Many Christians have a life changing experience only to fall back into the normal rut of life after it happens. Of course it will always stay a special time and all their friends and family will testify that it had a big impact in their lives, but the person to whom it happened will refer to it in the past sense. The truth is it did make a big impact in that person’s life, but the sad part is the effects are not permanent.
During my visit to Canada in May, I confronted this in mass when visiting many former volunteers of Hands. Canada is just an amazing country in many ways. It seems that the harsh weather produces people with perseverance and people who can go the biblical extra mile once they see a need. They come to Africa from Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Saskatoon. And they serve in excellence! It seems that the tougher the challenge, the bigger the adventure for them. Hands at Work is eternally grateful to Canada for that great spirit.
They do, however, face a challenge when they return home. Of course it makes sense to have a bit of reverse culture shock after you spend nine months to a year in Africa, but I speak here of something deeper. We do not claim to have gotten to the bottom of it, but I do believe we made some good progress as I visited these volunteers all over Canada after they returned home. It could be best explained by illustration. I met Darryl from Vancouver late one afternoon on a rainy day. I sat in a coffee shop waiting for Darryl, remembering his time in Africa. Darryl is a fine young man and I believe he has a huge future. We watched Darryl change in Africa day by day, step by step. The impact he had in the community where he volunteered is hard to describe. He was much more than the teacher in an after school program, he was someone the youth imitated. He loved Africa and his growth in his relationship with God was visible. He would often say to me, “George this is just amazing. I understand the gospel and God’s love for me so much better now.” Weeks before Darryl had to leave I could see the struggle he went through. “I just don’t know what is waiting for me," he would say. And Darryl did go through a tough time, like all the volunteers, when he returned home. I do believe it is more than reverse culture shock. I believe it is the battle of how to contextualize the gospel message of servanthood into Canadian culture. When Darryl saw me he gave me a huge hug and his eyes filled with tears. It was not because he saw me, George, but because when he saw me it took him right back to a place where he was so close to God. Not for one moment do I suggest this message is an African message and not a Canadian message, but rather it is a message a community we in Africa, at Hands at Work, consisting of many nationalities, aspire to live out. It is a message of “firstly, we are a community caring and loving each other, and, secondly, we spend all our energy and passion to bless others outside the community.”
The real question for us is, can the volunteers continue to live in this spirit after they return home? If the answer is yes then we need to unpack this and see what it might look like. And that was the challenge I left with these volunteers in Canada. Let’s unpack what we experienced in Africa, or wherever we grew closest to God, and let’s strive to live it out wherever we are. It is a message for all of us wherever we live!