Be Not Afraid…Hope!
Hope…it seems simple enough. It’s a common word we learn early in life. And yet when the heaviness of life shatters dreams, imprisons our spirits, strips us of our value and belovedness, hope can seem elusive. In this space, fear begins to creep in, and its power, strengthened by despair and a sense of aloneness, can extinguish the power of hope, throwing us into the valley of dry bones. How, in this valley, can the power of fear be overcome?
How do we find the promise and power of God’s hope? There are those among us who have found hope in the dry bones, and at this Annual Conference, five of them witnessed to us – trusting us with their vulnerability, to reveal how hope changes, redeems, and restores…even in the valley of dry bones.
The first two Hope Speakers, Alyson and Andrea Hoffman, are the twin daughters of Rev. David and Melissa Hoffman (CAN). Born with Cystic Fibrosis (or CF), they deal daily with multiple treatments and medications. Yet they also take part in many school-related activities and will be attending Ohio Northern University in the fall.
“Hope has taught us to look beyond the present to the life that has been promised in the future,” Andrea said. “Hope has taught us to live our lives to the fullest each and every day and to focus on our potential – never looking back. Hope has taught us to share our experiences with others and to advocate for the needs of others.”
The second Hope Speaker was James Clay, a returning citizen whose life was changed in prison by the Horizon Prison Initiative. Today, he is mentoring a group of men who are themselves incarcerated.
“Only God can take a scared, scarred little boy and turn him into a man,” James remarked. “Now, I am a Healing Communities Trainer for All In Community, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County Reentry Office, and a fitness trainer. All these things seemed out of reach until the Holy Spirit filled me with Hope.”
Our third Hope Speaker was Mandy Fisher, a woman who was homeless and an alcoholic when her uncle introduced her to LifeLine, a United Methodist ministry in Toledo, OH.
“I got sober, and my uncle toted me along to every volunteer commitment and fellowship he was a part of. I didn’t mind. I quickly became involved, invested, and inspired,” Mandy commented. “It’s at all these gatherings that I’ve loved, and I’ve been loved; where I’ve given, yet received more than I could ever dream. I’ve been a part, I BELONG. This is my community. Dare I say, my family.”
The final Hope Speaker was Connie Bannister, a woman who spent years in prison before finally being released. Three years after her release, she started attending St. Paul’s UMC in Toledo, where she became involved in the Marketplace for All People.
“I can’t work, because I’m disabled, so I needed to find [something to do],” Connie said. “So I said, I’m going to work for God. I love helping people, I love having a conversation with people, and I love praying with people.”
West Ohio, these are your stories. And these stories are multiplied a thousand-fold across our congregations and communities. When life pushes us into the valley of dry bones—where the dryness of the air suffocates and no flicker of life seems humanly possible, hope arises! Because of Christ’s love, we have the power to restore life, to restore dignity, and to create redeemed communities where the principalities and powers no longer dominate. Be Not Afraid…Hope!
Videos of all of the Hope Speakers can be found on the Conference Facebook page at www.facebook.com/westohioumc.