Friday, March 24, 2017

Full Time Pastor, Part Time Missionary

Pastor Tim teaching at the training school,
in 2016
Whenever I’m talking to a member of the Sowers family, a few names are often sprinkled throughout the conversations. One of those names is, “Pastor Tim”. Like Judge Judy, Pastor Tim doesn’t need a last name, but it’s Webster, in case you’re interested. Lately, Pastor Tim’s name has been popping up even more often than normal, and with good reason. Pastor Tim, of Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Walkersville, MD, is preparing to make four trips to Western Honduras in coming months. Yes, I said, “four trips”.

Russell was the first Sowers to mention Pastor Tim’s plans to become a frequent flyer for the primary purpose of helping out at Pastors’ Training School. Trip number one is fast approaching. Pastor Tim and three team members will be leaving for Honduras on April 3.

Okay, We’ll Compromise

In a recent phone call, I wanted to discuss the kind of commitment it takes to plan four trips to Central America in a relatively short time span. Pastor Tim wanted to discuss Sowers4Pastors and how impressed he is by their ministry. We did a bit of both.

“It’s amazing what they (the Sowerses) have going on,” Pastor Tim said. “The sky's the limit of what they can do if people will just give. People can give money. People can give time. It’s a privilege to be a part of that.”

Relationship Building, 101

Talking about the Sowers’ involvement with Pastors’ Training School, Pastor Tim said, “They pour into these pastors. So, there are three different schools happening. You can see their heart is to give some initial training, build on that, and have ongoing training by Honduran pastors training other Honduran Pastors.”

He’s excited to spend as much time as he can building relationships with the pastors. He’s realistic by acknowledging, “Four trips may sound like a lot, but it’s only a month.” He realizes relationships can take much longer to establish. Still, he wants to show the pastors he cares about them and wants to get to know them.

Pastor Tim saying "good-bye" to pastors,
after teaching at the school in 2016

No Special Treatment

For the first trip, Pastor Tim’s team members will consist of two college students and an FBC staff member--none of whom have ever been on a mission trip before. They will be staying at the Pastors’ Training School. Pastor Tim told the team, “We’re going to sleep where they sleep, eat where they eat, bunk in the bunkroom, use the outdoor toilet, shower where they shower, and eat the same food.” None of them are expecting luxury!

The team will also be visiting FBC’s sister church in Camelote Campuca, take the gifts and letters church members have already sent (which arrived in the recent container shipment from Maryland) to children at the feeding center there, and spend time with some of the young people their church members are sponsoring.

Lesson Plans and God’s Plans

I asked Pastor Tim how much time he has spent preparing lessons to share with the pastors at the training center and he laughed long and hard. Something tells me it’s more than a couple of hours! He was quick to point out he is not the only one working on the lessons. And he was excited to point out that some members of FBC are helping him translate the materials into Spanish. People from Mexico, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador have been able to contribute in a meaningful way, which Pastor Tim pointed out “added a little twist to what God is doing”.  

Subsequent trips are planned for the first weeks of June, July, and September, but it’s all in God’s hands. Pastor Tim has told his congregation and his family, “This is what the plan is, but let’s not hold ourselves to it.”

Pastor Tim, and friends, on one of our bridge-in-a-week projects

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Contain Your Excitement

Contain your excitement! The much anticipated Sowers4Pastors’ shipping container has arrived. Yes, their ship has come in, you might say. Russell walked me through the process of getting the contents to their property. Whew! It wasn’t all smooth sailing!

Weekend Plans

When the container arrived at the port in Honduras, Russell went into high gear trying to get the duty-free paperwork completed, to process it. If things aren’t processed within about two weeks, the Sowers are charged for a fee for the delivery being overdue. (The paperwork process actually begins about two months before a container arrives in port, but it never seems to get completed, by the lawyers and the government, until there's almost no time left.)

On Thursday March 2nd, Russell received word the container might be arriving at some point during the weekend. When a shipping container arrives, it is only delivered as far as the city of Gracias. It’s up to the Sowers to bring the contents all the way up the mountain to their property. That meant Russell needed to line up two box trucks, which would be able to carry most of the items in the container. He knew any extra items would need to be transported in the Sowers’ two trucks.

The following evening, Russell got a call telling him the container could be in Gracias the next morning at 11:00. He had lined up the box trucks, but hadn’t been able to give the drivers a definite time.

One driver arrived an hour before the container arrived, but the truck was carrying a full load, which needed to be delivered. The other truck was carrying a load of rocks, so they didn’t have trucks for about an hour after the container got to Gracias. Russell solved that problem by taking the container driver out to eat lunch so he wouldn’t realize how long it was taking!

Lift with Your Legs, Not Your Back!

When the container was opened, the first thing they saw was four spools of cable, each weighing about 3000 pounds. In the absence of heavy equipment, they managed to move those mammoth spools to a box truck. The process took about an hour and a half.

Two helpers began taking loads to the Sowers’ property in their Land Cruisers and were able to make multiple trips before Russell and the other men got to the back of the shipping container. The back of the container held two washing machines, one refrigerator, and two huge batteries, which weigh 2000 pounds a piece. So much for saving the lighter stuff for last!

(Even Better!) Lift with a Backhoe, Not your Back

The exhausted men got to the appliances and batteries at the opposite end of the container and successfully loaded them. Then they prepared to make the twenty-five minute drive back to the property.  By that point, the men had been moving items for about six hours and they weren’t exactly feeling fresh as daisies! Russell could tell everyone was spent and he suggested renting a backhoe to finish the job. He made a phone call and found a backhoe, which was delivered to them. With the help of the heavy machinery, they unloaded the batteries and cables.

Russell explained that the box trucks and the shipping container were of similar heights, so they were placed back to back to make loading and unloading a little easier. However, when they got back to the property, they had to get the supplies off of the box trucks and down to the ground. Thanks to the backhoe, they finished at about 10:30 Saturday night.
Shipping container on the left, local box truck on the right,
doing direct unloading and reloading at the side of the road
in the city of Gracias

The Final Leg of the Journey

In coming weeks, the Sowers will sort through the color-coded boxes, which include items for the sponsorship program, Gifts for Gracias, things for other missionaries, used clothing, supplies for MK Camp, and personal items. They will do an inventory and get the supplies to the appropriate places. The owner of the appliances has already picked them up. Other missionaries will pick up their supplies. MK Camp supplies have been sent across the country to Rachel. The bulk of the items are for Gifts for Gracias, and these must be sorted and put together as gifts for pastors and their families. The heavy lifting may be over, but the fun is just beginning!
A special word of thanks, to everyone who helped make this shipment possible, including the donors, the Cofer family, Mary and Gary Richard, Fredericktowne Baptist Church, and everyone who came together to do the loading in Maryland!

 - posted by Christi

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Days of Their Lives

Recently, Trish received word from some of you loyal blog readers about how much you would like to hear more about the day-to-day happenings in their lives. I couldn’t agree more. My online friendship with Trish spans quite a few years and I’m always eager to hear about things like a cow walking into her kitchen or the health of their pet kinkajou. That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t normally come up in conversations with my other friends. Because of your requests, we will make more of an effort to tell about the small details of missionary life, as well as the major projects.


On Wednesday, I was able to chat with Russell and Allen in tandem. Russell had just picked up Allen from the airport following his North American trip and father and son were on their way home from San Pedro Sula. This is normally a 3 - 4 hour trip each way, but this week the return trip actually took 6 hours, because of construction. Of course, Allen was planning a little downtime before getting back to his crazy schedule in the mountains of Western Honduras. Well, by “a little downtime” I actually mean Allen was planning on sleeping that night and being back at work the next day.


Allen, Trish, and Russell are planning to have a sit-down meeting this weekend to discuss their upcoming schedule priorities. Coffee harvesting season is over and Russell has more time to work on other things (the work crew guys will continue to work in the fields for about half their time, as they start the new coffee plants for next year, and do regular chores to care for the existing plants). During this season, the Sowers can catch up on other ministry activities. One of the things they will all be doing is preparing to distribute the supplies that recently arrived on the container. Russell plans on getting to the Gifts for Gracias part of the container today, as the matter of fact. Allen also brought back letters from Kim Hall with Manna 4 Lempira. The letters, along with a box of small solar-powered lanterns which came down in the container as special gifts from child sponsors, will be delivered over the course of the next three weekends, as Russell runs them around to the various villages with child sponsorship programs in those locations.

Move Over, Bob Vila!

Since Russell never seems to tire of lending a helping hand, he is spending a week of time, spread out a bit, helping to build a wall and put on a patio roof for another missionary family in the area (the wall is for security, and the roof is so they'll have a place to dry clothes during rainy times). At the time we spoke, he was two days into the project.

This week he's making a quick, one-day trip to take a gigantic, piled-high truckload of items to his sister, Rachel, in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. These are things which came down in the shipping container for her personally and for her ministry, including lots of MK camp supplies, as well as soon-to-be-needed new-baby items.

Russell will also be building an incinerator on the Sowers’ property sometime soon. Since they don’t live in town, they process their own garbage and burn all burnable materials. The new incinerator will be a major step up from the metal trashcans they’ve always used. I wanted to know what a homemade incinerator would look like and Russell described a large brick box with a fireplace in the front, with a removable grill. The garbage will be put down the chimney, and a fire will be burning in the fireplace.

Weekend Plans

On Saturday, Russell and Iris will attend the wedding of Iris’s cousin. In fact, Russell and Iris will have the seats of honor at the wedding. In Spanish, this honor translates as being the godparents of the wedding! Russell and Iris were selected because they are a family couple the bride and groom look up to and want to emulate. Their marriage serves as an example of what a marriage should look like. RJ will be a part of the wedding procession. And Abby will be along for the ride.

Trish has a trip planned to visit Ben at his school on Sunday. While it’s not as big an undertaking as her recent trip to Guatemala, the trip will still take about three hours each way. The trip will include three buses and a taxi in each direction. Time with Ben will be worth it, though.

An Eye on the Future

A new bridge project is coming up soon. This one will be a large cable vehicle bridge and will require about six weeks worth of work. The timing is one of the things they will discuss as they plan their schedules.

In case you're wondering, there have been no recent cows in the kitchen and the kinkajou is doing well. We'll keep you posted on any late breaking developments, though. Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of their lives!

- posted by Christi

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

School days, School days

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days…

Russell is busy with the beginning of a new year for Pastors’ Training School, but he still managed to squeeze in a phone call to fill me in on what’s happening. It sounds like it’s off to a great start.

New Year, New Schedule

In previous years, each week of Pastors’ Training School consisted of a complete two days of training spread out over three days. Why? Because many of the students are at the mercy of the bus schedule and busses don’t begin running until lunchtime one day. Therefore, classes consisted of a half day, followed by a full day, followed by another half day. At lunchtime on the third day, the students would travel home to their families and their congregations. The following month, they’d do it all over again.

This year, 33 of the 43 students from last year’s school have returned for training at the next level. They’ve also added another 29 first year students. Since the classes aren’t covering the same material, they meet on different days. That means Pastors’ Training School now consists of four full days of training spread over the course of five days. When the first group is sent home at lunchtime on the third day, the second group arrives for their school week.

Five Star (Students) Review

Five star students from last year have agreed to stay on for the full five days of classes to serve as mentors for the new group of first year students. The five men are currently receiving special training in mentorship.

While Russell was talking, I was struck by the immense commitment on the part of the mentors. They will be staying for the full five days each week of school, plus setting aside other days to go out to the villages where their mentees live, in order to lead study groups. They will go out to the villages for study sessions with three to five students at a time. In the past, the American teachers have done that. With the expanded school week, the teachers will not have as much time to lead study sessions.

These mentors men with families who will miss them during their time away from home (one week per month). They are pastors of congregations who have needs. And, most mind boggling to my North American mind, they are not receiving a salary for mentoring! The school will try to help them with some of their costs, such as fuel for travel expenses, but that’s the extent of the financial help. The mentors will be staying in the homes of the pastors they are helping, when they are out in the field.

Russell explained, “That commitment is key because we have seven missionary men involved in Training School through teaching or administration. If we can raise up five mentors, we have almost doubled ourselves! It will help to make the program self-sustainable. If we continue to add new students, the mentor thing is more cost effective than missionaries.”

Group Effort

In the past, Pastors’ Training School was Allen’s project, which he founded. Allen and Russell ran it for the first four years. Then it closed down for a couple of years. Now, it is a combination of seven missionaries operating the school.

Russell continued, “It has grown and changed and the structure is different now. We’re at a point where everyone has a role and responsibilities. It’s not really ours. It’s the missionaries of Gracias who operate it, with me playing a head administrative role and other missionaries taking on the academic part. We are all sharing in the commitment to raise funds for it. It’s definitely a group effort now.”

- posted by Christi

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Roadtripping with Allen

When the team from Christ Church of Orlando visited Honduras last week, Allen made the trip back to the U.S. with them. He didn’t travel to Orlando, though, even though he would probably look great in a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. Instead, he flew into Maryland, where he was able to spend a few minutes with Boo, rent a car and head off for Ohio.

Allen’s Itinerary

Do you remember Life Community Church? They’re those fun people who turned a Super Bowl party into a way to stuff backpacks for children in Honduras. Allen will be setting up a Sister Church Program, while in Ohio. Life Community Church is no stranger to Sowers4Pastors. Besides the backpacks, they’ve also raised money for the 2 cents a meal drive and Pastors’ Training School. Now, they’ve decided to adopt a Sister Church.

Life Community Church is made up of small cell groups. Allen will be spending time with around eight of those cell groups this week. He’ll be talking about their ministry and trying out a snazzy new Powerpoint presentation Trish made. (He’ll also be speaking to a missions class at Malone College in Canton, Ohio.)

Kim Hall is flying in on Friday night. On Saturday, Allen and Kim will be setting up sponsorship cards in preparation for Kim’s presentation on Manna 4 Lempira on Sunday.

When all of that fun is over, Allen will be hopping into his rental car and driving to Canada. While there, he will spend a few days meeting with some Canadian businessmen who have expressed interest in Sowers4Pastors ministry. Allen contacted the president of Foundation for Missions Canada, who thinks this is a worthwhile use of time, so Allen will be heading toward the Niagara Falls area. If it would be a worthwhile use of time and help grow the ministry, Allen would probably be going over Niagara Falls in a barrel!

In true Allen fashion, he acknowledges that his itinerary is subject to change if a new opportunity arises.

An Imperfect Analogy

Allen contemplated that he and Trish will be doing a lot more of this sort of traveling in coming years. He doesn’t mind being on the road and was marveling at the fact he only hit one pothole all the way from Maryland to Ohio. He insists that in Honduras there is more pothole than road. But he isn’t in North America to marvel about the quality of our transportation infrastructure.

He’s here trying to help people gain a better understanding of what missions is. Allen understands that the mission field is different than what most Americans think it is. He shared an analogy about people on a sports team going to practices every week, but never playing a game. He wants to get more people off the practice field.

Before we hung up, Allen got a little contemplative and said, “The thing I don’t like about that analogy is that it’s a sports analogy and this isn’t a game. This is war! It’s spiritual warfare and I don’t want to downplay how serious this is.”

I can honestly say the only thing I’ve ever heard Allen downplay is the amount of work he and his family put in and the lifestyle they’ve chosen to lead. They’re definitely in the game! (Even though that’s an imperfect analogy.)

 - posted by Christi
 - Trish apologizes that there are no pictures, but she has no pictures of Allen's trip

Sunday, March 5, 2017

This is "Sowers4Pastors Jeopardy!"

If this blog post were a Jeopardy category, a bespectacled contestant would be saying, “Things that are random, for $1000, Alex!” Yes, sometimes life is random. And sometimes the Sowers lives are incredibly random, but hang on because I’m pretty sure we can piece things together to form a (sort of) cohesive post. So, put on your spectacles and get ready to play a game of Sowers4Pastors Jeopardy!

What is, “Building a Bridge and Having a Fender Bender,” Alex?

A team from Christ Church of Orlando participated in a Bridge in a Week project, last week. That meant a flurry of activity, while Russell dealt with local government officials to get the supplies and materials they had been promised.

While the team was there, a fender bender took out a door on one of the Sowers’ pickup trucks.

What is, “A Really Long Bus Trip,” Alex?

Foundation for Missions hosts an annual retreat in Antigua, Guatemala. In the past, the Sowers family would pack their bags and head off for some well deserved refreshment. This year, however, Allen is in the U.S., Rachel isn’t up for travel (having just completed the first trimester of her pregnancy), and Russell would have to go off and leave Iris, R.J., and Abigail because the little ones wouldn’t be able to make the trip. For those reasons, Trish is the lone Sowers representative at this year’s retreat, which takes place this weekend. The trip entails about twelve hours of bus travel each way. Let’s hope Trish has a good book to take with her.

What is, “Allen is in North America,” Alex?

Allen is back in North America for a bit. I don’t want to give away the plotline of a future blogpost, but I will say he’s not here for sightseeing.

What is, “Pastors’ Training School,” Alex?

Russell is spending this week preparing for Pastors’ Training School. It’s an even bigger job than previous years because there will be two classes of 2nd year students and one class of 1st year students. Instead of a three day activity, Pastors’ Training School will be running five days a week!

What is “A New to Them Refrigerator,” Alex?

In previous years, a missionary in Gracias was able to store the food needed for Pastors’ Training School in his personal refrigerator. Since the school is expanding, they now require more fridge space to continue to be able to buy supplies in bulk. That’s why Russell is temporarily in the refrigerator moving business--transporting a refrigerator from the Sowers’ property about twenty minutes into town.

What is, “Preparing for an Audit,” Alex?

The Sowers’ parent missions organization is being audited for 2014 and Russell and Trish received three days notice to get all of their 2014 ministry financial information sent over. It was a flurry of getting receipts organized, scanned, and emailed.

What is, “Russell is Guest of Honor,” Alex?

There is an upcoming dedication ceremony for a denomination Sowers4Pastors has been assisting. The head of the denomination is traveling from the U.S. to Honduras, for the occasion, and has asked Russell to be a guest of honor at the ceremony.

What is, “Feel Better, R.J.,” Alex?

Young R.J. has had a stomach bug for a week and a half now. Please pray for R.J.’s recovery and for sweet baby Abigail to remain healthy.

That completes this episode of Sowers4Pastors Jeopardy! Thanks for playing!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lessons from the Sowers and Colonel Sanders

Talking about good stewardship with a Sowers is like talking to Colonel Sanders about fried chicken. They know their stuff and have definite opinions on the subject. Just for kicks, I looked up quotes by Colonel Sanders and found that what I intended to be a bit of wittiness to grab your attention was a better analogy than I thought. So, I’ve decided to season this post with a couple of quotes from the Colonel himself. Why? Because I can, people. Because I can!

“No hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best there was in me.” ~ Harland Sanders

I was able to talk to Allen about how Sowers 4 Pastors encourages others to give the best there is in them. Unlike many other organizations you might encounter, you won’t catch Sowers 4 Pastors swooping in and building an elaborate church structure for one congregation in one community. They much prefer to spread the resources with which they have been entrusted by assisting multiple congregations in the building of multiple churches for multiple communities.

It’s that “sweat equity” Allen believes in so strongly. He wants the indigenous pastors they assist, and their congregations, to feel the pride of ownership that comes from working for something. When an outside group comes in and builds a church for a community, it can build unrealistic expectations. When the roof needs repair, the congregation may expect the builders to come back and do the work. However, when an outside group works side by side with the congregation to build the structure, or simply offers partial funding, the people of that church are infinitely more likely to keep the building in good repair. It matters more to them because they have more invested in it.

“Do all you can and do it the best you can. It’s the only way you ever get that feeling of accomplishing something.” ~ Harland Sanders

When it comes to spending financial resources, Allen, Trish, and Russell are a lot like three very experienced and frugal homemakers making out their shopping list for the week. You know the type of homemaker I mean--the type who plans meals around that week’s sales circulars, checks out which stores have the best deals, and clips coupons when it makes sense to do so. They’re all about stretching the ministry’s bucks by utilizing indigenous pastors.

They operate the way they do because they are in a country where there is a good, indigenous, Christian base. They are not starting from scratch in a country where Christianity is forbidden. There are Christians for Sowers 4 Pastors to partner with. Think of it as the difference between planting one seed and blowing on a dandelion puff and watching the wind take hold of the tiny seeds and scatter them in all directions.

Rather than planting one church, it makes sense to build up the indigenous pastors and prepare them to scatter the gospel throughout the mountains of Western Honduras. In conclusion, I leave you with one final quote from the Colonel. It sounds an awful like a Sowers’ philosophy, too.

“There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery. You can’t do any business from there.” ~ Harland Sanders

- posted by Christi