Sunday, 9 March 2014

Humbled and Blessed!

To our loyal and faithful readers – we’re still here! Thank you for continuing to follow along in our journey and for being such a huge part of it. We realize that it’s been over 4 months since our last blog post but there’s good reason for that (well, kind of). As most of you know, we returned home to Canada for a 3-month break. It was a time of rest, relaxation and, in typical Chan fashion, stuffing our faces. More than anything, it was a wonderful opportunity for us to reconnect with family and friends before returning to Africa again.

With family trips to Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Scottsdale and Vancouver sandwiched between our time in Calgary, it was a jam-packed 3 months. But it was definitely time well spent as we saw and spent quality time with so many people who have supported us throughout this past year and whom we love so dearly (including some solid bonding time with our niece, Reese, and our nephews, Tyson and Teddy).

We return to the Hands at Work Hub in South Africa feeling refreshed, renewed and excited for what lies ahead in the upcoming year. A huge part of the inner peace we have in returning is what transpired on the night of January 17th. On that evening, Diane and I hosted an information night and fundraiser for our family and friends at our home church in Calgary, Westside Kings Church.

The Setup
Having committed to serve in Africa for an additional two years with Hands at Work, we needed to raise financial support. As missionaries, we are responsible for raising every dollar required for us to live and work in Africa. What most people don’t realize is that this means we self-fund all of our accommodation, food, transportation, medical and travel expenses.

Just as significant as the fundraising piece, however, was the opportunity to share our faith and our hearts with everyone back home. We sensed that most people had no concept or understanding of what we actually do in Africa or why we have chosen this path for our lives. After all, they aren’t topics that can easily be discussed in depth in a casual conversation. We figured this would be our one shot, our one forum, to try and have our family and friends catch a glimpse of what has captured our hearts here in Africa.

In all honesty, we were extremely anxious about the night. For starters, it’s incredibly humbling to come before people seeking financial support. To add to the anxiety, we didn’t want to shy away from sharing about the one thing most responsible for us being here – our faith. We were uncertain about how people would respond to our invitation, let alone the things we would be sharing, and how willing people would be to walk alongside us financially for the next 2 years. What ended up happening on that night, however, completely blew our expectations away.

For starters, 83(!) people attended. When we first started planning for the evening, we thought we would be lucky to have a turnout of 50. Friends brought their family. Some brought other friends. The fact that so many people showed up to be a part of the night in itself was so encouraging.

After trying, and failing, to secure any donations from catering companies, family and friends stepped up to help us prepare food for the evening. Diane’s parents, in particular, prepared a ridiculous amount of food – salad rolls, spring rolls and Vietnamese baguettes – which were all a huge hit. We went from stressing about not having enough food for our guests to stressing about what we would do with all the leftovers! There was a serious spread and what was originally meant to be some light finger foods turned into a massive feast. It was incredible!

A glimpse of the spread
Another key component of the evening that worked out so much better than we could have ever imagined was the silent auction. Up until a few days before, we weren’t even sure if we were going to have a silent auction at all. The only items we had were a couple of handmade African baskets and shoulder bags that we brought back with us. Again, our friends stepped up big time and a few days before the fundraiser, our silent auction miraculously came together. We ended up with Flames jerseys and tickets and gift certificates for restaurants. We even got a little creative and auctioned off a home-cooked Vietnamese dinner for two (which went for much more than we could have expected)! The ultimate item, however; the one that drummed up the most excitement for the evening, was the opportunity to shave my beautiful I-grew-this-for-14-months-in-the-sweltering-heat-of-Africa-much-to-the-chagrine-of-my-wife hair off (more on that later).

We structured the night to be informal and were careful not to throw too much information at people. We wanted everyone to feel free to mingle, grab food and check out the various displays we had set up throughout the room. But the real purpose of the night was for everyone to catch a glimpse of our vision and our hearts for being in Africa.

Country profiles of each of the 8 African countries that Hands works in
"The Wall" of protection that we seek to build around each child
South African biltong
Diane began by sharing about our past year – where we had been, what we had done, what had impacted us – which included a bucket bathing demonstration by yours truly. Don’t worry ... I kept my clothes on. I then followed up by sharing about our decision to commit for another 2 years – the way we wrestled with the decision for much of the year, the reasons why we’ve come back and the sacrifices we knew we were making as a result.

Bucket bathing!
After a brief break, we were back up on stage, this time explaining Hands at Work – who we are, what our vision is, what we do – and how Diane and I fit into the whole structure. We were cognizant that it’s not the easiest model to explain and to attempt to go into depth would likely result in glazed-over eyes and nodding heads. But the one take-away that we wanted to leave people with is the significance we place on local community ownership and sustainability. We emphasized that we are two-steps removed from the work that happens on the ground and that, for the most part, we spend most of our time doing office and administrative-type work that supports the local men and women in the field. It’s like we’re working regular office jobs … just without the paycheck! The huge difference, however, is that we are still very connected to the work on the ground and the people doing it. When all is said and done, it’s not a job for us. It’s a passion and life choice.

After we finished speaking, Brian and Lisa Dalley, the couple who operates the Hands at Work Canadian office, came up and spoke about the financial component of the evening. They explained the different ways that people can support us, both financially and prayerfully, why we need support, and what people’s donated funds actually goes to. A huge point that they wanted to make everyone aware of is that for us to be able to do what we do so far away from our homes and our families, we need moral and prayerful support just as much as we need financial support. It was invaluable for Diane and I not to have to speak on the fundraising piece ourselves and to have Brian and Lisa there to answer questions and handle all the donations that came in.

The rest of the evening was left as time for people to mingle, to make their final bids on the silent auction items and, for those who felt it in their hearts to get involved, to submit their donation forms to Brian and Lisa. At the beginning of the night, our good friend and host for the evening, Chris, communicated our fundraising goal. Even though we had so many people show up, I was worried that we had set our goal much too high. We were hoping to raise enough funds to cover our living expenses for the next 2 years. When I did the quick math in my head, I realized that it was a lot to be asking of the 83 people in the room.

Earlier I mentioned our silent auction item of shaving my head. As an added incentive for people to donate (which, if you had seen my hair in its long state, should have been more than enough incentive for most people), we communicated that the deed would be done only if we reached our fundraising goal. I had mixed feelings about it. As hideous as it looked, my luscious, long locks had been a big part of my journey in Africa, not to mention how much I (and Diane) had to endure to grow it out. On the other hand, it would be nice for my wife to be semi-attracted to me again and to be able to look at me without the inevitable look of disgust on her face. But maybe ‘mixed feelings’ isn’t the right term because trumping everything, of course, is how amazing it would be to reach our fundraising goal.

Well, folks … it happened! People frantically filled out donation forms and hiked up their bids on silent auction items. We had so many people come up to us throughout the evening asking what our greatest needs were, how they could best support us, and blessing us with words of encouragement. In an incredible display of love and support, we exceeded our fundraising goal. We were so blown away. Our words of thanks at the end of the night did absolutely no justice to the amount of gratitude that had welled up in our hearts.

And, this, my friends, was the end result. (A secret bidder emerged (which turned out to be my brother-in-law, Benny), offering to match the winning silent auction bid to shave my head if I kept it like this for one week.)

Diane preparing me for the deed
The deed being done
My beautiful hair ...
Diane about to cry
Just when she didn't think it could get any worse ...
The guys responsible
It was so humbling to be a part of something so special. We could not feel more blessed or more loved as we return to Africa. The financial support was huge, no doubt. But even more encouraging for us was the way that all of you chose to be involved, not only in our journey, but in the work that Hands at Work is doing in shaping and transforming the stories of thousands of the most vulnerable children in Africa. For us, it was, yet again, another incredible testament to the faithfulness of God and His ability to do amazing things under any circumstance.

As I mentioned at the end of the evening, Diane and I could not be here in Africa without all of your support. Please know that you are every bit as connected into the work we are doing here as we are. In our view, you are not our donors. Rather, you are our partners in seeking to bring life, love and hope to a world in desperate need of it. We hope that this is just the beginning and are excited about the potential of what we can do together!

- Byron

P.S. - thanks to my cousin, Justin, for the great pics!

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