The Valley: A Story About Hope
May 6, 2013
At EM, we've been developing training resources based on the tough topics that we are all forced to address when we step into cross-cultural settings. The latest resource we've put together is on the topic of Hope. Our entire staff has contributed in some way, taking time to share personal stories and challenges. The following personal story is from Heather Moline, EM Leadership Development staff.
"The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof."
— Barbara Kingsolver
The sound echoed through the neighborhood, bouncing off the tidy rows of old brick homes on the tree-lined street. I had heard the sound before, but it was out of place, foreign in this part of town. I'll never forget the sound—its sharpness, its suddenness—the way it changed everything.
We looked out the front window and saw the UPS driver making his afternoon deliveries, climbing out of his truck to carry boxes to our porch step. Then he dropped the boxes and ran to the corner. Immediately realizing that something was wrong, we rushed to open the front door and could hear the driver yelling, "Someone help! He's been shot!"
My friend grabbed her phone from the other room to call 911 and I followed behind the UPS man. Once I stepped out into the front yard, I could see him—a man lying in a pool of blood on our sidewalk. He was curled over on his side and struggling to breathe. God, help us.
I started running and by the time I reached the man, there was already another woman kneeling at his side and a man standing nearby and screaming at the 911 Operator.
"Do you know him?" I asked the woman, kneeling down to place a hand on the man's back.
"No, no! I live over there," she frantically pointed to the house across the street. "Tell them to come now!" she yelled to the man on the phone, "He needs help!"
My friend ran up behind us and we all stood there with him—unsure of how to help, afraid to move him for fear of hurting him more, overwhelmed by the reality of what had just happened. Time seemed to slow down, and it felt like help would never come, but the police arrived within minutes followed by a fire truck and ambulance. We did our best to help until the police arrived, hoping desperately that he would make it. But then we had to get out of the way while they closed off the road with bright yellow tape.
Within minutes, the news media arrived at the scene. They began knocking on doors, trying to talk with neighbors about the terrible crime that had just happened. We didn't want to talk with them. We had just experienced something so raw, so human and personal that it didn't seem right to turn it into a two-minute spot on the evening news.
Later that night, the news reported that the victim died in the hospital.
They identified him as a 22-year old who was involved in a "high-risk lifestyle" and the mayor did his best to assure concerned citizens that police were keeping a careful eye on any recent gang activity. Incredibly, the police had also tracked down the shooter, another young man with a record of his own. He was charged with murder.
During the evening news report, my friend and I watched our neighbor talk about everything that had happened that afternoon. He had heard the shots and watched the whole thing from his window—the black SUV drive away, the man lying on the sidewalk, the neighbors who ran to the man and screamed for help, the police closing off the block.
But he never left his windowsill. At least, not until the reporters arrived asking for an interview.
I spent the next few days in deep thought. Waves of emotions seemed to hit me at different times. At first, shock—the whole thing seemed surreal. Then I felt afraid. Although the shooting and several other recent incidents in the city had all been gang related, I worried about walking to my apartment alone at night or stopping at the gas station down the road. Then, I felt sad. Regardless of his lifestyle or the poor choices that the victim had made, I couldn't help but thinking that he was someone's brother, someone's son. He was younger than me. What a wasted life.
But it didn't take long before I felt angry, frustrated by the senselessness of the crime but also the response of so many other people. I kept thinking about the neighbor on the news and others who simply watched it all happen from the comfort of their own front porch steps, from the safety of their living rooms.
I started searching scripture, overwhelmed by the brokenness in the world and looking for answers the way so many of us do when we are rattled by reality.
I found comfort in many familiar scriptures, but Psalm 23 resonated with me in a way that it never had before. I remember memorizing the chapter when I was a child. I remember hearing my Sunday school teacher explain that, "Even when life gets hard, God promises to be with us." I know that's true, but there was something else more striking about the valley of the shadow of death as I read it now. Instead of viewing the valley or the hard times as a place we simply needed to get through, I started wondering if maybe God is actually calling us to the dark places.
It was as if he was saying, "Since you're following me wholeheartedly, I know that you're going to feel compelled to love people in the midst of their hopelessness. You're going to walk with them and mourn with them, and it isn't going to be easy. In fact, sometimes you're going to want to go back to the pastures—to the places where you're comfortable, where you can feel me. Sometimes you're not going to understand the pain in the world, but always know that I am with you. You are exactly where I want you to be. Keep loving."
But how many times have we watched the world go to hell outside our window? How many times have we heard stories or seen injustice and then gone back to our normal lives? It's as if we've forgotten that it is our mission to fight in the trenches—to walk through the valley.
Next I read stories about Jesus in Luke, determined to find something from his life that would help me know how to respond. I got stuck on Luke 17:20-21.
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (NIV)
It was striking. The kingdom of God is within me.
Then I began recalling verses about Christ being the hope of the world (1 John 1), and about his light dwelling within me (Matthew 5). Suddenly, all of the pieces seemed to line up.
We live in a broken world, but God is hope. He is light. He lives in us, and so we must live in the dark places. We must become a part of bringing his kingdom to earth. And although our reward will be great one day, although heaven will be spectacular and we'll experience wholeness and peace like never before—it can't just be our distant hope. We must be people of hope in the here and now.
In the evening after the shooting, I had a choice to be an observer or a doer (James 1:22-23). I had recently started volunteering at a family homeless shelter twice a week, helping adults with resume writing and interview preparation. The staff and the residents make it a wonderful place to serve and connect, but after the tragic events of the day, I was shaken. It didn't help that the shelter was located in one of the more notorious neighborhoods in the city. But I had a choice, to retreat to the pasture or continue through the valley.
I went to the shelter that night and met with an incredible young mom who is doing her best to get back on her feet. The program is helping her save money, find a job, and rent an apartment. We chatted and laughed and worked on her job applications—I think she was a bigger blessing to me that night than I was to her.
I realized that it was important to go. It was important to continue serving, despite my own fears. If I had stayed home that night, I would have been giving in. I would have been allowing the darkness of that afternoon to spread instead of being an encouragement to a woman who was trying to get out of her own desperate situation.
It wasn't an easy choice and I am still learning what it means to follow fully after God. But I am confident that He wants me to push forward.
As people who have light living in us—let's be bold. Let's stand firm and continue believing that we live in a world where the bad guys don't win. Let's allow hope to radically change our priorities. Let's believe that there is something better ahead, and although we'll find it in eternity, we can also bring it here.
MORE | For years, leaders of all kinds have asked us to develop resources they could use to talk about the tough topics surrounding service and missions. Check out the preview of our latest session "Hope"
and download the new resource for free.