As I pedal along our beautiful Iowa bike trails each day, I ponder all that is going on in our world.  Usually, I am in South Africa during these hot, lazy days of summer.  I sense that many of us in America and South Africa are in a dark mood, feeling a bit of anger and discouragement.  It reminds me of the many years that I spent trying to help people recover from chronic pain.  Many of the patients I worked with had the overwhelming feeling that their suffering was an incurable condition that was destroying their ability to enjoy life. They weren’t sleeping well, were often unable to work, and felt socially isolated.  Fortunately, I had a skilled team of people working with me to help these individuals, and I was able to see many of these wonderful people experience significant improvements.

The following are some of the things I learned to help my patients get out of the funk that they were experiencing.  Hopefully some of you might find it helpful for our situation today:

  1. Have faith that it is possible to feel better, and understand that it will take a bit of time.
  2. Stop watching TV and minimize your screen time on the computer or cell phone.
  3. Get out in nature and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.
  4. Exercise at least one hour per day, whether it is walking, biking, or swimming.
  5. Minimize toxic substances in your body, especially mind effecting drugs and alcohol.
  6. Invest time in nurturing relationships with close friends.
  7. Care for and appreciate your family, especially your spouse.
  8. Minimize your time and exposure to negative/toxic individuals.
  9. Pray and read your Bible to develop a closer relationship with God.
  10. Learn how to really forgive. I would highly recommend the book, The Bait of Satan.
  11. Focus on love and get rid of any hatred in your heart.
  12. Feed your body good fuel, minimize caffeine and sugar.
  13. Have some fun. It is okay to fake it at first to get your fun motor running again.
  14. Get rid of as much clutter in your environment as you can.
  15. Count your blessings often.

I promise you that these ideas are effective, but not a quick fix.  When I was the director of the pain center, we had a whole team of nurses, exercise staff, physical therapists, physiologists, physicians, a pharmacist, dietitian and a chaplain to educate and motivate people.  All of that being said, it is not easy to change your mindset or behavior but just know that if you’d like to feel better, just pick one thing to get started and see where it can take you.

Have a good month.  I will be back with you in September.

In Christ,

Doc

Blog July 1, 2020

This is the first summer Beth and I have been able to spend in Iowa for the past several years and we are enjoying our time with lots of lawn work and long bicycle rides on our beautiful bike trails.

Our world is changing at warp speed these days and it makes most of us a bit uncomfortable.  I have usually been able to keep a positive attitude around change and look for new good opportunities when things are changing.

One change Blessman International is causing Beth and I to have heavy hearts. Sarah Green just let us know she is taking a new job with Lutheran Services in Iowa.  This new job is a big advancement to her in her career path and we wish her well, but it is painful to see her leave us.  She has been to SA with us 8 times and led our development staff with excellence for the past 3 years.

Report from South Africa:  The number of cases of COVID-19 is growing each week.  Fortunately, in our province of Limpopo there are still just a few cases.  We meet by zoom each week with the staff at Mokopane Hospital offering them whatever assistance we can in helping them to prepare for how the virus may affect their hospital.  The major effects that we have noticed is not so much the number of illnesses but the devastating effect of the lockdown.  People are literally starving because they are having difficulty accessing food.  Our feeding centers are still all closed because of the lockdown and also the schools are mostly closed.  Before the lockdown children were able to receive a nice meal at school and also at one of our many feeding centers.  We partnered with Rotary and Mokopane Hospital in our area of SA to identify some of the most needy families and deliver food packets to about 75 families.  Our packets contained enough food to feed a family of 6 for 1 month.

Even during the lockdown, we have been able to continue constructing new EnviroLoo toilets.  So far this year we have completed 10 toilet stalls and have funding and plans to build an additional 20 over the next 6 months.  We have also just put in a new funding request with HyVee to drill an additional 6 wells in the next several months.

Our Sports 4 Christ program is still on hold waiting for the schools to open back up.  We are gradually getting our Celebrate Recovery program up and running again by sending out videos and material to a few small group leaders who are starting to have small group meetings as we wait for school to open back up.  Our bakery and agricultural programs have stayed productive and are helping us through our church to meet the needs of some of the most needy families in our area.

Once the travel ban is lifted, I am planning on getting back to SA to assist where I can.  Dustin is also anxious to come back to Iowa for a short visit once international travel is permitted.

We are busy now rolling out a new child sponsor program where friends of our ministry can financially sponsor one of our children at our Del Cramer Children’s Campus.  In partnership with Hunt Against Hunger we are planning a virtual hunt for people who love Africa and also love hunting.  You will learn more about both of these programs soon.

It’s noon on June 1st in Limpopo Province, South Africa.  Dustin Blessman is on the other end of the WhatsApp, and the unmistakable sound of dishes being washed provides the background soundtrack for our conversation.  He and Johanney are readying to deliver food packages this afternoon.

“Things are looking up,” he observes, “baby steps…but the right direction.”  COVID-related restrictions lessened from Level 4 to Level 3 today, and most schools welcomed 7th and 12th graders back to in-person classrooms.  Some schools opted out.  The distanced learning partially fills educational objectives, but many families do not have the device or means to connect, exacerbating their disadvantage.

Dustin reports “a little work starting up, but many jobs were lost and many still on hold.”  He describes “increased need and hardship” evidenced by the hard-hit rummaging for food scraps and cutting dead trees for heat as winter approaches (June 1 in the Southern Hemisphere is like December 1 in the Northern.)

Like many of her neighbors, Mrs. Lebolo awoke this morning in her home, a corrugated steel shelter, unsure whether there will be food for her children today and in the days ahead.  It’s on her mind constantly.  Imagine the scene as Ben arrives at her door with a food package and she begins to unpack.  Rice packets. A tray of tomatoes from Mountain View Farm. Thirty eggs. An assortment of purchased food items. Nutrition for her family.  Relief.  This is what Dustin, Johanney and the distribution team anticipate as the dishes are finished up and the truck heads out.

If you would like to provide for a similar scenario, please go to www.blessmaninternational.org, click “donations”, and then choose “feeding children” from the drop-down menu.  Your $50 gift provides a month’s supply of produce, packets and purchased groceries for a family of six.

I was scheduled to be back in South Africa by now.  It is bittersweet to have to spend additional time back here in the United States.  I have been amazed how effective our communications have been using Zoom to connect our US and South Africa staff members.  The majority of our US staff, a few board members, and staff from SA have been meeting every day on zoom for prayer, devotions and general daily planning sessions.

The effects of the COVID-19 virus on our ministry and the people we serve in South Africa have been devastating.  Before the illness and lockdown associated with it, we were actively feeding around 20,000 children each week.  Now we are doing everything we can to get food to 80 families who are especially impoverished and hurting. The need for food is critical. We are accomplishing this by working through Lighthouse Christian Church and in partnership with my Rotary Club in South Africa.

The schools in SA are closed due to the lockdown and that is having severe effects on the children’s mental and physical well-being.  The school feeding programs and feeding centers like the ones sponsored by Blessman International have been one of the main nutritional lifelines for impoverished children in our area.  We are praying that early this month schools will reopen and the government will permit feeding centers like Del Cramer to resume.  For the last 2 months, we had a 40-foot container of our fortified rice packets stuck in the port of Johannesburg.  We have had many of our friends praying for the release of that container now for several weeks.  Our supply of rice packets at Del Cramer is completely used up.  This is only the second time in 10 years that this has happened.  The last time was during flooding in Mozambique and we shipped all of our food to help with that disaster.  Additionally, the government lockdown has forced us to put our Celebrate Recovery and Sports 4 Christ programs on hold.  The children will be so excited to see both of these programs open up again later this month.  Both of these programs are needed even more now than before the lockdown.

We were scheduled to have a couple of Iowa State interns working with us this summer as well as three medical students from the University of Iowa.  Fortunately, we have been able to establish a virtual internship for all of these students.   We have divided this group into two separate areas, one focusing on food insecurity issues and the other one on public health issues with the virus.  At first, I was concerned that we would not be able to offer a similar high-quality experience for these students as they would have had in South Africa.  We are admittedly early in their three-month experience, but at this early stage it appears that they are all being productive and offering great assistance to Blessman International and the people we are serving in SA.  The Mokopane Hospital and department of health in Limpopo, along with ISU and University of Iowa have been great help to us in salvaging this program.

Fortunately, I am able to speak with Dustin nearly every day and he continues to do a good job in leading our ministry there.  We are all missing being together and once this travel ban is lifted, I am sure that he will come back to the States for a week or two for a short visit.  I am also anxious to get back to South Africa and continue the work there that God has called me to do.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed to our virtual gala this year with your prayers, your presence and your gifts.  It was a great success even though we had to move it to a virtual venue. 

In Christ,

Doc

 

We all hear so often these days that we are living in interesting times.  Like many of you, I am still having difficulty adapting to physical distancing.  I maintain my sanity by spending 2 or 3 hours most days out on our beautiful bike trails.  I spend about 4 hours each day working on my computer and communicating with our staff here in Iowa and in South Africa.

Everything continues to go well for Blessman International here in Iowa.  Even though we had to do our gala this year on a virtual platform, it was even more successful than it likely would have been with a live event.  We had over 10,000 people watching the gala on their devices, and financial pledges made it one of our best years ever.  With what we learned this year, we likely will in the future have combined live and virtual events.  So far, we have not had to lay off any of our US staff, and in fact intern Annie Simmons joined us as Events Coordinator on April 27 after leading a successful gala silent auction in a changing and challenging environment.  Thank you to each person who watched, prayed, helped spread the word or provided funding for our ministries.

Beth and I had airline tickets to return to SA on May 20th but have already canceled because of travel restrictions.  It is possible that we may have to postpone the remaining 2020 mission trips.  We have 4 large teams scheduled for this coming fall and will make a final decision about these teams in June.

Because of the economic downturn here in the US, many people are suffering and even going hungry.  It is actually 100 times worse in South Africa.  Many more people have lost their jobs and the lock down there is quite strict.  Prior to the virus we were helping feed 20,000 children each day, now because of government restrictions we are barely able to help feed 100 children.  We continue to do the best we can, and hopefully things will open up just a bit so we can get back to even more humanitarian assistance than we were doing prior to the virus.

Limpopo schools are all closed, so the school feeding programs and even our Celebrate Recovery and sports programs are all on hold.  We hope to have both programs back open and running well in June.  The need for such things is greater than ever before. Our son, Dustin, is staying in South Africa and doing the best he can to get food parcels, including eggs and produce from our farms, out to a few needy families and children.  Our Rotary Club in SA has also been quite helpful in partnering with us to deliver needed items to the impoverished and hurting people. So far, the economic damage that this virus is doing in SA if much more severe than even the health effects.

We continue to move forward with our plans to leverage Rotary grants for menstrual health products essential for girls to be able to attend school and for our ongoing sanitation projects replacing the terrible pit toilets in our area with sustainable, safe and dignified facilities.

Please continue to pray for our staff in South Africa and the people we are doing our best to serve.

In Christ,

Dr. Jim Blessman

We are all experiencing life in “interesting times”; it reminds me of stories I heard from my parents about living through the great depression and WWII.  I am sure that what we are currently experiencing is a walk in the park compared to what they went through.  Fortunately, when God called me into full time missions 20 years ago my focus in life changed from making money and accumulating stuff to serving God and serving the poor.  This change in focus for me has instilled lasting joy in my heart.  I sense many of my American friends now feeling anxiety over losing their financial security and a sense of depression is overcoming at least some of them.  I can testify to all of you that the real value of money and material goods is way over rated.  Twenty years ago, I truly had more money that I ever imagined would be possible when I was growing up but I still desired to make more money.  Now, twenty years later, I have much less money but I have a strong sense that I have more than I need or deserve and I am much happier.  I spend most of my life living around and with the African people who are incredibly impoverished but at the same time have a sense of peace and joy that money cannot buy. 

One of the things I have really enjoyed about living in South Africa is that when I am there it is crystal clear to me that I am dependent upon God for everything.  I am in control of almost nothing.  God has been faithful to always provide what I needed…not always exactly what I thought I needed…but always exactly what I really needed and always just in time. 

My prayer is that as we here in America and around the world experience this sense of loss of our wealth, peace and even our health, it will draw all of us closer to God.  I pray that we all get our priorities in the proper order and express our gratitude for all of the good things with which God continues to bless us.

I am thankful for all of you praying for our work in Africa and financially supporting the work to which God has called us. 

For all of you, I pray God will cover you with His peace and you will experience more deeply His love for you.

May God richly bless you,

Jim

On February 4 I will be three quarters of a century old. I am actually a bit amazed that I have lived so long. There certainly have been a few bumps along the way, but at the end of the day my life has been full of joy. I am feeling good and full of energy. I cannot imagine anything that I would rather be doing than living here in South Africa and serving as an ambassador of God’s love for the African people and the many short-term missionaries who travel here to serve with us.


We just finished 10 days with our first team of the year from Father Ray’s church, St. Francis in West Des Moines. They love coming and serving with us and we love working with them. This was the sixth year in a row that Father Ray has brought a team and he has already reserved the second week of January 2021. At first, it stretched us to work with people of a slightly different faith than us, but as we learned to serve together, they have become a big blessing to Blessman International and to the children here in South Africa. When we eventually get to Heaven, I believe that there will be many surprises as to who we see there and who we do not see. I feel my role is to help as many souls as possible find their way there. I remember with a smile many years ago I was on a medical mission to Brazil. I asked this young boy if he would like to go to Heaven and he replied, “No, no, not yet.” In the early days, I was much too aggressive. Over the years I have learned that a slower, gentler approach is more effective and much more enjoyable, even for me. I find that the example of how I am living my life is much more effective than my words could ever be.


We have already started to train our team to start a program called Celebrate Recovery for the youth at one of our large high schools here. Our first presentation to the student body was just one day after the funeral of one of their ninth grade classmates who had committed suicide. Sadly, there is a big drug and alcohol problem in the youth here. Please pray with me that many children will sign up for this voluntary program which can be so effective at healing the hurts and unhealthy behavior that they are mired in.


Next week we are starting our Sports for Christ program. We are creating a new league of eight churches that will each field a soccer and netball team. The games will all be played on our new soccer field at Del Cramer. While the grass and goals have been prepared, we still need to build stadium seating and several other things to make it a sports complex done with excellence. Our first soccer game will be on February 1. Since this is being done as a church league, there will be a spiritually motivational presentation by one of the eight pastors before each game for the benefit of the players and fans.


I appreciate all of the prayers and support from our many friends in America and South Africa.

Usually this time of year, I focus a lot of attention on accomplishments and failures of the past 12 months and look forward to what I hope to accomplish in the coming year.

This year, I am focusing on my own health and frailty. I will be seventy-five years old in just one month and that feels like a significant milestone. I still have no plans to retire or change what I am doing, but a couple of weeks ago, I had a pacemaker put into my heart. This is a pretty simple operation and rarely complicated, but I did end up with a complication that was very significant for me.

Five days after receiving the pacemaker, I thought that I should be feeling better and better. I love riding my e-assist bike and I looked at getting the pacemaker like adding e-assist to my heart. I was trying to take some short walks to help my recovery, but on the 5th day I started having pain in my chest which got worse and worse every few minutes. I asked Beth to take me to the emergency room, because I thought that I either had a collapsed lung or was in the middle of a heart attack. After about 3 hours in the ER my pain was the most severe that I have ever experienced. Each heart beat was excruciating. I felt for sure that I was near death, which turned out to be my brick wall.

My chest x-ray was normal and my cardiologist was able to put a catheter in my coronary arteries to prove that they were okay and I was not having a heart attack. It turned out that I simply had pericarditis, which is not particularly serious, but for me was extremely painful. I am now one week past all of that and feeling better every day.

I feel like I have been given a second chance at life and I look forward to getting back to South Africa and starting over on my walking exercise program and the work that God has called me to do to help the children in Africa. I have had many second chances in my life and I appreciate each and every one of them. They say that a cat has nine lives and I am sure that I have used up well more than half of my lives, but I am feeling better and looking forward to what is next.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year and want to let all of you know how much I appreciate your friendship and support.

Thank you,

Jim

This is the time of year that I like to reflect on all of the things that I am most thankful for. I am most thankful for my friendship with Christ. He gives me a sense of joy and purpose for my life. I am also thankful that I have been able to live 74 years and stay in good health. I am blessed with a wonderful wife, children and grandchildren. I feel especially blessed with the ministry that God has given me. We just had our annual appreciation event at Terrace Hill, which reminds me of all of the wonderful friends who support the work we are doing in South Africa.

It has been another good year for us in South Africa. We had 127 short term missionaries come and serve with us for two weeks. We also had several interns come and serve with us for a few weeks or even months. Our two churches remain strong as well as our feeding program. Our partnership with HyVee continues to bless thousands of children with safe clean drinking water and safe clean toilets. Our nutritional program with Meals from the Heartland and Convoy of Hope is providing food for approximately 20,000 children each week.

This coming year we hope to expand our program providing education and feminine hygiene products to impoverished young ladies. This same program will also provide training and jobs to many young ladies and even a few men. This is being done through a grant with Rotary International. This program will provide for 10,000 washable reusable feminine hygiene kits. We will also be expanding our sports programs by starting sports leagues with 8 churches. We just planted the grass for a new soccer field with this program. When funds become available, we will be building a sports stadium at our Del Cramer Campus.

Our newest program will be a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that we will be doing in one of the high schools where Pastor Jonathan has been preaching each week at their school assemblies. Once this program is up and running well, I also hope to start a similar rehab program in the provincial men and women’s prison in Polokwane.

We have several strong teams building to come and serve with us in South Africa next year. Some of them are already getting full so if you are serious about coming next year you will be wise to get your name on the list for one of our teams. Lord willing, Beth and I are planning on returning to South Africa January 10th.