The Newcastle estate made famous by BBC TV’s Byker Grove is home to many young people who feel they have no value. Church Army’s Steve Dixon is showing them that God thinks differently
It’s Friday and in a small room about six young adults meet with their project leader after a long day reaching out to people in the community. They’re covered in mud and dirt from cleaning local parks and community centres as they share a message that God loves and cares for the people of Byker.
Byker was recently given Grade II listed status and is now officially regarded as a place of historic and architectural importance. It’s also an area marked by layers of deprivation, health inequalities, unemployment and social exclusion.
The young people in Byker have low self-esteem and need reassurance. Steve Dixon says: “Young people and children that I work with don’t know their value and that’s very sad to see. Whenever you ask them what they think about Byker they always say: ‘It’s rubbish and it’s no good’ – and in saying that they’re including themselves.
“For me that’s kind of heartbreaking to hear because it’s not just what they see in the area, the deprivation, but also it’s what they’ve been told, and what they’ve taken on board about the place they live in and also about themselves.
“I want to get them to a place where they become confident in themselves and the things that surround them. I want them to be confident in the knowledge that in spite of what they see around them, God loves Byker and he loves them.”
Steve enlisted the help of the six young adults from a recent Youth for Christ NE1 event which saw some 3,000 or so young people camping together at Herrington Country Park to serve the community and take part in various activities to demonstrate God's love in a practical way.
"It’s great that young Christians can come into Byker and share their faith with their peers through community service and at film nights and sports evenings,” says Steve. “It has done a lot of good, as many Byker youths now believe in themselves in a way they haven’t before."
Seventeen-year-old Amy from the Byker Estate knows only too well about hanging out on street corners and a life dominated by alcohol and drugs. Amy’s aspiration in life was to become a mum before the age of 20, to live in a council flat and claim benefits. Through the inspiration provided by some of the young people she has met, Amy’s plans have changed.
“It's good to know there's another way to live and that we have a choice about how we live,” she explains. “Seeing how other young people live has encouraged me to make different plans for my life.”
Steve is focused on helping to change perceptions and although pleased with Amy’s progress, he knows there’s a lot more that needs to be done for hundreds of young people like her. As part of his ministry, Steve is heavily involved with the Byker Primary School and has developed a new way of working with the 9-12 age group, now known as “The Crew”, which meets at St Michael's Centre every Thursday.
“My work at The Crew club has focused on the theme of self-esteem, using Psalm 139 to show how much we are loved and created as individuals by God,” says Steve. “Many children grow up in Byker with very little sense of value for themselves, but the Gospel shows the worth of each one of us, and I am determined that the children I work with know their value in God's eyes.”
In the local community, Steve is known for his hands-on approach to the Gospel – doing everything from getting his hands dirty clearing rubbish bins and singing to toddlers at mother and baby groups, to organising Mexican waves at high school assemblies.
Dorothy Craigie, the churchwarden at St Michael’s Church, has seen how Steve’s work has made a difference in her own approach to ministry. “The way I work and the way I think about church has changed. I now see that church has more to do with the way we live and how we relate to people, and Steve has been a major force in helping me to understand this.
“He is an inspiration and I have done things now I never would have dreamed of doing if Steve hadn’t shown me a different way of doing church.”
In the end, Steve believes it's about getting alongside people and sharing faith in the ups and downs of life.
“My faith is not worked out on a Sunday morning, it is worked out as I rub shoulders with people in everyday life. That’s when they throw questions to me about my faith, and living out faith has to be done in the real everyday world where we meet all kinds of contradictions and difficulties.
“One man who I prayed for regularly during a time of deep depression and mental instability once told me: ‘If it wasn't for you then I don't think I would be here’, and commented, ‘Jesus has done so much for us’. That, I think, is how faith should be lived out.”
To support the work of evangelists like Steve Dixon, please call Church Army on 020 8309 3519 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information log on at www.churcharmy.org.uk
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