Friday, August 3, 2018

The Tour de Backpacks

As anyone who has ever planned an extended trip knows, it involves a lot of planning that goes well beyond packing “mix and match” wardrobe pieces. When Allen and Trish plan an extended visit to the U.S., the logistical decisions are enough to make your head spin! On August 30th, Allen and Trish will fly to the U.S. to begin what I like to think of as "The Tour de Backpacks”. This is a behind the scenes look at the sort of planning that is going into that trip.

The Tour de Backpacks will begin on the West Coast and work east. So, naturally, the participants (Allen and Trish) will be flying into Maryland. Huh? Geography is not my strong suit, but that didn’t sound quite right. Trish explained they will be spending a Sunday morning at Lighthouse Church in Glen Burnie, MD. Lighthouse Church is doing a major backpack push, which will span a few weeks, and Allen and Trish will be there for one of those Sundays. After that, they'll fly to Seattle, and begin the big cross-country drive.

Allen is trying to make the best possible use of Sunday mornings. They will have the opportunity to speak at multiple churches. At other churches, they will be available to meet with people and answer questions about why they do what they do. Trish is scheduled to speak at a women's conference, to tell the kidnapping story.

The actual backpack collection will begin in Seattle. The backpacks will be loaded onto a rental truck and they will begin the eastward drive. The fact that Penske’s truck rental policy is that you can only rent a big moving truck for a week adds an extra level of difficulty. So, at the end of each seven day period, Allen and Trish will have to turn in their moving truck, rent a new truck, and transfer the contents! Ah, good times!

They will be mostly making the same stops as last year. Some things are still up the air, but the Tour de Backpacks calendar is filling in nicely! There’s even a fun side trip planned, for Trish to visit with a childhood friend from the seventh grade on - and they haven't seen one another since Trish left for Honduras. Allen and Trish will be going just a few hours out of the way to meet with this friend and her husband at their home in Wyoming. There’s also the possibility of a side visit to Yellowstone National Park, if the weather hasn’t already turned cold there. After so many years in Central America, Trish confesses she is pretty wimpy when it comes to cold weather.

Eventually, the Tour de Backpack participants will arrive back in Maryland with a full truck. They will unload for a shipping container, which will leave by boat from Maryland. After a week in Maryland, they will head south. Multiple groups are doing backpacks in Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi.

Trish will return to Honduras in mid November, so that she can be home when Ben’s school lets out for the year. Trish will likely miss out on loading the Florida shipping container, but is already looking forward to having Ben home for a while. Allen will stay and finish up any loose ends. He will return home in early December.

One of Allen’s strengths is figuring out logistics, but even his head is spinning with the planning involved in this trip! This trip has been sneaking up on Trish because she's had her head buried in appointments with sponsors, so that the website can be completed. She will not be internet accessible very often while on the Tour de Backpacks. If you are a sponsor who has not yet scheduled an appointment with Trish, please do so ASAP.

 - posted by Christi

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Backpack Carol

Backpacks being filled in Colorado!
In a sense, it is always backpack season with Sowers4Pastors. You might say, they talk about backpacks the same way Buddy the Elf talks about Christmas--with a whole lot of love and enthusiasm! If there were backpack carols, they would be singing them! If they could string strands of lights shaped like little backpacks… Well, they’d probably forego the little lights because they’re too busy to hang them, but you get the idea. They are bonkers for backpacks. And their sincere hope is that you are bonkers for backpacks, too.

This is a particularly exciting time because Allen spent the last few weeks ordering and sending out massive amounts of empty backpacks just waiting to be filled. It’s also time for the Back-to-School sales to stock up on backpack filling supplies. Well, hot diggity!

Filled backpacks in Mississippi
If you and your church are not involved in filling backpacks, it is not too late. Allen insists there is still time for him to send out a bulk shipment of empty backpacks to any group wishing to fill them.

Why would you do this? Um, so little Honduran children can go to school! If you’ve been paying any attention to this blog, you know that the cost of school supplies is enough to prevent many Honduran children from receiving an education. That’s a huge problem with a simple fix. When you donate a backpack filled with school supplies, parents in Honduras are able to afford to send their children to school.

Supplies purchased in bulk, to fill backpacks in Seattle
So, if you haven’t already done so, head out to the Back-to-School sales. And, just because someone had to write the first backpack carol, here’s a little something to motivate you while you shop. Sing it to the tune of Jingle Bells. Oh, no need to thank me!

Dashing through Walmart
With a slightly wonky cart.
Through the aisles we go
Shopping yo-ho-ho!
Notebooks are a deal.
Pencils are a steal.
Buy in bulk and save a ton.
We have backpacks to fill! 

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Ditch the Glitch

Class, today we’re going to talk about glitches. Pay attention as I write the word and definition on the board.


1. A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag: a computer glitch; a navigational glitch; a glitch in the negotiations.
2. A false or spurious electronic signal caused by a brief, unwanted surge of electric power.
3. Astronomy A sudden change in the period of rotation of a neutron star.

For the purposes of this blogpost, we’re not going to concern ourselves with the second and third definitions. Partly because I don’t know what “spurious” means and I’m a little fuzzy about “neutron star”. So, let’s just focus on definition numero uno. Okay? Okay.

As you probably know, our beloved Trish has been up to her eyeballs in website stuff. She has pretty much been working full-time to get the new website up and running. (She needs to wrap this up ASAP because R.J. and Abby have a new swing set and they need someone to push them.) When everything is finished, this website is going to make her life much easier. It will automatically take care of a lot of the accounting, payments, etc… If a person makes a credit card payment and it doesn’t go through, for whatever reason, they will automatically get an email. In the future, the website will allow you to add new child sponsorships to your account, without talking to Trish or Kim. Glory, glory hallelujah! That day is coming. But it’s not today. Because, today (and until the task is completed), people with existing sponsorships need to go to the website to connect with their account.

You may be thinking, “Sure. No biggie! I’m an intelligent person. I’ll just go on and take the necessary steps to connect to my account.” HERE’S WHERE THE GLITCH COMES IN! Going to the button that says, “Donate,” and setting up a donation there will NOT give you access to your account, payment history, sponsored children, etc...

Regardless of how incredibly tech savvy you may be, this system is not quite that intuitive. People who have tried to do this on their own encountered this problem. In order to connect to your account on the new website, Trish is asking you to schedule an appointment with her. This appointment can take place via messaging on Facebook, or over the phone. In an average time of around 20 minutes, Trish will walk you through the process. If you sponsor many children, it can take a little longer. Out of an approximate 800 sponsors, about 80 are now connected with the new website.

Trish is using an online scheduling program, to get these appointments set up. If you are a current sponsor, through the Manna 4 Lempira program or any of the sister church sponsorship programs, you can use this link to find an available time that works for you, and sign up for a conversation with Trish:

Trish will be happy to give you a call (the faster method) or chat with you via Facebook Messenger. If you wish to handle this by messenger, please send Trish a message before your scheduled appointment, telling her this preference.

Please schedule your appointment soon, because R.J. needs Nana to push him on the swing!

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Words From a Team Player

It’s always fun to chat with a visiting team member. It’s sort of the mission equivalent of looking at your friends’ vacation photos on Facebook. This week’s chat was with Pastor Joplin Emberson from Kansas.

Last July, Pastor Joplin visited the Sowers with a very small team, consisting of his wife and three other people. One year later, he returned with a team of twenty-one people. Why? Well, as he said, “I’ve been actively involved in international missions for almost twelve years, at this point. We have literally travelled the globe. There are no ministries we’ve been connected with that are able to do as much with your dollar as the Sowers family. Period.”

He continued the thought by saying, “Rarely can we find anything we can do with $15 that can literally change the life of a family. Not just a student, but a family. We have witnessed with our own eyes that this program is changing the lives of families. In addition to the child program, the building program is able to put a roof on a church for about $1000. There aren’t a lot of places where you can get that much work done.

“The most significant thing to us, in our ministry, is the sincere mission of the Sowers family to spread the gospel. They are not a humanitarian aid organization first; they are a gospel planting organization first. The Sowerses are sincere, real, solid, faith-driven missionaries. We wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t the spiritual depth and deep commitment to the gospel. They are transforming hearts by focusing on building the Kingdom of God, not just the country of Honduras.”

For visiting teams, Pastor Joplin is impressed by the scope of the ministry. He said, “The ministry encompasses so much that there is something for everyone to do. If you want to serve, you can serve! If you’re good with crafts, there’s a place for you to use your talent. If you’re good with kids, there’s a place for you to use your talent. For those with years of ministry experience, there are young pastors who are eager to learn from you. If you want to get involved, you don’t have to look far to use your talents.”

The team from Kansas has been able to host a VBS at a public school, visit two feeding programs, and spend time with the people of their Sister Churches. The team of twenty-one includes eighteen people who sponsor children. Each sponsor has been able to do a home visit. They also pooled their resources to provide mattresses for their sponsored children who were sleeping on the floor. They attended church in Gracias, where they were “deeply moved by the spiritual depth and moving of the Lord in Gracias, Honduras.”

Pastor Joplin has something he wants to say to people in America. “If you have money to give to invest in the Kingdom of God, this ministry has to be considered because there is so much that can be accomplished with even a little bit.”

 - posted by Christi

Monday, July 2, 2018

Taking a Walk on the Mild Side

Everyone always wants to hear exciting missionary stories that keep you glued to the edge of your seat, inspire you, or make you choke with emotion. But much of the work done by missionaries is the behind the scenes stuff that no one will ever want to turn into a major motion picture. No one will ever hear about the work being done to get a new website up and running and say, “You should really write a book about this! Fascinating!” Trish shared some of what she called, “the boring side of things”. I prefer to think of it as taking a walk on the mild side.

February 2017 was when Sowers4Pastors decided to file the necessary paperwork to become an independent organization with 501c3 status. Soon after that, Trish began working on the website. In front of visiting team members that summer, she mentioned what she wanted to accomplish on the website. A college age man on the team said something like, “Dude, that’s what I do for my job” (Oh, okay, he didn’t say the “dude” part, but I’m trying to liven this up.) He volunteered to work with Trish and, since she didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, Trish accepted the offer. Today, that gentleman, who has probably never once called Trish “dude,” is one of two volunteer IT guys working regularly with Sowers4Pastors. (Here is a quick shout-out to Chris Metzger and Steven Buswell: without your help, the new website would not be happening!)

When Trish mentioned that she was thinking about recruiting an intern to come down and help with office work, the aforementioned IT guy knew someone. He connected them with Kelsea. Trish rejoiced. The angels sang. It was a beautiful thing.

Kelsea does not shy away from doing the more exciting tasks, like building bridges and working with feeding centers, but she’s quite the whiz at office work. Trish is keeping her busy entering the sponsored and unsponsored children onto the new website. They are finally almost ready for the big unveiling. Sowers4Pastors certainly never knew it would take more than a year to have everything in order with the IRS, but, when the time came to get down to the serious business of entering each child on the website, Kelsea was there. God’s timing is perfect.

In order to update each child, the Sowers4Pastors crew must go en masse to each sponsorship center location. They have to take a picture of every child. Usually, when getting those pictures, they also do things like have “well visits,” measure feet, distribute letters (if there are any to distribute), and set up supplies so the children can write to their sponsors. They have forms for collecting updates on each child’s general information. They check for children who have left the program because their families have moved, or they’ve dropped out of school.

All of that adds up to a GIGANTIC stack of papers and a pile of photos. That information, along with how to contact Sowers4Pastors, and how to participate in the sponsorship program is all put into profile booklets for each child. Once these booklets have been created, the children and their updated information can be entered into the website. All of this takes quite a bit of time.

In a beta program, to test the new website, they have been entering the information of sister church groups first. Most of the sister church kids, along with their sponsors, have now been entered. They will soon be getting all of the Manna4Lempira kids entered. Basically, Trish is trying to work out any glitches before opening the site up to everyone. It’s almost to the point where sponsors should be able to go to the site and see a list of the children they sponsor, and pay for them online. A bleary eyed Trish said, “We are very excited about that!”

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Backpacks and Crud

Even the “crud” (the technical name for this strain of flu) that has made its way through the ranks of the Western Honduras Sowers family could not prevent Trish from dragging herself to the phone to tell me about what’s going on with backpacks. A very hoarse and puny Trish, shared pertinent information between coughs, while an even punier Allen shared his thoughts in the background. Neither crud, nor cough, nor sore throat shall stay these Sowerses from their appointed ministry!

Sowers4Pastors is currently at the phase of buying backpacks in bulk and sending them out to people who have organized backpack drives at their locations. They also want to encourage more people to participate. So, if you’re not involved in a backpack drive, consider yourself officially encouraged! If there is an existing drive in your area, Allen and Trish can connect you. If not, they would love for you to set one up.

When the season arrives to collect the backpacks, Allen and Trish will definitely be hitting Washington State, Colorado, and all of the states in between. They are currently in discussions with someone trying to set up a drive in California, which would add California and Oregon to that list. Then they'll hit Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and places in between. For the final phase of the trip they will go through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama.

There is no limit to the number of backpacks Sowers4Pastors can pass out. As Trish said, “The need is great!” In order to make this trip as cost effective as possible, the more backpacks they collect, the better. More importantly, more backpacks mean that more kids will get to attend school!

From his location across the room, Allen shared an eye-opening statistic. To the best of their calculations, about 20% of the filled backpacks go to kids who would otherwise not attend school at all. The remaining 80% go to children of very poor families, who are barely managing to get their kids to school.

Hear me loud and clear; this is NOT a political post. But, for every person who has ever wanted to help the people of Central America in their own countries, this is a way you can do that. Like parents everywhere, Honduran parents want a better life for their children. The education level of the average adult in the mountains of western Honduras is somewhere between no education and third or fourth grade. They want their kids to have the chance to do better. You can help by providing children with the necessary tools which will enable them to go to school!

 - posted by Christi

Friday, June 22, 2018

When Disaster Strikes

In our 24-hr news cycle world, it can be difficult to remember something that happened just a few weeks ago. The Fuego volcanic eruption that affected thousands of people in Guatemala probably isn’t at the forefront of your mind. So, let’s refresh our memories.

On June 3, an active volcano in southern Guatemala had its worst eruption in decades. People weren’t surprised by an eruption; they were surprised by the enormity of the eruption. Over the years, people become complacent about living near an active volcano and move closer and closer to it. When the mammoth eruption happened, it destroyed villages, rather than just empty countryside. More than one hundred people are known dead, with two hundred plus still missing and assumed dead. It is not yet safe to search the area. Almost 2800 people remain in shelters, after losing their homes. That means there are many more people who lost their homes, but are staying with family members, etc…

Whenever disaster strikes in Central America, people ask Trish how they can help. Trish’s advice is always the same: “Find someone who is already working on the  ground in that area. That’s the person you can trust to get the resources to the people who need them.”

Sowers4Pastors is far enough away that, aside from some air quality advisories, they were unaffected. There were some flights which were cancelled, due to ash in the air, but the Sowers family is not close to the volcano. However, one of their local churches, in Gracias, is taking relief supplies collected by their congregation to the area, working in conjunction with a church in Guatemala. Sowers4Pastors has decided to help these churches in this endeavor.

They are sending boxes of food from their supplies for feeding centers. They are also sending some backpacks, which were not distributed this year. Because Trish remembered people responding to the needs of homeschoolers, following the flooding in Houston, she realized there would be Guatemalan school children who had lost their school supplies. The backpacks are already filled with toiletries, as well as school supplies. In that way, Sowers4Pastors is able to help.

Trish said, “We are always glad when we have more on the ground than we need at the moment. That means we are able to respond quickly to unforeseen needs! We had more than we needed right this minute. We will still have to replenish the supplies, to keep the feeding centers running and to have sufficient backpacks for the upcoming school year, but we can act NOW. By working with these local churches, we can help.”

By working with Sowers4Pastors, you can help, too.

 - posted by Christi