by Sara Billingsley
That’s 3 ½ years of growth, learning and loving.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!
I finished my time at Hope for the Hungry in May of 2017 after graduating from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. One of my favorite memories from interning with Hope took place at Belle Oaks apartment complex. I was teaching about the crucifixion and resurrection when a boy stopped me half way through. He said, “Wait, why would Jesus die for us?” And I said, “Well, because he wanted to. He wanted to save us.” He looked at me, his skeptical expression giving way to utter shock, “Dang! Jesus is nice!” I just started laughing at the simplistic and beautiful truth that had just come out of this eight-year old’s mouth. He hadn’t grown up in church, in fact he’d never been. He was hearing these stories for the first time, and his heart was consumed with child-like awe. This is what Hope for the Hungry is all about, taking the good news of Jesus to kids and their families that have found themselves in hopeless situations, knowing that Christ is the only one that can bring hope.
During my time serving at Hope there were extremely rewarding times, but there were also difficult seasons. One of our sweet Hope kids was diagnosed with cancer and passed away after a long fight. In the midst of tragedy, we saw God work to bring that community together around him. In addition to walking through valleys with these families we also saw injustice first hand. We saw families broken up and children experiencing the backlash. We walked alongside hurting single mothers and single dads, and children that felt alone.
In all of these situations the Lord remained faithful. Even when no one had answers to why this was happening we continued to trust in the Lord and encouraged our kids and their families to trust as well.
The greatest lesson I learned during my time at Hope was that ministry is messy, because people are messy. Ministry is difficult. Choosing to do ministry means choosing to give your life away. Choosing to do ministry means choosing a life of sacrifice. True and lasting ministry involves getting to truly know people, their deepest hurts, their biggest needs, and understanding the burdens they are carrying. It means carrying that burden with them.
A child talked to me about how they had been abused. Obviously, action was demanded. My heart was breaking for this child and for the family and I cried out to God and said, “I think this is too much for me… I can’t handle this. This is too heart breaking.” In that moment the Lord spoke to me. He told me that this is the very heartbeat of ministry. The brokenness is all around us, the only reason we can’t see it is because we have chosen to keep it at a distance.
When we choose to fully follow Jesus, we are led into the hurting world around us. Our eyes are opened, and we are asked to enter into the hurt. Jesus didn’t shy away from our brokenness. True ministry is carrying the burden of those hurting around us. And just as we enter into the brokenness we also get to reap the joy of seeing the Lord make everything new. We get to experience Jesus, the one who will wipe every tear from our eyes, turn mourning into dancing.
In my last few months at Hope, I was reflecting on my time there and just praying over the kids and the continued ministry when the Lord brought this verse to mind. I believe it really characterizes the type of ministry that takes place in the Hope House and the surrounding community. “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s good news but our lives, too (1 Thess. 2:8).” This is a verse that I long to define my ministry for the rest of my life. Anyone who knows Jen Sutton, the Director of Hope for the Hungry Children’s Ministry, knows that one of her most used phrases is, “Hey Friends!” That’s how she welcomes the kids in the doors, that’s how she gets their attention for group time, but most importantly that describes the way she felt about them. She considers the Hope kids and their families to be her friends. Ministry is about building honest relationships with Jesus’ love at the center, and the Hope for the Hungry kids taught me that.
I’ve just finished my first year at seminary at Southeastern in North Carolina. Because of my time at Hope for the Hungry I view ministry in a whole new way. When I began praying about how to get involved in ministry out here I wasn’t praying for an organization to be a part of. Although organizations can be a good starting place, I was praying for people that God would have me meet. I prayed that the Lord would lead me into relationships and into the brokenness. Just like at Hope for the Hungry, there have been rewarding times and hard times here. There have been moments of break through and victory but there have also been tears. At Hope I learned that ministry is not something that we do to feel good about ourselves, because often true ministry leaves us hurting. But we can be encouraged knowing that we are reflecting the character of our Father when we hurt for those far from him, and we can have hope knowing that we go out in the power of the Holy Spirit who does not wish for people to remain as they are.