Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Big Picture

Have you ever tried to juggle? The learning process isn’t terribly exciting. You might begin by tossing a couple of balls back and forth. Then you add another ball to the mix. But instead of sending the balls whirling through the air as if you are descended from carnie folk, you toss the balls in the air, catch them, stop, and repeat. It’s essential to the whole juggling process, but there won’t be a crowd forming to catch your next show. That whole “toss, catch, stop, and repeat” process is a lot like what’s going on with Sowers4Pastors right now. It’s meaningful foundation work, but there’s not a huge wow factor to any of it.


Coffee Farm

On the coffee farm, they are still harvesting and drying coffee. The damp seasonal weather has lasted longer than it usually lasts and that is doing nothing to speed the drying process. Currently, that process means laying the beans out on huge concrete patios. Some of the crew turns the beans with large wooden hoes throughout the day. This is a special skill because the rows need to be perfectly straight to turn every bean. This method of drying damages the beans by scratching them a little with every turn, which lowers the value. Who knew? Plus, the men have to bring the beans in at night and put them back out in the morning. It’s tedious work with all of the excitement of tossing a single juggling ball back and forth.

There is a potential answer to some of this coffee bean monotony, which involves constructing a solar drying building. Think of a greenhouse full of trays of coffee beans and you get a general idea. Sowers4Pastors is in the budgeting and planning stage for this improvement to the coffee farm.


Containers & Teams

They are also working on organizing all of the stuff from the Florida container. The Maryland container is currently in port and Allen is hopeful that it will arrive in Gracias within a week. This is good because there are teams scheduled to begin arriving soon. The first team is scheduled to come at the end of the month. 

You may have heard that the CDC will begin requiring a negative COVID test to fly into the U.S. This order does include U.S. citizens who have been traveling abroad. COVID tests are easily obtained in Honduras, but the paperwork can be a bit complicated. This means that visiting teams will have a new challenge to face since travelers only have 72 hours between taking the test and landing in the States. But as Trish said, “We’re going to rise to the challenge and not let it stop us.”



Fundraising & Family

Allen’s birthday fundraiser has raised $8,000, to date. This is counting money raised on Facebook, as well as donations on the website that were earmarked for this cause. All of these funds will be used for feeding kids. It’s not too late to get in on the action and wish Allen a happy 60th!

In other family news, Ben is still not 100% certain if he will be accepted into the Air Force’s high school program. He is waiting for final confirmation, but he isn’t waiting idly. He is gathering up the information needed to join the military the regular way. Allen and Trish are pleased that he has a plan to move forward and that he is making informed decisions about his future.



Prayer Requests & Showtime

Please pray that the Maryland container will get through Customs without a hitch and that the contents will make it to Gracias safe and sound. Pray also for the upcoming team visits. Sowers4Pastors relies a lot on ambassadors to go back and promote the ministry. Teams also do important work like carrying Manna 4 Lempira letters back and forth in their suitcases. The sponsors have been able to send emails to their children, but everyone misses getting physical letters. The lack of visiting teams has also impacted the sister church program. Please pray that the churches in the States will maintain that special tie with their sister churches in Honduras.

In the words of Allen, “We need people to stay focused on the big picture.”


What you’re seeing now may look like someone learning to juggle, but this is all a part of the big picture, just the regular day-to-day grind version. Sowers4Pastors has never stopped passing out food and doing other vital ministry tasks, but, without the visiting teams, it has lost some of the razzle-dazzle. So, queue the music, and send in the teams because, friends, it’s almost showtime!


- posted by Christi.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Sowers4Pastors is Grateful - for You!

Sowers4Pastors would like to thank everyone who was able to follow their very specific instructions on how to pack boxes of backpacks this year. For those who took the extra steps to follow the guidelines to the letter, it was and continues to be incredibly helpful. But not just these individuals. To ALL individuals who helped make the containers of backpacks happen this year, the crew would like to say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"


For those of you who don't know, the actual process of packing a container is a well-thought out process, based on years of experience accrued by the crew at Sowers4Pastors. For example, 700 medium packing boxes fit into each of the shipping containers. Allen knows this from having carefully calculated how many boxes can fit without having empty spaces. He figures out how many boxes fit up & down and how many fit left to right. He knows that having uniform boxes makes the loading process take half the time!

Allen understands that people could get cheaper boxes, but having the extra strong boxes in a uniform size is extra helpful. Each box ends up getting moved between 5-6 times before reaching its final destination. There are photos of battered boxes on pickups by the end of the journey, but the heavy duty boxes make it across the finish line.

Having the boxes packed to the point of overloading is also beneficial. By stuffing the empty spaces with usable second-hand clothing, the boxes are more stable when the contents settle. The boxes on the bottom of the container are carrying about 350 lbs on top of them. Everyone who did this on their end saved volunteers at the receiving sites countless man-hours of reopening boxes and stuffing them. The phrase “super grateful” came up a lot when discussing this. 

Super grateful. The same phrase was also repeatedly used about those who couldn’t follow or didn’t know the preferred packing method. Super grateful. For those who were unable to use the medium packing boxes from Lowe’s, stuff any empty spaces with donatable used clothes, and tape around the entire box so that tape touches tape, your efforts are very much appreciated, too. Some people are simply unable to carry and transport the heavier boxes. Others may not have had time to follow the packing instructions. Some simply didn't see this video until it was too late. To all of you, the crew would like to say, "Thank you so much for contributing to the effort in whatever way you could. All efforts help Honduran children go to school and hear the Gospel!"

Also, thank you for labeling each backpack. This is the only way you can ensure that your child receives everything you intended for him/her. Labeling the outside of a packing box is not enough. In this most recent container alone, the port authority workers opened about a half dozen boxes while inspecting it. Their technique is as follows: They open boxes, dump the contents, and then throw them back into other boxes.

Everyone with Sowers4Pastors does everything in their power to get your gifts to the right children. They cannot guarantee that loose items in boxes will get to the intended recipients. There are ten Honduran men who can’t read English working to separate out clothing and backpacks. (This is after the port authority has finished with it!) Loose clothes can’t be guaranteed to go to the designated child. If you have items you would like to send your sponsored child that will not fit in the backpack, Allen recommends putting the extra items into a duffel bag and making sure that the outside of the bag is clearly labeled.
 The backpacks we pick are appropriate to the child's size, so they can carry it to school - but some sponsors find that the amount of donations they want to send their child does not fit in the backpack - so they send a duffle for their child with the backpack inside. The duffle is then packed in a box, surrounded by loose clothing that will be donated to pastors' families and families in need.

Again, Sowers4Pastors wants to say: Thank you to everyone who took the time to purchase items for your child/children. Thank you to everyone who stepped up and upped their game of packing boxes. Allen and Trish said they are seeing a big difference. They are super grateful.

Allen and Trish are also super grateful to anyone who has been praying for the other containers. Allen explained, “We’ve been having all sorts of issues with the container of food ready to be shipped to us from Ohio. We’ve had problems getting duty-free shipping for every container. We finally got it for this one. Then there wasn’t a physical container available and loading was pushed back. We finally got that - for which we are very grateful.”

The contents of this container were being stored at a nursery in Ohio. The nursery needs to begin ordering all of its spring plants, which means they needed the food moved out. It was a major imposition for the nursery, and the on-again/ off-again scheduling while we were trying to get a physical container was also hard on the volunteers.

There is a second container of food in the same location that still needs to be packed. COVID concerns have caused packing events to be downsized or postponed. Duty-free shipping still needs to be obtained for this container, too.

COVID-19, two hurricanes, port issues, and an international shortage of containers have caused mounds of problems. Please pray that Sowers4Pastors will be able to get the two containers of food in a timely manner.

And again, to everyone who helps make this possible, Sowers4Pastors says, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"



- posted by Christi

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The One Where a Container Arrived on New Year's Eve

What do you need to have an exciting New Year’s Eve? Maybe you like to attend a big party and smooch with your honey at midnight. Maybe you like to watch a ball drop in Times Square. Or perhaps your thing is singing Auld Lang Syne and pretending you understand all of the lyrics. There’s even a chance you do all of the above. But Sowers4Pastors doesn't need all of the trappings to have a wild time on New Year’s Eve. All they need is the arrival of a shipping container filled with backpacks to get things hoppin’! 





Yes, on December 31, Russell received word that the shipping container would be arriving that evening. He was told that the earliest it could get there was 6:00 PM. But Russell understands Honduran time and he knew that meant not to look for it before 8:00 PM. Still, there were preparations to make. This was a New Year’s celebration after all.

Russell called the guys he rents big box trucks from and arranged for the use of two trucks to transport the contents of the shipping container from town up the small winding roads that lead to the property where the backpacks are stored. He also gathered the crew of guys because those boxes of backpacks don’t magically get from point A to point B - as in off the container, into the box trucks, and then off the box trucks into the warehouse.

The men dropped whatever festive plans they had faster than a ball can drop in Times Square. Then they arrived at the entrance to the town of Gracias to wait for the container in what must have felt like the longest countdown in the history of New Year’s Eve. They waited for hours. They could have listened to the acapella group, Home Free’s, version of Auld Lang Syne something like sixty times while they were waiting. Or James Taylor’s version about fifty-five times. (Yes, I did the math.)

The container finally arrived at 11:00 PM and was a more welcome sight than Baby New Year showing up in a diaper. The contents were placed into the two box trucks and any available pickup truck and driven to the property. But the party was far from over. Anything in the back of a pickup had to be unloaded that night and stored in the bodega. Anything in a box truck waited for a couple of days since no one worked on New Year’s Day.

Ben helping to set up lighting for the New Year's Eve event

As they work to sort through the contents and prepare everything to be delivered to the kids, please know that “auld” and new acquaintances are not “forgot” and that you are most assuredly brought to mind. Thank you and God bless!

- posted by Christi

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Courtship of Audrey and Christopher

It isn’t often that a Sowers4Pastors blog post feels like it should begin with “Once upon a time,” but this post is all about the whirlwind courtship of Christopher (Gus) Sowers and Audrey Cook. This has got to be one of the cutest “meet cutes” you’ve ever heard, so without further ado...

Once upon a time, there lived an honorable young man named Christopher and a fair maiden named Audrey. Though they lived as far as the Eastern U.S. is from the Western U.S. and had never met, they had one very important thing in common. They both had mothers. And their mothers happened to be friends from distant days shared in an online homeschooling forum. So, actually, that gives the honorable young man and the fair maiden another thing in common. They were both homeschooled.


Trish, mother of Christopher, first met Heidi, mother of Audrey in 2017, at what members of the homeschooling forum referred to as a Big Fat Meet-Up (BFM). That particular BFM was held in Nashville and that was where Heidi first expressed interest in becoming more involved in the Sowers4Pastors ministry.

That was about the same time that Kelsea joined the ministry. The fact that Kelsea is from Washington State and Heidi and her family are from Seattle seemed providential. And so Seattle 4 Lempira was born.

In the spring of 2018, Christopher’s parental unit (also known as Allen & Trish) went to Seattle for a “get-to-know-you trip.” Allen and Trish stayed with the Cook family, which consists of a parental unit and three offspring, one of whom is a fair maiden. While there, Trish discovered that fair Audrey was also friendly and most personable. Trish found her to be quite agreeable. Trish was intrigued by Audrey’s interest in things like art & culture and her almost complete lack of interest in pop-culture. That reminded Trish of her son, Christopher. That lack of pop-cultural knowledge had been an issue in Christopher’s dating life. (Being raised on the mission field limits one’s exposure to such things.) Add this to their list of commonalities, which now includes: 1) mothers, 2) homeschooled, 3) not about to win any pop-culture categories on Jeopardy.

Whilst gathered around a table supping on pizza, Trish mentioned that she would love to introduce fair Audrey to Gus, er, Christopher. She later mentioned it to Christopher, but he was just getting started in nursing school in Florida and wasn’t looking for a relationship.

In the spring of 2020, Trish was perusing Facebook Marketplace in her quest for a new bed. She located one in the vicinity of Christopher’s abode. Though he was busy completing nursing school and working at a hospital, the honorable young man cleared time in his schedule to pick up the bed. His coach wasn’t large enough, so he even rented a larger coach from Home Depot to transport it. Seeing that he had gone to a lot of trouble for this errand, Trish told Christopher, “I owe you a big Christmas present.” Upon hearing that, Christopher made his wishes known.

The honorable young man said, “Mother, since I have almost completed my training to become a healthcare professional, I am seeking an honorable girl strong in her Christian faith and fair of face.” (Okay, he didn’t actually say it in so many words, but close enough.)

Trish said, “But, Son, I have already told you of such a fair maiden. Her name is Audrey. She has a mother. She was homeschooled. She is friendly and most personable with no discernable interest in pop-culture.” (Okay, she didn’t actually say it in so many words, but close enough.)

Christopher sent an introductory correspondence to Audrey and the two began chatting on Facebook. They also shared video calls. Both were intrigued by the possibilities. It was then that Christopher purchased tickets to fly to Seattle for a face-to-face meeting. The two met at a park, chaperoned by Heidi because we have already established that fair Audrey has a mother. And any mother knows that even in fairy tales you don’t meet strangers off the internet alone. Even ones you know through missionary homeschooling moms.

When he revealed himself to be the charming young man he was believed to be, there was no looking back. At this point, the honorable young man is 26 and the fair maiden is 22, both at a stage where they are ready to take the next step. And so...

On Christmas 2020, Christopher had planned to travel to Honduras, but he was unable to because of his inability to get some passport issues resolved. Then the hospital where he worked was loath to give people time off, due to a worldwide pandemic. For those reasons, Christopher was never expected to fly to Seattle for Christmas. He didn’t just fly to Seattle for Christmas; he flew to Seattle on Christmas Day.

His arrival was anticipated by Audrey’s parental unit. Christopher’s family was also aware of the event. The only one who was completely in the dark was the fair maiden herself.

Christopher arrived outside of the Cook family’s home and promptly began to set the scene in true fairy-tale fashion. He was busily scattering rose petals and lighting candles in the rain when Audrey happened by a window and caught a glimpse of what was happening. And that is how Christopher came to propose to Audrey in a wet backyard, with only one candle lit, which stayed lit despite the rain. He offered her not one ring, but two. The first was one he carved by himself from a piece of walnut because Audrey loves handmade things. The second ring is a more traditional piece. 

The handmade ring in progress

The wedding is expected to take place in September of 2021, which coincides with Allen and Trish’s planned trip to collect backpacks. There are plans to make, an allergy-friendly reception to coordinate (since Audrey has extreme food allergies), and a worldwide pandemic to hopefully conquer.

Following their nuptials, Audrey will join Christopher in Florida. He has a several-year contract with the hospital where he is working. What they will do after that remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. This is far from...

The END


- posted by Christi

Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 will be Hindsight

RJ, Nathan and Abby

2020 is about to be hindsight and it’s the perfect time for a little family update, Christmas letter style. This Christmas newsletter isn’t (slightly) belated. It’s just stretching the Christmas joy out for a little longer, in true Sowers’ fashion.


Grandchildren in Ascending Order:


Hannah

The youngest member of the family was born on December 14th and everyone is smitten. She bears a striking resemblance to RJ and Abby, much to the delight of RJ. The older siblings are taking their responsibilities very seriously and are quick to alert a grown-up whenever she makes the slightest noise in her crib. Her activities include eating, sleeping, and pooping. But she’s doing all three in the cutest possible way.

Ain't that a stinking cute bundle of joy?

Nathan

According to Allen, Nathan acts like an independent old man who wants to do things his own way. According to the rest of the family, Nathan is the grandchild most like Allen. You can draw your own conclusions because I’m not touching that one!


Abby

What can be said about Dear Abby? Well, for one thing, the girl is smart! Trish regularly plays a memory game with RJ--you know, the kind where you flip the cards over and try to find a pair. Until recently, Abby was a spectator, albeit not a silent one. When RJ or Trish couldn’t quite remember the location of a specific card, Abby was more than happy to blurt it out for them. At Trish’s suggestion, RJ and Abby are now a team. And Nana has likely won her last game of Memory. 


RJ

RJ is described as a lot of fun and an independent thinker. He values free time and likes to rush through his work so he can enjoy things like riding a bike without training wheels. He is thrilled to be on vacation from school.


Offspring in Descending Order:


Kirstin

Kirstin is finally in Honduras. She is settling into her living space and her work in the ministry. There has been some reorganization of tasks and Kirstin is now in charge of the blog. Blog topics don’t think of themselves!


Russell 

Russell and Iris have been busy with the ministry, coffee harvest, RJ’s online schooling, Abby the Memory queen, and… Oh, what was that other thing? Oh, yeah, having a new baby.


Rachel

Rachel, Brandy, and Nathan all had COVID-19, but in two different locations--Rachel and Nathan were in Florida; Brandy was in Honduras. None of them had significant symptoms and all is fine now. They have been busy growing their ministry. It has been a difficult year for the girls in Rachel’s program, due to Covid restrictions. Some of the girls tried to go home, but were unable to do their online classes because the internet wasn’t strong enough. So they moved back in with Rachel.


Christopher (Gus)

Christopher decided to end the year on a high note and he got engaged on Christmas Day! The story of Chris and Audrey meeting will be covered another day, but know that they have been dating long distance - as in, Sarasota, FL to Seattle, WA long distance. Chris has been flying out frequently to hang out with Audrey and her family, but it was still a big surprise when he showed up on her doorstep in Seattle on Christmas Day, with a ring. He was supposed to be thousands of miles away in Florida. All together now… Awwww!


Bethany (Boo)


Bethany and her husband, Sam, moved to Virginia this year. She has settled into her first nursing job, while also working on her bachelors in nursing. Her husband is busy with his job in retail. They are enjoying Virginia immensely, and the Virginia weather especially- we'll see how long they stay enamored of the snow, LOL.


Ben

When Plan A doesn’t pan out, always be ready with Plan B. Even though Ben was disappointed that he didn’t get into the highly competitive Air Force program, he’s not letting that get him down. He is examining his options and is considering enlisting in the Army or another military branch. Some of the groups work in the area around Gracias and he’s trying to find a place where he can be stationed relatively close to home.


The Ones Who Started It All, in No Particular Order:

Allen and Trish are enormously happy to be home. They are both healthy and busy. As mentioned earlier, they are reorganizing the ministry and some of the duties. But mostly, they are enjoying their grandkids.

An oldy but a goody




- posted by Christi

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas Reflections

Here we are, in the Christmas season again. It’s always been my favorite time of year, whether I’m watching snow fall in Maryland, seeing all the lights and ribbons in Florida, or hearing the firecrackers go off in Honduras. And, as we should every year, I try to focus on the real meaning of Christmas.

It’s a cliché for sure: What’s the real reason for the season? I just saw an ad selling peanuts that explained the real reason for the season is giving, and what better gift than peanuts? I didn’t know whether to laugh or groan. 

This year, Christmas has a special meaning for me: This will be my first Christmas working in Honduras as a missionary, rather than as an MK (missionary kid, for the uninitiated). I’ve already got plans and obligations and stuff that has to get done, planned for months ahead – and I’m probably the laziest and most under-booked person in this ministry. As I make that transition, I pray that I will be able to keep my focus on why I became a missionary – the real reason for this season of my life, so to speak.

Why do we bother with what we do? If you support our ministry in some way or another, you probably know what we do. Obviously, we help children go to school, help improve their health and nutrition. We help community leaders gain access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t have so they can serve and strengthen their community. We connect children here in Honduras with someone in the U.S. or Australia or Germany to help support them on life’s difficult road, financially, emotionally etc. It’s easy to feel good about all of that.

But...Obviously that’s not everything. That's not the end goal - it's merely a means to an end.

As we try to help Honduran children go to school, we help pastors plant and build relationships with those children so they can point them towards the only path to getting right with God. As we help the pastors learn more about their faith and how to be a pastor, we want to help them connect more deeply with the meaning of the Cross. As we pass out backpacks and gifts, may we never forget that our ultimate purpose is to show these children The Gift, the real reason for this season, a humble manger, a cross borne for our sins, and an empty grave. The miracle, sacrifice, and promise that took place in the form of Jesus.

When we feed these children physically, our goal should always be to feed them spiritually, too.

From Sowers4Pastors to all of you who support our efforts – no matter what form that takes:

 Thanks so much! And Merry Christmas. May God bless you!

- posted by Kirstin S.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Did Someone Say, "Christmas Party?"

Manna 4 Lempira Christmas parties are almost as old as Manna itself. The first Manna Christmas party took place in Mercedes five years ago. Kim Hall wasn’t able to attend the first year or so because she was still living in Atlanta. The Halls are making up for lost time and their Christmas social calendar is more hectic than ever.


“Party Season” began last weekend with six parties in Tablon. Yes, you read that correctly. There were six separate parties to accommodate the children of the Tablon sponsorship center. Kim said it was exciting to see the kids, most of whom she hadn’t seen since March. Many of the kids came masked up, in true 2020 fashion. Some of the parents still don’t feel comfortable with group meetings, so not every child was in attendance. Still, it was an opportunity to get caught up with children, whether in person or through word of mouth.

Thanks in no small part to Pinterest, party hosts in the U.S. tend to spend a lot of time coming up with themes and elaborate menus. Being the perfect host or hostess in Honduras is a little simpler than that. This year, the theme for the Manna 4 Lempira parties is “Christmas party,” and the elaborate menu is cake and candy. This year’s parties don’t include presents, but they do include a lot of happiness.

The parties also consist of singing, hugs, and a lesson. This year, Kim’s Spanish has improved to the point that she is able to give the lesson! She is sharing the modern parable, The Three Trees, and is able to remind the kids that they each have a purpose and that God has a plan for their lives. Kim can remind the kids, “Nothing can eliminate God’s purposes in our lives, even when it looks different than we imagined.”


There are eight more parties on the calendar. There will be two parties in Quelecasque, five in Mercedes, and one in San Juan. You may remember that this time last year a child in the program was in a tragic accident and died a few days after attending a Christmas party. This year brings another accident and the death of a youth in Betania. Julio was very special to the Halls and to his community. Julio’s younger brothers are expected to be at an upcoming party. As difficult as this time is, Kim expressed that it is a blessing to be there for them.

Kim closed our call by saying, “We’re not giving out big gifts. Sometimes we don’t think that getting a slice of cake is a big deal. But when we look into the eyes of the kids and their parents, we see how much it means to them. For us, since it’s not cold in Honduras, this is how we know it’s winter and it marks the season.”

What better way to mark a season than by sharing the love of God to these kids through hugs, a lesson, songs, and cake?

- posted by Christi.