Excerpts from The Wall of Nehemiah and History of Hands audio
There is an amazing thing about the book of Nehemiah – we’ve been studying it in Hands for years, and still every time we talk about it and draw the comparisons, it becomes scary, it’s so close to what we do.
Here’s how it started, when Carolyn and I graduated bible school this is the verse they gave us: “the God of Heaven will give us success, therefore, we His servants will arise and build.”
When we got this verse I had no clue about orphans or caring for them, it wasn’t on my map. What did it mean? That’s the amazing thing about God, He gives you the promises long before. We got that promise years before Hands at Work started.
Nehemiah was a cupbearer. Nehemiah was not a missionary, a priest, or some weird religious guy, he was a cupbearer. In language today, he was a young professional guy; he was connected in high places; he had a good job. Nehemiah heard what was happening—and I just want us to catch one thing—he heard, he asked about the people that were not doing well and this is the verse that came out: “they are in great distress and reproach, and the walls of Jerusalem are broken down and it’s gates are burned with fire.” Guys, you cannot get a better description of what we talk about when we look at communities where we work that are ‘off the ladder’ their walls have been destroyed, parents, schools, anything that have brought safety and security have been ripped away. The gate has been burnt down – the gate is the entrance to the child. The children have got no protection, nothing. Now Nehemiah sat, very far away from that. He was in Australia, and this was happening in Nigeria. And he heard about it, that’s all. He wasn’t asked anything, he wasn’t connected to those people, he just heard about it. And this is what he did: “When I heard those words I sat down and wept and mourned for days before I went to God in heaven.” That’s our story, each one of us known by name; each one of us, through a team or walking through Africa or through living in a community, all of us experience that moment where we see and it cuts through bone and marrow. And can you remember how you wept? Can you remember that initial reaction? Going through that and then questioning God, asking God, “What is this?” Exactly the same thing happened to Nehemiah.
And then Nehemiah did one amazing thing. “Day and night on behalf of the sons of Israel”. Nehemiah made a decision that he was not just going to hear and turn his back and carry on with his way of life. Once he saw, once he heard, he drew a line and he became involved and he spoke on behalf. Hands at Work speak on behalf. We are doing it with a single focus, for those who are off the ladder and have got no hope. If you are standing on behalf of a place that’s been burned to the ground, they don’t have a plan B. To be the only hope that they have, what a responsibility!
We know about facing opposition, in the communities yesterday we were with a child called Charity and her brothers, and people see that they are growing and being blessed, and community members want to come and steal the children back. We had a CBO coordinator in tears yesterday, she said that she just can’t cope with the pressure from the people that cannot allow us to reach the poorest. They want to hijack it and steal it from us. That goes right up to the international offices, we’ve got people criticizing, questioning, constantly. Some of them have been actually in our midst for many years and they still just don’t get it, or don’t want to get it. But it’s constantly draining our energy, draining us. Nehemiah faced that on every level. “The Nehemiah Way:” when we go into the communities we don’t go and say “We care for orphans!” because then everybody will come running to us, people with capacity, and they will say “Yes, that is our vision” and they will catch us. We don’t do that, we go quietly, and we catch Mother Theresa in the act. We catch her caring. That’s why the model is so successful. We go quietly: we call it the Nehemiah Way. So when you are part of Hands and you don’t understand why they say to you, “You can’t go into that community yet,” why they say, “You can’t do this,” then understand we’re doing it the Nehemiah way.
Nehemiah went in, a man alone with his horse, in the middle of the night, inspecting. By the time he spoke he had everything worked out. Nehemiah challenged the church, he didn’t try to do everything outside, himself. He cat down once he had the profile of the wall of the community, once he had everything, he called them together and he said to them, “You are burnt down! The house is on fire! Your children have got no hope! Do you know this is happening? Can you see? Can you see?” And then he said to them, “Come on, let’s arise and build the wall so that the children will no longer be vulnerable.” They said, “Let us arise and build,” so they put their hands to good work.
It is letter for letter, the Hands at Work model. It is very important for us to understand this. Then he went to the church leaders: something incredible happened when Nehemiah challenged the church leaders to get involved in building a wall. If it’s tough today to get Pastors to do some physical work, I think it was even worse then! But he did it, look what happened. The High Priest arose with his brothers the Priests and they built the sheepgate. Some translations say “they first rose.” So the church leaders caught this thing so strongly that they took it and they built on it. We are very good at challenging the church to do that, to get involved, but we are not so good at keeping them to actually build the wall to completion. They help us to lay the foundation, they give us the living stones, people in the church, but we don’t keep them long enough, we don’t keep them in the right way so that they help us to finish the wall. We say sustainability totally depends on the buy-in from the church leaders. If the church leaders buy in, you don’t need anybody from outside to help. We say prayer and work is success. At Hands at Work you know how much we pray. We have constant morning and evening prayer meetings. I trust that it’s happening right through the family, I trust that it’s happening in international offices. It’s tough, but we pray it up. Prayer and work together are success.
“For the people had a mind to work.” At Hands at Work the work ethic must be brilliant, but with that we say that it’s only when you combine and baptize it in prayer that we’ll have success. We pray to our God.
In Nehemiah in places he’s busy speaking to the king, and as he’s speaking to the king he’s saying “And I prayed, and I prayed.” He prayed while he was speaking to the king! They were prayer warriors. So in Hands we say we follow the Nehemiah model, we work hard, eight hours a day, and we pray hard.
Fear is a weapon that will paralyze Hands like it tried to paralyze Nehemiah. There was fear from outside, people were saying to them “We heard rumors about you, you’re trying to have a rebellion against the king.” There were people challenging them. When they saw that didn’t work they infiltrated Nehemiah’s group and they started to intimidate them from inside. Fear will come from inside. The enemy is not the person doing that, the enemy is the spirit of fear. Fear paralyzes us. There are some people who specialize in spreading fear. We realize that in Nehemiah. They stood up to fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your house. Nehemiah said “Guys, there’s not a plan B here. You fight.” And eventually they ended up where they worked with one hand and in the other hand they had swords. They were constantly ready, day and night, facing fear. Fear was in their faces, they could see the enemy luring them outside, the enemy was taunting the inside, tempting them, trying to challenge them, constantly. Nehemiah and his leaders had to be mature and they had to understand that fear will kill them, and they had to squash that fear the moment it came out. In Hands we need to understand – this is cutting deep into the bone here – in Africa fear is the king. Men and women of God, whether you will succeed or fail will depend on whether you can look fear in the eye. Or are you going to bow your knee to that cultural fear that has been taught to you for centuries? As we face so many challenges outside Africa like materialism and individualism and all that stuff that we have to face, in Africa the enemy is fear. In Hands at Work we say that whether in Africa or not in Africa, wherever we are we do not bow the knee to fear, we call it it’s name, because God has called us to do a great work and there is no plan B. It’s you and me, that’s their plan. We stand for justice, even when it becomes uncomfortable.
What happened here, the very people that were building the wall – that can be our donors, our churches, it can be in Hands – the very people that were part of building the wall were abusing the poorest of the poor because they got some money out of it. Now you can translate that in many ways, but the way that I translate it is that there were people who said that “We are together,” but they were not together. They said, “We will throw a few breadcrumbs.” Some of us in Hands say to them “It’s ok to throw a few breadcrumbs;” today I say to you, it’s not ok. We don’t need partners to throw breadcrumbs because it’s a disgrace to the guys in Africa. It’s not ok to ask them to put their whole life, their future on the line so that there can be somebody from the UK who can throw a few breadcrumbs at them. It’s not ok. I know it’s tough, it’s offensive to people outside. Nehemiah had people, the movers and the shakers, they were the ones who were paying for the wall, they were the big boys. Nehemiah took them on: “Then I was very angry that I heard…” he called them all together and he gave them a heck of a hiding. His whole ministry to rebuild the wall was in the balance that moment. If anything could have destroyed building the wall, it was the day when Nehemiah took on the rich guys and said to them, “Stop throwing crumbs.”
It’s time that we speak that word. If we were getting a lot out if it we’d get paid big salaries and things, we can be careful to say it. When you speak that to a church or to whoever, you speak on behalf of people at the moment that we can’t reach because we just do not have money to reach them.
Now in Africa with fear we’ve cut deep. I cannot agree or justify saying that we literally see people dying of hunger and we’ve nearly got a partner, I’ve nearly convinced him; his church building is going to cost five million pounds but I’ve nearly convinced him to give four thousand pounds. It’s a disgrace. I am not prepared to do that, I cannot do that with integrity. I would rather go without that church. I know it’s tough but you’ve got to hear my heart. I cannot compromise the godliness that we’ve learned from Nehemiah. Nehemiah could have turned his back on the rich guys, the poor guys complained, he could have just said to them, “Guys, be quiet, they are the guys who are bringing the money.” He did not, he took it head on, and the wonderful thing is when he spoke strongly to them with a broken heart and an honest voice they repented and they paid everything back. I believe our churches want to do it. I believe they can give much more. I really believe we’ve got churches in our partnership right now who can support a minimum of a thousand children, and they’re busy with fifty. And it’s because we have not helped them to cross that line. We are not judging but we must speak hard from the beginning, we must help them to understand, to see the real issues here. This is not a building, this is people’s lives. Nehemiah did that, and in the future Hands is not going to compromise, we are going to grow stronger in that.
God always gets the glory, this is one of the most beautiful parts. They built the wall in fifty-two days. I once spoke to a construction guy and he said to me that with all the tools, all the machines, they cannot do it today. It wasn’t like a wall around a garden, it was a road. It was a huge wall! They did it in fifty-two days. How many times do people say to you and me, “We love your heart, we love the way that you at Hands think, but come on, 100000? Where are you now?” I will stand for 100000 to start with, and if anybody tries to convince you of anything else they are taking your faith and they are taking the very dream that your very God placed in you, and they crush it because they cannot believe that the wall can be built again. If Christ knows every child by name, and we are reaching children that will not have been reached by anybody else, why will we not reach 100000? Because the enemy is too strong? For now it’s tough, but you can’t look at this progress and think “Well we’ve got 10000 now, in five years we’ll be at 15000…” You cannot, God doesn’t work like that. The first church grew with 3000… a few centuries later half of them got crucified. You cannot put God in a box. We can grow to 100000 in Lagos! It’s not about the number, it’s about dreaming big because this is God!
He had a massive, crazy dream, he was not a wall builder he was a cupbearer. He had soft hands, walking on red carpets. And he ended up walking on rubble, facing enemies. Surely he thought many times “Maybe I should just leave it now until next year, go back to my job again and just send a few bucks and then go there.” Surely he was tempted by that? Surely all of us are tempted by that? But that’s why we hold onto the book of Nehemiah, because we’re going to build this wall. Amen!
We’ve started talking about leaders’ commitment in Hands this year, we understand that there are different layers in Hands. Some people are just guests and friends, then we’ve got short term volunteers and then we’ve got a core of people that say “George, Amen, you are too dumb to think this up, this of God, I can see that. And we want that wall built. And we’re going to be part of that. It doesn’t matter if we stay in Canada or work in DRC, we’re going to see this wall built.” That’s it, you’re a son and a daughter of God, called to work in Hands, but you and I are going to have to commit ourselves deeper. “I’m not sure how, I’m not sure what, but we are now at the time in our life where we are ready to make a deeper commitment to each other, and to the work.”
And volunteerism which is always such a wonderful part of Hands; it makes us very special, people coming here because they just want to come here. I know some of you, you don’t know how you’re going to make this month, I know that, I know your budgets. I salute you. You are doing amazing things. You know, you’re privileged to do that, that God has given you that deep inside, the power of volunteerism. Do you think it was something we thought out? Read in Nehemiah, “And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to life in Jerusalem.” We bless everybody who volunteers to live in Jerusalem.
The Nehemiah book was life a blueprint written for Hands at Work. Go and study it, find your role in it, find your faith in it, find your joy in it. I love the end result of building the wall: yes, children were safe, but the real end result was in the book of Ezra. It was one word: “Revival.” There was such revival that the people gathered together and for days and days they were worshipping and weeping before God and there was one of the biggest revivals you read about in the Bible. It took place when one man heard, wept and acted into an area that was completely out of his skill. Wow! You are part of that, God gave that to us to say “I promise you, you will finish this wall at Hands at Work.” I can say with confidence, I don’t know if I’ll be there but that’s none of my business, but you will finish this wall, as sure as the living God is in charge. Amen.