Thursday, November 23, 2017

Allen and Trish's Thankfulness Song

When one of my sons was younger, he was obsessed with the VeggieTales’ musical prayer, “The Thankfulness Song”. It is best sung in a squeaky, childlike voice and it goes like this:
I thank God for this day For the sun in the sky,
For my mom and my dad,
For my piece of apple pie!
For our home on the ground,
For His love that’s all around,
That’s why I say thanks every day!
Because a thankful heart is a happy heart!
I’m glad for what I have,
That’s an easy way to start!
For the love that He shares,
‘Cause He listens to my prayers,
That’s why I say thanks every day!

Think of this blogpost as Allen and Trish’s Thankfulness Song. It’s good stuff all on its own, but for added entertainment, you can read it in a squeaky, childlike voice. Here are some fairly precise direct quotes of things that made Allen and Trish’s gratitude list:

  • We were blessed with two new grandkids this year!

  • The coffee farm is doing well. Productivity is good, even if prices are down. We’re not in this to make a fortune, but any profit goes back to the ministry and provides jobs in the area.

  • We are grateful the political situation in Honduras is calm for the moment. This week is the Presidential election, so that could change, but it has been stable for a while. Crime wise, it is safer than it has been in years.

  • This U.S. trip has been successful. A lot of people got involved in our ministry who were not previously involved. Donations are up and we met new people who are excited to get involved. We’re also thankful that the trip is almost over and we can go home soon.

  • Two containers were filled and sent off! In previous years, we’ve worked until after New Years to get one container filled and shipped. This year, we shipped two before Thanksgiving. The 5000 filled backpacks in the containers mean that 5000 kids in Honduras get to go to school!

  • Pastors’ Training School, which was restarted in 2016 has seen a lot of growth. New aspects, such as the mentoring program have been added. Several student pastors have even started their own Pastors’ Training School up in the mountains! Not only are they mentoring, they are also taking the information they've been taught, and teaching about 25 students themselves!

  • We are thankful for the number of bridges that have been built, the number of roofs we’ve helped put on churches, and the number of motorcycles we’ve been able to help pastors purchase.

  • We’re thankful for the growth in the Child Sponsorship Program and the Sister Church Program. It’s not only feeding the kids and having them attached to the church, it’s also having sponsors pray for the kids and encourage them.

  • All of our adult kids are doing well! We found a good school for Ben where he is continuing to progress. He just completed 8th grade!

  • We’re thankful we get to do what we do and live where we live. It’s very gratifying and encouraging whenever you see this much harvest!

  • We are profoundly thankful for Allen’s heart surgery. (Trish told me to paraphrase the part where she said, “The fact that he’s not dead is a biggie,” but I think that sums up the situation nicely!)

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Virtual Handprint Turkeys and a Very Real Thank You

It’s Thanksgiving time and that means school children across the country have written out their reasons for gratitude on handprint turkeys fashioned from construction paper and Elmer’s glue and stapled them to bulletin boards. This blogpost is sort of like that. Except doesn’t involve any construction paper or Elmer’s glue and there’s not actually a bulletin board. Instead, it is filled with many virtual handprint turkeys and a very real “Thank you!”

Saturday, November 18, two containers were loaded full of around 5000 backpacks filled with school supplies, Bibles, 3000 pairs of shoes, food, cable, and sundry other supplies. The loadings took place in Walkersville Maryland and Edgewater Florida. As mentioned in a previous post, Allen and Trish were having meetings in Mississippi and were unable to be present for the fun-filled process of loading.

Loading was almost like some very strange game show challenge since the shipping company only allows two hours to load before the containers are trucked to the port and put in place to start their journey to Honduras. (Of course, Allen pointed out it’s always better to pay $95 per additional hour, as needed, if it means the difference between a fully loaded container and shipping air!) The weight of the items inside the container must be well balanced to prevent some shipping disaster. It is not a task for the faint of heart!

List of Names on the Virtual Handprint Turkeys:

  • Thank you to Jim and Denise Cofer in Maryland for all of their hard work. Jim headed up the loading effort in Maryland.
  • Thank you to Terry Shores and family. Terry was in charge of the container loading in Florida. This was his first year loading without Allen on hand.
  • Thank you to Kim and Jonathan Hall for their tireless work with Manna 4 Lempira. Your turkey has real colored feathers purchased from a craft store!
  • Thank you to all the Manna 4 Lempira sponsors who diligently filled backpacks. In many cases, they not only filled backpacks for their sponsored children, but also provided backpacks for children who do not have sponsors. Sponsors such as Autumn Dean, Monica Lederman and family, Megan Prence, and Courtney Christian are deserving of special turkeys that are sprinkled with glitter.  
  • Thank you to Joplin and Andrea Emberson and Andrea’s mother, Lori Mills for helping to head up a backpack drive at The Well Church in Derby Kansas. Thanks to everyone at The Well Church who helped with this effort by filling and organizing backpacks.
  • Thank you to Steve Kreidt, Jill Majetich, and Christ Church of Orlando for filling backpacks.
  • Thank you to Michelle Spanos, Katie Henry, Mike Martin, Michelle Mercer, and the people of Edgewater Alliance Church who participated in a huge backpack drive and assisted in loading the Florida container.
  • Thank you to Gary and Mary Richard and everyone at Fredericktowne Baptist Church for filling backpacks with school supplies so a bunch of children in Western Honduras will have the necessary tools for learning. Thanks also to this crew for their faithful work in loading a container every year for many years now!
  • Thank you to Heath and Chelsea Johnson, Rob McFarland, Steven Buswell, and everyone at Lighthouse Church who filled backpacks.
  • Thank you to Rick Tawney and the good people of Life Community Church for filling backpacks.
  • Thank you to Doug Richards and the congregation of Faith Assembly of God Church.
  • Thank you to anyone who prayed for this massive undertaking, purchased school supplies for the effort, or filled backpacks. Whether you provided supplies for one or 100, you are appreciated!

Due to the efforts of all of the handprint turkey worthy people, each child with Manna 4 Lempira and the Sister Church Program will receive a filled backpack! The extras will be used for Gifts for Gracias. Allen reminded me that each backpack filled with school supplies would cost around $100 in Honduras. For the Honduran family with an annual income of $1000 and 4 school age children, you can see how important a backpack drive is. It’s so important that Allen is already looking ahead at the possibility of filling three containers next year!

- posted by Christi

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Great Haitian Bridge Project Continues

These days, when we hear the word, “replicate,” we may think in terms of some crazy virus that is outsmarting antibiotics and seeking to destroy us. Or maybe not. It’s possible I’ve seen too many apocalyptic television shows! No matter. Today, we’re talking about some replicating that isn’t even remotely scary.

You may remember when Allen and Russell made a trip to Haiti last year to head up a bridge project. Yeah, taking their mad bridge building skills on the road was kind of a big deal! But they didn’t build that bridge all by themselves. They were surrounded by other people who were learning some mad bridge building skills of their own.

Since the time of Allen and Russell’s Haitian bridge expedition, missionaries in Haiti have built two more bridges! Trish offered a reminder of why Sowers4Pastors operates in the manner it does when she said, “In all of the work we do, we try to help other people rather than do it all ourselves. It empowers people and helps expand on the available hours we have.”

One of the two new bridges used the exact design Allen and Russell used last year. For the second bridge, the team went out and did some research. In short, they acted like Allen. They studied up on bridges and they consulted an engineer who helped them with plans for a bridge to fit the needs of that particular river crossing.

Trish recounted the years when Allen was teaching himself how to build bridges. She said they couldn’t cross a bridge without Allen getting out to examine it. He taught himself the dynamics of bridge building. Then an engineer, who was in Honduras for a year, helped Allen refine his technique. Allen passed all of that knowledge on to the bridge building missionaries in Haiti.

That’s the sort of replicating you don’t want to stop with an antibiotic! It’s the kind you want infecting the DNA of everyone who comes in contact.

 - posted by Christi

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Container Story

The Container Store proclaims themselves to be the “organizational experts”. That’s probably true if you’re wanting a pantry filled with uniform jars for your dried beans or a closet that looks like it fell out of a reality show. If you are looking to get a bunch of backpacks and supplies filled into two giant shipping containers, however, The Container Store has nothing on the people working with Sowers4Pastors. This is The Container Story!

Two shipping containers will soon be delivered this coming Saturday. One will arrive at Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Maryland, the other will go to Edgewater Alliance Church in Florida.  Each container has about 2600 cubic feet of space (which is information Allen needed to give me, even though Trish told him not to get hung up on numbers and statistics!). For reference, that’s enough space to hold between 6000-7000 filled backpacks. But backpacks aren’t the only things that will fill them.

The container in Florida will have about 150,000 meals going into it. Between the two containers, there will also be about 2500 pairs of new shoes for children, used clothing and shoe donations, miscellaneous supplies to help the ministry, and the 5000 newly-purchased Bibles, on which Allen was able to get a good price. Allen’s not sure if there will be hundreds or thousands of soccer balls, but there will be enough to make a lot of Honduran children very happy! And, of course, there will be about 5000 packed backpacks to make going to school much easier for as many children.

The boxes of donations are marked using a color code (and spray paint) . . . and the color coding system has sort of taken on a life of its own. This year, there are over twenty color codes to differentiate between the contents of the containers. There are codes for the locations where the backpacks will be delivered, codes for items being shipped for other missionaries, codes for the quality of the clothing donations, etc…

When each container arrives to its packing site, the volunteers will only have two hours to get it filled! Color coding ensures that the most important items find their way onto a container. As Allen said, “You never want to have a shipping container with extra space! It’s always better to have more items collected than will fit, rather than to have too little. Used clothing acts as a filler for any gaps. Color coding helps us because, if there is not enough room for everything, we can make sure the most important items get on board, and also can choose the more gently used items from the used clothing donations.”

Oh, sure, the finished product may not be as aesthetically pleasing as a display from The Container Store, but, make no mistake, it will be a beautiful sight to behold!

- posted by Christi

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Brought To You By the Letter C

This blogpost is brought to you by the letter C!

C is for Coffee

The coffee harvest is in full swing. It’s a long process because only the red fruit is picked and the fruit doesn’t all ripen at the same time. Russell and his crew will be going through the field multiple times picking all of the red beans. Currently, there are so many red beans that they are training up the next generation of Sowers men to pick them. RJ is doing a stellar job and demonstrating a fine work ethic! (Watch the video below. Seriously - don't miss this video of RJ picking coffee, LOL). On November 7 alone, the men picked what will come out to be around 1100 pounds of de-pulped coffee. Russell estimates that is about 4% of this year’s harvest.

C is for Correspondence

The guys of the Manna 4 Lempira crew are making trips out to the feeding center at Arenales. It is the sister church sponsorship center of Life Community Church near Columbus, Ohio. Sowers4Pastors is in the process of getting each of those children to write letters to their sponsors. Because many of the kids are very young, help is needed to get their thoughts down on paper. With the magnitude of the project, getting letters from each child is a long process. The letters will be passed on to the church and translated into English, for the sponsors.

C is for Ceramic

The work of laying the ceramic tile floors in Russell and Iris’s new house is continuing. Of course, once the shipping containers are unloaded into the house, all work on the house will stop for a season.

C is for Containers

Speaking of containers… After some interesting delays, Allen and Trish finally have passage for the shipping containers scheduled. The two containers will be loaded and picked up on November 18. This scheduling is the result of persistent calls and emails on the part of the Sowers. As Trish said, “Finally, someone at a shipping company had pity and responded!”

On November 7, Allen drove an hour and half to pick up more backpacks in Florida. Now, he has traveled in the opposite direction to take them to the area where the Florida container will be loaded.

C is for Contacts

This year, Allen and Trish will not be able to help load a container because a new opportunity has presented itself. On the day the containers are loaded, the Sowers will be in Mississippi to meet with a group of pastors at a bimonthly event hosted by The Wells of SouthGate, called "The Living Room." Allen and Trish will have the opportunity to address pastors from multiple churches. This is potentially a new area where Sowers4Pastors could become involved. Trish found out about this group through a longtime friend, Angela Broussard, whom she originally met through an online homeschooling forum. Additionally, another longtime friend of Trish’s, Heidi Cook, and her husband are flying to Mississippi from their home in Seattle. The Cooks hope to get people in the Seattle area involved in the backpack project.

C is for Cornucopia

Allen and Trish will be spending Thanksgiving with their family in Florida. And Trish is squeezing in any last minute shopping for needed items that can be packed in a suitcase for their return trip to Honduras.

- posted by Christi

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Campfire Story about Shipping Containers

It’s family campout time for the Sowers! For Allen and Trish, that means it’s a time when the world goes away and they can enjoy spending some time with most of their adult children. At least that’s what it means theoretically! In reality, Trish described it as a time when they are running back and forth to their kids’ apartments to deal with things like shipping containers and laptop repairs, and then back to the campground for some family time.

Here’s what has been happening in the saga of the shipping containers:
For the past couple of years, Sowers4Pastors has used the same shipper to get their containers of precious cargo from the U.S. to Honduras. This year, the shipper asked for a document that has never before been requested at this stage of the game--a copy of the dispensa. A dispensa is paperwork that lists every single item on each shipping container, submitted to the Honduran government, which allows for duty-free shipping. And the Sowers did file a dispensa way back in the summer. That, in itself, was no small feat since they weren’t 100% sure of all of the contents that would fill each container. Since it’s not a problem if things are listed that don’t make it onto the final container, much effort was spent in declaring every possible item they thought might end up on one.

The dispensa has to be ready when a container comes into port. If it isn’t, you are at the mercy of the customs agents. They can request exorbitant fees and, prevent the container from being emptied. That is bad news for the recipient and the shipper, who wants their containers to get moving again. Because shippers have been having problems with relief goods being shipped by people who don't have permission to bring the goods through customs, and then dealing with those containers full of goods being abandoned at the ports, the shipper began to require proof of a dispensa before they would even quote a price, let alone schedule, a shipment.

The Sowers contacted the attorney in Honduras who filed the paperwork and requested a copy for the shipper, but there was a big snafu! The attorney couldn't get a copy of the dispensa! It is now an internal government document. To add an extra level of difficulty, the attorney’s office is five hours from the capital city of Honduras, where the much needed Sowers4Pastors dispensa is filed.

Allen and Trish have spent a lot of time trying to locate another shipper to get the containers to Honduran soil. Unfortunately, two shipping containers are considered small potatoes in the shipping world and they have not been successful in finding an alternative company interested in working with them.

On October 31, this tale got a little less frightening when the attorney in Honduras sent word he had been able to take pictures of the dispensa with his cell phone. The photos aren’t very official looking, but most people in Honduras do not have access to scanners and copiers. The Sowers are now waiting to hear if the shipper will accept the cell phone photos, or if they are holding out for actual scans.

The ultimate goal is to have the backpacks in Honduras and sorted for when teams start arriving at the end of December. Not only must the containers arrive, they must also be emptied and the backpacks divided by the villages where they will be distributed.

The teams, which are planning to pass out the backpacks to the children, are understandably excited about it. Trish wants the teams to be aware that there should still be time to receive and sort the supplies, but that "sometimes things go sideways." And, if there's any lesson we can take from the Sowers' Family Campout, it's that flexibility is a wonderful trait!

 - posted by Christi