Monday, November 18, 2019

A Wedding Album

Angie and Juan
What makes Refuge Ranch so unique is our call to become family, not a children’s home, not an orphanage, but a lifelong family!  And, lifelong family means kids grow up….and get married! 

Angie became my eldest daughter at age 11, over 16 years ago!  And, now, she is married!  While no words, not even pictures, can fully nor accurately express the depth, width, and reach of this wedding into our hearts and lives, I will do my best to share with you all that it meant and means, through the best means to share about a family wedding….a wedding album!

So, enjoy this blogbum (blog+album=blogbum) about Angie and Juan’s special day!

Who: Juan Angel Torres and Angelica (Angie) Velazquez
When: October 26, 2019
Where: the garden of Juan’s parents’ home in Acapulco, Mexico

Of course, preparation began weeks and weeks before the wedding as we prepped five bridesmaids’ dresses, went to fittings, tried out hairstyles and makeup options…and Grandpa taught Caleb how to put on a tie! 

Ana at her dress fitting
Caleb and Grandpa working on the tie
The wedding day began with the civil wedding ceremony.  In Mexico, religious weddings hold no legality, so a separate civil service must be held in order to make the wedding legal.  Civil ceremonies can happen at the court house or, as in Juan and Angie’s case, at a home.  Juan’s parents lovingly opened up their home, not only for the civil ceremony that morning, but also for the main wedding later on in the day!  Two weddings in one day!

Their second story patio provided the perfect stage with the Pacific Ocean as the perfect backdrop for the civil ceremony.

As part of the civil ceremony, the bride and groom’s parents are seated in front of the judge and then take part in the signing of the marriage certificate.  In a totally normal gesture, the judge simply read Juan and Angie’s parents’ names directly from their respective birth certificates, not including my name, of course, because I have legal guardianship, not legal adoption, of my children.  Juan’s mother and father and Angie’s biological mother took their places, while I remained seated with the rest of my family.  As the judge continued on with the ceremony, Angie politely interrupted him and said: “I have another mom.”  He respectively motioned me to the seat next to her biological mother.  What a beautiful moment!  Sixteen years ago, I choose Angie to be my daughter, how precious it was to be chosen by her to take that seat!

Then, at the moment designated to sign the marriage certificate, the judge made a statement whose significance I missed in the moment, but, thanks to the insight of my best friend, Vero,  greatly impacted my heart when she pointed it out to me later on.  He said:  “The mother that is present in representation of the Father can sign here.”  Now, I know he was referencing an earthly father, but, praise be to Jesus, we know which Father I was there to represent!  A good, good, Father.  In fact, a PERFECT Father!
Signing the marriage certificate

A mother daughter hug!
Angie and Juan after the civil wedding ceremony

Little sister Ana playing the piano prelude for the wedding.
I am assuming that other families with absent fathers have faced moments in their lives when a father is just “expected” to be on the scene…for example, when it is time to give away a daughter at an altar!  Like many, our family faced that situation.  While sin creates brokenness and emptiness, Christ expertly shows up with redemption and healing!  Josiah, my eldest biological son, was only 3 years old when Angie became his older sister, and Caleb was born three weeks after Angie joined our family.  (She changed many of his diapers!)  So, my boys have no recollection of life without their older sister!  How moving to watch these two, now young men, walking their sister down the aisle, an action indicative of the many manly roles they have come to occupy in our family.

Josiah and Caleb walking Angie down the aisle with David carrying the train.
What a beautiful sight to see Angie’s biological sister and my second eldest, Diana, serve as maid-of-honor, and my other five daughters, who continue to live at home, just glow as bridesmaids!

The bridesmaids

Practical marriage advice was lovingly shared through God’s Word by Grandpa, my dad, Dave Claassen, and translated into Spanish by Josiah, his grandson.  How special can you get?

As part of wedding ceremonies in Mexico, the bride and groom choose special guests to present them with meaningful gifts.  I had the honor of presenting Angie and Juan with their first Bible as a couple, while my parents had the privilege of providing them with their wedding rings!

The giving of the Bible

The giving of the rings
To conclude the wedding ceremony, the pastor asked the bride’s and groom’s parents to come forward and pray for the couple.  What a serious, yet joyful, privilege and responsibility to pray for and nurture the spiritual lives of my children, their spouses and my grandchildren!  Refuge Ranch, it’s legacy and ministry, will last for generations….because families last for generations!

Praying for my children!

The official kiss!
Love my kids!

A wedding is a special day because of the commitment being made and the celebration which that commitment deserves!  However, the day becomes even more special because of the special people there to share in it!

My parents continue to shine in their roles as Grandparents of so many!

Grandpa and Grandma with the bride and groom
What a blessing to see my second eldest, Diana, and her family: Robbie and my grandson, Liam; as well as meeting my newest granddaughter, Layla, for the first time!  Martita, my third eldest, and her husband, Leonel, proudly showed off their precious treasure!

Adrian and Vero, while staff members with Fishers of Men, truly occupy the place of family in our hearts and lives.  Considered uncle and aunt, along with little cousin Isaac, they fill our lives with love, support and much joy!

Vero, Isaac and Adrian

Over a decade ago, the Lord called Ashleigh Weis to join our staff here at Refuge Ranch as a short-term missionary.  While her time on site might have only spanned several years, the friendship, as well as her commitment to the ministry, has become lifelong.  She now serves as the Fishers of Men Board President and we were greatly blessed by her and her sister, Amanda’s, presence at the wedding.

Ashleigh and Amanda

If one word could describe this wedding, I would choose FAMILY!  What a testimony to God’s faithfulness and redemption!

When I felt the Lord’s call on my life at the age of 13, He began to plant in me the desire to create a family for those who needed a family.  Throughout these years, sin, circumstances and Satan have threatened that vision incessantly.  While we have much growing, and healing, left to do, a family we are….by God’s grace and for His glory!

Angie and Juan, my prayer for you is that you may live out and enjoy everyday the beautiful and delicate dance of God’s grace and love in your marriage!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Unbelief turned to Belief by Belief

Each crusade, while much the same in operation, creates unique stories, and our most recent crusade to Lázaro Cardenas, Michoacán proved no different!

These two men, friends or family members, arrived at the crusade after dinner.  The patient, in the yellow shirt, could not walk on his own and required, not only the use of his cane and of his friend, but of several of our crusade volunteers, also, just to move from registration, to vital signs to the doctor.  He was heaving and out of breath and spoke only when necessary.  I must admit my lack of faith.  When I saw them, I actually thought: “These men are never going to accept Jesus.”  (Even us missionaries have LOTS of room for growth!)  Their faces, etched with hardness and anger, never cracked a smile. 

As with each of our patients, after their medical appointment had finished and while waiting for their prescription to be filled, the pair spent some time with one of our evangelistic counselors, Aurelia.  I saw them sitting there and thought, once again:  “I really don’t think they are going to accept Jesus.”

Then, an additional obstacle, besides what I believed to be already hard hearts, presented itself.  A vehicle was blocking the entrance to the church and needed to be moved.  So, our crusade director, Adrian, and I began to search among the patients for the owner of the car.  Any hope for these men’s salvation dissipated when I saw that Adrian had identified the man with the yellow shirt’s friend as the driver for whom we had been searching.  He got up from the evangelism area and went to move his car.  Despite my struggle to believe, I followed him out, just to make sure that he would come all the way back to where Aurelia had been sharing the Gospel with them. 

Once he was seated again, I moved on to other activities.  Several minutes later, as I walked through the room, I glanced and saw that BOTH men had their eyes closed and heads bowed and were praying to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  I quickly snapped the picture, to which a local lady observing nearby commented, “Don’t break your camera taking THEIR picture.”  My faith had now grown and I responded:  “As long as they go to Heaven, my camera breaking would be well worth it.”

The following afternoon, I saw a man arrive at the crusade location.  I literally did a double take!  It was the same yellow shirt patient as the day before!  The same man, but yet a whole new man!  He was in clean clothes, walking only with his cane, unaccompanied, a huge smile on his face radiated as he greeted everybody he walked by.

My soul rejoiced, my unbelief found repentance, my faith was strengthened and I knew that I had a new brother in Christ! 

My unbelief, was turned to belief by the belief of these men!

Each crusade, while much the same in operation, creates unique stories, eternal stories, and our most recent crusade to Lázaro Cardenas, Michoacán proved no different!  Praise the Lord!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Not Just an Award

A few weeks ago, my daughter, Ana, was chosen by her gymnastics coach to receive a special recognition during the 15th anniversary celebration of the gym where she trains.

Ana (center) receiving her gymnastics award
As I wrote that sentence it seemed like such a normal sentence.  Surely a sentence that mother upon mother has written on Facebook, in a text to her own mother or friends, letting them know of her child’s accomplishment.  However, those simple words, in so many other cases, as is true with Ana’s situation, hide so much more depth, miracle, struggle and success than they reveal at first.
Ana is thirteen years old.  Ana became my daughter thirteen years ago.  I coddled Ana at my breast for the first time within hours of her having been born.  Ana is adopted.

I met Ana’s mother as the Lord was still in the process of “knitting her together in her mother’s womb”, several months before her birth; and I loved her from before the first ultrasound.  I was present to hear her first cry fueled by oxygen and snuggled her into the crook of my arm as we took her home less than 24 hours after her appearance here on earth.  She and I even shared the miracle of breastfeeding, as I was still breastfeeding my biological daughter, Ruth, so Ana just joined in the fun for the next two years!

Now, thirteen years later, I attended her gymnastics recognition ceremony along with “all the other moms”, knowing that this was not just another award.  This was a victory.

Joseline, Ruth and I celebrating with Ana
Ana’s story could have been so different had Jesus not intervened.  However, isn’t that true about each of our stories?

But Jesus DID intervene….through you, through me, through Fishers of Men and through Refuge Ranch.  By the time Ana was two, I knew we would be sitting at many gymnastics training sessions.  That evening, she vaulted out of the bathtub, literally.  With her two tiny little brown hands placed firmly on the white plastic bathtub edge, she launched her two short legs over the edge of the tub, at the same time, onto the bath towel, to get dried off.  Gymnastics, here we come!

Although Ana does an excellent job at tumbling, vaulting, stretching, jumping and swinging, her greatest accomplishment is her attitude.  Over two years into training, she has yet to compete, because competitions are on Sunday: a non-negotiable in our family.  This month there is a competition on a Saturday….the same day my eldest daughter gets married!  So, Ana’s patience continues to be purified by the fire of trial.  Yet, having never competed, she received a recognition for her good attitude, faithfulness and the verbal praise of having the best core strength of anyone at the gym!  We all know what is at her very core….Jesus Christ and His redemptive power!

There are more Ana’s out there, and we are committed to being Jesus’ agents as He seeks to intervene in their lives.  So, with every rebar, nail and wheelbarrow of cement poured into the new house, we come closer and closer to providing a better place for many more to bound, flip and run into the hope and love that Jesus has prepared for them.

It might have been one gymnastics certificate, but it represents a life transformed!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Oh, the Things You'll Learn!

My time in Mexico was a lot of things.  It was character building.  It was a chance to live more independently.  It was a time for adventure and new experiences.  I certainly learned a lot in my time down there.  From language to culture to essential life lessons, I’m confident I’m not the same person I was when I went down. 
Now’s the part where I find an original way to say “Here are some of the things I learned that I think will benefit you.”…but I couldn’t think of a non-cliche way to do that so cue item number one:

“‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ‘” – Matthew 6:25
I think this is one of the most important thing we as Christians looking to make disciples and further God’s kingdom can learn.  Life is messy.  We’re not in control.  If something can go wrong it often will and if we get so caught up on what was supposed to happen that we fail to really act we won’t get very far in our goal.  Learn to roll with the punches.  I’ve mentioned before how we as humans try so hard to be the ones in control when in reality, life would really suck if things went how we wanted them to all the time.  Not just because things would be boring if nothing unexpected ever happened, but because we’re absolutely awful decision-makers, especially when we don’t have the whole perspective (which is always).
I’ve found that protesting against something we didn’t have any control over in the first place accomplishes nothing.  Even if we did have control, it’s in the past and there’s nothing we can do now.  One of the things I love about Mexicans (and likely many other people groups) is that they don’t seem to get upset over everything that inevitably goes wrong.  Maybe it was because I was staying with a group of missionaries, but it just felt like the people were a lot more content with the circumstances of life than we often are.  They don’t see setbacks as something bad or negative, it’s just…life.  No use getting upset over something going “wrong” when that’s going to happen thousands of times in our lifetimes.  Better to roll with the punches.
“‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'” – Isaiah 41:10 NASB
Now I’m not talking about this in its normal context of faith in Christ conquering fear.  What I mean by this is refusing to become so paralyzed by fear of what could happen that we refuse to act, missing out on much of what makes life truly living.  There will always be things that go wrong no matter how much we try to avoid them.  Our lives aren’t about being all nice and comfortable and safe.  Someone who’s never gotten cut has never had a scar.  The bruises and the blood are a part of life and are part of what makes it memorable.  As Levi the Poet once said, “Comfort is no good reason for standing still, and idle hands build nothing that you can call your own.”
God is in control.  Don’t let your worries over what could happen prevent you from truly living.  All my greatest regrets have come not from things I did, but things left undone for the fear of what could have happened.
“Thou shalt eat tortillas.” – Mexicanus 1:1
Alright alright, sorry but I had to.  They really do.  There are a million dishes that use them in the meal, and the ones that don’t use them for carrying the meat or rice or what-have-you or for sopping up the soup or sauces that make the meals so flavorful.  They’re really a useful little utensil for whatever your needs may be.  Dropped a chicken drumstick on the table?  Use your tortilla to pick it up so you don’t dirty your fingers.  Don’t like the taste of that meat?  Tone it down a bit by wrapping some of it in a tortilla.  Whatever your food needs, tortillas have you covered.  But now, back to the serious part.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” – Matthew 28:19
This is the single greatest lesson I’ve learned from every single trip I’ve gone on outside of the US.  Relationships with people should always be valued above getting stuff done.  After all, that’s what Jesus commanded us.  He didn’t say “Go and preach the Gospel and get as many confessions of faith as you can.”  No, He said, “make disciples of all nations,”  God’s focus has always been on the people and individual relationships over impressive statistics or mass evangelization strategies.  He loves people.  We should too.  Never get so caught up in the flashy shows and mega conferences that you forget that Jesus didn’t care about all that.  Those have their place, but the focus should always be on the individual.
I love going to places in Mexico or Haiti because the people are always so friendly.  They care more about you and having a conversation with you than accomplishing the next thing on their to-do list.  They’ll be late to work if you need their help changing a tire.  This mentality of people over productivity seems to have gotten lost in our efficiency-based culture, choked out by higher paychecks and shinier cars.
These are just a few of the biggest things I’ve learned not only in Mexico but in my previous trips out of the country as well.  I hope they’ve helped.  At the very least, buy some good tortillas for your next meal.  (just kidding, I hope that wasn’t your one takeaway!)  Other cultures are fascinating, and what they value can teach us a lot about what we value, helping us better understand ourselves and others simultaneously.  Take some time to familiarize yourself with the rest of the world.  There’s a lot of beauty outside of our borders if you have the eyes to see it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tales of Mexico

I've been in Mexico for well over a month now, and it’s been quite the adventure.  I’ve gone to youth group, ran to the store, and gone on a Crusade to the state of Puebla.  While I’ve shared many of my stories in previous posts on Mexico, I haven’t shared all of them.  Today, I’d like to let you in on a few of my more memorable times here.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy the Tales of Mexico.
The first thing in my book of adventures is one of my favorite events here.  It comes with a story, as it should.  So, during dinner I was having a conversation with Josiah, one of my Mexico siblings near my age.  He discovered that I couldn’t drive stick shift, so he immediately told our Crusade director Adrian.  Needless to say, after dinner I found myself sitting on the side of the road with Adrian, Josiah, and a couple of others in our little red Focus.  I’ve tried to drive my brother’s Mustang back in the States before to no avail, so I was nervous to inevitably spend half an hour grinding the clutch with several of my Mexico siblings watching on.  It was actually surprisingly easy!  I was able to drive it all the way back to the Ranch, even crossing over speedbumps.  I’m now convinced the Mustang is cursed.
The first Sunday of July was a special one for our church.  Once a year, the entire church holds the service at a Balneario, a large pool place that we rent out for a service as well as 30+ baptisms.  We got there early to set up and spent the day worshipping and watching the baptisms before diving into the pools for a few hours.  It was a fantastic day swimming and laughing, playing games and just floating.  I may have gotten a little overconfident in my tanning abilities and neglected to put sunscreen on until about 3:30, so long story short, the next week was a bit painful for my neck and shoulders.
Many of my afternoons and evenings here are spent playing soccer or various board games.  By various, I mean Risk and Monopoly, nothing else.  They’re great games though, so I don’t mind.  While I have yet to conquer the world even once in Risk, I do quite well in Monopoly.  Perhaps I’d be a good businessman?
As often as I can, I like to go down to the field and play soccer with the kids.  I’m an American competing against Mexicans, so I’m not the star player, but I think I’ve improved a bit.  Fidel has been helping me train footwork and kicking accuracy.  Hopefully, I won’t be completely unprepared for the soccer season I’ll be launching into upon my return to the States.
In my over a month spent in Mexico, I’ve gone to many different events and activities with my Mexican family.  Often, we’ll find ourselves out late in the evening after spending the day at church, shopping, or, on one occasion, the movies.  In the midst of these long evenings, I’ve found my favorite place.  Call me crazy, but my current perfect situation is laying in the back row of a fifteen-passenger van, hands behind my head and feet kicked out in front of me, preferably with an earbud in my ear.
A bit different than the typical beach or quiet house scene, isn’t it?  While many crave those moments, I’ve found that God has given me this crazy passion for adventure and trying new things recently.  It’s quite strange when I consider my usually cautious, planner personality.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  There’s just nothing like having no plans and doing something crazy, totally dependent on God to see you through whatever ridiculous adventure He’s got you embarking on next.  It’s a beautiful (albeit occasionally terrifying) thing to be in the hands of the Living God.  I think I’ll be writing in the distant future about that topic.
There’s no safety net.  That’s been my favorite phrase as of late.  It means I’m totally dependent on my Jesus to see me through whatever He’s gotten me in to, and if He doesn’t come through for me I’m sunk.  I’m no longer the one in control.  As much as I love to be in control, I’ve learned that it’s much better when the timeless God who created the universe and everything in it to be holding the reigns than for a human with seventeen years of experience to attempt to.
So there you have it, some of my favorite experiences in Mexico.  I hope you enjoyed getting another little glimpse into my life here.  I know I’ve said it before but you’re just going to have to put up with hearing it again.  I’ve had such an amazing time here.  Every day has been a unique experience, and many of them have been filled with exciting adventures.  Although I’ve only got a few weeks remaining, I look forward to the adventures that are to come

Monday, July 8, 2019

Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades (EMMC's)

by: Darrel Current (summer missionary, Fishers of Men Board member and communications volunteer)
A little over a week ago, I went on an adventure.  Not some dragon-slaying, wizards and knights adventure, but an adventure nonetheless.  I went on a Medical Crusade.  I posted updates on Facebook every day, so if you’re interested to see what I specifically did, you can check those stories out here.  In this post, though, I want to take you through what Crusades actually are and what they look like.  Let’s get started, shall we?

Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusades, or EMMCs, are humanitarian aid excursions through Fishers of Men that take place once a month.  We travel with a team of primarily Mexican medical professionals and volunteers to different towns in Mexico to give free aid in every field from general medical to dentistry to massages.  The Crusade from this month included general medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, optometry, haircuts, massages, and a clown act for the kids.  In addition, each and every patient is presented the Gospel and given the opportunity to converse with one of our staff.  Our goal is to help both the physical and spiritual needs of the people we’re serving.
We always go on Crusades to cities where we have a local church contact to ensure that any new converts have a community of believers to connect with.  We don’t want to just go somewhere, convert a bunch of believers, then run off to the next town leaving them no way to grow in their faith or a community to encourage them.  This also gives us a contact through which to gain access to a building from which to provide our services (usually the church itself or their property) and houses where our volunteers can stay at night.  To those in the States, it may seem strange for us to just show up in a town and stay with random strangers for a few nights, but that’s how it works here in Mexico.  Why pay extra money to house our often 20+ volunteers in a hotel when we know a church full of people willing and able to take us in?  Besides, it’s nice to have a contact to talk to in the evenings to get to know the area and state of things.
The typical Crusade goes from Monday to Saturday, although some are only until Friday, start on Tuesday, or are a shorter period of time.  It all depends on logistics and the specific needs of that community.  The day before a Crusade is spent packing all the totes and equipment, all well organized by Adrian (Crusade Director) to make it a relatively quick process.  Crusade members will begin arriving that day, and the Ranch rearranges itself to fit more people on its beds and couches.  Only youth Crusade members stay at the actual house on the Ranch, as that is the private home of the kids and we like to respect that.  Many stay in Adrian’s house or the apartment area my room is in on spare mattresses or couches.
Early the next morning (last time was 6 am), we load our personal luggage on the top of the van roof, lashed securely with rope.  A quick breakfast is followed by prayer and goodbyes to the people staying at the Ranch.  We then head off to wherever the Crusade location will be.
After we arrive, we usually have a meal and begin setting up.  Since we have a well-organized system, we’re able to unload and set up fairly quickly and begin taking in patients.  The amount of people we’re able to see in a day varies greatly depending on how many come, when we begin service, and what personnel we have.  Typically, it’s anywhere between 50 and 200.
The Crusades are a well-oiled machine.  Each of our volunteers are cheerful servers and excellent workers.  Each area is sent patients from the welcome desk, where volunteers discern basic information and what each person is here for.  They’re then directed to the appropriate area by one of our volunteers.  The majority of the Crusade members are medical professionals or students working under them, but the few untrained (medically speaking) members such as myself still have plenty of roles to fill. There’s the welcome desk, loading and unloading work, and finally, cleaning the dentistry tools.
On Crusade, we typically work until 6 pm each day, or longer in some instances.  The time after is reserved for dinner, a little relaxation at our host home or exploring the town, showers, and finally, sleep.  We’re all exhausted by the end of the day, so even someone like me who takes forever to fall asleep is passed out after a few minutes.
Each Crusade is a different experience.  We go to different towns, meet new people, make new friends, and help different people.  I hope you’ve enjoyed a general overview of the work we do!  Feel free to comment with any questions you may have and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as I can.  In the meantime, keep serving wherever you are, whether that’s Mexico or middle-of-nowhere Indiana.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

New House Tour

Of all the projects going on here at Fishers of Men, none are bigger than the new house.  Since the very beginning, Julie’s passion has been for the children of Mexico.  A bigger house would let us fill it with more people!  For the past several years, we’ve been working bit by bit to accomplish this goal.  We’re currently finished with the first floor, but I’ll give more details on the construction process after I first tell you what it is we’re building.
Let’s begin with an overview.  We’re building a two-story house on the Refuge Ranch property big enough to comfortably fit 20-30 kids, plus Julie.  After this is done, we’ll convert the old house into staff housing.  The new house will combine many of the facilities currently scattered through other buildings, including the kitchen, dining room, laundry room, and office.  Those areas will then be made available for other things we need, such as more Crusade storage and guest housing.
The first floor will contain living spaces.  The front doors open to a large reception area, part of which is open to the second floor surrounding the staircase.  The right side of the house first contains the living room, main bathrooms, creative room, and exercise room.  The living room is a large space housing the TV area, sitting area, small library, and a fire pit.  This’ll be a great room for all the kids to relax, read, and hang out in!  I assume you already know what bathrooms are, so I won’t go into detail on those.  They’ll each contain several stalls to accommodate the hopefully many children living here.  The creative area will contain tables and supplies for any crafts and experiments the kids so desire to perform.  I have a feeling there’ll be plenty of messes to clean up!  Finally, the gym will be populated with various workout contraptions and weights for the kids to use.  In fact, they’ve got some rigged up in the room already!  Tires are an extremely versatile workout tool.
In the back of the first floor will be the nurse’s station and laundry room.  We’ve made space for a medicine closet, recovery room and bed, nurse desk, and storage on the clinic side.  The laundry room will have plenty of washers to clean the (likely literal) tons of clothes dirtied every week, with clotheslines strung out back.  After all, what’s a Mexican home without a few clotheslines?
The left side will house the offices, kitchens, and dining room.  The office space will have two main offices for Julie Claassen and Adrian Tovar, for the Refuge Ranch and Crusade sides, respectively.  There will also be a waiting area and meeting room with a separate door to the outside to help keep work and family life distinct.  The new house will actually have two kitchens, just as our current setup does.  One will be a smaller kitchen for use by the kids in making any snacks, meals, or desserts they wish.  Then, we’ll have a big industrial kitchen for our chef Rosa to work her magic.  That kitchen will conveniently connect to the dining area for easy serving.  Maximum capacity for our dining hall will be 60 people, perfect for hosting guests!
Now that we’ve walked through the first floor, let’s explore the second.  This conglomeration of rooms will be the bedrooms.  The floor is segmented into pods, all connecting to the central walkway surrounding the stairs.  Five pods will be for the kids, with Julie taking a sixth for her apartment.  One segment replaces a bedroom pod with another living room for the kids to relax in not far from their rooms.  Another side, overlooking the main entrance and opening to a terrace, will be a room dedicated to music.  Most of the kids practice piano, violin, or both, so space for them to hone their skills without annoying their pod-mates was a needed inclusion.  Besides, it provides an inspiring view while practicing.
The bedroom pods are an interesting and ingenuitive design.  Each contains four bedrooms, two containing two beds and two containing one, in order to tailor sleeping arrangement preferences for the wide variety of kids who will be living here.  Each pod also has a bathroom, two showers, and a small living space.  We’ll designate each pod for a specific gender and age group.  One for younger girls, one for older, one for younger boys, one for older, and the fifth will be for infants.
Well, there you have it, our new house!  I’m so excited for its completion!  We’re working as quickly as we can, completing each step as the Lord provides funds.  Our next step is the roof of the first floor, which doubles as the floor for the second.  We have all the planning done and are now waiting for funds for our first step.  To build the roof, we will be using prefab concrete trackways that will be placed between the beams.  We’ll then slide in styrofoam beams between those to form the initial roof.  After that, we’ll place the plumbing and wiring and cover it with the concrete floor of the second story.
The first step (the prefab concrete tracks and styrofoam) will only cost us $10,000!  It’s both cheaper and quicker than other methods commonly used here.  We already have $5,500 saved and thus only have $4,500 to raise!  We’re praying to finish this step before the year’s end, and we can do that with your help.
I had the opportunity to be here when we first broke ground on the house years ago, and I’m amazed at how far we’ve come since then.  I would love it if we could go even further.  If you’re interested in giving, you can mail donations to P.O. Box 940, Shelbyville, IN 46176 or email us at  We’re so excited to share this journey with you!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

How to have a Prodigal Child

We all love the story of the prodigal son that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15!  What a story of rebellion and then redemption!  What a story of hope and happy endings!  Well, life has recently prompted me to ponder a bit more about the prodigal.

Leo and I at one of his games
A few weeks ago, I faced a parenting situation that required wisdom, insight and determination, like most all situations that we face as fathers and mothers!  Two of my teenage boys, Leo, age 17, and Miguel, age 15, also biological siblings, had made some unwise decisions while at a national soccer tournament with their team.  As occurs on many occasions, a bad decision is rarely an isolated decision, but actually just one more bad decision in a rather long line of bad decisions.  There comes a time, along that line of bad decisions, where decisive action must be taken.  That time had arrived. 

As a result of the most recent bad decision, I made the determination to pull them out of soccer, explaining that the development of their integrity and character carried much more weight and importance than the development of their soccer skills.  In fact, the decisions they had been making had the potential to completely ruin their hopes and dreams of moving up in the soccer world, so to protect those dreams and ambitions, this lesson needed to be learned NOW.

Miguel enjoying vacation
Not surprisingly, their perspective of the situation and my perspective did not match.  In reaction to my decision to make them step back from soccer for a time, Leo and Miguel decided to return to their biological mother. 

Leo and Miguel, as well as their three siblings, Fatima, Carolina and David, became my children in February of 2011, when their grandmother, who had raised them up to that point, needed a loving and healthy home where they could be nurtured.  She has remained an important part of their lives and is just as devastated as I regarding their decision.

So, after loving and raising them for over 8 years, since they were 9 and 7 years old, respectively, and within less than 48 hours of making their decision, Leo and Miguel left our home….but never our hearts!

After their leaving, I really wanted to sit down with the Dad of the prodigal son in Luke 15 for a long cup of coffee to share our woes (Look at that family with the obedient and happy teenagers!), our worries (What kind of bad decisions are they going to continue to make?), our wonderings (What should I have done differently?  Anything?  When?). 

So, I did just that, although it was a rather one-sided conversation, with his insights limited to those placed on paper by Luke’s pen.  I’ll let you in on some of the musings that have come out of our time together, prodigal Dad and me.

Soon into the conversation, I realized that what I love about the story….is the ending!  In fact, I began talking about the end of the story first, when prodigal Dad reminded me that every story with an ending had a beginning…and probably a beginning further back than you realize at the moment.
The day that younger son demanded his inheritance, prodigal Dad assured me, was not the first day that conflict had occurred, nor that a hard heart and pride had been present in the home and conversation.  It was simply the day in which Dad determined that it was time to let go…and let God…and let life.

There can no be no ending without a beginning.  There can be no prodigal coming home without a leaving first.

So, the first step in having a prodigal child….is knowing when to let him or her go!

Throughout our conversation, I kept wanting to jump forward to the end.  Let’s get to the happy part!  To the resolved part!  But, prodigal Dad just kept bringing me back to the beginning, which I was coming to realize was really the middle, of the story.  He reminded me that the day his son left home, inheritance in hand, he did not know if he would ever see him again!  At the beginning, in the middle, we don’t know the end!

Only once in my life have I jumped to the end of a novel because I simply could not wait to find out how all the unresolved issues present in the current chapter would find resolution.  That move ruined the book!  I finished it out of sheer determination…and determined to never make that impatient move again!

We might not know the end at the beginning, but trying to jump to the end without going through the middle just won’t work!

In the middle, part of Prodigal is waiting.

Step two in having a prodigal child….The Wait… a waiting that you do not know if or when it will ever end.  You just wait.

So, how do you wait well?

You wait, while preparing for your part in the end.  Certainly, it is an end that you do not know if or when it will ever arrive, but you better start getting ready in case it does! 

A Prodigal Parent’s heart always wants and waits for the Prodigal to come back, but do we prepare for his or her return?

The amount of pain, rebellion, disrespect, blindness, lack of gratitude, selfishness and anger present at the moment of a prodigal’s parting does little to prepare the compassionate heart needed at the time of the return. 

The Waiting can provide the space to begin to heal, forgive and prepare to love anew.

I’ve done “Prodigal returns”.  Leo and Miguel’s younger sister, Carolina, returned to their biological mother in August of 2017.  She came back home this past February.  She is all the essence of Carolina, my constant shadow, the always-informed member of our family, but with a much softer heart and one who now loves hugs!  A true Prodigal return requires repentance on the part of the Prodigal and forgiveness on the part of the Parent.

Carolina and I after her return home :-)
As our conversation continued, I really wanted to know more from Prodigal Dad about the return: his other son, how to guide and parent post-prodigal, how to live out forgiveness on a daily basis….but he had a party to get back to!

Step three in parenting a prodigal…pray for a party!  In faith, and in your heart, prepare for a party!

Before prodigal Dad left for the party, he reminded me of one last Truth:  He is actually my Father and I am the Prodigal.  So, as I love children with the potential of being Prodigals, I am to love them as my Heavenly Father has loved me….full of loving limits and limitless mercy when encountering a repentant heart.

So, with these, Leo and Miguel, we are in step two….The Wait.  Please wait with me as we pray for a party!  May the Lord soften hearts and open eyes to Truth!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Welcome to Mexico, Darrel!

Today's blog post is written by a Godly young man, Darrel Current.  You will be hearing more from Darrel in the coming weeks and months for several reasons.  First of all, he is currently living and serving at Refuge Ranch until the end of July!  We are blessed to have his help in school and especially, like today, with the area of communications.  Secondly, he is also our youngest member of the Fishers of Men Board of Directors.  Since a very young age, Darrel has been involved in Fishers of Men, having already served at the Ranch on mission trips with his family.  Darrel's father, Don Current, is the Fishers of Men treasurer and his mom, Dyan, passionately shares about what God is doing in and through Fishers of Men with anybody who will listen!  I know you will enjoy Darrel's perspective on life with Jesus at Refuge Ranch!

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here a week!  Although my days have been busy, they’ve been filled with adventure and family, so I’ve enjoyed every day.  Last I left you, I was on my way to Mexico city preparing to begin a whole new adventure.  Well, that adventure has begun and I have much to tell, so sit back and enjoy the tale of my week!

After I landed in Mexico City, I found my way to the curb to be picked up after a bit of people watching.  Especially when there’s traffic, it can be quite the drive from the airport back to the Ranch.  If you’ve ever been to a foreign country (non-first world), you know that driving is always an experience.  Personally, I love it.  Watching the vehicles flow adeptly through the streets so closely together without crashing is always fun for me.

Thursday, my first full day there, was spent relaxing from travel and adjusting to my new life at the Ranch.  My Mexico siblings slowly became more talkative as the day went on, although they still prefer to talk in Spanish rather than use the English they’ve been learning.

The next day I got up and ate breakfast (prepared by the wonderful chef Rosa) before starting a day of blog writing and helping the kids with their school.  I’ve discovered I will be a lot busier than I had thought here, which thrills me.  I didn’t want to be simply a guest here, so I’m glad I have plenty to keep me busy.

Sunday was a fun day.  Most of us kids (other than those who are too young or busy with other events) went to youth group, which takes up most of the day here.  To be fair, that’s partly because the church is anywhere from one to two and a half hours away depending on traffic.  Since only the kids need to be there, Julie (founder of FOM) drops us off at the bus stop to take public transportation.  Talk about fun!  I love riding the busses (whether the big ones or smaller public transports) around and staring out my window at all the shops, cars, and people nearby.
Both youth group and church the next day proved to be excellent opportunities to absorb more of the language, which I’m learning slowly and steadily!  It was fun to hang out with a group of people my age who I can laugh and joke along with even though we don’t speak the same language.
Church on Sunday has to be one of my favorite things about Mexico and other countries in general.  The service was two and a half hours of pure joy.  We sang our hearts out, listened to the pastor give an amazing sermon (which I managed to catch parts of) and partook in communion together.  Words cannot describe how wonderful it is to hear Christ worshipped in another language.  Although you may not understand all the words, the joy is tangible.
Afterward, we share a meal provided by either the worship team or children’s ministry.  I’ve never had food there that I didn’t like and getting another chance to hang out with my Mexico siblings and the other youth is always a great time.  We stayed for a while, so I wandered out of the church compound (most properties in Mexican cities are walled in with a courtyard inside the gate) with some of the kids.  I say kids but really they’re my age.  Can we really be considered kids?  Anyway, we walked around for a bit and I bought some amazing sweet bread called a concha.  It only cost about 20 US cents!  Not bad!  That’s another of my favorite things about Mexico, all the little street shops with any food you can imagine.  I forgot to take pictures of my Sunday this week but in the future, I’ll try to remember to snap a few.
Most evenings here are spent hanging out with the family playing games, telling stories, and laughing a good bit.  So far my time here has been amazing.  Not that I expected anything different.  I’ve always felt much more at home out of the United States than I do in it, although I must admit that I miss my family there.  Aside from that, I’d be fine living in places like this forever, a fact I’ve reminded my mom of on multiple occasions.
While God doesn’t call everyone overseas, I know He’s certainly called me.  There’s so much to do with our time here on earth, and I’d much rather spend it sharing the Joy I’ve found with others than remaining comfortably in a familiar place.  Wherever God has called you to serve, are you doing it?  Are you spending the time God has given you wisely?  Decades from now when I look back at my short trip to Mexico, I pray I will be able to answer those questions well.