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Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Rat Pack

One of these photos is Mokhosi from The Pines. The other is a member of the original "Rat Pack". See if you can identify which is which.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Lakeside Bible Club

The past two weeks we have hosted a team from Lakeside Fellowship in Polk City, IA. That partially accounts for the lack of posts on this site.

This team has been involved in a variety of ministries here at The Pines. One of those ministries, and possibly the biggest, was 5 days of Bible Club hosted here at The Pines during their first week.

In June, my brother and sister-in-law came through South Africa on their way to China. It just so happens that they are members at Lakeside, and their visit here coincided with the last week of the school term. The easiest way for us to spread the word about the Bible Club was passing out invitations at the school nearby, so we enlisted Joe & Angie to do that on the last day of school.

When the Lakeside team arrived they were all set to run the Bible Club, complete with games, crafts, Bible time, and a gospel message. This is the second year a team has held Bible Club at The Pines, and this year was much colder than last. The first day we had 32 kids, including The Pines kids. Last year our biggest turnout was 70-ish, so we decided to do some additional invites.

Monday afternoon after Bible Club we went to the nearest housing complexes and passed out sweets and invitations. Jonny Heisterkamp agreed to shave his head if we got more than 60 kids on any given day, and that was told to the kids to help encourage them to bring along some friends. On Tuesday morning we had 52 kids show up. Unfortunately, that was our peak for the week so Jonny still has his full head of hair.

Each day the Bible lesson for the older kids centered around “Rock Solid Faith”, with verses, crafts, and a journal to go along with it. On the last day we were back to 32 kids, probably due to the cold. As they were working on their journal one of the questions prompted them to ask themselves “Do I know that I’m going to Heaven?”

Two of the older boys, Modibedi and Ramalete, decided they didn’t know but were very concerned that they would go to Heaven. Kristen Heisterkamp was running their craft/journal time and they told her they wanted to talk about this but only with “Uncle Louie”. They brought the boys to me and together with Okuhle and Tankiso for language support, we sat down and began asking questions to make sure they understood what the gospel truly is.

It became clear after a brief conversation that they understood sin, and that their sin will lead to punishment. They also understood that Jesus Christ paid for our sins on the cross, allowing us to obtain eternal life. It was obvious that Modebedi in particular was a bit impatient with all these questions. He knew what he wanted to do and he wanted to get it done now, without any more waiting. He immediately knelt and prayed and Ramalete along with him. Two of their friends had accompanied them and they also prayed, but I wasn’t certain those two had a full understanding. Thankfully, God knows and we pray that all the decisions made that day were genuine.

After those 4 boys left, they found that another of their friends had arrived late. Zembe had attended every day, both this year and last, but on this day was a bit tardy. They went straight to him and told him what had happened and that he better listen too if he wants to go to Heaven. Okuhle pulled out a picture Bible that my mom had given here in December and flipped back and forth between the story of Jesus’ death and the future judgement. Many of The Pines kids were deeply involved in this outreach, from translation to sharing the gospel. We were thrilled to see them use some of their gifts and training in service for Christ.

They spent about 10 minutes talking to Zembe and he hung on every word. Once they finished he came right to me and asked if he too could be saved. After a brief conversation to make sure he understood he also prayed, asking for forgiveness for his sins. Two of the smaller boys had accompanied him, but again, it was unclear how much they understood.

As we were talking to Zembe, the first 2 boys had gone over to another friend, Lufefe. They were telling him that he also needed to make a decision for Christ. He said he didn’t want to, that he was ok with “going to Hell alone”. After Zembe prayed and went back outside, we were all sitting around praising God for what had happened. Lufefe came in at that point and said he had changed his mind. He too prayed. We trust that all these decisions were genuine and that God will continue to cause fruit to grow in their lives.

You may remember us asking for Bibles a few months back. We have since received several shipments from a variety of sources. Each of these boys received a new Bible, and instead of them walking back as on other days, we gave each a ride home in our car. This is so we would know where they lived and where we could follow up with them. We also invited them to church on Sunday. Sunday morning when Amber went by in our car 6 boys were waiting by the curb to come to church with us. This week we saw them on the way home from school and gave them a ride home. We reminded them about church on Sunday and they promised they would be there again.

With these boys and those coming from #7 as a result of the POG team’s outreach, we are now getting quite a crowd. Already we transport 24 Pines kids + housemothers + missionaries. Now we have an additional 12 or so people coming to church with us. A very good problem to have.

Praise God for His work, and for those teams who have given their time, money, and energy to serve here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Blow to my Ego

So today Meredith was telling my brother he should cut his hair like mine. I said "That's because I'm handsome, right?" She responded with "Maybe for mom, but not to me."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nontembiso Lehule

Nontembiso (meaning “Promise” in Xhosa) came to us in February 2007. Of all our children she has seen the most instability in her young life. Due to the illness of her parents she was temporarily placed with House of Hope, an organization that cares for infants on a temporary basis.

After her mother and father died, she lived at House of Hope for a time until she was taken in by an aunt in another city about 1 hour away. She lived with this aunt until it was learned she was being physically abused by her. While it seems odd that an aunt would voluntarily take her in only to then abuse her, it must be understood that here in South Africa it is not uncommon for children to be fostered by people who don’t love them. Children in Foster Care status are eligible for a small monthly grant from the government, and frequently people will take in multiple children just to obtain the grant for themselves. It seems this may have been the case with Tembi.

Once it was learned that her aunt was abusing her she was removed from the home and placed again at House of Hope for a short time. She was then placed in Foster Care with a good mother, but the new mother soon learned that she was not in a position to care for Tembi and she came to House of Hope for the third time. This time she was placed with another foster mother, but it wasn’t long before that mother passed away, and Tembi returned to House of Hope.

Finally, she was referred to The Pines through Morningstar, a sister organization with whom we work closely. Morningstar is a Christian Daycare that works with HIV+ children from the poorest backgrounds. Her last two foster mothers had also been associated with Morningstar on a volunteer basis, but it was determined that Tembi needed something more stable.

All our kids come through proper government channels, and Nontembiso is no exception. Initially she came to us on Place of Safety status, meaning we were only granted temporary rights to care for her and raise her. Since that time we have applied for and received Foster Care status, meaning she is likely here until she is grown and able to care for herself on her own. In South Africa once a child is placed in Foster Care, it is highly unlikely they would ever be moved, unless the biological mother is able to take the child back. Since Tembi’s mother is dead, we are confident that she will live with us until the time she becomes independent.

Understandably, Tembi craves individual attention. Because of her past experiences she has had some trouble adjusting to certain aspects of life, but since arriving here at The Pines we have seen her blossom. The mamas here do a wonderful job loving and caring for the kids as if they were their own. One of the things Tembi especially stuggles with is nightmares. Her mama Sylvia will frequently take Tembi into her own room to sleep on the bed or floor, and we have learned that she loses sleep many nights caring for her.

Nontembiso loves the swimming pool and is just learning how to swim on her own now. She is enrolled in pre-school and is preparing to enter grade 1 next term. Frequently, while the older children are doing homework, Tembi will come to the study room and ask if she can color and work on her alphabet. We are excited by the growth we’ve seen in her and anticipate seeing her continue to thrive.

Like all our children, Tembi is learning about God and what Jesus did for her. We pray that as she continues to grow, she would realize that she personally must make the decision to trust Christ. We trust that the Holy Spirit would do a mighty work in and through her life.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Survey Says...

After much discussion and feedback in regards to the quintessential African animals, I am pleased to announce we have a winner. Points were awarded based on position, with the first listed getting 5 points and the last listed getting 1.
Here is the list starting with the lowest vote getter:
17. Chihuahua - 1 point
16. Ostrich - 1 point
15. Antelope - 2 points
14. Cougar - 2 points
13. Buffalo - 2 points
12. Chimpanzee - 3 points
11. Impala - 3 points
10. Hyena - 4 points
9. Monkey - 6 points
8. Hippopotamus - 6 points
7. Gazelle - 9 points
6. Rhinoceros - 14 points
5. Cheetah - 18 points
4. Zebra - 30 points
3. Giraffe - 61 points
2. Elephant - 66 points
And the winner is...
1. Lion - 90 points

Thank you to all who responded. I believe we had 22 responses, making our sample size sufficient to overwhelmingly conclude that Louis is indeed the winner of our safari. And I graciously accept.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Epiphany

I had an epiphany moment the other day. I realized that maybe the last 18 months that we've been living at a children's home in Africa is having an effect on our mindset about various things. This came about as a result of something I said. I had just cleaned out a storage room and had a couple boxes full of things that needed to go to the trash. I set them outside our apartment door which happens to open into the activity room here at The Pines. I noticed a couple of the boys searching through these boxes of trash for any items that might pique their curiosity. Now, I've been known to do my share of dumpster-diving. Our favorite pastime at O'Tool family reunions was to go through the garbage at Graham Park in Carroll collecting cans to redeem at Food-4-Less. So I'm not opposed to looking through trash for interesting items. However, considering our experience here, I was a bit surprised to hear myself say to these boys "If you're going to look through the trash, just take it outside first." I guess that helps us know we are indeed adapting to the culture at least somewhat.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Lion or Dog?

The following was sent to us by a very close South African friend:

A shop owner in Brakpan , South Africa , was tired of people breaking into his yard/shop so he came up with the idea of shaving his dog like a lion. Everyone in SA recognises a lion, now he has no problem with thugs! South African ingenuity we call it in Afrikaans "n Boer maak n plan".

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Children's Day

Everyone in the US probably remembers as a child, or has had a child ask them, in regards to the Mother's Day/Father's Day holidays, "What day is children's day?" And every parent knows the correct answer to that: "Every day is children's day." Recently we celebrated Children's Day at The Pines. In South Africa the Children's Day holiday is scheduled to commemorate those youth who decided they finally had had enough under the apartheid government system and stood up against it. This was a large step in bringing about the end of that form of government.

Clearly as Americans we have a limited ability to raise these kids as South Africans. We attempt to maintain their culture whenever possible, and celebration of South African holidays is a part of that. Fortunately this event occurred at a time when we had plenty of help at The Pines. POG Team 10 was here, along with Allison & Wendy who are spending a month here, Rosina & Sam who are spending three months here, and Joe & Angie who spent 10 days here. They helped with games, making tie-dyed t-shirts, other misc crafts, and of course, food. We were joined by the boys from our Bible Study in Thabong, so we had quite a crowd. I thought you might enjoy some photos from this event.