Monday, May 15, 2017

Moving Forward with Oketsa

What a busy few months we have had!

We have now been comfortably back in Johannesburg for seven months. The time has really flown by. Harmony loves her school and even wakes up on Saturdays asking if it’s a school day! Although the lessons are taught in English, her teachers are multi-lingual, so we often hear her “disciplining” either her younger brother or her imaginary friends in different languages! She continues to grow in her exceptional memory, love for Jesus and praying, and interest in the world around her.

Lesedi is now 17 months and is really starting to show his personality. He is a real boy who loves to “fix” things with Dad, be outside, climb, take walks, explore, do everything his sister does and learn everything there is to learn about life. He says quite a number of words and has started communicating really well.

Our non-profit organization, Oketsa, has been officially registered with the South African government and it is only a few short steps away from receiving PBO status (Public Benefit Organization), which will allow local corporations to make donations and receive a tax deductible receipt. We have had two successful Board Meetings here and our first US board meeting (via Skype) this last weekend! In the Tswana language, “Oketsa” means “increase”; we hope to give our students an increase in knowledge, faith, and hope.

The students have completed their first term at school and we are pleased to say we have seen some improvements in certain subjects BUT have identified growth areas in other subjects. This has shown us where the focus areas need to be as we carry on with this year.

Over the Easter break, we took them for burgers and bowling at a local entertainment venue and they had a blast! They had never been there before and were taking in all the sights and sounds and taking endless selfies ;).  We also had the students at our house for a movie and discussion afternoon. We talked about many different teen issues such as suicide, peer pressure and teen pregnancy. We then set short term and long term educational goals and personal goals with them. And finally, we brought them with us to help paint the roof of a children's home that is supported by our church here in Johannesburg. It is not often that you find Africans serving other Africans, so this was very
meaningful to both them and us. Also, we praise God that two of our students recently accepted Jesus!

At the end of April, Piet was invited to speak in another province of South Africa (KZN), about 5 hours away. He helped facilitate business training exactly like what we used to do in Lesotho. We traveled to the “headquarters” of the business training program for five days and Piet taught people from South Africa, Swaziland, and even several of our friends from Lesotho who traveled up to the training center. It was a nice change of pace and of course great to connect with our previous Lesotho church friends.

The Bakers four have begun a new adventure in that we have taken over managing the coffee shop "Holy Ground Cafe" at our local church. Luckily, it is only open three days a week at the moment, so it does not conflict with our after school ministry. The coffee shop definitely adds a new dynamic and challenge to our family. I can truly say that Piet is thriving as he is living out his love for business and is becoming an excellent barista!

You may remember that last month I shared that we were struggling and feeling quite down. Thank you for praying for us and encouraging us. We are so blessed to have so many standing beside us. We are doing a lot better, but life is an endless battlefield. We covet your prayers for our marriage, our ministry, and our family.

Love you all,

Loving Africa

The Bakers Four

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 2017

Hi friends and family

The past few months have been a great time of seeking, reflecting, and crying out to the Lord. I find myself in the tension of feeling great joy in ministry and great personal struggle. Life is funny that way.

In our last update, we had alluded to the fact that we have new vision and passion for education here in South Africa. We have decided to start a non-profit organization for our ministry. We are only a few weeks away from making it official!

Since the middle of January, we have been helping 6 young people in a very rural area with their school work. They have fallen behind, often needing to repeat grades because they are receiving little to no help at home with homework and studies. We have started a grassroots tutoring center in someone's house (shack) in the "informal settlement". We hope to organically grow, recruit other volunteers to help with the tutoring and hopefully build a center where these kids can gather. Our heart is for the high school students and senior primary students (grade 6+) as they are nearing the end of their school career. We see such a deep need not only for tutoring and homework assistance, but for personal mentorship as well. Many of these young people have no one to look up to, a lack of good parental influence, and huge lack of hope.

We long to give them this hope for the future that they are lacking.

Already, we are so excited to report increased test scores and an increase in knowledge and understanding! My heart is so fulfilled that these hours spent after school has not been for nothing. Some of these kids come to our house on the weekends as well if they have a test to study for. This has been one of my greatest joys to provide a safe environment for them. I wish we were able to do it more!

Studying at our house

We go into the community as a family, and Harmony and Lesedi run around in the streets with other children their age. It is really fun to see them engaging with other kids, eating different foods (which they love!!) and experiencing the "kasi" lifestyle. For them, everyday is an adventure and it doesn't feel foreign at all. It's a blessing to live out our "ministry life" everyday with them.

Personally, we are struggling a bit. Please pray for our spirits to be lifted and our hearts to be enlightened. Life seems very challenging and discouraging at the moment. We know that God is always good, always takes care of us, and is always with us, but sometimes it's hard to keep that into perspective.

We have seen God working miracles in our lives in the past and we are confident that our future is in His hands.

Thank you for your words, your support and your love.
We know for certain this work cannot be done without YOU.

Loving Africa

The Bakers

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Happy 2017

This December holiday was a very lovely time for our family. We made new traditions and carried on with old traditions. We made the most of our time off with seeing movies, going on a game drive, setting up the Christmas tree, counting down through our advent calendar, watching lots of Christmas movies on tv, seeing Santa, playing in fake beach sand, spending quality time with Piet’s family, making cookies, and eating lots of ice cream!

However, one of the most significant things we did was give Christmas presents to sick children in a local government run hospital. Our kids helped pick out the toys to buy, wrapped them, and prayed for the children. Unfortunately, they were not allowed in as the children in the ward were VERY ill (most were hardly conscious and others were out for operations) and it wasn’t safe for them to be exposed to their germs. Our two objectives were to teach our kids to give because Christ gave himself to us as a gift, and to show these sick children and their parents God’s love during a difficult season of life. It was quite an emotional visit, but we continue to trust God for their ultimate healing.

As a family, our kids have hit some significant milestones recently! Lesedi turned one year old on December 15th, and started walking JUST this week! He looooves music and rhythm, loves his sister, smiles constantly, climbs on EVERYTHING, continues to make us laugh and is in general a VERY happy guy!

Harmony turns three years old this Friday! She has quite the strong willed personality but is a very smart girl. She has just started PRESCHOOL last week. She is enjoying it, but is still adjusting to the new environment. She goes to school half day, five days a week, which gives me a little break in the mornings.

It has always been our goal to eventually be self-sustainable as a family. Piet’s olive business has started to take off and we are anticipating the opportunity to supply multiple restaurants with olives, olive oil, and other products. Piet believes strongly in equipping and discipling young men and women who have just finished high school with practical sales skills. During December he started working with his old high school and alongside his former principal recruiting and training students in sales while having one on one intentional conversations with them. At the moment, the unemployment rate in South Africa is around 25%  and many people believe that violent crimes are a response to frustration of the lack of jobs and opportunities. ( We are just trying to do our small part to teach others about sustainability as well.

Lesotho Business Skills Training
We continue to receive updates regarding the Lesotho business skill training program. Please pray with us as they look into registering the program into a college! The new facilitators and the church board are taking this to a bigger level. We are excited to see them dream this big! We are invited in February to drive down to Lesotho to run a section of the business skills training.

Dreams and Prayer Request
I, Leah, have a big dream as well. The Lord gave me a new revelation that I am dreaming about and researching into about how best to execute. In short, I have a deep passion for kids who are struggling in school. There are many rural schools in our area and quite a number of students are struggling to pass each year due to various circumstances. My desire is to ultimately open some kind of a center for afterschool tutoring to help these students progress through their high school years. It’s still in the stages of dreaming and researching, but I’m hoping to start pouring into young lives very soon. I would love it if you would pray with me about this big dream and how I might best execute it! Thank you in advance.

Thank you for your love and support in our lives
It does not go unnoticed! We cannot survive without the backing of our loved ones.

Loving Africa

The Bakers

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Time in Johannesburg!

As many of you have been following us on Facebook or even have seen us recently in person, you may be well aware of the really weird, but overall good last few months.

At the moment we are in a season of waiting, growing, and new adventures.

As you know, we were in the US during July and August. During the time we were away, there was a security issue with our house in Lesotho and it made us seriously consider transitioning out of Lesotho. We were already in a good position to transition as two ladies had stepped up to run the course for us anytime we decided to leave.

After we returned back to Lesotho in early September, there was another security and safety issue in which we truly believed it was time to go. By the first week of October our stuff was packed and we were on our way back to Johannesburg. We are still in contact with the ladies who are now managing the business courses and will continue to visit a few times a year. We will help facilitate a small section of the classes along with several other facilitators.

Since moving back, Piet has been busy with new business ventures and opportunities. He is focusing very heavily on business mentoring especially with high schoolers. Currently, he and a partner are training and recruiting girls and guys either just out of school or in grade 12. These young people are learning hands on business skills in four types of businesses and sales depending on their preference.

Business Mentorship
We will also be following up with a few other leads in ministry and volunteering opportunities in the
New Year. One thing that is slightly difficult about ministry during this time of year is that the schools have closed and will only open again the first week of January and many businesses are closing very soon as well. It is quite challenging to start new projects at the moment, but we are confident that we will be quite busy in January!

Birthday Boy!
You may have also seen that myself (Leah) and the kids had to make an unexpected visit to California a few weeks ago to renew my SA visa. I’m happy to report that it was an extremely quick process and everything went very smoothly. I’m now able to apply for my permanent residency, which has been a long awaited process!

We celebrated Thanksgiving with some dear and cherished friends here in Johannesburg. Every year I am very intentional about celebrating my favorite holiday with people that have become our family

Summertime Carols by Candlelight

We are REALLY enjoying the Christmas season. Now that Harmony is almost three, the wonder and excitement of the Christmas season and the birth of Christ is evident. We pray that you experience it too in the coming weeks!!

Loving Africa,
The Bakers Four

Monday, September 19, 2016

Quick Update September 2016

Hello friends!
We have been back in Southern Africa for just over two weeks now and wanted to give a quick update.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in the US and already miss our family and friends (old and new!) dearly! I, Leah, lost my grandfather just before we flew back to South Africa. We were blessed to be able to spend quality time with him, say goodbye and be there for memorial service. Piet was especially encouraged by attending the service as he learned a lot about Grandpa’s background and his purpose driven life. Because of the circumstances we also spent time with family that we hadn’t originally anticipated on seeing during this visit. This was definitely a bittersweet ending to our trip.

Traveling with two small children is not easy, but we managed to get home all in one piece! After we arrived we had several VERY early mornings while the kids adjusted back to the time zone. We are all doing well and have adjusted to life in Lesotho once again.

We have one last Business Skills Training for 2016. The program has evolved slightly as we are adding a second week to our intensive week training and have added more spiritual training. This will allow us to double our enrollment to 30 instead of 15 students per class as we will split the class in half and run two classes simultaneously. We are excited that some of the future potential Business Skills Training facilitators are attending a formal training this week in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. This training will supplement their knowledge in training individuals in their cultural sphere.

Next year is going to look differently for the Bakers family and we would like to give you a more detailed update very soon! Keep an eye out ;)

We really had a great time in the US. As we sit and reminisce for a second, so many wonderful memories flood our minds. Meaningful conversations around the table. Backyard BBQ’s. Meals out with friends. Road trips to new places. New connections made. Brainstorming and dreaming with loved ones about the future. Prayers offered up for us. And sharing our hearts with so many that were willing to listen. We are truly blessed to have the friends, family, and supporters that we do!!
We love you!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Bakers in California

In Georgia with the cousins
The Bakers have spent a good amount of time in Livermore, but we have also been traveling quite a bit as well! We arrived in Atlanta, Georgia on July 1st after a missed flight and a luxurious sleep over in Frankfurt! We spent a few days with two of my (Leah’s) cousins and their families! We had a house full of six kids under 6 years old which was lots of fun!!

Piet speaking in Redding-- "Creating revival moments in our city"

We then spent about 10 days in Redding, CA visiting the Stirring church, which is one of our supporting churches as well as a few friends from the area. Piet preached at the evening service during the first Sunday we were there. He shared about our ministry and about how revival in our city and surroundings starts with us. We stayed with a wonderful family, Gil and his son Todd Moegerle. These two gentlemen have such generous hearts which derives from their love for God and his people. We had very deep and  intentional conversations around the table every evening. We received wonderful hospitality from the Moegerles and our friends at the Stirring.

Our jazz-singing auntie Joy!
Our next destination was Santa Cruz, CA and the surrounding areas. We spent a few days visiting my aunt and uncle in Boulder Creek. We enjoyed family fellowship and the best home baked pies!! We had the awesome opportunity to speak briefly at the Boulder Creek Community Church. We felt very warmly welcomed there and made new relationships with a handful of people! We love the church’s heart and passion for God! We were also to spend a few days relaxing at the boardwalk and on the coast in Pacific Grove.

"Lover's Point" Pacific Grove
For the remainder of our time in Livermore we are enjoying every moment that we can with family. My grandfather has had MDS disease for the past 10 months.  We are glad to have this opportunity to see him while he is being made comfortable at home since we never know if this will be the last time we will have with him. We are also blessed to be able to visit with other family members as they come to be with him as well.

Men's camp in Lake Tahoe 

Piet went with Ken (Leah's dad) on a men’s retreat and visited Lake Tahoe and parts of Nevada for the first time. They had a great time!

We are very excited to be sharing with our friends at Discovery Church this Sunday afternoon! We will be preparing a local African meal and presenting about our business training classes. We invite all who are able to attend to do so!

I had mentioned in a previous email that we are seeking new financial supporters for our ministry as we have had and are anticipating a 25% loss in support (and possibly more) by the end of this year. If you have not had the opportunity to visit with us this trip but would like more details about giving to our ministry, please contact us and we would be happy to discuss it further!
We truly do mean it when we say we cannot do what we are doing without YOU! We are so thankful for those who pray for us, communicate regularly with us, and who give financially towards our work. Ministry can be quite a lonely place no matter the location, but our loved ones sustain us!

Thank you for all that you do!

We love you!

Loving Africa
The Bakers Four
Facebook:  Piet Bakers or Leah Bakers 

Waiting for the shuttle in Germany

The Moegerles and Bakers 

Hanging out with our friends in Redding 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May 2016

If you haven’t yet heard, we will be in the US in about 7 weeks from now. We will be there for just over 6 weeks. We are already preparing for our trip and getting very excited to see friends and family that we haven’t seen in a while.

A few weeks ago Piet facilitated our first business training course for the year. Eight students graduated and are working toward improving existing businesses as well as starting up new ones. We are always encouraged by our students and their passion and drive. If you get a chance to hear us speak in July or August you will hear that to take our business skills class costs each student about $20 (R260). If you are interested in sponsoring someone, please let us know! We are running an additional 6-day course at the end of this month. The total number of graduates is now over 40! We are so humbled to have helped so many that will additionally help others.

The conference
One evening during the conference "let your light shine"
The mentorship of the business students is continuing. Piet does the majority of the mentorships. He follows up with each one, checks their financials, and gives them new ideas if need be.

The collapsed building
Shortly after our business training course finished, our church, AFM, hosted a mission’s conference. Piet and many of the men from the church built an additional outdoor toilet to accommodate everyone. Some people came from South Africa to preach and encourage our church. It is quite rare to here Africans teaching and preaching about missions. It’s just not a central subject matter in the African church. To hold a mission’s conference in our church is very significant. We are blessed with a pastor and leadership team that are passionate about reaching out to the community and the rest of the country. On the Friday night of the conference, about 15 people were upstairs having dinner when the second floor of the church collapsed and everyone fell through. Multiple people were injured and ended up in the hospital. We praise the Lord that no one was beyond recovery. There were broken bones and stiches, but everyone is making a recovery.

Big Sister reading to Little Brother

As mentioned earlier, we will be in the US in July and August. We will be giving presentations and sharing testimonies about the work that we are doing here as well as fundraising for our future. We welcome all visitors and hope to connect with as many of you as possible!

Loving Africa,
The Bakers