30 years of sharing the love of Jesus - Esther Smith
As Evangelical Times celebrates its 50th anniversary, Caring For Life (CfL) is looking back over 30 years of sharing the love of Jesus, and is in awe at God’s goodness.
It was in the late 1980s that a crisis facing cities across the UK began to come to light: a huge surge in homelessness among 18-25-year-olds.
But reading about social problems in newspapers, or even seeing a homeless young person on the streets, does not have the same impact as when the social problem comes across one’s threshold and is embodied in real, deeply needy people.
Five homeless men
Peter Parkinson, then the pastor of Leeds Reformed Baptist Church, had been attending meetings in the city of Leeds, at which Christian people were discussing how to tackle the problem. But, in late 1986, five homeless young men walked into his church and sat down to take part in the service.
Scruffy, somewhat smelly, but utterly respectful, they had sought out ‘Uncle Peter’, whom some of the group had known as children in care in children’s homes, from which Esther and Wendy, two of the staff members, had brought children along to the church.
Thirty years ago, there was little or no support for children’s home leavers and these young men had quickly ended up in all manner of tragic situations, with some homeless and others living in dreadful poverty and deeply at risk.
As those men and a growing number of homeless friends began to attend the church regularly, the challenge of homelessness was no longer an issue ‘out there’. The challenge was inescapable, because the men were there Sunday by Sunday, needing love, friendship, a hot meal and someone to listen. They needed help every day, not only on Sundays. And they needed a home.
And the challenge ran far deeper. For Peter, it was embodied in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, as well as Christ’s words in Matthew 25:31- 46, and passages such as Isaiah 58.
A small group met to pray. We had absolutely no resources and the need was vast. We had no idea where our prayers would take us, but the Lord did. We had the choice to do something or nothing, but we sought to do something; and God blessed that tentative, fledgling ministry in ways beyond all we could ever ask or imagine.
The charity was registered with the name ‘Caring For Life’, reflecting that we would seek to care ‘for life’ for the vulnerable people who turned to us for help. No short-term, ‘six months and you’re out’ measures.
Four places were available in the first home, and more than 80 homeless young people asked for help. The work of CfL had begun as it meant to go on! Who could ever have imagined, or indeed thought to ask God, for the miracle after miracle which followed over the ensuing 30 years?
God took our small resources, our loaves and fishes, and blessed our stumbling, often mistaken but genuine efforts, combined with the prayers, sacrificial giving and faithful volunteering of his people, and used it all to bring glory and honour to his name.
Who could have dreamed of the homes established, the team drawn together, the incredible and inspiring Open Days with our prayer supporters, the anonymous gifts that worked miracles, and the sacrificial giving that brought some utterly amazing facilities into being?
Over the 30 years, CfL has housed several thousand people and seen hundreds come to faith in Christ. To God be all the glory!
Many supporting projects
In a nutshell, CfL provides supported housing for 16 people in its two homes, Tindall House and Wendy Margaret Home. It provides housing support for another 150+ vulnerable people living independently across the city of Leeds. And at the home of CfL, Crag House Farm, the trust provides therapeutic activities and work experience for over 100 people every week, on 16 different projects.
That ‘nutshell’ version of CfL gives you an overview, but it cannot begin to describe the heart of our ministry. Right there at the centre is the motto ‘Sharing the love of Jesus’, and this is what we seek to do day by day, week by week, and year on year.
Statistics and numbers also don’t tell the real stories, the human suffering, the dogged, relentless loving and unconditional acceptance at the heart of CfL, as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps taking the light of his love into deeply dark places.
For example, at 16, Joseph slept on park benches in Leeds. Thrown out of home, struggling with every part of life due to a learning difficulty and now abandoned, he didn’t even know how to ask for help.
Brought to CfL by a group of Christian people witnessing on the streets, Joseph ‘came home’, not only physically but also spiritually. Over many years, with much patient love and nurturing, Joseph came to know Christ as his Saviour and is now one of the most kind, prayerful and considerate gentlemen you could wish to meet, and an active member of his church.
Joseph’s Muslim upbringing means that his family will have absolutely nothing to do with him as a Christian, but he is part of the family of CfL, and he’s a member of the greatest family on earth, God’s children. Just one story; but one story at a time, one life at a time, CfL is seeing lives transformed.
Sea of need
CfL isn’t only about housing the homeless; it’s about rebuilding lives, not only homes. All around, we encounter a sea of need — literally, a tidal wave of referrals — of people who are broken, often damaged from their earliest years, by rejection, abuse and neglect. Such brokenness is not quickly or easily healed, and much of the pain never heals.
Homelessness is only the ‘presenting need’. Many of those supported by CfL have a learning difficulty, mental health issues, physical disabilities and chronic health problems, along with challenging behaviour and truly complex needs. Not all are homeless, but are in need of careful, loving support, to enable them to maintain a tenancy and avoid disaster.
Through offering consistent, unconditional love and acceptance, very gradually, CfL is able to help men and women rebuild their lives. Finding someone a safe home is a nightmare nowadays, with the acute shortage of affordable, safe housing, but even that is only the first stage in helping someone to both feel and be safe.
Walking with that person through life, helping them to gradually achieve a safe lifestyle, and being there when they mess up again, is all part of sharing the love of Jesus.
A deep privilege is being able to share the gospel with those who want to know ‘what makes us tick’, running Bible studies and seeing those events full to bursting! Then seeing lost souls come home to the Saviour, being baptised and brought into membership of a church, with a ‘forever’ home in Christ.
CfL receives no contract funding, no government money. Thanks to generous gifts by Christian trusts and companies, it has a wonderful social enterprise and seeks to earn some of its own income. But the work of CfL is built upon and relies on the sacrificial giving of the Lord’s people and their faithful, persistent prayers.
We face a world of need, a broken world; and 30 years on, society isn’t all nicely sorted out and neatly mended. In fact, there are far more people of all ages falling through the net; and at CfL we are overwhelmed by the numbers turning to us for help.
In this our 30th year, we are seeking to consolidate our work by expanding our Christian support base, by seeking to ‘grow’ young supporters — the supporters of the future — and by seeking to build more homes — a desperate need.
We need to secure regular, ongoing general giving, to help consolidate our ministry and sustain it into the future. But, in order to meet the specific challenge of buying land and building homes, we can, once again, do something or nothing.
We are throwing out a ‘30p challenge’ to any who will help us, asking people to give 30p a day throughout 2017 — amounting to £2.10 a week, ‘less than a latte’ — and to find ten other people to do the same.
We pray that God will enable us to strengthen our support base, consolidate our daily income, inspire a future generation of Christian young people, and meet specific needs such as building homes.
We covet the prayers of God’s people, as we work day in, day out to rebuild broken lives. Our trust is in the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the One who can do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine. He alone will receive all the glory.
For more information about CfL, write to Caring For Life, Crag House Farm, Crag Hill, Leeds LS167NH; ring 0113 2303600; visit www.caringforlife.co.uk; or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior pastoral administrator of CfL
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