Seven years ago, the first member of The Forge Community Church from the UK came to visit Hands at Work. For years the church has brought teams, coming to Zambia and South Africa to support and encourage the work of Hands at Work. They have helped with building projects, supported the running of kids camps, and become well known members of the Hands Family.
Sam Walker first came with The Forge on a trip in 2008, and the trip has since remained a monumental moment in his life. “I’m going to frame my first Zambian visa!” he says. In June 2009 he had the chance to visit the Hands at Work Hub in South Africa for only one day. “It was hard work for the volunteers at the Hub to accommodate me even for just one day but it made a huge difference - I caught the heart of Hands that day.”
Sam returned to Zambia in 2010, and while visiting the community of Maranatha he met Joshua*, a teenage boy with cerebral palsy. “Joshua obviously struggled being that age. He joined in games but couldn’t do everything. Yet he helped take care of the younger kids – he fathered them!” Sam was able to visit Joshua in his home in 2011. “His home is two half rooms with holes in the roof. It’s trashed. I went home not knowing what to think. I just thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’ Every year my first thought on Christmas morning is Joshua. As my kids come jump in my bed I wonder what he’s waking up to. If he’s trying to pull things together to survive. That one relationship has made a huge impact on me. It makes it harder and harder year after year because you build relationships. You are not just leaving a community, you are leaving friends behind.”
Four years ago Sam became a key person for The Forge in team planning and took over leading Community Teams. Through his commitment to Hands at Work, Sam has walked a long road to strengthen this partnership. For years The Forge sent teams who came to support in building projects. As the years passed, Hands at Work began to challenge churches like The Forge to come and BE as well as DO. Sam recognised the challenge for his team members. “The British people are do-ers,” Sam says. “It is difficult advertising for teams because everyone says ‘What are you going to be doing?’ It is difficult to fit the vision of Hands into a short statement! We have to convince people this is something they can be involved with, to come and understand the value of just walking alongside someone.” Sam has been studying missions and The Forge supports missions in other places such as Croatia, Guatemala, and the USA. He has seen that many mission organisations are finding the value in asking those who come to learn to BE with the people of their countries, not just DO. “The transition has not always been easy. But, if we are going to partner with Hands at Work, there is no point in us doing what we want when Hands is striving for something different. At The Forge we have pushed our Africa team members towards being. Hands at Work is asking this of us, and we are in partnership with them and support this.” Today, The Forge is partnered with the community of Maposa in Zambia. “When partnering with a community you see faces you know; you see the transformation in the community year to year”.
Sam is currently the head of Children’s Ministries at The Forge and recently completed his dissertation for his Masters in Mission focused on the effect of short term mission trips on 8-11 year olds. The Forge’s partnership with Hands at Work is intertwined throughout their Children’s Ministry all year. A day was created for the children to live a day in the life of a Zambian child. Children collected 52,000 pennies to donate. “We went out into 11 other schools in our area and talked about Africa. Kids who are not a part of our church ask, ‘How old do we have to be to go to Zambia?’ They connect when they see the names and faces of children their own age in videos.”
The Forge also supports a family from their own church: the Waspe Family, who came to serve as long term volunteers with Hands at Work in 2009. Many Forge teams have learned about coming and being through meeting the many international volunteers at Hands at Work. Sam says, “Our team members often say they are just as impacted hearing the stories of the long term volunteers who serve at Hands at Work as they are from being in the communities.”
*Child’s name has been changed