Saturday, February 9, 2019

That's a Great Place to Start!

Preface from Trish: There may be a tendency, when one has the task of choosing just a few photos (from the huge pile of photos of children receiving their shoes and backpacks) to choose the cutest, tiniest children. However, the real measure of success in our program is the older children who are able to continue through their education! For this post, I intentionally chose photos of older boys, who are still able to attend school because they have school shoes and backpacks! YAY for the older boys!


If Sowers4Pastors has taught me anything, it’s that there are more seasons than I ever imagined. Let’s see… naturally, there’s winter, spring, summer, and fall - but those are US seasons. In Honduras there are rainy and dry seasons, plus flying termite season, coffee harvest season, VBS, church roof construction, bridge building, and backpack seasons. Sometimes, there’s some overlap in these lesser-known seasons, but today we’re focusing strictly on backpack season.

Backpack season is a really big deal in Western Honduras. Of course, the general idea is to distribute backpacks full of school supplies, with the help of people in North America. Some of the children receive a backpack from their sponsor. Unsponsored children receive backpacks, too. Now, this may not sound like a life-changing event to you, but to a child who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend school, a backpack means the world. Allen recently read a news story that said 1.2 million school-age kids in Honduras are not attending school. I’ll let that sink in.

In Allen and Trish’s early years in Honduras, they encountered a village with 500 kids and no school. They looked for a donor to help them build a school. That particular donor agreed to build a Christian school. There was just one not-so-little problem. There were no adults living in that community with enough education to teach at or administrate a private school. Allen was able to make a deal with the Honduran government and the donor, that the school would be run as a public school, but local pastors would be allowed to come in and teach Bible lessons at the school.

Even when Sowers4Pastors started the sponsorship program, they didn’t fully grasp what a big deal it was to give children shoes and backpacks filled with school supplies. For the typical North American, it’s not a big investment. For the typical Honduran, the price is beyond their reach.

Last year, Kim Hall took one little boy shopping in Honduras to get an estimate of how much the necessary supplies cost. School supplies cost approximately four times as much in Honduras, even when you consider Allen and Trish’s travel expenses and shipping costs. (The video, below, shows the costs to purchase items locally, in Gracias.) Some people have worried that the backpack program (involving shipping in backpacks, rather than purchasing them locally) might be damaging the Honduran economy. That isn’t the case. The children who receive backpacks would not be purchasing supplies from a local store. They simply wouldn’t be attending school.

Sometimes the world’s problems seem so great that you may feel there’s nothing one person can do. Well, one person can provide the supplies to enable a child to receive an education. And one person can do it for less than the cost of a large pizza!

The backpacks are being distributed now because the Honduran school year begins in February. Schools at higher elevations begin their school year slightly later, since the coffee harvesting season ends a bit later. Those children are still working the coffee harvest, alongside their parents. So, the backpack distribution is scheduled in lower lying areas first.

In case you’re thinking it’s too late for you to get involved, I have a personal challenge for you. (This is in no way sanctioned by Allen, Russell, or Trish, but I’m pretty sure they’ll approve. If not, we’ll see how well they proof my blog posts!) What would happen if you spent the coming months setting your spare change aside to purchase school supplies? Will it change the world? Well, no. But it will change one life and that’s a great place to start.

- posted by Christi (and approved by Trish )

Okay, I couldn't resist adding one of the
adorable younger boys, too. LOL

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Beacon of Light

You know, those filled backpacks don’t distribute themselves! And that’s why a team from Lighthouse Church in Maryland is on the ground and hard at work in Western Honduras.

When setting up a sister church partnership, Allen and Russell spend a lot of time finding the right Honduran location to match the North American church. They factor in the current size of the church, as well as the potential for growth. Lighthouse Church is currently Sowers4Pastors’ biggest sister church. They are so large that, instead of working with a single Honduran church, they are working with multiple pastors, helping all of the children in nine separate schools! Every child in each school is in the sponsorship program. As more and more people at Lighthouse Church want to sponsor children, the program on the ground in Honduras can grow right along with them.

The first year of Lighthouse’s partnership, students from Kindergarten through 4th grade were registered. There was no need to register 5th and 6th graders because, generally, almost all of those children drop out of school at around that time. Now, because of the backpacks filled with school supplies, the student retention rate has increased. Each year, more sponsors must be found as more kindergartener start school and more children are continuing their education through 6th grade and beyond. Trish speculated that there will be a point where the growth will stabilize, but they don’t know when that will happen. For now, there is still a growth pattern. Allen and Russell recognized that Lighthouse is experiencing a time of explosive growth and they chose a location where more schools can be added to the program.

Just to give some frame of reference, the smallest sister church has 98 sponsored children. Lighthouse is the largest sponsoring sister church with a whopping 597 children. If you, like me, are astounded that one community has so many school-age children, Trish explained that the Lighthouse program is actually working with a cluster of communities within a larger area.

As we’re passing out the backpacks during this time of year, the schools are just starting a new school year (the Honduran school year runs, typically, from Feb 15th through Nov 15th). When teams come during the summer months, schools are in session. Team members are able to do a VBS type program in the schools. They schedule time for team members to play with the children and to even visit the children’s homes. Team members are often surprised when that means trekking up and down several mountains and fording a creek, frequently for 3 miles or more each way!

Teams arriving during this time of year are working the entire time at backpack distribution. Many of the backpacks are designated for a specific child and the logistics of that must be worked out. The teams also fit children for their new school shoes. There is a ton of work to be done and not a lot of time to play. Both types of teams are important, but it is something to consider if you are planning a short-term mission trip with Sowers4Pastors.

This team from Lighthouse shook things up a bit. Teams usually have a day or two of fun at the end of their trip. This team opted to take their leisure time in the beginning. They flew into Roatan and the Sowers family (excluding Trish) took the ferry to meet them. They all enjoyed having some time on the beach and scuba diving. Normally, the teams stay closer to the area surrounding Gracias, for the touristy part of their visit.

Let’s hope they can remember their downtime because Trish said they are all business now. The team heads out at 6:00 each day and comes home looking dirty and tired, but full of joy, each evening. There are a lot of kids in the program and they are determined they will complete the task before them.

Three more teams from Lighthouse are scheduled to come in the summer. Two of them will be doing VBS programs in the schools, and the third will be working on some construction projects. Lighthouse Church is assuredly sharing the Light with the people of Western Honduras.

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Calm Before a Storm of Activity

Russell, working.
Here, he's driving a team out to a work site. 

Russell is not known for taking it easy, but, when we last spoke, his schedule for the day consisted of only two meetings and giving me enough information to write a blogpost. He said it felt like it was almost a vacation day. But don’t get the idea that Russell is becoming a gentleman of leisure. He is experiencing what might be called the calm before a storm of activity. And, for lack of a better title, that’s exactly what we’ll call it!

The coffee harvest was completed on Saturday. The team from Edgewater Alliance has returned to Florida. Kim Hall and her family are settling in nicely after their recent move to Honduras. And, for one shining day, Russell gets to feel like someone who could wear an ascot and take up the sport of polo! He should enjoy the feeling while it lasts because tomorrow…

Tomorrow, he switches gears as preparation for backpack season begins. The containers are there, and that means the backpacks are there. Somewhere. The backpacks are there somewhere. In fact, around 8,000 backpacks are there somewhere. They are in boxes, along with things like clothing, and other supplies. Each box from the containers needs to be opened, so the backpacks can be pulled out.

Backpacks for specific children in the Tablon
sponsorship center - packed by their sponsors
If a backpack was designated to go to a certain kid, it will be pulled out and grouped with other backpacks designated for kids at the same feeding center. Backpacks from specific churches are grouped together, as they tend to go to the same area. However, Manna 4 Lempira sponsors often sponsor children at multiple centers, so one box might contain backpacks for children in different locations. Shoes also need to be sorted. It’s like a giant game requiring expert logic and organizational skills. Fortunately, Kim and Jonathan Hall are on hand to help with this monumental task. Members of the regular crew will also be helping.

And that clothing that served as packing material in the boxes? Iris will be working to organize the clothing for the Gifts for Gracias boxes. Russell will be spending some extra time with RJ and Abby while Iris does that.

Oh, and did I mention there’s sort of a time crunch on all of this? Beginning January 27th, Sowers4Pastors will be hosting six backpack teams in seven weeks! There will be one week off in the middle of that time. That means the stuff for each team has to be prepped in advance. Russell says it can take three or four days of preparation time for each team. Naturally, he can’t wait until three or four days before each team arrives, if there’s already a team on the ground.

While all of that is happening, there’s also fertilizing and cleanup scheduled for the coffee farm. Plants should begin flowering in a month and a half. It’s time to get ready for the next cycle.

Pastors’ Training School will be starting its new year in March. Russell and the other board members are meeting in preparation of that.

But, for today... Does anyone know where Russell might find an ascot to wear?

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Nathan Doodle Dandy

The entire reason for Trish, Rachel, and Nathan’s trip to Florida was to finalize Nathan’s U.S. citizenship. The trip has been a smashing success! We can now stick a feather in his hat and call it macaroni because Nathan is officially a Yankee Doodle dandy, who possesses a magnificent flag waving ability.

Trish proclaimed the process was a little anticlimactic, which is really what you want in any process that involves the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Office. Trish credits Rachel’s mad skills as an organizer and planner for helping things go off without a hitch.

The trio had an appointment scheduled for 10:00 am. Their interviewer went through the mountain of paperwork Rachel had submitted, making sure everything was there and filled out correctly. Of course it was, because, as previously mentioned, Rachel is an organizer/planner extraordinaire. Meanwhile, Nathan held up his end of the bargain, by doing the task they assigned him--looking adorable. The interviewer asked Trish and Rachel questions, presumably to verify they were who they said they were. They were. Then the interviewer told them she would call them back in a couple of hours. The waiting was a little stressful because they were not told the paperwork had been approved.

It was also stressful because sippy cups and Cheerios are taboo at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Office. Trish, Rachel, and Nathan were able to leave for lunch, but then it was back to a waiting room where no food or drinks were allowed. A few hours is like seventeen days in toddler years! Nathan is past the stage of curling up in Mommy’s lap for a nap. He chose to pass the time by running around the room with Rachel in hot pursuit. At around 2:30, they were called back in and told that Nathan is a U.S. citizen.

For those of you wondering, this does not mean automatic citizenship for RJ, Abby, or any subsequent Honduran born grandchildren. They will lather, rinse, and repeat to obtain citizenship for other grandchildren.

Sneak peak of what will be available on the
website, once the big update goes public
Accomplishing what they set out to do has been the best part of the trip. Trish has also been able to see her Florida dwelling children, and her parents. The other part of the trip has not been nearly as much fun. Basically, Trish’s regular responsibilities followed her to Florida. For her, it has been work as usual.

2018 was Sowers4Pastors’ first year as an independent organization. Trish is feeling her way through the requirements for closing out a year. Stuff has to be done! Paperwork has to be sent out to employees and donors. The deadlines are NOW! Trish laughed and said, “This is not the stuff you become a missionary to do!”

She is also working to make a big update to the website. Currently, people who want to sponsor a child have to do it through the Manna 4 Lempira Facebook page. With an updated website, people will be able to look at photos of children and set up sponsorships there. Trish is shooting for having everything ready to go before the first of April.

In the meantime, let’s all look at the USA’s cutest new citizen.

For those of you seeing this post by email, here's a link where you can see Nathan's amazing flag waving abilities.

 - posted by Christi

Friday, January 11, 2019

Picture It . . . . Honduras 2001 (Part 2)

As you know, Kim and Jonathan Hall recently moved to Honduras. The Sowers family knows what a huge transition that is. In a show of solidarity, Trish is sharing some of her memories of her family’s early days in Honduras. This is part two of two-parter, in which Trish is reminiscing about learning how to live in the small island town of Savanna Bight. So, picture it… It’s still Honduras, 2001!

Meatless Monday Sounds Pretty Good!

Each of the two grocery stores in Savanna Bight did have frozen food sections--if you count a solitary chest freezer as a frozen food section. The food was tossed in willy-nilly and the shopper got to dig through to see the available frozen meat options. Generally speaking, the options were: whole chickens (possibly including gizzards and feet) or ground beef. The meat was a little expensive, due to transport costs.

For the Sowers family, in 2001, the cheap meat option was fresh fish. People would go out fishing each day, gut it, scale it, and sell it for $1 a pound. The fish came in a wide variety and Trish became well versed in preparing them. She found that bonito fish are best used by boiling them, picking the meat from the bones, and using it like tuna. When it comes to snapper, Trish advocates frying it. And then there’s barracuda…

Trish assured me that barracuda is delicious. There’s just one little problem! Barracuda eat smaller fish. Sometimes smaller fish nibble on coral. Some kinds of coral are poisonous to people. Do you see where this is going? Yes, it is possible to get “barracuda poisoning,” which is painful and potentially dangerous. For that reason, the Sowers family was not inclined to partake of barracuda. The islanders had their own method of dealing with the risks. They put some of the raw barracuda meat on the ground to see if ants ate it. Supposedly, ants won’t eat the poisonous stuff. There was an island joke that you could also give it to someone you don’t like. If that person doesn’t get sick, the barracuda is safe.

Fresh Meat! Get It Before It’s Hot!

There was a thriving door-to-door business. When someone butchered a cow or hog, the owner would load up a wheelbarrow with fresh meat! As Trish said, “It didn’t look like much! It wasn’t exactly on those little styrofoam trays, but you grabbed it!”

Several of the ladies in town operated home baking businesses. The women baked and their children went door-to-door selling. One of the delivery girls was a friend of the Sowers kids. She sold cinnamon buns and a sort of key lime pie. When the girl arrived at the Sowers’ house, she knocked on the front door. If no one answered, she went around to the back and yelled until someone heard. Now, that’s service!

You never knew when salesman might show up, so Trish wasn’t always home when one arrived. She told her kids that if someone came around selling fish, they should always buy some. Sometimes the fish was fresh. Other times, it was frozen. One day, when Trish arrived home from an errand, the kids told her they had purchased five pounds of frozen fish. They had put it in the sink to thaw, so they could eat it for dinner. Trish was thrilled and went to check on the thawing fish. What the kids didn’t know was that they had purchased five pounds of half a giant fish head! It’s not that someone was trying to take advantage of the gringos. Fish head was considered a delicacy by the islanders. It was not considered a delicacy by the Sowerses, so Trish shared their good fortune with a neighbor!

Eat Your Bruised Vegetables!

Once a week, a boat arrived in the main town of Low Cay with a selection of fruits and vegetables. There were no roads in the area, so, on produce day, Trish took a ferry to Low Cay to purchase the week’s fruits and veggies. While there, she could also stop off at one of the better grocery stores. One of the stores even had a real live refrigerator section! It was there that the Sowers family discovered the “worst cheddar cheese that has ever been created”. It looked delicious, but even the cheese-loving Sowers children couldn’t eat the tasteless, rubbery cheese. Once in a while, when they visited the mainland, they would bring back mozzarella to make homemade pizza or lasagna.

The produce from the boat had lived a rough life and the voyage took a toll! When you purchased fresh produce, you would plan on having a salad the first day. You might possibly be able to have a salad on day two. After that, it was cooked veggies. When the produce ran out (or went bad after a few days), it was back to the canned stuff until the next boat got there. Frozen veggies weren’t an option. To this day, a limited variety of frozen fruits and veggies can only be bought in a big city. They aren’t available in Gracias.

A Word to the Hall Family

Hall family, we look forward to hearing about your adventures as you adjust to full-time life in Honduras! May you make so many many wonderful memories that you one day find yourself saying, “Picture it… Honduras 2019!”

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Picture It . . . . Honduras, 2001 (Part 1)

Did you ever watch “The Golden Girls”? If so, do you remember how Sophia used to start her reminiscences of the good ol’ days by saying something like, “Picture it… Sicily 1922”? Now, I’m not comparing my dear friend, Trish, to Sophia from “The Golden Girls,” but our latest conversation did sort of smack of something you might expect from someone who wears support hose and uses words like “whippersnappers”. Again, I’m not actually saying those things about Trish. Because if she’s a Golden Girl, I’m a Golden Girl, and we’re just not going down that road. Anyhoo…

As you probably know, Kim and Jonathan Hall moved to Honduras on Dec. 31st. It’s an exciting time and we are enjoying getting to hear about Kim’s experiences as her family adjusts to their new adventure. Hearing Kim’s stories has prompted Trish to reflect on her own early days in Honduras. So, picture it… Honduras 2001.

More Classic TV References

When the Sowers family moved to Honduras, they didn’t start out in Gracias. Instead, their first home was on an island, called Guanaja, in the tiny town of Savannah Bight. Because I’m pretty sure you can never have too many classic TV references in one post, it wasn’t exactly “Fantasy Island”--unless it’s your fantasy to live in a place where grocery shopping is just a step or two above life on the “Little House on the Prairie”. (Classic television count--THREE!)

At least on the prairie, folks grew their own food. In Savannah Bight, almost no food was grown. The food was brought on boats, which would scarcely be worth mentioning if those boats had been equipped with refrigeration! To quote Trish, “The cold foods were a bit suspect.”

Trish went on to describe a little of what she saw and it’s safe to say she is the master of understatements! “The cold foods were a bit suspect” translates to: You might show up to a boat where the deck was covered with blood and previously-frozen chicken carcasses sort of slow roasting in the sun as they awaited delivery to the grocery store freezer. Other details have been omitted to protect the squeamish.

Trish Pasteur

Milk was not transported--which after hearing about the chicken was probably for the best. Milk options in the grocery store were: 1) powdered milk, or 2) that weird, unrefrigerated milk with a crazy long shelf-life. Let it be known that the Sowers children were unimpressed by those options. Fortunately, they discovered a small ranch, outside of town, that had milk cows. Several times a week a boy of about ten would ride a donkey from the ranch to the area where the Sowerses lived. He came bearing repurposed bleach bottles full of milk. Rope was strung through the handles, with a bottle hanging over each side of the donkey. When the unconventional milk man arrived, a family member would take an empty container out to purchase a gallon of milk.

Photo from
Because they didn’t have a death wish, Trish would then pasteurize the newly purchased, donkey-delivered milk. Apparently pasteurization is more difficult than Louis Pasteur might have led us to believe. Trish was not particularly adept at the process. In case you ever find yourself buying raw milk sold in bleach bottles and delivered by a beast of burden, you might want to brush up on the process. You have two options: 1) Bring the milk to 145 degrees and hold it there for thirty minutes, or 2) bring the milk to 161 degrees and then immediately remove it from heat. As a mother of six, Trish was not fond of the watched pot method. She opted for the higher heat, option 2 method. While she never truly honed her pasteurization skills, she was pretty good at making accidental cottage cheese!

It’s difficult to sum up those early adventures in one blogpost. Stay tuned for more memories from Trish!

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Like Progressive Lenses for Missions

Current Team from Edgewater Alliance Church,
Edgewater Florida
While Trish is in the U.S., Allen and Russell are back in Honduras hosting a team from Edgewater Alliance Church. The team is there to spend time with their sister church in Guacutao.

Trish took some time to explain why Edgewater Alliance is such a great sister church! It’s always fun to see how different churches implement things. EAC created a Sister Church committee, consisting of 8-10 people with varying talents.

Committee members have regular meetings to plan ahead for things like backpack packing events. As you may recall, EAC is also a hub for one of the Sowers4Pastors’ shipping containers, each year. They do a tremendous job of mobilizing their forces. The committee sends out a newsletter to people who sponsor children. The newsletter contains pertinent information about important dates, future team visits, and when sponsor letters are due to be sent out. Edgewater Alliance also has a Facebook page dedicated to their sponsorship program and their involvement with Sowers4Pastors.

Pastor Lorenzo, of Guacutao, with the motorcycle
that EAC and Sowers4Pastors helped him purchase
EAC has been involved with Sowers4Pastors for longer than the Sister Church Program has been in existence. They have taken to it like a duck takes to water--going above and beyond the call the duty. The church has a direct connection with the pastor of the church in Guacutao, Pastor Lorenzo. When they learned that Pastor Lorenzo was one of the pastors in need of a motorcycle, they raised a share of the money to help him obtain one. Furthermore, Pastor Lorenzo has planted churches and EAC helped put roofs on those buildings. They are a part of Pastor Lorenzo’s vision of reaching his part of Western Honduras, in a direct way.

While on the ground, the team from EAC will be visiting their sponsored children. Even though it is currently school break in Honduras, the team will also be doing some VBS type of activities with the children.

Child from Guacutao with badly burned foot
(I'm sparing you the photo of the injury)
In Guacutao, the team came across a little girl wearing one shoe. It wasn’t that she'd lost a shoe; it was that her foot received a nasty burn, four days prior. After consulting with the girl’s grandmother, two team members who are medical majors cleaned and bandaged the wound. They returned the following day with supplies to care for the wound. This is another example of why having teams on the ground is so important. Visiting teams have direct contact with a community and are able to focus in on specific needs.

As Trish said, Sowers4Pastors never wants to elevate their position as missionaries to make things all about them. They fully see their role as one of equipping local pastors to do their jobs more effectively. The Sister Church Program is great because one North American church is able to focus on one Honduran church. From Sowers4Pastors' perspective, it’s about making connections. The partnership between Sowers4Pastors and sister church sponsors is a little bit like wearing progressive lenses. There’s no need to choose between seeing the big picture and noticing the details in fine print!

 - posted by Christi

So You Want To Be a Citizen, Blah, Blah, Blah

Trish is back on U.S. soil and she brought the world’s cutest carry-on bag with her. Well, actually, I’m not sure who carried Nathan. It could have been Rachel, his mother. But I do know that Trish, Rachel, and Nathan are all in Florida on what is surely the most official business of Nathan’s entire seventeen months of living! They are here seeking U.S. citizenship for Nathan. Unfortunately, his citizenship will not be based on his cuteness level, so his mom and Nana have come prepared.

If you’re ever in need of some bedtime reading, you can check out the U.S. Department of State’s web page for “Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship by a Child Born Abroad”. It’s a riveting read--compared with say, the phone book, or the list of ingredients on your shampoo bottle. If you’re interested in learning about Nathan’s particular situation, you can skip to the section titled, “Birth Abroad in Wedlock to a U.S. Citizen and an Alien”. In this case, it means that Rachel, a U.S. Citizen, married Brandy, a Honduran, and little Nathan was born in Honduras.

There’s a bunch of other stuff about year of birth, blah, blah, blah… But wait! Those “blah, blahs” are important because the rules vary from one case to the other. The “blah, blahs” clearly state that since Nathan was born on or after November 14, 1986, in order for Rachel’s citizenship to guarantee Nathan’s, she would have had to live in the U.S. for five years prior to Nathan’s birth. Whew. She did that. No problemo, right? Wrong. If you read further down in the “blah, blah’s,” you see that at least two of those years would have to have been when she was fourteen or older. And that is a problemo! Rachel has lived in Honduras since she was nine.

Fortunately, there are some more obscure “blah, blahs,” and that’s where Trish comes in. Trish, meeting all of the requirements, may be able to pass citizenship along to a child in her direct lineage. Now, it’s not an automatic thing, but it’s the best available option. So far, it has involved filling out a slew of forms and having Rachel and Brandy pay the required fees. The application was received by the embassy and now Nathan, Rachel, and Trish are there for an in-person interview at the U.S. embassy in Tampa. Nathan was granted a Visa so that he could make this trip.

Trish has no idea what questions will be asked, but they’ve already provided things like birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc… They also had to show documentation for each time Trish has entered or exited the U.S. over her lifetime. (That’s why Trish is a better candidate than Allen, the former missionary kid, who did much more international traveling as a child!)

Once Nathan’s citizenship is approved, Rachel will apply for his U.S. passport. At a later time, this process can be repeated for RJ and Abby to obtain citizenship. It should be a little easier since they’ve already gathered the necessary information on Trish.

While in the U.S., Rachel is going to be doing a little traveling to meet with supporters of her ministry and do fundraising. Since she grew up in Honduras, Rachel doesn’t have as many U.S. connections as Allen and Trish. Obtaining citizenship for Nathan will allow her to make future trips to visit churches and share her ministry with interested people. Trish will be visiting relatives, doing a little chauffeuring for Rachel (who doesn’t have a U.S. driver’s license), and doing her regular work over the internet.

The embassy interview is January 9th. Prayers are appreciated!

 - posted by Christi