Thursday, August 27, 2015

Our Coffee Farm: A Picture-post

Here are some photos, taken just last week, showing the plants which are already in the ground, and the new plants in the nursery, waiting to be planted. Right at this moment, we are in the process of digging the thousands of holes we will need, to plant additional acres of coffee this year. 

Baby plants in the nursery, ready to be transplanted to our fields. 

A closer look - happy, healthy babies!

Strong and healthy one-year-old plant, from last year's planting.

A hillside on our farm. The low rows are coffee plants,
the taller bananas and plantains provide some shade and a secondary crop.

There is no expectation of a harvest when coffee plants are under three years old - so these beans, already growing on our one-year-old plants, are a very good sign! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another change in my life . . .

I've written a bit, previously, about all of the changes and transitions happening in our family and our ministry these days. For me, personally, the biggest change has been having no children at all in the house during the day. It's very quiet here now. It's also rather dusty, and, as each day passes, the house has become more and more disorganized!

Most people seem to assume that fewer children at home must translate into Trish having a lot of empty time on her hands . . . when in fact, the opposite has proven true. My kids have always been a large part of the machine that runs our home and ministry work. Without them, I'm overwhelmed and ridiculously understaffed! (I'm not including Russell in this discussion - of course, he's working at the ministry all day long, but he has his own work to do, and he hasn't been part of the "kids who live at home" workload for five years or so.)

In recent months, I've struggled to find a method or system that would allow me to manage all of the housework, my former ministry duties as well as those which were previously handled by children who have moved away, and the work required for Ben to attend and succeed at school - and which would also give me time to just be a wife, mom, and grandmother. While I washed dishes, I felt guilty because I knew I should be writing emails. When I was hanging laundry on the line, I knew I should be organizing photos for a PowerPoint presentation. When I worked on writing blog posts, my family members would run out of clean socks or underwear or clean dishes. When I chose to work at anything when I might have been visiting Russellito - that was just wrong! It hasn't been pretty, and has also been very frustrating for me.  

Finally, I had to give up! Even though I am a hermit by nature, and have loved having the house to myself during the days - I've come to accept the fact that I am not able to accomplish everything that currently falls into the category of "Trish's responsibilities." So, today, I am training a local lady who will be helping me with the dishes, laundry, cleaning, and - this pleases me a LOT - she will be cooking lunch for our work crew! So, pray for Yessenia and for me, if you would, as we navigate the path to successfully working together.

I must say, however, that today - our first day together - is going GREAT. The water was out for the past two days, and so both the dirty dishes and the dirty laundry have piled up . . . and yet, here I am, writing a blog post instead of dealing with all of that!

Expect more blog posts coming up, as now I should have the time to write them . . . and time to finally get the website up and running again, and to write the long-overdue "thank you" notes, and to answer emails more promptly, and . . . I think you get the idea! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Read what I *didn't* post

I'm in "well, why not?" mode this evening. I was doing some being-the-scenes cleaning up of the blog, and I came upon a draft for a blog post which was never posted - I really don't remember why. Just the other day, someone mentioned to me that people might be interested in hearing how I processed all of this, after the kidnapping. Maybe this post will explain some of that. So here it is, written approximately 6 weeks after the kidnapping, while I was in the middle of a month-long trip to Maryland.

I hesitated to write yet another post about the kidnapping . . . but for now, that's where my mind mostly is, and what I think about is what I write about. It did occur to me that some people who have read our story might be interested to hear how we're doing now, so here's that info. Just skip this post, and read the one about the Gifts for Gracias project, if you're tired of all the kidnapping stuff!

First, how is Ben doing? I keep asking all of my family members this question (since I'm not at home with them this month), and the answer is always the same. Ben is fine. Totally back to normal. Still showing no sign that he is in any way traumatized by the events he lived through. I wish I could see him and talk to him myself (I have just under two more weeks in the states before I return to Honduras) . . . but for now, I'll have to take their words for it. Ben is amazing - tough and resilient - but you've probably already figured that out!

Second, how is the rest of the family in Honduras doing? Again, all I get is that everyone is fine, totally no problems, life is back to normal in our household.

So then, how am I doing? Well, after all of the "wellness" exhibited in the above paragraphs, I'm sort of embarrassed to tell you! I'm doing okay, mostly. Sort-of. Which, yeah, isn't all that encouraging to hear, is it? For reasons which I'm gradually coming to understand, I am the family member who "fell apart" emotionally, after all of this. It seems to have to do with the fact that the rest of the family each experienced one trauma, while I actually had two, back-to-back. Until I wrote out the entire story and posted it here on the blog, many - maybe most - people who prayed for Ben didn't even know that I had been kidnapped at all. This was because no one, not even my family, knew I had been kidnapped until I was already free, and also that once I was released we all immediately turned all of our attention to trying to get Ben back alive. My having been kidnapped and released really wasn't all that important to us at that time. I don't even remember whether or not anyone ever said to me that they were happy to have me home safe, or if I even got any hugs after my release - not that I wanted any of that! - we were just so terrified about Ben.

The result of not dealing with the emotions stirred up by a trauma when it happens is apparently that you still get to deal with it, later. So, that's what I'm doing now. Lucky me.

Really, though, I have so much to be grateful for - this trip to the states was planned months ago, for reasons completely unrelated to the kidnapping, and has turned out to be an important opportunity for me to get some counseling and some rest and quiet time. I was getting to be just into a lump on the bed before I left Honduras, and my family had to pretty much push me out of the house to get me onto the plane. I'm not sure how I'd be doing now, if they hadn't done that. Hopefully I'd be normalizing, but I'm not sure.

My last post before this one was much more upbeat, I know, and it is true - and wonderful - that certain areas of progress have been made in the past couple of weeks. I'm no longer having to continually relive the events of the kidnapping in my mind, and that's such a relief. I'm also back to eating more normally, which is nice. I hardly ate anything, and didn't feel like eating anything, for several weeks after the kidnapping. I'm not exactly ravenously hungry these days, but that situation is now within the acceptable range for normal, and I can live with that, for sure!

Unfortunately my sleep patterns remain messed up. It certainly doesn't help that I'm traveling about and sleeping in different places a lot. But still, I can't seem to ever sleep longer than two hours at a stretch, and then I wake up. I'm not waking in fear, or having bad dreams, or anything like that, but I know that long term it isn't healthy to not get longer stretches of sleep, and it is starting to annoy me that this isn't normalizing.

I also cry. Frequently. Inconveniently. I've never been one to cry much, so this is new, and will probably be disconcerting to my family, if it continues once I'm back home. But I've learned that I need to just go ahead and let the crying out - I really do feel better afterwards (well, sometimes it's a few days afterwards, and it often takes multiple crying jags related to the same topic, to get to where the "feeling better" starts).

I'm starting to think a lot about going back home to Honduras, and it's hard to see how it will work for me just now. In Honduras, I have to be tough and have lots of endurance. I can't really live my life there and be fearful. But I can tell that I'm not ready to be tough yet. I'm afraid I still need to be weak and vulnerable for a while, and it's hard to figure how I can make that "fit" with life in Honduras.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

After the Kidnapping . . .

This post picks up where I previously ended, in relating the story of our kidnapping, which happened back in August of 2013. If you never read that story, you can find it here.

Unaware of the thoughts and actions of the kidnapper, we at the house had no idea that Ben's release was imminent. I sat on the couch, where I had been continually since returning home the previous day; I was still wearing the clothing I'd worn when I was kidnapped. Allen and Russell were still working on trying to find help for Ben, and waiting on calls from the kidnapper. Gus, our son who was nineteen at the time, quietly took on handling all of the needs of the household which Allen and I were neglecting. Our daughters Kirstin and Boo were traveling back from San Pedro Sula.

The phone rang, and I heard Allen say, excitedly, "He's walking out?!?"

Then he grabbed the keys to the Land Cruiser and ran out the door, collecting Gus on the way. I knew they were off to hopefully pick up Ben, but I didn't know where they were headed, or how long they would be gone.

I suddenly realized that I was alone, and for the first time I experienced the fear that I would have to fight for many months after the kidnapping. I was excited and worried about the situation with Ben, but I was also quite alarmed to realize that I was only a short distance from where I'd been kidnapped just the day before, with no one around to protect me, should I need that!

I heard from Russell, by Facebook message, that Ben had been released, and was safe, and that I could go ahead and tell everyone the good news - which of course I did! Russell had left his home as soon as the kidnapper had told him that he was letting Ben go free, and he met up with Allen, Gus and Ben, bringing some policemen with him.

At that point, the obvious thing would have been for the police to immediately search the area around where Ben had been released. Had they done so, it is likely that they would have found and arrested the kidnapper. Strangely, the police intentionally chose not to do that. They said that Ben had to give his statement first, and that would take some time, so that process certainly wouldn't be finished before dark. The police decided to wait until morning to search for the kidnapper. You can feel free to make of this what you will.

Russell took Ben into Gracias, to the police station, to act as his translator while Ben gave his statement. A doctor was brought in to examine him there, though we'd been told he'd be taken to the hospital. Someone also went and got him some baleadas to eat, as he was hungry!

Allen and Gus came back to the house, so that I could drive into town to be with Ben. When they arrived, Allen gently suggested that I might want to change clothes, and maybe shower, before heading to town. At this point, I behaved strangely. I got up, as if to change, but then I wandered aimlessly around the house for about 20 - 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Gus got out the hair clippers, and asked Allen to shave his head. Without saying anything to anyone, he had made a vow to God to shave his head if Ben came home to us alive.

Eventually, I shook off my torpor and suddenly said, "Oh, I'm just going to go the way I am!" I headed out to the Land Cruiser, along with the now-bald Gus, and drove to town. It was on this trip that I had the opportunity to give the good news of Ben's release to the police manning a checkpoint on the road to Gracias (that story was related in the post "Ben is Free").

When I arrived at the location where the kidnapping police were taking Ben's statement, I found two of my daughters in the waiting area! Boo and Kirstin had gotten back to Gracias just in time to hear the news of Ben's release - so they changed direction and headed to the police station, instead of home. I was delighted to be reunited with five of my six children. (Rachel was still off on her honeymoon, very much relieved at the good news she'd received from us!) I greeted the children in the waiting area, then headed back into the office where Ben and Russell were answering questions. Things can often be pretty low tech around here, and the policeman was taking down the information Ben gave (and Russell translated) by hand. It did, indeed take a long time to get this done!

This is where I had my reunion with Ben. It was awkward, in a small room full of policemen. I hugged Ben, and made a joke to keep from crying. The other children had told me that Ben smelled really bad, and I knew Ben would be amused if I commented on that, because he knows I have no sense of smell. Then I sat with him for a while, while the police continued their questioning. Eventually I headed back out to the waiting area and visited with the rest of the children.

We decided that a celebratory dinner was in order, so we planned some special food purchases - shish-ka-bob from the vendor on the street by the market, and fried rice from the Chinese restaurant. Yes, indeed, our family knows how to party! LOL

When the police were finished with Ben, Russell headed home to pick up Iris while the rest of us purchased food, then we all returned to our home up on the mountain. 

Over dinner, we had a sort of debriefing; family members shared their experiences over the past two days, since we had been scattered in several different locations. Ben did not share much. He had showered before eating, and he began nodding off at the table, so soon he went to bed.

The next morning, early, Kirstin and Gus took Ben out to meet the police at the spot where the kidnapper had released me, two days before. Ben was unable to retrace their path over the mountains and through the woods, so eventually they tried again, starting at the point where Ben was released. Again, though, he hadn't seen enough to lead the police to the house where he'd been kept overnight.

After that day, we never heard any additional news from the police, about the kidnapping. The kidnapper was never identified or caught. Oddly, there have been a few times when Ben and I believe we've seen him on the streets of Gracias, since the kidnapping. We never found out whether or not there was a boss involved, or if the kidnapper was working alone.

As far as the justice system goes, it almost seems like it never happened at all! I think, because no one was physically hurt, and we didn't end up paying a ransom, there was a sort of "no harm, no foul" feeling, among the police involved. They quickly moved on to other matters. 

Of course, it doesn't seem like it never happened, to us! The memories of this event, both good and bad, will always be a part of our family, and the story will remain a testimony, to us and to those who cried and prayed with us, of the time God chose to reach down and respond to the pleas of His people in such an immediate, personal way. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

We've come so far since that day . . .

 . . . but I think it's important to take a moment to remember how blessed we are, and how good God has been to us . . .

(This week is the 2 year anniversary of our kidnapping, and the unexpected and miraculous return of our son, Ben, to our family. The story is here.)

Monday, August 3, 2015

An excerpt from my book-to-be

For years, my friends have been suggesting that I write a book, about our family's adventures in Honduras. Recently I've been taking this suggestion a bit more seriously, and I even have some sections of a potential book written in draft form. Here is one such section. I would very much appreciate your honest appraisal . . . What do you think? 

February 2001

“Are you Mr Sowers?” asked the breathless airline employee, who rushed up to us in the main terminal with a worried look on her face. “You and your family need to get back on the plane! It's time to board!”

I hadn't expected to be tracked down in the airport in San Pedro Sula. I thought the plane would simply leave without us, when we didn't return after our layover. We were new to Central America, however, so my expectations were fairly meaningless at that point.

We'd been planning our move to Guanaja, an island off the north coast of Honduras, for months. The most direct travel route involved a flight from Miami to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, followed by a short flight on a smaller plane to the port city of La Ceiba, then a very brief but exciting trip on a very small plane to the airstrip on the island itself, and finally a ride in a small, open motor boat from the air strip to the city of Savannah Bight. Like most missionaries, our budget was very tight. Allen spent time searching for the best ticket prices for our large family, but the expense to fly to the airport in San Pedro Sula was daunting. Allen grew up on the mission field in Southeast Asia, and outside-the-box thinking and problem solving are among his best skills. He decided to check on the prices of airfare to other cities, even those in surrounding countries, thinking that we might save enough money on the flights to make the time and inconvenience of adding a bus trip to our itinerary worthwhile.

He found that San Pedro Sula was one of the more expensive destination cities in the area. The other international airport in Honduras, located in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, wasn't any better. However, flying to the city of San Salvador, in neighboring El Salvador, cost much less. Investigating further, Allen discovered a very reasonable flight to San Salvador that had a several hour layover in . . . San Pedro Sula, Honduras!

Obviously, it occurred to Allen that we could purchase tickets on the flight to San Salvador, and simply not get back on the plane after the layover in San Pedro Sula. He called the airline and asked them about the ramifications of planning our trip in this manner. The answer was encouraging. He was told that all additional legs of our trip which had been reserved would automatically be cancelled, and that our checked luggage would continue on to San Salvador without us – but that was all that would happen.

As a result, we started off for Honduras with our five children, ranging in age from four to thirteen, all carrying the maximum allowance in carry-on luggage (and with no checked bags) . . . headed to a city which was only part-way to our destination, without pre-arranged plans or tickets for the rest of our trip.

A few hours after “missing” our flight to San Salvador, we boarded a plane from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba. We arrived too late in the day for additional travel, so we headed to the Hotel Ceiba for the night. I remember that night so well! After a ride in an absolutely antique elevator, we found ourselves in a room which could barely fit our family, with some of the younger ones sleeping on blankets on the floor between the three beds. The bathroom was rudimentary, the bathroom door stuck badly in its frame, the distance between the foot of the bed and the opposite wall of the room was about 20 inches, and the security chain on the entry door was rather insecurely screwed into place. It was obvious that a single hard kick would render our room accessible to any random “bad guys” who might be lurking about seeking to prey on a wide-eyed young gringo family. I didn't voice my fears, preferring the children share Allen's confident outlook on things, but I didn't sleep well that night at all, and I did wonder if we had been wise to choose such a run-down, decrepit-looking hotel. 
In retrospect, I am amused by my initial impression of the Hotel Ceiba. About four years later, Allen spent 5 months working in the US, while I handled the family and ministry obligations in our rustic home on Guanaja without him. Upon his return, Allen recognized that his tired wife urgently needed a bit of R & R, so he sent me off, alone, for a few lovely days of solitude and luxury . . . at that same hotel in La Ceiba where we had spent our first night in Honduras. I reclined blissfully on the lovely crisp sheets, enjoyed cable TV, air conditioning, the soft, bright white towels in the clean, tiled bathroom, the hot showers - and I felt so spoiled!

Apparently, my expectations regarding hotel accommodations had dropped significantly during those intervening years. But - back to the story of our trip . . .

The next morning, Allen called the airport from the hotel, for information regarding flights to Guanaja. He was told that the only flight to the island that day would be boarding in half an hour. We packed in an instant (we had very little luggage with us, after all), and were soon crammed into a small, hatchback taxi – eight of us, including the driver – headed to the airport “in a hurry.” For the record, it might not be best to tell a taxi driver in Honduras that you are in a hurry, unless it is absolutely necessary. None of this would faze us now, but that was our first full day in Honduras as a family, and piling my children into the beat up vehicle, with very little tread on the tires and no seat belts, would probably have been enough to put me on edge, without the dodging about through traffic, the high-speed turns which smashed everyone in the backseat into the doors on either side of the car multiple times, and the sudden swing into the empty far right lane to stop at an intersection, so that the moment the light turned green the driver could hurriedly turn left, across several lanes of traffic, saving us precious moments in our quest to catch that flight!

The plane ride to Guanaja was, in comparison, anticlimactic.

The airstrip on the island, at that time, was paved with a thin layer of asphalt, and marred by many small potholes and ominous looking, long, deep scrape marks. Situated right at sea level, the short strip was flanked by overgrown fields on both sides, had open water at either end, a small mountain rising almost directly beside the airstrip on one side, and, just a short distance away on the other side, another mountain, across a small man-made canal. This combination of sea and mountains creates gusty winds which can make landing on Guanaja exciting and dangerous. On our arrival trip, however, the flight and landing were thankfully without incident.

The airport on the island of Guanaja

We disembarked from the tiny plane, collected our bags as they were pulled out of the cargo hold, and then walked along a narrow dirt path through the high weeds to a largely rotten wooden dock near the airstrip. At the dock Allen hired a motorboat and driver – officially a “water taxi,” though there were no markings to differentiate it from a private vehicle – and we were on the last leg of our journey to the village of Savannah Bight . . . our new home!