Read about our updates from South Africa. Blessman International exists to meet the physical, educational, emotional and spiritual needs of the people of Southern Africa, with special attention to the children of this area.
For us at Blessman International this has been a roller coaster year with some exciting highs and scary lows. I’ll start with the highs— over 100 people came to South Africa in 2016 to serve with us on short-term mission trips. I have great memories of sitting around an African campfire and sharing stories with individuals and teams from several different churches, Rotary, International Leadership Academy, Days for Girls, medical students, and nurses. Even after many years of doing this, I continue to be amazed at how fast and deep friendships grow on these incredible overseas experiences. Nearly everyone who comes and serves with us report back that their lives were changed in a significant way. We also celebrate that lives of many children and adults in South Africa have been impacted in a significant way as a result of these short-term trips. Thank you to everyone who invested in one of these life-changing experiences!
A low point for us was a frightening event. Dustin had a motorcycle accident at night and alone in the beautiful remote mountains in the country of Lesotho. With a broken leg and separated ankle, he had to ride his motorcycle to catch up with his friends for the night. The next day he rode 7 more hours to where I met him with pain medication and then drove him to a quality hospital in Johannesburg where he had surgery and his leg was put in a cast. All parents know that our children are often good for our prayer lives!
Looking forward, the vision that God has given me for the work we are doing in Africa has multiple components. Number one will be to continue strengthening our churches by taking church into the schools. The doors opened for Pastor Jonathan to preach at four local high schools once a week for 30 minutes. Hearing a solid Christian message week after week is impacting the lives of several thousand young people.
We will continue recruiting team members to come to Africa to serve with us. I believe that we will be able to grow our feeding program to provide high quality nutrition to 10,000 children each week. We will do this through a new partnership with Willow Creek Church in Chicago by assisting them with their existing feeding program.
I am praying that we will be able to expand our current water and sanitation program by drilling a few more wells and building many more quality toilets.
I anticipate our biggest growth next year will be with our farming program as we expand our current efforts to train Africans in better farming techniques and adding sustainability to our feeding program in partnership with Iowa State University, Meals from the Heartland and Convoy of Hope.
A big thank you to all of our friends and partners who pray for us and faithfully support this wonderful work that God has called us to. I am thankful that as we complete 15 years on the mission field, God continues to protect and provide for us. My health is good and He continues to fill my heart with joy!
Our time here in South Africa is rapidly winding down. While all eyes in America are on the elections, we are busy here helping our orphans and vulnerable children survive another month. As I was driving through our village of Sekgakgapeng this weekend with our newest team, I was reflecting on how things have changed over a dozen or so years that we have been serving here.
Some things have not changed; the unemployment is still hovering around 75%. There are still too many alcoholics, and crimes of poverty. The national government remains ineffective at helping with the schools and the education of the children in the rural areas where we live and serve.
Children at our Del Cramer Children's Campus in South Africa
On the positive side of the equation, there are definite signs of hope. The Del Cramer Children’s Campus and Lighthouse Christian Church are instruments of change in this community. Nutrition of the children has improved with the infusion of a half a million meals in the immediate area each year. With the educational programs at the church and child development center, 300 to 500 children’s learning capacity has increased. They are hopeful of a better life in the future. With the agricultural training that we are doing, the quality of the gardens surrounding many of the homes have improved. There is more pride in the community with trash and garbage cleanups in the area around our campus. Only God knows if these positive changes will last and have a greater impact, but I am hopeful. If we can just hang on for another 6 years, we will have an entire generation of young people’s lives that have been impacted. I am also hopeful that these positive changes will pick up momentum, like a rolling snowball.
The majority of this newest generation has not grown up with the expectation of going to church each Sunday, so we take the church to them. We are now having a mini- church service in 3 of the surrounding high schools each week, bringing the Good News of the Bible and Christian moral values to 2,500 students each week.
We are also taking our message into the large provincial prison in our capital city of Polokwane. There we are teaching 15 inmates a new skill of sewing. In addition to learning a valuable new job skill, they get the sense of doing something helpful to people living outside of the prison. This week they are beginning to sew washable, reusable feminine hygiene kits that we will distribute to impoverished, young ladies in the schools in our area.
Our water project with Hy-Vee and the Rotary is nearing completion. With some funds remaining from the grant we hope to drill a well at Pastor Chauke’s church, property where is he taking care of 90 children in a preschool program. For the last 2 years, he has been hauling in water in containers in his own pickup to help care for these children.
New Toilets Built at a Rural School About 45 Minutes away from our Lodge
We are still in a holding pattern waiting for the Department of Education to release the matching funds that they indicated they would make available to us. This would be used to build replacement toilets in 20 rural schools. We finished a pilot program in one of these schools earlier this year to prove the department that we have the capacity to build these new waterless toilet systems.
We received some exciting news last week. In that next month, we will have our newest ambassador of God’s love joining us, Blake Ricker. He has worked with us for a summer internship, many years ago, and is now hoping to come and spend many months with us getting our Alpha training up and running at our two churches.
Pastor Jonathan Preaching at Lighthouse Christian Church in South Africa
Pastor Jonathan will be joining us in the States for a couple of weeks in October, as we travel to Denver, to present our program on church planting to the LCMC International Gathering. We will also be speaking at Northwestern College, in St Paul, the following week. After that, we will speak at an international leadership conference at Lutheran Church of Hope, early in October.
Days for Girls Team Distributing Kits
Our teams are remaining strong with us now have an annual “Days for Girls” team, Rotary team and an “International Leadership Academy” team. We will also be continuing our long standing outreaches doing optical clinics, shoe clinics and Days for Girls distributions. Please pray for Beth as she goes in to have both of her knees replaced early in October as well. We appreciate all your prayers.
The purpose of this blog today is to give a full report of what is going on in my life and the life of the wonderful ministry that God has given us.
Jim, Beth, Kelsey, Robert, and Juniper at Kelsey's Graduation
During April and May Beth and I were back in the States to reconnect with family, churches, and friends. This was very pleasant in that we got to reconnect with our daughter Kelsey’s family and that includes our beautiful two-year-old granddaughter. It was such a joy to watch her grow and develop new skills daily. We also celebrated graduations of both Kelsey and our son-in-law Robert.
It was also a big blessing to attend the seminary graduation of our son-in-law, David, in Los Angeles. Our three grandchildren there have grown and matured way too fast. Our oldestgrandchild just turned 18.
Doc and Kelsey Blessman on Stockton Lake
We also had a week of complete rest and relaxation as we got to sail on Stockton Lake, in Missouri, and visit our two churches there.
I admit to still being a bit of a workaholic and the work we got done was to host our large spring gala that raised over $400,000 thanks to many of our volunteers for their hard and effective work and to our faithful donors. We celebrated 15 years in full time ministry with this gala.
We are now towards the end of a 2-month stay back in South Africa. The season is winter and I have not really enjoyed the cold weather along with the short days. One of my main desires with this trip is to launch our large project replacing the dangerous and disgusting outdoor toilets that the rural impoverished school children are forced to use. The money that we raised at the gala was primarily focused toward this program and these funds are to be matched by the governmental department of education in the Limpopo province.
First Completed Eviro Loo Toilets
Our son Dustin and his construction team have done a great job constructing a pilot set of toilets for a rural school near our Mountain View Farm. We purchased a new backhoe to help us with this project and completed the pilot project in 2 months as planned. When we arrived back in Africa in June the construction team had completed 3 beautiful brick toilet buildings housing 20 toilet stalls.
A team of 22 Americans was present to celebrate the beautiful ribbon cutting. The school had rented a large tent, had music and a catered meal. They invited the media, tribal authorities, officials from the department of education, parents, and all of the children. In essence, it was a large African party in a rural village and our team especially enjoyed the traditional African singing and dancing. At this ceremony we officially handed the project over to the school and instructed the administration and parent teacher organization how to properly maintain and care for these new toilets. With the funds we have raised from America and the matching funds from the department we hope to build approximately 160 new toilet stalls in our school district.
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Unfortunately the wheels of government turn slowly, and as I write this today we are still waiting for final written approval to proceed and complete the full project. We had verbal approval 2 months ago to start the project with the pilot build but now have to wait for final written approval for the department to pay their portion of the matching funds.
One thing I have learned on the mission field is patience. In America things work efficiently and effectively. In most developing countries I have worked in, it seems like someone has poured molasses in the working of the governments. We often use the saying here TIA (this is Africa). Living and working here has been good for my prayer life.
Speaking of prayer life, on June 30th at 9 PM Beth and I were in a vehicle accident as we were driving home from Rotary. Fortunately no one was inured in the accident and we were able to drive the vehicle home. It will likely have to be in the vehicle hospital for about 3 weeks. In America it would be a few days.
The other matter for prayer is that we had a couple of break-ins. Both our personal home and Dustin and Rene’s home were broken in to. Since then we have put multiple new security measures in place and we feel safe on our campus. During this time we have had five American team members living on our campus and they all agree that the peaceful atmosphere has returned to our beautiful campus.
A big accomplishment in June is that we have completed drilling 10 wells for our large global matching grant with HyVee and the Rotary. Kabelo will complete the final paperwork that Rotary requires on completion matching grant.
As part of my succession plan for our ministry we are busy establishing several new committees that will be doing a lot of the work that I have been doing and they will report to our board. Our board consists of twelve faithful Godly people who are also skilled business people willing to donate many hours of their time. We also have a great staff and board members in Africa who, with Dustin and Rene’s leadership, will manage all of the projects and activities of the ministry.
Our two churches continue to grow in spiritual maturity and are changing the lives of many people here in Africa. Last Sunday Mountain View Church had a dedication service to dedicate our children to God. The entire 2-hour service was committed to dedicating these 25 children. Toward the end of the service the adults sat and washed the feet of every child in the church. They then gave each child a pair of beautiful new shoes. The pastor told me that for him this was the best church service we had ever had at Mountain View Church.
Our after school program at the Del Cramer Children’s Campus remains the flagship, shinning star of all that we are trying to accomplish here in South Africa. 105 children each fed a hot meal each day and are provided with a high quality child enrichment program. There is a computer lab there for their use, a bakery for warm fresh bread, a small farming and poultry program to create job skills training and financial sustainability. The social development branch of the government funds this program with a small fee paid for each child every day that they are in the program. This program is being managed by a community board and requires a small amount of funding from Blessman Ministries. Overall this program is well managed and is employing many people from the village and at the same time provides an excellent level of care for 105 orphans and vulnerable children. Everything we do at Blessman Ministries is focused like a laser to improve the lives of children and help them to become followers of Christ.
Thank you for reading to the end. We appreciate each and everyone of you, and thankful for all the prayers that have come our way.
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.”
Our Del Cramer Children’s campus is where we first established our roots in South Africa. We are building a model of immediate care and long term stability through career training and micro-enterprises. The Del Cramer center is run by our own staff and local volunteers. The center serves many capacities acting as an after school program for 100 children and is home for two of our micro enterprises. Beyond focusing on providing the children a hot meal daily and a safe place to stay in the afternoon, we go deeper providing computer training, teaching life skills, and a lasting knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Jacqueline at School in South Africa
Jacqueline Kgohloane, a 16 year old from Sekgakgapeng, is a part of the feeding center at Del Cramer. In 2011, the Del Cramer campus opened and Jacqueline came Monday-Friday to receive a hot meal. She was also a leader on the worship team for children’s church on Sundays.
Two years ago we featured Jacqueline in a newsletter. At that time Jacqueline was 14 years old. Her favorite subjects in school included Math and English. She lived with her mother, Constance, her older brother, Alpheus, her older sister, Judith, and her younger sister, Sophie. One of Jacqueline’s favorite things to do with her friends was play netball. Food makes her smile. She especially loves ice cream. She wants to attended college when that time comes and study to become a doctor. When asked how Blessman Ministries has helped her in the past, she answered by saying that Blessman Ministries has provided her with food, shoes and even some scarves and hats. Jacqueline comes to the Feeding Center at Del Cramer 7 days a week and receives a meal. She especially loves coming on Sunday to attend church. She said that she loves to worship Jesus.
Jacqueline with her Rotary Exchange Family
Fast forward two years and Jacqueline is now 16 years old, living in Winterset, Iowa. She was chosen to be a Rotary Exchange student and is living with Chris and Laura Bertelson and their daughters in Winterset for the next year. Her favorite subjects include Science and Math. She hopes to use what she learns in these subjects to someday become a midwife. The desire to become a midwife comes from her love of babies and wanting to help them. She has enjoyed getting to meet new people and go on new adventures with her hosting family. In mid-January she attended the Madrigal Dinner at Iowa State. She thoroughly enjoyed this experience and said it is her favorite thing she’s done since arriving in December. Each day brings with it new experiences, but what has surprised her most is the weather-zero degrees is cold!
Jim & Beth Blessman with Jacqueline in the Snow and Bird Watching
When speaking about Jacqueline, Doctor Blessman stated, “It was a joy to see her experience many new things like flying, Christmas season at a large mall, snow and Christmas Eve services. She has a quiet personality, but it is obvious that she is having the greatest experience of her life so far.”
Jacqueline at Rotary in the U.S.
Jacqueline will be speaking at many Rotary Clubs and churches over the next 11 months. There is also a wonderful opportunity offered through Rotary for her to tour the U.S. in June. The cost of this trip is $3,500. If you would like to help fund this trip please go to www.BlessmanMinistries.org/Donations. Anything extra that is raised will go towards Jacqueline’s education in South Africa. We appreciate all that have prayed and been a part of Jacqueline’s journey these past 4 years.
Our family just completed a nice stay back in the States reconnecting with many friends and family. We enjoyed spending the holidays with family in LA, Phoenix and Iowa. I rarely write a blog when I am in the US as it would be a bit boring, but I do have a few updates.
In October, we attended the annual Lutheran Churches Mission for Christ (LCMC) International Gathering Convention. We were able to connect with 4 or 5 new large churches that indicate an interest in sending mission teams and future support of projects. Unfortunately, we were not able to get a visa for Pastor Jonathan to join us at that gathering. We will try again next year.
Jim and Sarah at the Waukee Rotary
Sarah Akin finished her 9-month missionary service with us in October and started a new job working in development in our office. She will be busy raising funds and helping all of us build teams. She has been my shadow for most of my meetings over the last 3 months and we were quite successful in raising our complete budget for 2015 and this included raising nearly $1 million dollars for our new Enviro Loo toilet project, thanks to a match from the South African government.
Jim with Jacqueline in the U.S.
During the last 3 months we got our Rotary exchange student, Jacqueline settled into her temporary home in Winterset. It was a joy to see her experience many new things like flying, Christmas season at a large mall, snow, and Christmas Eve services (blog to come).
In 2015, we expanded our U.S. board of directors by 50% and formed several new committees to get the ministry moving forward even when I am in South Africa. It is a joy to work with these people who are passionate about the work we are doing and support our ministry with many hours of volunteering and much needed funds.
We have strong teams coming over the next 3 months and we are still building additional teams. I am excited to start hosting them next week. The teams are always a lot of work for us but we receive great value from having 150 people come each year. They always go home excited about what they have experienced and help us bring in future new team members, churches and funding.
In the next couple, of weeks I will be meeting with the team that we have formed to start a new hospice unit. We are praying for new missionaries to join us and one of them that is showing high interest has experience managing a hospice unit in Iowa. If she is able to come, that will go a long way towards the success of this new unit. Her husband would be excellent at helping manage construction teams for the new toilets. They would also be helping us host our teams. God is so good to us and always faithful.
I will soon be meeting with the chief of our village to see if I can get his support with convincing the neighbors of Del Cramer to permit us to build our Teen Challenge type rehab center there.
I have been suffering from a worrisome medical issue during the last 2 months with thoracic pain that feels like the shingles. I also had fevers, fatigue, and joint aches and pains. At first I thought that I had contacted Valley Fever from my walks in the desert in Phoenix but tests for that have been negative. I had a normal CT scan of my chest, a full cardiac workup and upper GI endoscopy all of which were normal. The chest pain is still a thorn in my side but I am no longer worried about it and expect to fully recover in the next few weeks.
Signing MOU with the University of Limpopo
Kabelo and I met with the University of Limpopo to sign a memorandum of understanding for their graduate students to start helping us at Mountain View Training & Research Farm. I also hope to soon meet with the Department of Education (DOE) and work with them to expand our feeding program from 7,500 children per day to 8,500. If we can have success with this then I hope to get the DOE to fund two additional containers of food each year. While I was in the US I had good meetings with Meals from the Heartland and Convoy of Hope. They both confirmed that if I can raise the funds for additional containers they have enough food to send to us. For the last several years we have been receiving 4 containers per year, which equals 1.2 million meals. The children that we will be serving with the DOE will be orphans and vulnerable children who are identified as needing extra food to get them through the weekends. We will be sending a package of rice home with each of these children every Friday afternoon.
Moving forward we hope to get the funds from the government released in the next couple of weeks so that we can start building the toilets in February. There are many exciting things on the horizon, I am excited to be back in the land and with the people that God has called us to. As you read this please take a moment to send me a note on Facebook or by email. Hearing from our friends and partners around the world is always a great encouragement to Beth and me.
Many are called to send God’s message across the seas, and fulfilling this mission is done through mission trips, which over a million Christians participate in every year. In fact, every day is always a great opportunity to spread the message of grace and see firsthand how faith is able to move mountains, even among the poorest communities in countries like South Africa.
There’s no doubt that you’ll need to pack particular items and get yourself ready physically before going on a mission trip with organizations like Blessman Ministries, but preparing yourself, in heart and spirit, is a different thing altogether. Physical ability and endurance will be for naught if your heart and spirit
Deepen Your Faith
Knowing that you’re about to embark on one of the most significant experiences in your life, you should prepare by deepening your faith and taking it to a new level. Put absolute faith in God’s love, forgiveness, provision, and salvation, and you’ll never feel dejected by whatever may happen.
More importantly, transform your prayer life. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request.” It would help to ask other people to pray for you as you embark on a life-changing journey.
Strive for the Bigger Picture
Forget about going to these short term missions to have something to brag about or to feel good about themselves. Remember that there’s a greater purpose for these missions: to bring God’s message to everyone. Keep this thought in your heart and use it as a compass for your trip.
Once you’re done with these preparations, you’re all set for Christian mission trips, probably one of the best experiences you’ll ever have. You may even learn a new thing or two about your faith, which you can integrate into your daily life.
Preparing for a Short-Term Mission Trip, Post 1: Spiritual Preparation, WorldChristians.info
Blessman Ministries, a Christian ministry organization known for volunteer work and short-term mission trips to Africa, is now working on becoming fully sustainable. We do this by enlisting the help of those willing to help and establishing micro-enterprises in the South African communities. Our organization has decided to focus our efforts on this area given its dire situation. According to an Economist article, South Africa is in the middle of an industrial strife years after it became a full democracy.
There just isn’t adequate education that would produce able workers to fill job vacancies even in the public sector. Skill shortages drive up the unemployment rate to about 25 percent, which is 5 percent higher than it was in 1994. Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate is just above 50 percent. The Economist goes on to say that people who don’t have a stable job by the time they reach 24 probably won’t have a chance to find full-time work.
Blessman Ministries’ micro-enterprise programs seek to educate able individuals in the community so that they will be able to work, and hopefully help drive down the unemployment rate of the republic. We have a farming program that is well on its way to becoming fully sustainable. In partnership with the South African Department of Agriculture and the Iowa State University, the locals are growing vegetables in our
Not only do these micro-enterprise programs provide job opportunities for the locals, it also helps our mission base self-sustaining and cover our overhead costs. This way, we can provide more help to children and their families. We also use the yield from our farms for our feeding programs that
Blessman Ministries encourages volunteers of all ages to give back to the people of Africa. Interested parties may apply for long-term or short-term mission trips to experience the joys sharing time and talents to the less fortunate. We have trip schedules for this year and other relevant information up on our website.
As a non-profit organization, we work to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the families. We provide nutritional support, medical care, housing, training and much more. Our organization was founded by Dr. Jim and Beth Blessman in August 2001 and is based in Urbandale, Iowa.
- President's Blog- February 22, 2017
- President's Report- January 26th, 2017
- President's Report January 2017
- President's Report September 2016
- President's Report July 2016
- President's Report May 2016
- Jacqueline's Journey to the U.S.
- Update from South Africa - January 2016
- Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Preparation for Short Term Missions
- Sustainability through Micro-Enterprises and Mission Trips to Africa
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