What made you decide to do this?
4 years ago, I (Byron) volunteered with Hands at Work in Africa in South Africa for 3 weeks after graduating from law school. During my time there, I soon came to realize that missions was where my heart was. Over the past 11 years since graduating from high school, the time I spent in Africa was the only period that I felt like I was living out my purpose and living in the present, rather than building myself for the future and wishing the present away.
When Diane and I started dating, she identified early on with my vision for life and we spent a lot of time discussing how we could pursue it and make it a reality in our lives going forward. We both felt challenged to live our lives intentionally and with purpose, and saw no greater purpose than to live out the Biblical mandate to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, and to serve the needs of the poor, widowed and orphaned.
As for living life intentionally, our greatest fear was to coast through life in a mundane routine, at a certain comfort level, and wake up one day realizing that years had simply passed us by. It's a scary thing to live life in a constant state of lukewarm. As a culture, we value comfort and security so highly that it trumps all notions of passion. If a certain situation isn't terrible, then we often lack the motivation to change it. If it is perceived to involve too much risk, we dare not step out. We see it with the way people approach their careers, their relationships, their every day decisions. As children, we dream of all the things we can achieve and have grand visions for how we will live our lives. Somewhere along the way, those dreams and visions fade, and we settle for a lesser version of ourselves. We need to be constantly asking what our passions are and what we can do to live them out in our reality!
Our decision to put our careers on hold, sacrifice our finances, leave our family and friends, and rely on the support of others, so that we can serve those who we have no connection to, goes against all conventional wisdom or, at the very least, is a decision that many would not choose for themselves. We assure you that this decision was not made lightly. It was not made for the thrill of an adventure, to check an item off the bucket list or to pad our resumes. Nor was it made so that we could feel noble, righteous or good about ourselves. Rather, our decision was made with the heart and fundamental vision of Jesus at its core.
Jesus turned all conventional wisdom on its head during His time on earth and was, in all essences of the word, a radical. He spoke out against religion and rule following and warned against the dangers of wealth, power, status and wisdom. Instead, He lauded the meek and the poor and instructed us to have child-like faith. He envisioned an upside-down kingdom where the last would be first and the first would be last. These principles run contrary to our human nature. We (Diane and Byron) are constantly searching for how to make the challenges of Christ real in our own lives, which is so much harder than we could have imagined. As we journey off to Africa, we are still trying to live out these words as truth and need to continuously fight against making a watered down version of Christianity fit conveniently into our lifestyle. Instead, we truly desire to have our hearts authentically transformed and to become more Christ-like each and every day.
During my (Byron's) time in Africa, I developed a genuine love for the people and witnessed firsthand their many needs. I have been anxiously waiting for an opportunity to return and now am able to do so with my wife, Diane!
We feel as though many of Africa's problems are neglected because they are often viewed as self-perpetuating, far too daunting or simply hopeless. We hear about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the crisis of orphans and poverty and the political unrest and corruption, among many other things. Yet, because these problems do not affect us directly, they fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. We (Byron and Diane) feel a sense of urgency to act and are compelled to be the 'hands and feet' of Christ.
We are fully aware of how blessed we have both been throughout our entire lives. We have the most loving families, an amazing group of friends, wealth and resources that far exceed the vast majority of the world, and live in a country where there is no shortage of rights and freedoms. At the same time, we fully recognize that we did nothing to earn this life. We were born into our situations by mere chance, much like the orphaned child born into poverty in Africa had no choice in his/her situation. We feel as though we have a social responsibility to use our resources to give back and that we are in an optimal position to go and serve. If people in our position are not willing to go, then who will?
What countries will you be in?
Hands at Work has a presence in 8 different countries across Africa: South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In South Africa, where the main hub is based, the organization is located in a rural area in the province of Mpumalanga, the northeastern region of South Africa, about a 3-4 hour drive from Johannesburg and a 30-40 minute drive from Nelspruit.
After doing 6 weeks of training and orientation in South Africa, Hands will assess where we're most needed and where our skills are best suited and will assign us to one of the countries listed above. South Africa will always be our base but we potentially could be sent to one of the other 7 countries for weeks or months at a time.
What kind of work will you guys be doing?
The overarching purpose behind Hands is to reach 100,000 orphaned and vulnerable children and to help African villages find community-based solutions to the crisis of HIV/AIDS and poverty. The focus is to provide access to basic health care, education and food to those in need, while partnering with local individuals to implement strategies and programs to assist local communities in becoming self-sufficient.
Until we finish our training, we're not sure exactly what type of work we will be doing. A large part of our role is to work directly in the local communities, building relationships with the local people. Another part of our role will involve background, administrative work, which may not look all that different from the desk jobs we left back home. Our role in taking on these tasks will serve as a support structure in equipping the local community leaders with the necessary resources to effectively impact their communities.
We think a common misconception of volunteer work in Africa is that we'll be playing with orphans or building houses the entire time. While orphanages and home building are critical and intertwined into Hands' programs, the scale and vision of the organization is much, much broader and far-reaching. Again, the focus is to offer hope to local communities and assist them to become fully functioning and self-sufficient. It's important to be reminded that it's not about doing work that will make us feel good about ourselves. Rather, it's about doing work that will ultimately serve the needs of the people and foster them to a point where they won't need us anymore!
What are your living accommodations?
In South Africa, the organization has its own compound (called Hands Village or the Hub), equipped with various security measures. The living accommodations are predominantly dormitory style. These dorms contain a shared kitchen, living area and bathrooms but have individual bedrooms which are furnished with a bed and a chest of drawers. There are also stand alone units with small kitchenettes and living spaces which the organization reserves for married couples. However, since we'll be the youngest married couple there, and because Hands currently has many volunteers, we'll likely be staying in the dorm style room, at least for the first little while.
Outside of South Africa, we will likely live in the local community in the home of a family that Hands has partnered with.
|The shared kitchen at Hands Village in South Africa|
How will you be satisfying your gluttonous appetites?
While in South Africa, we'll get our food from a grocery store (similar to what we have in North America) in White River, a small town that is about a 15-20 minute drive from the Hands Village (this means that Diane will be needing to get her cook on!). We'll also have the opportunity to go out to eat at nearby restaurants and cafes in White River or Nelspruit when we need a break from communal living! Interestingly enough, KFC has a large presence in South Africa* ...
In other countries, we'll be eating whatever our host prepares for us (including chicken necks!) or will be buying fresh produce from local markets to cook ourselves.
* Note: This is purely coincidental and in no way factored into our decision to volunteer with Hands at Work. We promise!
How can we communicate with you?
For those of you that are wondering, yes, there are cell phones and there is internet where we are staying! We'll have access to all the normal forms of communication - email, BBM, Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, Facetime and, of course, this blog. We'll be taking our Blackberrys with us and using local SIM cards so feel free to call us as well. The best way to contact us, though, would be through BBM or email. Please see the side bar of this blog for our contact info. Disclaimer: Internet speed and connection and cell phone service is not what it is back home and may even be non-existent in some areas we will be working in!
Is Byron seriously going to grow his hair into a ponytail?
Yes. A greasy one, at that. I (Byron) have grand visions of waking up in the morning and using the natural grease from my hair to slick my long, flowing locks back into a beautiful ponytail. When I can adequately tuck my hair behind my ears, that's when I'll know the party has started. I (Diane) give him three months in Africa before he buzzes it all off ... bets anyone?
Thanks for taking the time to read this super long post! Again, we promise that our other posts won't be this long (hopefully). Just know that we're so excited to share our journey with you and that we thank you so much for being a part of it!