Thursday, July 2, 2015

Perogies, Paper Routes and Pop Cans, oh my!

We've been busy around our house this past week in preparation for the upcoming travels in our family. Lots of you have been part of that and we're always so excited to see people engage and support the work we're part of. Again, whether it's Easton out on his paper route or picking up recyclable cans and bottles, we're using as much of our time and energy to get ourselves to Zimbabwe this October. The cool thing is that we have been there and we are motivated by the thought of being in Sukubva and seeing our friends there so it hasn't been hard to keep up the energy for this!

Over the past few days, we've launched a pretty good fundraiser, selling perogies. I mean, who doesn't LOVE perogies?!? Ironically, Easton hates perogies and yet...they are becoming a means to support his travel to Zimbabwe.

For those of you who are new to this website and have come as a result of seeing our posts, we're so glad you're here. I know many of you have asked how we got involved in this work and expressed an interest in getting involved as well. So, feel free to look through the blog and if you have questions, just send them my way.

First of all, the most FAQ and comments about our work with Hands at Work:

How did you get involved in this kind of work?

In 2007, I was working in a local church in Saskatoon and one of our college students,  Kristal, was looking for an overseas position teaching, as she was just wrapping up her education degree but wanted to do something overseas before settling into a local teaching position. At the same time, there was a post from a person in our church asking for people interested in serving in Africa to contact her re: a position with an education program through Hands at Work. Together, Kristal and I checked out this opportunity and the organization and it was such a good fit for her. Through that relationship and her subsequent years working there, we decided to support a community in Zambia and later, in 2009, put together a team to travel there to serve. Originally, my husband was going to lead the team, as I was not interested in the discomfort of travelling to Africa (never mind my fear of flying/bugs/outhouses/bad food/being separated from my kids...etc. etc.) but the team was made up of women at that time so I ended up leading the team. We did have one brave man join us, poor Shane, and I am thankful he still ended up marrying well and overcoming the trauma 8 women put him through! The moment I stepped into Mulenga and stood at the care point, I was completely overwhelmed with the feeling of being EXACTLY where I was called to be in that moment in time. Since then, I've led several teams, served with our family for four months and even travelled alone to Zambia, with every trip I feel more and more connected to our community there and really, still constantly consider living there full time.

What DOES Hands at Work do?

In simplest terms, Hands has committed to mobilizing the church outside of Africa (that's all of us who are Christ followers) to partner with the church in Africa to care for the orphaned and the vulnerable children left in the wake of the AIDS pandemic. Originally, Hands was grown out of a response of George Snyman and his wife, Carolyn, to the AIDS pandemic. They started by going home to home in poor communities, caring for the sick and the dying and then realizing that there were orphans being left behind that were unable to care for themselves. As they invited friends and fellow church members to join their work, they began to see the calling that God had for their lives and they followed it. You can read their story and all about Hands at Work here. It's an inspiring read - how when people just follow what is on their hearts...amazing things transpire.

What do you do when you serve with Hands at Work?

As a team of volunteers that are only there for the short term, our main purpose is to encourage the care workers that are volunteering day in and day out in the work that they are doing.  We walk alongside them and hear and share their stories of the children they love and care for. We go on home visits and serve in whatever capacity we have, whether helping bathe a patient or doing the household laundry for children living on their own, or sweeping or providing a ride and company to the nearest clinic, wherever that may be. We join in the work that is already taking place day in and day out, as the local volunteer care workers do every single day. It is emotional, tiring, inspiring and humbling and it changes you from the inside out to know that we have so much to learn from those that are living out the most beautiful caring life, without fanfare or attention or accolades.

Do you take donations of clothing or school supplies or medical supplies?

We don't. We take ourselves. And to be honest, that was a struggle for me as it is for all who go and see the needs of communities there. But, the truth is, there is nothing we can buy or supply that will fill the needs of those who are so vulnerable and alone. Our best is to take ourselves, be wholly present and to speak up for those who have no voice when we return. It's not easy. Our tendency as North Americans is to "fix" and to "give things" ...it's challenging when all you have is yourself and it doesn't feel like enough. And yet, I've seen first hand how the simplest thing, such as sitting and listening to a grandmother share her fears for her the small grandchildren she cares for, can be so encouraging and incredibly powerful in the her life. When we share the stories of what we see and hear and those who tell them, even just in our own circles of friends and co workers...it is powerful. And for a grandmother, like the one I met in Amulew on my first visit alone to Zambia, when I return and tell her that people have heard her story and know her name and her grandson's name and pray for them? She told me that she knew that I would tell her story. And she told me that there had been times in the year that I had been gone where she had laid down to sleep, with tears in her eyes, exhausted, knowing that people were praying for her across the ocean and that had made all difference.

How does your family afford to have one of you go each year?

Well, the hard truth is that we can't afford it on our own. We scramble for fundraising, Jason and I both work two jobs to make ends meet but when it's a priority in our life, it becomes like the mortgage payment and the grocery bill. It's something that we just accept as part of our life and we prioritize it. We don't take family vacations...seems we're always travelling somewhere separately though! I do love when one of the boys can come with me like Aidan did last year or Easton is this year. We have old couches, older cars, and our shoes are far from fashionable. No Starbuck's barista knows us by name but the SarCan workers know us well and we're happy about that too. We work security at concerts, do bottle drives, plan events for advocacy and fundraising and honestly, somehow, some way...there is always the funding to go. I wrote a bit about that here (Going Together) and it's worth a read, if I do say so myself. It's not easy. I won't lie, it gets tiring but the thought of missing an opportunity to be with the ones we love in Zimbabwe and Zambia? Not worth giving up. And so, until there's a time where we can say that it's not worth the efforts...we keep on.

And then, the list of reasons why not to go that we constantly hear and face ourselves....

I don't do well in heat.
I don't do well with spiders, snakes, strangers, crowds, dirt, bugs, crocodiles...
I am afraid of flying.
I'm afraid of Africa, I hear it's dangerous.
I'm afraid of everything.
I can't leave my kids that long. My dog that long. My job that long.
I need flush toilets.
It's too far. Too expensive. Too tiring. Too sad.
I'll cry too much.
I'll want to bring all those kids home.
I'd be useless.
I get sick from strange foods.
I would but we're...renovating a kitchen, taking a long awaited cruise, buying a car....


And that's just my list of personal objections that I have had to deal with. And so this is what I tell others.

These objections and fears are legitimate (well, not all...and the dog will look just as fat and happy when you get home) but they are not the thing that should ever stand between you and that in-your-heart-can't-it-off-my-mind type of yearning to be stronger, better and more compassionate.

I chose years ago, on my first time to Zambia, to take the leap, overcome the objections and face the fear. And it was not simple. Or smooth. Or socially acceptable in some circles. But here's the truth...I would NOT change a thing unless it would be to have done it sooner in my life. I spent too long being afraid and introverted and internally focused, even when it looked like I was putting "family first" or had the right priorities. I know now, that as good as those things are and well intentioned, they were keeping me from the life I have now. The one that has my family closer than ever, focused on relationships over possessions,  and fearless (ha ha....for the most part) in the face of challenges and things that years ago would have derailed me with sadness and anxiety. I still deal with those challenges but my perspective has seriously shifted.

So, there are the basics...ask anything. Nothing is off the table in regards to our involvement with Hands at Work and the love we have for our family there.

In the meantime, we're in the midst of prepping to go again...selling perogies, throwing papers, working security and stopping at SarCan... we may never get to Universal Studios to see Hogwart's but we'll be dancing in Sukubva in October and that in itself is a thrill ride we're not going to miss out on.


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