Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Long Overdue!

Byron and I have been back in Africa for about a month and a half now after having spent four glorious weeks at home in Canada. I’ll state the obvious and say that it was awesome being home, spending time with our families – especially our nephews and our niece – and hanging out with our friends over delicious food, satisfying bubble teas and late night games of mahjong. Because we are so far away from our families most of the year, we feel so thankful for the times that we do get to spend together. We are happy to report that our nephews and our niece don’t seem to hate us anymore (well, for the most part)! While we would never wish for them to grow up any faster, we do love the bond that has formed now that they are growing out of stranger danger mode and actually recognize that we are family. Love it!

The Chan clan all together in Vancouver
Quality cousin time!

We had a few friends ask us if we were home because I was expecting (I’m not, just to clarify!). The real reason we were home was to celebrate our friends, Peter and Leah’s, wedding. As one of Peter’s groomsmen, Byron definitely pulled his weight in getting the dance party started by being his usual, sweaty, shameless self! Congratulations again Peter and Leah!

One of the biggest highlights for us while we were back home was the opportunity to speak at a Hands at Work Canada event in Saskatoon. We were asked to provide an update on Africa – what’s been happening on the ground and highlights in each of the eight countries Hands works in, and to share about our own personal journey with Hands. It always feels a bit awkward to talk about yourself. Byron and I often feel nervous when we have to share our story, fearing that it will bore people to tears or that somehow we might come across like we’re patting ourselves on the back for the choices we’ve made. It is definitely a bit of an art to be able to genuinely convey your heart in front of an audience. Byron is awesome at it, I am terrible at it – so we make a good team! As awkward as we feel about it though, time and time again, God shows us that He uses opportunities like these and ordinary people like us to speak to and to touch those who may be needing to hear just the thing that we have to share. We were blown away by the feedback and the response we got from our talk. We shared about what led us to Hands at Work, the struggles and indecision we felt about committing beyond our initial one year commitment, and the uncertainty that we still have about our future. We shared that through all of our anxiety and our incessant over-analyzing, God was never interested in just giving us all the answers. He waited for us to take steps in faith, steps that declared our willingness to give up control of ourselves, even when we didn’t know what we were stepping in to. Each and every time we took a step, He would meet us there and always reassured us of the decisions we were making. This seemed to really resonate with people. We are still amazed at how God used our journey and our opportunity to speak in Saskatoon to challenge the people we were with that day!

For Byron and I, we can attest to how our faith has grown tremendously over the past two years.  That’s not to say that we have everything figured out or that we never worry about what we’ll be doing next year or five years down the road. I guess the amazing thing that we’ve experienced is freedom from feeling paralyzed. We still doubt and we still over-analyze everything – that’s just how we process things – but we now have a level of faith that allows us to move forward and to dare to be bold in the way we choose to live our lives.

If you would like to hear our talk, click HERE and then click on “Byron and Diane – Story”. 

Byron and I sharing at the Hands at Work event in Saskatoon
Group pic of the Hands Canada family who were able to make it
Our weekend in Saskatoon was extra special because of the time we got to spend with Lynn and Jayme. Byron and I often speak of Lynn and Jayme and the influence they have had in our lives. They are long standing leaders of Hands at Work and lived in South Africa for over 7 years until recently, when they made the decision to move back to Saskatoon to pursue adoption. Lynn and Jayme have mentored us through a lot and, by the way they live their lives and serve their community, continue to show us what it means to live selflessly and to walk blindly in faith. While in Saskatoon, we stayed with Jayme’s sister and brother-in-law, Crystal and Richard. Crystal and Richard have two daughters, Georgia and Charlotte, who have both been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA is a genetic disease that affects the motor neurons of the spinal cord and brain stem. Without the proper input from the motor neurons, muscle cells cannot function properly. Muscle cells will, therefore, become much smaller (atrophy) and will produce symptoms of muscle weakness. In Georgia, this has meant a deterioration of her physical condition to the point where she can no longer walk. Her muscles have atrophied so much that her legs can no longer support her little body. She is carried around most of the time, or uses a specialized wheelchair to move around on her own. Her little sister, Charlotte, will likely experience the same type of regression in her physical development. Ever since we heard of the girls’ diagnosis over a year ago, Byron and I have had Georgia and Charlotte burning in our hearts. We felt so humbled and blessed to spend time with Crystal, Richard, Georgia and Charlotte and to witness the joy and hope that they carry, despite the battles they face. Thank you for sharing your home and a piece of your family with us!

Jayme, Georgia and I
Now that we are back in Africa, one of the things that has struck me quite strongly recently is just how unique and special our community is. When Byron and I mention “the Hub” or “the community” that we live in, I think it’s lost on people just how communal this place is. Yes, we all work and live together. In our work, we are unified in a mission to serve orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa. In our personal lives, we are unified by a genuine desire to serve each other and build deep and meaningful relationships with one another. It has been an incredibly humbling and surprising journey for us so far, living in a place like this. People take care of each other, looking beyond their own families or close friends, and truly serve one another. They invest deep into relationships, walking with each other through everything.

I have learned just how transformative it can be to let down your guard and open up your life and your heart to others. To me, this isn’t always easy. I often convince myself that I can handle things on my own, that I can handle my own crap. I often discount how healthy it is to let people in, to allow people to share in the struggles I may be having in my family, in my marriage, in my relationships. We’ve truly come to love and embrace this about Hands and the community that we live in. I am constantly challenged to grow in my willingness to be completely open and completely selfless, even when it’s costly or doesn’t make sense to do so. I’m still learning. I feel reassured, though, in knowing that there is so much grace for me. I am so grateful for the many examples that I have in my life to keep me grounded and that challenge me to be better.

To end my rather scattered blog post, I’ll just update you on where we are at the moment and what we’ve been up to the past several weeks. Byron and I are now back in South Africa after having spent the last 3.5 weeks in Zambia. As we near the end of 2014 and look towards 2015, there is a mountain of work ahead, especially in Zambia where over half the communities we support and projects we currently have going on are located. Two weeks ago, I helped lead and facilitate a bookkeepers workshop where we brought our local African bookkeepers from the DR Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia together at Kachele (our Hub in Zambia). It was a time for our bookkeepers to connect with each other again, to share the challenges they face in their respective countries and Service Centres and to re-engage with the bigger picture and vision behind the work they do. Being back in Zambia was both amazing and tough at the same time. We love spending time with our fellow international volunteers who live in Zambia and treasured being able to see our Kitwe family again. Our evenings were all about fellowship and socializing – eating together, playing board games and just hanging out. But we definitely experienced all of the hard things about being in Zambia too. The massive amount of work spread over so few people and the feeling of having little support to do the job well. In that sense, it was tough, especially for Byron, but we know that is exactly the reason why we went there. Here are some pictures of our time in Zambia!

All us bookkeepers in the field
Reunited with our Kitwe Service Centre family!
Our two favourite boys in a community called Mulenga, Philip and Johnny
Byron and I with care workers during a day spent in Kitwe
Towela making us dinner at her house

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