Written by Will Hoff
Our story began in Africa in 2009. We were both volunteering with Hands at Work; Kristal had already been in South Africa for 18 months and I had just arrived for a 9 month stint. Long story short, we were married less than 2 years later and settled back in Canada to continue working with the Hands at Work family there. During that time, the question “when are we going back?” haunted us (Kristal especially). We've continued to look for ways to be involved on the ground in Africa, while still living out our calling to reside in Canada.
Hands began dreaming about SALT (Serve and Learn Team) in late 2012. It would be a two month opportunity for passionate individuals from around the world to ‘serve and learn’ in villages across African countries where Hands are active. As we were involved in dreaming about what exactly SALT would include, we couldn't help but ask, “who is going to lead it?” and in true Kristal fashion, seconds later she volunteered us to be the leaders. We both felt excited about the idea of SALT but it seemed to stay just an idea for the two of us until we actually arrived in Africa just one month before the team was scheduled to land. It wasn't that we hadn't prepared anything before arriving in Africa, only that we hadn't realised the challenges involved in leading a group of individuals who had never met each other, were all from different backgrounds and had never travelled in Africa before. What I'm trying to express is that it was a blessing to have had a month of preparation before our team arrived!
The Serve and Learn Team is intended to give passionate individuals an opportunity to experience Hands at Work in four different countries within Africa. During the two months in Africa, SALT will be exposed to the vision and structure of Hands. This involves time in South Africa, experiencing life at the HUB, how a Service Centre (SC) operates (the local Hands at Work office in a community) and experiencing life in a Community Based Organisation (CBO). In 2013, the ‘SALT’ will spend time in South Africa, Zambia and Malawi, living with Care Workers and seeing how the Community Based Organisations there care for the ‘poorest of the poor’. Unfortunately, because of pending elections in Zimbabwe, SALT is unable to visit in 2013, so the schedule has been altered a little.
Having completed 3 weeks in South Africa, our team are currently in Zambia. We will conclude our time in South Africa, returning on the 6th of July to debrief the trip and begin the journey home.
Up until now, we have been busy learning from key leaders within Hands at Work while also spending time in several different communities, both near and far from the HUB. One of those communities included Oshoek. Oshoek is a very poor community on the border between South Africa and Swaziland. While being a very poor community, it also encompasses a very large area with long distances between homes and spans about 26 kilometres from end to end. We visited the CBO there and had the opportunity to meet the amazing women that walk hours to visit the orphaned and vulnerable children of the community. When Kristal asked one of these women why she gives of her time to care for the children in Oshoek, her response was, “when the children suffer, I suffer.”
We also had the privilege of spending a night in the homes of some of the children. This is the first community that SALT did an overnight stay in and although it was only one night, each of the team members were impacted by the children they met and stayed with.
Another opportunity that impacted the team was having the privilege of walking alongside the brave Care Workers in Welverdiend. These ladies are young but they have fought hard to find their place in the community and for the children they care for - at times, even fighting with their own families to continue their valuable work. They have genuine relationships with the children they care for, as is visibly seen at the Care Point daily. To watch the children and Care Workers play together every afternoon is a real glimpse into God’s Kingdom. We were honoured to be able to spend a morning praying with and encouraging these amazing ladies and ending our time with an epic dance party!
Prior to meeting our team, we anticipated through skype conversations and emails, a good group of people, but we could have never expected what arrived on the bus on the 18th of May. Five Canadians, 2 Australians and one German, yes: but a true family. It has been beautiful to see the group come together, to share honestly, to serve one another and genuinely enjoy each other's quirks and quarks. Each person has come to not just see and experience Africa, but with a deep desire to experience God's heart and to be transformed.
As we move deeper into Africa, we will continue in the spirit of serving the Hands family and learning from those who exemplify servanthood, truly, like Jesus.
We hope and pray that God will not allow us to remain the same.