A different hope

A poll of 100 countries reported by the BBC a few years ago put Kenya as one of the most optimistic countries surveyed.

Kenyans are hard-working, positive and very motivated – they are keen to encourage one another and give ‘hope’ to the young and struggling.

The problem is that ‘hope’ is often without much foundation. Motivational speakers sell a worldly hope and tell us ‘You can do it.’ Prosperity gospel preachers promote a short-cut spiritual version of the same worldly hope: ‘God will give it to you.’ Missionaries are sometimes keen to give ‘hope’ to the destitute but again, often focus on the here and now. What is missing is a hope with solid foundations, fixed on resurrection life with our coming Saviour.

So it’s hugely encouraging to see Kenyan graduates coming through the iServe Africa apprenticeship programme having their faith increasingly focused on Christ and discovering the Christian life to be one of waiting and longing for Jesus. Reading through 1 Peter and studying 1 Thessalonians has been very helpful for many apprentices as these letters teach a radically different hope to the one the world offers.

One practical consequence of this great hope is our attitude to death and the way we interact with those who are approaching it. One apprentice, Peter Muturi, served recently in a mission hospital and testified to how difficult it was not to give false hope when surrounded by serious illness. He realised it was more important to remain convinced that the eternal, imperishable hope was the one people really need. Preaching on Jesus and the resurrection he said,

‘As we shared the word with the hospital community, I noticed certain trends. For instance, most of the time we reminded people to be grateful that they are alive, in contrast to those who are dead! Now that's a good reason to be grateful to God but it may be interpreted to mean that death is the worst that can happen and that as long as you are breathing then you are blessed. But I think the Apostle Paul would be disappointed by such a mentality. When he was in the dilemma of choosing between staying alive or departing to be with Christ he said the latter was much more preferable (Philippians 1:23). I see here a man who had seen a light beyond this life. Like me, I don’t know many who want to die any time soon, but have you asked why you desperately need to see tomorrow? Is it because of personal goals, ambitions and dreams, or because of a young family to take care of? Paul's only reason of choosing this life other than the glorious one to come was because of the flock over which he was shepherd. We may not be in Paul’s shoes but let's learn with him to eagerly await tomorrow as a day of opportunity, not for our own progress but for the progress of the gospel and God's glory.’

Another apprentice, David Okiki, is in his second year of service in an extremely remote part of northern Kenya – deep in Samburu County – where few outsiders go and those who do are often overwhelmed by the huge needs, insecurity, entrenched animism and the complexities of ministering to constantly moving pastoral communities. In a recent email he wrote,

‘The outreach was good, people heard about Jesus and received him. Glory and honour to God. But we had a shock: during door-to-door visits an old woman told us that God was the devil. After a long talk she was happy to come to know the truth and be born again. My worry was that there was no church nearby and we may not see her again soon. The Samburu region is very big and so praying for the community and asking God to send more people is all that we can do. In every village the resurrection of the dead surprises people. They say that in their homesteads nobody has ever been resurrected – so if there's someone who has been resurrected then it's worth knowing about him because it's beyond human power to do that. My hope is that they will remain strong in the Lord who has forgiven their sins as they wait for his coming.’

These testimonies reinforce the truth that the Christian hope depends on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The alternative is spelled out in Paul’s sobering words, ‘If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.’ (1 Corinthians 15:19).