How Did You Start World Hope?

by | Feb 18, 2021 | Founder Series

“How Did you Start World Hope” is a question I am often asked. Of course, generally, the person asking has about two minutes to listen for an answer and I often sense the disappointment when I reveal that I did not hear God’s voice one night and the next morning got up and started World Hope and we have lived happily ever after.

Since childhood, though, God has put in my heart a sense of justice for the vulnerable and the voiceless. Throughout my life, I have sought to live this out—but there came a huge turning point in my life in 1985. I was invited by an ABC news team as the faith representative to accompany a film crew in the production of a documentary on the famine in Ethiopia. This famine is still considered among the largest in recent history.

I was honored to go, but I had no idea a larger plan God had in mind. We traveled through various parts of the country. The enormous feeding facilities were triaged as to the levels of starvation, with people coming to these facilities and sitting in an open field waiting for help. There would be hundreds and even thousands silently waiting. Some people would even die while they were waiting. On one occasion I recall a nurse from the UK pulled on my arm and said, “Jo Anne, come out to the field with me.” I must admit, I did not want to go. That was too close to the pain. But with her pressure on my arm, I had no choice. Immediately as we walked out, people came up to us, hoping to be seen. I will never forget; a woman and two children who came near me. She and the children looked very frail, and as she was speaking with us, she fell dead to the ground. Her two children and I stood there in disbelief. She was taken away and someone else took her children. I was mute in the face of what I had just witnessed, my feelings numb. A couple of days later I heard that she had walked miles for help. That her husband had died of starvation and she knew she needed to get herself and her four children help. She buried two of her children on the way, continuing on with the remaining two children and herself–determined to find life and hope.

I could not sleep that night, thoughts racing. I am a mother. I have four children. I would do anything for them to get help and live. She did not deserve to die. I am not an exceptional person in God’s eyes. We are both children of a loving God. I believe I began to experience even more what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

I came back from this trip determined to do something. After all, the scriptures and Jesus’ life are full of the call to the poor. I talked with others within my denomination, but somehow at that time, it was not a priority. It was not until five or more years later that some folks began to really listen, to become interested in doing something to address hunger and loss and the dying hope of that mother who sought to save her children.

During this time, I think God needed to refine me before I was ready to answer this call. I believe this is what scripture refers to as “the fullness of time.” Many affirmations began to line up, both from leaders and donors from unexpected sources.

In December 1995, it became apparent in my heart that I needed to take the “Kierkegaardian” leap of faith. I was reading the story of the birth of Jesus in Luke 1, where the angel comes to Mary and tells her she is going to bear the Son of God. Immediately she is fearful, but asked the question, “How will this be?” The angel answers Mary regarding the process and concludes his words “With God All Things Are Possible.” Then Mary’s profound response, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

That cold December day in the Warrenton, Missouri, church parsonage, those words jumped right off the page. I prayed Mary’s prayer and claimed the promise. (Though to be clear, in no way am I comparing myself to Mary, but I do believe God continues to use the lives of Biblical characters to guide us.)

So buttressed, I took the leap of faith, phoning those who had been encouraging me and saying, “World Hope International will begin January 2, 1996, in the front bedroom of the parsonage.” They encouraged me anew but said, “we will pray for you to raise money because we do not have any startup money for you.” Somehow, I was not even disturbed by this news. I had a greater promise: The Word of God.

I went to work on a strategic plan and a budget. In a few days, I had lunch with a friend and his daughter, whom I introduced to the vision of World Hope. They listened intently and asked questions as we ate lunch. Finally, my friend asked me, “How much is it going to cost you to do this.” I had the budget for the first year of operations in my purse, and I swiftly pulled it out and handed it to him and his daughter. They both looked at it and, with tears already in all our eyes, they responded, “We’ll pick up the whole thing.”

“This must be ‘The fullness of Time,’” I thought.

And so the first year of World Hope began.

Today, World Hope International is working in 20+ countries around the world to provide those in need with opportunity, dignity, and hope so they can possess the tools for change in themselves, their family and their community.

To support these efforts, you can make a gift to The Hope Fund, which allows us to respond where and when it matters and continue projects centered on clean water & energy, protection, global health, and social enterprises.

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