Freed to Steward and Serve

A gift must not only be given, it must also be received. One that is given freely in love is stewarded, kept and appreciated deeply. When we give gifts to those whom we love, often the meaning and value lies in where the gift is coming from and what the gift is pointing to. It is meant to be an outward-focused expression of an internal desire to give and serve. Unfortunately, we are so easily wired to work for rewards and earn status, which breeds a culture of receiving that is self-centered rather than one that liberates us to freely give as we have been given.  

What we have is not ours to keep . . .

As believers looking ahead to celebrating Easter soon, we celebrate the ultimate gift that takes our eyes off ourselves: the gift of Jesus. The gift of Jesus places our gaze on Him. In His life, death and resurrection, we are given the opportunity to receive the everlasting joy that will continue to overflow in our hearts in order to be poured out into others. Similarly, this dream of Hope Forward is one that is meant to emulate characteristics of the gospel. Hope Forward works to take our eyes off ourselves and point them towards others — an acknowledgment that what we have is not ours to keep and hold on to, but to give. It is not a program or scholarship that is looking for people who solely excel academically, have an impressive résumé or meet a tangible list of qualifications. Rather, Hope Forward focuses on those who seek to lead by serving and live to love in order to point to something greater. It is a scholarship based on character and love for a vision that is rooted in scripture. 

As a follower of Jesus, I walk and accept a life that allows me to think less about myself wherein I am saved and covered because of what He has done for me. I am now freely walking in and working to glorify Jesus from that salvation and not for it. Likewise, I am given Hope Forward as a gift to think of myself less, both financially and mentally, as I steward my education well so that I can pour back into others who would continue to do the same. I go to college with an assurance that I am covered along with a glad responsibility to give back by passionately pursuing my dream to be a doctor who cares for his patients as much as he cares for the sciences. President Scogin once described this mission of Hope Forward as functioning like a church, wherein it is free for all to access and enter because of the gratitude and generosity of those who have received and open-heartedly give back. The beauty in this is that Hope Forward is not a momentary project but rather a continuously unfolding story. We see this in the reality of Easter that is easily forgotten. Easter is not limited to one day of the year. We continue to celebrate it and walk in its redemption day by day. Hope Forward is not meant to end after four years of college, it is one that extends for a lifetime. 

Sowing the Seeds of a Tree of Understanding

Willow tree, from artwork by the Hope Forward cohort

For many people, accessibility to a college education is fraught with hurdles that are becoming increasingly difficult to clear. But Hope Forward has made all the difference for my daughter.

Starting with the assumption that college education in America excludes most Americans while basic education is deficient, the opportunity to attend college is reduced. Furthermore, the costs of that college education are a financial burden on those who have the privilege of receiving it. In recent decades, the ability to improve financially with only a bachelor’s degree has been hampered. Companies are no longer basing their hiring decisions solely on an applicant’s university degree, but on how much a person is able to contribute to a company with their previous knowledge, experience and attitude. The financial challenges for most potential international college applicants is even heavier.

Hope Forward allows accessibility to an American education, which is sustained financially by the contributions of others. This funding model gives a sense of dignity to those who receive their education at no cost, with the promise that they will repay that benefit. They, however, don’t think of it as repaying a personal debt, but contributing so that others like them can enjoy a benefit that opens the doors to a better life. Moving from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance, is a good idea. But Hope Forward goes much further. Students in the pilot program build open and strong communities in which they learn about cultural diversity in a real-life experience. They build friendships among local and international students, creating a learning community that should potentially be maintained long after they graduate and become alumni. Hope Forward students are sowing the seeds of a tree of understanding today that can become a forest in which we can all improve through the exchange of business and ideas. Building our solidarity and learning together how to improve the world, we will be able to face together the global challenges that we share as humanity.

Attachment and identity are the universal biological forces that define us as human beings. This identity has historically grown through many stages until reaching society’s current state, which is unable to face the challenges of our contemporary world. These identities need to expand. Working together, we can build the best alternatives for a different future. Exposure to cultural diversity and exchange is one of the best places to start working together in a sustainable learning community, in which the benefit of others is the logical focus of generosity instead of an inward, selfish focus that only looks out only for one’s own interests. The Bible shows us a meaningful way to act coherently on this idea: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ For my daughter, this Hope Forward opportunity will allow her to develop her academic potential, free from financial slavery. She also has the opportunity to learn to be generous and identify with a global learning community. Even coming from the smallest country in the Americas, she is learning to take responsibility for others and exploring how she can take action to bring hope where there is hopelessness, which is a sign of maturity and the only way to face together a future for all.

An Ever-Growing Chain of Generosity

Allix Hutchison was doing Hope Forward before Hope Forward ever existed, at least according to Dave and Betsy Stavenger who never imagined their gift of a scholarship would launch an ever-growing chain of generosity.

Allix Hutchison (left) with Betsy Stavenger, another scholarship recipient Brandon Derstine, and Dave Stavenger.

All three Hope graduates met for the first time at a Hope scholarship luncheon. Dave ’65 and Betsy King ’66 Stavenger had started a scholarship at Hope in 2003. Allix Hutchison ’17, who was a sophomore at the time, was a recipient who was eager to meet the people who made her scholarship possible.

The Stavengers started the Betsy King ’66 Stavenger and Ruth King ’69 Seiger Education Scholarship for education majors because both Betsy and her sister, Ruth, had invested their entire careers in teaching. “And the Stavengers love Hope College!” Dave said. They built a home and moved back to Holland, Mich. to rejoin the Hope community in retirement after living in Midland for more than 45 years. Dave worked at Dow Chemical in business development and Betsy taught elementary school for 28 years.

Dave and Betsy were encouraged to give early instead of waiting until the end of their lives so that they would have the joy of seeing firsthand how others benefitted. They have been generous donors to many areas of Hope College, but their greatest joy comes from knowing they are helping students, especially because they do not have children of their own, Betsy said.

After meeting with Allix for the first time, the Stavengers met her periodically for coffee, sent her emails and invited her and her roommate out for meals so they could encourage both in their studies.

“Knowing that someone else was willing to invest in me and saw my potential means more to me than words can explain,” Allix said.

From six years old, Allix said she wanted to be a teacher to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her mother, Sherry Hutchison, had a 32-year teaching career. Allix knew Hope had the top-ranked education program in the state, and an overnight stay on campus clinched her decision to go to Hope after experiencing the kindness and close-knit community on campus.

“With a single mom, I knew I was going to have to put in the work to be there,” Allix said, referring to the high cost of a Hope education and her desire to graduate debt free.

She worked five jobs on campus, studied hard and met her goal of graduating debt free in 2017. Without the Stavenger’s scholarship, she said, that would not have been possible.

Upon graduation, she landed her first teaching job in Hudsonville Public School District. In her classroom she has hosted many of Hope’s aspiring teachers from the curriculum method’s courses, for assistance with weekly math intervention and for student teaching. She has even helped Hope graduates land teaching jobs in the district.

Only two years into her teaching career, Allix and her mom decided to start a Hope scholarship for education majors, the Hutchison Education Scholarship, like the scholarship the Stavengers started years beforehand.

“We were so appreciative of what the Stavengers did for me,” Allix said. “Going to Hope was the best experience of my life. We wanted to give back to the place that gave me so much. While it was fresh in our minds, we wanted to immediately turn around and give as soon as we could.”

Allix said she wanted to give generously right away because she was afraid if she waited that life would get busy, a husband and children might come along, and it would be harder to start. She also had the finances to do it because she wasn’t saddled with student debt.

“Giving and a spirit of generosity is more than just finances,” Allix said. “It’s about giving your time and talents, too. I wanted to stay connected to Hope and give back in the same way that I benefitted. That meant not just starting the scholarship but jumping in as soon as I was eligible to have Hope students in my classroom, being a sounding board for them, answering their questions, and helping them in whatever way I could.”

The Stavengers said that they couldn’t be more proud of Allix.

“We always encourage them [scholarship recipients] to do the same for others,” Betsy said. “That’s the best way they can thank us.”

That’s exactly what Allix did – pay it forward the Hope Forward way.

You can read more about Allix at She received the 10 Under 10 Alumni Award in 2022.

Allix Hutchison ’17 received the 2022 10 Under 10 Alumni Award

A Lifelong Community

I remember the first time I visited Hope College in January of 2020, before the pandemic interrupted my normal routines and altered my sense of community. After my visit, I immediately noted that the strong sense of community was a highlight of Hope. Before I even knew of the Hope Forward vision, I noticed that Hope was a place where community mattered and relationships were valued. After graduating high school during the COVID-19 pandemic, my own understanding of community shifted as I learned how to remain connected to the communities I cherished while having to be physically distant from them.

As soon as I heard about the new Hope Forward program, I knew that this was a community that I wanted to be a part of. To be surrounded by other students passionate about bringing hope to the world seemed like a surreal opportunity. To attend college without the burden of student debt seemed freeing.

Last fall, my Hope Forward cohort gathered together each Tuesday at 11 a.m. This structured time together deepened the sense of community that we began to build freshman year, while allowing us to learn new things about one another. Early on in the semester, we reflected on the Hope Forward pillars of accessibility, generosity and community. We were then given the opportunity to collaboratively develop a definition of each pillar and decide how we, as a cohort, wanted to live into these definitions. After chatting with one another, we decided to define community as “a diverse and welcoming group of people who include, support, love, sharpen, challenge and encourage one another while honoring the varied life experiences and perspectives of each individual as they pursue a common purpose.” I am so grateful that this is not merely words we wrote down one week, but an aspiration my cohort made to be a supportive part of each other’s lives. Our shared purpose is pursuing a positive impact after college; but what this looks like is unique to each person and likely will continue to develop and change until graduation and even throughout different seasons of our adult lives.

A beautiful part of the Hope Forward program is that students like me have entered a lifelong community. The Hope Forward vision does not want my own relationship with the community to end on the day I graduate from Hope College and likely no longer live in Holland, Michigan. As an alumna of Hope College, I will still be a part of the Hope College community through my investment in future generations of Hope College students. I can now see how the pandemic positively shifted my understanding of community to not just be the people you literally are surrounded by each day, but also the people who you care about and value even when there is distance between you and less interaction than before. I imagine that my understanding of community will continue to develop after I graduate from Hope. Wherever I end up, the Hope community will remain a meaningful part of my life, even as my physical time on campus lessens. With the open-ended financial commitment I’ve made, there is not a scary number or amount that I feel obligated to donate for the rest of my life. Instead, I can give generously and meaningfully contribute to the program that I hope one day all students in the Hope community will be a part of.

Overall, I cherish the relationships I have already built with faculty, staff and other students at Hope. I feel that Hope does move past the “transactional” relationships that our fast-paced society sadly falls back onto when resources are limited and time is scarce. Community matters on Hope’s campus, and I have seen the added benefits of the Hope Forward community and leaned on it when I needed it the most. Today, I am grateful for the Hope Forward program and the entire Hope College community that I get to be a part of. Looking ahead, I am grateful that this is a lifelong community that I can still be a part of no matter where life takes me.

Choosing Less to Experience More

For as long as I can remember, I knew that I wanted to use my life’s work in the service of others. As an incoming freshman to Hope College late in the last millennium, with a fairly strong academic record and an interest in the natural sciences, that seemed to add up to a career in medicine. In fact, not until halfway through Hope did I take my first psychology course (thank you Kristen Gray!) As a core curriculum requirement, this course sparked a fresh level of interest in the social sciences and opened new possibilities for a career in the helping professions.  

In many ways this shift was freeing because it aligned more closely with my passion, personality and calling. It also, however, represented the first of many difficult decisions that required me to evaluate the tension between impact and income. Coming from a middle-class family of four children and as the first in my family tree to complete a bachelor’s degree, I received support in many ways. But I also bore a significant portion of the financial burden of college myself. As I finished at Hope and looked to enter the workforce, my options in the field were somewhat limited and none of them offered a significant income. In fact, as many of my friends and classmates landed lucrative first jobs with attractive perks like company cars and cell phones (a relatively new novelty at that time), my best offer within my field was working direct care at a children’s home making $8.88 per hour!  

While I was excited to make a difference in the world and am grateful to this day for the many experiences, opportunities and relationships that followed, the reality was that our early years were challenging. My wife, Tina, and I attempted to navigate the milestones of getting married, buying our first home and starting a family, while accepting modest incomes and being weighed down by student debt. In time, I was able to obtain some invaluable experience and the graduate degree requisite for opening additional doors in my field. Eventually, I made my way into private practice counseling.

Then, just as we began settling into this next phase of life, we were again confronted with the nagging sense that more was available to us by choosing less. We prayed that God would draw us further into His will and allow us an opportunity to continue serving Him with our lives, depending on Him and teaching our children what it means to live for Him. God answered our prayer by providing an incredible, unexpected opportunity to serve Him on the foreign mission field. In an even more beautiful plot twist, we had the opportunity to serve alongside our best friends and respective roommates from Hope. Sharing this experience forever cemented our families. During that time, we all had to learn to rely on God and His people for our provision, which he graciously offered in abundance.

Ironically, I made my last student loan payment while living in Zambia, nearly 15 years after graduating from Hope. I couldn’t be more grateful to God for my Hope experience and the many blessings and opportunities that followed. Hope College is woven into so much of our story. After service in Zambia, I returned to private practice and am focused on building a team of professionals who can address the growing mental health needs in West Michigan. I am especially concerned about the skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression among our young people.

This past year, we took two new major steps forward as our oldest son enrolled as a freshman at Hope, and Tina returned to our beloved alma mater in the next phase of her career. As she invests her talents to support the Hope Forward initiative and we re-engage in the life of Hope, I wonder what doors will be opened for so many current and future students who will be blessed with the chance to be a blessing in our world. Free to choose a career based on calling, passion and vision rather than burdened by the increasing weight of education costs. Free to make a difference.

Kevin DeKam ’99
Lead Therapist, West Michigan Wellness Group

The Life-Changing Impact of Grace

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the scene where Jesus forgives the adulterous woman and saves her from being stoned. There she stood, trembling – her secret, shameful sin having been discovered – hanging on the precipice of death at the hands of religious leaders intent on stoning her for her transgressions. Under the law of Moses wielded by the self-righteous religious leaders, she knew she would receive no mercy.

Although the Bible doesn’t include any details about how the woman responded, it isn’t hard to imagine the distress she might have felt. She probably felt exposed and ashamed, as her sin had been found out and revealed in front of the assembly. But beyond that, she must have had a deep sense of hopelessness. The end seemed inevitable. She had made her choices, and she would no longer be able to run from the consequences.

However, that is not the end of the story. Jesus entered the picture and challenged the religious leaders, saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). One by one, the religious leaders dropped their stones and walked away, leaving the woman standing alone. Jesus looked up and asked her if anyone had remained to condemn her, to which she replied that no one had. Then, Jesus responded with a simple phrase that had power to radically alter the woman’s life, a phrase that continues to reverberate grace in our context thousands of years later: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11b).

This story has always resonated powerfully with me because of the way that it demonstrates the overwhelming grace of Jesus that defies our expectations and extends to all people.

At that point in time, adultery was considered to be one of the most shameful sins and, therefore, was punishable by death under the law of Moses. No one would have expected Jesus to pardon a woman who had committed such a grievous sin. Instead, because of our human orientation towards merit and punishment, they would have expected Jesus to “give her what she deserved” and execute punishment to the full force of the law. But Jesus defied their expectations by extending grace, even to this unworthy adulteress. Jesus’ forgiveness brought new hope for the woman, washing away her hopelessness in a downpour of unmerited, life-restoring grace.

This radical, life-changing idea of grace is what serves as the foundation for the Hope Forward program. This opportunity covers us, as students, with grace. In an economy where the majority of students go into deep debt to pay for college, which can lead to powerful feelings of hopelessness as students face years of debt repayments, we are covered with the grace of receiving a fully-funded education. God’s grace and forgiveness of our sins are gifts that we could never earn through our own effort but which are freely given to us. All that is required of us is that we love God, put our faith in Him, and have a heart posture of acceptance for the gifts He has given us. Similarly, Hope Forward tuition funding is not given on the basis of merit, but is instead extended to students with heart postures that are committed to giving back to their communities and bringing hope to the world. Eventually, Hope Forward funding will be given to all students who attend Hope, again reflecting the truth that God’s grace is available and accessible to all.

Not only does this program reflect the grace of God, but it also demonstrates the impact that grace has in the lives of its recipients. President Matt Scogin describes it in this way: “You are covered, so go and live differently.” When our sins are covered by the grace of God, we are freed from our slavery to sin and are free to instead live lives of love and righteousness that bring glory to God. In the same way, when our tuition is covered by the generous grace of donors, we are released from the burden of debt and are free to instead live lives that will make an impact to improve the lives of those around us. Part of this mission involves the freedom to give back to the Hope community out of gratitude for what we have received so that other students can have the same opportunity. Personally, this opportunity has freed me to pursue a career in social work, even though I know that my salary will be low relative to other college-educated positions. Because I do not have to worry about having as much student debt, I was able to choose this major as I believe that social work will allow me to truly serve others in the love of Christ throughout my career.

Ultimately, the Hope Forward program is a practical representation of the beautiful, profound grace of God that frees us from our debt of sin and allows us to live for His kingdom. I believe that the power of this grace will be transformational in the lives of the students, for the college as a whole, and possibly even into the broader context at other universities. Personally, I can’t wait to watch the perfect plan of God at work to bring hope through this program!

Student Stories

I love stories. I believe that stories hold the power to shape minds, change hearts and shift landscapes.

In my three years as an employee of Hope College, students have served as the primary cultivators of my continued appreciation for stories. Their lived experiences, current manners of existing in the world and future ambitions perpetually point to narratives beyond themselves – narratives of resilience, hope, gratitude and generosity. This reality sank in afresh for me in October when I sat across from an incredible Hope Forward student from Ghana who was gracious enough to share her story with me. I was only nine weeks into my interim role as Hope Forward’s program coordinator, and she was only eight weeks into her student experience across the globe from home.

Sushi sat between us – something she’d never tried, but couldn’t get enough of – as she recounted the journey that brought her to Hope. It started with a simple drawing. Two years earlier, she explained, she found herself drawing the word “Hope” in blue and orange. Here’s the catch: She’d never even heard of Hope College. It wasn’t until a year later, after a visa refusal for the University of Dayton, that her mother encouraged her to check out this small liberal arts college in Holland, Michigan. After the heartbreak of one visa refusal, she tentatively approached learning about Hope.

The more she learned, the more she fell in love with the mission and vision of Hope. Whenever she read about Hope, she would get a brief flash of the image she’d drawn two years previously. She didn’t think too deeply about it until two pastors visited her church. When one pastor shared his testimony and said that his visa had been denied nine times, something clicked for the student. Upon hearing that, she felt as though God was telling her, “I brought him here because of you.” She asked both pastors to pray over her, and she asked God to reveal what He needed to. Immediately, she more clearly recalled the word “hope” she had drawn months earlier and went home to look for the drawing. When she found it, she compared it to the Hope branding that was on her phone. Upon realizing the similarities, she deeply sensed she was meant for Hope College, and it was meant for her.

There are so many additional pieces of the story I could tell: like her miraculous right-at-go-time visa approval; her acceptance into Hope Forward that made coming here possible; or that Phil Wickham’s apropos song Living Hope served as her anthem through it all. She said that the year leading up to her arrival in Michigan felt like encountering the Holy Spirit over and over again. Her journey to Hope is powerful. But knowing the pieces of her story before any of the aforementioned transpired, confirmed for me that the Spirit actively prepared her for Hope – and more specifically prepared her for Hope Forward – long before Hope College existed on her radar.

My jaw dropped when this student shared with me that her mother and father (a teacher and a pastor) would select individuals from large families in their Ghanaian community to help fund their education. In turn, these individuals would use their education to empower others in their families or communities to seek an education. Of the nine individuals her parents funded, she said, all have gone on to use their education to lead lives of impact. Even better, five have returned to contribute to a “pay-it-forward” model for other students. Basically, before this young woman could conceive of Hope Forward, her family was living Hope Forward.

When I asked her about how she thinks that will translate to our context, she simply said, “Hope Forward does work. I’ve seen it work, and it’s going to work [at Hope].”

“It’s the biggest act of generosity you could ever think about – to give to someone else because you were given that opportunity. It makes dreams come true,” she added. “God aside, I am not sure how I would have gotten here, but He used Hope Forward to bring me here.”

So why do I share this?

Stories matter. Even before learning this student’s story, I didn’t doubt that God had a purpose for her being here. I don’t doubt the purposeful presence of all 58 current Hope Forward students. Yet there is something powerful in learning their stories, like reading a book backwards to make sense of the beginning.

Maybe you love Hope Forward. Maybe you’re curious or even skeptical about it. While I believe wholeheartedly in what God is doing through Hope Forward, if I’m honest, I might feel all three of these things on a given day. I am one of two people in the world who have “Hope Forward” in my job title. But I also am one of two people in the world who have the utmost privilege of walking with these students in this sacred way while this is still so new. I have the distinct honor of learning their stories. In doing so, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I believe in these students. And I echo the statement of this particular student: “Hope Forward does work.”

This blog will be a space to share pieces of their stories with you, a space to share perspectives on what Hope Forward means to each of them. It will also be a space for the stories of those who support Hope Forward: alumni, donors, staff, faculty, board members and more. Our Hope Forward Program Director Nicole Dunteman tells the students this: You are here on purpose, for a purpose. “I need to hear that a lot,” the student said as we wrapped up our meeting together. And it’s true. We all are here on purpose, for a purpose. All of this matters…each person involved matters. Even you, the reader, matters in the grand scope of this God-sized vision. So we invite you into these stories that are enfolded into a grander story outside of ourselves – stories of people here on purpose, for a purpose.