Do you ever have those moments when you wake up, and for a fleeting moment you are not sure where you are, what day it is, and what the day ahead holds? I found myself feeling that way last Saturday morning when I woke up in a strange and unfamiliar room (again) and took a few moments to remember we had travelled to the Congo the day before, and would be there for just two nights to celebrate one of our amazing African leaders and dear friend’s wedding. My first African wedding and a Congolese one at that! But more on this later…
The feeling, however, of not being sure where I am, and sleeping in yet another new bed or “home”, has characterised my last 2 months. In fact, home has become anywhere my head hits the pillow (or lack of pillow!) for the night.
In the past 2 months, I have travelled to the Congo twice, hosted a team from one of our partner churches in the US in Malawi, have joined in a week-long celebration with all our African leaders from the 8 countries we work in here in Zambia to recognise what God has done in the past year and plan the way forward, we have had Kids camps running here at Kachele, and international teams and visitors coming and going (including a dear friend from Australia, Tim McLaughlin who it was great to reconnect with!), the Ebola outbreak has been spreading across Western Africa taking far too many innocent lives and another unnecessary blow to a struggling continent, and we have just come off the back of a week-long workshop with our bookkeepers again from all the countries we work in, not to mention the many meetings that have been occurring as we look down the barrel of 2014 and plan how we will finish the year well and set our budgets and plans in place for 2015. And I couldn’t possibly forget, hearing wonderful news from home, that my brother Luke and his lovely girlfriend Beate are engaged! 🙂 Never a dull moment!
I have to admit I am quite weary from the last 2 months, and yet strangely at the same time my heart is full.
Here are some highlights from the past 2 months to catch you up.
You instantly notice the difference as you cross into the Congo from Zambia.
Dust. There is so much dust, sweeping along the ground, swirling in the air, collecting it in your eyes, nose, mouth, hair, everywhere.
Colour. A vibrancy of colour like nowhere else I have experienced yet. Women and children dressed brightly in elaborate dresses, ‘Sunday best’ attire, but every day of the week.
It’s loud. People walking the streets selling goods and yelling out so you are aware of their presence; regular conversations being held in raised voices as a normal way of life.
Intensity. There is an intensity to the DRC that is hard to describe; almost like there is a current of underlying tension and aggression running just under the surface, waiting to explode at any time. It feels just that bit more volatile than the neighbouring peaceful, easy going Zambia that is home for now.
The challenge of language. More than any of the other countries we work in, with the national language being French, and the local language in the poor communities being Swahili. This meant English, even as a secondary language was almost non-existent (even among some members of our local office). A very fast crash course in Swahili was required.
Vulnerability. Some of the most vulnerable children I have seen so far during my time here in Africa. So many bloated bellies, stunted growth, hair falling out, all signs of malnutrition.
Desperation. I sat in one home visit with a Granny who stayed alone with two small boys (approx. 5 and 7 years). 2 weeks prior to our visit the father of the boys had passed away from a long illness (the mother had long abandoned the boys when the father first got sick). These small boys had cared for their father until he died, feeding him, bathing him, helping him go to the toilet and cleaning his waste. The home they stayed in was nothing more than a simple shack with walls and roof made from tarpaulin, with tears and holes in the roof and walls, and no real earthly possessions in the home.
It appeared the Granny had turned to alcoholism in the face of such hopelessness. She broke down and wept as we sat with her, and then started to plead that I take the boys away from her and care for them, because she was at her end and could not see how she could care for them. Such vulnerability of these two beautiful boys and such desperation I have not seen in any of the other countries we work in.
DRC is a tough place to work. As a country it is known for its richness of mineral resources, which have been the source of much strife, war and unrest for the country over many years. And these children and families are the ones who have suffered. And yet I am so thankful for our local team and volunteer Care Workers in the DRC, who are so strong and so committed to caring for our children despite facing so many challenges daily. There is hope for such a broken nation, through these local heroes.
Malawi with Wellspring Church Team
I had the privilege of hosting a team visiting Malawi from Wellspring Church in the USA. We spent the whole week together visiting one of our communities in Malawi called Mcheneke. This was such a blessing to me as it is a community I had not had the chance to go back to since I was first there over a year ago in March last year. Two moments in the community were a standout for me:
On one home visit we sat with a mother, caring alone for her 3 children. Through some unfortunate turns in life, she had lost her source of income, and because she had been away working/trying to source work she had missed planting her field and so now was struggling to daily provide for her family and unable to find any more work. The family were also staying in a borrowed dwelling, which they were facing the prospect of being kicked out of. The moment for me however, was when one of the Care Workers I was on the visit with, opened up and shared her story with the family to encourage them. She shared that her mother died as she was giving birth to her, so she was never given a name as a child. She grew up in the village with people calling her “orphan” for the first 20 years of her life until the day she got married. Her encouragement and testimony was that during those 20 years, it was God who took care of her, He knew her name and He was her Father. She encouraged the family that they could look to Him to provide and take care of their family. This is what we have been encouraging our care workers through recent workshops – that they use their scars and their testimonies to be an encouragement to others, and this is exactly what I witnessed. It was a beautiful moment!
I was also able to visit a dear friend and beautiful girl who is special to quite a few of us here at Hands. When I first met her last year, the default expression on her face I would say 90% of the time, was a such a pained expression speaking to the exceptionally tough life of abuse and neglect that had characterised her past. This year as we met again and sat and chatted and laughed she is looking stronger and happier and her pained expression was showing less and less. It was a delight to reconnect and see her progress.
Not to mention it was amazing to make new friends from San Francisco and spend the week with them as they visited Malawi for the first time and built relationships in the Community that I know will have a life long impact not only on them as visitors, but will leave a lasting impact in the community also.
Maranatha Celebrations in Zambia
Over the past 12 months, we have completed rolling out what we have called “Maranatha Workshops” in every one of our communities across the 8 countries we work in with our Care Workers. For more information on what a Maranatha Workshop is see: http://www.handsatwork.org/newsroom/2014/3/20/come-lord.html
To celebrate what God has done through these workshops and to prepare the next steps /way forward from here, all our African leaders from across the 8 countries we work in came together for a week here in Zambia.
As I sat looked around the small tent that we all sat under for the week we had nations represented from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, DRC, Zambia, Kenya, Australia, UK, Canada, USA – a true picture I believe of what the kingdom of God will look like. All races, tribes, colours, from such different backgrounds, experiences and ways of life, united together in one heart and purpose to serve the most vulnerable in Africa. In so many ways we are such a mixed group of ordinary people, which in the natural there is no logical reason that we should be able to do the work that we do…and yet somehow by the grace of God we are seeing lives and communities transformed here in Africa.
A question was posed to us during the week, if you had 3 children, and there were 3 places you were working or doing business in. Which child would you send to the toughest, most dysfunctional, most difficult place to work? You would send your best, right? As I looked around that room, I was surrounded by God’s best, Giants in the Faith. These supposedly ordinary men and women who are working in some of the toughest communities and most difficult parts of Africa to work: absolutely diamonds in the dust. I could not help but be humbled that I get to serve alongside these giants; to learn from them, to serve one another, to be challenged and inspired by the impact one individual can have when they chose to live their lives completely sold out for others.
2 Chronicles 20 speaks of a large battle that Jehoshaphat and the Israelites faced in the Old Testament. As they sought God and felt completely inadequate for the battle ahead, they were reminded: “…for the battle is not yours, but God’s” v15. However it still required action on their part, they were required to go out into the desert “…Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.” v17. We were reminded that even though the battle we face in caring for the most vulnerable in Africa is HUGE, it is not our battle, it’s God’s. It still does however require us to take our positions and stand firm. And I believe that goes for all of us. Wherever God has positioned me, you, us, whatever our individual calling and mandate, that we take action, we take up the position that only we can fill, and we STAND FIRM.
A Congolese Wedding!
My first African wedding and like nothing I have ever experienced before! It was certainly a special day to be able to celebrate with Erick (who heads up our work in the Congo) and his beautiful bride Lydia. It was an all-day event. Starting with the ceremony at the civic centre in the morning, followed by a church ceremony in the afternoon and a wedding reception that went well into the early hours of the morning, I’ll let the picture speak to the day 🙂