This month we just had a successful gala.  Thank you to all who were able to attend and support our ministry.  For the rest of my blog this month I would like to focus on a story about our intern Erica Henderson who is busy doing a great job helping us with all of our agricultural programs in South Africa. Thanks to Marvin Knoot for sharing this article with us.

“With Teach a Child to Fish, I’ve been up super early and so I run in the dark and return at sunrise,” responds Erica Henderson to an opening question about how things are going. She is training for her first half-marathon at Entabeni Game Reserve on June 22nd. Her morning runs include, “dodging wildebeest, a common occurrence,” which may just be part of proper training for the game reserve run!

Teach a Child to Fish

Erica is a 2018 graduate of the Global Resource Systems (GRS) program established in 2010 at Iowa State University. She is one fourth of the way through her year-long experience in the Limpopo province of South Africa, working with Blessman International. She is not the only early riser on Blessman’s Mountain View Farm. “This week is a perfect example of what’s been fulfilling to me…bringing in local staff from nearby schools selected for their ag-related potential and training them to operate their own school gardens. We’ve been teaching them this week…half high school students and half staff members…a lot of unique perspectives. The students are so eager to know what is next to learn. Some got up at 5 a.m. to get into the field to plant their rows…before they had their breakfast!” Blessman’s Teach a Child to Fish goal is to “equip them to provide a sustainable food source for themselves and for their communities.”

Erica’s enthusiasm further escalates when asked how the week’s training aligns with her Senior Thesis (The Impact of Small Scale Agriculture on Micronutrient Deficiencies in Children Age 0-12 in the Developing World). “Whooo, man! It’s been an echo of my thesis which was based on my first visit to South Africa. I’d seen vegetables and their effect at homes and schools, realizing this was actually providing growth in food security for households. It’s more than just access to food, any type of food, but food that will enhance the overall quality of life, especially the nutrients that enhance a child’s health and development.” She explains, “Case studies in the field compared households with micronutrient deficiencies (vitamins and minerals essential to daily function and development) against those with small scale gardens and ag. Studying the children for a year or longer they observed specific vitamin deficiencies. For example, Vitamin A in children under 5 can cause failure for proper eye development sometimes as severe as blindness. A dark green leafy vegetable, say spinach for example, is very high in Vitamin A, so even here in South Africa the household gardens can combat the Vitamin A deficiency. Without access to foods with adequate nutrition, we see students with a lack of attention and an inhibited ability to learn.”

Erica and Mountain View Farm Manager Johanney Chongani plant seedlings for the school garden.

The week’s activities are clearly exciting for Erica. “Oh man, you know I think…it’s been such a preparation process. I’ve learned so much being part of this training this week…seeing eyes come alive as they realize the promise of gardens and nutrition…helps me realize that with all that goes into this training, arranging instruction and housing (and many details)…we’re helping these people, enabling and empowering them as they then expand the benefit to others. We have some amazing teachers with passion, and it is inspiring…amazing…to watch them spend time with the students learning new skills. I know a couple of (students) from previous interactions. They were selected because they excelled in ag in their schools…good grades. It was so encouraging to come alongside them and…what’s the word…to encourage them to continue to work hard in school. If one student gets a new perspective on what ag is and how impactful it is, then the training is a success. If they understand what ag and gardening can do and share it with others, that’s successful training…a new perspective on farming and how it provides nutrition.”

“In 2 weeks I’ll go with a team to help plant gardens at those schools. I hope to give a presentation to students…classroom or assembly…about nutrition and (the importance of) vegetables. Then we’ll have two more week-long training sessions (20 per training) who will pay forward to the next generation, which is even cooler. I’m doing this because it’s helping someone. I see the mission being carried out before my eyes. 12 hour days seem like nothing because I know that what I’m doing is actually affecting people’s lives.”

Blessman International (blessmaninternational.org)

Invited to describe Blessman International’s strengths, Erica confidently lists three. “First, longevity – in order to see change happen in the field, you have to be willing to stay planted in the same community for a long period of time…development of relationships has to happen, change in perspectives has to happen. I’d say at least a decade to see change really happen. Blessman has been here for more than a decade. Second, vision – vision for the future which shows long-term investment in the people here. It’s not just throw money at the immediate problem. It’s what can we do for this community that will have long lasting impact. Third, faith-based – this is a big one for me…it’s tied to my faith which has fueled my decisions and directed my career path.” Erica teaches Sunday School because “Someone took the time to teach me and help me to learn about my faith.” She goes on about her role with Blessman, “Your whole life is your job. Ministry is your job. It’s not a job, it’s a ministry. Yes, Teach a Child to Fish is a community development program, but it’s also an opportunity to share Christ…to love on somebody.”

Pella, Iowa farmer Ward VanDyke, Erica, and Dr. Blessman learn about South African orange production

Iowa State University Global Resource Systems (globe.iastate.edu)

Erica ponders her experience, “GRS creates a bridge to other countries that have global issues, and connects students’ skills with those countries to literally change people’s lives. It’s such a great program. It’s not just to make money, to have a career…it’s using your skills, your engineering degree, food science, ag…teaching students to ask themselves, ‘how can I use my gifts to make long-lasting improvement in other people’s lives?’”

“What it did for me was connect my passion, my talents, my gifts to real world problems. GRS creates global citizens. I’m so passionate about that. GRS identifies global issues and their interconnections to understand the system or web they create while also developing students that see these interconnections and aren’t afraid of the mess. It creates systems thinking. I was trained as a systems thinker and can see the interconnections between world problems such as hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation. Greater awareness of what’s going on in this world. Global issues like poverty, climate change, political systems. I do not fear the challenges humanity faces, but desire to untangle the mess. Yeah.”

Influences

“I did a mission trip to Guatemala my sophomore year in high school, and it married my interests in global communication & culture with food security and poverty…it’s the why behind my choices to the work I’m doing now. My first personal contact with real poverty was in a tiny village in the middle of the jungle, 6 hours from Guatemala City. You see it on TV, but seeing people with distended stomachs, protein deficiencies…which I only learned about later…at age 14, I saw that people didn’t all live like we do in the United States.”

“I also saw how these people respected their resources, which eventually tied to my GRS program. They respected the earth, the soil, the water. All these people had gardens! They had banana trees, and explained, ‘these are my sources of nutrition.’ I saw small scale sustainable ag methods. I saw aquaponics…you should definitely look it up! Basically creating an ecosystem to create something for nutrition. You have fish like tilapia and plants settled on the top on a grate. The plants’ root systems go into the water, taking up CO2 from fish respiration. The plants produce oxygen for the fish. The feces provide nutrition for the plants…and they had created these systems from what they could find…no buying things online…from trash they collected. It stuck in my mind…there’s something about this that is so powerful because people are using their own abilities and resources.”

“I grew up privileged, in a home with opportunity. It’s not fair that I was born into this space. In the States you’re born into so many things…education, health care…I’ve come to that realization much more living and working in South Africa. So if I can use the resources I was born into to help improve someone’s life, then that gives my life purpose.”

Faith

What effect does faith have on your work? “It’s primarily faith driven. If I can do something to balance the scales a little bit, I should reflect that. Not that I owe it, but that I want to share what I’ve been given with somebody else. Overall, my faith gives me purpose, it’s the reason I am who I am. I’m also called because of my faith to love my neighbor. If I’m called to love my neighbor, and my neighbor has less than I have, how is loving my neighbor staying at a distance and not doing anything to improve their quality of life if I have the tools to do so? To live in a different culture for extended time, to serve in another country…it just seemed all along like it was something I needed to do. Why wouldn’t you jump on your bike to go help a neighbor in need? Yes, it’s uncomfortable. I’m in a completely different place and culture, it’s really hard to make change happen and get things done here. Most people wouldn’t want the adversity.” For Erica, it’s “so worth it because my hands have direct impact on somebody.”

Future

“I honestly would love one day to teach at university. The university campus is so full of people who are gifted, there to develop and enhance a skill they already have. I’m really passionate about people being aware of what’s going on in this world. I want to teach freshmen and sophomores at university to become global citizens and have a ripple effect. Find out where your niche is. Solve a specific problem. Make an impact. I love meeting people who have a passion. There are so many problems, so many things left to do. If I could help them understand how to link their passion to a real need…an accountant helping someone in Dubai or in the slums, or a teacher connecting with students who just want to read…in Cambodia. You have been given a specific talent or vision that can be used somewhere else beyond just in your own lives. We can eliminate poverty one problem at a time and make big global changes. If we would use our vision and talents for others, we’d have a group effort that would be unstoppable.”

March 28 Update

Erica taught about 400 primary school students about the vegetables planted at their schools and their nutritional benefits, using this full size cabbage as an example of what they can produce if they maintain their school gardens. Another perfect example of what is fulfilling for Erica?

Happy Aprils Fools Day. We hear that it has been a long winter in Iowa. Beth and I are happy to be here to enjoy a beautiful spring with all of you. We just finished one of the best seasons that we have ever had in South Africa.

Our Mountain View Farm is looking beautiful and we got our agricultural teaching program, “Teach a Child to Fish”, up and running in partnership with Rotary International. Two out of ten schools have already received their training and we have helped them plant gardens in their own schools for the benefit of the children’s nutrition and also to teach them farming principles. This program will improve the lives of over 6000 children and their families. With this agricultural program and by adding a fourth food distribution hub we are increasing the number of children that we are helping feed to over 20,000 children each week. Thinking of that reminds me that we just sent all of our food reserves, about 200,000 meals of the Meals from the Heartland rice packets, to help the people suffering in Mozambique due to the cyclone there. Our children in South Africa definitely need our ongoing nutritional support but the need in Mozambique is even more severe. Please be praying for our neighbors in Mozambique.

So far this year we have had 4 teams with 56 short term missionaries serving with us. We continue to get positive feedback from all of the Americans who come and serve with us. They always especially enjoy interacting with our beautiful African children.

Our spiritual program with our pastors preaching at school assemblies has continued to grow. We now have 6 schools welcoming our pastors to preach in their school assemblies every week that school is in session. This gives us access to nearly 5000 young people. In summary the reach of our two churches grew from 350 people each week to over 5000 now.

Our water and sanitation projects are staying strong. Thanks to Hy-Vee for supporting our water projects and many individuals and churches for supporting our toilet projects.

The big new thing for us next year will be the expansion of our feminine hygiene program. We will be making these products available to impoverished young African women through a new Rotary global grant that we are busy now writing. We have a goal of raising $200,000 to fund sewing of these kits in Africa and providing skills and jobs for ladies sewing the kits.

Our annual spring gala will be the 25th of April; Beth and I look forward to seeing many of you there. If you have not done so yet, please go to our website and sign up now. We have several trips scheduled for the rest of this year and would love to have you also join one of these teams. We can promise you a positive, life changing experience.

I celebrated my 74th birthday here in South Africa on February 4th. The older I get the faster Father Time seems to be running. He seems to run even faster when I am here on the African mission field, which is just the opposite of what you would normally expect, because Africans never seem to be rushed.

So far this year we have hosted 3 large teams for a total of 43 short term missionaries serving with us. There are many things that we are doing here in South Africa but one of my favorites is observing the incredible spiritual growth in the lives of the American team members while they are with us. I always tell people that a mission trip to Africa will change you forever; the individuals still seem to be surprised at the magnitude of spiritual growth that they experience. Most people who come here plan to assist us in working with the African children by feeding them, helping educate them and showing them the love of Jesus. All of this does happen but the major change is what happens in their own hearts. Most of the African children that we work with are living in abject poverty. They may be living in a tin shack with a dirt floor and no electricity or indoor plumbing. They barely have enough clothes to wear day to day. In summary, they are as impoverished as you can possibly imagine. The amazing thing is that when we interact with these children and even the adults, we find their hearts are full of joy. They are without question happier than most American children who have every toy and gadget that can be imagined. Many of them are obviously not getting enough nutrition, but when we ask them what they need, they almost never ask for material things.

After living in Africa and serving these beautiful children, the message is loud and clear that it is not more stuff that makes people happy. Jesus instructs us in the Bible, when we are ministering to our fellow human beings we do not need fancy cars, boats, multiple homes or even fancy clothes. He instructs us to take with us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

So often, chasing after money and material things get in the way of hearing from God and His calling upon our lives. When I was in my mid-fifties, I used to ponder if I had enough money to last me the rest of my life. For the last 18 years my salary has been zero and admittedly my bank account is smaller than it was 18 years ago, but I have no concerns about having enough and I have never been happier. For me at least, a life of generosity and giving my time and talents gives me blessing after blessing.

So many times, I have seen the transition in people’s lives as they minister to our beautiful children here and then spend a few nights sitting around an African campfire sharing with each other what God is doing in their hearts each day.
Over the last 10 years we have had nearly 1000 short term missionaries come and serve with us. I sometimes wonder just how long this positive change lasts in their lives, but I often hear that the change has had a lasting positive effect.

I encourage all of you to pray about coming and experiencing the Africa that we have grown to love so much.

Our year in South Africa is off to a good start. Last year was a bit difficult with Beth falling down our basement stairs and breaking her neck about the same time that I had shoulder replacement surgery. Fortunately, we have both fully recovered. I will be 74 years old in just a few days and view every day as a gift. I have never felt better! I am able to take a nice walk every day and enjoy sharing our lives here with all of our American guests who come to serve with us.
Our first team this year was from Iowa’s largest Catholic Church and Iowa Catholic Radio. They all had a great experience and were a joy to work with. This was their 5th annual trip with us and they have already booked for next January. Six years ago I never imagined that we would be working with the Catholic community, but they have been a big blessing to our ministry and to the children we are serving here in South Africa.
The first two months of this year we are focusing on our water and sanitation projects. With this team we constructed an additional five toilet stalls at St. Bede’s preschool near Polokwane. This brings our total to 85 toilet stalls that we have finished. We currently have funding for an additional 25 that we will complete this year. We believe that all children deserve to have a dignified and safe toilet to use when they are in their preschools and schools.
Our water project is progressing nicely. We have completed 20 wells and have funding for an additional five that we will be constructing over the next couple of months. We are beginning to raise funds to purchase our own drilling rig for $350,000, which will help us to drill even more wells in the coming years.
Our newest intern, Erica Henderson, started working with us in January. She will be with us for a year, focusing on our agricultural programs. She is a recent ISU graduate and spent a couple months with us two years ago helping with our nutritional programs. Our Teach a Child to Fish program is coming together well. We hope to have our first class of students later in February. Our students will be teachers and parents from 10 rural schools who will then teach the students in each of their schools to establish high quality gardens. Our Mountain View Farm is looking wonderful with a large crop of tomatoes nearly ready to harvest. We are busy this month doubling our poultry layer production to about 600 hens. We plan to get around 550 eggs/day to help us feed the children and to sell some of those eggs. Our rainy season is coming late this year and we are struggling with draught conditions, but it has begun to rain at least a little. We are praying for much more. The lake that supplies water to Mokpane, the small city near us, is down to just 25% capacity.
We had some issues with the staff and our board at the Del Cramer Children’s Campus, but we sorted it all out in the first couple weeks that we have been back here. We are looking forward to a good year at our Del Cramer Center and with all of our nutritional programs.

The Christmas season is so often filled with stress and is a difficult time for many of us. We tend to remember joyful Christmases of our childhood, when we were filled with the anticipation of receiving our favorite gifts from this mystical Santa Claus. Then as adults the real-world hits us and we learn that Santa Claus is not real, it is all a made-up story. We live in a broken world where many of us have lost loved ones through death or divorce, or economic hardship has entered into our lives. We may be working in a job that is distasteful. Drugs or alcohol may be destroying the lives of our children or another loved one. On the news the talking heads are talking about a boarder wall and shutting down the government. In Africa the news is filled with discussion of land reform. On the very first Christmas, Mary was likely concerned that her fiancé would reject her when he found out that she was pregnant. She and Joseph were forced to travel long distances and ended up homeless in Bethlehem.

Where is this Peace on Earth that we hear about during the Christmas season?

For me personally, I have been able to find joy and peace by helping others, especially blessing people who are unable to return the favor. Just yesterday, I was at a Quick Trip and a gentleman was sitting in his car saying help me, I need help. I approached his window and told him that I was not sure that I could help but asked him what was going on. He told me that he had just lost his billfold and was out of gas and needed to get to Guthrie Center as soon as possible. I usually do not help pan handlers, but the Spirit led me to give him $20. It was nice to see the joy this gave him and me as well. He promised me to send a donation to our ministry when he finally got home. I may never see my $20 again but I received $20 worth of joy in this one case.

I am pretty sure that one of the main reasons that I enjoy doing mission work in Africa so much is that it is an opportunity to daily help many people who can never repay me. Whenever I have the opportunity to make someone else’s life better my life gets better.

So, at the end of the day there really is “Peace and Joy on Earth”. It’s all in our own attitude and how we choose to experience life as it is presented to us.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Doc

 

Beth and I are enjoying our time back in South Africa again. We are just finishing with a large team from Lutheran Church of Hope-Ankeny. We often say to each other that the current team is the best one that we have ever had but the last 2 weeks have been an incredible adventure for each and every team member. Sitting around our African camp fire we witnessed amazing spiritual and emotional growth in the lives of the people who came all this way to serve our beautiful children in Africa. We always expect the lives of the children we serve to be impacted and that always seems to happen. What many people don’t expect is what happens in the lives of the missionaries who come to serve with us.  On the team’s first evening with us, I told them that they were on the threshold of an incredible journey. Now, near the end of their time with us here in Africa, I am sure that they all agree that their lives will never be the same again.

We started the week with Pastor Scott Rains preaching in a public high school to 800 children. He spoke only about 20 minutes and the children were focusing on every word that he said. There were no cell phones out, no talking to each other, but they were honoring him by listening to everything he had to say. The principal in this school is a good Christian man and he specifically asked us to bring our team into the school to pray individually for every one of the senior students who would be taking their graduation exams the next day. The children here seem to believe in prayer much more that most of us in America. It is critical for the student to do well on their exams. They determine which students get to graduate, go on to college and who will receive scholarships. The students get quite nervous as the day of the exams approaches and that anxiety often impairs their ability to do their best. I could sense a definite peace and tranquility after each individual student was prayed for by our team. Many on our team had never prayed out loud for another individual, so it was an amazing experience both for the Americans and our African children.

Later in the week we did an optical outreach and tested the vision of 350 students and gave glasses to about 50 of them. This was a rural and extremely impoverished school. After we worked several hours serving the children, we met with the head master of the school. We could all easily tell how much he loved the children of this school. It was obvious that he was a good, godly man but he told us that he was getting so discouraged with the great need and limited resources available for him to help these children. Several of the children were from child-led homes and they would become tearful telling us that there was not enough food in their homes. They were embarrassed by the tattered condition of their school uniforms. The principal became overcome with tears as he expressed his gratitude for our team being there to assist his students. He was so discouraged that he was thinking of resigning, but now he seems much more hopeful. This team has pledged to raise funds for us to sew new school uniforms for the most impoverished children at this school. We will also be going back to this community to help with food issues.

There are so many other stories from this team that I would love to share but the general gist of it all is that when you travel half way around the world to help children who will never be able to repay you, it brings amazing joy into the hearts of everyone on the team. It is definitely better to give than receive.

Friends of Blessman International often ask me how many lives are being touched by their support. Although only God knows the exact number, I will do my best to tell you about the lives that I see being impacted through the support that many of you are sending our way.

Employment:
You are helping us employ five staff members in Iowa and 34 people in South Africa. The staff in South Africa is significantly impacted because the unemployment rate nationwide is about 27%. In most of the rural villages that we are working in, however, it runs closer to 75%. Most of them have been with us for more than four years. The average family size in South Africa is four per household, yet they are often helping out extended family.

Teams:
Over 600 North Americans have made the journey to South Africa to serve with us, and each and every one of them has been significantly impacted in a positive way. They often return home with a desire to continue serving in one way or another.

Outreaches:
Those 600 plus people have impacted the children and adults in South Africa the most. With these outreaches, our team members make life-long memories with the individuals they serve.

Optical Outreaches:
We began serving in South Africa in 2004 with optical outreaches. To date, we have given free eye tests and eyeglasses to over 30,000 children and adults. Now that we offer several different outreach experiences, the number served per year is less than in the beginning, but we still serve 1500 to 2000 each year. Giving sight to a child in school has a significant impact on the child’s life and even impacts the entire family of each of these children. They cannot learn effectively if they cannot see well.

Nutritional Outreaches:
Blessman International is currently providing high quality nutrition to approximately 12,500 children multiple meals each week. Team members are particularly excited to be able to help with this, as many of them have helped package the rice packets with Meals from the Heartland in Iowa. When they get the opportunity to help cook and serve these meals, it completes the loop of meals packaged in Iowa and eaten in South Africa. It brings joy to everyone’s heart.

Shoe Outreaches:
Over the last seven years we have given away several thousand pairs of shoes and I have honestly lost count of the number of children blessed by this program. We are currently giving shoes to approximately 2000 children each year in partnership with Soles for Souls, Samaritan’s Feet, and Tom’s Shoes. We will use shoes from any ministry that will provide shoes for our children. Our team members wash the feet of each child getting a new pair of shoes and also pray with them.

Days for Girls:
Our donors are helping us provide feminine hygiene kits to impoverished young ladies. We have distributed a total of 7000 kits over the past three years. Beginning this year that number has grown to distributing 3000 kits each year with the help of our team members.

Churches and Spiritual Impact:

Lighthouse Church:
This church has been operating for the past 10 years and is healthy and mature. Approximately 200 people attend this church each week and this represents somewhere around 80 households.

Mountain View Church:
This church is in a rural area and has approximately 75 members attend each week representing about 40 households.

Sports Programs:
Our donors have helped our churches establish three soccer teams and two netball teams. These teams are impacting well over 100 children each week.

School Assemblies:
As a result of all of the great community outreaches Blessman International is doing in South Africa, four large high schools have opened their doors to our pastors to preach in the school assemblies each week. We are currently able to minister to over 4000 children each and every week that school is in session.

Del Cramer Child Development Center:
This is our pilot center where Lighthouse Church is located. There are 115 children registered to eat at this center each school day. Many of these children have been attending this program since it opened 10 years ago. Our computer learning center is housed here, and it is also where we are starting our new literacy program. Our agriculture programs also started here.

Agriculture Programs:
To help our feeding program be sustainable long term, our donors helped us to purchase a 150-acre farm where we are raising vegetables, poultry, and a few game animals. This program impacts the lives of all of the people in our nutritional program, so we will not count them again here. We are just now starting a new program called Teach a Child to Fish that will impact the lives of children in 10 rural schools as we teach them the love of agriculture and how to farm with excellence using their school gardens. This program will impact the lives of 3000 to 5000 children and also their families.

Water Project:
With the assistance of Hy-Vee and Rotary we were able to drill 13 wells in rural impoverished schools impacting the lives of 6500 children and their families. Going forward we have a pledge from Hy-Vee to help us drill 10 wells each year that will impact an additional 5000 children and their families each year.

Sanitation:
In the last couple of years, we have constructed 70 toilet stalls to replace the dangerous, disgusting pit toilets found in many schools and daycares. Each toilet stall provides for 40 children, thus impacting 2800 children in rural schools so far. We currently have pledges from our generous donors to construct 25 new toilets each year, impacting 1000 children each year. Whenever clean water and sanitation is provided for a child, it also has a significant impact on each of their families as well.

Summary:
As stated in the beginning of the blog, God keeps the books and these figures are simply the best estimate that we can give you. Our data collection is improving each year.

Employment 130 individuals
Teams 110 individuals per year
Optical 2000 individuals per year totaling over 30,000
Nutritional 12,500 each week (1.2 million meals per year)
These 12,500 children are impacted multiple times per week during the 40 weeks of the school year. Our total budget for everything we do is about $1.2 million. So for every dollar to our total budget a meal is provided.
Shoes 2000 individuals per year
Days for Girls 3000 individuals per year totaling over 7000
Church, Sports 4,375
and Assemblies
Teach a Child to Fish 5,000 individuals per year
These children are learning how to feed themselves and their families.
Water 5000 individuals per year totaling 10,000 so far with 20 wells
$30 per child will provide a complete water system in his school and these should last at least 30 years.
Sanitation 1000 individuals per year totaling 2800 so far at $3750 per stall
$100 per child will provide a toilet for a child at his or her school. These should easily last 25 to 30 years.

Total 35,115


Lutheran Church of Hope Ankeny Branch collected over 2000 books during their Vacation Bible School program and has donated them to Blessman International. We are planning to use this incredible gift to start a new literacy program and set up libraries in 25 of our feeding centers in South Africa. Volunteers will be organized to read to our children at Del Cramer Child Development Center using the Book of Hope as the main curriculum. Pastor Jonathan will oversee the program and a volunteer coordinator will be hired to recruit and train volunteers to do the reading program.

Prayer request:
Please pray as we look for long-term volunteers to assist us with our work in South Africa in the following areas:

Hospitality: This individual or couple would host teams and assist with outreaches with a 3 to 9 month commitment beginning in April 2019.

Farming and School Gardens: This individual would be working with 10 rural schools. It is a 2-year commitment teaching love for agriculture and farming with excellence.

Feeding Program: This individual will improve communication between Blessman International and just over 150 feeding centers that serve over 12,000 children weekly. They will also be responsible for getting videos and stories to share with our donors helping fund our feeding program. This is a 2-year commitment.

Beth and I are having an extended stay in the USA to deal with some medical issues. Soon after we arrived from South Africa, Beth fell down our basement stairs sustaining a concussion and fracture of the 7th vertebrae in her neck. Just this week her neurosurgeon released her to drive and stop wearing the hard-cervical collar. Just a week after she fell, I had surgery for total replacement of my right shoulder. It has been an interesting 6 weeks, but fortunately we are both back at about 90% normal and thankful to be alive and relatively pain free. We both hope to get out on the bike trails soon and enjoy this beautiful season in Iowa.

Reports from South Africa are good. We will be hosting 3 short-term mission teams in June and July. We look forward to seeing their stories and photos on social media over the next couple of months. We will also be hosting 2 nurses from Grandview University, 2 medical students from the University of Iowa, and an undergraduate student from the University of Northern Iowa. Hopefully, these young professionals will be able to help us fine tune our data collection program to document how much the children we are serving there are benefiting from our programs. We are building new toilets in many of the rural schools in South Africa to replace the dangerous, disgusting pit toilets. We had a successful spring gala in April, so our programs are going into the year well-funded.

Please be watching for the Hy-Vee commercial focusing on their One Step program that has funded a good portion of our water projects in Africa. We will soon be completing our 20th rural school water project.

In June, I will be heading to Toronto to the International Rotary Convention to gather additional support for our food insecurity program, especially focusing on teaching African children an appreciation for agriculture.

This is the first summer in many years that I have not spent most of my time in South Africa.  I am hoping to put lots of miles on my bike, riding the Iowa bike trails. I will also be completing the rehabilitation for my shoulder replacement.

Beth and I appreciate everyone’s prayers and support as we continue to recover from our medical issues.  She will be heading back to SA June 28th to work with our last 2 teams this summer.

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.