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.