There were three waves of the AIDS pandemic.
The first wave was when people got infected, called the invisible
wave. The second wave was when thousands of people started dying.
The third wave is what Hands at Work is involved in now, caring for
the orphans that were left behind.
Our initial response was just very local, in
the villages near by, where we saw many young people dying in their
huts with no help. There was no medication, and people were
completely overwhelmed, especially in the villages. Carolyn and I
just started going to the villages, finding these people. We
connected with a few local Christians, and we literally just washed
people, we carried water for them, we prayed for them. We buried
them and we comforted their families. That was all we did for a
number of years.
Now we work in eight countries: Nigeria,
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi,
Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa. We find villages in these
countries where there's no support for the children. These
communities are dysfunctional because of poverty, AIDS, and war.
The children are completely off the ladder. They've got no choices,
What we try to do is build a little box that these
children can get on to - and when they stand on their
tippie-toes and reach as high as they can, they might get on to the
first step of the ladder. We do that through three essential
services: food security, basic health, and education. The local
believers visit the children daily in their homes, supporting them
and encouraging them. We built this model on local-community
We partner with international churches to support
us. Many of these partner churches visit us every year,
and spend time in the villages. They're a huge encouragement to the
local believers when they visit. We invite people from all over the
world to come and work with us. None of them get paid.
Working with the poorest of the poor is
the major focus for Hands at Work. So we find the poorest
villages, sometimes deeply rural, sometimes the slums in Lagos,
sometimes the war-torn areas in the villages surrounding Goma, in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are laser-focused to work
in villages that we call "the bottom billion", where nobody earns
more than a dollar a day.
There we find the most vulnerable children, and we start
at the bottom. If you start any higher then you will
exclude: you cannot lay a foundation and then go underneath
afterwards. So the majority of our energy and resources just goes
into trying to keep people alive.
Once we manage that, we try to build capacity
in them, and to bring healing and hope into their lives. Typically,
the villages consist of grandmothers, a few mothers, and just a
large number of children, of whom many households would be
We're not specifically saying that we're only responding
to AIDS, although it started as a response to the AIDS
pandemic, which left a massive hole in Africa. I'd definitely say
that, in the majority of the places where we work, the AIDS
pandemic had the biggest impact on the people's poverty.
I believe passionately that Africa doesn't just need
England - but England desperately needs Africa. People who
come to Africa will say to you that there is a very thin line
between Africa and heaven. Faith is so raw, so authentic here.
Grandmothers walk on water every day to provide for the hordes of
children in their huts.
I spend about five months a year outside
Africa: challenging churches, universities, and radio
stations. My heart is burning as much for the young people who are
lost in a culture of consumerism and individualism as it is for the
orphans in Africa.
When I'm in Africa, my absolute favourite time
is when I go into a community. I normally stay with the
grandmothers. I sit around the fire with them and I listen to their
wisdom, and I just appreciate it so much, because they teach me
life and they stir up my faith.
I also spend a lot of time with African
leaders, and I love living life with these men and women.
I believe the only legacy we can leave behind is sons and
daughters. Nobody's going to remember you for a fine sermon, or
I'm known as Brother George. Yes, I'm just a
brother. Well, I've got an IT background in software development; I
studied theology, development, and business; but I believe you will
find human wisdom in much better places than in a university.
This is the 21st year, this year, and I'm
overwhelmed with God's goodness and provision. I'd be a liar if I
said to you that I have done everything right. I haven't. We had no
clue how to do it. I wasn't prepared to live in a middle-class
house with a picket fence and go to work and come home and buy new
gadgets. I wasn't going to waste my life like that. I couldn't. It
was less of a gamble for me to go out and to have no security than
it was to have all the security in the world with no real purpose
We look back and say we were at our happiest when we
literally had nothing. There were times when we didn't
know where the next meal would come from, and they were the times
that my children remember with fondness.
I started a long journey from deep shame, from
my own culture, and my own background. It was like I had a huge
stone around my neck. But I discovered life and purpose and freedom
in Christ. I learned that I am from another Kingdom now: a new
culture, and a new citizenship. This not only set me free, but it
gave me the opportunity to rebuild. Today, my family looks like the
United Nations. We not only embrace diversity, but we love it. God
has given me sons-in-law, and daughters from different nations and
cultures. It's a wonderful reward that I have received.
God's given me a heart for the global Church. I
love the silence and discipline of an Anglican church. I love
mid-morning prayers when the bell rings, and there's mass, and they
intercede for missionaries. I love the depth of the Word from the
Baptist church. I love the vibrant worship of Pentecostal or
Charismatic churches. I love the Catholic churches' ability to
bring Christ into justice and their life of simplicity and their
reflections. I think I was in a box in the beginning, but I've
grown a lot in seeing God in the wider Church.
In the beginning, I was angry. I remember when
I held a child who died of hunger, and my own Church was busy
building a new building. But I had to learn that it's just where
I want you to go and see the problem - without
trying to solve it - and to go home and consider the difference
between the child that you met and your child. It's just where they
were born. This will compel you to do something.
I love the old hymns. When I need to hear God,
or I have to really work, I put on hymns and organ music. I also
love the sound of a church bell. We don't hear church bells in
Africa any more.
Nothing makes me angrier than indifference.
People wasting their lives. I go to many funerals: people die a lot
in Africa. Today was one. I know how precious life is. I also know
how fragile we are.
Children in Africa make me happiest. Or when I
see a smile, when I see a hope flicker in a granny's eye. When I
see the reality of Christ's love drop in the heart of a volunteer.
When I see different people coming together for a purpose bigger
than themselves. When I see them shedding all the layers that have
covered their eyes. It makes me so happy. I love it when I see
The grandmothers out of Africa influenced me definitely
the most. Their faith, perseverance, love, and ability to
survive when nobody else can survive. Just to be in their presence
is a major inspiration.
I pray most for people in Africa. I pray for
new leaders. I pray for the Church. I pray for our children as they
come through a rough phase of history, that they will be different
- not self-centred but amazing leaders.
I love picking people's brains, especially
people who have achieved things, visionaries, or people who have
seen a lot. I'd choose someone like that to be locked in a church
George Snyman was talking to Terence Handley