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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Give Thanks

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - You'll never believe it

Drake said his first "full" word today. He has been talking for a couple months, saying things like "ma-ma", "da-da", "mer-mer", and "ba-ba (bottle)". As you can see these are the typical two syllable creations that most infants go through when learning how to speak. But today, we heard his first actual pronuciation of a complete word. And you'll never guess what that word was!


If you don't understand why that is amazing, check out these two posts: More than you can Chew & ER Visit

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hello from the Boys in Thabong

I spoke with the Bible Study boys from Thabong the other day. They wanted to be sure I said hello to the following people for them:

Point of Grace 8

Point of Grace 9

Point of Grace 10
Grandma M

Uncle Chris

King Louie

And especially they wanted to say hi to:

Sister Wendy & Allison

Joe, Angie, Sam & Rosina

And Judson K.

You as teams may not realize this, but the impact you have on the young men and women in South Africa lasts long after you are gone. They remember you and often pray for you. It has been humbling to me to see their love and ability to love those of us who make any sort of investment in the work over there. If any of you want to contact them by phone or email, let me know and I'll get you their information.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Just Because

In Welkom there is an organization that we work closely with, Morning Star Children's Centre, a christian daycare. One branch of their ministry is a sewing project for women in the community. Typically teams that visit us spend some time there buying authentic African souvenirs. I've been there enough that normally I take a nap on the steps outside while waiting for team members. Drake has found a different way to entertain himself while waiting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obama lifts ban

Obama Lifts Ban On U.S. Entry Of HIV-Positive Foreigners

By Frank James

A two-decades long ban on HIV positive foreigners entering the U.S. will end as a result of President Barack Obama on Friday signing the reauthorization of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS legislation.

At a White House signing ceremony, Obama said:

Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.
If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives.

It will be interesting to see what affect, if any, this will have on US/SA relationships, especially in regard to adoption policy. We'll keep you posted as we learn anything new.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - A taste of home

Lot's of people have asked us "How are the kids adjusting to life in the States." The answer is pretty well. They love seeing family and friends, and we've actually been amazed at how much Meredith remembers. But they also miss South Africa, and especially the kids at The Pines.

The other day we had to go to the Apple Store at Jordan Creek Mall. They have a children's play area there and our kids got to spend a few minutes climbing all over and having fun. It was nice for them to get to play with elephants and hippos again, even though these aren't real like the ones in South Africa. Just playing with these animals made them feel right at home though, because I know they really enjoy playing on the elephants and hippos at The Pines.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Other Ministries

I remember as a child hearing missionaries speak and say things like "We're the only gospel witness in a city of _____ million people." Looking back, I can see how much a comment like that discouraged me. "How can we ever hope to make any sort of difference at all" I would ask myself. I want to paint a different picture for you, one in which the Word of God is being carried all over the world in many different ways.

Having been pursuing missions work for the last several years, and having spent almost 2 years in South Africa, Amber & I have come to realize that God is doing His work all over the world, and that people are being saved and lives are being changed. By no means are we the only ones working, but He is faithfully ensuring that the ministry goes on. We have met people of many different nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds who understand the saving grace of God and are working to relate that message to others. And that message is taking root in thousands.

Just before leaving South Africa our family had the chance to visit one such ministry. Tshepo Ya Bana (meaning Hope for Children) is a "children's home" started in 2003 by Mark & Chris Harding. I use quotations around the term "children's home" because what Mark & Chris have done is open their own home to many orphaned South African children. This isn't a huge organization. In fact, Mark & Chris carry the bulk of this ministry on their own, depending on volunteers from South Africa, Europe & the US. They haven't pursued financial support or large donations, funding most of this ministry out of their own pocket.

Their home is located near Hammanskraal, a township just north of the Johannesburg/Pretoria region. In fact, all the land around them was recently purchased and transformed into a safari park/game farm. Often they are able to look out their window and see zebra, rhinocerous, various buck, or other quintessential african animals browsing around outskirts of their property.

Often when one pictures a children's home you think of big buildings, rows of beds, kitchens, bathrooms, laundry, etc... With this you should just picture your own house, or probably even a bit smaller, lined in every crevice with baby beds, play pens, dressers, and other vital items for children. Mark & Chris are both pushing their 70's, yet they continue to show the grace, stamina, and strength it takes to care for 16-24 children. Most of their children are infants or toddlers. Frequently their children are adopted out to various countries in Europe (the US currently doesn't have a good adoption policy with South Africa). Several of the older children will be with the Hardings until they complete their education, and at least one of their children has special needs, appearing to have been afflicted with some form of palsy.

Within all this turmoil, chaos, and confusion around them the Hardings shine brightly. Even in the short time we were there we were amazed at their ability to function, to laugh at things that would normally cause you to pull your hair out, their willingness to take time and fellowship with us on a deep level. Rarely in my life have I been so humbled by my own lack of committment and patience. This couple will one day receive great rewards. I know they wouldn't want this story written, but I can't help but to share with you the encouragement they poured on us.

While we were there we had the opportunity to help in some very minor ways: Finishing a new roof for the toolshed, providing a meal, holding babies, and some other small things. While doing this we were able to experience some enjoyable events as well, such as catching a snake (Amber & Meredith weren't as impressed as Brian, Liam, & I were). Spending just over 24 hours there changed my entire outlook on dedication and ministry. To see someone give so deeply of themselves, with no thought of anyone ever noticing is a challenge. As I think now of the work they do, I can't wait to get back to Welkom and follow in their footsteps.

In their own words they have expressed concern for how long they can continue. Yet every life they reach is a life changed for eternity. I feel privileged to have met this couple. A young lady from the Netherlands who has volunteered her time there wrote an interesting article, which you can read here: Tshepo Ya Bana

Their work and life is just one of the many encouragements we have experienced in our short time overseas. I think most of you know that we are back for a short time to raise funds for the establishment of a new children's village. We have kicked off our fundraising efforts, and while we only have a few thousand in the bank currently, we are excited about some contacts and possibilities that God has before us. Our plane tickets say we return to South Africa on February 3, 2010. We hope to have the funds required raised by then. We can't wait to return and jump back into things on that side of the Atlantic. Please pray for us as we continue to pursue a ministry of love for our God. Pray also for Mark & Chris and their work with the children of Hammanskraal.

Restoring Hope International Website

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Drake Update

We are praising our Lord and are thankful to all who lifted us up in prayer over the past few days. It seems that everything is back to normal. Better than normal actually, as Drake has seemed even happier than usual. It must be residual effect from all the drugs in the hospital.

There was a bit of fear that he may develop pneumonia if he had gotten any pieces stuck in his lungs, but the doctors didn't see anything and so far he hasn't shown any signs of illness. Yesterday we had blood drawn for additional lab work to ensure all of his vital organs are functioning properly, and since we haven't heard any bad news we are confident everything will work out ok.

Here are a few photos from our ordeal:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


We are being discharged right now. Drake has a very sore throat, but other than that things seem great. Thank you all for your prayers. We are praising God for His care, knowing that however things had turned out it would have been for the best. That He chose to keep Drake around for the time being we are extremely thankful.

Monday, November 2, 2009

ER Visit

Today we received one of the worst calls a parent can ever receive. Meredith & Drake have been visiting the O’Tool homestead in Carroll and we were scheduled to drive up there today to watch the Carroll playoff game and pick up our two munchkins. Since it was our last day without them, and since we were up late participating in an Alumni game at FBBC, we decided to sleep in this morning.

At 9:00 am the phone rang, and we were not aware that we were the only ones home (we are staying with Bob & Susie Niehoff). By time we realized that we should answer the phone it was too late. Now Amber & I both have cell phones. Unfortunately neither of them receive reception at Bob & Susie’s house, so anyone calling them was unable to get through.

About 15 minutes after the first phone call we received a 2nd, and this time we were able to grab it before the caller disconnected. It was Brian Niehoff, calling us to say “Call your mom right now, Drake might be in the hospital.” This is never a good thing to hear, and considering what it takes for the O’Tool family to go to the hospital we were a bit on edge. If you don’t know my family, just understand that when I was about 7 and got hit in the face twice with the sharp end of a shovel, my mom just grabbed some tape and patched me up herself.

With bated breath we immediately called my mom. She quickly explained the events of the morning that brought Drake to the hospital. He had been eating a bit for breakfast and had taken a nice bite of apple. He needed to be put in the highchair for his next course and decided that isn’t where he wanted to be. Drake’s favorite method of communication is currently a loud screech, so he prepared himself for that. Unfortunately that required a deep breath, and with that bite of apple still in his mouth it was an ill advised move, and he ended up sucking the chunk down into his throat where it lodged just below his vocal chords.

Fortunately, my mom and brothers immediately knew he was chocking, so they pulled him out and patted him on the back. This didn’t work so they tried the Heimlich. Since he didn’t really have air in his lungs to begin with this maneuver didn’t work either. Timothy called 911 and let them know to prepare the ER in Carroll, and then they jumped in the car and drove him to St Anthony’s. Praise the Lord that there were no trains or any other problems on the way.

By time they arrived Drake was starting to turn a little blue around the edges of his mouth, although his airway was never completely blocked. The doctors later described it as “like a potato chip” that with such jagged edges allowed just enough air past to prevent severe problems.

At St Anthony’s they intubated him, and in so doing saw the apple chunk wedged down in there. They didn’t have the necessary equipment to ensure everything was removed properly, so they contacted Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. They directed us to the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, and determined that Drake would be Life-Flighted from Carroll to the UofI.

We immediately left for Iowa City, with Brian & Lois coming to drive for us and offer support. On the way we made and received several dozen phone calls, a humbling experience to see how quickly word spread and how many family members and friend were praying for us. My brother Tony offered to come along, or to go get Meredith and bring her down, and many other people offered their support as well.

When we arrived at the University hospital we were directed to the ER. The receptionist there took a bit to track down where he was, and then directed us to the 5th floor. Once there we were told that he was actually in the O.R. and we were directed to another floor to wait. No parent wants to hear that their child is in an operating room, especially when we had been under the impression no surgery would be necessary. Finally, a 35 year volunteer of the hospital got us connected by phone to the doctors in the O.R. and we found out everything was fine.

Later the operating doctor told us they had removed the one large piece and didn’t find anything else in there. To this point we still hadn’t seen our son – going on 5 days actually – the longest time we had ever been away from him. We were directed to the Pediatric ICU and Drake arrived up there about 5 minutes after we did. Anyone who has experienced something similar knows the helpless feeling when you see your child hooked up to so many tubes, machines, and monitors. He was immediately swarmed by 8 nurses and 3 doctors making sure everything was hooked up and running correctly.

After spending the last year and a half in Africa and having some intimate knowledge of the public and private medical systems, it was amazing to us to see the efficiency of it all. Seeing equipment with all the lightbulbs working, watching medical personnel have enough latex gloves for everyone, and the immediacy of treatment was both amazing and comforting. We have seen both sides. We have seen a young man with broken vertebrae sit in an ER for over 7 hours before a doctor, we have seen a doctor use his cell phone to check a child’s eye dialation, and we have seen a doctor wear rubber bands on his own wrist so that he would have something to use when drawing blood. Again, we praise God that we can enjoy such capable medical care.

They kept Drake intubated until about 6:00 pm, and when they removed it they also cut any sedation. He revived awfully quickly, even the nurses and doctors were pretty shocked. One described him as a crazy ball of muscle. Obviously he gets that from my side of the family. It took three of us to hold him down and keep him from pulling everything out. Amber & I restrained him for the next two hours until he finally fell asleep. All he wanted to do was nurse but they wanted to wait for a bit. At 9:00 they allowed him to drink some juice, and he quickly downed 4 bottles of it before falling back asleep. That’s what is allowing me time to write.

Currently he has an oxygen tube running into his nostrils, and still has the monitors and I.V., but he is pretty calm and getting his voice back. When he was first coming out of sedation he kept saying “hi, hi” to the nurses.

We are so thankful for the prayer support and encouragement we have received. Already we had my brother and siser-in-law visit, along with Amber’s cousin Anna. So many people have shown so much love for Drake and our family and we are grateful. Most of all we are humbled by the grace shown by our Father in heaven, and His constant care and provision for us.

We hope to be discharged tomorrow, and we’ll post updates as possible.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Proclaimer

In August we had a team from Utah visit us in Africa. They were a great help in our ministry and in various outreach projects. Some of the team members introduced us to an organization called "Faith Comes By Hearing". This organization produces a ministry tool called The Proclaimer. It is a box with embedded MP3 files of the entire New Testament, read and dramatized in many different languages. This allows the Gospel to be broadcast in places where illiteracy makes pamphlets, Bibles, and other literature useless.

This team had obtained several of these units for the work in South Africa. One was left with a sewing project at Morningstar Christian Daycare, allowing the women to hear God's Word as they work on learning skills to benefit their life. Another was left with The Pines, and a third unit was given to us for the youth Bible study we hold in Thabong.

One of the last days we were in Welkom we had the Bible study guys over to The Pines for one last going-away party. Normally when we have them all over they play soccer most of the time, only pausing to eat. This time after eating we gathered them together and gave them the Proclaimer. We explained how it operates, how it charges either by crank, battery, solar power, or electricity. They were extremely excited. In fact, a debate broke out as to who would be in charge of the unit. Half the boys were leaving the next week for an academic retreat of sorts, while the other half would remain in Welkom to attend a mathmatics seminar. The debate centered around which group would get to take the Proclaimer with them that next week. Eventually we determined that there would be greater opportunity at the retreat for unsaved youth to hear, so it would go with that group.

Of course, we had to test the unit and make sure the boys knew how to use it, so everyone gathered around and we listened for a few minutes. Those few minutes soon stretched into a few dozen minutes, and before long it was too late to play soccer. But surprisingly the boys didn't mind. They were absolutely devouring the Word of God. Eventually I had to say "This is the last chapter." And anyone who has raised children knows what happened next. "How about just one more?" Before we could finish and turn the unit off they demanded we listen to John 3.

I have to ask myself "when was the last time I had that desire to hear from God?" It continues to humble us to see the hunger for spiritual things displayed by the young people of South Africa. We enjoy being back in the US and renewing so many relationships, but we can't wait to get back to Welkom and see God continue to work. While the fundraising seems daunting, we know that God already has prepared those with whom He wants us to partner, and that He will provide what is needed for His own work. Please pray for those young people still in Africa, and for their growth and protection. Pray that God will lay it on the hearts of individuals to join with us in the work there. And a big "Thank You!" to the Utah team for providing another way for God's Word to reach souls for eternity.