John and Gillian Robinson
About 6 years ago John went to Thailand with his wife Gillian, an Anglican minister, and children Leah, Natalie and Joel, to work in the prisons where conditions are horrendous by our standards. However, John’s ministry had amazing results. His books, Nobody’s Child and Somebody’s Child were translated into Thai and then issued in Cartoon form, which went down very well there. Large numbers of both prisoners and staff accepted Jesus as Lord and the Prison Fellowship have continued to work with them.
In 2012 they rented an office block situated between 4 large slum communities which they named the Place of Grace. A typical home in these communities consists of pieces of wood, metal or material, whatever the owners can lay their hands on built into a shack. Although some families try to care for their children in some cases a Thai child might be dumped when the mother could not afford to keep him or her and would rely on relatives or neighbours to take them in. The children were often hungry and without toys or games. The Place of Grace offers Children’s clubs for the different ages and tries to show God’s Love and care for them. They are offered individual attention where possible, little treats, teaching and crafts etc.
Because of the poverty, the Robinson’s started a Foodbank which relies on donations from the Christian Churches in more affluent areas and the community leaders can refer people as they know the peoples circumstances well. The leaders of the communities are Buddhist but have welcomed their ministry.
John and Gillian have recently run two Alfa courses for the older children and on the second course all the youngsters who had come asked Jesus into their lives. As some of them who were being drawn into the huge gang and drug culture and had magic tattoos on their backs came forward to accept Jesus, Gillian could see their faces begin to change. Seven youngsters who had accepted Christ on the last Alfa had come along and prayed with them. A supporter gave money for bibles to be bought for them and they were thrilled. By July 2016 two discipleship groups had been set up and provision made for those who wanted to study the bible and had nowhere to go.
Each week needy families and vulnerable people come to the Place of Grace and hear about God’s love.
However, whilst there have been great rewards in the work there have also been great stresses and strains on the family. They have had to move house four times and for the past year (2015/16), their present house has had water smelling like sewage because of an underground pipe infection so they must buy every bit of water and the roof in one room has bent alarmingly as termites have eaten the beams. The house floods during the rainy season and water comes in both upstairs and down when it rains and so on. The renewal of their visas was complicated and expensive as all the rules had changed and no one seemed sure what documents were required. It took a trip to Singapore for a temporary visa so they could come back and spend hours on the road getting documents from various offices before they could relax for another year.
This is just a snippet of their activities but they are Mission Partners with Crosslinks and you can find out more from www.crosslinks.org or from the Place of Grace website www.placeofgracebangkok.org . It’s really fascinating to get more detailed stories of this wonderful work.
Tearfund / PAG
St Barnabas has started to support a group of five churches in north-east Uganda – these churches belong to the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG). This is one of the largest denominations in Uganda. The churches are near Soroti, which is about eight hours drive north of Kampala, the capital. Tearfund have set up a network of churches – four in the UK and five in the Soroti district of Uganda. The network is part of the Connected church / Walking Together initative by Tearfund. About ten years ago, PAG started a programme called PEP (Participatory Evaluation Process), also known as Umoja – from a Swahili word meaning working together. This programme is not about handouts. Rather, it is about empowering the villagers to be more pro-active in how they live their lives. For the first year, there are bible studies and the villagers are encouraged to look at the resources that they have. After the first year, the villagers are encouraged to ‘step out’. Often it is about diversifying the crops that they grow though it could involve other initiatives as well. Some people in the programme have been very successful.
The Jachie Eye Clinic
This is near Kumasi in northern Ghana and was set up by Dr. Rowland Cowley in the late 1990’s. St Barnabas has been central in the formation of this clinic, providing much of the funding. The clinic is in the Anglican Diocese of Kumasi and is run by Sister Aba who is part of the Order of the Holy Paraclete (OHP), based in Whitby. Rowland Cowley is a retired eye surgeon while Sisiter Aba has gone through extensive training so that she can provide specialist care to the many people who come to the clinic. She also has a van that she takes out into the surrounding villages so she can provide treatment in situ. In Ghana, sometimes people have to travel long distances to reach a clinic or hospital. And then they have to wait a long time before someone will see them. They learn to be patient. Every year St. Barnabas runs a Craft Fair and proceeds from this go towards funding this project. Recently, Sister Aba was is the U.K. She spent a year (July 2009 to July 2010) at Sneaton Castle, just outside Whitby. However, she has now returned to Ghana and is working at the clinic once again. Over the years, different people from St. Barnabas have visited this project as well as seeing other projects in the area. We also visited a school that had been originally set up by the OHP sisters. We were guests of the Rt. Revd Daniel Yinkah Sarfo, Bishop of Kumasi, who escorted us around the area. He takes an active interest in the Jachie Eye Clinic.
Bishop Alejandro & Doris Mesco
St. Barnabas Church began its support of Alejandro when he worked as vicar of St. Luke’s Church in the city of Arequipa, Peru many years ago. Since then he has planted a church in Cabanaconde and revitalised one on the outskirts of Arequipa. He was made a Bishop two years ago. However, in the light of the recent changes in the organisation of the Anglican Church in Peru his role will be changing this year and these are some of the things he will be doing.
Alejandro has been licensed to oversee projects which have been established in the two northern cities of Cajamarca and Chilclayo. This means a lot of travelling for Alejandro as it is a 32 hour journey from Arequipa to these places. He has also been asked to establish a mission in Cusco, as there no Anglican presence there. Cusco is much nearer to Arequipa and can be reached in 8 hours. All the places could be reached more quickly by air but this is expensive and he has no car. The family are remaining in Arequipa because of his wife’s health needs.
In Chilclayo there is some ground owned by the Anglican Church which needs to be fenced off so a social work can be started for women and children when water and lighting facilities are installed. This area is a place of great need. Life is difficult with delinquency and the authorities are doing nothing to clear up the garbage resulting in some of the children being affected by the pollution. The Rev. Wilmar works there and the ‘St. Mark’s Anglican Mission’ faces great difficulties.
In Cajamarca there are two ministers and 2 deacons and I am looking forward to Alejandro giving me more information about the area and the challenges awaiting him. He hopes to begin the work in Cusco as soon as possible this year and found a new mission there.
Because of the great distances Alejandro between the projects Alejandro will spend 15 days working in one of his designated areas and 7 days in Arequipa to see his family. He would love an assistant to accompany him as Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. His aim then is to spread the gospel in word and deed and support the ministers and deacons already in place. One joy he has had in the past weeks is that his son, Alejandro junior, has been accepted to study for 3 years in Santiago, Chile. He will then be able to return to Peru and, perhaps, support the new mission in Cusco.
Since we started supporting him, Alejandro has been very active in building up new churches and a Christian School and it will be exciting to follow him and he begins work in this new and difficult area.
South East Asia
R, who grew up in our family at St Barnabas, is teaching English to young people and adults in South-East Asia. R has taught both traditional language courses (including evening classes) to students from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities and also basic English as part of a vocational training programme for young adults. Learning English is important for all the students, as many jobs are linked to the tourism industry. This means that R’s work supports growth and development in her host country. R also lives as a Christian which brings opportunities to nurture young disciples and to explore questions of faith with those around her. Recently, R has begun supporting curriculum development and translation of study materials, working with a group of leaders from a minority group. R is currently based in a city, but has a vision of bringing vocational training opportunities to young women in more rural and remote areas.
Sowing Seeds was formed in 2008. It was primarily the vision of Gram Seed, though he has now brought more people into this ministry. Their aim is to share the Good News of God’s love with people in prison and young people’s centres in the North East of England. They work with chaplains at Holme House Prison in Teesside and run courses and bible studies. They also follow up prisoners on their discharge when they are most vulnerable to the old influences on their lives. Sowing Seeds has a resettlement house and some of these ex-offenders go there to live on their discharge. There they can try to begin a new life. Gram Seed himself has a dramatic story of how he became a Christian. A film and a book has been written about him. Gram Seed, as well as having spoken at St. Barnabas on several occasions, has spoken at Christian gatherings elsewhere in the country. Many people have been inspired by his story.
Open Door (North East)
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Open Door is one of the few agencies providing housing support for destitute asylum seekers and also refugees in the North East but with a particular focus on Middlesbrough & Stockton-on-Tees. We are a Christian charity aiming to show the love of Jesus to anyone what ever their background. We currently manage 14 houses (rented and donated) that are home to over 40 people from tennationalities. 17 bed spaces are for the destitute (individuals with no access to public funding). We have an urgent waiting list that we cannot yet house due to lack of resources.
Why help is needed
Asylum seekers become destitute for a number of reasons, primarily as a result of the withdrawal of the National Asylum Service Support (NASS). For whatever reason, there are many individuals sleeping rough or depending on the charity of already overstretched family or friends. There are no clear statistics because, by definition, these people do not ‘exist’ and are therefore ‘unseen’, or as Church Action on Poverty refers to them, ‘Living Ghosts’; although a recent report estimated the number of Asylum Seekers who are destitute in the North East could be in excess of 500 people. Even those asylum seekers that get state support (NASS) are often living below the government’s own poverty line’ and need extra help both financially, emotionally or legally.
What do we do?
Open Door can help in many ways:
Drop in times for people with no Home Office Support (ID and proof of refusal, as well as
proof that Home Office Support has ended is required), as well as single-sex Drop In times; Night Shelter for male asylum seekers with no Home Office Support; Beginner ESOL (English for Speakers of another Language) classes; Work Club for refugees to help with CVs, looking for work and such; and Refugee Housing for refugees on Job Seeker’s Allowance or in employment.
While we are a charity with a Christian ethos started by a local church (Jubilee Church Teesside), we welcome volunteers from all backgrounds and religions. We are looking for friendly, committed volunteers to help us with:
our Monday drop in at Melbourne House; our womens’ drop in on a Tuesday;
our mens’ Wednesday morning social drop in;
our friendly English/ESOL classes;
food distribution and collection;
organising days out;
creative arts (card making, needlecraft, drawing/painting, drama and creative writing);
decorating and D.I.Y. in our houses;
preparing food for our drop ins, night shelters and other events;
hospitality and befriending;
hosting an individual for a short term in your own home;
helping new refugees with visits to the Job Centre and the filling in of forms etc.;
helping in our Work Club for refugees;
helping in our Night Shelter (we particularly need men to sleep over a night per week/month); and
preparing food for our Night Shelter.
If you are interested in being a volunteer then please contact us either by: firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01642 213634.
The Columba Project – St. Columba’s Church, Middlesbrough
This is a Christian project aimed at helping the homeless. All funding is sourced from Christian churches and Christian Charitable funds. The project is undergirded by faith and prayer, seeking God’s will in all that is done. Maureen Westerman (Project Manager) and her husband Colin have been providing this service at St. Columba’s Church for many years now. They have never applied for funding, supplies or personnel, trusting the Lord to provide all that is needed. This supply has never failed, for which they give Him thanks.
On Monday and Tuesday evenings homeless people are able to find a warm welcome in St.Columba’s Church Narthex. From 7.30pm. hot food, sandwiches and hot drinks are available. These are given out by volunteers and Maureen and Colin are always on hand with help, advice and a listening ear. A gospel message is given during the meal and there is chance for individual prayer as people respond. Befriending of each individual helps to establish their needs and allows for sign posting to the right agencies and this is in strict confidence. Referrals may be made, on request, to Christian organisations specialising in help, support and re-habilitation for those with alcohol, drug addiction or other problems. Betel UK is one of those agencies. (web link : http://www.betel.org.uk/). Clothing, toiletries, bedding or sleeping bags are provided according to need.