Friday, November 15, 2019

An Urgent (or at Least Time-Sensitive) Prayer Request

Sowers4Pastors doesn’t toss the word “urgent” around willy-nilly. That’s why there was some discussion about whether or not it would be a suitable word to use in this blog post. After all, no one has been kidnapped! Still, Allen feels it is perfectly appropriate to say that Sowers4Pastors currently has an urgent prayer request. Trish, the former kidnappee, might have opted to use the term “time-sensitive”. Whichever terminology you prefer, Sowers4Pastors has an amazing opportunity and they haven’t come up with a solution that will make things work.  They are seeking God’s wisdom, and your prayers are requested in this urgent/time-sensitive matter.

As you may know, the Sister Church sponsorship programs are run through the local schools, in partnership with a local pastor. Schools in Honduras are required to have religious teaching and the school administrators are thrilled to have a local pastor come in and teach once a week. This is a blatantly Christian program. In fact, it’s a full-on, non-watered-down, Sunday school program that is being presented to children in public schools.

The Sister Church program also feeds children through their schools. It constitutes a 2-day per week school lunch program. Every child in the local communities where these programs operate is enrolled. And amazing things are happening.

There has been a 40-80% increase in the number of years these children are attending school. Prior to the program, many of them were fortunate to attend school for a total of 3-4 years. Now, most are going to school from K-6th grade.

In Guacutao, the sister church of Edgewater Alliance, things have taken a particularly impressive turn. When the Sowerses first moved to Gracias, Allen referred to Guacutao as the dark side of the moon. It was very isolated and the final seven miles of the trip took an hour to drive, due to the incredibly rough road. When Edgewater became involved, more children started staying in school. Edgewater Alliance began making plans, as they desired to make it possible for the children they sponsor to stay in school beyond elementary school. Middle schools are uncommon. They were looking at setting up a service to transport the children in the back of a pickup to the closest middle school - a drive of about 45 minutes. Amazingly, the government took notice of the number of children in Guacutao who were completing the 6th grade, and a middle school went up on the dark side of the moon!

Other communities are sitting up and taking notice. Sowers4Pastors is getting requests from communities neighboring the areas where they are currently working. The county school boards are asking them to please bring their pastor-led, blatantly Christian teaching into public schools into their counties. (Though they probably aren’t putting it exactly like that!)

That’s pretty spectacular. Right? So what’s the problem? The problem is that Sowers4Pastors simply doesn’t have the manpower to add this to their already packed schedules. Without divine intervention, Allen, Trish, and Russell don’t see how they can pick this up. At the same time, they don’t see how they can say no! The logistics are pretty significant and they don’t take on a new program lightly. They want to be sure that any new program would have the impact the current programs are having.

Forces are at work that will likely take Christian education out of the public school systems at some point in the future. Plus, if Sowers4Pastors waits five years, that means five years worth of kids would never have the opportunity to hear the Gospel presented by a pastor in their school. They would also miss out on the benefits of the feeding program and the all-important years of education. This is a big honkin’ deal!

If Sowers4Pastors was to put out a job advertisement, it would read something like this, “Wanted: One Russell Sowers clone. Must be willing to work 70 hours per week for no salary. The ideal candidate will be a motivated individual with strong logistics skills.  Excellent Spanish, cultural understanding, and a strong desire to serve God required.”

RJ is only five, so he isn’t quite up for the job yet. I asked. So, your prayers are needed.

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

His Legacy Continues

Did you know that, if you look up the word legacy, the first definition refers to an amount of money or property left to someone in a will? That’s sort of a sad commentary, because it seems that most people have no first-hand experience with the sort of legacy left by Allen’s dad, James Sowers. Sometimes you don’t have to have met someone personally to know what that individual was like. Sometimes, all you have to do is listen to the people who loved him most.

Allen shared three Bible verses that exemplify his father’s life. This alone gives you a tremendous insight into the life of James Sowers.

  • I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 28:16-20 (From The Great Commission)
  • Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Jim Sowers was born to a coal miner named Russell and his wife, Anna, in West Virginia. His early years sound a bit like a Country and Western song. It was a rough home life filled with coarse language and dotted by a number of near-death experiences by his father in the mines. After nearly dying one too many times, Russell changed his line of work and moved the family to Wooster, Ohio.

The summer Jim was thirteen, he met a kind woman who took an interest in his life. She invited him to a Vacation Bible School program at a local church, and that is where he met Jesus. He prayed the sinner’s prayer and his life was changed forever.

His parents noticed the change, and they were drawn to it. They started going to church, along with Jim's only sibling. All three became Christians. For the next three years, the once coarse-speaking Russell said very little. The man who never uttered a sentence without a swear word worked hard to change his everyday speaking habits. He began reading his Bible regularly and eventually went on to become a Sunday school teacher. Russell died of coal miner’s lung when Jim was just 18 years old.

Jim chose to study at Fort Wayne Bible College, with the goal of receiving a Bible degree and teaching certificate, and becoming a missionary. He also worked 40 hours per week and extra hours in the summers to supplement his widowed mother’s income. One of his jobs in Fort Wayne was taking care of special needs people at a residential facility. He worked the night shift, which allowed him some time to study, but cost him a lot of sleep.

Upon graduating, he first became the pastor of a small church. Following that, he became a Christian Missionary Alliance associate pastor. The Alliance leadership recommended that he attend the Jaffray School of Missions in Nyack, New York, to prepare for the mission field, and he completed his missions training there.

When Allen’s parents married, it was with the intention of going to the mission field. The couple had met back when they both lived in Wooster at around the time Jim’s father was dying. Blanche attended Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. James began showing up on weekends. At first, many people at Taylor University thought the two were siblings because they looked so much alike. Eventually, people figured out that no brother visits his sister with such regularity and understood they were sweethearts.

Marvin Sowers, James Sowers, Brian Sowers, Blanche Sowers, and Allen Sowers

The couple did go on to become missionaries. Allen and his brothers grew up in the Philippines and Malaysia. When the family eventually moved back to the States, Jim accepted an associate pastor position. This was around the time Allen began college. Later, Jim began to work as a headmaster of Christian schools, while also continuing his own education. He was one class and a thesis shy of receiving his PhD in Education Administration when his mother became ill. He and his family relocated to be near her and he never returned to his graduate program. Jim spent almost all of the rest of his working career in Christian ministry.

James and Blanche visiting their
great-grandchildren in Honduras
in 2017 (with Nathan in this photo)
Allen talked about the similarities and differences between himself and his dad. They were both gifted with a strong work ethic and drive. His dad was a bit more of a perfectionist, even though he didn’t share Allen’s Type A personality. While his grades just squeaked by during his undergraduate years because he was working so hard to support his mom, for his doctoral work Jim maintained a 4.0 GPA.

Allen also describes his dad as innocent and trusting in the way he dealt with people. “He always believed the best of everyone, no matter how many times they had burned him. Sometimes he trusted people he probably shouldn’t have trusted. He also didn’t understand how there could be such a thing as church politics when everyone was there to serve the Lord. He had faith like a child.”

James Sowers spent all but seven years of his adult life in ministry. His lifetime example is a huge part of the reason Allen, Russell, and Rachel are where they are and doing what they do. That is his legacy and it is far more precious than money or property.

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The One About the East Coast Trip

A lot can happen in two weeks. When Trish and I last spoke, she and Allen were just beginning their trip down the East Coast. That leg of the backpack trip is now complete and the truck was unloaded in Maryland on Monday the 14th. It was a fast journey without a lot of extra stops along the way.

Before any trip, Allen crunches the numbers to make sure the number of backpacks they will pick up will be in balance with the expense of traveling to the location. They stopped and collected boxes of backpacks in New Hampshire and in the Boston area. Then there weren’t any major stops until Maryland. In order to make things more efficient, they would love to see some expansion into Connecticut, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, since they're passing through those areas anyway. When they unloaded the truck in Maryland, they got a new, larger truck for the next leg of the trip.

They were able to attend church at Fredericktowne Baptist. Trish presented the kidnapping story in Sunday school. Allen spoke for a time during the worship service. After church, a potluck was held and there was a question and answer time for Trish and Allen.

Before leaving Maryland, Allen crunched more numbers to figure out if they have the right amount of stuff to fill each of the shipping containers. He calculated that they had too much stuff for the container in Maryland and not enough for the Florida container, so adjustments were made. When they set off for Florida, they took some boxes of backpacks along, to help even things out.

Allen and Trish stopped at the home of friends and supporters in Hampton Roads Virginia. A longtime friend of Trish’s got the private school where she teaches and the church she attends to participate in the backpack drive. 300 backpacks were collected, and were packed up into tightly-filled boxes, just the way they like to receive them!

Trish wants to stress that, while they can’t go far off their travel route to pick up one or two backpacks, they are happy to collect anything along their route. In North Carolina, they met one sponsor at a gas station to collect her items for the children she sponsors. They also met another sponsor at a truck stop right at the Florida/Georgia line, to collect one backpack.

Here we are in Jacksonville, with sponsor
Courtney Christian - one of the few stops where
we remembered to take a picture!
In Atlanta they collected backpacks for sponsored children, backpacks for non-specified children, and several boxes of mail from Manna 4 Lempira sponsors. Trish apologizes for the tight schedule, which kept them from being able to hang out and talk much, at each collection location. She even forgot to get pictures along much of this route!

They stopped in Jacksonville to pick up backpacks from three different people, and spoke to a small home-group meeting consisting of people who'd filled backpacks. They drove their very full truck to Edgewater, where a group of volunteers help unload and sort the collected boxes. There was time to spend a Sunday with the folks at Edgewater Alliance Church, before Trish and Allen headed off again.

They have one more leg of the trip remaining. On October 17th, they will fly to Gulfport, Mississippi and will do one last drive to pick up backpacks from Mississippi to Florida. They have several more spots to hit in Florida. They expect to be back in Florida on Tuesday evening.

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The One with Boo's Wedding

Trish finished packing up their house and flew to Florida on Sunday, September 24. She spent the remainder of the week doing things like searching for a new dress and shoes befitting the mother-of-the-bride. In the end, she attended the wedding wearing a pair of more sensible dress shoes than the ones she purchased for the wedding. The plan was to change into her pretty shoes before the ceremony. Unfortunately, she got so caught up in her pre-wedding job of babysitting Nathan that she completely forgot to change shoes.

The outdoor wedding was held in a public park. Trish described the setting as beautiful, even if her shoes were sensible. The ceremony was held under a massive, spreading tree with gigantic limbs covered in hanging Spanish moss. It was the perfect place for a wedding with a rustic theme.

As the daughter of missionaries, Boo is no stranger to keeping costs down and she did a wonderful job of planning a beautiful budget wedding. Trish said the whole event was “very Boo”. Boo doesn’t like things that are overly fancy or expensive. The natural outdoor setting allowed her to be true to herself. The bridesmaids wore a pale shade of lilac and Boo wore a stunning dress, which was (as you would expect from Boo) the deal of the century.

The reception, which was held under a park pavilion, featured a barbecue dinner. Trish’s sister made the cake and the cake topper was an exquisite wood burning made by Boo. Trish’s sister seems to be the official cake maker for the Sowers offspring. She even flew to Honduras to make cakes for the weddings of Rachel and Russell.

The new Mr. and Mrs. are spending a very short honeymoon in North Carolina. Boo is just on a brief semester break from her nursing school classes. When they return home, she will immediately be jumping back into classes.

On the morning after the wedding, Allen and Trish headed to the Tampa airport. Due to some travel delays en route, they arrived in Concord New Hampshire at around midnight.

On Tuesday, they drove north from Concord to pick up the first batch of backpacks for the eastern portion of the backpack trip. Trish was thrilled to pass through an area outside of Concord where the fall foliage was putting on a show. She got to admire the scenery for an hour or so. When the backpacks were collected, they drove back to Concord to spend some time visiting with Allen’s family.

Allen’s dad is in a nursing home and suffers from Alzheimer’s. Still, it’s a blessing to be able to spend time together. Trish and Allen also got to visit with Allen’s brother and his wife and children. Trish believes that is the first time she has seen them since the family moved to Honduras.

Immediately following our Wednesday morning call, Allen and Trish were heading to a Boston suburb to pick up the next batch of backpacks. Then they will be heading to Maryland. The entire family is celebrating that it’s been three days since Boo’s wedding and Trish hasn’t been kidnapped. If you recall, she couldn’t say that three days after their last family wedding!

- posted by Christi

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Backpack Trip - 2019

Trish's harp at the Lyon and Healy
factory in Chicago (with Kelsea)
If you ever want to feel better about your hectic schedule, talk to someone at Sowers4Pastors during their annual backpack trip. In this week’s phone call, Kelsea shared some of the high points of the first two weeks of the trip.

As you may know, this year’s backpack expedition began in Kelsea’s hometown of Seattle. Allen and Russell met Kelsea there and the trio set off in their luxurious Penske truck. Well, maybe luxurious isn’t the right word. Big. That’s the word. They set off in their big Penske truck.

The first stop was at the home of Heidi Cook to pick up the backpacks she had collected. Heidi is one of Trish’s and my friends from our days on a homeschooling forum. Heidi is one of the managers of the Seattle 4 Lempira program. Then the truck headed to the home of Kelsea’s sister, Kate Meyers, to pick up more backpacks.  Kate is the other co-manager of Seattle 4 Lempira.

After everything was packed onto the truck, Allen, Russell, and Kelsea drove to Southern Washington, to pick up backpacks at the home of Alan and Faith Hayes. Faith is one of Trish’s, Heidi Cook’s, and my friends from that same homeschooling forum.

Next, it was on to Oregon to collect backpacks from Kelli Johansen. The team kept driving until well into the night. They finally stopped at around 2:00am to catch a few ZZZZZs before driving to California. Melissa Pompa headed up a huge backpack drive, and was also the drop-off person for her area, so she had a collection of backpacks ready for the team when they made it to her house in California.

California backpacks!

Phoenix backpacks!

The next stop was Arizona, where they picked up backpacks from the home of Karen Reill. Karen is one of Trish’s, Heidi Cook’s, Faith Hayes’s, and my friends from that aforementioned homeschooling forum. Karen had filled backpacks, as well as collected them from members of her church and community. While in Arizona, the Penske truck made its way to meet up with a longtime friend of the Sowerses and supporter of Sowers4Pastors, Ben Cofer.

Colorado was the next stop. The team was able to collect backpacks from the home of Monica Lederman. In addition to the backpacks collected by Monica, this location also had the backpacks collected by Laura Eley in Denver!  Monica also put them up for the night and took them to breakfast before they went on their merry way to Kansas.

Colorado backpacks
In Derby, Kansas, they stopped at The Well Worship Center, which is a part of the Sister Church Program. The team arrived on Friday and stayed until Sunday. They were able to collect all of the backpacks for the Sister Church and attend two church services on Sunday morning. There should be a special shout-out to the Emberson family and the Graham family for taking Allen, Russell, and Kelsea around town and out for great food. Then the team headed to Topeka for dinner with Lee and Emily Schnee.

From there, the truck headed to Minnesota. They spent the night with Brad and Jenny Irvin, who happen to be Trish’s brother and sister-in-law. They left with Trish’s harp safely on board the Penske.

On the day we spoke, they were in Wisconsin, where they will collect backpacks from Sarah McCully and Kelly Walsh. Since Allen, Russell, and Kelsea have their priorities in order, they squeezed in a stop at a cheese factory and relaxed with a little bowling.

The trio and Trish’s harp will soon be heading to Chicago. The harp will be dropped off for repairs, and sponsor Agnieszka Justl will be handing off backpacks for her two sponsored kids, to Russell and Allen, at the harp factory! Kelsea will be flying back to Honduras on September 20th, while Allen and Russell will head to Indianapolis.

So, are you feeling better about your own schedule yet? If not, stay tuned for the next installment!

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The First Backpacks are Onboard

You may have seen this photo of Allen, Russell, and Kelsea cruising around the U.S. in a Penske truck. Kelsea was able to share some of the specifics of the trip, to date.

Before the terrific trio joined forces and began the first leg of the backpack trip, Kelsea was able to spend a week with her family, in Washington. She flew in on the Wednesday night before Labor Day.

There was a family camping trip on the weekend prior to Labor Day. The rest of the week was spent with her family in Seattle. The most important reason behind Kelsea’s early arrival was her 4-month-old niece, Kayleigh. Kelsea hadn’t seen Kayleigh since she was a tiny, newborn in May. It’s safe to say that Kelsea will continue to earn frequent miles since she doesn’t want to go too long without spending time with her youngest relative. She has her priorities in order!

Russell and Allen flew into Seattle the day after Labor Day. They met up with Kelsea and drove north to one of the churches involved with Seattle 4 Lempira. That’s where they picked up the first backpacks of the season. They were also able to have dinner at the home of the Cooks, who are great friends of the ministry.

There was an open house for people interested in Seattle 4 Lempira, at the home of Kelsea’s parents. Kelsea said there was a good turnout, which included some people who visited Honduras in April for a bridge project, some current child sponsors, and others who wanted to learn more about the program. Allen, Russell, and Kelsea were also able to set up a table at Kelsea’s home church on Sunday.

Between doing important, but non-glamorous, tasks like buying the boxes necessary to pack up backpacks, the current participants of the backpack trip were able to do a little sightseeing. Kelsea showed Allen and Russell around her old stomping grounds in the Pacific northwest. She even took them to play a round of miniature golf.

Now, the trio is on the road. They've already covered the ground from Seattle, down through California to Phoenix, and they're partway to Colorado Springs!

As you know, there is going to be a rotation of people on this backpack trip. For the time being, Trish is at home, busily packing in preparation for her and Allen’s upcoming move to their new house. Trish, Iris, and the kids weren’t left alone, though. Some of the crew is there round-the-clock, providing top-notch security. There’s also a passel of very vocal dogs

- posted by Christi

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Buzz About Mosquito Nets

You’ve heard of malaria, but are you familiar with its evil comrade, dengue fever? Like malaria, dengue is spread by mosquitoes. Dengue is incredibly painful and has earned the nickname bone-break fever, because the aches are so severe. Other parts of the world call it bone-crusher disease. Although Honduras has been having a particularly large number of Dengue cases this year, Gracias and its surrounding areas are not typically at high risk for dengue, so it hasn’t been mentioned here before. Last week, however, one of the Manna 4 Lempira communities had an outbreak.

The community contacted Kim Hall and asked for help transporting children to the hospital. Kim recognized the severity of the situation and immediately put out a plea for funds to purchase mosquito bed nets for children in the affected area. Rather than having sponsors purchase netting for their own sponsored children, the paraphrased plea was, “Help if you want to help. We will use the funds in places with the greatest risk.”

The response was generous and Manna 4 Lempira was able to purchase nets for the two most at-risk communities. The project is still open if you are interested in giving. Due to the urgency of this project, donations are going through the Halls' PayPal rather than the Sowers4Pastors website. A donation of $10 can help purchase one net and acetaminophen needed in case of an infection. The PayPal address is:

Dengue typically strikes low-lying, wet areas with a dense population. The areas served by Manna 4 Lempira/ Sowers4Pastors are higher, typically drier, and not densely populated. Netting will be distributed based on the actual risk to each community.

Strong people are not likely to die from dengue. However, Manna 4 Lempira/ Sowers4Pastors deal with a more vulnerable population. The disease hits especially hard in children suffering from malnutrition.

As mentioned above, Honduras has been having a terrible dengue season. Hospitals are running out of supplies. The official recommendation by multiple health organizations seems to be: Don’t get mosquito bites! It’s a common sense approach that involves wearing long sleeves, avoiding areas with standing water, and using mosquito nets on beds.

In case you’re wondering if there is a vaccine for dengue, a “partially effective” vaccine became available in 11 countries in 2016. Honduras is not one of those countries. Even if it were available, the three recommended doses would cost hundreds of dollars per person. Oh, and it’s only recommended for people who have been previously infected. It is believed it may worsen the outcome for people who have the vaccine prior to a first infection. “Partially effective” seems like a very good way to describe the vaccine! Mosquito netting, on the other hand, is highly effective!

 - posted by Christi