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