I pray that all of you had a nice Thanksgiving. Since Beth and our son in law were both recovering from surgery, we had HyVee roast our turkey. It was not very traditional, but we had a nice day with friends and family. Beth is coming along well recovering from her foot surgery.

We had a nice appreciation event at Terrace Hill and enjoyed the evening with 80 of our close friends. This has become a Thanksgiving tradition for our ministry. Unfortunately, our Governor was not able to join us this year. We are still hopeful that she will be able to join us in South Africa again in the next year or two.

Right after Thanksgiving, Beth and I flew to Phoenix to spend a couple of weeks enjoying family time with two of her sisters who live there, as well as many of our friends who live in this area. I will be speaking at a couple of Rotary Clubs and a few churches while in Phoenix. Two of our Blessman International board members live in the Phoenix area, so it has become a little satellite center for us.

There is not much news coming from South Africa this time of year, as nearly all of our staff take their leave time in December to spend with their own families, and we have no scheduled service or mission teams arriving until January. Dustin is making arrangements to drill our last five wells for this year and building an additional 25 toilets. We are praying for funding to help us get our own well drilling rig to make our water and sanitation projects even more efficient. At Mountain View Farm we are building an outdoor thatched classroom for our Teach a Child to Fish program. We will soon have photos of this for you. Our layer production at Mountain View Farm is going well and has been giving us nearly 300 eggs per day. We would like to double the size of our current operation and also add 10 cows and a bull to livestock operation. We are trusting the Lord for funding for all of this.

Our mission and service teams are filling up fast for next year and we are anticipating over 130 people serving with us in South Africa in 2019. Our staff in Iowa is busy with year-end fundraising activities and so far we are on track to meet out budgeted goals thanks to all of our great friends who love and support the work we are doing in South Africa.

 

When God created Adam, he saw that he needed a helpmate so He created Eve. I have been thinking a lot about the value of a helpmate this last month while Beth has been in South Africa hosting a couple of our mission teams. She is still my helpmate and is working hard to help me, but I am missing the closeness and fellowship that we have. It is rare that we are apart even for a day or two. I do not have the same joyful spirit that I usually have when Beth is with me. I am sure that our staff will be happy when she gets back from Africa. I have been here in the US since April and plan to return to South Africa in October. This is the longest that I have been out of South Africa for many years. It has been good for our son, Dustin, to be out of my shadow and managing the day-to-day operations of our ministry in South Africa—he is doing a really nice job.

A few good things have been happening with our ministry over the last couple of months. We got our labor disputes at Del Cramer Children’s Development Center resolved and things are running well there. Amber, the new director at Del Cramer, had a baby girl and Kabelo and Suzetha had their second daughter. Our family is growing!

Our medical school clinical rotations with the University of Iowa got started this summer with our first two students enjoying their clinical experience with us. For some reason, all three of our mission teams this summer have consisted primarily of females and that is why Beth and her sister, Paula, have been in Africa without me hosting these teams.

We were blessed with good news from Hy-Vee who pledged financial support to help us drill 10 wells each and every year in the future. We also were just awarded a Rotary Grant for $134,000 to teach African children the love of agriculture and give them agricultural skills using their school gardens.

Our new sports programs of soccer and netball are up and running well. Participating in sports gives the children an improved sense of self-esteem and pride in their own school.

I am currently busy looking for funding for some additional long-term missionaries to work with us. We are hoping to have one young person, specializing in agriculture, to help us roll out our “Teach a Child to Fish” program, along with teaching agriculture. We are also looking for a second intern or young missionary to work full-time with our nutritional programs.

We are always looking for quality people to come to Africa to serve with us on either a short-term or long-term basis.

Our personal lives have recently been interrupted by some significant medical issues. Over the years as a practicing physician I am used to getting calls at all hours of the day and night. When the phone rings in the middle of the night, it is rarely good news. The other night I was awakened by a call from South Africa at 2:30 AM. My first thought—Is our son okay? He is busy traveling in Mozambique and was out on the ocean fishing. Kabelo, who was the one calling me, is usually pretty good about remembering the time difference, so my first question to him was, “Is everything okay?” He let me know that our farm manager’s wife, had just died. This was news we had been expecting as she has been unresponsive for several days from a perforated ulcer. She was in her 70s and had just buried her second son six months previously. The stress of this loss is the likely explanation for the ulcer.

He also let me know that a new container of food packets had just arrived in port, but that the health department was refusing to release the container. Current expiration stickers were covering up old expiration dates and they were suspicious that we had just put new dates on old bags of rice. In reality what had happened was that Meals from the Heartland had used old bags, but the rice was fresh. For a while it was looking like we might have to pay a fine to get the container released, but after some effective negotiation by Kabelo the container was released. We will get an affidavit from MFTH and Convoy of Hope testifying that the new date is a legitimate expiration date.

Personally Beth and I have been experiencing some health issues. Beth fell down our basement stairs at home which resulted in a concussion and fracture of her 7th cervical vertebrae. For a while in the ER, I was concerned that she may have had some damage to her spinal cord, but it became apparent after a few hours that she will be fine. She will just have to wear a rigid cervical collar for six to eight weeks. Unfortunately, she will not be able to drive with the collar on. Praise the Lord that she is alive and has no paralysis!

The other medical issue that we are dealing with this week is that I will be having shoulder replacement surgery. Hopefully, this will go as well for me as it did a year ago when I had my other shoulder replaced. My surgeon came into the exam room and told me that he had good news for me. I said, “That is great, what is it?” He replied, “You only have two shoulders.” It will be nice to get this behind me and get on with whatever is next.

In just two weeks we have our annual spring gala where a good share of our funds for the year are raised. Our staff has been busy getting ready for that and we are anticipating our best gala ever. The quality of our staff in the US and in South Africa amazes me. They always do a wonderful job!

Beth is planning on going back to South Africa mid-May with an all-women’s team from St. Francis and then a Days for Girls team in June. I am planning on going to Toronto to the International Rotary Convention in June and then head back to Africa after that.

A final thought to ponder: At the end of the day, it is in the interruptions where real ministry occurs. I like to plan my days and nights to accommodate these interruptions.

Our University of Northwestern Team Experiencing Adventures with Elephants

It is winter here in South Africa and our first team for this season from the University of Northwestern, in St. Paul, MN, is just completing their work with us. James Smith, an IT professor with the college, is leading this team of 9 people. In addition, we have had a global health professor, from the University of Iowa, here exploring our site for potential clinical rotations for her medical students and residents. We also have 2 interns from Iowa State University spending 3 months with us helping with various projects.

Team Members Built Playground and Planted Seeds at Del Cramer

The winter season here is turning out to be an excellent time for us to work with college students from North America. The University of Northwestern team funded and constructed a beautiful playground for our orphans and vulnerable children at Del Cramer Children’s Campus. Well over 100 children will be enjoying this new equipment. The new playground consists of 3 treated wooden structures with lots of swings and slides. The only thing we have left to do is to paint it with beautiful, colorful paints. The children could barely wait for us to finish to begin playing on it. This team of IT students have also been busy enlarging and updating our computer lab.

Student Praying with Man on an Eyeglass and “Days for Girls” Outreach

We will now have 14 functioning computers all connected to the internet to improve the education of our children at Del Cramer. This is essentially the only computer lab available to the children in this tribal village. Professor James Smith has also been working with our Iowa State University interns in developing a research program to scientifically measure the benefits of what we are doing at the Del Cramer Children’s Campus. This week they have been measuring the height and weight of each of the children we are serving. We also would like to include other statistical data like teen pregnancy rate, school performance and health status of our children. We will also be getting data from a control group of students that are impoverished, but not yet receiving the benefits of the food supplements, the educational support, and the social and spiritual encouragement that Blessman International provides.

Team Members Measuring Child to Collect Data at Del Cramer

There is no question in my mind that what we are doing is benefiting these children, but we hope that a scientific research program may assist us in accessing future funding from government and private foundations. This is planned to be a 3 year study. Professor James Smith is hoping to come back in January for an additional 6 months of work here in South Africa. I am praying that additional interns will come along and help us to complete this program with excellence. We will likely be partnering in this effort with Meals from the Heartland and Convoy of Hope.

New Murals in our KC Live Children’s Church at Del Cramer Children’s Campus

One of the members of this team is also a talented artist and painted some beautiful murals on the walls of our children’s church.

Beth and I have also been busy this week working with a large district Rotary conference in Polokwane. Dustin has been on a well-deserved vacation, touring Austria and Italy on a motorbike. I am sure that he will soon post many photos and stories of his travels.