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.