There are many and varied ways to experience the RV camping lifestyle. Below is an article that should give you plenty to consider if you are looking to find activity and meaning in your RV travel.
When I say “I’m a SOWER Volunteer…”
By Elizabeth Frank, SOWER
When I say, “I’m a SOWER volunteer,” the typical response is, “What’s THAT?” I then explain “SOWER is an acronym for Servants On Wheels Ever Ready. It’s a non-profit RV ministry for semi-retired and retired couples who want to serve the Lord by serving others.
•Servant means we work in the service of our SOWER Host
•On Wheels refers to members owning their own RV: Trailer, Fifth Wheel, or Motorhome, traveling at their own expense, and working for three weeks at different SOWER projects across the USA.
•Ever Ready means members are ready to perform any work assignment. Men usually work on maintenance or construction projects and repairing equipment. Women do clerical work, bulk mailings, cooking, sewing, painting, and light cleaning.
When we’ve parked our motorhome in a commercial campground, the three flags nestled on our windshield (American, Maryland, and a SOWER flag) usually prompt the question, “What are you sewing/sowing?” Our answer: “We are sowing good deeds!” The more precise definition from our website is www.sowerministry.org “SOWERs is a non-profit, non-denominational, working ministry made up of interdenominational, born again Christian RVers.” Our logo includes this passage from scripture, Galatians 6:7 “… whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Frank and Kathy Varga developed the original concept of setting up a distinctive ministry for Christian RVers, to provide the labor for struggling Christian projects. It was incorporated as a non-profit ministry, August 1984 and is governed by a Board of Trustees. Since the SOWER organization survives on faith-based donations, there’s never been a budget for paid advertising. It’s always been dependent upon word-of-mouth advertising to recruit new members. For example, my husband, Rob, and I attended a cinnamon roll breakfast at an RV park in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in August 2003, sharing a table with John and Martha Miller. “Since you live in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where do you travel in the winter?” I asked. They told us about the different ministries they had helped as SOWER volunteers in Texas. Martha invited us to their church that evening and brought us a SOWER brochure. We called for the application, and asked Dr. Harry Winsheimer, the pastor that married us (November 2002) to write a letter on our behalf. A phone interview with a SOWER Trustee concluded the application process.
We signed up for SOWER projects in Tampa and Stuart, Florida in 2004, and saw the Millers again in Vero Beach, Florida when they were our Group Leaders for a big project in 2005. Bob and Bertha Drew heard about the SOWER organization while volunteering for another ministry in Hawaii: they joined SOWERs as soon as they returned to their home in Michigan. Char and Roger Quakkelaar joined in 1998 because they wanted to have SOWER experiences as her older sister and husband had for so many years.
A common thread of conversation with SOWERs revolves around being bored with retirement: they would rather work than play golf or go sightseeing. Roger said it best: “I was a workaholic for the forty years I worked in retail: I don’t like to travel. I am a ‘destination driver.’ I will drive somewhere if there is work at the other end. I like working three weeks, and get bored when we have to wait ten days to start a new project the next month!” Jim Kagey echoed those sentiments and said that after two years of retirement, the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” kept running through his mind.
I imagine that many SOWERs are living on their Social Security payments, as we do; while others have good pensions and benefits. Some months can be tight, but we don’t get nervous about how long our money will last. We walk in faith, just as our project hosts do, knowing that “The Lord will provide.” And He does.
Do you want to eavesdrop on some more questions we hear?
Q: What kind of work do you do—How do you choose your projects?
A: The SOWER Project Host lists their work descriptions in the SOWERGRAM, a monthly newsletter sent to all SOWER members. Individuals choose projects that either utilize their existing skills, or build new expertise—I just learned how to use Excel at a project in Hidalgo, Texas. Each couple agrees to work Monday-Thursday for three weeks. Women can work if they want to, and most do work three hours each morning; our husbands work six hours a day. Thus by the end of the third week, each couple has typically contributed 108 hours of labor.
Many of us choose projects based on the climate, proximity to our children and grandchildren or because we want to explore a specific section of the country.
Q: Are you paid in cash?
A: No. We’re paid in satisfaction and blessings, never dollars and cents. As a reformed workaholic, I enjoy using my life skills: tutoring/speech therapy, marketing, sales, and writing in ways that benefit an understaffed ministry. My husband spent his life in construction, and he can build or fix almost anything. We feel repaid by the appreciation of the staff and the smiles on their faces: we’ve accomplished work they didn’t have the time and/or skills to do themselves.
Q. Where do you park your RVs?
A. The host prepares a mini RV campground on or near their worksite. It provides water, electric, and sewer hookups. They allocate a “SOWER Room” with couches, tables, and chairs so that we have a meeting place for Morning Devotions (7:30 am) and for potluck dinners or to play games in the evening. I learned to play “Fast Scrabble” and “Mexican Train” in Pharr, Texas. Often the host provides washers, dryers, and local telephone service.
Q. How can you stand to live in an RV for so many days? Don’t you get claustrophobia?
A. No. Many SOWERs have been living like this for years, crisscrossing the country to work on various SOWER projects. Many say they couldn’t imagine going back to a brick-and-mortar existence. The newer Trailers, Fifth Wheels, and Motorhomes have slideouts, which expand the space in the living room and bedroom; our 41’ coach feels like an efficiency apartment. We don’t miss mowing grass, paying utility bills, or shoveling snow. We love the freedom of coming and going wherever we want. “I Go Where I’m Towed To” is a popular bumper sticker seen on some tow cars–we can go sightseeing, to the grocery store, out to dinner, or the movies, leaving the RV in the campground.
Q: How do you get your mail and pay your bills?
A: Since we are renting our home in Maryland, the USPS forwards our mail to our children. If we’re on a SOWER project, they mail it there, or to General Delivery at a local post office. Our monthly bills are either deducted from our checking accounts or we pay them online. It’s not a big deal. My husband downloads our checking accounts into the Quicken software program. Since I haven’t balanced a checkbook for most of my adult life, it’s a snap to turn on the computer and look at the transactions.
Q: How do you keep in touch with your families? Don’t they worry about your whereabouts?
A: We use our cell phones for weekly chats with family and friends, and do most of our communication through email. SOWER Char Quakkelaar is a very clever and talented mother and grandmother. She makes “Remember Us” bags, filled with presents, for each of her children/grandchildren. Personalized calendars state the date they are to open each package. It’s hard to believe that she can plan for all holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, but she never misses a family celebration. She also includes maps that show where they are working as SOWERS.
Q: What do you like best about the SOWER lifestyle?
A: There are so many ways to answer this question—I could write a book on this topic alone! Rob and I love learning about different parts of the country; so far we have worked as SOWERs in Florida, Wyoming, Oregon, California, and South Texas, with a nine-month break to deal with surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments for my breast cancer.
Bertha Drew said she likes the shorter work hours since as you get older, you get slower! Her husband, Bob, claims, “You can pace yourself, and do as much in a six-hour/four day week as younger men might accomplish in an eight-hour/five day week.” That’s not bragging—it’s a reality. Men in their 60’s and 70’s have accrued a lifetime of wisdom through various jobs and experiences. Their work ethic is based on adhering to the work rules they grew up with, which are often different from someone just getting started.
Char and Roger said, “We like the fellowship with Christians, and all projects have a witness for how God has provided for them. We’ve heard so many stories about how at the last minute, God steps into a project. Whether it’s getting a bus fixed right before driving a load of children to a summer camp, or the large donation that arrives just in the nick of time, to keep a small ministry solvent, all of the stories are inspiring. It’s a great learning experience to see the many ways people serve the Lord by walking in faith.”
Bob Lindsay, Director of Indian Hills Camp in Jamul, CA said during a telephone interview with Dawn-Marie Wilson, The Christian Examiner, April 2006: “As a non-profit organization, we could never afford to hire enough staff to run a Christian ministry like this in San Diego. In California, the expenses are just so high, and San Diego is exceptionally high. The SOWER volunteers that come during the fall/winter complete the workload of five to seven full-time, regular staff members.”
Q: What do you do about medical care?
A: Since Rob is so healthy, he has an annual checkup back in Maryland, when he visits his Mom and children/grandchildren. I have had annual mammograms, sonograms, and other checkups for cancer in San Diego, and Portland. I’ve been treated for back spasms in Palm Desert, (California) San Antonio, and McAllen (Texas). I carry all of my medical records with me, and my wonderful oncologist in Maryland faxes me a prescription for any test I need. There are good doctors, great hospitals throughout the USA—you don’t need to stay home just because your doctor does.
At the end of each day, I find myself agreeing with Albert Schweitzer: “The only really happy people are those who have learned how to serve.” Why not start simplifying your life now? Do you really need to keep on working to earn more money or buy more possessions? Once you have acquired enough and no longer love your career, won’t you consider joining us? Call the SOWER office (Lindale, Texas) 903.882.8070 or visit our website to learn more about us at www.sowerministry.org. This year, of the 907 active SOWER members, 144 are dedicated prayer warriors, and the remaining 763 members are eligible to work at 181 SOWER projects throughout the country. Can’t you see…we need more SOWERs! The greatest gift you can offer is your time. You can make a difference by investing in volunteer relationships.
We love joining a ready-made Christian community for three weeks—we become “staff” for that ministry, absorbing their goals as our own. The ties that bind us make it easy to build strong working relationships that develop into good friendships. A daily SOWER Prayer email allows us to stay in touch with the extended SOWER family, pray for, and encourage families facing a crisis. Over the past 21 months of full-time RVing, our experiences have far exceeded our expectations. We have met the best people, and discovered that working on a team to serve the Lord and help a ministry provides a different dimension of satisfaction.
Recently Dr. David Jeremiah, Turning Point Ministry, said on his Sunday morning television broadcast, “There are no pockets in shrouds, and I’ve never seen a hearse towing a trailer to the cemetery.” You really can’t take it with you!
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Elizabeth Frank, AKA Elizabeth Hurlow-Hannah, a freelance writer, and her husband, Rob Frank have been on a full-time national RV Adventure since June 2005.