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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Open Letter

Dear Family & Friends,
As I write this we are sitting in the Johannesburg airport, waiting to board our flight back to the US (you will note that the photo looks cock-eyed. Remember we are in the Southern and Eastern Hemisphere so all our pictures look like that). We plan to be in the US from October 1 through February 3. As you probably know by now, our intention is to report back to our current supporters, as well as raise funds for our new venture.

We, along with our co-workers Brian & Lois Niehoff, are committed to God’s call on our lives to minister to the children of South Africa who have been orphaned as a result of the rampant immorality of the culture here. We have located property in Welkom, and have a contract for its purchase before April of 2010. Our goal is to raise $250,000 for the intial phases of the ministry. These phases include purchase of and necessary upgrades to the property, the building of 4 homes for children – each housing 6 children plus caregivers, staff housing, and a vehicle. While we know this is an aggressive goal, especially in the current economy, we are convinced that God will provide as He deems appropriate. We ask for your prayer in this matter.

Our last few weeks have been full of transition. In addition to packing, cleaning, and preparing to move, we have maintained most of our ministries. Saying goodbye to the children at The Pines, the housemothers, and those within the community whom we have ministered among and built relationships with has been a difficult and emotionally taxing experience. We like to think of it as “see you later” rather than goodbye.

Thank you all for your prayers and support throughout this time. If you would like a report on our previous ministries, or would like to hear about our future ministry plans, please contact us at

Hope to see you soon. If you read this before noon – central time – please remember to pray for our flight, and specifically the 4 children: Meredith & Drake, and Liam & Lindie.


The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Drake's VISA

Have you ever noticed that God seems to enjoy reminding us from time to time that He is in control, and that even our best-laid plans are completely subject to His power? We had just such an experience this past week.

I did one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in my life. And I’m not talking about dropping an air conditioner on Amber’s head. Drake was born just over 1 year ago. We received some faulty information from various government agencies/employees, and we ignorantly took their word for it without researching it further. We had been told that we must apply for a new VISA (permission to be in a foreign country, not the credit card) in the USA, not in South Africa. Unfortunately, we learned this information is incorrect.

Normally, when Amber & I overlook things, they cause pretty minor problems. Not the types of problems for which we and our 12 month old son could be jailed. Being as we thought we would try to stay on top of things, Amber phoned the SA Consulate in Chicago 2 days before we were scheduled to fly out. She requested a list of the exact requirements and paperwork we would need to apply for a VISA. The lady at the consulate informed her that since Drake was over 3 months old, he had been in the country illegally for 9 months and we would be subject to significant fines – as in well over $1,000.

Amber proceeds to call the consulate in Johannesburg to see what we would need to do to rectify the situation. She was told by the nice gentleman that not only could we be subject to serious fineage, but they may choose to prevent us from leaving the country and if they wanted they could even retain us in the brig. Not a pleasant experience by any definition.

If you know anything about most governments, specifically governments on this continent, things don’t tend to move quickly, nor efficiently. Brian & Lois recently had to obtain some paperwork through the very same office. It took several weeks after initial application, and then they had to call and remind them the work needed to be done. So our prospects were looking bleak.

We wondered what the best option would be. We considered driving to Lesotho – about 3 hours away – to obtain a 90 day visitors visa for Drake. That was quickly ruled out when we learned they no longer do that. We considered driving to Pretoria – about 4 hours away – to attempt an emergency VISA application. We finally settled on trying to apply through our local office of the Dept of Home Affairs.

Early Tuesday morning (we leave on Wednesday) I had to take a load of boxes to a friend’s house. On Sunday we had lunch with these friends and noticed that anytime we go anywhere with them he runs into somebody he knows. So at Amber’s suggestion we mentioned our problem to him, not thinking that he would know anything about what we would need to do, since he is a South African by birth. We learned quickly that we were wrong; his son’s sister-in-law works in the Home Affairs office in Welkom. He sent us to her and told us to mention his name.

When we arrived at her office we learned she wasn’t the correct person to handle the process, but she did us a huge favor and called ahead and explained everything to the lady who would be in charge of the procedure. Let me explain that this lady is notorious for her sometimes harsh personality. Brian describes her as “the lady who makes people cry”. This is probably an apt description, normally. In fact, I met her for about 15 minutes before Amber, and for those 15 minutes I received a chewing-out the likes of which I haven’t received since my days playing basketball. Unfortunately, I knew I was completely to blame so there was nothing to do but take it.

We acknowledged that it was our mistake and oversight that caused the problem, and that we were simply asking for mercy and assistance. This seemed to soften her up, but she continued to jokingly (we think jokingly anyway) that she was going to take Drake and keep him at her house. The two gentlemen in the office gave us the necessary forms to complete, and after about an hour of filling out paperwork, getting a doctor’s evaluation, bank statements, and a letter of recommendation, we were back in the office. They quickly approved our application and provided Drake with his VISA stamp. I am happy to report that Drake is no longer an illegal alien in the country of South Africa. And I am typing this in the Jo-burg airport, having passed through customs and obtaining the stamp of approval for him to board the flight along with us.

Isn’t it amazing how God was able to work in the hearts of people you would never expect it from, and while giving us a significant scare, continually provided for our needs every step of the application process.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Drake's First Birthday

Drake just celebrated his first birthday. He didn't seem to comprehend anything, other than the cake and ice cream, and the fact that mom didn't really care if he dug into it with his fingers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Split Scalp

In case anyone was wondering, this is what happens when you drop an air conditioner on your wife's head. Last time Amber & I worked on an air conditioner together she broke a window. This time I almost broke her head. So we agree that from this point forward we will not work on air conditioners together.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Living in Africa

One of the best things about living in Africa is that when you lose water, electricity, internet, or any other "modern convenience" for any length of time, then you get it back, it feels like Christmas morning. That's not something we experienced very often in the US.

And on an unrelated note, here is the Meredith Quote of the Day:
Louis: "Why is Tembi crying?"
Meredith: "Because I bumped my arm."
Louis: "Why would Tembi cry about you bumping your arm."
Meredith: "I bumped it right into her mouth."
Louis: "Why?"
Meredith: "I was pretending to sleep and she was pretending to wake me up and I didn't like that."


In August 2008 we received a call from the police that they had found a small boy wandering the streets of Thabong and they needed a place to care for him until they were able to sort things out. Since we had an opening for a little boy we agreed to accept this child. Strangely enough, when the police arrived, they brought with them a little girl. Apparently they were not sure how to determine the gender of this child. If you’ve followed the sports news lately, you’ll know this is actually not unheard of in South Africa.

The police not only brought this little girl, Asandile (uh-SAND-ee-lay), with them, but they also had located her mother in the meantime and she also came with them to turn her daughter over to us. The police informed us that this is not her first offense, and that it appeared she would be serving a 15 year sentence for child endangerment and neglect. Asandile, according to Brian & Lois, arrived as the dirtiest child we have ever received. This photos was taken just after her first bath. If I remember correctly, it took more than one tub-full of water to feel comfortable that she was clean.

While she may have been the dirtiest, she was also the most cheerful, congenial little stinker that you will ever meet. Most children go through a day or two of adjustment, wondering what is going on, and learning that they can trust us and their housemothers. Not so with Asandile. From day one she always had a big smile, and a loud “Uncle Lou-eeee” whenever I would walk by. She loved to play, tickle, and snuggle, and she had a way of working her way into your heart.

As time passed, we learned that her mother had been released from prison for some unknown reason and had disappeared. Asandile’s file was put into the “lost” bin and it seemed as if she would be here permanently. When Lois would call to follow-up on the status of things, no one even knew this little girl existed. Which was fine by us, since she had quickly become an indispensable member of The Pines family.

Fast forward now to mid-August. Somehow Asandile’s mother turns back up and the social workers determine that she should go back to her mother. They contact Lois and tell her they are coming to pick up Asandile, to which Lois responded “No, you are not.” There had been no contact for at least 12 months, no investigation into the life of this mother, no study to determine if the mother wanted to or would care for her 4 year old daughter, and no training on the administration of ARV medication. Lois informed them that these things would need to be completed before we would consider releasing Asandile to them. Technically we don’t have official authority to do this, but at the same time Lois was correct in stating that all those things needed to be completed before they were allowed to place her back with the mother.

That same week the mother arrives at The Pines with a social worker to visit. She looked very sickly and malnourished, and it looked like she could be blown over by a light breeze. It was hard for us not to show any bitterness or frustration with someone who would abandon such a sweet and innocent little girl. She spent about an hour at The Pines with her child whom she had not seen for over a year, and then she left.

Four weeks passed, we heard or saw nothing of the mother, and then we received another call from the head of the social department. We were informed that they would be coming to take Asandile that day. Lois again began asking questions.
Lois: “Why hasn’t the mother come to visit?”
Social Dept: “She is afraid of your dogs.”
Lois: “She could call ahead and we would lock up the dogs.”
SD: “She doesn’t have money to make a phone call.”
Lois: “Then how could she have money to feed and care for a child.”
SD: “She lives with her boyfriend and he receives a disability pension (roughly $80 per month).”
Lois: “Does she want the child back?”
SD: “That is not your concern.”
Lois: “Does the boyfriend want the girl?”
SD: “They have been living together for 6 months and he is committed to her.”
Lois: “Have you completed training on administration of medication and clinic visits?”
SD: “That is part of our ongoing training once they are back together.”
Lois: “Since she needs medication twice a day, isn’t that something that should be done immediately.”
SD: “That is not your concern.”
Lois: “Have you investigated the home?”
SD: “That is not your concern. We have taken care of everything.”
When the mother arrived with the social worker later that day, she looked worse than she had 4 weeks prior. She appeared very sickly and weak, and one can only wonder how she will care for a child when she clearly struggles to care for herself.

Unfortunately, at that point there was nothing more we could do. There are two classifications of child care in South Africa. One is Foster Care, which is more or less permanent. This takes place when it is deemed there is no one else to care for the child. Foster Care can be assigned to anyone, but relatives take preference. Most of The Pines’ children are in Foster Care and therefore not in any significant danger of being removed. The second classification is Place of Safety. This is intended to be temporary, with a legal maximum of 6 months. However, this is often becomes longer due to lost, missing, or unknown files. This was Asandile’s case.

Whenever Lois would follow up to ensure the file was moving, no one could locate the file and no one knew about this little girl. However, when the mother materializes out of thin air, probably because she hopes to receive some sort of grant for Asandile, the file is located and they try to close it within a day.

As you might be able to tell by reading between the lines, this was a difficult situation for us. The hardest part of this ministry is knowing that there are still so many that need help, yet you are limited in your ability. Add to that the relationship and affection that has grown to the extent that you love a child as your own, then you see that child returned to an environment where love and care will be non-existent.

However, the same day brought some encouraging news as well. Over the past few weeks we have been working to locate land for the establishment of our new children’s home. We found out that same day that a piece of land we had identified appears very promising. While there is much work to be done before we can purchase this property, build flats, and accept children, it is exciting to know that soon we can begin to reach more children that the 30+ we have worked with at The Pines over the past 18 months.

And it is encouraging to see the reaction of the children at The Pines. While they have expressed some sadness at us leaving, they show great compassion, expressing their excitement that more children will be reached with the Gospel. It will be difficult for us to say goodbye, but as God allows we can maintain a strong relationship with these children while also reaching out to others. Already the kids from The Pines are planning to come to our new children’s home to share God’s Word with the new kids there.

We desperately covet your prayers for Asandile, as we will try to continue contact with her and hopefully get her enrolled at Morning Star, a Christian daycare with which we work closely here. Pray also for us, as we begin the fundraising process for our new ministry. And pray for The Pines, both the children and staff, that God will continue the work He has started.