Thursday, 27 June 2013

Welcome to Africa, Mom and Dad!

Sorry for the long delay between blog posts. The reason we've been lagging behind is because we had our first visitors! 8 months into our time in Africa, we finally had the opportunity to show someone from back home what our life is all about here. And who better to take that honour than the people that who have truly made it possible for us to be here … my parents!

My parents’ visit has been on our hearts for a long time now, not just because we missed being with them and looked forward to spending time together, but because we so badly wanted them to understand why we were here. We longed to be able to connect with them on the matters of our heart, to show them how we live and the people we live with, and to see the work we do. We also saw it as an opportunity for God to really place something on their hearts.

While we were stoked about their arrival, we were also extremely anxious. How are they going to adapt to living in the Hands Village, sharing a common space with a bunch of young (relative to them), Christian volunteers? How will they handle their time in the African communities and, in particular, home visits? How will they respond to being in a very open Christian environment? How will their conversations with Hands leaders go?

We didn’t want to place too many expectations on their trip here but, at the same time, we were so hopeful that it would be much more than just a visit. We prayed and prayed for God to be present and at work in their hearts. Apparently, He was listening …

Before they arrived, we half-expected my parents to arrange for a serious, sit-down conversation at some point during the trip to convince us to come home after our one-year commitment with Hands was over. Instead, they came to Africa fully present and ready to embrace whatever came their way.

Though their time with Hands was short (3 days and 4 nights), it couldn’t have been spent any better. They were able to spend two days in the community – one in Mandlesive and the other in Share – where they got a glimpse of what life looks like in the communities we serve. The opportunity for Diane and I to do home visits with my parents was something very special. I’ve said it here many times before but the heart of what we do at Hands at Work is built upon home visits. It is the one thing we do that most encompasses who we are as an organization and what we value. To have my parents experience it and be a part of it was a huge blessing.

Despite the language barriers and cultural differences, it was neat to see my parents connect with the Care Workers and the individuals we visited. It’s something strange, almost a reversal of roles, to be filled with pride and joy as you watch your parents step out of their comfort zone into a completely foreign situation and thrive. We knew they were out of their element. We knew they were uncomfortable. But what mattered is that they embraced it with open hearts and allowed themselves to not just be present, but also to fully take part.

Despite their very unique experiences in the African communities, I think that what actually impacted my parents the most during their time at Hands was meeting the rest of the Hands family – the people that we live with and work alongside at the Hands Village (or “the Hub” as we’ve referred to it before). My parents got a real taste of Hands hospitality, receiving invitations into people’s homes for virtually every meal they had while they were staying at Hands Village. You know how the Chans love food!  We had some amazing, home-cooked meals (thanks to all the cooks!) and my mom even prepared a Chinese dinner for Diane and I and 4 of our close friends here!

There is something truly unique about the Hands community and it cannot be explained until you come and experience it for yourself. In short, it is true to what it claims to be – a family and a community. Despite coming from a variety of backgrounds (both international and African) and walks of life, despite a bunch of unique personalities, we all share the same heart and vision. The people here are so real, so authentic, so committed and so passionate. They all understand what it means to live sacrificially and to live in faith. There’s no other way to reasonably explain how a vision that began 10 years ago in the hearts of 4 individuals is now shared and lived out by hundreds of people, despite not one of them being paid a single cent (or Rand) for what they do. There is a genuine desire for people to invest in each other’s lives, to care for and serve one another and to participate in each other’s stories, that is unlike any other community I have been a part of. And it is this very type of community that, I would argue, God envisioned all of us to live in.

My parents can read my blog until their eyes are bleeding (which is probably what happens when they go through some of my marathon posts) but nothing can replace experiencing it firsthand. Before my parents even spoke a word, I knew they had been deeply impacted by what they had gone through. I could see it in the way they responded to others. I could hear it in the questions they asked. And I could sense it in their hearts as they gave their farewell to the Hands community on their last day at the Hands Village. My mom, too overwhelmed by emotion, could barely speak a word. But she didn’t need to. My dad, composed and intentional about each word as per usual, shared about their brief time with Hands in such a powerful way that I was almost moved to tears (but, just to be clear, I don’t cry. I work out.). He spoke of the encouragement of seeing so many young people deeply committed to such a cause. He spoke of the inspiration of seeing people’s faith lived out with such passion and joy, in spite of the immense sacrifices many have taken and continue to take to be here. He spoke of the newfound peace in their hearts for Diane and I to be here. That, my friends, is God at work!

At the end of it all, it was undeniable that our prayers had been answered above and beyond all expectations. My parents came. My parents saw. My parents experienced. And through it all, they were left with an impression so deep, that it was no longer just a visit for them. They now understand. They are now involved. And they are now connected and interwoven as part of the Hands family.

Who’s next?!*

* Well … we already know who was next … my cousin, Justin (more about that in a separate blog post)! Who’s next next?

DISCLAIMER: The photos below could be interpreted by some as a cheap ploy to convince you to visit us in Africa. Well, it is.


Johannesburg
In through the Non-White doors, you Asians! (at the Apartheid Museum)


Graskop

God's Window

The Potholes

Blyde River Canyon
The Three Rondawels in the background
Lisbon Falls

Community Visits

With the Care Workers at Mandlesive Home Based Care
Helping with the laundry at a home visit 
Home visit in the community of Share
A taste of the local cuisine - pap (maize meal), cabbage and pilchard (tinned fish) soup!
Mom and Dad with their future grandchild?
The kids at the Share CBO care point
Singing and dancing with the Care Workers in Share. The video doesn't do it justice but Nhlahla has the most ridiculous pipes you've ever heard!



Safari at Ngala Private Game Park 

Our tented lodges!
Looks like somebody's excited about doing a safari ...

Check out the baby elephant!




If you look closely, you'll see the baby hippo on mama's back
This guy was protecting his meal for the next several days (see picture below)
Elephant carcass! It smelled fantastic ...
We had a great leopard sighting - typically the rarest of all the animals to see on a game drive
Definitely our favorite part of the safari - witnessing a pride of 20 lions feasting on a buffalo they had killed only hours earlier!


Dad's reaction to the circle of life
Another beautiful African sunset

Cape Town
The slums outside of Cape Town
The famous Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
The V&A Food Market - so delicious!
Hello my long lost love ... 
The view from the V&A Waterfront
High tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel
The seafood platter at Pigalle that put Mom out of commish for 3 days with serious food poisoning (interestingly, however, the rest of us were fine)
POWER!!! Diane and I with Terry Crews who was on our Robben Island Tour
The view of Table Mountain from Robben Island
Nelson Mandela's prison cell at Robben Island
The view from the base of Table Mountain
Scaling up Table Mountain in the cable car
More views from Table Mountain (we barely got any pics because it clouded over and stormed immediately upon us getting to the top) 

Stellenbosch and Franschhoek - The Wine Country





Wine tasting at Meerlust

The Cape Peninsula
At the Harbour House Restaurant in Kalk Bay
Fish n' Chips at Kalky's in Kalk Bay
Kalk Bay
Boulders Beach in Simons Town, home of the ...
Penguins!


Cape Point Lighthouse
Mom and Dad with the view of the Cape of Good Hope in the background

The crane!
Ostrich attack! (at the Cape of Good Hope)
Chapman's Peak Drive