Tonight as I watched the skies in Zambia roaring with thunder and lightning I could not help but to notice the evening star shining unperturbed as if nothing was happening right next to it. What a picture of God's faithfulness! Faithfulness was a word I thought a lot about in the last few days. Two days ago I sat with Andrew and Patricia in a village called Mpatamatu. It was a wonderful time together as we haven't seen each other for more than a year. The first time I met Andrew he was cycling for twenty km into the bushes (with his wife on the back!) to reach the refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they stayed in the mountains of Zambia called Mpata Hills. He came a long way since then and today Andrew and Patricia have more than two hundred volunteers caring for the dying and their children. It has not been an easy road, in fact the last two years was really tough.When I entered their office I still found everything the same as all the years before. In the one room they were busy training young orphaned girls how to cook; in another room I found Patricia busy with mundane tasks like packing medicines in small packets for the nurses. Andrew is still as excited about caring as he was when I met him. As we sat in his office he told me of a young orphan boy he met that morning, and I could see the pain in his eyes as he shared the story ... the same pain I saw years before. Andrew and Patricia could have done a lot for themselves in this life, but they chose to be faithful. As I left them my thoughts went far back to where we started together in 1999, and while driving on the bumpy road I cried, “Lord help me also to stay faithful.” What a wonderful testimony in a world where it is ok to change at any time and to justify that it was just a better option.
Still drowsy from jet lag I went into the village after I heard one of our Masoyi Home Based Care volunteers had passed away. Entering the house of this woman’s mother—a grandmother now adding two orphans to her care—I was immediately confronted by the wailing of a grieving mother. I had known this woman’s daughter very well and had walked Masoyi’s streets with her for years. The last time I had met her, a few weeks earlier, she said to me: “I am ready to die, George. But I’m so scared for my children’s future.”
That day as I watched her mother crying, I remembered her words so well. I wondered, What can I do? Where do I start? I stuttered over my words as I tried to encourage the mother.
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.
Someone once said, “True happiness is when what you believe is the same as what you say and do.” The more one thinks about this the more it rings true, especially among Christians in the 21st century. So many books have been written on how to be happy and constantly new books reach the book shelves to again attempt solving this topic. Whenever I met with young adults, be it in North America or more recently in Australia I find them caught in pursuit of this very challenge. The difference between them and the previous generation is that they somehow understand it will not happen by accumulating as much as they can. They understand that competing with the Jones’s is chasing after the wind. A portrait of this is drawn so well by the Christian band “Casting Crowns” in a song about the American Dream… a dream that destroyed so many families and relationships between parents and their children.
Watching these young volunteers from the North as they work in the dust of Africa is something to behold. There is a common phrase Hands staff hear from them: “At last I am doing something that actually makes a difference and not just a profit!” What, I wonder to myself, could be more important for a parent for his child or for a pastor for his youth than for this newest generation to feel wanted and to realize they were created to be a blessing! Recently I sat in a meeting with a group of young people, among them a couple from US Peace Corps. We discussed the training of volunteers in our Footprints program and I expounded on the need to explain, through biblical teaching, to these volunteers the lost art of servant hood. The couple was so excited about this, saying they had been taught so many good things, but that they now recognized this was the missing piece: the call to serve!The call of Hands— to mobilize the local Church in Africa to care and to be a prophetic voice to the Church outside Africa—is burning in the hearts of the Hands team more than ever. It brings happiness to us as we believe it, we speak it and we do it!
As usual, the summer holiday time of our Northern Partners brought a full house of visitors to many Hands at Work projects. It is incredible to see old friends return year after year and new teams arrive from entirely new places for the first time. The orphan camps in Zambia have become an annual highlight and destination for many; other teams worked with our construction crew putting up roofs for our community schools; some trained our teachers; and still others continued the amazing work of visiting our patients in their homes.
The dream of true servants traveling to Africa is actually happening! More and more people join us for longer periods, and Footprints (our Year-of-Your-Life program) is becoming a key vehicle of capacity building work for our projects. Mozambique, Zambia and the DRC have already been impacted greatly by Footprinters.
Speaking of Footprints, our building team continues to sweat out ten-hour days in the exciting task of preparing the Footprints Village for the February intake! We are so grateful to you friends and partners who continue to support us—some with dirty hands stacking bricks, and some financially—in completing this vision of a village.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who so generously supported the feeding programs for our orphans in Masoyi over the past months as we faced financial challenges. Schools, businesses and Churches came together in support. Now, with the end of a difficult time in sight, it is amazing to look back and see how much people stretched out of their usual routines to become part of a new solution. Thank you. When our volunteers in the field see such sacrificial giving from all over the world they become incredibly encouraged to continue.
For me, this is preaching Jesus! As Mother Theresa once said, “one can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”
Growing up in the 21st century doesn’t allow many of us to experience rough new beginnings. Today things are instant, customized and completed by the time they reach us. I firmly believe we are poorer because of this, robbed of many opportunities to experience life and build character. Who among us doesn’t love listening to stories of the older generation, stories about the way they struggled and overcame the incredible challenges they faced, stories of courage and faith? The joy in their eyes as they stare in the distance, remembering how they have come through is something we all long for.
We are only pilgrims in this world. My prayer for Hands at Work is that the leaders will NEVER become settlers but always nurture a pioneering spirit. So I trust that Hands at Work can go through situations where the new generation of leaders can have their own stories to share one day… stories that shaped their character and faith forever.
As you'll read about here, the new adventure of moving onto our own Hands at Work property has all the ingredients and potential to fulfill the above requirements. The Hands at Work family needs your prayers in this regard – not that it should become easier for us but that we would display the character and grace needed for this situation, and that the fruit of the process will be a rich harvest of strong new leaders working side by side with wiser and stronger older leaders!
I look back at the past twelve months, and memories flood my mind. I certainly experienced a range of homes, met a variety of people and covered nearly every continent.
In some of the dwellings, my back aching on what barely passed as a bed, I thought the night would never end. Other nights, sprawled in mansions, I stayed awake till the late hours, living in luxury but flooded with guilt, remembering my bothers and sisters suffering.
I sat in African huts, encouraging dying, young people, wondering, myself, how it must feel to die so young. I sat with old grannies, wishing I could answer their questions about how an old lady is going to survive with her house full of orphans. On other occasions I found myself sitting on a spot-lit bar chair while very smart college kids from North America hung on my every word as I told stories of Africa. I spoke to churches in Europe and North America, with people waiting forty minutes in a line to speak to me, only to stop when it was their turn, shake my hand and just weep.
But among it all I noticed a common thing: people wish for justice. Hard to believe in a time when millions of orphans roam hungry in southern Africa, when $12 billion is spent annually on perfume while 30 000 children die daily from poverty. So where do we go wrong? When all the dust in Africa settles, will it really be possible for justice-loving Christians to say: “we just didn’t know what was happening?” How, in this age of information-explosion can we be so ignorant?
Maybe it’s here that the verse “hearing without hearing and seeing without seeing” makes sense. Perhaps the real price to pay for justice is just too high. But, my friends, preaching evangelism without social involvement is half the good news, and half of the truth is simply not the truth.
If my observation is right, if, inside, we really do want justice, we must wake up. When I meet dying young mothers or eight-year-olds heading households, I feel deeply sad, but also heavily challenged: I know I could make a difference. I know individuals can change the world, not corporations or institutions. Just look at Jesus. His sacrifice changed millions of lives forever. His followers should do the same today, sacrifice comfort and safety and follow Him among the poor and broken.
What prevents you from doing it?
The place to start is to draw a line, to say I cannot live a life ignoring this any longer. I often say to people that “the house is on fire.” And in drastic situations drastic action is required.
Hands at Work in Africa has embraced the goal of reaching “100 000 by 2010” (pg 10). We unashamedly not just call but challenge Churches, individuals and organizations to kick in the doors of “burning houses”. Looking back and seeing so many that joined us just a year after we made this commitment both humbles and encourages us. God’s call to go beyond what we dreamed possible is becoming reality as we step out in faith together. But never forgetting it is about caring — one by one.