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Dec 06 New life on the road (CA)

A former double-decker has become the ‘Church on the Bus,’ providing a haven for north Derbyshire’s homeless

The streets of Chesterfield are the bedrooms for a homeless community that is frequently frightened, cold, hungry, ill and has no knowledge of God.

One person who knows better than most how much homelessness hurts is Alan Park, Church Army’s outreach worker in the town. He was homeless himself for seven years, living on the streets of Doncaster and London, and with travellers. He felt lonely, excluded from society and rough.

Alan, who works in partnership with The Diocese of Derby, has pioneered a creative response to the issue of homelessness in north Derbyshire using a former double-decker bus. It began life on the road as a soup kitchen and there are now plans for it to be fully renovated with a kitchen, counselling area, kids’ play area, toilet and shower.

The Church on the Bus provides a haven for the homeless and a means through which Christians can reach out with the life-transforming love of Jesus to a community too often shunned and ignored. It offers hot drinks, food and toiletries and, most importantly, prayer. Around 30 homeless people access the project on a regular basis and a new Alpha Course is underway with the hope of planting a church.

“Government statistics don’t seem to highlight the very real problem in this part of Derbyshire with rough sleepers,” comments Alan. “but our team of volunteers and church members are all too aware of the issues and we are trying to do something about it.”

Holy Trinity and Christ Church Chesterfield’s congregation raised £3,000 to help fund Alan’s vision of a mobile base for people who need help and advice about how to break out of homelessness but much more is needed.

“Homelessness can happen with the break up of families, debt, alcohol or drugs,” says Alan. “Nobody is exempt from being on the streets - it can happen to anyone.”

The work is challenging and seen as long-term home-mission work, but it’s already making a difference. Rough sleeper Mick (54), has been coming to the bus for the past few months and recently became a Christian. He stunned the team by sharing his testimony in front of 70 people at Holy Trinity and Zion Church.

Mick’s new-found faith has helped him put his life back together - he now has a flat he can call home and his new friends on the project team are helping him to furnish and decorate it.

Nat (22) is a drug addict who started coming to the bus when she got to know some of the team. One evening she turned up distressed and with a needle still stuck in her arm. She was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. Nat ended up in prison where she reflected on what Alan and the team had shared with her about the love of Jesus and gave her life to Christ then and there.

She faces a challenging time in coming off drugs and rebuilding her life, but is now able to face this with a personal knowledge of the love of Christ.

A couple in their mid-20s have started coming to the bus regularly. As well as benefiting from a tent and sleeping bag provided by the team, they have found love and a new group of supportive friends.

The vision for the Church on the Bus is to reach out to those within the homeless community who do not have any links with churches. It aims to establish a fresh-expression of church focused on helping these people nurture their faith and disciple them.

Too many homeless projects provide ‘hit-and-run support’ by opening up buildings temporarily during the cold winter months, but the issue of homelessness doesn’t fade away as spring returns. Church on the Bus aims to provide a year-round presence and beacon of hope and support when the temporary buildings close.

“It’s great to see how our work is transforming lives,” says Alan. “Our response is essentially practical and what we do is absolutely essential for those who care about addressing this issue through a faith-based response.

“We aim to tackle injustice and poverty, and show care to ensure that each individual feels valued and is given the help they need to get back into permanent accommodation. Many of the people we know have had little experience of feeling loved. Christian mission is well placed to help this deprived community because of a unique emphasis on love and the preciousness to God of each individual, and the need to love and value one another.

“Mission is not about simply proclaiming the love of God but expressing it in action, and giving people a taste of that experience in practical terms.”
  • To support the work of evangelists like Alan Park please call Church Army on 020 8309 3519 or e-mail .To find out more about Church Army click here
A hand to the homeless

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20, NIV)

If you got a problem just come to the crew
Ask their advice they all know what to do
They’re always here for you with friendship and love
Such a precious gift from the Lord God above.

Such wonderful people they all offer prayer
Giving you hope and show that they care
With the Lord’s strength leading the way
We can all move forward towards a brighter day.

(Poem from Mick, a rough sleeper, inspired by Church on the Bus)

Homelessness - the facts

In this country ...
  • 25% of the homeless are aged 18-25
  • 6% are aged 60+
  • 80-90% are male
  • 18-32% were at one time in a children’s home
  • 50% have been in prison
  • 81% are addicted to drink or drugs
  • 30-50% have mental health problems
  • Life expectancy for a homeless person is 45% lower than the general population
(Information from Crisis)

Homelessness Sunday is on 28 January 2007

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