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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.