August 06 - Church Army
Nightlight is a ministry run by Nottingham community worker Steve Simmonds, that takes over in the binge-drinking capital of England when the soup runs finish...
A team patrol the city centre after closing time to be available for people who need help and support. The focus is on reaching out to those who find themselves on the streets and at risk, often through no fault of their own.
Steve’s outreach to alcoholics, drug-users, the homeless and prostitutes, has put him in the frontline, working with people whom most Christians find it difficult to deal with. His approach is deliberately low-key: “Only those we chat to, or have helped, realise what we do. They're often appreciative, and equally surprised about why we do it."
In an interview with BBC Radio Nottingham, Steve said: "I am a Christian who believes passionately that people should treat others as they themselves would like to be treated.”
Although it's risky work, Steve hasn't experienced any physical threats, but has plenty to say about the new friends he has made on the streets. “One ex-soldier told his life story - all about the people he'd shot - and yet he said we didn't judge him, but just listened. He'd never had anyone do that for him before. He broke down in tears.”
Working in partnership with a number of key agencies and volunteers that link in with drink, drugs and health issues, Steve uses his base at the Malt Cross Café Bar to get a unique insight into the city's thriving night-time culture. He has built links with the workers in the night-time economy who come across homeless people on a regular basis - doormen, club management, burger stall holders, all of whom are able to share ideas about the plight of the city's homeless population.
"It started out with looking at what is happening and building up relationships," says Steve. "One man who had experienced homelessness and debt issues showed me some of the areas where the homeless live - including doorways, car parks and under bridges. He has shown some interest in faith and is now attending a local church."
The work is rewarding. Katrina, a member of a volunteer team comments: “I’ve learned more about God’s characteristics of grace, mercy and forgiveness doing this work. It’s great that we are there just to give and not want anything in return. Sometimes it can feel intimidating, but generally after boundaries have been broken, it is surprising how often people are able to tell us some really deep things. At the start, it’s hard to tell if you are making a difference. Now, if I don’t go out, it’s great when they tell you the following week that you were missed.”
Men and women are coming to know God in a new light. Some are finding faith for the first time, while others are growing spiritually. Carl, who is homeless, has begun attending church and encourages a group of six others in his shelter to do the same.
Steve, one of the homeless regulars on the streets adds: “These guys are our lifeline. We would be dead without them. They don’t give up on us.”
What is Nightlight?
Nightlight is about
* Taking over where the soup runs finish.
* Liaising with other networks to offer a wider support structure to those on the streets.
* Advice, a listening ear, mentoring, prayer, signpost ministry and being there for those left vulnerable and alone
Each year Church Army needs over £30,000 for this ministry to help touch the lives of the homeless and vulnerable in Nottingham. To pledge your support, call 020 8309 3519 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
More on The Malt Cross can be found at www.maltcross.com