I spent just over a year and a half with Hands at Work in Africa. The majority of my time was spent in South Africa, but I had the opportunity of spending a month in Zambia and two weeks in Nigeria. The first 7 months of my time was spent teaching in a program for orphaned students in the community of Masoyi, South Africa. This gave me the opportunity to get deep into the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in South Africa. I slept many nights in rooms with up to 8 people, I walked and drove many kilometers, and I ate many chicken feet, I shook hands with and sat awkwardly in silence with many Grannies, I bought many loaves of bread, I heard many heart-breaking stories, and I cried many heart-broken tears. It was such a privilege for me to spend myself on behalf of these students. They are the funniest, most compassionate, most interesting people I've ever met. I learned to love a self-less love. It was never about me anymore. It was about them. It was about seeing them succeed and change Africa. When I left Canada, a lot of my friends would tell people I'm away changing the world. I wasn't changing the world. I was supporting them, empowering them and enabling them to change the world. When John speaks of Jesus in John Chapter 3, he says, "He must become greater, I must become less", I found this also true of the people I was working with. They must become greater and I must become less. It's Africa's only hope.
The second part of my time in Africa was spent participating in the bigger picture work of Hands at Work. I worked in a Service Centre in Bushbuckridge, South Africa, supporting, empowering, and building capacity in 15 villages that took up the challenge to care for orphans, widows and people with HIV/Aids. Some of the things I did was coordinate Pastor Trainings, help communities develop models for caring for orphans in the areas of food, health, and education, communicating with donors, connecting churches with communities and coordinating trips, and even little things like taking pictures and writing stories of some of the people the villages are helping. There is one woman I visited when I was hosting a team from the UK. Her name was Gloria. The volunteers from the community brought me and the two UK visitors to Gloria's house. They told us she was 29 and had 2 small children. She stayed in a cement house with her brother, the two of them were also orphaned. The volunteers told us to go inside the house. If there's one thing I've learned about doing home visits, it's that if the person is sitting outside, s/he is usually doing pretty well, but if you have to go inside the home, s/he is usually too sick to come outside. We walked into her dark bedroom and she was lying on a mat on the floor. She was very, very thin and it made her eyes seem large. I remember her shaking and breathing very quick and shallow. She was in a lot of pain. These situations are often difficult because the volunteers like to give visitors the opportunity to encourage the sick and pray for them. They all looked to me. I could tell the visitors felt a little uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. I also didn't know what to do so I sat beside Gloria and held her hand. That's all I could think to do. The volunteers talked with her for a while and then they asked me to pray. She was in so much pain that she hadn't slept in a while, so all I could think to pray was for peace and rest. As I was praying, I sensed that perhaps God would take her soon. I started to think about her children and I began praying for them. As soon as I started praying for them, she looked right into my eyes. Her big eyes were filled with so much sorrow and I broke. We left that place and she was very heavy on my heart. I continued to pray for her into the night. The next day the head volunteer in Gloria's community called me to tell me Gloria passed away during the night. Even though I had just met this woman, she made a huge impact on my life. I cared deeply for her and her children. I thought also about how many other families are similar to Gloria's. Even though this is a sad story, there is so much hope in it because Gloria was cared for and her children will continue to be cared for by the church volunteers in that community. The church in that community, the collective Body of Christ, rose up and decided to care for the most vulnerable in their community.
My time in Africa helped me to understand the Church and the Church's role in this world. It gives me so much hope because anything is possible with Christ and with Him there is life!! It is a life that casts away the darkness and mends the brokenness. Even while I figure out life in Canada I know that I am the church and Christ-through-me I am God's plan for this world. It doesn't matter if I pat the back of the CEO of an oil company or hold the hand of a mother dying of Aids, Christ's power is in that touch and that's a power that can move mountains!