“Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Luke 2 : 10-14
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.
– Anne Lamott
Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”
– St. Augustine
One of the ways we talk about this year at Neighborhood includes words like “incessant” and “relentless” … having to do with the tough and terrible things that have been part of the lives of the people we love, and our own, too. It hasn’t let up. Instead of trying to make sense of the way it is, we have just been moving through all the bad news and for the most part, trying not to give up. It is our attempt to reach for Jesus in it or commit to watching for a redemption that could reconfigure the pain; to intentionally look for signs of hope.
Jesus came to this very same earth, which just like today, was completely filled with bad news. Like you, I’m watching the broadcast about the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and found myself remembering the slaughter of the boy babies in Bethlehem. But, hope was born that Christmas night and as Methodist theologian Dr Lynn Harold Hough once said, “only the Word made flesh can give any sort of hope in a world as grim and ugly and hard and sordid as ours.”
So, we look for signs of hope here in the midst of our Neighborhood:
She was so young when she became pregnant. The story of the abuse that brought this new life to light was brutal to hear, to know about. Heartbreak all around until there was more. The baby was born three months early. Hold on baby … hold on child-mother … hold on Mom’s Place staff … The healthy child came home last week. A sign of hope.
The DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) federal program began on June 15, 2012. President Obama signed a memo calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and have pursued education or military service here. There are many of these dreamers here at Neighborhood and they can’t stop thanking God for this opportunity; these young people are our leaders, the future of our community. But for one young man, a stalwart warrior, there was darkness moving to despair, for he had no birth-certificate, no proof of his existence, the cornerstone of this paperwork. And then … a Mexican birth-certificate … his identity validated, his petition submitted. A sign of hope.
I shook my head that hot summer day. The for-sale sign went up next door, on the property called The Casitas (small slum housing) which we have attempted to purchase three different times in twelve years. Prayer led us to believe this property was to be the Lord’s. Recently, our final attempt to buy it had fallen apart. Months later … a surprise visitor … the new owner … desires to build new affordable housing, specific to the needs of our families, using tax credits, needing to have a contract with a non-profit that provides social services. They ask if that’s what we want. We tell them about the prayer. A sign of hope.
One of the elements of the Christmas experience here has to do with our Parent Volunteer program. These hard working adults serve the campus and this mission all year and are remunerated with in-house paychecks redeemable at our Mercado Thrift Store. This year, we lost a huge portion of the way this program had been served and covered financially for Christmas. Despite this, the Christmas thank you dinner put on in their honor carried on, with two new elements added: the presentation of the first annual servant leadership award and nominations, voting and announcement of the newly forming community board. The winners are the best among us, trusted and devoted. A sign of hope.
Last winter and the following summer were tough times financially for the ministry. Months of running a deficit. In addition, our development department lost its director. We did everything we know to do, which always includes prayer. The concern about our finances made us worry more about ordinary things, like managing a new grant or the preschool’s evaluation … we worked for and waited for provision. Enter two new foundations whose interest is in different parts of our work that have been without support, with awards forthcoming; alongside this, a huge gift came in from a thoroughly anonymous source, then soon after, another anonymous donor selected us for a substantial annual gift “for life”. A great consultant has joined the team to build a strategic plan for our development work. Signs of hope.
Growing profitable businesses is a lot of work, much more if you are growing them from a non-profit base. As we prepare to transfer Opportunitees (the silk-screening business) under the NM umbrella, it became clear that this business needed marketing help. But there were no funds for this. Meanwhile, Hope House imagined its future business growth adding Hope House Farms, an urban farming component. Where would the funding come from for this next step? A friend with a marketing background has voluntarily joined the Opportunitees team which prompted a donor to fund the marketing plan and long time friends of the ministry chose to fund the launch of HH Farms. Then, HH Farms was selected by the Valley Permaculture Alliance for a year long research and teaching project which will develop a fully orbed farm design. A sign of hope.
This year some of our friends have gone to jail. One situation was on the news for days, accused of a crime he hadn’t committed. Affecting another Neighborhood family, a brother in Mexico was kidnapped by the cartel. Still others have been sick, some with long hospital stays and some have cancer. Other friends have had really serious mental health issues. Undocumented family members have been picked up for something minor (not a crime) and for many adults, documented or not, work has been hard to find. As I write this, many of these situations have experienced a great deal of relief, the kidnapped brother escaped, and in one case, there has been a miraculous healing from leukemia (the doctors used this term). Of course, not all has been resolved, but as people chose to not give up they are seeing for themselves signs of hope inside their difficulties.
There is more. Claudia graduated from college with her RN, a ten year pursuit. Ian was sworn in as the newest Phoenix Union Governing Board member. The sidewalks have been poured on the south end initiating our property’s four acre site development. Kate is engaged to be married, Nikki bought the house behind the clinic, Victor has a job, there are healthy pregnancies that have been prayed for, the Barrio bike shop had a successful campaign and has hired some of their key youth, and our church bears witness to Christ every Sunday.
The angel said to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid anymore, there is good news for you, for everyone … today, God’s rescuer has been born. This is the sign: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. “
Merry Christmas dear friends from all of us here at Neighborhood Ministries.