The outreach mission of King’s Church is making a huge difference to many lives in the surrounding Medway community.
SueSUE, aged 55, hit hard times some months ago and found herself living on the streets.
“There are some quite wealthy people in Chatham,” she explains, “But there’s also a lot of unemployment. It’s very difficult to get work and we’ve got quite a few people living on the streets. Chatham has also got a flourishing Christian community! At Caring Hands, we help people survive.”
Today, Caring Hands is a thriving church and community project. It all began in 2000 when a small space underneath the main worship area of the King’s Church was made available for homeless people to shelter and enjoy a hot drink and some food.
An average of 110 homeless and vulnerable people visit Caring Hands in the Community every week day. Services include a GP surgery, one-to-one mentoring, job search, benefits advice, literacy and numeracy assistance, free showers, food, laundry and a clothing exchange.
Caring Hands mission statement runs, “Caring Hands... seeks to minister the love of God to a hurting world, both practically and purposefully, helping to break the cycles of addiction, poverty and hopelessness that blight so many in our society.”
Sue first came to Caring Hands in January 2014. She tells her story:
“I had been evicted and was sleeping on the streets of Chatham. The council referred me to Caring Hands in the Community. They told me I could get food there. Caring Hands helped me find disabled accommodation and sort out my benefits. Now I come here every day.
“Recently, my benefits were delayed and I needed food. Now I eat here. Caring Hands has, quite literally, been a God-send to me. I’ve also made friends here at Caring Hands. Most of us are on benefits; I can relate to the people who come here because of that. I also sometimes tell them about Jesus in an informal way.”
John Daynes, a.k.a ‘Big Red’Matthew Guest is senior leader of King’s Church. His enthusiasm for Caring Hands is contagious. He describes how earlier this year a police officer had come over to Caring Hands to see a former trouble maker, John Daynes or ‘Big Red’ as he is affectionately called. The officer couldn’t believe the difference he saw in him.
In 2013 ‘Big Red’ 33, depressed, homeless and recently released from prison walked into the drop-in at Caring Hands. He tells his story:
“When I was eight years old I was taken from my mum and went into foster care. In all, I went to about 30 different foster homes, moving, moving all the time; it did my head in. Eventually, when I was 14, I went to a children’s home and began smoking cannabis. I started thieving cars and I received my first prison sentence when I was 15. I came out of prison wilder than when I went in and I was heading for destruction. I had no guidance in life. At 16, I was kicked out of the children’s home I was in. I had my throat cut in a fight and only got wilder. I also became addicted to heroin and cocaine.
“In all, I was in prison for 13 years. Every time I came out I wanted to change and settle down. Then one day, when I was 31, I was arrested for robbery. I’d done plenty of robberies but not this one. I was awaiting trial and in my cell I prayed every day. When I was acquitted and pronounced ‘not guilty’, I said a big ‘thank you’ to God and moved to Chatham.
“Friends and family disowned me at this point. I was suicidal and depressed. I was homeless too and slept in a Chatham car park. It was snowing for three days and I dropped in at Caring Hands. They gave me lots of blankets and every morning I had a shower there. I began to feel loved by the staff and volunteers.
Caring Hands, Chatham“The moment I stepped into King’s Church my depression lifted. ‘THIS IS GOD!’ I thought. I came to Jesus and was baptised and moved into community. I have ‘family’ around me now. It took me a few months to come off methadone but now I am totally drug-free. I volunteer at Caring Hands where I’m in charge of the gardens and I also help lead a Life Group (cell group). People can’t believe the transformation in me! Some of the guys in the drop-in have said to me, “That’s what I want!” I tell them, “Why not go for it? Jesus is for free!”
Simon and Tony working on the recreational gardenMatthew Guest explained that part of the reason for Caring Hand’s success is the relationships formed with local organisations:
“We build relationships, working on a friendship as well as a professional level. This year we’ve been recognised as one of the Mayor of Chatham’s Charities of the Year. Last year Medway Council appointed us as interim administrators of their Local Welfare Provision programme with a budget of over £300,000.”
Volunteers and staff are at present developing a recreational garden for Caring Hands’ clients at the back of Caring Hands.
“It is a million miles away from their problems,” explains Matt. “I brought one of our female clients out to see it and she burst into tears: ‘Why would you do this for us?’ she asked.”
Caring Hands is supported by a Christian community of twenty in an adjoining house: ‘The Barn.’
Ricky Grosvenor has been Day Centre Manager at Caring Hands in the Community since Spring 2013. He said:
Ricky Grosvenor“I grew up in London on the Thamesmead Estate, taking and selling drugs. I used to go to a medium and one day I cried out to God who I never knew existed. I talked to my gran and began going to a Baptist church in Greenwich and had an experience of God there. I came to Chatham to start afresh. Now I’m married with a kid and we live in ‘the Barn’.
“Our guys at Caring Hands are loveable rogues. Building up a relationship of trust with them is very important. Building relationships with agencies is also so important. We’ve formed partnerships with schools, local businesses, Medway Council, the Mayor, the police and local churches.
“We are going from strength to strength. We have testimonies of what God has done every day. God is a talking point at Caring Hands.”