What a difference a little hope makes. I believe that an unnatural hope should be one of the visible hallmarks that seperates Chrisitians from the rest of the world. Last night I (Ross) went to the annual banquet for the Union Gospel Mission in Spokane, WA (I was in Spokane to meet with FamilyLife's volunteer team in the area). What an eye-opening, worldview-changing, convicting, inspiring and hope-filled evening. About 600 people gathered to hear testimonies of changed lives from people that 99.9% of the world (Christians included) would describe as "a hopeless cause". I heard from a woman whose second husband ended up being a pimp and forced her out onto the streets every night, waving a gun at her face and saying she better come back with some money or he would pull the trigger. She was abused and became addicted to Meth, but she found hope at Spokane's UGM.
Then there were the men who had bounced in and out of prison, the alcoholics and the thieves. While many people might say "they should be locked up forever", someone at the UGM saw a speck of hope and told them that they didn't need to be bound by those chains anymore. The men shared about how their grades in school reflected their messed up family situations while they were growing up, and how they spent their lives trying to fill the void in their heart with drugs, violence, and sex. But when they showed up at the mission, broken and at the end of their rope, someone shared the love of God with them and their search for something or someone to fill the void in their hearts was finally over. But that wasn't the end of the story. Instead of being left as "Christian Homeless People", volunteers worked tirelessly alongside them to not only help them get their GED's, but they also set up an automotive shop with donated cars to train them how to work as mechanics and auto-detailers. After the cars were fixed and cleaned, they taught them how to sell the cars with integrity and the basic principles of business (that is micro-enterprise at it's finest, and I believe it may be one of the most effective evangelism/mission/humanitarian tools available-especially in the Third World).
Lastly, there was a girl who looked like she was 15 (she looked like a really sweet girl you would have babysit for you). Nothing could have prepared me for her story. She had been abused as a little girl by her step-dad, and she blamed her mom for not protecting her. Before the age of ten she had already tried all kinds of drugs, she was abused by various people until the age of thirteen and felt like she couldn't talk about it to anyone so she just went into her own little world of emptiness and drug-abuse. She said that she was scared of men and in fact hated men, so she became a lesbian. However, one night she was raped by a guy and became pregnant...later giving birth to a little boy. The drug use continued. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't beat it. She said that every morning her son would come up and ask her "Are you sick again today mommy?" She described her life as being at the bottom of a pit and not even able to see the light at the top. Desperate for help, she saw the sign on the UGM's women's shelter that says "Hope Starts Here" and decided to enter.
The amazing thing to me was hearing her say that even when she came to the mission she still had several relapses back into Meth. What blew me away is that the people working with her didn't give up at that point, they just waited for her to come back, welcomed her with open arms and started the healing process over again. Most Christians love the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). But what would we think if Jesus continued the story by saying, "Oh, by the way, that son ended up running back to the city for a few more weekends of binging before finally coming home for good..." If I read the story that way, I would say the dad was a fool and the son had used up one too many chances, he should suffer the consequences. But that's really what Jesus does for each one of us, he doesn't write anyone off as being a "hopeless cause" and whether it's the 1st time or the 51st time he still runs to meet us with open arms and welcome us home. This girl is now studying to become a nurse and is working to be the mom her little boy needs. She said she would love to get married and have a husband and family, but that God is all she really needs.
As the evening closed with the song "I know my Redeemer Lives" I looked around the room and just couldn't keep my eyes off of a distinct group of worshipers scattered throughout the ballroom: Former drug addicts and rape victims, thieves and prostitutes, with arms raised and tears streaming down their faces, singing "I know my redeemer lives...Because He lives I can face tomorrow..." A pretty amazing sight.
One of my all-time favorite verses is found in Psalm 146 "The LORD sets the captives free..."
It's true, I saw it with my own eyes last night. If you want more info about the Union Gospel Mission in Spokane you can click here: www.ugmspokane.org