Follow by Email

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - You Have Been Warned

So yesterday morning I awaken to see a 3 year old standing over my head straddling my pillow. Looking back, I should have known that something foul was afoot, but my brain was still trying to clear the melatonin from my system. As I look up at her, she realizes I am awake. Promptly, she says "Dad, don't tell me not to jump on your head". Don't be fooled by the photo. She's neither as cute nor as innocent as she looks.

Again, when I first realized she was in such close proximity I should have immediately sought cover. You know what they say about hindsight. Unfortunately, I also wasn't thinking clearly enough to take a picture of my swollen lip, which I obviously sustained from a 3 year old jumping on my head. In her defense, she didn't disobey. I'm beginning to think it was a premeditated act. She needs to learn another old saying, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission".

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - The Gift of Christmas

I hate to spring this on everyone on such short notice, but the Christmas Season is now upon us. While Christmas is a big deal here, even over-commercialized, it isn't quite the same as the US - yet. Maybe it just seems that way to us because everything is so different. I'll be honest, it makes it hard to feel like the holiday season when it is in the upper 90's every day. In fact, at the store the other day they had one of those seasonal displays up. On the left was all the traditional Christmas decorations, and next to them on the right was all the swimming pool gear. Just doesn't seem the same.

It is kind of funny to hear "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas", or "Let it Snow" over the loudspeakers a the local store. We tried to teach our kids Jingle Bells, but of course, it didn't make sense to anyone.

Obviously though, it isn't these things that make Christmas what it is. Christmas literally means "Celebration of Christ". While the celebration centers around His birth, for Christians the true celebration encompasses His entire life, death, and resurrection. He didn't just live as a good example for us to follow, He came as the payment for our debt of sin. God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

We celebrate Christmas with many traditions, customs, and rituals. One of those is the giving of gifts. Many say this originated with the Magi who brought the gold, frankincense, and mhyrr. Romans 6:23 tells us that Christmas gifts started with God. While we as humans earn death as a result of our sin, God offers us the free gift of eternal life "through Jesus Christ our Lord". At this Christmas season, I urge everyone to examine their life, and ask if they have received the gift, or if they are telling God "no thanks, I'll try this on my own".

At The Pines, Christmas is a time of true excitement. For the kids here, this is often the first time to have a celebration. Like all children, they are excited by the gifts they receive, many of them from generous people in the US. But again, like all children, we've learned that the kids here, regardless of how difficult their background was, can quickly become spoiled. While it is a joy to spoil them from time to time, we make an effort to teach them the true meaning of Christmas. This year, like last, the children had the opportunity to purchase gifts for the friends from their old neighborhoods. This is something that brings great joy to the beneficiaries, but it is amazing to see the fun and excitement our kids have using their own money to give to someone less fortunate.

This year, we had another event to help us all keep the meaning of Christmas in perspective. Down the road about half a mile is a housing complex in some old mining hostels. Within this complex, there are probably 75 units. We have attempted to reach out to the community around us, as the mission of The Pines isn't just to reach the kids, but to reach the community with and through our kids. Someday, we hope to see those who have come through The Pines showing the love of Jesus to Welkom and beyond.

In keeping with some Christmas traditions, we made gifts to hand out - a parcel of various food items: sugar, tea, bubble gum, chips, and rice packets. Included with this packet was a pamphlet in Sesotho that clearly tells the good news of eternal life in Jesus. We divided the older kids into 4 groups, with my parents and brothers to help. Whisper effect: Don't tell my family, but I actually sent the kids along to supervise them and make sure they were safe. We took 1 packet to each house, and in addition, we would give a stuffed animal to every child that lived in the house.

Before we went, we held a few training sessions so everyone would know how to briefly explain what we were doing, and be able to answer any questions the people would have. Many of our kids took the opportunity to learn The Romans Road, several verses in Romans that clearly explain how to get to Heaven (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9-10, & Romans 10:13).

Going into it, I thought the two kids with me would want me to do most of the talking. Boy, was I ever wrong. Dieketseng and Pheello were with me and they wanted to take turns giving the packets to the families and explaining why we were there. While I don't speak Sesotho, I've learned enough to pick up most of what they were saying. It usually went something like this: "Christmas is coming up this week and we wanted to give you a gift to help celebrate. Christmas is when we remember that God gave Jesus to come die for our sins. If you want to go to Heaven, you have to ask for forgiveness of your sins and trust that Jesus is the only way to get to Heaven. Here in this packet is a book that will tell you all about it." Of course, this isn't a word for word translation, but this was pretty much the general idea of what they said at each house. All this with very minimal training.

American culture demands certain measures of etiquette that are not part of other cultures. People here are very straighforward, and don't take no for an answer. Our kids were very persistent. If no one answered the knock at the door, they peeked in the windows. At this house, Dieketseng saw that someone was home but not answering the door, so she promptly went around back to knock on the windows. She told me that everyone needs to hear about Jesus, whether they think they need to or not.

My dad went with one of our girls, Refiloe. She is a very intelligent young lady, and puts many theologians to shame with her study habits and prayers. My dad also thought that he would have to do most of the talking, so at the first house he kind of took charge. On their way to the second house, Refiloe politely told him to let her handle it. Apparently she was pretty sure she could do a better job communicating. I'm pretty sure she was right. Not to knock my father, but this girl knows how to tell people about Jesus, and language was no barrier for her.

Afterward, to celebrate the opportunity to share God's Word, we all went out for ice cream. What a joy to see the growth in our children and the love they have for those in need. How convicting to know their desire to see others know the joy and peace found in Jesus.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Gold Mine Property

This photo was taken from the top of a mine dump. All around Welkom are old, abandoned mine properties. If you didn't know better, one would think this is a photo of the Midwestern US, complete with grain silos, farmhouses, and freshly turned dirt. At one time, 15% of the world's gold was coming out of Welkom, making this one of the richest locations on earth. All that has changed. The mines went from employing 200,000 people to 30,000. Unemployment in Welkom is 83%, causing the economy to collapse in on itself. However, we are called to be the light of the world. The darker the world becomes, the easier and brighter our light can shine. The problems encountered in a setting like this are also cause for many open doors.

(If you would like a better version of this picture, just click on it, and is should come up bigger in a new window)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Housemother or Doc Brown?

"This is what makes it all possible...The Flux Capacitor."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Motshidisi Karreebos

Motshidisi (meaning “Road” in Sesotho) came to us in November 2006. Prior to that she had been living in a small tin shack with her granny, siblings and cousins, and occasionally an aunt. The granny was HIV+ and in no physical condition to care for the 6 children. All six were orphans, as their mothers had died and their fathers were either dead, unable to be located, or unknown.

We found out about their situation through a sister organization, Morningstar. Morningstar is a daycare for poverty stricken, HIV+ children. They had been caring for two of Motshidisi’s cousins. When we initially discovered what was happening we were unable to take the children, as the government had not yet approved our license as a children’s home.

While we couldn’t take them full time, the missionaries at The Pines still wanted to do everything they could to help. Each Saturday and Sunday morning they would pick up the children to spend the day here, returning them at night to sleep with their granny. This went on for a couple months as we worked to obtain the necessary approval to properly care for these kids.

In early November the situation began to get desperate. The granny was unable to even get out of bed, so Motshidisi was often forced to care for all of the children. At this point she was only 12 years old. One Wednesday evening it rained heavily, causing some minor flooding in the area. We wanted to be sure the children were ok, so on Thursday morning we drove out to their township to check.

When we arrived we discovered they hadn’t eaten since we had left them on Sunday. They had run out of electricity and couldn’t cook anything. Even if they had been able to cook, there was only about 2 cups of corn meal in the bottom of a coffee can, so it wouldn’t have gone far. We took them into town and bought a couple months worth of electricity. Then we purchased some food-bread, potatoes, peanut butter, etc… so they would have proper nourishment.

On Saturday morning we returned to pick them up and found out they again hadn’t eaten since we left on Thursday. This time it was a different reason. Their aunt, who is a prostitute, had returned back to the shack due to the weather. When she discovered there was food in the house she told the children that if she caught any of them eating it, she would poison them. Of course, coming from the environment and background they were in, they had to believe she was telling the truth.

After we found out some of these issues, the process of legally obtaining rights to care for the children was kicked into high gear. Several alternative methods were discussed to expedite removal of the children from that home. Finally, about 10 days later the government took the children out and placed them with The Pines on a temporary basis. Here in South Africa they call it Place of Safety. This is when they determine living conditions are hazardous or threatening to the welfare of the child.

Motshidisi and the other 5 children in her family have all been transferred from Place of Safety status to Foster Care status. In South Africa, the Foster Care status is typically permanent, unless the parents are alive and are later deemed able to again care for the children. You can imagine how often this happens.

Her granny, it seems, intentionally beat Motshidisi down psychologically, apparently intending to destroy her self-confidence and keep her dependent. That way the granny would always have someone there to care for her and she would ensure that Motshidisi never had the desire to leave home and make something of herself.

When she came to live here she was significantly behind in school. When she first arrived she continued to struggle with confidence and motivation. This affected her schoolwork as well. However, in the past 2 years we have seen tremendous growth, especially in the past 6 months. While she frequently has to work harder than the other children, she has been diligent in her work and last school term made Honor Roll for the first time. This term she is again on track to attain that goal.

Motshidisi has also shown great spiritual growth. She knows that Jesus Christ died to pay for her sins, and she has professed faith in Him. We trust that as she continues to be nurtured here at The Pines that the Holy Spirit will do a mighty work in and through her life. Already, as she attends church and bible study here at The Pines her knowledge continues to increase. We pray that her love for God would do so as well.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Keeping the Peace

Drake is proving to be a quick study. Already he recognizes faces, and even knows the proper response to give. For instance, with Amber, she can always get a smile. With me he will curl up into a little ball knowing that he will probably be tickled, poked, or tormented in some such way. I think it is his natural defense mechanism. Of course, I do it in fun. Isn't there a saying though that says something like "what parents do in moderation the child will do in excess"? We are finding this to be true with Meredith. Amber will talk to Drake so sweetly and gently it will quickly prompt a smile. Meredith on the other hand doesn't seem to have the patience. She will lean over Drake and say "Smile (very sweetly)". Immediately following she will say "Smile (somewhat less sweetly)". When those two don't get the desired response, she will get her face closer and say "Smile (similar to when we say Meredith, go to bed now)". Finally, she will have run out of patience - all within the span of about 4 seconds - lean down nose to nose and say "SMILE (with teeth firmly gritted)". This of course never succeeds, and so Meredith proceeds to the tickle method. It typically follows the same quick steps until Drake calls for assistance. You can see from the photos below that he has learned the proper response to quality time with his sister. And you can't tell me that you wouldn't do the same if she was your big sister. I've even zoomed in so you can really see the raw emotion in his face.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Kickin back, chillin, relaxin all cool

I heard it was 12 degrees Fahrenheit in Des Moines today. So I thought I would encourage everyone with these wonderful images. Please note, the two other white kids on the photo are my brothers Pete and Chubs. They arrived last Saturday and things have been going non-stop since. Maggie is staying in one of the boys flats for the next couple days due to an error in the scheduling. Turns out one of our mothers was only scheduled for 3 days off instead of the customary 7 that the rest of our mamas enjoy each month. So my mom graciously agreed to step in and look after 6 boys. I know that seems like a handful, but rest assured, I've spent the last 28 years training my mother to raise boys, so we're hoping she can handle it. I'll be sure to post additional photos and clever anecdotes throughout the remainder of their stay in the Southern Hemisphere. Keep warm and stay classy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Article from

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) -- Church bells tolled, workers put down their tools and court proceedings stopped Monday as South Africa marked a minute of silence for AIDS victims and ended a decade of denial about the epidemic.

Activists hold balloons, reading: "Protecting Oneself Is Also Getting Infromed," during a rally in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on Monday.

Peter Piot, the top U.N. official dealing with the disease, joined political leaders and hundreds of AIDS activists at a rally in the coastal city of Durban to show his support for a government that has made a break with the discredited AIDS policies of former President Thabo Mbeki.

"We are the first to admit that a lot still needs to be done," said Baleka Mbete, the deputy president, as she lit a candle in remembrance of the victims.

South Africa has an estimated 5.5 million people living with the HIV virus -- the highest total of any country in the world and more than one-sixth of the global total. About 1,000 South Africans die each day of the disease and complications like tuberculosis. Even more become infected because prevention messages haven't worked.

And yet for years, Mbeki's government downplayed the extent of the crisis. Mbeki himself doubted the link between HIV and AIDS. His health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang openly mistrusted conventional AIDS drugs and instead promoted the value of lemons, garlic, beetroot and the African potato. Watch as reality TV star describes living with HIV »

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health last month calculated that government delays in introducing AIDS drugs between 2000 and 2005 cost more than 330,000 lives in South Africa. The study said that an additional 35,000 babies were born with HIV during the same period because authorities were reluctant to roll out mother-to-child prevention programs.

"We have to mourn the lives of those we have not saved," said Barbara Hogan, the health minister who replaced Tshabalala-Msimang after Mbeki was ousted in October. She cited the example of an 8-year-old boy battling both AIDS-related TB and meningitis who was on a waiting list for drugs when he died.

"We could have saved his life," Hogan said. She promised to improve HIV treatment and prevention programs, and to increase the supply of drugs to HIV positive women to stop them from passing the virus on to their unborn children.

South Africa has the biggest program for AIDS drugs in the world. And yet, about half the 800,000 people who need drugs are not receiving them. Experts estimate that within five years, about 5.5 million people with HIV will need medication to prevent their immune systems from worsening.

The government wants to halve new infections by 2011 and ensure that 80 percent of people with the disease get treatment and care.

But it faces a mammoth task. The Global Fund on AIDS, TB and Malaria has rejected a South African request for nearly $92 million over the next two years for AIDS projects and $68 million for TB prevention and treatment. AIDS campaigners blamed the former health minister for failing to respect the fund's strict operating rules.

The Durban ceremony marked an unprecedented show of unity between government, big business, trade unions and activists. In the past, activists and doctors had to resort to the courts to force government to provide AIDS drugs.

Church bells rang for a minute's silence at noon, and all banks agreed to cease business for that time. Murder trials were briefly interrupted. Trade union and business chiefs said they would have a 30-minute work stoppage to talk to their employees and encourage them to be tested -- which still remains largely taboo among men. Cell phone services sent text messages to their teenage subscribers.

"With the young and working age dying in droves, South Africa's death statistics resemble those of a country in a terrible war," the Confederation of South African Trade Unions said.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Snakes, Snails, & Puppy Dog Tails

While Meredith considers herself quite a princess most of the time, there are those times when she is so excited she forgets. When Amber was young, she would find a tortise every summer and keep it as a pet until winter started coming on. Obviously Meredith is like her mother, because when we found this little gal, she was fascinated.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Mullets

My family learned I hadn't cut my hair in several months, partly due to a busy schedule, partly out of laziness. They wanted to see pictures, since I always keep it high and tight. Here they are.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Meet Lehlohonolo #2

Lehlohonolo (meaning “Lucky” in Sesotho, our second boy by that name) came to The Pines in October 2008. Prior to that he had been living in Honi Park. According to what we understand from the story he told the social workers, he had been living in Hani Park for over a year (very relative when you consider his age. It could have been 3 months, could have been 3 years.)

Lehlohonolo is 9 years old, and currently his birthday is unknown. He says his mother and father left him with another woman in Hani Park over a year ago. Apparently, he has a younger sibling who was still nursing at the time, and his parents took that child with them. He doesn’t know where they went or why they left him.

Several weeks prior to his arrival at The Pines, he says the woman he was living with “fired him”. Again, we don’t know the reasons, or why he chose to use those words to describe it, but we do know he was kicked out and left to fend for himself.

After being abandoned again, he began living in the toilets in Hani Park, moving around periodically for safety reasons. Hani Park is a township near Welkom that is populated by the poorest people. Many of them are illegal immigrants. While living conditions vary greatly from township to township, Hani Park is considered a tough place to live. Hardly any of the shacks are wired for electricity, and running water is only a dream. The toilets consist of a brick or tin outhouse-type building with just a hole in the ground. It is in these that Lehlohonolo took refuge for several weeks. You can imagine what he would have been exposed to during that time.

While moving from toilet to toilet and scrounging for something to eat, he befriended another boy living in Hani Park. After a couple weeks of playing together, this second boy told his mother about the child living sleeping in the outhouses. This mother then phoned the police, who located the boy and brought him to the social workers, who then in turn brought him to us.

Lehlohonolo arrived at The Pines knowing no English at all. He claimed he had been to school a few times, but went only when he felt like it. While he didn’t know his alphabet, he did know a few of the sounds certain letters make. He was enrolled in kindergarten at the school, and at the age of 9 is by far the oldest child in the class.

Since he arrived, we have made a specific effort to work on his reading skills. He learned the alphabet within the first two weeks, and shortly after learned the sounds each letter makes. We make all our children read books during homework time, but Lehlohonolo presents a unique challenge. He can parrot the sounds we say, but since he doesn’t speak English, he wouldn’t be learning anything. Fortunately, several of our older girls are quite bright and seldom have much homework. They have enjoyed earning a little extra money working with Lehlohonolo on his reading and therefore on his English.

Lehlohonolo is a very bright child and appears to learn quickly. Already he is picking up some English from the other children, and definitely knows how to say “I want to swim”. While it took awhile to earn his trust in the pool, he is now jumping right in with the other children. He has learned to hold his breath and is now starting to swim on his own.

As you would imagine, any child from that sort of background is going to arrive with baggage, and this case was no different. The first week of school the teacher couldn’t get him to leave the classroom during lunch or recess because he was terrified the other children would steal his supplies. After he learned they would not, he decided that it would be easy for him to steal theirs. It took a couple weeks to straighten that out. Initially, we also had problems with him threatening other children, but that seems to be a thing of the past, as he learns he no longer has to fend for himself.

Actually, he followed in the steps of our first Lehlohonolo, who has now become one of our biggest leaders among the children at The Pines. Both of them, when they arrived, would take toys and other items they found around The Pines and sell them to their classmates at school. After a short adjustment period, it is wonderful to see them learn to trust their mama’s and the other children. Lehlohonolo has learned that if he asks for extra jobs around the property that he will earn a few Rands that he can take to school to buy treats. Now he is always asking for extra work.

After the initially adjustment to school, Lehlohonolo has opened up quite warmly to his teacher. I spoke with her just last week and she is sad the term is over and he will be moving on. It seems he has found a special place in her heart. While he has only been with us just over a month, he has already progressed so much in school that he will be skipping Grade 1 entirely and moving into Grade 2 when the new term starts in January.

A secondary blessing we’ve seen from his arrival is in the lives of our other children. They are greatly concerned that he come to know Jesus as his Savior. Within the first week they brought him to me so that I could make him learn. I told them that no one can be forced to believe in Jesus. Each person must understand for themselves that sin has a penalty, no matter how small that sin might seem. They need to know that there is no way they can pay the debt of sin outside of spending eternity apart from God. Yet in spite of the ugliness of our sin, God sent His own Son to pay with His death on the cross. If we simply trust Jesus Christ as the payment for our sins we will be saved.

Most of our older kids know that, and they had been telling Lehlohonolo that he needs to ask Jesus to save him. I sat down with all of them and with the older kids interpreting, we shared the good news with the new guy. He still doesn’t want to believe, but we trust that God brought him to us, not so we can just feed and clothe, shelter and educate him, but that he too would come to know the peace of a relationship with the God of the universe. We ask that you would pray along with us.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Advertisement

Recently we received the several advertisements in the mail. This one caught my eye. Every time a team comes to help with a construction project, someone invariably asks "Do we need to pull a permit" or "Does that follow building codes" or something along those lines. And Brian invariably laughs at them. Most people from the upper Midwest are shocked to learn that plumbing pipes and water pipes are just run on the outside wall of the building. They find it difficult to understand that there is no law that states how closely studs must be placed. It takes awhile to adjust to the fact that the difference in weather so affects building methods. This advertisement is a great illustration of the differences one would encounter between the US and South Africa.

You will see it is an advertisement for a roof repair kit. If you have difficulty seeing the details, simply click on the picture and it should bring up a larger version. Let me describe. The kit consists of 3 meters x 5 meters of heavy duty black plastic. Included free in the kit are 2 rolls of waterproofing tape, a carrying case, and a sticker. Whoo Hoo.

In this second picture you see step-by-step instructions to repair the leak. Now for those of you not technically competent this may be hard to understand. The first step is to slap a piece of tape over any crack allowing the weather to find its way into your home. Step 2 is to throw said 3m x 5m piece of plastic over your roof, thereby preventing leakage. The third, and possibly most important step is to secure the plastic to the roof, as you would not want it to blow away in a heavy wind. Please note, while most of us would think to secure the plastic with nails, glue of some sort, screws, rivets, Velcro, or some other such device, the photo shows the most effective method of securing plastic to roof. That of course, is the common, garden variety rock or medium sized stone. Judging from what we've seen in the area, old tires also work quite well.

So, for those of you considering a trip to South Africa to help with construction projects, consider yourself warned. Building codes in South Africa are not the same as one would encounter in the US. And should you be the one brave enough to ask about aforementioned codes, we will all share a hearty laugh at your expense.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Apologies if you've heard this before

In 1986, Peter Davies was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University . On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed, so Peter approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee, inspected the elephants foot, and found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Peter worked the wood out with his knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot. The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments. Peter stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away. Peter never forgot that elephant or the events of that day. Twenty years later, Peter was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenage son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Peter and his son Cameron were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Peter, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.
Remembering the encounter in 1986, Peter could not help wondering if this was the same elephant. Peter summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing, and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder. The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Peter legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly. Probably wasn't the same elephant.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Learning?

As most of you know, we have Bible Study with the children 2 times per week. During that time we attempt to give them a good foundation in the Word of God. I encourage everyone to study it, as it gives us "all we need for life and godliness". Like I've told the students in my Philosophy class, all the questions that have bothered humankind for thousands of years are answered in the pages of Scripture.

So anyway, while we're attempting to equip our kids with the knowledge they will need, we make a concerted effort to relate it to life now. I'm always trying to remind them as they encounter various situations or problems to think about what the Bible says about it.

Well, just the other day, I had several of the children in town with me. We are coming up on the holiday season and we have been working on a Christmas Program for our church. 6 of our kids went with me to the development our church is located in so that we could practice with the other children who don't live at The Pines. I had promised them if practice went well we would go into town for ice cream.

So here is this gangly, awkward-looking white guy with 14 black children in tow ranging from 9-14 years old. Since I didn't want to drag them all the way through the grocery store (where we get our ice cream cones) I had 10 of them wait outside while the others went in with me to carry the cones. I stayed at the counter to pay, and the other kids took turns running the cones outside one at a time. After I paid I go outside to eat with the kids, and apparently just as I come out the door, one of the boys loses the top off his cone. One should suspect, I guess, that with 14 kids at least one cone will land on the ground.

As I emerge from the door, what do I see, but one of our 14 year old girls scooping ice cream out of an oil slicked parking lot into her mouth with her fingers. When I politely reprimand her for this action, she responds that she doesn't want to waste the ice cream. I explain to her the dangers of germs and bacteria that may pass from the concrete to the ice cream, and the accompanying sickness that could ensue. Her response? "Its ok if I get sick. Jesus saved me from my sins, so if I die I will go to Heaven, and that will be better than living here anyway".

So at least her theology is sound.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Vlad

See our previous post about the copper thief. We recently made an addition to our family. Amber's birthday was November 10th, and on that very same day we were in Johannesburg at the US Consulate, making an attempt to register Drake with the The Man. I'm happy to report we didn't have to insert any computer chips into him. They just requested copies of our passports and a copy of his South African Birth Certificate.

So anyway, I had been online looking to see what a German Shepherd puppy would cost. Looking at various kennels, it seemed relatively cost prohibitive to invest in a pure-bred puppy. When we adopted our beloved dog Hank from the ARL in Iowa, we learned that puppies are typically not worth the effort. While cute and cuddly, the house-training process would not normally be described as enjoyable. So with this thought in mind, we came across a listing for a 1 year old German that was looking for a new home. (Shepherd Dog, not human. We're really not in the market for a small German lad or lass.)

The home Vlad came from is highly involved in national show competitions for German Shepherds. In fact, his mother was rated the #1 female dog in South Africa. I believe his father was rated #3 (in a different category, of course). The family had chosen him from the litter to become a show dog as well, so he really was the "pick of the litter". The problem with Vlad is his ears. Apparently the cartiledge is too soft and the ears don't stand up the way a pure-bred German's should. Therefore, he was disqualified from show competition. They had spent almost a year trying to get his ears trained to stand up, but of course they wouldn't cooperate. It sounds like he'll get along great with Meredith, since they both tend to be un-cooperative.

His name was Zado when we got him, but before we arrived I told Amber that we should name him Vlad. Vlad just sounds like an intimidating name. When we arrived at the house, we heard his owner calling him lad, which confirmed that the transition to a new name should be easy. He has taken to his new name famously. At first he was a bit tentative at The Pines, but he quickly learned his place among the other dogs and you wouldn't know they've only been together about 2 weeks. We introduced him to the children one-by-one, so he wouldn't be overwhelmed. They do a great job with him. He loves to play, and it gives them something to keep them out of trouble. Here are a few photos. If you yourself have been considering stealing copper from The Pines, I'm warning you, he'll rip you up. And I know how to use pepper spray properly now. Plus, I'll remember to put a belt on next time.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dieketseng Says Hello

This is Dieketseng from The Pines. She saw that Ntswaki had her own post on the blog and she decided that she wanted her own as well. She would like to say hello to everyone in America. Here are her words:
"Dear all the people in America,
My name is Dieketseng. I am 12 years old. I have lived at The Pines for three years this month. I came in November 2006. Since I came to The Pines my life has been very good. It is good because of God. Here we have a trampoline, playground, swimming pool, computers, and lots of other things. My mother is Mama Aggie. She cooks for us and it is very good. She teaches us to work-sweeping, washing dishes, cleaning our rooms, cooking. We get to go to a nice school. On Monday morning we go to chapel and do BIble Study. We get to learn here that Jesus died on the cross. I didn't know that before but now I know it. When you believe in Jesus, you go to Heaven when you die. There is no other way to get to Heaven. Some people have told me there is another way, but the Bible says that Jesus is the only way. That's all I want to say about The Pines right now. On Friday nights we watch a movie, and we go swimming many times, and play games on computer. We must learn how to type soon.
From South Africa,

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Ntswaki

Ntswaki (meaning “only girl among boys” in Sesotho) came to The Pines in February 2007. Prior to that she had been living with her family in Thabong. As her name would imply, she has several brothers but no sisters. Of all our children, Ntswaki has experienced some of the most difficult tragedies in her young life.

When Ntswaki was quite young, one of her older brothers committed suicide in the house where the family was living. Of course, since she is living at The Pines she is an orphan. Her mother died one night in her sleep, and Ntswaki was actually sleeping in the same bed with her mother at the time, so she is the one who discovered it.

After her mother died, one of her older brothers quit school to care for her. He was about 15 at the time. Ntswaki was attending Morningstar, a sister organization with whom we work closely. Morningstar is a Christian Daycare operated to care for the poorest children affected by the HIV virus. Through Morningstar we learned of the situation, and the government placed Ntswaki with us on a temporary basis while they determined the best course of action.

While her brother was willing to care for her, it wasn’t in the best interest of either child for him to miss out on an education completely. Ntswaki then has been granted Foster Care status at The Pines, meaning she is likely here until she is able to be on her own. In the meantime, her brother Bongani was blessed with a teacher that took a special interest in him and worked diligently to bring him back to the correct grade level. Teachers like this are extremely rare here in South Africa, and her work with him has been a tremendous blessing. Currently he is making plans to pursue additional education beyond high school. He has also made an attempt to stay in contact with Ntswaki, even though the logistics are not convenient.

Since coming to The Pines, Ntswaki has blossomed. She is a very intelligent young lady, and has consistently made honor roll in school. To observe her, you would think she is very quiet and reserved, but she has that well-hidden streak of mischief. If anyone gives her a hard time, she is more than capable of dishing it right back to them, and her quick wit makes her a difficult target for teasing.

One day, I was with her at the hospital for a checkup. She needed a tissue badly, but when I told her to use one, she responded that she liked her nose just how it is. I told her that if she didn’t use a tissue I would start calling her “Boogers”. She responded without a moment’s hesitation that she would just call me “India” since I had a pimple right in the middle of my forehead that looked just like the dot young Indian ladies traditionally wear. So now she responds to Boogers, but all the kids call me "India". I guess you could say that backfired on me a bit.

Ntswaki is very self motivated and rarely requires help with her homework. Often she has completed all her work during school hours but will still come home and do additional work, just to get ahead. She has proven to be one of the more responsible children here.

Like all the children at The Pines, Ntswaki is learning about God and what Jesus did for her. She understands that she is a sinner and that sin must be paid for, but she has professed that Jesus is her Savior and that she is trusting him to take her to Heaven. We pray that as she continues to grow, the Holy Spirit would do a mighty work in and through her life.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Crime & Punishment

It is common in South Africa to have problems with water and electric supply. Sometimes we have a water main break, or construction crews are working on something, causing our water source to be cut off. As for electricity, there would be two main reasons one would lose power. The first is that South Africa forgot to build additional power plants over the years, leading to a decided shortage of available electricity. To remedy this situation, they will turn off the power to certain portions of certain cities at certain times of the day. While this is becoming a less common occurrence, load sharing continues to be an un-popular fix to the crisis. Fortunately here at The Pines we seem to be on the same grid as a hospital down the road, meaning they really think twice about shutting off the electricity to this little district.

The second and for us more common reason one might lose electric supply is through theft. Copper currently has a high salvage value, so many people turn to that as an alternative source of income. While you may think to yourself that stealing live high voltage lines seems to be a dangerous proposition, you must remember that some of these people are desperate enough to attempt many things we would deem a bit risky. They have also shown themselves to be quite resourceful when they truly set their mind to it. The process for stealing this copper is really quite simple. They will dig a hole underneath the line, then light a fire, causing the insulation on the wires to burn off and thereby grounding out said wire. Once it is grounded out there is no longer a danger of electrocution (theoretically), and they are able to then dig out and remove a section of wire.

About 10 days ago, two of our buildings lost power due to just such a scenario. Upon inspection, vandals had removed a large section of wire right up to our fence.These two buildings have been without power since then, and one of them houses Leonard our gardener, his wife Temperance, and two small children. Electric crews have been working to replace the missing section with overhead aluminum wiring. In the meantime, Brian put a band-aid on the situation by running an extension cord from the main building, but this didn't allow sufficient current for them to also run the overhead lights usually left on for security purposes.

Which brings us to Sunday evening. About midnight Amber & I wake up to something banging against our window. I look out and there is Brian throwing rocks or some such projectile in an attempt to waken us. While it would not be out of character for him to decide to waken us just for kicks, I proceed to ask him what was so urgent. He told me he had received a call from Temperance that someone was snooping in or around their buildings. Leonard normally works nights, so Brian and I were called upon to investigate.

I quickly dressed and grabbed a few items I thought might be useful. Brian of course had done the same. My weapons of choice were a 28 oz. framing hammer, Amber's bottle of pepper spray, and a mag-light (unfortunately my sleep deprived brain failed to remind me to put on a belt before I left, limiting me to one hand on the pants and one holding my other three items). I almost grabbed my camera but ultimately chose not to. In hindsight it would have made for some great pictures. Brian's favorite tools were an aluminum bat and high powered flashlight. Oh, and I also grabbed my realistic looking Airsoft gun, in case we needed some additional aesthetic persuasion. Maybe if I shot him in the eye...

Anyway, by time I had dressed and gathered the necessary equipment, Brian was already over at the other building. I hurried to catch up with him and in my haste failed to see the black man standing nearby. In my defense, black people here can be hard to pick out in the pitch dark of 12:30am. An acquaintance of Brian & Lois uses the term "Our non-reflective friends". So when I do finally notice said man moving around, I nearly clawed him with the back side of the hammer. Remember I said Leonard normally works nights? Apparently he had this night off, a fact which would have been useful to know.

So here we are, the three intrepid men setting off to find whoever or whatever was making the suspicious noise. Behind Leonard's building is a courtyard, and we were fairly certain that if anyone was still around, it would be in this area. After a brief inspection, we found where more wires had been cut and removed, but the courtyard itself proved empty. Also bordering this courtyard is a large, mostly empty, machine shed type building. While I finished the systematic search outside, Brian & Leonard went into the building to have a look-see. Suddenly, I heard Brian call my name in the tone of voice that said to hurry. I ran into the building to see Brian focusing his beam of light behind an old cupboard.

There, hunched down trying to hide was a shabby looking man. Once he realized we had indeed noticed him curled up back there, he stood up. He had a small piece of wood, maybe 18 inches long. It was particle board so it would have just broke if he tried anything, but nevertheless, we held our distance. He began inching toward us, as we were between him and the only door. Brian & I both told him to get down, a technique learned from watching Cops. The man apparently didn't understand the bad boys were coming for him. He also didn't understand English, so Brian yells to Leonard to tell the man to get down, assuming that since Leonard speaks both Sesotho and Xosa that he would be able to communicate with him. Leonard proceeds to say "GET DOWN", not in Xosa or Sesotho but in English. While I would like to mock the decided lack of brilliance there, I really am in no position to throw the first stone. Remember that we work mostly with children over here, and one of the most important things to know how to tell a child is, of course, "Get down". It wasn't until this morning that I realized that I myself know how to say this in Sotho, but in the excitement of the moment, I completely forgot (for the record, it's "Doula Fadsi").

While Leonard and I are both forgetting that we know a little Sotho, this man continues to try to move toward the doorway. Brian lucidly performs a flanking maneuver and I advise them all that I have pepper spray. Since the man shows no propensity to cooperate with our request to get down, Brian tells me to go ahead and spray him. Looking back, I think I was more curious to see what would happen than I was thinking about the appropriate spraying technique. If I can offer a suggestion to anyone required to use pepper spray: Make sure you use the whole bottle. Unfortunately, I just gave him a quick 2-second spritz in the face. It took a second for him to realize it wasn't that comfortable a feeling, but once it kicked in he wasn't too happy about it.

He obviously couldn't see too well, but he did find an object laying on the floor and picked it up, holding it as if he planned to throw it at us. Leonard and Brian both backed through the doorway and at this point the man turned to me. I quickly regained my lucid thinking skills, and shut off my light, knowing (or hoping) that he couldn't see well enough to find me in the dark. I think that is the one thing I did correctly throughout the whole affair. After realizing he couldn't see me, the man turned and ran out the door, throwing the object in the general direction of Leonard and Brian. He then kept running/stumbling all the way across the courtyard to the fence on the far side. It took him a bit, but eventually he got up and over the fence.

We again completed an inspection to make sure there were no accomplices lurking about. We located the hacksaw he had been using, and found the piece of wire he planned to salvage. It was about 10 feet long and loaded with copper. After locking everything back down, we returned to our respective homes to attempt to catch some sleep with what remained of the night. As you can imagine, sleep didn't come quickly. About an hour later Brian heard someone back in that area again, so he drove his truck around to the backside. The same man it seems had returned to find his hacksaw and copper, but obviously we had removed them. Brian called the armed security but they didn't arrive in time to apprehend the man. It's probably just as well, since we have been told in a situation like this the crook is fined less than $5 and released. Petty crimes like this are such a common occurrence that there is no way they could hold all of the perpetrators. It's at times like these where we miss our American dog Hank. He would have ripped anyone apart if he thought it would help. Molly the weiner dog just doesn't cut it. Hank would have made sure that crime doesn't pay.