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Living on Hope's Fringes

Amy Beth Larson

"I work with these children because I believe that the impossible not only can happen, I believe that it will."

Tony's words broke into mine, "It doesn't work. I pray all the time; it just doesn't work. I'm not any different."

As the room grew uncomfortably silent, I shut my book. I searched Tony's face, trying to catch a glimpse of his struggle with God. The other teacher who helped with this after-school Bible club stumbled through some Scriptures with me, trying to reassure Tony that Jesus did listen. And then, for a moment, we just sat in silence.

As I stared at Tony, I thought back on the four years I'd known him. His blond hair and light skin made him stand out among the kids in this inner city neighborhood, but his looks were more than compensated for by his aggressive leadership. The children in the neighborhood flocked to this boy they had fondly nicknamed "Leche" (Spanish for "milk"). He moved in up the street from where I live after he was adopted into his aunt's chaotic family. His mother decided she couldn't handle a baby.

Tony became a Christian a year ago, but has struggled living this lifestyle out. His family members have been in and out of jail, and his greatest role model is a cousin who now resides in a residential treatment center. Because his peers naturally follow him, Tony, though only 10, is at high risk for the neighborhood gangs and youth violence. I know he believes in Jesus, but the arms of the world are wrapped so tightly around this boy that heaven seems awfully far away.

How can we offer hope in hopelessness? This question has attacked my mind and lingered in my heart ever since I started working with kids and living in an inner city neighborhood several years ago. But here, especially here, hope has become a most reliable mystery. It is the paradox that has proven itself time and again.

Hope itself is a deep enigma because we only linger on the fringes of it. When what has been promised is fulfilled, it is no longer hope, but rather another reminder of God's faithfulness. "Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?" (Romans 8:24)

Hope is unseen, a belief that the impossible can and will happen. Hope was born in Eden with the taste of the forbidden fruit still in the mouths of mankind...they began the wait for a promised Savior. They hoped for a Redeemer. Hope spread itself across the ages in the hearts of kings like David and prophets like Jeremiah. They hoped for undeserved mercy and grace for themselves and a people who had turned their backs on God.
Hope shone its brightest when, for three days, the world sunk into a seemingly irreversible despair...the Savior had died.

When we expect it the least-and deserve it even less-our hopes come to fruition...a king is forgiven, a people released, a Savior is born, a Redeemer walks away from death unharmed, a boy named Tony gives his heart to Jesus. In the end, hope has never disappointed the person who waits.
Jesus Christ secured hope for us as he hung on a cross in despair.

I asked Tony a simple question that day, "Has anybody ever prayed for you?" He shook his head. And the least likely prayer group in the world got on their knees. Two young teachers and a handful of inner city kids gathered around Tony, and we prayed. Even Tony stuttered out his heart-felt wish to God. It was simple, no more than an urgent plea: "Jesus, please help me."

And in the wake of that prayer...we simply hope. I work with these children because I believe that the impossible not only can happen, I believe that it will.

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (Hebrews 6:19)

Amy Beth Larson is an urban missionary in Denver.

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