This year has felt a lot like wading through treacle. Last Christmas we could never have imagined not being able to see family, enjoy an evening out, not even being able to go to church! Our world has changed. This disruption has taken its toll – it is physically and mentally draining. And of course our hearts go out to all who have experienced the loss of a loved one during this time.
In this season we're left to imagine what our lives would be like if there was always such uncertainty and disruption – to imagine how we’d cope if we, or our loved ones, were constantly at risk of harm or if we had no permanent home and no idea where our next meal was coming from. Or what it is like to be alone and lonely in a world of seven billion people, or to constantly struggle with mental health. This is the reality for many of the people we work alongside.
Whilst many activities have been put on pause due to the pandemic, the work on the new community garden, emerging from a piece of derelict land in Glencairn, has continued. Through this, our North Belfast Centre of Mission are able to keep connecting with local people like George, Peter and Cara.
Stephen Whitten (Pioneer Evangelist) shares George's* story:
"I was at our community garden unloading flag stones for our soon to be built shelter. George, a guy from the estate who I have got to know over the last few months, came down for a chat. He has been struggling with lockdown isolation and shared how he was seriously considering suicide and had the rope ready in his garage.
He wasn't emotional or dramatic at all just very matter of fact about it, two of his nephews died by suicide a few years ago and it is tragic just how normal a thing it can seem for people in this area.
After chatting I was able to pray for him and he brightened and said he felt a peace and a warmth as we prayed.”
Peter* is another man Stephen knows through the centre of mission.
“Peter is a widower who lives alone but loves to have lots of social contact. He has had struggles with his mental health in the past and would be vulnerable to depression. When lockdown started in March it was a real struggle.
After a few weeks of lockdown Karen (Lead Evangelist) and I were able to open our Base and Peter started to call in each day and has been down virtually every day since. He has said on numerous occasions that he doesn't think he would have survived without having his visits to look forward to. He says it’s the highlight of his day!”
Church Army Evangelist Karen works with Stephen. She's known Cara* for a few years:
Cara has suffered for several years with her mental health after her husband left her and her adult children stopped visiting. And then last Christmas, Cara's mum died.
Karen and Stephen were seeing Cara infrequently and two months ago she shared that she'd tried to end her life and ended up in hospital. In that lonely moment, life hadn't seemed worth living.
Cara now comes to the Base at least three times a week to help sort donations for Baby Basics. It's a great help but more importantly, as she told Karen: "It keeps me busy and means I don't stay in bed getting low."
Of course, Stephen and Karen’s support for George, Peter and Cara includes signposting them to receive additional professional support, where appropriate. Maybe this year more than any other we can all empathise with people like George and Peter. Maybe you’ve struggled too.
Imagine a world where everyone knows they are loved and have value.
Imagine a world where as one person reaches out for help another hand is outstretched to meet the need.
Imagine a world where people want to live because they have found out the very reason why they are alive in the first place; where they have found meaning and hope and a reason to put that rope away for good.
Stephen's hope for the community garden where he met George is for it to be a place where people come to know Jesus. "Whether they have poor mental health, a sense of isolation or old religion, this is about creating a beautiful space – reclaiming an area that was a drinking den and claiming it as spiritual ground. That’s the heart of it, people coming together in the context of nature and discovering Jesus - the Creator of it all - and a lifelong faith journey."
We believe that’s what God wants to do in each of us, to uproot what has not been fruitful in our lives, heal our wounds and make us beautiful on the inside and reflect His love to a world which desperately needs to know there’s hope and a reason to live.
That’s a world worth investing in. Can you imagine?
Your gift today will help us to provide practical, emotional and spiritual restoration to people like George, Peter and Cara this Christmas and beyond. Every penny counts.
This is more than just another appeal for money; it’s an opportunity invest in a life, to make a lasting difference, to change someone’s story. Please give what you can.**
We so appreciate your support and please know that we are grateful for you and are praying for you. May you know the joy of the Lord this Christmas and throughout 2021.
Find our more about how our centres of mission have been supporting those in need by watching our COVID-19 Diaries
P.S. You can also donate by text:***
To donate £1, text RESTORE to 70201
To donate £3, text RESTORE to 70331
To donate £5, text RESTORE to 70970
To donate £10, text RESTORE to 70191
* names changed
** 100% of your donation supports our frontline work (general funds)
*** 100% of your donation supports our frontline work (general funds). Fundraising, payments and donations will be processed and administered by the National Funding Scheme, operating as DONATE, a charity registered in England and Wales (1149800) and Scotland (SC045106). In addition to any text donation, you will incur your standard network message charge (based on your service provider rates). For Terms & Conditions, see www.easydonate.org