By Emma Arce …
My name is Emma and I’ve been attending Hope in the City with my daughters since 2006. I’ve been teaching Sunday school since 2008, so many of you have probably seen me in the pre-school area at some point. I’m the short Hispanic lady that ALWAYS wears her hair pulled back. What you might not know is that for years I attended Hope in the City without talking to anybody. I would arrive at church on Sunday morning, sit at the very back of the room with my daughters, and go back home right away when the service ended. Sure, I’d smile and say hi to people, and I might occasionally engage in small talk with someone, but I never made a real effort to get to know anyone. Why is that?
I grew up in a very loving Christian family in Mexico. In 1999 I got married to my husband Enrique, who is not a Christian, and shortly after our wedding we moved to Austin. My husband doesn’t go to church with me, but I’ve always known deep in my heart that I can’t do the whole working-mom-and-wife thing without God’s help and mercy. No way. Skipping church has never been an option for me. I desperately need God’s help to be the mom and wife He wants me to be, but for some reason, I didn’t feel the need to interact with other Christians outside of church for years. I don’t think it was out of arrogance. It’s not that I felt I didn’t need anyone’s help (and I definitely needed sisters and brothers in Christ during all those years when my girls were little and my marriage was in pretty bad shape) it was just that I was always SO busy and SO tired. I’ve always worked full time outside of the home as a software engineer. I couldn’t imagine how could I possibly make time to meet once a week in one of those Hope Groups I kept hearing about. Plus I thought I had the perfect excuse: “My husband is not Christian; it’s pretty difficult for me to drag my 3 kids to a stranger’s house on a weekday night all by myself. It’s just not going to happen.”
So what changed? My dad never gave up on me (both my Father in heaven and my awesome dad on this earth!) My dad kept sending me books, and links, and articles about church home cells. I honestly never read most of them. But I got the message. He wanted me to know that community groups are where miracles happen. Community groups are where we get to meet wonderful people who are going through the same problems we are going through, and instead of just whining and complaining about how hard life is (which is what I usually did when I met with my non-Christian girlfriends), we get to pray for each other, and speak and receive words of encouragement, and worship our awesome God together. I joined my first Hope Group in 2012. My daughters were 9, 6 and 2-years old at the time, so it wasn’t easy. But it was totally worth it. My first Hope Group was the amazing Heikkila/Thollander Hope Group. I met such wonderful, loving people on that Hope Group, I mean, I met Susan Adams in there! That alone made the effort worth it! That, and Louisa Thollander’s outstanding home cooking! 😉 We sang together, we prayed, we ate, we talked. I felt very blessed after each one of those meetings. Very soon I found myself rearranging my schedule around my Hope Group, to make sure I would not miss it.
I imagine most Hope Groups don’t last forever. People who host a Hope Group can feel called to start a new ministry, or they might move to another city, or something else might happen and that’s ok. That gives you a chance to join a new Hope Group and meet even more wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ. I met Lori Calton in my next Hope Group, an incredibly brave, smart and amazing woman who served in Afghanistan. Later in another Hope Group I got to worship every week with the Nevlands! How cool is that? I also met Trisha and Matt, oh and then I REALLY hit the jackpot and met Claudia Knirsch. Every single person I’ve met in my Hope Groups have been such a blessing in my life, but Claudia is something special. I’m telling you, find out which Hope Group she attends (hint: VanHorn’s!) and join it so you’ll get to know her too. Oh and I haven’t even talked to you about amazing Zelda and Johann, and about Sue Thomas! I could keep going for several more paragraphs telling you about all the wonderful people I’ve met at each Hope Group. I enjoy so much meeting with them, studying the Bible and worshipping with them every other week. I am currently hosting a Hope Group at my house and I often wish we could meet every week. I can say that I now truly understand the meaning of Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” I said it a few weeks ago at church and I mean it: God’s angels fill my house every time we meet!
Sure, there are things that you’ll need to figure out when you start or join a Hope Group. Some Hope Groups have potluck style dinners, some only do snacks. Some Hope Groups hire a babysitter to watch the little ones, and others ask parents to take turns taking care of the younger kids. Some Hope Groups meet during the week, others during weekends. But I can tell you from personal experience that the effort is totally worth it. If you haven’t made up your mind, please pray about it! Ask your Father in heaven to direct you to the Hope Group that will be the best match for you, and go for it. I promise you will not regret it.