In February, seven international volunteers from around the world came to serve with Hands at Work for a year. After six weeks of orientation, each individual was placed with a local office team. They stayed in Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe for four weeks to learn, observe, encourage and walk with the local office team as they serve the most vulnerable. During this placement, the volunteers were out visiting communities, helping wherever was needed and observing the work of the local office teams. It was a time to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to live out the biblical mandate God has given in James 1:27, ‘to care for the orphans and widows in their distress.’
Two of these volunteers from the February 2017 intake share their personal reflections on the way these couple of months have impacted, changed, challenged and encouraged them.
After finishing orientation, Jimmy Kerr (International Volunteer, Australia) stayed in South Africa and was placed with the Oshoek local office where he spent time in South Africa and Swaziland. He shares:
“This was my first time with Hands at Work in Africa, so orientation was a whirlwind of information, emotions and experiences. It was fantastic! I loved gaining a deeper insight into Hands at Work alongside the 2017 intake. As I visited the different communities and Care Points, I wanted to feel compassion for the children and the Care Workers, but my heart was hard and cold. As I went on through orientation, I asked God to soften my heart and shape me to feel compassion like Jesus. A particular time when I felt God soften my heart was when I stayed with a family in Swaziland for three nights. It was a humbling experience to see the normal and mundane tasks that each day holds for them. I spent a significant amount of time with one of the boys as I listened to his story, helped wash his clothes, learned how to cook and walked with him to school. I have much respect for him; he is an incredibly resilient young boy. The time I had with this family helped me realise how small I am, and how dependent I am on God. Since staying with them, I have visited three times, and each time there is a growing bond and trust in our friendship.
In April, I had the privilege of attending a Pastor’s Mobilisation in Swaziland with George Snyman (co-founder of Hands at Work). This was a highlight of my time so far in Africa. During that time, the things I heard and what God showed me was absolute gold! I listened to George speak with incredible passion about how God calls Christians to a radical life of service and sacrifice. I was witnessing a humble man expressing God’s love for humanity. As I read Proverbs, my eyes were being opened to more of God’s character. I had read Proverbs before, but that morning God made me understand it. I was so excited I didn’t want to stop reading. I realised that it wasn’t until I honestly stepped back from directing my life and let the Holy Spirit guide me, that I felt closest to God. It has been a huge encouragement and learning curve while living at Hands. I am excited to continue on in this journey.”
Kara McLaughlin (International Volunteer, Australia) spent the four weeks of her placement in Malawi with the Dedza local office team. Her reflection is a journal entry she wrote from April 22nd. She shares:
“The Bible is so vivid in Malawi. You can imagine the dusty roads similar to the ones Jesus walked along. My feet continually befriend the dust, providing a humbling picture of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
I have noticed the weariness involved in simply existing here. There is an extensive amount of energy involved in doing the laundry, preparing fire for cooking and the harvesting of crops. This is connected to a vulnerability created by the weather that affects the safety and livelihood of the people. There are challenges and many hours involved in walking from community to community. I see the desperation and loneliness of those with a disability. I see them with their thinning clothes and unbathed bodies. I can see the precarious relationship there is with health because their bodies are as worn as their clothes.
I have also experienced the richness of their hospitality and the vast web of relatives within a community. I have experienced the excitement of sharing a meal together and hearing the sounds of their passionate celebrations. Jesus’ parables and stories echo throughout the country. In some ways, this has provided a precious insight but this also unveils a disturbing reality that has begun to unsettle me deeply.
I come from a ‘developed’ country where we have machines and infrastructure to do most of our physical tasks. We have government services. We have vast modes of transportation and communication options. Most people over the age of seventeen own a car or have access to a vehicle and most likely have their own bedroom. Children easily navigate a mobile phone at a young age. Unemployment levels are often talked about and competing parties will boast over their ability to minimise the percentage. People go on vacations because of extra resources and policies that specify annual leave. Supermarkets are stocked with a convenient array of food for our easy access while Work Health and Safety standards protect the workers who source, package, stock and sell the food. Thieves are thrown into prison for stealing. There are opportunities for young people who graduate with a High School certificate. Business entrepreneurs are in abundance and are often gifted with government incentives.
The contrast is becoming glaringly obvious. My country is streaming forward into the future. As a teacher, I was encouraged to cultivate creative, curious and critical thinking skills to equip students with the necessary abilities to develop unimagined inventions and technology for the evolution of mankind. Meanwhile, I have been living in Malawi, a country that has not been advantaged by these developments.
At Hands our challenge is personal because we have a loving God who made the rescue of His creation personal. So, I have been struggling with the inequitable reality of our world as I watch my brothers and sisters serve and care for the most vulnerable from their position while I am positioned so differently.
James 2:14-17 keeps rattling around in my mind. ‘What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Nevertheless, the reality is that if I am not careful and wise, my desire to bridge this gap can negatively impact their lives and the community, despite my greatest intentions. So how do I make it personal? I refuse to delve in arrogantly assuming I can fix their ‘problems’. This would assume that their greatest needs are material needs. What about their great need for hope and relationship? Conversely, I refuse to be overwhelmed by the mess and say it is too hard to do anything so I will do nothing. Thus starts a life changing and significant journey.”
If you would like to know more about volunteering opportunities with Hands at Work, please visit our website at handsatwork.org/come.