Thursday, December 29, 2011

Breathing is seriously under-appreciated

I'm climbing back up out of the pit now, but did I ever go dooooowwwwwn with some serious asthma problems the past few days!

It all started, as is so often the case, with my catching a headcold. It wasn't even an especially bad cold, just a runny nose and that woozy feeling of impending sickness. That was Monday night. I'm so glad it was after Christmas!

The following morning my lungs were just full of wet junk. I was coughing and wheezing like crazy. This is my normal reaction to headcolds, which is why I tend to take them very seriously. But I didn't even have time to react to this one - I just went right straight down to not breathing.

I won't give too many more details, as I think that reading about someone else being sick is rather boring, but suffice it to say that there were moments when I wasn't sure this wouldn't be the asthma event that finished me off. There were moments when my response to that possibility was more relief than concern. It was really bad - possibly the worst attack I've ever had.

If your breathing is easy and clear right now, take a moment to be grateful for that. Really.

I'm blessed to have the necessary equipment and medicine to give myself nebulizer treatments in my home. As it was, I needed about seven treatments over the course of about seven hours to get things back under control. I'm still recuperating from the strain on my body (especially the muscles in my chest) that happens during an event like this.

Allen happened to be away from home during most of this. He'd had to make a trip to the city of San Pedro Sula. When I told him about these events (he's required to listen to the details of my sickness, whether it's boring or not), he thought it might make a good blog post. Because, you see, if I'd been born a Honduran in the mountains of Lempira, I'd likely not be alive anymore.

Now, truth be told, if I'd been an average citizen of Lempira, I'd almost certainly have died long before now. I've not been an especially healthy person throughout my life. I had a serious case of pneumonia at the age of 13 (which was pretty much the onset of my lifetime struggle with asthma), my experiences giving birth 5 times involved some potentially life-ending complications, and I've been rescued from asthma attacks (through medical intervention) many many many times. I have a serious asthma attack requiring the use of the nebulizer about once every couple of years. Any one of these events would likely have been the end of my earthly existence, without some fairly extensive medical help.

In Lempira, quite often the most basic medical care is out of reach - sometimes because of the expense, sometimes because of the physical impossibility of getting from a remote village to a location where some level of medical care is available, sometimes because the clinics which are available often don't have the supplies, equipment, and trained personnel to be of much use. People die regularly from readily treatable medical problems.

Allen and I are not trained to help with medical problems, but we do host medical teams as often as we get the chance, help distribute medicines to rural clinics when they become available to us, and our completed bridges often mean that people in remote village have access to the rest of the world during rainy season, when previously they were cut off from all medical care during that part of the year. So, we're doing what we can. Thanks again to those of you who help us remain here and do what we do.

And thanks to those who pray for us personally. Now take a deep breath and appreciate it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Want to read the entire newsletter?

My friend Jane (who has visited here in the past, and is making plans to come again this year - YEA!) just asked, in the comments on a recent post, how to go about getting a copy of our entire newsletter. It occurred to me that, after reading the bits I've posted here over the past week, perhaps others might like to receive this and future newsletters. As you can see from the snippets, I do try to include different information in the newsletters than what you would normally read in the blog.

Some of you may have been receiving the newsletter in the past, and no longer do so. This is often caused by a change of email address, or it might be an error on my part.

So, if you don't receive the newsletter, and would like to, or aren't sure if you are on the list to get it, here's what you can do . . . write to me at trish @ (just leave out the spaces around the @) and tell me you'd like to be on the list.

Thanks for your interest in this ministry!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bridge Building: How we manage the costs

This is the last of the newsletter fragments I'll be posting. I don't know if you've enjoyed reading them, but it has been nice for me to have some quick and easy postings already written, as I'm pretty swamped with work right now. We've been organizing the items from the shipment and creating gifts for the pastors with whom we work, and this is a huge task. This final bit from the newsletter is about how we handle our bridge construction projects, with an eye toward being as efficient as possible with funding.

We also attempt to use funds as efficiently as possible in our bridge construction projects. We save money by acquiring donated gently-used cables and free design and engineering advice from contacts in the US. We utilize volunteer labor from the communities served by the bridges, and oversee the projects ourselves (thereby avoiding the cost of supervisors and the opportunities for overpriced contracts to be accepted and bribes to be paid). We estimate that our bridges cost about 10 – 20% of the cost of the same bridge built by Honduran government agencies and contractors. The material costs are mostly paid by the local government, which also oversees the scheduling of volunteers, maintains a secure on-site bodega for storing materials and equipment, and provides meals (and sometimes housing) for Allen, Russell, and our small paid crew.

So, now you know a bit more about a few of our ongoing ministries. We did mention in our letter (a part I didn't post on the blog) that we are having to look carefully at all of the different ministry works we do, because funding is down, and we might have to choose some things to discontinue. Of course we are praying that God will allow the funding to come in so that we can continue all of the current ministries, but we're also praying for wisdom and discernment for dealing with more limited funding than we've had in the past. Thanks for praying with us!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cost vs Benefits: Running a Pastor Training School

Here's another snippet from our recent newsletter:

Our pastor training school is one of the most expensive programs we run. The students pay nothing to attend. Most of our students find it a challenge just to give up their work income for these few days once a month, and to pay for their transportation to the school. We provide housing, food, and any necessary school materials. A group of pastors from the churches in the city of Gracias (the more wealthy churches, which have paid pastors with seminary training) handle the curriculum planning and the teaching rotation on a voluntary basis. Currently we rent a facility for a few days each month, where we run the school. Our long term plan has been to use our own property for the school campus, but so far we haven’t had the funding to construct the buildings for this. Our daughter Rachel and daughter-in-law Iris do all of the cooking for the school, in Russell and Iris’ tiny kitchen. Russell handles the transportation of people and food back and forth from Gracias to the campus, and he also maintains the registration paperwork. We keep expenses as low as we can, and we feel that this program is simply worth the expense, as the trained pastors spread out into ever more remote locations and multiply our efforts as they teach their existing congregations and reach out into new communities.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More churches, fewer dollars

Again today, I'm posting a portion of my recent newsletter. This part concerns funding the construction of church buildings. Now let me say right up front, I recognize that a building is not a necessity for a church. Lots of churches all over the world meet in homes, or even outdoors. However, the desire for a church building is very high among the new churches here - and new churches are springing up all over the place.

From the newsletter:

The construction of church buildings is another ministry area where we strive to make dollars go further. While a building is not essential – many of the churches we work with meet in homes – the lack of a building is sometimes a detriment to church growth. Most homes in our area are extremely small and dark, and holding meetings outside isn’t a viable option during most of the rainy season.

If a congregation desires to construct a building, we are available to help. Allen will meet with the pastor and congregation members and discuss construction details with them. While we do receive some funds for church construction, generally this isn’t a large amount of money, and we receive requests for construction help from many churches each year, so part of what Allen does is to advise the church members on how to build their buildings in the most economical way, making use of local materials and skills. Over the years we’ve learned a few tricks which can help make an adobe building much stronger and longer-lasting than the traditional construction methods, so Allen passes this information along to the congregations.

Once the new building has a foundation and walls, using mostly labor donated by the church members and locally acquired free building materials (sand, rocks, gravel, dirt for adobe bricks, hand hewn lumber), we use our limited funds to help buy roofing materials, which generally are not locally made. With walls, a roof, and a dirt floor – but no doors or windows – a congregation can begin to use the building immediately, while the process of completing the structure can take place over time, as funds allow.

Using this method, we’ve helped approximately 15 congregations construct buildings this year alone and more than 70 since we moved to this part of Honduras six years ago. Our cost for one of these projects is typically about $800, for a church which will hold 200 or more people.

Next up: The cost of running a pastor training school

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Newsletter Tidbits

Do people actually read all the way through a missionary's prayer/newsletter? I've often wondered if people enjoy our letters, slog through them from a sense of duty, ignore them altogether, or what. Allen and I are concerned that our current letter is a more difficult read than usual. In this letter, we desire to communicate to our supporters how we try to use donated funds as efficiently as we can. This is super important to us, and we believe it is of great interest to our donors - but that doesn't necessarily translate into an interesting letter.

I've decided to post some parts of the letter on the blog, in a series of posts. If you don't receive our letter, this will fill you in a bit as to how we handle some of our ministry work. If you do receive the letter I apologize for the duplication.

After a preliminary greeting, here's the first part of the letter:

2011 has been a difficult year for many, and we have seen this reflected on the mission field. More and more often, we are seeing missionaries having to leave the field due to lack of funding. Although we continue to trust God to provide, sometimes He chooses to allow times of hardship. Often the times of hardship are also opportunities for great spiritual growth. In Honduras, hardship has been a way of life since long before we came to live here, and the spread of the life-changing Good News and the work of church planting in the poverty-stricken mountains of western Honduras has continued to advance at an amazing pace, even reaching into the most remote villages of the Lenca Indian people. As long as God allows, we hope to continue to live here and help with this work.

During hard financial times, everyone learns the importance of stretching a dollar. Our family has made the frugal and efficient use of funds, in our home and ministry, a high priority. In this letter, we want to highlight some of the ways we try to make the best use of every donated dollar. This is important to us, and we know that it’s important to you, too.

One of the ways we’ve found to use money most efficiently is to recognize what we do best, and to allow – and empower – the Honduran Christians to do what they can do better than we can. For instance, running a feeding center is something that we are able to do, but your average Honduran pastor can do it better. He can more easily teach and mentor the people of his community. He can muster the resources of his local church for volunteers to help in finding a suitable location, setting things up, cooking and cleaning up, getting the word out to the poor of his village, etc. He can present a Bible lesson which is relevant to the lives of the people in that place, using language that is accessible to them. He can maintain a day-to-day relationship with the families involved in the feeding program. What a typical pastor in our area lacks is not the desire to serve others in this way, but the financial resources to purchase the necessary food. That, of course, is where our part comes in. By partnering with donors in the US, and dealing with the hassles and expense of paperwork, international communications, accountability back to the donors, etc., we can import a container of highly nourishing food, and oversee the distribution of this food to a network of pastors who then run over a hundred feeding programs in widely scattered locations throughout a large part of western Honduras.

There. Now you probably know more than you knew before about how we run feeding centers. The picture at the top of this post is a pastor picking up food for his center. Below are photos of a feeding center in action - first a Bible lesson, then a meal.

Next post: how to build more churches with fewer dollars.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What December is Like . . .

Oh, yes, I'm keeping busy.

The year-end newsletter is mostly written. I originally started the letter with a certain theme, but Allen chimed in with some thoughts which, while they were good ideas to write about, really didn't fit well with the letter I'd started. I tried to merge the two parts and ended up with a messy conglomeration of writing that just wasn't working. I woke up early this morning (sometime around 3am) and started in on it again, finally admitting to myself that what was needed was to scrap what I'd already written and begin afresh.

Once I'd made that decision, the letter practically wrote itself, over the following three hours. I had enough completed for Allen to read through before he left for work at the bridge site at 7am. Hopefully I can achieve "final draft" status by tonight, send the letter out tomorrow morning, and check that task off my list.

Regarding the container, we've started in on the opening of boxes and sorting of stuff which is preliminary to the creation of pastor gifts. This is fun work in small quantities, or when a group of friends all come over to help, but it can be a bit daunting as we start in on a whole new huge pile of boxes and bags. We're wading in with vigor, nonetheless.

We also have to fit the celebration of Christmas and two birthdays in during the next two weeks. It's a busy time for us.

So, what's with the flowers, you're asking? Well, it's hard to find interesting pictures about writing newsletters or unpacking boxes. It happens that the beginning of dry season (now) is when all the wild flowers and miscellaneous bushes and shrubs start to bloom, so I thought I'd just randomly add some of those pictures to this post. The wildflowers are definitely a part of what December here is like. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Any Day Now is . . . TODAY!

Yes, the container from Maryland is here! Well, not at the house yet. Much of the contents of this container is items for a huge bridge construction project, and so the family is unloading those items at the construction site.

The rest should be arriving here at the house before too long.

Thanks to everyone who participated in making this container of donations possible!!!

Music to my ears . . . er . . . eyes!

I started off with the title "Music to my ears," but then I realized that the event I was planning to relate was not audible. It seemed wrong, then, to call it "music."

Anyway, not long ago we had some guests at our house who were impressed with our large collection of books. They had just arrived, and the whole family was in the room at the time, as we were greeting them. One guest stated, "You sure do have a lot of books here - who's the bookworm?"

In response, every child in the room raised their hand.

Yes, I'm extremely pleased about my tribe of self-described bookworms! It was a major goal of mine, when I started homeschooling, that my kids would learn to read proficiently, and that they would love to read.

Checking off that box now. LOL.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Pig and a Puppy - Finally I have those pictures!

The weather has not been ideal for the collection of solar energy recently. This, among other things, has delayed the promised pictures of our new little piggy. But, finally, here she is:

Tentatively named "Miss Mouse," she's a rather shy creature. At the moment she lives in a blockaded portion of the back porch of the team house. Here she is, shyly hiding (as much as she can) in a corner of her enclosure:

You can't really tell her size in these pics, but she's a bit less than 2' long. She can sure make a lot of noise for her size, though!

Now, for puppy pictures! Pepper gave us 10 Rottweiler pups - six boys and four girls. They all look alike, so Boo just took pictures of one puppy.

See Bunny watching over the situation with worried eyes? Bunny's part hound, so she always looks a bit sad and worried. In addition to a mother dog, these pups have two auntie dogs keeping all harm from them.

Here's Auntie Bubbles, sticking her nose into the picture taking business. Bubbles really wishes these were her pups. I believe if she could, she'd take them away from Pepper and keep them for herself.

Thanks for waiting so patiently for these pictures. It's a bit sunnier today, so hopefully this patch of particularly overcast weather is almost behind us. But, December and January are the worst months of the year for sunshine, so we'll be keeping our expectations low for a bit.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lots of Life around here!

Hey all! The skies have been especially overcast yesterday and today, so I wasn't able to use the computer to get the piggy pics (and also pics of our Rottweiler puppies) off the camera yesterday. I did write the following, but didn't post it, figuring I'd put it up when I had the photos to go with it.

The power level is a bit better today, but this morning Allen took the camera to work with him, and the pictures are still in the camera. So, I'm going to go ahead and post what I wrote yesterday, and I'll put up the pictures when that becomes possible!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our new little piggy arrived last night. She's pretty scared and not very nice to deal with at the moment - hopefully that will change when she gets used to her new home. Allen is talking about getting a few more pigs, so we'll be needing to construct some significant housing. I'm not sure when or how that will happen, as Allen and Russell are crazy busy with the current bridge project - but with one pig already on site, I guess pig housing will have to be a priority.

In other news, our female Rottweiler, Pepper, just produced ten puppies late last week. This time we were able to keep our lab mix away from Pepper during her heat, so all of these pups are Rotties. We already have homes lined up for a few of them. For now, Pepper and pups live on the floor at the foot of my bed, but they'll need an enclosure soon. It's amazing how quickly puppies become mobile!

Bunny, our lab mix, is currently in heat, so she and Kody (the other lab mix) are making plans for the next batch of puppies. The male Rottweiler, Commando, would like to take part in this process, but so far we've been able to avoid that. Commando is a pathetic, whiny mess right now, and we'll all be glad when Bunny's heat is over and things can go back to "normal" around here . . . at least until she (hopefully) has her pups in nine weeks.

I'm glad to report that all three of our females seem to love puppies. The two which don't have puppies just now (Bunny and Bubbles) keep looking covetously at Pepper's babies, and even occasionally babysit when Pepper takes a break, using that opportunity to get in a few surreptitious licks. In spite of all this puppy love, the moms have been great about letting us handle their babies - although with Bubbles, we couldn't let anyone but family members into the house for about a month, for fear she'd attack them to keep them from her pups.

That's all for now. Pictures to follow before too long, I hope!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Backlog of Photos

Wildflowers from our hillside, arranged in the kitchen by Rachel

We recently hosted a medical team, and they worked in the hospital you can see in this photo. The shot was taken from a scenic overlook in the town of Gualcince.

Here's the view from the same location, looking off over a mist-filled valley

These are neighbors and good friends of ours, who live in the community of Catulaca.

Just a photo I like of a typical house in our part of the country

Rachel's funny-looking puppy, Pebbles. Pebbles was solid black for several months, and then she started growing in white hairs, ending up with this white/black combo. She doesn't really have bright blue eyes; I think that's the puppy version of a red-eye photo.

Mail Call!

We don't receive much mail - maybe one or two items a year. If you wanted to send a letter through the postal service directly to us here in Honduras (we don't recommend sending packages this way), you'd just write our name, the name of our nearest city (Gracias Lempira), and the country name on the envelope . Hopefully the letter would arrive in the Gracias post office. After that, the letter would sit in the post office until some friend of ours picked it up and brought it to us. Since we rarely get mail, we don't go checking in at the post office very often (or ever, really).

Recently we received information packets for voting by mail in the next US election. These packets were mailed to Gracias, and then brought to us by the young men who regularly do farm work for us on our property. So you see, the system really does (occasionally) work. Actually, Allen didn't receive a packet, and he's registered to vote as well, so we're not talking about a 100% success rate.

Another way people sometimes get mail to us is by sending it to the Missionary Ventures main office in Orlando Florida. We have a mailbox there, and when anyone from the office visits us they'll bring us our mail, or when we visit Orlando we can pick it up.

Allen recently returned from a trip to the states, and he brought some mail back with him. We were delighted to receive some Christmas cards and letters from friends - in fact, several years worth!

Henry Z, we laughed through three years of your witty Christmas letters at one sitting (2008-2010)!

B family, formerly of Costa Rica, it was so kind of you to send us a housewarming gift along with your Christmas card in 2009! I'm guessing your little guy is quite a bit bigger now.

I can't wait to see what people are sending us this Christmas . . . but I guess I'll just have to.

Sowers Family News Alert:

Tonight Allen is bringing home our first pig!

Pictures tomorrow (assuming internet, weather, computers, etc cooperate).

You heard it here first.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Our busy time of year

We're expecting the arrival of our container shipment "any day now." In case you haven't learned this from following the reports of our container shipments in other years, "any day now" means we really don't know when the container will arrive, but we need to be ready for the arrival at very short notice. In anticipation of bringing all the donations into our bodega/house, we did a major cleaning a few weeks ago. Since then, we put up the Christmas tree and a few other decorations, as extraneous activities like putting up decorations come to a halt when the work related to the container shipment begins. Of course, daily life takes it's toll, and piles of current stuff have encroached into the area which needs to be cleared out to receive all the new stuff. This work has to be high priority, since the container is due to arrive "any day now."

It's also time (and past time) for me to write up and send out a newsletter. I've decreased the frequency of our newsletters in recent years, since so much information is available on a more timely basis here on the blog (and with pictures), but I do try to make sure that letters go out a few times a year, and especially to put one out at the end of the year, to sum things up for those who faithfully support our ministry with prayers and donations. It has become harder to write the letters, because I know most people who read the letters also visit the blog, and I want to think of things for the letter which haven't already been covered here - and since I blab so much here, finding un-blabbed info can be difficult.

I also need to update our main website, which has been woefully neglected lately. This however, is a really big task, and I believe it will be even bigger than usual this time. The program I've been using for years now to maintain the website has officially entered obsolescence, and I'm going to have to learn to do this work a new way. Sigh. I suppose I should say that having to stay abreast of new technology keeps me young, but in reality it just makes me feel old and tired. I'm pretty sure the website update will have to wait until after the holidays.

Additionally, this is our best time to grow vegetables in the garden. Our weather is much less extreme from November through March, and we really need not to waste these productive months - but finding the time for planting, weeding and other garden chores is hard right now.

Soooo, I guess I'd better get back to work!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A "Cooking in Honduras" Question for you to guess

Let's see who knows or can guess:

When cooking spaghetti Honduran style, how do you judge when the spaghetti noodles are done?

We learned this bit of spaghetti cooking trivia from Russell's wife, Iris, who is a guaranteed authentic Honduran cook. Have fun guessing!