Causes

El Sembrador: Planting seeds for the future of Honduras

Calvin Edwards travels the world reporting on ministries, but sometimes the vision is so big, even Calvin has to stop and reconsider his perspective. A small ministry with big dreams can make an impact as big as a country.

By Calvin W. Edwards

While we were meeting, David Hawk excused himself. He had to meet with an official from the Ministry of Education who had just arrived from Tegucigalpa. Three from his team remained to discuss with me the high school and elementary school known as El Sembrador (The Sower) near Catacamas, Honduras.

I was leading an impact evaluation, an attempt to quantify the obvious, that the school was making a difference. Though the good they are doing is obvious, gathering data lends credibility, enables thorough reporting to donors, and points to actionable improvements.

These schools, and their various incarnations over their 64-year history, provide a high-quality education to young people in eastern Honduras. It’s a beautiful agricultural region, with lush fields and rough mountains poking out of wide valleys at the distant edges. And though it’s a visibly rural area, there are mid-sized towns tacked into the landscape every few miles at the foot of the mountains.

Catacamas is one of them. And El Sembrador is a 2,000-acre mission property of World Gospel Mission just a few miles out of town. All those acres? Alongside the mission schools is a dairy and cattle farm business, the profits of which help to operate the school. This dairy is the fifth largest milk producer in Honduras. Plus, kids learn valuable skills and lessons caring for animals, growing crops, and maintaining the property.

When we landed, the prior day, on the well-maintained grass airstrip in this semi-remote region, the water buffalo on the other side of the fence looked on, intrigued by the angular, noisy bird that unapologetically invaded their space. On the other side of the airstrip was a dense crop of corn getting ready to be harvested. All this is a part of El Sembrador, along with its national reputation.

Relentlessly Christian, it has been singled out by the Honduran president and the Ministry of Education as a model for other schools. Hence the high-level official visitor.

Earlier, when the Honduran president needed help assembling a silage-making machine on his nearby farm, he called the lead farm worker at El Sembrador for some tips on how to assemble his fancy new equipment. Ever serving the community, the farm manager made a visit to the president’s farm to help, an act of generosity that was soon reciprocated.

The president loved what he saw and wanted more of it for Honduras. All of a sudden, El Sembrador had an advocate at the top. That can be helpful as long as you don’t align with his political party, since violent political changes are often the norm in Central America. So, “proceed with caution” was the mantra.

Today, the schools move towards self-sufficiency with the support of the farm. They’re not there yet, but they are on a good track, and the strategy is being managed carefully.

While I was on site, two regional Christian business men were contributing their knowledge – free of charge – to refine farm operations and then expand them, so the school could stand alone, expand elementary grades, and add more and more students. Maybe one day, a college.

El Sembrador has attracted that kind of support, input, and advice. Donors and supporters feel a sense of ownership and want it to succeed. Not just as it is, but in new and bigger ways.

El Sembrador has attracted support, input, and advice. Donors and supporters feel a sense of ownership and want it to succeed.

David and I discussed the huge needs in Honduras. While it is a beautiful country – much of it a quilt of green in shades of pineapple, corn, coffee, and okra – and while it produces families that would make extraordinarily good neighbors, the nation suffers from the corruption that has plagued so many developing countries since the end of colonial rule, and has the dubious distinction of being home to the former “murder capital” of the world.

David said he wanted the country to change, to have an impact beyond the lives of individual students. “How can you do that?” I asked.  You touch just a few kids. There are millions who you don’t reach. Is that realistic, that El Sembrador helps to re-make Honduras?”

He challenged my near-sighted vision, explaining that a school like that has access to the community and the students’ families. Today, you might be teaching ninth-grade algebra, but tomorrow you are a voice in the community because of who you are and where you work.

Then he said, “Most importantly, we want to train leaders. To train kids do be the leaders in Honduras, in business, politics, the church, military, whatever.” The key to this, he explained, is to inculcate – “train” is too shallow a word for what happens here – a Christian worldview that thoroughly dispels a secular perspective on life. That notion, spread widely, changes the nation. But, it takes time, a generation or two.

“Really?” I thought. “I’m at an isolated mission school in rural Honduras with upwards of 200 students, graduating a small fraction of those each year with a high school diploma, and this is the engine for change in Honduras?” It’s a nice thought. A good wish. An admirable vision. But God is going to have to work overtime to make that happen, it seemed to me.

Then he explained that already they had leaders in business. That politicians had trained at El Sembrador. That air force pilots started their path to success in the halls of this mission school.

Maybe it is possible.

The focus of Christian leaders in Honduras, people like Osman Echeverria who overcame crippling poverty to earn a college degree and then run a vocational school to serve his people, and folk like Patty Rodriguez with the room-brightening smile who selflessly teaches every day to improve the health and prospects of poor families and children in Apacilagua, and Enoch Ulloa, who directs the operations of El Sembrador with passion and charisma – this kind of focus and dedication might bring about the change David longs for.

I’d worked with this national staff over the past few days. I’d admired their sacrifice for their people, knowing they are called to “love their neighbor” in the most practical of ways. I’d experienced their profound commitment to Christian truth and values. Because they know that the true hope for their country lies not in the next military coup, but in the unlikely revolution that is led by the Prince of Peace.

They know that the true hope for their country lies not in the next military coup, but in the unlikely revolution that is led by the Prince of Peace.

The next day I left El Sembrador. As the Cessna hurled us down the airstrip, the water buffalo challenged us to a race. They charged, head down, alongside the accelerating plane until they lost the battle and turned away.

As we took off, I thought about all the potential at El Sembrador in its race to change a nation. And that the official from the Ministry of Education who David was meeting with had been his student at El Sembrador 12 years before.

David Hawk is the regional director for Central & South America for World Gospel Mission and can be reached at david.hawk@wgm.org.

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