Monday, May 28, 2018

You Tell Two Friends, and They Tell Two Friends, and So On . . .

Do you remember the 1970’s and 80’s television commercials for Faberge Organics Shampoo? (Stick with me here!) A smiling woman with crazy good hair held up a bottle and said, “I told two friends about Faberge Organics Shampoo, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on…” Before you knew it, you were looking at a whole bunch of images of the same smiling women holding up a bottle of what seemed to be a phenomenal shampoo!

In the previous post, we talked about Mercedes--the town, the church, and the sponsorship program. We talked about the astounding growth that church has seen, under the leadership of Pastor Israel Portillo, his son, Pastor Melvin Portillo, and his son-in-law, Pastor German Diaz . We talked about some of the wonderful things Pastor Israel has accomplished. Today, we’re going to focus on Pastor Melvin and Pastor German, the two men who are carrying on in the “family business”.

Pastors Melvin and German began attending Pastor’s Training School in 2016. The following year, they returned for their second year. They also served as mentors for the first year students. As long as they were mentoring, they decided to take it a step further. They asked if they could use the Pastor’s Training School materials taught to first year students, and begin their own school in Mercedes!

Pastor German, worshipping at Pastor Training School

This year, Pastor Melvin and Pastor German are in their third year of Pastor Training School, as students. They are now mentoring second year students at that school. They are also taking back material to teach both first and second year students in Mercedes! Currently, twenty-six people are attending the Pastor’s Training School in Mercedes!

Pastor Melvin, at Pastor Training School

Since the students attending this satellite school live in or near Mercedes, Pastors Melvin and German don’t have to worry about finding room and board for those enrolled. This is in contrast to the original Pastor’s Training School, where many students travel great distances to attend. Since there is minimal travel time for students in Mercedes, they are able to meet three Saturdays a month, and they carry a lunch from home.

Pastor Israel told his son and son-in-law about Pastor’s Training School. They mentored students. They started their own Pastor’s Training School. Those pastors will go on and continue to share what they learn with more and more people, and so on, and so on, and so on...

 - posted by Christi

Friday, May 25, 2018

Pop Quiz Time!

We’re going to start this blog post off with a little pop quiz. Don’t worry - it’s multiple choice. You don’t have to answer an essay question. Frankly, I do not have that kind of time to devote to grading these things! Are you ready? Here’s your question:

Whenever Allen Sowers wants to talk about “Mercedes,” he means:

          a) a Mercedes-Benz vehicle, which combines luxury and performance.
          b) a town in Western Honduras.
          c) a church in a town in Western Honduras of the same name
          d) a feeding center in a church and town in Western Honduras of the same name.
          e) any one of three of the above.

Okay. It’s time to grade papers! The correct answer is  “e) any one of three of the above.” You’re so smart, you can probably even guess which three it is!

Today, Allen wanted to chat about the phenomenal growth at the church in Mercedes. When he first met Pastor Israel, in 2005, the pastor was serving at a little church he'd planted about twenty years prior. Pastor Israel is a respected man, who once held a government position, which probably most closely resembles that of County Commissioner in the States. When Allen met him, the Mercedes church was a 25ft x 40ft building, with about 30 adults and 30 children in attendance.

A couple of years later, Pastor Israel approached Allen because he wanted help expanding the building. They tore out the back wall and soon had a 25ft x 60ft building. The church began hosting a feeding program.

Next, Pastor Israel took the roof off the church and made it 2 stories, doubling the amount of available space!

Pastor Israel attended Pastor’s Training School. He became a supervisor for his denomination, having fifteen churches under him. As time passed, more and more kids began attending the feeding center. It grew to over 200 kids! With the help of his son, Pastor Melvin, and his son-in-law, Pastor German, the feeding center became a sponsorship program. The trio also planted 5 more churches outside of Mercedes (the town, not the car). Currently, there are almost 400 children involved in the church and sponsorship center!

At the age of 75, Pastor Israel is not in the best of health. Still, Pastors Melvin and German are able to continue the good work he started. That’s a family legacy that’s more exciting than inheriting a shiny Mercedes-Benz!

 - posted by Christi

Sunday, May 20, 2018

First Impressions and Future Actions

As you may remember, Allen and Trish did not return from their latest trip to the U.S. empty handed. They arrived with a vision team in tow! I had the opportunity to speak with Kenny, and Pastor Don (both members of the church mission board), two of the team members from Countryside Chapel in Baltic, Ohio, about their first impressions of Honduras and Sowers4Pastors. I also got to ask them what they might be able to do to share the ministry when they get back home.

Kenny said, “I love the heart of Allen, Russell, and Mrs. Sowers.” (Personally, I love the respect that Trish receives in that quote!) “It has been great to see what they are doing in Honduras. They have a passion to change one more life, and then one more life after that. It’s tremendous to see it firsthand.”

“I’m really excited to go back home and share what I’ve experienced. I have already made some connections with people who are interested in sponsoring a child. I’m also going to talk with a youth group at a different church, that is interested in sending a team to Honduras,” Kenny continued. “I’ve been on several mission trips, but this is my first time in Central America. I love the heart of the Sowers family for impacting their community and seeing that impact go as far as possible. And it is all rooted in the name of Jesus Christ!”

When asked for his reflections about Sowers4Pastors, Pastor Don said, “I’m impressed by the scope of it. Now that I’m here, I can see the connections between things like Pastors Training School and feeding centers. It all connects! I’m impressed by Allen, Russell, and Kelsea, and the work they’re doing.”

Pastor Don also said, “We came down here on a vision trip to see if our church would want to partner with Sowers4Pastors, and if so, what part of their ministry we would want to partner with. I love the idea of training indigenous pastors. I also love the feeding centers. We can bring mission teams here and they can have an immense variety of ministries to serve with!”

“We return home on Friday and I will be at a mission board meeting on Sunday,” Pastor Don explained. “We’re going to talk about how we can partner. Will we help with roofs? Can we buy a couple of motorcycles? I’ve just become an advocate! Our church is growing and we have a lot of people who can help. We’re already doing some work in Ecuador. The people of Western Honduras seem to be among the most neglected.”

Both Kenny and Pastor Don spoke of the people of Western Honduras with great affection. They both talked about the happiness of people who have so little by the world’s standards.

Kenny said, “The people are bubbly and friendly. I asked Allen why their music is so loud. Allen said it’s because they’re happy and they want to share their happiness!”

Pastor Don, too, spoke of the friendliness of the people. He said, “This is obviously a developing country. But it doesn’t dampen their spirits. I have fallen in love with this country and the spirit of the people.”

 - update from Trish: On Sunday afternoon, we heard from Pastor Don and Kenny that their church has committed to donating a motorcycle for Pastor Omar at the Tablon sponsorship center, plus monthly support of our feeding center program! This is an excellent example of how teams can do even MORE than the project during their visit! 

 - posted by Christi

Thursday, May 17, 2018

May I Have Your Less Divided Attention, Please?

Team visiting from
Life Community Church,
Hilliard Ohio
If you want to know the value of diet and exercise, ask a health nut. If you want to know what to watch on Netflix, ask a couch potato, er, television conoisseur. If you want to know about the value of short term mission trips, ask a missionary! Allen recently shared his views on the value of short term mission trips. His number one reason may surprise you!

“People are always coming down here. And, when they come, they usually want to do a project. Projects are great! They are wonderful! But, what we really need more than anything is for people to partner with us,” said Allen.

Continuing that thought, he said, “We love having people come to build a bridge, do a VBS, or work with feeding centers. But we don’t want people to just build a bridge, do a VBS, or work with feeding centers. We want them to catch the vision! And we want them to take that vision back with them.”

What can catching the vision and taking it back look like? Oh, something like this:

  • Many people can only sponsor one child, but maybe someone who sponsors one child knows
    of five other people who could each sponsor a child, and can encourage them to become sponsors.
  • Sometimes people see what’s happening with Sowers4Pastors and they wish they could donate $1000 to help an indigenous pastor get a motorcycle. $1000 isn’t chump change for most people! However, maybe the person unable to write a personal check for that amount can encourage a Sunday school class or small group to work together to raise the amount. 
  • People go back with the firm understanding that, while they might not be able to afford to personally start a church plant, providing a motorcycle for an indigenous pastor empowers the pastor to plant one or several churches!
  • People can return from their trip with the drive to help raise money to put a new roof on a church, provide funds for Pastors Training School, encourage a congregation to join the Sister Church Program, pack backpacks, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Another reason Allen likes having teams visit is because it is an opportunity to get people away from their North American distractions. While a team is visiting, they get a chance to talk without the cell phones ringing! Allen and Russell get the opportunity to give a thorough overview of their ministry without people being pulled in all directions. Allen first called it, “undivided attention.” Upon reflection, he said, “Well, we at least get people’s less divided attention.” Even short term missions has its limits!

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Waving a Big, Foam Finger

The number of times a Sowers has asked me to write a blog post about money can almost be counted on one finger, rather than one hand. But, today, I’m waving a big, foam finger in the air and encouraging you to read about Sowers4Pastors current needs.

Allen said, “Every week, we post what is going on in Honduras. We don’t always talk about how these things costing money."

I’ll say it. It costs money to maintain the operation of Sowers4Pastors. Here are a few of the more pressing needs:

  • There are currently twenty requests from churches in need of a new roof. Time is of the essence, because it is the dry season in Honduras. At least eight of those requests are very viable--coming from churches who are ready to put new roofs on TODAY! The cost is $1000 per roof.
  • Last fall, Sowers4Pastors believed they had a significant commitment from a group wishing to help fund motorcycles for pastors. With that commitment, Russell took to the road and talked to pastors who wished to apply to the program - but then that financial commitment didn't come through. Still, Sowers4Pastors helped thirteen pastors get motorcycles in the fall, with help from various other donors who stepped up to assist with this need, and with some money from the general fund. There are currently ten more pastors Sowers4Pastors would really like to assist with $1000 toward the cost of a motorcycle. At the time of this writing, two of those motorcycles are funded. The other eight are not. Allen pointed out, “So often, when we help a pastor get a motorcycle, he takes that motorcycle and plants another church.” Basically, for $1000, you can help a pastor plant a church!
  • The group in the U.S. that partners with Sowers4Pastors by providing food for the feeding centers is ready to donate half a shipping container of food! That is not a paltry amount! Sowers4Pastors needs to come up with the shipping and customs costs to make that happen, which will come to around $4000.
  • Pastors Training School is significantly underfunded for the year. As you might recall, Pastors Training School is co-funded by three ministries. At this point, none of them have been able to provide the funding necessary to maintain the operation of the school. March and April classes have already taken place. That means down payments had to be made. The campground had to be rented. Books and other supplies had to be purchased. Those were completed, but more funding is needed, for the school to go forward. As Allen said, “Pastors Training School needs some love! Adequate funding is needed to make this school happen.”

  • We’re already looking ahead to the next backpack drive. A lot of the future backpacks will be going to kids the ministry has yet to meet! Allen and Trish have been working on lining up backpack-packers for the back-to-school sales this year, anticipating there will be more and more kindergarteners joining the program this coming school year. As additional children sign up, Sowers4Pastors needs to be ready with backpacks and school shoes. Because every child needs shoes that fit properly, it is necessary to have a surplus of shoes in a variety of sizes, and this requires the ministry to maintain an inventory of shoes - which ties up funds! Additionally, half of the kindergarteners currently registered do not have sponsors yet - and we need to find sponsors for them, to keep the program funded! (Click this link for more info on the sponsorship program, and how to sponsor a child through Manna 4 Lempira.)
  • Sowers4Pastors must pay for shipping and customs costs each time a shipping container is sent - and approximately eight containers (most of those containing food) are being shipped throughout the year!
  • There’s also the daily running of the ministry, travel to the various feeding centers, etc… it all takes money.
Sometimes when a ministry grows quickly, the funding doesn’t quite catch up to the mission. Allen said, “Sometimes we turn down good, or even great, opportunities, in order to be able to say, ‘yes,’ to the best opportunities.” However, the fact is that the best opportunities often require funding.

Donating is easy - you can find the info you need at the "To Donate" button, just under the title photo at the top of this page. Your help is greatly appreciated!

 - posted by Christi

Monday, May 14, 2018

Far From Flashy, But Doing Important Work - the Montanita Feeding Center

Almost two years ago, we published this blog post with a handy-dandy list of some of the smaller feeding centers that people could sponsor for a year. Ian and Jan Westcott did just that. They sponsored the feeding center in Montanita, run by Pastor Felipe, which feeds more than 50 children a nutritious meal once a week. We don't normally share the names of donors and their donations, but the Westcotts gave me permission to use their name (because it's in the video, below), in the hope that this might encourage others to give. The cost to our ministry, to supply and oversee the feeding center in Montanita, is just over $50 per year.

Recently, the Sowers’s videographer headed to Montanita to create a video update of that feeding center.

The center is far from flashy! It’s in a small, remote area, and, in contrast to the sponsorship centers in the Manna 4 Lempira program, it has few bells and whistles. Feeding centers are chosen to become sponsorship centers partly because they are closer to the Sowers’s home, making it possible for them to oversee their operations. While Trish knows to never say, “Never,” she said it is unlikely that a place as small and remote as Montanita would ever become a sponsorship center.

The children in Montanita and other remote feeding centers aren’t receiving the extra goodies that go to the kids in sponsorship centers. Allen, Trish, and Russell are gradually working to incorporate better Sunday school material to these remote centers. One major problem with that is that the smaller churches don’t always have the necessary facilities and teachers to separate the children into age groups, for age-appropriate lessons.

Still, these children - and the children at all of the other feeding centers - are receiving nutritious food to prevent the scourge of malnutrition. They also have pastor led Bible lessons each week. This is made possible through donations to our general fund, donations to the general feeding center program, donations earmarked for specific centers (such as the Westcott’s donation), and through the sponsorship program itself (funds donated to the sponsorship program, above and beyond the cost to run that program, go into funding for the general feeding center program).

If you are currently sponsoring a child or donating to feeding centers, thank you! If you’re not, perhaps providing an annual sponsorship for a remote feeding center is something you would like to consider. The cost is minimal and the return is MAGNIFICENT!

 - posted by Christi

Trish adds: if you're interested in helping us feed children, the "To Donate" button is located at the top of this page, just below the title photo. Thanks so much for helping!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The View from Kelsea - God Directing Our Steps

April was a more relaxed month for us as a ministry; it was a time for us to work on projects that can’t be done during the busy team season. I went home for a week in the middle of April to reset my tourist visa and came back with two of my very close friends that I’ve known for almost my whole life. It was a great opportunity for them to get a little taste of what Sowers4Pastors does, and what I have been doing for the last 3 months.

Kelsea and friends

On the Tuesday of their stay, we had planned to travel three hours to the Honduran frontier, near the border of El Salvador, to check out a hospital in Gualcinse. One of my friends is a nurse and we wanted to show her the hospital in hopes that she would consider helping the already present doctor and nurses there. However, even the best laid plans are subject to change…she got sick. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise though.

Because of the sudden bout of sickness, we postponed the trip until the next day. While we were resting, Russell was in correspondence with Kim Hall, our stateside sponsorship coordinator, and she told him about a ministry in Erandique run by a Honduran pastor and his North American wife. This ministry established a school where deaf children are taught sign language so they can learn to communicate with others and receive the Gospel. Unfortunately there was an issue with their funding and they were in need of back-to-school supplies. Well, as it turns out, we had a stash of extra backpacks from the sponsorship program and Erandique, which would normally be an hour and a half out of our way, was right on our way to the hospital.

Deaf student with new backpack!
So Wednesday morning, bright and early, we loaded up 14 backpacks into the bed of the Hilux pickup truck and headed off to Gualcinse. We made a stop in Erandique to drop off the backpacks and met Juan and Jennifer who run the school. We got to see the church where they hold both services for the community and classes for the deaf students, and then they invited us into their house for coffee.  As we left, we marveled at how great God’s timing was to put us in contact with these missionaries at the exact time we were headed their way!

From there we drove about an hour more on beautiful - but bumpy - mountain roads. When we arrived at the hospital in Gualcinse, I was struck by how neat and spacious it was. There was a clean, large parking lot and a nicely kept flower bed in front of the building. As we walked in, we were greeted warmly by Elvira, the hospital administrator, who proceeded to give us a tour of the facilities. The hospital was established by North American doctor, Leslie Shaw, but sadly he died from cancer not long after he got it up and running.  With his death, the funding dried up and the once fully operational hospital became just a medical clinic.

Gualcince Clinic

The wing that is currently not in use was intended to be a maternity and surgical ward; there is a delivery room, an x-ray machine, a surgical suite, recovery rooms, storage rooms, a conference room and living quarters for one or two nurses. Elvira showed us the equipment that had been donated by medical professionals in the U.S. and told us the intended purpose of each room as we entered it. It was both sad to see how the equipment and facilities had deteriorated from lack of use, and encouraging to note the potential that the hospital has to become something great again.

As we finished our tour, we saw the functioning part of the hospital and met the local Honduran doctor, two nurses, and three pharmacy technicians that are on staff. Currently, the clinic serves the community through giving regular checkups and distributing medicine at wholesale prices to treat common illnesses. They also have the capacity to give ultrasounds, which is a huge asset to the surrounding areas. Altogether, we saw that this hospital is doing great things for the community, but it could be doing so much more! We left Gualcinse that day brainstorming about how to connect U.S. medical personnel and funding with the hospital we had just visited. My nurse friend was inspired and we remain hopeful that soon we will see the hospital grow and flourish to its full potential.

Our little day trip out to the frontier turned out to be successful and encouraging. It was a reminder that God is always directing our steps and that he has a plan that is bigger than we can imagine. We pray for God’s plan to prevail in the lives of each child that received a backpack and we also trust that he will work to establish his purpose in the hospital at Gualcinse.

 - posted by Kelsea

Monday, May 7, 2018

Nothing Major Does Not Equal Nothing

Whenever Russell says there’s “nothing major” to report, I know I’m about to be on the receiving end of enough information to more than fill a blog post. FYI, “nothing major” does not equal, “nothing”!

Moments before our phone call, Russell was up to his eyeballs organizing receipts from the first quarter with Kelsea-the-intern. Ask any Sowers and he or she will tell you that paperwork is a necessary evil of life on the mission field!

It has been a couple of weeks since Kelsea returned to Honduras. She brought two of her closest friends back with her, and they stayed on for a week. Together, with Russell, they went out and served as a “mini team”. One of the mini team members is a nurse, so they went to visit a medical clinic on what Russell referred to as “the frontier”. This friend will soon be moving to Guatemala, where she will participate in a medical Spanish immersion. She wants to go into full-time ministry and needs to be able to speak medical Spanish. Kelsea’s other friend will be getting married soon and the three young women enjoyed this time of serving together before they go down different life paths.

The mini team also spent time packing up extra shoes, since the school shoes have been handed out for the year. Russell pointed out that it’s necessary to invest in extra shoes in order to have the correct sizes for the children who receive them. Each extra pair of shoes has been cleaned, dried, and packed in individual Ziplock bags to be stored until next year.

With Allen and Trish talking about backpacks and sponsorship centers in the U.S., they have needed a lot of updates from programs, in recent days. As we mentioned in a previous post, three churches in Seattle were interested in the Sister Church Program. The three churches didn’t feel they could each set up a Sister Church themselves, but they have decided to join forces! One big program makes more sense than three small ones.

Kelsea, Melvin, and Russell will be heading out to find just the right location for this new sponsorship center. They are looking for a place with a great need that can also provide enough teachers to sustain the program. And, keeping it all in the family, Kelsea’s sister will be heading up the program from the Seattle side!

The coffee farm work is going strong. Fortunately, Russell’s crew knows what to do and it isn’t necessary for him to be on site all the time. If you recall, the seeds were first planted into a sand bank. When they sprouted, they were moved into small black nursery bags, and kept in a heavily shaded area. Now it's time for those young plants to be moved to the farm. More than 20,000 plants will be individually planted! The crew is also working with the more established coffee plants which were planted in previous years - the leaves are getting a good spraying with vitamins and minerals.

Allen and Trish will be flying home in under two weeks. They aren’t returning empty handed! A visiting team will return with them. When that team leaves after a week, a different team will arrive. Russell has a lot to do to prepare for the back-to-back teams.

In other news, Allen and Trish are famous! Well, that may be a stretch, but they did enjoy being on a radio program in Georgia on the morning of May 2! It’s a good thing they’ll be returning home soon. It would be a shame if they got caught up in “show biz”!

 - posted by Christi

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Numbers Are IN!

The numbers are in and the final tally for the Gifts for Gracias pastor appreciation gifts is… (May I have a drum roll, please? Rat-a-tat-tat…) 349! That’s THREE-HUNDRED & FORTY-NINE! Pardon the screaming, but it’s very exciting news.

This post contains even more exciting numbers:
  • Russell said pastors from 18 different denominations received gifts.
  • Pastors from as close as “just up the road” and as far away as 8 hours from the Sowerses received the gifts. 
  • Last year, the number of gifts handed out was in the high 200s, so this project grew a lot!
  • This year’s gift boxes were more school oriented. Each family package contained an average of 5 backpacks for the pastor’s children. 
  • Russell has done the math, so you don’t have to: More than 1700 backpacks filled with school supplies were handed out to pastors’ kids.
  • The average pastor has a 6th grade education. Those backpacks make it possible for the pastors’ kids to receive more education. Russell said that a lot of the pastors they work with are, themselves, children of pastors. The hope and prayer is that many of these pastors’ children will also go into the ministry as adults. Receiving a better education will help equip them for their futures. As Russell said, “We want to raise up more kids that want to follow in their parents’ footsteps.”

Russell, Allen, & Trish want to give a big shoutout to all of the people who filled those 1700 backpacks. These were backpacks not designated for sponsored children. Thank you for catching the vision! The true impact of these numbers will not be known until we get to Heaven!

 - posted by Christi