Friday, April 28, 2017

Little House on the Mission Field


When it’s time for new blog topics, Allen, Trish, and Russell generally get together and toss around ideas. By the time I talk to one of them on the phone, it’s simply a matter of writing down what an enthusiastic Sowers says. This week was different. Allen and Russell are off building a bridge and the duty of brainstorming for a blog topic fell on Trish and me. Now, we’re both pretty creative people, but suddenly there was a momentary brainstorming drought and we were left hearing crickets in our heads. Trish jokingly messaged me that we could write about the Honduran bug infestation and was probably surprised when I thought it sounded like a great idea! I’ve read enough stories about life on the mission field to know that things like bugs, snakes, and monkeys are hot topics. Since I haven’t heard Trish say a word about snakes or monkeys, I jumped on the bugs.

Party Time for Bugs

This is the year of the grasshopper in Western Honduras. More specifically, every third year grasshoppers arrive in numbers most North Americans will only read about in a missionary story. Cicadas also show up every few years and this year the grasshoppers and the cicadas synchronized their travel schedules. And beetles are also underfoot and flying nightly dive-bombing raids. Not to be left out, the flying termites are expected soon. As Trish said, “It’s like a party going on with the bugs. The scorpions are like the wallflowers of the party. They’re not coming out and dancing, but they’re the ones you don’t want to mess with.”

Grasshoppers
 

This is what the full-grown grasshoppers will look like.

These are not mambi-pambi grasshoppers. These suckers will grow to be about five inches in length. Having read the Little House on the Prairie series more times than you can shake a slate pencil at, I know that bugs tend to not be the farmer’s friend. I asked how the grasshoppers will affect the coffee fields. Fortunately, the grasshoppers seem to abstain from coffee. Trish has a few house plants that live outside and the grasshoppers don’t seem to care for plants with glossy leaves. Coffee plants have fairly glossy leaves. Trish’s accidental tomato plants, which just popped up from the compost heap, have not been as lucky, and she’s quite thankful their diet does not rely on her gardening abilities.

The current appearance of the grasshoppers.
They have not yet achieved their full size, and they
will also lose their stripes and become solid-colored.
When the grasshoppers first appeared a few months ago, they were teensy little things that could go by unnoticed. They are currently about two inches long and, since they like to hang out in crowds, they are noticeable. They are now starting to come into the house with regularity. Trish described the many times she’s sitting in the recliner, working on her laptop, and having a grasshopper peering at her up over the top of her screen. She said, “You know if it’s facing you and decides to jump, it’s landing on you. They’re not scary, but they have little hook things on their legs. It’s kind of creepy and it will be relentless until the end of summer. They’re kind of beautiful if you’re not horrified by them.”

Termites
Termites swarming near our roof line.
Soon, the grasshoppers will be joined by the flying termites that arrive each rainy season. Trish said there will be a termite competing for every cubic inch of space. She described them by saying, “They start off as delicate little bugs. They are flying ant size, but their bodies are more wormlike. They have delicate wings. Wingtip to wingtip, they’re probably less than an inch. After they have mated, the wings fall off. Then you have loose, black wings EVERYWHERE! They’re light and feathery and not easy to sweep up. Like glitter! Their little bodies become like worms and they’re everywhere, too--inside your sheets and clothes. You can’t cook because they’ll be in your food. The house has open rafters, which are quite high up. Every time there is a breeze, bug parts will waft down--gently, over the course of the entire year. They are able to spread out their annoyance level.”

Perspective

While she takes the buggy stuff in stride, toward the end of our conversation, Trish laughed and said, “God has put me on this earth to make other people more content with their lives.”

I think she may be onto something!

 - posted by Christi

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bridge at Crucitas!

video


The guys are busy building a bridge over the river at the village of Crucitas! This will be a vehicle bridge, which is why the very high towers are required at each end.

Russell took the video above, showing how the cement gets into the forms they've built, to create the concrete towers. Bucket by bucket, heavy loads of wet concrete are passed along the bucket line which goes from the cement mixer to the tower, and then on up to the top of the tower, where the concrete is emptied into the form and the bucket is tossed back to the ground to repeat the process.

 - posted by Trish
 - video by Russell

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Meet the Crew

Have you ever wondered how the Sowers are able to do everything they do? Besides the fact I’m pretty sure they’re superheroes, they also have a great work crew to assist them. Today, we get to “meet” some of the key players. These six men are instrumental in Sowers4Pastors’ ministry. They go on all construction projects. When a team is visiting, these are the men who can do the more skilled work, move supplies, etc… They have helped with everything from bridge building to coffee farming. And, recently, they helped butcher a hog.

When Allen and Trish had to put together audit information, they had some of the top crew members sitting around their kitchen table to assist them.

These men provide extra security when needed, run errands, and help with visiting teams. I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know the crew as much as I did!



Carlos
Carlos on the left, Eddy (you'll read about him below) on the right

Carlos is Russell’s right hand man. He has worked for the Sowers full-time since 2010. Prior to that, he worked part-time, while still in high school. Carlos is married and has a one and a half-yr-old son. He is in charge of the day-to-day running of the coffee farm. With Russell serving as administrator, Carlos oversees other employees, payroll, purchases, etc… Trish quipped, “This is how Russell is able to get so much done. He knows how to delegate!”

Carlos is also knowledgeable of welding and construction. During construction projects, he is always a crew leader.

Helder
Helder


If Carlos is Russell’s right hand man, Helder is Carlos’s right hand man. Helder has been a full-time Sowers’ employee since 2011. He is married and has a one and a half-yr-old son and a five-yr-old stepson. Helder is the agricultural expert. He schedules things like planting, fertilizing, and other necessary processes. Helder also owns his own land, where he grows coffee for his family. He has the important task of scouting for new laborers, since he knows everyone in the local village and can direct the Sowers to the right people.

I’ve been a fan of Helder’s for some time now, as he frequently handles security for Allen and Trish, and is the hero of a particular story involving him chasing off armed bad guys in the middle of the night.

Eddy

Eddy is unmarried and owns a small coffee farm. Trish described him as a “fast riser” who has been with the crew since 2015. Whenever the crew is split up in separate locations, Eddy serves as a sub-leader.

The Sowers provide lunches for the crew and it is Eddy’s mother who prepares the meals.

Martir
Martir


Like Helder and Eddy, Martir owns his own coffee farm. He started out as a part-time Sowers’ employee in 2011 and went full-time in 2014. Martir is the guy who will do any job he is assigned with a great attitude! Trish described him as, “Very loyal. Very responsible. No job is beneath him. If he’s given a task, he will get it done.”

Martir is also good with animals and has the job of feeding the dogs and hogs each day. He often helps with daytime security and can be seen picking up trash as he patrols the area.

Melvin

Melvin
Melvin has worked for the Sowers since 2016. He is married and has a four-yr-old daughter. He also happens to be Iris’s brother, making him Russell’s brother-in-law and R.J. and Abigail’s uncle.

Melvin has a college degree and helps out with paperwork and administrative work. He also helps with Pastors’ Training School and the sponsorship program.

Melvin also runs errands since he owns his own motorcycle. When a team is visiting, or the Sowers are busy doing other things, he will even do things like pick up groceries and other essentials.

He is a regular member of the worship team at a church in town, playing guitar and singing.

Danny
Danny

Danny has been a part-time employee since 2016. His job is a little different from the other men because Danny is a professional photographer. He helps document team visits and ministries. Have you ever admired the photographs of children in the sponsorship program? Chances are good that Danny took those photographs. Trish said, “Danny is an entrepreneur type, who does quite a bit of freelance work with local businesses.”

Danny is also a youth pastor at a local church.




 - posted by Christi

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Balancing Act


When Allen says he wants to discuss “the balancing act,” you know it’s not going to be about The Cat in the Hat holding up the cup and the milk and the cake and the fish on the rake all while standing on a ball. (Though I would dearly love to see Allen attempt that.) But, alas, when Allen talks about the balancing act, he’s talking about how Sowers4Pastors distributes its resources.


Taking Stock


You might think it’s a simple matter of taking stock of resources and giving a hand out to anyone who asks. That is not the case. When an indigenous pastor approaches Sowers4Pastors to ask for assistance, Allen and Russell carefully examine the pastor’s other available resources. Specifically, Allen asks, “Does he have other North American connections who may already be providing help? Does this pastor have some guys in his church who are doing well financially (probably through coffee) and would be able to help?”


As Allen explained, “We’re trying to help guys who don’t have those connections.”

Sowers4Pastors also looks at what each pastor is producing, by asking some other tough questions, “Are they replicators? Are they sending out church planters? Are they taking advantage of Pastors’ Training School? Are they interested in becoming better educated on the Word of God?”




Allen knows you can’t base the final decision solely on how fast a church is growing. He understands a pastor may be ministering in an area that is resistant to hearing the Gospel. In the long haul, those people may be won over, however.

Essentially, it’s about being mindful of Sowers4Pastors limited resources and whether or not a specific pastor will use those resources well.

Helping without Hurting

“This is a constant, ongoing struggle we have--trying to utilize our resources well. We don’t want to give too much to one pastor, who then becomes entitled,” Allen stressed. He continued, “When that happens, the pastor can ask, ‘Why do I have to work hard to produce anything?’ It takes the focus off of relationship with God and onto what we can provide him.”

This can be particularly true among pastors who speak English and serve as translators. “As they build relationships with the visitors, they frequently start asking the gringos for things. It can create a monster, if we’re not careful. After a while, the pastor is not producing and is spending more to improve his personal lifestyle (above that of his community), using funds which could have been spent on his ministry. It can basically become a job for the pastor - mooching off the gringos,” Allen contemplated, "and the pastor can gradually become unable to live and work in community with the poor."

He discussed the age old problem of “rice Christians” - people who accept Christianity as a means for monetary gain or other benefits.

“We don’t want to bring up Christians who are in it for the money. Certainly not pastors who are in it for the money,” Allen emphatically said.

He also discussed the problem that can happen when missionaries focus on helping just one church. That missionary may bring down eight or ten teams a year, with all of the help going to one church. The minute the North American missionary leaves, this type of church frequently falls apart.

Sowers4Pastors’ goal is to use funds where it will make the highest impact. To make his point, Allen said, “We would rather take 1000 pastors and give them $50 each than to take one pastor and give him $50,000. If $50 helps a pastor out significantly, then that is a better choice.”

It’s all about balance.

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Mundane and the Momentous

What exotic, missionary type things are happening with our friends, the Sowers? Paperwork. Budgets. Fundraising. Paperwork. When Allen told me he and Trish were working on necessary paperwork throughout the week, he said it in exactly the same tone I would use if I said I was going to spend the week pulling weeds (I’m allergic) or cleaning out my garage (it would be easier to just move). In short, Allen didn’t sound thrilled. But necessary is necessary, so the more exotic stuff is on hold for a week. You might say this week they are focusing on the mundane side of missions.


Family Time


Russell is going to be taking a few, well-deserved days to spend with Iris and the kids. Between coffee farming, Pastors’ Training School, dealing with the contents of the recent container shipment, and working with visiting teams, Russell has more than earned a few days. Plus, this is Holy week, which Honduras commemorates in a big way.


Ben is home for the week, due to school closure for Holy Week. Trish will be taking him back to school on Sunday. In the meantime, he’s enjoying getting to be “Unca Ben” to R.J. and Abigail.


A Glimpse Back


For the last three weeks, Russell has been concentrating on making the Gifts for Gracias packages. Iris has been sorting, the crew worked together to pack the gifts, and gifts have now been distributed to about 300 pastors. Each pastor received a medium to large box--depending upon the size of his family. Boxes contained clothing, toiletries, household items, a soccer ball, a baseball cap, and school supplies. Each pastor and all of his school age children also received a backpack. Depending upon the size of the family, one box could have easily been valued at $300. Allen wanted me to be sure and extend a big, “Thank you!” to everyone who donated supplies. The Sowers are trying to to determine which items in the extras should be given away now, and which stored for use next year. What a great dilemma to have!

Truck loaded with gifts, ready for
delivery to pastors in the mountains



Pastor Tim and his team visited last week. Besides helping with Pastors’ Training School, they visited Fredericktowne Baptist Church’s sister church and delivered gifts from the sponsors at FBC. They also passed out shoes to the children.




A Look Ahead


For the next two weeks, Allen and Russell will be going out to work on a vehicle bridge project. The first step will be pouring the concrete for the foundation and then for towers, which will flank each side of the bank.

This is an example of the type of bridge being constructed
in the current project.


On April 29th, Dr. Annette Merlino will be arriving. She is leading a team out of the University of Pittsburgh Dental School. Of course, the team will be providing dental exams and dental work during their time in Honduras. Russell will be hosting the team, as well as spending time at the next session of Pastors’ Training School.



I’m sure Allen agrees that all of the cool missionary-type stuff makes up for that necessary paperwork!

- posted by Christi

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

It Doesn't Have to Be Either/Or

Over the past year, the Feeding Center Program hasn’t gotten much attention because so much attention has been placed on the new sponsorship program, Manna 4 Lempira, and also on the spin-off Sister Church Sponsorship Program. Allen and Trish want you to know the feeding centers continue to operate and are filling a very important need in the lives of children throughout Western Honduras.


Why Feeding Centers?


No matter how big Manna 4 Lempira becomes, there will always be certain feeding centers, which are never going to become part of the sponsorship program. They are too remote, too small, or the roads are too bad to access regularly. Sowers4Pastors can’t make the commitment to travel to those places regularly to get updates on the children, deliver letters, backpacks and shoes from the sponsors, and just generally to oversee the program adequately to the level of a sponsorship center. Still, the Sponsorship Program continues to benefit the children of those remote feeding centers because any excess funding is used to provide meals for them.


The feeding centers continue to feed children at the mind-boggling cost of 2 cents a meal. Sowers4Pastors is absolutely continuing to accept and encourage funds for these centers. Since the food is donated, almost 100% of the funds are used to pay for shipping the containers of food to Honduras. The pastors of these areas donate their time and location for the centers. Volunteers collect firewood to use for cooking fuel and they prepare the food. Pastors put together Bible lessons, music,  games, etc…


The feeding center numbers declined during coffee harvest (October through January) as many of the pastors, the children’s families, and some of the children themselves were off working the harvest. Allen pointed out the families also have more income during those months. Now that the harvest season is over, there is an upswing in activity and children are returning to get their food.


Give a Fish/Teach to Fish


Allen, Trish, and I discussed how there are different trains of thought among missionaries (and lay people) as to what needs should be met. Some people are gung ho about meeting the physical needs. Others only care about meeting spiritual needs. Sowers4Pastors made the decision to care for both the physical and spiritual needs because that’s what Jesus did.


The Sowers understand the pitfalls about making it “all about the goodies,” so they’re cautious. They have rules in place to avoid people expecting handouts.


We’ve all heard the analogy about how much good can be done for the price of a fancy cup of coffee. It’s probably the most overused analogy in regards to missions work. Yet, there’s a reason it is overused; it fits the situation. For the price of one la-di-da Starbucks drink, 200 children could receive one meal at a feeding center. One single donation of $200 is enough to feed 100 children two meals a week - for a year!


Trish pointed out, “The disparity is so great. Even for those of us who think the spiritual aspect is by far the most important thing, we as Americans have so much more - and we have a responsibility to help those who have so much less. We should do something. We should help. We try to do this carefully.”


Allen added, “It’s the analogy about giving a man a fish or teaching him to fish. We do both. It doesn’t have to be either/or.”


Trish ended the thought with, “Children are still developing. If what they need to get ahead is an education, not having the nutrition for proper brain development will affect their ability to get that education, to move their lives into a better place. We make no apologies for giving malnourished children food.”


This is a fantastic giving opportunity for people who may not currently be in the position to take on a full-time child sponsorship!

  - posted by Christi

Friday, April 7, 2017

Dear Gabby Revisited

When I was in junior high, I got a gig answering a “Dear Gabby” column for the school newspaper. It was great except no one ever wrote in. I didn’t let that stop me, though. My friends and I used to stuff the confidential Dear Gabby box with some humdingers of questions. This week, Trish mentioned she and Allen were thinking about having people send them questions to answer, which could possibly be made into future blog posts. Trish emphasized that the questions didn’t have to be of a spiritual nature or about the ministry; they could be fun and lighthearted. She then suggested that I could come up with the first question. Feeling a bit like Dear Gabby, I came up with a question, which I hope will prime the pump. My question was a two-parter: What did you want to be when you were 9-yrs-old? And how did you get here from there?


Allen


Allen’s answer was that of a stereotypical boy. When he was nine, he wanted to be a police officer or a firefighter. Yes, before he was a man’s man, he was a real boy’s boy! By eleven or twelve, however, his vision changed and he thought it would be cool to become a pilot for MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) like Jim Elliot's pilot, Nate Saint. When he graduated college, that was still his goal.


Allen said, “That’s why I went into the Marines. I was going to be a pilot with them, and then I was going to be a bush pilot, and do ministry work. That didn’t work out, though. The next thing I knew, I was building houses.”


He continued to build houses and he and Trish prayed for God’s direction. It was when Allen was drawing up the blueprints for their dream home that they realized “this wasn’t what we needed to be doing with our lives.”


Trish


When Trish was nine, she wanted to write books. That’s not a huge shock. She’s a gifted writer (Trish, don’t you dare edit this out! It’s true. You are!) who has always loved to read.


She was raised in an environment where being a missionary was a “very big deal”.  There was a lot of respect for missionaries and a sort of admiration for the adventure of it. While Allen was drawing up those dream home blueprints, Trish was starting to feel the suburbs were too predictable for her. She wanted something more exciting and less predictable. She was definitely open to going to the mission field.


Trish said, “I’ve heard other missionaries explain that ‘the call to missions’ is often just wanting to go. I thought it sounded like an exciting and cool way to live.” She continued by saying, “Ultimately, I am on the mission field because Allen is on the mission field. If he had done something different, I would have been by his side.”


As for her childhood dream of writing a book, Trish said, “Be careful what you ask for. I always thought I couldn't be a writer because I don’t have anything new or interesting to say. Now, I can’t say that anymore.”


Yeah, that whole kidnapping thing definitely upped her interesting story factor!


Your Turn

So, what questions do you have for Allen, Trish, or Russell? Come on! I’ve already primed the pump for you. Don’t make me come up with all of the questions! - posted by Christi

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pastor Training School - Happening NOW

The second monthly session of pastor training school is happening THIS WEEK, as a collaborative effort involving individuals from several local ministries! Melyssa Cardenas, working with 61 Isaiah Ministry, took some great photos from the early part of the week, and I couldn't wait to share them with all of you.

No more words, now - here come the photos:


























Thanks so much, Melyssa!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Affirmation!

Everyday, we try to do the things God has called us to do. Though we're throwing heart and soul into the work, sometimes it seems like we aren't even making a dent in the enormity of the needs of the people around us. This week, while Kim Hall was translating letters from sponsored kids to their sponsors, she learned of a specific dent we'd made, and she shared this with us. We are excited to share the story with you!

Deborah Roberts sponsors children through our Manna 4 Lempira program, and has visited them personally. The letters pictured were written by two children, to Deborah. You can see the care these girls are taking in writing these long, beautiful letters.



These particular letters mention Yorleny, the older girl with Deborah in the photo. Yorleny had dropped out of school for several years, because of family circumstances - largely, not being able to afford the cost of the items which are required, for children to attend. Through the letters they exchanged, Deborah encouraged Yorleny to give up her plan to go (illegally) to the US, to look for work, and suggested that she return to school, instead. This year, Yorleny DID return to school, because of Deborah's advice and encouragement, and also because she received the school supplies and backpack that the school requires and which her family could not afford.

Deborah's younger sponsor child, Yorlin, mentions in her letter that she sees Yorleny at school, and that they have become friends.

Yorleny writes, in a small section of her letter, that many students are in the high school this year, who are specifically able to attend because of the shoes and backpacks they received through this ministry - and through your generous donations! I'm sure you can imagine how much this encourages us!



If you would like to be a part of the solution, like Deborah, we would love to help you find the role you are meant to play - as a child sponsor, through Manna 4 Lempira, or with helping us collect the extra backpacks we need, for all of the sponsored and unsponsored children in the programs.






Click here for information on how the Manna 4 Lempira Sponsorship Program works

Click here for information on how to help us collect backpacks full of school supplies




- posted by Trish