Telling Stories: Meeting Jesus walking the streets of the scheme

Neill Shaw June 19, 2024 2 2
Telling Stories: Meeting Jesus walking  the streets of the scheme

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Telling Stories: Meeting Jesus walking

the streets of the scheme


by Neil Shaw


Throughout this series we will be hearing the challenging and unexpected stories of real people and how they came to encounter God, and find their faith, at the point where they needed it most. For the sake of discretion and safeguarding, the names of the people that we have spoken to, in some cases, have been changed. 


The Priority Areas annual conference, the Big Conversation, happens each November. It’s an opportunity for those who live, work, worship and serve in Priority Areas to come together, relate, learn and be inspired.

At 2023 Big Conversation we had a variety of speakers: reverend doctors; charity CEOs; government advisors; the moderator! But for me, one voice spoke louder and with more clarity than any of these: Jane. At the plenary and round table sessions Jane worked up the courage to talk about life in her community. She spoke about the reality of generational poverty; of place-based stigma and of following Jesus in the midst of this.

I simply had to sit down with Jane and hear her story. So, we met, along with her minister, David, in the local community centre, where they have their drop-in café. The drop-in, David tells me, was Jane’s idea, born out of a love for people in community. “Jane loves Jesus, she exudes Jesus, everyone here knows she’s a Christian and she is loved for it”, says David.


Jane told me her story:

“I was born, bred, brought up in the scheme here. I belong here.

My dad was an alcoholic and he was a violent man. At the age of 10 the court ordered that he wasn’t allowed contact with my family anymore. We never saw him again after that.

All the way through high school I dogged it (I never went). I would just walk the streets instead of going into school, but I would sneak into school at lunchtime to get lunch then leave again. I would put my own clothes in my school bag and get changed in a toilet in the town.

I remember one time, when dogging school, we broke into a juice factory and got stuck in a cupboard for hours until the police came to let us out. They just brought us back to the scheme here.  

I did love history and art at school but couldn’t go for just those subjects so that meant I didn’t go to school most of the time. I enjoyed home economics too, but we had to pay £1.50 each time we attended class and I didn’t have the money so I didn’t go. Actually at 15, my guidance teacher told me there was “no point coming to school”. I was shocked at being told this, no one ever asked why I was dogging it. I was in an extra support class in first year and I did attend school but in second year I started dogging it – I found some of the classes difficult so instead of getting embarrassed I just didn’t go. Then my Guidance teacher told me there was no point coming to school, I said, “ok then, see you later” – I went out the door and never looked back.

I remember in primary school, when I was doing tests, I knew what it was asking and even what the answer was but I couldn’t get it out and onto the paper – I think this is why I was put in a special class in first year.

Mum worked at this time but because of everything she had been through with my dad, she started to hit the drink – she was working in pubs so it was easy for her to drink.

Basically, I did my own thing from when I was about 11 – walked the streets, hung around with pals, didn’t go to school. No-one asked me where I was or what I was doing. When I was about 15, I ended up in a residential home – I was always running away from home, jumping through the window and running away, because I felt safer outside then I did inside.  The experience of the alcohol and terrible violence I saw my dad do to my mum – I felt safer outside than inside.

Even at the residential unit I kept jumping out the windows and running away. I was staying out and doing all-nighters. Staying at pals’ houses, getting food at their houses. The residential care was run by nuns, every night they would come out looking for me. My older brothers and sisters were in foster care and residential homes too.

After a couple of years, they kicked me out of the residential unit. I went back home and my mum had got a smaller house because none of us were with her anymore. I had to sleep on the couch because there wasn’t a room for me. I was 17.

My mum ended up in hospital with a huge cyst. She got tested for cancer but thankfully she didn’t have that. Mum got a fright and she stopped drinking and her house became a much happier place to be in. I liked coming home to her house when she stopped drinking.

At the time I was getting benefits and just hung around the streets for something to do all day. Because of the situation with mum and dad, I didn’t drink and I never touched drugs.  But we would stay out all night, falling asleep in train stations or shop doorways, getting arrested and brought back to the scheme here. The police always thought we were on drugs or alcohol but I never was.

This community doesn’t feel part of the main town, we feel cut off – we’re cut off physically, being surrounded by the railway line and motorway, but we also don’t feel part of the community of the town. If the police saw us walking through the town, they would pick us up and take us back to the community here. Like we didn’t belong outside of the streets here. They don’t respect us.

I never even thought about going to church then, but we did go to the local chapel one Christmas Eve because we heard that they would be handing out selection boxes after the service. That night the place was packed with hundreds of people. We sat all the way through the service, as bored as anything but desperate to get a selection box. Towards the end of the service, someone thought it would be funny to hit the power button on my friend’s ghetto-blaster! The song “A Good Heart These Days is Hard to Find” blasted out at full volume and everyone turned round to see us. The priest was raging and he shouted from the front, “GET THEM OUT!” They threw us out of the chapel and we didn’t even get our selection boxes.

We then decided to try our hand at the big, fancy Church of Scotland in the town. As we were approaching it was all posh people with fancy clothes and snooty voices. As we got to the door, the man on the door said, “sorry no room” and slammed the door on our faces.

We then went to another big church in the town to see if we could get some shelter there. It’s a big, old fancy church and we thought it would be posh too but there was a wee, old woman on the door who brought us in and gave us pieces and juice and chocolates. That was all we were looking for – not trouble, just somewhere that would welcome us in.

I remember the first time we met Christians. They were YWAM (Youth With A Mission). They moved into a close where my pal lived. I think they were Americans. Because they were in the same close as my friend, at first, they used to chase us away when we were there, but we said to them “this is our territory, we can’t go anywhere else, we were here before you.”

After that, the guy who ran YWAM and lived there, he changed and started to talk to us and he would let us into his house if it was cold and give us tea and toast. We actually started to like them.

I never told any of my friends this but when I visited my friend in that close, I used to watch the YWAM people. There was a peace about them and in their house it was peaceful too. It was a total riot with furniture – like a box of quality street, nothing matched, it was all different colours – but there was a peace in there that I couldn’t explain. There was something different about them.

They never tried to talk to us about Jesus or anything like that. Sometimes they would pray before we got our tea and toast but they never tried to bombard us about being a Christian, they were just themselves.

Even though they never spoke to us, we knew they were Christians because when we were hanging about the close, we could hear them all singing in the flat. They used to meet in that flat and lots of them travelled there in a minibus to sing and pray. It was a shame actually because one night someone set fire to their minibus while they were having a bible study.

The YWAM people were the first Christians I really knew who were different – there was something different about them.

Then years later, when I was about 18 or 19, there was a guy who was the outreach worker called Doc, who worked for the local Church of Scotland here. I never went to that church but everyone knew Doc because he grew up here. I remember there was one night when we were walking around the scheme looking for an ice cream van to buy cigarettes and there was music coming from the church. We could hear drums and guitars so we went to the door of the church to look in. We saw Doc in there with some other guys and they asked if we wanted to come in. We didn’t go in because we didn’t want to get slagged-off by our friends but I wanted to go in. Doc said he wanted to start a youth club that we could go to.

I eventually started going to the club and all my friends came along too. They called it Project Peace. Doc would talk to us about Jesus all the time. It was through how he lived his life and welcomed us in that he became like our bible – we learned about Jesus because of Doc. It’s the same with David, the minister that we have here now – people here might never actually pick up and read their bibles but people read Doc and they read David now and people learn what Jesus is like through watching them.

Because of Doc’s outreach work through the Church of Scotland in the scheme here, I began to learn about Jesus and sing worship songs. We even went to Romania because of that outreach work and I got to see places and things around the world that I never even dreamed I would see. I remember asking Doc to borrow a bible because he spoke about the stories so much that I wanted to learn. I never really read it, it was hard to read, and I never really went to church but I kept going to Project Peace and listening to what Doc had to say.

Then suddenly Doc got another job and he moved away from the church here. The youth club shut and we didn’t have anyone to talk to us about Jesus any more. For years I forgot about all that stuff.

Then, I remember I suddenly wanted to start going to church. Looking back now I realise it was God who put that desire in me. I started to get such an eagerness to go and learn about God; It was like an excitement and a hunger to know more. It happened all of a sudden but I didn’t know how to satisfy that. All I knew to do was to start going to the local chapel – because Doc had moved away. At the chapel I remember hearing something about learning more about God, so that day I went home and up to my bedroom and prayed. Doc had told me, “just talk to God like you are talking to your friends”, so I said to Him, “I want to know You more, I want to learn about You, but I don’t know how to go about it”.

Not long after this, I remember it was like monsoon rain outside and my mum asked me to go to the shops to get her cigarettes. I didn’t want to go out in that weather but I went to save her going out. As I was leaving the shop a car pulled in suddenly and inside it was Doc! He rolled down the window and invited me to a bible study at his house. His house was so far away that I had to get a taxi there, I told my friends but they didn’t want to go, but I was desperate to – I wanted to learn about Jesus for myself and not just take what I was told at the chapel.

After going once, Doc agreed to pick me up and take me each week. I got given a youth bible, which was easy to read. I went along to the bible study for months, listening to people, watching how they live their lives, reading the bible that I had every day – I was excited and hungry to learn more about Jesus. After doing that for months, one night in Doc’s house I became a Christian. That was in 2007 and it was a result of the outreach work done by the Doc through the Church of Scotland here in the scheme.

Looking back now, I can see that God was drawing me to Himself. But it wasn’t easy after I became I Christian. I didn’t know what church to go to – should I go to the chapel, where my family would expect me to go, or should I go to the Church of Scotland? I was overjoyed to become a Christian and meet Jesus but I suddenly had this problem of what would my family say.

When I told my mum, she was not happy. She was raging actually. She called me a turncoat, said that I had abandoned my roots, that I had been brainwashed, my whole family called me all the names. But God is good! I just kept on going to church, I wasn’t going to be put off – I was hungry. For a while I went to the chapel to try to satisfy my family but eventually I just went to the Church of Scotland because Doc was still attending there and I knew people from the bible study. That was a really hard decision to make – can you imagine? It felt like I was on my own, like everyone was against me. But I was hungry, I wanted to know Jesus and I wasn’t going to be put off – He was in my heart!

I began to change slowly – not overnight but I started to see the world in a different way. I wanted to serve Jesus, I wanted to spend every day with Jesus and doing that makes you change as a person. It’s not been plain sailing since then, things have been up and down. I moved away from the scheme for 8 years and joined another church, which was amazing at first but eventually I had to come back to be in the place and with the people I belong to.

When I arrived back here and started going to the Church of Scotland again, it was just a wee group of pensioners. Me and a wee group of pensioners – but God bless them, they were faithful and they welcomed me in. They didn’t have a minister but the man who preached each week was brilliant and I learned from him. They did try to do outreach but they were old and didn’t have much energy.

And then David came along. And, wow! I remember saying to him one day, “I’m beginning to see the real Jesus, through you!” David came here as a scheme minister; we called him the “cool dude minister”, because he dressed like us. He walked the streets of the scheme – every day walk, walk walk, meeting people, talking to them, being real, talking about Jesus. To me that’s church! Being Jesus amongst people. And that was what was needed here in this scheme. Just because people don’t come along to a church building on a Sunday morning doesn’t mean the fields aren’t ready to be set on fire for Jesus. It’s outreach that makes the difference – that’s what did it for me.

Now we have the drop-in, holiday clubs, youth clubs, listening to people, walking the streets still, meeting people, telling them about Jesus. Everyone here knows David, knows who he is. To me, that’s church – it’s in the streets, up the closes, in people’s flats, in the fields as you go a walk with people. So, praise God! He looked after me, He drew me to Himself and here I am today – walking with Him, on the streets, in church.”

I had the pleasure of visiting Jane and David at the drop-in café one Wednesday, earlier this year. It was incredibly moving for me. A group of ordinary people, struggling with life, many in various stages of recovery or addiction, most suffering trauma and loss, but all gathered together with laughter and joy. Worship music was playing in the background and at one stage, David gathered them round, opened the bible and read from the gospel of John, where Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. What followed was an open, honest and raw conversation about Jesus and how His love can impact our lives.

If you’re looking for Jesus, it might be worth visiting the drop-in, or walking the streets of the scheme, talking to people. Jesus is alive and active here, in the most unlikely of places. 


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