I am so happy to be back home in Africa again.  I had forgotten just how much I love serving here.  I so appreciate the wonderful people, the African terrain, and the weather.  Unfortunately, Beth was unable to join me this time, but despite that I feel so happy and at peace to be back.

Things that I enjoy are my early morning bush walks viewing many different species of game animals.  I also enjoy an occasional bike ride, although I do miss our Iowa trails.  Dustin is taking great care of me by providing lots of home cooked meals.  We rarely go to restaurants even though there are some good ones here.  Each night I sit in my hot tub and enjoy the beautiful African night sky and listen to the cry of the jackals and pray.  I usually work for 6 to 7 hours a day, but still have the time and motivation to read my Bible and pray.  We don’t have a TV here and it is amazing how much extra time that creates.

One of the very best things about being back here in Africa is the opportunity to be a blessing to so many impoverished beautiful people, especially the children.  It feels good to be able to assist people who can never return the favor.

In addition, I enjoy working with our loyal, faithful, hard-working staff.  The culture here is so different than in the Western world.  Meetings and church starts when it starts and ends when it ends.  In America we are always hurrying about.  The Africans have a saying that Americans have watches and Africans have time.  It is so true.  While it can be a bit frustrating at times, it is also quite refreshing.

Another best thing about being back here in Africa is working with my son, Dustin.  We get to spend a lot of windshield time and even some time in our airplane traveling about to projects we are working on all around South Africa.

It has been interesting for me as a strong capitalist working in a socialist environment like the African culture.  At first I worked to convert my friends here to my capitalistic mindset, but over the years, I am finding that a blending of the two systems is really quite nice.  When I first started in mission work, our mission was small enough that I sensed that I could easily be a self-funded missionary.  Over the years, God has grown our ministry so large that we must have help from many individuals, churches, corporations, and groups like the Rotary.  I appreciate so much everyone who has come along beside me in this wonderful life that God has given me.  I always say that I have the best job in the world.  I am 76 years old and have no idea how much longer I will be able to continue, but right now I could not be happier.

A big thank you to all who walk this path with me, especially to my beautiful wife Beth and my son Dustin.

Happy Easter everyone.

Love,

Doc

 

The older I get, the faster time seems to fly by.  It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting at my computer writing last month’s blog.

We have all been praying that this pandemic would soon be coming under control; I frequently check the dashboard for COVID-19 in Iowa and South Africa.  I am beginning to get a sense that our prayers are finally being answered.  South Africa is still a bit behind us, but there is a definite downward trend.

This past month has been a difficult one for Blessman International in South Africa.  Three healthy, young pastors that we work with have passed away.  It hit us particularly hard to learn that Pastor Manyathela suddenly died from COVID-19.  We had been praying for him, and I had just texted him to let him know we were praying for him.  He texted me back thanking me and passed away due to respiratory failure just 5 hours later.  He left behind a beautiful wife, two young children, a vibrant dental practice, a church with a boarding school, and many friends who loved him.  He was an absolute servant of God and gave and gave and gave to so many people in South Africa.  Beth and I are staying in close communication with his wife, Tlou.  She reports that she will be moving with the children back to their home village a few miles from Polokwane and the children will be attending school in Polokwane.

Many of our friends, especially people who have traveled to Africa with us, have contributed to a scholarship fund to help the children continue their education.   I am sending out a big thank you to all who have so generously responded to our request to help them.  If any of you would still like to be involved with this, you can go to our website: www.blessmaninternational.org and follow the donation tab. My vision is to not only help them with this year’s tuition, but to be a blessing to them on an ongoing basis.  He did so much to help our ministry and blessed all of the people that we work together to serve.

As COVID-19 seems to be winding down, I am praying about when I should get back to Africa to help Dustin and the rest of our staff there.   I am hoping to get my second vaccine next week, and if possible, would like to spend most of March in South Africa and return for our gala in April.  We have two strong teams coming to Africa in May, and Beth and I both plan to be there to host them.

Stay well my friends and thank you for all of your prayers and support for the work that God has called us to in Africa.

Doc

It is a bittersweet time for all of us at Blessman International.  On one hand, we have had one of our best years to date, despite the pandemic.  Our staff has grown as we added two new interns from the National College of South Africa. We are also adding Dr. Ray Struthers from Iowa to strengthen the quality of our agricultural programs in Africa.

Funding for our general budget is better than any previous year, and our project funding is also coming along exceedingly well.  A few months ago, we were awarded $200,000 from Rotary International for our water and sanitation projects.  Just last week we were also awarded our fourth Global Rotary grant, this one for $100,000 to provide menstrual health kits to impoverished young ladies, and training for 25 women to learn to sew these products and prepare them to set up their own businesses after the grant expires in 18 months.  We also just received funding from Convoy of Hope, our favorite relief organization, to provide water to 2,500 students at St. Bede’s School in Polokwane.  Des Moines First Assembly provided funding through their Christmas offering which will permit us to begin construction of our sports complex as part of our Sports 4 Christ league. We have a grant application pending with Convoy of Hope to expand our Teach a Child to Fish from 10 schools to 116; we are praying that will also be approved.

On the other hand, this has been one of the most difficult years I have experienced in 20 years of ministry in Africa.  COVID-19 has forced us to cancel all our mission teams since March of 2020.  We would usually have 120 short-term missionaries volunteering with us in Africa.  This has caused a significant decrease (about $400,000) in our in-kind funding.

The biggest hit came last week when we learned that our beloved pastor, Dr. Manyathela died from the COVID-19 virus.  He had served with us for the past 7 years.  He was a young man in his 40s with a beautiful wife and two young children.  I am not sure how we and our church will manage without him, but we are sure that God will provide a way.  He was a full-time dentist and provided well for his family, but now we worry for his children’s future.  We will be setting up a funding platform on our website where any of you wanting to contribute to bless his widow and two beautiful children can easily do this.

Beth and I are mourning the fact that we cannot be in Africa serving the people that we have grown to love.  This is the longest that we have been out of Africa.  Beth and I are praying that we can finally get back to South Africa mid to late February, but only time will tell if that is the wise thing for us to do.  The COVID-19 virus is very active in Mokopane now.

Your continued prayers for our ministry and staff as we move forward during this difficult time would be appreciated.

In Christ’s Name,

Doc

It feels good to see 2020 fading into our rearview mirror. All of us know someone who had the COVID-19 virus and a few of us lost good friends or loved ones.  It has been especially difficult for some of the impoverished children in Africa that we serve.  Fortunately, the actual number of people infected with the virus in our rural area (Limpopo) has remained relatively low. However, the lockdown in South Africa has been severe and caused drastic consequences for our children.  All the schools and feeding centers will be closed through January 23rd when the new school year begins.  Blessman International has still been able to distribute food by making home visits to hand out family nutritional packs that can be used to feed an entire family of six for four weeks.  Our local church and Mokopane Hospital have partnered with us to help distribute these packs to the most needy families in Limpopo.  Our sewing center ladies stayed busy sewing masks for the medical workers and schools.  They have sewn over 8,000.  Our construction team has been able to continue working and constructed an additional 15 Enviro-Loo toilet stalls to replace the dangerous pit toilets.  Our lodge business at the Lodge of Dreams has suffered for the lack of tourists and no mission teams since mid-March of 2020.

Our office in Iowa was blessed with a forgivable government loan allowing us to keep all seven of our US employees.  It is a miracle that we have also been able to continue employing all of our 35 African employees in South Africa.  Not all of them were able to stay as productive as usual but no one lost their job.  Our agricultural programs were deemed an essential service and we were able to continue producing lots of produce and poultry products to help feed our children.

In Africa we continued working with our Sports 4 Christ and Celebrate Recovery programs.  Both have been operated through our church once the schools were forced to close.  Over 200 youth are benefiting from our sports programs and around 80 children participate in our Celebrate Recovery program each week.  Lives are being significantly impacted by both of these programs.

While our Del Cramer Center was closed our staff continued to work and established a new child sponsorship program whereby Americans can sponsor one of our 117 children for $1/day and develop a pen pal relationship with their sponsored child.  We had to do many home visits over the past few months to accomplish this, but we got it done and we are doing it with excellence.  This is a new program and we are certainly learning as we go, but by April we hope to open the program up for an additional 100 children in a second feeding center.  The current children are loving having new friends from America.

Our funding has been significantly impacted by us losing 7 mission teams from March to December.  At the same time our virtual gala in April was a smashing success.  It was viewed by 14,000 people on their computers and we raised over half a million dollars.  Our year end giving this year is surpassing every previous year.  At the end of the day, we are definitely surviving and almost thriving.

Des Moines First Assembly has chosen our ministry as their winter mission project.  They are working to raise enough funds to fund our new Sports for Christ complex for soccer, net ball and volleyball.  We have secured a Rotary global grant for over $200,000 which along with some other generous donors will fund an additional 55 toilet stalls that will be constructed in preschools.  Our Rotary grant to fund sewing of menstrual health kits and training African ladies to sew is still pending, but I am optimistic that it will also be funded.

We currently have 10 short-term mission teams scheduled to come and serve with us during the year.  Beth and I are headed back to South Africa January 19th and will host three teams during February and March.  There is still time for some of you to join one of these teams or even form your own entire team.

It is only through the grace of God and faithful prayer warriors and donors like all of you that we are able to continue blessing these beautiful children in Africa.  Beth, Dustin and I, along with our entire staff thank you.

God’s love and blessings to you all as we enter 2021.

Doc

I pray that all of you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward with anticipation to the Christmas holidays.  I am not a big fan of winter, but Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it reminds me of the great blessing of my family.  No gifts just great food, family and a reminder to count our many blessings.  2020 has been a year of losses so it is especially important that we remember to thank God for all the great blessings that we have.  When I count my blessings it always brings joy to my soul.

Beth and I have successfully moved from our beautiful acreage to Beaverdale and we are already loving our new home near our daughter’s family, especially our 6-year-old granddaughter, Juniper.  Speaking of joy, spending time with her nearly every day brings joy to both Beth and my hearts.

We are both missing our lives in South Africa, as this is the longest we’ve been out of Africa for many years.  We have both chosen to make the best of this situation and quite frankly, I have been more productive working in my office in Urbandale than I have in many years.

COVID-19 is taking a big toll on many businesses, churches, ministries and families but I sense God’s hand helping our ministry to survive and even thrive through this storm.  Despite schools still being closed in South Africa, we have gotten our Celebrate Recovery and Sports 4 Christ programs up and running well again.  For those of you on Facebook, we always post many photos and videos to keep you up to date.  Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland continued to ship 5 full shipping containers of food to us in Africa, and even though it is a bit more difficult to distribute this food during the lockdown, we are managing to continue to feed thousands of children each week.

We have received pen pal letters from most all of you who are sponsoring a child through our One Child at a Time program, and we have sent those letters to your children in South Africa.  Del Cramer is still closed so we are sending our staff out to do home visits to give your letters to the children, and to assist them in writing their letters back to their sponsors.  All 118 children at Del Cramer now have sponsors.  I want to send a big thank you out to everyone who is supporting these beautiful children.  Our plans are to run this program for the next 9 months and receive feedback from the children and sponsors as to where we can improve. Once we are convinced that we are doing the program with excellence, we would like to add an additional group of children from another feeding center that we support.   Thus, any of you who missed an opportunity to sponsor one of our children will have another chance this coming spring.

Our office is quite busy right now gearing up for our annual year end giving campaign.  Please know that we need your assistance more this year than ever before, so please pray and be generous with your church and your favorite charities.

You will be hearing more from me soon,

Love you all,

Doc

 

We are right in the middle of my favorite season, autumn.  It has been a blessing to enjoy it in Iowa this year.  I have clocked over 6,500 miles since April.  Central Iowa has some of the best bike trails in the world.  Now with the fall colors in full display, it is even more enjoyable.

This season, we have also had the special blessing of Dustin coming back from Africa for a two week visit.  God keeps his heart so full of joy and it is always a blessing to spend time with him.  He continues to do a great job managing the day-to-day affairs of Blessman International in Africa.  Dustin was able to travel back and forth from South Africa since he has permanent residency status.  Beth and I are praying that we will be able to return to the land and people that we love early in January.

Fall is also a time for reflection as the year end approaches.  Like many others, Blessman International have been affected by this pandemic, but we are coping well.  We have not had to lay off any of our seven employees in Iowa or the 35 employees in Africa.  Although the lockdown has made it difficult to keep everyone productive, the unemployment rate in South Africa is quite high and jobs are so valuable.  We are just now getting our Del Cramer Feeding Center open again.  Our Celebrate Recovery and Sports 4 Christ programs are gradually coming back to life.  Through all of this, sanitation was ruled a necessary service by the government, so we were able to continue building toilets while many other things were closed.

One of the things that I’ve missed the most is hosting short-term missionaries.  Our African Staff have been serving the children in their absence.  However, over the years, we have built this organization by having 100+ short-term missionaries come and serve with us annually.  Missionaries have always been a huge blessing to the children of Limpopo and Blessman International.  I pray that we will soon be back to hosting ten to twelve teams each year. And, despite the challenges of 2020, our goal is to have over 150 people each year on mission trips to aid as we revamp schedules going forward.

In October, we were able to celebrate reaching our One Child at a Time sponsorship goal.  One hundred and twenty people have committed to supporting individual children at Del Cramer Child Development Center.  This will foster relationships between our donors and the children they directly support, and encourage more to join short-term mission teams to see and interact with the children they are sponsoring.

During the Thanksgiving season, we typically have a large appreciation party for our donors at Terrace Hill, the Iowa Governor’s Mansion.  This year, it remains closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Our wonderful staff has been busy thinking of new ways we can show appreciation to the great friends of our ministry.

Beth and I are busy completing our move from our acreage to a small house and yard in Beaverdale near our granddaughter.  I am definitely not a city guy, but choose to be happy wherever I find myself.  My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  I urge everyone to have wonderful time with family and prepare your hearts and minds for the annual year-end giving campaign coming in December.  God continues to bless our ministry and we are doing well thanks to all of your generosity.

We love and appreciate you,

Doc and Beth

Daniel is one of my favorite characters in the Old Testament.  God protected him when he was thrown into the lion’s den.  I often think of his story when I am interacting with the beautiful lions in South Africa.   There is a story in the Book of Daniel 3:16-18 about facing our fears and marching forward.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were told by King Nebuchadnezzar that if they did not bow down to his golden image, he would have them killed by throwing them into a furnace used to fire bricks.  The three of them refused to worship this golden image and instead continued worshiping only the God of Israel.  The king then decreed that they be burned in the furnace.  The furnace was so hot that the soldiers who threw them into the blaze were all killed by the heat of the furnace.  Soon the king noticed that there were four men walking about in the furnace unharmed by the flames and realized that the fourth man was the son of God.  The king then called them out of the furnace and seeing that they were indeed not injured by the blaze, decreed that everyone in his kingdom would from this day forward worship only the God of Israel.

I am not sure that I have enough faith to face the fiery furnace but we all face many fears now and again.  We can either be paralyzed by our fear or choose to march forward through the fear and trust God.

This current pandemic is causing significant economic fears and true health fears for many people.  We have been told that if we catch the virus, especially if we are older with other debilitating conditions, there is a good chance we could die.  I am 75, and while I do not feel old, the fact that I have had diabetes certainly puts me in the “high risk” population.

Last month, I found myself living with three family members for two weeks who all tested positive for the COVID-19. I never had any symptoms so I did not get tested myself, but I am sure that I was heavily exposed and could have been an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.  During my two weeks of quarantine, I continued to ride my bike 35 to 40 miles each day, confirming in my own mind that I was still healthy.  Along with my strong faith, I must admit that I often also practice denial.  I had recommended to many people over these last six months that we should all go on living our lives and not let this virus steal our joy.  God has measured each of our days and will one day call all of us home to him.  We must live each day to it fullest and not waste one minute worrying about things that we cannot control.

Beth and I have been blessed to be able to sell our beautiful acreage.  It appreciated significantly in value over the 30 years we called it our home, and we’ve decided to give 50% of it to God by donating it to Blessman International.  We hope it will create a legacy that will outlast the both of us.

I would encourage all of you to consider your own legacy, and what can you do with your resources while you are still alive to serve God and make this world a better place.

We got the good news this week that our feeding center is back open at Del Cramer, and Dustin will likely be able to travel to the US for a couple of weeks to visit and say goodbye to his childhood home.

God is good, all of the time.

Doc

 

As a new school year is starting, a new season of life has started for us, too.  Beth and I have sensed the last couple of years that it will soon be time to downsize and sell our beautiful wooded acreage near Lake Saylorville. We have been working diligently to get rid of extra clutter throughout our Morten Building, garage, and home. We are now blessed with a couple developers making offers to purchase our home and acreage. We have found a beautiful older home in Beaverdale near our youngest daughter’s family, so Mamma Bear is quite happy.

We have been in our current home for 37 years, and have lots of precious memories of our life here.  I cannot imagine a better environment for us to raise three children, before dividing our time between South Africa and Iowa. Except for times when we have had wind or ice storms, I have actually enjoyed all of the lawn work required- it gave me a great excuse to use fun tools (toys) like a small tractor, riding mowers, and Kabota 4×4 utility vehicle. Our new house is nice, but there is no room for them.  However, the recent derecho is helping me spend lots of quality time with them before the move. We lost around 25 evergreen trees and lots of oak branches.  Other than needing a new windshield, we fortunately had no structural damage to our home or vehicles.

I have never had a desire to live in the city, but at least our new place is much closer to our office, so I will be getting rid of lots of lawn chores and commuting time each week. Please stay tuned and pray for the sale of our property and our big move. We will let you know how it is all progressing. As long as the weather permits, I plan to continue spending lots of time on the bike trails. I have ridden over 5,000 miles in the last five months.  It gives me lots of time to pray, think and make plans.

Good news from South Africa: Kabelo just sent photos of a bountiful harvest from a school garden that was planted through the Teach a Child to Fish program. I was concerned that during the lockdown, the gardens might have gone to weeds. These photos are a big encouragement to me that our programs are working effectively and helping feed many children.

 

Please, also pray with me for our schools, in Iowa and South Africa, during this time of transition.  Hopefully, they will be opening up in South Africa during September.  This means we will be able to start running our feeding programs at full force again, along with our two churches, Celebrate Recovery and Sports 4 Christ.

God bless,

Doc

As I pedal along our beautiful Iowa bike trails each day, I ponder all that is going on in our world.  Usually, I am in South Africa during these hot, lazy days of summer.  I sense that many of us in America and South Africa are in a dark mood, feeling a bit of anger and discouragement.  It reminds me of the many years that I spent trying to help people recover from chronic pain.  Many of the patients I worked with had the overwhelming feeling that their suffering was an incurable condition that was destroying their ability to enjoy life. They weren’t sleeping well, were often unable to work, and felt socially isolated.  Fortunately, I had a skilled team of people working with me to help these individuals, and I was able to see many of these wonderful people experience significant improvements.

The following are some of the things I learned to help my patients get out of the funk that they were experiencing.  Hopefully some of you might find it helpful for our situation today:

  1. Have faith that it is possible to feel better, and understand that it will take a bit of time.
  2. Stop watching TV and minimize your screen time on the computer or cell phone.
  3. Get out in nature and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.
  4. Exercise at least one hour per day, whether it is walking, biking, or swimming.
  5. Minimize toxic substances in your body, especially mind effecting drugs and alcohol.
  6. Invest time in nurturing relationships with close friends.
  7. Care for and appreciate your family, especially your spouse.
  8. Minimize your time and exposure to negative/toxic individuals.
  9. Pray and read your Bible to develop a closer relationship with God.
  10. Learn how to really forgive. I would highly recommend the book, The Bait of Satan.
  11. Focus on love and get rid of any hatred in your heart.
  12. Feed your body good fuel, minimize caffeine and sugar.
  13. Have some fun. It is okay to fake it at first to get your fun motor running again.
  14. Get rid of as much clutter in your environment as you can.
  15. Count your blessings often.

I promise you that these ideas are effective, but not a quick fix.  When I was the director of the pain center, we had a whole team of nurses, exercise staff, physical therapists, physiologists, physicians, a pharmacist, dietitian and a chaplain to educate and motivate people.  All of that being said, it is not easy to change your mindset or behavior but just know that if you’d like to feel better, just pick one thing to get started and see where it can take you.

Have a good month.  I will be back with you in September.

In Christ,

Doc

Blog July 1, 2020

This is the first summer Beth and I have been able to spend in Iowa for the past several years and we are enjoying our time with lots of lawn work and long bicycle rides on our beautiful bike trails.

Our world is changing at warp speed these days and it makes most of us a bit uncomfortable.  I have usually been able to keep a positive attitude around change and look for new good opportunities when things are changing.

One change Blessman International is causing Beth and I to have heavy hearts. Sarah Green just let us know she is taking a new job with Lutheran Services in Iowa.  This new job is a big advancement to her in her career path and we wish her well, but it is painful to see her leave us.  She has been to SA with us 8 times and led our development staff with excellence for the past 3 years.

Report from South Africa:  The number of cases of COVID-19 is growing each week.  Fortunately, in our province of Limpopo there are still just a few cases.  We meet by zoom each week with the staff at Mokopane Hospital offering them whatever assistance we can in helping them to prepare for how the virus may affect their hospital.  The major effects that we have noticed is not so much the number of illnesses but the devastating effect of the lockdown.  People are literally starving because they are having difficulty accessing food.  Our feeding centers are still all closed because of the lockdown and also the schools are mostly closed.  Before the lockdown children were able to receive a nice meal at school and also at one of our many feeding centers.  We partnered with Rotary and Mokopane Hospital in our area of SA to identify some of the most needy families and deliver food packets to about 75 families.  Our packets contained enough food to feed a family of 6 for 1 month.

Even during the lockdown, we have been able to continue constructing new EnviroLoo toilets.  So far this year we have completed 10 toilet stalls and have funding and plans to build an additional 20 over the next 6 months.  We have also just put in a new funding request with HyVee to drill an additional 6 wells in the next several months.

Our Sports 4 Christ program is still on hold waiting for the schools to open back up.  We are gradually getting our Celebrate Recovery program up and running again by sending out videos and material to a few small group leaders who are starting to have small group meetings as we wait for school to open back up.  Our bakery and agricultural programs have stayed productive and are helping us through our church to meet the needs of some of the most needy families in our area.

Once the travel ban is lifted, I am planning on getting back to SA to assist where I can.  Dustin is also anxious to come back to Iowa for a short visit once international travel is permitted.

We are busy now rolling out a new child sponsor program where friends of our ministry can financially sponsor one of our children at our Del Cramer Children’s Campus.  In partnership with Hunt Against Hunger we are planning a virtual hunt for people who love Africa and also love hunting.  You will learn more about both of these programs soon.