I do not know about all of you but I am ecstatic to put 2022 in the rearview mirror. There certainly were many good things about last year, as our ministry continued to grow every year for the past 20 years.

Health issues were, however, a whole other issue. Dustin, Alex, Beth, and I all had significant health issues and way too much surgery. Today I am 3 weeks into recovering from open heart surgery that I had at the Cleveland Clinic where the care was amazing, definitely a 5-star cardiac surgery center. Three months ago, I had a bike accident here in the USA and broke a few ribs. The next day a good friend called to check on me to see how I was feeling. I replied, “it feels like a truck ran over me”. Well, 3 weeks ago that same truck returned with a vengeance with the sternum-splitting incision that was required for the surgeon to get to my heart. The first 2 weeks are a bit of a blur but I assure you that I was well covered by prayer from many of you and people all over the world.

There were definite times of anxiety when I did not feel like praying or know what to pray but the Holy Spirit took over and carried me through some difficult complications. Our children, Dustin and Kelsey, and their families all came to Cleveland to support me and Beth. There were also a couple of angels from Convoy of Hope who just happen to live in Cleveland and who came forward and loved on me and our family every day that we were in Cleveland. I love our Convoy of Hope family who has been so supportive of me and our ministry for the past 20 years.

I am getting stronger and better day by day. Three days ago, I started riding an exercise bike for 45 minutes every day and I am sure that will soon bring lots of fruit. I’m feeling stronger every day and Beth and I are looking forward to joining the first team of the new year, St. Francis Catholic Church from West Des Moine. This will be the 8th year that Fr. Ray and his church have traveled to Africa to do mission work with us.

Why do I do all of this? “Because this is what God has called me to do and prepared me to accomplish”. Thousands of children are blessed by what we do every day in Africa and thousands of them are now following Christ because we have been successful in showing them the love that Christ has for them.

I pray that many of you will also feel the call of God upon your lives to join us in this exciting venture called life on the mission field.

A big thank you for all of your prayers for me and my family. I am here to testify that God heard your prayers and answered your prayers.

2022 has been an amazing year for Blessman International. The year has been full of challenges and blessings. Dustin, Alexandra, Beth, and I all faced significant health challenges that have been good for our prayer lives.  We learned to depend upon our God who is always faithful and helps us through troubled waters.

 

Our ministry has grown in size and spiritual depth every year for 21 years now.  Our child feeding program has grown tremendously. We currently have 8 hubs distributing food out to 60,000 children. In the coming year, we will add another 2 or 3 hubs and additional children. Our main focus this year will be improving the quality and quantity of food that each child receives.

Our Celebrate Recovery program has been amazing at helping to heal hurting souls in over 200 high school youth. In the coming year, we will be leading Celebrate Recovery for youth in three large local high schools and also in our Lighthouse Church. We are training and assisting two other large churches starting Celebrate Recovery programs for adults. Our plan is to take Celebrate Recovery to our provincial prison in about 6 months with one of these new churches and their trained volunteer staff.

 

We have enjoyed hosting several short-term mission teams now that the fear of Covid has calmed down. This past month we hosted a team from Convoy of Hope that included all of their African missionaries for a training and motivational conference.

Our water and sanitation programs have stayed busy with us recently drilling 5 new wells for preschools and helping them to also start gardens with drip irrigation to assist them in feeding their children. Our sanitation division continues to construct new Enviro Loo toilets every month. Beginning next year, we will also be starting a new company to service each of these toilets to keep them functioning properly. We were recently blessed with two large grants from Hy Vee and Rotary to fund these projects.

 

We continue to develop our training and research farm to supplement our feeding program and have planted many new gardens. We just finished planting a large garden for Mokopane Hospital and gardens in 5 preschools. Early next year we will be planting a large new garden at our Del Cramer Children’s Campus.

 

This year we also finished construction on our beautiful Sports 4 Christ athletic field for soccer and netball. We have hired men’s and women’s coaches and have established a sports league with area churches. In February we hope to sign an MOU with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which will lead to many American coaches and athletes coming to our campus for sports clinics.

 

Prayer request for this month: I will be having open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to repair my mitral valve on December 12th.  I appreciate your prayers to help me safely through this surgery and recovery.

 

I am traveling back to South Africa to finish off this year by hosting a team from the Lutheran Church of Hope in Ankeny and also a group of African missionaries from Convoy of Hope.  The first team will focus on Celebrate Recovery and help us improve and grow our Celebrate Recovery program.  We already have one of the largest CR recovery programs in the world for high school youth.  We are serving over 200 youth each week in one of our 3 sights in South Africa.  We plan to expand into our capital city of Polokwane, setting up a new program for adults in a large church there that will soon start doing CR in the provincial prison.  I have often said that these great programs are helping prevent teenage suicide.  One of our small group leaders often tells me that there are many wet faces in the small group discussions.  For me, tears tell me that the Holy Spirit is at work in this program.

The following week we will be hosting 11 missionaries from countries all over Africa at our main campus at Shikwaru.  The largest program that COH works with these missionaries is their child feeding initiative. Still, we also all work together in improving agriculture, water and sanitation, sports programs, and women’s empowerment.  It is always a great pleasure to work with these missionaries who are partnering with COH; they are all servant-hearted individuals and model their lives on what Christ would be doing.

In the third week of November, we will be hosting a representative from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We hope to be able to host FCA teams of coaches and sports players from all over Europe and North America.  Our new sports field is now complete and is the perfect infrastructure to do lots of ministry with young adults; it is now time to put it to good use.

We will also be honoring the memory of Dr./Pastor Manyathela, who died during the pandemic, by christening our sports field the Dr. Manyathela sports field.  We just received our scoreboard with his name on it.  His widow and 2 children will join us for this big celebration.  He was well-known and loved by our African community

Many of you have been wondering how Beth is doing.  She had her left should joint replaced on October 13th and is healing well.  Prior to surgery, she was suffering lots of pain and discouragement.  She is working hard with physical therapy and will soon be back to normal.  I want to thank everyone who has been praying for us, many of you brought food to our home and some of you even came to stay with Beth so that I could go to work and get out for a few bike rides during our beautiful Iowa fall weather.

I encourage all of us to take some time and count our blessings as we move into the season of Thanksgiving.

This season in Africa has been one of the more difficult times that I have experienced due to the fact that Beth was suffering from significant pain in her shoulder and stayed back in Iowa for joint replacement surgery which will be accomplished on October 13th. My plans, for now, are to return to Iowa for a brief visit and be with her through this surgery and then return here through November 19th.

Over the last month, we have hosted two short-term mission teams; each of them helped us to accomplish lots of good ministry work. So far this year we have been able to distribute nearly 5000 washable, reusable, menstrual hygiene kits through a Rotary Global grant and the assistance of these teams. In the near future, I hope that we can offer impoverished young ladies a free menstrual cup if they would prefer that over the reusable hygiene kits. Our goal is to distribute menstrual hygiene products to another 5000 impoverished young ladies over the next 9 months as part of our women’s empowerment program. We were also able to do eyeglass outreaches and free shoe distributions. Most of our short-term mission teams find their time spent at our Del Cramer Children’s Campus to be the most rewarding. Nearly everyone enjoys interacting with the children there as part of our pilot feeding program. Another big favorite is visiting the babies at a baby shelter that we partner with in Polokwane.

Dustin has stayed busy with our construction team building new Enviro Loo toilets. We are also busy putting together a new company that will service each of these toilets to keep them functioning properly. The solid waste products need to be removed from the septic-type tanks about every 3 months and this new company will help us to be sure this is accomplished so that all of the toilets we construct will continue functioning properly for many years to come.

We have an application submitted with HyVee company to fund an additional 10 wells with us over the next several months. Please pray with us that it will be approved.
The goodwill these mission teams helped us to generate in a large public high school here this last month is helping us to open an additional Celebrate Recovery site. This school has over 2000 students and offering Celebrate Recovery in this school will benefit many of their students.

In November, we will have a team from the Lutheran Church of Hope in Ankeny and West Des Moines come and help us further train and expand our Celebrate Recovery programs. With this team, we also hope to be able to open a new CR program in the provincial prison in Polokwane.

Our child feeding program continues to expand every month, and I will focus more on that over the next couple of months. Please know that thousands of hungry African children are receiving nutritious meals because of your prayers and support of our ministry.
Please pray for Beth as she goes through her surgery later this month.

 

I can count on one hand the number of people who have had an impact on me and my world like that of Bob Vermeer.  He was a great mentor, a great leader, an encourager, and an overall wonderful friend.  I loved him like my own father.

 

His and his beautiful wife Lois’s fingerprints are all over our ministry campus in South Africa.  Back in 2007 or 2008, he encouraged me to try out a block-making machine that his company had been working with for underprivileged areas around the world.  Our ministry was pretty small then, and I remember it being a bit of a stretch for us to purchase the machine and the trailer to move it about.  The concept of using African soil to make our own bricks resonated with me and our board.  At the end of the day, we no longer use the block machine but purchasing it was one of the best decisions of my life because it cemented my relationship with Bob.

 

Vermeer sent two staff from Pella to come and work with us for nearly 2 months as we learned to work with the block machine.  Over the next several months we made tens of thousands of bricks and constructed our entire Del Cramer Children’s Campus.  We worked closely with engineers from Vermeer throughout the construction project and discovered some minor machining errors in the machine that could be improved upon.  These same engineers went to work and manufactured an entirely new machine for us and shipped it to us in Africa at no cost to us.  The really amazing thing about this is that I am pretty sure that the company never planned on this machine being a money maker for them.  They were simply doing what they could to help third-world countries find a better way to manufacture bricks.

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to sending us a completely new machine for our next project, Bob sent his nephew Adam DeJong to oversee the construction of our beautiful Lodge of Dreams.  Adam stayed with us for several months, and he along with Maxwell Chongoni, managed the entire construction project.  The Lodge of Dreams is where many American volunteers stay when they come to South Africa to serve with our ministry.

 

Bob loved coming to South Africa to serve the children that we work with here.  He especially loved seeing the spiritual growth in the team members who would come to volunteer with us.  He had a strong desire to help as many people as possible and experience doing mission work with us in South Africa.  He partnered with Vermeer’s head Chaplin, Kevin Glesener, who has led several teams of Vermeer employees and friends of Bob and Lois, paying all expenses including airfare and trip tuition so that each of them would experience the spiritual growth that he had seen in others.

 

Bob and Lois also invested significantly in assisting us with our Sports 4 Christ program and sports complex.  They both had a dream to bring all of their grandchildren to South Africa with them one day.  I pray that we will one day be able to host these same grandchildren that he and Lois have been praying for.  I look forward to spending eternity in Heaven with this great man.

We are enjoying hosting our son Dustin and his wife here in America for a few weeks this summer.  This is the first time that Dustin has spent more than a week or so in America for a few years now.  Right now, they are enjoying a vacation visiting the Grand Canyon and the Western United States.  I have enjoyed seeing them, especially Alexandra, observe the contrast between living in Africa and America.  We all love our lives in Africa but living in Africa can be frustrating at times.

 

In Africa we always have to be on alert for safety and security and the electricity, and even water, may be shut off for hours at a time.  Usually when the electricity is off our phones and internet also stop working.  For safety, we limit our travel after dark. When you live in Africa you just accept it and get on with life as best you can.  Here in America, we have all grown accustom to these services being available and working well all of the time.  I typically spend a couple hours a day on Zoom calls with our staff, volunteers, and Rotary friends in Africa.  It seems that someone in Africa is always apologizing for network difficulty.

 

Beth and I are heading back to Africa the end of August and will be there most of the next 3 months, coming back to Iowa for the November and December holidays.  I have been able to connect with a few new churches and visited several Rotary clubs while we’ve been in Iowa.  I am finding that many people are ready to travel again and are making plans to come to South Africa to serve with us on mission trips.  One of my favorite things to do is to help some of my American friends experience the joy of being a blessing to our African children.

 

Please be in prayer with us as we work to expand the number of children that we are able to help feed and as we strive to collect high quality data and information about the children we are serving.  In a future blog, I will explain in detail how our feeding program and data collection system works enabling us to help feed thousands of children each week.

Most people in America think of Africa as always being hot. As I write this blog, I am sitting in my heavy winter parka. It is mid-afternoon, and the temperature outside is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is in the low 50’s inside my office. When that goes on hour after hour it can be bone-chilling cold.

 

Beth and I have had a good experience here the last month and feel that we have accomplished a lot of good things. We came this time to mainly be an encouragement to Dustin and Alex, and it turned out they needed us more than expected as they were both down for a week with Covid for their second time. Praise the Lord that Dustin’s neck pain continues to improve. He is now 12 weeks post cervical fusion. Hopefully, he will soon be able to fly his plane again. Ordinarily, we would have all flown to Swaziland this trip to connect with our ministry partners there, but that will happen another time.

 

Upon arrival we attended a three-day Rotary District Conference in Bela Bela which is about two hours North of our ministry base. Rotary has been a great benefit in helping us serve the children here in Africa. They have assisted us in drilling wells, building many toilets, and feeding thousands of children. When I was practicing medicine in Iowa, I never felt that I had time for all of their meetings and volunteer work, but for the past 15 years my relationship with Rotary has been an amazing blessing helping us accomplish the work that God has called us to do here in Africa.

 

Last week we hosted Dr. Comfort Manyame who is a PhD soil scientist working with Corteva in Iowa. He is originally from Zimbabwe and in addition to being a skilled scientist, he is a highly skilled music composer and performer. He is part of the worship team at Des Moines Reach Church, a wonderful church that has supported our ministry for many years. Comfort led three praise and worship concerts. The first one was with our Celebrate Recovery group on Friday evening, then on Saturday he put on a concert in connection with a sporting event at our beautiful Sports 4 Christ sports complex. On Sunday morning he led our entire church service at Mountain View Hope Christian Church. All who attended were blessed by his music and preaching.  We would love for him to return every year.

 

This week we also helped our first medical student of the year from University of Iowa get started with his one-month clinical rotation in anesthesia at Mokopane Hospital. There is a shortage of medical providers here in rural South Africa, and our students assistance is much appreciated by the hospital staff. Even more important our Iowa students get an excellent experience working in a rural African hospital seeing diseases that they would likely never see in America.

 

I always enjoy celebrating American Independence Day when I am in Africa to share a bit with my African friends about my home country. We are also looking forward to returning back home to Iowa and our beautiful bike trails.

 

Please pray with us that Beth and I will remain faithful to the calling He has placed upon our hearts, and we trust that He will continue to supply all our needs to continue blessing the children here in Africa.

 

For the past month, we have been partnering with Convoy of Hope by sending 4 truckloads of food and fresh water to aid thousands of people affected by the recent flooding in Durban and surrounding areas.  The death toll is 459 and many of these were children.  In addition to Convoy of Hope, we partner with Focus on the Family in Durban, and a group of 40 smaller Methodist churches that are our main distribution partners in this area.

 

For the past 20 years, I have realized that you have to be hardy to survive on the African mission field.  It is not for the faint of heart.  We have faced many challenges over the years, and this past weekend, Dustin and Alexandra faced a big one.  They were en route to Durban with a vehicle full of personal hygiene kits provided by Convoy of Hope to deliver to victims of the flood. This was the first road trip that Dustin has taken since his neck surgery 6 weeks ago.  It is usually about a 5-hour journey with good interstate highways most of the way.  They were just about one hour outside of Durban on Saturday when traffic came to a complete standstill at approximately 6 pm.  They were boxed in, in the middle lane of the interstate, and unable to find any news on the radio or their WhatsApp. Eventually, they learned that a horrific traffic accident that had claimed 16 lives was ahead. It had happened around 2 am Saturday morning and the investigation and cleanup was still going on.  They had a little water and enough fuel to periodically turn on the vehicle to keep warm during the night as the temperature dropped to the mid 40’s Fahrenheit. They kept their doors locked and were awoken at 5:30 am to the sound of horns as traffic finally began to move. They arrived at their hotel by 7 am and got some much-needed rest, water, and food. We thank God they arrived safely, and we pray for the victims, rescue personnel, and witnesses of the terrible accident.

 

Dustin and Alexandra spent the next couple of days meeting with ministry partners and working with Alex’s bother-in-law who owns an emergency medical service company and helicopters that have been assisting with rescues and disaster relief.

 

Beth and I plan to travel to South Africa to join them in mid-June.  Please pray that our time there will be fruitful and that we will be able to get lots accomplished.

We just celebrated our 10th annual gala.  I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended and to thank our partners, old and new, who faithfully support our work in Africa.

 

Nearly 300 people attended the gala, more than half of whom have been to South Africa with us.  It felt like a big family reunion.  I was particularly blessed that six of my high school classmates attended our gala.  We were able to again raise a lot of financial support.  Our annual budget has increased every year for the past 21 years.  God continues to bless us in so many ways.

 

There are many wonderful things that our ministry is doing in Africa, but I always enjoy hosting my American friends and getting them involved.  It is exciting that people are ready to travel again.  Our mission teams for the rest of the year are filling up, and we have several teams booked for 2023.

 

This last month, we were able to respond to the tragic flooding in the Durban area where more than 400 people lost their lives many of whom were children.  The people there are struggling with lack of food and drinking water.  In partnership with Convoy of Hope we were able to respond immediately with a large truckload of food and water and will be sending additional trucks each week for the next 4 weeks.  In addition to these 4 truckloads of supplies, COH will be sending a 40-foot shipping container of the rice packets from Meals from the Heartland.  Our partners in Durban who are assisting us with distribution of this relief are Focus on the Family and a group of 40 Methodist churches all up and down the east coast of South Africa.   The financial value of this disaster relief is just over $150,000.  We will be collecting photos, videos, and stories to let them properly thank those of you assisting in this effort.

 

Last month 10 African ladies spent a week at Mountain View farm studying agronomy and assisting us on our vegetable farm.  Later this month, Johanney and some of our other staff will assist them in planting a large garden at Mokopane Hospital.  We are currently seeking funding in Africa to do additional trainings like this one every 6 weeks.  We will be starting many more gardens in schools, other hospitals and homes.

 

I am looking forward to spending the first week of May in Springfield, MO at the Convoy of Hope summit where all the partners of COH worldwide will be gathering to support each other and make plans for the next year.  We at Blessman International are excited that in October, we will be hosting all their African partners on our campus in South Africa.

 

 

Our prayer request for this month is again for our son Dustin. He had a cervical fusion a couple of weeks ago and is still quite uncomfortable.  His surgeon has asked him to stay near the hospital in Pretoria for the first 2 to 3 weeks post op, so he should be headed back to our farm early this month.

April Blog Post

We are nearing the end of our 90 day stay here in South Africa.  Our time here has flown by so fast, life is like a roll of toilet paper, when it is new time goes by so slowly but toward the end of the roll it starts spinning faster and faster.  As I reflect on what has been accomplished so far in 2022, I am reminded that when we look to God for our provision, we should expect big things to happen.

 

Last month I put out an urgent request for funding to purchase food from an Africa food processing mill, and our churches and donors responded beyond my wildest imagination. We thank all of you who gave and/or prayed for this emergency situation.

 

Convoy of Hope, our longest and largest partner in ministry, sent a representative to do a site visit to see what God is doing with our ministry here in South Africa.  They are hoping to deepen their partnership with us by increasing our food allotment from Meals from the Heartland from 12 containers per year to 16 containers this year and 21 containers next year!  Praise God!  They are also hoping to help us purchase significant quantities of food from the new food processing mill that we found in Polokwane and possibly send teams.  As many of you faithfully pray for our ministry please also remember to pray for Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland.  Together, we are able to do great things and feed thousands of African children.

 

The school garden project that we started 3 years ago is helping us to feed 7500 children. We are expanding that project the first week in April by teaching an additional 15 ladies to plant a garden at the Mokopane Hospital.  The training will be hosted at Mountain View Farm.  These ladies will then assist us to add additional community and school gardens.  The Mokopane Hospital and Department of Health was so impressed with the last garden that we helped them with that they are looking for funding to help us expand this program and do additional trainings every month.

 

The most exciting thing that happened this last month was the wedding of our son Dustin to Alexandra Mourtzios!  I was honored to be the pastor for their wedding, and our youngest daughter and her family came over from America.  We enjoyed some great family time with them.

 

Next month we will be celebrating our annual spring gala on April 26th at the Holiday Inn across from the airport.  If you do not have tickets yet, please call our office right away and arrange for them.  (515 343 5920)

 

My prayer request this month is near and dear to my heart.  Our son Dustin has been suffering from severe long-standing pain in his neck and will likely soon be having a cervical fusion.  Please pray that God will heal him soon and completely.

 

I am looking forward to seeing many of you back in America this month and getting back out on our beautiful Iowa bike trails.