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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Social Commentary

Normally I stay out of the political arena on this website. However, given recent developments in western Iowa, I thought it would be appropriate to publish this story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Signs from Africa

The following are all signs that have been seen in various parts of the continent. I imagine some were examples of "lost in translation".

On the grounds of a private school in South Africa: "No trespassing without permission"

On a poster in Ghana: "Are you an adult who cannot read? If so, we can help"

In a maternity ward in Tanzania: "No children allowed."

In a Malawi hotel: "It is forbidden to steal towels please. If you are not a person to do such a thing, please do not read this notice."

In a restaurant in Zambia: "Open seven days a week and weekends."

On a window of a Nigerian shop: "Why go elsewhere to be cheated when you can come here?"

In a hotel in Mozambique: "Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9.00am and 11.00am daily"

On a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo: "Take note: when this sign is submerged, the river is impassable."

In a Zimbabwean restaurant: "Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager."

A sign seen on a hand dryer in a Lesotho public toilet: "Risk of electric shock - do not touch with wet hands."

In a Botswana jewellery shop: "Ears pierced while you wait."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What were we thinking?

December 2008

December 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Foolish Decisions

I've recently, as in the last 24 hours, come to the conclusion that the most over-rated holiday song is "No Place Like Home For the Holidays". I hereby give permission that if you hear me say that we should take our furlough anytime between the months of November and March, you may slap me upside the head and tell me to snap out of it.

On that note, a special thank you to my cousins, Korey & Laura Pearson, for graciously hosting us last night. And by last night, I mean the whole night, as we were unable to return home due to the 16 inches of snow that fell on central Iowa.

Also, we want to express our gratitude to my Aunt Chris, who hosted us for 5 hours this afternoon, after we foolishly left Korey & Laura's house in the midst of a 30 year blizzard. Fortunately, we realized at the edge of town that we were being a bit foolhardy and we turned right around, parked in someone's yard and hiked a block and a half to her townhome, which has yet to be dug out.

Before leaving Korey & Laura's we were able to help with some shoveling, wondering the entire time why we chose to leave sunny South Africa for a Midwestern winter. Here are some photos to enjoy:

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Experiencing US Culture

We have really enjoyed out time back in the US to this point. Although our schedule has seemingly kept us running all over creation, the opportunity to renew friendships, spend time with family, and meet new people has been a blessing.

Our children are getting a taste of many American experiences that are not available in South Africa. Just today Drake saw his first snowfall and seemed a bit perplexed when we went outside and everything was white. Through the months of October and November we were able to attend several football games and watch my brother's team make State. Meredith in particular seems to love football. Here are a few pictures from our experiences:

What does it mean when you say to your wife "I love you" and she responds "I think...I love you too". She claims she changed thoughts in the middle of her sentence.

Friday, December 4, 2009

2010 World Cup Update

"2010 is coming!" This is a common phrase that one can frequently overhear on the streets of South Africa. The World Cup is scheduled and they have been counting down for the last 4 years. While all is not good news and excitement (read this post), there is much to look forward to, not the least of which is an exciting 30 days of international soccer competition.

For those not following the sport, the United States men's soccer team has potential to be very good. Much of their potential depended on their pool draw. Each team is put into a pool with three other teams. They then play round-robin, with the top two teams moving on to the next round. The fear with the US team is that they would be put in a pool with two other juggernauts, as happened to us in the last world cup when we were pooled with Brazil & the Czech Republic.

The draw was held today and while the US opens against one of the World Cup favorites, England, the other two teams in their group, Slovenia & Algeria, are imminently beatable. Hurray for the US!

Our adopted team, the South African boys, drew a more difficult pool, although it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Both Mexico and France are in the same bracket as Bafana-Bafana (meaning "the boys, the boys"). South Africa showed a surprising amount of spunk in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, pushing perennial favorites Brazil and Spain to the wire. We'll have to wait and see what develops.

If anyone is interested in visiting us during the 2010 World Cup, please contact us. Also, please give lots of money so we can get our new orphanage up and running by time all the excitement arrives:-) If you are interested in reading more about the 2010 World Cup, click this link.

Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town South Africa

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Challenge: Alcoholism

One challenge we have faced in South Africa is the problem of alcoholism. In March 2008, just days after our arrival in the country, our co-workers learned of a situation of child abuse and neglect just down the road from us and we removed those children immediately. We also contacted the social workers to ask them to investigate the situation. When the social worker arrived and saw the settlement the children were living in, her decision was quickly made for her. She wasn't even aware that settlement was there, and it was blatantly obvious that alcohol was dominating the life of everyone living there. We cared for Kesentseng and her infant sister until they were placed with an aunt several months later. Click Here to read about Kesentseng & her story.

It seems that alcoholism permeates every aspect of township life in South Africa. One cannot walk or drive through the township without seeing someone blind drunk, stumbling around and falling, or the beer truck making deliveries. Even at #7, a squatter camp without electricity, plumbing, or water they get the beer truck making door to door deliveries.

It seems that regardless of the living conditions, or the depth of one's poverty there is money for beer. When Brian was doing some filming for a video about our ministry he went to the dump to shoot some footage of the people who live there. One clip of a cardboard/old carpet shack caught a man emerging from his doorway, bottle in hand, where he promptly took a deep swig.

There is historic precedent for the impact of alcohol on the life of South Africans. I found the following clip in a 2007 online story about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): For centuries, the only choice most South African farm workers in the Cape region thought they had was: red or white. Until the practice was banned in 1980, farmers paid part of their farmworkers' wages with bottles of wine. This so-called "dop system" continued illegally as recently as 1991, when a health care survey found that 20 percent of Cape vineyards still paid their workers with wine.

The dop system may be illegal, but many farmworkers and rural South Africans continue to binge drink after pay day, either driving into town to spend their monthly wages on locally available cheap wine, sold in "paap saks" or soft aluminum foil pouches, or simply waiting for mobile "shabeens," or bars, to drive onto the farm and sell booze by the liter.

Kesentseng and her sister are not the only children we've worked with affected by the selfish drinking choices of their parents. Lelohonolo Mahloua lived on a farm with his mother and her constantly inebriated boyfriend. The "man of the house" decided that he didn't have enough money to buy booze and pay for his woman's child, so Lelohonolo was left with someone in Hani Park, where he was quickly kicked out and left to live on his own. When we received him he had been fending for himself for quite awhile.

Other children we have worked with have shown effects of FAS. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a serious problem affecting the children of South Africa. Some regions of the country have rates as high as 12.5% of all births showing the results of prenatal alcohol abuse. A BBC article about the affects of alcohol abuse in South Africa states the following: Local primary school teacher Tina Truda says that in her classroom, alcohol-related disorders affect far more than the 8% who officially have the syndrome."When I look at the child, he's not like a normal child. When I ask him something, I must ask the question two or three times again."When we are playing or singing or doing things with our bodies I see they are lumps without muscles." She says up to 20 of the 30 children in her class are affected.

Much of the alcohol consumed by South Africans, especially those suffering from intense poverty, is homemade. The recipes vary, but without any way to manage it there is one common denominator: It is brewed to give intoxication as quickly and powerfully as possible. There are several local breweries that we have seen in the Thabong area. Some drinks are the beverage equivalent of Crystal Meth, using battery acid among other chemicals to rapidly induce drunkenness.

As I write this I don't want to give the wrong impression of our work in South Africa. Alcohol is not the problem. It is a symptom of the heart problem. HIV / AIDS is not the problem. It is a symptom of the heart problem. Drunkenness, immorality, theft, murder, witchcraft are all results of a greater problem, the problem of selfishness and sin. These vices I listed above are given by Paul as results of human beings living for themselves. Want to know what else Paul lists? Jealousy, anger, arguments. Which of us haven't participated in those, probably within the last 24 hours.

You see, in South Africa the consequenses of sin are obvious, out in the open for everyone to see. Here in the US our sin may look prettier to other people but it still causes death. Our work in South Africa is aimed at reaching the heart of the problem. Showing people that there is life to be lived outside of a pursuit of pleasure, and instead to be lived in a pursuit of our relationship with a loving God. He sent His only Son to save us, and life in Him is amazing and everlasting. One doesn't have to get their kicks from alcohol, drugs, and immorality. Serving Someone greater than us is the most awesome life a person can live, and we are blessed to just be a part of it. We wish you could all come with us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Give Thanks

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - You'll never believe it

Drake said his first "full" word today. He has been talking for a couple months, saying things like "ma-ma", "da-da", "mer-mer", and "ba-ba (bottle)". As you can see these are the typical two syllable creations that most infants go through when learning how to speak. But today, we heard his first actual pronuciation of a complete word. And you'll never guess what that word was!


If you don't understand why that is amazing, check out these two posts: More than you can Chew & ER Visit

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hello from the Boys in Thabong

I spoke with the Bible Study boys from Thabong the other day. They wanted to be sure I said hello to the following people for them:

Point of Grace 8

Point of Grace 9

Point of Grace 10
Grandma M

Uncle Chris

King Louie

And especially they wanted to say hi to:

Sister Wendy & Allison

Joe, Angie, Sam & Rosina

And Judson K.

You as teams may not realize this, but the impact you have on the young men and women in South Africa lasts long after you are gone. They remember you and often pray for you. It has been humbling to me to see their love and ability to love those of us who make any sort of investment in the work over there. If any of you want to contact them by phone or email, let me know and I'll get you their information.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Just Because

In Welkom there is an organization that we work closely with, Morning Star Children's Centre, a christian daycare. One branch of their ministry is a sewing project for women in the community. Typically teams that visit us spend some time there buying authentic African souvenirs. I've been there enough that normally I take a nap on the steps outside while waiting for team members. Drake has found a different way to entertain himself while waiting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obama lifts ban

Obama Lifts Ban On U.S. Entry Of HIV-Positive Foreigners

By Frank James

A two-decades long ban on HIV positive foreigners entering the U.S. will end as a result of President Barack Obama on Friday signing the reauthorization of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS legislation.

At a White House signing ceremony, Obama said:

Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.
If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives.

It will be interesting to see what affect, if any, this will have on US/SA relationships, especially in regard to adoption policy. We'll keep you posted as we learn anything new.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - A taste of home

Lot's of people have asked us "How are the kids adjusting to life in the States." The answer is pretty well. They love seeing family and friends, and we've actually been amazed at how much Meredith remembers. But they also miss South Africa, and especially the kids at The Pines.

The other day we had to go to the Apple Store at Jordan Creek Mall. They have a children's play area there and our kids got to spend a few minutes climbing all over and having fun. It was nice for them to get to play with elephants and hippos again, even though these aren't real like the ones in South Africa. Just playing with these animals made them feel right at home though, because I know they really enjoy playing on the elephants and hippos at The Pines.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Other Ministries

I remember as a child hearing missionaries speak and say things like "We're the only gospel witness in a city of _____ million people." Looking back, I can see how much a comment like that discouraged me. "How can we ever hope to make any sort of difference at all" I would ask myself. I want to paint a different picture for you, one in which the Word of God is being carried all over the world in many different ways.

Having been pursuing missions work for the last several years, and having spent almost 2 years in South Africa, Amber & I have come to realize that God is doing His work all over the world, and that people are being saved and lives are being changed. By no means are we the only ones working, but He is faithfully ensuring that the ministry goes on. We have met people of many different nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds who understand the saving grace of God and are working to relate that message to others. And that message is taking root in thousands.

Just before leaving South Africa our family had the chance to visit one such ministry. Tshepo Ya Bana (meaning Hope for Children) is a "children's home" started in 2003 by Mark & Chris Harding. I use quotations around the term "children's home" because what Mark & Chris have done is open their own home to many orphaned South African children. This isn't a huge organization. In fact, Mark & Chris carry the bulk of this ministry on their own, depending on volunteers from South Africa, Europe & the US. They haven't pursued financial support or large donations, funding most of this ministry out of their own pocket.

Their home is located near Hammanskraal, a township just north of the Johannesburg/Pretoria region. In fact, all the land around them was recently purchased and transformed into a safari park/game farm. Often they are able to look out their window and see zebra, rhinocerous, various buck, or other quintessential african animals browsing around outskirts of their property.

Often when one pictures a children's home you think of big buildings, rows of beds, kitchens, bathrooms, laundry, etc... With this you should just picture your own house, or probably even a bit smaller, lined in every crevice with baby beds, play pens, dressers, and other vital items for children. Mark & Chris are both pushing their 70's, yet they continue to show the grace, stamina, and strength it takes to care for 16-24 children. Most of their children are infants or toddlers. Frequently their children are adopted out to various countries in Europe (the US currently doesn't have a good adoption policy with South Africa). Several of the older children will be with the Hardings until they complete their education, and at least one of their children has special needs, appearing to have been afflicted with some form of palsy.

Within all this turmoil, chaos, and confusion around them the Hardings shine brightly. Even in the short time we were there we were amazed at their ability to function, to laugh at things that would normally cause you to pull your hair out, their willingness to take time and fellowship with us on a deep level. Rarely in my life have I been so humbled by my own lack of committment and patience. This couple will one day receive great rewards. I know they wouldn't want this story written, but I can't help but to share with you the encouragement they poured on us.

While we were there we had the opportunity to help in some very minor ways: Finishing a new roof for the toolshed, providing a meal, holding babies, and some other small things. While doing this we were able to experience some enjoyable events as well, such as catching a snake (Amber & Meredith weren't as impressed as Brian, Liam, & I were). Spending just over 24 hours there changed my entire outlook on dedication and ministry. To see someone give so deeply of themselves, with no thought of anyone ever noticing is a challenge. As I think now of the work they do, I can't wait to get back to Welkom and follow in their footsteps.

In their own words they have expressed concern for how long they can continue. Yet every life they reach is a life changed for eternity. I feel privileged to have met this couple. A young lady from the Netherlands who has volunteered her time there wrote an interesting article, which you can read here: Tshepo Ya Bana

Their work and life is just one of the many encouragements we have experienced in our short time overseas. I think most of you know that we are back for a short time to raise funds for the establishment of a new children's village. We have kicked off our fundraising efforts, and while we only have a few thousand in the bank currently, we are excited about some contacts and possibilities that God has before us. Our plane tickets say we return to South Africa on February 3, 2010. We hope to have the funds required raised by then. We can't wait to return and jump back into things on that side of the Atlantic. Please pray for us as we continue to pursue a ministry of love for our God. Pray also for Mark & Chris and their work with the children of Hammanskraal.

Restoring Hope International Website