Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Backpacks: NOW is the time to get excited about this!

Just like the first daffodil in bloom signals the beginning of spring, the first sale on school supplies signals backpack season. The minute you see the big bins of crayons, pencils, glue sticks, and composition books beside a giant cardboard cut-out of a school bus at Target or Walmart, you can bet your sweet bippy that Sowers4Pastors is gearing up for backpack season.

The big bins of school supplies are out in force, and Allen has been buying and sending out thousands of backpacks in need of filling. If you've been thinking about filling backpacks, and you've waited to commit, it's still not quite too late! At this point, if you'd like to get involved, you will need to meet the Sowerses, with your backpacks, somewhere along the cross-country route they will driving for backpack collection.

To give you some idea of the time frame, they will begin collecting backpacks in the Seattle area during the first week of September. It will take about a month for the journey to end, though. So, the further along the route you are from Seattle, the more time you will have to fill backpacks. It’s not too late to get your church or other organization involved!

The rough travel route is Seattle, down through California to Phoenix, up to Colorado Springs, east on I-70 to Kansas, then up to Minnesota, to Chicago and then down through Indiana, hitting Columbus Ohio and then northeastern Ohio and Pennsylvania . . . down the west side of Pennsylvania to Maryland. That's the first part of the trip.

Then, starting up in Concord New Hampshire, down I-95 to Boston, through the eastern side of Pennsylvania, and along the east coast of Virginia, over to Atlanta, and back to the east to end up in New Smyrna Beach Florida.

The final leg includes Mississippi, the Florida panhandle, and central Florida, ending again in New Smyrna Beach.

If you're anywhere along that route, and you'd like to fill some backpacks, to help children in Honduras have the opportunity to go to school - NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT! Contact Trish at sowers4pastors dot com to get started.

Here are some tips, for handling the backpacks once they are filled with school supplies:

When fitting the backpacks into shipping boxes, please remember to fill the boxes to overflowing. Sometimes people think the boxes should be underfilled to keep them lighter. Sometimes people think it is more important to separate the backpacks going to sponsored kids from those going to non-sponsored children. However, a fully packed box takes priority over all other these other considerations. Sowers4Pastors uses medium size packing boxes from Home Depot. Having a standard box size allows them to fill the rental trucks to capacity! Once those boxes reach the shipping containers, they are stacked six boxes high. When you pile that many on top of the other, the boxes at the bottom become crushed or torn if they are not full. Torn, broken boxes create a mess on the Honduras end of things!

This video (here's the link, for those reading by email) gives you a sneak peak into
what happens with your boxes of backpacks, after they leave your hands . . . and 

how you can help ensure the safe delivery of these backpacks, and also lesson the
workload for the volunteers in Maryland and Florida, who help us prep
HUNDREDS of boxes of backpacks, for each shipping container!

Last year, in Florida and Maryland, where they do the prep work for the shipping containers, Sowers4Pastors had crews of volunteers unpacking and repacking the boxes. Any gaps were filled with used clothing. The video above should answer any questions you may have about the best way to pack a box.

Even though backpack season is a huge undertaking, it’s important to note that while Sowers4Pastors is working on backpacks, the other parts of their ministry continue. Even the backpacks are a part of a bigger picture. It is not strictly a humanitarian effort. Of course, the filled backpacks allow children to attend school. They also help the pastors connect with and serve their communities.

 - posted by Christi

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Unsung Heroes

It seems that if your last name is Sowers, at some point you can expect to be asked to talk to me about a blog post. My most recent phone call with the Sowerses was a special treat because it was the first time I actually got to speak with Iris. (RJ and Abby should go ahead and start preparing their blog topics because they’re next on the list.) Iris shared about an appreciation conference held on Saturday, July 20 for the wives of pastors in the area around Gracias. They are unsung heroes.

The pastors' wives, and the team from Alabama
In case you’ve forgotten, a fellow missionary named Clay Powell is in charge of the teaching at Pastor Training School. Sowers4Pastors contributes financially, but Clay raises most of the funds and handles the day-to-day work of the school. Clay’s wife, Cynthia, raised the funds for the very special conference. None of the money contributed toward the operation of Pastor Training School was diverted for the event. A team of women from Alabama helped raise money and then came down to run the conference.

The pastors’ wives spend a lot of time holding down the fort while their husbands are out running their ministries. Iris was able to witness some of the conference firsthand,as she was in charge of the worship music. She was very honored to be a part of it. Iris described how happy the women were to have a special event designed to recognize them and give them a little time to refuel their spiritual tanks.

The team from Alabama washed the feet of the approximately forty pastors' wives in attendance. Iris said it was an emotional time. The women from Alabama also talked about their lives and shared their testimonies with the crowd.

Iris (singing), and the rest of the worship team at the conference

As at most women’s conferences, there were beautiful decorations. The pastor’s wives even stayed over at the Training School facilities on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the dedicated pastors got to spend some time holding down the fort at home and caring for their children.

RJ and Abby had better bring their “A” games if they want to come up with sweeter topics than this one.

 - posted by Christi

Note from Trish - there were so many beautiful, touching photos from this event, I had trouble choosing which ones to use (which might explain why this post is a bit picture-heavy). If you'd like to see more of the photos, they can be found here. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Why Trish Became a Cartographer For a Day

Pastor Lorenzo, of Guacutao, with his
ministry motorcycle
If you follow Trish on Facebook (and if you don’t, you really should), you may remember that back in June she was tasked with creating a map of eighteen specific locations. This was a little more advanced than a middle school social studies project. She was asked to map locations even Google Maps hasn’t dared to tackle. Why, you ask? (Thanks for asking, by the way.) Trish became a cartographer for the day because of a request by the congregation of Edgewater Alliance Church. They requested to see all of the places Pastor Lorenzo Rivera ministers.

Edgewater Alliance is the sister church of Pastor Lorenzo’s church in Guacutao. The church has been supporting Pastor Lorenzo’s work for four years and they wanted to expand that help to include the churches under his supervision.

As you can see from the map, Pastor Lorenzo regularly logs a lot of miles. He is based out of Guacutao but tries to visit each of the 17 other villages at least once a month. The distance beside each location shows the kilometers from there to Guacutao. Pastor Lorenzo is his denomination’s main supervisor for this area. He pastors churches in Guacutao, Posa Verde, and Arenales. All of the villages on the map are in the department (like a state) of Lempira, but they span at least five counties.

A full ⅔ of the locations on the map are so remote they aren’t shown on Google Maps, even using the satellite version - which is why Trish needed to create this map.  The journey from one village to another isn’t a piece of cake. The distance from Guacutao to Montanita is a whopping 86 kilometers (approx. 53 miles). That might not sound like much if you don’t realize that trip required at least four different vehicles, as he had no transportation of his own. The trip to Montanita required an entire day of travel time. The trip home wasn’t any faster.

What it looks like when the team from Sowers4Pastors goes
to the city to pick up motorcycles for pastors
With the help of the people at Edgewater Alliance, Pastor Lorenzo was able to get a motorcycle. Now, the trip to Montanita is a much more manageable four hours. He is still doing the same work, but now he’s trying to hit an even larger area.

You should be interested to know that, even with all of his responsibilities, Pastor Lorenzo still doesn’t get paid to fulfill these duties. He supports his family through coffee farming. Sadly, he lost most of his coffee plants due to the recent drought. The Sowerses have the means to take measures to keep their plants at a healthier level, and because of that, their coffee plants were able to survive the unusually dry season. Many people in the area don’t have the funds to invest in their plants, and lost numerous coffee plant this year. It’s the same sort of reason so many in the area are now struggling with food.

Currently, there are matching funds available for helping pastors like Pastor Lorenzo purchase a motorcycle. For every $500 donation to the motorcycle ministry, this other donor will match that amount. The pastor then kicks in $600 toward the purchase. If you would be interested in helping someone like Pastor Lorenzo obtain a motorcycle, you can make donations on the Sowers4Pastors website.

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Read This One in Italics: The feeding centers are experiencing a food crisis!

Chatting with any member of the Sowers family is normally incredibly uplifting. Generally speaking, you leave a conversation ready to go out and serve God! Allen, Trish, and Russell are not ones to over-sensationalize things. So, when my most recent weekly phone call with Allen and Trish felt like a punch in the gut, I knew things were dire. The feeding centers are experiencing a food crisis. In case that doesn’t make you tear up, you should probably read it again in italics. The feeding centers are experiencing a food crisis!

Several weeks ago, Allen and Trish requested prayer regarding the fact that the food supply for the feeding centers was running low. To date, that problem has not been resolved. Basically, what happened is there has simply been too much of an outcry for food worldwide. A lot of groups have refocused their efforts on feeding children in North America, which is also a noble cause. However, it has left organizations like Sowers4Pastors in a lurch. Add to this a hard winter in northern states, which resulted in lower food production, crises in Africa, and political unrest in Haiti (which has resulted in a food shortage) and you have the perfect storm.

The backup suppliers that Sowers4Pastors would normally turn to don’t have any food either. Often these groups will borrow food from each other, but so far everyone Allen has spoken with has been out of food, or the food is already committed. There doesn't seem to be any food to borrow.

To top it off, Lempira has just experienced one of its longest dry seasons. There was an early start to the most recent dry season, so that was extra long. Then, once the rainy season arrived, there hasn’t been as much rain as usual. Families that would normally be relying on their gardens for food at this time of year have stunted plants that aren’t producing well. This is hitting families from all socioeconomic brackets. The people who typically make decent livings as coffee growers are being forced to use the coffee money they would normally use for other things, to purchase food they would typically grow. It has put a tremendous amount of stress on everyone. As Trish said, “When you live in an area where people are living right on the line of survival, it doesn’t take much to cross over that line.”

Normally, Sowers4Pastors operates 150 feeding centers, which feed 14,000 children two meals each week. At this point, between 60-70 feeding centers are completely out of food. Allen has advised the centers that still have a small supply of food to begin feeding only once a week. You may recall that they feed twice per week because that is what it takes to stave off chronic malnutrition.

Sowers4Pastors has been in Lempira for twelve years. At the time they arrived, an estimated 50% of children suffered from chronic malnutrition or starvation. Things are quickly returning to the conditions of twelve years ago. Even pastors who don’t normally operate feeding centers are requesting to open a Sowers4Pastors feeding center because their communities are hungry. The Sowers are being forced to turn them away.

The normal operating costs for feeding 14,000 children two meals a week is only $560 per week. If Sowers4Pastors was to buy food locally of a variety that is similarly fortified, which would cost approximately 50 cents per meal, they would be looking at a whopping $14,000 per week. Naturally, that amount is not in the budget. Unless a lot of people begin sending a lot of money, purchasing food locally is simply not an option.

Currently, the best-case scenario concerning the arrival of a food shipment is five weeks out. That is in no way guaranteed. If another crisis occurs anywhere in the world, there is a good chance of that shipment being diverted. Because this has been a problem for a while, even the feeding centers with a supply of food do not have the amount they would normally have. For months now, Sowers4Pastors has been giving centers a one-month supply of food, versus the 3-month supply they would normally give.

What can you do? Pray. Allen requested that you pray they will find food and that they will find it fast. Pray for the families struggling to survive. Sowers4Pastors continues to aggressively follow up on all possible leads. If you have ever helped pack meals for the program and have any leads on a possible food supplier, please contact Trish or Allen.

You can also donate, through the Sowers4Pastors website - choose the "Feeding Center Program" to designate the donation toward this need.

Thanks so much for your prayers, donations and any contacts you may have, to help us resolve this difficult situation!

 - posted by Christi

Monday, July 8, 2019

Inspirational Memes

Just Keep Swimmin'

Over the last few months, you’ve probably noticed a lot of photos, posted on the Sowers4Pastors Facebook page, of gringos taking Honduran children to the swimming pool. Do not be misled into thinking that Allen, Trish, and Russell have started an offshoot ministry called Sowers4Swimming. Still, there are good reasons for those swimming photos. Once you know those reasons, you’re sure to join the “Just keep swimming,” bandwagon.

While it’s true that taking a bunch of kids swimming doesn’t seem to fit with the Sowers4Pastors ministry goal of helping pastors, they would like you to know the story behind those outings. For starters, whenever you see someone from Sowers4Pastors with gringos at a pool, you are seeing sponsors taking the children they sponsor swimming for a fun day. This is 100% funded by the sponsors taking part in the activity. The day o’ swimming fun costs $10 per person. Each sponsor pays for him or herself, as well as any kids they bring to the pool. They are also paying for the photographer and other expenses associated with this. Absolutely no funds are being diverted from money given to sponsor children, or from money donated for other parts of the ministry.

You might be wondering what the benefits of these excursions are. For starters, Allen and Trish said they definitely find that sponsors who are able to connect with the kids they sponsor on a personal level are best able to mentor those children. The sponsored kids with strong sponsor relationships are more likely to stay in school and are encouraged in their faith. These types of connections are easier to make when sponsors and kids are involved together in fun activities, rather than when they're awkwardly standing around talking outside a school or church, surrounded by a crowd of other people.

As for the other benefits for the kids…

Many of the children in the sponsorship programs are from families that rarely leave their small villages. The vast majority of their families don’t have vehicles. The parents aren’t driving the kids to organized sports activities, piano lessons, museums, field trips, and vacations. The kids are in a very enclosed environment. They aren’t even going to the mall or movie theater (the nearest theater that Trish knows of is 3 hours drive from Gracias).

Trish said, “A lot of people in the U.S. idealize rural, country living. I like it, too. It’s nice to know your kids are outside playing and not sitting around looking at their screens. But one thing parents in the U.S. can do that these parents can’t, is to expose their kids to different experiences. You give your kids piano lessons, even though you realize they aren't likely to become professional musicians, and gymnastics classes without a goal of the child becoming an Olympian. Exposing children to various events and activities opens their minds, makes them curious, and broadens their interests. The kids in the remote mountain villages of western Honduras get very little of this kind of exposure to new and different things.”

Allen described the swimming pools as the most miniature of mini theme parks, with multiple pools and slides. To the sponsored children, it’s gigantic. They may previously have only ever been swimming in a rainy season river. This day is a very big deal for these children - more like a trip to Disneyland for a US child.

If you're viewing this post by email, click here to see video

Most of the kids do not own swimsuits. The sponsors provide their children with suits. They often bring swimsuits from the U.S. Many teams hit up the used clothing stores in Gracias to buy swimsuits for their sponsored kids. Teams bring fun things like big inflatables. It is a big, cool event, which is a supplement to the sponsorship program.

Allen put it into perspective when he said, “This may be the most fun, out-of-the-ordinary day these kids ever experience. It will be the day ingrained in their minds as a special day. For many of the kids, even ten and twelve-year-olds, this is the first time they’ve ever eaten a restaurant meal. They’ve never had that experience. This is part of what they get that day. The sponsors can give it to them for $10.”

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Little Fires and Fire Extinguishers

When you think about the characteristics needed to be a successful missionary, you might think of things like a love of God, a desire to serve, and an ability to put up with the occasional possum in the kitchen. While those characteristics are necessary, they don’t tell the whole story. To be a successful missionary in a developing country, you need to know when to put out little fires and when to hand someone else a fire extinguisher. (Clever turn of phrase complements of Allen.)

Just this week, a stranger showed up to talk to Allen about a pressing need. The stranger had been to see the county commissioner, and the county commissioner had suggested he see Allen.

The stranger's “little fire” is actually quite significant. He was there because of a serious situation affecting about ten thousand people. There is a water system that feeds into ten communities. The source of water is high in the mountains. The pipe bringing that water down from the mountain crosses a stream and was lying in the stream bed - until a recent storm broke the pipe. While the water line has been patched, it's the rainy season, and another big rainfall can - and likely will - just take it out again. The pipe needs to be elevated out of the stream bed and a small bridge/aqueduct needs to be built to hold it up there.

Allen, Russell, and Trish have been trying to figure out if they can find the time to help with this particular “little fire.” While they don’t really have time to spare, due to other obligations including visiting teams, they aren’t going to leave thousands of people with no reliable source of running water. They are planning to help with a donation of some cable (for the bridge), and by supplying simplified design ideas so the communities can do the work themselves.

Allen said, “There are always fires needing to be put out in a developing country like Honduras. If you’re not careful, you'll spend all of your time dealing with the immediate problems and you will never get around to the larger problems - like helping kids get a better education. Education is a long-term solution! We have to constantly ask ourselves if a particular problem is a fire the community can put out, if we give them a fire extinguisher and an ax to fight it! We’re trying to stay focused on the big picture. We have the constant need to evaluate where we should get involved. In some cases, we can give a little help and then also encourage fire prevention, in the future.”

Trish also pointed out that many of these problem situations would not seem so overwhelming if the community was able to be more on top of things in life. It’s difficult to handle the next little fire when you’re doing all you can just to feed your family and handle the most basic of life’s needs. It's also difficult to come up with solutions to technical problems like this water project issue, when the general level of education in the community is low.

I’m not sure who said this, because Allen and Trish were sort of finishing each other’s sentences at this point, but someone said, “This is the type of problem these communities could potentially resolve for themselves; they shouldn't need to rely on the North Americans for help. Through the long-term efforts to encourage higher levels of education and general health, we’re trying to help these communities get to that place.”

The goal of Sowers4Pastors is to focus on the long-term solutions to problems, and not be constantly sucked into fighting the little fires. Sometimes it's about achieving a balance between what they can do and what the community can do.

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The To-Do and To-Done List

This is not RJ preparing for kindergarten;
it's RJ enjoying the children's museum. 
As you may recall, Sowers4Pastors is hosting five and a half teams in six weeks. When we last spoke, they were in the middle of their four-day period with no teams. Russell pointed out that people often think the Sowerses get a vacation on the days there aren’t teams. In reality, this “lull” gives them four days to prepare for the next two teams that are coming, as well as handling a few other things on the “To-Do” list.

Even though this is no vacation, Russell was able to work in a little family fun by taking Iris, R.J., and Abby along to drop off the last visiting team at the airport in San Pedro. While there, they visited the children’s museum and even saw Toy Story 4, which is about all the extravagance Russell will have for the year. He laughed and said for me to tell you the movie was good, but that you shouldn’t go see it. You should use that money to fill backpacks instead of following in the footsteps of the “wasteful missionary.” The more you know about Russell’s frugal nature, the funnier that statement is.

Abby plays doctor at the children's museum.
Of course, even a day away did include some more practical stops. The family squeezed in a trip to the Honduran equivalent of a Sam’s or Costco where they purchased luxury items, such as bulk dog food. They were also able to pick up some pressure treated tongue and groove flooring for the new house construction. Allen hopes to find some time to work on the house a little over the next two and a half weeks.

Even the working on the blog takes up some of Russell’s team-free time. To be fair, though, that’s a weekly commitment that happens no matter what. Russell is always a champion when it comes to standing on a mountaintop trying to get enough cell reception to give me sufficient fodder for a blog post while hosting a team.

Top on the list of things to accomplish is getting RJ registered for kindergarten. Russell has to get over to sign him up because space at the local bilingual school is very limited.

RJ visits the moon . . . or as close as you can get to that, in San Pedro Sula! 

Russell has been told there are finally motorcycle license plates available in the country! The government's inability to produce motorcycle license plates has been an ongoing issue, requiring Russell to frequently check in on this. Some motorcycle recipients have been without plates for a full two years. It’s great the plates are available, but it will mean a trip into Santa Rosa de Cop├ín to get them, and that's about an hour drive from Gracias.

On safari in San Pedro Sula
Other things on the To-Do list include having a team meeting with the Halls and Kelsea, vehicle maintenance, running Kelsea to the airport so she can fly to a friend’s wedding, and office work.

As mentioned earlier, they are also prepping for the upcoming two teams. That means visits to multiple schools to be sure everything is in order for the teams’ scheduled VBS programs. Melvin started doing that on Monday and is actually a little ahead of schedule. They are now doing the preliminary work for team visits in August.

Russell is catching up with Allen and Trish to discuss all of the things that need to happen this week and beyond. They are also discussing their possible involvement in a new water project for multiple local communities. But that’s another topic for another post. Stay tuned!

 - posted by Christi