If you’ve been around Hope Academy for any length of time, you’ve heard me say many times that “Hope in God changes everything.” To some of you, that may sound like a nice turn of phrase or a mere platitude.
But we all know that times of testing are revelatory, aren’t they? They’re an acid test that shows us what really matters. Especially tough times like this last year reveal whether hope in God is merely words on a page – or if faith makes all the difference.
While this year has been one of the hardest years in our 21-year history, it has also produced some of the most life-changing education that I’ve seen for inner-city youth. Let me share four ways that hope in God made a difference for the children of Hope Academy. Hope in God produced radical risk-taking, radical generosity, radical humility, and radical perseverance.
1. First, hope in God produced radical risk-taking.
As most of us know, almost every school in our city cancelled in-person learning this last year—for the very children who needed in-person learning the most. Children who are already last in the country fell even further behind. Why was this? Ultimately, it was deemed to be too great a personal risk.
In contrast, Hope Academy staff acted like first responders who ran towards danger instead of running away from it. Hope in God enabled us to offer in-person learning to our students all year.
2. It also enabled radical generosity.
God’s love enables us to do the most. If you’re like me, when trouble or difficulty comes my way, my natural inclination is to circle the wagons, do the least for others and become more protective of my own limited time and resources.
Let me tell you a story about the radical generosity of one of our teachers, Ms. Johnson. When we were forced to go to distance learning last March, one of our single parents struggled to support the at-home learning of her five children. Ms. Johnson saw the need, stepped up, and volunteered to provide respite care for two of the kids in her own home. This continued over the summer and into the fall. She provided a safe space in her home for the kids, taking them to parks and museums, and even including them in the daily chores.
Ms. Johnson’s respite care was a true lifeline for the family, helping them navigate some extreme challenges. Instead of kids falling through the cracks, kids were stabilized; and feeling safe, they have flourished this year.
And by the way, speaking of radical generosity, it was your generous giving that made it possible for others, like Ms. Johnson, to do the most this year. Thank you.
3. Third, hope in God has the power to create a radically humble and harmonious community in a polarizing environment.
Have we ever known a more hostile or contentious age than the one we’re in right now? But, if Jesus is King, then our response to this contentious age will be different.
We’ll be quicker to listen, slower to speak, and slower to become angry. We’ll be willing to take the plank out of our own eye before we fixate on someone else’s speck. Willing to follow Jesus’ example and take the lowly position of a servant. Willing to consider others more important than ourselves. Willing to apologize when we’ve missed the mark, and extend grace when we’ve been wronged.
This Christ-like humility is the only thing I know that has the power to bridge racial divides, heal economic disparities, and deescalate political tensions. At Hope Academy, we have one of the most beautiful opportunities to put the gospel on display for a watching world.
4. Fourth, and finally, hope in God cultivates radical perseverance in adversity.
Starting in kindergarten, Hope Academy students learn that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Third graders, learning the story of Joseph, discover that God is good all the time, and that sometimes he allows hard things, things we don’t understand, as part of his bigger story of redemption.
And what is the fruit of these seeds that have been planted? While thousands of children in our city failed classes or never showed up, Hope Academy students persevered through the challenges of this year and showed up day after day, with 96% daily attendance for online and in-person learning. When communication barriers and the technology learning curve brought teachers, students, and parents to tears, when parents juggled work, parenting, and school in a pandemic, when teachers put in double the work to teach hybrid classes, God somehow gave us the strength to persevere.
Perseverance doesn’t come by looking inward, but by looking upward. It’s the difference between saying, “you can do this!” and saying, “the God of the universe is with you and for you, and in him you can do this!” This is the perseverance I saw in three of our seniors who were recently awarded full-ride scholarships to Hillsdale College and North Central University. It’s the perseverance that’s needed to pursue educational justice for the youth of our city, despite enormous headwinds and challenges.
Speaking of perseverance, when you work at something for over 20 years, you begin to see a different kind of fruit. Systems change over long periods of time. Most of us are looking for a magic pill. Most of the time I don’t stick at things long enough to see oak tree-like results.
Last week I saw three things that really lifted my spirits, and I know they will lift yours as well.
- First, I saw that Hope Academy High School students would rather pray than protest. When presented with an opportunity to join other students in our city who walked out of schools to protest in our city, Hope Academy students rallied classmates to join them in the chapel to pray for the peace of our city and ask God for the courage to love their neighbors and make things better.
- Secondly, last week we hired one of our own graduates! She was a member of Hope’s first graduating class of 2012, a National Merit Scholar who went to an Ivy League school, and we just hired her for an important leadership position. She was willing to sacrifice better pay in order to join us in making a great Christ-centered education affordable to all.
- And third, last Saturday I was doing new family interviews for next fall’s kindergarten class. And guess who walked in? One of our former students with her 5-year-old son. She’s using her bi-lingual skills as a social worker in St. Paul, and she wants her son to have the same remarkable education that she had.
In Galatians 6, Paul says to us: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
God bless you, and let Hope arise!
Watch Russ give this talk at our latest Partner Day: