What a way to arrive. Leaving the blue skies of Zambia behind us, our volunteer coordinator Dan and I stepped across the Congo border to the clapping of thunder and the sky black with rainclouds, like the weather itself was subject to border control. Having met the Hands DRC coordinator, Erick, we began the 4-hour journey through the rain and fog to the bustling city of Likasi. It was pretty precarious; at one point, we almost turned back after the car had a minor tantrum for being forced through an unexpectedly deep ‘puddle’. But we made it, largely in one piece, to Erick’s home. Our first week in DRC, we sought simply to immerse ourselves in the communities – to visit the homes of patients and orphans, to meet and encourage care workers, to join in anything and everything that God was up to around us.
Dan and I both had the honour of staying in the homes of two separate families; one in the urban community of Toyota on the outskirts of the city, and the other a rural village set deep in the Congo bush. They call it the ‘Lost Community’, because you can’t get there without getting lost somewhere along the way. It was there that I stayed with Vivian and her family. Vivian has suffered from leprosy for a long time, making her too weak to care adequately for her three children. Her two youngest children stand head and shoulders apart - one tall and healthy where the other appears stunted and thin. At a guess, I would say they were 12 and 7; it was only as I left that I discovered they were identical twins. They were so deeply embedded in poverty that they had not been able to be fed equally from the very day they were born, and for reasons I couldn’t imagine one had always received more than the other. I slept on the floor alongside the children, a chicken nestling at my feet, in a room so small that were I not there it would still have been cramped with just the 3 of them. For too long these children have lived robbed of the freedom to dream, to aspire, to look toward their future – they were far too busy simply dreaming of their next meal. Nothing so steals away dignity as when the rumblings of a hungry stomach drown out every other dream and desire. Yet hope is stirring.
Squeezed into their one-room hut, I lay squashed against a huge bag of mealy meal – their staple diet – donated from the hands of local care-workers who are, themselves, crippled by the poverty that stalks the village. With that gift, the children will not go hungry again for a long time. As the weeks went on in the DRC, I saw more and more glimmers of life breaking through the cracks. Groups of widows pooling together everything they had so that none of their children would go hungry; volunteers walking 12km to teach a class in the morning then 12km back to teach another class in the afternoon; men whom orphaned children ran to because they saw in them a father who cares.
Life is breaking through. As for me, I think I’m beginning to see what beats at the heart of Hands at Work in a way I haven’t seen before. Working in the office, walking in the community, supporting and serving in any way that I can or know how, all of it submerses you deeper into the DNA of what this family, and our purpose, is all about. It’s all about life. It’s about beautiful feet, about reclaiming the life and love for which every one of God’s kids was designed. Not one is forgotten, not one abandoned. There is not one whose fingerprint God didn’t labour over, whose hairs God didn’t count, whose future God doesn’t imagine, envision or dream about. Six weeks of orientation prepares you, teaches you, and challenges you. But it is when you step into what you were called to Africa for, whatever it might be, that you hear the heartbeat of the Father. All you have to do is throw yourself into it – strive every day to serve with fresh passion, learn from all those who have gone before you, run after what God has prepared. Don’t look to what you’ll do but to who you’ll become. Africa changes anyone who comes willing – it is for that that God called us here. And if we make a difference, if we leave a fingerprint on this amazing place, well then the privilege is ours! Of one thing I’m sure: God loves Africa.
Adam Bedford is originally from the UK and has been serving as a volunteer with Hands at Work in Africa for three months. While this concludes his journals about volunteer orientation for our newsroom, you can still follow Adam, his thoughts, and his heart for Africa on his personal blog.