Beth and I have been back in South Africa for one month now. It is spring of the year and all things are like new.

Many of our animals have new babies and even our Pastor Jonathan and his wife have a new baby girl. The rains have not started yet, so the grass is still dry and tender. This is the time of year that we have to be concerned about grass fires. We are praying that the rains will come soon.

Days for Girls team.

Our first team this season was a group of women recruited by Beth’s sister, Paula. They were here specializing in distributing Days for Girls feminine hygiene kits. The kits are much appreciated by the young women, as many of them are unable to afford to purchase disposable pads. One of the things that I like most about this program is that it gives us an opportunity to teach these young women many things about women’s health issues and general life skills. We were able to visit four different large schools and distribute more than 1,500 kits. This was the second annual short-term mission trip for us that focused on educating young women and distributing the kits. Several team members have already told us that they will be returning in July 2018 with the next Days for Girls team.

Rotary team in front of the Leroy Blessman Lodge of Dreams.

Our second team this season is a Rotary team led by Lee Holmes. With this team, we have had a good time doing optical outreaches and distributing glasses to children who need them. We screened the vision of approximately 2,000 children and gave eyeglasses to 269. We were very blessed to have an optometrist, Ralph De Haan, from Pella leading the optical outreach. We are hoping to recruit many more optometrists to join our efforts to continue this effort.

Bob and Lois Vermeer at a shoe outreach with the Rotary team.

We were also blessed this week to have Bob and Lois Vermeer from Pella joining us to see some of the projects that they personally, as well as their foundation, have been supporting. They also enjoyed joining us on the optical outreaches and Lois especially mentioned that she enjoyed our shoe distribution outreach as well.

The Rotary team visited two Rotary Clubs and helped me put the final touches on the global matching grant application. The name of this grant is “Teach a Child to Fish”. It is primarily a program to teach African young people to farm with excellence by establishing high quality school gardens. These gardens will provide excellent nutrition for the children at school and teach them to start their own gardens at their homes. We are seeking about $150,000 to set up these gardens and to train the teachers and children. In addition to agronomy training, we will also have a three-day course for each school on learning good business and budgeting principles. The program and follow up in each school will be intense for the first 2 years with less frequent follow up, monitoring and motivation of the schools for years 3 through 5.

Students help by farming at Sterkrivier School.

We have already started a pilot garden at Sterkrivier School where our Mountain View Church is located and it is already looking nice. Our ministry has adopted Sterkrivier School, and doing our best to make it better and better. There are 140 children there in grades 7 through 12—58 of these students are boarding students. Over the past two years, we have been remodeling and painting our church building there. We have also been helping them with cutting the grass on this large property and soccer field. Now we are beginning to help fix up their student boarding area. Last year we put new glass in all of the windows in the boys’ dorm. The Rotary team showed the boys how to paint their room and were able to replace some of their mattresses and bedding. It is a never-ending task but gradually, together, we are making a difference in these children’s lives.

Students at Sterkrivier School help clean and paint their dormitory.

I have also been working to raise significant funding from here in South Africa. Kabelo and I have been meeting with the largest platinum mine in our area and have given them a proposal for matching funds to help us drill more wells and build more toilets next year. The funds will also help us to distribute more shoes, eyeglasses and feminine hygiene kits. We have had two meetings with them over the last couple of weeks and they seem quite interested in our proposal and indicate we may be able to get started with it around the first of the year.

Hy-Vee has indicated some interest in working with us with a matching program such as this to provide more water systems to children in rural South Africa. We should have an answer from them some time in October.

A well that was donated in partnership with Hy-Vee and Rotary.

I also learned of a group from Germany who plans to donate 6 billion euros to help communities in all of Southern Africa. They have a good relationship with the Rotary and want to work with them as they apply for this donation. We will be applying for additional matching funds from this group to again drill wells and build toilets in our area.

Both of our churches remain strong. Last Friday evening, I helped transport youth to our rural church at Mountain View Christian Church for youth group. Even in this remote rural area there are 50 young people attending. They are singing and dancing listening to the Word of God. I am so appreciative Pastor Manyathela who works fulltime as a dentist and still gives so much of this time to shepherd this great church.

I never cease to be amazed at how God continues to provide all of the resources that we need to do the work that He has called us to do.

As we are preparing to leave this beautiful land again, I am pausing to reflect why I am still here after 12 years and just what I love about living and serving in Africa.

The why is pretty simple. It is a “calling” from God, and I am just being obedient to His calling. I am here as an Ambassador of God’s love. Missionaries who try to live in a harsh land such as Africa simply do not have the staying power unless they are serving as part of a calling from God. Last year I applied to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and, had I been selected, my role would have been to fulfill the will of our president and the government who would be sending me. It is like that; being an Ambassador of God’s love, only instead of obeying a government, I am doing my best to obey the Lord’s will.

Planting Vegetables in a Small Garden

The things that I love about serving in Africa are many. At the very top of this list is that it brings joy to my heart to be in a position to care for thousands of beautiful children. Our ministry is a big piece of solving the food insecurity problem for many of these children. We started out with the assistance of Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland importing rice food packets. For the last 5 years, we have imported 1.2 million meals each year. Two years ago, God provided us with a small 130-acre farm, which we are using to intensely farm vegetables to help feed these same children with farm produce grown in their own country. This coming year we are starting a new program called Teach a Man to Fish, where South Africans will learn how to grow their own food with land easily available to them.

Days for Girls Kit with Scripture

As a physician, I have been able to provide medical care, especially optical care, to thousands of children. A few years ago, we started a ministry providing new shoes to impoverished children. It is part of our overall Christian approach in that we not only provide the children with shoes, but we serve them by washing their feet and praying for them. Our newest outreach program is to provide washable reusable feminine hygiene kits to impoverished young women here. The kits are given to them in a colorful drawstring bag that they can use to carry their homework and these kits back and forth to school. Hundreds of women all across America have been sewing these kits and sending them to us in Africa with our many short-term mission team members who come to serve with us.

Team Members Gathered Around a Campfire

One of my great joys is to sit under the African night sky, around a campfire, and hear the stories from all our guests who come to help us serve these children each year. We hear many stories of how God has filled their hearts with love for these same children that Beth and I love so much. They are always amazed at how happy our impoverished children seem to be. They may be living in a shack with no parents, a dirt floor, no electricity and no running water; yet we can all see the joy in their hearts as we reach out to serve them and to love them. Most of us think that our stuff, our money, our cars, our homes, or our family make us happy, yet these children may have none of that and they still have joy and hope. Many of our team members often tell us that they come back home and feel embarrassed about all the stuff they have accumulated. Giving back to others is a great formula to find joy and happiness.

Photo Taken by Team Member on a Safari at Entebeni

I also love the African bush field and all the African animals. It gives me great joy to hear the excitement in the voice of our teams as they see their first giraffe or zebra in the wild. Nearly every team member gets great photos and even interactions with lions and elephants.
My thoughts for this blog came to me sitting in church yesterday watching my African friends dancing and singing and simply having lots of fun in church. The people here do not go to church out of obligation. They go to be with their friends, to have a great time, and most importantly, to have an encounter with God Himself.

Lethabo Sewing & Training Center Staff – The Center is Located on our Lodge of Dreams Campus

The main thing that I love about Africa is the people. I especially love working with our staff of about 40 Africans, most of whom have been working with us for many years. They are like family to us; typically both the husband and wife work with us and their children are part of our extended family.

Africa is definitely not Heaven; it is known as the Dark Continent and often for good reason. I will save those stories for another blog. I pray for and thank all of you all around the world who are assisting Beth and me in staying on the African mission field. I also pray that many of you will come and experience the joy of serving here in Africa for a short 2-week mission or service trip with us.