A Transformative Movement

At a time when society feels like it’s more about taking than giving, and culture appears to normalize hatred, Hope Forward is Hope College’s way of showing that there is a better way. Hope Forward wasn’t created because Hope College had leftover money. Hope College intentionally made the decision to be generous and plant seeds in students. This vision is rooted in the core beliefs of the Bible, which makes Hope Forward the epitome of generosity when it comes to college scholarships. 

As a missionary kid from the age of three, I have grown up solely through the generosity of others. While financial generosity was important, it was the concept of generosity itself that truly impacted me. Understanding that every item and opportunity in my life was made possible by others changed my perspective from selfishness to gratitude, even in difficult times. Sadly, many people my age fail to recognize the generosity that has enabled their lives, resulting in a self-centered outlook. The biggest reason I believe in Hope Forward is that it empowers college students to recognize the abundance of generosity they have received from others throughout their lives. If they have not yet recognized the generosity around them, Hope Forward makes it clear as it is generous in an area where no other colleges are. When generosity of this magnitude is given to college students, it instills a sense of gratitude in them and alters the trajectory of their daily lives.

In my opinion, Hope Forward represents one of Hope College’s greatest assets, as it addresses an area where the college may have previously been lacking. With America being the melting pot of different cultures, I expected people here to be more cultured than in any other country. Yet throughout my time here, I’ve found Americans to be more insular and lacking in cultural exposure. While schools are making progress in integrating various cultures and promoting diversity, many places still struggle with a lack of student representation. For a school like Hope College, which is over 80% white, Hope Forward brings the stories of international and third-culture students to campus. As a result, despite the previous lack of diversity, local students can now anticipate a broader range of cultural experiences and exposure to diverse perspectives. And of course, looking at it from the other perspective, any student now across the world has an opportunity to be at a place like Hope College. Students like me who couldn’t even dream of college in America can now know that there is an opportunity. There is beauty in diversity and the impact will become clearer in Hope students as Hope Forward continues to give opportunities to international students. 

As I explained what Hope Forward was to my father, he said that only those who have been loved have the capacity to reciprocate it, just as those who have been the beneficiaries of generosity have the ability to extend it. Hope Forward, far from being a mere financial scholarship, has elevated generosity to the forefront of my life, empowering me to give back to others. As an international student, this program has instilled in me a sense of belonging and a feeling of trust in the college.

Without a doubt, Hope Forward has been the most transformative movement I have been privileged to be a part of, and my life has changed as I am reminded daily of what I have been given.

– Hope Forward Student, Class of 2025

Water and Grace: Studying Abroad as a Hope Forward Student

Living in Jordan has completely changed my relationship with water.

How does this relate to Hope Forward? Let me explain. It’s a bit of a long story — a bit of a journey, even. I hope you’ll take it with me.

First off, some background information: Jordan is an arid country, and water is a precious resource. During my semester, I’ve had to adjust to taking fewer showers and washing my clothes less frequently. My program center and host family’s house even ran out of running water a few times, and we had to make do without for a couple hours until we could buy more. In addition, tap water in Jordan is not safe to drink. Water fountains are nonexistent — I’ve learned to always fill up my water bottle from my host family’s jug before I leave the house so that I’m not forced to buy bottled water if I become thirsty. The fact that water is scarce also means that it becomes more precious. In fact, some of the most meaningful moments I’ve experienced in Jordan have been centered around water.

The desert.

Holy Days Collide
I was walking back to my homestay the evening of Good Friday. This year, Christian Holy Week took place during the month of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam when observant Muslims fast during the day. In Jordan, Islam and Christianity coexist within a predominantly Muslim society. As a Christian living in Jordan, I was immersed in both religions, choosing to fast for Ramadan in solidarity with my Muslim host family, but also attending a church service the evening of Good Friday to practice my own faith.

On this particular day, I had miscalculated how long the walk home would take me. As I walked, I noticed that the sidewalks were emptying and the sun was dipping low in the sky. It was almost time to break the fast. I sped up my walk, hungry, and feeling irritated that I would not be home in time to eat iftar with my family.

Just then a car pulled up next to me. I stole a sideways glance and saw it was full of young men.

“Excuse me!” one called from the backseat. “Excuse me, miss!”

This is weird. I kept my gaze straight ahead, hoping they would drive away. I ran through a mental list of people in Amman I could call if the car kept following me.

“Excuse me!” he yelled again. I grabbed my phone out of my pocket, still pretending not to hear.

“Do you not want water?”

Wait, is he offering me water? I finally looked up. The man had opened the back door of the car. His arm was extended out, and in his hand was a small plastic bag with a cup of water, some candy and a date. The men in the car had never wanted to harass me; they were simply offering me food and water to break my fast.

 “Ramadan kareem!” (generous Ramadan!) the man said, handing me the bag. Generous indeed.

The Dead Sea and Letting Go
I never thought I would visit the Dead Sea.

You know, the Dead Sea. The one so salty that it’s impossible for one’s body to sink. The one mentioned in the Bible. The famous one.

I had never traveled outside of the U.S. until I studied abroad. I dreamed about getting on a plane and flying across the Atlantic Ocean, about seeing places I had only ever read about in books. Facts about other countries sounded like fantasies. A sea that was impossible to sink in? There’s no way that could be true.

The Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea was the destination of my study abroad program’s first excursion. It took place just a few weeks after I had found out I would be studying abroad in Jordan. My original location was Kigali, Rwanda. But about a week before I was supposed to leave, my admissions counselor called and told me that my program was being canceled. Instead of studying post-genocide restoration, she told me, I could choose a new program in an entirely different region.

Which led me, in a few rapid weeks, to buying a plane ticket to the Middle East. I spent a few days repeatedly reminding myself to not flush the toilet paper, and then, somehow, ended up bobbing on the surface of the bluest, saltiest water imaginable. 

And it was even better than the books and pictures make it seem. Imagine pushing your body into water that pushes right back. The ground is sheets of salt that scratch your feet as you walk in.  Once you are submerged past your hips, the water picks you up and carries you. It’s a little terrifying — even if you’re a good swimmer. It’s impossible to control your body in water this buoyant. But if you surrender control, the water lifts you into the warm sun and keeps your head above the surface. It’s magical.

Hope Forward and Grace

Okay, back to Hope Forward. Here is what I am trying to say with both of these stories: I am continually the recipient of gifts that I do not deserve and have no way to repay. I wasn’t financially able to pay for my college tuition or for a semester abroad without the help of Hope Forward. This is the most basic generosity. But above and beyond that, Hope Forward gave me the opportunity to receive these gifts and to see them for what they are: grace. 

I had no reason to believe that I would ever get to swim in the Dead Sea or touch the Jordan River or hike in Petra or have any of the other amazing experiences that I have had during my time here. I never deserved any of these things, and I can never repay anyone for them. I will not be able to trace down the kind men who gave me water when I was thirsty during Ramadan to tell them thank you. I have no way of rewarding the Dead Sea for helping me to understand trust. This is the nature of water: it gives itself without expecting anything in return. It is all grace, only grace.

After I got home that night during Ramadan, my host dad told me that the people who distribute water in the streets before iftar are often Christians. Since they do not have an obligation to fast during the day, Christians have the energy and time to help Muslims break their fast and get home safely. I think this is beautiful: Christians are uniquely equipped to identify a need that exists for their Muslim brothers and sisters and step up to help.

I want to take this attitude with me when I arrive back in the United States. I want to see the needs that exist in my community and step up to help, knowing that I have been blessed with more generosity than I could ever imagine. Not expecting repayment, but hoping to spread more light in the world, since I have been the beneficiary of so much grace.

Taking (and Giving) Time: Why I Give to Hope Forward

When I think about my time at Hope, I remember everything through conversations. In my freshman year, I got nicknamed “the black hole” because my floormates would get trapped outside my door talking about everything from their homework to Peppa Pig cakes to the mid-2000s classic television series One Tree Hill. My beloved, long-suffering Hope friends are still putting up with me calling them for advice to this day! Let’s just say, I love a good talk, and I firmly believe that to listen to another’s story is to see the face of Christ. Conversation is transformative.

Aine O’Connor (center) presents her research as a student on campus.

It was through conversations that Hope transformed me. My history and English faculty (including Jeanne Petit, Wayne Tan and Natalie Dykstra) were probably pretty tired of me bursting into their classes with weird research ideas, which ranged from Russian orphans, natural birth rhetoric and (seriously) Hawaiian princesses. But every time they talked with me and let me run wild, it sparked a love of creative research. My supervisors, especially Mark Brice and Geoff Reynolds, celebrated who I was while challenging me to bring my voice into more conversations, keeping those pernicious inner whispers of “you will never be good enough” away. My librarian (well, she’s helped a lot of people, but especially me), Tori Longfield, single-handedly inspired me to join her profession and let me monopolize her time every Friday afternoon my senior year, just to answer my questions.

I include names here, and could include the names of so many others, because these people knew me. Beyond Aine the student or Aine the employee or Aine the intern, they took the time to know me as a whole person and invest in my personal growth. Those conversations convinced me I was known, that I belonged, and that these people of Hope willed my good.

Looking back on these conversations now, I recognize even more acutely how they happened. I had time. I could talk about everything from One Tree Hill to Peppa Pig cakes with my friends until 3:00 a.m. because I didn’t have to get up to go to work the next morning. I could be pretty bad at a job for an entire year (God bless you, those RAs I supervised in 2018) because my ability to afford housing wasn’t dependent on it. My life could be fundamentally changed by summer research and an unpaid library internship because I didn’t have to worry about being crushed by student loan debt. I had time to pour into just being known. What a privilege that is.

Now, much of my life takes place in the academic world. As a reference librarian at South Dakota State University, I meet with students with a wide variety of interests, needs and desires. But what comes through clearly for so many of them is a desire to be known, a desire to be recognized as more than just a student. They also want their struggles to be known and not minimized. We owe it to every one of them to validate that college, and the life changes that come with it, are hard. There are times when it will feel like a transaction.

The reason why I give to Hope Forward . . . is because I see making that opportunity possible as the best way to honor all the people who loved and talked me into who I am.

To be honest, I think it’s okay to see college as transactional; I think it’s okay that some students will always feel that way. But what is crucial is that those students who want more, who want to be known, have that opportunity. And the reason why I give to Hope Forward—even though I’m young, even though I’m a recent graduate, even though I most certainly do not “have my life together”— is because I see making that opportunity possible as the best way to honor all the people who loved and talked me into who I am.

I want those students to have time, precious time, to develop relationships where they are known, where they belong, where someone wills their good. I want those students to see the face of Christ in a professor’s mentorship or a supervisor’s challenge or a friend’s laughter. I want them to be bowled over by their research and collaborate with classmates to solve difficult problems, without concern for the financial cost that time takes. I want those students—OUR students—to learn in a place of encounter, a place of wonder, a place of challenge, and a place of inclusion. I want them to learn, of course, in a place of hope.

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 blogs.hope.edu/alumni. 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 Senior 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.