Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me

Hands at Work’s vision is to see the local Church in Africa effectively caring for the dying, orphaned and widowed, and unified in this mission with the Church outside Africa.

Greenfinch Church in Ipswich, UK has been partnering with Hands at Work for four years. Chris Bedford, the pastor of Greenfinch, shares his story about a special young boy who broke his heart and transformed his life – and that of his church.

“I guess there are just a few moments in life when something strikes you so hard that you feel totally powerless and useless. 

Back in 2011, on our sA sullen three year old Chatty during Chris' 2011 visit. econd day of home visits in the community of Chilabula, the harsh realities of everyday Zambian life hit me like a runaway freight train.

Several homes had been visited the previous day and already it was clearly noticeable was that there was a distinct lack of young men everywhere we went. All the families visited were led by women and the 20 to 45 year old men were simply missing. There was talk about how many had been lost to illness (no-one ever mentioned “HIV”).  It had the potential to be overwhelmingly sad and yet somehow, it didn’t hit home too hard. 

But then it happened. Having walked quite some way through the bush, we arrived at a clearing where a typical African house was located - straw roof, mud walls, surrounded by a sandy, barren area. On the ground lay an older man, unkempt and distinct, wearing a huge thick coat despite us sweltering in the 33 degree heat. He sat up but wasn’t for talking much. This old grandfather had been left to bring up four children, despite his struggle to even look after himself.  His two youngest children; Chatty, 3, and Cosmas, 6, where adopted by the Chilabula Community Based Organisation. The children were not at home, so their Care Worker set off to find them.  Soon, the two boys came out of the bushes into the clearing.  That same morning we had played with kids who looked just the same as these children - no shoes, ragged clothes, but who played with great joy and gusto and huge smiles.  However, these two were different - shoulders slumped under deadpan faces. They sat down and we tried to engage them in a game. Eventually, there was the merest flicker of a smile from Cosmas - no more than a flicker - and yet enough to stir hope in me for him.  Chatty, however, was a different story. His face never changed. It was sullen, fearful and confused. I feared that there was nothing that would make him smile.

Then the harsh truth emerged. His mother had died just three months previously, leaving him with his three older siblings and a grandfather.  How does a child so young even begin to comprehend where his mother is, or who will take care of him, or where his next meal is coming from? Perhaps even worse than this, where does he get hugs from and who kisses him goodnight?

This one child, Chatty, broke my heart.

Can we stand by and simply watch this happen? As Matt Redman wrote “there must be more than this”.

Mark 9:37 (Jesus speaking): “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me – God who sent me.” (The Message)

I walked away from that situation and for over two years, this little child haunted my thoughts. Why didn’t I embrace the boy? Why didn’t I just grab him and hug him? Has my own culture knocked out of me the sense to love a lonely child? Why didn’t I try harder with him? What made me sit around and simply watch?

Now in 2013, we went back to the rural village of Chilabula. We arrived at a house that I did not immediately recognize, but Burton, a local Care Worker told me that it was Chatty’s house. I was immediately both excited, and apprehensive.  This time, however, I was determined not to miss the opportunity to move beyond just seeing him. I would embrace him.

We walked up to the house and I spotted Chatty, sat on the floor with his twenty year old big sister, who is also looking after her own child. This time, Chatty seemed more comfortable to visit with us.

Chatty still looks a little serious, even sullen, but things are definitely different now. Just like many other Zambian boys, he was happy to play with us and showed us his plastic bag ball, neatly banded together.  Burton spoke to Chatty and asked him “Do you remember this man” at which he nodded his head in affirmation. I was blown away that he could remember me. But why should he? We did nothing out of the ordinary to help last time, and yet he remembered.

I tried to do what Dads do and I put my arm around him and tried to make him smile.  It worked, and suddenly everything made a little more sense and felt worthwhile. Of course, this child was depressed and confused two years previously when his mother had so recently passed away, but today, we could see change in his life. The love, support and care that Burton and the local Care Workers have shown Chatty, along with the support of his older sister have transformed this little boy.  Chatty still has a long way to go in his life and it takes a bit of time to see a smile, but the life in him is slowly emerging.

This year, Chatty bro"I tried to do what Dads do and I put my arm around him and tried to make him smile".ke my heart once again, but not in a hopeless, despairing way. He makes me cry, not because I do not know what to do but because I see hope in the eyes of this child and because I see love being poured into his life. I see that I can be part of making a difference for one boy, living 5000 miles away on the other side of the world.”

Chris and his church consider the community of Chilabula as part of their family, congregation and ministry. Every week, they pray for the community and the children they know by name and they look forward to the next opportunity to visit them. 

To find out how you and your church can be a part of reaching vulnerable children across Africa, contact your local Hands at Work office. 

Australia: info@au.handsatwork.org

Canada:  info@ca.handsatwork.org

UK: info@uk.handsatwork.org

US: info@us.handsatwork.org

For other countries please contact partnerships@handsatwork.org