Thursday, December 20, 2018

Come Rain or Come Shine

Don't expect to see THIS in Honduras!
This is the time of year when everyone at Sowers4Pastors starts spending a lot of time and energy keeping an eye on the weather. And it isn’t because they’re dreaming of a white Christmas!

This is the dry season in Honduras, however there are frequent cold and cloudy days at this time of year - which is a big, he-honkin’ deal when your home runs on solar power! A sunny day means you can do something really special--like laundry! Not only does it mean you can run the washing machine, it also means you’ll be able to hang the clothes out to dry. But laundry isn’t the only reason the Sowerses are paying super close attention to the 10-day weather forecast.

As you know, it’s time for the coffee harvest. At the end of each day of harvest, Russell and members of the regular crew work at the depulping station to remove the fruit. Then they wash the coffee beans. The next essential step is to get the beans completely dry in a timely fashion. They lay it out in the sun on giant tarps. When there’s no sun, there is a big dilemma! It takes days to thoroughly dry the coffee and they are racing against the clock because the drying process must be completed before the beans start to grow mold.

Here's our VERY newly constructed de-pulping station!
Larger coffee farms have huge concrete pads to spread the beans on while drying. Each hour, a “coffee raker” turns the beans to allow complete drying. The Sowers’ coffee farm is at the stage of the game where they have a coffee pulping station set up. They even employ an expert coffee raker! But they don’t yet have the concrete pads. The goal is to have concrete poured for next year’s harvest. This year’s final picking is almost complete.

Coffee beans, on tarps, being raked to dry evenly

This season has been relatively cold and overcast. As Trish said, “If it’s not sunny, we’d rather it rain because it’s good for the coffee plants!” Plus, it takes a lot of water to wash coffee! While Allen, Trish, and Russell are pleased that an extra water tank was built this year, they are definitely using more water than ever before! They are hoping to build up their water supply in their tanks before the rivers dry up.

As an interesting side note: Coffee farms at higher elevations, which experience colder weather, have not finished harvesting. Certain schools at higher elevations delay the start of their school year because they aren’t finished picking until the end of February. That means Sowers4Pastors has a little extra time to get the backpacks out to the children in those areas.

In addition to harvesting and drying, it’s the time of year when pastors plan to build churches. The making of adobe bricks and rain don’t mix! As soon as the walls are up, churches need a roof by the middle of May. That means it’s a time when Sowers4Pastors receives a lot of requests for new church roofs!

The dry season is also the time for bridge building because the lower rivers allow for easier crossing. Currently, there are two bridges in the planning stages. Teams will be coming to Honduras in March and April to build them. Missionary life is busy, come rain or come shine.

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Over the River and Through the Woods

If you’ve been a friend of the Sowerses for any length of time, you know that, when it comes to celebrating holidays, they’ve learned to go with the flow. They’re much more concerned with family than with a date on a calendar. This year, Christmas started early for the Sowers family.

Sowers daughter, Kirstin, is visiting from Florida and the family members in Honduras are thrilled to be able to spend time with her. She’s there for a few weeks, which pretty much has Trish on cloud 9. Kirstin is spending as much time as possible in the company of RJ, Abby, and Nathan. As the family’s eldest child, she’s also getting reacquainted with Ben, the youngest child. Kirstin moved to the U.S. around ten years ago, meaning that Ben was still in elementary school when she left. While she has seen him over the years, they haven’t had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together--certainly not since he has been in high school.

Last weekend, Rachel, Brandy, and Nathan visited Gracias. Brandy’s military career doesn’t allow for a lot of scheduling flexibility. While military personnel in Honduras do get a holiday break, it doesn’t necessarily fall on the actual holiday. So, Rachel and Brandy decided to do the Honduran equivalent of going over the river and through the woods to get Nathan to Nana and Grandpa’s house. (That Honduran equivalent included home in the wee hours of the morning, to avoid protests which were causing road closures!)

 Trish had already purchased food for a special Christmas dinner and it was put to good use, just earlier than expected! The family (minus Gus and Boo, who were unable to visit at this time) gathered around the table for a big, ham dinner. If you’re taking a headcount, the attendees included: Allen, Trish, Kirsten, Russell, Iris, RJ, Abby, Brandy, Rachel, Nathan, and Ben. They exchanged what Christmas presents they had. Many of their presents are still on the container coming from Maryland (which is currently expected to arrive around Dec. 21st).

Iris' brother,
Juan Ramon
This doesn’t mean the season is over for them. Russell’s family drove to Tegucigalpa for the college graduation of Iris’s brother, Juan Ramon. Kirstin hitched a ride with them, in order to spend more time with Rachel, Brandy, and Nathan.

When the actual calendar dates do arrive, the Sowers family celebrates on the 24th and the 25th with a mix of American and Honduran traditions. In Honduras, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, culminating in LOTS of fireworks at midnight. Families go from house to house visiting friends and relatives all evening on Christmas Eve. Russell, Iris, RJ, and Abby will celebrate the Honduran traditions with Iris’s family, staying up until well after midnight. Then, on Christmas morning, they will be at Allen and Trish’s house for a big Christmas breakfast, and gifts under the tree. According to Nana, the grandchildren will be tired, but the excitement should keep them going!

While Christopher and Bethany (Forever “Gus” and “Boo” in my mind!) were unable to schedule a holiday visit, due to the demands of nursing school and work, it is a precious treat to have so much of the family together. 

 - posted by Christi

Monday, December 17, 2018

New Video!

Sometimes we find that people only learn about one part of the Sowers4Pastors ministry, and don't know about other things we do . . . or they don't know how it all fits together. Because of this, I created this video, which I hope will fill in any information you might be missing.

If you're seeing this post by email, you will need to click on the link, to view the video at the Vimeo site.

I'd love to hear what you think about the new video!

Sowers4Pastors - Empowering Pastors from Trish Sowers on Vimeo.
A brief explanation of our ministry work

 - posted by Trish

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Dispensas . . . Including What They Are!

For all of you who are waiting for Christmas packages to arrive, imagine what it’s like to wait for an entire shipping container to show up on your front porch! Even if it’s not always accurate, we can generally type in a tracking number and get some vague idea of where our packages are. That’s not the case with Sowers4Pastors’ shipping containers! 

In order to import to Honduras, Sowers4Pastors must apply for duty free shipping with the Honduran government. Well, technically, they don’t have to do that. They could pay out the wazoo for the privilege of importing. However, since they aren’t in the habit of throwing money away, they file the necessary paperwork, called a dispensa. 

Lest this process be too easy, each dispensa has a limited life span. You don’t want to file the paperwork too early because the dispensa could expire before the container arrives. You don’t want to file it too late because the dispensa might not be approved in time. It’s sort of like a little paperwork dance. Timing matters! 

Each dispensa is also specific to the items on the container, and must list everything on the container. That may not sound like such a big deal until you realize that the paperwork is filed before each container is loaded. Invariably some new donations arrive just before loading time. What does that mean? It means Allen and Russell discuss what donations they think they might receive! In the past, it has always been better to list something that wasn’t donated than to ship something that wasn’t declared. 

This year, they listed “medicines” on the dispensa for the Florida container. Now, there were no donated medicines, but they thought there might be. Previously, it has never been a problem to list something that didn’t make it on board. This year, new regulations meant that any medicines listed (whether actually on the container or not!) required an additional fee. That means Sowers4Pastors had to pay a couple of hundred dollars for medicines they didn’t actually ship. They will face next year’s shipping process armed with that knowledge!

The Florida container has already been received and its contents are in the new building. Even though the containers were shipped on the same day, there is no word yet on the Maryland container. It is possible there was a shipping delay because of winter weather in the U.S. It is also possible that rumors are true and there is a logjam of shipments at the Honduran port. Shipping companies know they can’t unload containers if a port is full, so they may have delayed shipping. 

At any rate, they are still waiting for the Maryland container to arrive. Things are moving, but at a  slow pace. They have no idea when the container will arrive to be unloaded. The prayer is that the dispensa deadline doesn’t happen before the container arrives. They don’t want the delivery to be delayed, and they certainly don’t want to have to pay extra to receive the contents. Think about that, the next you complain your Amazon Prime packages didn’t arrive in two days! 

 - posted by Christi

Monday, December 10, 2018

A New Opportunity

The world is filled with needs you may have never considered. While it is impossible for one mission organization to address every need, Sowers4Pastors will never be accused of not exploring new ministry opportunities. This particular opportunity is a bit more sensitive in nature. In fact, I’m just going to warn you upfront that we’re talking about providing reusable menstrual products to young women. Go ahead and squirm, just don’t stop reading!

Allen and Trish have some new friends in Pennsylvania who are involved with Days for Girls International (DfG). DfG works to provide quality menstrual care solutions and hygiene education, by distributing menstrual kits.

You may be asking if this is really a need in Honduras. After all, we’re not talking about a remote African village with no access to stores. Color me embarrassed, because until today I never considered this was a need for women in Honduras. The fact is, many families can’t even afford toilet paper and use some, er, creative solutions to deal with that problem. They certainly can’t afford to run to the nearest store and stock up on disposable menstrual products. The products are available; they simply aren’t affordable. That means pubescent girls are missing days of school each month and women are missing work.

That’s where the new ministry opportunity comes in. Sowers4Pastors was given a limited number of boxes containing menstrual kits. In all honesty, these kits do not work in all cultures. Yet, knowing the need for such a product, Allen and Trish feel this is something they should explore. Since the shipping containers were about to be packed, Allen made the decision to purchase additional kits. He wanted to have enough kits to give this program a good trial run-- as sort of a beta ministry. This decision was made even though there are obviously not designated funds for this. Not surprisingly, they are walking by faith.

Due to the somewhat awkward nature of this particular ministry opportunity, Allen and Russell will be stepping aside and finding women who can lead this up. When medical teams visit, female medical staff and teachers will lead workshops to educate the young women. Sowers4Pastors is still working to figure out the logistics, but they are excited about this new opportunity to meet needs and change lives.

If you would like to donate toward the cost of the kits, everyone with Sowers4Pastors would be thrilled. At the moment, there is no special tab to donate to this cause. You can simply put a note in the donation box saying, “For girls’ products.”

There, now… That wasn't too embarrassing, was it?

- posted by Christi

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Better Later Than Never, and other Short Stories

While Trish was traveling, it wasn’t always possible for her to post each of the blog posts I continued to churn out at what was probably an annoying rate. If something was time sensitive, it made it into the blog. If it was less time sensitive, it got mentally filed into a “deal with it later” file. Guess what time it is? It’s LATER! Trish is focusing on posting things that got missed while she was gallivanting around in a Penske truck. What does this mean to you?

It means there’s a chance that you may notice a flurry of activity from Sowers4Pastors’ blog. If you’re an email subscriber, please don’t despair. You aren’t being spammed! This is a temporary increase in activity. Promise.

Building Overdrive

Construction of the new building is in overdrive. I’m not allowed to say they are “frantically” working because that sounds negative. So, I won’t say that! I will say that they are steadily, meticulously, and carefully working on the new building at a deliberately fast pace!

The first shipping container could arrive as early as today or tomorrow. Half of the new building already has a roof. Since the building is subdivided into separate rooms, the materials in that container will be unloaded into the roofed portion of the building. The second shipping container is believed to be about a week behind. It’s like the story of The Tortoise and the Hare, except in this version the moral is, “Fast and steady gets a roof on in time!”

The Shortest of Short Stories

The coffee harvest is still going strong!

Allen’s Home, Kelsea’s Gone, and Trish Needs a Revolving Door

Allen arrived home on Dec. 4th. For those of you who have been waiting for an update, RJ did NOT get sick on the ride to and from the airport! Whew! As he explained in his best “Spanglish,” he “drank the pill and didn’t throw up”.

With Allen back, one of the things on the agenda is to regroup and have an organizational meeting. Kelsea is in Seattle until after the Christmas holidays, but Allen, Russell, and Trish will gather around the kitchen table to discuss ways to help Sowers4Pastors function with optimal efficiency and effectiveness.

Trish will be leaving on December 31st and will be gone for most of January, as she attends appointments for Nathan’s U.S. citizenship!

End of Year Giving

This is the time of year when Sowers4Pastors is under extra financial stress. The ministry has recently purchased the backpacks people so generously filled. They had the expenses of the trip to the U.S., including renting all of those Penske trucks. They purchased shoes for the children. They purchased school supplies and hygiene items to fill backpacks (whatever was needed that wasn't donated). And they paid to ship two containers. Thank you to everyone who has recently donated to Sowers4Pastors. For those of you who would like to help ease the financial burden, that would certainly be appreciated!

And - don't forget that there are still matching funds available, for donations given toward the purchase of motorcycles!

Thanks so much for your support and prayers!

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Growing Pains

Growth is good. Right? Of course it is! But just because it’s good, that doesn’t mean it’s painless. Anyone who has ever experienced the angst of adolescence can attest to that! Sowers4Pastors is experiencing its own kind of growing pains. That’s good. It can also be a little angsty! (Hey! What do you know? “Angsty” is actually a word. I was expecting the red squiggle of disapproval I so often receive under words I write!)

Sowers4Pastors is at a stage in its ministry where things are happening at a fast and furious pace. They are what they have always referred to as “kitchen table missionaries”. They have no sleek headquarters filled with minions. They don’t have all of the personnel and resources a larger organization would have. They just don’t put money into that kind of thing. (Plus, good minions are so hard to find!) There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of organizations. As Sowers4Pastors is in the process of growing from small to bigger, everyone is stretched to keep up with the ministry roles.

Here’s a real life example of how those growing pains have manifested:

One of Sowers4Pastors’ child sponsors was interested in the matching funds program for church construction. He generously donated $500 knowing that amount would be doubled to allow a congregation to have a roof on their church. Awesome!

Trish shared that information with Russell and he, in turn, started construction on the new roof. Super awesome! Trish was traveling. Russell was swamped. Kelsea had family visiting, and was busy showing them the ministry.

After waiting patiently, the sponsor finally said something like, “Um, could I please see some pictures of the superduper, awesome new church I helped fund?”

Oops! Trish contacted Russell. Russell contacted Kelsea, who had, in fact, already taken pictures of the new church construction with its shiny, new roof. Kelsea located the pictures in a file with pictures from her family’s visit to Honduras. The sponsor was very gracious about the delay.

As the ministry grows, more things are required and more people are involved. Every process they need takes a little longer because they are still setting up a new system. For example: Trish is having to create a receipt for people who donate non-monetary gifts. Once a template is created, it will be a breeze. Right now, it's a big item on her to-do list.

Trish acknowledged it would be lovely if there were some sort of glorious flowchart, which would almost miraculously inform each individual sponsor or donor of everything that person needs or should know. The reality is, it would take an incredibly organized, and highly skilled minion to come up with such a system. And Sowers4Pastors remains a minion-free, kitchen table ministry. Oh, sure, they’re putting an extra leaf into the kitchen table to help accommodate the growth, but there are still limitations. Sowers4Pastors appreciates everyone’s patience, as they move forward in exciting ways!

 - posted by Christi

Mission Possible

Do you know of someone who is looking for an adventurous way to serve God? Then, let’s talk about joining what I like to think of as, “Mission Possible!” Sowers4Pastors is looking for one or two new interns. This is a wonderful opportunity for someone looking for a middle ground between a short-term mission trip and full-time missions.

The ideal candidate will:

  • Be in his or her 20s. 
  • Be available to be in Honduras for 1-3 months, preferable between the months of January and March, to help with backpack and shoe distribution..
  • Have a desire to truly serve. While there will be the opportunity for some fun, this isn’t a glorified vacation. 
  • Have a glowing recommendation from a pastor. The application includes a reference spot for a pastor. Someone at Sowers4Pastors will call and speak to the pastor. 

January-March is when Sowers4Pastors is eyeball deep in backpack and shoe distribution. Interns will help by moving boxes, organizing donations, and handing out backpacks and shoes. Strong computer skills are a bonus, but they aren’t required. If an intern does possess computer skills, he or she will help Kelsea with logistical tasks, such as re-registering children and updating information.

As someone who is currently serving as an intern, Kelsea observed, “It’s a great opportunity to be able to serve in another country. To make a difference. To spend time with the kids. To be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

If you know of someone who is interested in being a part of this mission possibility, have that person email Kelsea at . She will be happy to forward an application and answer any questions.

 - posted by Christi

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thoughts on the Migrant Caravan - from our November Newsletter

The migrant caravan trying to cross the border into the U.S. is headline news. Because we live in Honduras, we’re being asked regularly for the facts: How bad are things in Honduras, really? Are these people fleeing for their lives? Are they just coming up for jobs? Is it true that they are gang members? Is this all a political stunt?

Here are a few thoughts on this topic:
  • Yes, Honduras has the reputation of being a violent and dangerous country. There are places (mostly in the cities) and activities that are best avoided, as is the case in many U.S. cities. Honduras has not recently become more dangerous than it was in the past – in fact, crime statistics have been improving significantly in Honduras in recent years.
  • Absolutely, many Hondurans go to the U.S. looking for jobs, opportunities, and a better life; unemployment is rampant here. Also, some Hondurans find themselves in situations where they feel the need to run from dangers which threaten their lives. In the migrant caravan there are certainly individuals from each of these groups.
  • Central America has a gigantic problem with gangs, and gangs take advantage of the vulnerable. It seems highly probably - almost certain - that there are gang members in the caravan, mixed in with non-gang members.
  • Millions of Hondurans dream of going to live in the U.S., but most cannot afford the cost of the trip. If someone offered them the chance to go up without paying, offering them help and support and some protection . . . well, it would be very easy to round up a large crowd of eager participants. This does appear to be how the caravan began. We don’t know who instigated this or why, however.
How can the caravan situation be resolved?

We don’t know the answer to the question of how the U.S. should deal with this migrant caravan at our border – this really is the kind of problem that our elected leaders need to resolve in the best interest of the country, as that is their job. We pray that their decisions will be both wise and merciful.

Is there anything we can do about this, as individuals, families, and churches?

The trip to the U.S. border is incredibly dangerous - migrants are regularly murdered, raped, seriously injured, or they simply disappear. Rather than encouraging Hondurans to leave their homes and make such a horrific journey, we absolutely believe that the best course of action is to help improve the lives of Hondurans inside Honduras.

As you know, we’re already working on that! While our central focus remains helping Honduran pastors reach the lost in the villages of western Honduras, through our combined ministries we are also helping to improve the lives of the people who live in those pastors’ communities. Our feeding centers and sponsorship programs, run by the local pastors as outreaches to their communities, are fighting the problems of chronic malnutrition and lack of education. Through partnerships with local governments, we are improving water systems and building bridges.

Watch this video, to learn more about how the Manna4Lempira Sponsorship Program is making a difference!

These programs are making a difference! In several of the communities where we work, the public schools are currently building additional classrooms and hiring more teachers, because the number of local children who are able to attend school is increasing so rapidly. These are children who previously were growing up without this opportunity - but now they are able to receive an education because your donations make it possible! Educating these children now will absolutely transform the future for everyone in these communities - this is a long-term, hope-giving solution!

Won’t you help us, as we work to alleviate the root problems which cause Hondurans to leave their beautiful country? We do all of this in the name and for the cause of Christ.

 - posted by Trish

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Insert Cleverness Here

In most blog posts, I try to come up with some sort of reasonably clever introductory paragraph. Today, I’ve got nothin’! That’s okay. Just think of this as a writing prompt. This is the point where the reader should come up with his or her own clever introduction. Really. Try it. Okay. Have you got it? Good. Now, here’s what Allen and Trish have been up to since the last update:

It's a photo of a Pilots for Christ meeting. Don't strain
your eyes - Allen and Trish are not in this photo, LOL
On Saturday morning, Nov 10th, they shared their ministry with a chapter of Pilots for Christ International on Merritt Island, Florida. As soon as that was over, they hopped into the car and drove five hours to Tallahassee, where they spent the night. The following morning, they spoke at Piedmont Park Alliance Church. It was an exceptionally good morning. Trish spoke about the kidnapping experience, during the Sunday school hour. Allen spoke about the ministry during the church service. Trish described it as a very welcoming church. Allen and Trish are excited about the possibility of partnering with the church in some way. As Trish said, “As exciting as it is to go to far flung places, it is fiscally responsible to have churches which are more local to one another. Adding another church in Florida would be great!”

On Sunday afternoon, Allen and Trish drove to Sarasota to get together with family. Trish’s brother was visiting that weekend, so Trish was able to spend time with her brother, her parents, and Kirstin, Gus, and Boo. (I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be calling Gus and Boo by their given names, Christopher and Bethany, but old habits die hard!)

On Monday, Allen and Trish drove to Orlando, and Trish flew home on Tuesday morning. No one is more excited about that fact than R.J.! After catching an early morning flight, Trish was greeted by a welcoming committee at the airport. Abby had a doctor’s appointment in the city, so Russell’s whole family went to appointment, and then to pick up Nana. R.J. greeted Nana by saying (more or less as he had been taught), “Welcome back to your home!” He also got to experience the joy of riding around on the luggage cart, on top of Trish’s luggage. They enjoyed lunch at the airport food court and then drove home--which took four hours, rather than the usual three, due to road construction.

Trish was officially welcomed back to her home at around 8:00 PM. After a much needed night’s sleep, Trish woke up to find herself being “that person everyone is shooting balls at, but she’s hitting them all!” She has answered questions, written emails, looked up phone numbers, found a needed birth certificate, and squeezed in time for our phone call. Since Allen isn’t travelling with a good internet connection, he is relying on Trish to find information as he needs it. She described herself as being “on call” until Allen returns home in December.

Early on in our 8:00 AM phone call, R.J. arrived at the house. I have to wonder how long he had been waiting before Iris allowed him to pay a visit to Nana. Hey, guess what! I just realized I don’t have a clever ending either. You did such a great job in your introductory paragraph, I trust you to come up with your own ending, as well. Fantastic!

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hither and Yon, and then Hither Again

Have you ever made a mental itinerary, which included a little down time, only to discover that “down time” was going to be replaced with running hither and yon? Surely you have. It’s sort of like making plans to relax on the weekend only to discover your child’s science project is due on Monday. This is pretty much what Trish is experiencing.

The final countdown is on for Trish’s return to Honduras. Although Allen will remain in the States until the first week of December, Trish will be flying home on November 13th. Why?  Ben’s ninth grade school year is coming to an end and Trish wants to be home to spend time with him. She’s also very eager to deliver the violin to him. The thing is, that even though Allen will be available for meetings for several more weeks, churches are opting to find a time to meet with both Allen and Trish. People have a tendency to say, “Let’s schedule things before Trish leaves.” And that brings us to the “hither and yon” portion of this blogpost.

Allen and Trish have been meeting with churches who are involved with Sowers4Pastors in varying degrees. Some are fully in partnership with the ministry. Others are simply wanting to hear more as they consider becoming involved in the future. When Allen and Trish set up meetings, they always do their best to give priority to the pastors’ schedules. They don’t say, “We’ll be in Tallahassee on such and such date.” They say, “What date works for you? We’ll be there!”

That’s why they have been bouncing around the state of Florida like a couple of ping-pong balls. They’ve been spending time in Melbourne and New Smyrna Beach, which are on Florida’s east coast, as well as Tallahassee, which is in the northern part of the state, and Sarasota, which is to the west and farther south.

Here’s a sampling of what their journey has looked like: They are in Melbourne on the Tuesday and Wednesday. On Monday, they were in Sarasota. The day before that, they were in Edgewater, which is north of Melbourne. They drove to Sarasota on Sunday night, had dinner with their kids, spent the night, and headed back to Edgewater. Trish will happily sacrifice the dream of downtime for the chance to develop relationships with churches, even if it means taking a very scenic route around Florida.

Allen pointed out this is one reason it is always good when they have more than one church to visit in any location. As much as they love visiting stand-alone locations like Seattle, they are hoping to be able to work with additional churches in that area, in the future.

While Allen and Trish are running hither and yon, Russell and Kelsea are hosting a medical team in Honduras. The team is doing well-visits on children in some of the sponsorship locations. They are also doing an open clinic for the surrounding area. Well visits are a part of the sponsorship program, and they also serve as a screening process for Sowers4Pastors’ ongoing mercy medical missions. These people don’t need no stinkin’ downtime! They are the most mission driven missionaries you’ll ever meet.

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

After the Hurricane

Hurricane Michael hitting the Florida panhandle
As Allen and Trish start wrapping up their latest U.S. trip, let’s give a recap of what has happened since they were driving behind Hurricane Michael.

In Edgewater, Florida, they spent time opening backpack boxes and making them full enough to not crush in shipping. There wasn’t time to repack all of the boxes, so there are additional repacking events scheduled for future Saturday mornings. Edgewater is a collection point for shipping a container of donations, and these donations include food for the feeding and sponsorship programs. Because the amount of total U.S. donations equaled too much for two shipping containers (the one from Edgewater and the other shipped from Maryland), and not enough for three containers, something was going to be left behind. Sowers4Pastors receives whole containers of food from Minnesota, so the food could be replaced, but he backpacks could not. Allen and Trish knew they could help victims of Hurricane Michael with a large donation of the food they couldn't ship.

Congregation members from Piedmont Park Alliance
Church, in Tallahassee, who helped move the food
from our rental truck into their rental truck!
After checking with the people who had donated this food, to be sure they approved of diverting some of it to hurricane victims, Allen and Trish looked around for contacts to see if there was a way the food would be useful. This wasn’t the type of food donation storm victims in the U.S. normally receive. It was the type of special formula food served at the feeding centers. Allen had a number of organizations working in the disaster area tell him they already had enough food. Then he made a connection with a pastor in Tallahassee, Florida. The pastor immediately said, “Yes! We will make good use of it!” However, at the time, he wasn’t sure what that use would be. Still, he felt God was telling him to accept the donation.

The drop-off was made and the Tallahassee pastor began making some phone calls of his own. His experience was similar to Allen’s. People said, “We have all the food we need. Maybe if you had plywood, or some building materials…” Then, he made a phone call to another ministry, which eagerly asked for all of the food!

The ministry that received the food works with low income and at-risk people in the community. While they were not in the direct path of the storm, they were on the outskirts. The food donations they normally receive had been diverted to storm victims. Also, many of the people who normally contribute to this ministry were directly impacted by the storm. The man who operates the ministry said that, on the morning he received the phone call about the available food, he had been praying about how he would continue to feed the people who depended on him! The food is being used to feed the homeless and low-income families, on the edges of the hurricane impact zone.

66 boxes of backpacks awaiting transport
in Missisippi

After they dropped off the food, Allen and Trish headed to Gulfport, Mississippi, where they picked up 66 boxes of backpacks. When they arrived, Brita, who headed up the backpack drive, checked her tally sheets and realized they had 449 backpacks. She laughed and said that if they had known they would have made one more backpack to hit a nice, round number. On Sunday morning, Trish spoke in that church about the kidnapping story. Between Sunday school and the church service, a woman approached Trish. She said she had missed the deadline, but wondered if they could take one more backpack! Yes. Yes, they could! 450! 

Hannah's family, in the rental truck with the backpacks

Next, they headed to Valparaiso, Florida. They picked up 175 more backpacks, which were a combination of backpacks for sponsored and unsponsored children. Hannah, the woman who headed up the collection in Valparaiso, did so at the encouragement of her young son and daughter. Trish said that backpack collection was unique because it was more child led.

Allen and Trish continued east and delivered this final batch of backpacks to Edgewater. In total, they have covered more than 6800 miles on their backpack collection trip. Even with a hurricane there were no major incidents to report. A check engine light in a Penske truck and a six hour delay are minor in the big scheme of things. They were able to collect backpacks from churches in Seattle, Colorado Springs, Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, one in Virginia, four in Georgia, two in Florida, and 4 in Mississippi. They were also able to speak at numerous churches and to additional individuals who are talking to their churches about partnering with Sowers4Pastors.

Stay tuned for the final backpack tally!

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Russell's Life Cycle of Coffee

There’s almost something poetic about one of the busiest, most high-energy people I know growing coffee. Thinking about Russell’s life is sort of like imagining the life cycle of caffeine. Drink coffee. → Accomplish a bunch of stuff. → Harvest the coffee. → Drink more coffee. → Accomplish more stuff. You get the idea. It’s also a little like thinking about the age old question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Except this would be, “Which came first, the coffee or the crazy-busy Russell we all know and love?”

Russell and his crew just finished harvesting the first precocious fruits of the 2018 coffee harvest season. That early harvest is sort of like nature’s trial run for things to come. It's so small the harvesters are paid by the day, rather than by the bucket of picked fruit. Russell said that this year, the baby harvest yielded around 2000 lbs. He said it wasn’t much, but, I think it sounds like a ton! (Hehehe. Get it? 2000 lbs. A ton. Hehehe. It’s punny.) With that preliminary harvest done, they now have less than three weeks until the first REAL harvest for the year.

Depulping station under construction
Building the tanks at the depulping station

The upcoming REAL harvest will hopefully yield about twice as much as last year. He was hesitant to give a prediction in pounds, but it should be big. It’s big enough to make completing a new depulping station a necessity. The depulping machine was donated last year. The station will increase efficiency. Russell described the depulping station as a place that will have big holding basins for the coffee that comes in. It will be up in the air and the fruit will be poured in through the depulper. The fruit will come out one side. There will be concrete slabs where the pulp will be dried for use as fertilizer. The beans will come out the other side. They will remain there for eighteen hours, before being heated up and washed to remove the sticky residue. Then the beans will be dried and stored, for use as, well, coffee.

Interior door being stained

Simultaneously, the work on the house is continuing. Iris’s father just brought the interior doors for the house, and the work crew started installing and staining them. And, because he didn’t have enough going on… Russell is assisting another missionary who is opening a coffee shop. Russell is helping with the construction for a couple of hours each afternoon.

Pastors at the evangelism event
It’s also the final week of Pastors Training School. Unrelated to the upcoming graduation, an event was held in the central park on the evening of Oct. 23. The pastors wanted the opportunity to see what a planned, urban evangelism event might look like. The 23rd was also the day Kelsea’s family returned home from their visit. Kelsea and Russell were busy from 4:00 AM until 11:00 PM. When I suggested that maybe his day wouldn’t be so busy on the 24th (the morning we spoke), Russell sounded slightly appalled. He politely reminded me that’s what coffee is for! Drink coffee. → Accomplish a bunch of stuff. → Etc…

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Roadtrips Aren't For Sissies

What a difference a week makes! When I spoke to Trish a week ago, she and Allen were in a parking lot outside a Christian school in Virginia. This week, they are on the west coast of Florida visiting Kirstin, Christopher (Gus), Bethany (Boo), and Trish’s parents. In the space between one phone call and the next, there was a lot of lugging boxes of backpacks from one place to another, a lot of driving, and a lot of driving rain (courtesy of Hurricane Michael).

Eating out with Oscar and Rhoda, in Virginia

When Allen and Trish left the aforementioned school parking lot, they drove to St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Yorktown, Virginia to collect backpacks. They loaded those boxes of backpacks into the 16-ft Penske truck they were driving at the time. Then they headed to South Carolina, where they spent the night. The following morning, the weather was a might blustery and hurricane-ish in South Carolina, but the track of the hurricane was looking good. It was east of them and headed northeast. Allen and Trish were heading southwest to Atlanta. So, after admiring the water that was gushing through the canned lighting in the hotel lobby, Allen and Trish took inventory of the situation and decided to go ahead and hit the road. After all, they were going in the right direction to get out of the storm.

Driving south, along with many relief vehicles,
and catching a bit of Tropical Storm Michael

They drove slowly and carefully, but said everything was okay. All roads were passable and it didn’t seem ridiculously dangerous. After driving for three hours, they stopped for gas. That’s when Trish pulled out her phone and received a warning message she had missed before they left the hotel. The warning, which had been sent three hours prior, said that for the next three hours there would be flash flood warnings in the area they had just driven! This is probably one of those “ignorance is bliss” situations. With a full tank of gas, they hit the road again and drove out of the storm.

After a stop to pick up a violin on the northside of Atlanta, which has been donated for Ben's use, they drove to a Home Depot near downtown Atlanta. That’s where they traded the 16-foot truck for a 26-foot truck. Now, ordinarily, there would have been volunteers there to help them move the boxes of backpacks from one truck to the other. But, Allen and Trish had moved this trip forward on the schedule, and with the storm, there hadn’t been a real way of knowing when they would need help. In the end, Allen and Trish schlepped the boxes all on their own. It took about four hours and wasn’t exactly the optimal activity for a man with a bad back to undertake. But they did it and they’d do it again! Why? By switching trucks rather than starting off in the big truck from Maryland, they saved the ministry more than $800!

From there, they went to Kim and Jonathan Hall’s house to pick up 100 more boxes from Manna4Lempira sponsors. They spent the night at the Halls' house and, the following morning, they headed to a church nearby. The church supplied boxes of backpacks, as well as bags of used clothing. Since the pastor and his wife are Honduran, they understand how important warm jackets and clothing will be to the recipients.

Then, it was on to St Marys/Kingsland Georgia - right near the Florida line. A project run through the First Baptist Church of Kingsland filled around 500 backpacks! With those onboard on Sunday afternoon, Trish and Allen headed south to Jacksonville, Florida to pick up donations from a Manna4Lempira sponsor.

Completely full truck, at the end of the trip
from Maryland to Florida

By that evening, the truck was parked in a Walmart parking lot in Edgewater, Florida. The next morning, the truck’s contents were unloaded into the storage facility near Edgewater, and the rental truck (the 5th truck rented so far on this trip) was returned.

Fuzzy photo of the volunteers who helped with the
unloading in Florida
They are enjoying a little time with their grown children who live in Florida before beginning the next phase of the trip. But, of course, it’s not all downtime. Sowers4Pastors is currently storing some food in Edgewater for future use in feeding centers. Since that food is not needed for immediate use in Honduras, Allen is currently trying to find out if anyone working on Hurricane Michael relief could use the food right now. As Allen said, they “can’t donate it unless someone has a plan to use it!”

 - posted by Christi

Monday, October 15, 2018

Matching Funds Game

As a child, I used to love watching game shows. One of my favorites was Match Game (Insert a year), which aired from 1973-1982. Each year, during the New Year show, it was a big deal to watch the title of the show roll over to the new year. Yes, I remember distinctly the thrill of seeing Match Game ‘75 turn into Match Game ‘76. Today, we’re talking about a sort of missionary equivalent, that I like to call: Matching Funds Game 2018!

Sowers4Pastors isn’t only about feeding centers and educating pastors. They are also actively involved in helping deserving pastors obtain motorcycles and assisting in church construction projects. And, that’s exactly where the Matching Funds Game 2018 comes in!

Most of the pastors in Western Honduras also work in the fields each day from 4:00 in the morning until 2:00 in the afternoon. We’re talking about literal fields, not the metaphorical kind! After putting in hours of hard, physical labor, these men go home to eat a midday meal and get prepared to go out to work as pastors. It is not uncommon for pastors to walk up to fifty miles a week! Fifty miles is a lot for anyone to walk, but we’re not talking about taking a stroll on paved streets. Fifty miles in Honduras means a lot of walking up and down super steep hills, wading through water, etc… And they do this every week!

That’s why Sowers4Pastors has a motorcycle ministry. Deserving pastors must come up with $600 to put toward a motorcycle. Sowers4Pastors provides $1000 to go to the cost of a new Honda motorcycle with semi off-road capacity. Right now, there is a matching fund challenge to assist pastors in getting motorcycles. That means, for every $500 donation, a donor will match it! Make no mistake, it is not easy for a Honduran pastor to come up with $600 to put toward a motorcycle. If a man is willing to do that, it shows how serious he is about being a more effective pastor. Your donation could mean the difference between a pastor helping to plant a church or not.

The second part of the Matching Funds Game 2018 involves church roofs. As you know, Sowers4Pastors seeks to empower, not enable. That’s why churches are required to come up with their own land. They must pour the concrete foundation and put up the walls. Then, Sowers4Pastors can help with the roof. Each roof costs $1000. With the current matching fund, they can now put on a church roof for $500.

As Allen said, “We are not trying to take over the pastor’s job. It’s not our church. They’ve got the sweat equity. They are doing the work. We are just trying to give them a little bigger sword to fight the battle.”

He continued by saying, “If this is something you’ve ever thought of doing, now’s a great time to step up. If you can’t come up with $500, consider making this a project for your small group or Sunday school class.”

It’s probably the most rewarding game you’ll ever play!

 - posted by Christi

Donation Instructions:

Click here to go to the donation page,
choose "Motorcycles and Horses for Pastors" or "Church Construction Projects"

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Blog Post from Sketchy Notes

Talking to Trish when she and Allen are on the road is like listening to the weatherman on Christmas Eve charting the course of Santa Claus. Except Trish’s conversations include some technical things the weatherman glosses over--like when Santa has to stop to rotate the reindeer and how many presents are in the sled at any given moment. And the weatherman doesn’t have Allen shouting additional facts from off camera. Also, there’s the fact that sometimes Trish talks faster than I listen, so I did my best to get things straight. But, on the highly probable chance that I totally botched things in my note taking, perhaps we had better think of this as a “big picture” post.

Since we last spoke, Trish and Allen made it to Colorado, where they picked up 700 filled backpacks. They picked up backpacks from two churches in Kansas, and then it was time to turn in their 16-ft Penske truck. They unloaded the truck’s contents into a storage area near Wichita and then rented a 26-ft truck. They headed back to the storage area and reloaded all of the precious cargo onto the larger truck. According to my sketchy notes, they then went to Indianapolis, to collect more backpacks. (Well, actually, according to my sketchy notes, they went to “indianapolic,” but I’m pretty sure that was a typo!)

Trish was able to attend a women’s retreat for a couple of days, in Columbus, Ohio. While there, she was able to share her kidnapping story. Because, let’s face it; if you’ve got a kidnapping story, you should probably share it.

She and Allen looked at their growing cargo and pondered if they should make a detour to drop things off in Maryland and then return to Ohio to finish their collection trip. They decided against it, thinking they might be able to fit everything into the honkin’ big truck. After that, they went to Sugarcreek, Ohio to pick up more backpacks and food donations. It was about then that they looked at the honkin’ big truck and realized it was not honkin’ big enough to meet their needs. Still, they headed off to Somewhere, Pennsylvania to pick up more donations. Trish said, “The truck was groaning!”

His and Hers trucks, at Fredericktowne Baptist Church in MD

That’s when they stopped and picked up an additional 16-ft-truck for Trish to drive. I ask you, is there anything more romantic than his and hers Penske trucks? They finished the convoy in Maryland. After a night’s rest, they unloaded the larger of the two trucks (his). A lot of the boxes were not full enough. When boxes have air space, they get crushed when stacked. So, they and a small crew of Maryland friends took time to stuff the boxes with used clothing to fill in the chinks.

Boxes full of backpacks, crushed under the weight of other boxes! This is before
we stuffed used clothing into the spaces between the backpacks.
Maryland friends helping us stuff the boxes!

That evening, Allen and Trish took the smaller truck (hers) to Lighthouse Church, where they picked up another 125 boxes of backpacks! They took those back to where the rest of the collected items were stored. The following day, they took the boxes which hadn’t been processed and stuffed them full with more backpacks and used clothing. All total, they were able to eliminate 80 boxes and 100 big bags of clothing by consolidating the contents into fewer boxes - which is good because they had collected more donations than will fit into the shipping container!

When we spoke on Wednesday (Oct 10), Allen and Trish were beginning their trip south. Instead of a car, they rented another 16-ft truck. (Those crazy, romantic kids are sharing a truck this time.) They are loaded up with the overflow of donations, that can't be shipped from MD to Honduras, with them. Hopefully there will be room for those boxes in the container shipping from Florida! On the trip, they will be picking up more boxes of backpacks in Virginia and in Georgia. I skipped the part where they spoke at a Christian elementary school, on the morning of our phone call. I probably skipped a lot of stuff, but…

They are now on their way to Atlanta and have set a collision course with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Michael. While Michael won’t be a hurricane when they catch up with him, they are anticipating a lot of rain. Well, look at that! A hurricane and rain ties in perfectly with that weatherman referenced in the first paragraph. Who needs notes? This stuff writes itself!

 - posted by Christi

Monday, October 1, 2018

Mailtime, Mailtime, Mailtime, MAIL TIME!!!!

If you happened to be raising children during the late 90s to early 2000s, you’re probably familiar with Blue’s Clues. On the chance you weren’t raising kids, or your television wasn’t tuned to Nickelodeon during that time, you completely missed out on the mailtime song. The host of Blue’s Clues definitely believed that receiving a letter was a joyous occasion and he wasn’t afraid to sing about it!

Mailtime, mailtime, mailtime, mailtime, MAIL TIME!!!!!
Here's the mail, it never fails
It makes me want to wag my tail
When it comes I wanna wail, MAIL!!!!!!!!!!

In coming months, sponsors of children though Manna 4 Lempira and the sister church program will be singing their own mailtime songs. That’s because Russell, Kelsea, and the crew are working to get letters from sponsored children. Last week, Kim Hall joined them as they collected the letters from the Manna 4 Lempira children. Kim took those letters back to the States, and they will be distributed to the sponsors.This week, Russell and Kelsea are collecting more than 1200 letters from the sister church children! Kelsea’s family will be visiting in October. They will take the letters home, where they will be sent to the Stateside sister churches, and delivered to the sponsors.

Each child is completing two letters. The first letter is about his or her home, and the second is a Christmas letter. This type of letter was the brainchild of Kim Hall, who made some form letters for the children to complete. She included things most sponsors want to know about their children. For example: The letters about their homes will include information about what their houses are made of and how many people live in each house. Each child is handed a blank form letter and some colored pencils. They take the letters to their own spot to fill in the information. Back in June, they did similar letters, which were about their favorite Bible characters.

If this seems like an impersonal way to send letters, it really isn’t. Each child thoughtfully fills in the requested details. Moms generally help the younger children. When the children write free-form letters, they tend to say the same thing. While it’s sweet to read, “I really want to meet you,” the sponsor doesn’t get much information that way. They weren’t learning much about the child’s life.

So, if you are sponsoring a child, don’t forget to check your mail in coming months. And get ready to burst into song.

 - posted by Christi

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Metaphor-Free Blog Post

Nine times out of ten, I don’t know what a week’s blog topic will be until the Wednesday morning phone call. Sometimes I play a game with myself and try to guess. The frontrunners generally include:  pastors, motorcycles, coffee, backpacks, sponsorships, sister churches, family, bridge construction, visiting teams, or a visit to the U.S. This week, the frontrunners lost out to constructing a building. No, that’s not a spiritual metaphor. It’s about the new building that’s going up on the Sowers’ property, at this very moment.

Russell and four or five crew members are currently laying blocks for the new building, which will include an office, a bunkroom for male interns, a private bedroom for Ben, a locker room/break room for the farm guys, and a warehouse/storage facility. If this were a spiritual metaphor, I’d point out that they are laying on the firm foundation that the team from Lighthouse Church poured, during their recent visit. No building on the sand for these missionaries! If this were a fairy tale, I’d point out that they’re definitely more like the third little pig. No amount of huffing and puffing will blow it down. But, since this is just a story about building a new facility, let’s just get on with it!

According to Kelsea, approximately ¾ of the building is now about a block high (the photos in this post were taken about a week later than that conversation, so you can now assess the speed of the progress). Russell is hoping to have the project completed by mid-November--in time for the arrival of the shipping containers. In another week or so, the blocks should be high enough to put a roof on the building. It will eventually be stuccoed, though that may not happen in time for the arrival of the backpacks. The plan is for electricity and plumbing to be completed by mid-November, but there could be some wiggle room on that.

Kelsea laughed that Sowers4Pastors has a pattern of not using buildings as they were originally intended. Russell and Iris are living in a building that was meant to house visiting teams. Allen and Trish are living in a warehouse. By next year, the plan is for everyone to be in their own homes and for each building to be used for its intended purpose. Living the dream!

 - posted by Christi