Jane comes from a huge family: 13 siblings and counting. Many of her older brothers and sisters have been through the care system, and I have been involved in supporting one of them as she made the transition back home. Last time I visited the family, I heard that two of her older brothers are currently in prison.
Jane has caused me some trouble over the past few years. She has disobeyed adults who care about her; she has bullied children who wanted to be her friend. She's been rude to a police officer when he challenged her behaviour in the street. Periodically, her behaviour improves dramatically and she tells me proudly that she has received 'star of the week' in school. Mum comes out and tells me how proud she is of Jane's hard work. But there's always something to upset the balance and send things off course again. Once it was when her little sister was born. Once when the kitchen ceiling fell through, inches away from mum's head. It was months before the council found another house for them to move into.
On the surface, it's a hopeless situation. I can't fix Jane. I've tried, but I'm not enough. All of the signs and role models around her don't offer much hope either. The circumstances seem hopeless, but I've been learning something new. Hope in circumstances is not the same as hope in God**. Our hope doesn't come from what we can see. Our hope comes from above.
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25, ESV)
Just two streets down from Jane, there is a gentleman who moved to this part of the city as his family grew. He was so shocked by the lack of any provision for young people in the area that he started taking his piano out onto the street for singalongs with all the neighbours. The whole street comes out to join in and make requests. There are many pockets of tangible, real-life hope that can be seen and reported in these places, and I would like to believe that the hours I have poured into those streets will be counted among the examples in years to come.
It would be easy to hold onto these stories as examples of hope for my city, for our world. But if our hope is founded on what we see, then how do we respond to the stories of sickness, unemployment and abuse that also abound? Where will my strength come from as I walk through the dark valleys?
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! (Psalm 27:3, 13 ESV)
Let's hope in something that won't disappoint.
* Not her real name
** This is a brilliant, grounded article that you should read.