The past two months have been a whirlwind—let me try to catch you up on where I’ve been.
The African (late March) and International (early April) Conferences came and went, and for many of us involved who have been friends for years this happened way too fast! Even for some of our long-time African partners it was the first time to attend our conference, and many have since commented that the experience of seeing partners from across the continent gathered together was life changing and that a huge paradigm shift happened in their understanding of Hands and their strategy to reach the 100,000 orphaned and vulnerable children by 2010.
A record number of partners from around the world attended our International Conference. Old partners brought new ones to meet us for the first time, and Churches are working together on strategies for training teams and coordinating finances. How wonderful it was to hear from first-time visitors to the conferences that the main thing standing out for them was an incredible feeling of family. I felt it, too. At times we flew high in unity, and other times we struggled till late at night; we found some wonderful answers and we are still very frustrated with other challenges. But on one point we all agree: Hands will always remain relational in our DNA and all partnership will flow out of that.
Two days after the International Conference I was up in the air again for a six-week tour in Canada, the USA and UK. It was a huge privilege for me to have Carolyn with me for the first half. Wherever we went we found the most amazing reception both in hospitality as well as openness to hear our hearts on Africa.
Again existing Church partners, like Wellspring and Calvary Tabernacle, as well as other partners, like VisionLedd, worked non-stop introducing us to new Churches, facilitating meetings, and giving input to our strategy. Of course in the USA (somewhere around Chicago) I hit a snowstorm and freezing weather, so at one point my flight was cancelled five times before I was diverted onto a bus where each of my toes completely froze! But otherwise my time there was both humbling and encouraging.
We have incredible Church friends all across the country. But it was also sad to see at times the terrible battle for the soul of the Church in America. Our prayer is that Hands might play some positive role bringing people together to focus on the essentials – Christ crucified! For a number of years the leadership of Hands resisted the idea of travelling to North America to challenge the Church. Looking back on that reluctance, I am now convinced it was God who held us back. It was not the right season. It took time to develop our friendships and our understanding. God continues to be gracious with us.
Arriving in the UK I was blown away by a heat wave. So at each place I spoke I asked for a special offering as I it seemed that I brought the nice weather! As I neared the end of my six weeks on the road and the journey grew harder for me personally, it seemed God blessed us more every day.
Two years ago Hands at Work in Africa (UK) was a pilot project in creating a Country Office for Hands outside Africa. Today it is a roaring success and was a tremendous effort by a number of committed individuals strongly supported by churches in the UK. Zion Christian Centre was a leader in this. As a result of hard work in the UK the last few years Hands USA, Australia and Canada now have a model to build upon.
Nonetheless, the Church will always be our vehicle for impacting the poorest of the poor in Africa. Our Country Offices are our way to facilitate that Church involvement. That’s why Hands at Work sent Carolyn and I out on this trip in the first place. Thanks to God and the friendship of many of you, it was a trip worth telling about.