Our First LeaderBlab this Wednesday

Join us this Wednesday at 9:30 PM ET/6:30 PM PT as we start a new monthly video conference for all aspiring leaders all over the United States and beyond. This will be a great opportunity to get up close and personal with leaders from around the country from various backgrounds in church leadership, business, nonprofits, etc. and learn about what leadership principles helped them achieve their life goals and aspirations. 

This month, we'll be joined by Fr. Anthony Messeh, priest of St. Timothy and St. Athanasius Church in Arlington, VA who will be sharing his insight into "Characteristics that define a godly leader" and tips on how to be an effective leader that people want to follow. So join us for this 30 minute discussion. 

And the best part of these Blabs is YOU will get the chance to ask questions directly to our speakers, face to face, through our video conversations. So join us this Wednesday at 9:30 PM ET/6:30 PM PT for your chance to join the #LeaderBlab conversation. 

An Elf's Perspective of our Holiday Party

The following recap comes courtesy of our resident elf volunteer, Jonathan Asfour. Jonathan has been a HOPE volunteer since its inception 4 years ago and has volunteered every year for our annual holiday party for children with cancer and blood disorders. Every year, he dresses up as an elf for our party, greets each child as they come in, takes silly pictures with them in the photo booth, and assists Santa in giving out gifts to them. This is why he does it. 


Every single year I cannot wait for the HOPE holiday party. I have never been part of an organization in which I could see the fruits of my labor so quickly. It is one thing to help children in need, but another to help sick ones at a hospital that have no way out. I have come to learn that they look forward to these parties and it immediately, ironically enough, gives them hope. 

Without fail, every year I get a few reminders as to why I signed up for these events in the first place. We had different stations set up for the kids to create arts and crafts, where they are expected to create something for themselves or their families. After taking pictures with the children (I am always the elf at the party), one of the little girls, Catherine, handed me a card she had made. It was a "thank you" card, with graphics and all. A few years back we heard a story about how one of the children was filled with hope and joy after our party. These events physically heal the kids for a few hours. Another child came to the party visibly sick. He had his IV attached and said he did not feel well and left. A few hours later, he came back and could not wait to hang out with us. 

I could go on for days about all the instances that have happened, but the point is very clear. The HOPE Association gives hope to these kids. It is a day in which these sick children are not treated as sick children, but as normal kids having fun.
 

HOPE by the Numbers in 2015

As we look back on another year here at HOPE, we can’t help but look back at all of the amazing moments of this past year with eyes of gratitude and wonder at where we’ve come from and where we’re headed in 2016. This past year has truly been a banner year at our organization in large part due to the tremendous support and generosity of so many wonderful people all over the country. Your continued involvement and contribution to all of the great work HOPE is doing is the catalyst behind the great strides we’ve made this past year in meeting people’s needs using people’s passions.
 
In the following sections, you’ll see various statistics and descriptions of this past year’s programs and events. However, I want to remind everyone that behind each number and statistic is a real person. A real person struggling. A real person in need of HOPE. A real person with real needs. We’re not in the business of gaudy numbers but rather, our goal is to bring hope and healing to each life that we encounter through our work. Because each person we minister to is precious in the eyes of God and should be treated as such.
 
So on behalf of myself, the Board of Directors, and everyone here at HOPE, thank you for your support in 2015 and we ask and pray for your continued support and participation in the exciting endeavors we have planned for 2016. 

Steve Messeh
Executive Director

He Said "Whatever" - Love Your City DC Recap

The post below is a blog recap from one of the over 100 volunteers that came out for our Love Your City event in DC on Saturday, November 21st. The event included 7 projects serving various needs all over the DC Metro area. The day was amazing, filled with fellowship, fun, and real, impactful service showing our community and those most in need the powerful love of Jesus. For more pictures of the event, click here.

I’ve been thinking about the question, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink?” and Jesus replies saying, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.”

 This famous verse in the Bible has been quoted without end: sometimes to encourage people to serve, sometimes by organizations requesting donations, and sometimes on pamphlets or brochures of Christian non-profits.  It’s use - or as some may say, overuse-starts to boil down its actual meaning to a phrase used to pull donations or volunteers. At least that’s how I felt.

 Last Saturday, I participated in Love Your City, a multi-service project event where over 80 volunteers served around the D.C. area. My team went to the Central Union Mission, an emergency shelter for men in downtown Washington. Our project was to prepare for the lunch hour at the shelter, which included cutting up pastries, folding napkins with utensils, actually serving the food to each man in the shelter, and then cleaning the cafeteria after lunch.

 The service was fun to do as a group and was very much appreciated by the men at the shelter and the shelter staff.

 However, did I feel like I actually served Jesus?

 Not really. I left the project thinking, “man, I feel like that was nice but I don’t feel like I actually served Jesus.” All I did was really help serve a meal that someone else donated, prepared, and cooked.  I felt like the mere few hours on a Saturday that I dedicated to Love Your City could not be worthy enough for the title that I served Jesus.

 But that’s not what Truth says. Truth says that: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.”

 Jesus never said- only those who actually cooked the meals for my brethren did it for Me- nor did He say- only those whose brethren actually appreciated the service, did it for Me. Nope, didn’t say that either. He said “whatever” you did- you did for Me.

 So yes, we actually did serve Jesus on Saturday by preparing, passing out the food, and cleaning tables. Every volunteer at Love Your City served Jesus that day- no matter what they did. Whether it was hosting a yoga class at the Youth Detention Facility or cleaning up toys at a Pregnancy center. Whatever you did, you did for Me.

 Love Your City was an incredible honor to partake of Jesus. First, not only did we serve Him but we also did so with members of our church, the body of Christ. I feel like I received Jesus in two ways that day- by serving and by being in fellowship with His body.

 It’s obvious that the world desperately needs love; but sometimes it’s daunting for me to think about how I can love the world. All I know now is how to love my community, those right in front of me.  I hope to focus on the people that God has placed in my life and the opportunities that He has provided to love my community, city, and world. 

 

The Gift of "Towdah"

The blog post below comes from Anthony Girges, one of HOPE's Board Members and the leader of HOPE's Los Angeles branch. During this season of Thanksgiving, Anthony reminds us all what the true meaning of giving thanks is and how our day of thanks can turn into a way of life.

“Offer to God TOWDAH, and pay your vows to the Most High.” Psalm 50:14

By far, the best time of the year! Thanksgiving is here, and Christmas just around the corner: family, friends, love, gifts, service, sports and FOOD, FOOD, FOOD! The blessings and perks of the season are so delightful, and there is no doubt in my mind, that you are SO thankful to God for all these blessings in your life.

 Question, do you ever wonder, or experience a sense of conviction that our audible thanksgiving is not enough? That just maybe, there has to be more than simply voicing our thanksgiving, or expressing our thanksgiving through social media to our Father in heaven.

 ”Towdah is the Hebrew word for “thanksgiving,” as expressed by King David in Psalm 50. Towdah means to “express visible thanks or adoration to God by extending the hands to God in reverence, coupled with offering a sacrifice of praise to God through audible confessions of thanks.”

 Thus, thanksgiving is an expression of appreciation and gratefulness to God, which is deeply rooted in the heart, expressed outwardly to God through words of praise, actions of praise and a lifestyle of compassion.

 Thanksgiving is more than a day; it’s a way of life. As a Christian, Thanksgiving Day should not be merely an occasion that is celebrated once a year, and additionally thanksgiving should be a continuous expression of the worship we offer to God daily, through words and actions.

 St. John Chrysostom said, “When you discover the door of your heart you discover the gate of heaven.” Therefore, thanksgiving is worship in your heart towards God. Worship is the focus of your heart towards God, and praise is the outward expression of the focus of your heart.

 You might say, “I can’t find God, show me God,” I say, “show me your heart.” For Christ Himself said, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Prayer and worship is the search for God, in confidence hope to experience “The encounter.” The encounter is meeting Him face-to-face, and to encounter The Truth, Himself, you must approach Him in your own truth and vulnerability. Presenting yourself as you are in the present truth, and not as you imagine He wants you to be. It’s not always about approaching Him in your Sunday best, but it’s encountering Him in your Wednesday worst. Remember, thankfulness and praise is the outward expression of the focus of your heart.

 The ecstasy of thanksgiving is the compassion you show to others. St. Peter says it best in his first epistle,

 “Finally, all you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

 Lack of compassion and love is what we as a society struggle with, but thanksgiving can heal and fill that void. Mother Theresa sums it up perfectly when speaking of our greatest disease as a society,

 “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God." Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.”

 I pray that thanksgiving goes beyond the day and is deeply rooted in the depth of our hearts. Expressed outwardly to God through words of praise, actions of praise (towdah) and a lifestyle of compassion.

Redefining Leadership

Below is a fantastic overview and analysis from Magdoleen Meleka, one of the core leaders and HOPE volunteers from the Los Angeles area who attended our first annual HOPE Leadership Summit in Buena Park, CA last Saturday. Maggie does a great job of really capturing the spirit of the event and highlighting some of the key takeaways of our first summit.

I thought I was waking up early to support my friends at an event they coordinated. I thought I was being a good wife to Danny by joining him at a summit he wanted to attend. I thought I’d have some quality time with great speakers and, perhaps, even learn a thing or two. But, I was wrong. It was much, much more. On Saturday, October 24th, we pulled up to St. Gregory’s American Coptic Orthodox Church to attend the First Annual Hope Leadership Summit.

Upon our arrival, a well-organized, hospitable team got us signed in, fed and caffeinated before the program began. I sat there, prayerfully wondering what would unfold on such a day. Announcements about the Summit promised to provide opportunities for building bridges, creating networking opportunities, equipping people and inspiring people to make a difference in whatever context they felt passionate about. Well,… three talks, one workshop and a lot of Chick-Fil-A later, and I can say that they definitely delivered on their promise! There were so many great concepts and paradigm shifts that came with the day. Among many, a few notable phrases include: “leave goodness for greatness,” “be a servant leader,” “shadow mission,” and “altar ego.” Ultimately, we gathered to redefine leadership.

 So, how do you define a leader? What leaders come to mind? Martin Luther King. Ghandi. Jesus. All great and well-known leaders, right? Who are some other great leaders? What about your father, little sister or 3rd grade math teacher? Why do we only think of the extraordinary examples? Through various, well-prepared talks we were encouraged to see that everyone has the ability to impact even one person in his/her life and, thus, is a leader in his/her own right.

 Unfortunately, so many of us have a warped understanding of leadership and (too often) measure leadership against secular (and sometimes, ungodly) standards.  Perhaps we have a skewed standard of what it means to have influence and use it for gain because we see what types of people advance in life. Perhaps we know what it means to be a good leader but it’s far too hard to go against the grain. For these reasons, I think redefining leadership was a critical first move for this gathering – not to mention a key value in the overall work of the Hope Association.

 Although there were so many great points to keep in mind, the most encouraging point for me was to remember that anyone can be an incredible leader in Christ - even our simple, un-famous, under-equipped selves. In fact, it is God’s desire and plan that we have seen over and over again to pull out His men and women from among the crowds to do incredible things for His Kingdom. So, the real question was: what do we feel called to lead in and why don’t we? As we worked through these pressing questions, in the process, we faced the issue of discouragement, connected across cultural and generational boundaries, and found the character of the leader in each of us. By God’s grace and the good work of the Hope Association, many were able to identify their leadership tasks at hand and left feeling more equipped and encouraged for the next phase of their call.

 In the end, this day was a perfect precursor (and teaser) to the upcoming Momentum Conference, titled “Made to Influence” which is bound to be as impactful as the previous events have been. As an ex-sceptic and attendee of the previous two conferences, I not only encourage those who are curious about this topic of leadership to attend but I urge you with the words from the description which put it perfectly and plainly, “Because our world needs us to come together and transform it.”

HOPE Leadership Summit Review

Below is a firsthand account from Mariam Mikhail, one of the over 100 leaders that attended last week's HOPE Leadership Summit in Buena Park, CA and a HOPE volunteer. You can follow Mariam on Twitter @MariamMikhail24. Read her review of our first ever HOPE Summit and make sure to mark your calendar for this same event going down in Washington DC January 30th, 2016.

 

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Last weekend, Saturday, October 24, 2015, The HOPE Association, with the blessing of HG Bishop Serapion held an event that helped people understand themselves better in their true call to leadership. If you think that you’re already on a mission to lead the world to Christ, think again. In the words of Steve Messeh, you may have fallen into the trap of your “shadow mission,” the substitute mission in your life that influences your decisions. Shadow missions alongside other topics were all discussed in this year’s first annual HOPE Leadership Summit.

 The day started off with prayer followed by breakfast and networking. Fr. Cyril then gave the first lecture of the day about focusing on redefining the meaning of a leader. Dr. Mark Girguis then gave the second lecture, which emphasized the importance of and redefined the character of a leader. Next, everyone did a self-evaluation workshop about themselves and the characteristics of Leadership. This workshop helped each person evaluate their leadership strengths and determine the actions necessary to deal with a leadership opportunity. Steve Messeh then concluded the summit with his lecture that sought to aid us in identifying and overcoming our shadow mission, in order to carry out our true God given mission. 

 This summit did not seek to reinforce the world’s common view of a leader, but rather to redefine and teach the true definition of what it is to be a leader of Christ. Leaders are not people who are concerned with title or position, nor are they concerned with fame or honor. In order to be a true leader, we must lead using the example of the greatest leader of all, Jesus Christ. Our leadership should be sustainable, successful, and an investment in others rather than ourselves. To achieve this, we need to lead in a way that not only brings an entity of people closer to God, but in a way that also inspires that same entity of people to become leaders themselves. As sons and daughters of God, we are all called to lead in some capacity in our lives and when we answer the call, God will do great things through us. 

 The way we were able to do this was by applying our knowledge from the three lectures as well as become familiar with the Character of Leadership Model. After we evaluated the workshop individually, we then formed groups and discussed a leadership opportunity with a scenario that was provided to us. We were able to use the model, which was comprised of 7 elements: Faith, Justice, Temperance, Hope, Wisdom, Love and Courage. By knowing how well we can individually perform in each section, we learned how we could improve ourselves and become stronger leaders.

 Aside from the lectures, there was also a quote wall where attendees were asked to post their favorite leadership quotes either from the lectures or something they once heard before. These quotes were full of wise words that exemplified the true qualities of a leader. By the end, the quote wall had dozens of quotes that made all three lectures very effective and powerful. These quotes included simple take-home messages that everyone was able to pick up from our speakers and share with others.

 This turned out to be such a successful event and I am so excited to see this event expand and be even more successful next year. The HOPE Association has been able to change the lives of so many people spiritually and I am so honored to be one of those people. 

Update: Ultramarathoner Volunteer Levi Rizk

Levi is greeted by his wife, daughter, and mother upon crossing the finish line.

A few weeks ago, on our old site, we posted a blog entry from one of HOPE's volunteers, Levi Rizk, who described his hobby of running ultramarathons (long distance races) and how he has been running these races for a few years now. Levi described the very spiritual experience that these races give him, as he is able to accomplish something only by God's grace and power something that seems so unattainable and above his physical limits. 

Last August, after listening to a presentation about the HOPE Association and all the work that was being done through it and the needs that were being met in it, Levi decided to dedicate his upcoming race to the organization and its cause. This race would be Levi's hardest and longest race yet, and actually, the longest race in the world. It is called the PT281 and it covers 281 km (175 miles) all over Portugal. Levi was the only American to enter the race. 

While Levi expressed his anxiety about such a longer distance than what he was used to, with the thoughts and prayers of so many friends and family supporting him, we are delighted to announce that Levi finished in 2nd place! Levi ran 175 miles over a span of 3 days in just under 62 hours!! How amazing is that?!?! And on top of that, Levi was able to raise money and awareness for HOPE and the cause of meeting people's needs using people's passions. 

Levi represents everything that HOPE as an organization believes in and stands for. The idea that one person can accomplish so many amazing things through the power of a God who is bigger than we can imagine. The notion that you can use the talents, gifts, and abilities that God has put inside of you to glorify Him with them and to honor Him in a variety of ways. On behalf of everyone at HOPE, we want to congratulate Levi and his wife Mandy on an amazing accomplishment and thank them so much for their support and kindness in doing this for HOPE. 

Check out the video below to see clips of the race, as well as an interview with Levi where he describes HOPE and why he's running this race.  

A Glimpse of Joy

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This is a repost from a previous blog that was posted on our old website over 2 years ago. This post originally had reached more than 5,000 people and so many have been affected by this young woman's story that we had to post it again on our new site. Please share with your friends and family and spread this courageous woman's story of hope and joy. 

1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are a victim of child sexual abuse;

A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds (www.ncdsv.org) 

I am part of the “1 in 5” stat. For 10 years, from the age of 6 to 16, I endured sexual abuse at the hand of my older cousin on a weekly base.

He told me I could never tell. He told me he loved me, and that’s why he did it.  I remember telling myself “If this is what love means and feels like, then I don’t want it; If this was family, then family was scary; If he was a deacon and active church servant, then God must be mean and unjust.”

Growing up, I’ve always felt ashamed, unworthy, and like an outcast. I felt like I was dirty, alone, guilty, and ugly. I believed I was doomed for hell. I believed that I had lost any hope of being a good girl, or marrying a good guy, or being normal. I walked around with a huge secret weighing heavily on my shoulders. I remember thinking to myself “If my parents find out, they will kill me, disown me, and be so ashamed of me.”  I believed I was all alone in this world.

In order to survive the abuse and the psychological warfare going on inside me, I learned to make myself numb to it. I disassociated myself from feeling anything or being present in life at all. I developed mechanisms to cope and survive. I overcompensated by being a perfectionist and high achiever. I sought after bad guys because I believed that was all I deserved.  I never allowed myself to enter into a real friendship because I believed that anyone who got to know the real me would reject me.

I locked up all of these memories deep down inside of me so that they would never be part of my life again.  I continued on with life as though nothing had ever happened. As time continued to pass, I met an amazing, Godly man. He scared me. I told myself that there was no way this great man would go for a girl like me. I tried time and time again to scare him off by revealing to him mistakes I made.  Despite my efforts, he still loved me and asked me to marry him. I loved him and truly thought he could take away all of my problems and our life would be great.

I could not have been more wrong.  The first year and a half of marriage was a huge struggle. I sunk deeper into depression and my self-esteem plummeted. I began to consider the worth of my life and contemplated if I deserved to be alive. I was so angry with God. I slammed into rock bottom, decided to never talk to God again, and considered taking my life.

Just as I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. All of my memories of abuse came flooding back so quickly and I could not stuff them back down. I could not numb the pain; I could not fight the memories away. All my coping mechanisms and survival strategies were useless.  I was on my rock bottom, on the ground, crying out to God asking “why?!”

I remember when I decided I had to tell my father of confession. As I nervously sat in his office, I uttered out loud with a trembling voice what I had never before said for 20 years “At the age of 6, I was sexually abused by my cousin and it didn’t stop for 10 years.” In that very instant, I felt the huge burden I had been carrying my whole life being lifted off my shoulders.  He advised to start counseling.

It has been almost a year now going through this journey of healing, counseling, and reading. I always thought that healing was so far down the line or even impossible for me. I told myself that I would give this a shot, but I didn’t totally believe I would receive healing. I remember hearing the priest at church say that “we are Christ's children and when He adopted us all, His inheritance passed down to us and we received His grace.” I remember always thinking how lucky everyone else was to have such an amazing gift. But I didn’t believe I was one of those people. The concept of me being forgiven was incomprehensible to me.

I believed that healing was something I could control. I kept trying to do all these external things to bring quick healing and fix me.  My plan crashed down on me and brought me back to square one.   I had to quit my job and finally for the first time in my life, I had to face myself.  I battled myself for so long.  It proved too difficult and wore me out.  I remember the moment when I finally gave in and said to myself, “What do I have to lose to believe that forgiveness, healing, and love are for me too!” I realized I have to make a choice, so I gave in, let go, and let God.  Such a simple yet difficult choice.  That choice changed the course of my life, and to describe its power would be impossible with words.

The huge brick wall I built up inside my heart is finally being broken down, brick by brick.  Layer upon layer is being pulled away, and I can finally see my glimpse of Hope.  I have seen my glimpse of true Joy and Freedom that I never believed possible for me.  The old me and my past are slowly fading away, and I see a new person emerging from the all the rubble.

I know that I still have a journey ahead of me. I still face struggles and the effects of my past; but now I know that God is on my side and will guide me through it hand in hand. Just catching this glimpse of His grace and this new me is so amazing and encouraging, I would never want to go backwards! I am finally learning to love myself! I am finally learning that I am just as special to God as all his other children. I am finally learning that I am allowed His grace just like anyone else. Although I don't know what the next step in my life will be, or where I am heading, I know with certainty that I am exactly where God wants me to be right now!

My journey has showed me that I cannot and should not have to make it on my own, and that God works through the people he put in my life like my husband, father of confession, and counselor.

This is where my real story begins…

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

Run For HOPE 5K: A Volunteer's Perspective

One of our littlest (and cutest) HOPE supporters with her game face on!

As a first time volunteer for HOPE and their annual 5K event, I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect from the event. I figured the event seemed straightforward enough. A 5K race on a trail in Arlington and all that is expected of me is to hold some signs up and cheer the runners on. Simple enough, right?

Well, as I discovered, this event, this organization, and this experience was anything but simple. While on the surface it appeared that was all I was asked to do, it felt like so much more. When I arrived, I looked at the sign that was given to me, and it read, “67% of ‘at-risk’ children could not identify a single positive relationship in their life.” This was made to show the runners that their support of this organization was making a difference through their indirect support of one of HOPE’s programs that provides mentors for “at-risk” local children in Arlington. When I read that statistic, I was shocked at just how many children could not find positive influences in their life to guide them and encourage them to reach their full potential. I immediately thought to my own life and thought of where I would be were it not for the great role models I had in my own life, including my parents and others. 

And while that was both disheartening and enlightening, when I turned the sign to the other side as the runners started their run back to the finish line, I found the other side had a message of encouragement and hope to the runners. It said, “You can be the hope that a child needs to succeed.” How cool is that!? As the runners stated their race, a sign to remind them why they were running and who they were running for. And on their way back, a note of encouragement to finish strong because they were the “hope that a child needs.” I was so inspired and touched by that message and I felt like in a very small way, I was able to contribute to that same cause.

So I want to thank HOPE for giving me that opportunity to participate in this awesome event for this awesome cause and amazing organization. Hopefully, in the future, I can continue to be involved with them and I encourage everyone who reads this to volunteer with them in any capacity so together we become the “hope that a child needs to succeed.”