Last week, an amazing team of young people and adults took on "The Big Sleep In" where they spent the night sleeping in the church to raise awareness of homelessness and to raise money for Gloucester City Mission. The team arrived at church on the Friday evening and stayed until the Saturday morning. Watch the clip below to find out more about their experiences.
We were pleased to welcome Kevin Howie from Gloucester City Mission to the 10:30am service last week, where he gave a talk about the work they do and how we can help. Many thanks to Kevin for sending over his talk, which you can read below or listen to here.
Thank you so much for inviting me in to talk about Gloucester City Mission and thank you to the youth group and youth group leaders for doing Friday night’s sleep out. I’m sure that they were cold and probably felt a bit uncomfortable. When we do our Big City Sleepout in October we have people sleeping out all over the place including a large sleepout on Southgate Street and the feedback we get every year is that people feel so vulnerable and the constant loud noise, whether that be from revellers, music from pubs, street cleaners or early morning deliveries, makes it so difficult to get any good sleep. Imagine living like that for more than one night. But God doesn’t want us to be comfortable all the time for, it says in 2 Timothy that He is with us wherever we go and in the Beatitudes Jesus called people who are grieving, hungry or poor in spirit or suffering persecution for His sake the blessed ones (Matthew 5 1-12)
This year marks GCM’s 20th anniversary. Since 2003 we have tried to share the love of Jesus with people on the streets or in need, those whose world is uncomfortable, lonely and cold and where their existence is without hope or meaning, joy or comfort by sitting with them, praying with them and offering them basic necessities to survive. Since those days we have grown significantly and currently have a staff team of 16 offering love, care, support, hope and transformation to clients on the streets or in temporary accommodation.
Our Bibles tell us very clearly to help those in need; Deuteronomy 15:11 says: ‘For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother and sister, to the needy and to the poor in your land.’
This is what we seek to do at Gloucester City Mission.
We believe that the Bible tells us how we support the poor, oppressed and outcast. It refers frequently to these issues as bringing about justice for these people. The vast majority of the people we work with are just like you and me, it’s just that many have suffered severe trauma in their lives and this leads to significant impact on peoples’ mental health. But that doesn’t matter to God because He loves us all whatever baggage we are carrying. John 3:16 tells us this when it says - ‘God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to die for us’ – this means ALL of us no matter what our circumstances. Although God loves all of creation, He has a special heart for the poor, we can see this in the Bible – ‘Speak up for…all who are destitute’ (Proverbs 31:8).
For the oppressed and outcast Jeremiah 22:3 says:
‘This is what the Lord says: do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow’.
So how does this look in practice at GCM? Well we try to live this out in our work. I think its important to just define who we work with though. We work with any adults who are homeless, marginalised or vulnerable. On average this means that we directly work with 150 people per week. It’s important to understand what homeless actually means as well though because it is more that just those who are rough sleeping on the streets. It is also those who are in temporary accommodation units, hostels, squats, dry and wet houses, emergency housing and sofa surfers.
We try to offer hope to people that their lives can change, ideally through them finding Jesus but through us offering them practical, physical, emotional and spiritual help.
We offer support in three ways - through aid, transformation and growth.
To offer Aid we have:
Street teams going into the city centre 5 days week offering food, drinks and prayer;
Refresh – this is our weekly hot lunch service and time for fellowship at St Mary’s Congregational Church;
The city’s Winter Shelter with 15 beds, food, showers, clothes, prayer and guidance which opened on Nov 1st and will stay open every night until 31st March;
Restore- a clothes bank in Southgate Street for clients to come to get fresh clothes, toiletries and emergency provisions,
Our Mobile outreach teams support rough sleepers away from the city centre;
We try to transform lives through:
Renew (72 Eastgate Street) - our main offices, drop in centre, Training Centre.
Refuel - our monthly worship session for staff, volunteers, clients and anyone to come and spend their lunchtime in prayer and praise.
We offer prayer through all of our street teams and at Wednesday lunch
We enable people to grow both practically and spiritually through
·Our Revive Coffee House in the Eastgate Shopping Centre where we offer employment opportunities to people who have lived experience of homelessness or addictions;
·We employ people in the shelter who have previously been guests in the shelter. We have many volunteers with lived experience too who want to give something back.
In our education and training centre we offer courses and multi-agency drop in sessions 5 days a week. We continue to run Alpha courses and a follow up Discipleship course twice a year. We have a free optician clinic on site and are working with Probation, the DWP and the City Council Housing Department as well as other organisations to have drop in sessions too. For example we have courses on in crafts, gardening, woodwork, basic skills literacy, football, music therapy, mindfulness, counselling, Narcotics Anonymous and art courses. We also have plans for other courses around independent living, such as cooking, budgeting, financial support, and job support.
Jesus constantly enabled other people to do good through Him and as Paul writes to Titus in chapter 3 v 1 ‘ Remind the people…to be ready to do whatever is good’.
So on that note I want to finish by talking about how you can help?
Firstly please continue to pray for our clients, staff and volunteers – you can sign up for our monthly prayer sheet via our website to give you daily prayer points about different aspects of our work and ministry.
Secondly when you see people on the margins of society don’t judge them, they all have a story. One of the things that the people on the streets talk about is how they feel dehumanised. There’s no harm in saying good morning, or smiling or saying no I’m sorry I don’t have any change. At least they have had some human interaction then.
Talking of which just last Thursday one of our staff came rushing in to Revive and said that one of the guys who has been rough sleeping in the city centre was hypothermic. Now this was at 8.50am, his name is Shay, yes he has a name, and he had made the choice not to seek shelter but instead has been sleeping outside the old B & M shop in Southgate St and until this moment nobody had noticed him literally freezing to death. This is the city centre and no-one had stopped to check on him up to that point. Anyway, an ambulance was called and came immediately and thankfully Shay is still with us and recovering.
Thirdly , you are all very welcome to take part in any of our events or fundraising activities. This year, to mark our 20th Anniversary, we have sky diving, Chinese boat racing, sleepouts, fire walking, a two week celebration proms kicking off with Graham Kendrick and his band on 14th April and closing here with Churchdown Male Voice Choir on 29th April, but also including a wide range of other large and small concerts, comedians including Steve Legg and Nik Hill, our Revivefest music festival, our annual quiz night, a touring art exhibition amongst our plans events but lots of people plan their own events too.
Last year we spent over £304,000 supporting people and we fundraise it all, we don’t accept statutory funding or lottery funding. Every year through we a blessed with donations so that we can keep growing.
Maybe some of you can be inspired by your Youth Group here and take part in one of our Big City Sleepout events at the start of October to mark World Homeless Day.
And finally we rely on donations – but not just clothes, toiletries, coats, shoes, sleeping bags etc, we have a list in our website that we try to keep up to date with things that we urgently need. We have lots of people donating time as regular volunteers or through their workplaces or schools and of course churches, school, companies, foundations, and individuals offer us essential financial support. Sarah has kindly said that I can be at the back after the service with a collection bucket and card reader if anyone would like to give a donation towards our work. I am also very happy to come to visit your places of work or schools or any groups to talk about our work.
Thank you so much for inviting me in today and thank you again to the youth group and the youth leaders for running their event last night. Can we just close with a prayer?
Father God, Thank you that we experience Your amazing grace, love and faithfulness in Jesus. Thank you that He seeks justice and proclaims the cause of righteousness. Help us, like Him, to have a concern for the poorest of the poor and needy in our country and to give generously in whatever ways we can. Please wrap your protection over those who use the services of Gloucester City Mission especially those in the winter shelter as well as those who work and volunteer there, and also continue to offer Your love to them all. In Jesus’ name, Amen
To find out more about Gloucester City Mission and how you can help, please visit their website. Thank you to all who took part in and donated to The Big Sleep In - at last count we had raised over £700 that will go directly to Gloucester City Mission. Please keep the team and those they support in your prayers.