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!