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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2011 Archives > November-December 2011 > Speaking of Hope: Lorenza Andrade Smith

Speaking of Hope with …

The Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith sits with Lester as he takes shelter in a box culvert beneath the busy street in El Paso, Texas.
The Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith sits with Lester as he takes shelter in a box culvert beneath a busy street in El Paso, Texas.

Lorenza Andrade Smith

In June, the Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith, an elder in the Southwest Texas Conference, began her new appointment as an advocate for the poor and homeless and for just systems. She sold her car, gave up her home and most of her possessions, took a vow of poverty and began what she plans will be three years of living on the streets. Although speaking engagements fill much of her calendar, her day-to-day life is among the homeless in communities across the United States. Her base community is among the homeless people living in Austin and San Antonio, Texas. She spoke of hope in a telephone interview with Interpreter editor Kathy Noble.

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Kathy Noble: What is hope?
Lorenza Andrade Smith: Hope is interlaced between two other words. First Corinthians 13:13 says, “Faith, hope and love.” Faith in Christ and his Resurrection gives me hope. Hope is the belief that God is with me. God is with us. God is with you. I can’t just use hope by itself, but it’s that interrelationship, that God is faithful, even though we are unfaithful. That’s my hope in my life, in the nation’s life, in the world’s life.

KN: What has your life taught you about hope, particularly your experiences of the past few months?
LAS: This time frame has taken me back to the understanding that God does intervene in life, that God provides, that God is in the midst. It reminds me of the story when Jesus is doing the sermon on the mountain. There is the idea that there’s not enough food for everyone. Jesus rejects that and says, “You know, there certainly is.” God does intervene, and God does provide. I see that every day on the streets. I see it when there are folks that have needs, that haven’t been clothed, that are on medications, even in instances where a knife has been pulled out on me. It’s been very humbling and transforming, just knowing God’s with us and God rejects the oppression among us.

Hope is surrounding. It’s within, beneath, above. I think it’s just integral to my life. And without it, I don’t see ministry. The first Christian community was one of hope.

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KN: How do you speak to people you meet day-to-day about hope?
LAS: Right now, I am learning from them more than I am providing, but in certain pastoral instances, I do go back to the miracles Jesus provided for those in the margins. Jesus rejected the idea that people had to be sick, that women had to be on the margins, those types of rejections (when) society said, “Well, that’s just the way life is.” There was always transformation. (In) the stories of Jesus healing, of Jesus speaking to women and honoring them, Jesus rejected the oppression, rejected the loneliness, rejected all those things that keep people from hoping. Right now, in this journey, I’m just listening. That somebody’s even listening to them is huge in the lives of people living on the streets.

KN: Where do you see hope today? What does it look like?
LAS: I have it in the mail I receive from people who say they’re living through what I’m doing because there is a desire and a want to be light in the world. There’s hope in those living on the margins that are open to having someone in their midst, (who) welcome and show great hospitality. That’s been my experience with those who live on the street.

KN: Give me a specific example or two.
LAS: I was in New York. A woman caught my eye. I was in McDonald’s buying a 99-cent burger so I could use the restroom. This woman, with all her baggage and a cart, comes in, tries to use the bathroom without purchasing anything. The manager says, “No, you can’t use the restroom; you’re not a customer.” And she leaves. As soon as I’m done, I go after her, and I tell her, “I know how it is not to be able to go to the bathroom. Let me hold your stuff so you can go to the restroom.” I told her, “I’m homeless also, and so I know what it’s like.” She stops me right on my track and says, “Young lady, you are not homeless. You live in God’s creation. Your home is with God.” (She) begins to witness to me about God’s love in the midst of crisis. And this was from a woman living on the street. That’s why I’ve changed my vocabulary from being homeless – that’s so negative – to living on the streets. I saw the face of God; I heard the word of God in that very moment. And this woman, whom everyone around her rejected, knew she was in the arms of God. That was powerful for me, knowing I’m in ministry with and not doing ministry to anybody. And myself being transformed during this journey.

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KN: Advent is a season of waiting and expectation. Is it also a season of hope?
LAS: We are waiting for this Messiah, this Prince of Peace. For me, it’s very significant, this Prince of Peace. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. The connotation is not a shallow “peace be with you” or an absence of war. (It is) the welfare, the wholeness, the completeness, the holistic concept of somebody caring not for only the person, but (also) for a nation, for a universe in a way that says, “Peace be with you” meaning, “Are you well? Are you whole?” That waiting for this Prince of Peace, this wellness, this wholeness, this welfare for all people, is so indicative of this Advent time. That’s so important, especially for people on the margins. It’s remembering not only Jesus-God but also the Trinitarian hope. It’s the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We bask in the empowerment of this time of hope. It is empowerment to be hopeful.

KN: Say more about hope being empowering.
LAS: The promise of the Holy Spirit and the promise of Christ’s return is a comfort. “We will send the Holy Spirit to empower and comfort” is found in John 14, Luke 24 and Acts 1. The early church was absolutely a community of hope based on this spirit of empowerment. That allows the community of faith, the followers of Christ, to understand what God has ushered in as the Kingdom of God now is our task as well. And Jesus says we will do even greater things. Empowerment to be in the face of the status quo is life changing. If we’re able to change life and have transformation, that’s a hope that is empowering or an empowerment that gives us hope — however we might see it.

KN: Talk about the relationship between hope and thanksgiving.
LAS: One of the things Scripture tells us to do is, instead of worrying, to go to God in prayer with thanksgiving. That’s in Philippians. We are able to be thankful or content in all circumstances. And Scripture says whether fed or hungry, whether clothed or not or sheltered or not, there’s a sense of this contentment that through thanksgiving, we know God is with us. That’s the greatest thing we can ask for. To go to God in prayer with thanksgiving is essential to moving forward.

KN: What more can you say about hope and being people of hope?
LAS: Specifically Romans 5: “Hope does not disappoint.” But we also “boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  Again, this empowerment we find in hope allows us to move forward in strength and in endurance and to live day by day. For many of us out in the streets, it’s not only a day-by-day thing, not even hour-by-hour, but sometimes step-by-step. I always have to remember that hope and every step that I take does not disappoint. That’s really my main thread. There’s just a faith and a love that permeates from hope. One of the things I’ve thought about in this ministry (is) not preaching it, but trying just to embody the gospel as best I can and to love as best I can. My hope is that we as a church become relevant to those that need to hear a word from the church in a relevant way.

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