February 6th, 2012
I turned 67 years old this week. Several years ago that seemed quite old to me. However today I feel young strong and full of vigor. Three years ago Beth threw a surprise birthday party for me when I was 64. Our home here in Africa was just finished and I had arrived here after a few months in America. She invited friends from Shikwaru to help celebrate our new home and my birthday. It was the best birthday party anyone had ever given for me. This week there was no party for me, but it has still been the best birthday celebration ever for me. There was a tiny bit of sadness this week as Dustin’s birthday is January 30th and my father’s birthday would have been February 3rd. For many years we always celebrated our birthdays together and this was the first time that my father was missing in that he now lives in Heaven. I miss him every day but especially this week. Enough of the tears though, this has been an incredible week of joy.
Last Saturday we celebrated the official open house for the Del Cramer Children’s Campus and the distribution of the 20 millionth rice packet meal from Meals from the Heartland. Iowa’s largest news TV station KCCI was here to document this occasion and help tell the story of all that our ministry does here to many of our Iowa friends. 1500 children attended this celebration, many of them walking, others came by bus and many came in riding on donkey carts. We had a really big party with jumping castles, music, lots and lots of games and food for everyone. Our newest American team had just arrived the night before, so they were still in jetlag and a bit overwhelmed by the multitude of children at the event, but we were so glad they were here to help us with the event.
The next day at church we combined the adults and children into a family church service. The donkey carts were still supposed to bring the children back to church, but due to miscommunication, only a few of them were working that day. We will continue to work on this and we hope to have the donkey carts running each week to bring the children into church. Our goal is to get 500 children coming to church each week. Right now we are still around 60 children each week. We continue to feed everyone who comes to church and they are blessed with a high quality children’s church led by my good friend Jacques van Bommel.
There are always a few struggles working here in Africa. Our senior pastor, Pastor Jake has failed to come to church to preach the last 2 Sundays. It seems that he is feeling caught between our struggles with the tribal authorities who have been asking us for bribes to continue working in their community and our ministry. Jake has been on our board and has been a big help to me, but I know that a lot of pressure was put on him by the induna (head person) of our village for us to pay a bribe. We have refused to pay bribes so not everyone here is happy with us.
We were tremendously blessed this week by having a member of parliament come to our rescue. Beth and I met the head of the African Christian Party last month and he and his wife came to stay in our home on Wednesday. After we gave him a tour of Del Cramer Children’s Campus he agreed to meet with the induna and I. This man’s support would be like a congressman or senator from the States coming on our team. The induna had never met him but told him she had seen him on TV many times. He encouraged the induna and us to come to an agreement to work together to continue serving the children of her village. We did finally come to a verbal agreement that our ministry will pay her 20,000 rand (approximately $2500) for the use of the warehouse building on our campus and that the chief will give us a 99 year “permission to occupy“ the land. Blessman Ministries will also agree to have a representative of the induna attend our board or committee meetings when we are discussing matters pertaining to Del Cramer Campus. I have a meeting scheduled with the chief tomorrow to hopefully finalize this agreement and put all of this to rest. The most amazing part of all of this is that Mr. Kenneth Meshoe, the Member of Parliament, has agreed to be on our ministry board. This came about when the induna stated that she did not want a bunch of outsiders coming into her village running things. He told her that he would be an insider who would assist us. God has an amazing way of answering our prayers.
On Monday we took our new team to a remote rural Africa village where we did a full day of optical ministry. To get to the village we traveled an hour North towards Botswana then another ½ hour down a rough dirt/mud road to this village. We had been to this same village the week before traveling in our Land Cruiser and that is the only way we possibly made it. This week the rains stopped so our regular vehicles were able to make the trip, but it was still touch and go in many places and a difficult rough ride. When we finally arrived at the chief’s house he was not there but had scheduled us to work just down the street from his house. There was no building to work in, no electricity, no toilets—just a nice big shade tree for us to work under. I have distributed glasses in some pretty isolated places around the world and this is as basic as it gets. Our team was amazing in their dedication to serve the people of this rural village. We saw just over 100 people and gave nearly all of them glasses. On a usual day doing optical we can see about 150 patients but under these conditions I felt we did good to see 100. The people of the village were appreciative of having us come to work with them and they were a joy to work with. We hope to go back to this same village in about a month and teach them how to farm God’s way.
The KCCI news team was still with us on the optical clinic and I am excited to know what our Iowa friends will think when they see us doing an optical clinic under a shade tree in Africa.
On Tuesday we took several of the team members to a Lion Park where tourists are permitted to walk with the lions. We had six of us walking with 5 adolescent lions. The lions seemed quite large and active when we all first saw them. However after our walk they showed us some mature adult lions that each weighed over 700 pounds. They are massive beautiful creatures. Walking with them really gets your adrenalin pumping. The TV cameras were also with us during our lion walk and it will also be interesting to see what our Iowa friends think of that.
In addition to the lion walk we were able to get this team on a beautiful photo safari at a big 5 game reserve. They also had several safaris on our own game lodge, Shikwaru. This team was especially blessed to be here while the film crew was with us.
The rest of the morning on Tuesday, we also visited the preschool where our team built 5 Abods 3 years ago. There are about 100 preschool children being served at this site and our American friends always love interacting with these small children. Our Abods were initially designed to be a small orphanage but we are still waiting for permission to occupy these from the social development department. Our current plan is to have the pastor of this church get certified as a foster parent and then set this up as a group of foster homes.
Tuesday afternoon we took our team to visit a large feeding center that feeds well over 100 children over an open bonfire. A few months ago, one of our team members donated a propane stove to this center along with a one month supply of propane. When the gas ran out, they returned to cooking for over 100 children over an outdoor wood-burning fire. The cooks, caregivers, and all of the children seem happy in spite of their primitive conditions. Our ministry supplies them with Meals from the Heartland food packets to help feed their children. We are now supplying food for around 2500 children every day.
On Wednesday our team had a work day cleaning up the Del Cramer site. After our big celebration on Saturday, we learned that our toilet facilities, as good as they are, will not serve 2000 people. They do a great job serving our children and our church but future parties will need to be a bit smaller or we will have to bring in some portable potties.
On Thursday we took our team to a handicapped center that we also provide food and services to. There are about 35 children who come every day, most of whom have cerebral palsy. Many of these children have difficulty eating, speaking and playing, but they are always a joy for our American visitors to come and interact with and play with. They always sing for us and it is amazing to hear them sing.
On Friday we took our team to Polokwane for their usual gift shopping tour. This team were not big shoppers, but still enjoyed finding some souvenirs.
Friday afternoon we went back to Northern Academy, one of our favorite schools, to do another optical outreach. This time we were there to serve the teachers and the staff and not the students. We do go there every year to serve their students. This school is where Maxwell’s son Perfect goes, and it continues to grow. They now have over 3900 students with 2000 of them being boarding students. In my humble opinion, it is by far the best black school in our entire Limpopo province. It is now definitely the largest school. Their graduation rate continues to be nearly 100% and their teenage pregnancy rate is much lower than any other schools in our area.
On Friday evening we attended the youth group services at Northern Academy. They now have 1300 children attending their youth services each week. They have this service in the largest building on campus and even then there is just enough room for all of these children. To make room for them they must move all of the chairs outside. The children stand or sit on the floor literally body to body for 2 hours. They spend the first hour in praise and worship singing English praise songs at the top of their lungs. It is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. It is what I imagine Heaven will be. This particular week I was blessed to be able to speak with them and explain to them as a physician how to best take care of their bodies. I covered things like diet, exercise, forgiveness and even gave them the “sex talk” that their parents likely have not given them. I spoke with them about romance, infatuation, love, covenant marriage and homosexuality. I was able to tell them many things that I would never be allowed to say in an American school. They received my message well and appreciated being told the truth based on Biblical principles.
Mona Butters who just happens to be on this team, taught them about personal hygiene. Mona is the top sales person for Mary Kay in America. She is an expert on skin care and is also a great motivational speaker. She taught them using a couple of rap songs that she had written. They loved her and her presentation.
At the end of the service, one of our team members, Ed Hall, prayed with the children and spoke with them about some interesting things in the spiritual world.
I told the youth that is was my birthday in a few hours and they all sang happy birthday to me. God has called Beth and I to work with these beautiful children and the love we feel in our hearts for them is so strong. There is nothing in the world like the feeling we get when they return that love to us.
Next week I will report much more about our building project going on here. It is coming along well. On Monday we will start thatching the roof of our new sewing center on the Thompson campus.
Thank you for praying for our ministry and supporting the work we are doing here. Please be watching KCCI TV these next few weeks to see how they tell the story of the work we are doing here. If you miss it on TV you can see the video coverage on your computers at kcci.com.