Church Army Val Thom - Jan 07
When 15-year-old Nathan Peebles was first diagnosed with Leukaemia, he had so many things running through his mind. How long will live? Would I be able to have a normal life? What about school, friends, football?
“I was shocked, very shocked, I just didn’t know what to do”, Nathan explained. “Then I met Val and everything changed. She’s been a great help in so many ways. She’s helped me to enjoy and appreciate life and discover God’s love despite all that I have had to cope with.”
Val Thom is a Church Army evangelist based in the Upper Shankhill area of Northern Ireland; a community emerging from thirty years of trouble; still finding its feet in the midst of social deprivation and underachievement.
“There are loads of really good people here who suffer from a lack of self esteem but that have hearts of gold,” Val says. “I believe in people and I want to help them understand that life has a lot to offer and that God has great plans for them.”
That is why every morning she gets up with a mission; a mission to love people into the Kingdom. You see, Val is a friend to the people in her local community. She’s there for the youths who sometimes don’t have anywhere to go and end up getting into anti-social behaviour. She’s there for older people who are on the margins of society and sometimes feel isolated and lonely. She’s there for women who need a shoulder to lean on or just a friendly chat.
“I'm free to do things that those in charge of running a church just wouldn't have time to do,” she says. “I believe in Church Army’s motto, sharing faith through words and action and I believe the church for so long, we’ve concentrated on the word and although the word’s very important, we need the action as well. We need to show that the church cares about people.”
Val values relationships and she will tell you that relationship-building is an essential part of the job. Alison who assists Val with her community work agrees. When they first met, Alison had just given her life to Christ but felt a bit lost.
“I didn’t know where I fitted in the grand scheme of things,” Alison explained. “But Val gave up a lot of her time to help me. We met regularly for one-on-one Bible studies and this has really boosted my confidence and helped me grow as a Christian. My husband has now given his life too and we’re both enjoying God’s love.”
Val’s ministry is all about love. Love, she says, is important in this kind of work because it breaks down barriers and helps people discover who they are.
She says: “If people don’t have a sense of self, they are more likely to get mixed up in the wrong crowd. Around here, kids as young as nine are involved in alcohol and get in a lot of antisocial behaviour. The kids don’t have anywhere to go and we provide something structured; something that challenges them and not only challenges them but helps develop self esteem about what they can do themselves.”
She runs a youth club for young people like Nathan; a hangout place where they can have fun with God. She talks to the youths in a language they can understand; takes them on overseas holidays, to dry ski-slopes and helps them reach and fulfil their potential through different activities. Last summer, Val took some 40 or so football mad young people on a visit to Anfield, where they were trained by Liverpool FC coaches.
There is a lot of work to be done, but slowly Val is extending a hand of love to her local community one person at a time and this seems to be making a difference.
“We had an event at the church and the church was left open and unattended on a Saturday night,” she recalls. “There was money left lying in the church and a group of kids came in, saw the money, took the opportunity and made off with the money. On the Sunday night, the kids then came back, having sent me a message saying they wanted to talk to me, and they returned the money. That’s the positive effect that our work has on them. You can’t minister to people unless you love them and God has placed a love in my heart for people.”
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