All posts by Ivan

Thanksgiving! Day 7

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you have a wonderful day.

Even though Thanksgiving is very different in Gembu (it is not a holiday here), we are choosing to celebrate anyway. The work here goes on unfazed by this holiday across the ocean, but in the Helwig house, we’ll be eating more than normal. I smell the aroma of fresh-baked pies and aromatic dishes cooking as I write. Oooh–I can’t wait.

A few things I’m thankful for while in Gembu:

  • Faithful servants, like Art and Dorothy, who have literally given their lives to save those here in Gembu. They have no privacy and are overwhelmed with a constant stream of BIG needs all the time. We are in the presence of champions.
  • For a great team of seven on this trip — Lynne and Larry Peterson, Judy Elftmann, Barbara Kosiak, Jim McKinney, Susan and myself. This group is upbeat, flexible, hard-working, and a lot of fun. What a great “substitute” for our own families on this Thanksgiving.
  • For the people who come for help at GECHAAN. These people are poor, often sick, in survival mode in so many ways, humble, and very grateful. I am learning great lessons of life from these gentle people…and meeting Jesus through them too.
  • For my family and a church who would let me go to this far away land and represent them and Jesus in this beautiful place.

God bless you on this Thanksgiving. My you be renewed in your gratitude for all that God has done for you. I know that I am…

Day 6 — Our Work to Do

Let me give you a flavor of what we do in Gembu…

We meet with the staff for devotions each morning at 7:45. Afterwards, we are all warmly and respectfully greeted by every person present…somewhere around 40 people. Many of the staff are off-site working in villages surrounding Gembu. What an inspiration to hear the team emphasize each morning how dependent they are upon the Lord in order to help these people with HIV/AIDS. They are ministering to these hurting people for all of the right reasons. We are inspired by their faithful service in Jesus’ name.

After mingling for a time, our Edinbrook team of seven each go their separate ways to accomplish their tasks for the day. Today, the ladies sorted and folded stacks of baby clothes and blankets that can now be given away to those who desperately need them. It was huge job!

Larry did a combination of projects (electrical, helping on the fence around the compound), Jim is working diligently on the guest house putting in scaffolding for the floors of the upper level (very hard work), and I have been putting in steel posts for the compound fence (which will make things much more secure). There is a major problem with things disappearing around here….

Beyond the tasks that can be measured, we are here to encourage and affirm the hard workers of GECHAAN. We have the privilege of giving a smile, a hardy handshake, a warm hug, a word of encouragement, and a word of wisdom to those who serve in some very difficult circumstances treating a devastating disease. They are very grateful.

We also have opportunities to meet numerous people who come to the Life Line Center for treatment. They are always excited to meet people from the US and are eager to engage in a little conversation. Susan especially loves on the babies and warms up to the mommas. I love watching her do her “magic”.

When Jesus began His ministry, he read from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives,
And freedom to prisoners;

This passage capsulizes what Jesus came to do. It begins with an emphasis on compassion and care for those that are disadvantaged and hurting. And then Jesus tells us to be His ambassadors. Scripture tells us on numerous occasions to be His presence in our world. Yes–we have the privilege of actually being Jesus’ face, arms, feet, voice and presence to those that need to experience Him most. More than anything, that’s what we want to do while in Gembu.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!

Day Five — Settling In

We made it to Gembu! What a trip…what a place GECHAAN is. We slept in our new Guest House last night. It’s beautiful and still in process. But we’re honored to use the facility we have funded. It will be a tremendous blessing to this ministry for many years to come. With eight rooms on the first floor and four long-term housing units up above, the Guest House creates a ready potential for significant increase in GECHAAN’s impact. Thank you for what you have given to make this possible and what you have continued to give to support this ministry. It truly is amazing.

Let me fill you in on a few updates about the ministry here:

  • GECHAAN now is caring for 2,800 orphans in the foster parent program. Every one of those children had no hope, no future, no love, no family, no home before they were taken in by a trained Christian family.
  • There are now 150 employees on the GECHAAN staff. As recently as one year ago, they had about 15 on staff. They’ve multiplied by ten times! That’s a management nightmare, but possible in a beautiful way through God’s providence.

We began our day with Art and Dorothy over some breakfast and then joined the staff for pre-work devotions in the Lifeline Center. Many of us then mingled with the staff and met numerous patients coming into the clinic. The visitors coming for help are so appreciative of those who will help them live.

The rest of the day, we worked on the guest house, attempting some repairs on the Helwig house, organizing mountains of baby clothes, and working on a security fence. We ended the day with supper — 17 of us around the table. There are also seven Nigerians visiting this week from US AID. WOW–I don’t know how Art and Dorothy handle it all. They are incredible.

Thanks for all of your prayers.

The team is ready for a big day of work tomorrow.

[Sorry that there are no pics. We cannot get them uploaded from the internet here…yet. Keep checking!]

Day Four – Loving the Nigerians

Sunday was a wonderful day. We began our day by worshiping together. The sermon was outstanding (of course) and the fellowship invigorating. We then traveled four hours to Makurdy where we found a hotel and had some supper — chicken and noodles out on the patio. I thought that this “simple day” would be a breeze. Now that evening has come, I’ve been reminded of how much a seven-hour time change can mess with your body clock. I’m very ready for rest.

Monday will be a big day of travel. Eight hours of twisting, slowing, speeding up, honking horns, avoiding potholes and good old cruising will provide another opportunity for us to chalk up some good memories on our African Adventure. If all goes well, tomorrow evening we will find our beds in the new Guest House that Edinbrook has funded for GECHAAN. And we will be its very first inhabitants! Wow.

We saw so many things today as we traveled through the countryside. Roadside markets, Nigerians carrying huge loads on their heads, entire families on mopeds, and quaint villages of little thatched huts. We had some wonderful pics and videos to share,  but our Gembu internet service would not cooperate. Sorry… maybe later.

I am reminded of the great task we have been given to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus most literally meant “all ethnic groups” when He delivered this command. Beyond all of the strange customs, activities, foods, lifestyles and hard-to-understand accents, the Nigerians are amazing people. They have treated us with a winsome kindness, favor, and respect. Here’s another thing I know about the Nigerians—Jesus loves them, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.

We love them too!

Thanks for your prayers. It’s just about time to get to work.

Day Three – Sunday

It’s Sunday! We just had our first real sleep since leaving home on Friday evening. Oh—it feels so good! After getting settled in to our hotel in Abuja, we all gathered with Dorothy Helwig and our two drivers, Pete and Charles, and spent a little time chatting, planning, and praying. It was good.

Here’s the plan for today: We will have a time of worship together at the hotel (that’s the advantage of having a pastor along) right after some peanut butter breakfast sandwiches. Then we’re off to Macurdi (only four hours away) where we will settle in for the evening. Monday is our big driving day…twelve hours to Gembu.


Consider a few thoughts about Adventure…

Jesus began His earthly ministry by giving a simple invitation to a few people, “Follow me.” Those that accepted the invitation had no idea the adventures they would experience. They would witness miracle after miracle, a love for people that blew their minds, lepers healed, the lame walked, and the dumb spoke. The seas were stilled from storms and crowds of thousands were fed with a few small parcels of food. What amazing adventures followed that simple invitation to “follow me.”

Adventures await all of us on the other side of Jesus invitation to follow, wherever and however that may be. As Gary Haugen writes in his book, Just Courage, “If I want to stay safe and warm at the visitor’s center, I don’t get to be with him on the adventure up the mountain. But he says his power is made perfect in my weakness, not in my strength.” The challenge, of course, is to be bold, accept the challenge, get out of our comfort zones and live on the ragged edge of adventure. God is there.

Well Lord, here we go!

Day Two — Travel

First—the facts. We made it to Amsterdam on time. Five of us were a little jealous because Jim and Barbara were bumped up to first class for the eight-hour flight, mostly due to Jim’s kindness. He was given a first-class seat and then gave it to Barbara. The flight attendants were so impressed, they gave Jim another one!

 We are currently (10AM Central Time) on our way to Abuja, Nigeria (a six-hour flight) and are just beginning to fly over the Great Sahara Desert. Very cool.

 Now a few reflections.

 Rest is not over-rated. We wanted to sleep on the first leg of our trip. Most of us got very little. I feel like I’ve been drugged, Susan looks like she’s been drugged (and she’s still cute!), and all of us are functioning in something of a stupor. So many things have kept us from getting our rest—cramped conditions, sitting upright, excitement, eating at 10PM…so many things. And so we are like zombies in our seats.

 Spiritual rest is not over-rated either. So many things can distract us from getting the rest we need – busyness, a sense of responsibility, our adrenaline addiction, our false sense of self-sufficiency, driven to perform rather than live in grace, and so much more. We can be doers without being be’ers.

Hebrews 4:11 states, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.” The rest, as stated in Hebrews, refers to two things primarily: the final rest we will have in glory and living in the center of God’s will. It’s a heart thing not just a “do” thing. With this condition comes a peace, a restorative strength, and an intense vibrancy to the Lord’s participation in our lives. We must be “diligent to enter that rest”, however.

The flip side? We live in a stupor. Listen to this from Romans 8:11, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that would not see and ears that cannot hear, Down to this very day.”

Who wants that? I know that seven of us on the Gembu Team want rest more than ever. And “yes”, we want to be in the very center of God’s will.


Day 1 — Departure

back row: Larry & Lynne Peterson, Susan & Ivan Veldhuizen; front row: Judy Elftmann, Barbara Kosiah, Jim McKinney
back row: Larry & Lynne Peterson, Susan & Ivan Veldhuizen; front row: Judy Elftmann, Barbara Kosiak, Jim McKinney

Our team of seven! In scripture, seven is the number of perfection. Sounds good to me!

Here’s the plan for our trip:

  • We will work on the housing project our church funded and put the finishing touches on that.
  • The women of the group will be working with widows to teach them skills they can use to make a living. They will also be a tremendous encouragement to them.
  • We will be helping to prepare and celebrate the dedication of the housing complex on December 1, World AIDS Awareness Day.
  • We will be helping to distribute 280,000 thousand meals that Impact Lives (and the WNBA helped provide (if it arrives on time — please pray for this)
  • We want to seek the Lord about what “big thing” Edinbrook may be able to help with next.

Initial Agenda:

  • Leave the Twin Cities at 7PM and fly to Amsterdam.
  • From Amsterdam tomorrow we fly to Abuja, Nigeria (the capital)
  • We drive part of the way to Gembu on Saturday (it’s a 15-18 hour drive)
  • We arrive in Gembu some time on Sunday.
  • Then–it’s off to work we go, laying a little Jesus-style love on some hard working missionaries and some very precious Nigerians.

Thanks for tracking with us and praying for us!

AIDS Ministry in Nigeria

Nigeria–here we come!

Beginning tomorrow, a team of seven from Edinbrook Church are heading to Nigeria to help in GECHAAN’s HIV/AIDS ministry. As the Word states, “True and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27.

I’ll do my best to blog every day…as long as the internet holds out.

Thanks for your support and prayers!


I’m a pretty simple minded person. Maybe it comes from carrying corn cobs to the kitchen stove when I was five, or milking cows most of my childhood, or spending hours in the fields throwing hay bails around. Whatever the case, I don’t think the gospel or the Christian life was meant to be so complicated. That’s why I’m always stirred when I read Jesus’ conversations on following after God — like a man plowing in the field that should not look back, or like seed planted on various kinds of soil. This is really easy stuff to understand.

We tend to make things more complicated than they should be. And we’re often eager to “discuss” issues that are meaningless.

So when Paul tells Timothy to keep people from wasting “their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God,” (1 Timothy 1:4) he’s primarily reminding us that a lot of things that sound spiritual are a big waste of time.

We need FOCUS. We need to constantly focus on the things that really matter.

Now–here are some great words from Spurgeon

Our days are few, and are far better spent in doing good, than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance. The old schoolmen did a world of mischief by their incessant discussion of subjects of no practical importance; and our Churches suffer much from petty wars over abstruse points and unimportant questions.

There are, however, some questions which are the reverse of foolish, which we must not avoid, but fairly and honestly meet, such as these:

  • Do I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
  • Am I renewed in the spirit of my mind?
  • Am I walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit?
  • Am I growing in grace?
  • Does my conversation adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour?
  • Am I looking for the coming of the Lord, and watching as a servant should do who expects his master?
  • What more can I do for Jesus?

Now that’s a great list to help us find some focus!

Music Matters

Singing is magical. We do it to express ourselves, to honor God, and to communally speak to God. We have good singers and bad singers…and some in-between, but God doesn’t care. “Make a joyful noise,” He proclaims.

Singing also makes church life challenging since we all like different sorts.

  • Is some music more spiritual than others?
  • Is there a certain style that we should be singing more than others?
  • How do we “arrange” a worship experience so everyone is happy? Or is that even what it’s about?

I’ve been giving this some thought lately–again. Here’s what I’ve realized as I’ve dug below the surface of my soul — I’m not in pursuit of any certain style, nor am I stuck on something I like (I’ve actually come to like just about everything except screemo). I’ve decided I like new, fresh, current. You see, when I pray, I don’t want to use the same old prayers I’ve used before (I did that when I was a little child). I want to pray what’s on my heart, what I feel, some new expressions of faith, commitment, and thanks to God. I’m certain that this idea of fresh expressions to God greatly pleases Him, too. Scripture clarifies that our ultimate worship before Him some day will involve singing “a new song unto the Lord.”

The important thing is that we keep on singing with fresh fervor for the Lord, to exalt His name, to honor who He is, and to express authentically what we feel about God and His presence among us.

Take in a few thoughts from one of my favorite bloggers, Mark Batterson (get linked up in the side column). “All of creation is singing a unique song to the Creator. And you are part of that universal chorus. No one can worship God FOR you or LIKE you. God has given you a unique voiceprint. There are millions of people praying and worshiping God in every language all the time. But your voiceprint is unique. Like a parent who knows His child’s unique cry or scream or laugh, God knows your voice. He hears your voice. The Heavenly Father loves your voice.”