Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dating for the aged

Well, it appears that we are officially old. Tonight, I mean today, John and I went on a date. We decided to go to a movie and out to dinner. We chose a matinee since, well, they are usually a few bucks cheaper and not as late in the day.

Our movie started at 3:15 p.m. We have found that generally, when a theater posts the movie start times, those times are generally when the previews start, giving you an extra 10 or 15 minutes to get settled in your seats. Today, however, we were at the Marcus Theater in Rosemount and the previews were already going when we arrived and the movie started right on time. The thing I like best about the Marcus theater is the fact that it isn't freezing cold. It's a cozy small theater and generally not overly busy (which is probably better for me than for them.)

We were out of the movie by 4:45 p.m. When is it that movies changed from being two hours long to just 90 minutes? Anyway, it was a bit early but, since our plan included going out to dinner, we left the theater and headed for Applebee's. We had a nice, leisurely dinner and we arrived back at home by 6:30 p.m. I remember when our dates used to start at 6:30 p.m.! I told John that I fear we have moved into old age. It's scary!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Google Alerts

Well, I learned something new today. This morning when I checked my email there was a comment from Dan Hall waiting for my approval to be posted on my blog. If you recall, I wrote about him yesterday and my adventures with pictures at the state capitol building. It isn't so odd that he posted a comment but I was unaware that he knew of my blog so I was a bit surprised. As it turns out, he has a Google alert linked to his name.

I had never heard of Google alerts but apparently, if you want to keep track of what people are saying about you either in the news or on the Internet, you can sign up for Google alert and when your name comes up, you'll get an email with a link to the site where your name is listed.

You can get an alert about anyone really. So, if you want to hear about it every time someone writes about President Bush, Brittany Spears, or even Dan Hall, all you have to do is create a Google alert. It's almost scary really.

So, I expect to hear from Dan again as he'll get an alert about this blog. But, he'll be happy to hear that I was able to rescue the pictures taken at the capitol yesterday. And, the amazing thing is, I did it myself (with a bit of phone coaching from my son, Adam.) Oh, and I signed up for Google alerts. If people are talking about me, I need to know about it. Or not.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

15 Minutes of Fame

O.K., I wouldn't say I REALLY had my 15 minutes of fame today, but it's possible that I was as close as I may ever get. Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from my friend, Rev. Pat Hall. He and his brother, Dan Hall, were going to be meeting with Governor Pawlenty this morning to receive the Governor's proclamation of the National Day of Prayer in Minnesota, which is coming up on Thursday, May 1. They asked if I would come along and take pictures that they could then use for promotion of the National Day of Prayer events that they are heading up. Well, sure, of course I'd be happy to do that.

So, I arrived early at our designated meeting point, with my camera ready to go. I double checked everything last night to be sure all was working properly, and even remembered to pack the extra battery (which was good because I needed it.) I only had about a half dozen pictures on the disk from Easter and I made the decision to wait and download them all to my computer after I got home today.

The photo session went well. It's important to be quick when taking photos at such events. The governor is a busy man and I didn't want to keep him waiting while I adjusted settings, etc. I tried to act professionally and quickly. There was also a staff photographer there taking photos. Well, he wasn't so much a photographer, but he worked in communications for the governor and was sent in to take pictures. He was a nice "kid" and assured us he'd taken a photography class in the 10th grade, which by my estimation was about 10 years ago, or less. Whenever I take photos I always appreciate other people with their cameras in case mine should malfunction.

So, I came home this evening all ready to see how the photos turned out. They looked fine on the little screen on the back of my camera, but I never really know for sure until I can see them enlarged on my computer. I plugged my camera into the computer and waited for the photos to come up. Mind you I took probably 50 pictures this morning. I just kept clicking as I was asked for lots of candid shots, in addition to the formal ones. TWO photos came up, both from Easter. There were a lot of little boxes but they were all blank! Not ONE photo from the governor's office. My computer said there was a corrupt file! What I want to know is who corrupted it?

The photos are no longer available to view on my camera either. They are gone. I was told by the woman at National Camera Exchange to bring in the disk and they will try to do a file recovery on it, but I'm not holding out much hope.

There you have it, my 15 minutes of fame and NOTHING to show for it. At least I got to meet Governor Pawlenty. He was a very nice guy and I was quite impressed. And, thankfully, the staff photographer got some photos and was able to pass them along to the people who needed them. I guess that 10th grade photography class paid off.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Snowy Easter

Happy Easter! Easter is right at the top of my list of favorite holidays. It's low stress as there are no gifts to wrap and get in the mail, no big meals to be made and no pressure to have Easter cookies. You can make a big meal if you like, you can even make cookies, but there isn't the pressure like there is at Christmas. I think though, what I like best about Easter is the reason we celebrate it - Jesus' resurrection! Because of Christ, what he did on the cross, and His resurrection, I get to go to heaven. How cool is that? What a great reason to celebrate.

John is a bit miffed about the timing of Easter this year. It seems he has fond memories of little girls in Easter dresses and bonnets and thinks it's way too cold for such this year. It is, but in my mind, it always is too cold for short sleeves and bonnets at Easter. John grew up in Northern Minnesota where the snow doesn't really melt until the middle of May so I seriously doubt that it was ever really warm enough for typical Easter garb, but those are his memories and he's sticking to them. I gave up on short sleeves and sandals many years ago when I realized it would never be warm enough on Easter, whether in March OR April, for such attire. I must have reached an age when my comfort was more important to me than style. I believe it's a sign of old age when that happens, but I like to think of it as wisdom. Nonetheless, it's still my favorite holiday - warm or cold.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pictures from Africa

Below are just a few of the many pictures we took on our mission trip to Africa, March 6 - 18. I had hoped to be able to upload some while on the trip but our internet connection was too slow. I hope you enjoy viewing them now.

First Stop - Orphan Feeding Center

Our first stop was the Orphan Feeding Center. I soon found
myself dancing with one of the cooks.
The cooks at the orphan feeding center cook in this kitchen for 350 children per day.

This little boy feeding his sister was so cute!

Breakfast and Church on the Mountain top!

Sunday morning on the mountaintop. An amazing view on an amazing morning.

Jerry, far left, is John's cousin. They grew up next door to each other in Baudette, MN. Jerry, and his wife, Karen, are now missionaries working with Blessman Medical Ministries in South Africa. I am so impressed with them both, but especially Karen. She likes her creature comforts and pretty things as much as I do. She has given up a lot to be there eight months of the year. It was fun to be with them and minister together.

On our way down from the mountain top we saw these two giraffe enjoying the morning. At least they look like they are having fun. It's hard to say with giraffe.

Team Photo

Our team photo was taken at "Camp Granada." I believe our oldest team member was 69 years-old. Nothing could slow her down and she put me to shame as she continued to out-work me every day!

Frank's Orphanage

We spent about an hour one afternoon at an "orphanage" where the kids in the community come to be fed everyday. For many of them, this was the only meal they received that day. The man who ran the orphanage was Frank. God has put a huge vision in his heart for ways to work together with the local churches to care for these children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. The needs of these children are overwhelming.

Roadside Shopping

One of the roadside shopping areas. Lots of stuff, very inexpensive. We didn't buy much as I had made a little error in calculations at the ATM. Instead of getting $50 in African money (Rand), I got 50 Rand, worth about $6.36. Glad I paid that $2.00 ATM fee to get $6.36! It was really fine though. I didn't really want a lot of stuff to bring home. It's just more to dust! And really, how many elephant figurines does a person need?

Vision Care Week at Various Schools

This was by far the nicest school that we worked at all week. It was well cared for, had clean bathrooms and the garbagae was picked up. Most of the classrooms held between 45 - 120 students and weren't really any larger than our classrooms here in Cannon Falls. Maybe smaller.

This is the school kitchen! Can you even imagine trying to hire cooks at our schools in Minnesota with a kitchen like this? And, this was at one of the two schools we were at that had nice bathrooms with running water! I hate to think of what the others looked like.

At the end of our last day of eye exams I found these students peeking into the classroom to see what we were up to. Once I started taking pictures a crowd started to gather so I had to stop. They LOVE to have their picture taken!

John doing an eye exam at one of the schools. He got all of the patients that the rest of us couldn't figure out. I think his job was much easier because he had the correct instruments and know-how. I decided I'm glad I'm not an optometrist. Thank God for a husband who loves what he does!
One of John's last patients was an 83 year-old woman who was so happy to get her glasses. John fell in love with her because she was so sweet. He said he liked her weathered face. That was particularly good news for me as I'm not so many years away from a weathered face myself.

The rest of the pictures are all from our safarin in Kruger National Park.

Wildebeest have got to be some of the most interesting animals God ever created.

This is some sort of wild turkey. If I remember correctly, they are almost extinct. I believe I also remember that they only lay eggs every 9 years. That would explain the "almost extinct" issue.

This crocodile was sunning himself on a rock in the river, far, far away from where we were sitting in our van.

The thing to look for at Kruger National Park is the "Big Five." These include rhinos, elephants, lions, Cape buffalo and leopards. We saw three of the five within the park, and the Cape buffalo outside of the park (no pictures, sorry). The only one we didn't see was a leopard. We did however see a leopard print (photo above) and talked to someone who saw the leopard go under a bridge but not come out. No one on our team was willing to act as leopard bait in order to entice the leopard out from under the bridge so we had to settle for a picture of the paw print.

We saw quite a few baboons but this one cracked me up the most. He is drinking the water on the road left by someone's car air-conditioning drip.

The zebras at Kruger didn't seem as skittish as the zebras we saw on our safari last year.

Though we saw plenty of elephants within the Park, this one we saw after leaving the park. It was in a riverbed right outside of Kruger. What keeps it from going up into the hotel property a few yards away, I do not know! At least it didn't charge us!

Look who is brave now? The elephant is plenty far away from him!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thoughts on Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, the day we traditionally focus on Christ’s death on the cross. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about Christ’s death in the past couple of weeks. There is a song by Mercy Me called “God with Us”. It’s a great song and while in Africa I found myself singing the bridge of the song over and over again. It goes like this:

Such a tiny offering compared to Calvary
Nevertheless we lay it at Your feet.

As you may have guessed, if you read my posting from yesterday, there were some moments on our trip that I was less than enthused about. And yet, my sacrifice seemed small by comparison to the one Jesus made on Calvary over 2000 years ago. Any “suffering” I did pales in light of what Jesus did for me. How could I not bring this tiny offering to Jesus to bring His light to a nation of darkness?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Own Bed - My Own Bathroom

After over 24 hours of travel (19.5 in the air) we have arrived safely home. Actually, we've been home for two days but I'm just now coherant enough to write again.

I can't tell you how good it is to be home. I was so excited to crawl into my own bed on Tuesday night. Even John's snoring couldn't keep me awake. And, in the middle of the night, when I got up to go to the bathroom, it struck me that I didn't need to first check the floor to be sure there weren't any undesirable critters waiting for my foot to land on them. Oh, that was a good feeling.

I did learn a very important thing in Africa. I've always believed that if God leads you to something, He'll give you the grace to get through it. I mentioned before we left how much I like my creature comforts and how I didn't think our accommodations would be as nice as I generally prefer. I was correct in my assumption. The place that we stayed for the longest stretch of time was a place that most of the women started referring to as Camp Granada. It was hot, humid, not particularly clean, and there were plenty of spiders and ants to make summer camp complete. In the girl's dorm (where thankfully, I didn't have to sleep) they even had toads visit on a regular basis. What amazed me was that I didn't totally freak out over such conditions. I believe that was only possible due to God's grace for the moment.

I must confess that when we first arrived at "Camp Granada" I did have a meltdown moment. Our original room was adjacent to the girl's dorm and their toad friends seemed to want to greet us when we arrived. But, due to what I truly believe was a God orchestrated event, our room was changed. It was comparable to being moved from the coach section to first class on the airplane. You're still stuck inside the plane, but it's just enough better to keep you from going nuts. Our room change was truly a huge step up in accommodations and I totally believe that it was God's grace at work.

The other great thing that happened in Africa, is my being rather picky in the food department totally paid off for me. We had some very interesting meals, the most challenging of which was one we ate the first day at the orphan care area. We're not totally sure that this was the cause of intestinal illness for about half of our team, but it seems the likely culprit. Fortunately for me, I only had very small servings of about half of the food. John ate more than I did but I've always believed that he has an iron stomach (as opposed to Abs of Steel). Neither of us got sick and for that we are both most grateful.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Back to Base Camp

Today we traveled back to the headquarters for Blessman Medical Ministries at Shikwaru Game Reserve. I'm still not totally sure what cities we've been to but we are in the northern part of South Africa. We took the scenic route back which actually seemed a little faster than the direct route. It seems as though it would have been a beautiful drive but the clouds were quite low and we really had a limited view. There was one spot along the way called God's Window. From what I was told, it's a beautiful view from which you can see across Mozambique all the way to the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, the shades on the window were closed so we just drove on towards "home."

We had the opportunity last night to go on a game drive here at the park but since it was raining and cold, and I'm nursing a nasty cold, I decided against it. John went though and saw a few animals, including seven giraffes.

Tomorrow, we have some time for a little shopping and then we head to the airport for the long trip home. Once I sleep for about 40 hours, I'll fill you in on some of the little side lights of our trip. Until then, signing off from Africa.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What We’re Doing

I am posting this as a separate blog because it’s a rather lengthy explanation of what we are doing here and it was taking up too much space in my journal for the week. But, for those interested in a more specific explanation of our mission, read on.

Before I left home I only had a vague idea of what we’d be doing here. I knew that we’d be doing vision exams and I knew that we’d be sharing the gospel at the same time. I just wasn’t sure how that would all work. Now that I’ve caught on, I’ll be the first to tell you that we’d never get away with what we’re doing if we were in the United States. But, this is Africa and the rules are different here. Basically, in most schools, any group is able to come into the schools and present whatever they want if they are helping in any way. At least that’s my understanding at this point.

Blessman Medical Ministries has partnered with an organization called Book of Hope. Book of Hope has prepared a booklet, in many languages, containing both a synopsis of the four gospels, the creation story, part of the Book of Acts, and life lessons. It’s amazing what can fit into a little booklet.

So, what we do is first try to develop a bit of a relationship with the child. This is far easier if they speak English. Then, we tell them that we would like to do a couple of things and we ask their permission to help them with their eyes and tell them about Jesus. Once we receive their permission, we check their eyes. By the way, children in Africa aren’t much different than children in the US. Some of them just REALLY want glasses and they’ll lie to get them. We’re using an eye chart that has “E’s” pointing in all directions and one day I had a child who consistently told me that the E’s were facing the complete opposite of the direction they were pointing. Even when I took her hand and walked her to within 5” of the chart, she still told me the top E on the chart (which is huge) was going the other way. I suspected she wasn’t being honest and I finally ended up sending her to John. She didn’t need glasses at all. On the other hand, John was sent other students who were acting similarly at least one of them was nearly legally blind. But, I digress.

After we finish the eye exam, and before we send them off for their glasses we first talk to them about sex and HIV/AIDS. This discussion usually leads to the point that HIV/AIDS is generally transmitted sexually and that’s part of the reason that God’s plan is for abstinence before marriage. We are then able to talk to them about their relationship with Jesus. Many of the kids already know Him, but some have never heard, or have heard half truths. If the opportunity arrives we can ask them if they’d like to receive Christ as their Savior. The whole process generally takes less than 20 minutes, unless of course, we need to do more explaining of the Gospel and how to have a relationship with Christ. And, we generally end with giving them a Book of Hope. If the child refuses the book, or isn’t interested, we just get them the glasses that they need and move on to the next child. Our desire is to share the gospel, not shove it down their throats.

Journal of our Week - March11-15

We have been out of internet range for an entire week. So, if you’ve emailed me and I haven’t responded, that’s why. There were actually internet cafĂ©’s near us but one, I heard, was terribly slow, and the other, we never got a chance to visit. So, here is a week’s worth of our activities. If you are interested in catching up, sit back, grab a cup of coffee. A LOT went on this week.

First Day of Vision Clinics
Monday, March 10

Today was a bit overwhelming. Yesterday, we had a brief training on how to do a “vision exam” and today we put it into action. First of all, you have to know that these vision exams are very primitive. Basically, we have them read off an eye chart, hold some different lenses in front of their eyes and figure out from their response which ones help the patient see the best. The more challenging cases we send to John. I sent a lot to John! I was totally challenged by almost all of them. Not really, but it felt that way at first. The language barrier is challenging for a couple of reasons. Almost none of the younger kids speak any English at all, and the older ones, even though they speak English are still hard to understand and, regardless of their age, they all speak very softly. This is where John’s instrument thingy came in handy because with it, he can tell a person’s basic prescription without them saying a word. I wonder if he could teach me how to use it? At the end of the day, Dr. Blessman pointed out to us that we didn’t kill anyone, even if we significantly messed up.

The cool part of the day for me was being able to minister to some of the female translators and teachers. God put a passion in my heart 8 years ago to minister to women. These kinds of trips are hard for me because they generally aren’t necessarily ministering to women, but usually more to children. On the other hand, it’s an excellent opportunity for John to use his gifts and passions and I want to support him in that. So, on the way to the school at which we’d be working, I prayed that God would give me the opportunity to minister to some of the women there. And, the cool part was that I had quite a few women come to my exam station and was able to pray with them for the needs that were pressing on their hearts. One woman, when I asked if I could pray for her said, “Yes! Pray, pray, pray!” I asked her what she’d like me to pray for and she said her family. First of all, her husband who isn’t helpful around the house. I refrained from telling her that isn’t an uncommon problem for many African women, and even some American women. Then she asked me to pray for her sons who were making poor decisions. My mom heart just broke as she told me some of the things they were doing as I know how much it was hurting her. It was such a pleasure to be able to pray with her.

The day ended with a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant called Hippo Hollow. It’s located on a river and sometimes at night hippos come out of the water and onto the shore where you can see them. At dusk, we were told that we couldn’t walk down on the grassy area because that’s the time the hippos come out. Apparently, they are not nice and can run very fast. I wondered what kept them from coming up into the restaurant area and they told me the hippos couldn’t climb the steps. Thank God!

Catching On
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Today I felt like I figured the process out a little better. The weather was a little cooler, so maybe that helped my brain. My first patient was a 28 year old woman, still in high school. Her parents were both dead and she lived with her sister, who abused her. When I asked her if she had Jesus in her heart she said, “Yes, but just 10%. Now, I want 100%” She cracked me up! But, she did pray to receive Christ and then she gave me a big hug and told me how much she’d miss me. It was so sweet.

Later in the day I was talking to another boy and I asked him if he had Jesus in his heart. He told me yes and his teacher, who was sitting next to him to interpret, said, with a rather shocked tone, “Are you telling the truth?” I thought that was so funny. Apparently, his behavior is less than stellar at school.

All in all, I prayed with four kids today to receive Christ. I’m fairly certain that at least two of them knew for sure what they were doing. The other two, I’m not sure totally understood it, but at least I planted the seed.

After our time at the school we came back to our guest house, had a quick lunch and then headed out to a local AIDS orphanage. In American terms, it’s not an orphanage, but more of a care center where kids come to be fed every day. They all live in the local area and either one, or both, of their parents have died. Some live in single parent homes, others in child led homes. By comparison to some of the kids we saw last year, these kids were in pretty good health. We did, however, see one little girl who had AIDS, and seemed to be in pretty tough shape. We saw a few others who seemed to have some severe cases of worms. Children with worms have big, bloated bellies on what otherwise appears to be a fairly healthy body. The little girl with AIDS, and one of the little girls with worms seemed to be attracted to me and would just come and hang out by me, waiting for a hug. You can’t help but have a hurting heart for these suffering children.

Hitting the Wall
Wednesday, March 13, 2008

Tuesday night around 9:00 I hit the wall. Our schedule has been pretty brutal and I was so tired I could hardly wait to get to bed. I woke up this morning feeling just as bad as when I went to bed. So, even though I felt like I was shortchanging the team, I had to take the day off. The team left for the day at 7:15 and I was back in bed a few minutes later. I slept for nearly 3 hours and then got up, read a little and went back to bed for another hour. I was much better by the time the team returned.

John went to the clinic today and had some very tough cases. He saw at least two children that were nearly totally blind due to cataracts, and another child with a growth on his eye called a pterigium, who needs surgery to correct it. It just breaks his heart because there is nothing he can do. He tries to refer them to the local doctors but that doesn’t always happen because they can’t afford it.

Just after we finished supper and our team meeting Wednesday night, we had a bad rain storm which knocked out the power. The first thing we had to do was find our flashlight. We weren’t quite sure which bag it was in. That was quite the process as we totally emptied John’s suitcase only to find it was in another suitcase all together. At least we got John’s suitcase tidied up a bit. Living out of a suitcase for a week tends to create a mess. I haven’t gotten ready for bed by flashlight since I was in Girl Scouts! It was quite the adventure.

In the Dark
Thursday, March 14, 2008

We woke up early this morning to find that our electricity was still off. Let’s just say, none of us looked good today. And, I found out that the trick of shining the light up at your face to see what you are doing is a trick best saved for the young. Let’s just say, it highlights everything middle-aged women generally try to hide. Gratefully, the electricity was coming on right before we left for the day.

At the fourth school of the week we did almost 150 eye exams. John had a huge number of students today with significant problems. He saw at least five Albino people and you can pretty much expect, from what John says, to see eye problems in Albinos. Most of them needed very strong prescriptions. Some a +10.00 diopters and others a –12.00 diopters. To put it in perspective, instead of seeing 20/20, these children see something like 20/1000 without correction. Sadly, in the glasses we have with us, the prescriptions only go to – 8.00 diopters. We also had one little boy who needed glasses with a – 12.00 who wasn’t Albino. I actually was there when he got his glasses and even though they improved his vision significantly, he took them off as soon as he went out the door. Apparently, the world is just too harsh for him.

The highlight of the day was being able to use toilets that flushed instead of outhouses like we have used the other days. Granted, these didn’t really flush as the water wasn’t working, but still, pouring a bucket of water down a toilet is a far cry better than a smelly outhouse. Amazing how your priorities can change in a week.

Last Day of Vision Clinics
Friday, March 15, 2008

As the week has progressed, we’ve all gotten quite a bit better at doing eye exams. Today I was even able to figure out that a little girl was desperately wanting glasses (or spectacles as they call them in South Africa) and was willing to lie to get them. She was at least smart enough to be inconsistent in telling me which way the “E’s” were pointing. So, I pulled out a few lenses and had her keep telling me which was better. Eventually, I got to a pair of lenses with no prescription in them and she read the letters perfectly. Poor thing was so upset when I told her she didn’t need glasses. I must admit, there was an air of excitement when we cleaned up today. I have a new appreciation for making your passion your work. Personally, it would drive me nuts to do eye exams all day long, month after month, year after year. John, on the other hand has a passion for it so it doesn’t seem like work to him. In fact, I think he’d go nuts if he couldn’t check eyes.

I had an interesting talk with a woman who is the third grade teacher in the school we were at today. She has 45 children in her classroom. I thought that was horrible until I heard about some other teachers here who have 120 kids in their classroom! Teaching is another profession I’m so glad I didn’t get called to do.

We stopped for a little shopping on our way back to our headquarters. Fortunately, we didn’t have much Rand (African money) with us or John would be bringing home all kinds of things we don’t need.

Shortly after we arrived back at the guest house, six of the orphan children we met on Tuesday, were brought over for eye exams. At least four of them needed glasses. One was the little girl with HIV/AIDS that I met on Tuesday. She was so excited to be able to see with her new glasses.

Oh, nice flushing toilet today - with water!

Tomorrow, a day off at Kruger National Park!

Kruger National Park
Saturday, March 16, 2008

To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations of Kruger National Park. We drove ourselves through the park instead of hiring a guide and Kruger is roughly the same size as nation of Israel. Seriously, how many animals could we possibly see in such a large expanse. Oh, me of little faith! J The only animal that I was intent on seeing was a lion. But, there was so much more! We saw impalas, wildebeest, elephants, zebras, a turtle, warthogs, something that looked like an anteater, kudu, one rhino, baboons, crocodiles, hippos, monkeys, and giraffes. We also saw some sort of a wild turkey that is going extinct. That’s probably because they only lay their eggs once every nine years.

An unexpected sighting was of a group of hyenas. We were on our way out of the park and they were right by the side of the road. Somehow, I was reminded of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. The hyenas always kind of freaked me out during that ride. They always seemed to have an evil kind of laugh. Fortunately, they were very well behaved in the park. At Kruger though, they just seemed to be playing nicely, and not laughing at me in a scoffing kind of way.

And yes, we did see a lion and a lioness. They were beautiful. Giraffes are still my favorite but I’m not going to mention that to the lions.

After we left the park around 6:00 p.m., we drove past a herd of Cape buffalo. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize what they were until we had already zipped passed them so we didn’t get any pictures.

Apparently, the thing to shoot for (not literally) at Kruger is to see the Big Five. People kept talking about the Big Five and I didn’t really know what they were talking about. So, I learned today that the Big Five are elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo. They are called the Big Five because of their danger and difficulty to hunt. While we didn’t see all five, we saw four of them. We also stopped on top of a bridge under which someone had seen a leopard disappear. We even saw his footprint. No one seemed willing to get out of the van to be leopard bait so we had to move on without seeing him.

All in all, it was a great day and you can’t help but be reminded of God’s incredible creativity, and if you see the warthogs, His sense of humor.

A Mountain Top Experience

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little whiney when I heard we’d be getting up at 5:00 this morning to go out for a drive through the game park and have a sunrise service (actually, it turned out to be a little post sunrise but you won’t hear me complaining about that.) I only really whined to John but let’s just say that my attitude was less than stellar. Have I mentioned that I’m not a morning person? Of course, my sleep time got even shorter when I awoke at 4:30 a.m. and decided to check my clock for the time. My alarm clock requires that you tap the top of it for the light to come on and when I tried to tap it I sent it flying to the floor, back cover coming off, batteries rolling under the bed, you get the picture. By the time I got the clock reset and got back in bed there was no hope of anymore sleep. So, I decided to spend that time praying. One of the things I prayed for was “God moments” in my day. You know, times when I’d know that God was using me, or speaking to me, or I would just be able to appreciate His gifts to me.

At 6:00 we were dressed and ready to go and our Land Rover arrived to pick us up. We drove slowly over the rough terrain and enjoyed the view as the sun was coming up over the hillside. We saw a few zebras and giraffes along the way. Giraffes are still my favorite. They are just so sleek. But, the highlight of our morning was getting almost to the top of the mountain and being surprised to see a beautifully prepared meal sitting out and waiting for us. It was just coffee, juice and muffins, but I tell you what, it was the most elegantly presented coffee and muffins I’ve ever seen. To be able to stand there looking out over the valley, eating muffins and drinking juice was such an amazing gift. Words cannot describe it.

After awhile, we all gathered for church. I don’t think I’ve had church on a mountainside since I was in high school. To sit out in the open, overlooking God’s amazing creation and singing His praises brought me to tears. Pastor Dave Beroth, from First Assembly of God church in Des Moines, shared an awesome message and talked about how he’s not really made for mission trips because of his control issues. Hmm…a message just for me! And yet, God uses us in spite of our control issues and it’s a beautiful thing.

John’s cousin, Jerry, and his wife, Karen, are missionaries here in South Africa working with Blessman Medical Ministries. They told us that this was the first time that they’ve experienced this morning blessing, also. It was so fun to experience it the first time together.

Here it was, only 8:00 a.m. and I’d already had at least two or three God moments. That, in itself, is a miracle for a girl who is rarely up before 8:00 a.m.!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Off to the bush

I have so much to tell but we are leaving in about a half hour or less to go out to an area about 200 miles from our current location. I don't think we'll have much Internet access there. So, next Sunday look for a bunch of updates! We might have Internet access while we're out "in the bush" but I'm not sure.

We'll be working in some schools in some very impoverished areas. This morning we had a training on how to do eye exams, share Christ, and teach them about sex and HIV/AIDS. Yikes! It made me nervous to teach my own kids about sex. Of course, I'll never see these kids again. That will help.

We had an amazing morning but I want to save that to write about when I have more time. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Day One in South Africa

We got up early this morning and had breakfast at our guest house and then we left to go to a care area where about 350 children are fed every day. When we first arrived the cooks (called MaMas) started singing (a very common greeting to guests in Africa). I started smiling and clapping and before I knew it I was dancing with one of the cooks. They thought that was so fun. I did too.

Today’s menu for the kids included chicken heads and feet. Yum! Other things on the menu included squash, rice, beets and bananas. It’s quite the undertaking to feed that many every day. We had the same food later only, thankfully, our chicken was in the leg form, no heads or feet. An interesting side note is that all of the kids kept their chicken bones and they’ll chew on them later. Apparently they are an excellent source of calcium.

While the kids were eating I took their pictures and showed it to them on my digital camera. Pretty soon, there were quite a few requests for pictures. One little girl came up and, in the sweetest voice said, “Will you take my picture please.” How could I say no?

After lunch the kids all sat down and sang and sang and sang. Their sweet little faces can melt your heart in seconds. I can’t all remember the words but one of the songs talked about the Holy Spirit. I wish I could describe to you how they pronounced Spirit. I’m not even sure I could imitate it in person, but boy was it sweet.

The program was completed for the kids with a puppet show and a Bible lesson. I got to help with the Bible lesson that taught the kids about how to make wise choices. Of course, everything had to be translated by the “head Mama,” Mavis.

We are now at the game reserve owned by Blessman Medical Ministries. Our room has a thatched roof but it’s a suitable room. Dinner for us tonight included Impala and Wildebeest. I only had the Impala filet (which is pronounced with the “t” in South Africa. It was fine. I wouldn’t order it at a restaurant but it wasn’t the worst meal I’ve ever had.

Suddenly South Africa seems like a picnic.

We made it to South Africa in good shape. Well, you might think differently if you actually saw us after our 19 hours in the air, but we’re alive at least. As is happened, on our flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam we were accompanied by Justin Mack, the missions and small group pastor from our church. He was on his way to India for a mission trip with the church that his father pastors. He told us that people who have been to India say that when you get off the plane, the smell overwhelms you. The group he’s with will be working in areas of extreme poverty. So, you see, I know Africa won’t be as bad as that and suddenly, by comparison, it seems more like a picnic of a trip. If the accommodations don’t really suit my tastes I can just say to myself, “at least I’m not in India.” Kind of like when you’re sick and then hear of someone much worse off than you are.

Random things I learned on the plane:
1. People from the Netherlands are called Hollanders, regardless of the region in which they live.
2. Mars candy bars are very good. Does anyone know where they sell them in the United States?
3. The toilet seats in KLM’s 747 are more comfortable than the seat to which I was assigned.
4. Even a 13” laptop is impossible to completely open in seat 40G.
5. KLM has better food, and more food than NWA (big surprise there.)
6. Young men should not wear eye masks that say “sexy” in bright pink. It just looks stupid.

An unexpected blessing was being greeted by our friends, Ben and Susan Rodgers, at the airport in Johannesburg. Ben and Susan are the missionaries in Swaziland that we met last year when we were working with Children’s Cup. As it turns out, three of our team members are relatives of Susan’s. It was so fun, and a huge surprise, to see them at the airport.

Some of my blogs during this trip may be written on days when I can’t post them due to lack of internet access. This could result in me posting three or four at a time as access becomes available.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Africa here we come!

Tomorrow afternoon John and I board the plane for the long flight to South Africa. People keep asking me if I’m excited about our trip. I guess you could say a part of me is excited but a huge part of me is scared to death. You see, I’m not a roughing it type of girl. I like my little creature comforts. I often tell people that my idea of roughing it is the inside cabin of a cruise ship, or a hotel without room service. It’s not that we’re going to really be “roughing it.” I mean, we will have beds and rooms with toilets and running water, and while I’m sure they’ll be sufficient, I’m just not convinced that they are nice, and I’m fairly certain there isn’t any room service. So, you may be wondering why I’m going. Here’s why. I know it’s what God wants me to do.

Last year when we were in Africa one of the missionaries there told us, “If God calls you do something, do it. If you are scared, do it scared.” Actually, once we returned from Africa last year, I asked God to send us back. I forgot to mention to Him that I wanted to go back to the same place, with the same people, doing the same thing. Silly me! Apparently, God decided that challenges are good for me and not knowing what to expect would require me to trust Him more. You can’t argue with God’s logic. He knows what He’s doing.

On Sunday in church we sang the song “The Stand” by Hillsongs United and as I was singing it came to me, “this is why I’m going to Africa.” After all Christ has done for me, how could I not do this for Him. Here are the lyrics:

You stood before creation
Forever within Your hand
You spoke all life into motion
My soul now to stand

You stood before my failure
And carried the cross for my shame
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders
My soul now to stand

So what can I say
And what could I do
But offer this heart O God
Completely to You

So I’ll walk upon salvation
Your Spirit alive in me
This life to declare Your promise
My soul now to stand

So I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the One who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to You surrendered
All I am is Yours

As I’m able I’ll be updating this blog with our adventures and hopefully some pictures. Please pray for us, but mostly pray for the people in Africa who need to find the hope that only Jesus can offer.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Coincidence? I think not.

Tonight I was taking a few minutes to read some of my favorite blogs. One of those blogs belongs to a woman I've never met but she has motivated me many times. Her name is Beth Lambdin and she lives in California. She is high up in Creative Memories which is where I first heard about her.

Her blog today was about starfish (she lives in California, remember?) Her family is currently on vacation at Aptos Beach and today she went out for a walk on the beach and saw a bunch of starfish along the shoreline. (She also shared some amazingly beautiful photos so check our her blog if you'd like to see them.) It reminded her of this story. ”An old man walked along a shore littered with thousands of starfish, beached and dying after a storm. A young man was picking them up and flinging them back into the ocean. “Why do you bother?” the old man scoffed. “Surely you cannot expect to save enough to make a difference.” The young man picked up another starfish and sent it spinning back to the water. “I just made a difference to that one”.

So, where is the coincidence, you ask? Well, last year, shortly after arriving in Swaziland, Africa for a mission trip with Children's Cup, I became overwhelmed with the needs that I was seeing. I told God that I saw so much need but felt so helpless to change anything. I was immediately reminded me of the story of the starfish that Beth had in her blog today. Tonight, I am working on packing to leave in two days for another mission trip to Africa. I'll share more about that tomorrow but, for now, I have to believe that reading Beth's blog was more than a coincidence. I believe God wanted to remind me of my reason for going, even if it just makes a difference to one person.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Don't be the ONE

We live in a small town. A very small town. Well, there are smaller towns, but by comparison to the city of 60,000 where I grew up, this is an itty bitty town. So, of course we get the small town newspaper and the headline in last Thursday's paper really caught my eye. It said "Police dept. is tough on speeders." They actually abbreviated department with dept (no period) but that's not the point of this blog. And, for those of you who are journaling majors, I must point out that this news was in the upper right quarter of the front page. It may have changed, but when I was in college I was taught that the upper right quarter of the newspaper was reserved for THE most important story.

The fact that this story rates as THE most important story of the week for our small town isn't even what makes it funny (though you must admit, it adds to it.) What makes this story funny is the actual number of speeding tickets issued in 2007 by the police department in our little town of approximately 4000 people. FOR THE WHOLE YEAR there were 430 tickets issued. That is just over ONE ticket per day. How could that possibly be construed as "tough on speeders?" Is it possible that there is only ONE person per day who gets going a little too fast? Half of the tickets, the article states, were given on the highway that runs through our town so one could surmise that at least half of the people receiving tickets from our police department don't even live here.

Now there are two reasons not to speed in our little town. The first one has for me always been the fact that your name is published in the newspaper police report when you receive a speeding ticket (or any ticket for that matter.) The public embarrassment alone is enough to slow you down. And knowing what I now know, I just can't risk being the ONLY one to receive a ticket on any given day. That would just stink.