Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The (Coffee) Fields are Ripe for Harvest

Whew! It has been a while since we’ve “talked” and much has happened. Allen and Trish are home from the U.S. now. Russell, Iris, and R.J. have moved onto the ol’ homestead. And R.J. has learned he’s close enough to yell for Nana and Gampa to get him from his front porch. This post, however, is about The Great Sowers’ Coffee Harvest of 2016!

Harvesting coffee!
For someone who doesn’t even drink coffee and has never seen it growing, I have to tell you, I am ridiculously excited about this! If you’ve been paying attention, you know this is the very first coffee harvest for Sowers4Pastors. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that growing coffee isn’t for people who must have immediate gratification. This harvest has been more than two years in the making.

Just under 9 acres of coffee plants, which went in the ground more than two years ago, are being harvested in three separate harvests. Harvest numero uno has been completed! (Don’t let my obvious mastery of Spanish intimidate you!) Harvest numero two will happen in a month. And, number tres will be one month after that.

The most spectacular news is that the first harvest has greatly exceeded Russell and Allen’s wildest expectations. And you know how wild their expectations can be! Having done his coffee homework, Russell was hoping they would be able to harvest 2000 lbs total, this year. Um, yeah. The first of three harvests has yielded about 3000 pounds of dried coffee. The second harvest will be BIGGER and the third will be about the same size as the first. Expectations have been adjusted and Russell now anticipates a total harvest of 10,000 pounds.

Harvesting coffee

Here’s what a coffee harvest looks like for Russell:

  • The coffee cherries are picked.
  • Russell has 36 hours to get the fruit to a machine that de-pulps it.
  • The machine removes the cherry and leaves only the bean, losing about ⅔ of the total weight.
  • The fruit de-pulper is about 3 miles away from the coffee farm and Russell has been hauling it in the evenings.
  • Once it’s de-pulped, there is a gummy substance on the outside of the bean. The beans are soaked in a washbasin overnight. The next morning, they are washed and the gummy stuff falls off.
  • This year, they are using tarps to dry the coffee in the sun. Eventually, Russell would like to have concrete slabs for this purpose.
  • Once it’s dry, it’s ready to be sold to a middleman, who will possibly do more processing himself, add Russell’s harvest to that of other growers, and then sell the whole shebang to an exporter.

Since this year’s harvest has been so big, Russell is hoping to be able to reinvest some of the earnings to purchase a de-pulper. That will allow them to de-pulp on their own property. It will save time and money. Plus, it will mean they can keep the pulp to use as, what Russell assures me, is the world’s best organic fertilizer. He says if they put the coffee cherries back in the ground, it’s like Miracle Grow! This, of course, will save bookoodles of money on fertilizer.

Removing the fruit, to get to the seed (coffee bean) inside

In his modest way, Russell said, “All of the hard work and investment is starting to pay off. We’ll be putting the money back in the farm. It’s becoming self-sustaining faster than anticipated.”

This link takes you to a video of the de-pulping process, narrated by Russell:

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Missionary Adventures: The Travels of Allen and Trish

If you’ve been following along at all, you know Allen and Trish are currently in the U.S. And, of course, excitement seems to follow them where’er they go, as Trish wrote about in this post. There are a few things she didn’t mention, though.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Missionaries

When the Sowers were planning their time in Florida, they completely neglected to factor in Hurricane Matthew. Even so, they had a wonderful time at Edgewater Alliance Church. Kim Hall was on hand for the church’s Kickoff Sunday in the Sister Church Program. Sponsors were able to be paired with the children whose lives they will impact.

Edgewater Alliance Church was hit by Hurricane Matthew. While it wasn’t as bad as it might have been, please remember them in your prayers as they deal with the aftermath.

This past week, the Sowers were at Lighthouse Church in Maryland. It was like old home week since, if you’ll recall, a team from Lighthouse Church was recently in Honduras to build a bridge in a week. They did it in five days!

November 6th will find Allen and Trish at Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Maryland for their Sister Church Kickoff Sunday. Kim and Jonathan Hall are flying in for the event. When I spoke to Pastor Tim in September, he was eager for other people to catch the vision of Sowers4Pastors. His congregation agrees with him and they will be pairing children with sponsors. Fredericktowne Baptist is also knee-deep in school supplies and backpacks, as they work to fill a container which should ship from Maryland within a couple of months. It was a thrill for Allen and Trish to see the volunteers packing backpacks for children in Western Honduras. Trish was especially touched by the reminder of how much time and effort people take to get supplies to them. Of course, she already knew that, but it was special for her to see it firsthand, since she normally doesn't get to come to the U.S. on these trips.

What else is in store for the Sowers this visit? Just as much as they can squeeze in by November 22nd, when they are set to return home! In case you miss him this go-round, Allen is set to return to the States toward the end of February.

On the Road Again (and Again)

We in the U.S. can expect to see a lot more of Allen and Trish in the future. How much more? Well, they’re still trying to determine that, but it seems most likely that they will be spending up to four months a year in the U.S. It’s not exactly a changing of the guards, but they are starting to separate out duties with Russell a bit more as they set up a new routine.

The wonderful news is that Russell has been training for this for most of his life. He’s a Sowers! He knows what to do when it comes to the day-to-day operations of Sowers4Pastors work in Honduras.

Don’t think for one minute that Allen and Trish are retiring or stepping away from their work in Honduras. They aren’t! They’re merely shifting things around. They still plan on spending the vast majority of their time working in Honduras. With most of their children grown, Ben away at school, and Russell at the helm, they have the opportunity to shake things up a little, though. Allen and Trish's work will involve finding more partners to help, as the ministry in Honduras continues to grow.

These wild and crazy missionaries are even contemplating purchasing a trailer to live in while they are stateside! A trailer would allow them the mobility they need to make their treks to various parts of the country. As profoundly grateful as Allen and Trish are to everyone who opens up their homes to them, it would be nice to be able to permanently check “find housing while traveling” off their to-do list! It would also allow them freedom from living out of suitcases. If this is something that interests you, please know there is a chance the Sowers will be looking at raising partnerships to make this dream a reality.

Stay tuned for more missionary adventures!

- posted by Christi

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Planes, hurricanes, and tropical diseases

Wow - this blog has certainly been quiet, recently! I am here now, however, prepared to offer explanations/excuses.

Back at the end of September, with my departure date (for my trip to the US) unexpectedly moved forward, I was rushing to prepare, and then it was time to travel! Though you can get from Gracias to San Pedro Sula in three hours and you can fly from San Pedro Sula to Orlando in about that same amount of time . . . for various reasons my travel day started at 4:30am, and ended at midnight! I was one tired missionary at the end of that day!

Immediately upon my arrival in Florida the concerns regarding a hit from Hurricane Matthew began reaching a high intensity. Coincidence? Some may think otherwise  . . . hmmmmmm? We decided we'd better make some preparations, and we hunkered down while the storm approached and passed on to the north.

We were staying in Orlando, where things weren't likely to get very bad, though there was still some risk. Because the storm track shifted to the east, Orlando was spared any significant problems. However, we had intended to spend time with friends and supporters over on the east coast of Florida, and those folks, while praising God that the situation wasn't worse, still had a significant amount of damage and mess to clean up. It wasn't a good time for them to visit with us, so . . .

We packed up on the spur of the moment, traveled all the way across Florida to the other coast, and spent a few days mixing delight with frustration, as we visited with my parents and two of our kids, and also prepared and filed our taxes. Yuck! (In case you're wondering about the timing - US citizens living internationally get an automatic filing extension.)

None of this left much time for working on the blog!

This past Saturday, the 15th, we scheduled a return trip back across Florida - leaving the Gulf Coast early, traveling to Lakeland, where we met up with friends of the ministry who'd collected a pallet-load of spiral-bound notebooks for us, caravanned with them to Winter Springs, to pick up toothbrushes, toothpaste, and blankets donated by other friends, and continued on to New Smyrna Beach. There we added these items to the rest of the donations which had previously been collected, to ship to Honduras. That was a big day; we were already feeling the pressure to make the most of the remainder of our available days in Florida. But then . . .

Sunday night I became very sick - a recurrence of an illness I've had multiple times over the past few years. The high fevers and chills usually abate within about a week, so we decided to lie low for a few days while Allen nursed me and continued working on ministry arrangements, involving dozens of phone calls. (We believe the recurrent illness is a form of malaria - not anything contagious by contact. No one else in my family ever gets it, just lucky me. I'll try to get a blood test done, and meds to kill whatever-it-is for good, the next time I'm sick with this while in Honduras. It's hard and expensive to get it done in the US.)

Today (Thursday), as Allen travels to Gainesville Florida to pick up additional boxes (for the feeding centers) to ship in the container, I am finally feeling much better - enough so that I'm even writing a blog post!

I won't guarantee that the blog won't go quiet again - we're keeping busy, and we'll spend a part of this next week loading a container, and another part driving from Florida to Maryland - but I am hopeful that there will be no more incidents involving huge named storms or strange tropical diseases to disrupt things! Please pray with us that this will be the case!

- posted by Trish

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Benefits of Indigenous Pastors - part two

Part one can be found here. 

When we left off, Allen was enlightening us with his thoughts on indigenous pastors and the best ways to reach the unreached people in the remote villages of Honduras. In doing this, he made some necessary comparisons between North American missionaries and indigenous pastors.

Here are a few more of those thoughts:

North American Missionaries Are Better Educated.

This is true. The average missionary arrives from North America with a college degree, and, most likely, a seminary degree. The indigenous pastors of Honduras are most definitely not as well educated. Of course, neither are the congregations. Allen is a proponent of providing training and education for the indigenous pastors. As he said, “It is NOT okay for indigenous pastors to have faulty theology. So we teach them.” Maybe we don’t need extra baggage to minister to people with a 3rd grade education.

Everything doesn’t have to be complicated. Allen points out that he is seeing a shift among many U.S. churches, as well. He’s seeing churches that are returning to the basics. There’s a trend to not get bogged down over whether someone is a premillennialist, postmillennialist, or amillennialist. As Allen put it so simply, “God loves us. Do we love Him? Do we love our neighbor?”

Utilizing Indigenous Pastors Is Economical.

It is standard practice for a North American missionary to raise support for living expenses. By the time you figure in things such as insurance and a retirement plan, it is expected for a gringo missionary to require $3,000-$5,000 per month in support. That’s not to imply they are living an extravagant lifestyle, but let’s compare that to indigenous pastors.

It is customary, in the mountain villages, for each pastor’s congregation to provide him with a stipend. $5 per month is typical. Just as the apostle Paul earned his own way through tent making, these pastors work in local fields to provide for their families.
While many well-known charities pay their indigenous pastors, teachers, and feeding center cooks, Sowers4Pastors does not hire and pay the people who work in their feeding centers. Allen compared paying the teachers and cooks to a U.S. church paying its Sunday school teachers. They work because they want to help their community.

Let’s Look at Success Rates.

Pastor Omar preaching, playing, and delighting
his congregation!
Did you know that when foreign missionaries plant new churches, there is only about a 50% success rate? In a church plant in the mountains of Honduras, it is unrealistic to think a foreign missionary pastor will be there indefinitely . . . and when a missionary leaves, for whatever reason--furlough, illness, to raise support, etc…--the newly planted churches tend to fall apart.

On the other hand, the success rate of churches started by indigenous pastors is much higher than 50%. Even when that pastor moves on, the odds of long-term success are much great than for churches started by a gringo. With an indigenous pastor, the congregation has a sense of ownership. It is their church rather than the gringo missionary’s church.

Ministering to the Needs

When an indigenous person goes to a gringo for counseling, there is a tendency for the person in need to begin seeing the pastor as their source of help - a “little god.” Allen feels that may be because the gringo is often more highly educated and better funded. At any rate, he is often placed at an elevated status.

When an indigenous person approaches an indigenous pastor with a problem, the pastor is seen as “one of their own,” resulting in less hero worship. The person in need can more clearly see that their hope is in Christ.


As mentioned in a previous post, Allen is not criticizing the work done by North American missionaries. He is one, after all! He would simply like for people to consider the best way to reach the most people with the resources available.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Benefits of Indigenous Pastors - part one

When it comes to motivational speaking, Zig Ziglar and Norman Vincent Peale had nothing on Allen Sowers! If you don’t believe me, try spending some time talking to him on the phone. You don’t even have to talk. In fact, it’s probably better if you just listen and soak up the motivation! Since you may not have the opportunity to chat with Allen on a regular basis, I’m going to pass on some of the content from our most recent fairly one-sided conversation. Today, Zig, er, Allen, was speaking about the benefits and problems of indigenous pastors versus foreign missionaries. (In order to get the full effect, you’ll need to read this at warp speed because that is how Allen talks!)

Village People

It is believed there are 2000 villages in the mountains of Western Honduras, which don’t have a Bible based church. Just let that sink in for a moment. TWO THOUSAND VILLAGES! How many people might that be? Now those villages aren’t accessible from main roads. Often, they aren’t accessible from any roads!

The North American mentality tends to be, “Well, we should send missionaries to Honduras to plant churches.” On the surface, that sounds like a great plan. After all, it’s the Great Commission, not the Great Suggestion. Right? But does the Great Commission mean that we, as American Christians, need to place a missionary in each of the estimated 2000 villages in one portion of Honduras? Or is there perhaps a way to accomplish more while being better stewards with the money God has provided? The Great Commission must be completed, but how do we go about that?

A Different Way

A gringo missionary family might say, “We’re going to live in a place that’s an hour and a half to two hour walk from the nearest road. We’ll park our car at the edge of the road and hike to our new home. Oh, sure, that means we won’t have electricity, internet, or easy access to the outside world, but… Great Commission and all that. We’ll homeschool our kids with books we’ve brought with us and hauled on our backs. We'll have to bring in our food, as the local diet isn't sufficient to stave off malnutrition. And, if the kids get sick… well, we won’t think about that.” Some might be willing to make that sacrifice, but does that mean it’s the best way? One missionary family who starts a church plant might reach several hundred people. What if, instead of planting a church, that missionary family works to empower Honduran pastors?

Sowers4Pastors thinks it’s important to utilize indigenous pastors as a way of reaching the masses. By working with indigenous pastors, there can be exponential growth. The Sowers have worked with maybe 1000 pastors. Each of those pastors has ministered to their communities . That means that, through the pastors who have a relationship with Sowers4Pastors, approximately 100,000-120,000 people have been reached with the Gospel, and are now plugged into local churches in their communities!

Instead of foreign missionaries each planting one church, they could help indigenous pastors plant twenty-five churches. This idea isn’t simply about cost effectiveness. It’s about soul effectiveness!

Allen stresses that this approach would not work in all countries. In a Muslim country, for instance, there would not be a group of indigenous Christian pastors ready to assume responsibility for ministering. He most assuredly is not disparaging missionaries who take a different approach, though he questions the need for most missionaries in Honduras to be from North America. He is offering food for thought. In fact, he is offering so much food for thought that it will need to be continued in another post! Stay tuned!

- posted by Christi

Monday, September 12, 2016

Guess What!

Guess what! Go ahead and guess! Wrong! (I’m assuming. Maybe you’re a very good guesser. I dunno.) Oh, I’ll just tell you. Do you remember the funding requests for twelve motorcycles that were denied, for quota reasons, for a dozen hard working indigenous pastors in Western Honduras? And do you remember how Sowers4Pastors said, “Hey, these men have already done their part in raising a deposit. We’re going to step out on faith and trust that God will provide a way”? God is providing a way! Nine of the twelve applications have now been approved for funding! (Yes, that’s a lot of exclamation points in one paragraph. But it’s sooooo EXCITING!)

In case you need a refresher course, here’s the original blogpost concerning the need for funding for these motorcycles. Go back and read the bios of some of the applicants to understand why this news is worthy of some serious over-punctuation and enthusiasm!

Please note that three of the pastors are still in need of funding for their motorcycles. If you haven’t already, please consider donating to this worthy cause. If you have already donated, thank you very much!

Allen would like to thank EVERYBODY involved in this funding approval. That includes the Christian Motorcyclists Association, Missionary Ventures, and The Foundation for Missions, and everyone who prayed about our funding dilemma. Did we forget anyone? Because Allen really doesn’t want to forget anyone. So, if someone has been left out, it was completely unintentional. Know that you are thanked and your efforts are truly appreciated.

In case a mere “thank you” is inadequate, let’s try saying it in different languages! Gracias. Merci. Grazie, Domo Arigato. Do jeh. Danke. Khop Khun Mak Kha. Spasiba. Takk. Mahalo. Toda. Efharisto. There. Do you sense to depth and sincerity behind the expressions of gratitude? Just in case you’re not feeling the love, I’ll throw in a little pig latin. Ankthay ouyay!

Because of your gift, thousands of people in remote villages will be able to hear the Gospel. Thank you, Lord! (It wouldn’t do to forget to thank Him!)

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Catching the Vision

Beware! If you spend any time around the Sowers, you just might catch something. Pastor Tim Webster of Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Maryland, the Sowers’ sending church, discovered that firsthand a couple of weeks ago. Pastor Tim visited Honduras and caught a bad case of the Sowers4Pastors vision!

Pastor Tim has only been at FBC for about fourteen months. During that time, he has done what good pastors do upon arriving at a new home church. He has tried to get to know the people and to understand how the church operates. He knew Fredericktowne Baptist sponsors a certain number of missionaries, but one name kept popping up more than the others. Sowers. He knew Allen visits the church each fall. He knew they work with pastors. He knew they work with the poor. And, he had some vague knowledge that they do something with coffee. So, Pastor Tim set off for Honduras to learn more about Sowers4Pastors and how the congregation at Fredericktowne can help them.

When he landed in Honduras, Allen and Russell were there to greet him. He had met Allen previously. And he has had the pleasure of meeting Boo. But he had not met Russell. He had not witnessed the Allen/Russell dynamic. He said that was the first thing that hit him. He realized this wasn’t a case of slapping up a shingle that says, “Sowers and Son,” where the father makes all of the decisions and the son is just there. He realized, “This guy is key to this thing.”

“The more time I spent with them, the more I loved watching Allen say, 'What do you think?' to Russell,” said Pastor Tim. He continued to explain, “This is a leadership principle. Allen is still there. He’s still needed. But all of the pieces are in place for Russell to take on more and more responsibility. That’s how it should be done.”

Of the 144 feeding centers, Pastor Tim got to visit three of them. They weren’t just drive-by visits. He got to see them in action. He said, “I got to see the women making the food. They were spicing it up. Adding their own flavor. The food had a different taste in all three centers.” He continued, “In the first center, I watched 200 children sitting there completely under control, respectful, and waiting. Three years olds were patiently waiting. They’re very grateful. When Allen visits a center, he takes them candy. To see a kid get a couple of pieces of candy and give me one of them was…” Well, I guess we can all figure out what that was. Gulp.

As he was visiting, Pastor Tim was thinking about getting to partner with the church that will be Fredericktowne Baptist’s sister church. He is eager for his congregation to develop relationships with the people in a sister church. As he met children, he thought, “Those kids are going to be ours!”

The church in Maryland has already packed backpacks through their VBS. He’s excited to think that, in February, some of the children he met will be receiving those backpacks filled with school supplies.

Although he does not speak Spanish, Pastor Tim was able to communicate with the children while playing. He discovered you only have to learn two words to play red light/green light!

At the Pastors’ Training School, he was able to teach through an interpreter. He found the men to be hungry for knowledge, sincere, and devoted.

He saw the bridge projects. “Unless you visit, you don’t really have a frame of reference,” he said. He saw the difference in foot bridges and car bridges. And he realized the Sowers could have made a lot of money by building the much needed bridges. “They didn’t because the bridges are their sweat equity. That’s them earning the respect and right to be heard.”

The non-coffee-drinking pastor got to see the Sowers’ vision of coffee. He saw it being planted. He saw healthy farms growing coffee and thought, “They’re going to be there, too.” Pastor Tim is impressed by the fact the point is to raise more money, not for themselves, but to give away through the ministry.

He spoke of Allen and Trish’s journey and of the crucial part Trish plays in their ministry. Just when their Honduran “dream home” was becoming a reality, Trish said, “We don’t need to live there. Let’s give it to Russell.” She provides meals for the workers. She doesn’t complain when Allen spends months on end in the U.S. As Pastor Tim said, “She has a quiet strength. Without her being so (for lack of a better term) low maintenance, they couldn’t do what they do.”

Ultimately, Pastor Tim would like for Fredericktowne Baptist to send a missions team once a year to put on a VBS. “If that’s our sister church, we need to visit. We need to build relationships. This isn’t about being cost effective. It’s about the people.”

As for himself, he hopes to be able to return to do some teaching at the Pastors’ Training School. He said, “I look at Allen and Russell and see two guys who do things I can’t do. But there are things I can do that they can’t do. Having been a pastor for thirty years, one thing I can do is mentor pastors. There are issues affecting pastors, which are the same everywhere.”

He closed with, “You have to be pretty much dead to not catch the vision if you’re there! You can’t just see it and say, ‘That’s done.’ There’s a responsibility.” - posted by Christi