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From Iowa to South Africa: The Transformative Journey of Dr. Jim Blessman and Blessman International

 

Welcome to Blessman International! I'm Dr. Jim Blessman, the founder, and I'd like to share my personal story and how I was radically transformed by the love of Jesus Christ. This journey has been one of faith, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of making a difference in the lives of those in need. From humble beginnings in Iowa to the heart of South Africa, our mission has always been about spreading love, hope, and the message of Christ. 

Beginnings

Dr. Jim Blessman Growing up in Clearfield, Iowa, in the 1950s was an experience I cherished. My parents, Leroy and Betty Jo, were wonderful, caring individuals who instilled in me the values of hard work, compassion, and dedication. From the age of 14, I knew I wanted to be a physician. I pursued this dream with unwavering determination, even when the path to medical school was anything but easy. 

After years of hard work, I graduated from the University of Iowa Medical School, a milestone that marked the beginning of a flourishing medical career. I found financial security, earned the respect of my peers, and had the privilege of serving as a physician. My life was seemingly perfect: I had a lovely wife, a daughter, and a fulfilling career. However, I soon realized that my life was 90% about being a doctor and only 10% about being a husband and father. Sadly, my wife and I divorced. Despite the hurt and disappointment I caused in my first marriage, I strived to be the best father I could be to our daughter. Over the next few years, I built a medical practice, covered the Emergency Room for a small hospital, established Iowa's first chronic pain center, and developed a practice focusing on occupational medicine injuries. 

Coming to Christ

As I neared 40, my numerous entrepreneurial ventures made me a wealthy man. I had great friends, cars, a sailboat, and a beautiful home. Despite all this success, there was an emptiness in my heart, a sense that I lacked significance. I attended church regularly, but God felt distant, and I only read the Bible during Sunday services. 

In 1987, God introduced me to the love of my life, Beth, through her father, Delmer (Del) Cramer. Beth and I were married and became an instant family with her two children, Dustin and Kelsey. The Cramer family were devout believers in Christ, unlike me. My in-laws, Margaret and Delmer, along with their friends and family, began praying for my spiritual transformation. In 1995, Del Cramer invited me to a Promise Keepers event in Minneapolis for my birthday. This event was a turning point in my life. I learned what it meant to be a better husband, father, and community leader. For the first time, I felt a closeness to God that I had never experienced. Though I cannot pinpoint the exact moment, within the first few months after the Promise Keepers event, I became a born-again believer in Christ. 

My pastor encouraged me to participate in Evangelism Explosion training created by Dr. D. James Kennedy. This training was intimidating as it required me to go door-to-door, asking people if they wanted to know Christ as their savior. Through this experience, I came to fully understand God's plan of salvation. My priorities shifted drastically: God became my first focus, followed by family, and then work. 

I resigned from all hospital and medical political groups to focus on serving the Lord and my family. The relentless pursuit of wealth was replaced by the complete assurance that God would provide for my family and me. This newfound faith led me to find my true purpose. 

Obeying God's Call

After becoming a born-again believer, I studied the Bible intently and prayed that God would reveal His will for my life. Over the next six weeks, through no fault of my own, I lost all three sources of my income as a physician. After serving as the Occupational Medicine and Physical Therapy provider for a large company for 12 years, I was underbid by a competitor and lost the contract, which was surprising as nobody else had ever bid on it before. Additionally, the administrators at Mercy informed me they were closing the pain center I had founded 25 years earlier, despite its success in helping patients and generating revenue for the hospital. Soon thereafter, my smallest source of income, working as a physician at a local community college student health clinic, was eliminated due to budget cuts. It was a challenging time, but I saw it as God asking me to give up my practice, reputation, and income for a greater purpose. During three months of prayer, study, and communion with God, I felt a clear calling to full-time missionary work. We enrolled at the Assemblies of God School of Missions to prepare for the mission field.

In the early years, I visited over 70 countries as a physician doing medical missions across Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. However, it was Africa that captured my heart. I visited Nigeria, Cameroon, Malawi, Mozambique, Togo, and Ghana, but South Africa stood out. The people and the country felt like home. 

A Land of Contrasts 

God called Beth and me to spend a season of our lives in South Africa. In 2003, we formed a close partnership with Jacques and Lizzy van Bommel, leaders of Reaching a Generation, a ministry dedicated to helping South African youth find salvation in Christ. They distributed gospel materials in a comic book style created by One Hope, which resonated with the children. We provided optical care to ensure that children could read these materials. As our mission grew, in 2007, we needed to establish NGO status in Africa, leading to the formation of Blessman Medical Ministries, now Blessman International.   

This beautiful land is often referred to as a "dark continent" due to its spiritual darkness, witch doctors, and prevalent evil spirits.  In the fall of 2012, a tragic event reinforced our mission: three children were murdered while walking from their school to a local children's home. This heartbreaking incident motivated us to ensure that children in South Africa become followers of Christ before they are lost to the streets or worse. 

Today, we operate three campuses in the Limpopo province of South Africa: the Blessman Campus, the Del Cramer Campus, and the Mountain View Farm Campus. Each campus serves a unique purpose, from housing and training centers to agricultural operations and sports complexes. Beth and I are deeply committed to this mission, so much so that neither of us takes a salary from Blessman International. 

What We Do 

collage of photos of Dr. Jim Blessman in South Africa

We work to meet the physical needs of South Africans so we can address their greatest need—salvation through Jesus Christ. After starting our ministry with optical outreaches, God has blessed us beyond measure. Here are some of our current programming: 

Mission Teams 

A vital part of our work in South Africa involves short-term mission teams visiting our campus. Team members participate in various outreach and service projects in the local schools and community. We see an average of 100 people visit us on mission trips annually. Learn more here

Feeding Program 

Our ministry started by feeding 300 children a year. Currently, we prepare and serve over 4,000,000 meals through our network of 11 feeding hubs, providing food to over 50,000 throughout Southern Africa. The life-changing impact of our feeding program is possible because of our partnerships with Convoy of Hope and Meals from the Heartland. 

One Child at a Time 

Our child sponsorship program is designed to benefit all the children at the Del Cramer Child Development Center. When you sponsor a child, your support of $31 a month fuels a collective fund that benefits every child at our center through food, tutoring, spiritual development, and loving care from our staff. Sponsors communicate back and forth with a child to build meaningful connections. While funds don't go directly to individual families, they create a powerful impact across the community. Together, we're working to break the cycle of poverty.  

Optical Outreach 

Everyone deserves the gift of clear vision. In many parts of South Africa, access to basic eye care is limited. That's why we train our mission team members to test people's vision to determine their need for glasses, which we then provide. These simple tools can make a world of difference, allowing individuals to read, work, and carry out daily tasks with ease. 

College Internship Program 

At Blessman International, we're passionate about nurturing the next generation of leaders. We facilitate college internships for students from various disciplines, offering them invaluable real-world experience in their chosen fields. Our most sought-after internships are in agriculture, information technology, education, construction engineering, and medicine.  

Sports 4 Christ 

Our program, affiliated with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, helps students learn about Christ as they hone their soccer and netball skills. We provide a gospel-centered atmosphere and friendly sports competition. On average, 150 students use the Sports 4 Christ complex six days a week. 

Girls Empowerment 

We provide sustainable menstrual health solutions and education for young women who would otherwise miss countless school days each year during their monthly period. Since the program's inception, we have distributed over 25,000 washable reusable menstrual hygiene kits with education. 

The Landing - A Celebrate Recovery Program 

The Landing is a space where the youth we serve can cope with hurts, hang-ups, and habits. It's a Christ-centered program that addresses destructive or compulsive behaviors, unhealthy relationships, addictions, anger, shame, past abuse, codependency, and more. In 2023, we saw over 250 students participate and begin to heal. Our program is the largest in the world for high school students.

Spiritual Development 

Jesus is at the center of everything we do. We can have all the programming in the world and still not address people's greatest need – salvation through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is proclaimed at our two churches, our child development center, our Celebrate Recovery programs, and during our mission trip outreaches. Over 5,000 people hear the saving message of Jesus Christ each year. 

Enviro Loo 

We provide safe and sanitary bathroom facilities for children to use. In addition to avoiding dangerous conditions that spread disease, children were exposed to hazardous animals while finding a place in the bush to go to the bathroom. The Enviro Loo system is sustainable, waterless, and uses no chemicals. To date, we have installed 300 systems. We also have a company, Loo's R Us, dedicated to the upkeep and service needs of the Enviro Loo toilets. 

Clean Water 

Thanks to generous support from churches, families, and individuals, along with generous grants from Hy-Vee and Rotary International, we've drilled 62 wells and counting! Families and students now have clean water for drinking and bathing, and farmers utilize drip irrigation. Click here to see the most up-to-date number of gallons of water flowing to the most impoverished people in South Africa. 

Agricultural Training 

Our organization is grateful for the food we receive from America through the generosity of Meals from the Heartland and Convoy of Hope. The pandemic taught us to look for ways to supplement the food we are receiving by supporting the local economy in South Africa. We expanded the educational opportunities at our Mountain View Farm and Research Farm to teach more locals how to plant, tend, and harvest gardens at local schools, hospitals, and communities. The end goal is to provide a mindset of self-sufficiency for the people we serve. 

Data Collection 

Our data collection system allows us to measure our impact on the lives of the children we serve. At our Del Cramer Child Development Center, we track attendance, meals, education reports, and medical records. Every six months, we measure the children's height, weight, and arm circumference to ensure alignment with the growth curve for their age. 

Sewing Center 

With the staggering unemployment rate in South Africa, teaching women to sew gives them a viable way to generate income for their families. Students at our Lethabo Sewing Center take a three-week class to learn how to sew. Upon graduation, they receive a sewing machine and the skills to use it productively. We have seen 30 women complete this program thanks to a Rotary International Global grant. 

School in a Box 

This digital program provides supplemental educational resources to connect, equip, and empower learners to reach their full potential. It's a tablet-based educational tool that helps students excel at core subjects. In a village with 70% unemployment, giving these children every academic advantage is critical. 

Join Us 

This is just a glimpse into my journey, the history of Blessman International, and the mission that God has called us to fulfill. Consider this my personal invitation to join us on a mission trip to South Africa. It will be a life-changing experience. 

I invite you to explore our website further, learn more about our programs, and find out how you can get involved. Whether through prayer, financial support, or joining us on a mission trip, your involvement can help us continue to change lives and bring hope to those in need.  Together, let's spread the love and message of Christ, one child, one community at a time.