|The Rev. Rudy Rasmus visits with children outside Bo, Sierra Leone, during a distribution of mosquito nets for the Imagine No Malaria campaign.|
Speaking of Hope
In 1992, the Rev. Rudy and the Rev. Juanita Rasmus
co-founded St. John’s United Methodist
Church in downtown Houston with nine members. Today the congregation
includes more than 9,000 people, including 3,000 homeless or formerly homeless
individuals. Through the
Bread of Life Ministry, which the couple also started in 1992, the church
provides 12,000 hot meals monthly and nightly houses hundreds of chronically
homeless men and women.
Rasmus is also known as an author, street
ethicist and global humanitarian with a passion for outreach to the world’s
most impoverished citizens. His book, Touch:
Pressing against the Wounds of a Broken World (Thomas Nelson Publishers)
profiles his life story, his unique way of faith sharing and the radical
hospitality he learned in his previous life. He contributes monthly to Oprah’s
O magazine and to Epitome Magazine. In 2010, “Pastor Rudy’s Love Revolution”
premiered on SIRIUS XM Radio’s Praise Channel.
below are from a telephone interview on hope with Interpreter editor Kathy
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What is hope?
Rudy Rasmus: I see hope as
the anticipation of good. When we think of something good potentially happening,
hope is that expectation. Hope is the state of mind that looks to that thing
KN: Where do you
see hope in the world today?
RR: I serve in a
community that is consistently looking for hope and consistently void of hope. The
line is so clearly drawn between those who have a little something and those
who have nothing these days that we often see today this big cavernous gap
between those who are pretty upbeat and hope-filled and those who are
hopeless. I see people trying literally
to make it from one moment to the next. That can really challenge hope.
KN: What has
life taught you about hope?
RR: One thing I’ve
learned is to keep living and keep showing up. That’s at the core of what keeps
me going, knowing that if I can just make it to the next hour, and sometimes to
the next day, then there’s a possibility that something good can happen around
the corner. I guess I’m not that optimistic right now. I see the challenges of
the poor getting worse (everyday) as I serve the poorest people in Houston,
Houston’s homeless. The most challenged demographic in Houston, as
it relates to hopelessness, are older people and this young demographic that’s
coming through, showing up homeless every given night. I do see hope if I could
look at it (as) an acronym of sorts: Hold On, Pray Expectantly. From
one day to the next, I’m holding on and I’m praying expecting good to occur in
spite of the evidence not improving right now. How we choose (to use) our
God-given life energy is a factor as well. Do we spend our energy focusing on
worry or do we invest our energy in prayer? I’m choosing to invest my energy in
prayer these days.
KN: What keeps
you going in the middle of everything you see?
RR: It’s tough out
here. It really is. The only thing that keeps me going these days is my faith
in a God who has seen me through much tougher.
KN: What is the
relationship between hope and gratitude or thanksgiving?
RR: I see hope as
an expectation of something yet to be received, and I see gratitude and
thanksgiving as response to the manifestation of the thing that was hoped for, of
an experience that I can see, touch and even feel.
KN: Why is
Advent a season of hope?
RR: When I think
about what the expectation of Christ’s birth means to those who are a part of
this faith, and to see the realization of his life and ours, that whole season
of Advent brings into focus the importance of not only waiting, but the
importance of believing that it can turn out okay.
KN: How are
faith and hope connected?
RR: Faith and hope
are irrevocably tied together. This is my 22nd year as a follower of
Jesus. My faith has grown; it has been challenged. I’m trusting God to
interpret that ultimate end for me. Faith reminds me to dream a new way of
being and to expect a new life-giving reality that’s yet to be defined. That
new reality gives me something to look forward to.
We hear the word
“hope” and we hear the word “faith,” but rarely do we stop to think, what does
this mean? I am a professional
practitioner and I am partially stumped because of the challenges in front of
me. But what about the person who is just trying to make it, trying to keep the
lights on and trying to keep a semblance of food on the table for their
families in the midst of these questions. I can only imagine how daunting a
reality faith and hope are right now for millions of people (who) live beneath
$12,000 a year in total income. So when
I’m stumped, I’m thinking, “OK, I know how this question can be answered for a
person with a job and a life and a source of income.” But what I’m really
challenged about is answering this question for the person making less than
$12,000 a year. We’ve got to put hope in the perspective to where that person
can also see a practical reality or an anticipation of something good
KN: How do you
talk about hope to someone who is homeless? Someone making less than
$12,000/year?RR: I preached a
sermon about a guy who was at the Pool of Bethesda and had been lame for 38
years. I know there are folk in the audience who are in this same predicament,
maybe not physically but emotionally, psychologically and even spiritually. What
I am often trying to offer is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel:
Don’t give up today, don’t throw in the towel today, don’t kill yourself today,
don’t walk away today from your family. Don’t give up on your dream today
because opportunity can possibly come your way tomorrow. I often try to present
the practical possibility that opportunity is around the corner.
environment of hopelessness is often a lack of adequate preparation or having
the proper tools to make a definitive change in one’s life or being exposed to
the right information that could make a difference. I’m always encouraging
people to broaden your horizon, to expand your realm of knowledge and to learn
a new skill. Sometimes hope is at the end of learning a new way to live (or) a
new vocabulary or even a new skill. Those are the practical realities that the
44 million people that are part of my ministry focus and ministry demographic face.
KN: How do you
talk about hope with them?
RR: When I think
about hope, what I’m always doing is connecting the power of a risen Jesus to
the prospect of a dead economy, a dead personal economy. I tell people all the
time, “If you can wrap your mind around Christ coming back to life, then
everything between your current predicament and Christ coming back to life sits
in the realm of possibility. And in that realm is the practical reality that,
as bad as my situation may be, I can still hope for something better to occur
in my life because I’m believing that this guy is alive. And if I can believe
this guy is alive, then everything dead in my life including my perspective and
my personal finances and my relationships can come back. At the core of hope is
believing, as bad as it may be, it can get better. And our faith has to connect
in some tangible way to that process of it getting better.
seven nights a week, we provide a place for 200 of the most hopeless
individuals to sleep in our gym. Imagine
if the only thing that awakens you the next morning is the possibility that
tomorrow just might be better than the day before. Hope is the instinctive. If
hopelessness was the instinctive in the world today, then we would be looking
at not only mass homicide and suicide, but anarchy globally. In one sense, hope
is holding onto enough of one’s dignity with the assumption that there is (sometime)
that I will need the rest of my dignity to be utilized. Something at the core
of the human existence pushes us to assume that as tough as things are right
now, they’re going to improve. I think the name would have to be hope.
I’m often asked,
especially by younger people who have completely been disconnected from the
faith, “What difference does it make?” Good is not determined by faith alone.
But I often tell my younger friends that faith helped me define good. And when
I define good as this faith that I’m a part of, then I also define hope as a
component of this good I have found in this faith. Then I’m reminded as to why
faith is the material fact of the things that we hope for.
Today I am
telling people like never before to “keep hope alive.”
KN: And how do
they do that?
RR: Define a higher
power and love that higher power that I call God, love one’s self and determine
what a healthy, authentic love of one’s self looks like. Then love others in
that same fashion. … (loving) God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.