Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The View from Kelsea: Visiting teams

Sowers4Pastors has hosted three back-to-back mission teams in the last three weeks. I had the privilege of not only going out with the teams every day to be a part of their projects with them, but spending time with them “off the job” as well. I can say confidently that I have met some truly amazing individuals in the last few weeks. One thing that struck me as I got to know the teams was that exactly half of the total number of team members were here on their second or third trip, which made me wonder: what is it about the Sowers4Pastors mission trips that make people want to come back?

So, I asked a few of the returning team members that question, and here are some of the answers I received:

Jeremiah (on the left) with fellow
team member Ramiro
I decided to come back simply because I couldn’t forget the need I witnessed and the impact this mission family (really it’s an organization) was making. I felt that I didn’t really have a choice. I knew before I flew home on the 1st trip that I was not only coming back but would be giving support (financial and otherwise) to the Sowers4Pastors ministry going forward. The level of impact and their model is how I would hope I would do it if I were called to the mission field. Once you see the need and experience a mission trip, it’s hard to turn your back on it. We are blessed with time, talents, and treasures and until last year, I took the easy option and just cut a check. Putting myself in a situation to serve others with my time and talents really made an impact on me. It’s the old adage that you go on a mission trip to help others but you invariably end up growing and developing yourself as well.”
-Jeremiah, Christ Church of Orlando

“Heath & I decided we wanted to come back for a second trip because we felt God had called us to come back. On top of that we love coming to work alongside the Sowers and seeing how Jesus is working in and through their ministry. What the Sowers are doing in Honduras is incredible and it’s amazing to be a part of it. This last week being able to hear and see the impact Manna4Lempira and the Sowers are having on the communities and schools is so inspiring. I mean, kids are staying in school because of the Manna4Lempira program and some kids who dropped out are returning! That’s amazing! Missionary work isn’t easy and serving those in poverty isn’t easy, but the Sowers approach all of it with positive, genuine, servant hearts. You can clearly see that they aren’t in this line of work for their gain, but to truly help others. That’s why we’ll keep coming back again and again.”
-Chelsea, Lighthouse Church, Maryland

I came back to Honduras because it was awesome to get a chance to see God working in people's lives. Last year the people of Roble Gacho told us that they had been waiting years for a bridge. When we finished the bridge it was truly a blessing to see the joy they had and the thanks and praise they gave to God. Our team got to take part in God's answer to their prayers. And that is what I looked forward to this year, was just to be used by God again. Getting to form new relationships with the people of Honduras and serve alongside them is one of my favorite parts. Seeing that we got to make a small impact in their lives was truly an honor.”
-Analeise, Christ Church of Orlando

“I don't have a singular answer into why I came back. From the amount of ministries to the empowering of the local people to the sacrifice to create something out of selflessness, I think the greatest of all reasons is impact. Not only do the Sowers have an impact on the local community, but they have an impact on us, the ministry team. I have been on mission trips before where it felt as if the missionary was nowhere to be found, but this group is always there. Sacrificing personal/family time to show they don't just want donations, they want you to understand the full spectrum of your impact on the ministry Sowers4Pastors. I will continue coming back for where their ministry has allowed for my spiritual growth and the growth of everyone around them.”
-Josh, Lighthouse Church, Maryland

The responses I received only confirmed what I have seen in the short five weeks I have spent serving alongside the Sowers. God is doing amazing things in Honduras through the Sowers4Pastors ministry, lives are being changed, and we have an opportunity to be a part of it!

 - posted by Kelsea

Monday, February 26, 2018

Opportunities Abound!

There’s a foster home in Gracias, which is run through Russell’s church. A few weeks ago, Russell had the opportunity to speak to the woman who operates the home. At any given time, about thirty children are housed there until a more permanent home can be found. The foster mom told Russell about a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl who recently came to the home. The girl is completely blind, but her vision loss occurred in the last two or three years. Prior to that, she could see.

Russell joked about his limited medical knowledge, but he immediately suspected cataracts to be the cause of the girl’s blindness. Cataracts are common in Central America--even in children. As Russell mentioned during our phone call, cataracts are easily fixed, if they are treated in time. Without treatment, they can result in total blindness. This young woman is still sensitive to light, which indicates there is still some vision lurking beneath the cataracts.

Last week, Hector, one of the translators who sometimes works with Sowers4Pastors, was on hand. Russell knew Hector also works as a translator for a ministry which partners with an eye clinic in the U.S. Hector arranged for the girl to be seen for an evaluation. $100 was all it took to provide travel costs to an eye clinic. And the verdict?????

Her condition is treatable! A pediatric ophthalmologist will be traveling to Honduras in March. The doctor will be performing a life altering surgery on this girl. The cost will be another $100 for travel expenses.

That’s it! For $200, a girl who seemed destined to go through life in the dark will once again be able to see! It boggles the mind!

Allen came on the line to point out that they come across opportunities like this all the time. Whether it’s the chance to feed kids for pennies a meal, or the chance to fix cleft palates, the opportunities are out there!

To emphasise the point, Allen shared about an eighteen-year-old woman who had a cleft palate. Everywhere she went, she held a hand over her mouth to prevent people from seeing it. The young woman was able to be included in a clinic to repair cleft palates. Along with babies and young children, the eighteen-year-old traveled to a team of skilled surgeons. And the cost? About $50-$100 per patient, for travel costs.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “But that’s Honduras! I never have miraculous opportunities to change lives,” think again! You do have the opportunity. We all do. Every donation made has the power to change lives! Opportunities abound!

Trish adds: We are able to help people when these opportunities arise, because of the generous donors who give to our "General Fund." We love gifts that are specifically earmarked for a certain aspect of the ministry, too, but those "General Fund" gifts mean that we can have the funds on hand, when these time-sensitive opportunities come up! I'm going to add a link to the "How to Donate" information on our blog, at the end of this post, for anyone who feels led to help with this.  
We are so grateful to all of our donors who partner with us to bless the people in the mountains of western Honduras!

Follow this link for instructions on how to donate to our ministry. 

 - posted by Christi and Trish

Friday, February 23, 2018

Not Lost in Translation

Much has been written about the preparations Russell makes before each team visit. For instance, we know he lines up translators from the area. But who are these translators Russell is lining up? Today, we’re going to meet a couple of them. Between their accents and my Texas drawl, a phone call where we couldn’t read lips and look at facial expressions was a bit challenging, but their message was not lost in translation!


Queren, with team members from the
recent bridge-in-a-week team
Queren is a 20-yr-old woman who graduated from a local bilingual school two years ago. She has translated for other people in the past, but I spoke to her during her second week of working for Sowers4Pastors. One thing is certain; Queren enjoys her job!

About working as a translator, she said, “It has been so great for me. I’ve learned many things. Every team that comes here is so awesome, it makes me want to be with them. [This week] we have visited schools, homes, and churches.” She went on to gush about the people--both the people of her home community of Gracias, and the visiting team.

She said, “I have enjoyed being around the team. It makes me so happy. They have such big hearts and want to help people!”

Queren’s heart is pretty big, too. Serving as a local translator has inspired her to become a missionary. Her dream is to study French in college and become a full-time missionary to Africa. She said, “They [the visiting teams] are my inspiration. If I have the chance, I can do it. I’m grateful to God for giving me the chance to be here.”


Anna has been working as a part-time translator since last summer. She is also a native of Gracias and a graduate of the local bilingual school. As with all of the translators, this is not a full time job. She said, “When Russell calls me, I come.”


What is Anna’s favorite thing about the job? She loves watching the people’s faces when they get help--both economically and through counseling. She said, “The teams are doing a great job here. I love how they engage with the people. They don’t look at them like strange people. They look at them like brothers and sisters in God. It makes them [the people receiving help] feel welcome--like family.

Anna wants people to know how thankful she is for the Sowers and the work they do in her hometown and its surrounding communities. She said, “I want to keep working with them and have more amazing experiences with them.”

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Impact of a Backpack Packer

One of the best things about working with Sowers4Pastors, versus a larger mission organization, is the transparency. When you donate money, time, or material goods, you actually get to see how that donation is used and the impact it has. Today, we all get a chance to see the impact made by Suzie Kelly, the Super Colossal Backpack Zealot. In a recent phone call, Allen and Trish offered a follow-up so we can all see how all of those backpacks are being used.

For starters, Allen and Trish both talked about the excellent quality of the backpacks packed by Suzie and her family. These gems are being passed out to sponsored children whose sponsors didn’t have the opportunity to send personalized backpacks.You see, Sowers4Pastors will provide backpacks full of basic supplies to every sponsored child. However, a lot of sponsors want to do something more personal. They send phenomenal backpacks full of toys, clothing, and even gifts for siblings. Those phenomenal backpacks can make the basic supplies look disappointing. (Imagine a Christmas morning where you are comparing school supplies to your friend’s fun, new toys.) But, because of Suzie’s efforts, no child has to feel disappointed by a backpack with little “Wow!” factor.

Suzie’s backpacks are also being handed out at the new Manna 4 Lempira feeding center in Quelacasque. The children at this center were only made available for sponsorship a few months ago. Even though most of the children are now sponsored, the new sponsors did not have time to fill personalized backpacks. Almost all of those children are receiving backpacks filled by Suzie!

The Sowerses could have waited several months to open the Quelacasque center. That way, all of the sponsors would have been able to provide backpacks or donations by the time the next backpack drive rolls around. But, by starting now, the kids get to go to school THIS YEAR! They get to receive school supplies and shoes NOW!

Okay, it’s time for some more of that transparency mentioned earlier. Some people wonder what happens to all of the money from the sponsorship payments, if people are donating to buy supplies for backpacks and some sponsors donate personalized backpacks. Where is the money going? Part of the money is used to purchase the empty backpacks and some of the supplies used to fill Suzie’s extraordinary backpacks. Some of it is used to cover the costs for children who are registered in the program, but do not have sponsors. The Sowerses have long said that even non-sponsored kids benefit from the sponsorship program. They benefit by receiving much needed school supplies. And, ultimately, any money left over is used to purchase food for the feeding centers - including the many feeding centers (more than 100) that aren't even in the sponsorship program at all! We hope that level of transparency will be beneficial for everyone!

 - posted by Christi
 - all of the photos in this post were taken at the Quelacasque sponsorship center

Monday, February 19, 2018

Muddy Roads, Take Me Home

The team members with Life Community Church were able to visit the homes and families of their sponsored children, in the community of Arenales, during their time in Honduras. Sowers4Pastors always makes this opportunity available to visiting sponsors, when they come down on teams. It takes an hour of driving, most of this on dirt roads, to get from Gracias to Arenales. Allen arranged for me to speak to two of the team members and hear about their impressions. 

Petra’s Visit

This is Petra’s second team visit with Sowers4Pastors, but it was her first time to make a home visit. She was able to see the home of her own sponsored child and “tag along” to two other homes. Getting there wasn’t easy!

Petra was expecting the normal, long and winding trek. But, because it rained the previous night, the roads were very muddy. At one point, they had to park the van, get out, and walk. Since it’s not technically the rainy season, Petra hadn’t packed her boots. She slogged through mud in shoes that weren’t made for mud slogging!

The home of Petra’s sponsored child was what she believed to be, “middle class by Honduran standards.” She described it as having at least two rooms. She sat in a room that contained a mini fridge, coffee grinder, and other humble amenities. She saw a curtain, which served as a wall to another room. This “middle class” house had a tin roof and a dirt floor. She marveled that the tin must have been doing its job because the floors weren’t muddy. Petra believes seven people live in that house with the sponsored child.

The family was welcoming and hospitable. She said, “They had a meal ready for me when I got there and had many questions about me.” She went on to say, “We didn’t lack for conversation!”

She had been told that families come from varying economic backgrounds and she got to see that first hand. Directly next door to her child’s house stands the house of her team member Keri’s sponsored child. The patriarch of Petra’s family is a coffee grower. The father of Keri’s sponsored child is a coffee picker. The economic differences were startling. 

Petra would like for people to realize every visit will be different. She encourages people to get rid of any preconceived notions.

Keri’s Visit

This was Keri’s first trip to Honduras. She described the area by saying, “The town is very poor, but the people do a lot for each other. The pastors do a lot for their church families and communities. They work to make sure people get an education.”

Keri described the churches as, “basically open-air, cement buildings with benches in them.” Dividers separate areas to serve as Sunday School rooms for children. Of the schools, she said, “They are cement buildings with two or three classrooms, where kids are divided by age group.” 

Concerning the home visit, Keri said, “I knew the family was probably very poor, but I didn’t realize how poor. It was a tin shack with dirt floor, off a mud path. The walls aren’t sealed. When you walk in, there’s a table, a stove, and two or three chairs. That’s where you sat.”  Keri’s 10-yr-old sponsored girl lives in the one room house with her parents.  

Keri wants to remind people how much good is accomplished through a $15 a month sponsorship. She said, “I can’t believe the stuff Sowers4Pastors can do! I even got my sister to sponsor an unsponsored child this week, and she is not affiliated with my church.”

 - posted by Christi

Friday, February 16, 2018

Life Community Church Team - VIDEO!

Life Community Church, in Hilliard Ohio, has a sister church sponsorship program in the community of Arenales Lempira. This past week, they sent a team of six people down to visit their sponsorship center and help with the annual distribution of school shoes and backpacks full of school supplies. 

They will also be able to report back to their church, and especially to those who sponsor children in Arenales, with a first-hand account of what life is like in that community, and how their partnership with Sowers4Pastors - and with the pastor of the local church - is helping this community and sharing the love of God with them! 

 - posted by Trish

Monday, February 12, 2018

One Down, Two to Go

If this were a television show, this is the part where a person with a wonderful speaking voice would say, “Previously, on the Sowers4Pastors blog…” That’s TV talk for, “Hey, let me refresh your memory, or just fill you in if you happened to miss an episode.” Well, this isn’t a television show, but previously on the Sowers4Pastors blog, we talked about the logistics of hosting three back-to-back teams. Now that you’re all caught up, we can move on to this week’s episode, er, post. It’s entitled One Down, Two To Go.

Team One, from Christ Church of Orlando, otherwise known as the Bridge-in-a-Week team, came down and did their thing (which you may have deduced involved building a bridge in a week). Russell and Allen thought this would be a good opportunity to explain the 4-way partnership that makes such a project possible.

The first partner is a church in the States. Not only does a church send a team to Honduras, they also raise a portion of the funding for the project. A participating church needs to be committed to providing finances, as well as labor. That commitment to finances helps purchase a significant amount of the necessary supplies. Then team members donate a week’s time and a lot of muscle toward building a bridge.

Partner number two is the local government, which helps determine where the bridge is most needed. Local government also helps pay for some of the building materials.

The local community serves as partner number three. As the people who will benefit from the completed bridge, the local community supplies most of the unskilled labor. Their tasks include removing rocks from the river, being involved with the team as the concrete is poured, and going up the mountain to get wood for the bridge deck.

Naturally, the fourth partner is Sowers4Pastors. They choose an appropriate bridge design for that location, calculate the construction budget, host the visiting team, transport them to and from the airport, get the supplies, coordinate the whole project, make sure there are enough volunteers, provide the skilled labor, and supervise the construction.

No one person pays for such a project. It relies on both North Americans and Hondurans. The Honduran government and a North American church join forces.

Team One arrived on a Saturday and the bridge was completed by Friday. Here’s what their week looked like:

Sunday--They showed up bright and early to dig holes. At that point, nothing had been done other than the prep work of gathering supplies, and the welding of internal, structural parts. They started pouring concrete on Sunday.

Monday--The second hole was completed on Monday and more concrete was poured.

Tuesday--This concluded the pouring of the concrete, as the handrails were put in place.

Wednesday--They started to string cables by walking the cable down through the river and tying them down on each side. The cables were tightened and made the correct length, so the deck of the bridge would be level.

Thursday & Friday--They built the deck of the bridge.

By Friday afternoon, they headed back to San Pedro Sula to spend the night before flying out on Saturday. Russell pointed out that by getting teams to San Pedro Sula the night prior to departure, they’ve never had a team miss a flight.

Now, if this were a television show, a voice would say, “Next week on the Sowers4Pastors blog…” But, like me, you’ll just have to tune in next week!

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Losing at Monopoly, Winning at Ministry

What’s your strategy for playing Monopoly? Are you a purchaser of railroads? A hoarder of cash? A builder of houses? Generally speaking, my personal strategy is to just start giving my properties away so I can end the game and move on to other things that interest me more. After discussing the Sowers’ housing situation, I’m thinking that might be Allen and Trish’s strategy, too!

When Allen and Trish moved to their current property in 2009, they had big plans. At the time, they anticipated hosting visiting teams on the property. They had plans for building a team house with a couple of bunkrooms and big, communal bathrooms. Back when they lived on the island, there were no hotels, and they were accustomed to feeding and housing teams themselves. But Gracias happens to have some great, inexpensive hotel options, so that wasn't necessary. Still, a shell was built, and, while the bathroom was never put in, the four oldest Sowers offspring used that space as bedrooms, until they each grew up and moved out.

There were, of course, plans to build a family home. But money was available to build a warehouse, and not a house, so the warehouse was built and the family moved in, alongside the boxes and stored items. Sometimes ⅔ of the warehouse was used as personal space, and other times the boxes took up most of the space, until those donations were distributed.

As time passed, the ministry always took precedence over improved housing. Kids grew up, moved away, went to college, married, settled in the States, etc. Construction of a residence had been started, and was partly finished, but it had been designed for a family, not a pair of almost empty nesters.

A couple of years ago, Allen, Trish, and Ben were the only ones living on the property - still living in the warehouse. From a security perspective, that wasn’t good. Russell and Iris decided to remodel the team house and live in it. More people on the property was much better for security. It was also more convenient for Russell, as so much of his work was done in the warehouse or on the farm.

When Ben went to boarding school, Allen and Trish realized it didn’t make much sense for Russell’s family to live in a 900 sq ft space while they (Allen and Trish) completed an 1800 sq ft house. They made the decision that the big home would be Russell and Iris’s and that they would move into the small house. This also made sense because, with Ben away at boarding school, they made the decision to travel 3-6 months a year - and it seemed silly to have the bigger house sit empty so much of the time.

It’s now time for Allen and Trish to start paring down their personal possessions for the move to a much smaller home. This is the longest they’ve lived in any one house since they’ve been married. And, living in a warehouse meant they didn’t have to worry having space to store things . . . or about the size of their book collection!

When they moved from the island to Gracias, they took the contents of an actual lending library with them. That was not a problem in the warehouse because the bookshelves also served as walls. A few years ago, Trish donated many boxes of books to a local bilingual school. She recently sorted out and donated twenty-two more boxes of books to a different bilingual school. The joy on those kids’ faces, as they enjoy their new books, helps to compensate for the task of downsizing!

Construction on Russell and Iris’ new house has come to a temporary halt because it is currently storing the contents of two shipping containers. As soon as the backpack distribution and Gifts for Gracias are completed, the crew will get back to construction. Russell is hopeful they will all be in their new homes sometime in the fall!

And this explains why it is doubtful Allen or Trish have ever won a game of Monopoly, though you might say they’re winning at ministry.

 - posted by Christi

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dancing as Fast as They Can

During the 1920s and 30s, marathon dances were all the rage. Couples crowded onto a dance floor and danced (or at least remained upright and moving) in an effort to be the last ones standing. Hearing Russell detail Sowers4Pastors’ upcoming three weeks sort of reminded me of that. Instead of back-to-back dances, there will be back-to-back teams. 

There will be three back-to-back teams, as a matter of fact. As soon as Russell and Allen drop off one team at the airport, they will pick up the next team, and the metaphorical music will start all over again. Hosting three teams in such close succession means there will be no time to prepare for an incoming team between team visits, so this past week was all about getting their ducks in a row.

The first team is a bridge-in-a-week team, so last week, Russell and the crew welded the steel that holds cables to the concrete. Russell used some other words, too, but they sounded something like, “Blah, blah, blah, metal, blah, blah, blah, concrete, blah, blah, blah, reinforce, blah, stabilize,  blah, blah.” That is not a reflection of Russell’s ability to communicate, but is a reflection of my ability to tune out anything remotely technical. 

This project is being done in conjunction with the local community and the mayor’s office. The mayor’s office is helping to provide concrete, gravel, trucks, etc… Russell has been hard at work making sure all of the supplies are prepared. As he said, “We can’t keep running to the hardware store. It’s a bridge-in-a-week. We can’t afford delays.” 

The guys were also measuring footers so the team could start digging and pouring concrete as soon as they arrived. (Blah, blah…) Community members will assist by getting rocks out of the river and serving as unskilled labor. 

On Saturday, the bridge-in-a-week team will fly out and Team #2 will arrive from Ohio. They will be distributing backpacks and shoes for their sister church. As it turns out, the shoes have been such a hit that Sowers4Pastors needs to replenish their supply. Six hundred more pairs of shoes have been ordered, which the Ohio team will bring down in their luggage!

Team #2 will have the opportunity to hang out with the pastor of their sister church and look at his church plants. They will be able to better understand the church’s vision and how they can best help make his vision a reality.

Team #2 will fly out the next Saturday. Russell and Dillon will spend the night in San Pedro and Team #3 will fly in on Sunday from Maryland. Team #3 will also be distributing backpacks and shoes at their sister church. Because they partner with the largest sister church, the team will be visiting six schools in five days. Russell estimates they will distribute backpacks and find shoes to fit around sixty kids per day. They will fly out the following Saturday. 

The new pedestrian bridge will cross this river, shown here during dry season.
It gets much larger, and more dangerous to cross, during rainy season

Besides the preparation needed for the arrival of the teams, the village nearest to the Sowers' home asked for some help. They were in desperate need of a new roof for the kindergarten. Because of the leaky roof, kids couldn't go to school when it rained. Russell says it’s an extremely wet dry season this year, which is good for coffee, but not for kindergarteners! They made sure that the new roof was completed last week, since the Honduran school year starts soon!

Kelsea and Dillon arrived at a good time. Kelsea has been able to help out with things like organizing, posting to the blog, and paperwork. Dillon has been doing a lot of heavy lifting while loading and unloading backpacks. In a moment of sounding much older than his 28 years, Russell said, “We’re fortunate to have two, energetic young adults in their 20s to help out right now.”

- posted by Christi