Delivered by Dennis & Betty Voskuil
Psalm 146: 5-10
I Peter 1:3
- Class of 2008, Congratulations!
- This afternoon, you will receive your college diplomas.
- An occasion for joyous celebration! An occasion of completion and of commendation!
- Cheered on by proud parents, and supportive family, and faithful friends; and blessed by the faculty and administration of HopeCollege you will walk across that stage - in sunny weather--at Holland Municipal Stadium.
- And when you step across that stage, you will be walking directly into the next season of your life - directly into the future.
- The future. What about the future?
- Now, if you are like Betty and I were in the '60s when we graduated from the University of Wisconsin, you face the future with eager anticipation but also with genuine anxiety and a little trepidation.
- You are excited, yes, about the next chapter in your lives, but you are also very concerned about what is happening in the world around us.
- Since September 11, 2001 and the unthinkable attacks on the TwinTowers and upon the Pentagon, our world order seems to have been turned upside down by a host of elusive terrorists.
- And we live in fear of being vulnerable to forces over which we have little control.
- And we ask, is there any hope for the future?
- Meanwhile, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq drag on and on, consuming lives and resources.
- Is there any hope?
- Challenging social and political issues continue to divide us: same-sex marriage, racism, HIV-AIDS, abortion, and immigration.
- Is there any hope?
- In addition, job security seems to have eroded, global warming is melting the polar ice caps, the gap between the rich and the poor seems to grow, and we are edging into a recession.
- Is there any hope?
- And even in our schools. A year ago last April, a deeply disturbed and dissatisfied 20-year old English major gunned down 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech University, and just this last February five more students were killed in another shooting at Northern Illinois University.
- Is there any hope for the future?
- In this world of endless violence, frightening terrorism, economic crisis, social divisions and cultural conflicts, we would have to be utterly naïve not to be anxious about the future.
- And yet, and yet, in the face of all of this, we are not people of despair. We are people of hope.
- How can this be?
- My friends, we are people of hope, because we are people of God.
- The Psalmist writes: "Happy are those whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God" (Psalm 146:5).
- We are people of hope in a culture of despair because we believe in God who, according to the Psalmist,
o Made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them
o Who keeps faith forever
o Who executes justice for the oppressed
o Who gives food to the hungry
o Who opens the eyes of the blind
o Who watches over the strangers, the orphans and the widows
- "Happy are those whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God."
- And there are signs of hope where ever we recognize the activity of God in the world.
I have had the privilege of witnessing some encouraging signs of hope during my work as director of Reformed Church World Service. Those signs can be found in Kenya as well as Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Sudan - all countries in the huge continent of Africa.
It began with a request from Reformed Church in America missionaries Del and Deb Braaksma, who were working with the Orma people in Kenya. "Betty, is there any way Reformed Church World Service can re-stock the goats that have been lost as a result of terrible flooding that has hit our area?" Quite frankly, I had become accustomed by this time to being known as the hunger lady, but I had not anticipated becoming the "goat lady" as well.
The flooding was caused by torrential rains which were a result of strong El Nino winds. And for some reason, goats died in the aftermath of the flooding while most of the cows and sheep did not. This was devastating for the Orma people who are pastoralists moving their animals from place to place. At an average cost of $35.00 each, they could simply not afford to replace the goats. So that is how the Reformed Church World Service "Give-a-Goat" alternative Christmas gift program was born. People all around our country and even Canada sent money to Reformed Church World Service, $35 to be exact, and in return received a small straw goat and a card to give to a loved one. And more importantly, people in Africa received goats - thousands and thousands of them over a 10-year period of time.
As a result, children are healthier because they have goat milk to drink, families can afford to send children to school again because they have goats to sell, and small businesses have been able to employ many people to make products out of goat hide. Signs of hope, indeed!
- Of course, Christians are people of hope in a culture of despair, because we trust that God is carrying out a grand plan of restoration and redemption through Jesus Christ.
- By God's mercy, God's great mercy, God has given us "a new birth into a living hope" through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
- And because of the resurrection, Christians are called to be people of hope, an audacious hope which is rooted in an audacious act of divine love.
- Moreover, we are called to be participants in this audacious hope throughout the world.
In the fall of 1998, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America with a vengeance. It hung over Honduras, Nicaragua and Chiapas, Mexico for several days and wreaked incredible damage. In fact, until Hurricane Katrina came along and caused so much destruction throughout the Gulf region of the United States, Hurricane Mitch was considered one of the worst hurricanes ever. Many people from the United States volunteered during the next couple of years to help rebuild homes, health clinics, churches and schools. When I visited a newly rebuilt village in Nicaragua, I saw some more signs of hope.
Marvin and Angelina Hurtado told me that when Hurricane Mitch caused the river near them to rise up and swallow their home, they barely had time to gather their children and run to higher ground. They were unable to save anything. With their neighbors, they survived on a hill top for over a week on very minimal food and water. The timing could not have been worse - because Mitch struck before the harvest and consequently, they also lost all of their crops and their seeds for the future.
But it was what they told me after they showed me very proudly their small but new one room home and latrine--very important part--built by volunteers that was so very, very meaningful. They said to me, "We can show you what's been done here, but we can never - we can never--find the words to express our thanks to you for coming to help us when we needed you. After Mitch destroyed our home in 1998, we were very sad. We didn't see any hope, any light. All we saw all around us was darkness. Then you came with volunteers to help build this wonderful home. These workers brought us hope and love."
- Class of 2008, in a world of conflict, division, and a host of complex and confounding social, political and economic challenges, it is easy to capitulate to our culture of despair.
- But we challenge you to become harbingers of hope - audacious, courageous, outrageous hope.
- As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has written in his book Surprised by Joy, through Jesus Christ God has promised a new world, and "creates a program for change and offers to empower it" (p. 221).
- And we are invited to participate - you are invited to participate--in that program of change.
In 2003, I traveled to Afghanistan as part of a seven-person delegation which went to monitor and evaluate a variety of programs and projects that Church World Service, which had been working in the country since 1979, had designed to help with the recovery and rehabilitation of the people of Afghanistan.
When we arrived in January, the debris of 20 years of war was everywhere. The country had also suffered a three-year drought, and so everything was covered with a thick layer of dirt. But there were signs of hope - even in Afghanistan. We visited newly built schools for boys and girls and handed out school bags filled with supplies to many of them. We met some 1,800 women who were gainfully employed for the first time in years in a quilt program started by Church World Service. In addition to providing badly needed bedding for their families, they were receiving about $1.00 for every quilt they produced - money which meant that their family income was doubled. We also saw wonderful water projects, health clinics, and a shelter for children in Kabul. We witnessed a thousand homes which had already been rebuilt and repaired.
But one of the most enduring signs of hope I remember was when one of the young women who was learning to read and write for the first time told our group, "Thank you. Thank you for making this opportunity available to me. When you teach a woman to read, you teach her family to read. That gives us incredible hope for our future."
- My friends, as you walk across that stage this afternoon at Holland Municipal Stadium, you will be stepping into a world which, by God's grace, is in the process of being restored and redeemed.
- There are signs of hope all around us.
- There are signs of hope wherever you recognize the activity of God.
- Do not succumb to a culture of despair.
- Be a person of hope - a person of audacious hope.
- Indeed, be an ambassador of hope as you participate in the grand plan of restoration and redemption in our world.
- And to God be the glory, and the honor and the power forever and forever.