It feels good to see 2020 fading into our rearview mirror. All of us know someone who had the COVID-19 virus and a few of us lost good friends or loved ones.  It has been especially difficult for some of the impoverished children in Africa that we serve.  Fortunately, the actual number of people infected with the virus in our rural area (Limpopo) has remained relatively low. However, the lockdown in South Africa has been severe and caused drastic consequences for our children.  All the schools and feeding centers will be closed through January 23rd when the new school year begins.  Blessman International has still been able to distribute food by making home visits to hand out family nutritional packs that can be used to feed an entire family of six for four weeks.  Our local church and Mokopane Hospital have partnered with us to help distribute these packs to the most needy families in Limpopo.  Our sewing center ladies stayed busy sewing masks for the medical workers and schools.  They have sewn over 8,000.  Our construction team has been able to continue working and constructed an additional 15 Enviro-Loo toilet stalls to replace the dangerous pit toilets.  Our lodge business at the Lodge of Dreams has suffered for the lack of tourists and no mission teams since mid-March of 2020.

Our office in Iowa was blessed with a forgivable government loan allowing us to keep all seven of our US employees.  It is a miracle that we have also been able to continue employing all of our 35 African employees in South Africa.  Not all of them were able to stay as productive as usual but no one lost their job.  Our agricultural programs were deemed an essential service and we were able to continue producing lots of produce and poultry products to help feed our children.

In Africa we continued working with our Sports 4 Christ and Celebrate Recovery programs.  Both have been operated through our church once the schools were forced to close.  Over 200 youth are benefiting from our sports programs and around 80 children participate in our Celebrate Recovery program each week.  Lives are being significantly impacted by both of these programs.

While our Del Cramer Center was closed our staff continued to work and established a new child sponsorship program whereby Americans can sponsor one of our 117 children for $1/day and develop a pen pal relationship with their sponsored child.  We had to do many home visits over the past few months to accomplish this, but we got it done and we are doing it with excellence.  This is a new program and we are certainly learning as we go, but by April we hope to open the program up for an additional 100 children in a second feeding center.  The current children are loving having new friends from America.

Our funding has been significantly impacted by us losing 7 mission teams from March to December.  At the same time our virtual gala in April was a smashing success.  It was viewed by 14,000 people on their computers and we raised over half a million dollars.  Our year end giving this year is surpassing every previous year.  At the end of the day, we are definitely surviving and almost thriving.

Des Moines First Assembly has chosen our ministry as their winter mission project.  They are working to raise enough funds to fund our new Sports for Christ complex for soccer, net ball and volleyball.  We have secured a Rotary global grant for over $200,000 which along with some other generous donors will fund an additional 55 toilet stalls that will be constructed in preschools.  Our Rotary grant to fund sewing of menstrual health kits and training African ladies to sew is still pending, but I am optimistic that it will also be funded.

We currently have 10 short-term mission teams scheduled to come and serve with us during the year.  Beth and I are headed back to South Africa January 19th and will host three teams during February and March.  There is still time for some of you to join one of these teams or even form your own entire team.

It is only through the grace of God and faithful prayer warriors and donors like all of you that we are able to continue blessing these beautiful children in Africa.  Beth, Dustin and I, along with our entire staff thank you.

God’s love and blessings to you all as we enter 2021.

Doc

I pray that all of you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward with anticipation to the Christmas holidays.  I am not a big fan of winter, but Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it reminds me of the great blessing of my family.  No gifts just great food, family and a reminder to count our many blessings.  2020 has been a year of losses so it is especially important that we remember to thank God for all the great blessings that we have.  When I count my blessings it always brings joy to my soul.

Beth and I have successfully moved from our beautiful acreage to Beaverdale and we are already loving our new home near our daughter’s family, especially our 6-year-old granddaughter, Juniper.  Speaking of joy, spending time with her nearly every day brings joy to both Beth and my hearts.

We are both missing our lives in South Africa, as this is the longest we’ve been out of Africa for many years.  We have both chosen to make the best of this situation and quite frankly, I have been more productive working in my office in Urbandale than I have in many years.

COVID-19 is taking a big toll on many businesses, churches, ministries and families but I sense God’s hand helping our ministry to survive and even thrive through this storm.  Despite schools still being closed in South Africa, we have gotten our Celebrate Recovery and Sports 4 Christ programs up and running well again.  For those of you on Facebook, we always post many photos and videos to keep you up to date.  Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland continued to ship 5 full shipping containers of food to us in Africa, and even though it is a bit more difficult to distribute this food during the lockdown, we are managing to continue to feed thousands of children each week.

We have received pen pal letters from most all of you who are sponsoring a child through our One Child at a Time program, and we have sent those letters to your children in South Africa.  Del Cramer is still closed so we are sending our staff out to do home visits to give your letters to the children, and to assist them in writing their letters back to their sponsors.  All 118 children at Del Cramer now have sponsors.  I want to send a big thank you out to everyone who is supporting these beautiful children.  Our plans are to run this program for the next 9 months and receive feedback from the children and sponsors as to where we can improve. Once we are convinced that we are doing the program with excellence, we would like to add an additional group of children from another feeding center that we support.   Thus, any of you who missed an opportunity to sponsor one of our children will have another chance this coming spring.

Our office is quite busy right now gearing up for our annual year end giving campaign.  Please know that we need your assistance more this year than ever before, so please pray and be generous with your church and your favorite charities.

You will be hearing more from me soon,

Love you all,

Doc

 

We are right in the middle of my favorite season, autumn.  It has been a blessing to enjoy it in Iowa this year.  I have clocked over 6,500 miles since April.  Central Iowa has some of the best bike trails in the world.  Now with the fall colors in full display, it is even more enjoyable.

This season, we have also had the special blessing of Dustin coming back from Africa for a two week visit.  God keeps his heart so full of joy and it is always a blessing to spend time with him.  He continues to do a great job managing the day-to-day affairs of Blessman International in Africa.  Dustin was able to travel back and forth from South Africa since he has permanent residency status.  Beth and I are praying that we will be able to return to the land and people that we love early in January.

Fall is also a time for reflection as the year end approaches.  Like many others, Blessman International have been affected by this pandemic, but we are coping well.  We have not had to lay off any of our seven employees in Iowa or the 35 employees in Africa.  Although the lockdown has made it difficult to keep everyone productive, the unemployment rate in South Africa is quite high and jobs are so valuable.  We are just now getting our Del Cramer Feeding Center open again.  Our Celebrate Recovery and Sports 4 Christ programs are gradually coming back to life.  Through all of this, sanitation was ruled a necessary service by the government, so we were able to continue building toilets while many other things were closed.

One of the things that I’ve missed the most is hosting short-term missionaries.  Our African Staff have been serving the children in their absence.  However, over the years, we have built this organization by having 100+ short-term missionaries come and serve with us annually.  Missionaries have always been a huge blessing to the children of Limpopo and Blessman International.  I pray that we will soon be back to hosting ten to twelve teams each year. And, despite the challenges of 2020, our goal is to have over 150 people each year on mission trips to aid as we revamp schedules going forward.

In October, we were able to celebrate reaching our One Child at a Time sponsorship goal.  One hundred and twenty people have committed to supporting individual children at Del Cramer Child Development Center.  This will foster relationships between our donors and the children they directly support, and encourage more to join short-term mission teams to see and interact with the children they are sponsoring.

During the Thanksgiving season, we typically have a large appreciation party for our donors at Terrace Hill, the Iowa Governor’s Mansion.  This year, it remains closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Our wonderful staff has been busy thinking of new ways we can show appreciation to the great friends of our ministry.

Beth and I are busy completing our move from our acreage to a small house and yard in Beaverdale near our granddaughter.  I am definitely not a city guy, but choose to be happy wherever I find myself.  My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  I urge everyone to have wonderful time with family and prepare your hearts and minds for the annual year-end giving campaign coming in December.  God continues to bless our ministry and we are doing well thanks to all of your generosity.

We love and appreciate you,

Doc and Beth

Daniel is one of my favorite characters in the Old Testament.  God protected him when he was thrown into the lion’s den.  I often think of his story when I am interacting with the beautiful lions in South Africa.   There is a story in the Book of Daniel 3:16-18 about facing our fears and marching forward.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were told by King Nebuchadnezzar that if they did not bow down to his golden image, he would have them killed by throwing them into a furnace used to fire bricks.  The three of them refused to worship this golden image and instead continued worshiping only the God of Israel.  The king then decreed that they be burned in the furnace.  The furnace was so hot that the soldiers who threw them into the blaze were all killed by the heat of the furnace.  Soon the king noticed that there were four men walking about in the furnace unharmed by the flames and realized that the fourth man was the son of God.  The king then called them out of the furnace and seeing that they were indeed not injured by the blaze, decreed that everyone in his kingdom would from this day forward worship only the God of Israel.

I am not sure that I have enough faith to face the fiery furnace but we all face many fears now and again.  We can either be paralyzed by our fear or choose to march forward through the fear and trust God.

This current pandemic is causing significant economic fears and true health fears for many people.  We have been told that if we catch the virus, especially if we are older with other debilitating conditions, there is a good chance we could die.  I am 75, and while I do not feel old, the fact that I have had diabetes certainly puts me in the “high risk” population.

Last month, I found myself living with three family members for two weeks who all tested positive for the COVID-19. I never had any symptoms so I did not get tested myself, but I am sure that I was heavily exposed and could have been an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.  During my two weeks of quarantine, I continued to ride my bike 35 to 40 miles each day, confirming in my own mind that I was still healthy.  Along with my strong faith, I must admit that I often also practice denial.  I had recommended to many people over these last six months that we should all go on living our lives and not let this virus steal our joy.  God has measured each of our days and will one day call all of us home to him.  We must live each day to it fullest and not waste one minute worrying about things that we cannot control.

Beth and I have been blessed to be able to sell our beautiful acreage.  It appreciated significantly in value over the 30 years we called it our home, and we’ve decided to give 50% of it to God by donating it to Blessman International.  We hope it will create a legacy that will outlast the both of us.

I would encourage all of you to consider your own legacy, and what can you do with your resources while you are still alive to serve God and make this world a better place.

We got the good news this week that our feeding center is back open at Del Cramer, and Dustin will likely be able to travel to the US for a couple of weeks to visit and say goodbye to his childhood home.

God is good, all of the time.

Doc

 

As a new school year is starting, a new season of life has started for us, too.  Beth and I have sensed the last couple of years that it will soon be time to downsize and sell our beautiful wooded acreage near Lake Saylorville. We have been working diligently to get rid of extra clutter throughout our Morten Building, garage, and home. We are now blessed with a couple developers making offers to purchase our home and acreage. We have found a beautiful older home in Beaverdale near our youngest daughter’s family, so Mamma Bear is quite happy.

We have been in our current home for 37 years, and have lots of precious memories of our life here.  I cannot imagine a better environment for us to raise three children, before dividing our time between South Africa and Iowa. Except for times when we have had wind or ice storms, I have actually enjoyed all of the lawn work required- it gave me a great excuse to use fun tools (toys) like a small tractor, riding mowers, and Kabota 4×4 utility vehicle. Our new house is nice, but there is no room for them.  However, the recent derecho is helping me spend lots of quality time with them before the move. We lost around 25 evergreen trees and lots of oak branches.  Other than needing a new windshield, we fortunately had no structural damage to our home or vehicles.

I have never had a desire to live in the city, but at least our new place is much closer to our office, so I will be getting rid of lots of lawn chores and commuting time each week. Please stay tuned and pray for the sale of our property and our big move. We will let you know how it is all progressing. As long as the weather permits, I plan to continue spending lots of time on the bike trails. I have ridden over 5,000 miles in the last five months.  It gives me lots of time to pray, think and make plans.

Good news from South Africa: Kabelo just sent photos of a bountiful harvest from a school garden that was planted through the Teach a Child to Fish program. I was concerned that during the lockdown, the gardens might have gone to weeds. These photos are a big encouragement to me that our programs are working effectively and helping feed many children.

 

Please, also pray with me for our schools, in Iowa and South Africa, during this time of transition.  Hopefully, they will be opening up in South Africa during September.  This means we will be able to start running our feeding programs at full force again, along with our two churches, Celebrate Recovery and Sports 4 Christ.

God bless,

Doc

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