Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Pilot Episode of Missionary Mayhem

If you know her personally, you know Trish Sowers is most emphatically NOT a drama queen. That’s why it’s more than a little ironic that this very laid back woman is generally surrounded by enough mayhem to make Lucy Ricardo feel right at home. Since Russell and Allen were out and about during the time of our weekly phone call, I had a chance to catch up with Lucy, er, Trish. Think of this as more of a script for a pilot episode of some sitcom about Honduran missionaries than a blog post.


The political situation in Honduras appears to be semi resolved. It looks as if the winner of the election is probably going to actually be the president. The other side will probably continue to protest, but they have said they will be non-violent protests. And both sides made a point of saying they will keep things calm over the holidays.

Because of that, the Sowers4Pastors shipping container, which was being held at port until it was safe to transport was finally able to make it all the way home on December 26. But, due to the delay, the container was scheduled to arrive the same day as a short-term missions team. Let the zany antics commence!

Allen drove to San Pedro on Christmas night so he would be able to meet Michelle Spanos and a team of college students on the 26th. The students were arriving from various parts of the U.S., due to the holidays. There was a plan that Russell would drive to San Pedro and transport the earlier arriving team members back to Gracias, while Allen stayed to meet the late comers.


Russell got word that the container would be arriving very early on Monday morning, so he changed the plans, having Allen to collect the earliest arriving team members, while he stayed in Gracias to unload the container and then headed to the city to collect the later arriving team members. After waiting a few hours for the container to arrive, however, Russell got word that the container wouldn’t be pulling into Gracias until noon! So, Russell hopped into the new-to-them, big, white van to head to the airport to pick up the visiting team. He left the crew in charge of meeting and unloading the container. Russell was less than a half hour out when he saw the container heading the other way. He waved to it as it passed, knowing the crew was about to get down to the work.

The view out the windshield of the van, as the
container truck arrives from the other direction
At some point during Russell’s trip to San Pedro, the driveshaft on the aforementioned new-to-them, big, white van broke. If you recall, this van was purchased especially for use with visiting teams. This was its maiden voyage, so to speak. Russell was able to rent a vehicle to transport the team, but because it was the last minute he was only able to rent a pickup truck for a one day rental.

The visiting team members were bundled and put in the back of the pickup along with their luggage for a chilly, drizzly ride to their lodging. Keep in mind, their hotel is a few hours away from the airport! Trish referred to that as their “mission trip adventure number one!”

The following day, while Allen took the team out for their activities in the Gracias area, Russell was making another trip to San Pedro, to return the pickup truck and collect the newly repaired van.

Scene at Home

Because of the overcast, drizzly weather, not much power is coming in at the ol’ homestead. The generator has a problem in its breakers and every so often it stops charging the batteries. It runs for about five minutes and then someone has to go out to do whatever it is you do to make it start running again. Trish and Ben have been taking turns getting it up and going, so that the buildings have lights through the night. Laundry is piling up because of the lack of power, too,  but even Trish is not quite ready to go out and beat the clothes on a rock. She’ll wait until she can use her washing machine, thankyouverymuch.

Random possum photo 

Oh, and there’s still a possum at large in Allen and Trish’s house. It mostly keeps to itself, but you might run into it if you have to get up in the middle of the night. Since the family is busy with back-to-back teams, Project Possum Removal has been penciled in for about two weeks from now!

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Goal of Working Yourself Out of a Job

During our most recent phone call, Russell jokingly threw out a phrase I’ve heard (and used) many times. He said, “When you get right down to it, our goal as missionaries is to work ourselves out of a job.” Oh, okay, I hadn’t heard the sentiment applied to missionaries before, but I’ve heard it used for parenting, homeschooling, and the corporate world. Hearing Russell say that started me pondering what the phrase really means. In this case, Russell was applying it to some exciting developments concerning Pastors’ Training School. It didn’t take long to decide pondering is too much work. So, I tossed aside the pondering and tried Googling instead. In a nutshell, it seems “working yourself out of a job” is about investing in others, sharing your knowledge and unlocking potential. (Thanks, Google!)

As you probably already know, there are four separate ministries working together to make Pastors’ Training School happen. What you probably don’t know is that a sort of Pastors’ Training School plant has taken root in the mountains of Western Honduras. (Think of it as a church plant only in Pastors’ Training School form.)

Each year at Pastors’ Training School, the top 5 students who return to complete the next year of classes also become mentors to the class level below them. These students help with the teaching. They also go out into the villages to meet with the students on their home turf, and help them with their studies.

Sowers4Pastors has worked with Mercedes Church for over ten years. For the past eight or nine years, the church has also been the site of a Sowers4Pastors feeding center. Allen has spent a full decade investing in others at that church. The senior pastor at Mercedes is an older gentleman who attended Pastors’ Training School in about 2008. He is also a supervisor for the denomination and has oversight of nineteen different churches. Not surprisingly, that pastor’s son and son-in-law are current “star students” serving as mentors for Pastors’ Training School. But they’ve taken the mentoring thing a step further!

These guys decided to start their own Pastors’ Training School on a separate campus! They opened it up to others, utilizing the same materials, methods, and quality lesson plans used at the original training school. How is it going? Well, they just graduated their first class of nineteen students! The two missionaries who serve as teachers for the original school even signed the diplomas for the Pastors’ Training School plant. Clay Powell (Seeds of Salvation) paid some visits to the school to offer support, but the two indigenous mentors did all of the work. When you get down to it, it’s an almost 100% Honduran endeavor!

The school can thank First Baptist Church of Kingsland, Georgia, and their pastor, Brian Parker, for purchasing a study Bible and a Bible dictionary for each student. The students utilized the books during classes. At the end of the year, they were able to take home the books, which cost about $40 for the Bible and $35 for the dictionary. Because this school operates in their own village, they do not have to worry about supplying food and shelter for the students.

While the original Pastors’ Training School is still needed in Honduras, it’s wonderful to see how the missionaries’ investment in others is unlocking potential!

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Little House in Honduras

Welcome to this week's episode of Little House in Honduras. Yes, sometimes talking to Trish can seem a little like having a phone call with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Seriously. It's like having the phone ring and suddenly being transported to a time when people weren't living in climate controlled environments and their biggest water concern wasn't whether to buy bottled or use a Brita filter.
People in Honduras are at the mercy of the seasons to a much larger degree than most modern North Americans can imagine. Oh, sure, we can have scorching summers and freezing winters, but that’s why God created central heat and air. Right? Honduran buildings tend to be open air. As Trish said, “When it’s cold, we’re cold. When it’s hot, we’re hot.” The same concept applies to water. When it’s the rainy season, water is plentiful. When it’s the dry season, having an adequate water supply is a big honkin’ deal! Water shortages are a reality during dry seasons. FYI, a dry season typically runs from fall to late spring.

Existing (round) water tank,
and larger tank (under construction) in the background

The Sowers built a water system when they first moved to their property. It’s a private system, which involves underground pipes and a 6000 gallon water tank. But that system was set up for one family. Now, the property is home to two families and a coffee farm. That 6000 gallons of water doesn’t go very far. That’s why the Little House in Honduras family is in the process of building a water system, which will more adequately meet their current needs.
Wall panels going up, to pour the concrete walls of
the larger tank

Even though the Honduran climate is well suited to growing coffee, the coffee farm does require a substantial amount of water. It does not require irrigation, but the fertilizer, fungicides, pesticides, etc… all come in a powder form. They are mixed with water and sprayed onto the plants. One application of one product requires 2000 gallons of water! It’s like a pioneer math problem: If Pa and Ma Sowers have 6000 gallons of water and Russell and his crew use 2000 gallons of water spraying coffee plants, how long will it be before it’s time to break out a divining rod? (Okay. They don’t have a divining rod. But they have had to pay the firemen to fill the water tank.)

Fortunately, this new system involves an additional, larger tank, which holds 60,000 gallons of water! Some dimensions were tossed around, but all you really need to know is that it’s roughly the size of a three car garage! A new pipe system is also in the plans, but first things first.

General construction details

Allen wants to stress there are some benefits to the dry season. It’s the time when most church and bridge construction takes place. Most buildings in Western Honduras are made out of homemade adobe bricks. When the bricks get wet, they are about as durable as bricks made from Play-doh. (And they probably don’t even taste as good!) The adobe sort of melts with the rain. By the time the rains come, the completed buildings will be protected by roofs.

It’s enough to make the Ingalls family and the folks in Walnut Grove proud!

- posted by Christi

- pictures by Ben Sowers

Friday, December 8, 2017

Come Along on a Virtual Visit to Our Most Recent Bridge Project!

You've heard it mentioned in previous blog posts . . . now you can see it! We've been working on replacing the old, worn-out pedestrian bridge at Las Crucitas with a new bridge that can handle vehicles up to pickup trucks! In this video you can see the two bridges side-by-side! 

This bridge is a result of cooperation between the local government, volunteers from the communities that are served by this bridge, and fundraising help from Eric Linden in Jacksonville, Florida . . . plus Russell and Sowers4Pastor' trained, bridge-building crew!

We have a small - but good - problem with our bridge construction ministry: we've installed new bridges in most of the sites needing them in the vicinity of Gracias. When teams want to help build bridges in the future, they may need to rough it out in a more remote area, possibly sleeping in a church in a village that doesn't have any hotels or restaurants. (Our usual teams get a bit spoiled staying  and eating at the lovely Guancascos Hotel in Gracias). So, who's up for a remote bridge construction project? Hmmmm?

- posted by Trish

Monday, December 4, 2017

One Day's Trip to the Airport . . . Through the Roadblocks

We have an exciting story to tell you!

First things first – we want to thank everyone who is involved in praying, as part of our large, informal but effective prayer support team! You guys know how living in Honduras adds certain risks to our lives – bad roads (extreme curves, minimal traffic laws, lack of guard rails, gigantic potholes, . . . ), reduced quality and availability of medical care, increased exposure to diseases, etc. We do our best to take certain precautions – like keeping our vehicles well maintained, and avoiding more dangerous parts of the large cities, especially at night (just like you would likely do in the U.S.).

With all this in mind, we know that God has called us to live here, and sometimes living and working here requires us to take certain greater risks. Many of the things we ourselves do day-to-day involve risks we would never expose teams to – like Trish (a woman alone) driving on back roads, or Allen eating unsafely-prepared foods in people’s homes.

In spite of the unsettled situation in Honduras, Friday morning Allen and Russell found it necessary to make a trip to San Pedro Sula and back. We had a guest who needed to get to the airport. Dennis has experience traveling in third world countries and he was in-the-know about the risks involved in trying to get to the airport on that day. We also had other guests, two men, who were already in country and arriving in Gracias, from Tegucigalpa, that evening.

It was slow going. Starting out, they saw multiple areas where protests had previously taken place, and had already been broken up, and the roads were clear.

Russell took this short video, during their trip.

At one point, they came to where a protest was in progress, and no traffic was getting through, except for motorcycles and pedestrians. Right then, the military police arrived, to re-open the road. Russell walked up to the front of the protest, to see and hear how things were working out. He heard the police say that they had orders to re-open the road, and they didn’t want to have to use force. The protest leaders said that they didn’t want to stop protesting. They negotiated an agreement where the protesters stayed on only one side of the road (the road is one lane in each direction), and the other side would remain open, with vehicles going north and south taking turns using that lane. It was handled peacefully, and the men were able to move forward along the road again.

Eventually, outside of San Pedro Sula (around 15 miles from the city), they got stopped in a roadblock that just didn't budge. After checking the situation to see if the blockage would be cleared, Allen and Dennis decided to walk through the roadblock, and pay for rides on the other side.

Once they reached open road again, they alternated between hiring taxis, walking, and hitching rides. They saw lots of action, but were personally unharmed throughout the trip. In one especially odd event, they had negotiated a price with the driver of a small, open-air taxi, to take them out from a roadblock. When the driver got them to their destination at the back of the protest area, and they were preparing to pay him, a crowd of protesters demanded to know, from the driver, how much he was charging his passengers. When he told them an amount (about half of what had actually been agreed upon), the crowd threatened to beat the driver - because he was price gouging! Fortunately, there was an off-duty policeman in the taxi with them, and he managed to calm the protesters!

Eventually, Allen and Dennis made it safely to a hotel near the airport. Once he knew they were safely settled for the night, Russell turned around and started driving back to Gracias.

Russell had a long trip, dodging protests and roadblocks at night. At one point, he and a caravan of other vehicles were led along back roads, for an hour, by knowledgeable locals on motorcycles, to get around a large roadblock (for a fee). Russell actually arrived home earlier than we'd anticipated, as the roads were basically clear for the second half of his trip.

Our guests coming from Tegucigalpa were having their own troubles. Traveling with Honduran friends in a pickup truck, they were caught up in traffic at several roadblocks, eventually arriving at their hotel in Gracias in the wee hours of the morning.

Saturday morning, when things were quieter, Allen headed off from the hotel, to make his way back to Gracias. (The guest had to reschedule his flight, as his previously scheduled flight on Friday was cancelled.)

He was able to get to the bus terminal in San Pedro, but it was all closed up, and looters were trying to gain entry. Since there were no buses available, Allen hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck. (Hitchhiking - with a small amount paid to the driver - is a surprisingly safe and common means of transport in Honduras.)

Six hours and several different pickup trucks later, and absolutely covered in black soot from the smoke of the burning tires at all the protest sites, Allen made it back as far as Las Flores, a few miles outside of Gracias (normally a trip of about 3 – 4 hours). Russell and the guests picked him up there . . . and Allen went immediately to work, showing the visitors the work of the ministry in that area.

And that, my friends, is the short version of the story! LOL

Praise the Lord, throughout all of this none of these folks - Allen, Russell, or the guests - were ever threated with any harm. These are remarkable times – not at all the norm for Honduras - but we won't be afraid to continue the work God has given us to do here!

 - posted by Trish (for a change)