Originally created 08/20/05

Minister's saw leads villagers to crosses



When the Rev. Gerald Varner put together a few metal blades, screws, nuts, bolts, plywood and automotive belts to make nine foot-pedal-powered scroll saws, he had no idea how long they would last or how long the Honduran woodworkers he was trying to help would use them.

He was glad to see on his 2004 visit that the woodworking cooperative from the village of Aguacate was still using their four-year-old saws, and he was especially happy that one of the saws had a new back.

Instead of waiting for him to come up with a replacement, the villagers took the initiative and got it repaired, said the Rev. Varner, the pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church on Washington Road.

A spinoff of Honduras Outreach Inc., of Decatur, Ga., the co-op first made simple Christmas ornaments with hand tools. It now cuts and finishes mahogany and cedar crosses though a laborious process with the saws.

The Rev. Varner finds patterns in books and magazines, and the co-op members also come up with designs.

Depending on how elaborate the design, each worker averages 75 to 100 crosses a year, which sell for $5 to $20 each. The pieces are sold through the nondenominational ministry's gift shop in Honduras and also by the Rev. Varner. It takes two to three months for him to fill a customer's order.

The next step is to market them through the Internet, if the villagers can maintain a constant supply, said the Rev. Varner, who learned woodworking from his father and uncles.

The proceeds go into the ministry or to supplement the villagers' incomes. Hondurans living in rural environments typically earn less than $400 a year.

The Rev. Varner returns annually with a group of eight to 10 people to serve a week near Aguacate.

The volunteers each raise $1,100 to $1,250 to cover their airfare and other expenses. They help with vacation Bible schools, medical clinics or improvements to the villagers' housing by pouring concrete floors, installing chimneys, building latrines or putting on tin roofs.

Woodworking has been a great hobby and a way to reduce stress, the Rev. Varner said.

"I've turned it into something that has made a difference in people's lives," he said.

For more on the crosses, call 736-8185.

Reach Virginia Norton at 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.