Kristal Hoff is an advocate and volunteer in Canada with Hands at Work in Africa. She and her husband, Will, recently took a team of ten individuals from around the world to visit vulnerable villages in South Africa, Zambia and Malawi. Kristal reflects on her experience with the Serve and Learn Team in their final weeks.
After 2 months of traveling around as a family of 10 we have come to the end! We are surprised and truly thankful that we all came back in one piece and are still loving each other. What an amazing journey!
We wrote last about our time in South Africa. Since then we have traveled through Zambia, starting with a few relaxing days in Livingstone and staying the remainder of our time at Kachele Farm, home of the Zambian Regional Support Team. We visited communities called Mulenga, Mwaiseni, and Maranatha. From there we bussed to Malawi. We stayed at the local Hands at Work office in Dedza, Malawi and visited communities called Mngwere, Mcheneka, Maonde and Chinku, with even a trip to Lake Malawi. We really had the sense of going deeper and deeper into Africa.
While in Zambia we had the opportunity to spend time with and be challenged by amazing leaders that are truly anointed by God. James (one of Hands at Work’s regional coordinators in Zambia) shared with us the Christ he knows. He started by asking us if we were Christians. We all said, “yes”, but he continued, “Are you sure?” Lisa looked at me, with tear-filled eyes, and said, “I feel like I'm with Jesus.” Erick, Hands at Work’s coordinator for the work in Democratic Republic of Congo shared his heart for the vulnerable in his country and especially for Goma, a war-torn area that is so hostile. We were moved to commit an entire day to fasting and praying for breakthrough.
Mulenga was a community many of us fell in love with. We were deeply impacted by the dedication of the care workers in building relationships with their children. One man in particular, Reuben, challenged many of us in the way we serve. I visited a home of a young girl named Joy. She is 5 years old but could easily be mistaken for 2. Her hair is reddish and quite thin. Her mother abandoned her a few years ago and the woman who was currently looking after her also ran out on her. She was left with a 17-year-old girl and 4 other children under the age of 7. This was the first time in all of my time in Africa that I felt deeply that I needed to take her home. I wept the entire visit. We then walked to the care point where Joy was to get her meal. She sat on my lap as she spooned the rice into her mouth. All of a sudden I heard her scream, “Pastor!” I looked up and saw Reuben running toward her, arms in the air with excitement. He gave her a big high-five and I could feel everything in her lighten. This for me was a real glimpse into the Kingdom of God. Reuben later told me that people in the community were calling Joy strange names, like Chameleon. He changed her name and said for the rest of her life she will find joy in the Lord. And she will, because not only does Reuben and many others unconditionally love her, but she knows she is loved. That's the most beautiful part.
This was our entire 2 months—seeing and experiencing true glimpses into the Kingdom of God. Men and women of God that have been raised up, anointed, and are serving their Lord completely selflessly by loving those that no one else does. There were many care workers like Reuben. It really challenged us and put the way that we selectively serve to shame.
While in Malawi, we had the privilege of staying 3 nights in the community of Mngwere with care workers. This allowed us to get real insight into their lives: how they live, who they live with, their daily challenges. We discovered how vulnerable even they are! They struggle daily for food, they grieve the loss of their own children and spouse, feel pressured by some of the easy, but negative, ways to earn money, and many other unique challenges.
Traveling from country to country, through borders, on busses was miraculously easy and smooth, but still had its challenges. Entering a new country means a new language, a new currency, new songs and names, new culture and customs. We were always thinking, always converting, always fully aware of our surroundings and our actions.
We were really surprised as to how fast our team caught the heart of Hands and how keen they were in every situation to serve the Hands family and care workers. What we were mostly surprised and impressed with was also the responsibility they took in doing these things. They didn't travel around with the intention of having great experiences and writing down great stories, but rather to give themselves completely in everything they did, and most especially in encouragement. It was amazing to see someone sitting down with a care worker or a Hands bookkeeper, sharing scripture and encouragement and praying together.
Our hope in this unique trip was not for people necessarily to fall in love with Africa or understand poverty better or think that Hands is the best organization working in Africa, but for people to fall deeper and deeper in love with Jesus and live that out fully. To be removed from the pressures of their culture and lives to really experience the heart of God lived out by some of the most unexpected people, diamonds in the dust. And these 8 individuals did. They won't be the same, I can attest to it. I've seen them wrestle and struggle and question and look deep into their own hearts and lives as they sat in the homes of vulnerable and broken children, while they walked alongside beautiful, dusty feet, and while they listened to stories of grannies praying to live longer to care for their grandchildren.
The Serve and Learn Team is a unique opportunity. It is a short time commitment, but individuals get deep into Hands at Work: into our heart and family and deep into our communities across Africa. It's about learning in action, learning as you're serving, and recognizing that some of God's most anointed and chosen people sit in shacks on nameless streets.