Light in the storms of life
Lighthouse is a Network for those on the margins to meet Jesus. It reaches out to those who are homeless, suffering through mental health, addiction or poverty, so that they will have a comfortable space to ask questions, receive, and feel confident to contribute. It allows them to feel safe and to worship God freely. Hannah Robb recently completed her internship when she dedicated many hours, reaching out to those on the margins and working alongside Jon Swales in local mission initiatives such as Bridge Cafe and Lighthouse. Hannah reflects on her last 6 months sharing stories from Lighthouse.
Where has Lighthouse come from? St George’s Crypt was set up by the church over 80 years ago to reach out to the homeless in Leeds. They do amazing work by addressing the practical needs of people in the city but along with the chaplain we want to be able to share the Good News of Jesus and encourage people in their own walk with Him. In 2013, Jon Swales, Roger Quick and I began praying for God to provide space to facilitate a Christian community for those on the margins. In January 2014, we set up a gathering each Sunday in the Crypt, to eat, share life and find out about Jesus. There’s always the reservation when you start a new ministry that you’re only going to get 5 people - and we were contempt with that - but the first meeting we saw 35! This was a huge encouragement to see God providing people, and space to meet; it made me feel confident that there would be growth. We’ve been meeting since January seeing roughly 30 people, at the lowest 25, and highest 50. We are already seeing growth and looking to set up Missional Communities around the city for another way to connect. Since January we’ve seen people come to faith, be baptised and people’s lives transformed through the love of Jesus.
What does Lighthouse look like We gather every Sunday at 12.30 where I would usually stand on the door with a cuppa to say hi to everyone; Jon and Roger will be in the dining room where people will sit and catch up with one another. Jon will remind us what Lighthouse is all about; “We all know that there are storms of life but lighthouse shows that there is a light in the world – Jesus. We believe that he provides a light in the storms of life, a direction when we feel like hope is lost.” This is amazing! It makes a lot of sense to everyone in the room instantly.
We sing together, often Amazing Grace because words such as ‘saved a wretch like me’ resonate. We also sing James Taylor’s, You’ve Got a Friend; ‘When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand, and the cold north wind begins to blow...’ carries the same representation of loneliness and darkness of a storm. In the room a lot of people have had friends who’ve died through addiction or let them down in one way or another, so singing this is a wonderful way of saying how we perceive Jesus, and explaining how Jesus is a friend in our situations.
We’ll take turns to share what we are thankful for and often hear ‘I’m thankful that I’m alive’, which takes on a new resonance with a room full of people who have been much closer to death than you or I would. Others include being thankful for the Crypt, and for friendship; this is testimony to the community we’ve established at Lighthouse.
Jon will share from scripture too; early on we explored who Jesus is by looking at all the Gospel stories such as the one about Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus knows and accepts people by inviting himself into their lives because he says ‘your life has worth’. More recently we’ve looked at other scriptures, usually from the Gospels to hold onto basic foundations, leaving the deeper discipleship to small groups throughout the week. Roger does story times; the favourite feature of a Sunday. He writes dramatic monologues from the perspective of a bible character such as the Prodigal Son or woman who touched Jesus’ cloak for healing. It’s incredible how you can awaken someone’s consciousness by telling stories in a way they can relate to.
So many people want to get up and tell their own story each week because they are so excited when they realise what Jesus is capable of in their lives. Another witness to the growth of Lighthouse was when one of our members, who is shy and finds it hard to share with peers, had the confidence to stand in front of 400 people before his baptism to share his testimony. He knew there were 20 of us sat amongst the congregation to support him which shows how Lighthouse has built a safe community.
What have been some of the highlights of your time at Lighthouse? There are so many stories I could share but here are just a few. One young woman I’ve met is an addict; she also struggles with violence and self worth. She has relapsed many times after rehab and getting clean but she knows Jesus and loves him, which I say with full confidence. She’s is full of life and a great witness to Jesus because as she speaks into people’s lives with power and I believe that is God given power. She will often council friends, encourage and build them up in Christ, prompting them to pray and pray with them. From the moment I met her she embraced me and said, ‘you’re my sister in Christ’. This has a lot of weight in it in the Lighthouse community because the idea of loyalty and trust in circles where people have very little to depend on in their lives, is an incredibly high priority. I’ve wanted to help her, pray with her, support her in resisting temptation to walk away from addiction but she is looking out for me at all times, she prays for me!
I was having a particularly spiritually low point one time; I felt the need for refreshment and to hear God but it seemed like he’d gone quiet. Another Lighthouse guest, who I had worked with by helping through rehab, housing and praying for him, he is deeply spiritual and loves Jesus; one day he casually wrote a poem and gave to me saying ‘thanks for everything you’ve done in my life’. It was literally like Jesus had written me a poem as it was all about how ‘I have died for you.’ At a time when I thought God was silent, he was using the Lighthouse guests to share the Gospel with me!
What are you thankful for? I am ever grateful for God’s amazing provision in quite literally ‘adding to our number daily’. The Lighthouse Network is by far the most thriving community I’ve seen in the last 6 months, based on depth of relationships and growth in terms of numbers. I give thanks for the accommodation for relationship building; I have seen real friendships develop, meaning that amongst the pain life can bring there is real laughter and sharing with Jesus at the very centre. I am also thankful to God that some people are still alive. For some, if they had carried on using drugs to the extent that they were, they may no longer be alive so to them the Lighthouse has literally been a lifeline. God has intervened in their life.
How can St G’s get involved? We need team on a Sunday, to help welcome and chat to people, but if you’re not comfortable with small talk, we need people to serve tea and coffee or help in the kitchen! Everyone is valued in that space. During the week we need people to find an hour to give 1 to 1 support, maybe taking someone out for coffee and a chat, accompanying someone to a job centre appointment or giving practical advice; an example here would be the couple who are about to have a baby, if you are in a similar life stage at St G’s and have practical advice to give, why not spend an hour over a cuppa with this couple in conversation. Finally, if you are gifted in leadership and discipleship with those who maybe illiterate, have short attention span even, please help us lead small groups through the week.
Lighthouse believes that each person is made in the image of God yet really tragic things can happen to people, none of us are without sin and we all fall short of the glory of God. As Christians we are called to live life alongside others and whether that looks like pastoral care for someone who is bereaved, you may not know what you say and there may be nothing you can do but you show they are valuable by just standing by them. The same applies to Lighthouse; you don’t have to be equipped to deal with mental health issues or addiction, but simply having a cup of tea with someone and asking how their day is going shows that because God says so, they are valuable.
What can St G’s pray? Pray for more committed team to get involved; we want Lighthouse to survive but sustainability relies on people to be there. Pray also for God’s continued strength to keep people in Lighthouse; helping to prevent relapse, resisting temptation, breaking out of addiction, etc. I pray that people in Leeds would know that if you want to meet Jesus and need support then you can go to the Lighthouse. I hope the congregation of St George’s feel part of that and feel able to support this community.
To find out more about Lighthouse or offer to get involved please Jon Swales.