Work among the homeless and addiction-ridden members of society is often frustrating and extremely difficult (and a work that few of us would perhaps contemplate). The Lord has, however, given some a real burden and gift for this kind of work and in this article brother Jim McMaster from Newcastle-upon- Tyne reflects on the development of the kind of work which he and his wife Janet have been involved in over the last few years
Following a period of frustration anddisappointment in the mid 1990’s the Lord caused me to seriously consider the manner in which I was seeking to bring the gospel to the people of our nation. Two things particularly troubled me. The first was a seeming lack of outcomes from a long established set of activities. Preaching predominantly to saints and empty seats while freedom existed to preach the gospel in the open streets seemed increasingly inappropriate. The second was that even those who did hear the message seemed to have real difficulty understanding it. At the same time a study of the life of Christ and in particular how He reached and touched the population of His day created in me a growing belief that things could be different. The Lord graciously brought me into contact with a brother who laboured late at night amongst the homeless population of one of our nation’s largest cities. That meeting and a late night on the streets changed my life. To see the radiance of Christ displayed in the evidence of good works as a precursor to pouring the good news of the gospel into weary and yet receptive ears and hearts was a most enlightening experience. And so began our ministry of bringing the gospel to the homeless, addictionridden strand of society in Newcastle.
We began in a simple way with flasks of hot drinks and tracts and the Lord kindly brought us into contact with many who began to trust us enough to talk about their situation and enable us to pour the gospel into their ears. In recent years we have established a weekly Soup Kitchen on Sunday evenings which means that we can reach increasing numbers of people in a more efficient manner. With the help and fellowship of a few local Christians we set up our pitch in a car park in the centre of Newcastle. Our kitchen is based around a small Good News Van which the Lord has recently provided. During our time on the street we are able to feed between forty and eighty people with a warm main meal, some dessert, and tea and coffee. From the van we are able to provide some necessities of life by way of sleeping bags, blankets, toiletries and some basic clothing to relieve immediate hardship. Over the years these things have provided wonderful opportunities not only to show the love of Christ in action but share the gospel in word and by way of suitable literature. We recognize however the importance of maintaining the right focus. It is so easy when dealing with people in such straightened circumstances to become so engrossed in the depths of their misery that we can lose sight of the real reason for making the contact. Our primary responsibility is to share the gospel and by showing the love of Christ in these practical ways to open hearts and minds to receive the word of the Lord. We therefore employ a variety of means to keep the gospel in the forefront of the work even when we are not able to engage in personal conversations. The van is covered with gospel texts; appropriate literature is freely available, including ‘easy to read’ books of testimony, tracts, CD’s and DVD’s. Each of these aspects of the work allows opportunities to engage in conversation and bring the gospel with urgency and compassion. We strive constantly to avoid being overtaken by the material aspects of the work and to remember that many of our contacts could easily lose their lives through addiction or violence at any time.
A related ministry which has been opened up as a result of our street work is the opportunity to visit both a local prison and a number of bail hostels for Bible studies and one-toone conversations.
The work at times is hard but over the years the Lord has encouraged us greatly. Frustrations abound but little can compare with seeing a soul rescued by the power of the gospel not only from sin but from the physical and emotional trauma which sin causes. We are not alone in this kind of work, however, and there are many believers in other areas who in an unsung way are involved in similar activity. Please pray for all those who are reaching out with the gospel in this way.