea in order to better spread the word and she thought it was a good idea! :)

In the last couple of months I have created a Refuge Ranch cookbook. This fundraiser is specifically for 220 power as I stated before. There is a HUGE need for 220 power at the Ranch. Everyday life is weighed down because there isn’t sufficient power to operate efficiently. Laundry is done almost by hand for over 25 people. They have the laundry room ready to use but they do not have the power to run the washing machines they need. They also have a computer for the children to use for school but at this time they can’t turn it on because the power isn’t consistent enough to keep it on. Another big project at the Ranch is the need for a well but they wouldn’t be able to pump the water from the well unless they have 220 power!

So with that in mind let me tell you a little bit more about the cookbook. The majority of the recipes are authentic Mexican cuisine from Rosa’s gift in cooking. A few American recipes that were well loved at the Ranch are also in the cookbook. There is just about 50 recipes total and I am selling them for $15 (plus S&H for those I have to mail individually). (There are some pictures below of the cookbook to give you an idea on what it looks like.) Some of the recipes include (but are not limited to):

- Arroz con Leche (Rice Milk)

- Granola

- Chicken in Poblano Cream Sauce

- Empanadas (Fried Bread Pockets)

- Tacos

- Tostadas

- Rosa’s Chicken Burgers

- Guacamole

- Apple Carrot Salad

- Zucchini in Cream

So, for those of you who have been to Mexico and know what an amazing cook Rosa is you know what a great opportunity this is. For those of you who have friends and family who love to cook or love authentic Mexican food this is the perfect Christmas present! If anyone would like to buy a cookbook (or a few) please send a check made out to me to my home address which is:

Ashleigh Weis

530 Gish Rd.

Rittman, OH 44270

Please include your name and home address so I can mail the cookbook back to you when the order comes in. Each cookbook is $15 and I am asking for $2.50 for the shipping of one book and a $1 shipping for each additional book. Please note: I will be making the final order on Monday, November 15th. I need to at least know your check is in the mail by then and how many cookbooks you want. If you have any questions feel free to email me at



PS - If you live near Norma Humphrey, Emy Bridge, Debbie Firebaugh, Corrine Sattler, or Diann Claassen see them about your order because they will all be collecting orders for me at their churches. (That way you wouldn’t need to pay the shipping cost.)

Front Cover

Two Page Spread


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

God at Lucy

Leslie brushing teeth after a cleaning
Isabel checking eyes
Amelia and Rosa clowning around
Erika showering the kids with confetti
Becky and Mark pray
Someone reading one of the books we pass out to the kids
Lisa taking a blood pressure reading
"Hold me!"
Haircuts in hot weather
Joanna using her creativity on a different kind of canvas!
Aaron and Mark make the kids laugh
Josiah in the train that Mark and Adrian built,
and Rosa and many others finished the night before we left on crusade!
Leonel praying with a woman accepting Christ as Savior
Children are hungry for the good news about Jesus
Gisela checking a patient
Ana cutting hair, lots of it!
Some of our first patients

We just returned from an EMMC to Guerrero on Sunday. We are still processing the things that we experienced on this crusade. Watching God at work is always a joy to watch, and taking pictures to share with others that same joy, is priceless. I couldn't wait to load the photos on the computer to share with all of you. This crusade was different from the first one we went on together as a family in February. Victor sent us to nice homes where we slept in "luxury" the first time (Break us in gently, I think!). This time we slept in a room we shared with cockroaches. After turning the lights off the first night, within 5 minutes, I had cockroaches in my hair. We slept with the lights on the rest of the nights in that room! I kept praying, "Okay, God. What are you trying to teach me through this?" I knew we could tell Victor, and he would probably move us if we wished, but I knew the people we were staying with were giving us the best they could. It was a sacrifice for them to allow us to stay in that room of their home. They owned a little store and gave us a big bottle of water the first night to help us out. The last day they let the kids take a couple of Cokes. They drove us back and forth to the church every day. They sacrificed for us to do what God called us to do there. Now I know that if I had to do that again, I could. I wonder where Victor will put us next time? God was at work!

We have changed since we went on our last crusade. Watching Aaron and Joanna interact with the people we met was amazing. Aaron was walking around "high-fiving" all the kids and goofing around with the staff. Joanna was helping the doctors get patients from one place to another, answering questions, interpreting for those of us who still can't speak the language! She was awesome! Holding the hand of an elderly woman to make sure she didn't fall, or holding a baby while his mama got some medical attention. God was at work!

Aaron, Joanna, and Mark all did clowning for the children's activities. I was going to, but then who would have taken all the pictures of the clowns? I decided to stick with what I do best! Plus I could see the makeup melting off their faces! Joanna interpreted for Emy and then they all did a skit that made the kids laugh. Mission accomplished! God was at work!

We did things we never imagined we would be doing on this crusade. We might think, "How can God use me on a crusade? I'm not a doctor, or dentist, or optometrist, or hair stylist, or evangelist, or I don't speak the language." So what? All God needs is a willing heart! He will use us to bring glory to His name if we let Him. It's so amazing to watch Him work through my family and wonder where He will take us someday to continue bringing the good news of Christ to a hurting world. God is at work!

After all the hard work, and a road so bumpy I thought I might be sick, we also experienced God's blessings so greatly we were overwhelmed. Victor had planned for us to sleep on the beach one night in between crusade locations. A woman at the first church found out about it, and told him we could stay at her place by the ocean. She rents this home to Americans on vacation. Never in our wildest dreams, would we have ever thought God would bless us like He did while we were there. We stayed in nice rooms with a pool nearby and the ocean just a short walk from the house. It was all so beautiful! The sunset was gorgeous, and we had a baptism for Ana, who had come on her first crusade. We were just overwhelmed. At one point, watching the sun set, Mark said, "I don't deserve this," and He was right. We don't. But God loves us anyway! And He is at work!

"Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; They will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness." Psalm 145:3-7

Enjoying God's blessings
Ana's baptism

Flying over the waves

Butterflies and Blessings