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.

Week 3

We’ll hear from Debbie, offering people support out of the dark hole of debt; Peter who has given his retirement to set up a legal advice centre in his church; Olivia who from a young age has felt called to tackle Modern Slavery; Father Sam offering whole-community care and love to local gang-affiliated teenagers and families; Jemima who’s been cooking meals for those who were homeless during the pandemic; and Jan who’s been part of setting up a social enterprise and mentoring scheme for young people to get into work.

Day 13: Debbie’s Story

“THROUGH A SERIES OF EVENTS, GOD JUST ASKED ME TO GET OUT OF THE BOAT AND WALK ON THE WATER”.

Debbie is a Christian Against Poverty (CAP) debt centre manager at her church, St Gabriel’s in Cricklewood. She offers a free service to help people find routes and ways to become debt free.

Before she began serving in her role at CAP, she worked in financial services. Debbie worked in this industry from the age of 18 and after 32 years in banking she felt God calling her to leave her role.

“YOU CAN IMAGINE AFTER SUCH A LONG CAREER PEOPLE WERE SAYING TO ME WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO NOW?

AND I SAID, I DON’T KNOW, I’M JUST GOING TO LEAVE IT TO GOD AND I JUST HAD AN IMMENSE FEELING OF PEACE THAT GOD HAS GOT THIS”.

Debbie is now in her third year at CAP at her church, where she lives out her faith walking alongside people to bring hope into what can be an isolating experience.

“I THINK THE UNIQUENESS WITH CHRISTIANS AGAINST POVERTY IS THAT (OUTSIDE THE PANDEMIC) WE WOULD BE WALKING INTO PEOPLE’S HOUSES. SO WE FEEL LIKE WE ARE LITERALLY BRINGING GOD’S LIGHT INTO THEIR HOMES.

WHILST THE SERVICE IS CURRENTLY BEING OFFERED REMOTELY, WE STILL BRING HOPE AND LIGHT TO THE LIVES OF OUR CLIENTS”.

Debbie has found it humbling that God has chosen her to do this role, one that embraces her experiences and everything she believes in.

For more information about the work of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and how they partner with churches to offer free debt advice and much more, click here

Day 14:“Peter’s Story

WHEN I RETIRED, I ASKED THE VICAR IF I COULD CREATE A JOB FOR MYSELF.

IT’S CALLED THE ST JAMES CHURCH LEGAL ADVICE CENTRE”.

Throughout his life Peter worked as a lawyer, mainly in the public service and privately as a barrister.

And now for the past 20 years he has run a free legal advice service at St James Church which has served thousands of people in the local parish.

“BASICALLY, IT’S A PROBLEM-SOLVING SERVICE: I OFFER ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE ON THE KIND OF LEGAL DIFFICULTIES PEOPLE RUN INTO LIKE COUNCIL TAX, RENT ARREARS AND EMPLOYMENT ISSUES”.

Over the years Peter has helped a diverse range of people which he has found uplifting.

“ONE THING I NOTICED IS THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE HELPED ARE SO GRATEFUL!

I HAVE RECEIVED LETTERS THIS CHRISTMAS THAT WOULD BRING TEARS TO YOUR EYES.

PEOPLE HAVE SAID HOW THEIR LIVES HAVE BEEN TURNED AROUND JUST BY THE VERY SIMPLEST KIND OF ASSISTANCE I HAVE GIVEN. IT’S REWARDING.”

Initially starting this as a retirement exercise, Peter has been able to provide a valuable service to the community, which includes calling DWP to account for bad decisions and working with local councils to correct errors which have affected many people.

You can find out more about Peter’s legal advice centre in a film we made with him in 2016, here.

Day 15: Olivia’s Story

“I HAD A PICTURE FROM GOD WHEN I WAS ABOUT 8 YEARS OLD OF ME IN A SLUM WITH CHILDREN RUNNING AROUND AND A PICTURE OF THE INDIAN FLAG”.

Olivia has worked with different charities to help fight against Modern Slavery. She has been involved in running a safe house for women and children and working on an employability programme for survivors.

“I THINK IT WAS PUT ON MY HEART FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE, ALTHOUGH I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I WOULD BE CALLED TO DO”

Through a series of events, she connected with a charity in Kolkata who worked in the red-light district in the largest brothel in India.

“WHEN I FIRST SAW IT, I REALISED I FELT SO PASSIONATE AND ANGRY. IT BECAME CLEAR THAT THIS WAS WHAT THE PICTURE WAS ALL ABOUT”.

On a gap year out from University, Olivia volunteered in Kolkata for three months, working in a brothel, teaching English to children.

She also helped run an after school club for the children in the brothel and a church for the women who lived there.

Olivia has continued to fight against Modern Slavery in the UK.

She is now volunteering with the Diocese of London, to raise awareness in churches of the issues of Modern Slavery here in the capital, and how churches can respond.

For her it’s been a tough but also fulfilling journey.

“IT ALL GOES BACK TO THE VERSE IN ISAIAH 61 ABOUT SETTING THE CAPTIVES FREE AND PROCLAIMING FREEDOM. THESE VERSES HAVE STAYED WITH ME ALL THE WAY THROUGH”.

Olivia is one of those who have committed to taking part in our upcoming “Hidden Voices” training, helping us understand and raise awareness of the issue of Modern Slavery among us.

If you are interested in finding out more about this 4 part training, held on Zoom, in April, May and June, please get in touch with us here, or register your place here!

Day 16: Father Sam’s Story

“IN MY CHURCH PEOPLE CALL ME FATHER, AND ALTHOUGH THAT’S A SPIRITUAL THING, IT COMES WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY OF BEING A FATHER TO THE PARISH’S CHILDREN”.

In 2019, when London saw a rise in deaths from knife crime, Fr Sam and his congregation at St Thomas’s, Kensal Town, began working on various projects to reach those most vulnerable to knife violence in their community.

“OUR FIRST RESPONSE WAS TO ENSURE THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WHO HAD DIED DUE TO KNIFE CRIME ANYWHERE IN THE COUNTRY WERE MARKED AND REMEMBERED”.

Throughout the year they added names of victims of knife violence underneath the 14 stations of the cross and spent time in prayer.

“FOLLOWING THAT, WE PARTNERED WITH WORD FOR WEAPONS, THE KNIFE AMNESTY CHARITY, AND HAD A KNIFE BIN INSTALLED OUTSIDE THE CHURCH”.

The church is on a gang border, so having their own knife bin has helped prevent unnecessary crossover.

“WE ALSO REALISED WITH OUR CHURCH SCHOOL AND OTHER CONNECTIONS IN THE AREA WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRY AND PREVENT THE NEXT GENERATION FROM BEING INVOLVED IN KNIFE CRIME BY PROVIDING STABILITY”.

With after school hours being a key time for young people to be groomed into gang culture, the church provides an afterschool club.

IT’S CALLED ‘STYLE’ (ST THOMAS YOUTH LOVED EVERYDAY) BECAUSE WE WANT TO REMIND YOUNG PEOPLE THAT THEY ARE IMPORTANT AND LOVED.

NOT JUST BY THEIR IMMEDIATE FAMILY BUT BY THE COMMUNITY TOO”.

St Thomas will also be re-establishing their scout group for older children in the community.

“UNIFORM GROUPS HAVE A BIG PART TO PLAY IN PROVIDING SELF-WORTH AND TEACHING YOUNG PEOPLE SKILLS, GIVING THEM A SENSE OF ORDER AND DISCIPLINE”.

Fr Sam was a scout leader when he was younger and is keen to see it return for this generation.

“OUR APPROACH IS BASED ON LOVE; WE WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THEY ARE SIGNIFICANT, THEY ARE WORTH A HUGE AMOUNT TO THE ONE WHO CREATED THEM AND THAT WE ARE GOING TO HELP THEM LIVE LIFE IN A FULFILLED WAY”.

The Diocese of London Lent Appeal this year is Tackling Youth Violence.

If your parish is interested in resources created for this appeal, you can find more information on the Diocese of London website here. Bishop Joanne has recorded a sermon on this topic for use with parishes here.

Day 17: Jemima’s Story

“AS A YOUNG PERSON IT’S BEEN ENCOURAGING TO BE PART OF THE NATIONAL EFFORT TO HELP PEOPLE DURING COVID-19”.

Throughout lockdown, Jemima has helped cook food and prepare takeaway meals for homeless people at her local church, St Simon’s in Shepherds Bush.

She started volunteering at St Simon’s Winter Night Shelter, run in partnership with Glass Door, as part of her Duke of Edinburgh training, and really enjoyed it. Since then, she has helped weekly on the team in the kitchen for 4 years.

In March, when the Night Shelter would usually be coming to an end, everything changed.

Instead of providing sleeping accommodation, a hot meal and some companionship, the church offered instead to cook hot nutritious meals, which then got taken to Covid-secure accommodation locally.

Jemima was one of a small team that continued to cook, weekly on Thursday, in the church kitchens.

“IT FEELS AMAZING TO DO SOMETHING THAT IS SO IMMEDIATE AND LOCAL. I SEE A REAL NEED FOR THIS IN THE COMMUNITY, AND I CAN ACTUALLY HELP TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT”.

Jemima’s faith has motivated her to have compassion for people as she volunteers.

Knowing that Jesus died for her even though she did not deserve it, encourages her to love others sacrificially.

“IT HAS CHALLENGED ME TO LIVE MORE LIKE HOW JESUS HAS CALLED US TO LIVE: NOT FOR OURSELVES BECAUSE OUR LIFE IS NOT FOR US”.

Day 18: Jan’s Story

“GOD HAS ALWAYS PROVIDED FOR ME AND MY FAMILY AND IT JUST FELT LIKE HE WAS NUDGING ME TO DO SOMETHING FOR OTHER PEOPLE”.

Jan has helped set up the Enterprise Programme for young people within ‘Hope North London’ which seeks to benefit the community of the Strawberry Vale estate in Barnet.

The programme combines discipleship and mentoring with various life skills inputs.

Hope North London has since partnered with St Barnabas North Finchley to deliver the first business within the Enterprise Programme: “Hope Cafe”.

The café opened on 9th September 2020. The young people on the programme have the opportunity to practice cooking skills and coffee making.

All the food in the café is freshly made, so they also spend time baking and making homemade soups.

When it re-opens, you can support Hope Cafe by buying coffee and lunches there! It’s inside Solar House, 913 High Rd, North Finchley, London N12 8QJ

“THE IDEA INITIALLY CAME FROM CONVERSATIONS AT CHURCH@FIVE - A CHURCH PLANT FROM ST BARNABAS, WHO MEET ON STRAWBERRY VALE, AND LATER WITH HOPE NORTH LONDON.”

Hope North London has since partnered with St Barnabas North Finchley to deliver the first business within the Enterprise Programme: “Hope Cafe”.

The café opened on 9th September 2020. The young people on the programme have the opportunity to practice cooking skills and coffee making.

All the food in the café is freshly made, so they also spend time baking and making homemade soups.

“THE YOUNG PEOPLE GET TO WORK TOGETHER, WHILST LEARNING MORE ABOUT JESUS AND HOW HE CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON THEIR LIVES”.

Unfortunately, with lockdown restrictions the café has had to close temporarily.

Jan has been able to put the staff on furlough, and as team they all are looking forward to re-opening.

“VARIOUS THINGS HAVE SLOWED US DOWN, BUT GOD HAS BEEN THERE HELPING US NOT GIVE UP AND ENCOURAGING US”.

When it re-opens, you can support Hope Cafe by buying coffee and lunches there! It’s inside Solar House, 913 High Rd, North Finchley, London N12 8QJ