Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Ships Passing in the Night

This past Sunday night Victor and I acted like two ships passing in the night!

My ship came into home port at 10:30 p.m., along with our five eldest daughters, Angie, Diana, Martita, Lolis and Martha. Victor's ship left home port the same night, but at 3:00 a.m. So, we shared the same dock (our bed) for about a total of three and half hours!

You see, the girls' and my ship had spent the weekend, literally, in the port of Acapulco, Guerrero!

Acapulco, Guerrero
The Lord gave me the privilege of helping lead a pastor's wives' conference, alongside of missionary Barb Conner, on Friday and Saturday. Some thirty pastor's wives from Southern Baptist Churches throughout the state of Guerrero attended the two day event where they learned about the importance of supporting each other through regular times of meeting for prayer, Bible study, fellowship and accountability. This greatly excited me as this embodies exactly what the ladies of the staff here at Refuge Ranch and I do each Friday morning. I would be hard pressed to fully explain all that those gathering times have meant for my own heart and life, my marriage, my parenthood and the ministry here! So, I enthusiastically supported all that Barb shared to encourage and train the ladies in that area.  In addition, I had the opportunity to share a session regarding finding one's identity in Christ (a lifetime message the Lord has placed in and on my heart) as well as a time of testimony of the Lord's working in my life and family.

My five girls and I with fellow conference leader and missionary, Barb, as well as the women's leaders of the state of Guerrero who organized these two events so wonderfully!

Then, on Sunday, the Lord gave me the gift of leading a one day conference for young ladies entitled: “The Power of Purity: God's Plan for your Sexuality”...another one of my passions (no pun intended!)! Forty-seven young women ranging in age from 12 years old through their mid 20's attended! We had a good time and I pray that the seeds planted may grow into strong and fruitful commitments to purity throughout those precious girls' lives.

The Purity Conference

The young ladies hard at work looking up Bible verses about finding their identity in Christ.
"If you know you are a Princess of the King then you will act like a Princess of the King and will look for a Prince of the King that will treat you like the Princess of the King that you know you are!"
During some time off on Saturday afternoon and evening, my girls and I had a great time at the beach, going to dinner and visiting one of the most popular tourist sites in Acapulco, La Quebrada, where divers free dive off of very high cliffs into the Pacific Ocean.

My girls and I modeling our life jackets before our trip on the banana! (Lolis was taking the picture)
Bananas away!
My beautiful daughters at La Quebrada!

Victor's ship, while in our home port all weekend attending to our other 12 little sailors, set sail at 3 a.m. Monday morning, along with all of the other Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade volunteers' boats. They soon traded their ships for a plane as they boarded a flight at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning to Ciudad Juarez for this week's crusade.

Ships ahoy....I mean, take flight!

The Crusade Team at the Mexico City airport ready to go!

This is the first EMMC that has required our team to travel by plane! For some team members, including our own Refuge Ranch staff member ,Vero, it was not only their first time going on crusade by plane, but the first time they had ever even flown! The Lord, in His faithfulness and mercy, provided tickets at a price that made flying even cheaper than having made the 24 hour drive with two crusade vehicles. Each of the volunteers paid for a portion of their own ticket and Fishers of Men, through generous donor contributions, covered the remaining portion, as well as other crusade costs.

Victor on board!

The Crusade Team deplaning in Ciudad Juarez.

Thanking the Lord at the airport in Ciudad Juarez for a safe arrival.
Arriving in Ciudad Juarez, the Fishers of Men team joined forces with the local pastor, Joel, and his wife, Amber, as well as other believers from the Villa Esperanza Church, as well as with Canadian volunteers with the organization Christlike Ministries. So, a three nation effort, Canada, United States and Mexico, has joined forces for something greater than even NAFTA! They have joined forces to share the Good News of Jesus Christ through meeting the physical needs of the people so that many may come to know the Lord in a personal way!

The crusade flier that was distributed locally to invite people to take advantage of this week's crusade and Sunday's special evening tent service!

After getting back into home port, I spent Monday cleaning deck here at home and reorganizing my ropes and supplies, as well as attending to our sailors, before we started our home port routine of school and chores on Tuesday.

I thank the Lord Jesus for being our anchor wherever He sets our sails and we thank you for providing the financial support to keep these ships in “ship shape”: fueled, loaded with the necessary provisions to carry out the mission with which the Creator of the Seas has entrusted us and conditioned to make the sailing as effective as possible!  (Remember: if you would like to financially support this "float" you may do so very simply on the home page of our website: by clicking on "donate" and using the secure PayPal system to make a one time donation or set up a monthly contribution, which greatly helps our budgeting and administration.)

Thank you for your prayers that sustain our float during stormy waters, that encourage during rough seas and that celebrate with us for each stretch of calm, each port visited and each mission completed!

While Victor and my ships rarely “pass in the night” like this past weekend, and is not something we relish, it was actually a privilege this time around because it was done in obedience to the Master Mariner...our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Friday, October 24, 2014

God healed me....and I didn't even know I needed healing!

A week ago last Sunday, God performed a miracle in my life! A true I didn't even know I needed...and I continue to be in awe! Oh, ye, of little faith, I have even waited 10 days to share this miracle publicly in order to make sure that it really was a miracle! Lord, have mercy!

On Sunday evening we arrived home from church as normal, around 6 p.m. A bit later, one of the physiotherapists (massage therapists) from the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade volunteer team arrived at the Ranch. She had offered to come out and give the ladies of our staff free massages!

So, later that evening I went to the other building on our property, up to one of the extra staff bedrooms off of our classroom area. There the therapist had set up her massage table. Relaxing music floated through the air, dancing with the sweet aromas of therapeutic oils.

As the massage began, I adjusted my earphones to listen to Dad's last sermon before retirement, which he had preached earlier that morning, at my home church, after nearly 40 years of pastoring there. I secretly hoped that that massage would reach all the way to my heart, because it really felt like it needed a massage!

As the message, and massage, continued, the therapist commented: “Julie, do you have problems with your hips?” I thought for a second and then replied: “Yeah, I guess I do, especially with my right hip.” A few seconds later I asked: “How can you tell?” “Oh, I can tell all right!” was her quick response as she continued to work silently and methodically.

Do you know when I realized, though, that I really had had problems with my right hip? As soon as I got off the massage table.....and my hip didn't hurt! A bit later, I walked upstairs....and downstairs....and upstairs....and downstairs....and upstairs (etc....) to put the kids to bed and my hip didn't hurt! The next morning the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., my feet hit the floor....and my hip didn't hurt! After devotions and 30 minutes on the hip didn't hurt! My hip didn't hurt during my stretching exercises and I could sit Indian style on the floor....without pain! I went to school and after over an hour of sitting at my desk and attending the kids' questions, I got up....and my hip didn't hurt! I ran up to my office to make a photo copy for school without holding onto the railing...and my hip didn't hurt! I slept all night and didn't have to change positions to accommodate...a hurting hip!

In each of this instances, I was not thinking, “My hip should be hurting.” I did not even expect my hip to hurt, because I really had ignored the pain problem, but once I put weight on the hip and it didn't hurt my brain said: “Hey, that was supposed to hurt and it didn't!”

As I thought more and more about this situation, I realized that my hips, particularly my right hip, had been hurting for months! However, the pain had gotten increasingly worse so gradually that I hadn't even realized how bothersome it had become! (Like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water.) I also realized that I had excused the pain as a possible inherited arthritis, like my Grandma, or maybe a different congenital hip condition, like the one with which Josiah had been born born. I assumed that the pain was something I was going to have to learn to live with and knew that God would give me the strength to do so. Now that the pain was gone, I remembered that on many occasions I had had to pray for strength to be able to go up our house steps just one more time! I thought it was just exhaustion, but it had been pain!

The Lord certianly used the therapist's hands during the massage, but He did the miraculous healing! A simple massage session (I had had massages with this therapist before) feel wonderful, but they don't heal! Jesus heals! (The Lord has used this same therapist to heal people on crusade. Our staff has witnessed the elderly arrive totally dependent on a cane and then leave the crusade, leaving the cane behind!)

I have been quite stupefact for the last 10 days....marvelling at life without hip pain, marvelling at the stupidity of living with unnecessary pain, marvelling at the fact that I hadn't even considered the possibility of trying to get rid of the pain, marvelling at the fact that I hadn't even realized how bad the pain had become until it was gone, marvelling at the fact that the pain crept in so slowly and subtly that I hadn't even fully detected it!

How dangerous it can be to become so used to living in a state of pain that we don't even realize we are in pain! Wow! When pain becomes normal!

What happens when emotional pain becomes normal? What happens when we no longer even consider forgiveness because we assume that cold, stony portion of our heart is simply just that way, when we could be living in total and utter freedom?! What happens when loneliness becomes a friendly ache, rather than an impulse to seek friendship with God and others?! What happens when abuse becomes normal and we don't even consider seeking help and healing because we can't even see the abuse because “that's just the way life is”?!

What happens when spiritual pain becomes normal? When “losing your first love” is a part of Christian growth? When the big, dark, vacuum of a whole in our heart is deemed an irremediable human condition?

So, how are you healed of a pain you don't even realize you have?

You depend on God to reveal and heal!

Ask Him today: “Lord, I come to you this day asking that you would reveal any pain present in my life that You would will to heal! Reveal it to me so that I can then go to You as the Great Physician to heal my soul, my heart and my body in accordance with Your perfect will.”

One thing is if the Lord chooses not to heal and quite another is not even realizing we need healing! Let's just not get used to the pain!


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grief looks like...the one year anniversary

The first anniversary of Danny's passing was on September 8th, 2014.  Now, with a month having passed since that date, I can now gather my thoughts sufficiently to share them with you!

How do you celebrate/recognize/acknowledge the first anniversary of the death of your child? 
 I don't know!

It's not just the event of the first anniversary of the death, but the fact that the first anniversary represents the last of a long line of firsts....first bedtime without him, first family outing without him, first time at church without him, first birthday without him, first Thanksgiving without him, first Christmas without him, first vacation without him, first VBS without him, first everything without him! 

The date, besides being the one year anniversary of Danny's passing, almost needs its own moment of grief because those "firsts" somehow helped us feel closer to him, and now they too have come to an end.  "Seconds" don't sound as comforting!

So, how do you create anniversary experience that allows healing and cleansing when sometimes all you want to do is wallow in the brokenness?

I haven't yet Googled it but I can't imagine a "how-to" or self-help or "Anniversaries for Dummies" book about how to celebrate the one year anniversary after losing a child.  I wouldn't read it anyway, because I don't want anybody telling me how to celebrate my child's passing.  (Sorry for that bit of rather uncharacteristic rudeness.)

So, to figure out how to do this, and help my husband, 17 children and staff do this, I turned to God and one of my best friends.  God had brought quite a few random and unorganized ideas to my head. Thankfully, He has also brought several not-so-random and very understanding friends into my life. So, after a very long, gentle, understanding Facebook chat with one of my soul sisters, Janelle, who understands my need to literally talk things out in order to work them out, there was a plan....a very special plan, to continue celebrating the life of a very special son, brother, grandson, nephew, student, friend and playmate...Danny.

So, how do you do the first anniversary of the death of your child?  I still don't know...but here is the photo journal of how we did ours...our very own 11 step program for the one year anniversary after losing Danny. (I tried and tried, but I just couldn't make it into 12 steps!  :-)  )

Step 1: Cancel School for two days

Step 2: Get everybody up at 7 a.m. on Monday, September 8th, 2014 (the first anniversary of Danny's passing).

Step 3:  Make a sandwich assembly line. (Thank you, Henry Ford, for giving the world the idea of the assembly line!)

      Herein lies the advantage of a family of 19!  We laid everything out on the table and had one kid on either side of the table (so 2 kids per team) at the following stations:
bread cutting station
mayonnaise station
ham station
cheese station
tomato station
onion station
sandwich wrapping station

Then there was the slicing station where Victor and Diana sliced away to keep the tomato and onion stations supplied!

Besides needing Adrian to make a mid-assembly-line-run for more ham, the kids made 150 sandwiches in under an hour!

Step 4: Go to Danny's hospital, the National Pediatric Institute, in Mexico City...a two hour drive one-way!

Step 5: Give away free sandwiches, free drinks, evangelistic tracts, smiles, hugs and even prayers! 

 In the time that it took for us to get our table set up, the signs hung on the table and the cups out to start serving drinks, most of the sandwiches were gone!  We gave away over 100 sandwiches in less than 10 minutes!

This is one of the signs we made to invite people to take a free sandwich and drink.  (In hindsight, we really didn't need to do any inviting the people were so anxious for some free food).

"Sandwiches and water
in honor of Christ
and in rememberance of Danny:
our son, brother and friend."

(Cultural notes:
1) When we say "water" it is not always just regular water.  We use the word "water" to also refer to fruit-based drinks.  They aren't juice, they are blended fruit with water.  We served an artificial version. 
2) There is a huge need, and opportunity, at hospitals in Mexico to serve the patients' families.  Danny's hospital, for example, is the largest and best children's hospital in Mexico, so there are families from all over the country represented there.  However, visitation is extremely limited, so the families spend a lot of time outside on the main patio.  Many do not have the financial resources to pay for hotels and their children do not have a diagnosis that gives them access to a local shelter, so many families actually sleep on the patio.  Their financial resources are strained to the limit with medical costs, so a simple free meal is a huge blessing, and a huge opportunity for us to share Christ's love!)

Diana and Angie, our two eldest daughters, serving drinks.

Victor and Martita, our third eldest daughter, praying for a woman and her son.  We offered to pray for anybody interested and several accepted the offer.  One man even prayed to accept Jesus!  (I had the privilege of praying for a woman and her little boy who just "happened" to be named Danny!  Talk about coming full circle!)

Once the sandwiches ran out, a friend of ours brought a bunch of apples and bananas and Victor went to the Wal-Mart across the street and bought 300 pieces of Mexican sweet bread.  It only took another half an hour for all of that to be given away!

Some of our kids helped serve, others helped pray and many walked around the patio offering evangelistic tracts with the water and sweet bread!  It was so incredible to watch our kids reach out from their pain to the pain of others!  It was so wonderful to see how sensitive our kids were to the other families and patients, knowing exactly how they feel!  Even our most shy and withdrawn kids were walking up to complete strangers to offer them hope and help!

We just might not be able to stay away for a whole year before doing this again....but we'll take at least 300 sandwiches this time!

Step 6: Go to the park with our "hospital Dad and Mom", Ricardo and Susana.  

Ricardo and Susana are the couple that God miraculously provided who live only 5 minutes from Danny's hospital and where Victor and I occassionally slept, where we bathed and ate many delicious homemade breakfasts during Danny's hospital stay.  (Just so you can see how incredible God is:  Ricardo is the sibling of the neighbor of my great aunt in central Ohio.  Did you follow that?  My great aunt, whom I have not seen since I was in elementary school, keeps up with Fishers of Men through my Grandma Blom.  She shared about us with her neighbor who said:  "My brother lives in Mexico City!"  She gave Ricardo our information and we finally connected just one week before Danny's surgery!)

Step 7: Make a family scrapbook.

Back at home that evening I spread out all of the pictures that I had of Danny...over 500, which we had printed up earlier that day, on several tables, along with construction paper, markers, crayons, tape and glue.  We then all began to create unique scrapbook pages which I will be laminating in order to create our own family one year anniversary book.

It was so fun to look at all those pictures....from the very first picture to some of the last pictures...and remember so much life and love!

Step 8 (and Day Two):  Tuesday, September 9, 2014 - the one year anniversary of Danny's burial.  Go to Cemetery.

Our family was joined by our staff as we cleaned up Danny's grave site, set new flowers in the "vases" (old coffee cans) and then gathered in a circle to pray.

Step 9:  Release balloons!  Each family member released a balloon for Danny!

Step 10:  Go to the movies!  

This was not a day that we wanted to spend at home, so after the cemetery, we took off for the movies!
Step 11:  Thank the Lord and continue to live!

Those two days proved to be very special days for our family!  
  • We had the opportunity to serve others through our pain  ("Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." II Corinthians 1:3-4)
  • We had the opportunity to thank and and have fun with those the Lord provided to sustain us during those difficult days (Ricardo and Susana)
  • Those who express themselves best alone and through words and/or art had the opportunity to do so with the scrapbook pages
  • Our kinisthetic (aka hyperactive :-) ) children could express grief through releasing balloons
  • We ended by laughing, playing, having fun and making new memories together at the movies and Kentucky Fried Chicken (buckets are the best value when feeding 19 people out)!
For any of you facing your own grief, our hope would be to walk alongside you through our 11 steps as you take your own steps in this lifelong process!  

"For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Revelation 7:17

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Most Recent EMMC

     The most recent Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade took place from August 17-23, 2014 as part of our partnership with the Guerrero Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma to support their church planting initiative in the greater Acapulco area.  For many, when they hear the word “Acapulco”, images of five star hotels, beaches, restaurants, discotheques and swimming pools come to mind.  However, when the EMMC team hears “Acapulco”, the images that come to mind are quite distinct. A very small portion of Acapulco caters to international, and national, tourists, while many other parts of the city succomb to severe poverty. It is to those parts of the city that Fishers of Men travels in order to shine with the light of Jesus Christ through providing free medical care and share the hope of Jesus Christ through giving the Gospel message.

The volunteer crusade team
The first two days of the crusade were spent at Iglesia Renacimiento (New Birth Church), led by Pastor Calet Lorenzano, also the leader of the church planting initiative in Acapulco. There the team was able to provide 257 attentions. (Remember: each time an individual sees a doctor, dentist, hair stylist or physiotherapist it is considered one attention given. If time allows, the individual may visit more than one of these services, resulting in two or three attentions given to one individual.) Of those attended, all of whom heard the Gospel message presented to them one on one, 27 people made decisions to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Praise the Lord!

The tarp announcing the crusade and the free services available which hung outside the church on the additional temporary tents set up to attend to the patients.

Victor supervising the inside of the church which housed the pharmacy (on the left), the kitchen (in the back) and the doctors (on the right).

Becky (right) sharing the Gospel with an attendee.

The second two days of the crusade were spent at Iglesia Juan 3:16 (John 3:16 Church) where the Lord has called Pastor Memo to serve. Here the team provided 258 attentions and 35 individuals opened their hearts and lives to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. To God be the Glory!

An aerial view of the inside of the church divided into the sections used to meet the needs of the attendees.

Free dental work

An aerial view of the pharmacy....all medications are given out free of charge.

Free haircuts.

Rosa (left) working hard to feed the entire crusade team.

Urban areas, many times, result in fewer people attended to than in rural areas. This may seem contradictory, since there is a greater concentration of people in urban areas, but those individuals tend to have a bit easier access to medical care. In the rural areas, many towns and villages have no medical services whatsoever. The government may send in a doctor once a month or several times a year, but the chances that the doctor's visits coordinate with an individual's illness are slim. However, even considering the “lower” numbers than on other crusades, it only cost Fishers of Men $6.00 to take the Gospel to one person on this most recent crusade! By God's grace, and through the team's efforts, there are 62 individuals who, today, have the real hope of Jesus Christ, the promise of Heaven and the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives! If we consider the cost of this most recent crusade, divided just by those who received Jesus into their hearts, it only “cost” $48 for each of them to receive that gift of eternal life, and free medical attention! (Actually, that is not totally accurate....Fishers of Men donors invested $48 for each of those individuals to make that decision. It cost Jesus Christ His life!)

The names of the two host churches on this crusade very accurately sum up the passion behind all that we do at Fishers of Men: providing the hope and spreading the message of John 3:16, the “heart” of the Bible, so that many may experience New Birth through Jesus Christ! Thank you for making that possible through your prayers and giving! Please continue to pray for Pastor Calet and Pastor Memo, as well as for their families, the new believers and these local churches who seek daily to share the love of Christ in their communities.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One Family's Refuge Ranch Adventure: Guest Blogger - Dyan Current

Our Family, the Current Family, ready for a wedding in Mexico that we attended with the Zaragozas!

Our family was privileged to spend two weeks at Refuge Ranch this past June. It took about two minutes to fall hopelessly in love with every member of the Zaragoza family. During our stay, Refuge Ranch became home to us. The five of us kept busy helping out as staff at the Ranch while there. 

During the majority of the week, Don and our 12 year old sons, Don and Darrel, did LOTS of manual labor. They cut and bent rebar, dug footers for the new home, cleaned the trash bins out and hauled the trash to the dump...and got lots of blisters on their hands! Don actually wore through a BRAND NEW pair of LEATHER gloves! 

Don and the boys digging footers for the new main house!
Cutting rebar...
...and now to bend the rebar!
Our sons were excited to see their arm strength increase....all their buddies were at sports camps all summer....but the boys certainly did not miss out on strength training! They also did not miss out on soccer camp! During every break time in school...and after school, you could find a majority of the boys around the yard playing soccer! 

Don, Leo and Miguel practicing their soccer technique.

Danielle, our 7 year old daughter, and I did not partake in too much manual labor but we were exhausted none-the-less by evening time! Well, at least I was!!! Danielle doesn't get exhausted too often! Every morning after the kids were off to school and the house quieted down a bit Julie would give me several projects to work on throughout the day. Since she knew I love to organize she gave me the challenge to organize the family's toys, movies and school files. I also worked on weeding the small garden that is by the kitchen. Danielle and I worked on the kids 'TV watching' chart....a clever idea to try to control how much TV the kiddos watch. 

David was thrilled because his name got included on the new TV chart....
and Mommy Julie is thrilled because the chart is so much better now!
The first week that the Current family served at the Ranch, most of the Ranch staff was on an Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade, so I even got to help cook!
I had brought a few crafts to do with the kids during our stay. Once I got those out several of the kids would ask each day "When is activity time? What will we do for an  activity today?" I had been so happy with myself to think of a few crafts to bring down....and then quickly noted that if ten children or so (some of the kids are just 'too mature' to do crafts!) want to do a craft EVERYDAY...that will eat up a LOT of supplies!! I sent out a facebook plea to my friends asking what I could do with my meager supplies I had left! We ended up painting rocks with nail polish (a big creative hit!), making play dough, painting metal washers with nail polish...and making duct tape crafts (with fun patterned duct tape that I had brought down.) Several of the kids thrived during this craft time. Lots of creativity! 

Fidel, Ruth and Danielle working during craft time!  To say that the kids loved this time is a huge understatement!

Alejandro really blossomed during craft time!  It served as a great motivator for him to hurry up and get his school work done, helped keep his endless energy directed in healthy ways and gave him an opportunity to truly shine!
Julie mentioned while we were there that she was just grateful that her kids had someone else to love them and whom they could depend on because she and Victor just can not do everything on their own with such a houseful of kids.'s not about the bending rebar or making play dough. What this 'mission' was about was LOVING. This big, beautiful, real family let us into their lives. We all fell in love with each other even with our messed up morning hair or when milk was spilled all over the breakfast table or a kiddo had a melt down..we still loved.

Danielle and Angie

Miguel, Josiah, Darrel and Don playing an incredible board game!

Ana and Danielle
Darrel and Josiah discussing Nerf guns....serious conversation!

Joce and Don making quesadillas for the family!

Joce and Dyan

I would encourage you to come see Refuge Ranch. Come serve. Come love.