While “hope” as a message and state of mind has existed for countless generations, it has most certainly experienced a resurgence as of late. In response to current challenges facing so many around the world, various individuals have responded through hope-filled political speeches, magazine articles, books, and television programs. As a result, the declaration of “hope” is being received with passion and adopted with excitement by various global citizens. Africans, Asians, South and North Americans, Eastern and Western Europeans, and various others from booming cities to rural farmlands listen to and speak of “new beginnings”, a “fresh start”, and making the global community function to its fullest. Citizens on all continents are currently in the process of finding ways in which life can truly improve for the better, not only for a few, but for all.
While a large tide of hope is rising throughout the world, what I have long wondered is how people can possibly grasp to genuine hopefulness in the midst of such challenging social and economic conditions. Yes, speeches and books can inspire, but at the end of the day, when the discourse is finished and the final page is turned, many people are left in extremely dreadful situations. Why hope? The World Bank reported that before the current global economic crisis, there were already more than one billion people living on less than $1 per day, while another three billion (…approximately half of the world's population) were living on less than $2 per day. In 2005, in what was considered “good times” compared to 2009, the poorest 40% of the world’s population accounted for 5% of global income, while the wealthiest 20% accounted for 75% of world income, and the wealthiest 10% accounted for 54%.
According to the South African Regional Poverty Network, the proportion of people living in poverty in South Africa has not changed significantly over the past fifteen years, that is, until the past twelve months. Due in part to the global economic downturn, those households living in poverty have sunk deeper into economic despair, and the gap between rich and poor has widened. Over 55% of South Africans live below the poverty line (…poverty estimates are calculated according to household size. A household of four persons has a poverty income of R1 290 per month, which is roughly the equivalent of $161.25), recent estimates have shown a 25% unemployment rate (although these numbers steadily increase), a 30% HIV/AIDS infection rate has resulted in what some call “the death of a generation”, and the nation continues to struggle with crime, corruption, racism, sexism, and gross unequal distribution of land and resources.
A few days ago I asked a local friend this exact question, and I found his response to be quite enlightening. “Why hope?” I asked. He responded with a quote from the fifth chapter of Romans: “…because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…” He expanded upon the biblical passage and commented that “hope does not disappoint” because “faithful hope” is not a matter of sitting around and waiting for something miraculous to happen, (which he poignantly called “stupid hope”!), but it is about taking inventory of one’s God-given capabilities, as well as the assets of the community, and doing what can and needs to be done for the welfare of all. He reminded me that the “audacity of hope” must be followed by the “boldness of action”, and those placed in positions of power and authority are especially responsible to put their beliefs into action and help provide for those who simply do not have the resources to make a significant long-term and sustainable difference on their own. He asserted that the current global economic crisis is both terrifying and exciting, for as people search for hope, it is an opportunity to redirect priorities for the greater common good. However, he added, it is also terrifying, not only because of the terrible conditions people face, but because of increased desperation, the crisis may tempt some to look for answers in all the wrong places, and instead of helping others and thinking of ways to “build up” communities for the future, people will instead worry solely about themselves, perhaps blame and point fingers at others, and in the end “tear down” communities for the worse. He concluded, “It is just a matter of ‘what message’ people are going to hear most loud and clear.”
I fully agree that the global economic crisis, and the resulting desire for global hope, brings both excitement and concern. It is worth concern, because as people so desperately yearn for solutions, they are often willing to cling to just about anyone and/or anything that promises a better life. The persistence of violence, extremism, discrimination, and intolerance in its various forms is a clear consequence of this reality. But also, the search for hope brings incredible excitement, for this moment in history is an amazing opportunity for the “Good News” message of compassion, love, care, companionship, accompaniment, forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice to be received and shared in massive ways never dreamed of before. This “crisis” is indeed an “opportunity” for better things, a space in time to re-evaluate our lives and priorities, consider what works and what does not, determine was is just or unjust, truly understand the ways we relate with others in our neighborhoods and around the world, and join together in solidarity to reshape the current day and age in which we live.
While the Church has its many imperfections (…I suppose I am one of them!), I am one who believes God is in the process of doing something incredible in and through this organization filled with faith-inspired people ready to act. As a result of our current day and age, and out of a Spirit-driven desire to acknowledge and understand the connections we share with people across the globe, I fully believe the Church is about to experience an amazing renewal with an increased interest in global mission, advocacy, and heartfelt service which seeks to walk alongside companions publically and courageously in various walks of life, which can result in mutual respect, empowerment, understanding, and justice. I believe this renewal is already taking place, and as it widens and deepens, it will result in increased involvement among youth and young adults, the often perceived disconnect between faith and “real life” will increasingly close, the often heard street-media message of hatred and fear will be replaced by the faith-filled proclamation that mutual empowerment and “abundant life” can be shared, and a new way of relating to one another can be learned and practiced. With each passing day, as each person recognizes the face of God in all people and takes responsibility upon themselves and the communities that surround them, small steps forward will lead to gigantic leaps, and the message of hope will be transformed into the reality of progress, and the “new beginning” which so many seek will become realized.
And this, I believe, is why we hope.
We hope, not because of our own human greatness or importance, and not because of our individual intellectual or collective technological abilities to make life easier. But rather, we hope because the same God who created us will not sit back, watch, and allow us and others to live in the midst of ongoing despair, injustice, and oppression. We hope, not because it numbs our sorrows and allows us to survive the grind of each day, but because we have a genuine belief that our common humanity will inspire us to cooperate, our shared compassion will encourage us to love, our belief in wholeness of life will motivate us to act, and through God’s grace, those inspired to strive for the common good will far outnumber those with misguided motivations. We hope, not because of rational calculation or skillful thought, but due to the unexplainable conviction that, through God’s strength and wisdom, and with the empowerment that comes through individual responsibility and collective action, that something better for all people is not a mere dream, but a beautiful reality that lies right around the corner.