Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday where most Americans focus on family, food, and football.  I am thankful for many blessings this year.  First of all, for good health and for our ministry that gives me great joy and a purpose to wake up each day and serve God and the beautiful children in Africa.  I am also thankful for a loving supportive family and many friends.

 

November in South Africa is a busy month. The school year is coming to an end and children are studying hard and taking exams. Our staff there is working hard to finish up the last wells and toilets for the year and preparations are being made for a big Christmas party at Del Cramer complete with gifts and a visit from Santa.

 

We have many good things to be thankful for in South Africa. 60,000 kids are being fed weekly. Celebrate Recovery is going strong and making a difference in the lives of teens and will expand to an additional high school and to the provincial prison in January. Our Sports for Christ complex has been lit up by Musco Lighting and construction has begun on a locker room.

 

Mission teams are starting back up in January. We currently have 10 teams planning to join us in 2022. This is a big blessing to our ministry and to the children we are serving. Please pray with me that inflation and supply chain issues will not impair our ability to continue feeding our children. We are trusting God that we will be able to expand the number of children that we are feeding to our goal of 100,000 by the end of next year.

 

Beth and I will be spending the holidays in Iowa. We are excited that Dustin and Alexandra will be making the long journey from Africa to celebrate Christmas here with us.

Blog November 1, 2021

Beth and I have had an amazing month here in October. The peak of our experience has been the culmination of two year’s worth of work on our Sports 4 Christ program. Eight local churches have formed a league of soccer and netball teams. We are now looking at adding basketball and volleyball to our sports program. The entire village is buzzing with excitement. The topping on this cake was Musco Lighting adding LED sports lighting to our complex.

Hundreds of children, adults, and many leaders of the community were in attendance for the
ribbon cutting to celebrate the opening of the Sports Complex. Beginning in the afternoon with food, cake, music, speeches, and African preaching where many people got saved. Three young people told their stories of how the Del Cramer Children’s after-school program impacted their life and what they are doing now as young adults.

The celebration turned into a tribute to me and to Blessman International. In all of my 76 years, I have never felt so honored and loved. There is a beautiful song by Mercy Me, I Can Only Imagine, and it perfectly describes how I felt during this entire evening. I was scheduled to speak a couple of times during the event, and I could barely speak at all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNDEyxEMNp0

Exhibition soccer and netball games were also going throughout the afternoon. Musco encouraged us to add a mini pitch soccer court to our complex, and even the adults enjoyed playing on it. Mountain View Church had a friendly, yet intense, competition with Folang Medical Clinic. God answered our prayer that no one would be injured.

We waited until it was completely dark to turn on the sports lights for the first time. The large crowd counted down and were absolutely amazed when the LED lights came on! People danced with joy, and there was a cloud of dust as many of the children ran onto the soccer field. Sekgakgapeng village does not have streetlights and many of the homes do not have lights on after dark. Drone photos demonstrate nearly total darkness with the exception of the sports complex.

The sports games resumed under the lights. There was also a basketball exposition from a youth team from Mokopane. Many in the audience had never seen basketball and it was very exciting to watch.

As people experienced the excitement of the sports program, more wanted to be involved in other things that we are doing. The Celebrate Recovery program grew significantly in numbers. We met with a principal at a nearby high school this week, and he is excited that we will be adding Celebrate Recovery in his school in January. We have also made plans with a pastor in Polokwane to start a training program to get his church leading a Celebrate Recovery program in the provincial prison there.

I learned in medicine that when you measure something it brings a higher level of excellence. For example, when my diabetic patients measure their own blood sugars their control of the diabetes improves dramatically. This proved true again as children at the Del Cramer Campus learned that we are scanning their finger prints to register their attendance and that the American donors will know if they come. The attendance increased as word reached children who had been registered in previous years suddenly and showed up wanting to be part of it again.

Prayer request for this month: please pray that even more food will be made available to us. We are currently feeding 60,000 children 3 to 5 days per week, yet many more are still going hungry.

Fall has always been my favorite time of year in Iowa.  I especially enjoy biking our beautiful bike trails and savoring my last few days before heading back to South Arica.  This last month, I befriended a homeless man who I see sitting along the bike trail and visit with almost daily.  His name is Corey, it took 2 or 3 days chatting before he trusted me enough to tell me his name.  We have now become buddies.  He sleeps in a sleeping bag and does not even have a tent. He is also quite private about where his actual camp is located.  I usually pack him some food in my bike bag and bless him with something most every day.  About a week ago after a long rainy day I found him lying on the ground under a tree shivering and telling me that he was so sick.  I convinced him to let me take him to Broadlawns urgent care and they determined that he was severely dehydrated and admitted him to the hospital for IV therapy.  I am hoping to be able to take him to the Will Graham celebration this weekend.  I learned many years ago how much joy it brings to my heart to bless another human being.  It is especially effective when I am able to bless someone who likely will never be able to return the favor.  We are able to do this all of the time in Africa but I also enjoy being able to help people now and again here in the USA.

 

We have seen so many of our prayers answered this last month, it continues to deepen my faith and relationship with God.  Many years ago, a good pastor friend of mine told me, “When we work, we work, when we pray, God works”.  This has been so true in my own life, I have found that I can work harder and harder and not see much success, but when I pray, it is like mountains begin to move.

 

This last week for the first time, we were able to turn on the LED sports lights at our new sports complex.  A big thank you to Musco Lighting in Oskaloosa, Iowa.  We will soon have some beautiful photos and videos to show all of you this exciting progress.  Also, this last week, 2 large unsolicited donations came into our ministry.  One of them was from a donor who passed away in July and left us $100,000 in his will.  He had been sending regular donations to us for the past few years but I honestly did not know who he was.  I am embarrassed that I had not reached out to him while he was alive to thank him and get to know him.  The other large donation was from a widowed woman in Southern Iowa who I also do not know.  She goes to a small rural church that likely has fewer than 60 people that attend each Sunday.  When the church secretary went to the bank on Monday to make her weekly deposit, she noticed a check for $100,000 had been put into the collection plate on Sunday morning.  When she followed up with the pastor, she told him of her desire to have all of this money go to supporting missions at her church. Together they decided to give $45,000 to Blessman International.  Fortunately, this lady is still alive and I will be driving down to have lunch with her and her pastor as soon as I get back from Africa in early November.

 

I would like to let all of you know how our board has directed us to handle donations that we receive from estates and trust.  We always honor the donors wishes if they direct us to use the funds in a particular way.  If they do not specify, we are currently placing these funds into our endowment account.  Our goal is that we grow our endowment account large enough to cover our administrative cost after Beth and I are no longer able to contribute our usual donations to the ministry.  We currently have $1 million in the account and pray that it will grow to $5 million over the next few years.  This will help the ministry to go on for many more years.

Please keep Blessman International and our African children in your thoughts and prayers as you are meeting with your own attorney and financial planner about the legacy that you would like to leave.

We will bring you fresh reports of our trip to Africa when we return in November.

September 2021

It is with a happy heart that I can share with you that things are looking and feeling much better every day in South Africa.  The riots, looting and burning that took place in the Durban and Johannesburg a month ago were terrible, but South Africa came together like never before and cleaned and rebuilt.

 

Blessman International did not come out of this completely unscathed as we lost nearly an entire shipping container of food in a warehouse fire in the Durban area.  We have 8 feeding hubs that we work with throughout Southern Africa, and the container that burned is with Focus on the Family who we have been partnering with for the past 9 years.  Our major partner, Convoy of Hope came to our rescue immediately, and within 4 weeks they were able to get us a disaster relief container.  What initially looked like a disaster, and indeed it was bad, the Lord turned into good.  Through this course of events, we were able to add 2 large Methodist churches to our network so that we are now feeding hundreds more children than we were before the fire.

 

We had an enjoyable visit from Dustin who was able to attend our board meeting and his class reunion a couple of weeks ago.  He encouraged Beth and I to go to the Oshkosh Airshow with him.  It was very impressive. From there, Beth and I went on to the Okoboji Bible Camp which was a wonderful experience.

September 2021

It is with a happy heart that I can share with you that things are looking and feeling much better every day in South Africa.  The riots, looting and burning that took place in the Durban and Johannesburg a month ago were terrible, but South Africa came together like never before and cleaned and rebuilt.

 

Blessman International did not come out of this completely unscathed as we lost nearly an entire shipping container of food in a warehouse fire in the Durban area.  We have 8 feeding hubs that we work with throughout Southern Africa, and the container that burned is with Focus on the Family who we have been partnering with for the past 9 years.  Our major partner, Convoy of Hope came to our rescue immediately, and within 4 weeks they were able to get us a disaster relief container.  What initially looked like a disaster, and indeed it was bad, the Lord turned into good.  Through this course of events, we were able to add 2 large Methodist churches to our network so that we are now feeding hundreds more children than we were before the fire.

 

We had an enjoyable visit from Dustin who was able to attend our board meeting and his class reunion a couple of weeks ago.  He encouraged Beth and I to go to the Oshkosh Airshow with him.  It was very impressive. From there, Beth and I went on to the Okoboji Bible Camp which was a wonderful experience.

In June we had a successful mission team with Joshua Christian Academy. It felt so good to be able to host mission teams again. Most of these youth had never even been on an airplane before and their first experience of that was a 9000-mile trip to Africa. They came with good attitudes, worked their tails off, and had a great experience. With their help we were able to construct a new room on one of our church member’s home and install the seating for our new Sports 4 Christ complex. They got to enjoy the first netball and soccer games on our new sports fields. They also worked side by side with our African children at Del Cramer while doing this project and were a great help to us in expanding our child sponsorship program and educational program.

Beth and I came back to Iowa towards the end of June and everything in Africa was looking good and coming back towards normal. Then all of the sudden the next wave of Covid hit and the president shut the country down again. Schools closed, our churches closed, Celebrate Recovery closed, and our sports program was put on hold. Most of our feeding centers were able to continue feeding children, but all of the after-school programs were put on hold.

Then the other shoe dropped when the previous president Zuma, who was convicted of corruption, was put in prison. Severe riots, looting, and burning broke out in Durban and Johannesburg. Over 300 people lost their lives and many malls and businesses were destroyed. For a couple of weeks, the whole nation was on pins and needles. Blessman International lost nearly a whole shipping container of food in a warehouse fire in Durban. We have partnered with Focus on the Family in Durban for the past 9 years and this is the first major problem we have encountered in that area. In Southern Africa we have 40 paid staff and well over 100 volunteers and fortunately none of them were injured. We did however have a few individuals test positive for the Covid virus.

Just as I am writing this blog the president of South Africa came on TV to reassure all of us that the nation was calm again, the number of Covid cases is coming down, and that the government is ramping up their vaccination program. 10% of the population has been vaccinated and they are vaccinating 250,000 people each day.

We had 4 mission teams scheduled to travel to SA in September and October. Half of these have already canceled or postponed, and we are watching the news and situation in South Africa closely to determine who all may be able to join us in October.

Please pray with us that the peace continues and that the Covid pandemic continues to come under control. There are thousands of children who desperately need our assistance.

May God bless each and every one of you.

Doc

In June we had a successful mission team with Joshua Christian Academy. It felt so good to be able to host mission teams again. Most of these youth had never even been on an airplane before and their first experience of that was a 9000-mile trip to Africa. They came with good attitudes, worked their tails off, and had a great experience. With their help we were able to construct a new room on one of our church member’s home and install the seating for our new Sports 4 Christ complex. They got to enjoy the first netball and soccer games on our new sports fields. They also worked side by side with our African children at Del Cramer while doing this project and were a great help to us in expanding our child sponsorship program and educational program.

Beth and I came back to Iowa towards the end of June and everything in Africa was looking good and coming back towards normal. Then all of the sudden the next wave of Covid hit and the president shut the country down again. Schools closed, our churches closed, Celebrate Recovery closed, and our sports program was put on hold. Most of our feeding centers were able to continue feeding children, but all of the after-school programs were put on hold.

Then the other shoe dropped when the previous president Zuma, who was convicted of corruption, was put in prison. Severe riots, looting, and burning broke out in Durban and Johannesburg. Over 300 people lost their lives and many malls and businesses were destroyed. For a couple of weeks, the whole nation was on pins and needles. Blessman International lost nearly a whole shipping container of food in a warehouse fire in Durban. We have partnered with Focus on the Family in Durban for the past 9 years and this is the first major problem we have encountered in that area. In Southern Africa we have 40 paid staff and well over 100 volunteers and fortunately none of them were injured. We did however have a few individuals test positive for the Covid virus.

Just as I am writing this blog the president of South Africa came on TV to reassure all of us that the nation was calm again, the number of Covid cases is coming down, and that the government is ramping up their vaccination program. 10% of the population has been vaccinated and they are vaccinating 250,000 people each day.

We had 4 mission teams scheduled to travel to SA in September and October. Half of these have already canceled or postponed, and we are watching the news and situation in South Africa closely to determine who all may be able to join us in October.

Please pray with us that the peace continues and that the Covid pandemic continues to come under control. There are thousands of children who desperately need our assistance.

May God bless each and every one of you.

Doc

South African Mission Trip Members

July 2021

It brought tears of joy to my eyes as we were able to welcome our first American mission team back to South Africa after a 15-month dry spell! This team was made up of 3 members from Trinity Bible Church in Cedar Falls and 9 representatives from Joshua Christian Academy in Des Moines.  This was a perfect group to kick off our new mission year.  We were also blessed to have 2 of our own staff members from Urbandale here for their first South African trip: Heidi Kramer and Bethany Kester along with Bethany’s husband Jack. 

Our time and efforts were very productive, and our South African friends were so happy to welcome all of us back.  The weather here in South Africa this time of year is quite cold but that did not put a damper on the spirit of our team. 

We were blessed to be able to launch our Sports 4 Christ season with soccer and netball tournaments on our new sports complex.  The US team did an excellent job of helping us assemble the pavilion seating for both the soccer field and netball court.  We even got some of the Del Cramer children involved in this construction project. The girls from South Africa were especially excited to be able to play netball on the new court! 

This team also did an excellent job with a construction project.  They added a much-needed room onto the home of a family who attend Lighthouse Church in the tribal village.   

This was the first visit for Pastor John Miller, his wife Karen and mission director Jean Nies from Trinity Bible Church, and all had a good experience. They are planning on bringing a full team to serve with us in 2022.  I love it when we are able to partner with new churches and expand our network. 

Chuck Hurley, a representative of the Family Leader, was on the team along with his wife Chris who is president of the board at Joshua Christian Academy.  Chuck had a desire to connect with some of the political leaders in South Africa.  We were successful in getting a meeting for him with our tribal village chief and he enjoyed learning about how the tribal culture and political structure works.  We were also able to connect with the Honorable Reverend Kenneth Mishoe who is a member of the national parliament as head of the African Democratic Christian Party.  They had a nice discussion about how the Family Leader works to connect pastors and churches with Government leaders in the US and in a few other countries.   

Heidi, Bethany, and Jack had a good experience learning how Blessman International functions in South Africa.  Heidi helped us fine-tune our child sponsorship program and collect additional information and photos of the children in our sponsorship program.  We have all 135 children at Del Cramer sponsored and hope to expand this to a second feeding center for an additional 160 children later this fall.  Bethany and Jack specifically helped us get School in a Box set up and train Del Cramer staff how to use it with the children in the after-school program.  School in a Box is a tablet-based digital educational program that helps motivate, educate, and track the children’s progress in math, English and science. 

 As Beth and I were leaving South Africa the number of Covid cases were again increasing.  Please pray with us that this situation will stabilize soon and that our 4 teams planned for September and October will be able to travel with us. 

July 2021

Summer Brings Renewed Travel!

 

It brought tears of joy to my eyes as we were able to welcome our first American mission team back to South Africa after a 15-month dry spell! This team was made up of 3 members from Trinity Bible Church in Cedar Falls and 9 representatives from Joshua Christian Academy in Des Moines.  This was a perfect group to kick off our new mission year.  We were also blessed to have 2 of our own staff members from Urbandale here for their first South African trip: Heidi Kramer and Bethany Kester along with Bethany’s husband Jack. 

   

Our time and efforts were very productive, and our South African friends were so happy to welcome all of us back.  The weather here in South Africa this time of year is quite cold but that did not put a damper on the spirit of our team. 

 

We were blessed to be able to launch our Sports 4 Christ season with soccer and netball tournaments on our new sports complex.  The US team did an excellent job of helping us assemble the pavilion seating for both the soccer field and netball court.  We even got some of the Del Cramer children involved in this construction project. The girls from South Africa were especially excited to be able to play netball on the new court! 

 

This team also did an excellent job with a construction project.  They added a much-needed room onto the home of a family who attend Lighthouse Church in the tribal village.   

 

This was the first visit for Pastor John Miller, his wife Karen and mission director Jean Nies from Trinity Bible Church, and all had a good experience. They are planning on bringing a full team to serve with us in 2022.  I love it when we are able to partner with new churches and expand our network. 

 

Chuck Hurley, a representative of the Family Leader, was on the team along with his wife Chris who is president of the board at Joshua Christian Academy.  Chuck had a desire to connect with some of the political leaders in South Africa.  We were successful in getting a meeting for him with our tribal village chief and he enjoyed learning about how the tribal culture and political structure works.  We were also able to connect with the Honorable Reverend Kenneth Mishoe who is a member of the national parliament as head of the African Democratic Christian Party.  They had a nice discussion about how the Family Leader works to connect pastors and churches with Government leaders in the US and in a few other countries.   

 

Heidi, Bethany, and Jack had a good experience learning how Blessman International functions in South Africa.  Heidi helped us fine-tune our child sponsorship program and collect additional information and photos of the children in our sponsorship program.  We have all 135 children at Del Cramer sponsored and hope to expand this to a second feeding center for an additional 160 children later this fall.  Bethany and Jack specifically helped us get School in a Box set up and train Del Cramer staff how to use it with the children in the afterschool program.  School in a Box is a tablet-based digital educational program that helps motivate, educate, and track the children’s progress in math, English and science. 

 

As Beth and I were leaving South Africa the number of Covid cases were again increasing.  Please pray with us that this situation will stabilize soon and that our 4 teams planned for September and October will be able to travel with us. 

Whirlwind Stirs Renewed Growth
Dr. Jim Blessman
June 2021

Bethany Kester, Program Coordinator at our U.S. location, and her husband Jack and my wife Beth and I arrived in South Africa on May 17. Dustin also recently returned here after two weeks in the U.S. It has been a whirlwind of activity for us since we arrived!
Bethany and Jack are working to get our computer lab up and running again to add a new School-in-a-Box program to further educate children at Del Cramer in math, science, and English.
Dustin and I had a good meeting with the new induna of our village to bring him up do date with all we are doing. Our relationship with the tribal community is very important for our long-term success in working with this village.
I am assisting with two medical patients. Christelle, whom many friends of Blessman International know pretty well, continues to battle her stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Although her marker numbers continue to climb, she is still coping well medically all things considered. Her family suffers tremendously with poverty, and we assist them in every way we can. Last week, we got a nice donation of winter clothes for everyone in their family, and we also deliver packets of food to them. I added a second patient, Michael. He is the 26-year-old son of Lennie, one of our domestic workers. Michael suffers from renal failure and just started on dialysis. We are praying that this will not be a chronic condition requiring dialysis forever as his chance of getting a renal transplant will be difficult due to the extreme poverty and limited access to medical care. I am seeking to learn what might have caused his kidney failure. He has high blood pressure but no diabetes which is a common cause of renal failure among young people. Please add Christelle and Michael and their families to your prayers.
Our two churches remain strong with good attendance at live services. Mountain View Church is thriving under the leadership of Johanney with Ray now beginning to assist him. Their Friday night youth services are well attended and enjoyed by nearly 80 high school students each week. Two nights a week they hold a Bible study in neighborhood family homes. I was impressed when I attended one of these last week. It was not just another social evet. The group was deeply studying the Bible. This week’s study was on Ephesians.
We are preparing to academically mentor some of the students who attend Sterkrivier boarding school on Saturdays. We will be signing a new MOU (memorandum of understanding) between this school and Blessman International later this week to permit us to continue using the school hall for our church services. In return, we assist the school with mowing their soccer field and will dig a new septic system for them. The school has grown tremendously and now has about 200 students with 150 of them being boarding students. Our goal is to get more and more of these students involved in our church and sports programs. Lighthouse Church also remains very strong with many children attending children’s church and young people attending our Celebrate Recovery services each week. On Saturday, over 200 high school youth invested a full day at Del Cramer to hear motivational speeches and gain career guidance.
Our agricultural programs at Mountain View Farm and Del Cramer are both looking good. I am excited to have Ray here as a consultant to assist Johanney in making our agricultural programs even better. This last week they assisted Sterkrivier School by installing shade netting to make their garden even more productive. This is one of the 10 schools a part of our Teach a Child to Fish agricultural program in partnership with Rotary. We await a possible new $60,000 grant from Convoy of Hope to expand this program to 6 more schools. I estimate this program helps feed around 7,500 children through high quality gardens. For the past few years, I have been desiring to improve the quality of data we collect on children we assist. With the severe economic impact of the pandemic the last 15 months, we are finding more and more malnourished children and are rapidly expanding our feeding programs with lots of assistance from Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland. We have established 7 feeding hubs around much of Southern Africa and each hub distributes food out to several churches, preschools and community feeding programs. With these 7 hubs, we currently assist approximately 60,000 children with 5 meals each week.
To improve the quality of information about the children we assist, we contracted with a couple of programmers who are helping us write our own software system to collect and store data. We hope to accurately record each child’s attendance and nutrition information along with quarterly measurements of height, weight, and arm circumference. We also hope to scan into the program their academic performance with school report cards and health and vaccinations records.
Our Sports 4 Christ program continues to gain steam. This last week we completed the acrylic painting of the netball and volleyball court and will be adding the goals to that this week. We have been successful at eradicating most of the thistles from our grass soccer field. Our women’s netball team now has a coach and team members who will play their first games the weekend of June 5th. We will hold our first soccer game for the boys the same weekend. The pavilion seating for our sports complex arrived and will be installed over the next 2 weeks as well. Over the weekend, Dustin and I flew to Durban to meet with Musco Sports Lighting’s representative who will come to Mokopane on June 1st to do their first site visit preparing to install LED professional sports lighting for our sports complex. Estimated date of completion for the lighting is mid-September. The entire village is getting excited about the progress they see as construction of this great project continues.
While we were in Durban this weekend, we also visited our friends from Focus on the Family. We have partnered with them for 9 years by providing a shipping container of Meals from the Heartland rice and soy protein meals each year. This partnership was started with the help of our mutual friends Gary and Barb Rosberg who connected us with Focus on the Family. I would like to do something special to celebrate our 10-year anniversary of working together next year!
Our child sponsorship program, One Child at a Time, continues to develop and function well. Nearly all 135 children at Del Cramer have active American sponsors who communicate with them through letters each quarter. We are planning a festive birthday celebration for all the children who had birthdays since our last celebration 2 months ago. We hope to add a virtual option so U.S. families can enjoy being part of this celebration. We plan to accomplish this while the Joshua Christian Academy team is here. We are working to deepen the relationship between our Del Cramer children and the JCA students in America. While that team is here, we also plan to refurbish a village home that needs enlarged and lots of updating. In addition, they will be doing a couple of menstrual health outreaches.
I greatly appreciate your faithful prayers and generous financial support – the fuel which powers these ministries. May the Lord bless you and keep you, make His Face shine upon you, and give you peace.