I don’t even know how to begin this note other than to say that what I am about to tell you, I have hope that it stirs something in you the way that it has in me. In fact, the things I’ve learned this year have motivated me to travel to Mulenga, Zambia in August for three weeks with a team of six others who are willing to go with me. I have never wanted to be away from Jason, Aidan and Easton for three weeks and yet, I have purchased a ticket and am travelling around the world to spend three weeks in a village where 55% of the population is under the age of fifteen. Most of the homes I’ll be working in are child headed households, meaning there are no parents, only an elder sibling to try and provide for the needs of younger brothers and sisters. I know that three weeks will be difficult in many ways, none the least, being away from my family, but in light of the fact that these children have lost their parents and are living alone, I feel compelled to go.This past year, I became aware of an organization called Hands At Work that serves the most vulnerable villages in Africa. It works in villages where the incidence of HIV/Aids, orphans and poverty are the highest and the support structure, such as hospitals or orphanages are at their lowest or non-existent. In these areas, institutional models of care are overwhelmed and unable to cope with the sheer volume of needed care. Hands At Work helps villages find community-based solutions to the crisis. In this model, orphans are kept within family unit groups headed by a local caregiver, an aunty, a granny or even an elder sibling, within that community, where they receive the psycho-social care that family and community provide. The community based organizations then supports these families through community care points and teams of trained local care volunteers who visit the children in their homes.The statistics are staggering and quite honestly, they begin to become unimaginable when not attached to a face or a name. Hands At Work is striving to care for 100,000 children by 2010. These are 100,000 children that would not be reached by the many organizations working in Africa in an effort to alleviate so much of the suffering. Hands At Work will not say it “cares” for a child until the child receives the three essential services of basic health care, food security and education. I think we all know organizations large and small that are undertaking work in Africa to respond to the enormous needs of the sick and dying and the orphaned. Hands At Work is mobilizing community based care workers in areas where larger more established organizations have not yet reached, nor will they any time soon. By recruiting and training local volunteers to care for their neighbours, villages are being mobilized to care for and support the orphans and widows, the sick and the dying. In essence, it’s neighbour caring for a neighbour.I will be working with a local pastor in the village of Mulenga, Zambia and the team of home based care workers that he has recruited and trained. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what will be asked of me during our time in the community. I know that we will be working with the volunteers, doing home based care visits and meeting with many in the community who are living in the midst of some of their worst days, some even their last days. I can’t pretend to be enthusiastic about it, I am anticipating heartbreaking conditions as we are witness to so much of what we can’t really imagine here in North America. Parents dying. Children being left on their own.Tangible grief. Lack of resources. I am also anticipating hope and encouragement. Volunteers who give of their own meager resources. Neighbours who love unconditionally. Showing the people of Mulenga that they are not alone, that we are together.I know that we can’t all go to Zambia. I know that there are many different ways to care for others in our world, some in our own homes, and some across the globe. I would not presume that this is going to move all of you to action, but it may move some. If you would like to participate with me in this trip, here are a few suggestions:My ticket and travel visas are paid for but it would be great to have some extra funds along for transportation and accommodations costs. The total costs for transportation and accommodations while in Zambia are $555 per person.You can designate a dollar amount for project costs, these are things that we will purchase in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia and bring with us to Mulenga. These are items like umbrellas for care workers who often walk kilometers a day to reach their community in the blistering heat as well as in the rainy season; first aid supplies such as latex gloves, syringes, topical antibiotics and bandages; and other items such as blankets, pots, pans and matches that will be distributed by the home based care volunteers to those they serve that often have little or no means to provide for themselves. One of the most necessary items right now are school supplies – Mulenga just built its first school with money that we raised through December’s Advent Conspiracy campaign…a campaign here in North America that challenged us at Christmas time to give more and spend less.One of the areas I would love your help with is donating blood. I know it seems a bit odd in this list but as a result of the vaccinations and travel to high risk areas, I am unable to give blood for a year after my return date. If there are twelve of you who would commit to it that haven’t given blood before, I would love it if you would commit to donating blood at least once during the next year to compensate for my inability to do so. It’s something I value and would mean a lot to me.Finally, I just ask that if you are the praying sort that you would pray for me. I am a reluctant adventurer…I’m not fearless or confident or even convinced of my ability to alleviate any suffering in this world. I do know that I feel compelled as I’ve never before felt compelled, to put my words into action. Most of you know I have faith in God, and when I look at things in this world that don’t make sense in light of who I believe Him to be, well, I tend to read and think to try and work it out. This one can’t be worked out by reading and thinking, at least not from where I’m at right now, other than reading words like Proverbs 31:“Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves,for the rights of all who are destitute.Speak up and judge fairly;Defend the rights of the poor and needy.”The Bible’s book of James says that “true religion is to care for widows and orphans in their distress”. I have never embraced that word religion but maybe this definition I can. If that defines “religious” then let it define me.Sermon over. You can wake up now.