The Walkers were a very close family and when Helen’s mother suddenly died, it hit hard. Tragically, while the family was still grieving their loss, Helen’s father also passed away. Helen and her husband, Dave (both in their 30s), just couldn’t cope and instead turned to drugs to numb the pain. To add to their problems they fell into the trap of dealing to support the mounting costs of their own habit. Helen, who had never before been in trouble with the law, also started shoplifting to provide food and clothes for their six children. Inevitably the Walkers were caught by the police and eventually sentenced. With both parents serving prison terms and the children separated from each other, living with friends, the family was falling apart.
The Walkers’ story is heart wrenching, but it would have become an even more tragic tale were it not for Helen’s determination to free herself from her addiction, and her eldest daughter Sarah’s (17) extraordinary efforts to hold the family together. While she was still in prison, Helen wrote to Save the Family (STF) who were able to provide her and her children with accommodation upon her release - the whole family was finally reunited when, a year later, Dave also made parole. They continue to live in STF’s residential centre while they rebuilt their lives. Both Helen and Dave are now free from drugs, committed to their family and have also become active Christians.
STF, set up by Edna Speed in North Wales in 1986, exists to support people like the Walkers – there are dozens of amazing stories about the families they have helped restore. The charity offers short-term accommodation to families, in facilities such as Plas Bellin, one of its residential centres which houses homeless families in crisis. However, STF recognises that homelessness is simply a symptom of wider problems (drugs, alcohol, crime, rejection, abandonment, physical, sexual and emotional abuse etc.) and, although it is an important symptom to overcome, unless the deeper causes are addressed no lasting progress can be made. Simply providing families with somewhere to live is a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic while it’s sinking.
The great strength of STF is their understanding that unless a person’s needs are addressed on every level they will never be truly whole. The longterm ‘well-being’ of families is STF’s paramount concern. With this in mind, resident families (the majority of whom stay for 3-6 months) can benefit from life skills training, adult education, homework clubs and the many other educational activities provided on site. Most importantly, though, the families live in an inclusive community where they belong and in which they can openly discuss the problems that have led to their homelessness. Like Joanne, another of the residents, puts it, “I’ve never known anyone or been anywhere where they’ve loved me before. I’ve waited all my life for this opportunity.”
As well as supporting the families physically, emotionally and socially, STF is keen to address their spiritual needs. However, though their faith underlies everything the charity does, at no point are families pressured into making any kind of Christian commitment. In this ‘no pressure’ atmosphere, around 70% of the residents attend the vibrant daily chapel prayer meeting, and even more go to the Sunday service. Incredibly 50% of the people with whom STF works go on to become Christians and then to stick with their commitment.
Through its holistic approach, STF is doing more to ensure the well-being of its clients than any statutory agency could, and has become a world-class provider of holistic welfare care.
Faithworks exists to resource and equip churches, Christian projects and individuals as they play their full part at the hub of their local communities as well as actively liasing with central, regional and local government. The Faithworks Movement is a partnership between a range of organisations including Oasis Trust and Christianity+Renewal.
Chalke and Change Jargon Buster
We live in a world addicted to jargon. Computer nerds, businessmen, the military, politicians, Christians – all have their own specialist language.
P.D.As, C.P.As, R.P.Gs, L.S.Ps and L.E.Ps; pdf. files, low-hanging fruit, collateral damage, early day motions and ministry times – society is littered with abbreviations and ‘in crowd’ terminology. The problem comes when one group or tribe wants to communicate with another. If the Church is going to talk to the government, other voluntary agencies, social services, the NHS etc. we are going to have to become bi-lingual. Each month Chalke and Change unpacks one key phrase of community development language and explores how it can be useful to churches. This month, what is ‘well-being’?
Government defines ‘well-being’ as physical, social and environmental welfare. Attaining well-being, for individuals and entire communities, is a key target for both national and local government. As such, each local authority is legally bound to publish plans outlining how it intends to work towards this goal.
‘Well-being’ essentially refers to the obvious truth that there is no point in trying to bring wholeness to a person or community on any one level in isolation – we have to be ‘joined-up’ in our approach. There is little point in helping someone to free themselves from their alcohol addiction if you do nothing to help them to find work, gain life skills, build their self esteem or raise their aspirations. Similarly it is useless to offer someone short-term accommodation if you refuse to address the situations which made them homeless in the first place.
To provide well-being, we must be serious about addressing every area of life – without this commitment we are powerless to bring about lasting and real change. But recognising that spiritual needs are of equal importance to physical, social and environmental issues, the Church could lead the way in the provision of holistic welfare care – bringing to our society what the Old Testament refers to as God’s ‘Shalom’.