Tuesday, October 24, 2017

October 2017

It’s hard to believe we only have one more month of working with our students this year. They have just received their 3rd term reports and we are pleased with their results. We haven’t seen everyone’s reports yet, but of all the ones we have seen, everyone has passed the term!! This is great news and they are quite proud of themselves. One thing that makes me sad, however, is that the grading system seems very unbalanced to me. For terms 1-3, their combined scores account for 25% of their yearly grade. The fourth term accounts for a whopping 75% of their grade. I somewhat understand the logic that they should have learned and practiced all of the information for the whole year and should be able to regurgitate it come exam time, but I also know our students. They have so many odds stacked against them that it seems quite unfair to me. In addition to this, none of their homework is graded; only tests and exams. So they may work extremely hard during the year and finish 100% of their homework, only to fail their exams. Many of our students are extremely slow when it comes to
working out a problem, i.e. a math equation. I often wonder how in the world they could possibly finish their entire test/exam knowing the rate that homework takes them. Please keep them in your prayers as they start their yearend exams very soon. They are tired and looking forward to their 5-week long December/January break. During this time we will continue to meet with them and pour into their lives, but more on a social and discipleship level.

The numbers of students in our program varies from day to day. Some days we have as many as seven or eight students and other days we have as few as three. We find that if they don’t have any actual homework, they really lack the motivation to sit and study. I am praying that through consistency we can break this thought process.

We also have had space problems which has been a challenge to our ministry. The government is moving people away from the street due to their potential development plan for the informal settlement, so Piet’s mom had to cut a bit of her land. Since this is where we meet for tutoring this means that we worked outside during the construction. On the positive side, we have had three more students joining us because they saw us sitting outside!
We are so excited to report that we have finally filed our paperwork to hopefully receive our PBO status here in South Africa. The PBO will allow South African donors to receive a tax rebate from the government. Although the status has only been sent through for approval, this process has literally taken us six months just to get to where we are now. Once we receive the PBO, we will then be able to raise funds from businesses and individuals and grant them tax deduction receipts.   

I want to say thank you again to all of those who gave in the last couple of months towards our ministry expenses. I’ve compiled a “report” to help you see where we are at.          

We were very blessed with $950 in donations from you. We are thrilled that we were able to accomplish the following:
-school pants and school shoes for the two boys ($60)
-A month’s worth of groceries for Oketsa lunches ($72)
-Car repairs ($698 out of a $755 bill)
-Tables and Chairs for Oketsa ($120)

The car repairs to our main ministry car was a bit of a shock to the system, an unfortunate expense but necessary to continue ministry. Piet has just sold his personal 2 seater car in order for us to buy a bigger car to transport our students.  As of right now from selling Piet's car and other money we have set aside for this purpose, we have just over $6000 (R80,000). The unfortunate thing is that cars in South Africa are much more expensive than in North America! In order to buy an older, but reliable 7-seater we need to raise another $2000-3000 (R20,000-40,000). That being said, we are giving our friends, family, and supporters an opportunity to give towards this 7 seater car.  As all of you who have one car know, it is a challenge accomplishing daily ministry and family responsibilities with one car. We are confident that we can weather this challenge and obtain funding within the next 2 weeks! 

The coffee shop is also going well. We are still really enjoying it and it gives our family a bit of extra income. We are very fortunate that the coffee shop pays for Harmony’s preschool fees, in addition to our water, electricity, and property taxes!

In our marriage, we are really making an effort to prioritize one another amongst our busy schedule. There are definitely harder days than others, but we know how important it is keeping faith and family at the top of the list. Though our ministry is extremely important to us, we know that we must take care of our physical, spiritual and emotional health first in order to have a healthy and thriving ministry.

Loving Africa

The Bakers Four

Friday, August 25, 2017

August 2017


Our students sharing a very small space
We are currently in the third term of school. All school kids had a three week mid-year break for the in July. On our Oketsa register, we have 9 kids in our tutoring program. Another 2 or so have come once or twice to see what we are all about. This is great news because it means the message is getting out there that we are available to assist students! So far we have seen most of their reports and they didn’t do great, but have made some improvements in some areas. We are still waiting to see a few of the reports, but I think only two of the students passed the term. We are still struggling with space and feel that some kids don’t always come because the majority of the kids share a coffee table as their work space and another two or so, use a bed in the same room.

Now that we are in term three, we have started implementing a few changes. Based on their reports, I have begun printing off extra worksheets for the students to work on after they finish their homework and on the weekends. These worksheets are mainly English/grammar and Math. I also hand out short chapter books for them to improve their English and reading skills. Another very exciting thing is that we FINALLY have the NPO bank account open. It is very unfortunate that many things involving the government run painfully slow.

Secondly, we have become much more consistent in our devotional and prayer time with the kids. We know that their education is extremely important, but so is their spiritual well-being. Thus, we begin each day with a short scripture or story, a challenging question, and a time of prayer together. They seem to be enjoying it as they do ask relevant questions and engage in the topic. Also, on a Friday night, anywhere from 2-4 of the students attend the youth group at our church if they have taxi money available. Many of them want to come with to the youth group and we wish we had the means to transport all of them!

During the July holiday, we took our Oketsa students to the local science museum. Many of the students (most of which are in high school) thought it would be boring and they’d spend their afternoon reading boring “science-y” stuff. They were quite surprised that the whole museum was full of hands on experiments and displays. We even sat through a “science show” where a biologist did some very cool (seemingly magic!) experiments. The students all had a great time. We then took them out to lunch which they very rarely get to do being from very low income families.

On a personal note, many of you have followed my (Leah) long and tedious journey with my temporary and permanent residency in South Africa. I have been on a temporary spouse visa for the last 6 years and finally qualify to apply for my permanent residency. I actually tried applying for it at the beginning of the year, but was missing two documents that could only be obtained in the US. After a very long 5 months, I have since gotten a hold of those documents and am pleased to say that I turned in all of my papers yesterday!!! I now have to wait another 8-10 months to hear if they’ve granted it. The positive thing in all of this is that my temporary residence permit is still valid until Oct 2018, so I should hear before having to renew my current visa (thank goodness!).

Harmony and Lesedi are doing quite well. They are both very bright children who talk a lot and get up to quite a bit of mischief. Harmony still loves preschool and is currently learning the Lord’s
Prayer. She almost knows the entire thing! Both kids have been sick on and off, but I suppose that’s pretty normal for this age. Lesedi is a little boy with a lot of energy and seems to eat his weight on a daily basis. :)

Piet is still loving the coffee shop that he runs 5 days a week. It definitely adds another layer of challenges to our life, but it is a blessing and a ministry in itself. He is able to interact  with and minister to a number of people, including those who work for him, every day.

One of Piet’s friends from Germany is arriving this Sunday and will be staying with us for two weeks. We are of course excited for his visit, but this also gives us a much needed excuse to take a whole week off and take him to a nearby safari lodge. I shared in our last update that we are in quite a hard season and that is still very true today. We covet your prayers as we go into battle every day!

Loving Africa,

The Bakers Four

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. (http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-africa/unemployment-rate) 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!