Sunday, 18 August 2013

Ce-le-brate Good Times, Come On!

Lately we've been noticing how quickly time is passing by. We have been back at the Hub in South Africa for over 3 months now, settled into our roles (Diane on the Finance / Project Support team for our Zambia operations and Byron on the Legal / Operations / Clau Clau Service Centre Project Support / Kitwe Service Centre Project Support side of things). Between the move back to South Africa, visits from our family, taking on more responsibility with our new roles, and life in general, it feels like we haven't had much time to spare. But no matter how quickly time has escaped us, it's never too late to reflect on the good times and to share these memories with friends and family back home.

In April every year, Care Workers and Service Centre staff from across the 8 countries that Hands at Work operates in, together with international volunteers, advocates and friends of Hands at Work, and local church leaders converge at Kachele Farm, our 'Hub' in Zambia, to "ce-le-brate good times, come on!" This annual conference, called 'Celebrations', is a time for our Care Workers and Service Centre staff - the men and women whose very heart and passion our organization is built on - to meet up, share stories, re-connect and be challenged and encouraged by the work we're doing and the testimonies and stories coming out of our communities. Most importantly, it's an opportunity to gather the entire Hands Family together in one place.

Whether we traveled to Zambia by bus, by car or by plane, whether we came from the next town over (like us) or all the way from Nigeria, the UK or the US, there was an undeniable sense of family and community among us. Many of our Care Workers (1-4 from each Community Based Organization (CBO) together with the CBO Coordinator) braved long (like, really long!) bus journeys and multiple border crossings (which are always gong shows in Africa) just to be part of Celebrations. For many of our Care Workers, this is the only time of year they get to travel outside of their community. For some, it was their first time ever!

As much as Celebrations is a time of fun and re-connecting, it's also a time to introduce and roll out the key themes that Hands is focusing on in the upcoming year. It's a wonderful opportunity to assess how we're doing as an organization and what we can be doing better to more effectively reach and care for our children. Two of the themes that dominated the discussion during this year were: 'Holy Home Visits' and 'The Jesus We Know'.

We've said it here before but, if there's one activity we do that defines who we are as an organization, it is home visits. We visit others because Jesus first visited us. Home visits are what enable us to properly assess and understand our children. It is what allows us to engage in deep relationships with a child and is what separates us from being a mere service provider. In short, it shows the child that we care, that he/she is valued, and that he/she is known by name. It must be so much more than just a brief check-in or an obligatory visit to be crossed off a to-do list. One of the main points emphasized is that, for our home visits to be effective and transformational, each visit must be approached with the same preparation, attitude and anticipation as one would have if they were to be meeting with God himself. Would we go into such a meeting with an agenda or a time limit? Would we go with impatient attitudes or a narrow-mindedness that limits our expectations of what God can do in our lives? Of course not! Rather, we go for no other reason than to love and serve. If we adopt the right spirit in our home visits, we trust that God will show up. Only then will we truly see the transformational nature of "holy" home visits.

Another theme that we talked about is something we termed, ‘The Jesus We Know’. Many of our Care Workers have been raised their whole life with an understanding of God, of Christianity, that misconstrues or altogether misses the true message of the gospel. Instead, the prosperity gospel - the theology that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one's material wealth (according to Wikipedia) - reaches throughout vast parts of Africa. Many are also exposed to a very legalistic view of what it means to be a Christian - that we must obey the Biblical commandments to earn favour with God and to, ultimately, earn our way into heaven. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the life Jesus lived and the good news He came to bring during His time on Earth. The 'Jesus We Know' is the Jesus who is the blameless Son of God but, yet, was mocked and persecuted and ultimately died for our sins. The 'Jesus We Know' is the Jesus who spent His life dwelling amongst the sinners, condemning the religious and the righteous. The 'Jesus We Know' is the King who came to be a humble servant and wash the feet of his disciples. During Celebrations, we were all deeply challenged with whether we know the true Jesus of the gospel, who loves and cares for widows and orphans, and who teaches us that it is the poor, the weak and the meek who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. As Christians, and as those who have made it our mission to care for such people, we need to be looking to the example that Christ set during His time on Earth and living our lives in a way that strives to be more like Him.

All-in-all, it was a joyous 3 days, full of fellowship, learning and just pure celebration of what God is doing in the lives of the children we serve. It was truly amazing! Our hearts were touched as we saw Service Centre Coordinators from different countries reunited after years, teasing each other and telling each other stories, despite their sometimes very broken English. The laughter, the dancing, the moments where a group of Care Workers would just break out in song ... these are memories we will hold dear to our hearts forever. Here are some pictures and hightlights from our time together.

-Diane & Byron

"The Wall" of protection that we build around the child 
Byron with baby Mischek, Clement's tank of a son 
A packed house on the first day of Celebrations with representatives from CBO's from all 8 of our countries! 
An impromptu song and dance before the start of day 2 ... so very African of us!
The little ones are always the belles of the ball. This little guy, Farai Jr., is the son of our Zimbabwe Service Centre Coordinator 
More singing and dancing
Amazing praise and worship

Prayer for those in need
Hadasah, the cutest little Congolese baby we have EVER met!!
Song and dance performances by each of the 8 countries Hands operates in

Nigerians (with honourary Nigerians) rocking the house (we just wanted to post this picture to show Lynn dancing)
The largest contingent at Celebrations, Zambia, after our song and dance number! 
Say "Mwentula!", which means "Smile!" in Bemba 
A precious group picture of the Kitwe Service Centre together with Care Workers from each of the CBOs that the Kitwe Service Centre supports
Our 2 favourite Zambian ladies: Elizabeth (R), the Coordinator of the Luanshya Service Centre together with Towela (L), our mom and the Coordinator of the Kitwe Service Centre
The dishes that fed over 225 people!
Is that ... Cleveland?! From The Family Guy?

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