In this special extract from Eden’s Unfinished, John Craig shares his story. John and his wife Debs bought a house in Parkhead in the East End of Glasgow so they could live in the heart of the community and work and minister to those on their doorstep. Not long after, they joined with Eden to lead a new team there. Here, John reflects on their journey so far…
When we first moved into Parkhead and I started working alongside the church, I met a guy called Stevie. He had struggled with addiction from a young age and had been in and out of prison. He would hang around at a lot of the activities we put on, but professed to have no real interest in what he called ‘the God stuff.’
As we got to know him better through Eden, we cultivated a real friendship. We noticed not only that he started to be around more at church events, but also that the way he spoke and acted was changing. It was clear that he was getting closer and closer to knowing God.
Three years on, he made the decision to follow Jesus and now is a great friend to those in the team as well as someone who is an active part of church life and ministry. Not everything in his life is sorted and together but God is at work in Stevie and we love having the opportunity to journey with him. That’s what Eden is all about.
For as long as I can remember it’s been in my heart to live in a community of need. It’s for people like Stevie that we are here in Parkhead. Right now we have the privilege and opportunity to work with many others like Stevie, who are struggling – whether through addiction, unemployment, ill-health or something else. We have also started to do more and more work with young people in the area, believing that God has so much more for them than what they see around them or currently aspire to.
For Eden Parkhead, it’s all been rooted from the start in a key passage from the book of Jeremiah. This has inspired the team in different ways to picture the area becoming more peaceful, fruitful and stable because of our presence in the community, as we actively pray for it and seek ways to bring the promise into being:
‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
Even before the Eden team came along, the church was very active in the area, but we have found that the act of moving into the neighbourhood added an intentional and incarnational purpose to the church community. It was always there, but has become rooted in the team living in the community and is making an impact.
Our work is helped by the simple fact that the street that our church building is on is the epicentre of a lot of what happens in Parkhead for those struggling with addictions, so we rub shoulders with them on a daily basis. We try to be open from 9 till 5 every day, running programmes or simply welcoming them into the space, allowing people to be among a healthy network of others. We run activities that allow people to get involved and do something positive during the day, and we have a number of discipleship groups running alongside the programmes helping us to disciple adults along the way.
We now run a ROC (Redeeming Our Communities) Café youth club which young people love and this allows us to partner with other agencies to add another strand to their youth work. We have other connection points with young people in the local community that have helped us build up relationships, particularly through football and a lot of detached work on the streets.
The East End of Glasgow is not the kind of place that many Christians think of living in when they come to the city, but we started out with us and two other couples; two of my best friends and their wives. They all moved to live in the community and, together with some people in our church who already lived and breathed Parkhead, we ended up with a team of 10.
Joining the Eden Network for us has been great as it gives us moments throughout the year to walk alongside others who are doing exactly the same thing as us, experiencing the same joys and struggles. Collectively we learn loads and are encouraged by chatting to others involved with incarnational mission and sharing some of the heartache and challenges.
Most importantly we get to pray for each other – in fact the heart of all we do is prayer. We have learned that programmes and plans and strategies are fine, but ‘unless the LORD builds the house, the labourers build in vain’ (Psalm 127:1).
We’re often told what we are doing is counter-cultural, and that’s true. People in community development and local positions of authority look at what we’re doing and they admire it because they can see the impact it has on lives, but it doesn’t always make a lot of sense to them.
But with a ‘kingdom’ perspective it makes perfect sense. It’s one that Jesus modeled. He was called the ‘friend of sinners’ by others and that’s who we want to be, too. We see our community not as clients or service users, but guests and friends.