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.
This week we’ll hear stories of Kailean, who transformed a rubbish dump into a community nature reserve; Mel whose compassion for those on the streets has lead to night time outreach; Claire, Stephen and Stuart, who together have partnered to serve struggling families in Enfield with thousands of hot meals; Veronica whose own experience of living on low income has given her skills and heart to help others; Daphine, who’s spent 10 years responding practically and prophetically to the rising need for foodbanks; and Joe and Julie, welcoming those in their community who are seeking asylum with boxes and friendship.
Day 25: Kailean’s Story
“We wanted to transform this place for God’ glory. We want to show an example and set it as a demonstration of his love and care for the natural environment and community”.
Kailean and his wife had been involved in serving as CMS partners, seconded to A Rocha UK, based in West London, Southall. They are involved in creation care ministry in Southall & Hayes. In partnership with the local churches, they run a community project called Wolf Fields Nature Reserve.
“Southall is known to be a really deprived area; it’s very multicultural but caring for the environment is not seen as the main agenda. So many areas of land are lying derelict.”
They started by forming friendships through creating a community garden back in 2010.
Then 6 years ago, as they were praying about what next, they came across a patch of about three acres of derelict wasteland.
“Initially, we felt intimated by it: there were five or six people taking drugs on it, and just a huge pile of rubbish. My wife said: maybe God’s telling us something. So we prayed that day.”
They approached local churches and A Rocha UK with their vision- to take this patch of land and turn it into a nature reserve.
Daunted by whether it was possible, they continued to pray: doors started opening, with local churches, with A Rocha and the council. Generous donations started to follow meaning they could start the work.
“We took out 54 tonnes of rubbish. We started transforming it. It was a lot of work, but now we have a beautiful multipurpose space.
There’s a multi-sensory garden for the blind, fruit orchards, allotment, a story telling area, wildlife pond and beehives; we are still working with an art project and raised bed disability project- there are lots of elements.”
The area has become a haven for so many. Many local churches of all denominations meet there for reflection and prayer, as well as local forest schools; and community groups.
The site is now recognised as a social prescribing site by the NHS- especially those who are disabled, they can come.
“We sit together, we talk, and we share. Everyone feels comfortable to come- a neutral place where you can openly discuss about your faith, maybe those who wouldn’t feel comfortable in a church.”
Kailean has also encouraged interfaith relationship building through the work in Southall. Southall’s rich multi-faith community all meet and use the space.
He has formed deep friendships with Muslim, Sikhs, Hindu and Buddhist friends, are all excited to see the work of ongoing conservation.
He says that God’s wisdom has guided him through in how to be honest and deal with people.
“As a Christian, we first need to act, to sow, to demonstrate to people what we believe.
Jesus was everywhere, he was active, out in the world: on boats, up mountains. That really motivates me. Not just to go into the doors of church but to go out, into the world, and proclaim the Good News.”
Day 26: Mel’s Story
“Jesus blessed me with a son and saved me from that terrible place”.
Mel runs a homeless outreach programme with her church All Hallows Bow.
For the past year she has worked in a team to collect donations from the congregation of essential items such as food, clothes and blankets and go on monthly walks around east London in the evening, giving and engaging with homeless people.
The team often start walking from 7:30pm and have sometimes finished at 1am. Walking across Bow, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel through to Liverpool street.
“A highlight for me is being able to pray with people. They will often thank me, saying how much nicer they feel after we pray but I tell them, that’s just how Jesus makes them feel!”
Mel’s faith motivates her to love and serve the homeless community. She was saved from a drug addition and has seen Jesus transform her life.
Day 27: Stuart, Clare & Stephen’s Story
“When we first went into lockdown, I put a post out on a local Facebook group asking if people could help me cook.
In 24 hours we had 400 meals and within 10 days we were doing 1000 meals every week.”
Clare is a part time teacher who set up a community project called ‘Cooking Champions’.
It started small in September 2018 with a monthly community cooking event and delivering workshops in schools.
However when Covid hit, it catapulted her and her organisation into a huge operation of emergency food provision.
With the Felix project, other organisations and members of the community giving the food, she now has 50 volunteers cooking and delivering meals to people in the local community.
“It’s difficult to define as a group who we serve. It could be families who have lost a loved one or who are going through financial hardship, among others.
We have parents saying they eat every other day to make sure their children have food and older people being very upset because they can’t eat.
Until then I had no idea of the scale of struggling there is in our community.”
Cooking Champions grew rapidly –but was struggling to find anywhere stable to operate out of.
Thanks to local partnerships through ‘Love Your Doorstep’ in Enfield, St Peter’s Church Grange Park was able to step in and offer their hall and part of their church building.
For the church, this has provided them with a practical way to support the community. Stuart, the church warden has been instrumental in making the space available.
“Cooking Champions arrived at a time when we were thinking and praying about how we loved our neighbour in the current environment, with the growing needs we saw in our community.
So when Father Stephen introduced the idea of Cooking Champions using the hall and a room in our church, the people of St Peter’s were ready, and could say ‘fantastic, yes let’s provide that facility.’ ”
The church offers support and management of the buildings, allowing Clare’s team to get on and do the serving. It’s been a beautiful partnership that both church and Clare are keen to see continue.
“I’m so incredibly grateful for how generous and how supportive St Peter’s have been.”
Father Stephen reflects on how it’s helped them think more about their faith.
“We say to Clare: ‘our building is your home’. Our buildings belong to the whole community. This has had a transformative impact on how we as Christians love others in a practical way.”
Clare is now planning to work with St Peter’s in various ways, including to perhaps create a job agency, giving people on-going support after the Covid pandemic. Stuart hopes to help with mentoring.
“Post lockdown life will be challenging in various ways for people in the community and we are keen to continue to support them.
It is a long term commitment: we’ve got loads of future ideas of how we can continue to partner with Cooking Champions for a long time to come.”
Father Stephen also sees the impact:
“Clare and the whole Cooking Champions team have really captured the imagination and love not just of the church congregation but also of many local people.
People I meet on the street say “it’s so amazing that Cooking Champions are based in your church”.
Day 28: Veronica’s Story
“Every skill I have is being used; it’s being tested and enlarged.”
Veronica is the treasurer and administrator for the Parish of St Barnabas Homerton. She helps people struggling financially, offering support through money courses and budget training.
She works alongside her Vicar, after he took the novel step of running an abridged CAP Money Course for the whole congregation over three Sunday services.
A workshop on Universal Credit run by Capital Mass (now Compassionate Communities) alerted them to the pastoral needs this created.
“My faith has been an absolute rock, to say the very least.”
Veronica has experienced unemployment and, in the past, has faced living on very little. During that time in her life, people in her parish prayed for her and she could feel God’s love through them as she endured the difficult season.
She now hopes to share this love with the people she encounters in her role as she helps them.
You can find out more about the way St Barnabas used the CAP Money Course in their church services by watching this video.
Day 29: Daphine’s Story
“Originally it was all about feeding the hungry – that was my simple aim. I hate the idea of hunger, and I couldn’t bear the idea of children in particular going to bed hungry.”
Believing that it’s everyone’s basic right to be able to eat properly and healthily, Daphine set up the Hammersmith & Fulham Foodbank in June 2010. Over time, Daphine heard the tragic stories behind people’s need to use the Foodbank – including debt, benefit issues, family breakdown and mental health issues.
“My mind moved from simply ensuring people are fed to identifying, understanding and addressing the root causes.”
Realising they could help with some of those fundamental issues, Daphine’s team started bringing in external advice partners – including Citizen’s Advice workers and solicitors – and operating holiday clubs, therapeutic art sessions and a café drop-in.
One of their most successful schemes was running a cooking and budgeting course:
“Participants reported that they were saving £15-£20 per week on their food shopping bill. Which is huge when you’re on a low income.”
In the financial year 2019-2020, the Foodbank fed just under 12000 people – that’s 120,000 meals.
Then in March 2020, when the country locked down suddenly, they became completely overwhelmed with people queuing daily at the drop-in centre’s doors.
They couldn’t allow clients into the building so moved rapidly to doing food deliveries, with the council providing additional resources including drivers. In the past 11 months they’ve fed over 40,000 people – equating to just over 2000 tonnes of food.
“As we cannot run the café, we are also making welfare calls, because those conversations and connections are as important emotionally as the food parcels are physically.”
Daphine feels strongly that we should be campaigning to alleviate poverty completely so everyone can pay for the basics that they need, including food, fuel and rent.
“My sense of injustice has grown. It’s not right. But I just remember that each individual is unique and loved and precious. I try and see people as Jesus sees them. My faith is the bedrock of what I do.”
Day 30: Joe & Julie’s Story
“What we offer people is simple; we visit refugees and asylum seekers in their homes.
We bring along a box of practical items. And we seek to build friendship and help them grow as part of the community.”
Reverend Julie Khovacs is the Priest Missioner at St Peter’s Church Eaton Square.
Five years ago she began a befriending ministry with refugees & asylum seekers in London. Their scheme is associated with Welcome Boxes, which is part of Welcome Churches, a national ministry. They also receive referrals from Housing Justice.
Julie and her team of volunteers meet people in their homes (when possible) or outside/in a café and provide a box of practical items, e.g. clothes, phones, food and toiletries – items that will help settle them into their temporary accommodation.
Over time their ministry has developed and now their pivotal activities include parties in the church and Julie’s home, plus picnics and other social events.
“These gatherings have brought together refugees and asylum seekers from around the world, and the support they can provide each other is invaluable.”
Over the past year during lockdown, the ministry has had to adapt, but the team of volunteers are continuing to connect with people on the phone, and are offering practical help where possible.
Joe is the Pastoral Assistant at St Peter’s and volunteers as a befriender on Julie’s team.
For Joe, the mission of this project is very important as a Christian.