Carolyn and I had supper with one of the orphans from Masoyi last week. She is busy studying in university at the moment. I asked her about the youth in the communities. She told me, “More girls are getting pregnant than ever before.” Although I heard it from other people I found myself gobsmacked when I heard it from her.
At the start of the year, I said I believe that the miracles this year will be done by ordinary people like each one of us. God wants to do great things through each one of us. Here are four stories that not only encouraged me but humbled me so much.
Dear Hands family!
It is just after six in the morning and I cannot sleep anymore as I am so filled with God’s Word for us for 2010. For the first time in many years I not only received one verse as a watchword but two :}
What is more joyful and exciting than to return home to your loved ones after a long journey? I recently experienced this joy once again after being away from my family for more than a month. Jesus also understood this fully and used it in the parable of the prodigal son. This is a God-given gift to us – to have people we love and belong to. It is the cornerstone of community and called ‘family’. This becomes even more focused during the Christmas season when family members will travel thousands of kilometers to be together.
Jimmy is a friend of mine. We have been friends for most of his life. I met him as a young boy who lost his family. He became an orphan at a young age. Today at the age of sixteen he lives alone in a small house close to me
As the global recession continues on as part of our day-to-day living, we see that companies have grown more interested in using charity connections to promote their businesses. And it works!
Consumers want to do good while still consuming and living well. McDonalds, Avon and Reebok use social causes to encourage consumer purchasing. More companies are doing it all the time. According to some recent report about three-quarters of Americans are willing to switch to another brand or store associated with a good cause if the price and quality are comparable. Of course we also recently saw very wealthy individuals like Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Bono make bold stands by giving away most of their wealth for certain causes mainly on the eradication of poverty.
Dear friends of Hands at Work communities worldwide,
As we continue to grow in reaching more vulnerable children and their caregivers like the volunteers and grannies, we face many challenges that we trust God for. Those of you who had the opportunity to walk with us in Africa will understand what I am talking about. Many of us just returned from countries like the DRC (Congo), Nigeria, Malawi and Mozambique. Although it is encouraging to see what is happening we also realize that unless God is going to do miracles it would be merely impossible to reach all the most vulnerable children we hope to.
“A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of" (John 10:10)
This is such a well known and quoted verse today. I’ve heard it quoted hundreds of times by Christians all over the world. I have been thinking about this verse for some time now, though not in a way I have often heard it spoken about before. Try and imagine the following situation: two siblings, a girl called Nonsipho, ten years old, and her brother Lucky, four years old, lost both their parents and are living in what we call a child-headed household in a very poor community. There are no adults in their house. As one school principle described them to me recently, “They are dirty, hungry and confused. Confused and disorientated not knowing what the next step should be.” Now let’s imagine these kids go to church one Sunday. A visitor is preaching the service and uses the verse John 10:10, “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
I just returned [to South Africa] from Zambia and the DRC. It was a trip of mixed experiences. The joy and pain together as I held children with no hope. In Mulenga, I met a girl of four that was raped just before I got here. She held unto me for dear life. The same day I met volunteers indescribably committed and compassionate (see James' story here). The exciting part is God is busy raising couples all over Africa with the Hands at Work vision burning in their hearts. Some of these couples (please pray for them) are James and Sukai from Mulenga; Samuel and Juliet form Chipata; Levi and Pragcidens. Without these leaders we cannot go forward. These couples could "make it" wherever they live but chose to spend themselves to reach those without hope.
Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation raped into the ground. I met Church leaders in slums waiting for me on a Saturday afternoon ... The expectations in their eyes kept me awake. ... I bring hope to these Churches ... [by saying] to them I have friends who are together with me.
We are knitted together in our hearts. And I know I speak the truth. As Catherine Booth once said, “You are not here in the world for yourself. You have been sent here for others. The world is waiting for you!”
Recently speaking to a team of nurses visiting us from the US, I said, “Open your hearts, and allow the pain here to touch you”. Jesus said it like this: “Weep with those who weep.” Afterward, someone commented that as nurses they are trained not to become too close to patients. They are trained not to get too emotionally involved with the people they care for. My advice to them on their arrival in Africa was exactly the opposite – allow the pain to touch you!
In a way, each of us in Western culture has been trained to do the same. We are trained to be problem solvers. When we face a situation, we analyse it and find a solution. This is good, and tremendous advancements and progress come from this way of thinking. But there is a negative side to our automatic problem-solving. It keeps difficult situations from getting too close to our hearts. It becomes a mechanism to keep everything at arm’s length.
Recently I found myself in a village in Zimbabwe desperately trying to solve some challenges faced by families there.
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.
Sitting with a candle trying to type at night is nothing new in Zimbabwe. The power is on and off and completely unpredictable. Tonight the only difference is I am alone in a house… alone with the thoughts of the people I met in the last two days. On Sunday I went to church with Stuart, a church leader in Sakubwa, one of the poorest areas in Mutare, and the coordinator of the ministry to care for Sakubwa’s vulnerable children.
The first time I went to Sakubwa last year I met Agnus, a grandmother with fifteen grandchildren. They all lived together in one room measuring about 3 meters by 5 meters. The youngest grandchild, Valecia, left a permanent mark in my life. I called her the girl with a yellow hat because she wore all the clothes she had, including her yellow hat, to ensure nobody stole her only possessions. Her grandmother told me that if Valecia had one meal a day, then she had a good day.
The day I met her she smiled from the moment we met until I left. Now on Sunday at Stuart’s church, as I walked into the room I saw both Agnus and Valencia again. Agnus was now nearly completely blind and Valecia had stopped smiling.
"Help me to embrace a little child before it' is too late... enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout." This is a sentence from the Fireman's Prayer. First Lieutenant Roland Gardiner, from Whittlesea CFA (Country Fire Authority), gave this prayer to me after we visited the devastated area in Victoria, Australia. A fire swept through the outskirts of Melbourne and turned a normal Saturday into “Black Saturday”. In one village nearly 40% of the population died in the fire.
After Roland and I returned from our journey in the burned district he took me to the CFA offices. CFA is an organization started in the 1920’s to serve people on a voluntary basis. “Nobody ever received a cent for doing this work”, Roland said. Together we stared at all the names on the wall reminding us of the men who served for years. “These men”, he said, “serve because they care and they want to help those in trouble.”
In the last two days Oswald Chambers spoke about the same thing in “My utmost for His Highest”. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Matt. 20:28. Paul called it “ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Cor. 4:5. The idea was to pour out your life to the last drop for others. Receiving praise or blame made no difference.
On the day of the fire Roland had many responsibilities including defending his own property. He had one fire truck to defend many houses in his own neighbourhood. He sent the truck to defend the neighbours’ property while he and his son fought the fire at his own house. The decision to send the truck to his neighbours was not made that day in the heat of the fire but years before. Years before the fire Roland decided that serving other was important in his life... more important than many things he wanted for himself. You don’t make a decision like Roland did that day if it is not in your heart already.
I like to believe the Hands family is in many ways the same as the CFA family. We are volunteers; we care about people; we are passionate about the most vulnerable and we fight a fire. I also believe we have a comradeship binding us together. Even though we are from different cultures, backgrounds, race and age we constantly remind ourselves “WE ARE TOGETHER!”
Just several weeks into the new year and I already find myself looking at the rest of the year and asking many questions: “What will keep us focused this year? What will supersede all the challenges and distractions that will come our way? How will I know that we know we are doing the right thing when many people will suggest we should do it differently or, even worse, when that voice comes in tough times and taunts ‘Are you sure?’ ”
In Habakkuk 2 verse 2 we read, “Then the Lord answered me and said, ‘Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.’” Although I absolutely believe this should be taken literally, I also believe we should be able to write the vision on the tablets of our hearts. That is the only place that can answer the voice begging, “Are you sure?” In early January I spent some time with James Tembo from Zambia. James, his wife and a handful of volunteers are working in a slum area called Mulenga where they care for the dying and orphans. Something so amazing happened while I was there that I believe it added a chapter to the tablets of my heart.
Tonight, as I watched the news in Sydney, the real devastation of the bushfires was vividly displayed in video material from survivors. For more than a week now we as a team tried to understand God’s timing why I should be here in Australia in a time like this. The majority of my time would be exactly in the middle of where the fires raged in Victoria only a few days ago. Initially the reason for my coming was to stir up the hearts of the Churches to help in caring for the widows and orphans in Africa...those dying. My message as always, "The house is on fire!" Not fully understanding but with a peace that I should be here, I board the plane yesterday.
Perhaps Steven a friend of Hands gave me a glimpse of God’s plans as he fetched me from the airport. He blocked out his whole diary for the next few days to take care of me. In a by the way manner he said, “Robyn told me that Hands staff treat each other as family and I like that! I like the thought of being part of a family.” That made me think... Yes this is a “bad” time to visit, but not if you come to visit family who are in pain. Yearly our family form Australia is visiting us to comfort us in the pain and struggles we face. I want to ask all the Hands family and friends all over the world to pray for Australia and in particular for Pastor Shane Lepp the Hands chair person who lost some people from his Church. Our message to them would be “we are together”.
Tonight as I watched the skies in Zambia roaring with thunder and lightning I could not help but to notice the evening star shining unperturbed as if nothing was happening right next to it. What a picture of God's faithfulness! Faithfulness was a word I thought a lot about in the last few days. Two days ago I sat with Andrew and Patricia in a village called Mpatamatu. It was a wonderful time together as we haven't seen each other for more than a year. The first time I met Andrew he was cycling for twenty km into the bushes (with his wife on the back!) to reach the refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they stayed in the mountains of Zambia called Mpata Hills. He came a long way since then and today Andrew and Patricia have more than two hundred volunteers caring for the dying and their children. It has not been an easy road, in fact the last two years was really tough.When I entered their office I still found everything the same as all the years before. In the one room they were busy training young orphaned girls how to cook; in another room I found Patricia busy with mundane tasks like packing medicines in small packets for the nurses. Andrew is still as excited about caring as he was when I met him. As we sat in his office he told me of a young orphan boy he met that morning, and I could see the pain in his eyes as he shared the story ... the same pain I saw years before. Andrew and Patricia could have done a lot for themselves in this life, but they chose to be faithful. As I left them my thoughts went far back to where we started together in 1999, and while driving on the bumpy road I cried, “Lord help me also to stay faithful.” What a wonderful testimony in a world where it is ok to change at any time and to justify that it was just a better option.
Still drowsy from jet lag I went into the village after I heard one of our Masoyi Home Based Care volunteers had passed away. Entering the house of this woman’s mother—a grandmother now adding two orphans to her care—I was immediately confronted by the wailing of a grieving mother. I had known this woman’s daughter very well and had walked Masoyi’s streets with her for years. The last time I had met her, a few weeks earlier, she said to me: “I am ready to die, George. But I’m so scared for my children’s future.”
That day as I watched her mother crying, I remembered her words so well. I wondered, What can I do? Where do I start? I stuttered over my words as I tried to encourage the mother.
The past two months have been a whirlwind—let me try to catch you up on where I’ve been.
The African (late March) and International (early April) Conferences came and went, and for many of us involved who have been friends for years this happened way too fast! Even for some of our long-time African partners it was the first time to attend our conference, and many have since commented that the experience of seeing partners from across the continent gathered together was life changing and that a huge paradigm shift happened in their understanding of Hands and their strategy to reach the 100,000 orphaned and vulnerable children by 2010.