For the last three years, Carolyn Snyman has encouraged the ladies volunteering with Hands at Work to ask God for their own personal Watchword for the year; a scripture that will serve as an encouragement, challenge and promise for the year to come.
“I find that often people think of discipleship as something that needs to be taught in a course but from what I can see in the Bible and from personal experience, discipleship is being with people and walking through life with them. If I think back to the people who have discipled me, I think about the people who have spent time with me and have been a part of my life. It is the act of being together.”
As we sat, each of us working on our designated bit of the banner, which was to depict the crucifixion, one of the younger prisoners said: “I don’t know this story. What happened?”I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could get any words out, the other prisoners started to tell him the story of Easter.
Daytona Swarbrick (International Volunteer, Canada) reflects on the season of advent:
Time. I remember it not feeling real. The clock was relentless. The sun coming through the windows seemed frozen in time, yet in that moment, there was nothing I could do to wrestle time into submission. A countdown had started that could not be stopped.
Marc has been a volunteer with Hands at Work since 2007. From Calgary, Canada, he is currently based at the Hub in South Africa where he serves as Project Support Leader. As a long term volunteer, Marc has experienced first-hand the trials and stirrings of living in a growing Christ-centred community with a focus to serve the most vulnerable.
The vision of Hands at Work is to see the local Church in Africa effectively caring for the most vulnerable, and unified in this mission with the Church outside Africa. The second part is just as vital as the first. Outside of Africa, support comes from churches, volunteers, advocates, prayer warriors, businesses and more. When people give, and give sacrificially, to the most vulnerable children in Africa, there is transformation happening on both sides: the giver and the receiver. And when people understand that they are blessed to be a blessing, they give freely.
A Church Story
Daphne with a Care Worker in Oshoek, South AfricaIn Australia, Daphne has been a friend of Hands for over 10 years. She has supported our work and been a voice for the children of Africa in her community, even when she was often the sole voice. But her endurance has been honoured by God. Daphne came to Africa to serve with Hands on the Short Team Service Team in July 2013. When she returned to her church in Perth, and having invited George Snyman to speak to her congregation, they began to support a community. Heart City Church is now supporting 25 children in Welverdiend, South Africa, with the hope to increase this number even further in the future. Heart City Church joins the Sunbury group, also from Australia, who support a further 75 children in Welverdiend at Pfunani Community Based Organisation. Heart City Church is now hoping to send their first team in September 2014 to experience Africa as Daphne has. We praise God for her dedication and His work in the hearts of so many people in Australia.
A Business Story
We are often inspired by how one person’s story of Africa can create a ripple effect. In the US, Lauren Lee, who works as part of the Hands US International Office, shared her passion for the children of Africa with her friend Bill. Bill works for Microsoft and this company has a program where they will potentially match funding for charities. Lauren encouraged Bill to apply to this matching program and his application was successful! Bill contributed 5,000 USD and Microsoft matched this funding, allowing 10,000 USD to be donated to Hands at Work, specifically to the Malawi Service Centre! This support is an amazing example of how we can each use our influence and voice to advocate for the most vulnerable children.
An Advocate Story
Jacob Erick with new friends in AfricaIn September 2010, Todd and Katie Wells served in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 7 months, living with Pastor Erick, our Hands at Work Congolese leader. As they returned to Canada, they knew their hearts would never be the same. When they gave birth to their son, they named him Jacob Erick, after the pastor whose life had inspired them. They also decided to raise funds for the community of Kitabataba in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children were receiving home visits from Care Workers, but had no food security, access to education, or basic health care. In the beginning it was quite difficult. People who had not been to Africa did not understand the level of urgency. But in His mighty faithfulness, God gave Todd and Katie the strength to persevere, and they secured support for 50 children. In September 2013, Todd and Katie returned to the Congo and visited Kitabataba where they witnessed the transformation that has happened over the past couple of years. They could see the part that their support had played, but what impacted them more deeply was seeing the servant hearts of the Care Workers who had become like parents to the 50 children of Nyota Community Based Organisation. They could see Erick’s influence everywhere as the Care Workers displayed his same compassion and love. Also, Erick had the opportunity to meet baby Jacob in Zambia for the first time! Todd and Katie and their friends and family are now increasing the number of children they support to 75 children. This commitment requires sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that is building God’s kingdom.
As the lives of the children we give to are changed, our own hearts experience a deeper understanding of how God has given everything to us. He gave us His son. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
This Christmas, may we give thanks with a grateful heart.
Today I want to do something dangerous. I want to try to define short-term missions, or teams coming to visit Hands. Why are we doing it? What does it actually mean? Maybe I should just say what it does not mean. It's not a missional experience that we are trying to create, or a sort of short-term outreach that is good for a team to go on as an experience and say "I can tick the box of being in Africa". Rather it's a sacrificial, well planned commitment in friendship through servanthood. It is ongoing, bringing healing and maturity and encouragement to both those going and those receiving. Those going are saying, “Because I understand that love is not expressed in words but in deeds.” Those receiving are saying "I am blessed because I am not forgotten. I'm known by name and I have hope. Many people are coming here to help me, encourage me, and they receive healing themselves."
Initially when we come to Africa it is difficult for us to understand that “me” and “my time” are actually the best gift I could give Africa. Me, as a person, and my time. It's so hard for us to believe this is really the best we can give when meeting all the amazing people in Africa and experience the pain and suffering in the villages where we work.
I was recently told a story about one of our Care Workers in one of the communities where we work. I was told how the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 came alive to her. The words, "I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. Whenever you give even a cup of water to one of these little ones …" It revolutionized her whole life and the way she cared. She confessed that now when she gets up in the morning she gets up and she looks for opportunities to have an impact. She looks for opportunities to reach out, even if it is only a cup of water to one of the most vulnerable children. It went further. One night, late, there was somebody knocking at the door. Initially she thought she could never open it up and put herself at risk. Again the scripture came to her. What if it is somebody that you could help, somebody that is in need? She opened the door and it was a vulnerable and orphaned girl from one of our communities who was kicked out of the house where she stayed. She had nowhere to go that night. This young lady who had this wonderful revelation of the word of God, took her into her house and she kept her there. In the morning she went to the hut where this young girl was staying. She dealt with the dispute that there was and why she wasn't welcome there anymore. She said it changed everything between her and this girl. This girl now trusted her at such a deep level. There was such a strong bond between the two of them that it gave her a beautiful opportunity to become deeply involved in her life.
Yes. These are stories that we hear at Hands at Work very often. It's beautiful. Of course we all know these stories are contagious. We've seen through the years that relationships are the core ingredients that change everything. We see people coming together from different cultures, different educational backgrounds, different thinking. And as they knit their hearts together in the dusty roads in Africa, and they meet the children, there's something beautiful and lasting in both their lives.
A part of the Hands Vision has always been that we want to serve the body of Christ. We believe in the body. We believe in the church. We especially believe in the young people coming to Africa and sending them back to take their rightful place as upcoming leaders in their communities and churches. The volunteers who have been with us from years ago, and a bit more recently, I have met on my journeys when I go to their countries and speak. Some of them come back to Hands and they share their lives with us. Their voices become tender and soft when they start sharing how grateful they are. They don't take things for granted anymore. They came to understand and ask “What is the difference between me and the people in Africa?” That's a humbling experience. It's also liberating. It sets you free and gives you a purpose to live a life that's continually blessing people around you, not just in Africa, but even in their own community. You are compelled to get involved in the lives of broken people around you.
I was recently in Australia with one of our church partners who has been with us for more than 10 years. The fire is still burning so high in that church. I asked the pastor, “How do you do this? How do you keep the flame alive? You are so compassionate about Africa. Every year teams are coming. Your involvement is amazing. Young people come to serve. It's incredible and it doesn't slow down its actually growing.” The pastor looked at me at that moment and very clearly said to me, "George, we are not good for Africa. Africa is good for us. Africa's impact in our church is so big. All of us know that it has played a huge defining role in helping us grow to maturity - to go and see and to go and learn - going to meet people by name. When they come back it brings purpose, it brings maturity, and it brings life."
Missions don’t exist because there's a church. Churches exist because there are missions and because all of us live to worship our Father and to make His name known. What an incredible privilege to do that in the place where the pain and brokenness and the suffering is at its worst. Surely, surely that is getting very close to our Father.
Ashley Humphreys, is a volunteer from Canada and has been serving with Hands at Work in South Africa and Zambia since May 2012. She reflects on her time in Africa and a recent encounter with a special Care Worker, Jean.
When I came to volunteer in Africa, I said I was coming to give. Give my time, my passion, my resources. Soon after arriving, I realized I wasn’t very good at giving at all. I came into living in a community of people from all over the world and learned that at Hands at Work, we live as a family. We live by the core values of servanthood and giving freely. Freely. Not conditionally. It didn’t take me long to realize I lived by giving conditionally. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a first world country. Maybe it’s because deep in my heart there is a selfish girl who doesn’t want to share, who wants things to be about her sometimes, who wants people to recognize when she does something well. I saw this ugly side of myself in little things. Someone would ask to borrow my milk and I’d say yes but I’d think, “Now I’m going to run out and I can’t get to the grocery store for a week! They should really be more organized.” I hated myself for thinking that way. Why couldn’t I just let it go? Why couldn’t I give and be happy my family member knew I was someone they could ask? Why didn’t it feel like a privilege to give to my brothers and sisters? I started praying God would help me give freely – give without condition, give to glorify Him, give because His word says “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9: 7)
In Zambia I met Jean, a Care Worker at Chibuli Community Based Organization. I was honoured to walk with her through the community and go on home visits with her. The children we visited would cuddle up to her as we sat outside. She would wrap her arms around them, all of them children who have been orphaned and are living with aging grandparents. We walked so far through the tall grass and huts of Chibuli to get to four homes, something Jean is used to doing every week. On the long walk back to the Care Centre after our visits, Jean started talking to me about how to be a Care Worker, it was like she was training me for my future as one.She said, “It was hard at first, giving to the children. When I started it was really hard. But, it gets easier! I’ve been a Care Worker for 3 years. I just kept doing it and it got easier. Now there are children in my home all the time. I have my 3 children, but I have many more. I tell all the children to come to my house and I will bathe them. And feed them. I say ‘bring your clothes!’ So they come, they bring their clothes, I wash their clothes and I wash their bodies and I give them food.” She said it with joy and with love.
God spoke right through Jean to me: Giving gets easier. I can give with my heart like Jean does. Not today, but maybe one day. It’s a strange thing, to think of practising giving. But it’s exactly what we can do as we seek out God and grow in our understanding of who Jesus truly is. As I have tried to answer God’s call to care for and love others, He has shown me how to give without condition. After a year of volunteering in Africa and praying about giving, it is a little bit easier. I still have lots of moments where I see my hard heart, but I have more where I feel the love of God come through me. We all have walls around our hearts, and ideas in our heads that make us second guess giving freely. We have to keep fighting through. Keep praying and asking God to radically transform us so we build His Kingdom in everything we do.