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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - School Holiday

As many of you know, I grew up in a family that home schooled all of us children. I would not want it any other way, but I now understand the excitement that parents whose kids are in "real school" feel when school starts back up each fall. School in South Africa is year-round, and the first term this year ran from Jan 7th through March 27th. That means the kids are now on holiday until April 15th. This keeps us extra busy.

On benefit of school holiday with the children home is that it allows us to get some projects done that require extra hands. It also gives us a break from 2 hours every day of homework help. We are pleased to announce that many of our children worked very hard this last term and made Honor Roll at Dunamis Christian School. Below are the kids who made Honor Roll:

Refiloe Portia Karreebos

Tankiso Mpemvana

Ntswaki Tomase

Motshidisi Alina Karreebos

Okuhle Soboyise

Dieketseng Beauty Karreebos

Puseletso Maria Karreebos


Mpho Patrick Karreebos

Puseletso Gladys Karreebos

Pheello Tsotetsi

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Interesting Article

The following is an article sent to us by a friend we made last September. She was part of Point of Grace Team 8, and when she read this article she thought it would be of interest to us. She was right. I've done quite a bit of reading on South African history since we arrived in the country. South Africa was under "Apartheid" government for over 50 years, ending in 1994. The peaceful end of apartheid was brought about largely as a result of the work of Nelson Mandela. If anyone had right to be bitter, he did. Yet through his efforts, large-scale bloodshed and civil war was avoided. Following is the article Jamey sent, and I'm sure it will be interesting to you as well.

For a display of shocking grace, take a look at The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—a court-like body assembled in South Africa in 1995 to defuse the natural pattern of revenge resulting from one oppressed race or tribe taking control of another. In his book about the TRC,Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey writes:

“For the next two-and-a-half years, South Africans listened to reports of atrocities coming out of the TRC hearings. The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but [Nelson] Mandela insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.

At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy's father. The wife was forced to watch as policeman bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. "What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?" the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband's body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded in agreement.

Then she added a further request, "Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real."

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing Amazing Grace as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.

When I read stories like this I began to realize how I often sell the idea of grace short, and I don't think I’m the only one. Webster's defines grace as: A) beauty or charm of form and movement, B) a delay granted for payment of an obligation, C) a short prayer of thanks for a meal, or D) a title of an archbishop.

I think we could agree that to Christ, grace means a lot more than any of these definitions. Yet even when we think of grace in divine terms, I don't think we quite grasp its meaning. Grace is not only what he did for us, it's what we do for others. This is where it gets difficult because true grace is considerably more costly than just tolerating the person who stole your parking space at the mall and infinitely more demanding than choosing to overlook the customer service representative who was a little rude to you.

Yancey says that true grace is shocking and even scandalous. It shakes our standards with its insistence on getting close to sinners and touching them with mercy and hope. And not just "sinners" in general, grace chooses to forgive those closest to us. Those who have truly let us down, those who have brought havoc into our lives with their careless words or selfish actions, those who stole the things most precious to us, those who cheated us, lied to us, and left us with nothing but pain. Grace forgives the unfaithful spouse, the racist, the child abuser, and grace loves today's AIDS-ridden addict as much as Jesus loved the tax collectors, adulterers, and prostitutes of his day.

This kind of grace is difficult to even think about and truly impossible to pull off on our own. It can only come from Christ who is at work in our lives. That's why true grace is more than just a nice idea or a pretty word—it’s revolutionary. This kind of grace will transform lives, restore marriages, unify the church, and truly change the world.

"Don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lehlohonolo Nazo

Lehlohonolo (meaning “Lucky” in Sesotho) came to us in February 2007. Prior to living with us his life had seen much transition, but he has shown himself to be quite resilient and adaptable.

The Pines first learned of his situation through Morningstar, a sister organization with whom we work closely. Morningstar is a Christian Daycare that works with HIV+ children from the poorest backgrounds. Lehholonolo lived with his mother until the age of 4, when his mother died. He then went to live with his granny for a few weeks, but his granny is an alcoholic and was unable to properly care for him.

A volunteer at Morningstar took Lehholonolo in and cared for him for some time, but the granny became upset and began to torment this lady and her family. It was then decided that he could no longer live with her and he was briefly transferred to this lady’s mother for care. It was at this point that he came to live at The Pines.

Lehholonolo has proved to be quite intelligent and his English is the strongest of any of our children here. He picks up on things very quickly and has earned the nickname “Mr. Mimic”, as he will copy anything you say. This annoying habit has probably been largely responsible for his grasp of the English language.

While he is one of our brightest children, he also struggles in school more than most of our kids. We suspect he has dyslexia and because of this never built a good foundation. He has taught himself how to do most of his schoolwork without reading, but because of this has built some habits that need to be changed. In the last 6 months we have begun to focus on some intensive reading skills for him and have seen tremendous growth. Last term he made honor roll for the first time at school and he is working to make it again this term.

Leadership comes quite naturally to Lehholonolo, and most of the kids here look up to him. He has a strong mischievious streak, so sometimes that isn’t always the best thing, but usually he sets a good example for the other children.

Lehholonolo has struggled with various health issues from shingles, eye infections, to colds and allergy symptoms. He misses several days of school each term, and this frustrates him. He is very friendly and it is difficult for him to be isolated for entire days at the hospital. When Lehholonolo is struggling, it is surprising how much that affects our other children here. The entire demeanor of The Pines will change when he has a bad day.

Like all our children, Lehholonolo is learning about God. He has shown great spiritual growth and knows that Jesus Christ died to pay for his sins. He has professed faith in Him and is concerned that the other children here do the same. We trust that as he continues to be nurtured here at The Pines that the Holy Spirit will do a mighty work in and through his life. Already, as he attends church and bible study here at The Pines his knowledge continues to increase. We pray that his love for God would do so as well.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The life & Times of Louis & Amber - The Missing Day

On March 11th, we celebrated our 1 year anniversary in South Africa. This is one day later than originally intended. We left the USA on March 9th, and it usually is a 17-18 hour trip to arrive in Johannesburg. I won't rehash all the details, but here is a summary of what happened.

On Sunday morning we said goodbye to our families and flew out of Des Moines International Airport accompanied by my cousins, Ellie and Zach. In addition, we were traveling with Team 5 from Point of Grace church. Our flight from DSM to Atlanta was quite uneventful, and Meredith - 2 years old at the time - actually slept for about 45 minutes of that flight. Little were we to know that would be her last sleeping for about the next 24 hours.

We left Atlanta about 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, if my memory serves correctly. The flight to Johannesburg normally stops in Dakar, Senegal for refueling. Unfortunately, there was a large, international Muslim conference taking place in Dakar at the time, and the governments had apparently mutually decided that it would be best that no planes from the US land during that conference. So our flight was re-routed through the Sal Islands - property of the Portugese.

Usually the stop takes about an hour. After an hour and a half with no activity, it started to become apparent something was wrong. Eventually, we were notified there was a problem with the plane and we would disembark and spend some time in the airport. Turns out, we were to spend the next 13 hours in the airport. This was a very small airport with very few seats, although since everyone had been sitting for 8+ hours, floor space was actually more coveted than seating. Periodic announcements would come but no one really seemed to know what was going on.

We were fed some bread and juice at about 8:00am, then around noon we were taken to a couple of different eating establishments for a quick meal. All 13 hours in the airport we had a 2 year old fighting sleep. It seems she knew that if she slowed down for a minute, she would fall asleep. Therefore, she tried to remain as active as possible, keeping Amber & me on our toes as we took turns trying to nap and watch her at the same time.

Eventually, everything was cleared up. The delay was caused by a problem with the pilots emergency oxygen system. After landing they learned there was a leak and the tanks were empty. They had new tanks flown in from Dakar, but they quickly emptied, showing that the leak was in the system itself, not in the tanks. So it was determined that a new plane needed to be flown in from the US. Obviously, this took some time.

About 5:00pm, they transported us from the airport to a resort on the coast. The resort was mostly full, but the few empty rooms were reserved for people with children. Finally, having a 2 year old paid dividends! On the Point of Grace team there was an 11 year old boy, so his father arranged for us to get two rooms because of the two kids. All us guys took one room, and the girls took the other, and we got a chance to change and get refreshed. They served us a great meal at the resort, then about 12:00am they took us back to the airport. 23 hours after landing in the Sal Islands we took off. Finally, on the last 8 hours of the flight, Meredith settled down enough to sleep.

As a result of all this, we really didn't experience too much jet lag. Our bodies were so confused as to what time or even what day it was, that we didn't have time for jet lag. We arrived in Johannesburg a little after noon on March 11th. So for the rest of our lives, there will be one day missing that we can't really account for. Recently, Ellie sent me a picture that she had taken of us in the airport. This is about 20 hours after we departed from DSM, and Meredith only having slept 45 minutes of that time. This pretty much sums up how we felt the entire day.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Attitude Adjustment

The kids at The Pines have grown accustomed to having their picture taken. Too accustomed, in fact. Between the Niehoff's, us, visiting teams, Birthday parties, outreaches, and other events, it is quite common to see cameras around the property. Before this last team left South Africa, we gathered everyone together for a group photo shoot, an event that becomes more complicated as we continue to grow.

Look closely at the group picture. As you will see, some of the kids don't appear too excited about another bunch of people interrupting their busy schedule to capture the moment for all time. I've taken the liberty to zoom in on a couple of them. Hopefully the resolution doesn't cause us to lose the quality of their expressions.

Noticing the lack of excitement, we decided to liven things up a bit. What you can't see from the picture is that the kids are posing in the midst of a small flower garden. This flower garden was recently equipped with underground sprinklers that come up when the water is turned on. As it happened, the spigot was located conveniently close to my hand, and the temptation was too great. Gene, one of the team members, was able to capture this next photo on camera. Again, I've taken the liberty to zoom in on a couple, so as to vividly display the new emotions on their faces. Meredith, in particular, seems to be a bit of a drama queen. You would think that she was being charged by a lion or something.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Billions of Bees

Recently, we had a small team visit The Pines from Point of Grace Church in Waukee, IA. The project of choice turned out to be new gutters and facia for portions of The Pines building. Unfortunately, it turned out the portion chosen was home to roughly 300 wasps, and several billion bees.

In one corner of the building there was a small crack, and these bees had found it an ideal location for a hive. When I say there were hundreds of thousands of bees swarming around here, it is not an exaggeration. As you can imagine, they were not excited about us poking around the entrance of their hive.

Our first method of attack was to use expanding, insulating foam to close the crack and prevent the bees from exiting or entering. We determined the best course of action would be to do this at nighttime, when the bees seemed to be most calm. The next morning, we woke up to find the bees had found a different entrance further down the crack. Another night of foaming, and in the morning we discovered the bees can, although with great difficulty, eat through aforementioned foam.

The next weapon in our small war was a smoking suppository, inserted into the building to hopefully eliminate the bee problem. This proved unsuccessful. Another attempt involved spraying the bees with retail insect killer. Again, a poor option. This only tipped off the insects to our intentions, and riled them up something fierce. In the midst of this Bill, a team member, suffered a bee sting, on top of the wasp sting received a day earlier on his hand.

After much discussion, we determined that the best option may be a truce - the "live and let live" approach. I was chosen as the most likable person, so it was my job to get up on the scaffold and work that section. Gene, a team member joined me, but as you can see, he didn't put much faith in the "live and let live" theory. Brian initially was my co-worker 30 feet up, but apparently bees can smell hostility, and Brian had been the main culprit of our previous attacks. Brian was quickly stung on the hand, then again on the side of the head, so he chose to cease and desist.

It was then that Gene made the decision to sacrifice personal comfort for the sake of new gutters. While Gene was the only one who escaped unscathed, I think he may have suffered more in the 90 degree heat wearing his homemade bee suit.

The next decision was to just try and finish that section at night, which seemed mostly successful, except that Sylvia, one of the housemothers, was unable to sleep with the extensive pounding and general commotion. Most of the hazardous section was completed in the dark.

Considering the variety of stings distributed amongst the team members, a great debate raged as to whose was the manliest. Manliness was an ongoing discussion during the week, with Brian as the de facto standard, as he refuses to wear leather work gloves regardless of the job. I maintain that while Bill's wasp sting showed the most swelling, as it was on the hand it did not qualify as Most Manly. Brian suffered two stings - one to the head, one to the hand - and while the head would normally take top honors, in my mind I emerged from the fray as most manly. While on the top of the scaffold riveting gutter, I felt a bee land on my eyebrow. As I danced my "get off, get off" jig, the bee decided to continue his ill fated attack and sting me anyway. Although, I think I won since the bee died as a result of his decision.

Anyway, after coming down from the scaffold, I was examined by the others and Brian found the remains of the stinger lodged in my eyelid. The pain was minimal, and was completely gone within a couple hours, to the point that I forgot it really had happened. Unfortunately, after a good night's sleep, I awoke to find my eyelid quite swollen and difficult to keep open. Which is further evidence that I take home first prize as the most manly of men.