Celebration of Hope
For those of you who don’t know me yet, my name is Allan, and I’m part of the elder team. It is my distinct joy and privilege to primarily be involved with missions and local outreach. I want to read just one verse this morning from Romans 15:13. It says this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace [as you trust in him], so that [you may overflow with hope] by the power of the Holy Spirit.” May the God of hope fill you so that you may overflow with hope.
So, 2020, we all know, has been a brutal year. I don’t think very many of us are going to be sorry to say goodbye to 2020. But in the midst of this year, we the people of North Hills, have not shut down. We’ve not gone into a bunker, and we have not retreated because in the midst of crisis, God calls his people to move toward the crisis and toward the need, not to run away from it.
Paul is speaking to people who lived at his time in the city of Rome, who were in the middle of things that were eerily similar to what we’re experiencing now — political upheaval, social upheaval, Christians trying to figure out how they navigate this very complex world. Paul says, this is what God has for us. This is his vision for us: that all of us would together overflow with hope because there has never been a time in our country’s history where people need hope more than right now.
I just want to walk through this year with you very quickly to tell you some things you may not know about how we, together as a church, have been enabled by God to walk through some open doors and to share hope around the world and right here in Greenville. And I want to start off with what happened right at the beginning of the year, because last year at our harvest offering, as we’ve mentioned several times now, the biggest part of that harvest offering (most of it), $250,000 went to drill wells in India. And so, January 1 this year kicked off with us sending those funds through our partners in India. I just want to be able to report to you joyfully that COVID has not stopped that. Those wells have been drilled … I believe, in every single village where a well was drilled, there is now a church. If not all, almost all.
And I want to tell you just about one of those. This is a little village called Peta Colony. This village has about 612 families. For almost two years before that well was even drilled, pastors from the Siloam Pastors League (which is the group of pastors that we are working closely with in India, which is led by Praveen, who many of you have met), six pastors went door-to-door in that village for almost two years sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Early on, a few of those families believed on Jesus, and they planned a baptism. Radical Hindus, the day before the baptism, actually ran electrical cables into the water so that when the Christians went in to be baptized, they would be electrocuted. Thankfully, by God’s grace, the plot was discovered, nobody died. The work of the gospel went forward. So, what does hope look like in Peta Colony in India? Well, it looks like 197 families that have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Yeah, praise God for that. Two of the young men from that village are being trained now as evangelists. So, despite COVID … And COVID has been even more brutal among the poor in India than it has been here. Despite COVID, hundreds of people are going to be with Jesus Christ forever, and that is directly connected to what you all did in one day last year in our harvest offering. I just want to thank you for that.
It also looks like 18 children from this one village, 18 children, have been rescued from child slavery in rock quarries and have been reunited with their families. These are pictures of families signing the paperwork with Siloam Pastors League to retake their children. And 14 of the 18 children who have been rescued are now married. It’s a beautiful, beautiful story. They are 18 of the 1000 children that were rescued this year by the Siloam Pastors League. This is such a fruitful partnership, and this is what our harvest offering is all about. It’s one time in the year that we can take a big chunk of money and invest it in something where we can see this kind of dramatic result. And this year, a large part of our harvest offering, again, that we’ll do next week (doesn’t seem like it’s been a year), but a large part of that offering is again going to go to drill wells and evangelize and rescue children through our partners, as well as our local partners like Miracle Hill.
Also in January, on the 13th, at our elder meeting, we approved a special gift of $30,000 to work with an Egyptian church planter who is planting churches in Syria. That’s a little travelogue. We have a partner in Egypt. He’s very active in Syria and other places in the Middle East. And because of your unbelievably generous giving last year, we had a surplus. And whenever we have a surplus, we want to invest it in the work of God. So, again, despite COVID in Syria, several churches have been planted now in Syria, including this one, which is a Druze church in Syria, which has a very difficult people to reach.
The year started off in a tremendous way, but on the 20th of January, it was the first confirmed case of COVID in America. On March 13th, President Trump declared COVID a national emergency. You remember that, March? And you remember that confusion and fear that kind of came up, and we were quarantining? We as leaders were asking ourselves, how do we respond as a church? What is our role? We were talking about a lot more than how we do services or whether we wear masks. We were talking about how do we reach into our community? How do we overflow with hope in the midst of COVID?
Several things happened. I’m just going to give you a few of the highlights. We immediately had our hospitality coordinator, Kirsten Brown, prepare 50 meals for people who would be affected because they were quarantined through COVID. Our One Another ministry … I’m sorry, we also entered into a partnership with two other local churches to support 16 Brook Glenn families; so, every weekend they receive food portions to help them. Our One Another ministry, which is our ministry to people in our church who have special financial needs, helped 60 families in our church this year. In all, around $130,000 was distributed from our One Another ministry this year. And that’s all because of your giving. That money only exists because of what you have given.
We contacted every missionary and every partner that we work with, and we were able to help them around a total of about $10,000 with special needs they had because of COVID. We gave $10,000 to a ministry called Eleos, which is a local ministry in Nicholtown that is just being so effective in bringing the love and light of Jesus Christ. And then we sent $7200 to Ethiopia with one of our partners, Michael, who many of you have met. Michael told us that people were actually starving in Ethiopia, and so with that $7200 he was able to feed 180 families for two months. And this is just what we did organizationally. We have people, we have businesses and individuals in this church that have actually given out hundreds of meals. So, we have not shut down church and we will not shut down because we are called to overflow with hope in the midst of need.
In May, May 25th actually, we all saw the shocking news about George Floyd, which added a whole other dimension of social unrest, political unrest, racial unrest. And that launched us into some very deep conversations among leadership here. They’re still going on. You’re going to hear more about it next year. But even as we talked about it from a theological, philosophical standpoint, we also all felt like we have to do something. What are we going to do? How are we going to be part of the solution to racial alienation?
It was in July of this year, during the summer, you remember what happened at the end of last school year? If you have kids, you all remember how schools were shut down, and thousands of our children …. Yeah, sorry. I just walked out of frame. Thank you, Peter. Sorry, streaming people. Thousands of our children were sent home with Chromebooks, and we found out that actually hundreds and hundreds of elementary children never even got on their chrome books one time. And this is a crisis, because what this means is that these children are losing ground when they are already behind in school. So, we started in July … I started to see these articles about how wealthy families were creating education pods. Sometimes for their own children, they would hire a teacher. Or maybe 2 or 3 families would hire a teacher, which is awesome, if you can do that. But because of our partnership with Brook Glenn Elementary, we’re just very aware that there are hundreds of children, thousands of children in Greenville County that that’s not an option. So, we started praying, “God, what can we do?”
Long story short, we felt led to try and reproduce our SCORE Summer Program, which serves minority and low income children from Brook Glenn. We said, “What if we could multiply that program? What if we could create multiple education pods for minority and low income children with quality teachers so that they could have the kind of care and instruction that even wealthy children can have?” And what started as a dream quickly became a reality. Again, because of your giving and because of some things that we weren’t doing, we were able to put $50,000 into the pot to get that going. With that, we were able to start two pods here at North Hills, and then God just started bringing donors and over a quarter of a million dollars came in from this community. People heard about what we were doing — businesses (Shout out to Spinx. Go buy all your gas at Spinx, because they got in with us.) and churches and individuals. Long story short, we were able to start ten pods, each of which had the capacity to serve twenty four children in areas of Greenville like Poe Mill and Nicholtown and Judson Mill and Belle Meade and Welcome. And it has been absolutely life-changing for hundreds of children. Rather than me just talking about it, I asked a couple of new friends — this is Miriam and her son, Jordan. They operate, they each operate one of the pods which is located out in the Belle Meade area of Greenville. I want you to meet them, and I think you’re going to love them the way I love them. Listen very carefully, because the story is just amazing.
For certain things, especially in certain communities, you only have hope as far as what you can see. And so, if the community that exists is the greatest thing that you have seen is a drug-dealing cousin who also works somewhere just to balance, he has legal money. If that’s all you see, there’s no hope to be the President or a doctor, because they don’t see it. It’s not tangible. Gratefully, last year I worked in Greenville County Schools, so I kind of knew the system, to work in. But I think also figuring out how do we get this child to figure out their potential and how can we figure out ways for them to be successful, getting into the trenches with them even when it gets frustrating. When a child doesn’t want to read, trying to get a third grader that doesn’t like to read to read, that’s a headache sometimes. But I think those are the challenges. But we accept the challenge. “Okay, you’re not going to sit down here to read. Okay, we’re going to figure this thing out.” We’ll put prizes, whatever it is. But I think that’s probably the biggest challenges.
I think about one particular student that we have that I talk about all the time. He’s in a situation — single mother, bad grades, gang affiliation, all of this — and he came to our pod a quiet hoodie kid. Nothing to say. His grades were 20s, 30s, 15. But we began to speak into him and love on him and tell him who he could be. Show him — he saw an example of a man, because his father’s not around. He saw something different, he heard something different. And within a couple of weeks, those 30s became 80s, those 20s became 80s and 90s and 100s, and he started talking. Now he runs through the pod like he owns it. His gang affiliation, his mother said he burned the rag in front of her. Now his whole demeanor is different. His mother said, “You guys did something for him that we could not do.” And I said, “What’s that?” She said, “He wears a belt.” Something as simple as he wears a belt now. And to see his mother’s heart and his sisters and an adopted cousin that they have. Their whole life is changed because of this pod. You can’t buy hope. And so, the reality is, even with programs and even with churches and everything, the reality with hope is you can never shut down hope. You can never lock the doors to hope. You can never say you have to social distance with hope because hope is not something that I only have to get from you, but it’s also something that has to be within me. And it has to be something that charges me every single day, that says regardless of what I see in life, what I see in the world, there’s a smidgen of hope. There’s a remnant of hope and faith that says, you know what, I can go on just a little bit longer. I can keep on pressing because one day somebody is going to hear it, even if it’s just one. Forget the ninety-nine, if it’s just one person that hears the message of hope, that’s the message that saves their life. And then there’s a chain reaction because once their life is saved, they’re going to give it to somebody else and have their life be saved. That’s why hope is so important, because it can never be bought. It can never be destroyed, can never be locked, it can never be put away. It can only exist. And the reality is, either we’re going to see that exists or we’re going to ignore that it exists, but we can never deny that it exists.
Pretty good, huh? And what Miriam talked about, we have heard countless times — children who were failing, children who were not even doing any work, who are now on the A/B honor roll, children who now realize that they have the capacity to do the work. You did this through your giving. And if you were watching the video closely, you would have seen lots of North Hills faces because almost every pod is staffed by North Hills people because of our experience with our summer program. And I just want to praise God — 10 pods, 30 staff members, around 200 children, $300,000. And God is putting together a very diverse, passionate coalition that I believe for years to come we’re going to be able to work collaboratively to bring hope to this situation. I could talk about that all day.
But a couple more things that happened. On August 4th there was a horrific explosion in Lebanon. We had connections to Lebanon through people in our church, John Cruice particularly, and we were able to send $25,000 to help in this. Again, from your giving we had that capacity to do that. And that money was channeled through a pastor and a church network. So, the money was given very carefully and specifically, and with a lot of accountability.
And then finally, in September, one of our premier partners here at North Hills, Homes of Hope, just let us know we have a need. We had a truck that died suddenly. We need this to transport the men that we’re mentoring as we build affordable housing to address the crisis of affordable housing in our county. And again, because of your giving, we were able to say yes, and we were able to put $20,000 — that’s the truck that you bought that is being used week after week to bring hope to this county.
All that to say, we cannot begin to express how grateful we are to you. Through COVID you have stayed engaged, you have stayed connected, and you have continued to give. And so, as we come together next week for our 29th anniversary and our harvest offering, we just want you to know that whenever you give, whatever you give, we see it as a very important stewardship. We don’t just throw money at things. We invest what you give so that the hope of Jesus Christ can come to the world’s hardest and darkest places. And we just love you so much,
Father, thank you that during this year where there’s been so much discouragement, so much discord, that your Spirit has been at work every week, every day, every hour, and that you have given us a front row seat to the way that the hope of Jesus changes everything. So, Father, we pray that you would just continue your hand of blessing on North Hills Church corporately, but also individually, and that each of us together and individually in our families, God, that we would just be hope pushers to this community and around the world. God, that we would be those that in the midst of everyone else running away, are running toward those hopeless situations because we have the answer. We have the God who is the God of all hope. So, we thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.