Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Youth Group for Manna 4 Lempira

6th Grade Graduate!
Manna 4 Lempira is growing up! When the program started, back in 2015, the majority of the children registered into the program were in early elementary school. In the rural villages around Gracias, it's still very common for children to drop out of school before they reach middle school, and the program was designed to encourage these children and their families to set (and achieve) higher educational goals.

Today, we can see definite progress in this - each year, greater numbers of children in the program continue on into middle school and even high school! This is fabulous news . . . and it has also created a need for some new developments in the program. The activities and events planned to appeal to the younger children aren't that appealing to the same children as they enter their teens. Sowers4Pastors has recognized the need for tweaking, in order to meet the needs of these older children.

There are two main reasons Kim Hall, director of the Manna sponsorship program, is working diligently to make new, youth-oriented events happen:

Reason #1

Some of the older kids have been dropping out of the program because it’s not cool to hang with the little kids. They are still in Sunday school, but they don’t want to attend the Manna events.

The goal is to create an environment of discipleship to help the youth feel more like they belong. While Kim and her husband, Jonathan, have good relationships with the older kids, they recognize the need to have a Honduran step in and take over the role of youth minister.

Solid youth involvement is needed to create an environment where the kids are encouraged to continue their education.

Reason #2

9th Grade Graduate!
Churches need leaders! A youth program is an ideal place to train up the future leaders of the church. Now is the time to start this new aspect of the program, because the kids are going back to school shortly. Kim said, “We don’t want to wait until sometime down the road when we’ve lost kids.”

Raising leaders isn't an aspect of the Manna program that the Halls or the Sowers had considered initially, but it is vital for what they want to accomplish.

And for those who ask, "How does a sponsorship program fit in with the Sowers4Pastors goal of empowering Honduran pastors?" here is part of the answer! In order to grow their churches, pastors need individuals who are prepared to take on leadership tasks.

Too Cool for School? Not Deep Down!

Whenever Kim and Jonathan pay a visit to a Manna center, the younger kids excitedly rush to greet them, while the older kids act in a way that Kim calls “too cool for school”. The older kids often hang back and tease the younger ones as they pose for pictures and wait excitedly for letters from their sponsors. At Christmas time, one of the “too cool for school” crowd had been sort of heckling the little kids. But, when it was time for Joe Cool to receive a letter from his sponsor and turn in his mail for his sponsor, the 15-year-old boy pulled out a letter in an envelope cut into a big heart shape, complete with glitter that said, “I love you!”

Kim said, “That is a good picture of what we’re trying to do. The kids have a heart for the program, but culturally, it isn’t cool. We need to change that.”

 - posted by Christi

Monday, January 20, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions that Shock Us

Allen, Trish, and Russell welcome questions from people interested in learning more about the Sowers4Pastors ministry. Naturally, some of the questions get asked time and time again. Here are a couple of the more surprising things they get asked repeatedly: 

Shocking Question #1

Now that we hear so much from you about feeding children and giving them backpacks so they can go to school, are you still a Christian organization, or are you just humanitarian?

(Shocking, right?)

Allen’s Non-Shocking Answer #1

Our primary focus is now, and will continue to be, empowering and enabling indigenous pastors to spread the Gospel. All of the things we do are a part of that. We believe in helping people with their physical needs so we can also help with the spiritual. 

There is always a tie-in between a pastor and the people receiving the benefit. We always make a point of stressing that children in the feeding and sponsorship programs are fed both physically and spiritually. This is done to advance the Gospel. 

We are not trying to compete with humanitarian organizations, such as USAID, which provide aid from a strictly humanitarian standpoint. If we were, we would just quit what we're doing, and work with USAID - because they pay their employees more than a missionary will ever earn. We are meeting physical needs partly out of compassion and partly as a way of advancing the Gospel. Both of those reasons are very much in line with Jesus’s teachings. 

Shocking Question #2

We know that you’re all about being highly effective with your money and time. So, what’s the deal with backpacks? It's a nice thing to do, but what difference does it really make?

Allen’s Non-Shocking Answer #2

We see children, all the time, who cannot attend school as a direct result of their families not having the resources to purchase the required school supplies.

As we have said in other blog posts (like this one, for instance), typically every three backpacks handed out will result in one child who would not otherwise be able to attend school receiving this opportunity. Another one of those three backpacks will help a family who was making extreme sacrifices to send their child to school. The third backpack will lighten the financial burden for a family, even though their child would most likely have attended school without the gift. 

We’re seeing children who are now able to stay in school for more years. A child who might have received two years of schools may go for three or four. Children who might have dropped out after 4th grade are making it through middle school. More children are going into high school. There are even a few kids getting ready to go to college. We’ve only been doing this program for five years, but we are seeing kids going to the next level of whatever they would have otherwise achieved.

Overall, we are changing the mindset of these communities. Education is becoming more important. It’s a sort of positive peer pressure. There is an awakening to the value of an education. 

We have pastors asking, “Will you start a program with our church?” The school board for a county came to us and asked, “Will you start a program with us?” The problem is that we are collecting 8000 backpacks, but we work in an area with 800,000 kids - that’s only 1%. We’re having a huge impact, but currently only in certain communities. We're making a dent, but the need is much larger!

Allen adds:

We would love to be able to supply a lot more then 8,000 children, as soon as possible. It breaks my heart to think that each year, more children are falling through the cracks! We are hoping that people will not wait until August to begin gearing up for filling backpacks. We need groups to get behind this NOW, so they'll have backpacks ready for us to collect in the fall. Pastors, schools, and entire communities are begging us to implement the program in their locations, but there is a limit to the number of backpacks we have. I keep hoping that one year  - maybe 2020? - we’ll have so many backpacks, we'll need to ship a third container!

Trish adds:

We're already traveling to most parts of the U.S. to collect the backpacks. If you're already filling backpacks in your home location, maybe you can reach out to friends and family in another place, and see if they'd help, too. I'd love to see this be the year of the third container!

 - posted by Christi

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Very Informative Phone Call - Part 2

This post picks up where the last one left off. To recap Part 1, like an announcer trained in speed talking: Containers are in. Boxes were a mess. Backpacks, shoes, and tax paperwork are sorted. They’re getting ready to distribute backpacks and do some sponsorship program “housekeeping." There. Consider yourself up to speed. Better yet, read the previous post! Now, on to Part 2.

Before the teams start arriving at the end of January, the vehicles have also been getting some attention. The trucks that will transport teams are getting new tires and brake work. Nothing goes to waste, so the older tires are being put on the farm vehicles. It’s much easier to deal with a flat tire on the farm than on the roads to and from the airport or feeding centers. They do what they can to avoid having flat tires when transporting teams. Besides the tires and brakes, the vehicles are getting any other needed repairs. You’re welcome, teams!

The solar panels are also getting an update. With the additional people living and working on the property, the old system wasn’t able to keep up. The old system is still in working order, so it will now be used to power Allen and Trish’s new-to-them home, the bodega, and the multi-purpose building. The new system will be used for Russell and Iris’s home.

Click HERE to see a video of work on the solar power system!

While Russell and eight crew members worked to sort through backpacks and shoes for the children who will be receiving them, additional temporary workers were brought on to help maintain the farm. Since the second harvest was completed, there’s a lot to be done. The men worked to hoe between the trees and remove the weeds. Currently, they are fertilizing the coffee. There’s a big rush to get the fertilizer in before the last rains of the season. The rain activates the fertilizer so it will still be doing its fertilizer thing during the dry season.

Because there just wasn’t enough going on in this plot, Allen has also rented twenty-nine bee hives for the next month. The farm already had two hives of their own. The bees will, well, be as busy as bees while the coffee is flowering. Hopefully, this additional pollination will increase productivity and improve the coffee for next season’s harvest.

Click HERE to see a video about renting bees!

In case you’re wondering where one goes to rent bee hives, that’s a pretty cool story, too. One of the local pastors is known as the area bee master. The bees give him a source of income and helps out the farmers. He rents the bees to people who grow melons and other crops. This man really is an expert in the field. He is known as a queen maker because he has learned how to manipulate the colonies of bees so they produce a second queen - then he harvests the new queens and sells them to those wishing to start colonies. The bee pastor is currently spending about two hours each day on the Sowers' coffee farm.

Allen has also been working to get a number of school projects underway, thanks to a donor who wants his donations to be used for this purpose. Allen was able to find three schools that meet the donor’s criteria and he’s working on getting the paperwork together. These projects will involve building 6-8 classrooms. Eventually, there could be as many as 14 new classrooms built, in multiple schools. The projects will also include construction of multi-purpose buildings and a school cafeteria.

Russell recently made a day trip to Tegucigalpa. The generous group that helped Sowers4Pastors purchase food to provide children with two nutritious meals for a penny had one request. They asked that some of the food go to a location in Tegucigalpa. While there, Russell was able to see Rachel, since that is where she lives, and he dropped off the boxes which came in the shipping container for her family and ministry.

Speaking of the food to feed children two meals for a penny . . . Allen’s birthday fundraiser was a smashing success. Through donations on Facebook and the Sowers4Pastors website, enough money was raised to purchase three containers of food. That equates to 1.5 million meals! Thank you all so much!

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Very Informative Phone Call - Part 1

Sometimes, there is so much information tossed around during a weekly phone call to discuss blog topics that one post morphs into two. That was the case during a recent “This is what’s going on with us,” phone call.

The Maryland container arrived on December 31st. Whew! As you probably know, getting both the Florida and the Maryland containers through customs was a bit more challenging this year. The Honduran government has gotten more strict. In order to fulfill their new requirements, customs officials need to go through each container with an extreme level of thoroughness. That meant that most every box was opened and gone through. Not surprising, customs officials weren’t quite as meticulous with the repacking process as the volunteers who originally packed the boxes.

Click HERE to see a video of the container from Maryland being unloaded in Honduras!

After the containers arrived, the good folks on the ground with Sowers4Pastors and Manna 4 Lempira got to sort through the contents of 1600 medium-size Home Depot boxes, and organize 8,000 backpacks. The Manna 4 Lempira sponsors sent in backpacks from all over the country. One sponsor might send many backpacks in one box, but the backpacks are not all going to the same sponsorship center. All of the backpacks had to be put in order according to the location of the children who will receive them. This was Priority 1 because the first two teams that will arrive in a stream of back-to-back teams will be handing out backpacks. On top of that, there’s the urgency that it will soon be time for the children to begin the new school year.

Click HERE to see a video of Russell and the crew sorting backpacks! 

Click HERE to see another video of Russell and Crew sorting boxes!

Since each child to receive a backpack will also get a new pair of school shoes, there were 3000 pairs of shoes in the container, and these needed to be sorted by size. Sowers4Pastors purchases shoes wholesale, but the company doesn’t stock the sizes on the very small or large end of the spectrum. The additional shoes needed were ordered from a local distributor. The shoes will be made in the correct sizes, especially for this purpose. Most days, eight crew members are working with Russell to get the shoes and backpacks sorted.

Click HERE to see a video of Russell and the crew sorting shoes!

While this fun has been happening, Trish and Kelsea have been going through piles and piles of paperwork. They are organizing thousands of receipts. They are hoping to have it all organized to send to the accountant in Florida by the end of this week. Kirstin, who is visiting for a week, will  return home toting an extra suitcase filled with the receipts and sorted paperwork!

There is NO VIDEO of Kelsea and Trish doing paperwork. How boring would that be?

It is also time for some “housekeeping” for the Manna 4 Lempira sponsorship programs and the feeding centers. The Sowerses and Kim Hall work diligently to stay on top of everything, by removing children from the program as soon as they learn that the child has moved or left school. 2019 was a particularly transient year for people in the area. Even though Sowers4Pastors and Manna 4 Lempira work on this throughout the year, it is expected that they will discover some children who need to be removed from the rolls. So, while the backpack distribution takes place, and some new children will be registered into the program, this will also be a time when the lists will be updated regarding any children who have departed from the program.

If you think that was a lot of information, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Stay tuned for Part 2 of A Very Informative Phone Call.

 - posted by Christi

Monday, January 6, 2020

Joy to the World!

Anyone who has ever hosted a Christmas party knows it can be both joyous and exhausting. Manna 4 Lempira’s director, Kim Hall, recently got to experience at least five times the joy and five times the exhaustion when hosting five parties for the children in the program, on four consecutive days.

Parties were thrown for the children in the Mercedes, Betania, Quelacasque, and Tablon sponsorship centers. In case you’re checking my math (which is always a good practice!), you’ve probably realized that only adds up to four parties. The Hall family also hosted a party at their home for the children from Tablon who live in town, as well as for the neighborhood kids.

Like any fun party, these five events involved food, decorations, and games. Perhaps you’re not used to thinking of party food on such a grand scale. Luz Maria, who lives with the Hall family, and her sister made 1650 tamales for the festivities. For three days, the tamale-making duo made 450 tamales a day! On the fourth day, they got to take it easy by making only 300 tamales! All of this preparation took place in the Hall’s kitchen.

Cakes, sodas, plates, forks, and cups also had to be procured. These lived in the Hall’s basement in the days leading up to the parties. Each morning of a party, they would go to the basement and count out how many cakes and supplies were needed for that day.

Instead of giving out toys for Christmas presents, a new Bible was given to each child. The churches which house the feeding programs also received Christmas gifts - they were given plates and cups for the kids to use during the regular feeding events. Without these thoughtful gifts, the kids have to bring their own plates from home. The pastors and other volunteers were very thankful for the good quality plates and cups.

Each party involved games and prizes. Then it was time for the work of hosting to begin. There were tamales to unwrap, cakes to cut, and sodas to pour. There were also lots and lots of photos to take. Each child was photographed wearing some Christmas-y tinsel and/or reindeer antlers. Kim is not complaining, but her back is still feeling the effect of stooping down to take the adorable photos.

Getting to the locations was extra challenging. It hadn’t rained in two months until the days of the parties. During the dry season, the roads were “repaired”. The repairs amounted to putting a thick layer of fresh dirt on the roads. You may remember from school that dirt+rain=mud. There was so much mud that Kim had to pull over to let an experienced Honduran driver take over on a dangerous stretch of road.

In a sad postscript, one of the children, Jeison, had an accident the day after he attended a party. On Christmas morning, Jeison died from injuries he received falling from the back of a pickup truck. Just the Saturday before, he had been eating tamales and cake, playing games, and posing for a picture with tinsel around his neck. At the hospital, Jeison’s grandma told Kim that he arrived home from the party so excited and happy. Everyone is grateful that Jeison’s mother will have that final memory of Christmas joy.

When reflecting about the parties, Kim spoke of the joy, the work, and the heartache. She said, “The joy was there, but there were also other parts. I don’t think the first Christmas was all joyful either. Life here is not always happy, but there is joy.”

 - posted by Christi

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Kirstin is Coming to Town!

You may recall a recent post about the need for a Russell clone--someone who would be willing to move to Honduras and work for free. Perhaps you were a bit skeptical about the likelihood of that happening. Afterall, that’s a pretty specific request. Today, it is with much rejoicing that we announce the answer to this prayer. No, there isn’t an actual Russell clone running around. But there is someone with his shared DNA who is getting ready to move to Gracias. Kirstin - Allen and Trish's oldest daughter - is coming to town! And Allen and Trish couldn’t be happier.

Kirstin at the far left, with her siblings
(except for Ben) and Nathan
Kirstin has been thinking and praying about coming down and working with the ministry for at least a year. While this wasn’t a brand new idea, she was committed to helping Boo and Gus (You may know them as Bethany and Christopher) get through nursing school. Since they will both graduate this spring, Kirstin is planning on moving in late May or early June.

Additionally, Trish’s sister-in-law, Jennifer Irvin, unexpectedly volunteered to take on some of the office work that can be done from anywhere in the world. You might already know that dealing with paperwork is not Trish’s favorite thing. On the scale of things she dislikes, paperwork falls somewhere below finding a scorpion in her bed and somewhere above being kidnapped. She has been feeling overwhelmed by paperwork since Sowers4Pastors became a 501c3, or an independent not-for-profit charity. (Anytime you have to combine letters and numbers to describe something, you just know it’s not fun.)

This angel of mercy in the form of a sister-in-law is about to graduate her youngest homeschooled child, so some hours have been freed up in her schedule. Trish admits that she might have complained about the burden of the paperwork when she saw her sister-in-law around the time of Boo’s wedding. Even so, she never expected this generous and selfless offer. As Trish says, “That was a huge, big deal!”

Jennifer, with her husband (Trish's
brother), Brad
“Obviously, we’ve been putting out prayer requests for help," Trish continued, "and help is arriving!”

The fact that part of the help is coming in the form of one of her children is the icing on the answered prayer cake! Trish describes Kirstin as a super-conscientious and wanting to do whatever will help the ministry the most. She is happy to do anything that is needed, even if that thing isn’t her top preference. While she has her bachelors in nursing and will certainly take the lead when medical situations arise, Kirstin anticipates doing a variety of work for the ministry - including working with teams and helping with the never-ending paperwork.

With the addition of Kelsea in early 2018, and Kim & Jonathan Hall a year ago, and now Jennifer and Kirstin, Sowers4Pastors' volunteer staff has been steadily growing. With the new opportunity for the ministry to acquire meals at a cost of two meals per child for a penny, there is an expectation that the ministry work may do some expanding. Trish said, “It's exciting to see that, as God opens up more opportunities for us to minister, He is also giving us the help we need, in order to handle the additional work.”

 - posted by Christi

Friday, December 27, 2019

One of Those Days

Think about one of those times when everything seems to go right. Maybe you find $20 in your coat pocket, hit all green lights on your way to work, and are having a really good hair day. Those days are great, right? Well, hold onto that feeling because this blogpost is not about one of those days. Getting the Florida shipping container has felt more like tearing a big hole in your favorite pants, getting rear-ended in an intersection, and finding out you have ringworm.

When filling shipping containers, Allen and the volunteers are very careful to prioritize the items that have arrived. Highest priority is always given to an item that has been sent by a sponsor for a specific child that they sponsor. Getting those items into the hands of the right children is a promise made to sponsors. We also receive backpacks which are "generic," and can be given to any child, and these are lower in priority. Top priority items are placed on the shipping containers first to reduce the chance that something could happen to them in Customs. While Customs has the absolute authority to go through each item on a container, Sowers4Pastors has never had that happen. Until now.

Each box on the Florida container was examined. The container was almost completely unloaded and re-loaded. When the container arrived in Gracias, it wasn’t a matter of pulling out the neatly packed boxes that had been stacked onto the container in Florida. This is the reason Sowers4Pastors requests that each backpack be individually tagged. It is not enough to merely label a box - as items can be removed from boxes during this process.

Trish described the current scene by saying, “It’s like going into the home of a hoarder and asking, ‘Is the purse I carried at graduation here?’ We don’t know yet what we have and what we don’t have.”

The smallest program that should be receiving designated backpacks is the Sister Church Program for Fredericktowne Baptist Church, with “only” 100 children. In order to tell them what has arrived, Sowers4Pastors would need to sort through each item on the entire container. Then they would be able to check that one group off their list.

In the nicest way possible, sponsors are being asked to not contact Sowers4Pastors to ask if the items they sent are present and accounted for. This is a slow process and there simply aren’t answers to those questions yet. There are some items that were placed on the container in Florida, that haven't yet been located, in this ongoing process.

Please pray for the effort in sorting through the contents of the Florida container. It’s a lot of tedious work, and they need to work fast because the Maryland container is going through customs now. There is a very good chance that it will arrive in the same condition. Remember that Honduras is not the U.S. Trish pointed out that things that shouldn’t happen sometimes do happen. To put it in perspective, Trish said, “We sort of assume that things will go sideways and are thrilled when things go well.”

 - posted by Christi