Thursday, December 14, 2017

Little House in Honduras

Welcome to this week's episode of Little House in Honduras. Yes, sometimes talking to Trish can seem a little like having a phone call with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Seriously. It's like having the phone ring and suddenly being transported to a time when people weren't living in climate controlled environments and their biggest water concern wasn't whether to buy bottled or use a Brita filter.
People in Honduras are at the mercy of the seasons to a much larger degree than most modern North Americans can imagine. Oh, sure, we can have scorching summers and freezing winters, but that’s why God created central heat and air. Right? Honduran buildings tend to be open air. As Trish said, “When it’s cold, we’re cold. When it’s hot, we’re hot.” The same concept applies to water. When it’s the rainy season, water is plentiful. When it’s the dry season, having an adequate water supply is a big honkin’ deal! Water shortages are a reality during dry seasons. FYI, a dry season typically runs from fall to late spring.

Existing (round) water tank,
and larger tank (under construction) in the background

The Sowers built a water system when they first moved to their property. It’s a private system, which involves underground pipes and a 6000 gallon water tank. But that system was set up for one family. Now, the property is home to two families and a coffee farm. That 6000 gallons of water doesn’t go very far. That’s why the Little House in Honduras family is in the process of building a water system, which will more adequately meet their current needs.
Wall panels going up, to pour the concrete walls of
the larger tank

Even though the Honduran climate is well suited to growing coffee, the coffee farm does require a substantial amount of water. It does not require irrigation, but the fertilizer, fungicides, pesticides, etc… all come in a powder form. They are mixed with water and sprayed onto the plants. One application of one product requires 2000 gallons of water! It’s like a pioneer math problem: If Pa and Ma Sowers have 6000 gallons of water and Russell and his crew use 2000 gallons of water spraying coffee plants, how long will it be before it’s time to break out a divining rod? (Okay. They don’t have a divining rod. But they have had to pay the firemen to fill the water tank.)

Fortunately, this new system involves an additional, larger tank, which holds 60,000 gallons of water! Some dimensions were tossed around, but all you really need to know is that it’s roughly the size of a three car garage! A new pipe system is also in the plans, but first things first.

General construction details

Allen wants to stress there are some benefits to the dry season. It’s the time when most church and bridge construction takes place. Most buildings in Western Honduras are made out of homemade adobe bricks. When the bricks get wet, they are about as durable as bricks made from Play-doh. (And they probably don’t even taste as good!) The adobe sort of melts with the rain. By the time the rains come, the completed buildings will be protected by roofs.

It’s enough to make the Ingalls family and the folks in Walnut Grove proud!

- posted by Christi

- pictures by Ben Sowers

Friday, December 8, 2017

Come Along on a Virtual Visit to Our Most Recent Bridge Project!

You've heard it mentioned in previous blog posts . . . now you can see it! We've been working on replacing the old, worn-out pedestrian bridge at Las Crucitas with a new bridge that can handle vehicles up to pickup trucks! In this video you can see the two bridges side-by-side! 

This bridge is a result of cooperation between the local government, volunteers from the communities that are served by this bridge, and fundraising help from Eric Linden in Jacksonville, Florida . . . plus Russell and Sowers4Pastor' trained, bridge-building crew!

We have a small - but good - problem with our bridge construction ministry: we've installed new bridges in most of the sites needing them in the vicinity of Gracias. When teams want to help build bridges in the future, they may need to rough it out in a more remote area, possibly sleeping in a church in a village that doesn't have any hotels or restaurants. (Our usual teams get a bit spoiled staying  and eating at the lovely Guancascos Hotel in Gracias). So, who's up for a remote bridge construction project? Hmmmm?

- posted by Trish

Monday, December 4, 2017

One Day's Trip to the Airport . . . Through the Roadblocks

We have an exciting story to tell you!

First things first – we want to thank everyone who is involved in praying, as part of our large, informal but effective prayer support team! You guys know how living in Honduras adds certain risks to our lives – bad roads (extreme curves, minimal traffic laws, lack of guard rails, gigantic potholes, . . . ), reduced quality and availability of medical care, increased exposure to diseases, etc. We do our best to take certain precautions – like keeping our vehicles well maintained, and avoiding more dangerous parts of the large cities, especially at night (just like you would likely do in the U.S.).

With all this in mind, we know that God has called us to live here, and sometimes living and working here requires us to take certain greater risks. Many of the things we ourselves do day-to-day involve risks we would never expose teams to – like Trish (a woman alone) driving on back roads, or Allen eating unsafely-prepared foods in people’s homes.

In spite of the unsettled situation in Honduras, Friday morning Allen and Russell found it necessary to make a trip to San Pedro Sula and back. We had a guest who needed to get to the airport. Dennis has experience traveling in third world countries and he was in-the-know about the risks involved in trying to get to the airport on that day. We also had other guests, two men, who were already in country and arriving in Gracias, from Tegucigalpa, that evening.

It was slow going. Starting out, they saw multiple areas where protests had previously taken place, and had already been broken up, and the roads were clear.

Russell took this short video, during their trip.

At one point, they came to where a protest was in progress, and no traffic was getting through, except for motorcycles and pedestrians. Right then, the military police arrived, to re-open the road. Russell walked up to the front of the protest, to see and hear how things were working out. He heard the police say that they had orders to re-open the road, and they didn’t want to have to use force. The protest leaders said that they didn’t want to stop protesting. They negotiated an agreement where the protesters stayed on only one side of the road (the road is one lane in each direction), and the other side would remain open, with vehicles going north and south taking turns using that lane. It was handled peacefully, and the men were able to move forward along the road again.

Eventually, outside of San Pedro Sula (around 15 miles from the city), they got stopped in a roadblock that just didn't budge. After checking the situation to see if the blockage would be cleared, Allen and Dennis decided to walk through the roadblock, and pay for rides on the other side.

Once they reached open road again, they alternated between hiring taxis, walking, and hitching rides. They saw lots of action, but were personally unharmed throughout the trip. In one especially odd event, they had negotiated a price with the driver of a small, open-air taxi, to take them out from a roadblock. When the driver got them to their destination at the back of the protest area, and they were preparing to pay him, a crowd of protesters demanded to know, from the driver, how much he was charging his passengers. When he told them an amount (about half of what had actually been agreed upon), the crowd threatened to beat the driver - because he was price gouging! Fortunately, there was an off-duty policeman in the taxi with them, and he managed to calm the protesters!

Eventually, Allen and Dennis made it safely to a hotel near the airport. Once he knew they were safely settled for the night, Russell turned around and started driving back to Gracias.

Russell had a long trip, dodging protests and roadblocks at night. At one point, he and a caravan of other vehicles were led along back roads, for an hour, by knowledgeable locals on motorcycles, to get around a large roadblock (for a fee). Russell actually arrived home earlier than we'd anticipated, as the roads were basically clear for the second half of his trip.

Our guests coming from Tegucigalpa were having their own troubles. Traveling with Honduran friends in a pickup truck, they were caught up in traffic at several roadblocks, eventually arriving at their hotel in Gracias in the wee hours of the morning.

Saturday morning, when things were quieter, Allen headed off from the hotel, to make his way back to Gracias. (The guest had to reschedule his flight, as his previously scheduled flight on Friday was cancelled.)

He was able to get to the bus terminal in San Pedro, but it was all closed up, and looters were trying to gain entry. Since there were no buses available, Allen hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck. (Hitchhiking - with a small amount paid to the driver - is a surprisingly safe and common means of transport in Honduras.)

Six hours and several different pickup trucks later, and absolutely covered in black soot from the smoke of the burning tires at all the protest sites, Allen made it back as far as Las Flores, a few miles outside of Gracias (normally a trip of about 3 – 4 hours). Russell and the guests picked him up there . . . and Allen went immediately to work, showing the visitors the work of the ministry in that area.

And that, my friends, is the short version of the story! LOL

Praise the Lord, throughout all of this none of these folks - Allen, Russell, or the guests - were ever threated with any harm. These are remarkable times – not at all the norm for Honduras - but we won't be afraid to continue the work God has given us to do here!

 - posted by Trish (for a change)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Allen and Trish's Thankfulness Song

When one of my sons was younger, he was obsessed with the VeggieTales’ musical prayer, “The Thankfulness Song”. It is best sung in a squeaky, childlike voice and it goes like this:
I thank God for this day For the sun in the sky,
For my mom and my dad,
For my piece of apple pie!
For our home on the ground,
For His love that’s all around,
That’s why I say thanks every day!
Because a thankful heart is a happy heart!
I’m glad for what I have,
That’s an easy way to start!
For the love that He shares,
‘Cause He listens to my prayers,
That’s why I say thanks every day!

Think of this blogpost as Allen and Trish’s Thankfulness Song. It’s good stuff all on its own, but for added entertainment, you can read it in a squeaky, childlike voice. Here are some fairly precise direct quotes of things that made Allen and Trish’s gratitude list:

  • We were blessed with two new grandkids this year!

  • The coffee farm is doing well. Productivity is good, even if prices are down. We’re not in this to make a fortune, but any profit goes back to the ministry and provides jobs in the area.

  • We are grateful the political situation in Honduras is calm for the moment. This week is the Presidential election, so that could change, but it has been stable for a while. Crime wise, it is safer than it has been in years.

  • This U.S. trip has been successful. A lot of people got involved in our ministry who were not previously involved. Donations are up and we met new people who are excited to get involved. We’re also thankful that the trip is almost over and we can go home soon.

  • Two containers were filled and sent off! In previous years, we’ve worked until after New Years to get one container filled and shipped. This year, we shipped two before Thanksgiving. The 5000 filled backpacks in the containers mean that 5000 kids in Honduras get to go to school!

  • Pastors’ Training School, which was restarted in 2016 has seen a lot of growth. New aspects, such as the mentoring program have been added. Several student pastors have even started their own Pastors’ Training School up in the mountains! Not only are they mentoring, they are also taking the information they've been taught, and teaching about 25 students themselves!

  • We are thankful for the number of bridges that have been built, the number of roofs we’ve helped put on churches, and the number of motorcycles we’ve been able to help pastors purchase.

  • We’re thankful for the growth in the Child Sponsorship Program and the Sister Church Program. It’s not only feeding the kids and having them attached to the church, it’s also having sponsors pray for the kids and encourage them.

  • All of our adult kids are doing well! We found a good school for Ben where he is continuing to progress. He just completed 8th grade!

  • We’re thankful we get to do what we do and live where we live. It’s very gratifying and encouraging whenever you see this much harvest!

  • We are profoundly thankful for Allen’s heart surgery. (Trish told me to paraphrase the part where she said, “The fact that he’s not dead is a biggie,” but I think that sums up the situation nicely!)

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Virtual Handprint Turkeys and a Very Real Thank You

It’s Thanksgiving time and that means school children across the country have written out their reasons for gratitude on handprint turkeys fashioned from construction paper and Elmer’s glue and stapled them to bulletin boards. This blogpost is sort of like that. Except doesn’t involve any construction paper or Elmer’s glue and there’s not actually a bulletin board. Instead, it is filled with many virtual handprint turkeys and a very real “Thank you!”

Saturday, November 18, two containers were loaded full of around 5000 backpacks filled with school supplies, Bibles, 3000 pairs of shoes, food, cable, and sundry other supplies. The loadings took place in Walkersville Maryland and Edgewater Florida. As mentioned in a previous post, Allen and Trish were having meetings in Mississippi and were unable to be present for the fun-filled process of loading.

Loading was almost like some very strange game show challenge since the shipping company only allows two hours to load before the containers are trucked to the port and put in place to start their journey to Honduras. (Of course, Allen pointed out it’s always better to pay $95 per additional hour, as needed, if it means the difference between a fully loaded container and shipping air!) The weight of the items inside the container must be well balanced to prevent some shipping disaster. It is not a task for the faint of heart!

List of Names on the Virtual Handprint Turkeys:

  • Thank you to Jim and Denise Cofer in Maryland for all of their hard work. Jim headed up the loading effort in Maryland.
  • Thank you to Terry Shores and family. Terry was in charge of the container loading in Florida. This was his first year loading without Allen on hand.
  • Thank you to Kim and Jonathan Hall for their tireless work with Manna 4 Lempira. Your turkey has real colored feathers purchased from a craft store!
  • Thank you to all the Manna 4 Lempira sponsors who diligently filled backpacks. In many cases, they not only filled backpacks for their sponsored children, but also provided backpacks for children who do not have sponsors. Sponsors such as Autumn Dean, Monica Lederman and family, Megan Prence, and Courtney Christian are deserving of special turkeys that are sprinkled with glitter.  
  • Thank you to Joplin and Andrea Emberson and Andrea’s mother, Lori Mills for helping to head up a backpack drive at The Well Church in Derby Kansas. Thanks to everyone at The Well Church who helped with this effort by filling and organizing backpacks.
  • Thank you to Steve Kreidt, Jill Majetich, and Christ Church of Orlando for filling backpacks.
  • Thank you to Michelle Spanos, Katie Henry, Mike Martin, Michelle Mercer, and the people of Edgewater Alliance Church who participated in a huge backpack drive and assisted in loading the Florida container.
  • Thank you to Gary and Mary Richard and everyone at Fredericktowne Baptist Church for filling backpacks with school supplies so a bunch of children in Western Honduras will have the necessary tools for learning. Thanks also to this crew for their faithful work in loading a container every year for many years now!
  • Thank you to Heath and Chelsea Johnson, Rob McFarland, Steven Buswell, and everyone at Lighthouse Church who filled backpacks.
  • Thank you to Rick Tawney and the good people of Life Community Church for filling backpacks.
  • Thank you to Doug Richards and the congregation of Faith Assembly of God Church.
  • Thank you to anyone who prayed for this massive undertaking, purchased school supplies for the effort, or filled backpacks. Whether you provided supplies for one or 100, you are appreciated!

Due to the efforts of all of the handprint turkey worthy people, each child with Manna 4 Lempira and the Sister Church Program will receive a filled backpack! The extras will be used for Gifts for Gracias. Allen reminded me that each backpack filled with school supplies would cost around $100 in Honduras. For the Honduran family with an annual income of $1000 and 4 school age children, you can see how important a backpack drive is. It’s so important that Allen is already looking ahead at the possibility of filling three containers next year!

- posted by Christi

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