The steps outside the Kenilworth Post Office hardly seem like the best venue for a social gathering, but every Tuesday at around 7pm a group gathers here to share a meal together.
Cars driving past slow down to get a closer look at this curious mix of people passing around plastic bowls filled with food and casually chatting in the cold. Some of the regulars who show up on these steps every week include women in prostitution, ex-convicts, drug addicts and people who’ve called the streets their home for more than 25 years.
Not exactly the kind of guests you’d normally invite over for a dinner party, right? But for the past year a group of Common Grounders, led by Richard Bolland, have been breaking down social barriers by sharing a meal with street people in Kenilworth, including those most rejected by society.
The group started during the Hope series last year when Richard and some friends decided to cook a big pot of spaghetti bolognaise and share it with the homeless people living near the Kenilworth railway station. They built such good relationships with the men and women who joined them that night that they decided to do the same thing the following week. And the week after that. And the week after that!
Now the group consists of about six regulars who Richard and his team have built strong friendships with. “In the beginning we went without any agenda,” says Richard. “We focused on building relationships and trust. Only after about six months did we bring in worship and bible reading.”
And the response from the group was phenomenal. “They all believe in Jesus and have deep faith,” says Richard. “Now we’ll often spontaneously worship for nearly an hour and pray for people in the group needing healing. One of the ladies was completely healed of arthritis after the group prayed for her. We also prayed for a guy who hadn’t been able to turn his wrist for seven years after he’d been in a car accident and he was also healed.”
But as a first time visitor to the group it’s natural to feel slightly out of place and uncomfortable. Many of the people in the group haven’t bathed in days and are wrapped in plastic bags to protect themselves from the cold. It’s only as each person introduces themselves that you start to notice the warm smiles and individual characteristics.
It’s easy to only see the threadbare clothes and the dirty hair, but behind each face is a story of immense brokenness. Abuse, broken families, extreme poverty, disease and addiction are common threads that run through most of their stories, all combining to tie them to a life on the streets.
Only the transformative work of Jesus in each of their lives can cut these ties, but the support of other Christ-followers is crucial as they walk the long and often difficult road of recovery and healing. “It’s hard not to get despondent when you don’t see immediate transformation, especially when their faith is so strong,” explains Richard. “But I have to remind myself that Jesus sometimes chooses to transform people slowly. Many of them have been on the streets for years so if it takes a year or two before there’s significant change that’s still quick.”
For many of the people who attend, the group is the only support or spiritual guidance they receive. So much so that they now refer to this meeting time as church! And Jesus is very much present when they meet. “It’s really boosted my faith to see how much faith they have,” says Richard. “Whenever I’m feeling my faith challenged I think of how wholeheartedly these guys worship and praise Jesus despite all the hardships they have to face every day.”
Crossing this deep social divide isn’t easy but as Christ-followers we’re all called to love those in need, and what better way to do this than by teaming together with other believers? “It can be emotionally challenging at times but that’s even more reason to get involved,” Richard says. “The personal struggles we have to deal with when we connect with them are nothing in comparison to the difficulties they have to deal with on the streets. But despite it sometimes being hard, my life has been changed by each friendship I’ve made through this group.”
Richard is now also leading a group in the Mowbray area on a Thursday evening. Four of the guys from this group have asked to be baptised and are now staying at a shelter!
If you’d like to find out more about this ministry, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.