Saturday, November 5, 2016

Very Important Ministry News

Dear Beloved Supporters of Fishers of Men,

Greetings from Refuge Ranch! 

The Lord has certainly been moving, for some in unexpected ways, but we are encouraged to share with you His doings!

This past week, on Thursday, October 27, 2016, a group of five men who love the Lord, consisting of:  Pastor Kirk Hanger (the founding pastor of the church we attend in Mexico), Pastor Ruben Bonilla (the lead pastor of the church we attend), Pastor Dave Claassen (my father), Dan Claassen (Julie’s brother) and Adrian Tovar (staff member of Fishers of Men at Refuge Ranch), met with Victor Zaragoza.  Concerned with specific character issues, certain sins, such as pride, and other behaviors that have hindered Victor’s ability to be the man that God desires him to be as husband, father and co-director of Fishers of Men, they confronted him in love and in accordance with Matthew 18.  The confrontation was carried out with the full knowledge and consent of the Fishers of Men Board of Directors.  

By the grace of God, Victor acknowledged his need for restoration and help in these and other areas of his life.  Therefore, the group of men shared with him a plan for such restoration, including leaving the following morning to spend an undefined amount of time living with Pastor Kirk and Marilyn Hanger in Alexandria, Virginia where Pastor Kirk will mentor Victor, as well as Victor receiving professional therapy.

So, last Friday, Victor departed with Pastor Kirk to Virginia to take part in this restorative process for an undesignated period of time.  All financial support for Victor’s restoration is coming from personal funds.

The ministry of Fishers of Men, both at Refuge Ranch and through the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades, continues to be carried out in Mexico.

I will continue to serve as co-director of Fishers of Men, alongside the leadership of the Fishers of Men Board of Directors, as well as, obviously, leading the ministry at Refuge Ranch as the mother of our 18 children.  I will continue to build up our children’s lives in the love and truth found only in Jesus Christ, just as the building of the new house continues to move forward!  The Lord has graciously provided through you!  In fact, every Friday our family pours 8 more columns! 
Just a few more weeks and all of the first floor columns will be poured and we will begin to prep the site for the pouring of the floor!

Adrian Tovar, Victor’s very capable right hand man and Fishers of Men staff member, has taken over the leadership of the Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades.  The remaining crusades on the 2016 schedule will be carried out as planned and we are beginning to schedule 2017, by the grace of God.

Obviously, we covet your prayers and continued support during this challenging, yet hopeful time as we anticipate Victor’s eventual return to our family and the ministry.

Please feel free to contact myself with any of your questions or concerns, but I do request that any communication with our children be limited to expressions of love and support. 

Through all of this we are confident that, “He who began a good work in you (each of us) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 1:6)

May God be honored and glorified in and through our lives!

Confident in Christ,

Julie Zaragoza

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Healing Rejection

Cleaning Danny's tomb to celebrate his third Heavenly birthday
This past Thursday our family celebrated our son Danny’s third Heavenly Birthday in the same way we have each year since his passing.  Getting up before the sun we prepared over 200 sandwiches, loaded 2 8 foot tables, 40 liters of lemonade, 400 evangelistic fliers, fifteen members of our family, one Grandpa and one Grandma, and two staff members in two vehicles and drove the two hours to Danny’s hospital, the National Pediatric Institute in Mexico City.

Preparing 200 sandwiches to give away

       Later that evening, as we reflected on the day, our ten-year-old daughter, Ana, made an interesting comment.
      “Mom,” she began, “the people today were afraid of being rejected.  So, when they would come up to the table, I would reach out with the sandwich towards them.  Then they would take the sandwich and say, ‘thank you’, and I would say, ‘No, THANK YOU!’.”
      A perspective packed with punch!

Here you can see Ana, in the pink sweater, reaching down to get more sandwiches out of the box to hand out.
      You see, not every 10-year- old would have the emotional perception to pick up on adults fearing rejection.  But Ana does.  Ana knows about rejection.  Ana still fears rejection. 

     Ana joined our family while she was still swimming in amniotic fluid.  I watched the ultrasound screen the day we discovered she was a girl!  I heard her first cries through the door of the hospital birthing room as her biological mother brought her into this world.  I breastfed her for the first time before she had even seen the sun rise twice.  Why would she know about rejection?
     Because she was rejected in the womb.
     Despite the temptation to choose another destiny, by the grace of God, Ana’s mother chose life.
     By the will of God, He chose us as her family.
     Now, by the love of God, Ana knows what acceptance is.
     But, the scar of rejection never goes away.  The wound heals, but the scar stays, just clear enough so that Ana can pour the soothing salve of love on another wound.

      Ruth, whom I carried in the womb, and who arrived in this world 9 months to the day before Ana, just assumes that everybody in the world feels loved and accepted!  After all, she always has been!  Ana just assumes that everybody in the world must at least have a small fear of being rejected.  After all, she always has!
      They both shared my bosom for nearly 2 years….the rocking chair….my nighttime hours….my heart, tears, laughter and corrections and now, 10 years of loving!  One still assumes acceptance and one still fears rejection.
     But, on Thursday, Ana, without even knowing it, took another step forward in her healing as she helped.
Ana, in the pink sweater on the right, helping to hand out sandwiches with our family.
     Ana perceived the fear.  But now, rather than succumbing to her own fear of rejection she could reach out.
     After all, stretching out a sandwich to a lonely and hungry family member of an ill child is sure to be met with acceptance!  It was the perfect exercise in risking rejection….almost no possibility of failure.  Assured success in reaching out!
      Hence, her resounding, “No, THANK YOU!”.  You see, the individual receiving the sandwich was truly grateful for the gesture and the gift.  But, Ana was truly grateful, too!  Without even knowing it, she was grateful for the opportunity to reach out and heal somebody else’s fear of rejection while, at the same time, healing her own!
      This little conversation began one of my own with the Lord.  Each time I visit Danny’s grave, remember his laugh, imagine his arms wrapped around my legs I sense the Lord whispering to my soul, “Thank you.”

      That is when I respond, “No, THANK YOU!”  Thank you for his life, thank you for his love and even, thank you for all you have done through his death.  You, Lord, were merciful to him and good to us!  We have known You better and now, each year, on Danny’s Heavenly birthday, many hear the Good News and have the opportunity to know True Life, Jesus Christ!  And, through sharing True Life, our children find fuller life… Ana!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Weeds and Seeds

     I have been pulling weeds lately.  You see, it is rainy season here in central Mexico.  From roughly the beginning of July until the end of October it rains at some point every day, usually towards late afternoon or evening and sometimes even into the night.  That also means that it is growing season…not only for the farmers, but for the weeds!

     We have two specific areas of Refuge Ranch for which I have greater aspirations than weed patches!  The first sits next to our playground and will one day be a grassy, beautiful soccer field!  The second is the ridge behind the new main house construction where, one day, our new dining room, kitchen and office windows will look out upon a hill of wild flowers.  In the meantime, there are weeds.  Lots of weeds.
Our playground area with the "to be" soccer field in the background.
The cow even helps me pull up weeds!
     So, every morning, during my prayer walk, I pull up 10 weeds in each of these areas per circuit around the property.   Along the way, I have discovered a lot about weeds and their roots…and a lot about my own spiritual condition!

The ridge behind the new house construction.
     Today I will share with you about my favorite kind of weed.  Oops!  To start with, one should probably not have a “favorite” kind of weed, but I do!  These weeds are the little weeds!  They are short, new, small and have little or almost no root system!  I can actually pull them up with one hand and even pull them up with the hand in which I am grasping 8 other small weeds that I have already pulled!

     Sometimes it is difficult to decide whether to concentrate on the larger weeds or the smaller weeds.  For several days in a row, I will concentrate on the larger weeds, which look worse, take up more space and prove more troublesome, rationalizing that the smaller weeds aren’t very large nor burdensome and can wait to be pulled.  Guess what happens in those few days?  The small weeds become large weeds, some to the point that the strength of my hands does not suffice to pull up the weed with the entire root system, when, just a few days earlier, I could have easily removed the plant, roots and all, from the soil with just one hand!

     While I cannot ignore the larger weeds, letting them grow nearly into bushes, I certainly cannot ignore the smaller weeds!  In fact, by dedicating due attention to the smaller weeds, I can actually save myself the trouble of having to deal with larger weeds later on!

     Oh, that my heart would understand this same principle!  How many times can I see a “small sin” lurking in my soul and fall into the comfortable and false conclusion that I can let it lie for a time?  Lord, have mercy on me when I come back to my heart’s garden and that little weed is now a bush, far too large to be discarded simply through daily devotions, but requiring the spade of a counselor’s assistance or the pastor’s accountability.

     Oh, to keep our heart free of the little weeds!  This requires daily weeding at the hand of the Master Gardener, Jesus, through the attention of the Holy Spirit!  Time, on a daily basis, spent in God’s Word and in communication with Him through prayer, will pull up those new, small, nearly rootless weeds without a problem….never to become bushy and bothersome sins!

     So, we probably shouldn’t have a “favorite” kind of weed nor a “favorite” kind of sin, but, if so, may our “favorite” ones be the small ones, the ones that have not yet had the opportunity to grow.  The ones that the light and love of daily exposure to God’s truth can pull up so simply!  Have you ever thought about the fact that EVERY sin starts out as a “small” sin?  On my walks, I have observed that no weed starts out as a large weed!  They all start out small!  If I can pluck them all when they are small I would never have to deal with a large weed!

     So, let’s get a pluckin’ by letting God remove those small sins on a daily basis and we won’t ever have to deal with the large ones!

     Now, quite the opposite of pulling weeds is planting seeds!  If you are reading this blog you have been a seed planter through Fishers of Men!  Whether through your prayers, your giving or having served here in Mexico at some point in time, you have invested in planting the seeds of God’s kingdom!  Some of those seeds have grown and are now producing fruit, which contains more seeds being planted in others’ lives!

     If I could only count the ways, but here are just a few!

Our daughter, Martita, and her husband, Leonel, began seminary classes this week in Guerrero so that they can be best prepared to serve the Lord together!

These are five of our children that served at our church's VBS this year:
(left to right) Miguel (music), Angie (VBS director), Fidel (kitchen), Leo (teacher's assistant), Josiah (sports)
When I was a little girl our family used "Our Daily Bread" booklet for family devotions.  So, it was special for me to be able to get sample copies of that devotional resource in Spanish that will enable families and individuals in our church to sign up for the quarterly publication free of charge and grow in their relationship with the Lord through daily devotions.  Several of our girls loved helping me hand out the devotionals!

Children's church last evening at our church where I had the privilege of leading worship with our children:  Josiah on the drums, Leo on guitar and Ruth and Carolina on vocals.
Ruth had the incredible honor of sharing God's word with the children....
and David the privilege of praying for his big sister before she preached!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Treading U.S. Soil to Plant Some Seeds

Victor and I feel honored and excited to be spending a busy weekend in southeast Michigan/northwest Ohio area to plant seeds and give God all the glory for what He has done, is doing and will do in and through Fishers of Men!

Our time will be divided between three dearly beloved groups:  the annual meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, my home church, Mayfair Plymouth Congregational Christian Church, and the faithful congregation of Grace Bible Fellowship in Petersburg, Michigan.

I always find it so energizing to tell God's story of Fishers of Men time and time again!  With good reason the Psalmist says: "Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits."  (Psalm 103:2)  How wonderful to remember His faithfulness throughout all these years and know that He continues to be faithful and that greater things are yet to come!

Stay tuned to hear more about the seeds planted, the seedlings watered and, we pray and trust, about a harvest brought in!

Victor and I at the Fishers of Men missions stand
The mission signs of the ministries represented at the annual meeting of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. 

Victor and I with members of the Mission Society of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches