Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Time For Reflection

By Larry and Osman Echeverria

Agriculture students learning to work with goats.
Reflection- It's the end of the fiscal year (March 2019) for World Gospel Mission (WGM) and it's time for us to write our annual report. It's the time of the year when we always stop and reflect on the past and ask God to give us a renewed vision for the future. We've been doing this annually for most of our 39 years of service with WGM. We are also approaching our 19th anniversary of working in Choluteca in collaborative work between WGM and the Honduras Holiness Church (IESH). Returning to Honduras in January brought us face-to-face once again with the reality of the needs and opportunities of Honduras youth.

Apacilagua- Since coming to Choluteca, I have always felt the drive to teach agriculture. We had been told that there was a school in the region that had a high school agriculture program. In 2014, along with my adviser, a fellow student at OSU and one of our health promoters, we had driven through the countryside looking for the school. 

Following our initial visit, over the previous five years, we have been involved with the school and the community, seeking ways to improve health, increase living standards, and to support the educational efforts already taking place. Our health promotions program was instrumental in providing education in the community and in the schools. One of our supporting churches in the
2017-Ribbon cutting at the inauguration of the new well.
States raised the money to drill a well on the school property. The agriculture students in Apacilagua are now able to grow a garden during the dry season. We have supplied goats for them to gain experience in working with animals. 

Combined Study Abroad teams from Ohio State and Utah State universities have helped the school with several projects. Our health promoters have been teaching children and young people in the school each week. The promoters have emphasized the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. Medical brigades have participated in education programs as well.

In March, our ministry team visited Apacilagua.
Recently, along with other members of our Choluteca team, Angie and I revisited a high school in Apacilagua that we had been working with over the past five years. Our recent visit was in response to an invitation from the school to discuss possible ways we can collaborate in the education of the youth of Apacilagua. 

Apacilagua is about 22 miles from where we live in Choluteca and is a town of around 800 families. The main economic activity in Apacilagua consists of agriculture and livestock. The majority of the crop production is cantaloupe, watermelon, okra and basic grains such as corn, sorghum, and beans. Apacilagua is part of the "dry corridor" of low yearly rainfall that runs through parts of the Central American countries of Guatemala and El Salvador in addition to Honduras. Due to low levels of precipitation most of the year and with lack of developed technology available to the small farmer, production levels remain low, creating a situation where farmers are barely achieving a subsistence living. Many people in the region are undernourished or malnourished. 

A Vision for the Future- We have been praying about ways we can get more involved with helping in education in Honduras. We want to build on the investment that has already been made. There are many needs at the school but we do not want to enter into a large construction project that will consume all our resources. Instead, we hope to work with the community to make use of locally available resources whenever possible. Personnel at the high school expressed interest in developing a closer relationship with our team and to discover ways that we can help them. Our group met with the director of the school and several of the teachers. In the meeting, I was not expecting that the agriculture teacher would look at me from across the room and simply say, "I need your help." 

Our Choluteca team meeting with high school personnel.
The high school agriculture program now has fewer students than in previous years. We are considering several possible areas of collaboration with the school. We would like to 1. help improve the classroom experience for students, 2. collaborate with the students in developing a design and building a small model sustainable agriculture project, 3. start an after-school intercurricular leadership program similar to FFA, and 4. develop a vocational shop plan that would include courses in different areas such as welding, small engine or motorcycle repair, electricity, food processing, etc., 5. we would like to develop supervised agriculture projects in the homes of the students. 

Agriculture is vital to the region. There is a need for young people to better prepared in understanding agricultural production. Teaching agriculture is an excellent opportunity for us to apply innovative ideas for mentoring the youth of Apacilagua.

The agriculture teacher and Chacho talking teaching options.
After Easter week, we plan to sit in on some of the agriculture classes just to observe. The teacher has invited us to become actively involved in teaching as well. Maribel (doctorate in Microbiology) has offered to go to the Apacilagua once every month to teach microbiology. The school does not have a microscope or other lab equipment let alone a science laboratory. We are hoping to obtain a couple of microscopes as a beginning. 

Since we helped the school put in a well for water, there is ample water available for any small animal projects. They have a small garden but still, face many obstacles. We would like to help the school set up a small sustainable model farm based on using aquaponics as the primary focus. We would also like to help them set up a small seed bank to provide seeds to members of the community. 

I share a dream with several others of adding an "FFA like" element to the education program for the agriculture students. They do not get any leadership training or any encouragement to become entrepreneurs. Our vocational school is preparing to offer courses to the students in addition to their regular classroom work. 

We hope to obtain a small property close to the high school where we can teach the vocational courses. We are considering the possibility of using shipping containers to build a mobile classroom that can be used for the vocational courses, community health teaching, and for the church that is getting started. Containers for classrooms have been found to have several advantages over typical "brick and mortar" construction.
  • They are cheaper and faster to set up.
  • Containers may be transported to a new location.
  • They are weather resistant.
  • They are versatile. 
Pray with us that God would direct our paths in this new opportunity.

Immanuel...God With Us in 2018

"'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us) (Mt. 1:23, ESV". "God with us" is a theme that runs throughout the Bible and it is a theme that has been very personal to us throughout this year. It is a theme of continual Messianic hope for the people of God. It was the promise that God would guide, protect, and rule over his people. Joshua challenged the people of Israel to stand strong and not be fearful because God was with them (Joshua 1:9). Isaiah heard God tell him to not be fearful or dismayed because God would be there for him and uphold him with "righteous right hand" Isaiah 41:10, ESV). The writer of Deuteronomy assured God's people that God would be with them and never leave or forsake them (Dt. 31:6, ESV).

God being with us is not some favor that we can earn. God came to the world in the form of a baby in a manger to give us the free gift of salvation and the promise that he would always be with us. He is available to everyone. God has promised to be with us in every moment of our lives, through the good times and the difficult ones. He counsels us to not be anxious about anything but to depend on him for all our needs. As I think back on the 2018 year, which is nearly finished, I am again in awe of what it means to have "God with us."

There were many times when Angie and I encountered difficult moments throughout the 2018 year but we have been continually assured that God has been with us. The difficulties that we have faced have often turned into opportunities for God to bless us beyond our greatest dreams, more than we could have ever imagined. These are a few of the highlights from our family in 2018.

Without much doubt, the hardest part of the missionary life for us has been having to say "goodbye." It hits us in both directions, leaving and returning to the States. We have our direct family in Ohio and cousins throughout the country. Over our lifetime we have made lots of close friends. Leaving them to go to Honduras for an extended time is hard. Some, we will likely never see again. Many of our Honduras friends have become family to us as well, so we always have mixed feelings when leaving one country to go to the other. We try to focus as much as possible on the blessing of having such a large family with so many friends in two countries.

Angie and I are proud of all our children and grandchildren. Our family continues to grow in number, in stature, intellectually, and spiritually. It is amazing t us how multi-cultural we become. I guess that would be expected with our background of living for nearly 40 years in two different countries. Our children who were born to us are third-culture kids, having grown up in Honduras and now living their adult lives In the United States. They are magnificently special. One of the lessons that we have learned is that family does not consist of only those who are our direct genetic relatives. It reminds us that we too have been adopted into the family of God.

We have seven grandchildren so far. Rachel and Jared have four children, David and Stacey have two children, and Maribel and David have one daughter. Whether they are born into our family, or lovingly adopted into the family, we are proud of six grandchildren who live in the States and one here in Honduras.

Maribel with Belen and David
Maribel is our Honduran daughter. Sometimes, I think that if she had been born to us as parents, she couldn't more closely imitate some of our characteristics. She even laughs at my jokes in English. Maribel is about the same age as our daughter Maria. She came to live with us as a teenager, though we have known her family for most of our career. During her high school years, Maribel dreamed of becoming a microbiologist. Though at times it seemed like an impossible dream, this year Maribel graduated with a doctorate in Microbiology. She teaches in the nursing school. Maribel and her husband David work alongside us in ministry. They pastor the Shalom church that we helped to get started. Their daughter's name is Belen and is in kindergarten.

It's nearly impossible to get everyone in a photo. 
It is exciting to think about what our grandchildren are going to accomplish and experience in their lives. It has been fun to live next door to four of them over the past several months while we have been home in Ohio on Home Ministry Assignment (HMA) with World Gospel Mission. We live just close enough in our next door apartment where we can observe them for a while each day. We can also retreat to our "nest" when things get too loud for us. We had a great Christmas season together. Right now, the comment that I hear most is "Hey mom, Alexa's not working." They will figure it out for sure. David and Stacey added a new child this year. It was great for us to be here to help babysit for two-year-old Carter and newborn Owen.

On December 19th Larry finalized his four years of doctoral studies by graduating with a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Extension Education from Ohio State University. It has been a long haul, but the process was beneficial as we gained new knowledge along the way. We are now looking at how to make the best use of the degree as we return to Honduras in January. Our dream is to teach university students by developing a Study Abroad program with World Gospel Mission. We are analyzing the options and waiting on God to show us the open doors he wants us to walk through.

Our year of HMA is nearly finished, but we plan to end it with a major
Maria and JD Singh
celebration, where we will witness the uniting of two families through the marriage of our daughter Maria to Jasdeep (JD) Singh. We have valued this year as a time of getting to know JD better. We quickly understood why Maria fell in love with him. Welcome, JD, to our 'interesting' family.

It has been an exciting year. We give testimony that God has been with us every step of the way. We look forward to seeing God's plan for the 2019 year and beyond.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Health Promotion

The promotora (Spanish for health promoter) model has often been applied in the United States and Latin America to reach Hispanic communities, in particular. Health promotion has been defined by the World Health Organization as "the process enabling people to increase control over and to improve, their health" (World Health Organization, 1997). As a process, health promotion is not a means to an end, but an activity “directed towards enabling people to take action” (World Health Organization, 1997). Health promotion is done with people and not to them (World Health Organization, 1997). 

Larry's former academic adviser at Ohio State University, Dr. Jamie Cano, oriented him to the health promotion model and we have been using it in our community development work in Choluteca. Our health promoters are from the local community and teach members of the same community.  Our community health promotion program has prepared promoters who are teaching Bible-based health classes weekly to over a thousand students in private and public schools. Additional schools have asked for us to help them as well. Also, our health promoters use Community Health Evangelism materials ( to give health classes in 80 homes each week. 

Health Promoters have a positive effect on impacting health outcomes by building partnerships and coalitions in communities (Balcásar, Alvarado, Cauntu, Pedregon, & Fulwood, 2009). "Apart from serving as effective conduits for health education dissemination and outreach work, health promoters can also serve as researchers, carrying out research functions such as project conceptualization, assessment tool development, data collection, and information analysis. In any research project, health promotors should not merely be asked for assistance with data collection but should be part of the entire research process from conception to dissemination" (Nelson et al., 2011, p. 681).

This program has run out of funding from the original grant that was used to start it. We are temporarily operating the program with extra donations that come into our account. It costs $90 a month for each health promoter. We currently have 7 health promoters and would like to enter a new community with three additional promoters beginning in 2019. (Give on-line).

David Hawk speaking at last year's graduation.
A word of Testimony from David Hawk: "I had an opportunity to witness first hand the impact our health promoter teams in southern Honduras have on the local communities.  These are not people with years of education or special gifts, but simply neighbors.  They live and work in the community, go to church there, their children go to school together.  What is so special is that they have taken the tools given to them,  and are using them to improve the health, social conditions, and talking about Jesus with anyone that will let them pass their knowledge along.  The day I saw them in action we were evaluating ministry impact.  Nineteen women and one man assembled to describe how knowledge shared by Pati Rodriguez and her team of community workers had changed their views on health, economy, relationships, and about God.  They understand their value before God and understand their place in God’s plan.

This team of promoters works in schools to instill a Biblical worldview in children all through elementary school.  They do this with more than a thousand children on a regular basis.  I walked by a class of 2nd graders and heard them singing together and responding to questions about the Bible.  We don’t always have the chance to share the Gospel with adults, but children take the Good News into their home and plant the seeds of the Gospel. 

They are called health promoters.  But in this case, they are more than promoters of physical health.  They promote spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical health from a Biblical perspective.  In short, they are discipling a nation."

Friday, October 6, 2017

Cheaper than expected

Wouldn't you be excited if the estimated cost of a major construction project was reduced to 61% of the original rough estimate? We are very excited with the news that it will likely cost must less to build our new classrooms than we had originally thought. 

Our Choluteca ministry team has been praying and studying possible options for how we can continue with our vision for adding another grade to the high school next year. We feel that there is only one option available to us. In order to continue with our vision, it is necessary for us to build new classrooms before February.

We came to several conclusions. We can not build on the new property that we are purchasing until we have finally paid for the property. Our only option for construction on the original property that we own (located next to the new property) is to build 3 second-story classrooms over our parking area. By building on our existing property, the value of the property will increase and the use of the property will be maximized.

Hector, our architect, explaining his drawings
to our teachers. 
Stepping out on faith, after concluding that our only feasible option is to build on our existing property, we contacted an architect to come up with the design and cost analysis for the project. We now have a set of plans and a budget of materials and labor for the project.

As soon as we have the economic resources, we can begin the initial construction phase of putting the footers in place. The second story classrooms will be over our parking area and total 406.2 square meters for both floors. The construction cost is calculated to be around $85,000 total. We always hope we can be more efficient in the end, but the calculated cost per square meter comes out to a little over  $200/square meter for both floors.
Arq. Obed Velásquez

Friday, September 29, 2017

Celebrating a Vision Becoming Reality-Larry Overholt

It was an honor to participate in handing
out diplomas. 
Sometimes, with all the activity of our daily routine, we get complacent in celebrating successes. Yesterday was graduation day for 19 women and young ladies, and one young man. It was a true celebration for them. It was a time of real reflection for me.

While the ceremony was taking place, my mind kept bringing up memories of my call to missionary work. Seeing the graduates reach an important goal, I thought, "this is really what it's all about." Women and Men are learning vocational skills that will serve them and the entire community in the future. We are going to be able to build on the success of our first mobile course in Apacilagua. Next year we expect to add new courses. The Gospel was presented in the classroom daily by Melba, our instructor. Our health promoters gave a weekly class to the students as well. In combination with vocational education and health care teaching, most importantly a church is being started.

The dream of us creating a vocational education program in the region goes back to 2000, immediately following Hurricane Mitch. The region had been devastated by the destruction of infrastructure and the loss of hundreds of homes, along with thousands of lives. Work was hard to find, and the future looked bleak, especially for young people who were in the middle of their best years for obtaining an education.

After Hurricane Mitch, a new church had been started by the Evangelical Holiness Church in Choluteca. We had been recently assigned by World Gospel Mission to support the new ministry. Due to the need for jobs in the region, many of the church members thought that we needed to start a vocational education program. They were new Christians and had an abundance of faith. I found myself in a real struggle. My faith was being tested. The reality of starting a vocational school was nearly overwhelming.

I had no doubt that God could do whatever He wanted to do. I just fell back on the old "cop out" that I just wasn't convinced yet that He wanted to do it. It was a good idea, but if God really wanted someone to start a vocational school, He probably had someone else in mind to do it. It would be a huge task and I had no idea where to even begin. After all, we did not have buildings. There were not teachers. We did not have a curriculum. We had no money.

Melba taught our first class in 2002 in the
community center. Four years later we officially
started the Vocational School. 
The church members finally convinced me to make a move. The simplest option available would be to set up classes in the community center. The building was available and we had a qualified teacher in the church. The Honduras government vocational education program had teaching materials available for us to use. It would not be hard to get a few used sewing machines donated. That pretty much covered all the excuses I had for not going ahead with a plan for beginning vocational education. After all, I thought this would be a great way to show the church members and the community that it really was not that easy to start vocational education courses.

Melba did a fantastic job and the students excelled in our first experience at vocational education. The members of our church congregation concluded: "See, we knew we could do it." At their suggestion, I began, half-heartedly, to look for a property to build on. We still did not have the finances we needed or the teachers.

Finally, we were offered a property in El Limon de la Cerca, a community that had been built six miles outside of Choluteca after Hurricane Mitch. I assumed that it would take considerable time to raise the necessary funds to construct buildings and add the equipment for vocational education.

Just as I was getting a little bit excited, another organization came and built a vocational school in the exact location where we had considered building. I vividly remember my reaction. It was a time of real confusion and personal frustration.
  • I had been reluctant to get involved in vocational education.
  • God convinced me that vocational education was important. 
  • Then, someone else began to take over our dream. 
I completely withdrew from any further talk of vocational education. Instead, we helped start churches in other communities. We were involved in construction projects. A property was purchased by WGM for setting up a medical clinic and to provide missionary housing. I tried to forget all about vocational education. 

The vocational school in 2006.
THEN, in the summer of 2006, a fellow missionary David Hawk called me. I was walking downtown with Chacho. David asked me if I was aware of the vocational school that had been built in El Limon. I was certainly aware of the school since I drove right by it on the way to one of the churches we were helping build at the time. I will never forget the feelings that came over me when he said: "It's yours, if you want it." Admittedly, I wasn't even sure if I wanted it at that point. It was one of those special moments that we experience as missionaries. As I explained the phone call to Chacho, we both broke down in tears right in the middle of the busy city sidewalk. We knew without any doubt that God had spoken to us through the circumstances. 

His way is always better than our way. Once again, I could not have imagined or planned how things would work out. 

Current school director Osman Echeverria discussing
the program with the Master of Ceremony
Pati Rodriguez.
The school was donated to World Gospel Mission in 2006. I am grateful for the team that I have had working with me at the school. We learned together as we began sewing classes in September 2006, and added refrigeration and auto mechanics. Around 1,500 students have attended the school since then. We are excited to see what new plans God has for us. 

Today, the school continues with the programs in sewing and in auto mechanics. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Holistically supporting Apacilagua to reach their full potential - Would you join us?

Apacilagua whose name means "Still Waters" with a population of 9,700 inhabitants is one of the nine municipalities of the department of Choluteca located 36 km to the Northeastern part of the departmental city of Choluteca. Apacilagua was founded in 1831; according to the categorization made in 2016 by the Secretary of the Interior and Justice, it is in the category "D" where all the municipalities declared "Without Progress" are categorized.

The high school agriculture talking about
the vision for the future. 
The main economic activity of the municipality is based on agriculture and livestock. The crops of greater production are the melon and basic grains as maize, sorghum, and beans. Because it is an area with little rainfall during a long season of the year and technology level of the small producers is low, the yield of basic grain areas is much lower than the national average which is already low. This scenario makes it a subsistence economy that in many cases is not even enough to nourish the nuclear family.

The inhabitants make much use of natural medicines due mainly to the economic situation prevailing in the municipality and the limited existence of professional health services. Some of the most widely used treatments include Chamomile tea and eucalyptus leaves to control coughs and colds, garlic as a dewormer, basil tea for a toothache, among others.

Apacilagua is a town where the religious beliefs still remain influenced by the Spaniards Conquerors with very ingrained traditions. It is estimated that 93% of the population professes their Catholic faith and only 7% claim to be newborn evangelicals. There are many traditions and customs that are practiced such as not eating red meats during Easter Week, visiting the cemetery every November 2nd to put crowns and flowers on the graves of their relatives who are dead, prayers or novenas at nine days, six months and at the end of  the first year after a relative or friend has passed away.

World Gospel Mission through its ministries in southern Honduras has been working to encourage positive changes in the population of Apacilagua. Through the health promotion program, we have been working with children and young people from schools and training to create a culture of healthy and nutritious food. With support from missionary groups, students and professors from Ohio State University, water projects have been set up for the population's consumption and for the development of agricultural education programs. Also, through the vocational education center (CEVTI) we have been training in areas such as sewing.

What is the approach for the next two or three years?
The plan is to provide holistic support to the community of Apacilagua by placing at their disposal resources that God has provided and will provide to WGM -Choluteca. Also, based on felt needs, we will develop various workshops through the Vocational Education Center and plant a church with the support of the Shalom Church. We will continue the health promotion program for a period of 2 or 3 consecutive years. We are also considering the possibility of starting pilot programs like 4-H with children and FFA with young people attending school in order to encourage and develop leadership, citizenship, cooperation,  patriotism and other skills. We consider that the settlers and leaders of Apacilagua have all the potential and desire to transform their community. Our goal is to accompany them in the process by providing them with tools that will stimulate the integral growth of the individual lives, their families, and their community.

We are aware that to develop this plan will require a lot of effort and human resources, time and financial resources, but we are relying on the provision of God. We invite you to join this dream through your prayers, contribution of knowledge or financial support; we cannot do it on our own!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Vocational Education, by Osman Echeverría

It is a great blessing and privilege to be able to be a small part of this great project. In a country like ours with few opportunities and in which there seems to be no hope, God has opened an oasis and a life training camp where young and old, men and women are trained every day with greater and better skills for life and work. This preparation allows them to opt for better opportunities and join in building a better country through their contribution to private enterprise, public sector or entrepreneurship.

Unemployment and underemployment are phenomena that greatly affect our country. The lack of economic opportunities is reflecting on the growth of a sector of young people who neither study nor work called "ninis". According to a World Bank report published in 2016, in Honduras, there were 300,000 young ninis in 1990, and by 2016 this population had increased to 500,000. In Latin America, Honduras is the country with the highest rate of ninis representing a 26.8% of the general population. The young people in this group are more likely to join or become victims of criminal activity.

According to the Honduran Social Forum of External Debt and Development (FOSDEH) up to July 2017, Honduras registers an 8% unemployment rate and a 56% underemployment rate; however, the reality may be even worse.  All this labor market scenario of the country confirms that we must continue to strengthen our training areas, to bring our students closer to the workforce (through internships); in addition, entrepreneurship must be strengthened and promoted. This would allow greater opportunities for generating income and creating new jobs

In pursuit of holistic growth, our goal is to stimulate the spiritual growth of students and to
Osman and Leslie have a passion for reaching youth
for Christ.
educate them in life skills. It is endowed with other knowledge such as computing while fostering the values and competitiveness of the graduates. It also promotes innovation and entrepreneurship through the identification and development of business ideas for later execution. All of this is possible thanks to alliances with different institutions but also, thanks to the unconditional support of donors and sponsors who have believed in our ministry. They have become major drivers in the transformation and positive change in the living conditions of hundreds of young people and their Families. There is still a lot to do and although the process is often slow we believe that our Heavenly Father and his people are with us in the entire process, therefore, better things are yet to come. 

Follow this Link if you would like to make a donation to the vocational school.