(Appeared first in January 2011, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
[Jesus] is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have the first place in everything.—Colossians 1:18.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.—Revelation 22:13
For the last year, I’ve been writing about First Things First in this column, a practice fueled by my desire to live by God’s priorities as expressed in Scripture. Although I ostensibly finished that series in the December 2010 column, my theme for the months ahead invites one more look at “firsts” in Scripture.
This past year, as I’ve traveled to many parts of Mennonite Church USA, I’ve been looking for signs of hope. Indeed, all across the church, I’ve discovered people who share healing and hope for the world. Over the next year, I intend to write about the mundane as well as the extraordinary ways that I’ve seen people “investing” in hope, giving of themselves and their resources in the name of Christ.
In early November 2010, I participated in the fall gathering of the Gulf States Mennonite Conference. Perhaps more than any other region of our country in recent times, this one has suffered natural disaster. Ever since Hurricane Katrina struck the coast five years ago, the area has been trying to recover.
On the day that I visited Gulfhaven (Miss.) Mennonite Church, pastor Nelson Roth reported that a local agency had just helped a neighborhood woman hook up her stove for the first time since the disaster.
The congregation itself suffered greatly from the storm. Not only was the church building damaged, every household in the congregation suffered damage to their home as well. Fifty-seven people from the church have moved out of the community, seeking new life elsewhere. Last year, as though to add insult to injury, a British Petroleum well leaked 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, where the seafood industry is a vital part of the area’s economy.
When I addressed the conference assembly about investing in hope, I asked them to share in small groups about various ways that they are investing in hope. Then I invited them to share with the entire assembly.
Within a few minutes, nine different people stood to share a variety of ways they are planting seeds of hope in different areas along the coast. People told of establishing a new Anabaptist presence in New Orleans, organizing programs for children, mentoring youth, supporting a program for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, helping congregations find the next generation of leadership and helping a neighbor overcome drug addiction. I pray that God will prosper this act of seed planting so these efforts will bear much fruit.
What impressed me in this assembly was that these seeds are being planted in the name of Jesus, the one who imparts hope as a fruit of God’s grace. Indeed, as our church’s vision statement says it, “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”
Look again at the Scriptures cited at the beginning of this column. I am convinced that there is no better investment in hope for the world than to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus is the beginning and the end of our Christian commitments. By giving Jesus first place in everything, we plant the seeds that eventually bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of our church communities. Hope does not arise solely from human efforts but comes to fruition by the power of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to join me in looking for ways to invest in hope as followers of Jesus.