Hope is a powerful thing. It can destroy you or transform you. In the movie Shawshank Redemption, the prisoners Andy and Red have a heated debate about hope. Red has hoped for some years and nothing has happened; his parole hearings always end with the same result - REFUSED!
Red has been damaged by hope. Andy responds by telling Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies…” The movie sees the hope of redemption, resurrection and new life. I understand the Reds who fear hope. Hope has the power to break your heart. BUT I am more like Andy and believe that hope has the power to change the world.
Last August I watched hope become flesh. Well actually, I watched hope become bricks and mortar. On a Sunday morning in 2008 Bishop Isaac a pastor in the Elim Pentecostal Church of Uganda looked down at the children in his Church. He had deep compassion for them and asked God what he could do for them? Where could he find hope for their future? God put in Bishop Isaac’s heart a hope for a school; well, education first… and then… a school to bring that education.
It was a crazy hope. Onialeku is a village near Arua in West Nile. It is a poor place, far from Kampala; very far! School is not a given. The nearest one was too far for many of the young children to walk to. Bishop Isaac’s hope needed parents to have a desire for the education of their children and that had to be acted upon. They did act and began a P1 class in a Church building. They then built their own make shift classrooms and there was a school growing every year. But hope had to be greater.
The school in its do-it-yourself structure would not get the notice of the government to develop, get registered and find the funding needed. The classrooms were not at all ideal for education. Bishop Isaac’s hope was for a solid, made for purpose building, in his little faraway village.
Many years before, a man from Northern Ireland was working in agriculture in Uganda. His name was Trevor Stevenson and Trevor is now a Church of Ireland minister in Crinken Parish, Bray, Co Wicklow. Trevor asked God what hope there was for Ugandan children too. Especially those outside of the towns and the cities; the most needy.
In some of the areas of Uganda, known as the Killing Fields, Trevor Stevenson found a hope in God to transform them into Fields Of Life. That life would come through education. Schools like those that Bishop Isaac would soon be dreaming of. The organisation Fields Of Life was born and schools were built all over Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and now one is being built in South Sudan. Today there are over 117 schools in rural needy areas where children are being given hope of a new future.
A few years ago at an evening like this I listened to my dear friend Alain Emerson share about the Light For All school built in memory of his dear wife Lindsay. It was right here listening to his story that a hope was sparked and caught flame. I hope that tonight maybe you…
Anyway, because of that evening, I and my congregation of Fitzroy have had the privilege of becoming involved in this hope. It is not a pie in the sky hope. Last August in Bishop Isaac’s beloved Onialeku village we commissioned a brand new purpose built school. We didn’t build a school. Bishop Isaac, the parents, teachers and children of Onialeku created a place for education. We funded for them a building for their school to happen in.
I looked at that school building from many angles last August, every angle, basking in the wonder and beauty of it. I loved standing right in front of it, watching the paint dry as the class numbers were put above the doors.
However, my favourite view was from the old classroom where I could see from how things were, little glimpses of the new school in the distance; how things were going to be. That building was the fulfilment of Bishop Isaac and, indeed, Trevor Stevenson’s hope.
On the day of the Commissioning of Onialeku Primary School, my dear friend Alain Emerson sent me a text. It read, “Just an encouragement for where this could go. William one of the orphan boys Lindsay and I met in 2006 told us the other night of how he and 5 other LFA (Light For All school built in Lindsay’s memory) now have a wee ministry - they visit the prisons, preach the Kingdom, lay hands on the sick, buy food for the elderly and sponsor 4 kids with their own money.”
Hope is not just a building. It is watching these buildings changing lives, lives that become community transformers and build more hope across the nation.
This is God’s Kingdom breaking in. The Light of Christ is shining in the darkness and the hopes of individuals are being fulfilled in tangible ways like Onialeku’s new school building, Alain’s mate William, and many children like him across Fields Of Life schools.
God willing, in just a few weeks I will once more stand before the tangible hope of Onialeku Primary School. we have a house for us in Vancouver but my children have said, How would we change the world in Vancouver? For me that is the hope of Uganda boomeranging back into the lives of my family. So we will use our holiday travels to teach in Onialeku? It’s about changing the world after all… isn’t it!
I assure you when I see that building in a few weeks, I will shed tears. Tears for the hope in God, that God fulfilled. Tears for the fact that the hope filled and hope inspiring Bishop Isaac has passed away and will not stand beside me as I bask in his dreams.
This is just a building
This is so much more than a building
This is one man’s vision
This is a miracle before our eyes
This is the Kingdom coming
This is out of the bright blue skies
This is our prayers being answered
This is the heavens rent in two
This is a place of learning
This is the future peeking through
This is the changing of lives
This is the redemption of space
This is blessings coming back
This is a generous grace
This is communities transformed
This is the good news sent
This is God in the midst of us
This is what Jesus meant
This is building hope for a nation
This is just the beginning
This is injustice hammered down
This is the least of these, winning
This is all that we believe in
This is all the words we sing
This is all these tears of joy
This is the most beautiful thing.
This is just a building
This is so much more than a building.
So, Bishop Isaac…
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies…”