The most significant photos to us are not always the most professional or even most beautiful images. They are the ones, however, that take us back to a moment that changed our lives.
From March 1st – April 16th, join the Hands at Work family around the world as we pray for 40 Days on behalf of the most vulnerable children in Africa and our work to support them. Thandeka represents one of thousands of children being cared for by volunteer Care Workers across the communities Hands at Work supports. Read her story and join us in prayer by downloading the 40 Days of Prayer Guide.
Once a plentiful flowing source of water, the river that runs through the community of Baraka, Zambia is now stagnant. A severe lack of rainfall has left the community and its people in a desperate situation. Precious* and her grandmother daily collect water from this river; they don’t know what will happen when the water runs dry.
When Nicholas* was just five years old, both of his parents tragically died in the same year, leaving him in the care of an uncle. His uncle was emotionally and physically abusive but with no one else to turn to, Nicholas was trapped in his home. His uncle refused to pay school fees so Nicholas was unable to attend school. Nicholas’ Aunt Mildred* visited the family and was appalled by Nicholas’ physical and emotional state.
Tanisha* has been living in Apatuku, a rural village outside the bustling city of Ibadan, for four years. Sent by her mother at the age of six to live with her grandmother, this move shifted Tanisha into a very vulnerable position, just like thousands of other girls across Nigeria. Her ailing grandmother cared for the young girl and appreciated her help as she was struggling to cook, clean, and do errands alone, but unfortunately was unable to send her to school. Together, they live in a small rented room, sharing a bed and the meager belongings the grandmother had collected. Tanisha, obedient and caring, worked hard to ensure she cared for her grandmother well, but inside she was deeply troubled. Tanisha desperately missed her mother and wanted nothing more than to go to school.
Twice a year, Hands at Work welcomes a new intake of volunteers. In September 2014, 8 volunteers joined us to serve for one year and in February 2015 we were blessed with 13 more. They each received the same calling of God to serve in Africa, but the work He is doing in their own lives is unique. Here, some of them reflect on their journey so far in Africa.
Volunteers from around the world of various backgrounds and ages comprise the Hands at Work team. Hands at Work invites volunteers to come and invest a year or more of their life on behalf of the most vulnerable by becoming a part of our work, family and community of faith. During a five week orientation in South Africa, they are prepared to mobilise, equip and support the local church across Africa to transform the lives of the most vulnerable. We ask our volunteers to learn and serve in whatever way is needed. Like scaffolding, they are an essential yet temporary tool in building a structure and leaving it stronger than when they arrived.
Valentina* is only 7 years old, yet most of her life has been spent struggling to survive. When her father passed away, her mother was left with five children to care and provide for. In the extremely poor community of Kitabataba, finding income to buy food is almost impossible for the most vulnerable families.
Many people have had their lives affected by time spent in Africa. There are memories that we hold onto that breathe air on the embers of our faith – reminding us that God is for the orphaned the widowed and the dying. The most significant photos to us are not always the most professional or even most beautiful images. They are the ones, however, that take us back to a moment that changed our lives.
Our vision is a challenge for the church. Will the institution that the church has become simply fulfil religious cravings, or will the church spend itself on behalf of the hungry ‘lifting the cause of the fatherless’ and becoming Christ-like in its humility and servanthood. Can religion be as pure and faultless as this?
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.
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.
Madeline* is a 10-year-old girl living in Chilabula, a small village 30 kilometres from the town of Luanshya in Zambia. Madeline is now in grade 2 and enjoys going to school. One day, she hopes to become a nurse so she can help people in need. When she is not at school, she enjoys playing games and collecting wild fruits with her friends.
Tuesday December 10, 2013
Looking back at 2013 for Hands at Work on the very day of Nelson Mandela’s funeral is very emotional and yet a rewarding experience for me as an African and a South African. Today I am so proud to belong to the global Hands at Work family fighting injustice by reaching out to the most vulnerable children in Africa.
I see some characteristics in Mandela’s life that we hold dear to in the Hands family. He had an amazing ability to cross cultural barriers. His whole life reflected sacrificial giving. Not only did he spend most of his adult life in prison, but once he was released he continued to live a sacrificial lifestyle. During his time as President of South Africa he gave his full salary every month towards those in poverty. After he completed his career as a politician he started the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. He never stopped living a life of giving! He believed in and encouraged others all the time that an individual can make a difference in this world. Each one should just do what he or she can do.
In the beginning of 2013, Hands at Work leaders across Africa came together in Zambia. After a time of prayer and deep introspection, a renewed commitment was made to accept full responsibility for Hands and the vision we believe God gave us to live out. Part of our time together was living in one of the poorest communities with the children and grandmothers we care for. It was a time of deep impact and out of it we developed Maranatha Workshops. Maranatha means, “Come Lord”. These workshops are an invitation for Jesus to come and reveal His Father's heart to the Care Worker. In this time, Care Workers begin to recognise the wounds that are deep within themselves. That due to the wounds they carry, they have often wounded others out of that pain. Now the realisation is being awakened to the One true healer. The One who came to pour His life into their hearts and bring restoration to their lives. The workshops have clarified the different role players in the Hands model and how we can support and encourage each other to reach the children and their Care Workers in the best possible way. Our commitment is to do this workshop in every one of our communities before the end of June 2014. As we end 2013 we have already reached many communities in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The stories from the workshops are encouraging and we have discovered just how much pain and brokenness exists within the communities.
A highlight this year was to see how individuals and families not only visited us in Africa, but how they went home and mobilised their international communities to adopt the African communities they visited on the ground. We also saw short-term volunteers return home and then bring teams to Africa. They refused to just carry on living their lives as they had before coming to Africa. They became advocates among their circles of influence. I stayed in the homes of families all over the world where they would show me photos of our children in Africa and tell me those children’s names. They were praying for them every day!
In 2013 we had our first advocacy day in Chicago and friends of Hands came from all over the US to join us. A number of people with professional careers have cut back their working hours so they can volunteer their time to support Hands. Their skill and time will make such a difference in the countries where they live, and for us in Africa this is such an encouragement to see people accepting our vision with us and committing themselves to it.
As I mentioned, this is the day of Mandela’s funeral. But this is also the day when Carolyn and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Early this morning, as we prayed together we had such a sense of overwhelming gratefulness. God is so good to us! He kept us together, He provided for our daily needs, He blessed us with children, grandchildren, and many amazing friends. He gave us a heart and dream to serve others. He showed us His heart! We raise an Ebenezer today declaring loud and clear that we serve a great and faithful God. Right from the start of our marriage, Carolyn and I agreed what our core values would be and we never negotiated away from them. We held to Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
We want to give that verse to everyone who is part of the Hands family and who believes in the dream of a better life for those we are serving. Hold to a dream bigger than yourself, commit to core values, and be held accountable. Today we stand as living testimonies that once you start to live for others and not yourself, you will always look back and say, “I received undeserving favor!”
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.
by Morgan Malster
“The poverty in Nigeria is like nothing I have ever seen. It’s dark, it makes you feel heavy. I have seen many things in my almost four years walking on African soil, but nothing that compared to this.”
Morgan Malster, a long-term international volunteer with Hands at Work in Africa, shares a series of photos that tell a story. A story of poverty and darkness but also of love, hope and life. As she walked through Nigeria for the first time, breathing it in, she made a true and honest attempt to capture all that she saw on camera.
Devon van Hoffen arrived in South Africa as part of Hands at Work’s September volunteer intake. From Canada, Devon has come to learn about Hands at Work, Africa, and God’s heart for the most vulnerable. Volunteers have the opportunity to walk alongside local Care Workers in the poorest of the poor communities as they visit children who need love and parental care. Here, he tells the story of one of his first home visits with a Care Worker in South Africa.
I recently did a home visit in a community in South Africa. I was greeted by an 11 year old girl with a big smile on her face. Her name was Lilian. I don’t know much of Lilian’s story but what little I do know is shocking.
Lilian is 11 years old and is HIV positive. When you are HIV positive you are more susceptible to disease, and because of her HIV she contracted tuberculosis. One of her kidneys has also failed, so she only has one left.
Lilian lives with her mother. Her mother is rarely home, so her aunt takes care of her. Her aunt told us that Lilian’s mother is given a government grant because she has a daughter. Her mother uses this grant to buy food for herself, and doesn’t care for Lilian. Lilian’s aunt can’t afford to buy medication for her, so she has no way of getting the help she needs.
Despite Lilian’s health, she is still attending school. I would guess that she is doing well in school because of how much she understood what was going on, and how well she could communicate with us. Her favourite class in school is English. She told us that when she grows up she wants to be a nurse, so she can help other people who are sick. That answer she gave was truly amazing, because it really shows how big of a heart she has.
Lilian’s aunt gave the Care Workers her medical report, and some papers that said how much her medication would cost. The Care Workers meet regularly, so at their next meeting they can present her report and potentially budget for Lilian’s medication. They will continue to visit Lilian on a weekly basis and pray with her and walk alongside Lilian in her struggle.
You can read more about Devon’s journey on his blog: http://devonvanhoffen.wordpress.com
Hands at Work invites people to come to Africa and see the work God is doing here on the ground. You can learn more about the opportunities to come to Africa to serve, here: /come