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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.