Mid way through 1994 it was as though my eyes were opened for the first time to see the needs of the lost. Some brothers in Manchester took me with them as they visited the homeless of their city with food, blankets, and most importantly the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I was so moved by the needs of the people and the compassion of the Christians that, at 3.30am, I knelt by my bed and struggled with the Lord. I came to the conviction that if the Lord Jesus were here in cities of the UK this is exactly the way He would reach out to the people. There, on the bedroom floor in Manchester, the Lord took deep dealings with me and radically changed my heart and the direction of my gospel activity. On my return home I shared my exercise with another brother, and to begin with we walked the streets together almost every night with rucksacks full of sandwiches, soup, and tracts.
Those early days were full of joy as we sat on the streets and in doorways and shared the gospel. We made many initial contacts, and grieved as we watched the effects of alcohol and drugs suck the life out of human beings and ultimately take them into eternity. Week after week we would look for familiar faces only to be told they had died through violence, drug or alcohol overdose, or hypothermia. I purposed before the Lord then to make the streets the main area for my gospel activity. People on the streets are very suspicious, and it took a long time to establish their trust. However, slowly we gained access into the murky world of hiding places, hostels and bed-sits, and now have a regular round of visitation and sharing the gospel in the most dismal of places. Ears are always open to the message, and heart wrenching stories of abuse, misery, and death are the normal starting places for conversation.
Over the years we have seen literally hundreds of our contacts go out into eternity. There is no shortage of reminders of the need for the gospel on the streets, and the Lord has led us into using a regular Sunday night open air soup kitchen in a car park. Normally we feed around 60 people and are thankful to the saints who supply food, blanket, socks, underwear, and toiletries which are the essential bridge building materials to share the gospel. While the normal expectation is disappointment, the Lord has graciously allowed us to see a number of these folks saved, and some are still going on for the Lord. The focus of the work is reaching people with the gospel before they tip over the precipice of eternity. There is no doubt that only eternity will reveal the true nature of all the Lord has done by His grace. Most other nights we are visiting hostels or regular soup kitchens and often during the day we can easily find folks to listen to the gospel.
The dark world of the streets is almost always associated with the depressing world of the prison, and life like this almost always ends in crime. Late in 1997 a street contact was sent to HMP Durham and through the chaplain asked if I could make a special pastoral visit. The chaplain then invited me to attend an afternoon class once a week. Through this and other most miraculous circumstances, eventually I was invited by the prison to spend one day a week there. Eleven years have now passed and the Lord has continued to allow me complete liberty for visitation and Bible classes in this high security jail. The prison chaplain has often been antagonistic to the work of the gospel, but the Lord has always kept the way open. Every Friday at 7am I enter the prison and after visitation to the Segregation Unit and Health Care the Bible class is well under way by 8.20am. Usually 12 men come and the next 2 hours are spent bringing them the gospel. Very few men in the prison can read and certainly it is a real challenge to introduce them to the language and truth of Scripture. However, we have been encouraged by men trusting the Lord and living to prove it.
During a recent series in the Bible class the Lord saved a man called Francis. He has since brought many men to the Bible class, led several to the Lord, and has now moved on to another prison where reports say he is still very active for Christ. Bible class is all over by 11am and the rest of the day is spent in cell to cell visiting distributing Seed Sowers texts, tracts and CDs of a special radio programme we produce for prisoners. Again, the prison is also a place where everyone is close to the brink of eternity. Recent encouragements also have been enjoyed among some prison officers who always pull my leg but often open up conversations for the gospel.
We are thankful to all who support us in prayer and in practical ways. Much of what we do is unconventional and out of the public eye so your faithful support is invaluable. There are many other places all over the country where believers are involved in similar outreach work. Please pray for the other saints who have a heart for the homeless and the prisoners and selflessly engage in evangelism in these areas.