Saturday, October 3, 2015

The big coffee planting season is now behind us

August and September bring regular, torrential rains to our area. It is during these months that the tender young coffee plants are moved from their sheltered nurseries out into the fields. 

Landowners in our part of Honduras are putting in acres and acres of coffee; more every year. It's a fabulous crop for the conditions here - since it can be grown on rocky hillsides, which we have in abundance, and the plants thrive in this climate. Another benefit is that the coffee can be planted in the ground below existing trees, which decreases the likelihood of erosion problems.

The mountainous terrain excludes the possibility of mechanized farming in much of Honduras, and the country people in our area are quite knowledgeable about and experienced with agricultural work. We have no difficulty finding extra laborers when we need them for our busy planting season.

This is the back of Russell's Land Cruiser, with the seats folded up,
moving a load of new coffee plants down to the fields for planting
This hillside has already been planted with coffee plants in straight rows among the existing trees. 

Workers fertilizing the young plants. The fertilizer is in the baskets strapped to their waists,
 and they use the tool, with a single straight blade on the end of a long handle,
to create a small pocket in the dirt near each plant.

In areas where there are fewer shade trees available, the men plant plantain or banana
 plants.These fast growing, leafy plants quickly add shade to the fields, 
as well as providing us with additional crops of bananas and plantains!

Workers spraying to prevent bug and fungus damage. Here in the tropics, either of these can 
wipe out a field of plants pretty quickly, so it's a constant battle to keep them under control.

Russell giving you an idea of the size of the stem
of a coffee plant which went into the ground last year

We're definitely pleased with how our sustainable ministry project is coming along. So far, there has been a large investment of time and money, and we've made great progress! A harvest is not expected in the first or second year, but in spite of that, it looks like we will be able to collect enough beans this year to fill a couple of large sacks, from the plants which went into the ground last year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Taking a drive on the wild side

As I drove Ben to school this morning, we noticed that damage from last night's torrential rain was unusually apparent. We saw several minor rock and dirt slides, places where debris had been washed all over the roads, and lots of new potholes. The rivers were very full, and running tremendously fast - and clearly they had, in several places, come up out of their banks onto the roads during the night.

I decided to document some of that this morning . . . and then I got the totally brilliant idea to go home by a different route, where I would have to travel on dirt roads the whole way home. That, I thought, would assure me of some especially impressive photo opportunities. It might have been wise to consider the fact that my original route of the morning did not require me to actually ford any of the rivers, and this route would . . . but that didn't occur to me until a bit later. And, really, what's the fun of living in Honduras, if you're not willing to take on the occasional adventure, right? LOL

It turns out that the dirt road has recently been graded (since the last time I used it), and most of it did not experience much erosion from the storm last night, and is still very smooth. Good thing I had some rivers to ford, for better photo opportunities!

(Click on the photos to see a larger version.)

This spot is some pretty rough driving!
The road heading down to the river took a beating.

Here's one of the three rivers I had to ford on this trip. On a normal day, none of them are worth a second thought. 

Closer view of the water flow - making me nervous that the concrete bed of the ford might have suffered some damage. Did it? I don't know - the part my wheels touched was okay, though.

Normally, during the rainy season, the water is about 1/4 as wide as this

Closer look at the flow of the water I was preparing to ford. It's not so very bad, though I do get nervous when I can't see the state of the ground at the bottom . . .  

This is where I turn off the main road, to get home

Not very clear in this photo, but the little "ditch" the water created, between the main road and my road is about a foot wide there, and probably around a foot deep. I  hugged the left side of the turn, to avoid it. 
A spot on the side road which keeps getting larger, as the rainy season progresses . . . 
Yeah, I'm hoping not to slide down there . . . 

I picked up these hitch hikers on their way to school.

We have several months of rainy season still ahead of us. Things may get interesting. With Ben in school now, I don't have the option to just stay off the roads.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Church Construction Project - El Rodeito

The congregation led by Pastor Santos Heriberto Reyes, in El Rodeito, had outgrown their small church building. They have been working to expand the existing structure, and we were able to assist them with this project because generous donors have sent funds specifically for the purpose of helping with church construction projects in this part of Honduras. If you're interested in how it all works, I wrote a post about this recently.

Here are some members of the congregation outside their new (not yet painted) church building

A peek at the beautifully finished interior

If you look down the side wall, you can see that a portion of the wall is painted.
That is a section of wall from the old building  . . . you can get
some idea of the much smaller size of the original church building.

During the construction process
We're so excited to be able to play a part in the spread of the Gospel throughout western Honduras . . . and we hope you are, too! God placed us in a location where the harvest of souls is coming in, NOW, and we are working hard - with your help - to ensure that this moment of opportunity is not wasted!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Progress Report for Ben

I'm thinking, now that we have a month of the new school year under our belts, it might be time for a progress report. In order to see the progress, we will first take a look back:
Up until January of this year, Ben was homeschooled, with mixed results. He learned to love reading, science, and history, but he wasn't happy studying at home, and this situation became worse for my extroverted boy, as more and more of the older children grew up and left home (especially hard was the departure of Ben's beloved brother, Gus, when he moved to the US).
Following the kidnapping, in August of 2013, Ben and I both had trouble getting back to the business of homeschooling - we had other things on our minds, to sort through and deal with - and Ben fell behind in his schoolwork, especially in math and writing. As other aspects of our lives began to normalize, school became more of a problem, and things were tense around here.
For reasons too varied to discuss in a blog post, the decision was made to put Ben into the excellent local Christian bilingual school. He took a placement test, which said he was prepared for approximately the middle of fifth grade. With the agreement of the school administrators, he was placed into the sixth grade, because of his age. At ages 12, 13, and 14, there are a LOT of physical and emotional changes happening, and we wanted Ben to be with his peers.
This meant that the six months of school Ben attended last year were incredibly grueling for Ben, and for the rest of the family. Every day, in just math, for instance, he would have to learn whatever new thing the class was learning, but he would also have to learn and practice a number of other types of problems that the rest of the class had previously learned but he had not yet experienced - and he had the same situation in many of his other subjects, as well. Two days per week, he would attend tutoring sessions after school, with his 6th grade teacher, Miss Whitehead. When Ben arrived home every afternoon, he and I would go straight to work on his homework, and, except for a brief stop for dinner, we usually worked straight through until bedtime! Our family was extremely impressed, from the start, with Ben's effort and mostly good attitude. He loved going to school, and was determined to make this work.
It was still a long, hard struggle, though. Over the weekends we would spend time catching up on any homework he hadn't been able to complete during the week (especially in math), and Ben would spend a lot of time writing, writing, and writing! If things went well, Ben would find himself with Sunday afternoons free . . . but that was it! Poor guy (and, just fyi; poor me, too. LOL).
We made it to the end of the school year, and Ben passed all of his classes . . . and for the most part he either received a high A, or he barely squeaked by to pass, in each of his subjects.
Now, you may have noticed that I said this is a "bilingual" school, and I haven't yet said anything about Spanish. Ben speaks English as his first language, and, when we started school, he had a minimal ability to get by in Spanish. He certainly was not ready to take 6th grade classes (social studies and Spanish language arts) in Spanish, with students who speak Spanish as their first language! During the time his classmates took those classes last year, Ben worked with a tutor at the school, to improve his Spanish. At the end of the school year, we felt that he was catching up pretty well in his other subjects, but our greatest concern was whether he was ready to enter the 7th grade classes in Spanish, as a regular student.
Over the summer, Ben attended tutoring sessions, three times each week, with a Honduran teacher from the school. Miss Amy did such a great job with him - her friendly, gentle manner encouraged him to open up and talk in Spanish about anything and everything - and we felt guardedly hopeful about Ben's Spanish abilities, as we started this new school year. (Fortunately it is comparatively very simple to read and write in Spanish, if you can already read and write in English - the reverse is much more complicated.)
As we started the new school year, I was guardedly hopeful about Ben's progress, but, to be honest, I was mostly dreading it! One thing that is available to the students at the school, when they reach 7th grade, is the opportunity to participate in after-school sports. I had promised Ben that he would be allowed to participate, if his grades weren't negatively affected, and if he could manage to get all of the homework done in the time that would be left over, after he'd spent time in the after-school activities. So, he had extra incentive to do well this year - he excels in sports and desperately wanted to be involved in those, as much as possible!
Now, after a month of seventh grade, I'm delighted to report that everything, so far, is going so much better than last year! Happily, Ben is no longer the strange new student who doesn't know how anything works . . . and this has helped him a lot, in adjusting to the new teachers and other differences that are in effect now that he has moved into the second level of classes at the school. He is now attending the classes which are held in Spanish, as a regular student, and the teachers have expressed to him that they are pleased and surprised at his progress! He has been doing an amazing job at keeping track of all of his assignments, and is taking full responsibility for making certain that his homework is completed in the evenings. He's participating in after-school sports four days each week, as well! I'm thrilled, of course, and just a little bit amazed at his progress!
There are still - and certainly will continue to be - many struggles and difficulties along the way . . . Ben is a teenager now, you know, LOL! But I wanted to take a moment and just be grateful for where we are, where we've come from, and that the future looks so bright for Ben, right now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Poverty Enters my House

For almost 15 years now, my family has worked with the desperately poor, in rural villages in Honduras. I like to think my eyes are open to the needs and the problems, if not the solutions, related to the economic situation in Honduras. When visitors arrive, and exclaim over the level of poverty they see here, I nod my head sadly - because, of course, I've seen it.

But recently, our family hired a young woman to help with the cooking and housework. Most missionaries do hire help - it is seen as both a tool to allow the missionaries to concentrate on the work they are sent to do and also valuable employment to individuals in the community. Additionally, the missionary family benefits from the interaction with a speaker of the local language. We already employ a group of regular workers, men who have learned valuable skills while building bridges and water projects with us, and who are currently working with us in the coffee fields. But I've been reluctant to have household help . . . it's too personal for this hermit, having someone working

Recently, though, I gave in to the inevitable (I posted about this here), and hired a helper. I've had friends praying for this need, and then for the transition - mostly because, while I knew it was necessary, I was dreading it! I've been so grateful for the prayer support - and am delighted to report that things are going swimmingly! I really like my new household helper - not only is she hardworking, but she's also pleasant company, and she's fond of my menagerie of animals - which is huge when you consider how much extra work they create for her! We are already forming a friendship which transcends the differences in our ages (she's the same age as my oldest daughter), our communications difficulties, and so many other aspects of our lives. Either of us will stop at a moment's notice to share something with the other - a joke, a serious story, something silly one of the animals is doing, a beautiful view, an interesting bug, etc.

But, there has been another thing that has happened, with her arrival into my house. It's not unexpected, but somehow I managed to be surprised by it again . . .suddenly, poverty has entered my house. No longer can I sit back and view poverty as a problem to be addressed on a large scale. Now, it has a name and a face; dreams and aspirations. Poverty wonders how to make life better for her children. Poverty has a sweet attitude, and a brave smile, in spite of setbacks. Poverty is my sister in Christ.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

On the Twelfth Day of Gifts for Gracias . . .

I have been writing, for twelve days, about the different ways people have participated in the Gifts for Gracias Project over the years. Today is the twelfth - and final - day! If you are unfamiliar with Gifts for Gracias, or would like to see an overview of how it works, click here for more info.

The Twelfth Day of Gifts for Gracias: Gifts are distributed to the pastors!

As the Gifts for Gracias project has grown, over the years, it has become difficult for us to deliver the gifts individually, to all of the recipients in their homes. We could do it, of course, but only by neglecting other important aspects of the ministry, as it would take an immense amount of time.

Our ministry is all about getting resources into the hands of local pastors and evangelists, and letting them do whatever they can do for themselves from there. In the case of the Gifts for Gracias project, the pastors, denominational supervisors, and local pastor associations have helped us as the project has grown, by taking on this final part of the process. As always, this multiplies the number of families we are able to help! 

Since we generally receive lists containing the info for groups of pastors, we make up all of the gifts, group by group. When all of the gifts for one group of pastors are completed, we contact the individual who submitted that list. They tell us whether they would rather pick up the gifts at our house, out in the country, or at Russell's house, in town. 

This means, however, that instead of taking pictures of the pastors and their families at their homes, receiving their gifts, we take pictures when the truckloads of gifts leave our home, and we receive photos from the supervisors who pass along the gifts. Please know, as you look at these photos, that these group pictures, and photos of truckloads of boxes, represent the opportunity for us to deliver gifts to more delighted children and grateful parents, than we could otherwise do. 

Pastors of smaller churches in the ADEMIC denomination,
receiving their gifts at the large ADEMIC church in the city of Gracias

Because I know everyone loves to see them, however, here is a link to a post with photos of families receiving gifts in previous years. 

I believe that now, with the completion of these twelve (!) posts on the topic of Gifts for Gracias, I have answered all the questions anyone could possibly have about this project. If I'm wrong, then please leave your question in the comments, and I will make sure you get an answer.
A huge "Thank You" to everyone who participates, in any of the ways I've mentioned in these posts,and any I may have left out. As a reminder, I am posting the shipping and deadline information below.

Shipping/Delivery Information

If you wish to mail gifts, there are two mailing addresses available:

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


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

If you live in Maryland or Florida, contact us if you would prefer to deliver your gift in person. At this time, there are only two locations set up to receive donations, but there may be a few other private options which can be arranged.
trish @

DEADLINES: All gifts coming to us in Florida MUST be received before September 24th! Currently, the Maryland deadline is the end of October.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

On the Eleventh Day of Gifts for Gracias . . .

I am writing twelve posts about the different ways people have participated in the Gifts for Gracias Project over the years. Today is the eleventh day. If you are unfamiliar with Gifts for Gracias, or would like to see an overview of how it works, click here for more info.

The Eleventh Day of Gifts for Gracias: Come to Honduras and help us make up the gifts

This may sound crazy to you, but people have done it before: you could come and stay with us for a few weeks or months, and help us when the container arrives here. There is a TON of work involved, and we try to do it all as quickly as possible, so we can have space in our house again! The trickiest part of this is that we generally don't know exactly when the container will ship, until very close to the actual date, making planning a trip in advance difficult (and therefore increasing the cost somewhat). Here's a fun post, documenting the time Kate Cofer came and helped us: Boo and Katie make Christmas Gifts for Pastors.

The work goes like this: 

1. We empty all areas of our buildings in which we intend to store the incoming donations, and use the opportunity to clean them thoroughly. We plan out the locations where each type of box should be put upon arrival - boxes of food, used clothing, pre-made gifts, personal items, etc.  2. Once the container has been released from Honduran customs, and has been transported to the city of Gracias, the menfolk head down the mountain to unload the large shipping container into two smaller trucks, which finish the journey by transporting the donations up the rough and steep dirt roads to our house. 
3. The menfolk accompany the fully loaded trucks to our house, and unload everything a second time, into our buildings.  
4. After recuperating from the unloading, we open all of the boxes and do additional sorting and organizing, so that when we are making boxes, we know right where each item is located (ahem, more or less). Anything which we find to not be usable for inclusion in gifts (mostly this would be somewhat damaged, but still usable items) is given away to pastors who distribute these items to the poor families in their communities.  
5. Finally, using the lists we received from the pastors and supervisors, we put together personalized gifts for all of the families on all of the lists - generally around 325 families, which represents slightly less than 2000 people (a significant majority of these are children)! I told you it was a LOT of work!

Would you like to join us here in Honduras, to help us with this project? We'd love to talk to you about this possibility. trish @

Never fear, though, there is still time to get involved, without buying a plane ticket! Read the previous posts for more ideas, and for shipping information. Deadline information is below:

All gifts coming to us in Florida MUST be received before September 24th! Currently, the Maryland deadline is the end of October!

Tomorrrow I will write the final post about how people help us with the Gifts for Gracias project. Thanks for hanging in there with me, as I attempted to cover all of this information!