‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned’.
This beautiful verse, from chapter 9 of Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecy, is set within a wonderful passage often read at Christmas. It describes the coming of the Messiah. The Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 9, expands the theme: ‘The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world’.
At Caring For Life (www.caringforlife.co.uk) in Leeds, we spend each day seeking to reach people who live in utter darkness, both physical and spiritual. Yet we are seeing the light of Christ dawning in the lives of some deeply broken people.
This is going to be an especially joyful Christmas for some of those we support, because it will be their first Christmas since coming to know Christ.
Homeless young people
Caring For Life (CFL) was established in 1987 as a specifically Christian charity, providing homes and support for homeless young people. No one then could have imagined the need would be far greater 31 years on, and that people of all ages would be turning to us for help.
The housing crisis has deepened and there is much less support available for those at risk. With people from all walks of life affected by the lack of affordable housing, pressures on the NHS, and austerity cuts, most folks are understandably focused on ‘looking after their own’. CFL seeks to share the love of Jesus with those who have no one to belong to. Few are safely wrapped up in any sort of family unit or community.
For example, Jacob, a gentleman in his 50s, said to us, ‘When I go home to my flat and close the door, I just weep. I’m so lonely’. CFL is helping Jacob move into accommodation where he will have support and company. He cannot believe that we will stay involved with him over the long-term.
Jacob is now attending the therapeutic art and drama projects at Crag House Farm, where CFL is based, and revels in these activities, asking if he can come every day. He has also started coming along to the Tuesday Bible study group that meets on alternate weeks at CFL, open to anyone who comes to the daytime projects.
Around 15 now attend this study regularly. After a recent session he said, ‘I’m very quiet. I don’t say much. But God knows me inside out, doesn’t he? He knows what’s on my mind’. We assured him that God does.
Charmain attends the same Bible study group. She too is finding life lonely, but Charmain now reads her Bible every day and loves to share with her CFL literacy tutor what she has learned.
After one Bible study she asked, ‘Does God really care about me when I’m upset and crying?’ It was a sad question, but one that was an utter joy for our staff member to answer.
The same lady shared this with CFL’s benefits support worker, ‘All my life I’ve been lonely, felt unloved and unwanted. I’ve always wanted a boyfriend or something to make me not feel lonely any more. But you know what, I’m never going to be lonely again, because I have Jesus’.
It is such a joy for us when we see a person come to faith in Christ. CFL helps people, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, or whatever their background. We share the love of Jesus day by day in the most practical of ways, and it is a privilege when people ask us what makes us tick, what Christianity is all about.
Love is shared unconditionally and compassionately, whether or not a person shows spiritual interest. But the Lord is also often at work in ways of which we are unaware.
James, for example, became very poorly after receiving a form to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The whole process terrified him and he took a serious overdose, ending up in hospital.
After he was discharged, CFL’s benefits support worker met up with James to try to talk him gently through the paperwork. He became increasingly frustrated because he couldn’t remember the information he wanted to convey. James’ memory is affected by the amount of medication he is on.
Seeking to distract him from increasing anxiety and frustration, she asked James to tell her the last thing he did remember. James responded by recounting the entire story of the prodigal son — word for word! They had looked at this story in the ‘Being There’ Bible study a whole month earlier.
The ‘Being There’ team at CFL provides housing support to vulnerable people struggling to live independently in the community. The monthly Bible study they offer to any they support now has 24 people attending.
One lady has been coming along for some time, and recently began to read the Bible and expressed faith in Christ. She shared the joy of reading the Bible, and her eyes lit up as she spoke: ‘You’ll never believe this! I read my Bible yesterday. I was reading Romans. God helped me understand loads through it. I read the same bit again today and God showed me new things. It’s amazing!’
CFL encounters people living in deep darkness. Our ‘Being There’ housing support team manager described how they find new people referred to CFL living in terrible circumstances.
They may have a roof over their head (though not all do), but many are unable to work due to poor physical or mental ill health, yet have lost all their benefits due to being unable to read letters or cope with application forms and assessments.
Some are literally hungry. Some are found living with no furniture at all, no heating and no means of cooking food, having just a kettle. Others are constantly preyed on by neighbours who take all or most of their money from them.
They are deeply isolated, having never known the comfort of a loving parent, the security of a safe home or safe friends. They live in deep darkness, with spiralling anxiety, worsening mental health and suicidal thoughts. Just knowing that they now have a safe friend in their CFL support worker shines light into their world.
Few can believe that we will stick with them, and it takes months, if not years, for trust to be built up. Most ask why we do what we do, and it is a privilege to then explain that we are sharing the love of Jesus, who has rescued us.
Christmas is always a special time at CFL — and exhausting! It’s a complete whirlwind of activity, as we plan lunches and parties; gather and wrap presents for everyone we care for, including the 22 children in vulnerable families we support; pack up 140 or so Christmas hampers; and make all the arrangements for Christmas Day, when folks who would otherwise be alone will spend the day with us.
But this Christmas will be extra special for those in our care who have recently come to know Christ. He will be at the heart of their Christmas for the first time ever. More are seeking. Please pray with us that the light of Jesus Christ will dawn in their hearts and minds, and that they will come to know him.
Senior pastoral administrator of Caring For Life
CFL (registered charity, 1174982) has no government funding or contracts, and its main source of income is from Christians. Please join us in sharing the love of Jesus: become a supporter and tell your church and Christian friends about us. If you would like to text a donation to CFL, you can text 70070 with the following ‘CFLD01 £10’. This would give a £10 donation. If you wish to make a smaller donation, change the £10 to the amount you wish to give. Thank you — and Happy Christmas!