‘We realised we were looking for Eden’

Published on March 9, 2018

Gavin and Jem Hicks became unsure of God’s direction for their lives after leaving India. However they soon found purpose and a home in Eden Walsall, West Midlands. They share their story…

Before we heard about Eden, we were working out in India together as missionaries, but we had to come back (quite suddenly) knowing we wouldn’t be able to return long-term as Gavin got seriously ill. It soon became clear that if we wanted to follow God’s plans for us together, as a team, that could no longer involve India. That was a very painful decision, particularly for Jem, because she really felt that was what God had planned for us.

We had left our jobs out there and were staying with family, trying to work out what our next move was. We knew that we wanted to continue doing youth work, but we were also looking for somewhere to make our home, and to get stuck into a new community. So, without realising it, we were basically looking for Eden.

When we visited Walsall we fell in love with it, and knew that we wanted to commit to this place and these people. Jem hadn’t expected to feel that way about anywhere other than India, so it just felt right from the beginning. A big part of that was getting to know the people at the church that we’re partnered with here, and seeing how they just live the gospel in a really down-to-earth way.

We’ve been blown away by how warm and welcoming people are – it’s not just that we’re here to be community to other people, it’s that they’re being community to us. Our neighbours on one side are a really friendly Pakistani family who bring us amazing home-cooked food, and on the other side there’s another lovely, big family who have been helping us with our garden!

There’s loads that we’re excited about and would like to do, but we need more hands on deck

The area is really diverse and multicultural, but there is a lot of deprivation. There’s a big drug and alcohol abuse problem, and 46% of the over-16s in the area have no qualifications. A lot of the young people we work with have either been excluded from school or are on the verge of exclusion. There’s just a real lack of hope, ambition or aspiration. Many of these young people don’t know what they’re aiming for in life, but it’s clear that they are really hungry. Hungry for some good news. Hungry for some hope. They want what we’ve got to offer – whether that’s a chat, some pizza, or the gospel.

It probably took us six to nine months to build up a level of trust, but we now have many of the young people coming regularly to Youth Alpha in our front room, and to church every week.

We have had to learn to take our lead from them rather than imposing our own plans, agenda or way of doing things. Some of the young people went through a phase of repeatedly leaving inflated condoms on our doorstep, until Jem finally asked them, ‘Do you want to talk about sex?’ They desperately wanted to talk to us about it but they just didn’t know how to communicate that! We hadn’t necessarily seen that need but they had asked for it, so we’re beginning to address the issue with them.

Where we’ve seen the most progress is through personal relationships, built over time and perseverance 

Sometimes the need is overwhelming and you just want to do everything, but where we’ve seen the most progress has been when we’ve started to get to know individuals and families, and to understand where they’re at, rather than being paralysed by the bigger picture. It’s through those personal relationships, built over time and perseverance, that we see the opportunities and can focus
our attention.

One of the biggest challenges at the moment is that it’s just us. There’s loads that we’re excited about and would like to do, but we’re having to be patient until we can get more hands on deck. We’re looking forward to seeing our team grow in the future, and it will be really exciting to discover where that leads us. The work we do and the impact it has in Walsall will be shaped by the particular personalities and gifts of those who come to join us.

There’s loads that we’re excited about and would like to do, but we need more hands on deck

We’re learning to hold our own plans loosely in case God shows us that we need to go in another direction. In a way, that’s how it all started for us, when we had to let go of India. Our whole experience of Eden has been a lesson in just making ourselves available to be used by God, whatever that looks like.

Find out more about Eden Walsall at stpeterswalsall.org and if you’re interested in joining an Eden team head to joineden.org