By Matthew Hanks | Project Manager: Africa  

Longing for More

In the midst of all the political talk and opining on Facebook about the Syrian refugee crisis, and as it relates to the recent Paris attacks, I’ve been thinking about how people wind up in lands other than the ones in which their genetics are tied. For example, what were the circumstances surrounding my Scottish great grandfather who brought his young family to the US? Or my Venezuelan sister-in-law, living in central Texas, and ethnically part French? This will no doubt be an ongoing thought of my Ethiopian born son growing up in Monument, CO … especially when he reads in the bible of his people’s ancestral connection to King David and God’s ‘Chosen People’ through the Queen of Sheba. For all of us, something different incites our need for an exodus, but at some level, I believe, there is a thread in all of us that is the same. As a follower of Christ, these thoughts lead me Hebrews 11:13-16:

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (NLT).

We all desire a better country. It is written in our code. Whether we are aware of the longings or not, we are all looking for a heavenly city (see Philippians 3:20).

Two Cultures Connect

There are over 1 million ethnic Indians in South Africa. Brought there first as slaves by Dutch settlers in the late 1600’s, then as indentured servants in the 1800’s, the Indian population is a hodgepodge of culture that comprises South Africa. Yet, this people group has somehow stayed very homogenous and maintained many of the cultural practices, traditions, and religions of their homeland.

Earlier this month I took five ethnic Georgian’s (the state, not the country) along with a couple of cultural nomads to Durban, South Africa, where World Orphans partners with a church who’s congregational make up is almost 100% Indian. I don’t think there could have been two other cultures on this planet that share the same language but are more different from one another. Yet after spending two weeks with together, much to my surprise, Georgia peaches and Indian curry go quite well together.

Two Cultures Serve One Another

The Christian Life Center (CLC) is a vibrant and thriving church community strategically planted among the poor to minister to the people of the Zulu tribe in that region along with their own Hindu relatives. As a church, with a great force of volunteers, they take care of 20-orphaned children from the surrounding communities. Most of these children are Zulu children who were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. One of the world’s largest concentrations of “AIDS Orphans” is in this part of South Africa, propagated by the traditional Zulu practice of polygamy. The children live in four family-style houses and are cared for by “Nannies” who are typically widowed grandmothers or “Go-Go’s”. The church is led by Pastors Siva and Roni Moodley, who shepherd the church with great care, love, and do a wonderful job equipping the church members for ministry (see Ephesians 4:11-12). They also did an amazing job equipping us.

In addition to the Children’s Homes on the church property, there is a primary school, a bakery, a sewing/shoe making facility, and a coffee shop that the church uses to facilitate many types of conferences and events. During our time there we were given opportunity to serve and participate in all of these ministries. CLC has a great relationship with some of the poorest of the poor from the Zulu tribe who are out in the “Mountains” where they are doing amazing work bringing the love of Christ to them through medical clinics, delivering Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, food supplies, and visiting them in their homes. They’ve also set up 'fair trade’ markets for the beaded craftwork that many in this community create to support their families. They have been given a piece of land and have a great vision to begin caring for orphaned and vulnerable children directly through building a daycare center that will also function for church services and other ministry use. Let’s pray the Lord helps them fulfill this vision.

One of the most meaningful ministry activities they provided for us was the organizing and facilitating of a 3-day “Grieving Retreat” for 44-orphaned children. There were eight of us from the States and we had 59 consecutive hours to fill for these children.

It’s still shocking to me how much a child can forever mark a soul in just 59 hours. I am forever grateful to CLC for the gift of ministry they gave us. And, I will never look at Ephesians 4:11-12 the same:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ (NLT).

Now That We’re Home…

Since returning I’ve pondered how different my faith community would look if we all lived on mission looking for every opportunity to help others ‘do his work’. What if the majority of our serving was to help others serve? Discovering the blessing in this will radically advance the Kingdom and could bring a much needed transformation to our churches. Often when we return from short-term mission trips we feel like we’ve found that ‘better country’ and that ministry can only be found ‘over there’. However, the reality is that God’s mission field for you, for me, will always be the space between our two feet. This space is that better country. And in times like this, be prepared for the harvest to come to you!

“Now may the God of peace… equip you with everything good that you may do his will…” (Hebrews 13:21-22, ESV).

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