Thursday 12 July
Matt Barlow from CAP (Christians Against Poverty) was the speaker at the Thursday Evening Celebration. Matt has helped numerous people to find the skills and confidence to get back into employment through the CAP Job Club in Bradford and has been Chief Executive of CAP since 2006. Here VOX editor, Ruth Garvey-Williams brings a summary of his message:
Let me start by posing you a question: Would Jesus join your church? If Jesus were to return (not like He will return) but if He came to your town and wanted to join a church - a place that lives out His values. Would He join yours?
I’ve been at CAP for 19 1/2 years and the CEO for the last 12 years. My wife and I were leading a church in the centre of Bradford. As leaders we are always asking, "Is it good? Is it right? And, dare I say, is it successful?" As I looked at our church, one question ate away at me. If Jesus came to Bradford, would He want to be part of our church? Would it be a church that made Him proud? That is not just a question for the church leaders but for all of us.
Is this life that I am living a life that Jesus would live?
A church that Jesus would join includes the poor in its focus, includes the poorest and giving and includes the poor in their lives. This is not an easy message! I know that across this nation God is on the move. There are churches across the island of Ireland that are living this out. They have taken this to heart.
Following Jesus isn’t easy and sometimes it is rock hard!
Jesus included the poor in His focus
Luke 4: 16 -21 Jesus turned to this passage (which we now know is Isaiah 61). This was Jesus first public message. It was His first chance to open up the scriptures and to say “this is right at the heart of my heart." The Holy Spirit was on Jesus as He spoke.
Who are the poor in our society? Who are the oppressed? Who are the captives? Our work tells us that the problems and causes are many. Many churches are helping those who have been trapped in debt or unemployment. In more recent times, churches are responding to those struggling with dependencies or those facing the harsh realities of life on low income.
CAP just brings the professionalism and expertise so that the church can be the hands and feet of Jesus. 2/3 of the people we work with have literally not been able to put food on the table. Mums and dads are choosing not to eat just so their children can have food. People have become prisoners in their own home out of fear. They feel the fear and oppression of letters from credit card companies. People are literally turning out the lights and hiding from the debt collectors. Jesus said, "I have come to set the oppressed free."
In every third house we enter, there is someone who has seriously considered taking their own life. Two hours ago, I got a message on my phone to say please pray. A woman had booked an appointment with one of our CAP centres but she couldn’t wait for the appointment and so she took her own life! Jesus has these peole right at the heart of His focus and we should too.
How much is your heart moved? The reality is that our communities and our societies are being ripped apart by poverty and debt. When we sing, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.” This is what breaks God’s heart.
We must include the poorest in our serving and our giving
Matthew 25: 31 - 46 Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
The hungry live in your town. The stranger. The unclothed. The captive. They live down your street. When we, as church, respond in love and compassion, Jesus says, “You did it for me.”
Jesus invites you to step into the lives of the most broken and meet Him there.
We must welcome the poor into our lives
Jesus took it a step further because we can feed hungry people and then walk away. But in Luke 14: 12 -14 He calls us to be a church and a people that includes the poor in our lives.
When you give a banquet, when you throw a party or have a bring-and-share, invite the poor and the crippled. Invite the people that society has totally written off. Invite the people that nobody else gives a rip about. And you will be blessed.
What Jesus is saying here is that as we step out... don’t let it just be a project. Don’t let it just be a bunch of people who are not badly off doing something for those who are struggling. Share your lives!
If you love those, who love you, what reward will you get? God wants us to open our whole lives up. This is hard. I find it hard in my life. This is the sort of church Jesus dreams of for Ireland. This is His plan and it will only happen if we lay our lives down. Maybe you are sitting there thinking, okay but how?
How do we do that?
We need a connection. I believe that every church and every person needs a bridge to make a connection between our world and those who are not only far from God but who have reached the bottom of the pile. When we first started our church, 50 people joined us straight away but they weren’t the sort of people Jesus would have been hanging out with. So we built a bridge. We set up a CAP debt centre. Within months our congregation had changed. And as we build a bridge to help those in desperate need we find opportunities to invite them back over the bridge to encounter God and have their lives transformed from the inside out!.
I'd like you to hear Rebecca's story. She is from Northern Ireland!
Rebecca shares: It was eight years ago now and things were tough. We were just about managing and we lived with the belief that things would get better a. We had just had our second child but in August 2010 my husband left. I had a four year old, a newborn baby and I was on maternity leave. And then I discovered that there was £16,000 of debt, all in my name (some of it I knew about and, some of it I didn’t know about). I could not afford the repayments.
It was a tough time emotionally and practically because I couldn’t pay the bills. But it was also shameful and I had not told anyone. Eventually, one night I broke down on the phone to my sister and told her about the debt. Through her, I heard about Christians Against Poverty. I am a pastor’s daughter but I was a “prodigal” and I was determined NOT to contact the Christians.
But eventually Citizen’s Advice told me they couldn’t help me so I caved and made the call. In less than a week, Jim and Angela arrived at my door. The only way I can describe it is I handed over the metal box of all the paperwork. Jim took it and they helped me develop a plan. They contacted all the credit card companies on my behalf. If anyone called, I just handed them over the CAP. It took a huge load off me..
I grew up doing at least two Sunday services, mid week meetings, Crusaders and more. There was nothing that anybody could tell me [about God] that I felt I didn’t know already. What happened in the year after I signed up with CAP is that people showed me Jesus! When people came with food and when people helped me practically. When Jim fixed a radiator. When Angela visited when I was sick and brought meals and baby food I saw God’s love. It wasn’t in words but in actions.
At the time I felt I wasn’t good enough to be a Christian but these people didn’t see me that way. They saw me as me. They saw me as worth helping. When I was invited on a Pampering Weekend, I knew there would be God stuff, but I was determined not to give in to it. The practical side of the weekend was such an outpouring of love. I went with a huge wall (although the CAP workers had been gradually poking holes in it) and that weekend it was like a big wrecking ball bust a hole right through the wall. When I was a child, we used to sing an old song, “Jesus take me as I am, I can come no other way.” That had suck in my head and that weekend someone prayed that for me. My daughter had the most amazing weekend and so did I because that weekend was when I became a Christian.
I went debt free in 2016. Today, I run the food store out of Willowfield Parish Church with another lady.
Back to Matt:
You almost quoted Matthew 25 (except for the radiator fixing - Jesus didn't mention that) - when I was hungry they fed me, when I was sick someone came to visit!
CAP helped Rebecca but she is the one who paid of every penny of that £16,000 of debt in January 2016, which is amazing especially as a lot of it was money that you didn’t even borrow!
These bridges that we build are great to go out into the community and give us the opportunity to invite people into relationship with Jesus. It is not usual that social action and evangelism go hand-in-hand except in the Bible - that is what Jesus did!
If you are from NI, there are so many opportunities for you to partner with CAP. Join a growing network of churches who have bridges into their communities.
If you are from Ireland, we have it on our heart and we do believe that God is calling us to do something in ROI. We have done some initial work behind the scenes. We are waiting for God to give us a green light. Maybe this evening, you and your response can be that green light.
You can get in touch with Christians Against Poverty by visiting their website.