Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


What I’ve Learned From The Biggest Hope Dealers I Know

Apr 25, 2017

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

-Phillip Pullman

We need stories. Especially hopeful stories.

If you’ve ever been in a dark place, experienced adversity or struggled to continue moving forward, you know the power of a hopeful story to keep you going. The stories of the relentlessly hopeful not only warm the heart but they stir the mind and the will.

As a recovering cynic, it was a story of a man who told me what my cynicism would produce in the long-run which woke me up. It was the story of another man who fought for hope amidst other men who succumbed to fear which challenged me to consider the impact of my bitterness and pain.

Hope Dealers hope storytellers power of hope
Four of the Biggest Hope Dealers I Know

I’ve been thinking lately about the people who inspire hope in me. I made a list of four people a couple weeks ago and have been writing about why they made my list ever since. Three of them I know I personally, one I hope to meet one day.

I want to introduce you to these incredible people and talk about why their stories might fuel your hope. They are “hope-dealers” – their stories pass on hope and help us to see the future more positively and expectantly. We can learn powerful lessons from observing what their stories have done in their own lives – and what our stories might do in our own lives too.

hope dealers moffat doreen zimba

Moffat & Doreen Zimba

Moffat and Doreen grew up in the deep poverty within the nation of Zambia. As he tells the story, Moffat learned to write by drawing in the dirt, with his finger. They graduated high school in 1988, but there was no room in Zambia’s universities for them to attend. God birthed a dream in their hearts to start a school. They pursued their education in Australia and the United States, overcoming roadblock after roadblock.

In 1999, they returned to Zambia to start Northrise University. The government gave them 640 acres of land; God provided money to purchase a building. They began in 2004 with a small faculty – just two professors, Moffat and Doreen. 13 years later, hundreds of students have graduated and are transforming a nation, empowered by hope. Northrise now has partnerships with American universities like Baylor University, Pepperdine University and Dordt College, an international model for the power of Christ-centered education to transform.

My family has been supporting Northrise since 2007. I’ve been to Zambia (in 2011) and am returning this summer. Northrise students are incredible and the Zimbas are a treasure. Our family loves them with our whole hearts.

(To hear more of their story, check out this video.)

The Zimbas’ story sustains their vision. “We’re doing this for other young boys and girls like us.” I’m not sure how many times the Zimbas have told their story, but I’m a witness to its gravitational force, bringing others into the Northrise family. It is their story which birthed the school and has sustained the Northrise vision for over 20 years. The Zimbas’ story has been reproduced in the lives of graduates with their own dreams which have come true with transformational impact.

When you know your story and what you’re working towards, telling the story is an act which strengthens your hope.

hope dealers mulenga chella
Mulenga Chella

Mulenga was a Northrise student. In 2005, He left Zambia to work with a ministry leader in Tanzania (located across Zambia’s northern border). As it turns out, this “ministry leader” was a con-man and international criminal. Mulenga was arrested while in this man’s car (actually a stolen vehicle) and both were imprisoned. No one believed Mulenga’s protests of wrongful imprisonment and he was beaten and abused.

In prison, the man who duped Mulenga became ill. Mulenga was faced with two options. Ignore the man, let his health decline and convince the prison officials Mulenga was telling the truth. Or care for the man, feeding him and cleaning up his diarrhea (the man was in a coma), convincing the officials Mulenga was his friend. Mulenga felt like God was calling him to care for the man and he did.

The con-man eventually healed and at a parole hearing, he corroborated Mulenga’s testimony. Mulenga was released after being falsely imprisoned for two years.

Today, Mulenga is a graduate of Northrise University in Zambia and Baylor University in Texas. He has returned to Zambia, where he and his wife have started a church and he is passionately sharing his story of hope.

(To hear Mulenga share his own story and his vision for his church, click here.)

Mulenga’s story sustains faith. The first time I heard Mulenga share his story, I remember thinking, “if His God can deliver him from that, I can face large obstacles with hope.” Just as God did not abandon him in prison, but delivered him, God continues to sustain him as he faces big challenges in pursuit of his large dreams.

Telling your story sustains your faith and retelling it, again and again, returns you to what God is capable of doing in your life again.

Tyrann Mathieu

If you follow college football or the NFL, you’ve heard of Tyrann Mathieu. Known as the Honey Badger, Tyrann has been the subject of many highlight reels and contended for both the Heisman Trophy and Defensive Player of the Year awards.

But what’s most people don’t know about one of the NFL’s biggest stars is the 22 cross tattoos on Tyrann’s lower right leg. Each tattoo represents someone he has lost in his life.

His father is serving a life sentence for murder and his mother abandoned him when he was a boy. His grandparents took him in as a toddler until his grandfather died. He buried his grandmother last year.

As a boy, his aunt and uncle adopted him. His new family lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends were victims of senseless crimes, drug overdoses, and sad stories – they’re all represented in crosses. Mathieu battled his own demons too. A rising star in college football, Mathieu’s use of marijuana cost him his position at Louisiana State University, being kicked off the team. His draft stock fell, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in NFL draft money. The Honey Badger has battled two knee injuries, a broken thumb, and a separated shoulder, along with the massive weight of those who expect him to fold under the pressure of expectations.

Mathieu has told his story in many settings and journalists are surprised by not only the adversity he has overcome but his perspective on it all.

In a series of tweets, Sporting News contributor Matt Crossman wrote, “I had a long interview with Tyrann Mathieu last winter that resulted in this story. It was the most emotionally draining interview I’ve ever done. At the time, I wished he’d stop talking because what he said was so painful. Later, I realized it wasn’t that I wished he’d stop talking, but that I wished what he said wasn’t true. He had enough pain for 2 lives.”

(To hear more of Tyrann’s story from the point of view of his best friend, Patrick Peterson, check out this video here.)

Telling your story re-establishes your identity. Tyrann’s identity has been forged by adversity and it’s made him stronger. I’m grateful to call Tyrann a friend.

He is living a resurrection story, overcoming what could have defeated him and often defeats others. He has seen things he cannot unsee and he’s been marked (both figuratively and literally in terms of the memorial tattoos) by death and pain. Yet he’s a warrior and he continues to overcome. Telling his story, again and again, re-establishes his identity as one who continues to press forward in the face of difficulty.

If you want to press forward with hope, you have to became an expert at telling your story. Your story in the past is the seed for your hope in the future. The seasons of adversity which threatened to defeat you but didn’t – because of God’s grace – can be a reservoir of hope for what God is doing in the present and will do in the future.

Crisis not only makes us who we are but it also reveals who we are. We can rest assured in this…” if God did not abandon me there and I’m still here, I have a hope and a future.”

hope dealers Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece thought her childhood was “normal.” But it was far from it. An abusive father and an unhealthy mother put her one precarious and painful spot after another.

At age 15, Fleece’s parents abandoned her and she became an orphan. If it hadn’t been for the people in her church, she’d have been on the streets. Fleece graduated high school, went to college and found success in her career as a speaker and consultant to non-profits. She working with organizations seeking to engage next-generation donors and successfully tell stories in a social-media driven marketplace.

While speaking at an event to a huge crowd of 15,000 people, though, she got a report that her biological father showed up at her house. Mortified, her life was turned upside down as he began stalking her. She couldn’t go home because he had been abusive, disrespecting restraining orders.

Fleece turned the pain and struggle into her message. Her new book, No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending, is an exploration of lament, an often overlooked Biblical theme. 73 of the 150 Psalms in the center of the Bible are laments. These poems and songs give voice to the pain, confusion, doubt, and struggle of trusting God and waiting for God to move on the writer’s behalf.

As a pastor, I’m so grateful for Fleece’s new book and her spotlight on lament. We haven’t met yet but when we do, I look forward to thanking Fleece in person. She’s written the book I thought about writing and it’s making a major difference in people I know.

Fleece’s story birthed her calling. She has traveled the country sharing her story and inviting others to discover how the Scriptures allows (and even invites) honest, transparent cries and prayers to God.

(Check out Esther Fleece’s I Am Second video here.)

Our worst moments and the stories of our darkest days can be the birthplace of hope. Like Fleece, our pain has become our platform to share hope. Our mess can become our message to pass onto others. What we think might push people away could be our greatest place of connection. Telling our story – our true, raw stories – can be the beginning of hope of healing. Both for ourselves and for those who are listening and watching.

The Power of Our Stories

So let me summarize what we’ve explored here.

Moffat and Doreen Zimba taught us that telling (and re-telling our story) can sustain our vision, reminding us of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Mulenga Chella taught us that when we tell the story of God’s faithfulness, it fuels us to greater faith and courage in following our calling. We can live with greater hope for the future.

Tyrann Mathieu taught us that when we’ve endured great adversity, telling our story can sow the seeds of hope for future. Our story can reconfirm our identity in the present and serve as a deep reservoir of hope for the future.

Esther Fleece taught us that telling the story of our pain can become our platform, giving hope to others who are looking for space to find healing.

What’s Your Story of Hope?

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your story of hope? What dark days have you endured or are you enduring today? How might telling your story enable you to discover hope for yourself and share it with others too?

Who is the biggest hope dealer you know? Why?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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