“You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”
– Graham Greene, Brighton Rock
Like most journeys to Hope Street, mine started well before I stepped foot on 26th and Capitol and began with my own brokenness. I did not know it at the time, but the season in which I felt abandoned by God and in despair, He was preparing my heart for a place that would have otherwise been so foreign to me I would not have even considered what could be.
God was breaking me of me and in His strange mercy pulled me closer to Himself than I could have ever imagined.
This was not an immediate thing but a path He set me on. From the beginning I resisted. Like Jonah I would hear God’s call, clearer than my own thoughts sometimes, and I would turn from His voice because I was afraid of what that meant for my plans and how I thought things were “supposed” to be. And, like Jonah, it led to a storm, to the overwhelming sense that I was drowning because my plan was not turning out how it was supposed to despite my best efforts.
My plan was like most other people’s I knew - go to college, get a job, get married, start a family and waltz on through to the easy life. And I was off to a great start! I checked all the boxes and things were moving in the direction I envisioned. Only, they weren’t. I felt this growing void, and an emptiness that I was missing something. I felt miserable in the work I was doing and everyday felt like I had to fight simply to show up. I met the growing void with alcohol and things quickly spun out of control. I left that job thinking maybe things would get better, but they didn’t. I was put on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to try and find a way to manage. This only compounded the problem of coping through alcohol.
Then God jolted me from the haze engulfing me. It was unpleasant, included an OWI, and the humbling need to reconcile with those I’d harmed. But I started being able to look outside of myself again. I was suddenly able to see and hear others in ways I hadn’t before. Then I began volunteering at another ministry, James Place in Waukesha where I was invited into friendship and community. It was not long after my brief time as a volunteer that I found myself as the director for a new James Place partnership on 26th and Capitol at a place I had only heard of in passing.
I cannot describe what my first experience at Hope Street was like. There was unrest in the city after the shooting death of Sylville Smith by a police officer. Hope Street had had a break-in over the weekend, and my first day as director meant filing a report, and an hour into the day I sat with a couple in heartbreak and in desperate need of housing.
But there was something else as well. If you have ever stepped inside of Hope Street you probably know what I am talking about. Amidst all the chaos of that first day was an overwhelming peace that I can only describe as the presence of God in a way I had never known before.
Fast forward a year-and-a-half and I was stepping down as the Director of James Place – 26th Street and into a new role with Hope Street. I had made friends with many members during that time, but never shared the story I laid out above. I was nervous, because Ashley had asked me to share my story at the community meeting before my first day. I didn’t want anyone to think less of me and to look at me as someone completely different from the man they met inside of James Place. I remember sharing my story (and talking really fast because that’s what I do when I get nervous) and how there was this moment of silence that felt eternal. I was thinking to myself, “Oh great.” But then I looked up at the faces in the room and was met with, “We love you, Coop.”
I knew that Hope Street was a special place. I knew that community and friendship and valuing people, ALL people, was woven into the ethos here, but I didn’t truly know what it meant until that moment. When my new family prayed over me, I knew this place would always be home, I knew the men, women, and children who lived here would always be family… and it has, in the good and the bad (there have been plenty of both!), even after I stepped down from my role on Hope Street’s staff. This is still a place I come once a week to spend time with family in God’s word, praying, sharing our lives – pain, struggle, gratitude, and triumphs – with one another. Hope Street is more than a job, more than a place to volunteer, more than any ideas you may have coming into it – it is a community to belong to and that belongs to you. It is family.
And you can be a part of this too. That is the beauty of Hope Street, it is reflective of this Kingdom family that invites everyone to be a part of something more. You don’t have to bring anything special, just yourself and a softness of heart to receive this gift and share your own.