Fritha Wheeler evaluates Hope08.
When I first thought about working for Hope08, quite a few people told me not to bother. It was 2006 and nobody was really sure what this 'Hope 2008' thing was – just that it had some famous Christians attached to it, a bit of hype and a fairly unspecific website. I was told that the concept of unified, holistic, nationwide Christian mission was at best silly, and at worst cynically motivated empire building.
I'm not good at taking advice so I signed up to work for Hope08. I liked the passion of the leadership team and the real efforts they were making to genuinely give their idea away to local churches. I also liked that it was a bit ridiculous and that it could only work if God liked it too.
So we started trudging away – getting churches excited about working together and suggesting ways they could bless their communities. We put together books, gave advice, published yet more websites, went to conferences and made up a framework of 'high points' to help churches access the year of intense mission.
We were a comparatively tiny team attempting to commission the UK to 'do more evangelism, do it together and do it in word and action'. Sometimes it felt like the whole thing was stuck on pause, and sometimes we couldn't handle the number of people signing up. We had no idea what – if anything – was going to happen in 2008. Christmas 2007 was scary.
I've been in shock for the whole of 2008 – we were unprepared for the generosity, beauty, kindness and grit of the church in the UK. We'd had a few ideas of what churches could do, but our feeble bleatings were drowned out by the weight and originality of what happened in that year.
I couldn't ever sum this all up, but I do know that all over the UK people came to church for the first time because the church had come to them. Cheesy, but true! Simple things worked, like car washing and litter picking. Complicated things like citywide youth outreach weekends also worked. In some places family fun days gave churches roots in their communities, and in other places social action projects flooded Jesus into the places that need him most.
We've published an evaluation with lots of numbers in it. We like it because it's full of encouraging stats, and also because it tells the truth – there are things we could have done better and that future projects probably need to know about. Mainly, though, it's exciting stuff and it seems that Hope church groups aren't stopping here but are carrying on into 09 and beyond!
We had no idea it was going to go as well as it did, but we're glad to have been involved.