Over Lent 2021, 40 ordinary disciples across the Diocese told their stories of how following Jesus has led them to action.
Serving communities; challenging injustice; loving their neighbour.
Here are stories from Jo, supporting asylum seekers; Stephan and Jeannine who are providing affordable accommodation for young adults; Folake who is pioneering the Mother’s Union in East London; Steve who has become an accidental campaigner for housing justice, Viv who is providing meals and communities for those who find themselves homeless; and Chris who’s working towards fairer energy for people and planet.
Day 1: Jo’s Story
“The God that I love, and worship, is one that is so deeply rooted in unconditional love, radical justice and liberation from oppression”.
Jo works with asylum seekers and refugees, supporting them emotionally and practically, providing company in what can be a really isolating time.
It’s an area she has always been passionate about. Jo comes from a migrant community, her grandparents are part of the Indian partition, therefore this is very close to her.
The community that Jo supports are predominantly LGBT asylum seekers and refugees, who are from countries of origin where it is not safe to be themselves.
Unfortunately, many still face prejudice and persecution as they navigate through the asylum system. Which is why Jo and the team at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, work to support people as they submit claims but also once their status has been gained.
“IT’S THAT ELEMENT OF: AT WHAT POINT ARE YOU VALIDATED IN YOUR RIGHT TO BE HERE? IT’S NOT AS CLEAR CUT AS JUST BEING A LEGAL SITUATION”.
Jo has always felt very called and connected to this work.
For her, she could not have worship without also having the fight for structural change and support people who are going through it.
She feels blessed to be part of a community at St James’s Piccadilly who have guided her in their unshakeable faith and love for people.
Day 2: Stephan and Jeannine’s Story
“We want to create a home for young people who need it in a time of struggle. Our motivation is to reflect something of God’s love and care we experienced and show it to others”.
8 years ago, Jeannine and Stephan founded with friends the charity Shelter Community, with the vision to create a home for young adults in which they can flourish and grow in their personal and social skills.
After many years of hard graft, a lot of prayer and support, by the grace of God their charity house is now ready. It has space for up to seven young people in housing need, where they provide a place to relax, to create and meet new friends.
They are supported by volunteers from three local churches who act as coaches for the young people and help them to reach their goals.
“We believe that we all need a “Shelter Community” in the midst of our life storms and that certain things can be best learnt in a community.
By connecting our creativity, talents and resources we can become the Shelter Community that protects and transforms lives for good”.
Their brilliant project is outlined here: https://ychlondon.org/
Day 3: Folake’s Story
“My ministry is centred on Jesus’ command to serve others.”
Folake works in her local community as a branch leader of the Mothers’ Union at St Olave’s Church, Manor House, and as area Vice President.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35, “When I was hungry you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…” have impacted the way she expresses her faith. Whether as a member of Mothers’ Union or simply as a believer of Jesus Christ she feels called to serve others.
Folake’s faith has always led her to not neglect those who have deep needs.
Through this she has been involved in many projects where she has had the opportunity to live this out: another being the Hackney Winter Night Shelter. For over 7 years, Folake organised and coordinated meals for guests as they stayed in the Church.
Every year with the Mothers’ Union at St Olave’s church she also helps present 40 bags containing various items for new mothers facing hardships.
“I believe that these kinds of acts are simple and freely given and freely received”.
Day 4: Steve’s Story
“I didn’t know I was going to be a campaigner at first; I had no idea”.
Last year, Steve was given a £13 million cladding bill.
After receiving this bill, he went to speak to his flatmates and neighbours nearby to find out that 63% of them could go bankrupt because they could not afford the bill.
For Steve, this also meant that he wouldn’t be able to practice in his career. So quickly, so much was being robbed from him because of a flammable cladding that was put on his building.
After hearing more awful stories of how these bills were affecting people, Steve joined a group with his neighbours, where they discovered the catastrophic failures of the builders and launched a campaign on twitter to get the builders to pay them the £1.3 million owed to them.
“I felt God’s need for me to get justice, I prayed all the way through this and that is when I realised: God is really blessing this work.”
After the success of this campaign, Steve felt called to fight more bills, not just locally but nationally. Doors were opened for Steve through twitter and soon he saw his campaign take influence inside the government.
Now he is working with the Church to encourage Bishops and leaders to help him fight for justice.
For Steve, his faith motivates him to keep enduring until the end because of God’s promises to him. The first time he publicly spoke out about the cladding in his building in an article, he was threatened with legal action and told to make edits to his work.
During this stressful time God placed a rainbow directly over his flats. Steve didn’t know this was happening, it was only once he went on social media after his meeting his timeline was filled with pictures of the perfect rainbow.
“God placed his rainbow directly over my tower, to show me and others He reigns supreme and can offer any protection that may be required”.
Day 5: Viv’s Story
“I believe God has given me a real heart for the homeless.”
Viv is the Community Pastor at St Barnabas Church. She works to support homeless and vulnerable adults.
Over the last 10 years, Viv has lived out her role through various projects in her local parish and in neighbouring boroughs in London.
Before lockdown in March last year, she ran a community lunch every Sunday, where she and her team would welcome up to 80 adults into the Church building providing them with a hot meal. A shower and clean clothes were supplied when requested.
“Part of this work is not just about feeding people, it is about getting alongside them to comfort and encourage them, blessing them in whatever way we can.”
For Viv, the past year has been incredibly hard. With the restrictions increasing, Viv was heartbroken knowing that all the services homeless and vulnerable adults normally had access to were shutting.
“I took it to God saying, look I want to keep these services going, I don’t know how to, and I need your help… and He just showed up spectacularly!”
Viv has been able to support her community through offering a takeaway service throughout the pandemic. By putting up a request on Facebook, people responded to her and have been keen to help her serve.
“It is exciting, it is rewarding, it’s funny, but it can also be incredibly sad at times. I always get back so much more than what I have put in, and consider it such a privilege to serve in this way.”
Day 6: Chris’s Story
“I’d love for the culture of the Church to be helping people avoid getting into debt with energy providers and living more sustainably”.
Chris is the co-chair of ‘Fair Energy UK’ and works as part of a team to help equip different churches and communities to encourage their members to switch to cheaper, fairer and greener energy suppliers.
Beginning with a conversation after church with a community organiser from Citizens UK, about how he can fight against climate change, Chris found that there was a huge overlap with unfair energy pricing and took the opportunity to set up the #FairEnergyCampaign team at St Johns Hoxton.
“It is massively inspiring to see that I am not alone and there are other people who care this much”.
Chris also set up a team at his university, King’s College London, where staff and students have joined to help him with the campaign.
“I was nervous beforehand about speaking to people about it, but I was blown away by the number of people coming to meetings. It really gives me motivation to keep going”.
Throughout this campaign, Chris has felt God teaching him that fighting for justice is an important aspect of following Jesus.
“I really believe that the Bible teaches us to have a good relationship with the planet. We should be looking after the planet in a way that looks after people.
Through this campaign I have seen that the energy industry is failing on both of those accounts”.
The exploitation of the poorest people across the world and in the UK by the energy industry motivates Chris to work alongside communities to seek justice.