How a Gauntlet leader opened her heart and her home to a student in crisis
Sitting in the back of the bus on the way home from Gauntlet 2010, Hope Aho was staring blankly out of the window.
As she looked out at the buildings and sights of Daytona Beach for the last time, she rolled through the images of the five-day summer camp like a set of flashcards, as if she were fixing the memories in her mind before they could fade.
Then Valerie Bishop’s voice broke into her daydream.
“Could I sit next to you?” the volunteer asked.
A photo of Hope and Valerie the day they met on the bus ride back from Gauntlet.
I thought, ‘Who the heck is this lady? I definitely want to be friends with her.’ - Hope
A “Super Cool” Leader
Unlike many sixth-grade students on the bus who might have been bummed about losing the empty seat, Hope was happy for Valerie’s company.
They hadn’t chit-chatted long before they discovered they were both from Taylors, in the Upstate of South Carolina, and that one of Hope’s best friend lived two doors down from Valerie’s.
That was where the school bus picked her up and dropped her off, in fact.
Valerie was bubbly and seemed genuinely interested and curious about her life.
They laughed a lot and played card games all the way home with the rest of Hope’s tight-knit group of friends.
“I thought, ‘who the heck is this lady? I definitely want to be friends with her,’” Hope recalls. “She is super cool, even though I’m 11 years old, and she’s a grown woman.”
Hope had first gotten involved at NewSpring during a season when she was regularly visiting her dad in Anderson.
Before they said their goodbyes that day, Valerie offered Hope a ride to Fuse every week if she wanted it.
A group of Hope’s friends who Valerie drove to Fuse every week.
Hope was so passionate about coming back to Gauntlet and inviting her friends to Fuse. - Valerie
A Fuse Caravan
What began as a simple ride to the Wednesday night youth gathering in Greenville soon became a caravan of Hope’s friends, who would all meet at the local Starbucks and pile into Valerie’s Ford Expedition.
“All my friends loved her,” Hope says. “Even when my friends had another way to get there, they wouldn’t take it. They had too much fun.”
One time, 19 of Hope’s friends showed up — sending Valerie to social media searching for anyone who had a bus. (A daycare worker and former student came through with a 15-passenger van that day.)
“Hope was so passionate about coming back to Gauntlet and inviting her friends to Fuse,” Valerie says. “Church made her feel so much like family — so warm and loved — she wanted to give that to everyone.”
The last 15 minutes of the journey home, after all the other students had been dropped off for the night, was when their relationship really grew.
“I would always have time in the car to talk to just her,” Valerie says.
Hope celebrates having her own bedroom at Valerie's house.
Valerie didn’t say, ‘I’ll think about it’. She went into immediate action. - Hope
A Divine Purpose
Within months, God’s purpose for their unusual friendship became dramatically clear.
Hope’s mom’s boyfriend died suddenly of an overdose, bringing out into the open many of the struggles she was dealing with at home.
Valerie had befriended Hope’s mom and was trying to help any way she could, so Valerie offered to keep Hope and her sister, Danielle, while the funeral arrangements were being handled.
Then, not long after, in March 2011, Hope’s mom accidentally overdosed, too.
She had been struggling with addiction to pain pills and crack since Hope was 6 or 7, following her boyfriend down that path after her divorce.
That day, Hope was still in bed asleep, when her little brother and younger sister woke her frantically because they couldn’t stir their mom from sleep.
Hope burst into her mom’s bedroom and shook her.
Then she ran to the kitchen, and grabbed some ice to see if placing some on her mom’s chest would startle her to life. When that didn’t work, she called her grandpa, who dialed 911.
The next person Hope called was Valerie.
“Come get me,” Hope said.
“I’m putting my shoes on and I’m on my way,” Valerie assured her.
Hope and sister Danielle pose with Valerie, husband Nelson, and her son, Kilton, and his wife.
She held us when we were crying and did whatever she could to make us feel like home. - Hope
A New Home
Hope’s mom was alive, but unconscious; the overdose the result of inadvertently mixing too much alcohol with too many pills.
Hope’s grandparents officially had custody of both Hope and her sister for four years because of her mom’s addiction issues. They had only returned to live with their mom for the last year.
When Hope’s grandfather heard of Hope’s desire to live with Valerie, he simply asked if Valerie was willing to keep them. When Valerie said “yes,” he shook her hand and let the girls leave with her.
“You are some angel sent from heaven,” he told Valerie.
“When she brought us home,” Hope remembers, “she prayed for us and with us and held us when we were crying and did whatever she could to make us feel like home.”
Valerie saw it as simply being available.
“To see these beautiful children’s faces and hear their broken hearts was tough times. I couldn’t have loved on those girls and that family without God.”
Hope uses sidewalk chalk to show her love for NewSpring
She had seen God work so much in her life after so much tragedy. - Valerie
The first week in the Bishops’ trailer, following a Wednesday night message at Fuse, Hope was gripped with a sudden recognition that she didn’t have a relationship with God. After arriving back at the Bishop’s that night, she reached out to Valerie.
“I dived into her arms, and I said, ‘I don’t think I’m saved. I think I’m playing the part. I don’t think I’m living it.’”
“We can nail that down right now,” Valerie responded, and led Hope to Jesus.
Hope calls that experience a holy moment unlike any she’d experienced.
“I felt like all the horrible things that had happened and the hardships we had gone through ... wasn’t my burden to carry anymore,” Hope says. “A weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like God had it handled, and he had it figured out, and everything that had happened happened to get me to this point.”
Says Valerie, “She had seen God work so much in her life after so much tragedy. It was cool to share with her the joy of what God was doing in her life.”
Valerie and Nelson support Danielle as she cheerleads a game.
You build relationships, so when God asks you to step in, you’re already prepared. - Valerie
The girls stayed with the Bishops from 2011 through 2014. The Department of Social Services in an unusual move gave Valerie and her husband full custody.
During that time, Hope was a Fuse regular, and even volunteered in KidSpring.
Valerie and her husband were barely making it financially at the time they took in Hope and her sister.
From the start, Valerie knew it would be a financial struggle to add two more to her family, but she had faith God would provide, and he did.
There were some obvious miracles, like unexpected checks in the mail. But most of the time, God’s provision was evident because the family, somehow, always had the money they needed every week.
“When the Lord puts something in your path, you don’t say, ‘Let me go home and pray about it,’ or ask questions about whether you can afford it,” Valerie says. “You build relationships, so when God asks you to step in, you’re already prepared.”
The girls didn’t merely receive the simple necessities. The Bishops supported their dancing and cheerleading throughout.
From the moment we moved in, she made clear if we needed something, she would get it for us, no matter what it took,” Hope recalls. “We didn’t want for things. We were really blessed. She would give money out of the bills she would pay, or out of grocery money, for us to do what we needed to do to succeed.”
Valerie and Nelson celebrate Hope’s high school graduation.
She couldn’t afford to go to a place to do missions, so she did missions here. - Hope
Now 19, Hope is a biology student at Clemson University, hoping to become a pediatric surgeon and medical missionary.
Hope’s mom has since recovered from her addictions and is studying for a career in human resources, hoping to specialize in counseling for people who struggle with substance abuse.
When Hope looks back, it’s not lost on her how pivotal that time in her life was. Had she stayed with her grandparents, she says it’s unlikely she would have continued to attend NewSpring, where her faith was nurtured and she discovered her call to ministry.
But most of all, she wouldn’t have experienced the power of Valerie’s modeling faith.
“She couldn’t afford to go to a place to do missions, so she did missions here,” Hope says. “We were her mission field.”
Hope says her experience also has given her the burden to be an advocate of foster care and adoption.
Someone who was so selfless to take in two girls they barely knew ... There’s no way to credit that than to the love and grace of God,” Hope says. “I have only love and gratitude for them. To think of all the things that could have happened, we were so blessed to have the outcome we received.”
WATCH: "The Miracle Seed" — How Valerie and Nelson Bishop led a farming family to Jesus.
Valerie’s love taught her a lesson about God’s love: It never hesitates.
“Valerie didn’t say, ‘I’ll think about it’. She went into immediate action,” Hope says. “As soon as you call on God, he will answer immediately.”
For her part, Valerie says she’s impressed by Hope’s maturity, joy for life and love of Jesus. She counts it all grace.
“They are where they are because they got to see family life and us be a family in front of them, and it’s truly a blessing,” Valerie says.
Valerie’s only goal was to show Hope how to depend on God for everything, through everything — that even though everybody else will let you down, when you’ve got Jesus, He is all you need.
“He allowed us to see the miracle,” Valerie says. “God was directing our path. It’s awe-inspiring to look back and say, ‘Did that really happen?’ Hope is so special. I can’t wait to see what God does next with her.”