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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Capturing the Moment, Developing Memories: Eric Peterson's Story

AHMEN's Rio de Agua Viva team was blessed beyond measure this year in many ways.  One which stands out most to me is that we were able to recruit a photographer named Eric Peterson to join the team.  Just look at some of his nature shots!

If these pictures weren't impressive enough, Eric is also quite the writer.  Keep reading to learn about Eric's experience in Honduras.

The Smiles of the Children
By: Eric Peterson

I’m not sure what prompted me to undertake this journey. If it was guilt or some noble ideal that made it feel like I had a duty to help where there was need. I went on this mission with the intention of somehow making a positive influence on the lives of people who were less fortunate. It was a sort of paying it forward exercise to make myself part of a larger world.

Our work in rural Honduras helps give individuals in the community the knowledge and tools to independently tackle health and economic issues which they are experiencing. I truly believe our work will help make a difference.

I expected to see a Honduras which was locked in poverty and bordering on despair. What I experienced was completely different.

While there is poverty and a lack of resources in many areas, I did not see despair. Instead I saw a refreshing simple happiness. I saw children without toys or wifi exuding a pure joy I rarely see in the US. I saw a sense of community not often seen in cities I have lived in. These children were laughing and playing making fun by playing a "ring around the rosey" type game, or if they were lucky maybe they had a single soccer ball which was more than enough to keep them smiling and entertained. They lacked many things we would view as necessities but were happy with what they had.

I came away from this experience with the feeling that maybe we aren’t rich after all. That maybe these “poor” Hondurans are much more developed than we are. Our technology and higher standard of living have saddled us with expectations and aspirations that in many ways prevent us from being happy. We are obsessed with trying to climb the corporate ladder or comparing our lot with the family next door. The make of our car or our address have become more important than having fun with family and friends.

So yes, this experience has changed how I view the world and how I will interact with it. I will change not out of guilt for having too much while others have so little, but because material things are not necessary to be happy.

The smiles of the children and the lessons I learned from them are what I will remember most from this trip. I set out to help others and in doing so helped myself.

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Peace and happiness are not consumer goods wrapped in plastic with a bar code slapped on the back.  They come from within, and many times, they come as a result of having to do without.  

If you would like to join AHMEN's Rio de Agua Viva team, donate to our projects, or help support a team member in raising their team dues, contact me today!!

Together, we are the difference.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Río de Agua Viva 2017 - Christian Ecofeminist Mission Work in Honduras!!

When it comes to sending volunteers in the mission field, River of Living Water United Methodist Church in Jasper, Alabama is one of a kind. I don't think they can even count how many different volunteers the church has sent to Honduras over the last 18 years AHMEN has been up and running. Nonetheless, every volunteer from the past continues to set an example for future volunteers. In my next two blog posts I will be writing about the character and accomplishments of ROLW UMC's three volunteers who joined this year's Río de Agua Viva team.

The first individual I would like to tell you about is named Autumn Thornton. Autumn attended her first meeting to join the Río team back in January, and she immediately took to the idea of teaching a lesson on ecofeminism. While this topic is one that I have been promoting in mission work for several years now, I was elated when I heard from the community agents in Raistá that they wanted to learn more about both ecology and feminism. What a grand opportunity, I thought, to try out ecofeminism as part of Christian mission work in Honduras. What an even better stroke of luck that our team recruited a volunteer to teach it. And wouldn't you know it, another woman named Madison Lachney joined the team and wanted to partner with Autumn!

In addition to teaching the concept of ecofeminism to sixty community agents using art and history, Autumn and Madison led discussions on two Latin American feminists: Frida Kahlo and Berta Cáceres. It was an amazing sight to watch as two young white women from the southern U.S. talked about two Latin American feminist icons to Miskito women from the most-isolated parts of Honduras. Furthermore, Autumn and Madison led the group in planting moringa trees as a way to center local feminist unity around nature and combating malnutrition.

What was truly noteworthy, however, was the fact that Autumn and Madison were able to get the Miskito community agents to write letters to their governments expressing their concerns and needs. In a volatile world where the government "doesn't care" about indigenous communities like the Miskito, it is a true mark of empowerment that the ASI-Raistá community agents felt confident enough to communicate their grievances.

Below are the letters that members of ASI-Raistá wrote. (I have erased identifying information for the protection of the letters' authors.)

Autumn plans to mail the letters to the President of Honduras and the US Embassy in Honduras to help raise awareness of the needs in and around Raistá.  She also plans to focus on mobilizing a specific group of women to formally meet and discuss ecofeminist issues on a regular basis.  

To continue workshops like ASI-Raistá, AHMEN needs donors.  Go to www.honduranmissions.com.  Click the "donate" button, and describe your donation as "ASI - Byron's Workshops."  Please also email me your name and information so I can thank you personally.  You may also send a check made out to "AHMEN" with "ASI - Byron's Workshops" on the "For" line to:

AHMEN/Sharon Bowie 
516 Ridgeview Dr
Jasper, Al 35504

Please consider scheduling a monthly donation of as little as $10 per month. If you would like to learn more about how to join our Río de Agua Viva team, contact me today!

Together, we are the difference.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Importance of Being Earnest --- And Meeting Mishka!

Last month I wrote about all the traveling my wife Lane and I have done this summer.  Including airports and the United States we spent time in 3 countries and 10 states in less than a month!  When we returned we were zonked!  I don't know how the Presidential candidates do it for 2 years straight!  I guess that's why I should set my sights on Congress first to build up my endurance.

Well, today I want to share with you the feelings I experienced during our milestone tour.  2017 will always go down in history as the year I got married to my soulmate at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama.  It will always be the year I went on the best honeymoon any guy could ever ask for to El Dorado Casitas Royale in Riviera Maya Mexico.  Furthermore, 2017 will always be the year that I received the Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award from the National Education Association.

These major life events have in common that they all happened within a few months of each other, but each also made me feel important.  Getting married and being a part of a wedding meant the spotlight was all on Lane and me.  We felt like celebrities with all of our friends and family surrounding us and celebrating our love for each other.  The entire weekend was just lovely; Walt Disney could not have delivered more notable nuptials.  On the other hand, being pampered like royalty on our honeymoon gave me a whole different feeling.  Although my cousin Mark may disagree, I don't think I ever knew pampering until I set foot inside the grounds of Karisma's El Dorado Resort.  I am almost scared of how accustomed I became to my every need being taken care of at the drop of a hat.  Luckily Lane and my money ran out just before I might have experienced a true personality shift.  Finally, the NEA Human and Civil Rights awards ceremony invoked a feeling of pride and the validation I wrote about in my previous blog.  It was a completely humbling experience to watch my face, our work in Honduras, plastered on the big screen in front of 2,000 people and be labeled one who acts on behalf of "peace and international understanding."  Thank you to everyone who has made me feel so important over the last few months.

Watch My Acceptance Speech

But what truly makes me feel important is to know God sent me an angel in Lane, an angel who would support me in my mission in Honduras.  I feel significant because God trusted me to go on a luxury honeymoon and still have the conviction to continue my work in Honduras, knowing all well I could quit and enjoy more down time anytime I wanted.  What makes me feel influential is that my passion for social justice was recognized by people much more powerful than me.  That I was able to communicate the need for #JusticeForHonduras in my lifetime is why I write this blog.  All this being said, what will make me feel like a paramount member of society is if we can actually achieve that justice in my lifetime.

What is fundamentally important then is facilitating real change in the world.  I am ready for the next step.  It is past time to take greater action.  Long gone is the time to worry about finding a band aid to plug the locks when the dam itself is the problem.  If you are interested in joining me in Honduras on an educational team with AHMEN please contact me today.  If you are interested in developing real solutions for empowering the impoverished of Honduras, please contact me today.  If you are interested in donating to my personal projects in Honduras, please contact me today.

Without your help I won't be able to take that next step, for it is together that we are the difference.


Not to be forgotten from the many amazing memories this summer is when I got to see a performance by the Bermuda-borne reggae artist Mishka whose music speaks to everything I believe.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What a Journey!

In the last five days I have traveled from Iban's Lagoon in Gracias a Dios, Honduras to Winchester, Tennessee, to Boston Massachusetts.

I ended my mission to the most marginalized parts of Honduras early to be able to attend the National Education Association's Civil and Human Rights Awards Ceremony as the recipient of the Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award.

The honor I feel validates what we are doing in Honduras to empower the local people to take ownership over their own healthcare and education system, take back their land, and deny foreign investors access to their environmental integrity.

I want to say "thank you" to everyone who has helped make our work and this award possible.  The deliberate daily work of relationship building in Honduras is taxing and often frustrating, but your support makes our vital work all the more rewarding.

If you would like to be a part of sustainable, appropriate change in Honduras, contact me today. If you would like to support our efforts financially, please earmark your monthly contribution on honduranmissions.com for AHMEN'S Community Empowerment Program.  Join us!

Together, we are the difference.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Leadership in Raistá

You have heard the sayings before.  Behind every good man there is a great woman.  It takes a village to raise a child.  A bird in hand is better than two in the bush.  Well, I'm not sure if that last one fits, but you get the point.  Success is determined more so by the collective output of a team and not necessarily the achievements of a single member.  

As you might remember, I talk about Pastor Willington online quite a lot.  He is a remarkable fellow, speaks several languages, and manages over a dozen different churches.  He is a nice person and always has a smile on his face.  He is also the lead community agent in charge of developing an extension of AHMEN's Community Empowerment Program into Raistá.

What I haven't mentioned as much as I should are the people rallying around him to make his dreams of developing a system of continuing education in La Moskitia a reality.

I would like to introduce you to my friends Darwin and Marcia from MAPAWI and the local Centro de Salud.  They appear below leading talks on lung disease in general, tuberculosis in particular, and also nutrition.  While there is not tuberculosis to speak of in Raistá, the disease continues to worry many.  Darwin says regular informational sessions help alleviate some of the local anxiety surrounding the lung disease.  Marcia finalized this year's talk by reinforcing the need for cleanliness in the community to prevent lung disease by serving produce from her family garden.  Marcia told her students that just like our gardens must be maintained to keep them fruitful so too must our communities be kept clean to maintain community health.

If you would like to work with the community agents of AHMEN's Community Empowerment Program, step aboard.  Would you like to work in the mountains of Yorito, the urban environment of Jutiapa, the Caribbean seascape of Cusuna, or the jungle town of Raistá?  Either way, AHMEN needs your help.  Contact me here, and let's get started today.

Together, we are the difference.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Major Award (Reward)

When I got word last word last week that I had been selected as the National EducationAssociation’s Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award winner, a wave of emotion came over me.  While I consider myself a pretty awesome Spanish teacher I recognize that I am receiving this award in recognition of my work with AHMEN in Honduras.  What legitimacy for projects and teams that we already knew were making a difference in everyday Hondurans’ lives!

In addition to the tears of pride and joy which coincided with grieving for the loss of one of Jasper, Alabama’s finest, Joe Earl Williams, intense motivation began to flow through my bloodstream “like a broken down dam, as Mr. John Prine would say.  The validation I felt only heightened my sense of urgency to help more Hondurans live more just lives.  I knew that this year’s Río de Agua Viva team had to be the most meaningful yet.

And after attending our virtual team meeting last night, I knew it would be.  I mean, just look at this list of volunteers!

*      Ken Hanson – A retired USAF officer now dedicating his spare time to missions in La Moskitia, Ken recently also obtained a master of public health degree.  He leads the “accountability program” for both the Río team and Bruce McFadden’s Jungle Team.

*      Etta Hanson – What a delight!  Etta is a Registered Nurse exuding purely positive energy.  She will be joining McFadden’s Jungle Team with her husband Ken in April as a water assistant and then join the Río team in similar fashion.  She will also be teaching First Aid.

*      Autumn Tuoruton – Autumn is a high school student in Walker County, Alabama.  When I listed “Women’s Empowerment” as one of the topics the community agents requested she asked “What’s that, I think I want to do that one.”  You got it, Autumn!!

*      Anna Redmill – An expert in equine behavioral therapy, Reiki and Yoga, Anna is going to be a huge asset to this team.  She will use her talents to teach community agents wellness and holistic healing to complement the teachings of the next volunteer mentioned.

*      Caden Camp – Already the most popular teacher in Raistá, Caden will go deeper into the specifics of acupressure.  Her lessons from 2016 are still being used by community agents to provide relief for patients with a variety of ailments.  She and Anna will work as a “holistic healing arts” team.

*      Gail Jenkins – Gail boasts an impressive resumé of global perspectives.  A former Peace Corps volunteer and part-time missionary to several different countries around the world, Gail will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to this team.  She will be teaching the prevention of mosquito-borne illnesses (highlighting ZIKA) and working with the next volunteer in the area of women’s reproductive health.

*      Cindy Messer – Cindy is a midwife and has taught midwifery to everyone from high school graduates to PhDs and physicians.  Her dynamic lessons will provide an extra layer of safety, security, and comfort to mothers living in and around Raista, permitting them to deliver near their homes instead of traveling afar to reach a trained health official.

*      Eric Peterson – Eric is a professional photographer in every sense of the word.  Honduras is blessed to have his eye for detail, natural beauty, and compassionate heart.  We are lucky to have him document the magic of this team.

*      Gregory Thompson – I believe fate led Greg to this team.  He just so happened to run into AHMEN General Coordinator Dr. Tom Camp while in Honduras a year or two ago.  Camp noticing the potential of wunderkind Greg insisted he pray about joining this team.  Greg will be teaching and leading research conversations on how to help the community agents lead community-wide efforts in boosting the local economy.

*      Madison Lachney – I haven’t met Madison yet, but her work as an environmental studies major in Louisiana will mix well with Autumn’s lesson on women’s empowerment.  I know from our brief communication that Madison is a positive, passionate, and excited volunteer..just what we like! 

*      Dr. Ben Coplan – I don’t consider the Río team complete without our resident pediatrician and one of the most interesting and pleasant men I know.  Dr. Coplan’s talk on the first minute of life trains community agents to better manage the crucial first moments after a baby delivers; he also inspires this team to make every moment count.  This year Dr. Coplan is adding the sustainable appropriate technology of homemade splinting to his repertoire. 

*      Dr. Tom Camp – What could be said about the jewel that is this man?  He is the definition of congeniality and kind-heartedness.  His passion for and tireless efforts helping people are a constant reminder to all those around him that we can all do more.  Dr. Camp will be teaching ZIKA awareness and prevention, how to foster a community-wide mosquito prevention program, and working with Etta and Dr. Coplan in First Aid.

Our successes, our achievements, and our impact on the world are built on the backs of those who came before us.  This is true for me and the reasons why I have been selected a prestigious award from the NEA; it is also applicable to this team.  We have come a long way since our first Río team in 2013.  The blessings upon this egalitarian, ecumenical team continue to amaze me.  Favor is truly upon us, and in the words of my friend and Río team alumni King Tall T, “Go God.”  However, I think God may be saying “Go Río!!”

This year’s team is pretty full.  We have two more members making final decisions today to join our brigade.  The limits of adding any more get quite tricky.  Nonetheless, if you would like to serve on this team as a fundraiser, donor, or prayer warrior, contact me today!  It is not just the traveling members who make this team what it is.  It is all of us who play a part.

Together, wwe are the difference.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Community Development Works Through Communication!

Good Morning and Happy Black History Month :-)

The groundhog saw his shadow, and the temperature here in Winchester, Tennessee dropped overnight.  We went from high 60s on Monday to 24 waking up this morning.  Now I don't know how accurate the Fresh Punxsutawney Prince's predictions really are, but I do know AHMEN's Rio de Agua Viva team has received a quality forecast from our friends in a much different climate.

Yep, 2000 miles away in the department of Gracias a Dios, the ASI-Raista community agents who have been organizing over the past few years sent us the topics they want to learn.  Community development and best practices in missions invite missioners to conceptualize their projects based on the wishes and experiences of the people to which they minister.  So it is with great joy I post this blog.  What a benchmark in empowerment when to request information rather than simply receive what is offered.  It is with excitement our team can now request volunteers based on the actual topics we will be teaching June 21 - July 1 in Honduras.  

We are requesting volunteers to teach these specific topics over the course of three days.

        • Day 1 - Identify, discuss, and explain topic and its importance.
        • Day 2 - Teach techniques in resolving issues within topic.
        • Day 3 - Have students re-teach material; engage in Q&A.
The flyer below features the topics our team plans to teach; however, my previous blog's flyer featuring traits of successful team members is still worth reading.

Contact me today to learn how to join our team as a traveling or domestic team member!

Together, we are the difference.