Ian Croxford, explains how he and his wife Frances have been moved by their Christian faith to help those facing financial difficulties in their home town of Yeovil, through positive practical action.
“Your Kingdom Come.” We pray it every day and look forward to that day when Christ comes again to reign. However, I don’t think it is good enough to tell the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the captives and the downtrodden that they’ll just have to wait until then. As Christ’s representatives we are called to do something about it now. That’s why I was involved in setting up the debt counselling centre in Yeovil with Christians Against Poverty back in 2011.
I became a Christian when I was at University. I learnt that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, and through faith in him we are saved, and have the guarantee of eternal life.
Nice and simple. Jesus did all the work and through Grace we have salvation and can get on with our lives.
But then I keep coming back to the end of Matthew 25. It’s a real gob-smacker. Jesus was talking to some really good people who did their best to be holy; they read the scriptures every day and tithed everything. People who assumed they were sheep rather than goats. Yet it is what we do for the “least of these” that shows our real love for Jesus.
I believe we’re all called to follow Jesus and become his disciples. This doesn’t just mean reading what He said, but also doing what He did. Jesus had real passion for the poor and marginalised and seemed to spend most of his time in their company. At Christmas we are reminded that He was born in a stable and when He died His total possessions were one shirt.
I believe that we too are called to preach good news to the poor; heal the broken hearted and proclaim freedom to the captives.
In every town and village there are people who are trapped by debt. People frightened to answer the door for fear of debt collectors, children going hungry because their parents haven’t got the money for food, lives blighted by despair. In Yeovil, the threat of redundancies at major employers adds to the feeling of helplessness.
It is a joy and a privilege to be invited into people’s homes and be given the opportunity to help them through the counselling service. Our clients are really brave to face up to their problems and admit that they need help. It is emotionally draining hearing the issues and pain that people are going through, but such a joy when they realise that there is always a solution, that Christians will help them and stick with them for the long haul, and do it all for free. The ultimate joy comes when they realise that they need to accept Jesus as their saviour.
In partnership with local churches, Christians Against Poverty now have centres in Bath, Yeovil and Taunton where anyone in debt can seek help, hope, and a solution to their problems. But we really need centres in the rest of Somerset.
We also need our nation to have a complete change of heart; to stop living on credit and only spend what we can afford. But meanwhile, there is real suffering in our own communities and we, as Christians, need to do our bit to show Christ’s love to a world in pain.
Matthew 25 42-46 ( ESVUK)
“42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The words from Matthew 25, which Ian says were the key thing that motivated him to act in his community around the issue of debt, also resonate with the Isaiah 58 reading from Day 4 last week. Together they show us that action to support people in need has been a consistent, long term part of the expression of faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The reading tells us that not showing practical care for our fellow humans is failure to demonstrate our love for Jesus, and in contrast an act for those in need, is equal to any act or speech which seeks to demonstrate our feelings for God.
Debt is destructive and so often it is hidden until past the time when some permanent damage is done to people’s mental or physical health and their relationships. As Ian says it isn’t good enough to tell people things will be alright at the Second Coming, they need “love in action” now. Some of our actions in our communities may be slow to show an impact, but when supporting people in debt we often see the immediate transformation of people’s lives. Following the requirements of CAP and other Christian-led debt advice projects in the Diocese, do not give a solution that requires no personal “cost” even though the services are free. The regime allows for little beyond necessities, but it creates a pathway to eventually being clear of debt and a freedom from worry. It can also offer them a relationship and prayer.
There are people who simply do not have enough to live on and live in a permanent cycle being in and out of low level debt in order to survive, and we need to seek long term solutions to ensure a minimum standard of living for all to avoid this reliance on debt. For others getting into unmanageable debt happens for a range of reasons such as business failure or unemployment or lifestyle choices. It is these people that Ian and other volunteers especially seek to help and where they see lives transformed. While at present there are no instant solutions to the cultural pressures to consume more and more, we can support better and more ethical financial institutions such as the Archbishop’s support for Responsible Credit which has led to the setting up of the Just Finance Foundation.
We first shared Ian and Frances’ story as part of the Bishops Lent Appeal 2017