The work of CAP: Christians Against Poverty
This talk was given by Ruth Millard on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
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Ruth: Now, I wonder, what did you learn? What have you learned in lockdown? What if you learned something profound without even realizing it? That’s what I want to talk about today. My name’s Ruth, as Paul said, and I’ve been working for seven years with Christians Against Poverty or CAP and Paul helped me in some of that. I’m just so grateful that I’ve been invited here to Main Street.
I want to start by looking at the very start of Jesus’ ministry 2000 years ago. To set the scene, he’s just been baptized by John, the Holy Spirit has descended on him like a dove and the voice of God has spoken audibly to the gathered crowds. As we read, there’s this sense of expectation. Jesus is about to start his ministry, healing people, and putting the world to rights. But then, in Luke 4, it says, “Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where for 40 days, he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and at the end of them, he was hungry.” We can be so used to this passage that we forget it’s a rather strange start to His ministry. Jesus is isolated, hungry, vulnerable. As you read it, you can think, “What is going on here? What else is happening? What was there to be gained by this isolated wilderness?”
I wonder how this time in lockdown has felt for you, does isolated wilderness resonate at all, perhaps? Perhaps you deeply miss family and friends, and even maybe still missing them, longing to contact them and give the hug to your grandchildren or your contact with your friends that you haven’t seen for a long time. Perhaps even now you feel powerless. What can we do with what is out of control? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Perhaps you have even lost someone who you love.
When we go through hard times, we often wonder does anyone really understand how I feel? Is there anyone who really gets it? Perhaps that’s why Jesus spent time in the wilderness because when I read this account, I see a God who gets it. He wasn’t just content to know suffering in the sense that He created us, He created emotions, He created the world, but He was wanting to experience it Himself in Jesus. Here in the wilderness, we see Jesus experiencing isolation, hunger, temptation, the full human experience. We see it in his life all the way to the cross. One of the songs we’ve just sung read, “The Messiah still and all alone,” talking about Jesus in the tomb and that just resonated. Because he knows what it is to be human, the God of the universe can empathize with us.
Now during lockdown, I’ve been doing Alpha and one of my non-Christian clients, she’s been doing Alpha. We were talking about how the father felt when the son returned, the prodigal son returned, and she used the words, “He understood, the father understood.” I saw the story in a completely different light. Empathy is really profound and powerful, but what has that got to do with us in lockdown and what we’ve learned? What if your lockdown experience had the power to give you empathy in a whole new way for the poorest?
At CAP, we partner with churches to tackle poverty. Picture us like a lifeboat station. We’re giving churches the tools, the training, and the expert support to launch out from the coast and rescue those caught in the storms of life, to launch out from the coast rescuing those caught in the storms of life. In 2019, we asked some of the people we helped about their experience. Seven in ten said they were isolated. Nearly a quarter weren’t leaving their house for a week or more at a time. Over a third were cut off from visiting friends or family because of the cost. One client I know didn’t even go to the wedding reception of her own sister because you had to buy drinks and she didn’t have enough to buy a drink, not even one. Tina, who we’re going to hear her story shortly, when I first visited her, she was so down and I said, “Is there one issue that’s the biggest issue for you?” She said, “I want to go to the graduation of my daughter.” What an important event that is for any mother. Incidentally, we did sort this out and the churches in that area paid £120 that was needed. That was all that was stopping her from seeing her daughter graduate, £120, and the impact that had on her was massive.
When you’re feeling cut off from family or friends or wondering where the light is at the end of the tunnel, perhaps you’re seeing the link now between isolation that we’re experiencing in lockdown and those who in poverty who have isolated. When I was interviewed from my church about CAP during the lockdown, I said that lockdown in some ways hadn’t changed things for clients except that now everybody was unable to do things just as they’d been unable to do them before. You may or may not know what it is to struggle to make ends meet but now we all know how a crisis we never expected can just change our lives in ways we really couldn’t have imagined. It takes incredible courage and determination to get out of debt.
We’re going to watch now the story of Tina, who’s one of my clients, who’s willing to share her story. As we watch it, remember our lockdown experiences, the loneliness, or maybe the sense of freedom when restrictions started to lift, to help you empathize with Tina’s story.
Tina: My neighbours didn’t know what situation I was in. To walk past the house, no you wouldn’t know, don’t even think it’s, “Oh, that person keeps the curtains closed.” You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. The one thing I didn’t want was to be judged. You put a front on to people. I won’t have a cup of tea because I only got a quarter of a pint of milk that’s got to last me a week. You make excuses, “Oh, the boiler’s not working today so I can’t put the heating on, sorry, and the bulbs are blown, sorry. I even go round and take the bulbs out. My bedtime became sort of four or five o’clock in the evening because I couldn’t read by the lights I had, or do my cross- stitch or anything like that. Collect the post once in a blue moon -- a big pile of letters, “We want this, we want this, we want this.” You can’t have it because there’s nothing left. You don’t see an end. As much as people tell you there’s an end, there isn’t. You’re living, not day to day, I was living minute to minute. The only answer I could see was [unintelligible 00:08:19] you can’t get anything from me.
John Kirkby: Over one and a half million people haven’t got enough food to eat, heating for their home, or even a place to call their home. Right here, right now in the UK, poverty is in every community; often hidden behind closed doors. I know what it’s like to not have enough to feed your children, I know what it’s like to have to leave home. That’s why I started CAP 23 years ago. We offer award-winning debt counselling, we have job clubs and we offer coaches that help people with life skills and dependencies. Every one of our life-transforming services is run in partnership with a local church just like yours. Whenever CAP partner with local churches, lives are transformed and poverty is relieved. Every year together, tens of thousands of lives are touched by the work of CAP and the local church, but most importantly, around 1,000 people choose to respond to Jesus. On her own, Tina had absolutely no chance of resolving her debt situation but once the local church and CAP were on the scene, things began to change dramatically.
Tina: It was a relief when Ruth came round because for once, it was someone that wanted to listen to me, that wasn’t getting paid to listen to me. I sobbed, I broke my heart. She then said, “We’re going to help you here. Today we’ll sort you a budget out that gives you money that I can go shopping, where I could open the post and just put it in an envelope and send it to Ruth or keep it for her next visit. It’s such a relief to wake up in the morning and open your blinds and your curtain and you see sunlight instead of a dark room. I remember going to church after I went there, and “ I went debt free the other day” and everyone was genuinely pleased that I’d done it as well. Through the CAP journey, I started going to my local Baptist Church and it’s like it restored my faith. I got baptized and it was like a piece of my wall I put up came down, but also another weight got lifted with the support of Father and the support the churches and people around me. I can now start rebuilding my life. [music]
Ruth: I love watching that video because Tina has changed beyond recognition from that dark despairing lady I knew when I first visited. When I ring her now there’s hope and laughter and reliance on our heavenly father.
Now coronavirus has meant everything we take for granted has just changed so quickly. For those trapped in unmanageable debt, the cause is often something unexpected like your health or redundancy or relationship breakdown. I’ve had a lawyer who had a stroke, a mum whose husband was murdered, a bereaved wife who couldn’t afford the rent anymore. Those who’ve lost jobs through illnesses or mental health, victims of domestic violence who fled leaving everything, retired folk suddenly unable to pay the mortgage. Many of these things could happen to any of us, but the good news is that across the UK, God is bringing hope to thousands of people like Tina through CAP and the local church. In 2019, over 2000 families went debt-free and 850 people responded to Jesus and that’s the part I love most. Those in poverty are wide open to the gospel and I’ve seen well over 100 folks give their lives to Jesus and find the joy that that brings.
One family I visited knew absolutely nothing about God, except from Dot Cotton in EastEnders. [laughs] Within a year, they’d both become Christians, got baptized, become members of the church. They’d married each other, the children had been dedicated, and they both got out of debt. They’d started helping CAP as befrienders and she invited her friend and her friend’s two daughters to Jesus. Even now six years after I started working with them, whenever I pop round for a brew, they thank God for CAP. They tell me they’re still debt-free and show me by their lives the impact Jesus has made. Wow, I love my job and God is at work in His church in amazing ways.
Empathy is not just about feelings, it’s meant to lead us to actions, “Brother, sister, let me serve you.” We see this in Jesus as He comes out of the wilderness. As he begins his ministry of healing and bringing hope and this is what he says. “The spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Jesus is coming out of this isolated wilderness, putting, serving the poorest, the vulnerable, and the marginalized at the very top of His agenda. What could that look like for us, for you, to do the same in your community after coronavirus here and now? Here’s a few ideas. Firstly, you can remember. You can remember the hard times as well as the good times in lockdown because if you forget, you’ll miss out on the empathy that God has for you, as God has to give you, and you’ll forget to feel for the isolated and forgotten. If you remember, it’ll help you serve and relate to those who are still im prisoned by circumstances. Secondly, you can look around you, is there someone in your community who needs help? It’s astonishing to think this but for many of those in the prison of debt, the end of lockdown is a source of dread rather than joy. All debt collection and evictions have been stopped and they might resume, so with the constant phone calls and endless demands for payment. While many of us breathe a sigh of relief that we can get out and start to live life again, those trapped in debt might be breathing a sigh of despair that it all starts again. They may be your neighbours, your friends, or your family. Maybe that person is you. You just can’t stop, the debts keep mounting up and you don’t know where to turn. Get help, it’s there.
Our free phone number is 0800 328 0006 and I’ll repeat that number later so that you’ve got a chance to get that down. Make that choice to call and get the help you need or keep that number and pass it on to someone else who may need it. Or if you forget everything, search online at Christians Against Poverty I need help, and you’ll be able to find out how to get the help you need or to give it to other people. Thirdly, finally, do you want to get linked into CAP and maybe give more help to people like Tina? If you’re a, “Yes, I’m for that,” or a, “Maybe, tell me more,” then here’s what you need to do. You simply text HOPE to 84433 and someone from CAP’s friendly team will call you in the next couple of days to get on the mailing list, answer your questions, and/or get a regular monthly financial gift set up for you to give to CAP. Now we both know, we all know that you won’t be able to remember that, [laughs] so I’m going to give you a minute and I’ll ask you right now to go and get your mobile phone from whichever black hole your phone goes into the minute you put it down. For me, it’s next to my bed. I’m going to wait for you to give you a chance, if you haven’t got it to hand already, to go and get your phone and I’ll sit here and just wait for you for a moment so you can get that. While I’m waiting, can I explain that everyone that texts, regardless of whether they choose to give, will also get posted a copy of “Nevertheless”, a free copy of “Nevertheless”, the incredible story of John Kirkby setting up of Christians Against Poverty. Absolutely amazing book, well worth reading. Perhaps I can also talk to those who may yet not have given their lives to Jesus as Tina did. I really want to recommend it. It may not be easy, but it’s following Jesus is definitely the best. Speak to someone at your church or speak to the CAP person who rings in response to your text. Also, CAP do other services, Job Clubs locally in Northwich and Warrington, Fresh Start, freeing from bad habits and addictions, and life skills for those on the lowest incomes, and CAP Money. As Paul said, Paul and Gareth and Sue are training to do CAP Money online. Do you want to join them or get involved in another way? Speak to Paul. Hopefully, you have your phone now. Hopefully, you’ve got your phone now, you turn it on. I know you’ve probably turned it off for this but turn it on. Can I say, don’t worry? This really won’t cost you more than a text to a friend would. Don’t worry if your warning screen comes up, there’s no additional cost or donation attached to this text. Hopefully, you’ve turned your phone on. Go to your text messages and start a new message. The number you’re texting is 84433. Fill in 84433. 84433 and simply type hope, H-O-P-E, hope, now press send. 84433 hope and send. Thank you. I also said I’d repeat the number for getting help or for giving it to those who need help so you can add to your address book. You go to your address book and put in CAP and the number you need is a free phone number 0800 328 0006. 0800 328 0006. Put that in your phone, and then when you come across someone who you think might be struggling and you don’t have to be direct. You can always say, “Oh, if you know anyone who’s struggling, this is the number.” Give it to them and you might even save a life because many people come to us are actually thinking of suicide. A small number of phones don’t support this system. If you have any issues, you can find out more and sign up directly at capuk.org. Thank you so much if you’ve just done that. Your support will help people like Tina find freedom, find Jesus, and find hope in the months and years to come. As I finish, let me leave you with this thought.
What if the greatest legacy of COVID-19 was the way it changed our churches, gave us fresh empathy and understanding for those in need? Led us to extraordinary acts of generosity and love, led us to talk to people about Jesus with a new enthusiasm, let us believe that as we remember, look around us and do what we can, God can and will do extraordinary things. Thank you.
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