Friday, November 17, 2017

The Great Haitian Bridge Project Continues

These days, when we hear the word, “replicate,” we may think in terms of some crazy virus that is outsmarting antibiotics and seeking to destroy us. Or maybe not. It’s possible I’ve seen too many apocalyptic television shows! No matter. Today, we’re talking about some replicating that isn’t even remotely scary.

You may remember when Allen and Russell made a trip to Haiti last year to head up a bridge project. Yeah, taking their mad bridge building skills on the road was kind of a big deal! But they didn’t build that bridge all by themselves. They were surrounded by other people who were learning some mad bridge building skills of their own.

Since the time of Allen and Russell’s Haitian bridge expedition, missionaries in Haiti have built two more bridges! Trish offered a reminder of why Sowers4Pastors operates in the manner it does when she said, “In all of the work we do, we try to help other people rather than do it all ourselves. It empowers people and helps expand on the available hours we have.”

One of the two new bridges used the exact design Allen and Russell used last year. For the second bridge, the team went out and did some research. In short, they acted like Allen. They studied up on bridges and they consulted an engineer who helped them with plans for a bridge to fit the needs of that particular river crossing.

Trish recounted the years when Allen was teaching himself how to build bridges. She said they couldn’t cross a bridge without Allen getting out to examine it. He taught himself the dynamics of bridge building. Then an engineer, who was in Honduras for a year, helped Allen refine his technique. Allen passed all of that knowledge on to the bridge building missionaries in Haiti.

That’s the sort of replicating you don’t want to stop with an antibiotic! It’s the kind you want infecting the DNA of everyone who comes in contact.

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Container Story

The Container Store proclaims themselves to be the “organizational experts”. That’s probably true if you’re wanting a pantry filled with uniform jars for your dried beans or a closet that looks like it fell out of a reality show. If you are looking to get a bunch of backpacks and supplies filled into two giant shipping containers, however, The Container Store has nothing on the people working with Sowers4Pastors. This is The Container Story!

Two shipping containers will soon be delivered this coming Saturday. One will arrive at Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Maryland, the other will go to Edgewater Alliance Church in Florida.  Each container has about 2600 cubic feet of space (which is information Allen needed to give me, even though Trish told him not to get hung up on numbers and statistics!). For reference, that’s enough space to hold between 6000-7000 filled backpacks. But backpacks aren’t the only things that will fill them.

The container in Florida will have about 150,000 meals going into it. Between the two containers, there will also be about 2500 pairs of new shoes for children, used clothing and shoe donations, miscellaneous supplies to help the ministry, and the 5000 newly-purchased Bibles, on which Allen was able to get a good price. Allen’s not sure if there will be hundreds or thousands of soccer balls, but there will be enough to make a lot of Honduran children very happy! And, of course, there will be about 5000 packed backpacks to make going to school much easier for as many children.

The boxes of donations are marked using a color code (and spray paint) . . . and the color coding system has sort of taken on a life of its own. This year, there are over twenty color codes to differentiate between the contents of the containers. There are codes for the locations where the backpacks will be delivered, codes for items being shipped for other missionaries, codes for the quality of the clothing donations, etc…

When each container arrives to its packing site, the volunteers will only have two hours to get it filled! Color coding ensures that the most important items find their way onto a container. As Allen said, “You never want to have a shipping container with extra space! It’s always better to have more items collected than will fit, rather than to have too little. Used clothing acts as a filler for any gaps. Color coding helps us because, if there is not enough room for everything, we can make sure the most important items get on board, and also can choose the more gently used items from the used clothing donations.”

Oh, sure, the finished product may not be as aesthetically pleasing as a display from The Container Store, but, make no mistake, it will be a beautiful sight to behold!

- posted by Christi

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Brought To You By the Letter C

This blogpost is brought to you by the letter C!

C is for Coffee

The coffee harvest is in full swing. It’s a long process because only the red fruit is picked and the fruit doesn’t all ripen at the same time. Russell and his crew will be going through the field multiple times picking all of the red beans. Currently, there are so many red beans that they are training up the next generation of Sowers men to pick them. RJ is doing a stellar job and demonstrating a fine work ethic! (Watch the video below. Seriously - don't miss this video of RJ picking coffee, LOL). On November 7 alone, the men picked what will come out to be around 1100 pounds of de-pulped coffee. Russell estimates that is about 4% of this year’s harvest.

C is for Correspondence

The guys of the Manna 4 Lempira crew are making trips out to the feeding center at Arenales. It is the sister church sponsorship center of Life Community Church near Columbus, Ohio. Sowers4Pastors is in the process of getting each of those children to write letters to their sponsors. Because many of the kids are very young, help is needed to get their thoughts down on paper. With the magnitude of the project, getting letters from each child is a long process. The letters will be passed on to the church and translated into English, for the sponsors.

C is for Ceramic

The work of laying the ceramic tile floors in Russell and Iris’s new house is continuing. Of course, once the shipping containers are unloaded into the house, all work on the house will stop for a season.

C is for Containers

Speaking of containers… After some interesting delays, Allen and Trish finally have passage for the shipping containers scheduled. The two containers will be loaded and picked up on November 18. This scheduling is the result of persistent calls and emails on the part of the Sowers. As Trish said, “Finally, someone at a shipping company had pity and responded!”

On November 7, Allen drove an hour and half to pick up more backpacks in Florida. Now, he has traveled in the opposite direction to take them to the area where the Florida container will be loaded.

C is for Contacts

This year, Allen and Trish will not be able to help load a container because a new opportunity has presented itself. On the day the containers are loaded, the Sowers will be in Mississippi to meet with a group of pastors at a bimonthly event hosted by The Wells of SouthGate, called "The Living Room." Allen and Trish will have the opportunity to address pastors from multiple churches. This is potentially a new area where Sowers4Pastors could become involved. Trish found out about this group through a longtime friend, Angela Broussard, whom she originally met through an online homeschooling forum. Additionally, another longtime friend of Trish’s, Heidi Cook, and her husband are flying to Mississippi from their home in Seattle. The Cooks hope to get people in the Seattle area involved in the backpack project.

C is for Cornucopia

Allen and Trish will be spending Thanksgiving with their family in Florida. And Trish is squeezing in any last minute shopping for needed items that can be packed in a suitcase for their return trip to Honduras.

- posted by Christi

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Campfire Story about Shipping Containers

It’s family campout time for the Sowers! For Allen and Trish, that means it’s a time when the world goes away and they can enjoy spending some time with most of their adult children. At least that’s what it means theoretically! In reality, Trish described it as a time when they are running back and forth to their kids’ apartments to deal with things like shipping containers and laptop repairs, and then back to the campground for some family time.

Here’s what has been happening in the saga of the shipping containers:
For the past couple of years, Sowers4Pastors has used the same shipper to get their containers of precious cargo from the U.S. to Honduras. This year, the shipper asked for a document that has never before been requested at this stage of the game--a copy of the dispensa. A dispensa is paperwork that lists every single item on each shipping container, submitted to the Honduran government, which allows for duty-free shipping. And the Sowers did file a dispensa way back in the summer. That, in itself, was no small feat since they weren’t 100% sure of all of the contents that would fill each container. Since it’s not a problem if things are listed that don’t make it onto the final container, much effort was spent in declaring every possible item they thought might end up on one.

The dispensa has to be ready when a container comes into port. If it isn’t, you are at the mercy of the customs agents. They can request exorbitant fees and, prevent the container from being emptied. That is bad news for the recipient and the shipper, who wants their containers to get moving again. Because shippers have been having problems with relief goods being shipped by people who don't have permission to bring the goods through customs, and then dealing with those containers full of goods being abandoned at the ports, the shipper began to require proof of a dispensa before they would even quote a price, let alone schedule, a shipment.

The Sowers contacted the attorney in Honduras who filed the paperwork and requested a copy for the shipper, but there was a big snafu! The attorney couldn't get a copy of the dispensa! It is now an internal government document. To add an extra level of difficulty, the attorney’s office is five hours from the capital city of Honduras, where the much needed Sowers4Pastors dispensa is filed.

Allen and Trish have spent a lot of time trying to locate another shipper to get the containers to Honduran soil. Unfortunately, two shipping containers are considered small potatoes in the shipping world and they have not been successful in finding an alternative company interested in working with them.

On October 31, this tale got a little less frightening when the attorney in Honduras sent word he had been able to take pictures of the dispensa with his cell phone. The photos aren’t very official looking, but most people in Honduras do not have access to scanners and copiers. The Sowers are now waiting to hear if the shipper will accept the cell phone photos, or if they are holding out for actual scans.

The ultimate goal is to have the backpacks in Honduras and sorted for when teams start arriving at the end of December. Not only must the containers arrive, they must also be emptied and the backpacks divided by the villages where they will be distributed.

The teams, which are planning to pass out the backpacks to the children, are understandably excited about it. Trish wants the teams to be aware that there should still be time to receive and sort the supplies, but that "sometimes things go sideways." And, if there's any lesson we can take from the Sowers' Family Campout, it's that flexibility is a wonderful trait!

 - posted by Christi

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Blog Post Inexplicably Filled with Horse Idioms

Random photo of horses in Honduras
It’s always fun to talk to Russell about what he’s up to. Basically, I like hearing information straight from the horse’s mouth. During our most recent phone call, he talked about when he out and registered 165 kids for a new Manna 4 Lempira sight on Sunday, October 22.  

Now, before you start champing at the bit to get a look at all of the new children in need of sponsors, there are a couple of things that have to take place. You might say, they don’t want to put the horse before the cart. (Okay, you probably wouldn’t say that at all, but, for whatever reason, I’ve obviously got a little horse theme going on here. Humor me. The writing process is a mysterious thing!)

For starters, Russell is hoping to bring on another person to help with the accounting side of the program. Imagine what it is like to keep up with the financial side of all of the child sponsorships! It will take a little while to get the new person out of the gate and up to speed.

Naturally, Kim Hall is plowing ahead to get all of the kids sponsored. She’s busy getting a profile ready for each of the 165 new children. Kim is a hard worker, but even she can’t get that done overnight!

In great news, a church in Kansas is opting to sponsor about half of the children from the new center. This church didn’t want to deal with the administrative requirements of having a sister church, but they still want to be involved in child sponsorship. This is the perfect opportunity for church members to sponsor children at the same location. Shut the barn door!

So, while it’s understandable you’re eager to see all of the smiling faces of the children at the new feeding center, hold yer horses! They’ll be trotting them out soon!

Introducing QUELACASQUE from Manna4Lempira on Vimeo.

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Big Ol' Ford Van

North Americans tend to take a lot of things for granted. If we’re in the market for a new or used vehicle, we have no shortage of options. We can head off to a dealership and take something for a test drive. Or we can stay at home in our jammies and shop for a vehicle over the internet. And, when we find a car, we don’t really give much thought as to how long it will take for new license plates to arrive. As usual, Russell was able to give me a healthy dose of perspective when he described his adventure of buying a new vehicle for the ministry.

On Monday, Russell headed off to the big city of San Pedro to pick up a used van. He gave me the specifics, but I don’t type very fast while cradling a phone to my ear, so we’ll just call it a big ol’ Ford van because I’m pretty sure that’s what all of the specifics boiled down to.

The thing is, they don’t sell big ol’ Ford vans in Honduras. No dealership carries them. There is no CarMax or online option. If you need a big ol’ van in Central America, that big ol’ van needs to come from the U.S. When vans get in fender benders, they are sometimes bought at auction and shipped to Central America for repairs.

In August, Russell purchased  the big ol’ Ford van from an auction in Louisiana, with the help of a friend. The friend helped with the process of getting the van exported from the States and imported to Honduras. It was imported with all of its bumps and bruises because it is cheaper to repair a vehicle in Honduras, where the labor costs are less. Plus, if you bring in a vehicle that doesn’t look nice, authorities won’t try to gouge you for import taxes.

The slightly battered, big ol’ Ford van arrived in its new country during the last week of September. It has since been repaired and painted. And, wonder of wonders… It has license plates! According to Russell, it can take up to three years to get license plates after purchasing a vehicle in Honduras. You might remember that Russell owned a motorcycle for five years that did not have plates! Each month, Russell had to make an hour long drive to get written permission from the government to drive his motorcycle. This time, he got the plates in two weeks! To quote Russell, “Plates are a blessing from God, in this country! People sometimes buy vehicles in Guatemala because it’s easier to go to another country once a year to have plates renewed than to try to get plates in Honduras.”

Now, you might be asking yourself why Sowers4Pastors purchased a big ol’ Ford van. That’s simple. The van will be used to transport visiting teams. Up until now, they have been forced to rent small, uncomfortable Japanese vans when teams arrived. These vans also had undersized suspensions and tires, which don't stand up well to the rough mountain roads.The van purchase will be financially beneficial to the ministry, in the long term. It’s almost time for a new “team season” and now, the money teams spend on transportation will be used to pay off the van rather than pad the pockets of Hertz.

The next team will arrive on December 26. In fact, that will be the first of ten teams to arrive in a fourteen week period! There will be at least five weeks of back to back teams! Sorry, Hertz, but Sowers4Pastors will not be needing to reserve any little Japanese vans!  

- posted by Christi

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Coffee Fields are (Almost) Ripe Unto Harvest

What’s happening in Honduras? Why, thanks for asking! While Allen and Trish have been packing backpacks and driving rental trucks all over the U.S., Russell has been working the coffee fields, building a bridge, and sundry other missionary-type things.

A sort of preliminary coffee harvest has been completed. Any beans which were burned by the sun, matured too early, or just didn’t look quite right were picked in a pre-harvest harvest. Getting rid of the wonky beans (Sorry for the technical term!) will allow the coffee beans left on the plants to mature better. In short, getting rid of the riff-raff beans will mean a better harvest in the future.

Don’t think the lesser quality beans will go to waste, though. Russell used his brand new de-pulper to take the pulp off the picked beans. He and the crew then cleaned up the beans and set them out to dry. Russell will be selling them off at a bargain basement price because of their lower quality.

Now, back to that fancy schmancy de-pulper… Last year, Russell rented a de-pulper at De-pulpers-R-Us, or wherever one goes to rent a coffee bean de-pulper in Western Honduras! Then Sowers4Pastors supporter, Dennis Michels made it his mission to help the Sowers purchase a de-pulper. Mr. Michels will be traveling to Honduras at the end of November to see the new machine in action.

In addition to working with the coffee, Russell has been running out to the site of the new bridge project in Las Crucitas each day. Work on the bridge is coming along nicely. At the time of this writing, Russell and his crew have been stringing the cable and putting up the suspenders for the bridge. They are hoping to get it all decked on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Disclaimer: I know as much about building bridges as I know about where to rent de-pulpers, but, in my opinion, that sounds like the bridge is nearing completion!

- posted by Christi