Following God's voice
At Hands at Work, our volunteers are called by God from all over the world to serve the most vulnerable in Africa. Each of us has a unique story of how we were transformed when we stepped out in faith and were obedient to His call. Catherine Clarkson shares her story of following God's voice and the journey that has led her to fully trust and serve in Africa.
My journey to Africa started when I was 19 and it was on the day of my baptism. When I was standing in front of my church family sharing my story of coming to faith and my decision to be obedient and be baptised, a lady was sitting in the congregation and afterwards she handed me a small slip of paper. On that slip of paper, she had written a word from God that she had received while she listened to my testimony. Within that message, she said, “Catherine, you will be the one who is called the repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwellings”. At that time, I had no idea what that meant but I thanked her and put that note somewhere safe.
Several years later in 2006, the church that I was a part of hosted a leadership conference and one of the speakers, via video, was Bono from the band U2. Bono was sharing about the Western church’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis that was sweeping the globe. I remember him saying, “If you are a part of a well-resourced, well-equipped church and you are doing nothing to respond to this crisis then there is a problem. History books will be written about this period in history about how the church responded to one of the greatest pandemics that has ever been seen”. Our church felt convicted and challenged by that call and what followed that, was my church forming a partnership with Hands at Work.
My first time in Africa was in February 2008 when I came on a team from my church. We spent the majority of our time in a village called Belfast in Bushbuck Ridge. What I saw during that time both hugely encouraged me and broke me, deeply challenging me. I saw children who had lost their parents and who were so broken by what the world had thrown at them. I remember thinking that these children have no choice and no voice in their poverty but yet I also saw a group of amazing women from the village coming together to care. These women had made a choice to put their own poverty, their own needs, and their own challenges secondary and to put first the children who were even more vulnerable than themselves. I remember thinking about the high calling that those Care Workers had on their lives.
I returned to the UK after that trip and for the next year or so, I felt this sense of unease. I felt uncomfortable. I struggled to know how to respond as I was in a job that I loved at my church and I didn’t really know why God had taken me to Africa, even though I had always had a desire to work alongside people and I had a strong sense of seeking justice for the oppressed.
In 2009, I had another opportunity to come on a team, which I led with a good friend. Again we were able to spend time building relationships with the local Care Workers in Belfast. It was during that trip that I felt God very clearly saying that for me, it would be impossible to have one foot in each place – both in my home country of England, and in Africa. I couldn’t pretend that I hadn’t seen what I’d seen. During that trip, as I wrestled with Gods calling to make that big decision, God gave me a scripture from Isaiah 58:11-12:
“The Lord will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
That word that I had been given all those years previously suddenly made sense to me. The scripture talks about spending yourself on behalf of the poor and I realised that was what I wanted to commit my life to doing.
In 2010, I arrived in South Africa and started a journey of serving with Hands at Work. This journey has been the most challenging thing I have ever done but also the most rewarding, encouraging and deeply humbling thing I have ever done. I’ve been shaped and challenged and hopefully taken on a journey where I’ve become more mature. In essence, I feel like I’ve grown up here. 6 years on and despite a difficult past 18 months of ill health, the loss of a close family member and other challenges, I can truly say that I’ve never felt more called to spend my life on behalf of the poor and to serve ‘the least of these’. My dependence on God has deepened and so has my commitment to want to align myself with the suffering of His people. Africa has become home and I can only look forward in expectation to all that God has yet to do through me.
Catherine is originally from Hampshire in the UK but now lives and serves in South Africa on the partnerships team bridging the gap between Africa and our partners in the International church. She additionally serves with the communications team.
Are YOU being called? Come!