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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Flight from Atlanta

Dear Family & Friends,

A week ago you received an email from us regarding our travel to South Africa. I'm happy to report we have arrived safely, although a little behind schedule. After saying our goodbye's to family, we departed Des Moines. Our flight from Atlanta left on time, but when we reached the halfway point, a few technical difficulties arose.

Normally, when flying out of Atlanta, planes stop for fuel and a crew change at Dakar, Senegal. This past week, apparently there has been a large Islamic conference in Dakar, so their government decided it would be a good idea for no American planes to arrive during that time. Hence, our halfway stop occurred in the Sal Islands, Cape Verde to be exact.

While on the ground in Cape Verde, the flight crew discovered during pre-flight inspection, that the pilots emergency oxygen tanks had leaked and were quite low. Since we were on a tiny island consisting of only an airport, a few square kilometers of desert, and a couple European resorts, there wasn't much for spare airplane parts available. The crew had us de-plane and wait in the airport for a new oxygen tank to arrive from Dakar, and estimated wait time of about 3 hours.

At first, this seemed to be a little bit of a blessing, as airline seats are not as roomy as some would like you to believe. In fact, I'm quite sure they are not designed for gangly, overgrown Mid-western guys. Although the airport was very small, the passengers quickly spread out on the marble floors for some overdue sleep. Every half hour or so, one of the airport employees would announce over the PA that there was nothing new to announce. Ironically, they would always repeat this announcement twice, in case you missed them announcing nothing the first time.

After 4 hours had passed, we realized the layover would take longer than anticipated. There was one small café in the airport where we were served a little breakfast snack. You quickly learn that we Americans are often spoiled and take much for granted. There were no water fountains, little toilet paper, and no soap for those of us in the airport. We also found out after the fact that they had also locked all the outside doors, so that no one would be able to leave the building. I do not want to sound at all like I'm complaining, because God continuously provided and no serious problems arose. Looking back, there were aspects that were actually enjoyable.

After about 6 hours in the airport, we found out the new oxygen tank also leaked, so they now knew it was not the tanks but the plane itself. At this point the airline decided to fly a 2nd, empty plane from Atlanta. This would take about 10 hours or so. In the meantime, they announced that they would have vans to travel around the island to give tours. Fortunately, Amber & I decided to just stay in the airport with Meredith. As you can imagine, with Cape Verde being close to the Equator, the temperature outside was not the balmy 25 degrees Fahrenheit we had left in Des Moines. It took about an hour to load the tour vans, then once they were all filled to capacity, they sat in the airport parking lot for over an hour for no apparent reason. Thankfully, God spared us from joining the tour.

Please do not let the attached pictures deceive you. Meredith did not sleep nearly as much as the camera would lead you to believe. In fact, she was fighting sleep quite successfully for most of the trip. In the first 24 hours, she slept less than five, making for a pleasant little personality. While the others were on the "tour" (loosely called such, as Cape Verde is all desert with no natural growth over 4' tall), Amber & I took turns sleeping while the other kept an eye on Meredith. They also fed us a lunch snack during this time.

About 4:30pm that evening, after 12 hours in the airport, we learned the airline had arranged for a few hotel rooms in a nearby resort. Those with children were given first priority, and since we had Meredith and another 11 year old on this trip, our group of 13 (the O'Tool family, my two cousins, and the team from Point of Grace Church) was able to obtain two rooms where we all showered. We also shared our rooms/showers with a few strangers, as there were not nearly enough rooms to go around. That evening we were fed a fantastic buffet supper in the resort, and then about 10:00pm we loaded back into vans for transportation back to the airport. Our plane then arrived from Atlanta, and we took off from Cape Verde about 1:30am, exactly 21 hours after landing there.

Meredith chose to sleep on the 2nd leg of our journey, which allowed Amber & I to catch a few winks. We landed in South Africa without incident, although due to some turbulence late in the flight, I nearly had a personal incident myself. All our luggage arrived in Jo-burg with our airplane, so we were thankful for that. We then met Brian & Lois Niehoff, loaded into The Pines' van and our rental truck, and drove the 3 hours to Welkom. This was my first real opportunity to drive in traffic on the wrong side of the road, and I am happy to report no incidents, personal or otherwise.

We have kept quite busy since arriving, working on several projects for The Pines, teaching 3 classes in a local school, and starting a weekly Bible Club at a church in the area. On Friday, my cousins – Ellie & Zac Stangl – and I were able to hold the Bible Club, which we had announced at the school the previous Wednesday. We had about 50 kids show up, and after Ellie taught the Bible lesson, 15 kids went back to learn more about why Jesus, the Son of God, had to die on the cross. I was able to take 8 of those kids, and they seemed to understand the message of eternal life, so we are praying these are truly life-changing decisions. We are thanking God for providing opportunities such as these.

Thank you all again for your thoughts and prayers. We will continue to keep you posted as possible.

Louis, Amber & Meredith O'Tool

The Pines Christian Care Centre for Children

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Dear Family & Friends,
Amber & I wanted to say a quick thank you to all who have prayed for and supported our ministry to the orphans in Welkom, South Africa. We are amazed at God's faithfulness and provision for our family as we have looked toward spreading His fame in a new country. I can't begin to list all the many ways He has worked and blessed throughout the whole pre-field process, but I wanted to take a minute and lift up His name to you all.

We started fund-raising in February 2007, and while there were many peaks, valleys, and plateaus throughout those months, there was never a time when God did not provide. Even in these last few months as our focus turned from financial needs to more physical needs, such as packing, shipping our goods, and selling our house, things just seemed to fall into place. Here is a list of a few of the highlights over the last couple months:
-January 4th: My last day at Wells Fargo
-1st Two weeks of January: Finish up last minute projects to put our house on the market
-January 16th: Our house goes up for sale
-Two weeks later: We accept a bid on our house
-January 24th: We find out Amber is expecting our 2nd child, due to arrive in September
-February 4-14th: We visit Amber's family in Colorado
-February 14-19th: We finish packing our house and ship our container to South Africa, with much help from friends & family
-February 22nd: Amber & I depart on a cruise to the Bahamas, Grand Cayman, & Jamaica (generously provided by close friends), along with my brother & his wife, and another couple close to us
-March 1st: Arrive back in Iowa and get Meredith back from Amber's parents, where she stayed for about a month.
-March 3rd: Close on the sale of our house
-March 9th: Scheduled to depart for Jo-burg, South Africa

Again, this list cannot begin to describe how faithfully God provided for all our need during this time. We want to express our great appreciation to all who have lifted us up before our Almighty God. We firmly believe that a man can receive nothing except it is given him from heaven. As we praise God for what He has done for us, we want most of all to thank him for His provision of a Savior. Amber & I are both aware that we are sinners, and that according to the laws of God, sin must be paid for. What a blessing for us to know that God also gave the free gift of His perfect Son to pay for our sins against Him. That is why we are moving to Africa, to spread the message of eternal life and peace with the God of the Universe.

We will continue to keep you all updated with news (and pictures) from South Africa. Thank you for your love, prayers, and financial support.

Louis, Amber, & Meredith O'Tool
The Pines Christian Care Centre for Children