We are facing some financial challenges in the months ahead. Concerned about the impending situation, friends and board members have called to ask how we are holding out. Undoubtedly, they half expect to find the staff and children hunkered down, cowering in the bunkers. And there is, it's true, a sense on the ground that enemy planes are circling overhead. Reserves depleted by low exchange rates, a couple months of very low giving could indeed be tantamount to a bomb dropping.
But try as the Devil might, I have found it is impossible to quench the indomitable spirit moving and working in our midst. Even after 15 years, I continue to be amazed and inspired by all the Lord is doing through the ministry of Hope Unlimited. Often, my greatest conviction and inspiration come through the smallest, everyday incidents . . .
Last week we hosted a visiting mission team from the L.A. area. Among their activities, they planned to coach a group of our students in child Evangelism using the "wordless book" where colored pages represent sin, crucifixion, resurrection, growth, and eternal life.After the training, the team planned to go out and put our students to the test: going together to a local park, our student volunteers would approach families out for a Sunday stroll, and ask if they could share a story with their children.On the appointed afternoon we all piled into the bus and headed out to the park.
I must pause to make a shameful confession: I was secretly dying inside. I am in leadership of a Christian ministry, but street evangelism has never been entirely within the comfort zone of my Christian walk.I was OK on this afternoon, however, supposing that if I stood far enough away, nobody would know that we were together (I'm only half kidding).Still, I was feeling for our children, who would soon undoubtedly suffer the embarrassment of rejection.
Coming into the park, we had decided to first eat lunch, and then unleash the Hope students to get started.But it took a whole hour just to get to the hot dog stand across the park: the Hope Students, in blatant disobedience to the instructions, could not contain themselves and started kneeling down to Evangelize children along the path. "Wait!" I tried to tell them. "We have not started yet!"But, once again, I found myself up against that indomitable spirit.
After lunch, the students started off in full force. It turned out to be an incredible couple of hours. I will describe just one incident: during the course of the afternoon, the group was surprised to see Leo, one of Hope's students, leading a group of sobbing adults — not children! — in a prayer of confession.
We had planned to wrap up the afternoon by de-briefing at the ice cream shop. So a couple hours later, sitting around self-serve ice cream (I was now a fully integrated member of the group again), the team asked Leo exactly what had taken place in the park earlier, as he led the adults in prayer.
(Note: Leo is the brother of our graduate Leonardo Barbosa, who shares the same name as the Phoenix Suns NBA player who recently visited Hope. Our last newsletter shared the brothers' story.)
Through a translator, Leo matter-of-factly described seeing a man in the park and sharing the wordless story with him. Later on, he saw the man with a group of friends. Recognizing an opportunity to capitalize on the rapport he had established earlier, Leo approached the group and greeted his new friend. As hoped, Leo was invited to share with the whole group. The indomitable Holy Spirit was at work again: a half hour later, Leo was leading the whole group in a prayer, as the man, sobbing, confessed his sins and invited Jesus into his heart.
A team member then asked Leo to describe the most important or surprising thing he had learned that afternoon.Leo did not answer right away, and I looked at him. His whole composure had changed, and his lip was quivering. Then he broke down. When was able to talk again, he shared that his most important reflection was God's power to change lives: God was able to change the lives of people like those whom he had shared with. God had changed his life, he said, as well as the life of some of his family members. Now God was using him to minister to others.
Pastor Derli was sitting nearby and pitched in with some additional details about several of Leo's family members who had recently come to Christ:
- His aunt showed up one family visitation day drunk as a skunk. After chapel, Pastor Derli admonished her regarding our visitation rules, leading to a rapport which eventually resulted in her accepting Christ.
- Leo's grandfather, who took care of Leo's younger half-sister, had had recently accepted Christ and miraculously overcome his drinking and drug use. A few months later, he had completed construction of a small brick home, replacing the precarious plywood shack they had lived in, creating a much better life for all.
- I was curious about how Leo's grandfather had become a Christian. Leo said that his uncle had started inviting his grandfather to church. And how did Leo's uncle become a Christian?His uncle had accepted Christ at the City of Youth two years ago, during a worship service on a family visitation day!
I often find myself unraveling new and unexpected layers of the Hope ministry. There is a depth easily forgotten when we limit discussion to how many children live within our grounds. The Holy Spirit is contagious, and even through brief contact can take residence in new lives.
From this incident we learn that, through our outreach to Leo and Leandro, their visiting uncle accepted Christ at the Hope campus.The uncle led the Grandfather to Christ, who in turn helped with an Aunt's decision to accept Christ a few months
later, again in the Hope chapel.Each one has started bringing their entire households to church with them.
It is no wonder that Leo was so emotional about God's power to change lives, and so passionate in his quest to share the Good news with those around him! And it is no wonder that, even after 15 years, I continue to be amazed and inspired by all the Lord is doing through the ministry of Hope Unlimited.
In His Hope,