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