Saturday, June 25, 2016

Missionary Kids Retreat - Hear Their Voices! (Part 2)

If there’s one thing I learned about being a missionary kid from my recent phone interviews during MK Retreat, it’s, “Once an MK, always an MK.” It doesn’t matter how many years it has been since childhood, people who grew up on the mission field always have that special descriptor of MK.

If there’s another thing I learned about being a missionary kid (regardless of age), it’s that MK’s have a special sort of bond the rest of us will probably never grasp. They care deeply for each other and usually feel an instant camaraderie upon meeting.

Rachel: Retreat and Camp Director, at Your Service

Rachel was nine-years-old when she and her family moved to Honduras. Growing up, she never imagined she would stay in Honduras, though she always wanted to be a missionary.

From the time she landed on Honduran soil, until present, Rachel has attended every single MK Camp that has been offered. She first attended as a camper, then as a counselor, and, finally, as director. She knows what it is like to not have friendships outside of those made at camp and her appreciation for her weeks spent at camp is evident. When she got to the point of leadership, as a counselor, she felt deeply gratified. She loved being able to work with the kids. As she said, “It was working with kids like me. Being able to pour into them.” Who better to do the pouring than someone who was, herself, once poured into?

Even when Rachel was planning her wedding in 2013, she was concerned about missing MK Camp. That’s loyalty! As it turned out, that was the one year the camp wasn’t held. By the next year, Rachel had volunteered to step up and serve as director. What would possess her to take on such a level of responsibility? The answer is twofold: 1) She loves and believes in MK Camp, and 2) As much as she loved being a newlywed, with her husband busy with his position in the Air Force, she found herself looking for a worthwhile way to spend her time. In her own words, she “was bored.” What better cure for boredom than taking on a Herculean task that you truly believe in?

That first year, she was surprised by how many kids enrolled. Fortunately, she had the support of her family. As she said, “Working with family can be challenging, but it’s nice because they’re all MKs. It’s gratifying. I have the support to not have to do it all by myself.”

Allen Sowers: Still a Big MK at Heart

Note from Trish: I chose this not-so-great photo of Allen,
 out of all of the pictures I saw from the retreat, because it's
 rare to get a photo of the real Allen. His posed photos tend
 to make him look very serious - almost angry.  I like this
 picture of him enjoying watching kids having fun!
Between the ages of 6 and 16, Allen lived the life of an MK, in the Philippines and Malaysia. For part of that time, his parents were teachers at a boarding school, so Allen knows what it is to be teacher’s pet. He appreciates the opportunities that went along with the sacrifices. In his family, life on the mission field meant taking advantage of opportunities to travel. Although his family didn’t have a lot of money, they traveled whenever they had the chance, resulting in Allen getting a lot of stamps in his passport. He has been to almost fifty countries!

Allen did have a group that cared for him as a kid, filling a void in him like the MK Camp and MK Youth Retreat fill a void in the lives of MKs in Honduras today. When asked why he feels this camp experience is so important for MKs, Allen said, “MKs are asked to make a lot of sacrifices. They didn’t ask to make those sacrifices. They don’t fully belong to either culture. Third culture kids are expected to step up to the plate and be more mature than they really are. Some rise to the challenge. Some rebel against the challenge… A lot of times their grandparents die while they are out of the country. They grow up missing time with cousins. They miss out on a lot of things other kids take for granted.”

He spoke about the unique position of MKs. Very often, families leave the mission field because of a child’s failure to adjust and thrive. Allen wants today’s MKs to know, “We’re at war and the devil is a cheater. One way to make an overseas ministry fail is for the children to be unable to adjust to life on the field. MKs and their families have to be clued in on that. Ministries geared to help MKs help all of the missionary families and their ministries."

Official 2016 MK Youth Retreat photo
San Buenaventura, Honduras

On the surface, MK Retreat and MK Camp don’t seem that different from any stateside church camp. After all, there are crafts, goofy games, some junk food, music, and a speaker. So, what’s different? Allen believes it’s the fellowship that sets it apart. The kids share a special bond, which only they can fully understand.

To Be Continued… Stay tuned for MK Retreat, Part 3! If you missed Part 1, click here!

- posted by Christi

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Armed Robbery Attempt at our home in Honduras

I hope you've been enjoying the ministry posts from Christi! Today, it's Trish writing, relating the events of the armed robbery attempt at our home a few weeks ago. We always appreciate your prayers for our safety!

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The dogs had interrupted our sleep multiple times with their barking that cloudy, moonless night. They're often upset by horses and cows wandering into the yard, and they'll bark at those harmless intruders for hours without ceasing. Since I hadn't seen any problems outside when the dogs barked during the earlier hours of the night, I was assuming they were barking at animals, and I was trying to ignore them and get back to sleep, while also wondering if I should just get up and do something, since I wasn't sleeping anyway.

Then I heard the gunshot. We hear a few shots most every night (frequently celebratory shots), the sounds ricocheting over a large area of the mountains and valleys around us - but this gunshot was clearly happening HERE. On our property! At our home!

Before I'd had a chance to think of what to do next, that one shot was followed by an alarming volley of additional firing! I froze . . .without a clue as to what I should do next, since I didn't know what was going on right outside my house!

I crept to the front windows of the bodega/house where I'd been sleeping and peeked out - but everything was just as dark as it had been the whole night, and I couldn't see a thing! We have three buildings on our property, and somewhere out there was my 14 year old son, Ben, and also Helder, one of our workers who had been sleeping at our place to help with security while Allen and Russell were away constructing a bridge in Haiti.

Certain that opening the door and going out to gather more information was a poor plan, I made the odd decision to call Russell, in Haiti. My Spanish is passable, but it would NOT have been sufficient for this situation, especially over the phone. Russell, however, is fluent. After I'd explained the situation to my son in English, he called Helder, to get the story directly from him in Spanish, and then Russell called me back and relayed the info to me.

What was known at that time was that two or three men were outside between our team house and the new home we are constructing. The new house does not yet have doors or windows (it has walls and a roof), and Helder was sleeping inside. The door and window openings were mostly blocked by heavy panels which we use to create forms when we build large things out of cement.

Helder had heard the dogs barking, and then heard the noises the men were making, so he went to investigate, taking along the pistol that he keeps by him at night while he's doing guard duty. Helder looked out the window, saw the men moving toward him, and shot a warning shot into the ground outside the building. The men returned fire, shooting directly at Helder, and Helder shot back at them. The men started to run and our very brave Helder chased them off, away from our buildings and down through the coffee fields - barefoot!

There was no additional excitement that night . . . and there was not much additional sleep, either! Once the light of morning arrived, Ben, Helder and I took some time to look around and collect any clues which could give us additional details as to what had happened.

Here's what we could piece together:

Two or three men came to our property, ready for a confrontational armed robbery - they had a weapon (possibly two, based on the spent and unspent bullets left behind), and apparently were wearing bandannas over their faces (one bandanna was on the ground, after the robbers ran off in the dark). They first tried to break into the small building nearest the driveway. No one was sleeping in that building, and they attempted to force open a door very quietly with a pry bar, and also tried to dislodge the metal bars from in front of a window. When they were unable to gain entry to that building, they removed the mirrors from the motorcycle which was parked in front of that building.

After that, they were heading to the unsecured construction site . . . when they encountered (and were chased off by) Helder. While running away from our valiant watchman, they dropped a flashlight, a bandanna, and one of the motorcycle mirrors, as well as an unspent bullet from a revolver. We saw no indication that anyone was actually injured by the gunfire.

Obviously, after a successful robbery in April and this attempted robbery in May, we are beefing up security even more than previously. It may seem odd, to those of you in the US, that none of us considered calling in the police. Our experience with Honduran police, over the course of our fifteen years in Honduras, hasn't led us to think of them as a source of help in our times of trouble. We've always known that we would be handling these kinds of situations on our own.

Once again, God has protected us from harm, allowing us to continue to live and work another day, sharing His love in the mountains of Western Honduras!

- posted by Trish

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Missionary Kids Retreat - Hear Their Voices! (Part 1)

Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell and a whole bunch of pre-paid minutes Allen Sowers added to a cell phone, I had the opportunity to spend several hours talking to people at the 2016 MK Retreat. Prior to that call, I thought I could imagine how important MK Retreat, which is held in June, and MK Camp, which is held in August, would be to a bunch of missionary kids living in Honduras. About fifteen minutes into the marathon call, I realized I didn’t have a clue! I spoke to current MKs, former MKs, and parents of MKs about what life is like for missionary kids and what the MK Retreat means to them.

There was so much information, we’re going to spread this out over several blog posts, lest this turn into the blog equivalent of War and Peace (meaning it would be long, not that it would originally be published in Russian or have anything to do with war). Stick around. This series promises to be more readable that Tolstoy. (No offense, Leo!)

Speak, Mr. Retreat Speaker

Former MK, and father of two current MK Retreat participants, Wes served as speaker at this year’s event. Wes and his family have served in Honduras for twelve years.

Wes grew up in Malaysia and Singapore--leaving the states as a 6-month-old, and not returning to live until he was seventeen-years-old and ready for college. When he arrived in the U.S., he, understandably, did not think of it as home. After about a year and half, he had the opportunity to travel to Singapore with a group from his college. He was so excited, believing he was going home. Yet, when he got there, he discovered things had changed. Bus routes had changed. Other mass transit had changed. He didn’t even know how much a can of Coke cost, and he knew he would get ripped off. That’s when it hit him: Singapore would never be home again. He felt there was no place on earth where he fit in and could call home.

Growing up, he had nothing like MK Retreat or MK Camp. As a father, he has seen how beneficial those programs have been for his kids, as well as other missionary kids. Wes spoke of the challenges facing MKs. Statistics suggest that 50% of MKs will leave the church. 50% will divorce at some point in their lives. Programs like MK Retreat help kids face challenges and pain and help change those statistics.

Just for grins, I asked Wes if he ever considered moving to the states and getting a job selling insurance. The answer was a resounding, “No way! I love what we’re doing. I love that our kids have had the experiences they’ve had. It’s a testimony to God’s healing and grace, after what I experienced.”

Talking Points

Wes graciously gave me a list of topics covered, along with a brief overview.  

Day 1: Where is Home? -- Third culture kids come from a home country, yet spend significant time in another place--identifying with two countries, yet not fully fitting in either place. There are unique challenges with that, for sure.

Day 2: Did God Just Throw Me Under the Bus? -- Most MKs deal with loss and transition at a young age. And they do it over and over again. It can be common for them to wonder, “God, why are you doing this to me?"

Day 3: God is Infinitely Amazing and Really Does Have All of This Under Control -- The day with the long title was spent looking at sciency stuff--even delving into string theory. In case, like me, you would feel more comfortable talking about Silly String than string theory, this one may require additional explanation. Wes talked about how God is completely outside of time and space. What feels overwhelming to us does not surprise God. We can trust Him, even when we can’t see how things are going to work out.

Day 4: Being Faithful In the Little Things -- Very often, we don’t care about certain things because we think they’re little. But something as seemingly simple as honoring parents isn’t a little thing to God. We’re to be faithful in little things.

Day 5: Nobody Asked Me If I Wanted This Life -- Missionary kids can struggle with thoughts of resentment. Growing up on the field, himself, Wes remembers never feeling like he fit in. This message included a friendly reminder that we are not the center of the universe. God is.

6: Did my Parents Serve God At My Expense? -- On this day, Wes opened up about his personal failures as a father and reminded the kids that parents are just as human as they are. The gist of the lesson was: Give your parents a break. Show them grace, and don’t hold them to a higher standard. People will fail you, but God never fails.

7: But Do I Really Matter? -- This was a day to reinforce what they talked about all week. They matter so much to God and to this world. The world needs people who are not ashamed of the Gospel. The church needs them. The MKs were encouraged to discover their gifts and use them. They were also reminded to work on being mature, responsible Christians

Music to Their Ears

While Wes has spent a lifetime in missions, the woman who led praise and worship for MK Retreat is a brand new missionary. Coming from Canada, Breanne has only been in Honduras for a few weeks. She hit the ground running! Besides being at MK Retreat, she has spent time doing evangelism and working with kids.

About her time at MK Retreat, Breanne stated, “I’ve learned just how important this camp really is. Camp has been a lot of fun. I’ve loved leading worship. But it has been wonderful to hear their (the MKs’) hearts, so I can have that insight into the lives of MKs. I wasn’t an MK, so I can’t claim to know what they’ve gone through. This will help me better relate to MKs in the future.”

She was particularly touched by what she described as the MKs “pouring out their hearts,” and hearing about what it is like to go back and forth between two cultures. She spoke of the responsibility the kids feel knowing their parents’ careers can depend upon their actions. Now that’s a burden to which few typical American teenagers can relate! MK Retreat gives them an opportunity to lean on other people. Breanne was most impressed with how they seek after God in a deeper way.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (edited to add: Part 2 is now available here) in the continuing saga of MK Retreat! You really won’t want to miss hearing from Rachel, who serves as director, Allen, who spins many plates, numerous campers, and a couple of MK moms.

- posted by Christi

Friday, June 17, 2016

Let's Talk Empowerment!

Empowering People

While I’m still quite new at this Sowers 4 Pastors blogging stuff, I have already learned a very important lesson. Are you ready for it? I’ve learned a phone call with Allen Sowers is like a phone call with a professional motivational speaker. It leaves you wanting to get off your duff and put your money where his mouth is! You leave the conversation feeling empowered. No, that’s not quite right. You leave the conversation feeling EMPOWERED in an all caps, shout-it-from-the-mountaintops sort of way. (I can say that. I’m not a relative.) In fact, Allen has quite a bit to say about empowering people. And he says it really fast!

Empowering Pastors

We’ve all heard the platitude about offering people a hand up instead of a handout. That pretty much sums up Sowers 4 Pastors ministry philosophy. The Sowers are often asked if they are involved in planting a new church. To that, Allen responds, “Why would we plant one church when we could be helping indigenous pastors plant fifty churches?” This is the thought behind Pastors Training School. The pastors are putting forth the time and effort to become better equipped to operate a church and spread the Gospel.

What giving a hand up means is that much of the Sowers’ time is spent getting U.S. donations into the hands of indigenous pastors where it will do the most good. They seek to support the “go-getter” pastors--the ones who are already out there doing the work. Those are the pastors the ministry empowers by providing motorcycles or horses, making it possible for them to reach even more people in more remote areas. In a country where only 5% of the population owns a vehicle, a motorcycle or horse can expand a pastor’s reach exponentially.

Those go-getters are also the pastors the ministry supports by assisting with such practical things as getting a new roof on a church building and starting a feeding center ministry out of their churches. Again, it’s not about someone going in and doing all of the work for the pastors. It’s about empowering them to, in turn, empower their congregations!

Empowering Communities

When Russell and Allen recently spent time in Haiti, it wasn’t because they wanted a change of scenery. It was because they knew that assisting a community in a bridge building project would empower a Haitian community for years to come. It wasn’t about swooping in to build a bridge for a community; it was about building a bridge with a community.  Of course there are plenty of other examples of empowering communities, but we’ll save those for another day.

Empowering MKs

Rachel is the director of the MK Youth Retreat and MK Camp and does an excellent job at planning, organizing, and connecting with the kids, but Russell and Allen are hard at work, too. Is it nepotism if
you’re putting someone to work? Probably not! But Rachel definitely knows how to utilize her brother and dad. Russell heads up games, chaperones in the boys dorm, loads and unloads vehicles full of supplies, hooks up shower heads, and generally serves where needed. Allen takes on such glamorous tasks as helping with the logistics, helping to raise funds, making phone calls concerning speakers, and doing shopping. When last we spoke, he was about to run out for butter. A very noble task, indeed!

We've heard that around 50% of kids who grow up in missions work in ministry as adults, and this time spent connecting with other MKs is more empowering than we can imagine. We’ll be sharing more about the MK Youth Retreat and MK Camp soon, so stay tuned!

- posted by Christi

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ministry: The Explosion That’s Better Than Fireworks

It’s almost difficult to believe there was a time in our lives when summer meant vacation from school, bike riding, sleeping late, ice cream trucks, swimming, and 4th of July fireworks. Oh, we’re not complaining, but those days are long over! Something is exploding around us and it’s not fireworks! Sowers 4 Pastors is seeing an explosion of new growth in its ongoing ministry opportunities.
While the programs aren’t new, they are definitely experiencing a growth spurt. Here’s a smattering of what’s happening in the mountains of Honduras:

Summer School for Pastors
School is not out for summer, as there are currently 50 pastors in training school! Think about it. That means there will soon be 100 more feet roaming the remote villages to spread the gospel. The pastors attend training school free of charge. Interested parties can sponsor a student for $250 per school year--providing food and housing for a student to attend school 3 days per month for 9 months. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving.  

Hitting the Roads

While we’re not tearing up the roads on our bikes, and would be hard-pressed to tell you the last time we rode on the handlebars, bikes are very much a part of our ministry. Okay. The bikes are actually motorcycles, but, hey, we’re making a point here.  Eighteen indigenous missionaries and pastors have put in requests for motorcycles to help them visit multiple churches each week.

The Early Bird Builds the Church
There’s no sleeping in for anyone involved in the church construction projects, which are underway. With help in planning, congregations are building their own new churches, providing them with a sense of accomplishment, as well as brand new structures. There are currently 24 requests for new churches and Sowers 4 Pastors will fill as many of those as funds allow.

Better Than a Fudgsicle
Feeding Centers:

Far more exciting than ice cream trucks, there are 22 new feeding centers, bringing the total number up to 132. That means more than 13,000 children are each being fed two nutritious meals every week. Sowers 4 Pastors provides the food, while local pastors run their individual feeding centers.  

Manna 4 Lempira:

The Manna 4 Lempira program allows individuals to sponsor a child for $15 per month. Sponsored children are provided with two nutritious meals a week through feeding centers at local churches. In addition, they receive things such as school shoes, school supplies, discipleship, and other benefits throughout the year.

We’ll take that over Fudgsicles any day, and believe you me, we love Fudgsicles.

The Ministry Boom
Over the years, Allen has had a 100% hands-on role in every aspect of our ministry—splitting his time between construction projects, pastor training school, opening feeding centers, distribution of gifts, communicating with supporters, and fundraising. Fortunately, he also spent years training up Russell, who is following in his footsteps. Now Russell is taking on many of the responsibilities involved in the day-to-day administration of ministries and projects, which allows Allen to spend more time focusing on other details without running the risk of fizzling out like a dud firecracker. We are so grateful for God’s provision as we continue to strive to meet both the practical and spiritual needs of the people of Western Honduras.
- posted by Christi Christi Blevins Pelt is a special friend and a talented writer. She's done professional ghost writing work for others in the past, but for us she's doing real-live-person writing, to help us keep the communications flowing from our ministry to you. Welcome to the ministry and to the blog, Christi!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Have Bridge (skills), Will Travel . . . to Haiti! - part 2

See pictures of the first part of the project here. 

Once the concrete work was completed, it was time to attach the cables!

The wire cables go around the metal tubes, and the end of
each cable is securely clamped back to itself. The tension of
each cable is adjusted until they hold the bridge in a level position.

Allen oversees . . . everything

Installing the deck of the bridge!

On their final day in Haiti, as Allen and Russell were on their way
 to the airport, there was a surprise ceremony at the bridge. The mayor
and others thanked them and gave them gifts of handcrafted items.

I especially love this panoramic picture! To the left you can see the road to the river,
and where people had to ford the river in the past to get across . . . and to the right,
of course, you see the brand new bridge in use! Click on the photo to see a larger version.

 Within days of the completion of the bridge, Saint Michel experienced heavy
rains and flooding, and the bridge became a safe way to cross very unsafe waters!

Although this project had additional challenges, compared to building a bridge on our "home turf" of Honduras, the menfolk are excited about the possibility of collaborating in future international projects, in other parts of the world. Southeast Asia, Africa and the Himalayas were all mentioned in recent conversations! Do you need a bridge built . . . . anywhere? Contact us and we can talk about it! I'm not even kidding! 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Have Bridge (skills), Will Travel . . . to Haiti! - part 1

*** For new visitors to our blog, we are missionaries living and working in Honduras, but we recently traveled to Haiti to build a bridge there . . . our first international bridge project! 

The project we've been discussing and planning for several years is now completed! We praise God for the cooperative efforts of individuals in the US, Honduras, and Haiti, who have chosen to serve the people of Haiti in this way! 

Jimmy French and Jim Cofer, in Maryland,
collected and crated cable and tools, and shipped
them to Florida by truck. From Miami, these items
traveled by boat to Haiti, and arrived shortly 

before Allen and Russell did!

Brennon Garrett, a missionary to Haiti with the Foundation for
Missions, was in charge of purchasing the tools and supplies which
were available in Haiti, including lumber. Allen and Ed Williams
 constructed this stack of concrete forms from locally purchased lumber.

Brennon also contributed the welding work.
These welded pieces were eventually embedded
inside the concrete ends of the bridge,
and the cables were attached to them.

This was the second time that Allen and Russell have arrived at a bridge site, to build a bridge, without ever having visited the site prior to the start of construction. It is difficult for individuals without bridge building experience to determine what size of bridge is needed, and it's impossible to determine this information from photos . . . so we know to expect the unexpected, when coming in blind to do this kind of project.

In the case of the Haiti project, the bridge required was longer, wider and higher than had been projected. This added significantly to the materials needed, as well as to the total construction time, but these problems were resolved, and two additional work days were added to the schedule - but this also meant that Allen and Russell had to really push their crew of Haitians to work harder and for more hours each day than is their norm. Haitian culture is quite different from what we are used to in the mountains of mainland Honduras, but our time living and working on the island of Guanaja (2001 - 2005) helped the Sowers men work successfully in the Haitian island culture.

Another issue arose when we found that there was no Creole/English translator available to enable Allen and Russell to communicate with their Haitian crew! This was a major problem! After scrambling a bit, they found a man who spoke both Haitian and Spanish, and they hired him for the rest of their stay. Many of the words in his version of Spanish (from the Dominican Republic) were different from the words used in Honduras, so this was a challenge which frequently slowed the progress of the project.

Digging the footers/foundations on each side of the river

Every bridge project starts with good foundations, which
create secure, level bases upon which to build the landings
on each side of the river. You can't really tell, from this photo,
but there are certain spots in this excavation which are 3 or 4
feet deeper than the rest of it. Allen calls these "teeth," and
they help keep the whole structure from shifting.

All of the concrete was mixed on site, and carried to the forms
 in buckets. Concrete mixer trucks are for wimps! (We'd happily
be wimps, if the trucks were available, LOL)

In lieu of a concrete mixer truck . . .

Rods of rebar are added to the wet concrete, to increase strength

Brennon tries his hand at passing buckets of materials. 

Completed footer/foundation . . . ready for the next phase

Here the forms, which Allen previously constructed, are put into
use. The concrete will be poured (by the bucketload) into the
forms, creating the landings and ramps at each end of the bridge.
It takes MANY buckets of concrete!

 Smoothing the surface of the platform and ramp

The new ramp, with the forms removed. Dirt will be added
here at the end, to create a smooth walkway from
the ground, to the concrete ramp, to the bridge

Side of the ramp - you can see, with Allen standing next to it,
the extra height which was added here, to raise the bridge up
so that the part of the bridge over the water wouldn't be
submerged during times of high water and flooding.

View across the river from one of the landings to the other

Russell and Allen (way in back) with some of the Haitian crew

Each landing has two side walls, to which are attached the side-rail
cables of the bridge. Here the men are placing the forms and welded
pieces, prior to pouring the concrete.

The wire cables, which will support the bridge, will go around these metal
pipes, which are firmly attached to the concrete structure by pieces of rebar.
The strength of this concrete structure, and the welded pieces, is essential
to ensuring that the bridge can bear the weight it was designed to bear. The
wooden forms will be removed, of course, before all of this happens. 

Part 2, showing the completion of the bridge, can be found here.