Friday, August 29, 2014

Gifts for Gracias: See What We See

When you live and work with the poor, as we have done for almost 14 years now, you stop seeing the poverty. You just see the people. We are always taken aback at the shock our guests from the US and other countries express, when they see levels of poverty which we now view as normal life.

There are aspects of poverty that can't really be shared in photos, like the diseases which kill or maim people who could easily have been helped if they had had access to fairly basic medical care and nutritious food, and the grief of a family when a loved one is lost so needlessly. There is a sadness of knowing that your family has no way to pull out of the cycle of poverty - no access to a better education, and no jobs which pay enough for more than basic survival. There is a hopelessness.

What I can try to do is to show you, in photos, what our guests see when they visit us.

Once you've seen these photos, I hope you will have a better understanding of the tremendous blessing it is to these families, to receive a warm blanket, a bottle of shampoo, a simple toy for their child, school supplies, shoes, and other luxuries, like toothbrushes and toothpaste.

This isn't a solution. We work on big-picture solutions every day - building schools and infrastructure, running feeding centers, holding medical clinics in remote areas, and helping people find the hope that knowing God provides - but once a year, we run this gift project as a way of saying, "We know how hard this is, and we want to help your life get one little bit better, today. Right now."

This is our 14th year collecting donations of gifts and used items (in good condition) to distribute in our part of Honduras. It is a simple thing we can do, to help.

Will you be a part of the Gifts for Gracias project this year?

Details follow, on how to put together and ship gift boxes for children and families. We also accept donations of gift items in bulk, which we use to put together additional gifts, and also donations of clothing and bedding in good, gift giving condition. (People in our area tend to be smaller than the average in the US, so small and medium sizes of clothing and shoes are most needed. Also, we do have cold weather part of the year, so clothing and bedding suitable for all seasons are utilized.)

This is what you need to know, to create and send a gift:

Children’s gifts may be created in shoe boxes, child-size backpacks, or large, plastic zip-lock bags; family boxes (items specifically for the adults, or for the use of the entire family) usually require a larger box. A great idea is to package family gifts in a duffle bag or large backpack - the pastors love this! All gifts should fit into one of the following categories, and should be labeled in this way:

Baby girl or Baby boy 
Preschool girl or Preschool boy 
5 - 7 yr old girl or 5 - 7 yr old boy
8 - 12 yr old girl or 8 - 12 yr old boy
Teen girl or Teen boy
Family Box

Suggested items for the children’s gift boxes:

-tooth brushes, toothpaste, and other toiletries
-*crayons, markers, stickers, colored pencils and *coloring books
-pads of paper, pencils, pens, *school supplies, *backpack
-combs, brushes, hair bows 
-soap, baby shampoo, baby bottles, rattles
- balls, small toys, socks
*soccer balls, *inexpensive watches, *baseball caps
*dolls, *stuffed animals, *sunglasses

Suggested items for the family gift boxes:

-soap, shampoo (make sure it is tightly closed), *hair gel, toiletries
-candles, small decorative items, sewing kit
-hair things, handkerchiefs, purses
-dish towels, small kitchen items, plastic storage containers
-small flashlight, small clock (non-electrical)
-lotion, aftershave, perfume
-pens, notepads, stationary, tape, small office supplies
-shoe polish (brown or black), dark socks, inexpensive wallet
*blanket, *towels
*belts (smaller adult sizes), *baseball caps, *backpacks

(* Indicates especially appreciated items)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please only send food items separately packaged from the gift boxes!!! We have problems with pests and heat destroying the candy - and frequently other items in the same box are ruined. We will add candy to the boxes ourselves, just before distribution. You may send bags of candy, separately, to help us with this expense - just please package those items separately!


The mailing deadline for shipping to the 
Florida address is September 7th, 2014!!!

The mailing deadline for shipping to the 
Maryland address is October 7th, 2014!!!

Gifts may be sent to:

Gifts for Gracias
c/o Jim Cofer
7047 Blue Mountain Road
Thurmont, MD 21788


Gifts for Gracias
c/o Norma Irvin
7921 Broadmoor Pines Blvd.
Sarasota, FL 34243

Drop off deliveries can be arranged to these locations, until about 3 weeks AFTER the mailing deadlines. 
Contact Trish @ if you'd prefer to deliver your donations in person!

If you would prefer to help by sending a monetary donation, the directions are on the "how to donate" page, linked at the top of this page . . . simply add "Sowers Ministry - Gifts for Gracias" in the box to specify how you would like your donation used. 

Thank you, so much, for your help with this project!!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

We interrupt this series of bridge construction photos for an important announcement!!!!!

We have been offered another matching funds opportunity!

Some of you have read recently, here or on our FB page, that because of rising shipping costs we can no longer feed children for a penny a meal. The cost to us, to feed each of the approximately 12,000 children in the feeding centers we supply, is now around 2 cents per meal. Still a bargain, to be sure, but not quite as "catchy" as "Penny-A-Meal Deal."

However, a generous donor has agreed to match all funds donated, dollar for dollar, toward the next container of food we ship down here . . . up to $3500! This means that, for a limited time, when you donate a penny, you will still be able to feed a meal to a malnourished child. When you donate a dollar, you will purchase 100 meals. $10? That pays for an astonishing one thousand meals.

A donation of a hundred dollars would feed more than a dozen children two meals a week for an entire year!

A single donation of  two hundred dollars - and you will be supplying the food for an entire feeding center in one of our rural villages for a year!

I could go on . . . but you can do the math.

And the feeding centers aren't all about food. The pastors who run these centers do so as an outreach to their communities. They present a Bible lesson when the children gather for a meal, but really, that's just the most basic way that God's love is shared with these children.

A beautiful example of this is the story of Karen, a young girl in our Tejeras feeding center. (I shared her story back in May. Click here to see that post.) Because of her involvement in the feeding center in her village, the pastor running the program knew of her family's difficulties, and a member of his church arranged no-cost housing for them, when they had none and could not afford to pay any rent. This is how the church is supposed to function, and we are so very, very blessed to be a small part of this bigger picture.

If you'd like to take part in this matching funds opportunity, here's how you can do that . . .

To Donate by Mail, send checks to:

The Foundation
PO BOX 560233
Orlando, Florida 32856-0233
- Make check payable to "The Foundation" -- Be sure to write "preferenced for Sowers Ministry (Feeding Centers)" on an enclosed paper -

To Donate Online:

Click on THIS LINK to donate online using credit card, or debit card. Make sure that you choose "Missionary Support" from the drop down menu, and type in "Sowers Ministry - Feeding Centers" in the box requesting "additional specifics on how to use the gift."

If additional instructions or information are needed for donating, please don't hesitate to call The Foundation for Missions, at 407-796-4939or send your questions by email to

Monday, August 18, 2014

A bridge in a week . . . in photos! Part 2

This tree is in the way . . . it's gotta go . . .

Attempting to persuade the tree to fall in the right direction . . . 

 . . . unsuccessfully. Sigh. Things don't always go your way.
Just a setback, though, not a disaster!

Employing the labor of the first of two visiting mission teams, the ground is cleared on both sides of the river and the digging begins!

These impressive trenches will have concrete poured directly into them,
to create the footers upon which the bridge will be built.

Meanwhile, in the river, rocks are collected to be used as part of the bridge structure . . .

 . . . lots and lots of rocks!

A bridge in a week . . . in photos! Part 1

The challenge: crossing this river year during rainy season flooding
(photo taken during a season when the water level is relatively low)

Preparing the bridge site with a machete . . . 

Preparing the bridge site . . . more aggressively

Here come the bridge-building specialists . . . 

 . . . and the tools, equipment, and materials the specialists brought with them!

Random orphanage dog

A bridge built in a week!

Last month, we had the opportunity to be part of a very fun project! A missionary-run orphanage in another part of Honduras had a problem. They are located on a small farm, and a river runs through their land. Sometimes the river floods, and it becomes dangerous to cross . . . but the cows on the other side of the river still needed to be milked! Plus, in the future, they intend to expand their projects on the other side of the river, and they'd need year-around access for that.

They needed a bridge.

We build bridges.

It was a match made in heaven!

After months of planning and preparations, Allen and Russell loaded up tools, materials, our construction crew, and Boo (she went along to take pictures) into two Land Cruisers. They drove the 10 hour trip to Yoro, way up into the mountains along the north coast.

Boo took photos and kept a log, just quickly jotting down what progress was made each day. I'm going to share some of the photos, along with her log entries. Boo and Allen left on Friday, July 11th, and drove the first part of the trip, as far as the city of San Pedro Sula. They spent Saturday shopping in the city for some special clamps that were needed for the bridge, and drove the rest of the way to the orphanage on Sunday. The log begins upon their arrival.

Sunday - 
got to Jason's at 12:00pm
Shot the sight for the bridge
hung out with Jason's family
"Jason" refers to the missionary-in-charge at the orphanage, Jason Furrow. "Shooting the sight" means using a small, electronic tape measure to choose the best location for the bridge to cross the river.
Monday - 
found the best place for the bridge
cut down all the plants in our way
dug about one-and-a-half foundations
moved 7 pickup trucks of rocks from the river and 2 of gravel down from the gate
had the help of Scott's team, but just for today
"Scott" refers to another missionary, Scott Ledford, who brought a team he was hosting up to help with the bridge project for a day.
Tuesday -
poured the first foundation
finished digging the second
moved rocks and sand to the second, too
Jason's team came last night and started work today
"Jason's team" was a short term mission trip group from Georgia, who specifically came to be laborers on this bridge construction project.
Wednesday -
poured the second foundation
poured the first set of handrails
Thursday -
poured second set of handrails
started putting up cable
went fishing
Friday -
set up almost all of the cable
Saturday -
finished setting up the cable
put boards on the deck, until we ran out of boards

A small amount of work on the bridge could not be completed before our group came home. The lumber for the deck was being cut (with a chainsaw) as the construction was ongoing, and there wasn't enough lumber ready before our week was up, plus the installation of those boards could be completed by the workers at the orphanage. There were also some specialized clamps (for holding the cables) which we couldn't find in country, so a visiting team brought them down in their luggage later, and those were also installed after we left.

But still . . . if all of the materials had been ready, it WOULD have been a bridge in a week, which is pretty good, I think.

More pictures, from the week when the bridge construction was in progress, will follow soon!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Thirty Years Ago Today!

Once upon a time . . . 

 . . . and so, they lived happily ever after!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Kathy Girton!!!

Most everyone in my world is well aware that my son, Ben, and I were kidnapped last August. It was a harrowing experience, but we both came through it alive, for which we are immensely grateful to God! We did not, however, come through it unscathed. Emotionally, both Ben and I have had a good bit of work to do this year, to put ourselves back together again, so that we can go about our lives without being overwhelmed by fear and pain . . . and we're not done with that process yet!

We've had a vast amount of prayer support, and family and friends have gone out of their way to help us through our time of healing. This post is being written to honor one individual who gave, and gave, and continues to give, in her effort to help us on our pathway back to a normal(ish), productive, joyful life.

Kathy Girton came into our lives through a mutual friend. This friend has had her own brush with crime-induced trauma, so she knew what the months following the kidnapping had in store for us, back when I still had no clue. She connected us, and Kathy and I communicated by email, in the month between the kidnapping and my scheduled trip to the US.

Kathy gave of her time to help me research counselors who could potentially work with me during my short stay in Maryland last September. My time was too short, my location too limited, and my budget too small for any of those counseling options to be a good fit, however.

Kathy offered to counsel me herself, and eventually I made the decision to meet with her during my time in the US. I wasn't especially gung-ho about the whole counseling thing, to be honest. I wasn't sure if it would be helpful at all. At the same time, good friends were advising me that it was necessary . . . some even bullying me to go (out of love, of course).  Eventually I gave in, not very graciously, with the thought that later people wouldn't be able to tell me "I told you so" if it turned out that I would encounter lingering problems from the kidnapping trauma which counseling might have averted. Yeah, 'cause I'm all mature like that, LOL.

We managed to come up with a plan that would work. Kathy's willingness to do whatever she possibly could do, to help, was apparent from the start. Though she lives and works in Cincinnati Ohio, and I was visiting Maryland, she arranged to travel half of the way eastward, while I traveled halfway westward. We met in Zanesville. She wouldn't be charging me for counseling fees - which can be in the hundreds of dollars per hour - she just asked that I cover her expenses. AND, then, by arranging for us to meet in Zanesville, she was able to stay in the home of a family member, thus managing so that all I had to cover was her fuel cost to get there!

Kathy, it turns out, is a former missionary. She worked in the Dominican Republic with her husband (now deceased) and her kids (now grown). People change when they live internationally, and they change in even more specific ways when they live as missionaries in a foreign country. There is a disconnect which is hard to explain, between missionaries and non-missionaries. It has something to do with the intentional choosing of a lifestyle which requires so much sacrifice for yourself and your family. It has something to do with getting into planes and boats and cars that appear more unsafe than safe . . . with your children at your side. It has something to do with embracing a life that you love and hate at the same time, and with living so far outside of your own ability to control things; where leaning on God becomes absolutely vital, because you can't depend on your monthly salary or your highway guard rails or your health care system or your local police . . .

Kathy understands all of this. She knows the life, knows the hardships, understands the complexity, the frustration, and the conflicting emotions that come with it on a daily basis. She's aware of the level of stress inherent in this lifestyle, because she has lived it herself. She knows that you can't tell a traumatized missionary to go ahead and be rude to people if you're unsure of their intentions. She knows you can't tell a missionary that, if someone in the road ahead looks suspiciously like a kidnapper, you should run them down rather than risk another kidnapping by stopping . . . because, the whole reason you're in that place is to love those people. Otherwise, this life is NOT worth the cost. She understands this.

Kathy is also a current missionary . . . though she works on a different mission field now. She trained to be a counselor so that she could continue to minister. She lives on donated support, just as I do. In the same way that Allen isn't paid by the people who use the bridges and schools he builds, Kathy didn't charge us for the counseling she has done with us. It's her missionary ministry . . . ministering to missionaries.

We set aside several days to meet in Zanesville. In spite of my being a rather grudging participant, I came with the attitude that, if we were going to the trouble to do this counseling thing, I'd give it a fair chance and come in with an open mind. We were together, talking pretty much all day, for two days. There was a LOT of crying involved.

At the end of the two days, the release I felt, the lessening of pent up emotion and anxiety (that I hadn't even realized I was carrying around with me), was something I could feel physically. It's hard to describe, but I knew right away that this counseling thing was something I had to keep doing, to keep from eventually exploding like a shaken up bottle of soda!

After our time meeting in person, Kathy and I met by phone, once each week. This was easier while I was still in the US. Once I returned to Honduras, Ben asked if he could talk with Kathy every week, too. So, each Wednesday morning, we'd purchase pre-paid international minutes on our phone and have our counseling sessions. Sometimes we couldn't get a line out. Sometimes we'd run out of minutes before we would run out of things to talk about. Frequently we cried all over the phone. For about six weeks, earlier this year, when the cell phones in our area were out of service, Ben and I drove to a village about a half an hour away and sat along the roadside in a spot where we could get a cell signal, so that we wouldn't miss our talks with Kathy.

In December of last year, four months after the kidnapping, Kathy came down to Honduras and stayed for a week, working with Ben in person for the first time, and spending time with me, as well. She also visited our home, and chatted with other family members. In an amazing way, she has blessed the whole family, recognizing that we were all affected by this trauma, not just Ben and myself. She was also able to get a feel for our day-to-day lives, so that she has counseled us not just about the kidnapping, but about all of the stresses of our very full life, many of which loomed larger this year, as we've felt our way through the aftermath of the trauma.

Recently, Kathy has been gradually decreasing the frequency of our talks. For the first time, during the month of June, we went an entire month without any sessions. I'm doing okay, but I will admit there were several times during the month when, based on my emotional response to something, Allen felt led to ask, "And how much longer until you talk to Kathy again?"

We owe Kathy a debt we can never repay. Happily, just as we don't expect repayment for the work we do in Honduras, Kathy isn't looking for her reward in this life, either.

Thanks for everything, Kathy . . . and Happy Birthday!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Hodge-Podge of Ministry Photos

We had to compile a collection of photos, representing significant aspects of our ministry. I figured, as long as I had them all in one place, I should post them here.

Hopefully you can figure out what each photo represents . . .