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INTERNATIONAL LETTER

Hope comes through Jesus and it turns up in the most unexpected places.

A Living Hope

Many Christians who find themselves living in an increasingly secular world look to 1 Peter for a model on how to be faithful in a society that does not support their faith. Peter addresses his letter to those who feel like aliens and outcasts in their own neighbourhood. He addresses the issue of how we survive when many around us are hostile to Christianity.

One important piece of his response is hope. Four times in this letter Peter mentions ‘hope.’ He talks about how through Jesus we have a ‘living hope‘ (1:3). As a result he urges his readers to ‘fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you’ (1:13). He reminds all Christians that our ‘faith and hope are in God’ (1:21). With that in place, he challenges those who live as aliens in their own society to ‘give an account for the hope that is in you’ (3:15).

In February-March 2019, my wife, Sally, and I completed a 22-day visit to Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. Our purpose was to share the vision of Global Christian Studies (GCS). GCS offers a pathway for church leaders outside of the US to pursue a master’s degree in Bible from an accredited university associated with non-denominational Churches of Christ. By gaining an advanced degree while studying with fellow Christians, GCS aims to help prepare the next generation of leaders to reach our secular world.

Yet, something happened to us on this journey that went beyond our sharing about GCS. We expected to give to others, but we found others giving to us. Peter’s lines about hope summarised what we saw, how we grew, and what we appreciated. We experienced a network of people who rely on their ‘living hope’. Repeatedly we witnessed delightful men and women with a hope fixed on grace. Their lives of faith and hope were built on God. In every place, we saw evidence of Christian people going on the record for the hope within them. 

Such hope is contagious. At each stop, we encountered wonderful Christian people who have not given up, who have not quit, who have not assimilated into the local culture, who resolutely claim Jesus as their living hope. Out of our own culture and far away from our own family, our own hopes were rekindled and strengthened over the meals we shared, the hospitality we enjoyed, the deep discussions we joined, and even the recreational endeavours we engaged in.

We were reminded that hope does not depend on multi-staff churches, living in the US Bible belt, or being part of megachurches. Hope comes through Jesus and it turns up in the most unexpected places. We found it in a small restaurant ‘Then Sings My Soul’ in Singapore’s Chinatown, in the lively revival singing at a Kuala Lumpur church, in the thoughtful spiritual discussions at a Melbourne weekend church camp, and in the smile of a young professional recently baptised into Christ in Sydney. I think we went with small bag of hope packed in our suitcase, but we came home with a trunk full of this rich spiritual quality.

My wife, Sally, put it this way: ‘As we spent time with Christians in Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia, I thought of Paul’s words to the church at Philippi, and realised we too were “partners in the Gospel.” Several mentioned that we had encouraged and blessed them by coming and teaching, but I quickly realised it was the other way around. We are the ones who came, and left encouraged by the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.’

People who are filled with hope have magnetism. We felt pulled toward these Christians because of their experiences with God and their walk with the Lord. Whether they were generously sharing a meal with us or offering a room in their home, we felt the pull. Whether they were telling the story of how they came to Christ or sharing about a person they sought to influence for Jesus, we felt the pull.

I spoke nineteen times to people from about twenty different congregations. Sally spoke to three classes of women. Here’s our report: We found people filled with the living hope.

Harold Shank was a longtime preacher, Bible professor, and president of a Christian university. In his retirement he helps direct GCS (www.gcspathway.org). Harold and Sally are members of Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, USA, where he serves as an elder.
drharoldshank@gmail.com

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