Last Christmas was the first time Johnnie had ever walked into a church. He came along to a Christmas service before spending the day at Crag House Farm, the home of ‘Caring For Life’.
Last Christmas, this was Johnnie’s story: brought up in care, in numerous foster homes, he was desperate to have a ‘normal’ life, to get a job, a home of his own and one day to be married. Soon after leaving care and while living in a temporary hostel, Johnnie was approached outside the local job centre by two men who offered him a job and somewhere to stay. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. For the next 11 years he was held captive, under what is called the modern day ‘slave trade’. Slave labour
Beaten up regularly to toughen him up; kept in cold and appalling conditions; fed the bare minimum and threatened if he ever tried to leave the community that had enslaved him, he was forced to work extremely hard for no pay. He was taken all over the UK and even abroad; he was essentially slave labour. When Johnnie managed to escape, he was quickly tracked down again and no one knew why he kept disappearing. Last Christmas, he had broken free and was living in a hostel, being supported by Caring For Life (CFL), a Christian charity based in Leeds. CFL provides supported homes, housing support in the community and a range of therapeutic daytime activity projects for homeless, vulnerable and deeply lonely people. Johnnie was desperately thin last Christmas. His face looked haunted and he couldn’t trust anyone. We didn’t know the ‘back story’ and Johnnie didn’t tell anyone his story for another seven months. But he loved being in church that Christmas Day and ate a really good Christmas lunch at Crag House Farm — a traditional, beautifully served meal, with cordon bleu desserts! At the end of the day he took home a hamper full of goodies and had received several gifts, all of which made him feel loved, although he couldn’t yet trust. Continued support
CFL’s support continued — because Caring For Life is for every day, not only Christmas Day. It is ‘for life’. Each week Johnnie was visited, though he sometimes disappeared and we now know why. His health was poor, though, again, we didn’t know the back story. That is nearly a year ago, but this coming Christmas will be very different for Johnnie. He now has a home of his own, his first ever home since leaving care. Johnnie comes to CFL every weekday to take part in various project activities. His face is gradually losing the haunted and hunted look and he often smiles and jokes. His significant health issues are being addressed; he is engaged to be married, and has a whole new family at Caring For Life. Having come along to church for the first time ever last Christmas, he now comes along every Sunday with his fiancée, and they both attend Bible studies at CFL. We earnestly pray that Johnnie will be kept safe from those who would enslave him once more, and we pray that he will understand for himself what John 8:36 says, ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’. Johnnie is just one of the people whom CFL loves so dearly. And he is just one of those for whom we have to make all the difference this Christmas. For people who have never known a happy family life, it is torturous to watch all the images which flood our television screens at this time of the year. Deprived
The vast majority of the ladies and gentlemen who CFL supports have never known what it is to hang a sock up by the fireside and come downstairs to find it filled with goodies. As children, they didn’t wonder what they would get for Christmas; they wondered if they would get anything. They didn’t sit round a table laden with food, and they didn’t cuddle up in front of a warm fire or in a cosy lounge with a Christmas tree. Watching these images on the TV — and it’s impossible to escape them — is for them like staring through a shop window at goods you can never afford, things which will never belong to you. This Christmas, CFL will be packing up and distributing over 150 Christmas food hampers, wrapping several hundred presents and lovingly giving them to people who would not otherwise have a single gift or Christmas card. Christmas morning
On Christmas morning, the day will start extremely early, as staff and volunteers travel across the city of Leeds to pick up ladies and gentlemen who would otherwise spend Christmas Day alone, probably cold and quite likely hungry. But they won’t be alone, they won’t be cold and there is no chance they will go hungry! In addition to all of these tangible, touchable expressions of genuine love and compassion, they will all hear about the One who left all the glory of heaven to come into our desperately broken world, to bring the love of God in a tangible way to those who were utterly lost without him. At Caring For Life we are following in the footsteps of Jesus, sharing his love in a way which can actually be felt, heard and experienced, as we speak of Jesus day by day by life and lip. Esther Smith Caring For Life receives no government funding and has no contracts. It relies on the support of individuals and churches and the prayers that accompany these gifts. CFL also seeks to raise self-generated income through a series of social enterprises based at Crag House Farm. Caring For Life, Crag House Farm, Crag Hill, Leeds, LS16 77NH (Tel 0113 2303600; www caringforlife.co.uk).