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Hope in a Living God

Ephesians 1:15-23 

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Throughout this year some of the ways we as interns have been seeking to spread light and hope in this neighborhood are things like prayer walking, getting to know our neighbors, giving out cookies, joining in with the Christians who live in the neighborhood, as well as helping with community events and the food pantry down the street. We have seen glimpses of light throughout the area because of what God is doing. Through the community garden a block down the road, a man gave his life to Christ this summer. Through Bible studies down the street, teens (most of them fatherless) are hearing the Gospel weekly, seeking, and asking questions. Through prayer walks, I have seen the power of prayer change lives, not only of the people being prayed for but also of the people offering the prayer and encouragement. God is building the faith of His people daily!

God has given me (Ally) a heart for this community in a way I never imagined. I've seen and heard of victories: people coming to Christ, lives changed, fatherless children laughing and smiling, and so much more. But I have also seen the works of the enemy, and lately the darkness seems to swallow up all the light.

My story from last week is one about a 30 year old African American man named Emmanuel. Last Friday, the 18th, some of the interns and I went to watch a movie in the theater. Around 9 pm we were on our way home, and as we approached our street, we noticed caution tape had sectioned off nearly half of our block. We couldn't get to our driveway, so we parked next door, and as we walked, we talked to a few police officers who told us there had been a homicide in the apartments directly across the street from the RIC.

Here is some background: During the summer, we took youth groups out into our community on prayer walks every Saturday morning. I remember one week a City Challenger (who had gone with one of the other interns, Ryan) mentioned to me how they talked to and prayed with a guy named Emmanuel for a long time simply because Ryan walked up to his door and asked to pray with him. Ryan had met Emmanuel once before when he was sitting out in his driveway, and that day Emmanuel wasn't out, so Ryan sought out a conversation with him. Usually we talk to the people who are walking on the street or out in their yard or on their porch; people who aren't busy, so as not to bother anyone. But that one particular Saturday, Ryan chose to follow that little nudge from the Spirit and knock on Emmanuel's door.

Throughout the summer, Tina and I got the notion that we needed to get to know our neighbors better, so we decided we would make cookies a couple times a month and give them away to the people in our neighborhood. We simply wanted to show our neighbors that they had friends at the RIC who wanted to know them. As we made more and more cookies, I began to have more confidence that God would use those cookies to do more than just fill bellies. We were building relationships with quite a few people in our community, and it was so encouraging to me. I began to have more excitement as we baked and baked, and then baked some more.

With that excitement, we took those cookies out a couple times a month. Emmanuel got a plate of cookies and some prayer almost every time we went out. Most times he spoke quite a bit of truth when we prayed with him. He seemed to know a lot about God. He was very respectful to us each time we visited, and like a few other guys in the community, we knew that if anyone else tried to mess with us, Emmanuel had our backs. 

I'm sure you can see where this is going. As we walked into the RIC that cold night after finding out there had been a homicide, I looked back as I walked up the driveway and noticed a policeman standing in the doorway of Emmanuel's apartment. I remembered that he lived alone, and when I saw the policeman guarding Emmanuel's door as detectives were inside, my heart sank. The next morning the news confirmed that Emmanuel was the victim of the 71st homicide in Columbus this year. He was shot in the chest after engaging in an argument with another guy whom they have yet to find. Emmanuel died 20 minutes later in the hospital. I heard from some people in the community that he had been a drug dealer. I don't know if any of those facts are true; the only thing I know is that he was always nice to us.

As time goes on and I see the ways sin and brokenness affect the lives of people around me, it's easy for me to lose sight of the hope that God promised us.

A little over a month ago, right before I went to bed one night, I saw news about a shooting at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, an attack from the al-Shabaab killing at least 67 people. I shopped at that mall. My close friends who are missionaries in Kenya had taken their family to that mall for a birthday outing the week before the shooting. I have Kenyan friends who had family killed in that attack. Needless to say, I didn't sleep that night.

I've seen lives damaged by suicide, dear friends of mine who lost loved ones who thought it would be better to take their own lives than to live in the misery they knew on this earth, leaving most of their family members and friends with lots of questions, in a state of hopelessness. 

I see pictures of babies left to die in dumpsters around the world; helpless little souls who don't have a choice. I hear from some of my friends down the street that a few houses down from them are men living in a house, giving every indication that they are running a brothel. Possible sex trafficking going on just down the street? Innocent women used as useless objects of pleasure? Helpless children abandoned everywhere we look? All of those lives tossed around like worthless commodities, when in the eyes of their Creator they are souls treasured and loved. Wanted. Longed-for.

Lately, I can't stand to look at the news. The noise of all of the sin in this world keeps getting louder and louder, and all I want to do is turn away, shut my eyes and close my ears to this whole world and all of its hurt. Emmanuel is one of so many stories.

Does all of this make you hate sin? What are you doing about it? When was the last time you cried for the lost?

It would be so easy for me to go back home, into my warm house where my loving family waits to welcome me, and try to forget all of those images and stories that make my heart ache.

Or I could do something about it. There is hurt all around us, no matter where we live. What is God calling us to do as the church? What is God calling you to do? Ignore the world around us that is crying out so desperately for love? Don't wait. Hungry souls around the world are waiting for someone to share hope with them. Hungry souls you pass every day.

Here is the truth: God is so much bigger than sin. He triumphed over it at the cross. I've seen His power this year in a way that shows how faithful our God is, and I've decided I'm not turning back. I'm not running away anymore. It's easy just to see the darkness in the world, and though it is necessary for us to see the brokenness all around us, God is working all the time and it's time we start focusing on the light, the small flickers of fire in dark places. It's time for us to blow on those little flames and expect God to work, to grow those glimpses of light into roaring flames for His kingdom. I heard this line repeatedly over the summer during our City Challenge sessions with Kevin Mayer: God is saying to each one of us daily, "I'm going to something amazing today and touch people's lives. Do you want to join me?" It's a hard journey to pick up your cross daily and follow Jesus, but IT IS WORTH IT. Those souls living in heaven forever are worth it.

As you can see, God has been moving in mighty ways around here. The Lord is teaching us and growing us in tremendous ways. What a sweet time it is to be with a group of 36 other young adults seeking the Lord. Time is flying by. It's already week 10 of 12 of training, and it's hard to believe the teams will be flying to their outreach locations within the month. They came back from their practicum locations a couple weeks ago ready to tackle the last half of training and learn even more. Much prayer is requested for the directors as they facilitate team dynamics and cross-cultural outreach locations; for the team leaders for they could always use more wisdom and discernment as they lead; and for the REACHers as they learn and grow together that they would keep learning attitudes. Thanks for your prayers and support!