Sunday, April 26, 2015

Let's talk about Russell

The shock absorber on my Land Cruiser is broken. Can you fix it before I have to drive to town this afternoon?

I don't understand this note from Ben's school. Would you translate it for me?

What's the Spanish word for "air compressor?"

Is there a place in town where I can buy shoelaces?

Why is the bank closed today? Do you know why there were serenades at dawn this morning?

What's the name of the pastor running the feeding center in El Derumbo? Do we need to purchase more Bibles for the store? What's it going to cost to drive to the airport and back? We need to write an announcement about the Pastor Training Conference, to be read on the radio next week. Oh no - another flat tire. . .

Time for the puppies to get a round of shots. The water pipes on the roof are leaking. The refrigerator is making a funny noise. Someone needs to run a load of trash to the dump. There's a snake in the shower!

The solver of so many of our problems, and the answerer of our questions is named Russell! And this isn't even a new thing - it has been amazingly handy to have Russell around, for such a long time now!

I recall when we lived on Guanaja, and missionary friends of ours had experienced a break-in. To improve security at their home, they wanted to nail some boards up, in a decorative pattern, over an area that had previously only had a screen. This job required the workman to squeeze into a very small space in a gable over their front door. Russell was approximately 11 years old at the time, and already quite proficient with a hammer. Because of his success with this repair project, we took to calling him "The Compact Carpenter."

He's no longer able to fit into such small spaces, but his other abilities - including his total fluency in Spanish and his deep cultural understanding of life in Honduras - have made him invaluable to us. In fact, we find ourselves gradually transitioning toward a future in which Russell will be leading the ministry here, and we'll be helping him!

Thanks Russell, for all you do!!!!!!

And because she is totally part of the team, you should really know that Russell's wife, Iris, handles the day-to-day running of the Bible bookstore, and the regular distribution of food for the feeding centers. Thanks Iris, for all you do, too!!!!!

If you'd be interested in supporting Russell and Iris, in their missionary work, here is the info you need:

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 Russell Sowers" on an enclosed paper -

To Donate Online:

     Click on THIS LINK to donate online using credit card, debit card, or automatic monthly donations from your bank account. Make sure that you choose "Missionary Support" from the drop down menu, and type in "Russell Sowers" in the box requesting "additional specifics on how to use the gift."

If additional instructions or information are needed for donating online, 
please don't hesitate to call The Foundation for Missions, at 407-730-3364.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gifts for Gracias - How does it all work? (Part 2)

The first part of the story, covering the events which happen early on in the process of making the Gifts for Gracias project a reality every year, can be found here

A Dole ship loaded with containers. I believe one of our containers shipped on this exact vessel, in the past.

Once the container arrives and is unloaded at the port in Honduras . . . we wait some more. Although we arrange for duty-free shipping in advance, there are still delays as the officials inspect the container and approve it for release. This usually takes a week to two weeks, and there is the possibility of red tape messiness at this point, so it's a somewhat stressful wait. To date we're happy to report that we've not been hit too hard, as far as loses from theft or exorbitant fees or fines. 

While we wait for the container to get through customs, here at the house we busily prepare for the arrival. We have to rearrange our home to make room for the gigantic pile of donations, and we also need enough empty space so that we can have room to work on putting together the gifts. This year we put up a tarp outside, and the organizing and creating of gifts was done there each day - even though that meant that the boxes and boxes of stuff had to be dragged out of the building in the morning and safely stowed back in the building each night. 

Eventually, we get the call from the port telling us that the container is headed our way. . .  "Container Day" has arrived! Normally, we get about 10 hours warning, before the truck arrives in Gracias. During this time Russell makes arrangements for the unloading - hiring a couple of local trucks and some extra manpower. Then the fun begins for us!

The tractor trailer drives the 40' container to the city of
Gracias, but that type of vehicle cannot make it up the rough and steep dirt roads all the way to our property. We drive all of our vehicles into Gracias and, along with the two local trucks we hire and our expanded work crew, we meet the truck at the side of the road just outside the city. Just like the loading in Maryland, we have two hours for unloading the container - if we take longer we have to pay penalties - and the work crew quickly moves all of the donations from the big truck to the smaller vehicles. Once the container has been emptied, the fleet of smaller vehicles drives out to our property and are then unloaded into our buildings. This double unloading process is a bit grueling, but that's the best way we've found to do this.

The volunteers in Maryland mark all of the boxes for us with different colors of spray paint, so that we can quickly and easily sort the boxes into categories as they are unloaded. This year the categories included: items for Gifts for Gracias, items for MK Camp, donated used clothing, personal items (some for us, some personal items which were shipped for other missionaries), tools and educational supplies for another ministry running vocational/technical schools in our area, etc. The swatches of color on the boxes help us to unload the container in a fairly organized fashion, and makes it possible for us to find things much more quickly than in years past, when everything arrived mixed together and relatively unlabeled. Thanks again, Cofer family, for adding this innovation to the process in recent years. 

With all of the donations unloaded on site, the deeper sorting and organizing begins. The biggest task is sorting through all of the donated clothing, and categorizing it by size and gender. We also put aside all clothing which is stained or damaged, or is not an appropriate gift item for some other reason. These clothes are given to churches to distribute to the poor, so even the non-gift-quality donations contribute to the ability of the pastors here to minister to their communities.

Once the clothing has been sorted, and some general
organizing of the other donations has been completed, we make up what we call "starter gifts." These are packages containing items which will be part of every gift we give - usually this will be a soccer ball, a backpack, a collection of school/office supplies, a baseball cap, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and shampoo, and any other items which we know we have in sufficient quantity to include one or more in every gift.

Then it is finally time to create the individualized gifts! Because this project has been ongoing for several years, the pastors know to send us their information, so that we can put

together a gift for them. Usually, the supervisors of denominations will create a list of all of the pastors working under them, and local communities with pastor associations will also put together lists for us. To make a good gift, we need the name of the pastor, whether or not they have a spouse, and the ages and genders of the children in the family. We don't know clothing sizes, but we guess based on this information, knowing that if the clothing doesn't fit the individuals listed, there will certainly be someone in their lives who can use it! We put together clothing, accessories, school supplies, toys, and housewares based on this information.

When the gifts for everyone on a particular list are

completed, we contact the supervisor who submitted the list, and arrange for them to come and collect the gifts. In the past we delivered the gifts ourselves, especially as we were meeting the pastors for the first times and getting to know the communities where they minister - but now there are so many gifts being distributed that we send them out by the truckload!

Will we be doing this again in 2015? We're now at the stage where we make that decision. A number of people have already told us they'd like to help again this year. We'll have to decide soon. If you're interested in reading about why we do this project, here's a link for you

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I'm not a homeschool mom anymore!

Looking back over recent months, I see that I have posted almost exclusively about the ministry, and practically nothing about our day-to-day lives! Of course, our day-to-day lives are largely made up of doing the work of the ministry, but sometimes it's nice to chat about some other part of our lives, right?

So, here's some non-ministry info for you.

In January, Ben did something unprecedented for our family - he started attending school! He is now a student at a local Christian bilingual school. It has been a huge transition from homeschooling, but he's doing really well with it all.

Of course, now you are thinking, "Trish must have a lot of free time on her hands since she isn't homeschooling anymore." And you would be wrong! LOL It is amazing how much effort the parent must put in, to have someone else educate their child! Here's what my weekdays look like these days:

  • 5:30 - Get up and pack Ben's lunch
  • 5:45 - Get Ben up and make sure he eats, gathers his school materials, and is wearing his school uniform
  • 6:15 - Head out the door to drive Ben to his bus stop in Gracias, which is about a half hour drive from here
  • 7:00 - Pick up Russell and the members of the work crew who live in town, and return home
  • 7:30 - Squeeze in as much housework and office work as possible until 11:00
  • 11:00 - Cook lunch for the family and work crew; the number of eaters varies from 7 - 12
  • 12:30 - After cooking and eating lunch, I continue with the housework and office work until 3:00
  • 3:00 - Head back to Gracias to pick up Ben
  • 4:00 - Arrive home with Ben, give him time to change and grab a snack, and start in on homework with Ben
  • 5:00ish - throw together something for dinner (don't judge - I cooked at noon)
  • 6:00 - return to homework until it is completed, which is usually sometime between 7 and 8
  • The rest of the evening is free time - unless I want to shower, clean up the dinner dishes, spend some time with Allen, etc. We go to bed pretty early, since I have to get up and do it all again the next day! 

This new schedule began in early January, and since that time I've been struggling to fit everything in. During that time, I seem to have posted more short anecdotes on my Facebook page, and less here, so, for those of you who aren't on Facebook, here are a few moments from our recent months, as we adjusted to school life:
January 7th: Ben is enjoying (I hope, LOL) his first day at the Abundant Life School (Christian, bilingual, K - 12). It's a big adjustment, but he's excited about it. 

January 8th: So far this morning . . . got up at 5:45. Got Ben up and going, and made him breakfast. I drove him to his bus stop, and then went the rest of the way into Gracias to get diesel in my empty tank! 
Drove home, changed clothes and got my own breakfast. Loaded the washing machine and the dishwasher, fed the animals. 
Now I need to start writing some emails. 
It's 9 o'clock. 
Honestly, being the parent of a classroom student IS more grueling than homeschooling.

January 9th: Today I packed a child a school lunch for the first time. It included:Leftovers from our lunch yesterday (a pork, vegetables, pasta, and meat sauce mixture), to be reheated in the microwave at the school cafeteria, carrot sticks and green pepper slices, a chocolate pudding cup, and a guava. He also took an apple, for snack time. 
Things I forgot? Well, a fork for one, and a napkin (though I doubt Ben will care about not having a napkin, but MY mom always sent one)! I'm pretty sure the cafeteria will let him use a fork. I also meant to send along a buttered roll (we have some left from yesterday, too), but I forgot that, as well. 
So, how'd I do? LOL

Also January 9th: I learned a new word this week: buso.
It is the name for the long athletic pants used in gym class in the schools in Honduras. At least, that's the meaning of the word in Honduras . . . it's not in my Spanish dictionary, so I don't know how widely this word is used.
I'm having trouble using it in a sentence, though.
Somehow, I think my old brain just can't get past the fact that these are PANTS, and you can't wear just one PANT, so how can I say one BUSO while seeing a picture of a PAIR of something in my mind?
But I did it anyway. I went to the store, I asked for a buso, and I bought Ben a buso. On Monday, Ben will wear a buso to school.
This old dog isn't done learning new tricks yet. 

January 11th: I made pumpkin bread for the family. Well, really, I made it to have something for Ben's lunches this week. I also hid the last apple and guava, so I don't have to make a special trip into town to purchase fruit before I have to make Ben's lunch tomorrow morning. 
AND, I made sure all of Ben's uniform pieces are ready for the week. 

Apparently, having a child in school encourages organizational skills and preparedness . . . as well as a certain level of sneakiness, LOL.

January 18th: Fractions. Decimals.Sometimes you just have to sit down and get through it together!

January 26th: This weekend, for a writing assignment, Ben filled a page with how much he loves going to school . . . and the details were mostly about gym class. 
Monday is gym day - instead of his uniform he wears his buso (gym pants) and T-shirt, and sneakers. This morning, however, he put on a pair of sandals (over socks) when he first got dressed, and he forgot to change into his sneakers before leaving the house.
He didn't notice until we were well on our way to Gracias, and we didn't have time to run back home again, or he would miss the bus. But, since the bus stop is near to Russell's house, and because Ben's feet are big enough, he was able to borrow a pair of sneakers from Russell to wear to school today. 
Phew! The school day has been saved! It would have been awful for Ben to miss the VERY BEST PART of school, LOL.

January 31st (a Saturday, by the way): This morning, pretty much simultaneously, we have the following things happening at our home:
- Ben is finishing up his math homework (Allen is helping him with corrections)
- We are making some adjustments and corrections to the final paperwork for the shipment of the Gifts for Gracias container - next week!
- Allen and I are brainstorming ideas for a future blog post/email to send out to update supporters
- Nutmeg the chocolate lab is having puppies in the kitchen (seven so far)
- Boo is charging up the camera to take a video at a feeding center tomorrow
- Boo is also choosing and printing out coloring pages to give to the children at the feeding center
- The washing machine and dishwasher are running (notable because we've not had enough power to run them for most of a week now)
- Russell, the work crew, and visitor Benjamin Dearing (who is staying with us this week) are preparing more land for coffee planting
- We're working out the details for the purchase of a new-to-us, used pickup truck. 

. . . and I think that's all, until I need to change gears and concentrate on cooking lunch for 11 people.

February 18th: Today I put together what Ben declared to be his "dream lunch!" Green pepper slices, an apple, a mandarin orange, a Rice Krispy treat, and a cold cut sub. LOL
Apparently I'm getting good at this.

February 21st: Ben reads well but his spelling is still frequently . . . inventive. Just now I was helping him with a writing assignment. He read a sentence to me, that he had written, then asked me how to correct the spelling of a word. "It's supposed to say 'La Ceiba is a dangerous place, but it still attracts tourists'," he said, "But I think I might have written that it attracts terrorists." LOL

February 26th: What do you think happens when Ben's spelling list for the week includes the words "handsome" and "genius?"  
I'm wondering when we'll get the list with the word "humble." LOL

Also on February 26th: Working on spelling words with Ben went as follows, this evening: 
Me: Spell 'efficiently.'
Ben: Oh, that's a hard one.
Me: You can do it! You spelled it correctly before!
Ben (with a scornful look): Yeah, well I was kidnapped before, too, but it doesn't mean I can do it again on command!

March 2nd: Ben's writing assignment for school this weekend provoked an interesting conversation on a spiritual topic. 
He chose to write about some of our missionary work, and he left a sentence unfinished, so I was asking him what he was trying to communicate, to help him complete the thought. He was basically trying to say that, as missionaries, it is hard to help some people, when they sometimes don't seem to want or deserve any help. 
It was one of those "teachable moments" when I *think* he really was able to grasp the idea, as I explained it to him, that NONE of us deserved what Jesus did for US, and so, as missionaries (and non-missionaries, too, LOL), we can't choose to love and help only those WE judge to be "deserving." 
Then, of course, it was back to spelling and punctuation and grammar. 

March 7th: Ben's school held a "Fiesta Tipica" at the park - here he is in costume with his gringo classmate and friend, Tyler.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Does the idea of indigenous missionaries planting churches excite you?

What do you get, when you put 175 indigenous Honduran missionaries, pastors, and church leaders together with a group of inspirational pastors/teachers from the US and Canada, during the dry season of the year? 
The most amazing Pastor Training Conference ever - and - LOTS of requests for help with church planting projects!

The start of the rainy season, with daily thunderstorms and torrential downpours, is fast approaching, and twelve pastors came to us at the conference, requesting assistance with installing roofs on the churches they are building. Keep in mind, the majority of these pastors work in villages where they are the only ones holding any type of regular Christian worship services - these are indigenous church planters in widespread, remote, exceptionally poor villages. The homes in these villages are generally much too small to serve as gathering places for a growing home-church, so the construction of a basic, bare-bones church building is an important part of the process of planting a new church in these villages.

Construction in adobe bricks (the cheapest method) has to be done during dry weather, and the roof must be installed before the rainy season arrives, to protect the hand-made, sun-dried bricks. The other reason for the rush to finish is, of course, so that the new congregation will have a place to gather, out of the rain, when the weather changes.

Now, here's the challenge. There are only a few weeks left until the rainy season really gets going (official start is May 15th). We don't have the funds to help purchase the materials for all of these roofs, but we are certain God wants the people of those villages coming together for worship! The cost to purchase the materials is under $1000 per church, and the labor will be donated by each pastor and fledgling congregation. With the price of the entire roof being this cheap, it doesn't take a lot of money to make a big impact!

Perhaps you are one God has called, to assist these Honduran church planters with their ministries - to be a part of spreading the gospel message in the rural mountain villages of Western Honduras. Donations of any size will help, as we rush to meet the challenge of getting these roofs on before the rains begin!

To Donate by Mail, send checks to:

The Foundation for Missions
PO Box 560233
Orlando, Florida 32856-0233

- Make check payable to "The Foundation" -
- Write "preferenced for Sowers Ministry, church construction" on an enclosed paper -

To Donate Online:

     Click on THIS LINK to donate online using credit card, debit card, or automatic monthly donations from your bank account. Make sure that you choose "Missionary Support" from the drop down menu, and type in "Sowers Ministry, church construction"  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 407-730-3364.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gifts for Gracias - a quick note from Boo, with PICTURES

We, and the people of western Honduras, would like to thank all of you for your hard work, prayers, and support with this year’s shipment, and all the other years too. It means so much to the pastors up in our mountains. Most of them don’t have a salary, but instead live off the land, farming or gardening.  

We’re now in the final stage, which is making the actual gifts for the pastors and distributing them. The other stages on our end were first getting the donations here, then organizing all the stuff, then putting together what we call “starter bags,” which are made up of the things that go into each pastoral family’s gift - such as a soccer ball, backpack, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, pencils, pens, etc.    

Iris, Crusita, and I would appreciate your continued prayers for strength and energy as we finish this task.

Boo, organizing donations
Crusita (Iris' cousin), organizing donations
Russellito, helping by not fussing

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gifts for Gracias - How Does it All Work? (Part 1)

Ten years! That's how long the Gifts for Gracias project has been blessing Honduran pastors and their families (and a large number of orphans and other children, as well). We're honored to be a part of this huge group effort! In this post and the next one, I'll be explaining how the whole project works, from beginning to end.

Before we do anything else about Gifts for Gracias each year, our family has to decide whether or not to continue the project for another year. We revisit this question every year. It is an expensive project, but more than that, it takes a vast amount of time; for us, and for our volunteers in the US. Is this project worth the money and effort, or should we use our resources in a different direction? So far, we've chosen to continue, though rising costs of shipping and fewer people working on our end of things (now that many of the children are grown and moved out) make it a tougher decision than it was before. However, challenging economic times also increase the value of the gifts to the recipients, so that factors into the equation, as well.

Once we've made the decision to continue this tradition, arrangements can begin to be made. We need to have locations to receive the donations - and it takes a mountain of donations to fill a 40' shipping container! We are blessed to have volunteers in Florida and Maryland who give up space in their churches and in their homes, garages and sheds every year for this project! You people know who you are - but this includes the Cofer family, the Richards family, and Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Maryland, my parents and the Linden family in Florida.

Once the locations are set, it's time to get the word out about the project - which we do through the blog, Facebook, and emails. Donations are collected locally, and also come to us through the mail, nationally and even internationally! I remember the first time I opened a batch of gifts donated by a family in Japan to be given to people in Honduras - that was about the coolest thing ever! With the magic that is Amazon, lots of donors purchase gift items online and send them to us without ever seeing or touching the gifts themselves. 

A few months before the container ships, the donations which have been collected in Florida travel by rented truck up I-95 to Maryland, so that everything is in one place when the time comes to fill the shipping container. In the past, we've had some donations to pick up at various locations along the way between Florida and Maryland, though this year that wasn't the case. Perhaps some church, group, or individual in that part of the country would like to volunteer to collect gifts and donations for 2015? We'd love the help!

While all of these donated items are rolling in, our intrepid volunteers in Maryland do more than just store them. They sort out things which don't fit the guidelines for the project, they organize items into categories and label the boxes, and they pack the boxes so they are as full as can be, and tape them well for shipping!

Finally, when there are enough donations collected - and the timing on this tends to vary each year - the loading of the container is scheduled! We ship our donations with Dole - the same company that ships fruit north from Honduras. We get a special charitable rate, and they have one less empty container they have to ship back south!

We set the date, and the shipping company sets the time. We also manage a lot of the paperwork for getting the shipment through Honduran customs at this point in the process. You'd be surprised to learn how much paperwork, how many letters written and translated and signed and notarized and rejected and redone and FedEx-ed are involved in this process! But eventually all the plans are in place for the loading and shipping.

The shipping company gives a window of time when the truck can be expected to arrive on the assigned day. Volunteers gather and wait. Once the truck and container arrive, we are allotted two hours to load the whole thing. Going beyond that time limit costs extra - and we don't like to pay extra - so the crew gets right to work. There's a need for speed, plus it seems to snow on the loading day pretty frequently, so the workers like to get this done as quickly as possible. 

The loading has taken place in different locations over the years. Some years there has been heavy equipment involved to help with the loading - and other years the equipment was being loaded and sent to us! This year there was no snow, very little construction equipment, and no spools of cable for building bridges, so the process may have been a bit simpler . . . 

For instance, last year:

Once loaded, the container travels by truck to the dock, is loaded onto a container ship, and sails to Honduras. That part of the process takes less than a week!

Part 2 coming soon: Getting the donations from the ship, to our home, and then into the hands of the recipients! Thanks for reading through this long post!  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gifts for Gracias - Taking a moment to CELEBRATE!!!!!!!

Of course, as a regular reader of this blog, you already know about the Gifts for Gracias project. (If you don't know, then this will tell you all about it.)

Well, we're excited to announce that the project is now . . . halfway done! That's right! Usually one would make a big announcement when a project is fully completed, but why wait? Let's get excited NOW!

In my next post, I'll explain the rest of how this project works, but for right now, here's a shout-out to the people who have worked so very hard to donate to the project - putting together Christmas gifts, collecting used items, purchasing and items online to have shipped to us! 

We also want to recognize those amazing people who gave up space in their churches and homes (and sheds, and garage, and . . . ) to store the packages as they arrived - like the Cofers and Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Maryland and my family and the Linden family in Florida. I know this is a huge inconvenience to these volunteers!

When the donations arrive, various volunteers help to sort though everything. They weed out donated items which don't fit the guidelines of the project, they organize everything into categories (used clothing and linens, used household items, new items to use for putting together gifts, pre-made gifts, etc), pack the boxes carefully to avoid damage and wasted space, and label and seal the boxes! When you are talking about a pile of donations large enough to fill a 40' container - this equates to MANY hours of work!

Once enough donations have been collected, to fill all of the space in a 40' shipping container . . . it's time to load it up!

In the photos below, you will see three containers/trucks. One was used at the church to store donations, another was rented to move donations from another location to the church on loading day, and the third is the container which will make the trip to Honduras, loaded with everything which has been collected for Gifts for Gracias. Special thanks to Jim Cofer, for coming up with the idea of building a loading platform, to simplify the process!

I know, for sure, that I will leave some people out, as I take a moment to thank some individuals. I sincerely apologize - I don't even KNOW the names of everyone who was involved on the US side of things! Feel free to add names, in the comments, if you know of someone who should receive mention here!

Our VERY grateful thanks go out to: Jim and Denise Cofer, Ben and Norma Irvin, Fredericktowne Baptist Church, Jan and Eric Linden, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Father Dave Austell, Charlie Clifford, 
Mary and Gary Richards, Jeff and Mary Ellen Roberson, Melissa and Chad Barrows, Ron Carstens, Mary and David Freeman, Joanne Fuss, Graceham Moravian Church, Jules Michael, the ladies (and gentlemen) of the SonLight forums and the SL Facebook group, Rick Bricker, Kelly Spoor, Bob Brown, George Norris, Servant's Heart, Mark Warner, Shannon Grieves, Jed Dearing, Matt Ward, Charlie Kemp, and EVERYONE ELSE WHO HELPED!!!!

Coming up next: How the whole Gifts for Gracias Project works.