Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wonderful Christmas

About the time I promised to maintain the blog, we lost internet service and did not get it back until today! So, Lord willing (as always), I will continue the blog until we get back to Iowa.

Cape Town
Brian & Lois took us to Cape Town last week for a few days. It was beautiful seeing the mountains, the sea and some new wildlife. We saw monkeys, ostriches, penguins, baboons , seals and impala living in the wild. They must be intelligent animals because we saw no road kill.

What a Christmas! It began with a busy day of preparation on Monday wrapping and sorting gifts that had been donated by sponsors and others. The Pines children had opportunity to take R15 (about $2) from their earnings for doing special jobs to purchase a gift for someone that does not live at The Pines. They chose old neighbors in Thabon township and #7 and others. We all went to the store on Monday afternoon so they could chose and purchase their gifts. Talk about stressful--11 children who probably have never shopped before trying to decide what they should buyfrom hundreds of items in the store. It took about an hour with 5 adults assisting.
Christmas day in this part of the world begins with Christians going to church for an hour of worship! We are thrilled to see how these children respond to workshipping God. They love to sing and did just that many times on Christmas day. They learned about a dozen carols this year and enjoy singing them. After church we prepared a potjiekos (like a stew on the grill) and then the children opened gifts while it was cooking. The excitement was electric! This is the first year that 7 of these children received gifts for Christmas--normally they would receive a set of clothes and very little celebration. They have been learing for 2 months now the true meaning of Christmas. Oh, I have to tell you, before we opened gifts Brian asked if one of the children would pray. Refiloe (girl 10 yrs old) prayed for a couple of minutes and very clearly thanked God for sending Jesus to save her from her sins and for the priviledge of celebrating His birthday. It was a joy to hear a recently saved girl express herself so well!
Lunch was served to about 29 people at The Pines. The afternoon was spent driving to the various destinations to deliver the gifts the children had purchased for others. They had as much joy giving those gifts as they did opening their own gifts. The witnessed great joy in their friends as they opened the gifts--I am talking joy as in jumping up and down screeming for 15 seconds! What a Christmas to remember.
Thank you to each one of you for making this Christmas a reality. No matter what part you have in this ministry, you indeed have a part in what God is doing at The Pines. Lives are being changed and children are coming to Him! Praise the Lord!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bob & Susan still in South Africa

Yes, we are still here and will be until the 29th of December. We will keep the blog going with our activities.

Yesterday we got back from Johannesburg after taking the team and spending an extra day so Brian & Lois could buy Christmas gifts for the children. The children were thrilled to see the van come rolling in--they even tried to peek in the back seat to see what might be there!
The rain continues here--at least it keeps it cool.

Today we head for Cape Town for 5 days. Keep checking back as I will post pictures and anything else I think might interest you.


Friday, December 14, 2007

On Our Way Home

The team is busy saying goodby to everyone here at The Pines. We all enjoyed our stay here but the time has come to leave! We arrive at the Des Moines Airport at 3:14 on Monday.

Thank you for your part in our trip and for your faithful prayer. Your share in this ministry is huge and we thank you.

See you soon!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Almost Done!

After another long day of tiling, we are almost done with the kitchen! Yesterday the entryway and hallway were tiled and prepared for grout. Dawn and Gina did a little more painting and Suzie cut tile. Rose, Holly, and I worked in the garden in the morning and swam a little in the afternoon. We had a nice evening out at a local restaraunt; we celebrated Cebesile's birthday! The waiters were very friendly and sang two different birthday songs to her. It was good entertainment! There's only a little work left, so pray that our knees and muscles will hold out as we finish today.

The closer we come to the end of the project, the more bittersweet I feel. I love that we have been able to take on a huge task, and by the grace of God, have (almost) been able to complete it. It has been wonderful to see Brian and Lois work together in ministry. How neat to see people I have grown up with, friends, serve the Lord and impact others for Christ. The children here are bright, funny, outgoing kids who are excited about life and excited to learn about Jesus.

At the same time, the needs at The Pines and in South Africa are so great. How selfish I am to even consider my own wants when people here are dying and in need of the gospel of Christ! How can we leave? I feel choked up even writing about good-bye!

This morning, our plans are to grout the tile, put on all the drawer fronts, and put in the counter top. We hope to finish by lunch time and then spend the afternoon doing some souvenir shopping in Welkom and playing with the kids. Gina plans to go back to Reahola and follow-up with the boy she led to Christ on Monday. Tonight, we are having a barbecue with all the children and house mothers. It will be a fun last day at the Pines!

We miss you all, but I am not ready to come home! For now, I am off to grout.

Abby for the Team

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

work, Work, WORK

Yesterday was a day of WORK! Everyone helped to tile the kitchen, finish varnishing and sanding the cabinets, paint the walls, and scrape the mud out of the cracks to get ready to grout. I think we all slept hard last night!

The tiling job proved to be a little more difficult than we had anticipated, as the cement floor was definitely not level. We were continuously pulling up tiles because they were not laying flat. Today we will tile the entryway, hallway, and inside the pantry. Pray that the South African mud will cooperate!

The painting is basically finished. We still have to paint the ceiling in the nursery, the hall, and the wall of the pantry. We may also have to sand and varnish the cabinets once more before they are done.

Everyone was able to pitch in yesterday. Suzie is an excellent tile cutter. Bob, Marvin, and Brian laid most of the tile. Gina and Dawn painted the walls and trimmed. Jim was the mud mixer. Holly and I handed tile to the men and did general "gopher" jobs. Rose swept and helped Dawn with lunch. No matter what ability level, each one could help out and get dirty.

Dawn, Holly, and I took the kids swimming again yesterday afternoon. They all love to swim! It's work just to get them out of the pool at the end of the afternoon! Mokhosi and Mpho cannot swim on their own yet, but have discovered that if they jump into the pool with a noodle, they don't need any help! They refer to the noodle as their "horse," are constantly shouting things like, "Yee-haw!" and "Giddy-up, horse!" They were pretty proud of themselves.

Much work was done yesterday; the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day was good for everyone. It makes the sore muscles worth it! Pray that we can complete the kitchen today. It will be nice to leave here knowing that God has allowed us to finish the job we came to do.

Abby for the Team

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Short and Sweet!

I only have a few moments to write today because the whole team is going to work on the kitchen. We will paint and lay all the tile--pray for a productive day of hard labor!

Yesterday, we were able to visit Morning Star; this a daycare and preschool for HIV positive children. We took a tour and while we were there, a group of children performed several songs for us. I am posting a video of this--sorry the quality is so poor. Hopefully you get the idea!

Marvin, Dawn, Holly, and I took the children swimming in the afternoon. It is so much fun to play in the pool with them! There isn't actually much room for swimming when 13 children and 4 adults climb in the pool, but the lack of space doesn't diminish the fun!

Thank you for praying for Holly. She is much improved today; the medication is definitely helping! She isn't 100 percent yet, but she's well on her way. She was glad to finally be able to play with the kids again.

Last night, everyone gathered in the dining room for Lois' birthday celebration. Dawn made one of her famous ice cream cakes, and it was a hit! After cake, we all moved to the living room to watch Lois open all her gifts. Everyone decided that the best gift of all came when Cebesile took her first steps! We all clapped and cheered when she toddled over to Brian all by herself! I will try to get some video of this and post it for you all tomorrow--to think, six months ago she couldn't even sit up or feed herself alone. Now, she is walking! Praise the Lord!

Sorry for the short entry today, but Bob has made me his right hand for the day, so I have to go! Love you all!
Abby for the Team

Whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved!

The top photo is of all the people who were residents of The Pines. Actually, there should be one more since one of the house mothers is on holiday. The other photos are of our outreach Bible club at Reahola.
Yesterday was sunny once again, and we were all glad because we were able to have Bible club! Due to the rain on Saturday, we had to cancel. So, we decided to make up the day on Monday.

Games were crazy! There were at least 70 children present! Thankfully, Kara, Katherine, and Suzy were able to take the smaller ones aside and play duck-duck-goose. The older kids enjoyed playing steal the bacon and (Sparky)in and out. After game time is song time. Dawn, Holly, and I taught the children "Bind Us Together," earlier in the week, and it was definitely a hit! The kids just love to sing songs. After singing is our Bible lesson from Gina. She does a wonderful job, and praise the Lord, a little boy accepted Jesus Christ as His personal Savior! Gina shared a story with the children and gave an invitation just before she prayed. She told the children that if anyone wanted to talk more about Jesus, they should come up and stand next to her while she was praying. When we all opened our eyes, a little boy was standing at her side! Gina was able to share the plan of salvation and pray with him. How wonderful that the gospel is simple enough for a child!

No news will seem exciting after THAT, so I will share a prayer request with you.

Holly went to the doctor yesterday, and he told her that she has South African sore throat. He said that it is like tonsillitis, but worse! He gave her some strong antibiotic, some anti-inflammatory, some throat lozenges, and some vitamins to drink. However, a couple of hours after her first dose of medicine, she broke out in Hives. Then again today, after breakfast, she got Hives again! We went to see the pharmacist, and he told her to keep taking it for one more day, just to ensure that her Hives are actually from the medicine. Her throat is feeling somewhat better, but she is very tired. She is also feeling discouraged. Please keep Holly in your prayers!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

From a Pastor's Point of View

From a Pastor's perspective,

After my devotions this morning in Mark, I was pleased to see our team doing what Jesus taught His disciples about ministering to children. That is the main emphasis here. The work with the children in Reahola (a housing settlement) touches the lives of many young people who otherwise would not be touched. For example, Gina was able to use the candy cane as a way to share the gospel for Bible club. The children at the Pines not only are taught, but have a part in reaching other children. It's a pleasure to see these orphans ,who not long ago, didn't know a thing about the Lord, now singing hymns, quoting verses, and answering Bible questions. God is working, and you are all part of His work.

Our devotions with our team each morning are centered around the attributes of God. Each team member is required to pick an attribute from a list and share with us how it applies to us as we serve Him here. They have all done a very good job. Our team goal has been to "know Him" as we minister and are ministered to.

Sunday was a good day of worship with South African believers of all colors. Brian and Lois' pastor was a little under the weather, so he asked me to do the evening service. What a joy!

We all appreciate your prayers for our team as we represent you. Jim

Drivng Tour and a New Walker

Yesterday was cloudy and rainy! We were all wishing for some umbrellas. Thankfully, the dreary weather didn't put a damper on our outing. Brian gave the team a tour of the area; we went to the dump, the cemetery, Tabong, and the flea market. In some ways, the rain seemed appropriate for the seriousness of what we saw.

The dump is just what it sounds like-it's the place where people dump their garbage. However, some people actually live there! All along the road to the dump are houses that are basically made of whatever the people can find. Not many were outside when we drove by because of the weather, but Bob told us that on sunnier days, people wait at the entrance to jump on the back of your trailer and "claim" whatever you have brought to dump. They sift through the garbage to find anything recyclable and then sell it to the recycling companies. This is their only source of income. I am told that the smell is usually rancid, but the rain made it bearable.

As we drove to the cemetery, the traffic was busy. Brian told us that Fridays are for children's funerals, and Saturdays are for adult funerals. They only do funerals on those two days of the week, and everyone just plans to go to funerals on those two days. We were only able to see the children's cemetery because of the muddy, dirt roads and the traffic congestion; Brian guessed that there were probably about 10 funerals happening while we were there. Seeing the graves of so many children was very sobering; it was difficult to find the grave of a child that was much older than two. The graves are "decorated" with what, at first glance, looks like garbage. Old plastic bottles, broken toys, and pieces of glass are common on the graves. Brian said that the people decorate with whatever the child had or played with. At least a dozen graves were dug, but still empty. Brian also told us that people have funeral insurance--this is like our life insurance, but covers funeral costs. He said that people will pay their funeral insurance bills each month before they buy food. As Lois and Brian's Year in Review DVD said, death is a harsh reality here.

Tabong is a shanty town just outside of Welkom. This is where most of the children at The Pines are from. It is a fairly large collection of tin or metal shacks. Each one is about the size of your living room and houses 6 to 8 people, with two beds. It is difficult for me to describe this place; it is nothing like I have ever seen before. Hopefully I can put up some pictures of it. Needless to say, I was once again humbled by the living conditions of the people here in comparison to what I think I NEED at home.

The flea market brought a much lighter note to the end of our outing. Because of the rain, the vendors had not been able to sell anything. This ended up being to our advantage, as they were much more willing to barter! It was fun to negotiate prices. At least, I hope that's what we were doing; it is much easier to spend money when you don't know what you're spending! Just kidding--Brian was very helpful in this process, too.

Another fun part of the day was seeing Cebesile use the walker Brian made for her. She walks well, if she has a finger to hold onto. This walker allows her to move unassisted. It is neat to see how far she has come since she arrived at The Pines 6 months ago.

Can you believe a week has already gone by? I can't! I am not ready to come home. Praise the Lord for digital cameras to capture all the memories. The people here all LOVE to have their picture taken. I can't help but laugh when I hear them say, "American, shoot me! Shoot me!" It's really funny! Of course they mean, "Shoot my picture," but they just yell, "Shoot me!"

Thank you all for your prayers! We miss you!

Abby for the Team

Friday, December 7, 2007

Welding, Cabinets, and a Bible Club

Hello Friends and Family!

I'm sure you will be glad to know that it is considerably cooler here this morning. I'm actually wearing long sleeves! It looks like it will be a rainy, dreary day. Hopefully this afternoon will be clearer.

It was brought to my attention today that I have been forgetting to mention an important member of our team-Jim! Sorry Jim! He is usually separate from the rest of the group during the day, so we do not see him much. Jim has been using his welding skills to make new bars for the windows. He was also able to repair the door that was broken in Lois' accident several weeks ago. His leadership during our morning devotions is also greatly appreciated. Each member of our team is taking turns to lead them, and Jim is an "overseer" of sorts. We are all thankful for the way he leads. Thanks Jim!

Marvin, Bob, and Brian spent more time working on the kitchen yesterday. They made drawers and finished the cabinet doors. All the guys were thankful for a break though, when we all went to Reahola in the afternoon to do a Bible club.

Holly and I were in charge of games, Dawn led the singing, and Gina gave a Bible lesson. She was able to use the candy cane as an illustration--the kids loved their treat afterwards! With about 60 kids to keep track of, Bob, Marvin, Jim, and Rose were helpful in keeping track of everyone. I thought I'd put it a special note for all the Sparky AWANA leaders (Bob Wright): the game where the kids pass the balloon through their legs, and the last child sits on it and pops it, was a HUGE hit! We may even play it again today!

Right now, Bob and Suzie are making pancakes and eggs for everyone. We are going to leave at 9 am for a driving tour around the area. We will see the dump, the cemetery, the flea market, and visit a shanty-town with a name that I cannot spell. :-)

Hope all is well at home. Are you loving that snow?
Abby for the Team

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It is Friday already!

We woke up today to a bright sunny morning. No need to tell you what the temperature is...but it did rain hard last night. They are enjoying a summer with plenty of rain to keep things green. It really helps with the garden as well.

(Bob went to get some breakfast, so I (Abby) am taking over...)

Wednesday the ladies decided they could help out by freezing produce from the garden. They picked about 3 wheelbarrow loads of spinach (not like our spinach--big leaves), chopped it up, blanched it, and put it into freezer bags. Next was the zucchini. They picked, shreaded and froze all of the available zucchini. You know how it grows in Iowa--well, it grows better than that here with all the rain. The kids helped out off and on throughout the process, and some of them were a big help. Others were purely entertainment! Beans were also picked, snapped, cooked, and frozen. All the girls definitely had green hands and fingers by the end of the process!

Dawn kept the ovens going for most of the afternoon, making loaves and loaves of zucchini and banana bread--to the pleasure of the everyone here at The Pines. She even made muffins too, and added nuts and/or chocolate chips to some. Holly and I discovered that maybe zucchini isn't so bad after all! Dawn is our official cook extradordinare and is assisted by Susie and others as needed.

After some gardening and baking, a break was definitely in order. Holly and I took all the kids swimming! It was crowded, but really fun! The kids already know games like, "Marco Polo" and, "What time is it Mr. Shark." It is not difficult to fall in love with each one of them.

Holly and I have been going to House of Hope everyday from 4-7 to help out with the babies. On Monday, there were 8 little ones, ages 2 -9 months. By Thursday, one had left and another had come. Today, another little girl is being adopted. It seems that there is a fairly constant flow of babies in and out of the House of Hope. They are all completely adorable! Some of them have HIV, some are healthy, and only one has full blown Aids and TB. His name is Zolani; he has a feeding tube and oxygen. He is 7 months old, but does not crawl, smile, or talk. It is heartbreaking to see such sickness and know that nothing can be done to heal him. I love to hold him and sing to him--hopefully we can make his time here comfortable. Holly, we've discovered, has some magic touch, and is able to put even the fussiest baby to sleep. It is amazing! Yesterday Rose joined them for the first time, and she definitely enjoyed herself too.

The men have continued to work on the kitchen in Brian and Lois' new flat. Several of the cabinets are put in place, and all of the doors were finished yesterday. Lots of sanding awaits them today. They have been working really hard to get the kitchen finished--Brian would like us to tile and paint it before we leave! Actually, last night at supper, he said that we have to get the whole flat finished so we can help move all of his stuff down to the new flat! I think he's dreaming.

Yesterday morning, all the children and ladies assembled upstairs for school. They spend about 20 to 30 minutes singing songs. Then, we split up the kids and adults into small groups, or some on-on-one, and tutored all of them. Most worked on math, ranging from Mpho's number recognition to Motshidisi's multiplication tables. Most of the children are at different levels academically, and being able to split them into groups was extremely effective. It looks as though we will be having school for about an hour every morning.

Kara and Katherine are twins that have been working at The Pines since June. The are huge assests to the ministry, especially since Lois' accident. Aside from Brian, they are the only ones here who are able to drive. Doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and anything else that requires transportation has fallen to them. They also care for Cebesile--this is a big job! The twins' visa was going to expire at the end of the month, and they were going home right after we did. It has been a huge prayer request as of late that their visa would be extended at least until Louis and Amber O'Tool came in March. Yesterday, the twins went to town to find out about the visa extension, and Praise the Lord, it was approved until June! God is so good!

Please be in prayer for all of the team members today. We are having a Bible club at Reahola from 3-5 pm. Dawn will lead the singing, Holly and I will do games, and Gina will do the Bible lesson. The rest of the team will help with crowd control--a necessity, as it is possible that we will have 70 kids attend!

Everyone is enjoying themselves here. We have been going through some of the attributes of God in our team devotions every morning, and it is neat how the Lord brings those to mind as we encouter different tasks and situations throughout the day. A couple of days ago, we talked about His sovereignty. To think of how God chose each of these 13 children to come to The Pines and how much their lives have changed in the last months is incredible. I am thankful for a Holy, sovereign God who is always in complete control. Even in the selection of our team members, we can see His hand. Each person has unique abilites and talents that He is using for the ministry here. What an awesome God we have the priveledge of serving!

Loving South Africa,

Abby (and Bob) for the Team

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Work Today, Tuesday

Work pretty much sums up our day today. The ladies worked in the garden picking and freezing gallons of produce and hemming and hanging drapes for the many 6' x 6' windows here. Holly got her exercise by mowing part of the 3 acres of "grass" with a push mower. There is a need for a riding mower here! The guys worked on kitchen cabinets and welding security bars.

We celebrated another birthday after supper tonight. Mosodeshe turned 14. She was honored by 30 people at her party! Our ladies helped her bake and decorate her own birthday cake.

There were other opportunities today and I will let those involved share some of that later. Bob

Monday, December 3, 2007

Birthday in Africa

I (Gina) celebrated my birthday in Africa today. The ladies made me a special cake and bought me CHOCOLATE candy. The kids all made me birthday cards. The kids made if a fun birthday.

There was some productive activity also. The men started construction on the cabinets and worked on windows. The ladies went shopping (that was an experience) and altered on drapes.

It is a joy to interact with the kids. They try to say my name and I try to say theirs. See if you can pronounce some of them...Mpho, Lehlohonolo, Refiloe...see what I mean?

It was warm here today. A little warmer than Iowa is right now. The kids, Abby and Holly went swimming. I'll sign off for now. Send us greetings from back home. Birthday girl, Gina.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas Program in South Africa

This morning we all piled into the van and went to Reahola for Sunday School and church. The people meet in a daycare center, and it works perfectly. All the children from The Pines were involved in the Christmas program; they dressed up in costumes, recited lines, and sang songs. It was almost the same as a program at home, but the kids sang with much more gusto! (It was probably closer to shouting at times!) The biggest difference was probably the warm sun and soft breeze coming through the windows--it was a bit strange singing Christmas carols and sweating at the same time.

I think the biggest lesson for me today was thankfulness; I'm sure that this will be a common theme throughout the trip. Driving into the apartments at Reahola and stepping on shards of glass and garbage as we stepped out of the van was definitely a wake-up call. I realized that I am spoiled--from having an abundance of clothes and shoes, to being picky about the food I eat-- I am extremely spoiled. How often do I take for granted the fact that if I don't like what's being served, I can simply go find something else? Some of the kids I met today devoured the small cookies they had for snack after church; I wondered if it would be their only meal for the entire day. And still, all of the people are warm, friendly, and full of love. I am thankful that God chooses to use spoiled, but willing, people like me.

So much more to say, but everyone's having some popcorn in the kitchen. Thanks for praying--I know that we need it! Love you all-

Abby for the Team.

P.S. Pop- there are some BIG bugs here...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

We Arrive In Welkom

After a long 23 hours of flying and 3 hours of driving, we safely arrived at The Pines! We are all happy to be here and are getting ready for bed since it is now midnight. Tomorrow the children put on their Christmas program twice. In the morning we will be at the Rehola outreach and in the evening they will do the same at a local church.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Pines Christian Care Centre for Children

Our team will be staying at The Pines Christian Care Centre for Children. Here is an aerial photo of The Pines. No, we are not there yet! The pie shaped triangle is the property that was donated to Ambassadors International Ministries to house their orphanage. The L shaped gray roofed building in the center is the 2 story building that is currently being remodeled. This is the building we will be staying in and working on. Brian and Lois Niehoff live here on the second floor and Louis & Amber O'Tool will be living in this building when they arrive in March, 2008.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Team Members and Itinerary

Our team is ready to go to South Africa! Our team members are
Pastor Jim & Gina
Marvin & Dawn
Bob & Susan

We leave the Des Moines airport on Friday, November 30.
Please join us for a time of prayer and send-off at 10:30 am just East of the escalators.

Our team projects include fabricating, welding, painting and installing security gates for The Pines building, construction and installation of kitchen cabinets for the newest staff "flat" (apartment), tutoring The Pines' children, Bible clubs and helping out in any way that comes up. Our team is intent on being flexible and willing to help in any way the Lord leads.

Please pray as we prepare and serve in South Africa. THANKS!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Anticipating South Africa

A team of 9 central Iowa people are anxiously planning for their mission trip to Welkom, South Africa. Stay tuned right here for more info.
This trip is sponsored by Slater Baptist Church in Slater, Iowa. Pastor Don Michaelsen can be contacted to answer any questions you have! 515 228-3123 or