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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Challenge: Illegal Mining

The following article is from the London Times.  It discusses illegal mining operations in South Africa.  The majority of illegal mining takes place in Welkom, as it is still the center of gold mining in the country.  The article mentions a mining accident last June that took the lives of at least 91 "ghost miners".  This is a real problem and even in our visits into the mines we have been warned about these people.

They stay underground for months at a time, many of them even losing the pigment in their skin, leading to the name "ghost miners".  The G-Hostel mentioned in this article is a place we pass almost every time we go to Thabong (the township of Welkom).  The boys from our Bible Study have told us many stories about the things that go on in the township, most of the criminal activity related to G-Hostel.  It is not uncommon for our boys to be robbed at knifepoint, the most desired plunder being cell phones, which will then be sold to the criminal syndicates, making them untraceable.  This type of criminal activity has not affected us or our ministry, but it gives a window into the culture of South Africa, and paints a picture of how desperate the situation can be for so many.

Dan McDougall  -  September 27, 2009

Imagine an existence in the bowels of the earth where, for up to eight months at a time, there is no fresh air. The temperature between the walls that close in on you is a stifling 38C. There is no day and night as you drill for gold for 12 hours a shift. At your side is a weapon to protect yourself from the authorities and your fellow miners. To extract gold, you handle mercury so toxic that it can be absorbed through the skin, attacking the kidneys and brain.
This is the life of South Africa’s gold pirates, a band of tens of thousands of unemployed men whose numbers have increased sharply in the past year with the soaring price of gold, a traditional haven for investors in a financial crisis.
They break into some of the most dangerous mines on earth, many armed with commercial explosives rammed into bottles. They will emerge months later with their muscles wasting away and their eyes sinking into their sockets.
Here in the goldfields region of South Africa’s Free State province, their prize is a lump of crudely processed gold, barely the size of your palm.
Some of it is smuggled to Switzerland and traded on to European countries, including Britain, in a black market worth £300m a year that begins with unimaginable suffering and ends on the high street.
Last week The Sunday Times gained a rare insight into the lives of the Zama Zama — literally “Let’s have a go” in Zulu — and the burgeoning illicit businesses that supply them with everything from cola and hamburgers to prostitutes up to a mile underground.
Many of the miners never resurface. In June the bodies of 91 Zama Zama were recovered from the closed 5,250ft Eland mineshaft in the former goldrush town of Welkom. The authorities believe as many as 1,000 illegal miners have died underground in the past year, killed by toxic fumes, fires and each other.
“Going under is the hardest thing you will ever do,” Masahe, an illegal gold miner, told us in a shebeen near his home in the shadow of Welkom’s No 6 mine.
“After a few days you start panicking, especially at night. You lose track of time. You start to feel crushed, imagining that the walls are collapsing into you. I would curl up into a ball beside my drill, convinced the earth was coming down on me.”
Masahe is dirty and frail and stinks of booze. But he still holds menace — and a weapon he threatens to use against us if we identify him. As we talk his heavily scarred face is contorted by hacks and coughs. He says he works for a syndicate that includes legal miners, shift managers and security guards helping illegals to operate in unsupervised areas of their mine.
It pays him about £2,500 for a four-month stint underground, a fortune in a South African township, and, according to Masahe, it is more sophisticated than most.
“A businessman in Welkom with police and mine contacts sends us down for up to six months,” he said. “With trained miners losing their jobs, we have managed to get more equipment. We steal it from the mine companies or take it at gunpoint. Now we use fake IDs and pay the shaft operators to take us down.”
Using maps and walkie-talkies, they descend a legitimate shaft. Then, Masahe says, they walk anything up to 18 miles underground to their chosen point. He sits in a pit full of boulders and crushes the stone into smaller pieces. “Sometimes I work the mercury, using chemicals on the rocks to leach out the gold flakes.”

Supplies are vital but expensive. “A loaf of bread or a bottle of Coca-Cola costs us £5, all on credit which we have to pay when we get out. A smuggled hamburger can get more than £30. Many of the transactions are made in gold. Cigarettes go for between £10 and £20 a pack of 20. Oude Meester brandy from £50 and Fish Eagle whiskey for £30. A tab of everything we eat and drink is kept on the surface.
“Women are being brought down now. They will do a round for a week, having sex with us all — they are getting very rich from the Zama. They are dressed as men and taken down the shafts in hard hats.”
Masahe claims a war is going on a mile beneath the surface of Welkom. “There are rival syndicates and battles are being fought underground. We are fighting each other to get to the richest seams. Our syndicate captured a rival and we decided by committee to take retribution. We cut him open with a blowtorch and threw his body down a shaft. There are so many bodies down there.” Other Zama Zama said the official death toll from the Eland disaster was at least double the official toll of 91: they perished after an inferno ripped through an illegal camp.
Outside Welkom more than 100 paupers’ graves bore testimony to the young men killed. Many were migrants from Mozambique and Lesotho, attracted over the border by the latest gold rush. “We have no names on our graves because we don’t exist,” Masahe says.
The fact that the men are virtually impossible to identify makes the police battle against them all the harder.

Above ground, the gold pirates are largely headquartered at G-Hostel, a sprawling, apartheid-era block of concrete chalets. During police raids there is panic everywhere as the locals hide stashes of drugs. Brothels are shuttered and Zama Zama melt into the township walls.  Reporters and photographers have been threatened with guns and told they would be shot if they persisted.
The smell of burning coal and mercury pervades the air. In the back alleyways are the smouldering remnants of small-scale chemical works used to leach out gold.
The centre of Welkom’s illegal gold mining industry, G-Hostel is a place where police officers are seldom seen. The sewer alleys provide cover for Zama Zama middlemen to run illicit operations, breaking ore and grinding the pieces to powder. It is melted at temperatures of more than 1,064C to extract the molten metal that is passed on to smugglers.
In the past four years, 1,734 men and women have been arrested in this area in connection with the Zama Zama, mainly for being part of their supply chain and processing the gold ore. The gold pirates themselves remain largely elusive.
“These guys are serious criminals,” says the police officer leading the raid. “We have seen them with AK-47 assault rifles. There is a lot of money at stake and there is an endless procession of young men willing to do this.”
With gold prices close to record highs at nearly $1,000 an ounce, the black market — which also employs children to haul ore — is expected to continue its rapid growth.
According to Anton van Achterbergh, a legal adviser at the South African Chamber of Mines, cracking down is virtually impossible. “The area between Johannesburg and Welkom is like Swiss cheese,” he said. “We’re talking about a few thousand [kilometres] of tunnels underground. Gold can be mined fairly easily so how do we stop it growing?”
The mining industry has tried to protect its interests by beefing up security measures and firing corrupt employees who supply illegal miners with food and equipment. Yet illegal gold flooding out of the country is estimated to account for up to 10% of South Africa’s exports of the metal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Marriage Counseling

I don't remember this advice coming up in Counseling Class at Bible College.  Thankfully, this doesn't fit my wife, whom I love with all my heart.  The following tips come from Red Skelton, apparently.

1. Two times a week we go to a nice restaurant, have a little
    beverage, good food and companionship.  She goes on 
   Tuesdays; I go on Fridays..

2. We also sleep in separate beds.  Hers is in California , and mine 

    is in Texas.                         

3. I take my wife everywhere, but she keeps finding her way back.

4. I asked my wife where she wanted to go for our 
anniversary.  'Somewhere I haven't been in a long
   time!' she said.  So I suggested the kitchen.

5. We always hold hands. If I let go, she shops..

6. She has an electric blender, electric toaster and electric 
bread maker.  She said 'There are too many gadgets, 
and no place to sit down!' So I bought her an electric chair.

7. My wife told me the car wasn't running well because there 

    was water in the carburetor.  I asked where the car 
    was. She told me, 'In the lake.'

8. She got a mud pack, and looked great for two days. 

    Then the mud fell off.

9. She ran after the garbage truck, yelling, 'Am I too late for 
the garbage?' The driver said, 'No, jump in!'

10.  Remember: Marriage is the number one cause of divorce.

11. I married Miss Right. I just didn't know her first name was 

12. I haven't spoken to my wife in 18 months.  I don't  like to interrupt her.

13. The last fight was my fault though..  My wife asked, 'What's on the TV?'

      I said, 'Dust!' 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Psalm 41

In the light of recent events, both in Haiti, and in our own personal ministry, I find this Scripture exceedingly appropriate.  Ironically enough, I've been reading through the Psalms, and on this day I came across Psalm 41.  Just when it seems we need it most...

"How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble.  The Lord will protect him and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth...Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fundraising Update

Dear Faithful Supporters,
In the last two weeks the Lord has continued to bless.  Since our last update He has continued to provide, and our latest report shows $71,216 raised toward our initial building project.  Please pray with us that the final funding will be raised quickly and that we will be able to return to the work in South Africa.  We appreciate each person who has given.  Praise God for His amazing provision!

"How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You before the sons of men."  Psalm 31:19

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Radio Interview

Thursday, January 14th, Brian Niehoff & I will be on the Maxine Sielman program. It is on Praise 940 in the Des Moines Area at both 8:00am and 5:00pm.  This is our second appearance on the program.  We trust that God will direct the conversation.  Your prayers are appreciated.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Tidbits

1. Right before Thanksgiving Meredith informed me her boyfriend lives in Kansas so we could visit him when we went to Wichita for Thanksgiving. I'm not sure where she learned about boyfriends and girlfriends, but she did follow up that statement with "I have to ask you before I get married to anyone" so we're making progress. When I asked what this boy's name is, her response was "He-guy". Apparently he is He-man's brother. So it looks like I'll have a run for my money when he comes calling.

2. Drake is now walking. And he likes to wrestle other little kids, who don't exactly know how to take it. Fortunately, every other kid his age has been walking for 3 months now so he can't keep up with them. He has learned to stalk, however. He almost caught my cousin Chloe (yes, I have several dozen cousins who are the same age as my son) by distracting her, using some toys as a lure, then pouncing as soon as she got close enough.

3. We saw this road sign on our way back from Colorado. It gave us some nostalgia for South Africa, as this seems like something you would see there. Although in fairness to South Africa, they wouldn't do this because it would never work there. If they put a sign up like this around Welkom, it would soon become part of someone's house. Right after moving into the building for The Pines our co-workers took down an old Harmony Gold Company sign and took it to the dump. A few weeks later while driving by the township they noticed the same sign was the wall to someone's dwelling. Doesn't it just seem like if you are going to go to the trouble of posting this sign, couldn't you just drop some asphalt into that pothole.

4. Take a close look at those names on the two stockings on the left. Apparently, Amber has developed this strategy that the more snares she sets the more loot she'll bring in. That, or she is so favored that she needs two red furry socks just to haul it all in. Just another lesson that women will do whatever it takes...

5. While we are talking about the holidays, let me share our experience with you. Since we were in Africa last Christmas, and it looks like we'll be in Africa for many Christmas' to come (especially after this weather, eesh!), the entire Frank & Maggie O'Tool family gathered at the homestead in Carroll. And then everyone proceeded to get sick. Meredith, Drake & Caleb were all suffering during family pictures, and from the photo at left you can see Meredith continued to suffer through gift-opening time. Amber & I had a presentation scheduled at Pleasant Ridge church, so we prayed hard. Unfortunately, I didn't think through the whole process clearly. I prayed that the Lord would keep me from getting sick at least until we were done speaking. And that's just what He did. Ironically enough, the pastor preached on Prevailing Prayer. Next time I am praying that I won't get sick at all.

6. So we arrive in Carroll to find my brother Timothy hanging the family stockings. He must be in cahoots with Amber, because he is anticipating some pretty heavy duty stocking stuffers. You can see that he's using a 27 oz. hammer to drive spikes into these pretty socks. You don't want them falling off the mantle (or wall in this case) if someone decides to start dropping gold bricks in there on Christmas Eve. And the safety glasses are good thinking. Safety First in the O'Tool family.

7. Here is a picture of the family Christmas tree. It's kind of spindly-looking, I know. But our sister-in-law is the type to know about these things and she says that those cost double or triple what a normal tree costs. I thought it looked very Charles Dickens-y, as if Tiny Tim might wobble out from behind it at any moment while Bob Cratchet does Ebeneezer's laundry in the kettle. My brothers nicknamed it the "Recession Tree".

8. Meredith got to help Grandma Maggie make presents for her cousins. Although since Grandma Maggie hwears bifocals, and Meredith is threading the needle, we're not sure who is helping whom.

9. When the O'Tool & Stangl families, or anyone on the Wiedemeier side gets together, it's tough to find real estate at the dinner table.

The Parable of the Space Rocket

At a recent RHI board meeting one of our board members, Tom Clegg, brought a challenge to the RHI board. Tom apparently grew up as a space geek, probably because his father was an engineer who worked on the design and construction of the NASA mobile launch pad. Without getting into the specifics, this was a tremendous undertaking, one said to be impossible by many of the great engineering minds of the day. The challenges involved were deemed to be too great, including transporting the entire space shuttle from the assembly building to the launch site, keeping this enormous structure erect, supporting it against winds of up to 110 mph, carrying the weight required, and withstanding the intense heat and vibration produced by a 4.4 million pound rocket blasting into outer space.

One of the biggest challenges was the design of the arms that hold the shuttle to the tower. These arms have to be able to serve as a bridge, allowing the astronauts and NASA personnel to cross from the tower to the shuttle. They must be able to support all sorts of hoses, pipes, and other machinery required to get necessary pieces into the shuttle. They must be strong enough to hold a shuttle that is taller than the Statue of Liberty without wavering. And here is the most interesting point...these arms must also be designed that they can withstand the full force of the rocket blasting off, keeping it on the launch pad for about 3 seconds after it reaches blasting power. When the announcer reaches T minus 6 they open the fuel valves, allowing the gasses to mix. Without fail, these gasses ignite, and begin their job to thrust the rocket off the ground, defy the laws of gravity, and put this gigantic machine into space.

What most people don’t realize, and I didn’t until Tom shared this with us, is that without these arms holding the rocket down, it would have enough power to lift itself a bit, then it would hover around for awhile, before finally becoming somewhat unstable and tilting to one side or the other and blasting in that direction. As Tom pointed out, rockets are not designed to hover. In fact, that would probably be the worst possible scenario for any NASA scientist, engineer, or astronaut. It probably wouldn’t be good news for anyone living in a 12-state radius either.

The point is, once the gasses ignite, the rocket must still be held back until full thrust can be achieved and enough power is built up not only to lift the rocket off the pad, but blast it to its intended destination.

This is where we currently find ourselves as the RHI board. Right now, by the blessing of God, we’ve generated enough to get us lifted off the ground. We started fundraising at the beginning of November, and within two months God has shown Himself mighty and faithful in too many ways to count. Through the faithfulness of His people, God has given us $57,891 to date. This is far and above what we had the right to logically expect. But God doesn’t work on man’s logic. Amber & I have been praying that God will provide in such an awesome and powerful way that no one can ever dispute who accomplished the work. And He is doing just that. Thank you to everyone who is investing in God’s work in South Africa. Our goal is drawing ever closer.

I can say personally I want to blast off now. I’m tired of the US, tired of waiting to get back to the people we love so dearly. But that’s not what God has for us right now. Who knows, but that there might be a $50,000 check on the way right now. I don’t. But I know God does, and in His timing we will be fully prepared and able to get back to the field. In the meantime it is ours to simply seek His face, His honor and glory, and know that while He doesn’t need us, yet He graciously allows us to be part of His work.

Please, please pray for us as we continue our work to reach the people of Welkom through Restoring Hope Village. Pray that our board will have wisdom in its decisions. And pray that God will give justice to the children of South Africa, and that He will bring it quickly (Luke 18:7-8).

And especially, Praise God for His fantastic provision of $57,891.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - For our friends in South Africa

In South Africa we were often asked "Do you know _____________?" or "Have you ever met __________________?" These questions were always about some celebrity, actor, singer, or other famous person. The world's view of the US is so impacted by movies and pop culture that most people think the entire country is like one big New York City (thank God that's not true). Many people don't understand that we don't bump into famous people every day.

When we try to describe the weather, and how cold and harsh the winters can be, there is no concept of that. In fact, my uncle recently related a story from a missionary friend that served for years in the Central African Republic. Apparently, one winter on furlough they brought several Africans home with them. In their native language there was no word for cold, and as they experienced the pain of Iowa winter they used the same word as describing the pain one gets from extreme heat. I thought that was interesting.

Coming from the heart of the Midwest, we are familiar with "flyover country", the part of America that seems so dull and boring to those on the coasts. Amber & I just returned from Christmas in Colorado. No, not the Rocky Mountain State, but the eastern part of Colorado. Most people forget that the state is nearly half plains. So, without any more rambling, let me share some pictures that we took on our return trip. We thought these would serve as good proof for our friends oversees who find it hard to believe when we tell them the whole country isn't skyscrapers and movie stars.

Hour #1 - just west of Springfield, CO.

Hour #1 - draw your own conclusions.

Hour #2 - between Johnson and Ulysses KS, not far from the CO border.

Hour #2.25 - When a 4 year old has to go, you stop, whether there is a toilet or not.

Hour #3 - wind farm near Montezuma, KS. Do not try to watch the blades rotate while driving.

Hour #4 - near Ford, KS. Wishing we had some windmill blades to watch.

Hour #5 - near Pratt, KS. We had a small celebration because we could see trees in the distance.

Hour #6 - the Kansas Turnpike east of Wichita, in the heart of Kansas' famed Flint Hills. I told Amber that if we have another boy we should name him Flint. No one messes with someone named Flint. On a related note, a trip like this gives a driver lots of time to think.

Hour #11 - Sunset near Audubon, IA.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hello from Lucas Khoza

The message below is from one of the boys that we do Bible Study with. We've kept in touch via phone and letters and I thought you might enjoy reading, because we sure love hearing from these guys. I didn't think this would happen but we are starting to get very homesick for Welkom.

Hi uncle Louies hope u enjoyed u xmas u n ur family. We miss u n aunt
Amber, Drake n Meridith, I got a copy of da letter n i was so worried
abt Drake I'ts god hu helped him. There is alot 2 tlk abt wen u come
bck, n by da way we getn da result 4 matrix next week thrsdy oh oops i
mean next year da 7th jan 2010. Im prayn 4 all da guyz n evry1 in da
US. Say hi 2 a unt amber n da kidz i luv u all giv Sam my email adrs
tel hm dat I wana hear hm bcmng a Doctor. Hopefully nxt year we r off
2 university. Dnt 4 get 2 bring us Obama T-shirts, may God bless u on
da Fundraising. Sorry 4 da text language im usn a phone. Love u all