Follow by Email

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lindie Rebecca Niehoff

I know this is a bit late, but it slipped my mind. Childbirth has become such a normal event here, with 3 babies born to us missionaries in the last 18 months, that I forgot to make the announcement. Obviously I don't have all the details as I did with Drake, but Brian & Lois were kind enough to send this photo. This is Lindie at 3 weeks old. She is the spitting image of her older brother Liam. Having a boy and a girl now prompted Brian to wonder if infants & toddlers only look like the gender they are dressed as. Therefore, he put a dress on Liam the other day. Maybe its because we already know him as a boy, but the dress didn't really make him look girly. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Internal Life

This past Wednesday we had a new record at our Thabong Bible Study. There were 12 boys and 1 girl. And unfortunately, it was quite cold, with a biting wind. Most houses here are not equipped to handle a group of that size, and because of time constraints there was no way to bring them to The Pines and take them back afterward. So we improvised and just held Bible Study in the van, making things a tight fit. It brought to mind the time that Jesus had to improvise and teach the crowds on the seashore from a boat.

Back when the Lakeside team was here, several of the Bible Study boys attended one of the days of Bible Club. On that day the kids had a journal question that asked, “What does faith mean to me?” One of the boys wrote the following response to that question: “Faith is to believe that Jesus died on the cross, and whoever believes in Him shall be saved and have internal life.”

You will notice that he wrote internal life. I’m sure that he intended to write eternal life, but as I read and thought about that, I think it’s a very interesting concept. So often, when sharing the good news of salvation from sin, the carrot that is dangled out in front is the hope of eternal life. From our human standpoint, eternal life is usually considered the largest reward of salvation. I believe JT’s typo is actually not a typo but a very accurate theological statement, and something of which we as Christians would do well to take notice.

Consider the words of Jesus Christ in John 10:10 “…I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Are we really living an abundant life? I don’t mean to sound like a TV preacher, selling health, wealth and prosperity. What I’m asking is this: If you understand that Jesus Christ died for your sins, and that peace with God is found through Him (Rom. 5:1), and you have absolute assurance of eternal life, are you living in such a way that a world without hope sees the results of that in your life? Would someone looking at your life want what you claim to have?

You see, eternal life and internal life are two closely related concepts. You cannot separate one from the other. Again, consider the words of the Savior in John 17:3 “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Real eternal life doesn’t start in Heaven. It starts the minute you understand that your sins have been paid for by Jesus Christ, and that the only way to Heaven is through Him (John 14:6). At that minute, God becomes your father. You now have an intimate relationship with the Almighty Creator. In fact, you become fellow heirs with Jesus Christ.

Do you know God, and His son Jesus Christ? If so, I encourage you to live in such a way that you are enjoying the internal life provided by that relationship. If you are not enjoying it, ask yourself why. God hasn’t moved, you have.

JT went on to write in his journal, “Now I know that Jesus died on the cross and paid for my sins. I know how to praise and pray to God. I know what I should do to do the right things for God. I have changed from cheating, I have changed from stealing. I still want to change from lying and stop being angry with others. I try to read my Bible every day.” Here is a young man, a leader among his friends, who is beginning to experience true life. It is impacting everything and everyone around him.

We started Bible Study with 5 boys in February. All 5 have made professions of salvation, and all 5 are showing fruits of growth. Since that time we have been joined consistently by 4 more boys, 2 of which have also come to know Jesus. In all, we have had over 20 different young men and women at our study at times. This is because they see the excitement and the changes taking place for these guys. I have been approached by teachers and even by the principal of the school asking “What has gotten into those boys? They are so excited every day to talk about God.” The only response we can give is that the Holy Spirit has gotten into them. This is nothing that we have done. This is abundant life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Bathtime

Recently both Drake & Meredith have been struggling with some sort of intestinal dilemma. Sometimes moist towelettes just don't cut it, and its easier just to give him a bath. Since Drake is still pint-sized, our bathroom sink works wonderfully.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Prayer Transcript

This was Meredith's prayer before bed three nights ago: "Dear God, thank you for this great day. Help Uncle Sam not to make me cry tomorrow. Amen."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Recent Ministry Updates

Life these past few months have kept us very busy, and at times I've neglected to update you on our ongoing ministries. We try to relate unusual events and happenings, but we've found that frequently people are more interested in the "normal", mundane goings-on of our ministry here. Consequently, I'm going to try to provide a quick update about the ministries that you have been hearing about the past several months.

Ministry #1 - Bible Study with the Thabong Boys
God has greatly blessed this study since we officially started in February of this year. We started with the 5 original boys (Alex, DJ, JT, Makhasi, and Sam), and while experiencing occasional peaks up to 6 visitors, we have grown to a consistent 9 young men in attendance. I am confident in saying that most of these guys have come to know Christ as Savior, as we are beginning to see significant growth and fruit in their lives. Already they have started their own Bible studies at their school, and a couple have also started leading a daily devotional for the other students who attend the school's feeding program. Recently we shared with them that we will be returning to the US for longer than expected. They already knew we planned on being gone 2 months, but when we told them it had grown to 4 it was difficult news. Several of them shared what our relationship had become to them. One even said this news was more difficult than when he learned his father had died. It was encouraging to hear their testimonies. In particular, it was encouraging to hear their perspective on those months. They agreed they should view our absence as a challenge. One pointed out the parable of the talents from Matthew 25. We had covered this a week or so earlier and he drew the parallels that this will allow them to use what God has taught them in our studies, so that when Amber & I return we will all have a joyful reunion, rather than be ashamed at what has taken place during the brief holiday. We still can't believe the work God is doing in their lives and ask that you pray with us for His ongoing protection and guidance for these lighthouses in their community.

Ministry #2 - Bible Study with The Pines Children
Our goal of ministry is to raise children who will be equipped and willing to reach their generation. Again, we can't believe God has allowed us to be a part of His work in the lives of His children. The growth He has brought about in the 18 months we have been here is amazing. We have seen children arrive at The Pines, learn of Jesus' love and accept His free gift of life, and progress to the point where they are already leading others to Christ. In July we hosted a team from Lakeside Fellowship and during their Bible Clubs we saw several professions of salvation. Some of those boys have continued to attend church with us. This past Sunday one of them brought his sister along, and after church they came to The Pines for lunch. The sister, Mamokete, at lunch in one of our girl's flats. Most of the afternoon Okuhle spent with her going over the Word of God and sharing with her the plan of God's salvation. Before Mamokete left she also made a profession of salvation. Praise God that we can plant and water, but He brings about the increase. Pray that these decisions would be genuine and both The Pines kids and those who are reached outside The Pines would remain committed to their Saviour. We have been blessed over the past several months to have some of the visitors step in and also teach the Bible Studies. My sister and brother in particular have been a huge help, with Rosina working with the girls and Sam working with the boys.

Ministry #3 - Evangelism
In December we started doing street evangelism, passing out food parcels and sharing God's Word when opportunity presented. Since that time we have done this about once per month, most of the time at the prompting of The Pines kids. Us adults accompany them for safety, supervision, and support in case they need assistance with Scripture, but the majority of the work is done by our kids themselves. Several have shown a gift, and it is enjoyable to see how each approaches the Gospel differently, allowing for their differing personalities. Some (one in particular) are "Fire & Brimstone" while others are more logical, and still others take a more quiet approach. Regardless of how they choose to converse with individuals, God's Word is being spread, and He has promised to use it.

Ministry #4 - Community Outreach
As you know, we have hosted many visitors the past few months. While this in itself is a ministry that God has given us, these people, through their willingness to come and serve, enable us to broaden our ministry ability. Bible Clubs, building a new house for someone, developing new relationships and making new contacts all help us as we seek to shine for Christ. Just this past weekend the team from Utah joined us in an outreach in Hani Park. We showed up with 2 soccer balls and within 10 minutes had what we estimate to be between 250-300 kids. This team, with their background in Utah, is uniquely gifted to work with an outreach like this. While to most it would seem chaotic and out-of-hand, this group quickly (and without prior planning, I might add) broke up into smaller groups by age. The younger ones played some nursery games, then sang and heard the Gospel message from a team member - through one of The Pines kids translating. The older kids (almost exclusively boys, because of the culture here) played soccer, then split into a couple groups to hear God's word - again with a Pines child translating. Throughout this whole event a couple of our girls kept themselves busy by witnessing to bystanders and on-lookers. We had a couple young men ask to join a Bible Study, so I imagine on our return in February we'll have more discipleship on our plates - wonderful. On the second evening we had a very interesting time with a drunk couple, but that is a story for another time, I promise.

Ministry #5 - Nurturing Relationships
This is the fun part of our ministry. The Pines kids, the boys from Thabong, now the boys from the Lakeside Bible Club, kids from church all join us from time to time just for a day of fun. Usually on Sundays, we transport everyone to church, then back to The Pines for lunch and games. This past week they wanted something "American" so Rosina baked 2 apple pies - what's more American than that? Chevrolet? Baseball? Actually, we did play some baseball, along with a soccer game and a little roofball (a game invented by the O'Tool family). While this was the first time for them to have American pie, obviously they've seen enough TV to know what you're supposed to do with a pie.

Ministry #6 - Church
The work at Reahola continues, and the past several weeks we've enjoyed a variety of preachers. I've enjoyed the break, as have the other "regular" preachers. Last Sunday we had almost 70 people, not counting the Utah team members. The building we meet in also doubles as a daycare during the week. Anne, who attends Reahola, runs the Creche with about 95 kids under her care on a daily basis. This team painted the main area and added some nice luxury features such as curtains, a sink, and chalkboard. It was amazing to see the kid's faces when they saw the renovations for the first time on Sunday morning.

Ministry #7 - Daily Chores
Not everything when running a children's home in fun 'n games. There are still issues of daily necessity. Things such as groceries, homework, discipline, and upkeep continue regardless of what else takes place. I don't want to make it seem as though we are the only ones working at The Pines, or that we are somehow indispensable to God's work here. We are just "lucky" to be a part of it. Our co-workers, the Niehoffs and Carmichaels, are the ones who keep things running.

Ministry #8 - Family
We know that our first job is to our own children and to each other. Unfortunately, that head knowledge sometimes doesn't make it any further than that. We have been learning how important it is to carve out time for Meredith & Drake. One thing that has become helpful is that they both enjoy joining us as we minister. Meredith loves the weekly grocery shop (shocker that she loves shopping, since she is a girl after all) and helps me with the list and helps as we deliver food to the different flats. Drake has joined us for Bible Study on occasion, and has become the designated taste-tester, whether it's tasting the cookies or the dirt, he is more than willing.

We ask that you continue to pray for the work at The Pines. Pray especially for those carrying on the work when we return to the US and pursue the establishment of a new children's home. Pray that we will be able to raise the necessary funds by the 1st of February, and be able to start reaching more children soon after that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Letter to Judd

You may remember that at the beginning of June we hosted Judson K. Pietsch, a friend of ours from our college days. He was here for a couple weeks and helped out with a plethora of ministries. He also became a favorite of all the kids here at The Pines. They continually ask about him, and many of them have taken to writing him letters.

If anyone has ever lived in a foreign culture, you'll likely understand when I say that most cultures tend to be more straightforward than what we are used to in the US. Many times this borders on what we Americans would consider rudeness, but since their culture accepts, nay, demands this type of communication, it is imperative that one learn to adjust.

Our older girls, and one - Okuhle - in particular, are not opposed to speaking their minds on most any subject. I must take this time to point out that Judd is single. Of interesting note for this story is that my sister Rosina is also single (for all the non-related and single guys out there). Our kids quickly put 2 and 2 together and decided that Judd & Rosina had to be destined for one another. In fact, before Judd left, they wrote a note on the chalkboard for him. The message stated "We will pray for you to get a wife."

So, with this in mind, I've posted a recent letter that Okuhle sent to Judson. I have received permission from all interested parties to post this. If you have difficulty reading it, click on the letter itself and you should be able to see an enlarged copy in your browser window.

Louis O'Tool

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Flexibility

Yesterday I took a trip to Johannesburg to pick up our latest group of visitors from the airport. We are hosting Ephraim Church of The Bible, from Ephraim UT, for the next two weeks. The "leaders" of this team are Chip & Jamie Thompson. They have served for many years as missionaries to Utah, and Amber & I were able to join them for a missions trip in the summer of 2004.

On the way home Chip happened to ask me "What does your typical day look like?" With no disrespect to Chip intended, I had to laugh. Those who read these posts know that no day here is routine. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out a few of these older editions: , , , ,

Yesterday was a classic example of this. Initially, I was to drive The Pines van up to Jo-burg, and Phil Carmichael would drive his SUV pulling a trailer for luggage. This team has 11 members so we needed two vehicles for the extra space. The abnormality actually began almost 3 full days ago, and two hemispheres away.

We recommend that teams travel together as much as possible. This team wasn't able to do that for a variety of reasons. There were six people in what we'll call Group A, and 5 people in Group B. For those scoring at home, this adds up to 11 and makes me 3-0 when doing math for these posts. Score one for homeschoolers.

Anyway, Group A, consisting of 6 people did not all travel together. Group A was divided into two sub-groups, which we'll call SG A1 and SG A2. SG A1 was two people, Nola and King Louie. Louie happens to be a flight attendant and was able to find a great deal on tickets, business class no less. SG A1 therefore left Phoenix at 6:30am on Friday morning, flew from Phoenix to San Francisco, then on to London where they were to meet up with SG A2. This portion of their trip was basically uneventful, except for Louie finding a coupon for a free massage during their layover in the first class lounge.

SG A2, consisting of two couples - Chip & Jamie and Greg & Brenda - was to leave Phoenix at 18:00 hours. Unfortunately one of the members of SG A2 wears bifocals and misread the itinerary, causing the whole sub-group to arrive at the airport 8 hours early. After spending these 8 hours in the airport, they boarded their flight to London to re-convene with SG A2.

Upon arrival in London, they realized with another 8 hour layover there would be sufficient time to see the sights of the city. Nola and Louie stayed behind at the airport, having already spent some time in London in the past. The members of SG A2 proceeded into the city to enjoy a few hours of fog. Without going into the details, I will sum it up to say their return to the airport was reminiscent of a bad Bill Murray movie, with the two sub-groups trailing each other all over the airport looking for one another, but never actually crossing paths. As the departure time neared things began to get more and more intense, culminating in the British Airways organization holding up an entire flight in order to bring this group back together.

They then proceeded to Johannesburg, arriving at 11:00am. Most people have a perception of Africa as a hot, dry place. Not always the case. Yesterday turned out to be the coldest day of our two winters, but unfortunately these cold days are so rare that buildings are not prepared for this sort of event. Therefore, the 6 members of Group A spent the greater part of August 1st shivering in the Johannesburg airport and huddling together for warmth.

Meanwhile, back in the US the members of Group B were having travel difficulty of their own. 3 members of Group B were departing from one of the western states, to meet with the other two members in Atlanta. The other 2 members then departed from Minnesota. Both flights, however, did not succeed in their attempts to land in Atlanta. Severe weather prompted one plane to land in Memphis, while the other diverted to Birmingham. Eventually all 5 did make it to Atlanta, but not before this team caused another international flight to be delayed. Obviously through no fault of their own.

So it is with this in mind that you are brought back to yours truly. Phil had left Welkom about an hour before me so that he could stop at a mall in Joburg with Kimmie and Okuhle. I was to bring Mpho, Gladys, and Maria and meet them at McDonalds before picking up the team at the airport. Just for fun, we'll call Phil's car Group Phil, and The Pines van Group Lou.

Group Lou receives a phone call from Uncle Brian informing us that the Atlanta flight is going to be delayed by two hours, thus prompting Group Lou to contact Group Phil and arrange to meet at the mall. Phil and Lou agreed that malls may not be the root of all evil but they are closely connected. However, two hours at the mall seemed more agreeable than two hours in the McDonald's Play Place.

On the way up, Group Phil had experienced severe rainfall, something totally unheard of in the month of August here. By time Group Lou traversed the same stretch of road, the rain had begun to mix with snowflakes. Let me clarify that statement by relating to you the time that our housemothers began to reminisce about the snowfalls they had experienced in their lifetimes. Our oldest housemother is 60 something and she remembered a grand total of 5 snowfalls. So yesterday was a bit unusual.

By the time Group Lou was almost to the mall, the rain/snowflakes had turned to pea-sized hail. We quickly found a parking space, then entered the mall to reunite with Group Phil. The kids then enjoyed a McValue meal, and from there we meandered around the mall, spending most of our time looking through books in the various book vender establishments.

Upon leaving the mall we discovered that The Pines van was completely dead. As in "No electrical spark whatsoever." We attempted to push-start it a couple times, with no apparent success. Eventually a couple emerged from the mall and offered their assistance. The boyfriend ran to his car to get his jumper cables (both Group Phil and Group Lou were missing their sets for various reasons), and said boyfriend quickly returned to say that he had just taken his car to the shop and had forgotten to put his tools/jumper cables back into said car. Fortunately he did have a tow rope, and using that he was able to pull Phil around the busy lot, gaining enough speed to eventually drop the clutch and get it started.

We goosed the engine a few times, then drove to the airport, making sure not to stall it out along the way. Once we arrived at the airport we decided to wander around until the team arrived. I must point out that we were not aware they were arriving in two separate groups, with one significantly earlier than the other. In the midst of our meandering through JNB, we discovered Group A shivering together in the food court. We spent the next hour+ enjoying some fellowship while waiting for the arrival of Group B.

I am happy to report that all were united in one happy team reunion, and no luggage was lost. The trip home, although quite late, was uneventful. Except that the dome light in the back of the van turned on all by itself about halfway home. So it is possible that propensity to turn itself on caused the dead battery. Doubtful, but possible.

And that is why Chip's question of "What does your typical day look like?" caused me such amusement.