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

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.