Let’s put a few faces to the 300-plus people who attended Idaho’s Christmas in Africa Gala last Sunday, and we’ll see The Luke Commission supporters emerge at their best.

One face in the crowd was Clara Hills, who crochets afghans as fast as her minutes and hours allow. Clara spends her days in a wheelchair, because she does not have enough lung capacity to walk and to take breaths at the same time. She lives in one room in a small Sandpoint health care facility.

That room closes in somewhat when Clara’s one closet overflows with handmade blankets for babies and mothers in Eswatini. Friends transport the blankets to TLC shop and storage building in Sagle, and then Clara picks up her crocheting pace and packs her closet again.

“I thought my life was almost over a year ago. My doctor had prepared me,” she said. “But then God gave me a job to do – make blankets for The Luke Commission – and I’m still here.”

Clara braved zero-degree weather and wind that took her labored breath away to be present at Dec. 6 auction and dinner.

“I went to the first gala, and I was not going to miss the 2nd,” laughed Clara.

Filled to capacity was the Sandpoint Event Center, which used to be the town’s high school and then the junior high gymnasium. It has been remodeled to be a classy, banquet hall.

Other faces gracing that hall were Fred and Berta Bjurstrom who serve The Luke Commission, thereby helping Eswatini’s sick and poor, in a variety of ways.

One of the Bjurstroms elderly friends is 85-year-old Loyce DeVore who lives in an assisted living home in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. She sews quilts for Liswati babies.

“We have trouble making sure she had enough batting,” smiles Fred.

Loyce has made hundreds of quilts in the last two years. Each is different. Each is beautifully pieced together in bright cottons.

“I may have to slow down a bit, because the arthritis in my fingers is acting up,” she told the Bjurstroms. “We get up every morning and our refrigerators are full. I can do this for those who have nothing.”

But day in and day out Loyce sews for babies who are born into families with so little of this world’s wealth. In fact, the whole large retirement home takes part, as dozens of residents collect and buy material for Loyce.

“There’s an amazing network of people participating in this blanket project,” said Berta.

Standing out in the crowd with their red and green TLC t-shirts were 15 teenagers from two local church youth groups who waited tables seating 300.

“Many had never served before, but I saw God’s hand at work there as they pulled together and worked hard,” noted meal coordinator Andrea Johnson.

Unseen but not unappreciated were the DiLuna Restaurant staff. Owner/manager Karen Forsythe donated all the food, cooked African faire, and with her cook and two experienced servers kept the meals coming from the event center kitchen.

Harry and Echo spoke and showed a new DVD Harry produced about a typical all-day, almost-all-night mobile clinic in the bush. Zeb, Jacob, Luke, and Zion sang two songs that TLC translators sing in Africa, first in English and then they switched to SiSwati. Judging from the applause, the boys inspired young and old to consider those on the other side of our globe.

About $20,000 was raised through silent and live auction items, donations, and tickets. That kind of giving from a community that struggles financially even in good economic times touched the VanderWals.

“We’re not in Idaho for long periods of time anymore, so when we see this acceptance and support coming from our home communities, we are both humbled and encouraged,” Harry said.

Bob and Ruth Munts attended the gala, too. Bob has known Echo since she was a child. Ruth is 88 and in delicate health.

“They’re like our own kids,” Bob noted of Harry and Echo.

Three years ago the Munts traveled every week to the TLC office to pray for the VanderWals. Now prayers are sent heavenward from their home, but petitioning God on behalf of Harry and Echo and the boys still fits into their every day life.

Many other faces shone with generosity and exuberance at Idaho’s 2nd annual Christmas for Africa. To each one, we say thank you, and may Jesus be near you in 2010.

In closing, we think of Johann Sebastian Bach who dedicated each piece of music he wrote with these words: solo Deo Gloria – for God’s glory alone…

Janet Tuinstra for the VanderWals and Idaho auction workers

Atmosphere abounded at the recent Luke Commission Idaho gala!

One young gala-goer Janu Lee was engrossed in original Liswati photos taken by The Luke Commission team and now framed in African wood.

Grateful to God that the event center is filled to capacity for the 2nd annual Christmas for Africa Gala are Brett Johnson, Karey Lee, and Jennifer Johnson, who along with a handful of others had worked since July.
Boys Dressed in traditional Liswati outfits, the VanderWals boys sang songs both in “Liswati English” and SiSwati. It might have been cold in Idaho, but those in Eswatini insisted that young boys do not wear shirts. Burr… From left are Luke, Zebadiah, Jacob, and Zion – the show stoppers.

Auction checkout volunteers included Chantel Herrmann & Angie Wolfe.
Christmas for Africa Gala in the Sandpoint Event Center drew more than 330 TLC supporters on the coldest night of the year. Hearts and minds were warm, however, as guests learned about the latest in Eswatini.

Dawn and David Roberts are two of more than 330 who enjoyed a sitdown dinner plus activities to fill an evening, as supporters gathered to welcome the VanderWals home.
Echo VanderWal talks to guests at recent Idaho dinner & auction.