Thursday, July 23, 2009

Moletlane Children's Village

Last week we had the incredible privilege of constructing 5 new Abods, or homes, for 16 orphan children. Most of these children are orphans because their parents have died of AIDS. This new orphan village is located in the province of Limpopo, South Africa, just about an hour drive from the city of Mokopane. Architect Doug Sharp from West Des Moines, Iowa designed these Abods. It is his vision that even the poorest people around the world deserve to live in an architect-designed home and community.

The Abods are made of corrugated steel with a strip of fiberglass to bring in natural light. There are lofts in the front and back to give extra sleeping quarters, and they have good solid doors in the front and rear to give added security to the children. For safety and aesthetics, the homes have been constructed in a semi circle. Frieda, our care-giver, will live in the central house with two homes on each side of her for the children. The homes will comfortably sleep 6, but we are starting out by accepting only 4 children per home. We feel that by starting small we have a better chance of doing everything properly and taking good care of the children.

For this project we are partnering with the Apostolic Faith Mission Church of South Africa. Jan Chauke is the pastor of this church and he will supervise Frieda. The whole project is built on property owned by the church. In addition to the five new homes for the children the AFM Church is in the process of building a new brick church building. There is a small concrete building in the back of the property, which was the original church. In this building is a kitchen with stove and refrigerator that Frieda will use to prepare meals for the children. Much of the cooking will be done on open wood fires in this same area. Pastor Jan already had a small garden to help feed the children and this will be significantly enlarged. Right now there is one water tap on the property and this is used to water the garden and as drinking water. I cultured the water and found it to be a clean and safe source of water for our children. We will have a plumber bring a second tap up close to the Abods. Currently the only toilet is outdoors at the corner of the property. This is the same toilet that our team used during our week of construction. The nearest flush toilet available was about one half hour drive into Mokopane. We are currently raising funds from some of the businesses in Mokopane to help us construct a proper bathroom facility near the homes for the children to use. We will also be bringing electricity to each of the homes and will put a ceiling light in each. We will not be putting electrical outlets in the children’s Abods for safety reasons, but Frieda will have one in hers. There will be a tall security light to illuminate the entire area.

Much of the food for these children will come from the U.S. from a partner ministry called Kids Against Hunger. One of our large supporting churches, the Lutheran Church of Hope, has an annual food packaging event where several million meals are packaged to be sent to third world countries to feed starving children. The name of this particular program is Meals from the Heartland. This September will be the second annual food packaging event. Several thousand volunteers gather at Hy-Vee Hall, Iowa’s largest convention center, and package meals for about 9 days. It is one of the larger volunteer feeding programs in the world and has been a great benefit to our ministry in helping feed children here in Southern Africa. We have requested about 900,000 meals from this program for this year. Obviously our 16 children will not need all of these meals but we have several feeding programs throughout Southern Africa.

In this village of Moletlane we hope to also establish a larger feeding program to feed around 200 children. However, our first priority will be to over the next couple of months will get well organized in caring for our first 16 orphans.

Last week I had a good meeting with the tribal chief of the area. He is very excited about us coming to village to help the children. He is writing us up a document to basically give us the keys to the village. He told me that if I would like I could come there and build our own home. I do believe that I will take him up on his generous offer and see if I can get some warehouse space to store some of our Kids Against Hunger food.

In addition to feeding and housing these children we want to be sure that they are well educated and learn good solid Christian values. The children will attend the local public school that is just a short walk from our housing project. In addition to their regular schooling they will all be studying the Bible and the Book of Hope. One Hope is another significant partner of our ministry. They distribute 50 million copies of a comic book sized readers digest version of the Bible for children. We also want to be sure that our children are trained in vocational skills so that when they grow up and leave our Children’s Village they will be prepared to earn a living on their own. We will be teaching them gardening skills, cooking skills, carpentry and painting. In addition I am looking for someone to donate about 10 computers so that we can set up computer learning stations for them.

The next phase for us will be to clone this children’s village in other villages. We may add another 5 homes to each project but right now this is a perfect size to start with.I would like to experiment with different building materials and next week I am going to visit a large game farm that is using a block-making machine that makes Lego type building blocks out of compressed earth. They add about 5% concrete and let them bake in the sun, resulting in an inexpensive durable building block. I am hoping that my friend Doug Sharp will put his creative hat on again and design block homes for our orphan children.

Now that we have our first 5 homes I plan to visit with the Limpopo department of housing and see if I can interest them in connecting with our ministry to build similar housing for the poor people of this province. It cost us about $6,000/home for these first 5 but with mass production I believe that we can cut the cost by 50%. The beauty of this project is that not only do the poor get a new home, but that these new communities are designed for aesthetics and safety. The current typical township homes in the poor communities are basically made of whatever they can find, one home stacked right up against the next one.

A team from Lutheran Church of Hope constructed our first 5 Abods. Prior to the team coming, Pastor Jan from the AFM church got permission from the tribal chief to build these homes and arranged for construction of concrete slabs as a foundation for the homes. We have formed a board of directors to help manage this project and find ways for this children’s village to be self-sustainable.

Our plan is for all short-term mission teams that come and work with our ministry in any capacity will come by and visit Moletlane Children’s Village. They can interact with the children, help teach them some new skills and assist Frieda in feeding them.

For more photos of this project and the team who helped construct the homes, please visit our website at We soon will have a DVD for you to view to help you to understand a bit better how our ministry is reaching out to help many of the children orphaned as a result of this terrible AIDS epidemic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lutheran Church of Hope Team

This last week we had 11 people from Hope Church in West Des Moines. Brad Krehlik the mission’s director was the team leader. We worked in the Rustenburg area in the Northwest Province in South Africa. The team had already had several training meetings in Des Moines prior to coming to Africa so they were well bonded to each other and were a joy to work with. We were able to see about 650 children in our eye clinics during the week. This week the national elections were held on Wednesday and all of the schools were closed or we could have seen an additional 200 patients. It was interesting to observe the process of their elections here in South Africa.
The children always tell us many heart wrenching stories of what their lives are like here. One 13 year old girl told us that her mother was at home dying of AIDS and so ill that she was unable to get out of bed. This child was her mother’s sole caretaker. When we ask her if her grandparents were still around to help she told us that they were alive but fearful of visiting her mother. She also told us that her mother was not receiving any treatment for her AIDS. This is particularly sad because ARV medicines are available in South Africa but there are still many people who would benefit from them who are not getting them.

Because of the national elections Wednesday we were unable to work in the schools so we went to visit an orphanage in Rustenburg, The Lighthouse Shelter, where our team enjoyed playing with the infants and toddlers.

It was a joy to see these children as this is a particularly high quality orphanage where the children are very well cared for. Many of the children cried as we left them because they really enjoyed all of the attention that we were giving them. Otherwise they seemed to be quite happy and enjoying a good life in the shelter. This particular shelter has a good reputation at helping many of these children be adopted into high quality Christian families. 
On Wednesday afternoon we visited Pilansberg National Park which is a 100,000 acre game park. We saw many beautiful animals including three of the big five, elephants, rhinos and we even had the rare pleasure of sighting a leopard up in a tree with an impala that it had recently killed. I have been on many game drives over the last 5 years and this was the first time I had seen the leopard in the wild.

Last night we had our own team church service back at our headquarters on Shikwaru Game Lodge. We had this service at the end of another pleasant game drive on top of the mountain right at sunset. Many of the team members shared how the ministry this week has impacted their lives. We seem to have found just the right combination of ministry and tourist attractions with basing our ministry at Shikwaru Game Lodge.

On the last night the team was with us we took them to Entabeni, a five star 50,000 game reserve where we were blessed by seeing many lions, elephants and rhinos quite close to our game viewing vehicle. At one point we even saw a pride of lions trying to attack a baby rhino. Those big horns on the rhinos are pretty intimidating even to a lion and the lions likely had to find an easier target.
Beth and I are preparing to return to the States for 2 months to reconnect with our family and mission supporters. It is difficult to believe that this season has come to an end for us. The time has just flown by; It will be good to visit with many of our supporting churches, friends and of course our family.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Starvation in Madagascar

I just put out a call to pray for children starving in Madagascar. Reports are that thousands of children are starving there and many are dying every day. I already received notice that Convoy of Hope has a container of food that they are able to send. This has 285,000 meals in it and has a value of $40
,000 to possibly $50,000. We still need to raise funds to pay for shipping the container which would be approximately $12,000. Please continue to pray and help in any way that you can. Much more food is still desperately needed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

To the States and Back

I have been a bit distracted the last week with focus on a personal medical problem with my artificial hip joint. It has been distracting me lots the last 3 months with intermittent pain and trouble walking. Last week it got it got so bad that I was unable to walk without the assistance of crutches. It came on a bad time as Beth and Kelsey had planned a nice family holiday to go and visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, one of the most beautiful areas in Africa and in fact the world.

Beth arranged to get our airline tickets and a couple of nights in a hotel just a couple of days prior to the trip. When we woke up the morning of the proposed trip I had difficulty even walking to the bathroom so I decided to push the panic button and send them off to Zimbabwe without me. I was a little concerned about their safety traveling without me and though this was an experience I was looking forward to with Kelsey since she had never been there, I just knew that it would not be wise for me to travel with them and walk along the wet slippery surface next to the falls. Being a pain specialist, I had an adequate supply of narcotics and started taking some hydrocodone when helped my pain considerably. A couple of hours after Beth and Kelsey left for the Johannesburg airport I became more and more anxious that something really serious was wrong with the pelvis or hip joint so I called our travel agent to see if she could get me a flight back to the states that day. I have told my elderly parents multiple times that if they really needed me I could be home within 48 hours. I was in the Des Moines airport just 24 hours after calling my travel agent. No one knew that I was coming back to Iowa--not even Beth and Kelsey. I did send them an email hoping that they would have email access in Zimbabwe, however I later found out that there was no internet service available to them. Fortunately Beth had been concerned about how I was doing and called and spoke with our lodge manager before getting on the plane in Johannesburg so she at least knew that I was just 5 hours behind her headed for the same airport. I was amazed at how emotional I became at leaving Africa so suddenly. I had this terrible thought in my head that I would have to have emergency surgery and that it was possible that I would never be able to return to the country and people that I love so much. I found myself so emotional that I was unable to speak about my concerns. I would just begin to tear up and could not speak. I was embarrassed as I am supposed to be the leader here and many people depend upon me making good decisions about many things here in Africa. It was then that I realized just how much I loved our ministry and working here in Africa.

I was able to get into see my orthopedic surgeon on Thursday after getting home on Wednesday. He told me that the furthest anyone had previously traveled to see him was from Arkansas. I was looking over my own x-ray while waiting to see him and it looked exactly like my last x-ray just 5 months previously. All of the sudden I felt amazing relief that I may not have as big a problem as I had imagined. I was further relieved when my doctor came in and agreed with me. He reassured me that I likely had another stress fracture in my pelvis which I have experience on at least 4 previous occasions all of which have healed in a couple of months by walking on crutches or sometimes even a cane. After considerable discussion with him he predicted that I have about 2 years service left in my 24 year old prosthesis. I was overwhelmed with joy. I can get a lot done in 2 years. He even predicted that after 3 or 4 months of replacement recovery that I would have an excellent chance of returning to work in Africa.

It was Easter weekend and I realized yet again that I serve a God of second chances. There have been a number of times in my life when I thought my good days were past and then God cleans the slate and I have a fresh start at life again. WOW, most of you know what I mean by feeling that you have hit bottom and then have a redo. I enjoyed some great time with my parents, sister, 2 of my children and all of my grandchildren. On Easter Sunday the pastor’s message was on the greatest comeback ever. It was like his whole message spoke of just what I had been through. I sat there thinking that this was the best church service I have ever been to. For Easter I did not go to my home church but to the Lutheran Church of Hope so that I could attend their Saturday evening service and still visit my parents on Sunday. I now look back on this 5 day whirlwind trip back to the States and understand that there were many reasons that God wanted me to make this trip. I just returned to Africa last night and have never felt such an appreciation of having just enough good health to do the work that God has called me to do. I may be on crutches and feeling a bit of pain and my head is spinning from jetlag but I have never felt such joy as I felt knowing that I was able to return to my wonderful wife and our home here in Africa.

During the night I was unable to sleep and got up to work on my emails and received a note from my good friend Jacques who was in Madagascar telling me that he had found thousands of starving children there in need of our help. Here in South Africa we see many children who are chronically malnourished and about three quarters the height and weight they should be for their age. However, these children in Madagascar demonstrated the signs of acute starvation with their large pot bellies and discolored hair. He reported to me that many children are dying there every day. It is a nation of 18 million people and thousands of children are dying and yet the world has not taken notice. That was like a big shot of adrenalin to me; I start writing everyone I knew who had anything to do with feeding kids around the world. One of my gifts from God is in being a good networker; I was amazed at how many people I knew to ask for help. We also have a couple of good prayer nets and I sent out the word for everyone to begin praying for Madagascar. I know that our prayers will be answered and I can envision several large shipping containers making their way across the ocean. If any of you reading this can help feed these kids please write to me or call me ASAP.

This weekend one of our largest teams of this year will arrive from the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines. We will be working in the Rustenburg area, which is one of my favorite places to work. Jacques was living in Rustenburg when I first met him 5 years ago. My friend David Betzer developed one of the best orphanages in the world that I always love to show to our teams from the US. I am excited to be able to work with Lutheran Church of Hope and their missions director, my good friend Brad Krehlik.

This afternoon I took a short walk around our property and checked on the progress of our Bob and Lela Thompson ambassador campus. The builders have completed the thatch roof on our first home. It is really beautiful; in a couple of weeks the roofs on all four structures should be completed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter in the USA

I had planned to spend this holiday in South Africa but due to an unexpected medical problem with my artificial hip, I made an emergency flight back to Iowa to see my orthopedic surgeon. I just received wonderful news from him that my x-rays appear stable and show no new damage to my hip or pelvis. He did remind me that my 24 year-old joint replacement will not last many more years, but for now I can head back to Africa and get back to work. I will be heading back on Tuesday after just 5 days here in the US, quite a whirlwind trip, but exactly the news that I was praying for. I will just have to use crutches for a few weeks and then should be back to normal. Enough about my personal medical problems; I really do not like sharing them with all of you, but it is part of life, and I especially wish to thank everyone who has been praying for me. I am really blessed by and believe in the power of prayer.

A big blessing in being in the USA over Easter will be in getting to reconnect with my parents who are in their mid-eighties. Every time I head overseas these days I pray that the Lord will protect them until I return. I have been so blessed to have such great parents and to be able to enjoy them for so many years. My three grandchildren and two of my three children will all be gathering in Mt. Ayr, IA on Sunday. My youngest daughter, Kelsey, and my wife Beth are back in Africa and I will be with them later in the week. God is so good.

I was able to get an amazing amount of work done in my office in the short two days that I had there. I was able to review our budget and strategic plan with our office manager, Becki, and made good progress in getting all of that ready for our board meeting coming up in May.

I also had a good meeting with the mission’s director at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Brad Krehlik, and finalized plans for their team who is coming to South Africa later this week. They have 11 people signed up, and one gentleman is scrambling with his schedule to see if he can also join the team. These last minute changes are some of God’s best blessings, and I am really hoping that he will also be joining our team. We planned a special foot washing worship service that we will do on the mountain top at Shikwaru on the final Sunday of this team. We had a communion service last week with the team from Des Moines First Assembly and everyone really seemed to enjoy that. I just reviewed the team feedback reports from that team and they all basically reported a mountain top life experience for their recent mission trip. It is such a blessing to me to be able to work with so many people so excited about doing mission work.

We have had 4 teams so far in 2009, and each team seemed to have a richer experience. God has really blessed us with connecting us with such beautiful children with needs that we are able to meet and to make a significant difference in their lives. The joy of being able to experience a safari game lodge is always a pleasant surprise to the team members also.

I just heard from Beth and Kelsey that they had a good holiday experience at Victoria Falls. I am happy that they had a great time but also relieved to hear that they are safely back at Shikwaru again. I was feeling a bit guilty at not being with them to help protect them and also to enjoy this experience with them.

I am hoping to soon be able to add some photos and videos to this blog, or at least find a way to send you to a site where you can view them. So as soon as this tech-impaired doctor figures that out, you will be able to have a more colorful blog to look at. Thank you for visiting and please come back often.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Des Moines First Assembly of God Team

This week we have enjoyed working with a team from Des Moines First Assembly of God, our home church. It is a joy for us to be able to work with old and new friends. We especially have enjoyed the opportunity of showing them the progress in the Bob and Lela Thompson Missionary Campus. The contractor has now completed the brick walls up both stories on all 4 buildings and this week they are starting on the roof structure. I am hoping that they will start the thatching of the roof before this team heads back to Iowa. I just finished speaking with Bob on the phone and he was excited to hear the progress of the construction. He is planning on traveling here in July for the dedication celebration. Lela just passed away a couple of weeks ago and several of her good friends from the church are planning on sending over several books and videos to developed a library in her memory in our new campus.

We still have 8 people living in our home with us. It will be good when the campus is finished so that we will have several additional beds for our short term teams and living quarters for our Ambassadors. It is especially nice to have our daughter Kelsey living with us all of April. We have been quite busy with the optical outreaches but hope to find 2 or 3 days to get her up to Victoria Falls for a nice holiday. We have been working flat out for 2 months now since arriving back in SA and it is time that we took a few days for some rest and relaxation for our family. Lisa one of our ambassadors is planning on a short trip to Cape Town for a bit of a break of her own with our friend Carol who is moving to Cape Town to work with our ministry there.

The optical outreach we are doing this week is turning out to be one of the best ones ever. It seems that we are continually learning how to improve the quality of the clinical and spiritual work we are doing. We had the pajama party with our staff about 3 weeks ago where we took a 3 hour online training course offered from Louisville, KY. After that course we started dilating the eyes of all of the children we see to get a more accurate reading from our auto refractor machine. We are now using the auto refractor on every child and then sending them to the clinical stations to have their prescriptions fine tuned and this is also where the children receive their spiritual counseling and AIDS prevention education. Our staff spends about 20 minutes speaking with each child one on one about general life skills, praying with them and teaching them how to prevent the HIV infection.

This week the South African schools were on Easter holiday so the number of patients we saw was bit smaller than usual; we still ended up seeing around 450 children for the week. Most all of the children were open to hear our counsel that their generation must be the one to stop the AIDS epidemic by stopping the promiscuity that is so common in this culture. Since the public schools were on holiday we recruited about a dozen children from a local private Christian school to assist us in working with the children. For the past 3 weeks these children have been going around to many of the area Township schools and screening the children’s vision. Usually we have had the teachers in the public schools screen the children’s vision but we had to change our system because of the Easter Holiday. The children that volunteered from the Christian private school have been an absolute joy to work with. They are all intelligent, have good manners and hearts to serve children less fortunate than they are. I have asked them to write up a document explaining how they did this project this week with us and we plan to work with other similar schools in future communities where we will be working. Especially when we have clinics during the public school holidays.

I had a bit of bad news from Doug Sharp, the architect who designed the abods that we are hoping to build in July. He told me that Iowa Prison Industries had dropped the ball and were not going to be able to manufacture the homes that we had asked them to. This was particularly distressing because if we are to build these homes in July we must start shipping them at the latest May 1st. I had thought that it was so unique to have Iowa prisoners manufacturing homes for our orphan children in South Africa however; it now appears that seemingly good idea was flawed. I am sure that God has a plan for all of this and we will still get the homes built. It is just a bit stressful to get them done on time. God’s timing is usually that everything falls into place just in time and not ahead of schedule. Just like when we did the medical conference, we had no doctors registered 2 days prior to the conference. I asked Doug to call a couple of my friends in Iowa, John McBride and Eric Sheldahl to see if they could help in the manufacturing of these homes. I am praying that they will be able to salvage this plan and still permit us to get the homes build when the teams come to South Africa in July.

We have had such a wonderful time here in Africa this visit that I find it difficult to believe that we will be headed back to the States in just 3 weeks.

This team has bonded particularly well and we have enjoyed many evenings sitting around a campfire sharing stories that the children have told us during the day. Pastor Tim Cox from Washington State brought his guitar and it has been especially pleasant to sit around an African campfire and sing many camp songs and Christian songs. Each evening one of our team also shares a short devotional. Most of the team has enjoyed some long hikes up the mountain for exercise and they have also been able to view many of the beautiful game on the farm. Nearly everyone has seen the zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, warthogs and several different antelope. On the residential side of the farm we have our breeding programs so we often see the sable, njala and impala.

Yesterday I took Pastor Greg Youman to a Rotary meeting with me in Mokopane. I have enjoyed doing several different things like this be get more involved with the community that we are living in. I think that it is important for us to not only serve the children of South Africa but that we also become part of the fabric of the culture here. I have enjoy developing a relationship with many pastors and doctors here as well. Every Wednesday morning I try to go to grand rounds at the hospital more to develop relationships that to learn medicine. I have however been impressed with the quality of the conferences and always learn something new at these conferences.

Last night we had an especially joyous happening here at Shikwaru. Two of our team members have been so moved by their experience here this week that they have chosen to get engaged to be married soon. Joe Leo asked Amada Cowman to be his wife. He popped the question in our new missionary campus. So memories are already starting to be made there even before the construction is completed. Tomorrow being Suday I plan to have a special prayer service at the new campus having these team from First Assembly dedicate this property to God and we will also be praying for the future marriage of this beautiful couple.

I often tell people that coming on a mission trip with us will change their lives. Now I can tell them that coming on a mission trip with us may be the beginning of lifetime partnership. Two years ago our son Dustin proposed to his Rene’ here at Shikwaru. In our family we call moments like this making memories. We have so many wonderful memories. Joe and Amada work together as police officers in Des Moines, Iowa. This morning they were able to visit the police departments of a couple of nearby communities to learn a bit more about what police work is like here in Africa.

As I type this I am sitting under a shade tree in Naboomspruit on the grounds of a small African church. It is a church and community that our ministry has been partnering with and supporting for a couple of years now. Every Saturday we have a 2 hour church service for the children and after church we feed the children. On a typical Saturday 75 to 100 children come and enjoy the afternoon of worship, good fellowship and a good meal. I always enjoy bringing our team members here to be able to see this portion of what our ministry is doing. We contribute to this feeding program by providing food from Kids Against Hunger, another ministry that we partner with in the USA.

This week we have had a pastor Tim Cox from Washington State. He is a bow hunter and loves to hunt. So far he has shot a large warthog and a wildebeest and is still out hunting while the rest of us are here feeding the children. His new nephew Dustin Cox is the youth pastor at Waterloo, Iowa First Assembly Church. They have enjoyed ministering here together in Africa.

Last night we invited all of the people who had helped us with the optical outreach for pizza and fellowship around our campfire. There were about 30 of us in total working together for the last week. We were able to give glasses to about 500 children and demonstrate to them that there are people like us in the world who really do care for them and to give them a ray of hope for their future. We also were able to give them a little glimpse of just how much Jesus loves each of them. All of our team members have been going on and on about how wonderful this experience has been for them. Just experiencing a different culture and the beauty of our game farm has been a blessing but the real blessing for most of them has been in being able to reach out and help these children who have so little but still seem so happy. We have all learned for sure that it is not material things or money that makes people happy. Just like children all over the world these children just enjoy being children and appreciate just being alive. In spite of way too much death here due to poverty, an AIDS epidemic and way too much crime they still knows how to play and have fun just like children all over the world. It is a joy for us to be able to reach out and make their lives just a bit better.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

First 3 months of 2009 in South Africa

I arrived back here in South Africa on February 4th my 64th birthday. Arriving a bit tired from the long journey my wife, Beth, picked me up from the airport and brought me immediately to our newly constructed home on Shikwaru Game Lodge. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was sharing my birthday with Moira the office manager of Shikwaru and that neighbors and staff were have a large surprise party for us in our new home. Moira’s husband, Abe Lincoln, the chef on our lodge prepared a wonderful South African braai with tasty pork ribs, lamb, chicken, and beef steak. I was hungry and tired and it was one of the best meals I had enjoyed in a long time. It was by far the best birthday I have celebrated in 64 years. There were about 30 of my South African friends at the party. I just love the community that we have here at Shikwaru. It is our own little family here in Africa. Beth arrived one week prior to me to do some shopping to decorate and supply our new home. I had last seen it when it was in the final stages of construction in September. It is an absolutely beautiful comfortable home built for community living and lots of company and long-term guests. Lisa Shadley, one of our long-term ambassadors traveled over here early with Beth to help set up housekeeping. Terry Richardson, our other current long-term ambassador, traveled with me. We were both very tired but so excited to be back here in the Africa that we love.

When time permits we take long 5-kilometer walks in the bush at sunrise each morning. I feel so much joy and happiness here in Africa this year. More than I have ever felt in my life. I am sure there are many reasons for my newfound joy but having our own permanent home here is one of the big reasons. The other primary thing that makes me feel such joy is that Beth also feels the same joy. God continues to bless our ministry and marriage, and we continue to experience exponential growth in spite of the slowdown in the worldwide economy. As we drove in, we saw a beautiful new gate entrance into the game farm and into the residential side of the farm. The new ambassador campus is progressing quite well. We are building 3 two-bedroom roundovels and a larger central roundovel for an office and shared dining and laundry facilities for all of our ambassadors. The ambassador campus is being built in honor of our good friends Bob and Leila Thompson. Bob and Leila are from our home church, which supplied a good share of the needed funds for this campus and Bob has been on the mission board at Des Moines First Assembly of God since they first developed a mission board. We presented this honor to Bob and Leila at the fall mission’s convention of First Assembly. Bob and Leila are in their 80’s and were both in good health in November 08 when we had this celebration for them. Just about 2 weeks later Leila became quite ill with breathing difficulties and had emergency heart valve replacement in the hospital. Just 2 weeks ago she passed away as a complication from this surgery. We love both Bob and Lelia so much and miss Leila now that she has passed over into Heaven. However I am so thankful that God gave me the vision to honor them while they were both alive and healthy and could enjoy being honored in this way. This missionary campus will be a small African village standing here at Shikwaru Lodge for many years. These are brick two story homes with a thatched roof and are just beautiful. I love walking by them each morning. When Leila died her family chose to have part of her memorial be given to this campus and the funds we received will be used to furnish the commons area of the Bob and Leila Missionary Campus. Some of Leila’s daughter’s and Beth’s good friends are also establishing a library of Christian books and DVD’s that will be placed in the Ambassador campus central community building. I am so thankful when I follow the little nudges that God sometimes sends my way. A similar thing occurred when I started a free medical clinic at Des Moines First Assembly to honor Beth’s Mom Margaret Cramer. Unfortunately she passed on into Heaven before she knew of that honor. We are praying that Bob Thompson along with several of his friends will be able to come to Africa in July to be present when we officially dedicate the campus. We have a beautiful portrait of them that will permanently hang in the living area of the community building.

Another one of the other main reasons for so much joy in my heart this year is that our two ambassadors, Terry and Lisa, are sacrificially living for the Lord and our ministry here. They both work day and night without ever the smallest complaint or sign of discouragement. In spite of an occasional poisonous snake, a few bugs and rodents, flat tires and getting our vehicles stuck in mud holes. They are working with small salaries and long difficult work schedules and also seem to be filled with joy. One additional small factor that contributes or our joy here, I think, is that we never watch TV, and in the USA all of the negative financial, political, crime news and other bad things steal a lot of people’s joy.
We have completed two of our usual optical outreaches; the first on over in Kwa Zulu Natal working with the Zulu tribes over near the Indian Ocean on the Mozambique and Swaziland border. We had a wonderful time on this outreach seeing nearly 800 children and learning lots about the Zulu culture and history.

Our second outreach was in the Mokopane area near the game farm and it was a blessing to be able to come home and sleep in our own beds each evening. It was also a blessing to be able to serve the children living near our home and headquarters. We saw a little over 800 children on this our second outreach of 2009. The efficiency and quality of our optical clinics continue to improve with each one we do. We are so blessed to have quality equipment like our Nikon Retinomax Auto Refractor. We are also blessed to have a good supply of attractive new glasses that we purchase from China. The children always love their new glasses. Just last night we had a pajama party where we took an online training put on by an eye ministry in Louisville, KY teaching me and the rest of our staff lots more about how we will soon be able to serve and care for children with severe astigmatism. That has been a weakness in the quality of our clinics up until now. I also just learned that if I will simply dilate the eyes of the children we see we will get much more accurate readings from our auto refractor. Since the training was given in Kentucky we were up from 1:00 AM until 5 AM to participate in the live training. I was very tired from hosting our large medical team that had just departed the day of the training but it was well worth getting up for to receive all of the tips that we got.

The last couple of weeks after we completed the second outreach, we all spent a lot of time and effort recruiting South African physicians and hospitals to come to our medical education conference. I had been working on it for about 18 months and had successfully recruited 10 highly trained medical specialists from America to come and speak along with former Governor Brandstad, president of Des Moines University. We also had Jerry Foster, an expert medical financial counselor and author, speaking on preventive maintenance for the medical marriage and financial planning for SA physicians. Right up until the week of the conference we still did not have any South African doctors registered for the conference. I was becoming quite concerned that all of these highly trained professionals would be donating 2 weeks of their time and money to travel 8000 miles just to be speaking to each other and not to the SA doctors as I had planned. We prayed and asked all of our prayer partners to pray with us for the doctors to come to the conference. Just 2 days prior to the conference I called my friend Dr. Buthelezi the head of the Limpopo Health Department in Polokwane and shared with him my concern; he immediately said that he would help me and sent out a notice to all of the public hospitals in Limpopo (about 50 hospitals) encouraging them to send their doctors to the conference. He also arranged for the Limpopo Health department to pay the tuition and lodging for doctors attending our conference. He actually told me that he thought that 150 doctors would be coming to the conference. I then became concerned that our prayers would be answered, and we would have more doctors at the conference that we could properly take care of. Our lodge is prepared to house around 100 guests, so we booked an additional 20 beds with one of our neighbors who also has a game lodge. At the end of the day about 60 doctors came to the conference along with our 5 visiting medical students from Des Moines University. I was proud of all of the American and South African doctors who spoke at the conference. We received lots of feedback from all attending about the excellent quality of the lectures and discussion. We are already beginning to plan our second annual international medical conference at Shikwaru. Next year I am thinking that we should put the conference on for 2 weekends back-to-back and have the American speakers give their same talk at both conferences to permit doctors on call the first weekend to come the second weekend permitting us to serve twice as many medical providers. On Monday after the weekend conference this year we all traveled to Polokwane, Limpopo the capitol city of Limpopo to sign an official agreement between Des Moines University and the Limpopo Department of Health and Social Development. This will pave the way for many new programs and permit us to have many more medical students from Iowa doing clinical rotations here in Africa. So far we have had 13 students do a one-month rotation and have had excellent feedback from all of the regarding the quality of their clinical and cultural experience. We are also helping the University of Limpopo develop a new medical school in Polokwane, and as soon as they begin enrolling students we will also have them do clinical rotations at DMU in Iowa. While the leaders of DMU were visiting the hospitals here in Limpopo they were quite impressed with the potential to expand our current clinical rotations to include a regular elective rotation in obstetrics for all of their students which will mean that soon we will have lots more students from Iowa coming here to SA. It appears that they will be able to deliver many babies during their one month rotation giving them wonderful experience and at the same time helping with the severe shortage of medical providers here in Africa. While the DMU leaders were here we also visited a college of optometry in Limpopo to evaluate the possibility of starting a new college of optometry at DMU. There are currently very few colleges of optometry in the Midwest so it looks like a good opportunity for DMU to grown into this new area. It would also be wonderful in providing many new optometry students and optometry doctors to help us in the optical work we are doing here in Africa. I had been praying that the Lord would provide additional optometrist and now it looks as if He may be blessing us with a whole new optometry college. One amazing thing that happened as we visited the optometry college in Limpopo is that when they learned that we were from Iowa they asked me if we knew Dr. Clark Jensen and he is a friend of mine who practices in Grinell, Iowa and had taught in the optometry school here for 5 years 20 years ago. It is truly a small world. One additional interesting thing I found out when we visited the optometry college is that I learned that they have a mobile outreach to the poor villages in Limpopo that travels by train and delivers free optical care to the poor giving their students good clinical experience and offering care to many people who could otherwise not afford it. They gave me permission to join them on one of these outreaches in August of September.

We really enjoyed hosting Iowa’s former governor Terry Brandstad in our new home. We are thinking of changing the name of his bedroom from the Leopard room to the Governor’s Room. It was amazing to watch he and Beth play Ultimate Scrabble. He held his own with her and she is one of the best scrabble players around as she plays almost every night.

This weekend, to just get away for 24 hours, I drove up to Botswana with Jacques and stayed at a beautiful game reserve right on the Botswana border. Beth and I had stayed there last year and really enjoyed it. The last couple of weeks have been so busy that she decided to stay home and catch up on some laundry and house cleaning. The real reason that I went ahead without her was to help host one of our guests from Iowa who wanted to see the area. This morning we did a game drive in a boat along the Limpopo River and saw three crocodiles.
When I got home this afternoon, I was reminded that we do indeed live in the bush and that it is sometimes a dangerous place. Andre, our professional hunter, was out making his rounds on our farm and found a baby zebra that had been attacked by a leopard. The leopard had attacked him in the neck area and he was severely injured. He brought him down to base camp and we began cleansing and bandaging his wounds. We got some milk and fluids down him and gave him a sedative shot. We were just getting ready to do some surgery on his neck to drain a possible abscess and further clean up the wounds when he stopped breathing. We were hoping that we could save his life and even have a pet zebra around the base camp but he was too young, and his injuries were too severe. The rest of the herd apparently was able to chase away his attacker and allow him to live as long as he did. As I was driving up the mountain this afternoon I also saw a black backed jackal reminding me again that there are lots of predators here and it is survival of the fittest.

We just sent the governor and our team of physicians home on Friday and our next optical team began arriving this afternoon with the arrival of Dustin Cox, a pastor from Waterloo, IA. Our home church, Des Moines First Assembly, will be sending several team members here this coming weekend along with our daughter Kelsey. It will be wonderful to have her here ministering with us for the next month.

Today I had the blessing of delivering my first baby here in South Africa. I was helping Jackie, the wife of our professional hunter, tour the maternity department at Mokopane Hospital and an unattended woman in the room just by the waiting room starting having her baby, so a nurse and I assisted her. It is a 3 kilogram beautiful baby girl.