Sometimes God has other plans. As a Pastor, I was exploring the potential for a ministry partnership in West Africa or maybe Eastern Europe when God directed us to… South Africa and Blessman International! I was drawn by Dr. Jim Blessman’s vision and passion for the people of South Africa. So, in May of 2021, three of us from my church visited the Blessman International work in South Africa to see if we might be able to partner with them. We worked at a children’s feeding center and were overwhelmed by the affection of the children. We sent a team to serve and teach young women at a local high school and participated in a well-attended Celebrate Recovery meeting. We helped a young believer build an addition to his overcrowded home. We made visits to a day-care center and to a young man who Blessman is helping in the establishment of a self-sustaining business. We prayed with families facing life-changing health issues. We worshiped in local churches alongside passionate fellow believers from South Africa.

Our time was well organized. Housing and transportation were excellent. Relationships with the Blessman staff and others we worked with were gratifying and inspiring. Our memories will certainly be long-lasting. But what we most came away with was a first-hand picture not just of what life looks like today in South Africa for many, but also a picture of what life could look like if churches and individuals would be willing to bow before Jesus and offer themselves in His service on behalf of others. The challenge of this vision is this: God’s plans are not always the same as ours.

So we all have to ask this question:

Am I willing to follow Jesus, no matter where He leads?

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.

Kabelo Bopape
Director of Development in South Africa.

Kabelo Bopape

When did you join Blessman International?
September 2014

What inspired you to work at Blessman International?
I joined the Blessman International team after having gone on a few community outreaches. I felt very called to work with the organization after witnessing a shoe outreach that was done for an elderly community that had experienced Apartheid. Having to see all the emotions and witnessing the disbelief of elderly black people seeing a white person wash their feet touched me and inspired me to join the team and provide my contributions.

What do you hope Blessman International accomplishes in the next 12 months?
My hope for the organization is to magnify the impact in all programs and projects that we have already established. I believe that improving on projects and programs will provide sustainability, credibility, and staying power within the communities we serve.

What do you wish people knew about Blessman International?
You will find a great sense of community on all our campuses.

Tell us one fun fact most people don’t know about you.
I am a good cook!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Blog November 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

September 2021

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

 

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

 

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