by Kara McLaughlin
Kara (AMT) serves in southern Africa, caring for orphaned and vulnerable children.
In Exodus 17, we read of the Amalekites coming out to fight the Israelites. As the battle began, Moses made his way up the mountain with his staff. We are told that ‘whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed,’ (Ex. 17:11). Eventually Moses became weary, so Aaron held up one arm and Hur the other, and so ‘his hands were steady until the going down of the sun’ (Ex. 17:12b). This story, and the image of Aaron and Hur functioning as the supporters of God’s chosen leader, have become significant to me during the past four years as I have served with Hands at Work in Africa.
I arrived on the mission field with prideful assumptions about what I had to offer, and secretly desired to find ‘success’ in my role. I would have to come face to face with my own brokenness and the cultural values I had held. Soon I would learn that African brothers and sisters know their needs and people better than I, and that their voice is more important than mine in this context. I discovered that, as mission workers coming from the international Church to volunteer, it is vital that we see ourselves as servants. Our call is to serve the African church in a way that gives them full ownership of the vision and model. I began to understand that I was to be like Aaron and Hur, holding up the arms of Moses. Moses was the one holding up the staff. It is not my place to snatch the staff out of their hands. My role is to humbly come alongside those who have been serving the Kingdom and offer to lift up their weary hands.
It is a blessing to be part of a multicultural community focused on loving the Lord, making Him known and living out His calling to care for the poor and vulnerable. When this happens we build a culture that is a light that breaks forth like the dawn (Isa. 58:6-8).
Working in Partnership
Our vision is to see ‘the local church in Africa effectively caring for the orphaned, the widowed and the dying, unified in this mission with the church outside Africa.’1 We desire to encourage and support the local African church to know the Lord more deeply and fulfil the biblical mandate to care for ‘widows and orphans’ (Jas 1:27). This is to be done in partnership with the worldwide Church, since we share the same mandate.
I have been doing all I can to lighten the load and release African leaders so that they can keep their focus on caring for the vulnerable. This may mean overseeing budgets to ensure that children are effectively cared for, or checking that they receive a hot and nutritious meal every day, and that their basic health and education needs are covered. One day I may find myself sitting in multiple meetings discussing how we can support African teams as they face family crises, or looking at ways we can support them with their long to-do lists.
My role is to humbly come alongside those who have been serving the Kingdom and offer to lift up their weary hands.
On another day I am responding to emails about food orders or programmes for visiting teams who have come to support our volunteers. It has necessitated hours of analysing data to ensure that we are being good stewards of the financial support that we have been given. My role has also entailed listening, with an aching heart, as someone debriefs a tough situation with the children. It has involved regularly meeting together to look at God’s Word so that we can know Him more.
We have been led to many homes and heard how much they have suffered and witnessed what happens when Jesus brings them hope. We have responded in song, praising God for who He is and what He has done. I have spent time editing stories about the children so that partners can pray for them and feel connected. It has been a privilege to spend time with the families we serve. I have been able to walk with local volunteers as they have committed their lives to taking care of vulnerable children in their communities. This is such a personal calling for them. They have taught me what it means to treat children as if they were their own.
This was particularly apparent when I visited a community in Mutare, Zimbabwe. There were a number of visitors from Canada, so we all introduced ourselves. Atricia, one of our volunteer care workers, introduced herself as a mother of 129 children. Four of these were her own, but the other 125 were those she cared for in her community. When I asked why she wanted to become a care worker, she said that she had previously thought of herself as one of the most vulnerable in her community; however, she realised that there were other families who were more desperate than she was. This comment deeply impacted me because the conversation occurred just after I had visited her home, which was a shack built on a swamp. She rented a small corner of the shack and four other families lived in the other sections of the building. The shack floods regularly in the rainy season and her sleeping quarters are a double bed that she shares with four other family members. The bed was raised up so that she could see if there were any snakes in the room.
Her husband was no longer living with the family. Earlier in the year she had come to know the Lord Jesus. She said her favourite passage was Psalm 23 because it talks about a Shepherd who will never leave her or forsake her. Since then, her life has consisted of trying to sell green maize to support her family, as well as serving the vulnerable children in her community five days a week through visiting and caring for them.
Bringing the Good News
Atricia and many others like her have continually been an example of the Lord Jesus. I have been honoured to serve alongside these African brothers and sisters, and others from all over the world. I have witnessed people focused on pouring themselves out for the sake of others. The life of the Lord Jesus has become so vivid to me as I have begun to learn and experience what He meant when He said ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Lk. 4:18-19).
We have the privilege of proclaiming and bringing the good news, alongside the African church, to vulnerable families. Personally, nothing could be more meaningful or significant.