There were a few things that happened when I was in Africa this year that were incredible but I decided for my families sake that I wouldn’t tell people until they had happened and I was home.
1. I did a bungee jump off Victoria falls
2. When on holiday I climbed a mountain and was scaling the rock with a 400m drop beneath me with no ropes – I thought I was going to die
3. I have carried a bucket of water on my head numerous times
4. I once stepped on a frog and it exploded up my leg
5. I have pulled water out of a well too many times to count
6. I went cliff jumping on Christmas day
7. I stood on Table mountain on New Years Day
8. I watched the fireworks over the water front from Signal Hill in Cape Town
9. I had my ears pierced the “Traditional Zambian” way
10. I may have got a tattoo
11. I got my nose pierced in Zambia
12. I travelled to 6 countries in 1 year
13. I’ve walked for hours with care workers to visit some of the most vulnerable people in the world
14. I slept in a home where one of the walls had fallen down
15. I had Malaria in Malawi and got a bicycle taxi to the clinic
16. I did the big swing in South Africa (18 storey building free-fall)
17. I flew over Victoria Falls on a microlight
18. I got about 4 metres away from a sleeping lion at Kruger Park
19. Lying in the back of a pick up truck at night looking at the stars was my favourite way of travel
20. I went for a nice walk with a cheetah
Looking back at my time in Suffolk before I came to Africa I can see that there was a part of me that ran, ran away from my own issues and ran away from God. I kept myself busy and hardly gave time to the people who I care about; who care about me. I spent very little time with my family and when I did I put time limits on it.
This year I have had my breath taken away by the kind of horrific things I simply cannot reconcile with. I saw the depth of depravity in Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa. I met and stayed with some of the poorest families in the world. I held a baby who was so malnourished I didn’t know how long she had left. I still find it hard to understand why, why not me? Why was I lucky enough to be born into wealth?
Upon arrival here I decided to stop running, stop running from myself and my own fears. When I did my life caught up with me. I found pain and loneliness but amongst that I also found grace and love in overwhelming amounts. I found God again. It was when I was struggling to comprehend the depth of poverty here that I found God, I wasn’t expecting to find him there. I was expecting to find him in prayer meetings or at church but I found God in the community, amongst the most vulnerable people in the world and it was humbling to see them live out a life for God. I met Jesus in our local volunteers who give their lives to serve children, to try and bring them a brighter future a future that will be better than their own. The picture below is of two local volunteers who are preparing a meal for 100 of the most vulnerable children in the community.
I spent a lot of time trying to think what I could write in this last blog and that’s all I could put to words. If you want to know more about Hands At Work or how I am and how everything was here please read my other blogs, send me an email and ask to meet up and if you’re not nearby ask to Skype. But please ask me questions about living in community, ask me how my community stays were, which family impacted me most. Ask me meaningful questions that dig deeper into my time here not just “How was Africa?”
I think it’s safe to say this last month has flown by. I spent 2 weeks walking in the community with the team sent from The Forge. Another week I was staying in a town about 3 hours away and was walking in the communities, collecting stories for reporting back to donors and after coming back to Kachele it’s been a whirlwind of editing stories and helping organise things for teams that are coming out.
Those 3 weeks of walking in community nearly every day were incredible. My feet certainly didn’t enjoy it and my legs were covered in scratches from battling through the bush but it was refreshing and eye opening to get to hear children’s stories of how they have been transformed. It was so encouraging to see first-hand the difference that Hands at Work and the local volunteers are making in rural communities with the poorest of the poor.
One boy I met was called Stephen, 6 years old and very bubbly. He has an excellent sense of humour and even showed my some of his dancing; the Africans love to shake their hips for sure. But Stephen’s story was painful to hear. His father died when he was just 6 months old and his mother didn’t cope with the loss, she stopped breast feeding him and left him to die. This resulted in severe mal-nutrition and when his Aunt saw the state he was in she took him in and started caring for him. Her heart was in the right place when she did this but she had nothing but love to give this child, she didn’t have enough food to feed her own family let alone to take on another child. When Stephen was 2 years old and barely surviving, some local volunteers who help run the care point found him and took him in straight away seeing that he needed to be put on a specific feeding program so could recover from this severe malnutrition. When he first started attending the care point he never smiled and didn’t play with any other children. Now Stephen is smiling and laughing and is even attending pre-school at the community school run by the local volunteers. He is also receiving one hot nutritious meal a day and gets given uniform for school. He loves to learn English and his favourite foods are sausages and biscuits. He often sees planes flying over his school and he told me that he dreams to be a pilot so he can fly around the world.
Stephen has faced neglect and grief in his life but through the encouraging words of the care workers and all of their prayers he has grown stronger and is able to see past the bad things that have happened in his life. There is a picture below of his smiling face so you can see how gorgeous he is.
Living here is sometimes incredible; I got to go to Victoria Falls last weekend and had an excellent time seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World and I’m also living with some incredible people here at Kachele. But it’s sometimes really difficult, I’m seeing people in awful situations and it can be especially lonely being away from family for so long. But its stories like these that keep me going, smiling faces like his and that cheeky sense of humour that I see in the children we work with that remind me of why I’m here.
It’s about 6 weeks until I come home and I still don’t know what I will be doing when I come home, I don’t know if I will be coming back here to Africa long term. I am very open to coming back and am working out what that might look like; if it would be in January or a few years later. One thing that has really helped me not stress and worry was being reminded of what a wise man once told me “it doesn’t matter where you go or where you are, as long as you’re loving and serving God he will honour you in that, all God wants to know is if you’re loving Him and loving his people, he doesn’t mind where you go to do that” That wise man happens to be my dad and one of my friends here echoed those words to me again on Saturday, reminding me that I don’t need to worry about my future. It’s okay not to know what’s going to happen next. For all I know next year I could be working in a shop, back in Africa or going to University, either way as long as I’m serving and loving God I know I will be in the right place.
I know that my time with Hands at Work isn’t over, whether I’m in the UK helping with the international office or at The Forge helping with the teams or even coming back out here long term. I don’t know what it looks like yet, maybe I was born to live out here and serve on the ground, and maybe I wasn’t. I’ll wait and see what the future holds.
This blog is a bit of an update on one of my previous blogs https://alicefenning.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/word-with-impact/ This blog will explain the impact that the local volunteers have had on what could have been a hopeless situation, a child with HIV who didn’t go to school, didn’t have any parents or friends and was struggling to find any money to buy food. The local volunteers have changed Esther’s life in an astonishing way.
The first time I ventured into the slums of Mulenga the Local Volunteers took me to meet a child called Esther. Esther is 11 years old and HIV positive. Both of Esther’s parents died years ago and she now lives with her Aunt. As her Aunt was telling me about Esther and her story she mentioned that Esther was an orphan. When Esther heard the word orphan she burst into tears. She sobbed and cried for a long time while we tried to comfort her and pray for her. The words we said to her might have helped a small amount in the short run but in the long run our words meant very little. It’s the words that her Care Worker, Reuben, brings to her and says to her when he sees her every day that will impact her and change her life. Esther had stopped going to school because the other children made fun of her for being an orphan and having a rash all over her body (a side effect of HIV), she often didn’t even go to the care point because she didn’t have many friends to play with.
When I was last walking in Mulenga I went to Esther’s home to see how she was doing and I was astounded at how different she was. Esther was running around outside with other children playing games and laughing with the other children. I had never seen her smile so much before, she was beaming as she ran over to us; full of joy and laughter. To read up on more about the first time I visited Esther please click on this link https://alicefenning.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/word-with-impact/
Talking to the Reuben, the Care Worker who looks after her and visits her, I found out that he visited Esther nearly every day for a long time to encourage her and iron out the stigma attached to the word orphan in Esther’s mind. He prayed with Esther and helped her to understand how loved she is by God. Esther is going to the Care point every day after school receive one hot, nutritious meal and to play with 149 other children who also go to the care point. Esther’s time at school has changed considerably, the children don’t make fun of her as much and she has a good bunch of friends who support her and love her for who she is.
Some more good news is that Esther’s older sister who previously couldn’t go to school because she didn’t have the uniform and couldn’t afford the government school fees can now go to school again because the Care point has provided her with a new uniform and paid for the fees. She loves going to school and would one day like to be a teacher to help children like herself get a good education.
I tried to get a picture of Esther as she was smiling but she was a bit wary of the camera so turned quite shy but below is the picture I managed to get.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days and 2 nights in the community of Maposa, the community that The Forge supports. I say lucky because the people I met are incredible and I’m getting to experience life like many people from the ‘Western world’ don’t get to experience. It wasn’t the most comfortable or enjoyable community stay I have done. There are a few pictures below of the home I stayed in and, honestly, it was tough. The people who lived their spoke just about no English and the house was literally falling apart when I was there. Some of the wood that was holding up the roof fell down and if I had have been sleeping it would have landed on me and definitely would have hurt a lot. A few weeks ago the wall that you can see in the pictures below fell down and landed on Samuel as he was sleeping; when this happened the Care Workers were able to get him to the clinic but luckily the only injuries Samuel had was some bad bruising, no permanent damage was done.
Believe it or not the days I was staying in the community it was very cold. I Constantly had cold feet and sleeping on the floor with a few Chitenge’s (The African materials that you can see the care workers wearing over their skirts) was really challenging and definitely not comfortable. The thing I find hardest to grasp and truly understand is that these children sleep on the floor with hardly any blankets and obviously no beds every night. I struggled after 2 nights.
So a bit about the family; the children who live there are called Samuel and Justine*, both of their parents died a few years ago leaving them no choice but to live with their grandparents who willingly took them in. Samuel is 9 and Justine is 8 and they are both in Grade 2. Samuel loves to play football with the other boys and girls around the care point and outside his house. I spent many hours playing football with Samuel, Justine and about 8 other children from the community. When we were playing Justine and her friend Immanuel were messing about and laughing so much, it was incredible just to see how different they were when they were together. When I first met Justine and Samuel they were very shy and nervous around me but as soon as their friends arrived they came out of their shell so much. After breaking down that first barrier I felt I was able to connect so much more with the children.
I spent quite a lot of time walking with Hill in the community and he remembers so many people from The Forge, every time I see him he asks about Neils Peterson, Sam Walker, Becky Jack and so many other people and he is very excited to meet new people and see old friends again. Jen also showed me the card the Becky wrote to her before she left and said she still prays for Becky whenever she remembers.
I loved getting to know the Samuel and Justine and spent many hours playing with them; searching for reeds so we could use them as skipping ropes, discovering a papaya tree and eating some of the fruit, and just being with the family and care workers in Maposa.
Prayer Points for Maposa:
- To have their own care point so in the rainy season the children have shelter from the rain
- For the children’s health – 4 of the children at the care point have malaria at the moment and since January over 30 of the children have had Malaria.
- With so many of the children needing medication and treatment the care workers have to be able to get them to the clinic. It’s too expensive to get a taxi and it’s very far to walk so the care workers would love to have a bicycle.
- For the health of the care workers so they can care for the children effectively
- For the team that is coming out to Zambia next month, that they will build strong relationships with the children and encourage the care workers.
Firstly I would like to apologise for not blogging for a while, my dad tells me people were asking him about it. There has been plenty going on here and when I find time I will try and share more for now here is a really quick update before I jump into my day today.
2 weeks ago there were lots of Canadians at Kachele farm, 20 of them all at once. They seemed to love my British twang and were very consistent at trying to copy it and forever commenting on the fact that we never pronounce our R’s, fortunately they never pronounce there T’s either so i guess we’re pretty even. They were an excellent bunch of students who willingly left there comfort zone to serve and they jump feet first into a new culture and a completely different lifestyle. It was so encouraging to see them in action at Maranatha and Kalende. They all connected and interacted so well with the children and really grasped what Hands At Work is about.
Today I was able to go to my third Maranatha workshop (explained in my last blog); every time I go I learn something new, today was no exception of that.
I met a girl called Hope, she is about 2 and absolutely gorgeous. To start off with she was shy and timid around me but as time went on she became more curious. She came over and we started to play a few games together. As I was playing with her I put her on a bit of a ledge and told her to “Ibaka” which means to jump. She didn’t hesitate at all to leap into my arms and showed no fear at all. After doing this a few times I realised that she hardly knows me, I’m a strange white girl who just started playing games with her yet she trusts me so much.
The question that came into my head was “Am I as willing as she is to jump? Have I been living a life fearlessly trusting God with everything I have? Am I losing that incredible childlike faith that God calls us to live?
Since June 2012 I’ve realised that God has been whispering in my ear ‘Do you trust me?’ June 2012 I come back from Zambia and all my plans that I had previously made were being torn apart. He whispers, “Do you trust me?” January 2013 I had no money for the gap year I had planned “Do you trust me?” I arrive in Africa knowing I’m not going to see any of my friends or family for a year, I feel really lonely. He whispers “Do you trust me?” I go to Swaziland and come back in pieces from everything I saw, I go to Malawi for a month and get Malaria whilst in community “Do you trust me?” I get sent to Zambia for 6 months, all the time I can hear “Do you trust me?” I could go on and on but one thing I know for certain is that every time I have trusted, God has revealed himself to me in a different way and helped me understand how trust worthy he is. I dread to think of the opportunities I have missed when I haven’t trusted God, all the things I could have learnt if only had trusted. If only I had trusted fully and jumped into the arms of the God who loves me unconditionally.
This coming week I will be spending 2 nights and 3 days in a community called Maposa. These nights and long days in community are never easy and are always challenging for me. But I know that I’m not here for that much longer and want to make the most of this opportunity. I am nervous about it but also incredibly excited that I will be able to get to know more individuals in Maposa and let all you Forge people know what’s happening there. I will try and update you all next week on how Maposa is doing.
“The one thing we owe absolutely to God is never be afraid of anything.” Charles deFoucauled
Last week was an unforgettable week, it was very busy and challenging and it is going to be very hard for me to explain everything so please bear with.
I was lucky enough to sit in on one of the workshops that Hands at Work are now doing at every care point around in all of the countries that we help support. The main aim of the workshop is to help the care workers (local volunteers) to care for the children more effectively. For this to work we want to teach them more about God, forgiveness, holy home visits, relationship groups and how important it is to play and interact with the children. As Hands we want to the care workers to not just bring physical support but also spiritual support so they can teach the children about God, who he is and why he died for them.
Here in Zambia I am based with the service centre, which means going into community with them, visiting care points and doing holy home visits. The service centre in Luanshya is heavily involved in the workshops in the communities that they support.
Throughout the week the service centre spoke about Jesus’ love for us, forgiving others, holy home visits, relationship groups and interacting with the children. There is also time within the week for the care workers to share testimonies.
For those of you who know me well you would know how passionate I am about testimonies and how important I think it is to tell others how God is working in our lives. Hence why I write blogs, so you can know what I am up to and how God is working in my life.
There are many testimonies that I have to share but for their privacies sake I have changed all of their names.
John had had a grudge against his brother for many years, he hadn’t gone to visit him in his home for at least 2 years and whenever he saw him he just thought about how much he hated him. Even when John’s brother, Joseph was ill he never once went and visited him. After the first day which focussed primarily on forgiveness he walked to his brother’s house and asked for forgiveness and also forgave his brother.
Shortly after this Joseph stood up and talked about how grateful he was that he and his brother can have a healthy relationship again. He was so happy that his brother came and visited him. Joseph is a Pastor and told us that he had been preaching with hatred in his heart, he always felt guilty but now he can preach the word of God freely and openly knowing that he has been forgiven by his brother and by God.
There were so many testimonies of broken relationships within the care point and by the end of the week we saw a change in how they related together. They were working as a team, laughing and playing with the children together.
Many of the care workers learnt the importance of playing and interacting with the children at the care point and not just cooking for them and visiting them but giving them an opportunity to laugh and play and just be children. Many of the children who come to the care point have had that luxury taken away from them because of having to care for younger brothers and sisters.
Also 10 of the care workers either recommitted or committed their life to God throughout the week. It was incredible to see the transformation. In the next few months this is happened throughout Hands at Work in all the countries we work in. So please pray that they will continue to change and transform the lives of the care workers; in turn changing the lives of the children.
A part of the week is that all the people involved in running the workshop stay the night in the community in some of the most vulnerable children’s homes who come to the care point. For me it was the toughest community stay I have done for many reasons. The mother cares for 8 children on her own because her husband passed away last year. 7 of the children are her own the 1 child, I will call her Elizabeth, is her niece who is an orphan and deaf. When I first arrived it didn’t take long for me to realise that none of them spoke English which makes communication very challenging – not impossible, just challenging. After about 10 minutes of me trying to find out and remember their names I realised that to really build a relationship with this family I simply had to be with them, learn who they are, play with them and encourage them. For dinner we had nshima and eggs and I can’t say I enjoyed the meal even in the slightest but I did enjoy eating with the family, being with them as they cooked and watching them chatting away. Shortly after dinner we went to bed which was a bit different to my usual bed at Kachele farm. I slept on an uneven concrete floor trying not to listen to all the mosquito’s flying around my head that would inevitably bite me and enjoy my oh so tasty blood. At about 1.30am I woke up feeling cold and very wet, and no I hadn’t wet myself. It had started raining and the roof had quite a few holes in right above me. The room I was sleeping in was very small and really there was nowhere for me to go. So I stuck it out and ended up listening to the continuous buzzing of mosquito’s around my head slowly getting wetter and wetter.
I can’t say I found the community stay easy, I can’t say that I loved it and am really keen to do it again. But one thing I am sure of is that God was with me throughout, he was encouraging me to stay strong and depend on him. I was complaining and struggling after one night of getting wet and eating food I don’t like and they live there every day. I am going to continue doing community stays with families about once a month so if you are ever short of anything to pray for please pray that God will reveal more of himself to me through the families and care workers I meet. Also that I can be strong during community stays, sleeping well and having enough energy for the next day.
Below is a picture of me and Elizabeth*. Since last week I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Elizabeth, at the age of 5 she has lost both her parents, is partially deaf and because of this she can’t speak properly; she mostly just makes noises and points at things. Something about her has stuck in my head, the way she came and sat on my lap, played with my hair, grasped my hand, her beautiful smile and infectious laugh. There is something incredibly special about this child.
* Name changed
Christmas is over now; my incredible road trip that I went on over the holiday is done and it’s back to work here at Hands. This last week there have been many meetings, most of them I’m not involved in but one that I did go to was a watchword meeting where George spoke. George laid out and told us all about how God has been speaking to him about this upcoming year and it’s all very exciting and challenging. The verse that is outlining this year for Hands at Work is “I know your deeds. See, I have places before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:8
When George spoke this last time I felt so challenged and was reminded once again how I need to continue depending on God for everything for “I have little strength”. I’ve realised how self-indulgent I can become when I don’t depend on God, I hold onto material things in an unhealthy way, I start planning too much about what this next year holds for me; worrying because things might not work out how I want them to and just generally thinking too much and not living in the moment as much as I need to. Especially because with Hands you’re never really entirely sure what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be.
One thing I do know for sure is that I will be in Zambia for the next few months and possibly the next 6 months. I haven’t actually been told what I will be doing yet but to be honest, I will be happy with anything. I could be helping with looking after teams that come out to visit Zambia, (hopefully not cooking because it’s been 4 months of me trying to cook rice on the stove and I still can’t do it; today I had a breakthrough and cooked my first good meal with rice in 4 months, but even then I resorted to going back to my old routine of cooking it in a microwave!), I could be helping out with maintenance around the farm (that would probably be a disaster but I could try), be part of the Regional Support Team or many other options. Either way I am incredibly happy to be going back to the community in Zambia where my journey to Africa began over 1 year ago, where I did my first home visit, where I first ate sheema, a food I’m all too familiar with now, and where I was first broken at the poverty and pain people younger than me experience every day.
It’s strange to think that this time last year I was studying at high school very much loving being at home; mainly because my parents had gone to New Zealand for 3 weeks leaving me and my sister at home all alone. This year everything looks very different. I’m about 5000 miles away from home and am heading into this new year knowing I’m not going to be home for another 7ish months. It’s a whole new beginning this year for me, and I’m incredibly excited to see what’s in store for me.
Travelling in Africa is very different from anywhere else I have been. Personal space just doesn’t exist on African transport. I’ve been stuck on crowded buses with holes in them, abandoned by a taxi in the mountains and had to squeeze 4 people in the back seats of a small car far too many times
My trip from Malawi to Zambia ended up being a 16 hour journey spread between 2 days which doesn’t sound too bad but the conditions in which we travelled in were not exactly first class. One of the journeys we were crammed onto a bus for 8 hours with no place to stop for a toilet break, bags all down the aisle, no air conditioning and I’m pretty sure the other people on the bus didn’t wear deodorant. Sleep was also impossible on this journey because they were playing music ridiculously loud.
On the way back from a community stay in Malawi we had to take a 2 hour bicycle taxi to get back to the main road. My bicycle taxi was unlike any ‘bicycle’ or ‘taxi’ I have been in before there was no soft cushion on the back, no suspension and we were travelling through the mountains of Malawi. Katelyn had a bit more trouble than me on her bicycle taxi – she fell in the ditch twice. On another of my community stays I managed to get Malaria and had to then get a bicycle taxi to the clinic and back which sure wasn’t fun.
After reaching the main road we were due to get on a mini bus to take us to the stop near our home. As the bus approached it was very clear that the bus was already beyond its capacity and a guy ended up sitting on me the entire journey. Amy, Katelyn and I had never been on a bus in Malawi before and had been given instructions on when to get off and we told the driver the instructions so he could stop when we got there. Unfortunately he ended up telling us to get off at the wrong place so we had to walk another 20 minutes with all our bags to get back to our home. When we finally arrived back home we collapsed on the beds and could do nothing but laugh at how ridiculous our journey home had been.
Travelling back from Malawi was interesting. One of our buses broke down and 2 bus’ loads of people had to cram onto one bus. Amy and Katelyn then had to stand for 2 hours in the aisle because there were no more seats. Luckily enough me and Adam were last on the bus and somehow I ended up getting the seat at the front and he sat on the stairs. The only issue with sitting at the front of the bus was that it then meant I could see how close we got to hitting, goats, chickens, dogs, people and lorries. Driving in Africa is CRAZY!
To conclude I will no longer complain about bus services in England after travelling in Malawi and Zambia for six weeks.
Arriving back in Zambia a few days ago I had a bit of culture shock. I went from living in the rural part of Malawi for 1 month; not being able to drink water from a tap, having to live in long skirts and not having a mirror in the house I lived in. To then coming to Zambia where there are Christmas decorations being put up in town, I can drink water from the tap, I can wear trousers and shorts, and I can finally know what I look like in the morning – the last one isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Today I ventured into one of the slums in Zambia called Mulenga. At one of the homes we visited I met a child age 11 who is HIV positive. For her privacies sake we’ll call her Esther. Esther is beautiful and has an incredible relationship with the care worker who looks after her and visits her each week.
The care worker and Aunt explained to us her past, how she is an orphan and said the other children at school pick on her because she has a skin condition that looks like a rash. The other children are scared to touch her and make fun of her because of her skin condition and the fact she is an orphan. As the mother and care worker were explaining all of this to us Esther started to cry. She cried for at least 20 minutes and all I could do was hold her, try and comfort her and pray with her to help her understand how much God loves her and how beautiful she is. Esther doesn’t understand how much she is worth and how much God loves her. All the words the children have been shouting at her at school make her feel worthless, unloved and ashamed. But Esther is beautiful, loved and has nothing to be ashamed of. As I was holding Esther I was very aware that there was hardly anything I could do to help her understand that. The words I was saying may make no difference to her life at all. I am a strange white girl who she has never met before and I may never get the opportunity to see her again.
Esther is receiving affirmation, care, attention and love every week from her care worker, Reuben. He is building up her confidence and trying to break down the walls that she’s put up to try and protect herself from being hurt. And that is what will make the biggest impact on her life. I thank God for this incredible care worker who is giving up his life to serve others. Reuben is impacting her life by both his words and actions.
Please pray for Esther. She needs to understand how much she is worth and how loved she is by God. Esther doesn’t always go to school or to the care point because she is afraid of being bullied. Please pray that she won’t let the horrible words other children say affect her self worth and that she won’t find her identity in what people say about her but instead in what God sees in her. My biggest worry is that in the years to come her self worth won’t improve and she will let people abuse her and use her because she feels that that’s all she deserves. Esther is a beautiful girl who doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. But I do have faith that God can turn any situation around, and our prayers can really make a difference in her life.