Sunday, July 30, 2017

Filling in the Blanks

Generally speaking, fill in the blank tests are easier than essay questions, but more difficult than true/false, multiple choice, and matching tests. As Russell said, “It’s another week of fill in the blank scheduling,” as the Sowers family tries to catch up on everything that didn't get done during the summer weeks of team visits. During our most recent phone call, he was able to fill in some of those blanks. I took notes so you don’t have to.

The new members of the team will be documenting the ministry work through
photos and videos, as well as helping with the work itself

Allen and Russell recently hired two more guys to help with the sponsorship program. Currently, Melvin and Russell are working with them to be sure they understand what they need to do.

Handmade doors arriving on site!
Russell and Iris’s new house is getting closer to completion. This week, workers are doing a final smoothing of the walls so they will be ready for paint soon. Russell’s father-in-law is finishing and installing the doors and windows he made in his carpentry shop. One can only hope RJ has his own tool belt and will be on hand to supervise.

The crew is preparing to plant the new coffee plants. Doesn’t it seem like they just did that? At any rate, it’s time to do it again.

This coming week is MK Camp, so right now is filled with prep work. They are gathering coolers, cooking supplies, and everything else needed to make sure things run smoothly and everyone is fed. Russell said between 75-80 kids are expected to attend this year’s camp.

The Sowers are prepping for a mission team, which will be arriving the second week in August. They will be doing VBS at three schools associated with their sister church. They will also be painting their sister church. Because the team wants to do something to help out the Sowers, they will even be helping to paint Russell and Iris’ house. The team will be staying from Sunday-Sunday.

Another great photo by Danny, our ministry photographer!
Shortly after that, Allen will be leaving for the U.S. That means he and Russell will have a few short days to be sure nothing falls through the cracks in Allen’s absence. That’s pretty much code for PAPERWORK!

Trish will be joining Allen in the States sometime in September. But first things first: she will be spending two weeks with a very pregnant Rachel. The hope is she will be there for the birth. If not, she’ll still enjoy time with Rachel. Still… She really, REALLY wants to spend time with the newest grandchild.

That sums up the notes for this week. One of these weeks, we’ll have to try a true/false test! - posted by Christi

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Bridge to Turturupe

The existing unsafe bridge, on the road to Turturupe
The Sowers have had teams or someone on the ground with them for almost all of May, June, and July. The same will hold true for August. That is on top of their regular responsibilities with Pastors’ Training School, registering kids for the feeding centers, and working the coffee farm. It’s also in addition to bonus projects like getting ready to build a road on their property to make it easier to access the coffee. And, of course, there’s the seemingly never-ending project of working on their house in their spare time. How does it all get done? It’s all about a willingness to be flexible, my friends!

Last week, one team left and, the following day, a team flew into Honduras through another organization. If you think that would have nothing to do with the Sowers, but you would be wrong! The incoming team was interested in building a bridge, and Allen and Russell are the go-to guys for teams wishing to build a bridge. So, the go-to guys drove 4 hours from one airport to the other, met up with the team, and then they all drove two hours and then walked an hour to the bridge site. Two of the team members were from Puerto Rico and two were from Florida. The whole group went into the mountains to look at a community of about 500 people. Well, actually, that population is made up of three different communities. It takes about an hour to walk to the first one, two hours to walk to the second one, and (You guessed it!) three hours to walk to the third one.

Erosion at the entrance to the bridge.
While the bridge is still usable by pedestrians
and motorcycles, it is no longer safe for
larger vehicles
What the go-to Sowers guys discovered was that the lack of a road is a much bigger problem than the lack of a bridge. There is already an old, damaged bridge, not strong enough for vehicles, which is only impassable to pedestrians about fifteen days a year, when the river floods to an extra-high level. The group high-tailed it to see the mayor and were told there is no money for building a road. Plus, there’s the fact that not one person in the area owns a vehicle.

Flexibility kicked in and the group decided to promote a micro-enterprise idea, which can provide a better source of income for the area’s inhabitants. Currently, people in the area survive by gathering sap from pine trees, which is used for glue, firestarter, and a turpentine-like substance. The process of tapping the pine trees is very damaging and it kills the trees after a few years. It’s an entirely unsustainable practice.

The group decided to find ten families in the church, who will each begin coffee farming on a half acre of land. Three pastors will work together to choose which ten families are the hardest working and most likely to succeed. The families will receive help to buy seeds, bags, fertilizer, and pesticides. They will have no labor costs, as each family should have enough people to do the necessary work. If the families are successful, the group will partner with them again and look at expanding it to other families.

The road to Turturupe
As Allen said, “The proof is in the pudding.” Or, in this case, the proof is in the coffee.

In case you’re wondering, the supervising pastor will receive the funds, and he will be the one to purchase supplies. Some of the people have experience working on coffee farms, and a few even have small coffee farms of their own, but have not had the resources to fertilize it. Allen stressed, “They have the capacity, but not the resources.”

This is definitely one of those instances when someone thought they could help, but helping in the way they had originally planned was simply not the best, most practical way. A bridge and road project would cost around $60,000-$70,000, whereas, this innovative idea will cost around $250 per family. The hope is that these families will tithe on their earnings, thus helping to provide for the community.

Flexibility can be a beautiful thing. - posted by Christi

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Benefits of Short-Term Missions

When Kim Hall’s most recent team visited Honduras, Allen had the opportunity to speak to a couple of the women who were interested in getting churches and other groups in their areas to fill backpacks with school supplies. Those women may have gotten more than they bargained for! Asking Allen for details on how to fill backpacks is like asking Bob Ross how to paint happy little trees. It’s just in his nature.

Bunches of Backpacks

That’s why, when we last spoke, Trish was about to send out bunches of backpacks to the women’s hometowns in Colorado and Western Pennsylvania. 506 backpacks for each location, to be exact! She was also sending out 506 backpacks to a church in Kansas, who recently sent a visiting team.

Boxes of empty backpacks
delivered to Western Pennsylvania
There are differing schools of thought and much ongoing discussion about whether or not short-term mission teams are a good idea. You’ve probably already heard both sides of the debate, so there’s no need to rehash that. But those backpacks going out to be filled by churches and other organizations represent 1518 reasons the Sowers see short-term mission teams as a good idea!

Anyone who has ever scrolled through some pages of this blog already knows about the opportunity to fill backpacks with school supplies and have them shipped to Honduras. People already know those backpacks represent the opportunity for children to show up at school equipped with the necessary materials for learning. However, there’s something about getting personally involved during a mission trip to motivate people to take the next step.

The Bigger Picture

Collection of filled backpacks
at Edgewater Alliance Church in Florida!

Trish said, “We definitely think short-term teams are one part of the bigger missions’ strategy. They should never replace long-term workers (both native and foreign), but they help complete the bigger picture.”

Notebooks, to be used to
fill backpacks, collect
in Pennsylvania

That “bigger picture” has been all over my Facebook feed lately. Folks like Michelle Spanos, Megan Prence, and Jim & Denise Cofer are in the middle of receiving and storing the supplies, which will eventually be loaded onto shipping containers and make their way to Honduras. It’s exciting stuff!

Don’t miss out on a chance to be a part this. It’s like being a happy little tree in the big picture of missions.

- posted by Christi

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Short Term Missionary with the Extended Stay

It seems like ages ago since the most recent team from Edgewater Alliance Church was in Honduras. In reality, it hasn’t been that long at all. It’s simply that the Sowers can pack a whole lot of excitement into a short amount of time.  As I wrote in the May 19th blog post, “The team will be led by Pauli, an enthusiastic volunteer who will be staying on for three extra weeks, putting that enthusiasm to good use.” The team was in the middle of its visit when Allen had heart surgery and, for a while, I sort of forgot about enthusiastic Pauli and her extended stay. Fortunately, Trish reminded me and I was able to schedule a phone call with Pauli to hear about her month long mission trip. She described her month as, “filled, but good.”

When asked what she would say to people who may be on the fence about committing to a mission trip, Pauli said, “It is lifechanging! Just the impact the Sowers family makes in that area is amazing. It was great to see them in action--to see them helping people, not just in one area like the sponsorship program, but in a broad area.”

She and the original team of ten additional members visited four schools, which are part of Edgewater Alliance’s sister church sponsorship. 270 children are a part of their sponsorship area. While one part of the team worked on a construction project, Pauli’s half of the team visited four schools, spending a full day at each school. They taught Bible lessons, English classes, and handed out toothbrushes. The kids were most impressed by the stomp rockets a team member who is a NASA employee donated.

After the team left, Pauli spent the following two weeks staying with Russell and Iris. She helped register 270 children in the sponsorship program for a church in Maryland. She also helped out in the kitchen at Pastors’ Training School. She worked with two other women in the kitchen. They didn’t speak English and Pauli doesn’t speak Spanish, but they managed to communicate. The other women also got a good laugh at Pauli’s first attempts at cutting plantains!

She was able to go on a home visit to a little boy sponsored by someone at Edgewater Alliance. The boy’s mother died last year and he and his younger brother are being raised by their grandmother. The village visited has no electricity, but the house has a solar panel. The enterprising grandmother of the house earns money by collecting a fee from people to charge their cell phones.

Pauli prayed with the woman. She said she prayed for a couple of minutes and then the grandmother prayed for at least ten minutes. She said, “Of course, it was in Spanish and I didn’t understand it, but it was powerful!”

Later, Pauli and Russell went back to the village to register kindergarteners in the sponsorship program. The grandmother with the powerful prayer was there to register her younger grandson. Pauli quickly told Russell, “I want him.”

Pauli said, “The grandmother was so thankful for our help and what we’re doing for the community. It was great to be able to take people to see their sponsored kids. Most of my team members from the first week already had sponsored kids. They ended up sponsoring an additional nine kids.”

Pauli spent her last week serving as a counselor at MK Retreat. She had the opportunity to lead small group discussions and she helped out at the canteen. She joked that she was very well received because she was the lady who sold them junk food! At the end of each day, she slept in a room with some of the girls. Pauli had a little extra adventure when she found a bat in her bed. It seems a group of boys pranked the wrong room and the bat was placed in Pauli’s bed in error. Oops!

“I believe everyone should take a mission trip. I wish teenagers were required to go on a trip before graduating high school. It’s about being the hands and feet of Jesus. And, as far as the sponsorships go… For $15 a month, that’s nothing,” Pauli said thoughtfully.

- posted by Christi

Friday, July 14, 2017

Russell's Birthday Week Adventures

Russell really knows how to celebrate his birthday week! He started his actual birthday with a phone call to me. What a party animal!

Russell dropped off the Hall family and their team on Sunday. The three following days were the first ones in two months the Sowers haven’t had someone visiting Honduras. As much as they enjoy guests and visiting teams, they had a lot of catching up to do!

On Monday, Allen, Trish, and Russell all had the task of getting their drivers licenses renewed. Fun, fun, fun! I hear the Honduran version of the DMV is every bit as enjoyable as the U.S. version! Russell got to go back on Tuesday to get his motorcycle license. Did I mention what a party animal he is?

Following the fun time at the DMV on Monday, they picked up some coffee from the roaster and then drove an hour to drop a truck off at a mechanic. With so many visiting teams, they haven’t had a chance to do routine vehicle maintenance in a while.

This is Pastors’ Training School week. Melvin did the shopping and the other local missionaries are taking care of the school duties.

Meanwhile, the Sowers are finishing up the paperwork for the 2nd quarter of the year. Receipts and paperwork will be sent back to their mission foundation to satisfy IRS requirements.

Russell is also catching up on things around the farm. Of course, farm work goes on even when the Sowers are with a team, but there are some things Russell needs to supervise. He was able to sit down with Carlos to determine farming priorities for the next several weeks. They are getting ready to plant for next year at the end of July. That means they need to fertilize, apply pesticide, and do a fair amount of chopping and hoeing.

A team is arriving on Thursday for a week long vision trip. The visiting pastor has been encouraged by his mother-in-law to check out Sowers4Pastors’ ministry. His mother-in-law has been down a number of times as part of Manna 4 Lempira. The team will consist of the pastor, his wife, another couple, and the pastor’s enthusiastic mother-in-law. The team will be visiting Pastors’ Training School, seeing a church they may want to help and get involved with, and seeing some projects Sowers4Pastors has done in the past.

Now, if you’re thinking Russell’s birthday week filled with the DMV, IRS paperwork, farm work, and going over details for this blog post don’t sound all that festive, don’t worry. R.J. came to the rescue. When asked how he thought they should celebrate Russell’s birthday, R.J. decided they needed a piñata! So, Russell had plans to take R.J. to pick out a piñata. In case you’re wondering, R.J.’s love of piñatas isn’t even about the candy. He loves whacking them with sticks! Russell laughed and said, “The other kids will get the candy and take it inside and R.J. will keep hitting it for about fifteen minutes!” Feliz Cumpleaños, Russell!

- posted by Christi