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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - A Beautiful Country

On this website you frequently read updates that may paint a very bleak picture of South Africa. While this country has severe problems that need to be addressed, it is a country that has been blessed with great natural beauty. Unfortunately, most of that natural beauty is at least 2 hours drive from here:-)

These photos were taken in May of a thunderstorm that took place in Cape Town. Cape Town is 12 hours by car from us, and while we have not had the privilege to visit we hope to someday soon. Everyone here tells us that we need to go to Cape Town if we want to experience the real beauty of this country. In fact, before we moved here we would occasionally run into someone originally from South Africa. I think this happened 5-6 times. Each time when they would learn we were moving to South Africa the immediate response would be to launch into a list of their favorite places that we just had to visit while here. When they would finally ask where we would be moving our response would be "Welkom". It was always followed by an awkward pause, and then on at least three of these occasions the South African would respond "well, at least they have good traffic there." And we agree, they do have good traffic here.

Enjoy the pictures. The power of our God is amazing. We need to figure out some way to capture and harness the power of lightning. That would solve the world's energy crisis, and God just throws these around like little darts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Sweet Banana

In our recent update about the stabbing of Makhasi, I finished with a comment that I would finish the story later. I guess that time has come.

The Friday night that we had been to visit Makhasi in the hospital we learned that he was supposed to go to Pretoria the next day for a conference where he would be able to apply for several scholarships. Because he wouldn’t be able to go, one of the other boys decided he would go in Makhasi’s place and apply for or get as many scholarship applications as possible. Unfortunately Makhasi hadn’t thought to grab his ID book in the rush to the hospital (imagine that), and since the transport to Pretoria was to leave at 4:30AM the other boys wouldn’t have time to go to his house to pick it up. So the task fell on me to take the boys to his house to pick up the ID before taking them all home.

For a long time now I have thought it would make an interesting TV show on the Discovery channel or something like that to have someone walk through various cities around the world in the middle of the night to see how quickly that person would be accosted. I doubt that Thabong would be the most dangerous but its not a place where I would want to take my chances.

Only one time previous to this evening have I been in a township after dark. Last September there was a team here from POG church and they had invited the boys from Thabong to The Pines for a bar-b-que, or as it is called here, a braai. Things didn’t wind down until about 9:00 so we didn’t end up taking the boys home until after dark. I felt very fortunate to have the guys from this team with me, as all of them were guys I would consider to be relatively “tough” and not to be messed with. Even with these men with me however, I felt pretty uneasy and they said they did too. The boys themselves said they were not comfortable and only go out after dark when absolutely necessary.

So here I am leaving the hospital, visiting a friend who had been stabbed, going back to that very neighborhood on a Friday night after dark. The boys did console me with the fact that white people never come here after dark and would probably be a prime target since they are generally considered to be carrying money. So I had that going for me.

As we sat in the car at Makhasi’s house waiting for his grandmother to find his ID, I had a chance to talk to the boys about the realities of life in a township. Approaching the township you could see that there was a thick haze hanging over the whole thing, probably about 40 feet high. Driving through there were groups of people standing around fires, many times fueled by old tires or piles of trash. This gave them both warmth and light. It also contributed to the thick haze.

I asked the boys if you would see prostitutes walking around the streets or hanging out on corners. Their response actually surprised me a bit. They said not a chance – no prostitute would make it through the night if they tried something like that. Instead they all gather at a shopping complex near the entrance of the township. Along with these women gather the big semi’s, which are used as cheap hotels. On my way home I had to pass by this complex and saw probably 40 semi’s parked with crowds gathered around. This in a culture where doctors say its safe to assume that 50% of the population is HIV+. How willing we are to be blinded to the consequenses of our sin!

The boys were also able to point out the various gangs and exactly which “turf” belonged to them. I asked them if they would be able to walk to their home from Makhasi’s – about half a mile – at that time of night, which was about 8:30. They said probably but they wouldn’t chance it. Now, if they were walking from their grandmother’s house to their own – again about half a mile, only in another direction – they said they would be safe. This because of their uncle, Sweet Banana.

Sweet Banana (not his real name, shockingly) is actually their first cousin once removed, but family relationships are kind of fuzzy. Typically people are introduced as brothers or cousins, so it takes some investigation before one is able to determine the true family relationships. And I thought the O’Tool and Wiedemeier families were confusing…Anyway, this young man had been invited by his cousins to attend our Wednesday Bible study. When I met him it was obvious he was a bit of a rough character but I learned that night talking with I really had no idea.

This past December was the last time the boys had been to the hospital prior to their visit with Makhasi. In December Sweet Banana had been in a bit of a tiff with a rival gang…to the point that he had been shot through the leg and had his skull fractured with a sword. Apparently his gang had enacted some sort of vengance on a member/members of this rival gang and when the other group retaliated a few days later his whole gang fled. He is known as someone who will not back down from any fight and it was true this night. After he was left by his friends he fought until he was shot, cut up, and left for dead.

I said it was obvious he was a bit of a rough character. Some of the scars from that night were still visible when we met two weeks ago. The boys say they are known to be his relatives and no one would mess with them in that neighborhood. The only danger they believe they would face would be from someone who doesn’t know they are related.

This vein of conversation led back to the topics we had covered that day in Bible study. The last several weeks the boys have had so many questions that we haven’t even been able to get into the actual lesson, but that is good because their questions are obviously in the areas where God is working in their lives. Many of them have come to understand that salvation is only through faith in Jesus and not through the good things we can do. This leads to the obvious question “If we don’t have to do good things to get to Heaven, why do good things at all?” They are trying to reconcile those who say “I know its wrong but I’ll just ask for forgiveness later” with the message of salvation only through the grace of God. It led us into a discussion of alcohol, fornication, drugs, theft, and a whole variety of vices so common in the culture here. DJ told me on Friday night that if they had pulled me aside and told me what to say to Sweet Banana it couldn’t have been more to the point for what he needed. It was actually very cool, that same meeting one of the other boys asked how you know for sure you are saved. That led to an unbridled explanation of the fact that Jesus died for sinners and unless you trust only in His sacrifice you cannot go to Heaven.

In hindsight it is amazing that this young man who we are quite certain has been involved in theft, gang beatings, and likely even murders attended this study and sat and listened throughout the whole thing. He was not back the next week because he was in town working but the boys said they will bug him until he comes back again. While he was not there, we had 5 new kids at study that week – 4 boys and our first girl. They said they will all be back again, and I promised them all new Bibles if they continue to attend. Pray for the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who are not yet saved, and for continued growth in those who are.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Puseletso Maria Karreebos

Puseletso Maria (meaning “Replacement for one who is dying” in Sesotho) came to us in November 2006. Prior to that she had been living in a small tin shack with her granny, 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 Maria’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 Maria and her cousins were forced to fend for themselves. At this point she was only 5 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.

Maria 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.

When she came to live here she was behind what would be considered a normal level for a 5 year old. Since she has been here she has proven herself to be intelligent and quite resourceful. She still struggles with motivation to work hard in school, and she carries a mischievous streak. Her teachers tell us that sometimes she will tell them the correct answer, but then write the incorrect one just to see how they respond.

She definitely presents some unique challenges to us here at The Pines. According to her housemother, Mama Aggie, while their 4 mothers were still alive all 6 children lived together with them in one house. Apparently Maria was orphaned first, and because of that didn’t receive the same love and attention that her cousins had, even in those difficult conditions. It is obvious now that she craves individual attention and care, sometimes causing problems so that she can receive it.

Like all the kids here at The Pines, Maria has heard the message of Jesus Christ. Pray that she will understand that she personally must put her faith in Him and ask forgiveness for her sins. 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.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The life & Times of Louis & Amber - Makhasi's Stabbing

In our last post I wrote about an unplanned event that served to remind us again that we need to be flexible at all times, not knowing what will happen next. Yesterday I got a phone call that made our interrupted evening on Sunday seem like an appealing scenario.

We were attending Liam Niehoff’s first birthday party when my phone rang. It was about 5:00 in the afternoon and initially I chose to ignore the call, planning to call back later. I could see from the caller ID that it was the phone of one of the boys from Thabong that I do Bible Study with and normally they would leave a message. It rang two more times so I figured I had best call them back right away.

When DJ picked up the phone he said “Uncle Louie, I have some bad news about MaCrazy.” MaCrazy’s real name is Makhasi, but his enchanting personality and vibrant storytelling prompted one of the teams from the US to nickname him MaCrazy. This is the same guy who claims to own an island somewhere in the Carribean or South Pacific, depending on the circumstances, and has spent hours regaling his friends with the wonders of his island (one of the wonders is that meat grows on trees planted from meat seeds). The name has stuck, with even some of the teachers from the school using the new moniker.

You can imagine that when you hear something like that you immediately wonder what that news could be. DJ told me that they had just been told Makhasi had been stabbed. We have grown to love these boys, and now I think I know a little how a parent would feel when they get a phone call like this. It’s a feeling hard to describe. The other boys didn’t really have any more details other than his room number at the hospital.

First thing I went and told Amber, then grabbed my Bible and a few treats to bring to the hospital and left. It took about 20 minutes to get to Thabong and pick of the other 4 boys. On the way to the hospital I learned that two of these guys had also received threatening phone calls the night before from the boy who stabbed Makhasi. Sam even has a text on his phone that says “I’m going to kill you.” Because of this they had all taken to carrying knives the next day. The scary thing for them is that they don’t even know who this boy is and at the time they received the calls they hadn’t heard about Makhasi, so for all they knew they had been selected to be killed as maybe some gang initiation rite or something.

Once we arrived at the hospital the sisters (nurses) asked us to wait in the hall because it wasn’t yet visiting hours. They went to fetch Makhasi, as he was well enough to walk. During the wait one of the boys seemed to be taking things pretty hard and when I sat down next to him he buried his head in my shoulder and began sobbing. Imagine the strain of knowing someone has attempted to kill your friend and has threatened to do the same to you and your cousins. Add to this the fact that these young men have been on their own for many years with no father figure or adult man in their lives, and it becomes clear how difficult a situation like this can be.

When Makhasi emerged from the ward he was hunched over and carrying a bottle filled with red liquid and attached by a tube to his side, about 6 inches below his armpit. It was then that we finally had some of the details filled in. Here is what happened according to what Makhasi told us.

On Thursday evening there was an ANC youth meeting – ANC is the main political party and the one that just won the national elections. The meeting ended about 7:30, which at this time of year is after dark. Also at this meeting was a girl with whom Makhasi had hung out with quite a bit 3-4 years ago. Flashback to Monday: Makhasi was approached by this girl’s boyfriend, who lives in the same neighborhood as the two of them. The boy began asking some questions.

Apparently the girl had told her new boyfriend how much fun Makhasi was and he grew a bit jealous. He came to Makhasi to ask if they still spent time together and to warn him to stay away. Makhasi told him that it had been several years since they had spent any time together. The boy didn’t believe him and wanted to talk to some “references”, so Makhasi gave him the phone numbers of Sam, JT, DJ and Alex. These 5 boys are inseparable and they would be able to vouch for him. This is how the boy knew how to contact them to threaten them. Fortunately, we’re pretty sure the boy has no idea who they are, where they live, or anything about them.

So this girl is at the same meeting that Makhasi was attending and since the meeting was over after dark she asked Makhasi if he would escort her first to the corner store to buy some items for her grandmother, then to her grandmother’s home where she lives. No girl should be walking alone after dark in Thabong. The boys tell me that murders happen on a weekly basis and rapes daily. In January one of our housemother’s neighbors was walking home from music practice at her church and was raped and murdered. She was in her early 20’s. Makhasi agreed to walk this girl home.

As they were walking down one of the dirt streets he sees a friend of this other guy approaching him. Then from behind he hears this boy call the girl’s name. Makhasi turned and as he was turning saw the guy spring toward him. He twisted and was able to block the blow slightly, deflecting the weapon from his chest into his shoulder. The weapon used was a sharpened screwdriver or something along those lines. It penetrated on his left pectoral just above where the pocket would be on a man’s shirt, where his shoulder meets his chest. It stabbed downward and toward the heart but fortunately only punctured his lung. He saw the friend of this guy was pulling out a long knife or short sword and he turned and ran.

He was able to get to his grandmother’s house where he lives and she instructed his brother to pour salt water into the wound to help prevent infection. Then they called the ambulance and he was taken to the hospital about 8:30. At the hospital X-rays were taken and showed that his lung was filling with blood from internal bleeding. The doctors then inserted a tube with a hypodermic needle about 4 inches below his left armpit into his lung to allow the blood and fluid to drain.

The doctors say his recovery looks good and he should be released this weekend. The only concern at this point is the possibility of infection. I spoke with him today and the nurses are giving him painkiller and antibiotic three times per day. He says the pain is very minimal. The biggest discomfort he is feeling is from spending so much time in bed. To quote “Uncle Louie, my buttocks are sore from so much time in bed.” That is encouraging to hear because that is the Makhasi we are all used to.

When we went to visit on Friday night we spent some time visiting and then read some passages from the Bible dealing with the question of why things like this are allowed to happen. I promised to return on Saturday with some KFC, which Makhasi was excited to hear. When I arrived today I told him next time he wants KFC he doesn’t need to get stabbed to get it. This is only the second time in his life that he’s had it. Earlier this year the other boys saved all their change for several months so they could give Makhasi a chance to taste KFC. He loved it so much he ate one piece, then put the other in his pocket to save for later. His family struggles greatly. In fact, even though the stabbing happened on Thursday night none of us found out until Friday afternoon because the family didn’t even have money for a payphone call. They haven’t yet called the police for the same reason.

One interesting thing that we've learned since coming to South Africa is that surgical experts and forensics specialists from all over the world are sent to South Africa to study stab wounds, since stabbings are so common here.

One difficult aspect of this situation is the fact that Makhasi was supposed to take a trip to Pretoria, the capital, for a conference where he would be able to apply for several scholarships. The principal of the school had arranged transport for him and a couple other boys and they were really looking forward to the trip. Because of the stabbing he was prevented from going and from applying for the scholarships which could allow him to continue education after graduation. Without assistance there is no way the family could afford school fees.

I spent some time alone with him today and asked how things were going – what he was thinking about. He said that this morning he had been reading in the Bible I had left for him. He read Matthew 6, and just after the Lord’s prayer he read “If you don’t forgive those who sin against you, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” These boys challenge and encourage me constantly, even though I’m supposed to be the one teaching them. In our last update I asked for prayer for the physical and spiritual safety of these boys. Little did I know how soon that would be put to the test. Again we ask for your prayer support as you think of the work here. It is clear that we are not fighting against flesh & blood but against spiritual forces of wickedness. This was made all the more clear from our conversation with the boys, and from something that happened at Bible Study this past week. Unfortunately this is running a bit long, so that will have to be a narrative for another day.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Leaky Ceilings

In the interest of full disclosure, we attempt to be as candid as possible here on this website. At times a bit too candid in Amber’s opinion. She is now insisting that I add a disclaimer absolving her from any responsibility. So, please be advised that the opinions expressed are those of the host, guests, and callers and not necessarily those of Amber O’Tool.

With that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, I want to share with you some of the goings-on around The Pines. The weather in South Africa is generally fabulous, with normal daytime temps in the 70’s-80’s. The sun shines about 90% of the days, and there is typically a light breeze. Strong wind is rare. When it does rain, the clouds usually do their business and then move on and there is nary a hint of humidity afterward. In other words, think of the weather in Iowa and imagine the exact opposite.

Sunday night however was one of the exceptions. It started raining about 5:30ish and didn’t let up for several hours. It soaked everything then began to run off, as water is wont to do, along the path of least resistance. We held a Bible lesson for the kids and housemothers from 6:00-7:00, and ironically the lesson was on “Contentment”. There is a passage in James 3 that warns people about seeking offices of leadership because leaders will be held to a higher standard. It seems God decided that if I was to teach about contentment that He needed to do a bit of teaching to me.

After the lesson was over everyone went back to their flats. Mama Martha quickly returned to tell us there was a leak in the ceiling of her flat. Phil Carmichael, the missionary in charge of maintenance went to take a look. Leaks are not uncommon during really hard rains, and since this one was just dripping we put a bucket underneath and decided to look into it further during daylight hours. Phil and his family left soon after, leaving the O’Tool family as the only administration at The Pines. Brian’s parents are visiting here for a short time and they had taken last weekend as a chance to spend some time away. Seems like these things always happen when everyone else is away.

Therefore, when the mothers came back saying the leak had worsened, the task fell on Amber & me to check it out. When we arrived at the flat it became quickly apparent this job couldn’t wait until daylight hours. Water was pouring from the ceiling like a faucet, soaking one set of bunkbeds and other miscellaneous items. It took a veritable bucket brigade of mamas and children to keep empty buckets under the leaks.

While Amber took charge of rearranging everything down below went up into the attic crawlspace to have a peek. It didn’t take long to see that there was no actual leak in the roof but it wasn’t immediately apparent where the water was in fact coming from. What was immediately apparent was there was about 1.5 inches of water/muck covering about 25 square feet of attic space and subsequently filtering down into the living area. This building was built in the 50’s and while there is no insulation required due to the normally ideal weather, a fact for which we were quite thankful during this little episode, there has been a significant build-up of dirt, dust, and various types of droppings. These are normally dry, unless such a time arises where water is able to penetrate the buildings defenses and create a wonderful new variety of mud. Such was the case on Sunday night.

With the capable and willing help of 4 young boys we were able to get enough light in the attic to allow me to scrape out most of the water and muck using a dustpan and bucket. You can imagine the adventure of climbing around a wet attic when they were supposed to be in bed and it helps you understand how they were so eager to pitch in.

The next step involved an outside inspection to see if we could determine the source of the leak. The view from the ground wasn’t sufficient so we had to get the extension ladder and climb about 30 feet up to the gutters. Had we taken time to think about the situation we may have reevaluated the expediency of a 30’ aluminum ladder in the rain and lightening. It was all we could do to keep the boys from climbing the ladder themselves. It obviously didn’t take much coaxing to get 4 pre-teen boys outside in the pouring rain and mud puddles.

Once at the top of the ladder I discovered the problem was the condition of the gutters in this particular portion of the building. 50+ years of buildup had filled them to the top with the same aforementioned materials as had accumulated in the attic, although this time a greater percentage appeared to be pigeon droppings. I think we may actually try to market this gutter sludge as some type of fertilizer, as it appeared to be ideal growing conditions for a variety of weeds and even a couple watermelons. The problem originated when the water ran off the roof into the gutters and finding no place to go. It then ran back toward the building and up under the roof into the attic, eventually ending up in buckets placed strategically under the leaks.

It took about 20 minutes to clean the gutters in this section sufficiently to allow the water to escape on the exterior of the building. The process would have been more difficult if not for the fact that some of the gutter was so rusted that several holes caved out of the bottoms when I was pulling the muck out. This allowed Newton’s theory of gravity to be demonstrated firsthand and the water flowed directly off the roof, through the holes and down to the ground.

While this was the end of the 5 of us boys playing in the mud, the mamas still had some cleaning to do. Amber also had a bit of laundry to finish up from the wet and soiled bedding. And while we were anticipating a restful Sunday evening we learned that if you teach something God will make sure you learn it yourself. Hopefully our lesson in contentment has been learned and we have no need of additional lessons.

Thus ended a splendid evening. And somewhere in the distance a lone wolf bayed at the moon.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - David Jakuja Napo

As part of the Bible study I hold with the boys from Thabong I had given them a paper to fill out with several questions on it. They gave me permission to publish what they had written with only spelling and grammatical corrections. Here are the responses given by DJ.

David Jakuja Napo
I am 22 years of age, born in Lesotho but grew up in South Africa in a city called Welkom. I live with my three young sisters and a young brother, so that makes me the eldest. My father lives in Bloemfontein, that's where I've spent the other part of my life (3 years of my life), and 3 years in Lesotho, and 16 in Welkom raised by my mom alone as a single parent.
The good things about me include I am always laughing (I hope that is good), a great listener and respectful-that is what most people say. Bad things about me are I forgive quickly but take time to forget.

I grew up in a religious family so I have known about God all my life but the year 2008 in July I met a person called Louis O'Tool "Uncle Loui" through my cousins. That is when my life changed. He told me about God, taught me many things and fortunately he is still teaching me the Bible.

I know I am saved because I have asked Jesus to save me from my bad sins and that I know He died on a cross to pay for our sins, and I have asked Him to wash away my sins and to be my Father. Being saved means you have accepted Jesus to be your father and you are not just a person, now you are a saved person. It is a gift from God, we do not have to work for it - BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST. A person gets saved when he or she believes in Christ Jesus and you have to acknowledge that Jesus Christ died for you and me to save us.

Now that I am saved I should believe and have faith on my Lord and learn more about Christ and to always try walking on a good path and love Jesus.

We have been doing official Bible Study for only 3 months now and for us it is so encouraging to see the hunger and excitement these boys have for the Word of God. The last two weeks we didn't even get into the actual study because they have had so many questions. The first two weeks of April was school holiday in South Africa and all during that time they were making plans and strategies how they could teach the Bible to their classmates. We've had 6 more boys from the school express interest in joining the study, but it's possible their motivation is the cookies and soda.

I don't say or communicate any of these things to lift up our work here. None of this would be possible without the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these young men. I am writing this so everyone back home can be encouraged to hear how the Word is going out effectively all over the world. While the work here at times seems overwhelming we feel so privileged to be a part of it. Please pray for protection for these boys, both spiritually and physically, as they begin to take a stand for God. Pray that they will continue to learn and God would protect them from discouragement, temptation, and attacks as the enemy sees their changed lives. Praise God for their desire and efforts to tell others about Him and bring them to His Word.

The Pines Christian Care Centre for Children

The Pines is located in the city of Welkom, South Africa. Welkom is in the Free State, which is the central part of the country. The landscape around the Free State is very similar to the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas - typically very flat, grassy, and arid. The population is small and spread out.

Welkom itself was founded in the early 1950's due to the discovery of gold. Before that time it was just farmland. When the town was founded over 3 million trees were planted. Welkom is famous for it's traffic circles. In fact, before we moved to South Africa we met a few different South Africans that had moved to the US. When we would tell them we were moving to their country without fail they would respond with a list of how beautiful it is and all the places we need to visit. We would inform them we were moving to Welkom and without fail the response was "Oh...I've heard the traffic is really nice there." And they are right on both counts - South Africa has many beautiful places and Welkom has nice traffic. Amber at first was terrified to drive in the roundabouts; remember, in South Africa the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, you drive on the opposite side of the road, and everything is a manual transmission. She is getting quite adept but there is still a little trepidation. We are used to driving in Iowa where everything is nice and square, north and south. Here the roads wind and curve all over the place so it takes awhile to get familiar with the layout of the city. Northeast of Welkom proper is Thabong. During Apartheid the races had to live in separate areas and Thabong became the black township of Welkom.

The Pines is located almost straight south of the city center. We are on the edge of town but on the opposite side of the township. We do have people living nearby in old mine hostels and in informal settlements but the majority of the population is about 10km away. This has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand it would be much more convinient to be closer, and it would enable different aspects to the ministry, but on the other hand security would be a much greater concern. In addition, we would have even more people than we do now stopping to ask for help, handouts, or employment. All around are old mine buildings and closed mine shafts. These serve as a constant reminder of the struggles of the people here. At their peak, the mine companies employed about 200,000; now the number is down to 30,000. The unemployment rate in Thabong is about 80%. The HIV infection rate is estimated by local doctors to be 50%. The spread of HIV can be traced back to the employment policies and living conditions of the miners. No one is originally from Welkom - it is a melting pot of South African culture as people came from all over the country and even the continent seeking employment. Most of them would leave wives and families back home. The miners would be housed in tiny hostel rooms, with up to a dozen men per room. Prostitution was rampant which in turn became the vehicle for the spread of HIV and other diseases. These miners would then return to their families and it quickly turned into a pandemic infecting the continent and the world.

The Pines currently has 24 children, all housed within the main, "L"-shaped building. Eventually we hope to add an additional 4 flats in the second building and 1 more flat in the main building, allowing us to have 54 children. The goal is to have 5 flats of 6 girls each housed in the main building, and 4 flats of 6 boys each housed in the second building. To this point we have had about 5 teams come each year to help with projects. Many of these teams do fundraising before they come, allowing us to obtain the funds we need to complete those projects. Without these teams the work accomplished so far at The Pines would be impossible. I want to thank everyone who has made the effort to join a team and commit their time and resources to this work. We also want to encourage more people and churches to consider forming a team to serve here. It has a tremendous impact on the kids and ministry here, and to a person every team member says that they have left different than when they came. If you're interested in joining or forming a team contact me at