Discipleship, Hope Gardeners of Hope

By Michelle Williams


I can’t help but cry every time I watch the new Disney movie Moana with my kids. I’ll give you the spoiler alert before I explain why the culmination of the plot fills me with such an overwhelming hope that it spills right out of my eye sockets every single time.

In the movie, Moana’s mission is to restore the heart of Te Fiti, who is the life-giving nature goddess of her people. Just before reaching Te Fiti, Moana and her accomplice, Maui, must evade the giant, mighty lava-hurling villain called Te Kā. In the midst of their struggle, Moana suddenly sees that Te Kā is no villain at all, but instead the goddess of life they’d been seeking the entire time. In order to restore the heart of Te Fiti, Moana tenderly calls Te Kā to come to her. Moana reminds Te Kā of her true identity, revealing her soul’s worth and restoring her heart. By using love to break through the villainous veneer, Moana is an agent of transformation for Te Kā, who then becomes the beautiful Te Fiti before our very eyes.

The scene demonstrates a powerful concept of transformation on so many levels. Not only does the obvious transformation take place within Te Kā, but Moana’s heart is also changed. She is able to see the good and worthy soul in someone who everyone else has warned her to be the most fearful of the villains.

I’ve experienced firsthand the power of a transformation like this in my own life. I’ve never hurled a ball of lava, but there have been times in my past when I was so full of anger towards my enemies that it literally burned inside of me. I can also remember the moment of my own transformation.

In January 2014, I heard Dr. Matthew Sleeth speak during the Project Eden Justice Seminar at Grace Church. I was very much enjoying his talk, cleverly woven together with energetic humor and deep insight. At one point, he described something that I’m sure the whole audience could relate to: the sinking feeling in your heart when you see a bird fly into a window and injure itself. He said, “Your heart breaks for what breaks God’s heart, because you were created in His image.” He wasn’t speaking directly to me, but it sure felt that way in the moment. The idea of being created in God’s image had never really clicked for me. And at a time when I was feeling bad about myself for having harbored such anger and malice in my heart, Dr. Sleeth’s simple comment jolted my soul into feeling its own worth. He planted a seed of hope in me that day. Through all of my own shortcomings, I fully understood and embraced that my own spirit is connected with God’s spirit. We are all created in the image of God. We are all souls of incredible worth.

What I’ve noticed in myself since that seminar is that my posture has changed. My motives are more in line with God’s will. I see with more clarity from the understanding of the impact that this awakening had in my own life. I feel like a changed person—one who is able to extend love, grace, and forgiveness the way Jesus calls us to do. I see people differently now. Instead of a stranger, a soul with incredible worth. Instead of an enemy, an opportunity to fulfill my role as a representative of Jesus.

What brings me to tears when I see that scene in Moana is that I can feel the Holy Spirit at work in every other person watching it. I imagine Jesus delivering a parable about how to love our enemies. If life is like a puzzle, this is a powerful piece to click into place.

I’m filled with hope that when the Holy Spirit moves in all the ways that it does, injustices will be broken. I’m also overjoyed to be used in that plan. Like Tim Ayers preached in his November 11 & 12 sermon, “It gives me hope that God is willing to take us in all of our foolishness and messiness to use us for good and to make beautiful things.”

This weekend, Barry also shared about Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who had spent their long lives in priestly service on behalf of Israel. Seeing the moral decay of their society, they were desperate for a savior to rescue them from both their enemies and their nation’s sin. And that rescuer came in the form of the baby Jesus. We too can relate as we are all living in a world full of moral decay, and our own lives are constantly under attack by the evil one. 

But, do not despair! We all have the power to move through the world as gardeners of hope, planting seeds that may one day flourish into another faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. And, Jesus offers us the salvation we so badly need! 



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