Often times my siblings and I went to school with an empty stomach and we didn’t have proper uniforms. I had to drop out of school in grade 11 because my mother did not have enough money to send us to school.
Today I met Sarra*. A mother of three, who lost her husband sixteen years ago. Left as a widow, her husband’s brother came in and “claimed her”. He used her solely for sex, and she bore two of his children in the subsequent years. He took no responsibility for her or her children, and has now completely abandoned them.
Praise’s grandmother Bertha began caring for him, but she was desperately poor and trying to survive. Praise was hungry - continually crying. People in the community said he would die and tried to put ritual charms around him but Bertha refused and knew God would provide. After her husband passed away many years ago, she said she learned to trust God throughout any hardship.
For the past four years, Chumai has suffered from epilepsy. His mother decided to return to her family because she could not deal with Chumai’s illness or those of the rest of the family, including Chumai’s father. A few months after leaving her children, Chumai’s mother remarried. Tragically Chumai’s father, Joaquim, died after falling from a platform used to dry maize cobs.
Ama is a 10-year-old girl from the community of Ilaje, Nigeria. When she was young her father passed away, leaving her in the care of her paralysed mother, Esther. At a very young age Ama was forced to become the breadwinner in order for her family to survive. As a result, Ama has not had the opportunity to be a child.
Hands at Work in Africa is committed to transforming the lives of the most vulnerable children through locally owned community based organisations. In Africa’s most vulnerable communities, the scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, war, poverty and the vast number of orphaned children is incomprehensible. An entire generation of parents have passed away.
When the Care Workers in Macadeira, Mozambique harvested their own 400kg of maize, they felt an enormous sense of pride. After all, it was their many hours of work in the field, under the blistering African sun that finally paid off. But the work was difficult and the premature ceasing of the rains meant that their beans failed...
At Hands at Work we are blessed to hear testimonies from visitors who have come to Africa to experience what God is doing. These stories of everyday people who meet Jesus in the faces of the most vulnerable for even a short period of time, tells of God’s great desire to change us so we will never be the same.
Nokuphila is a seven year old girl. This desperately poor community struggles from a lack of clean, accessible water and, at times, impassable roads. There is also virtually no employment within the community. Her aunt immediately moved into the home to help care for Nokuphila and her disabled mother when her father passed away. With no job and no income, simply surviving was a constant struggle.
Kasongo’s story could have ended with her wandering the streets of Kikula with her siblings, desperately trying to survive. With no means of supporting herself, Kasongo began to suffer physically from a lack of food. The trauma of her father dying and the rejection of her mother abandoning her have left deep scars in this young girl.
Care Workers are the men and women from local churches who have committed their lives to caring for vulnerable and traumatised children. But many of them have suffered their own traumatic experiences of abuse and abandonment. Though many Care Workers desire to provide holistic care for the most vulnerable children in their community, often the pain within their own hearts affects their ability to give.
The season of Advent begins today. As we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ to us, we remember that we are called to visit others as Jesus visited us. At Hands at Work, the foundation of our care is holy home visits. Christa and Daytona, two of our international volunteers, explore how God has called us to wait on Him, serve the most vulnerable children, and keep our hearts focused on what the coming of Christ truly means.
Holy Home Visits
by Christa Roby
In the formative years of Hands at Work, a group of people joined together with a heart to care for the many patients dying of HIV and AIDS. Through this time of visiting patients in their homes, another layer of need was discovered: the orphaned child. These children were wandering in the streets and hiding behind closed doors. They were the lost, the broken, and the abandoned. Having lost their families to HIV and AIDS, and with little to no support, they did not know where to turn or how to care for themselves. They had no voice and were slipping between the cracks. Hands at Work became attuned to the harsh reality these children were living in and knew they must act. If they did not step in to support these children, where would their hope lie? In response to the cry of their hearts, Hands at Work entered into a season of committed prayer. The result was a deep conviction by God saying the way forward was to build personal relationships through home visits, being very intentional to seek out the most vulnerable children in their communities, those who otherwise might not be found.
Visiting an orphaned child in their home is to act on behalf of the absent parent. During that visit, the opportunity is given to a child to put aside the stresses of home, of responsibility, and just be a child. Home visits demand time, and can only be effective with the right desire of heart: the choice to go, and the willingness to get to know the child’s name and story. A home visit is beneficial, not just in understanding the external needs, but in spending time to engage with a child’s hurting heart, therefore bringing value and worth into their soul. Home visits may carry a high personal cost of time, emotion, and energy. But like the gospel, they bring transformation. We know we have been adopted into Christ's family and we want to see the same realisation in our children. We cannot create a culture of changing lives through brief service. Change does not come quickly; it comes with time and commitment.
Hands at Work is being reminded that the core of a home visit is in what Christ has done for us. He found us in our deepest time of need, visited us, invested in our lives, and renewed in us who we are. It is essential that during home visits, we wait. We wait for Christ to show up. We wait on His leading. We often wait even for the words to say. But we know that in our waiting, there is always something to come. We are expectant people.
Waiting on the Messiah
by Daytona Swarbrick
We do not put life on pause to wait, but we continue to wait, as we have for years - thousands of them. We wait patiently sometimes, and with desperation at other times. We are waiting on God. As the Israelites waited in Egypt for God to show up, we wait today. As the prophet Isaiah awaited the time when the Messiah would arrive, so we wait each year.
And now we wait again, expectantly, during this advent season. We await the celebration of the nativity. Nativity is that incarnation - that coming - that we have been waiting patiently and desperately for, for so many years. Even as we are aware of the coming of the Messiah so long ago, we live in this tension of the now and that which is to come. There is an imminence that is felt and seen in the faithful practice of love. We see this evidence of the kingdom of God here and now, and yet we still wait for His presence in places where pain and poverty and death persist. Patiently and desperately, faithfully and hopefully we wait for God to show up. As we wait, life happens around us; with colour and vitality at times, but often just in the mundane.
There are homes we enter that have mud and stick walls with sparse thatching on the roof, doing little to dissuade the torrential African rains. We sit with grandmothers who are struggling to find food for the children that have been left in their care. Sitting in those homes, doctrine and theology somehow lose their value. At that moment, when we sit amidst the pain, and see eyes of fear, and understand a little of what grieves the grandmother and what gives her life, we understand our dependence on the Messiah. We must wait. Together, humbly, we approach the throne and wait for God to "show up" for us. How can we do anything less? What could be better? To be in the presence of God together is what we long for. Do we not say, "OUR Father...Your name is Holy. Let your kingdom come here on Earth as it is in your perpetual presence"?
We wait for the advent of our Lord, this Emmanuel. We do this faithfully and hopefully. Each year, the church enters this season as a symbol to keep the focus of the Messiah close to our hearts. December 1st, 2013 begins that season again. May we all experience the coming of Emmanuel this season and in each moment when we dare to approach God together, and wait.
Hands at Work envisions the local church in Africa effectively caring for the most vulnerable, and unified in this mission with the church outside Africa.
The vision of Hands at Work has spread to many countries around the world. In Australia, Canada, Germany, the UK and USA a Hands at Work office has been created by passionate individuals who want to make a difference to Africa’s most vulnerable people. These volunteers and their International Office serve as a bridge between the local church in Africa, and the church in their country. They communicate with and coordinate the volunteers, churches, and advocates who partner with Hands at Work in Africa.
Hands Canada volunteers serve as the body of God’s people joined as a family of believers. They are working with churches in Canada: congregations and pastors who have a specific church they call home. Together, the church in Canada is supporting 1,100 children (increasing to 1,410 by mid-2014) throughout DR Congo, Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In August 2013, Hands at Work Canada came together for a one day celebration to worship God, to learn from one another, and to stand together in support of the most vulnerable people in Africa. Approximately 50 past and present volunteers, supporters, and advocates travelled from across Canada to meet in Calgary, Alberta at Westside King’s Church. For one day, the Hands Canada community was able to be together: to eat together, and fellowship in the way that is so vital to the community in Africa. Many Canadian volunteers work alone or in small groups in each city, often living hours and hours away from other volunteers in other cities. Also, many are unable to travel to Africa to see the work on the ground and yet, they give their time to help further the Hands at Work mission because they want to do what they can to serve the most vulnerable.
Throughout the day, multiple sessions were held. “The Jesus We Know” reminded us that Jesus chose to seek out and love the oppressed, and that while saying ‘yes’ to his call to care for the most vulnerable is hard, it will bring us closer to God. “The Wall” presented the wall of protection Hands at Work is striving to build around the most vulnerable children, with Christ as the foundation, and holy home visits as an essential layer. Other sessions discussed teams and volunteers, and gave an opportunity for those who had recently been in Africa to share about their experience. The last session, “Living It Out”, challenged us to live out the life Jesus has called us to, not just in Africa, but in Canada. We want to have holy home visits in Canada where we visit one another to be with those we love as the local volunteers do when visiting children in Africa.
After the sessions concluded, the first “Beautiful Feet” Fundraiser was held. “Beautiful Feet: Walking for the vulnerable children of Africa” is a fundraiser started by Hands Australia. Funds were raised in support of our vulnerable children, who walk many hours every day to get water or get to school, and for our Care Workers, who walk huge distances to visit children in their homes. Participants walked three laps (2.5km) around the church property, on the third lap even wearing chitenges (traditional African wrap around skirts) and carrying buckets of water.
This celebration reflected the unity that is vital to Hands at Work volunteers around the world and on the ground in Africa. We are together. We value relationships and the calling of God to love and support one another and serve the most vulnerable no matter where we call home.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common – Acts 4:32 ESV
Ashley Humphreys is a volunteer with Hands at Work in South Africa. Serving from May 2012 - May 2013, she returned to Canada for a few months where she was blessed to attend the Hands Canada Celebrations and connect with the Hands Canada family. She is now serving in Africa long-term, currently with the Communications Team.