Sunday, 23 September 2012

Living out the Core Values of Hands

We apologize for the delay in posting this but it’s been a jam packed first week of orientation. The days have been long. Our emotions have been drained. Our minds have been completely blown away! The next few posts are going to be about what we have done and learned during this first week.

Hands at Work has 8 core values that define it is as an organization. They are:
  1. Loving God and our neighbor
  2. Reaching the poorest of the poor
  3. Living servanthood
  4. Supporting local community ownership
  5. Valuing relationships
  6. Prioritizing God, family, ministry
  7. Being accountable
  8. Giving freely

It is easy to read over these core values and liken them to a product of a mandatory HR policy, as it is with many corporations. However, when they are unpacked and unified with Hands’ mission and structure (more on that later), it is incredible how powerful these values really are. It is an inspiration to see these core values lived out daily by the leaders of Hands and adopted by each member of the Hands community.

Think about loving God and loving our neighbor. These are the greatest commandments in the Bible (Matthew 22:37-39). You cannot love God without loving your neighbor. We are commanded to love our neighbor as we would ourselves. But how many of us can really say that this is true in our lives? We will be the first to admit that we cannot and that we continue to be challenged by this verse.

An important part of the reason behind us going to Africa was defining who our neighbor was. I (Byron) saw firsthand the poverty in Africa 4 years ago. We see images and read stories on the news all the time of the famines, the poverty, the corruption, etc. It broke our hearts. No matter which way we looked at it, we resolved that we could not faithfully serve when there existed such a strong calling in our hearts to act. When we walk into the communities and see the vulnerable children, the impoverished gogos (grandmas), the dedicated Careworkers, we see our neighbor. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to Africa’s problems simply because they do not fall in our backyard. We are called to love these people.

We believe that true love can only come from God. All the reasons for wanting to help – feeling good about ourselves, compassion, generosity, easing a guilty conscience, etc. – all fall by the wayside eventually. When things become too tough and we become discouraged, these reasons will not be enough to get us through. We do this because we love. And we know love only because God showed us true love. The message of the gospel shows the greatest display of love in history. Jesus descended from heaven, not to become a king, nor to rule over the nations, but to be a champion for the poor and the oppressed. He came to this world to be the least of us and died a death reserved for the least. God GAVE us His only son so that we could live and give freely (John 3:16). That is love.

Think about relationships and supporting local community ownership. We’ve heard the Western mindset towards some of Africa’s problems and acknowledge the cynics and the criticism. See if any of these sound familiar or resound in your own mind:
  • The problem is too overwhelming.
  • Millions and millions of dollars are donated in aid or relief to Africa every year. Nothing improves. What’s the point?
  • The problem in Africa is self-inflicted and self-perpetuating. By helping the people out, we encourage and foster an environment of laziness and dependency.
  • No matter how bleak a situation, those that persevere and work hard enough will manage to find a way to rise above. Those in poverty have the ability to will themselves out of it.

It is our hope that the message we convey through this blog can help dispel all of these notions. This is not to say that we (or Hands) has the magical formula to fix all of Africa. In fact, before we can be of any use, we must first come to this realization: We are utterly useless and what we think will solve Africa’s problems are, in reality, first world rubbish. Humbling, but true!

This is where relationships and local community ownership come into play. Hands is not a service provider. While Hands supports initiatives to feed, clothe and house children, it understands that these services, in and of themselves, are not transformational. Rather, lives are transformed through love. It is not enough to deliver food to a community. It is not enough to put a roof over a child’s head. Yes, there exists a great amount of physical poverty in South Africa. Yes, there are basic needs that need to be met. But the greater problem that pervades the culture here is the social poverty. These children need to be cared for. They need to be loved and to be showed that their lives are precious and valuable in God’s eyes. They need to be known by name. Only then can they truly be transformed.

In a world where everything is measured by quantifiable results, we acknowledge the difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of what Hands does. Further, we understand that, as missionaries living on the generosity and support of others, there are pressures to identify exactly what we have done (i.e., a school has been built, a water program was created in a community, etc.) so our donors can see the fruit of their involvement. As great as those things are to accomplish, Africa’s problems are systemic and cultural. They cannot be cured overnight and we have no illusions otherwise. But we do firmly believe in Hands’ mission. Children who once had no hope and no future are being loved and cared for and being transformed into leaders in their own communities. We have heard some truly amazing stories in the short time we have been here of such transformation. We are excited to witness them for ourselves and to participate in these stories.

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