Sunday, February 28, 2010

"News from Acapulco" by Ashleigh

I didn`t know how posible it was going to be to post while we were in Acapulco and I didn´t even think to talk to Julie about it. (Julie, I am going to post if I can, ok?) :)

Please give me grace as I am typing on a Spanish keyboard which is significantly different.

We finished up the crusade this morning and I would say it went really well. Everyone has their own stories to tell and memorable moments. I will try not to spoil any of those for them. I some how missed the fact that this crusade was taking place right outside of Acapulco. In the flurry of being home and the then flying back in time for the crusade I think I missed that. I knew it was going to be on the coast and north of Acapulco but I didn´t know that we would be staying within the city. No doubt that many of you wonder why we are doing a crusade here and not somewhere more impoverished. The answer is easy...the Acapulco Amercians know consists of a long strip of road near the bay where all of the lights and glamour are for the tourists. It isn`t that far away and we find plenty of need for ministry.

I wish I could include some pictures for you but I didn`t bring my camera and I am using the computer of my gracious hosts here. I will leave the picture post to the Marshall`s as Lucy was the official photographer.

I think that one of the things that makes this trip memorable for me was the earthquake in Chile and the threat of a tsunami here in Mexico. I heard about it right before breakfast Saturday morning but it took me until 11am ato put together that I am standing within a half mile of the ocean. Yep, I sometimes can be a little slow! :) It finally made sense why several of the ladies in the kitchen with us seemed a little on edge. Rosa, in her soft sweet way, kept reminding them that God had everything under control and can be trusted with whatever may come. They seemed reassured by her steady constant faith in our great God. I found myself contemplating what it would be like to experience something like that and praying that God didn`t bring the crusade staff here for disaster relief. I couldn`t help but think about the story of Lot and how he prayed for God to spare the city if there were just 5 rightous people within it`s walls.

Something else that will make this week stand out to me was my time spent in the kitchen. There was always four or five of us working away. The other women would chatter among themselves and visit and exhort one another in the Lord and it was just amazing to see the heart of their culture like that. At the first place we ministered we were asked if we could feed the people from the local church that were helping us. It was and addition of aprox. 15 people but Rosa`s immediate response was, `God will multiply`. What constant faith. And we always had more food then we needed...for He does supply!

At one point I stepped out of the kitchen and walked around to see if anyone need a cup of cold water or something and I found myself standing in the middle of the bustle around me overwhelmed and brought near to tears at all that God was choosing to do through this group of dedicated and loving people. I felt so insignificant in a good way...when you know that He is doing it all and you are humbled at just getting to watch up close and personal!

Well, I would love to keep sharing stories but the Spanish keyboard is driving me nuts! I am sure that there will be more posts of this nature to stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Home Alone...Well, Maybe Not!

Tuesday morning the kids and I gathered on the porch to wave goodbye to Victor and the nearly 30 Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade volunteers as they pulled out on their way to the fourth crusade of this year! Fishers of Men has held one local crusade in Texcoco, located just outside of Mexico City; another emergency relief local crusade to respond to the flooding in Chalco, also on the outskirts of Mexico City; and a week long crusade to the state of Veracruz.
Vehicle #1 pulling out of the driveway - the black cab and a half pick up truck loaded with all the medical supplies.

Vehicle #2 pulling out of the driveway - the white 15 passenger van full of volunteers and all of the volunteer luggage.

Vehicle #3 pulling out of the driveway - more volunteers and luggage!

The beginning of each Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade is always so exciting! Volunteers for the crusades come from all over! On this crusade there are volunteers from Mexico City, from the Mexican states of Michoacan and the State of Mexico, and from Indiana! If the crusade location is north or east of Mexico City, the team meets at a WalMart parking lot near a major toll road heading in that direction. However, if the crusade location is south or west of Mexico City, like this time, the team meets at....Refuge Ranch!

Here in our home at Refuge Ranch we have 30 placemats and approximately 30 chairs that can be placed at the three 8 foot tables that fill our kitchen. When Josiah set the table for supper on Monday night he used every table and placemat to be found and we still had people standing around and sitting in the living room. Needless to say, the noise level in our house that afternoon might have reached levels that could be considered dangerous! I truly believe that all that noise, chatter, laughter and conversation as volunteers converged from different states, different countries, different languages, different backgrounds, different ages was truly music to our Heavenly Father's ears!
The volunteers for this crusade to be held outside of Acapulco, Guerrero, posing for a group shot before heading out.

Well, Tuesday's lunch was quite the opposite! There were only 17 of us at the table and the house felt so quiet! (Here's a joke: How do you know when you have a big family? When 17 feels like just a few!) It almost felt like I was home alone...almost! You see, not only did Victor and Rosa go on this crusade, like every crusade, but this time the entire Marshall family, Mark, Lucy, Aaron and Joanna, went along, as well as Ashleigh! So, Magda and I are the only ones left back at Refuge Ranch, along with Cirino, my 12 children, Erika and Cirino's two kids! There are now only 17 of us at the table at each meal - 15 children and two adults! Talk about fun!

It's interesting, isn't it, how the word "alone" doesn't only refer to being physically separated from others, but emotionally as well. I am certainly not "alone" in that I have my 12 wonderful children surrounding me, but sometimes, when Victor is gone, I can feel very "alone" emotionally. I cannot express my gratitude to the Lord enough for giving me a husband like Victor. Anybody who knows us at all knows that we have not had, and do not have, an easy marriage (Is any marriage easy?) as we try to join two cultures, two languages, two opposite backgrounds and upbringings between two very strong-headed individuals! But the Lord, in His infinite grace and mercy, has joined us together and our love and commitment has only grown stronger through the years. When Victor is home his nighttime hugs and words of appreciation are my daily paycheck! When Victor is home I don't have to make all of the discipline decisions and ministry decisions alone and question myself as I do! When Victor is home there are two of us to meet the emotional needs of our 12 children! When Victor is home nighttime seems less dark and ominous!

While I may feel alone at times, even while surrounded by 24 little arms, the Lord, of course, reminds me that I am far from being alone! As well as Victor understands me and the life the Lord has called us to lead, my Heavenly Father, my Best Friend, the Lover of my Soul, understands me better than I understand myself - what a relief! He knit me together in my mother's womb and new from the beginning of time that I had been created to love these children and help lead this ministry. Praise God that while Refuge Ranch may be less hectic and quieter this week and it may appear that I am home alone, I am not! There are two great staff members carrying the load with me, 12 beautiful children more than willing to give lots of hugs and kisses and, above all, a gloriously gracious Heavenly Father right here with me, 24/7!

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20

One last note: Thanks for keeping this crusade in your prayers like you always do! The team arrived safely to the crusade site Tuesday evening and will not be home again until next Tuesday, March 2. Pray especially that this would be a wonderful time of ministry and growth for Aaron and Joanna. I am very proud of them for all that they are allowing the Lord to do in their lives and I am confident that this crusade will be another step in their growth and maturity process as they serve the Lord during their teenage years here in Mexico. Please also pray that the Lord would use this crusade experience to enrich the Fishers of Men board as our two newest board members, Emy Bridge and Teresa Moore, both from Indiana, are participating on this crusade. Thanks for holding up the team!

With much love and gratitude,

Friday, February 19, 2010

Emergency Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade

If you scroll down a few blog entries you will see Mark and Lucy's blogs from February 3rd and 10th. Both of those entries shared about the tremendous fog, rain and cloud experiences we had here at Refuge Ranch during the first week of February. You know things have to be really wet when a house sitting on the top of a mountain floods! Well, that same flooding caused major disasters in the Mexico City area.

Chalco is a community on the outskirts of Mexico City. It is actually outside of Mexico City proper and belongs to the State of Mexico, just like us. We drive past this large community every Sunday on our way to church, do business there regularly and have a very good fellow pastor friend who lives and ministers there. In fact, the land for Yahweh Rapha Medical Center is located in Chalco.

The heavy rains the first week of February caused heavy flooding on major roadways leading into and through Mexico City. Part of this flooding was caused by a "river" that grew beyond its boundaries. Truth be told, the "river" is an OPEN drain canal, one of the major waterways carrying waste out of Mexico City. This "river" did not simply overflow its boundaries, the concrete walls of the canal actually broke, spilling sewage onto the only highway heading into Mexico City from the east (the one we use to get to the airport and church - hence Ashleigh's adventure trying to get to the airport the day of the flooding!). The sewage did not only cover the highway, which remained closed for more than a week, but buried an entire neighborhood in Chalco!
Flooding in Chalco

The governmental authorities were most interested in repairing the highways and thoroughfares that were damaged by the flooding, as the economic survival of the city depends on that transportation. They simply did not have the resources, time or interest to help out the people of Chalco. Our close pastor friend, Pastor Saul, who lives and ministers in Chalco, contacted us on Sunday, February 7th, to tell us that he had 180 people living in his small church who had been flooded out of their homes. The government had not shown up to provide shelters or any kind of relief. He asked our local church for food, blankets and clothing for the refugee families. He then asked Victor to hold an emergency crusade at his church in order to meet the medical and spiritual needs of the people there.
EMMC volunteers observing the flooding.

Our core EMMC volunteer team had just returned from a crusade to Veracruz on February 6th and they are preparing to head out on another crusade to the state of Guerrero this coming Tuesday. We praise the Lord for the servant hearts of our crusade volunteers, for their willingness to drop everything and come at the Lord's beckoning call. Victor coordinated the crusade preparations, but the volunteers themselves carried out an emergency crusade in Chalco last Friday, February 12th. Victor could not attend because he was helping us prepare for Martita's 15th birthday celebration. We are so proud of the crusade volunteers for the ways in which they have matured and grown in their service and leadership skills to the point that they can carry out local crusades without Victor's presence!
Crusade volunteers working in the pharmacy. You can see the pink mats in the background used for people to sleep on at night.

During the ONE DAY crusade, the volunteer team attended to 82 general medicine patients, 22 gynecology patients, 18 dental patients and gave 40 haircuts! The crusade was carried out in the same way in which we carry out all crusades. After a patient is seen by the doctor or dentist and while he or she waits for the prescription to be filled, a crusade volunteer shares the Gospel message of Jesus Christ with that person on an individual basis! Last Friday, during the one day crusade, 44 individuals made decisions to follow Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior!Cleaning a wound - the loving attention given while cleaning a physical wound many times leads to the healing of spiritual and emotional wounds.

Leslie, a volunteer EMMC dentist, working on a patient.

Just imagine, someday when you are in heaven you might be walking down a side street of gold with another believer and ask: "So when did you hear about Jesus Christ and decide to follow Him?" He will respond: "I grew up in Chalco in Mexico and there was a week when it rained and the canal broke and flooded my home. I was forced to take refuge in a local church that had opened its doors to those in need. While we were staying there, a team of doctors arrived to care for our medical needs and they also told us about salvation through Jesus Christ. That day I prayed to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior." Excitedly you respond: "You're kidding! It was the team from Fishers of Men wasn't it?" He looks at you with surprise in his eyes, "Yeah, it was!" The rest of your excitement you keep to yourself and silently thank the Lord for all the sacrifices you made to financially support Fishers of Men and for the time invested on your knees praying for the ministry of Fishers of Men that made it possible that this individual, your brother in Christ, could now be walking down a street of gold at your side!

Four of the individuals who made decisions for Christ were local governmental and police authorities! They had gotten wind of the medical crusade and had shown up to "check it out". Once again, truth be told, they showed up to make it appear that the government was the one providing the medical care for "its people". This point of view may appear to be cynicism on my part, but I assure you, it is not cynicism, it is realism. The amount of corruption, selfishness and crookedness in the government, and society in general, in Mexico is shocking! I have lived here for only 7 years, but cannot deny what we ourselves have experienced of this corruption, selfishness and crookedness. Well, this time, the authorities got more than they bargained for - they got a Savior! Praise the Lord!

Cesar, an EMMC volunteer, sharing Christ with two police officers!

The Bible reminds us that we should not trust in man, but place our trust in the Lord. We are thankful for the honor and privilege of serving as the Lord's ambassadors when man fails man in order to point man to the only True and Faithful One - Jesus Christ!

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." Psalm 20:7

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Ain't Gonna Paint No Lucy

I Ain't Gonna Paint No More is the title of a children's book that I love. It is about a child who paints almost his whole body until there isn't any paint left, so he "ain't gonna paint no more."
Sometimes during the last 3 weeks I have wanted to shout those words. We have run out of paint numerous times, with Aaron's room requiring 4 coats of paint! Hopefully today we will finish painting the rooms of the apartment. We have just little things to do, like the blue stripes you see above in Aaron's room. We still need to paint the window and door frames, and the outside. We are pretty happy with how the colors have turned out, even though Aaron's yellow room is VERY yellow.

The process of getting to this point has felt time consuming and tiring at times. We have been in "temporary" living quarters for almost 4 months now. We are a close family and we still like each other, but we are so ready to move into the apartment! But everything we have done to get the apartment ready to move in was necessary, not always fun, but definitely necessary.
Soon after moving here, we poured the roof/ceiling. Then we poured the floor. Next Jerry and Troy came to help create walls. It began to look more and more like a real home. We put drywall on the steel wall studs. Mark mudded and taped the walls, and mudded and taped the walls some more! Cirino and others built us steps up to our front door. Mark's parents came and helped us sand the walls and put primer on them. Now the walls are painted and pretty, and it looks even more like a real home. There is nothing like freshly painted walls to make us smile right now. I am getting so excited about moving in! But there is still work to do. Mark hopes to purchase tile today for the floor. There are still many things to do to be prepared to move in.

Watching our apartment here develop into our home reminds me of how we should constantly be preparing ourselves as Christ's home. First we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Then we accept Him into our hearts as Lord and Savior. He makes His home with us. But we must not stop there. It's like an unfinished house, instead of a home otherwise. We have to read His Word, study it, learn from it, build a relationship with Him, and above all, act on what we have learned from Him. If we do these things, we become more like Christ, and people will see Him through the windows of our hearts, because He is living in us.

One of the things we are planning to do before the tile is put down, is have everyone here at Refuge Ranch write a scripture on the concrete floor (an idea we borrowed from our home church when they were building). Our home will be built on God's Word (literally)! Just like our lives should be, so "they will know we are Christians by our love."

"Don't you know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"
1 Corinthians 3:16

"By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35
I chose to finish with this picture of Joanna's room. She chose to use her room for an art class for some of the older girls (Diana, Angie, Joanna, and Erika in the picture), and teach them how to splatter paint. At first, they were timid about flinging paint on the wall, but then we began to hear laughter coming from her room as the painting got wild. Her room is beautiful, and reflects Joanna's love of color.

It reflects God's creativity for me. Imagine how He must have felt when He was creating the Earth, and everything in it (Can you imagine creating a butterfly, or a hippopotamus, or a platypus?). He is a creator, and that is one way that we, as His creation, are truly like Him. He must have laughed so loud when He said, "It is good. It is very very good!" (Genesis 1:31 says God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.). Today remember to be creative, and let His love shine through you!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fiesta! Party!

This past weekend gave our family plenty of reasons to celebrate and we had a good time doing it! Martita turned 15 last week. Here in Mexico a girls' 15th birthday celebration, "Quinceanos", is very important and is a type of "coming out" as she transitions from being a little girl to a young woman. Culturally, we would host a huge party, very similar to a wedding in the U.S., minus the groom, of course! However, we have given our daughters the option of choosing a big Quinceanos celebration or a trip with Mom (me!) to Cancun! Angie and I took our trip last summer and had a great time, just the two of us! Diana and I are scheduled to fly to Cancun the last week of April. Martita has also chosen the trip with me (Who's complaining?), which will probably take place sometime this fall. However, we can't just pass up a 15th birthday with no celebration, so this past Saturday several close family friends came out to the house for a small party. (Aaron commented that we really didn't even need to invite anybody because we have enough people just in our own family to constitute a party!)

We put up a small canopy that we use for crusades, decorated with balloons and hung up pictures celebrating the last two years of Martita's life. (She owns only one other picture of herself from the time she was born until she came to live with us at age 13!) Martita had always wanted a white dress for her 15th birthday party and had recently purchased one for the occasion.
What a beautiful, precious princess!

Angie, Diana and Erika did the hair and makeup honors! It was a surprisingly relaxing day!

The girls hard at work and Martita enjoying all of the pampering! What a joy to seem them live as sisters! Family truly goes deeper than blood lines.

Birthdays and holidays in our home are unique in that we are never quite sure how the kids are going to react as those are the days that they are usually reminded of their lack of a biological family and all that has happened to bring them to the place where they are now. Martita was a true wonder on Saturday and I praise the Lord for all He is doing in her life! She fully embraced Victor and I as Dad and Mom throughout the day, joyfully taking pictures with us, hugging us, and thanking us for her gift and for the small party. One of the pictures I had printed up was of her and Lolis with their grandfather and uncle taken on the day we picked up Lolis this past December. I gave Martita the option of hanging up that picture or not. I was unsure whether she wanted to be reminded of her past on such a special day, or maybe she would resent our not including her past on such a special day. You just never know, so.... I asked! She looked at the picture, her eyes teared up and she said: "Yeah, put it up." I was so proud of her for being able to so healthfully accept her past while embracing her present and looking forward to her future!

Very proud parents!

Martita fully engaged the guests and was very relaxed. The other kids fully participated and shared in her joy. Being able to share in another person's joy, without jealousy, is quite mature and something that the other children sometimes struggle with, but they did a great job on Saturday, other than Lolis. We are sure she has never had a birthday celebration, EVER, and didn't quite know how to handle all the attention placed on Martita, her biological sister. Martita even handled that situation maturely. She hugged Lolis, assured her of her love and that she will get the same treatment on her 15th birthday, and then left Lolis to work through her own attitudes. A little while later Lolis relaxed and began to enjoy the celebration, too.

Martita excited about her gift - a digital camera. The girls love taking pictures for their own albums and Facebook.

Then, Sunday, was Valentine's Day! We normally never do anything special, but I felt the Lord nudging me to make this a special day for the kids. We have lots of lost time to make up for and need to take advantage of every opportunity available to show the kids how precious they are in the Lord's sight and, therefore, in ours too! (For example, when I hug any of the kids I usually hang on for a extra few seconds or will let go and then give a second hug. The first hug or first few seconds are to fill up their hug tanks for today and the extra hug or extra few seconds are to make up for all the years that I couldn't hug them and nobody else bothered to do so!) So, Saturday night I baked heart cookies and decorated them with each of the kids' names. Then, Sunday morning I decorated the kitchen tables with confetti and all pink place settings. Victor helped fry heart shaped grilled cheese sandwiches and made strawberry shakes while I arranged fruit plates in the shapes of smiley faces.

OK, so some of the kids couldn't "see" the smiley face on the plate. Hint: the strawberries are the eyes and nose, the banana slices is the smile and the whipped cream is the hair.

The kids' initial reactions as we woke them up and told them to come downstairs for a surprise were very typical of each of them. Josiah, Caleb and Ruth were smiling, excited and very grateful. Fidel was quiet and observant and couldn't figure out why the table looked like it did! Lolis didn't know what to think as everything she is experiencing are "firsts". Ana thought I had gone nuts!

Daniel just wanted to get down to business and eat, like usual. Joce was quietly excited. Angie and Diana, after nearly six years with us, were not at all surprised at Mom's latest attempt at showing love and willingly went along for the sweet ride! Erika, Magda's daughter, had spent the night and was thrilled at another opportunity to be included with the Zaragoza kids. Martita greeted the whole kitchen scene with her normal sour face that she puts on when confronted face to face with true love. Martha obediently took her place at the table, a sign of wanting to truly participate, but she could never really admit that because that would ruin her rebel reputation!

What is truly a praise to our Heavenly Father and proof of His restorative and redemptive power is not how the kids initially reacted, but how joyful the breakfast was and how they reacted AFTERWARDS! I have tears in my eyes now, even as I write this! I share this so that you may praise the wonderful and powerful name of our Heavenly Father for what He has done, and continues to do, in our children's lives. I share this so that you may know that your prayers and giving are not in vain - far from it!

Even as I type this blog on the computer, my wrists are resting on three heart shaped Post-It notes given to me after the breakfast from Angie, Diana and.......Martha! They are notes expressing their love and gratitude for the special Valentine's Day breakfast! Martha can read and write, but it is still rather difficult for her, so she had Angie help her with her thank you note. Here in my office, when I glance to my right, there is a bouquet of flowers from....Martita! After the breakfast, she went outside and pulled my favorite flowers from the bouquet we had given her for her birthday the day before. She came, gave me the flowers, along with a long hug and even verbally expressed her love and appreciation! Wow! I even got several more hugs from her throughout the morning and more words of appreciation and love. Lolis followed me around the rest of the morning and even helped clean up the kitchen! She did a good job without complaining and stuck to the task until we were done! Josiah and Fidel were the last ones to get up from the table and as I walked by the table Josiah turned to me and said: "We are enjoying this so much we are eating slowly and don't want to get up!"

Well, the sky behind Popo, "our" volcano, is going from deep orange to yellow, so time to try and get a walk in before I hear the patter of little feet or music from one of the teenager's CD players!

"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

Love you all!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Lucy

As Mark wrote last Wednesday, this is what it looked like when we woke up. We were surrounded by a cloud all day. It was no big deal, just a little colder than normal. But nothing could have prepared us for what awaited us Thursday morning. We are supposedly in the dry season here in Mexico, but we woke up to pounding rain, cold temperatures, wind, and no electricity. Not only that, but when we stepped out of bed, we stepped into water!

Usually during rainy season, it rains for a little while each afternoon, then stops. This rain was like nothing they normally experience. The wind was blowing rain at the wall outside our room. The rain came in through any crack or hole it could find. It ruined the top of Aaron's dresser, which was just under the window. It came in Rosa's room and in the hallway where all the medical supplies are stored for EMMC's.
We started mopping up water, and moving things "up" about 7:30 a.m. and continued all day. Did I mention that we had no electricity so it was very dark while we were doing this? When we looked outside, what we saw is that we were inside a rain cloud! We figured by lunch, it would be finished. After all, we were in the dry season! In the meantime, Ashleigh had to get to the airport for a trip home to Ohio. After several tries to get the car started in the rain, they finally pushed it to the hill, and it started as it began to roll down the hill. She and Magda were on their way by 9:30 a.m. Little did we know how bad this storm was. They were detoured numerous times because of fallen trees and at one point, they went through water that came into the car above their legs (sewer water, that is!), getting them both, and Ashleigh's luggage, soaked. The trip should have taken a couple of hours, but they did not arrive at the airport until 4 pm! Ashleigh had to arrange for a new flight, find some dry clothes, and spend the night somewhere in Texas.

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, we were still mopping up water as fast as we could. Did I mention that we do not have real mops here? We were using towels, and wringing them out by hand. The rain just kept coming. The family met to pray, and Mark and I prayed while we were working.
About 4 p.m. , there was a meeting on the roof. It was decided that we would cover the wall with plastic, and pray that it would at least slow the water coming in the wall.
Cirino tried puttiing dry concrete mix at the edge to act as a speed bump for the water, and send it to the edges to pour off the wall. It didn't help much. By the time Julie and her dad, Dave, found the plastic sheeting, and got back, it was dark. At about 9 p.m., Mark and Dave went up on the roof with flashlights, and Aaron, Joanna, Angie, Diana, and Martita, and I stayed at the bottom of the wall to secure the sheets with concrete blocks in the dark. We all ended up drenched (as if we could get any wetter!). We sent Aaron and Joanna to sleep at the Zaragoza house (their first sleepover here in Mexico), while we kept up our "flood watch" in the basement. Mark wanted to take a quick shower to try to get warm, but our pilot light had been blown out by the wind, and we had no hot water! We set a timer for an hour because the plastic seemed to be helping, and tried to sleep. Every hour for the next three hours, we checked to see if we needed to wring out the towels scattered at the base of the wall. By 2 a.m., the rain had stopped and all was quiet. We went to sleep, and woke up to a beautiful blue sky! Praise God!
Friday was spent cleaning up, and putting things back where they belong. Of course, I still can't find some things I misplaced at that time! Power did not return until 7 p.m. that night. Things seem to be back to normal here at the Ranch, but the storm is still causing damage in Mexico City. A canal broke, causing a lot of flooding. It is still not fixed, and the flooding is getting worse, and major roadways are closed, causing horrible traffic jams.

Thursday I thought the rain would never end. My hands hurt from wringing out the towels. My back hurt from bending over constantly. I was wet and cold. But just like everything in this life, the rain was temporary. It eventually came to an end, and the sun came out. The flooding too is temporary. The canal will be fixed, and the water will recede. The only thing that will remain is Jesus, so I have to keep my eyes on Him, and know that "this too shall pass." And I've never appreciated the sunshine and blue sky like I did when the morning came!

All readers experiencing snow in Indiana can take comfort from this. This too shall pass!

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For the light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen, is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Psychology of Mouse Sighting

We have been enjoying a visit from my (Julie's) parents recently. Grandma Claassen (Diann) has been here two weeks and Grandpa Claassen (Dave) has been here a week. I still can't believe that they will be leaving in less than two hours! They fit in so well to our daily routine that it feels like they have always been here and I just keep living day to day life and forget that they have to leave!

Grandma spends lots of time with the grandkids, handing out surprises, and giving out Trident gum on demand! She got to play piano duets with several of the kids, play on the playground, teach new card games, and make playdoh and sugar cookies. She folds lots of socks every time she visits on her never ending quest to have all of our socks matched, folded and put away! (Talk about having faith!) She helps out in school and always helps me with other projects around the house, like organizing my files and school books.

Grandpa enjoys long walks on our little mountain and lots of photo opportunities out in nature. He flies paper airplanes with the boys and does his best to beat Fidel in Connect Four. I'm not sure he ever one a game in this past week. Fidel could probably win the title of Connect Four World Champion! (If you ever come on a work team to Refuge Ranch, I challenge you to challenge Fidel to a game of Connect Four and you will see what I mean!) Much of Grandpa's time is spent doing maintenance and upkeep stuff on our computers to keep them in tip top shape! Then, there are the practical jokes!

Last evening, Grandpa, Grandma and I were sitting in the living room and Grandpa was blowing up those long balloons and making balloon animals for the smallest children. Most of the older kids (Diana, Martita, Lolis, Fidel, Erika, and Aaron Marshall) were in the kitchen working on supper clean-up duty.
Grandpa had some different long balloons designed to be inflated and released OUTDOORS as they fly all over the place and scream while the air comes streaming out. Well, he decided to inflate one of those and send it towards the kitchen to startle/surprise the kitchen crew. He inflated the balloon and let it go. It sailed over the couch and then dove for the floor. For the rest of the balloon's journey, it scurried across the kitchen floor and ended up in the corner under the cabinets, deflated. Erika, who was drying dishes, saw something out of the corner of her eye scurry across the floor and heard a squeaking sound (the air coming out of the balloon.) So....she screamed "Raton!" ("Mouse!") That one word set off a chain reaction of people running and screaming. The kitchen occupants ran screaming out of the kitchen area while the younger children ran screaming towards the kitchen area to see what the ruckus was all about. This created a slight traffic jam between the kitchen and living room! (At this point, Aaron Marshall did not run. He just stood there, with the most puzzled look on his face, as the girls took off on their screaming rampage!)

Grandpa, Grandma and I were in the living room observing the chaos and dying laughing! We had never expected this to happen, but it was getting good! Grandpa, always ready for a good joke, jumped to his feet, grabbed a rag and pretended to "trap" the mouse, in the rag, from under the refrigerator. Moving his fingers inside the rag gave the impression that he had the "mouse" trapped in the rag being held in his hands! This created even more screaming and running from all involved! (Mind you, I am more afraid of mice than anybody else in the house, but everybody was too scared to notice that I was sitting calmly on the couch only several feet from where Grandpa had supposedly caught the "mouse". Had there been a real mouse I would have been the first to stand on the couch and scream with the best of them!) Then, as Grandpa continued to "tustle" with the "mouse", he pretended that it jumped out of the rag and down his shirt. He promptly began to hit his pant leg as if the mouse were trapped there! Then, he simply walked into the living room and sat down!

The screaming and running continued and then, gradually, everybody returned to their dish duty positions. Grandpa and Grandma and I realized, by the kids' conversation, that they still believed it had been a mouse! After a good laugh, I told the kids to look on the floor under the corner of the counter and they would find their mouse. They wouldn't do it, for fear of the "mouse"! I had to tell them it had been a balloon!

Why the title: "The Psychology of a Mouse Sighting"? Because nobody ever saw a mouse, but they were sure all convinced that there was a mouse! Erika saw something move out of the corner of her eye and her fears drove her to believe it was a mouse, causing her to scream "mouse". Her scream convinced everybody else that there was an immediate mouse threat present and they reacted appropriately! There are several parallels that can be drawn from this experience, but it was incredible to me to see the influence of one person's false conclusions on the rest of those present! May we be people of influence, but may our influence be based on Truth!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fog and Wind by Mark

This morning we woke to fog so dense that it gives the feeling of isolation. There is hope in the wind, though. We can see the fog moving, so there must be an end. Julie's dad, Dave Claassen, is here for a visit and enjoys taking pictures. So he took a couple of Lucy and I in the fog. The picture below should have the valley in the background.

Mark and Lucy in the fog

There were a lot of conversations about the fog this morning at breakfast. One comment was that most of the time fog does not accompany wind. Julie pointed out that this fog is not Indiana/Ohio/Michigan fog. This is Mexico mountain fog, which is really a cloud that is slightly lower. It is really amazing to be this covered in clouds after the past couple of weeks that have been very clear. So clear that the good visibility actually made the news. It seemed like we could see forever.

The discussion turned somewhat spiritual at some point. Someone said that the limited view is a lot like what God lets us see in our lives. We can only see a step or two in front of us. We know there is an eternity in front of us but we step with faith one day at a time. It is with this faith that we surround each other, creating a cloud of witnesses, like the writer of Hebrews wrote in 12:1. We share each other's burdens as we run this race we call "life."

Today's fog is cool and damp and the wind makes it feel cooler and damper (more damp?). But like I said at the beginning, the wind gives me hope. I see the fog moving. The wind reminds me of the Holy Spirit moving in my life. I cannot see Him but I know He is working.

Before I got out of bed and discovered the fog I was going to blog about our chapel theme. So I will just share briefly. Monday, as school restarted after having most of January off, we started with weekly chapel. Lucy and I are in charge of it and we are using the school curriculum as a guide to talk about personal characteristics. The first one was "appreciation," using 1 Thes. 5:18 as the verse. Paul instructs us to be thankful in all circumstances. As the kids shared what they were thankful for, I heard: family, friends, toys, Magda cooking breakfast, and I am sure there were others I have forgotten. Today I am thankful for long sleeved flannel lined shirts and. . .


Friday Cirino and Alejandro began forming steps for our apartment and the laundry room.
Cirino forming the steps

Alejandro removing the forms from the steps

This morning they removed the forms, and just a little bit ago Cirino had Lucy and I walk up them for the first time. We were excited and so was Cirino. He enjoys working and building and we appreciate his work. We are thankful to be here and thankful for all the people who continue to strengthen and encourage us.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Vacation News

It is good to be back to blogging again! Two weeks ago our family went on vacation and I told Ashleigh, Mark and Lucy that I would see if I could blog from our vacation site. Well, I guess we had a very relaxing vacation because we had a hard time remembering what day of the week it was and I never even thought about the blog once while we were gone!

Then, last Monday and Tuesday, Victor and I accompanied a group of women from our church to Acapulco to choose a site for our women´s retreat this fall.

It is wonderful to be back home and getting into the routine again. But before we move on too quickly, here are some moments from the Zaragoza family vacation!

As shared in previous blog entries, our family and the Refuge Ranch staff had done our best to get up Mount Popo in order for our kids to experience snow for the first time in their lives several days before we left on vacation. State police turned us back before we got to the top of the mountain due to the huge amount of traffic of other ¨snow seekers¨. However, Ashleigh had this great idea that we could try and go up the mountain on the morning we left for vacation. That way we would be playing in the snow in the morning and on the beach in the afternoon. It was a really great idea, but after making the 45 or so minute trek up the mountain, this was all the snow that was left! Oops! At least the kids got to touch a bit of snow!
The very next morning after touching snow for the first time in their lives, the kids were able to enjoy breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean and enjoying mid-80 degree temperatures!

Not one to allow life to get boring, Ruth provided our family with some excitement our first night in the hotel. We had not even been at the hotel for a full two hours when Ruth got out of the pool, slipped on the wet tile and hit her chin on the edge of the stairs leading up to our room. Victor brought her into the room bleeding quite profusely from her cut and we made the determination that stitches would be necessary. Victor and Angie were assigned to the emergency room run (first step - find a trustworthy and clean clinic!) while I stayed back to get everybody else to bed. Several hours and three stitches later they arrived back at the hotel, having properly initiated our family vacation.

Our first morning the Lord gave us a wonderful gift - a beautiful rainbow over the ocean as we ate our breakfast on the balcony of our hotel room. It was a precious reminder of God´s presence with us and an affirmation that even after the adventure of Ruth´s fall and ensuing stitches the night before, that God had wonderful plans and promises for our time together as a family. Thank you, dear Lord, for your gentle mercies!

I wasn´t able to carry Martita as a little girl, but the buoyancy of water provided us with that bit of fun and bonding!

Ruth, Ana and Daniel enjoying time in the sand.

Fidel and Josiah enjoying a game of Battleship in the hotel lobby.
Martha enjoying the sand, sun and water!

Diana and Joce playing in the pool.

Victor and Daniel hanging out in the hammock.

Fidel on his way to catch some waves - one of our favorite activities.

Caleb enjoying his time in the pool.

Angie lounging in the hammock.

Ruth, Lolis and Victor playing on the beach. This was Lolis´ first family vacation with us and her first time on the beach.

This was Ana´s favorite place to play. It is the little foot wash area to rinse off the sand from your feet before you get in the pool or enter the hotel, but it turned into her own private pool - just the right size!

Fidel building a sand castle. This is serious business!

Lolis and Diana playing in the pool.

Julie walking on the beach with Daniel and Ana
(Life just simply does not get any better than this!)
We are so thankful for the Lord´s provision that allowed us to take this family vacation. Homeschooling allows us to take vacations when hotel and food prices are more economical in tourist areas and living in central Mexico means that the Pacific Ocean is about 4 hours west and the Gulf of Mexico is about 5 hours east of us, which gives us great access to beachfront vacations. These vacation times are truly priceless opportunities to strengthen our family bond, broaden the kids´horizons and reiterate the fact that they are part of a family, not an institution.
As I watched the kids play soccer on the beach, build sandcastles, jump in the waves and play in the pool, I couldn´t help but think what a far cry those moments were from where their lives were headed before they were intercepted by God´s purposes for them. Our kids have exchanged the streets of Mexico City for the beaches of Zihuatanejo; murder scenes for ocean sunsets; abusive beatings have been replaced by a mother´s caress; self-defense and self-preservation are being traded in for carefree romping as a child should. God is so good and so amazing! Thank you for all you do to make these miracles happen!