"You have to keep holding on to HOPE to keep holding on.
You having to keep finding your HOPE when you’ve lost it, or you lose your way.
You have to breathe HOPE to keep your lungs and your dreams from collapsing.
You have to let HOPE always carry you or fears will carry you away.
And these days? The world needs less fear mongers and more HOPE Mongers.
Fear says our only choices are either fight, flight, or freeze, but HOPE says we always have the choice of optimism, options, and optimizing all things for good.
HOPE mongers knows there will always be obstacles in the way, but there is always still a way.
HOPE mongers believe The Way forward is always greater than any obstacles in the way.
HOPE mongers know there is always a way to get from here to there."
Love in 2017
As I read these words by Ann Voskamp over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the unprecedented year we’ve had at World Relief, and the love, hope and tenacity of our staff. I reflected on what we had been through together as an organization—as colleagues and as friends, often in the midst of hardship and uncertainty. I reflected on this love that has endured all things. And I was reminded of the deep pride and gratitude I have for our staff and volunteers around the world.
Love that "endures all things" is love that hopes in the face of circumstances that often seem dark. In the last year in particular we have faced a world which in many ways seems to have lost its bearings, but we have placed our faith in the Lord and we continue the work in the face of adversity, overwhelming challenges, and even hatred and physical danger.
A Defiant ‘Nevertheless’
We do this following the example of the Apostle Paul. When Paul writes his letter to the church at Philippi encouraging them to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), he is writing from a dark cold prison cell, where painful chains, cramped quarters and the sickening stench from poor sanitation made sleeping impossible and waking hours miserable. And yet his focus is not this misery but his joy in seeing the gospel flourish. In fact, the words “joy” or “rejoice” are used 16 times in Philippians as Paul calls us, his brothers and sisters, to serve selflessly.
Of course the very same Person who inspired Paul to write those words and to overflow with love and joy in the midst of hell on earth is the risen Jesus. And if you believe in Him and are one of His own, He is with you to give you the very same supernatural, invincible, unconquerable and undefeatable joy and strength that Paul had.
Few of us will likely be called to such sacrifice. Nevertheless, this year across the globe our staff have endured imprisonment, been separated from their families and confronted famine, disease and suffering on a scale we have not seen in many years. At times they have even risked their own lives to serve the most vulnerable. Here in the U.S. in the wake of cutbacks in refugee resettlement, our staff have seen their friends laid off due to office closures, received hate mail and endured threats to their families and homes. As an organization, we have been the target of a constant barrage of vitriol from those who believe that security and compassion cannot co-exist, and that our security is more important than loving our neighbor or welcoming the stranger.
And yet, we endure all things, in love. And we claim joy as our “defiant nevertheless.”
We live in hope. We live on the shoulders of the saints. We live confident in Jesus's victory over the world as we know it. And so we hope, and we endure.
We choose to be “hope mongers” and people who "let our footsteps be our preaching." We choose optimism and the belief that there is always a way. We choose the path forward, the path of enduring love. Because to us, there is no other path worth choosing.
Whether in the midst of conflict in places like Yemen, South Sudan or Congo where our staff encounter genuine threats to life and limb, or in drought-stricken regions like Turkana, Kenya, where staff spend months at a time separated from families and loved ones to bring hope to communities in crisis, or even here in the U.S., where staff selflessly give of themselves in an environment that—after years of bipartisan consensus on our obligations to refugees—has in many places turned hostile to our ministry of helping foreign born vulnerable people, we choose enduring love.
Our staff chose to be defiant in the face of adversity and to be bold in faith. To, in spite of their circumstances, choose His joy. They dare to believe in our God, saying, as Swiss Theologian Karl Barth wrote in 1934:
“I will NOT let this beat me. I will make the choice to praise Him all day, every day. Yes, Jesus has allowed this into my life but I will trust Him. What the enemy means for evil, He intends for good. I will not deny that I am in a rough season. I will face it head on in the strength and power of His Name. For as long as I need to walk this difficult path, my spirit will be marked with a blazing NEVERTHELESS for all of earth and heaven to see. Jesus has never known defeat and I will not either as long as I am clinging to Him. He always leads me in triumph!”
All over the world our staff and volunteers choose to get up each day, to come alongside the most vulnerable, to touch people with compassion, to love, and yes, to hope as they serve them, resisting the currents of our time, believing in the goodness of our God and Jesus' call to "love our neighbor as ourselves," choosing the narrow path, choosing hardship in the face of skepticism, hostility and even danger.
And so I want to say thank you. Thank you for your choice. Thank you for your brave and defiant nevertheless. Thank you for your enduring love. The world is a better place because of it.
Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.