I always attempt to update my blog every Saturday night so life here on the mission field is measured in small blocks of time. The weeks just seem to fly by, we arrived back here in Africa on 24 December 2011 and here we are today 3 months have passed.
We had to say good bye to our kids Dustin and Rene’ this morning as they are headed to Johannesburg and then will fly by to the States on Monday. Lord willing we will be seeing them again soon in early May but I became a bit teary eyed as we said goodbye. I have enjoyed having them here so much this time. Up until this visit we never saw much interest from them in working with our ministry but they now also have a passion for working with the beautiful African children that we are called to serve. Especially Rene’ seemed to enjoy working with our children in our church and the Del Cramer Children’s Campus. Dustin was also a great help in all things mechanical from keeping our vehicles running properly to using our dump truck to haul soil to make our blocks. Both of them are much better oriented towards helping us set up systems to work with everything we are doing here with our ministry. Beth is great with all of the relationship stuff, I am a pretty good visionary and now I see that our kids could possibly be wonderful at actually helping carry out the visions that God gives us. Dustin got his flying credentials to fly here in South Africa and yesterday chartered a plane to get some nice aerial photos of the Del Cramer Children’s Campus and of all of the buildings and construction our ministry is doing here at Shikwaru our base of operations. My friend Jacques is quite interested in getting a plane to help him with the ministry he does all over Southern Africa and would make a nice pilot for both of our ministries once he gets his instrument and commercial rating. He actually told me a couple of weeks ago that if we got a plane here for him to fly he would be ready to live here full time. We will have to see what God provides.
My mom has stayed healthy this week with no further problems with her recurring pancreatitis. When she was in the hospital her doctors put her on some “happy pills” as she was experiencing frequent episodes of crying since my father died in August. My sister told me last night that she has not had any further crying spells since she started taking her happy pills. I used to tell some of my patients in my private practice that there is sometimes better living through chemistry. This is not always the case and in my humble opinion many people in America take way too many pills. I have noticed that the older I get the more pills I seem to be taking as well. Most of my African friends take no medicine at all.
I just got a message from our realtor in Mt. Ayr that the home I had purchased for my parents 5 years ago finally sold. It has not closed yet but everything looks promising. Praise the Lord as it is not easy these days to sell a home in a rural community. I had been concerned that it was taking too long to sell this so started praying for God’s help and almost immediately there were 2 buyers interested in buying it. Too often I don’t ask for God’s help except in the big things like health issues but He is also faithful in taking care of the small stuff.
On Monday this week we did our second optical outreach in Johannesburg. We have found a pretty good system of taking the team to Johannesburg on Sunday evening and staying at the GBS Foundation where we are establishing our Johannesburg base to store and distribute food. We then do the optical outreach on Monday and get them to the airport for their evening flight back to the States. This was another great team and we hated to see them leave us. Every one of them seemed to have a high quality experience working with us. During the middle of the week I was able to catch up on emails and a lot of office work that I had put off while the team was with us.
This week we have had Michael Vos, Ned Looney and David Russell with us leading training conferences with many pastors from Johannesburg and Polokwane areas. We are using the BILD teaching model Biblical Institute of Leadership Development. It is a highly effective leadership training model based out of each local church. Several hundred pastors were trained in this model over the last week. It is also helping us build our network of 1000 churches and pastors who work with our ministry in many different ways. I think that if we can strengthen the local church improving the quality of their pastors and keep them interested in serving the poor, it will go a long ways in healing this part of Africa.
On Wednesday night I took our pastor trainers to a typical old time African revival meeting. It was held in a sports stadium in Syabuswa where we did one of the pastor trainings last week. There was an evangelist Adam Smith there from Oklahoma and he did a great job. It was like an old Billy Graham crusade. Many people gave their lives to Jesus and also many people were healed. There were about 3,000 people attending the first night and by the end of the week nearly 10,000 people were attending. One amazing coincidence was that we met another evangelist there from Oregon and I we got to visiting with him he told us that he had gone to Bible School with Dave Beroth our pastor at Des Moines First Assembly of God. Here we are half way around the world in a small African village and meet someone from Oregon who is a friend of our pastor in Iowa. It was one of those Godlike things that seems to happen a lot here. We invited the two evangelists to come and stay in our home this Sunday night and they agreed to stay with us so I am looking forward to getting to know both of them much better.
On Thursday I spent my day with a good friend who is heading up the Social Development Department in our province. He had several projects that his department is funding that were not functioning at a high level and was asking for my assistance to see if I could help. The first project was a sewing business that the department has been funding for the last 6 years. There were 8 ladies there sewing and they had all been working together for the last 6 years. The quality of the product that they were sewing appeared to me to be quite good but after 6 years they were still requiring the government assistance to pay their salaries. When I ask them what price they were asking for many of the things they had sewn they did not know what to charge. They are pretty good at making the products but have no business skill in marketing or selling them. I am pretty sure that this will make an excellent partner for us with our new sewing microenterprise. The head of the social development department encouraged me to go ahead and put a business plan together to work with these ladies and see if we help them become profitable and at the same time provide some income to make our ministry more sustainable. We also visited a chicken project that they are funding. They had 1,000 chickens and were struggling to make a good market for them as well. One simple solution that we are doing with our chicken project at Del Cramer is to have our chickens maturing every 2 weeks rather than all at once. They also have a large vegetable farming plot right next door to this and were not sharing their manure with them even though both programs were funded by the same department. The vegetable garden was actually in sorry state of affairs. There were 3 workers there all sitting in the shade when we pulled up and the garden was full of weeks with essentially no plants growing. There was a pile of rotting vegetables in a small room at the corner of the property. It seems that these are post date vegetables donated by the local vegetable store but they were just going to waste. The director who had brought me to the project seemed at first embarrassed then angry and at the farmer’s poor performance. The next day I took our farm expert Johannes to take a look at this project to see if we could help them and we are both pretty sure that we can help them to get a good crop from this small plot of land. It is about 6 acres and we should be able to put together a business plan to help them and then to share in the produce for our efforts and again to help keep our ministry sustainable.
One of the most pleasant things that I experience this week was when Mr. Mekwella took me to visit an orphanage in this same community. As most of you know we have been struggling to start an orphanage at our Abod project for about 3 years and are not trying to convert that plan to a foster home setting. The orphanage that we visited had 19 children living in it. All of them were either orphans, abused children or children whose parents were unable to care for them. I see lots of inadequate sad places that children here are living in or being cared for in one way or another. This orphanage was a bright and shining example of how things should work to help these children. It was located in a large beautiful building that used to be a train station where the train workers would sleep. It was clean and had adequate and friendly care givers working there. The children all seemed happy and well cared for. I am hoping that we can start taking all of our American teams up here to let them experience interacting with these children. We can always show them situations where the children are not being well cared for but this will be a much more pleasant experience for them. I am sure that there are many ways that we can partner with and help this orphanage. Most all of our American visitors will want to jump in and help out. We left one 3 year girl with a new doll which she very much appreciated. Even though she was only 3 years old she sang the national anthem for us. Dustin, Rene’, Beth and I would have loved to been able to take her home with us. It is easier to leave her there knowing that she is well taken care of.
Our building project for the new team dorm being built in honor of my father is coming along rapidly. All of the foundations have been dug and poured. The concrete floors are poured on the 4 smaller buildings and the block walls are nearly finished on the first of the smaller buildings. We purchased soil from one of our neighbors to build the blocks and Dustin hauled the dirt for us. We are getting it from a neighbor about 4 miles away. It is perfect red soil to make the blocks out of. Our sifter that we borrowing from Entabeni and the mixer that we struggled almost a year getting fixed are both working well. We are able to make about 1,000 blocks each day. Adam DeJong from Dwell Earth, an associate of Vermeer Manufacturing Company is doing a great job leading our construction project. He will be with us the rest of March and then return to work with us all of May.
The Lord clearly spoke to me during the night last night that we are building this project too big and that we must scale it down. The original architect plans had the large building in the center of the project at 2 stories and a loft above the second story permitting us to sleep 45 to 50 people. The Lord let me know that the larger center building should only be one story high and not have the 4 suites and loft up stairs. We will still be able to sleep 20 people easily with room for 16 bunk beds and 4 full sized beds for married couples. We will be able to keep the nice commercial kitchen, dining room and large living room for devotions and team meetings. We will also be able to keep our majestic fireplace in the center of the building and a nice balcony over the circle drive at the front of the building. Usually with the Lord speaks to me He is telling me to be courageous and do bigger more scary things but this time He is saying pull back and I know that I must listen to Him. This morning we had a family meeting with Beth, Dustin and Rene’ and we all agree that this is the right thing for us to be doing. There are many people letting us know that they would like to come and visit us on mission teams next year but I am still sure that we will have adequate, pleasant housing for them.