Wednesday, June 30, 2010 Lucy

Wow! The month of June just seemed to fly by! We are preparing for another work team to arrive in less than 2 weeks. It is amazing how much work we can accomplish when a work team is here.

Just a few weeks ago, we had 2 Shiloh work teams here from Indiana (Our home church, actually!). We now have freshly painted outer walls, a drainage pipe running behind the basement, a mostly waterproof roof (We still have a little more work to do there!), a new place to eat, thanks to concrete floors being poured, and a concrete ramp to drive up and load things for EMMC's, when necessary. Flowers were planted, and the yard cleaned up. Whew! I'm tired just thinking about everything they did! During their trip, we also got our kitchen cabinets and a stove for our quarters. Yippee! It's hard to remember what it was like before we had all these luxuries!
Denny, Mike, and Shirley paint the walls

Lolis, Erika, Merle, and Rodni prepare for concrete

Aaron and Josh shovel rocks

Lolis, Maxine, and Norma get the waterproofing mix ready for the roof

Becky P., Teresa, Becky G., and Josiah brush on the waterproofer

Sifting sand for plaster work

Getting ready for the concrete ramp

Mike and Jerry clear the area for a drainage pipe

Shirley finishes my quilt

Lucy's new kitchen
Rosa is the hardest worker of all preparing all our food!

Thinking back over their time here though, I'd have to say that the work wasn't even the best part. This group has been here numerous times (with a few new faces in the bunch...Thanks Lytles and Groffs for coming too!). When they came, it was like a family reunion. They reconnected with the Zaragoza family like it had only been a few weeks since they had seen them. It was actually a year ago that they were last here. The Zaragoza kids enjoy the Shiloh group because they truly are family, and they know Shiloh will be back. The kids know that they are loved by this special group of people, that they are prayed for daily by them, and that they will support them through the tough times....just like family.

We enjoyed working together, playing together, laughing together, and crying together, and eating lots of great food together (Sorry you missed out, Mike! Oh yeah, I forgot about the banana splits every night!). We enjoyed devotions together, talking together, singing together, and praying together.

On the last night as we said our goodbyes, I remember thinking "this must be what Heaven is like! One great big family reunion, where all our past mistakes and heartbreaks are forgotten, and all we know is the love of Jesus!" Sometimes when we are here, we miss "home," in the U.S., but even more so (when you experience a little bit of what Heaven will be like), we miss Home (with a capital H!) even more! We can't wait for that homecoming and reunion in Heaven!

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." --Revelations 21:1-4

So for those of you who have never experienced a mission trip, I encourage you to come! For those of you who have heard the call and experienced this "little bit of heaven," I encourage you to return! Let's prepare for the Big Reunion! You never know how God might change your life. I know we never imagined where we would be today when we took our first mission trip!

"The primary reason Jesus calls us to servanthood is not because others need our service. It is because of what happens to us when we serve."--John Ortbert The Life You've Always Wanted

Ana, Emy, and Dale (and Estrella)

Mike and Joce prepare to block the ball

Denny, Josiah, and Fidel make quite a team

Darlene and Danny

Learning the 5-Finger Prayer for devotions

Ashleigh and Ana

Joce and Jazzmin

There was always time for soccer

Whose got the ball?

Come back here with that ball!

Jade and Diana find it more fun to paint each other

Merle and Berenice

Angie celebrated her birthday and received a new guitar

Jerry, Darlene, and Magda enjoy their meal of pastors tacos

Mike thanks Caleb for the meal of spiders and snakes

Berenice and Jerry

Emma and Joanna help on the roof

Emy and Ruth

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lolis' First (?) Birthday!

On June 19th we celebrated Lolis First Birthday! Ok, it really wasn't her first birthday, it was her 13th birthday! Let me explain!

Lolis with one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen!

Lolis joined our family this past December, which means that this was her first birthday as a part of the Zaragoza family! Not only was this her first birthday as a part of our family, but .... Let me help you eavesdrop on a conversation earlier that week between Lolis and several other family members.

It was lunchtime and Lolis was seated at the lunch table with Diana and Martha. Magda was nearby.

Diana and Martha: Hey, Lolis, it's going to be your birthday.

Lolis: Yeah, my first birthday!

Magda: Not your first birthday, it's your 13th birthday.

Lolis: No, it's my first birthday because I've never celebrated my birthday before!

Can you imagine turning 13 years old and having never gotten a birthday present or blowing out the candles on a birthday cake?

As is tradition in our home, Grandpa and Grandma Claassen (Julie's parents) called Lolis on the morning of her birthday to sing their rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You". I talked to Mom after that and she mentioned that she had asked Lolis if she was going to have a party, or a cake or presents and that Lolis just kept answering: "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know." "Of course, Mom," I answered, "she doesn't know what to expect because she has never had a birthday before!"

As Lolis' mother now, what makes this thought even more painful is not that she missed out on 12 years' worth of presents and cake, but the fact that NOBODY HAD EVER CELEBRATED LOLIS' LIFE BEFORE! She is a precious creation made in the image of our Almighty Father! Her laugh blesses our life daily as well as her silly antics as she learns more about just simply living a free life!

So, Lolis fully enjoyed hearing us sing "Happy Birthday" in English and Spanish and then opening up her birthday presents. She had asked for an MP3 player and was so excited about getting one that she took off to put in the batteries and have her sisters upload songs and forgot to eat a piece of her own birthday cake! So, next year won't be Lolis' first birthday any more, but it will still be the first time she would have eaten her own cake, because she forgot to do so this year!

Lolis after the traditional "biting of the cake." Here in Mexico, after singing "Happy Birthday", the birthday person takes a bite out of the cake and the people around him or her push her face into the cake. Don't ask me why! Do most traditions make sense? Most of our kids balk at biting the cake, but since Lolis had never had this opportunity before she was more than willing to participate! She came out looking like a clown with the red frosting on her nose and the white frosting around her mouth!

The following day at church was even more meaningful as it was the first time that Lolis participated in the liturgical dance team. She had been practicing for months, but her coordination skills and obedience had to catch up for the first 12 years of her life when her development was hindered by her circumstances. So, she was finally ready to participate! It was extra special since she had just turned 13 years old!

Lolis, Martita, Diana and Erika ready to dance before church! Talk about beautiful!

Lolis concentrating on the liturgical dance routine!

Her MP3 player was her birthday gift on Saturday, but she gave me a very special gift on Sunday watching her praise the Lord through dance! Wow!

Martita and Lolis dancing together! After they spent two years separated from each other it is such a joy to see them worshiping the Lord together!

We praise the Lord for Lolis' life! We praise the Lord for bringing her into our lives and family! We praise the Lord for all He is doing in her life! We praise the Lord for your lives and the way that He has used your prayers, your giving and your participation in the ministry to make Lolis' transformation-in-the-works possible!

Martita (far left), Lolis (next to Martita) and Diana (far right) dancing during the church service!

Guess what? We aren't the only ones who rejoice over Lolis' life! Read this incredible verse!

"The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing."
Zephaniah 3:17

Friday, June 25, 2010

Home Sweet Home... by Aaron

Mom's new kitchen, ready for action!

Well I have never done this before, so bear with me. I just finished my first week of my Junior year. I have cleaning day tomorrow, and life is starting to be more like it was in the states. It's nice to be able to settle into a routine again, now that we are actually, truly, kind of, moved in completely (more or less). Dad hooked up our gas for the stove and hooked up the water heater for the kitchen sink. I am so happy (in a way), I was able to help to wash dishes with our hot water in our own sink! I feel more at home now that we have a kitchen, bedrooms, bathroom and a living room. Leading up to all this, though, has really helped our whole family's faith grow. I now can "take the hits as they come" a lot better, not always knowing what the day has in store for me. Just like Monday, when Julie and Victor said they would probably be bringing four new girls into the family, and it wasn't really a big surprise, knowing that the family could grow at any time. Then the next day, when we found out the girls would not join the family (maybe not yet, maybe never, only God knows), things just started to flow like normal. But we have learned to trust Him for our peace of mind. We have trusted him, and now I am just about as settled here as I was in the states. You would not believe how homey a place feels after Mom has cooked a meal at the stove for the first time. We ate at our table, which we also had not done yet, and then settled in our chairs with hot cocoa and coffee, and watched a movie someone sent with one of the work teams. Life has become, maybe not normal yet, but pretty dang close, and I have enjoyed the path leading up to this point. I know we aren't done here yet, and I know I will still have hard days after this, but still I just love saying, "Home sweet home!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Our "Almost" Girls

After members of the two work teams from Shiloh blogging for the last two weeks, it feels good to be in front of the computer screen again ready to type in a blog entry. (You might not know that considering I should have blogged on Monday and then meant to this morning and it is now 10:15 p.m. and I am just getting to it!) What I most look forward to when blogging is knowing that we are connecting with each other even though we are thousands of miles apart.

Only two days after the last Shiloh work team left, Victor and I were on our way to the state of Michoacan with the hopes of picking up four new daughters for our family!

Last winter, Fishers of Men held an Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade in a small town in the state of Michoacan. While there, the team became aware of the situation of a single mother and her four young daughters, ranging in age from 4 to 11 years old. Her husband had gone to the U.S. years earlier and had suffered an accident which prevented him from working and supporting his family back in Mexico. The wife was left living in a borrowed hut and working, along with the girls, harvesting strawberries and other odd jobs in order to survive. The mother's love for and dedication to her daughters was evident, so we offered her the opportunity to come and work and live at Refuge Ranch, along with her daughters. In this way, she could provide for her daughters, but in a safe place where the girls could also learn and grow. However, she turned down that opportunity.

This past February we got word that that same mother had abandoned the four girls, who were then subsequently taken in by their eldest, 19 year old sister, who was married and pregnant. Well, last week we got a phone call informing us that this sister was about to have her baby and could no longer care for her younger siblings and was requesting that they come and live with us. Dr. Escamilla, a Fishers of Men crusade volunteer who is very familiar with this village and, particularly, with this family, travelled to Michoacan on Sunday to confirm the girls' situation.
We spoke with Dr. Escamilla late Sunday night who told us that the girls had since been sent to four different family members' homes, but that the entire family agreed that it would be best for the girls to stay together and come and live with us.

So, on Monday morning Victor and I hit the road with our four youngest children, Caleb, Ruth, Ana and Daniel, in order to lighten the load a bit here at the ranch. Nearly five hours later, we arrived in Michoacan and found out the the lawyer needed to sign the guardianship papers was not available until Tuesday, so we decided to spend the night. In the meantime, we set out with several of the girls' family members to round up the girls!

Our first stop was an uncle's farm out in the country. After waiting outside for over half an hour while family members talked inside, we finally met Liz, who is 12 years old, and Diana, who is 6 years old. They came walking down that dirt road with Victor, Dr. Escamilla and several other family members carrying the sum total of their possessions in a small white garbage bag. I have yet to know how to properly greet a child under these circumstances: "Hello, I'm your new mother" does not seem quite appropriate. So, I usually just make myself available and follow the child's lead. Both girls, as soon as they got to me, gave me huge, long hugs. As I was hugging them, I kept thinking: "I have no idea who these girls really are and they are going to be my daughters! I am hugging a total stranger, yet loving her so deeply. This feels like an awkward hug now, but someday I am going to give her a hug as she gets ready to walk down the aisle to get married!"
Liz (far left) and Diana (being carried in pink by Mariela) walking down the dirt road towards our van with Dr. Escamilla, Victor, Mariela (a Fishers of Men volunteer) and other family members.

Liz had actually been living in Mexico City with a distant elderly cousin for about a year, but that relative is ready to give her up and she was back in the village near her other sisters. Diana, like her other two sisters, had been living with their oldest sister, Nancy, until just a week previously when they moved in with other relatives due to Nancy's impending delivery of her first baby.

Liz (12) and Diana Karen (6) years old together in our van.

After getting into the van, we set off to find Blanca and Ana. We were told that Blanca was on the other side of the mountain visiting other relatives and that Ana was at another older sister's house. We decided to try the older sister, Alma's, house first. Upon arrival, nobody was home, so we drove several more blocks down to the girls' maternal grandmother's home. Lo and behold, we found nine year old Blanca there, but no Ana. Five year old Ana had been taken shopping that afternoon and had not arrived back home yet.

However, along with Blanca, we got to meet the other older sister, 17 year old Alma, who is also married and has a small baby. Upon finding out the reason for our visit, Alma would not hear about her little sisters being taken away and vouched that she would care for them, although she has never previously cared for them at all! Her reaction resulted in a phone call to the girls' dad in the United States who, although he had previously given his approval for the girls to be reunited and become a part of our family, now went back on that decision and told the aunt who was coordinating all of this to leave the girls in Michoacan.

Daniel, Diana Karen, Ruth and Ana enjoying corn on the cob together on the sidewalk as we spent several hours discussing the girls' situation with their 17 year old sister and maternal grandmother.

So, after over two hours of discussing the situation with many different family members, the girls were returned to the four different homes where they had been staying, including Liz, the 12 year old who adamantly repeated time and time again that she wanted out of the situation.

So, at 10 p.m. on Monday night, 12 hours after leaving home, we started out on the four hour or so drive back to Refuge Ranch, with our four youngest children and no new daughters. This was after having met three out of the four girls, having two of them in the car with us on several occasions and then believing that at least Liz would return home with us.

Ruth, Liz, Diana Karen and Caleb together in the car!

Victor wisely observed that the Lord had a plan in our going to Michoacan on Monday, although we are totally clueless as to what the plan is/was! Of course, we have thought of many different options and possibilities, but only the Lord knows what He is really up to!

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

We continue to pray for Liz (12), Blanca (9), Diana (6) and Ana (5). We can see many different ways that the Lord could continue to work in their lives and in ours, but we are all in His hands and are praying that His perfect will would be done in His perfect time!

Monday, June 7, 2010


When work teams are here at the Ranch things can get a little crazy! The days fly by in a flurry of activity and you don't even realize that you haven't blogged! So, we decided that you all would probably like to be kept up to date as to what is going on down here with the teams! The Shiloh team will be blogging regularly. So, instead of leaving you all hanging on this blog we invite you to click here and stay up to date on the Shiloh blog for the next two weeks! Thank you for following and being part of this ministry!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A couple of funny Mark

Last week, one evening after supper I was outside hanging out with some of the kids. Adrian Tovar was here too. He is like a big kid so all the kids wanted to play a game with him. When they asked me if I wanted to play, I hesitated but said I would. I was not sure what the game was, but it sounded like Hide-and-Seek. Soon everybody was running and hiding, so I ran and hid too. I was crouched in a corner of the wood shed (formerly rabbit house, formerly chicken coop) waiting but hoping not to be discovered. The thought then occurred to me that I really did not know what game I was playing. I had not asked about rules, or who was "it," or what I should be doing. I could hear some of the kids running and calling out names. Nobody called my name. I then began to wonder if anyone really knew I was playing. I wondered if there was a base I was supposed to try to run to. I sat there for a few minutes and tried to see what was happening, thinking maybe I could figure it out by watching. This is a technique I use regularly, but I could not see enough from where I was. It began to sound like the game was breaking up, so I made my move. I did not want to give up my location because I might want it in the future, so I quietly made my way around the woodshed and headed up the hill. By this time Adrian was in the house. I still don't know exactly what happened, because I headed for home.
Our Chapel Christian characteristic this week is "cooperative." I told the story of my Hide-and-Seek adventure as we talked about living together in unity. Psalm 133:1 is our memory verse: "Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity." It is impossible to live in unity if we do not all know and live by the rules. Fancy board games with lots of pieces are no fun if one of the players is not playing by the rules. Life, as part of a family or society, only works well when we all understand and follow the rules. The most important rules to follow are to love each other and love God. (Matt 22:37-40)

Another funny thing that happened this week was in our apartment. Sunday evening I wanted to print a wordsearch/coloring page for chapel Monday morning. It had just started to get dark, so lots of people had lights turned on. What this means is that there is a large load on the community's electrical system. As it gets dark we know we will not be able to run our desktop computer and the printer. I just needed a few copies so I thought I would try it. When I clicked the print button, our battery backup alarm started to beep, telling me it would shut down soon. I think the TV and DVD player were on too. The kids shut them off. I started looking for other things to shut off. The kids rooms were dark. Our room was dark. I turned off the lights in our main room where the computer is. The beeping stopped, and the printer kept printing. We sat in the dark for a couple of minutes with only the light from the monitor while the printer finished. The next day Lucy told me she was thinking about that experience and how we had to focus all the power on the computer and printer. None of the other things that were using electricity were bad, but they were using power we needed somewhere else. Of course she related that to how we can sometimes be distracted in life. We get busy doing things that we see as important, but somehow our focus shifts. Sometimes I need to remind myself not to worry about things, so the other day I had my Bible open to Matthew 6:33. If we keep focused on the Kingdom we will have the Power for all the necessary things that need to be done.

But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:33

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil. 3:14