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.

Dr. Jim Blessman with South African children

 

 

Today I completed my 77th trip around the sun, this journey like all the others has been eventful, interesting, and successful.  I am incredibly blessed with the life that I get to live.  I have a wife who loves me and treats me like royalty, children who love me unconditionally and most of whom communicate with me almost daily even when I am half a world away.

This last month has been especially an interesting one.  During all of Covid we only hosted one short term mission team, so we had gotten a bit rusty.  It felt wonderful this month to finally have mission teams coming back to Africa to serve with us.  Our first team was from St. Francis Church in West Des Moines, and because of Covid anxiety it was quite small at only three individuals.  This gave us an opportunity to re-establish relationships with churches and schools where we do community outreaches.  We opened up our Lodge of Dreams and got it cleaned and working well.  We also got some of the fun activities up and running again with the photo safaris and elephant experience.

The president of Musco Lighting stopped by our campus for a visit this week, so we showed off with a big celebration to thank him properly for lighting up our new soccer complex for our Sports 4 Christ program.  We had three exciting games going on under the lights: a friendly soccer competition on the mini pitch soccer court, a netball game, and of course the main event on our regulation size grass soccer field.  We were amazed and blessed that a company as large and busy as Musco would take time during the winter Olympics, currently going on in China, and make the huge effort of coming to our small African village to celebrate with us.  They are indeed an amazing company and make us so proud that we also come from Iowa.

To survive and thrive in Africa we must learn new things all of the time.  This last week we learned how to get a mission team from Iowa back through the airport and on the plane even though three of them tested positive for Covid on the departure lab test. It took lots of patience, several days, persistence and most importantly lots of prayer, but as I write this all three of them are healthy and safely on their way back to America.

I felt the hand of God protecting me as both Beth and I also came down ill with Covid, and I had the complication of a TIA of the cerebellum portion of my brain that controls vision and balance.  For a few hours, I had difficulty seeing and walking about.  Our son Dustin rushed us to the hospital in Pretoria where an MRI showed complete healing in my brain and all of my brain functions returned back to normal.  I was able to walk 5 Km the next day and get back to the work that God has called me to do. God is not finished with me just yet.

We know for sure that many churches and individuals in America and all over the world are praying for us all of the time.   I promise you that your prayers are working and we appreciate them so much.

May God richly bless each and every one of you.

Doc

Happy New Year 2022

New Year Blog Post

New Year’s  2022

2021. It was the worst of times; it was the best of times. All around the world many of us suffered losses. So many people have dealt with severe illness and even the death of loved ones. The economic impact of covid and fear of covid has been devastating in the US and in Africa. In Africa, many more children were going to bed hungry. One of our pastors in Africa died from the virus, and two ladies on staff lost children. Christelle, my longest living hospice patient died from cancer leaving her husband and 3 beautiful children behind. Covid kicked our butts making it difficult for Americans to travel to Africa on mission teams. Thankfully we were able to have one strong team in June with Joshua Christian Academy and enjoyed a great time with their students and chaperones.

Periodically I like to stop and count my blessings and give God all the glory. As we close the books on 2021, it is a good time to do that:

  • Financially, this has been the best year our ministry has ever had. With the assistance of Convoy of Hope, Meals from the Heartland, and many generous donors, we have been able to quadruple the number of children that we are helping feed with our nutritional programs. This year we were able to feed 60,000 children a meal 3 to 5 days per week. We have a goal for next year of feeding 100,000 children throughout most of South Africa and Swaziland.
  • We were able to keep our Celebrate Recovery program running strong with 70 high school youth showing up every Friday evening to participate in this healing ministry. This year we have a goal of opening up an additional CR group in a nearby high school and also opening an adult group in the Limpopo provincial prison for men and women. Staff from Saddleback Church in California and Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines have been of tremendous assistance to us with this program.
  • The expansion of our Sports 4 Christ sports league and the completion of our new sports complex was the most exciting program of 2021. Musco Lighting blessed us by installing LED lights for our Warrior Stadium Sports Complex. The entire village and surrounding area have been buzzing with excitement over this sports program.
  • We had some amazing unexpected gifts come into our ministry this year. Several months ago, in a small rural church in Iowa, a widow put a check in the collection plate directing it all to go to missions. The church blessed us with half of those funds. Another gentleman, who we did not even know, left us a substantial amount of money in his will.
  • We also have had several new churches make a decision to partner with us for financial support and explore plans to send mission teams to Africa with us.
  • The biggest blessing to our family personally, and to our ministry, was the engagement of Alexandra and Dustin. Alex has been working with our ministry for the past year, and she and Dustin plan to be married soon.

Please thank God with us for these blessings that enable us to continue feeding children and operating the programs that draw them towards Christ. Please pray with me that our staff in America and Africa stay healthy and passionate doing the work that our Lord has called us to do.

Please also pray with me that more people will remember our ministry as they do their estate and legacy planning so that the work in South Africa will continue long into the future.

South African children celebrating opening of Sports 4 Christ complex.

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.

Sports 4 Christ complex lighted at night

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 trees with red and orange leaves

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.

South African girls smiling

South African girls smiling

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.

Blessman International South African Church

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

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.