Today I want to do something dangerous. I want to try to define short-term missions, or teams coming to visit Hands. Why are we doing it? What does it actually mean? Maybe I should just say what it does not mean. It's not a missional experience that we are trying to create, or a sort of short-term outreach that is good for a team to go on as an experience and say "I can tick the box of being in Africa". Rather it's a sacrificial, well planned commitment in friendship through servanthood. It is ongoing, bringing healing and maturity and encouragement to both those going and those receiving. Those going are saying, “Because I understand that love is not expressed in words but in deeds.” Those receiving are saying "I am blessed because I am not forgotten. I'm known by name and I have hope. Many people are coming here to help me, encourage me, and they receive healing themselves."
Initially when we come to Africa it is difficult for us to understand that “me” and “my time” are actually the best gift I could give Africa. Me, as a person, and my time. It's so hard for us to believe this is really the best we can give when meeting all the amazing people in Africa and experience the pain and suffering in the villages where we work.
I was recently told a story about one of our Care Workers in one of the communities where we work. I was told how the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 came alive to her. The words, "I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. Whenever you give even a cup of water to one of these little ones …" It revolutionized her whole life and the way she cared. She confessed that now when she gets up in the morning she gets up and she looks for opportunities to have an impact. She looks for opportunities to reach out, even if it is only a cup of water to one of the most vulnerable children. It went further. One night, late, there was somebody knocking at the door. Initially she thought she could never open it up and put herself at risk. Again the scripture came to her. What if it is somebody that you could help, somebody that is in need? She opened the door and it was a vulnerable and orphaned girl from one of our communities who was kicked out of the house where she stayed. She had nowhere to go that night. This young lady who had this wonderful revelation of the word of God, took her into her house and she kept her there. In the morning she went to the hut where this young girl was staying. She dealt with the dispute that there was and why she wasn't welcome there anymore. She said it changed everything between her and this girl. This girl now trusted her at such a deep level. There was such a strong bond between the two of them that it gave her a beautiful opportunity to become deeply involved in her life.
Yes. These are stories that we hear at Hands at Work very often. It's beautiful. Of course we all know these stories are contagious. We've seen through the years that relationships are the core ingredients that change everything. We see people coming together from different cultures, different educational backgrounds, different thinking. And as they knit their hearts together in the dusty roads in Africa, and they meet the children, there's something beautiful and lasting in both their lives.
A part of the Hands Vision has always been that we want to serve the body of Christ. We believe in the body. We believe in the church. We especially believe in the young people coming to Africa and sending them back to take their rightful place as upcoming leaders in their communities and churches. The volunteers who have been with us from years ago, and a bit more recently, I have met on my journeys when I go to their countries and speak. Some of them come back to Hands and they share their lives with us. Their voices become tender and soft when they start sharing how grateful they are. They don't take things for granted anymore. They came to understand and ask “What is the difference between me and the people in Africa?” That's a humbling experience. It's also liberating. It sets you free and gives you a purpose to live a life that's continually blessing people around you, not just in Africa, but even in their own community. You are compelled to get involved in the lives of broken people around you.
I was recently in Australia with one of our church partners who has been with us for more than 10 years. The fire is still burning so high in that church. I asked the pastor, “How do you do this? How do you keep the flame alive? You are so compassionate about Africa. Every year teams are coming. Your involvement is amazing. Young people come to serve. It's incredible and it doesn't slow down its actually growing.” The pastor looked at me at that moment and very clearly said to me, "George, we are not good for Africa. Africa is good for us. Africa's impact in our church is so big. All of us know that it has played a huge defining role in helping us grow to maturity - to go and see and to go and learn - going to meet people by name. When they come back it brings purpose, it brings maturity, and it brings life."
Missions don’t exist because there's a church. Churches exist because there are missions and because all of us live to worship our Father and to make His name known. What an incredible privilege to do that in the place where the pain and brokenness and the suffering is at its worst. Surely, surely that is getting very close to our Father.