"Before I became a Christian, I was a broken man that was a shadow of a human being," says Kenneth Askew, a member of Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
Gordon Memorial is an inner-city church in possibly the poorest ZIP code in Nashville. When Askew first showed up in worship, he was living at a halfway house and, in his words, "merely existing."
"Drugs, women, gambling. Feeling as if I was a disappointment in life to my family, to myself," he says. "I just planned on existing until I died. That's where I was."
"Ken has had a hard life. We don't judge him for that," says Gordon Memorial member Camela Jordan. "We know everybody has different paths they go down, different backgrounds, but we're all one and the same in the end."
The Rev. Vance P. Ross recalls the first time Askew came to church there. Now on the staff of Discipleship Ministries, Ross was Gordon Memorial's senior pastor at the time.
"When I began as pastor, Kenneth stood in the balcony. In the back of the balcony, and sort of peeped at me," Ross says.
"My feeling coming here was that I don't know anybody, and I'm not sure if these people will like me if they knew who I really was, so I tried to stay in the background," Askew says.
But as time went on, something in Askew changed. As he felt more acceptance, he also heard a call to leave the back row.
"As the word of Jesus called him forward, he began to emerge. With every invitation, he came closer, and now he is a spiritual leader," Ross says.
Askew today leads an accountability and sharing group that he has proclaimed as his ministry.
"His truth can shake you up, because he doesn't use the language of the assembly," Ross says. "That makes this congregation a different place. I thank God for him every day, and so does this church."
"It is my job – everybody's job, really – to give hope," Askew says. "I feel especially obligated to show that hope because Christ has done so much for me and I want everybody to feel the way I feel."
Adapted from "An Invitation to H.O.P.E.," a Discipleship Ministries video.
Share your H.O.P.E. with others
Discipleship Ministries equips church leaders for the task of making disciples for the transformation of the world. Transforming the world means offering the hope of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.
At Discipleship Ministries, hope is spelled H.O.P.E. – an acronym for remembering the core process of making disciples, found in Paragraph 122 of The Book of Discipline 2012.
H – Hospitality:
Proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather people into the body of Christ. Pray, "Send us the people no one else wants."
O – Opportunity:
Lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the Spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Take John Wesley's admonition seriously and "offer them Christ" as people become part of your fellowship or congregation.
P – Purpose:
Nurture people in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines and other means of grace, such as Wesley's Christian conferencing. Meet in small groups and develop relationships through the practice of spiritual disciplines.
E – Engagement:
Send people into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ. Develop relationships in the community with local schools, with people living in poverty, with health-care facilities.
How is your church offering H.O.P.E.? Discipleship Ministries wants to know! Share your stories of H.O.P.E. at www.UMCHOPE.org or on social media using the hashtag #UMCHOPE.
Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, September–October , 2015.