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.