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. 

South African Prairie

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 event. 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.

South African Garden

 

South African Garden

I am currently enjoying the beautiful spring weather in Iowa as we put the final touches on our annual gala which will be a hybrid live and virtual event.  Those of you who have not yet viewed it please go to YouTube: Blessman International 9th Annual Gala and watch it.

It is such a joy this year to again be able to have an in-person live event. We all took a hit financially this year with the pandemic, and our ministry missed hosting all the mission teams who had to postpone. The government’s forgivable loans that we were able to secure have helped us to survive just like they have many other small businesses.

The pandemic has had devastating economic effects in South Africa, and we are finding many more children that are struggling to get enough to eat.  We have tremendously expanded our feeding program to now assist more than 60,000 children over the first three months of 2021.  This has been possible because of our great partnership with Meals from the Heartland and Convoy of Hope.  We have also been able to collect higher quality data about the children we are assisting by setting up weekly zoom meetings with our seven feeding hubs located all around southern Africa.

Our Sports 4 Christ program was blessed this last month by Musco Sports Lighting agreeing to providing professional lighting for our new sports complex.  Through their company Iowa Sports Turf they will also be assisting us in caring for our soccer and netball courts.  The soccer and netball games will begin in mid-May about the same time that we are able to complete the new seating for both fields.  We plan in our June newsletter to provide photos of the progress of this great project.

Our Celebrate Recovery program remains strong and the group is starting to study the Landing resource kit for high school youth.  About 60 youth attend these sessions each week and it is a blessing to see lives being changed as the youth learn the process of helping each other grow.  We continue to receive weekly zoom trainings from the professional staff at Saddleback Church to assist us in doing this program with excellence.

Our mission teams are resuming the last week of May with Joshua Christian Academy bringing 12 students and chaperones to South Africa to assist us with a construction project, remodeling a home for one of the families of Lighthouse Church.  They will also be teaching our children at Del Cramer how to use a new School-in-a-Box education program using tablets like I-pads.  This will help us get quality data back about the progress of our educational program at Del Cramer.  In addition, they will assist us with a distribution of washable menstrual health products.  Our US team did a similar distribution to the young ladies at JCA a couple of months ago.  This was the first and only distribution of these kits that we have done in the USA.  I am anxious to hear the feedback from these young ladies as to how they like the kits after using them for two or three months.

We also have several teams coming between August and November of this year.  It feels wonderful to get this portion of our ministry up and running well again.

I so appreciate everyone’s prayers and support as we all continue to walk down the path of serving children in Africa together.