In October, 2008 Mark Zweigenthal, a youth pastor and a friend of Hands at Work living in Johannesburg, spent a week in Lagos, Nigeria visiting the Hands at Work team and its local partners working in the slums of the city of 18 million people. Here is a record of his experience.
Leaving my home in Johannesburg, South Africa I was completely unaware of the adventure that awaited me in Lagos. Having been previously to Uganda, Zambia, as well as on many mission trips within South Africa I thought I had a good idea of what I was in for-until I stepped off the plane in Lagos and was confronted with a crisis of new proportions. I can honestly say that this week in Lagos wrecked my life (in the best way possible).
It’s fair to say that we live in a world of complete contrast, a contrast between the rich and the poor, oppressed and free, and a world where injustice wreaks havoc and materialism reigns. In my trip to Lagos I got to see how the other half live, love, and deal with this ever increasing poverty gap. A hugely humbling and eye-opening experience, one which I will never forget.
I do not believe that one can actually understand the crisis in Africa until one has touched it and shared the pain and challenges of the people who deal with it everyday. During this week I got the opportunity to experience this situation in a very unique and challenging way. I took part in many different aspects of the Hands at Work project in Lagos. All of which affected my life hugely.
I was involved in giving out sandwiches to the thousands of kids facing life on the lagoon of the ever increasing water community of Ilage. I got to share the pain of, and minister into, the lives of the commercial sex workers as they fight against their oppression. I held baby Funso (who’s mother died giving birth) in my arms and looked into the eyes of one of the many children facing an uncertain future. Visited and encouraged many eager school children to fight for a good education, but also hold the hands of thousands of kids who are yet to have that opportunity. I got to lay hands on and feel the pain of the many sick and suffering people who battle life-threatening illnesses everyday. Then I was received as a guest of honour in the home of a 70 year old ‘gogo’ as she single handedly takes care of 10 orphans in her home. A truly humbling encounter!
Then I got to meet and spend a week with Rex and Patricia (the leadership behind the various projects) as they lead this incredible volunteer force up in Lagos. Though this team faces many apparent challenges everyday, see people crippled by injustice and oppression everywhere they go, their optimism and passion blew me away.
There were many moments when the experience completely overwhelmed me, and my heart cried out for the people of Lagos-but I still left with a silent hope. I still left with a confident belief that God will bring justice, restoration, and wholeness to the many communities and people in Lagos. My life hasn’t been the same since, as I am challenged to share my story with whoever will listen and then play my part in being part of God’s solution in Lagos, and Africa. Having come back from Nigeria the words from a song called ‘Albertine’ by Brooke Fraser echoes in my head, “Now that I have seen, I am responsible...”
I can only encourage more people to take this massive step out of their comfort zone, if you dare to care!