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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - So a funny thing happened the other day...

Anyone who knows Amber knows she can't pass up a "good bargain". I say "good bargain" because we have differing definitions of what that might be. I define a good bargain as either free, or someone paying us to take whatever item is under discussion. My philosophy is zero dollars is cheaper than anything more than zero dollars. Her philosophy seems to be that something significantly cheaper than normal is a good bargain, whether we need it or not. So it will come as no surprise that Amber's favorite pastimes include garage sales, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the New Hope Village Store. This seems to be genetic as well, since Amber's sister Rikki, and our daughter Meredith both seem to enjoy bargain shopping as a form of entertainment.

Rikki is attending Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, our alma mater. This works great for us, as we get to see her from time to time while we are back in the States. Why, just the other day, while I was teaching at Ankeny Christian Academy, Amber & sister Rikki took the opportunity to pursue their mutually enjoyed hobby. And here is where the funny thing occurred.

The M.O. - or modus operendi, if you will - for these bargain excursions is thus: One must search selected store for items that catch one's fancy. These items are then collected and reserved for the purpose of discovering if said items look as attractive on ones person as one may imagine they might look when observing this item on the hanger. In other words, they get a whole bunch of clothes together, then take turns trying them on and telling each other if it looks good.

Amber's turn came to try on some of the clothes she had found. She would go into the dressing room, put on whatever item happened to have been chosen, then come out and pose for her sister. Rikki would then tell her "Yes, that looks nice." or "No, not your style" or what-have-you. After exhausting her supply of potential bargains, she put on all her original clothes and emerged from the dressing room. However, Rikki wasn't aware that Amber had completed this trial process. She took one look at Amber's jeans and said "No, I really don't like those on you." Unfortunately, she didn't know that these were pants Amber had owned, and in fact was quite proud of, for quite some time. Oops.

In Rikki's defense, she claims that the pants leg had gotten caught somehow in Amber's shoe and made the bottom of the leg look funny. I'm not sure whether to believe her or if her fashion sense has become so sophisticated that us old people can no longer look "cool".

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reminder

Just wanted to post a quick reminder that tonight, October 30th, Restoring Hope International is holding a "Meet & Greet" at Connxions Bookstore & Coffee Shoppe. The event begins at 7:00, and you are free to come and go as you please. This would be a great opportunity for you to speak to the members of the RHI board of directors, and ask any questions that you have about our ministry in South Africa.

If you have any questions you should be able to reach me at 515-343-9835. Hope to see everyone there.

Louis

Postscript: I just found out that from 11:00am to 7:00pm there is a group of massage therapists giving free 10 minute massages to any pastors or missionaries as part of Pastor Appreciation Day. This event is also at Connxions Bookstore & Coffee Shoppe. So any full-time Christian workers, be sure to check that out.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lucky's Funeral

I received an email from Phil Carmichael last night. Yesterday was the funeral for Lucky, and Phil was gracious to attend in my place. Here are the details:
The service was 3 hours long. This is pretty typical, as they have singing, speaking, preaching, singing some more, and various other events, along with more singing. Phil said the church was a tin building about 60 feet square, but there were stacks of bricks nearby, indicating possible expansion or improvement in the near future. I'm not sure what the name of the church is, or what type of church. There were 250-300 people inside, with more standing outside. Most westerners would be uncomfortable with that tight of proximity to one another, but that is also pretty typical in South Africa.

Lucky was buried at the same cemetery that we normally visit with teams when they are in Welkom. Phil informed me that one of the boys publicly affirmed that Lucky had trusted Christ as his savior, and that they were all looking forward to seeing him one day again in Heaven. To use Phil's words "What a wonderful testimony" of what God can do in the lives of young men and women when the good news takes hold of their lives.

Most of the photos you see were sent by Phil and were taken at Lucky's funeral. The first one is of Lucky with Chip Thompson, a missionary in Utah who visited us with a team in August. Chip had left his own Bible with Lucky. What a great witness to the saving and transforming power of God's Word, as Lucky accepted Christ as his savior just a couple weeks before God took him home.








Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Bummer



Drake adores Amber. I mean he absolutely, unequivocably adores her. When I get him out of bed in the morning or after naps, he pops up and immediately starts looking for Amber. He thinks she is the greatest. And she is. The only problem lies in the fact that this affection is at the expense of all others. He won't be satisfied unless he is receiving her undivided attention.

Today Amber says to me "It's nice to be adored, but sometimes it can be kind of a pain."

I reply "Yeah, I know what you mean."

And she responds "Whatever. Who adores you?"

To borrow a phrase from a donkey...You cut me deep. You cut me real deep just now.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Top 10

Four generations of the O'Tool Family: Great-grandma Rosina, Grandpa Frank, me, & Meredith and Drake





Having been in the US for two weeks now, we've had the opportunity to enjoy some things that are missed in South Africa. We made a Top 10 list of the things that are better here, as well as a Top 10 list of things that make us wish we were there:

Top Ten for USA

Drake with Amber's sister, Aunt Rikki (with Amber's maiden name being Litke. So that makes her sister's name Rikki Litke. Say that 5 times fast.)



1. Chips & Salsa
2. A&W Root Beer & Dr. Pepper
3. Automatic Transmission vehicles, allowing us to enjoy the aforementioned items while driving.
4. Taking walks in the neighborhood without needing pepper spray, a taser, and a huge dog.
5. Being relatively safe doing things with people or in the community after dark.
6. Water fountains in public areas.
7. One-stop shopping (Walmart, Fareway, Menards, etc...)
8. Functional Internet
9. Living in the same time zone as most of our family & friends, allowing us more than a 3 hour window to have any communication.

Drake with Great-grandma Peggy Wiedemeier

10. Food left in the car for more than 15 minutes doesn't immediately spoil.
Also receiving votes: We can speak to one another in public here and people don't automatically peg us a foreigners. Milk lasts longer than 3 days. The change of seasons, although it seems a bit early this year. Football season. Attending church without being the one running it. Dental care.



Top Ten South Africa
1. Coke, Bacon, & Milk
2. Slower pace of life

Attending a Husker game with our best friends.

3. Fantastic weather
4. Living on the other side of the world from some of our family:-)
5. Much cooler animals
6. Our kids and so many precious friends
7. Every gas station is full service

Amber & Carey also came to the Husker game

8. Panarotti's Pizza
9. Stop signs are optional
10. You have a 60 minute window to arrive anywhere and still be considered "on time".
Also receiving votes: When you go out in public you don't keep bumping into people that you know, so you actually accomplish what you set out to accomplish. You can swim outdoors during the months of December, January, and February. There are always children around to help with projects when you need that extra hand. Meredith & Drake have plenty of babysitters and playmates. Val & Danie Bekker and Trish & Lawrence Dogget.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lucky Update

Earlier I had requested prayer for a young man named Lucky. He had gone into the hospital the Sunday before we left Welkom with liver problems. I saw him that night and was able to go through the Gospel clearly with him. He prayed and then his response was "from this day forward I know my sins are forgiven."

The next day he was transferred to the University hospital, where the doctors were unable to determine the problem but did say he needed a liver transplant. I spoke to him a few times since our return to the US. Yesterday I called and one of his relatives had his phone. They said he was all hooked up to machines and tubes (life support) and that it didn't look good. I received an email this morning that Lucky passed away last night.

I do ask for your ongoing prayers that God will use this in a way that encourages his family and the other boys in our Bible Study. Hopefully this will be an open door for the Gospel to be spread.

Monday, October 12, 2009

THe Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Fun Game

A funny thing happened this past weekend. On Friday night the Carroll Tigers played the Ballard Bombers in Huxley. (That's not the funny thing, you'll read about that later. I'm just setting up the story for the next couple paragraphs.) Carroll is rated #2 in the State in Class 3A HS Football. Ballard was rated 6th, I believe. My brother Tim plays defensive end for Carroll. So the O'Tool family shows up to support brother Tim in his quest to not make a fool of himself.

Ballard's quarterback has already committed to play for the Hawkeyes, and at 6'7", 220lbs, he is quite imposing in his football pads. Before the game I remarked to my dad that he looks like the high-school version of Ben Rothlisberger, the QB for Pittsburgh who is notably difficult to bring down. I say to my dad that Carroll won't be able to get a sack on him. My dad responds "Not only will Carroll sack him, but Tim will be the one to do it."

All this is said while we huddled together in the stands for warmth. Fast-forward through the game, which was won by Carroll in relatively convincing fashion. There were several great plays by Tiger players throughout the game, several on offense that were worthy of making the highlight reels. On defense Tim had a fantastic game, recording not 1 but 2 sacks, and making several other tackles along the way. He managed to break the timeless O'Tool tradition and didn't even get yanked by the coach once.

So after the game the entire family gathers around the TV set to see if Carroll made the highlights. It was the featured game of the week and will be replayed on Mediacom (if you see a Carroll player jump on the Ballard QB and ride him to the ground like rodeo calf wrestling, that Carroll player would be none other than Timothy O'Tool). In addition to the Mediacom coverage, Channels 13, 8, and 5 all had crews at the game. So we were confident that one of the stations would have some good clips. Since Tim had such a solid game, with a couple highlight worthy plays, we hoped he would make some airtime.

Carroll has a pretty decent quarterback of their own. Blake Haluska, from the famed Carroll Haluskas, is the signal caller for the Tigers. His father Steve was my Driver's Ed instructor. His brother Adam played for both the Cyclones and Hawkeyes in a stellar basketball career, and the other brother Sean currently plays for the Cyclones. Adam actually went on to spend 2 years playing for the NBA team from New Orleans and is currently playing professionally for Tel Aviv. "Why does this have anything to do with your story?" you may find yourself asking. Stay tuned and I'll tell you.

So Carroll first makes the highlights on Channel 8. That was shortly after the game ended, and they only showed two plays, with Tim getting airtime only as being close to a blocked punt. We quickly switch over to 13 and they showed maybe 4 plays, again none of Tim's highlights. We hope this is because the game just ended and they would later show more. We then tune into the Blitz show on channel 5, the premier prep football program for the state. They had a whole segment dedicated to the Carroll - Ballard game. We all perk up.

Sean Haluska is shooting the ball in this photo
John Walters throws it over to David Bingham, who leads into the footage with a few comments about the Haluska clan. In fact, here is a semi-transcript "...of course, the Haluskas are there, so as we go to the video, let's play Name That Haluska." They then cut to the video of two guys huddled together in the stands. The announcer proceeds with "I know Steve always stands up there, so there's Dad...I think Sean's standing right there next to him, but I didn't see Adam anywhere."

Now, Channel 5 has the Blitz video up on their website, and if you're interested you can go there and watch it. The link is http://www.myabc5.com/Global/category.asp?C=7588. Copy and paste that link into your browser and go about halfway down to the videos section. Click on the Blitz video and start watching at the 12:23 mark. You'll see the video I'm referencing in this little yarn here.

All this to say, when you watch the video, look closely at Dad and Sean Haluska. Do they remind you of anyone? Say, possibly Frank and Louis O'Tool? That's right. Apparently Frank & Louis look enough like Steve and Sean that even someone who covers Iowa Sports professionally saw the resemblence. Now I know that there are many of you who will cite this as further evidence that everyone with Carroll roots is inbred to the point that you can't tell the difference anyway. And since I probably have cousins who are cousins on both sides, I can't argue with you. Although to the Haluska's credit, they are not originally from Carroll so they catch a break there.

Adam is the guy dribbling
So although Tim had a fantastic game with highlight reel plays, it was Frank & Louie with the airtime. And I need to take this opportunity to say that last time I played Adam in one-on-one basketball, I defeated him like 11-8. Although I was a senior and he was in 8th grade. But in my mind, it doesn't matter. I beat the Big 10 Player of the Year and New Orleans Hornet.

The one thing I am disappointed about? If I only get 15 minutes of fame, I don't want to use 8 seconds of it being mistaken for someone else. Next time I'll have to wear Tim's jersey so the sportscasters know, unless they think that Adam or Sean are avid supporters of the O'Tool family. Now if only I can track down the freshman girl that purchased the right to wear Tim's jersey for $50 at the homecoming auction...

From Left: Tony O'Tool, Timothy O'Tool, Samuel O'Tool. Not pictured are all-stars Louis O'Tool & Joseph O'Tool. From the famed Carroll O'Tools.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Sustaining Ministry

In July this past year we hosted a team from Lakeside Fellowship in Polk City, IA. You probably remember that the first week they were at The Pines they held a Bible Club for kids from the nearby school. During that week - on the last day actually - we saw 8 decisions for salvation.

Since that time we have continued contact with several of those kids. Several of them have been to church with us, and a couple of them come quite almost every Sunday. Modibedi, one of the boys, even started bring his sister Mamokete to church each week.

This picture is showing the frustration of Amber & my sister Rosina, as they slaved for hours over a hot fire, only to have Pheello kick a soccer ball into the pot of beans. Pretty good aim, though. Look close and you can see beans all over the girls.
In August Amber & I decided to have the youth from the church over to The Pines for Sunday afternoon lunch and games. Let me insert here that Amber is a pretty special wife. By nature she is very much a schedule person, wanting to know the details of every last thing. In fact, her former youth leaders will tell you that even in 7th grade she was kind of a pain in the neck, always needed to know how long a trip might be, where and when they would be stopping, how long it might take to get there, who would be pumping the gas, and if anyone was in charge of bringing kleenex and hand sanitizer.

So now Amber lives in Africa, where one has a 60 minute window to still be considered "on time" for anything. And in the last 18 months she has done a fantastic job of learning flexibility. It is not uncommon for us to decide the day of to invite people over for lunch. And frequently if you invite 5 people, 10 will show up.

So on this day we anticipated having about 15 kids to The Pines. We ended up with 25. For a variety of reasons, some cultural, some practical, some coincidental, all of the kids joining us that day were boys. Except for Mamokete. She was one that we hadn't planned on, because this was the first day that she joined her brother for church.

We figured that a 14 year old girl wouldn't necessarily want to sit and watch 24 boys playing soccer and such, so before we arrived home we asked Mama Irene if it would be ok for Mamokete to eat in her flat and spend the afternoon with Okuhle - our resident fire-and-brimstone 14 year old girl at The Pines. Irene agreed, and of course Okuhle agreed to entertain Mamokete for the afternoon.

Later that day, when it was time to take everyone home, Okuhle joined us for the ride to town. She told us she needed a new Bible. This is probably the 4th or 5th time this has happened. The first couple times I figured she wasn't taking care of what she had, but each time I learned that she had been witnessing to someone else and gave that person her Bible. Such was the case this time. That afternoon she had shared with Mamokete that the only way to Heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ. And Mamokete had chosen to put her trust in Jesus.

Since that day Mamokete has joined us for church every Sunday, and recently has started bringing her own friends. And she is not the only one to start showing growth. It is truly exciting to see God at work, not only through the lives of children, but in our lives as well. We've told people that this ministry is like a roller-coaster. We've committed to God, and He strapped us in and allows us along for the ride. I don't know why He chooses to use us, but He has and we are grateful for that. We are excited about the possibilities that He may present, even to allow kids we have previously worked with and discipled to assist us in a new ministry and reach the new children God brings our way. What a blessing it is to serve the Almighty God.

Update on Lucky

For those who have read my last post, I wanted to give you a quick update on Lucky's condition. As of now it is unclear what the problem is exactly. I don't know if that is because the doctors are at a loss, or if it is a communication issue. What I do know is that there has been some talk of a liver transplant. Please be in prayer that his condition would improve and that the necessary medical care would be available.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lucky

Life in Africa, just before we came back to the US for this brief fundraising visit, was pretty busy, as you can imagine. Between locating our new property, making arrangements to be gone for 4 months, and moving all our belongings - all on top of packing and preparing for our return here - kept us quite busy.

The last Sunday before we left Amber & I were finishing up a few packing chores, just before a farewell tea that had been arranged for us. I have a tendency to get into "the zone" when I'm trying to get a project done, and I don't like any distraction. Amber can attest to this (ie: when I dropped an air conditioner on her head because I didn't want to wait for Brian to return to help me). So on this particular afternoon we were frantically moving things into our container in anticipation of our departure 2 days hence.

Lucky is the one smiling in the middle. This was his first week with us at Bible Study.
As I was arranging various unnecessary items "vital" for daily living, I received a phone call from JT. He is one of the boys from our Bible Study in Thabong. In fact, he is probably the leader of that gang, spiritually speaking. One of the boys, Lucky Philip, who had joined us in early August had been ill for the past couple weeks. That day at school JT had this nagging suspicion that Lucky was really sick and maybe had been admitted to the hospital. It was just a thought, as JT doesn't have a phone so had no way of knowing, but he followed through on that feeling and walked the mile or so from school to the hospital to check things out. Sure enough, Lucky had been admitted late the day before for problems with his liver.

JT didn't know the details but the doctors had given a very grim prognosis - as in possibly only a matter of days or weeks. He phoned me immediately and told me. This time, as opposed to the air conditioner incident, I had enough wisdom to drop what I was doing (maybe a bad choice of words) and head out to the hospital. I arrived to see JT waiting there with his Bible, and together we scoured the hospital looking for Lucky.

Lucky is the one on the left - wearing an orange striped shirt.
Eventually we found him in the "B" ward, and although he brightened significantly when he saw us, it was clear he was in some pretty significant pain. After talking to him for a bit we learned the prognosis wasn't as grim as originally communicated. While the doctors were still seriously concerned for him, they didn't actually put any timeframe on things. We could see his stomach, and it was pretty clear there is something wrong with his liver. His stomach is swollen so badly that he almost looks pregnant, and it was streched as tight as a drum. When I inquired as to whether he may indeed be pregnant he vehemently denied it. Joking aside, he put on a strong face but underneath you could tell there was pain, fear, and anxiety. His biggest concern was that this illness struck right as the boys were preparing to take their matric exams - the equivalent of our ACT/SAT. The main hope for an improved life for any of these boys is additional education beyond high school. The only hope for that education is scholarships, which are based on matric results. So the Matric exams are of utmost importance.

Lucky is on the right, again in the orange striped shirt. Like all the boys he likes to eat, so we try to have them over about once or twice per month for church and Sunday lunch.
Lucky had only been with us less than two months. I knew that he had clearly heard the Gospel of salvation from sin and eternal life within that timeframe. However, I'd never had a chance to speak with him on an individual basis before. Standing there beside the hospital bed, with this young man so clearly concerned about his immediate future, there was an undeniable pull from the Holy Spirit to discuss his eternal destiny. I asked him if he had ever dealt with his sins. He knew from Bible study that our sins must be paid for. He said he never had before. After a quick discussion it was clear he understood that Jesus died to pay for our sins, and that he personally needed to make that decision to trust Christ. JT prayed first, then I did, then Lucky prayed silently for a minute or so. When he raised his head he said "No matter what happens, I know from this day forward that my sins are forgiven."

I visited him the next day and when I arrived he was in tears because of the pain. On Tuesday, before we could visit (because of our whole VISA fiasco) he was transferred to Bloemfontein. Bloem is the provincial capital of the Free State, and they have a university hospital there. We have maintained contact with him and he has been seen by several specialists. I spoke with him early this morning and he said the pain is minimal now, and he said the doctors are doing a great job, but it was unclear as to the status of his return to health.

We covet greatly your prayers for healing, not just for Lucky but for the land of South Africa. Physical healing is needed, but greater still is the need for spiritual restoration. Every one of us carries in ourselves the sickness of sin. Without the healing and restoration supplied in Jesus Christ we have no hope. I trust that Lucky is sincere, and we praise God for allowing us the opportunity to know this young man, and for bringing Lucky to faith in His Son. Continue to pray for the children at The Pines, and for the youth with whom God has allowed us to serve.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - ...More than you can chew

Maybe Drake needs to learn that your mouth isn't always as big as your eyes. Or that sometimes you have to learn not to bite off more than you can chew. You be the judge. All I know is that this apple was almost as big as his head.