While I haven’t been out with Southend Street Pastors for a while now, this has been something I have been pleased to have been involved with, going back to the early days, as an earlier blog posting relates. Del Thomas, who co-ordinates Street Pastors in Southend, has recently published an article of what is entailed, its rationale, impact etc. The following, with Del’s permission, is what he wrote…
Street Pastors – listening, caring and helping people for God in Southend
So how do you solve a problem like a rise in knife and gun crime? Simple, you send in the Christians. At least that was the thinking of Sir Les Isaacs, founder of the Ascension Trust who run the Street Pastors nationally and internationally. He didn’t want to see a generation lost and so he took inspiration from ministers in Kingstown Jamaica and in 2003 set up the Street Pastors. In 2005 Southend took up the challenge and on May 28th the very 1st team went out on patrol. Nearly 10 years on, you will find a team out on the streets every Friday and Saturday patrolling the High Street and Seafront. It is worth noting that the idea of giving away flip flops to ladies who had enough of their high heels was one which started in Southend but is now a staple of teams countrywide.
But what do they do? I hear you ask. Well they are out there to show God’s love in a non judgemental and practical way in the early hours of the morning. Tasks including listening, giving out free bottles of water, flip flops and lollipops, administering 1st aid, walking people home, sobering people up so they can get into taxis, sweeping up broken glass and removing any bottles from the street, spending time with the rough sleepers to restore their dignity, giving them hot meals, drinks and sleeping bags. All of this is done in the name of love and they will have many conversations about faith and pray with a great number of people on the streets. The team have also expanded their duties to run Suspended Coffees in town for the rough sleepers and are going to be setting up a safe space in town for all those who miss the last train to stay somewhere warm and safe overnight before getting the first train in the morning. Finally they are also looking into setting up school pastors as a response to a need the police have identified about violent crime on the rise.
Does it work? Yes is the short answer, statistics have shown nationally that crime is down 50% on the nights Street Pastors are out and here in Southend one of the CCTV operators recently commented ` I dread the nights the Pastors aren’t out as the whole town seems a lot more manic and there seems to be more problems.` They have a very good communication with the local police and indeed the Assistant Commissioner recently commented at a Citizen’s Advice Bureau AGM that `Southend was very proud of it’s street pastors` despite the fact none of us were there! Weekly people will come up and thank them for their hard work and for the way they had impacted them individually. There are far too many stories to share but there was one ex rough sleeper who came up to the team in May 2013. He said ` I know you, you were the people who bought me food and drink two years ago` The team answered `yes` and he continued `more than that you showed me I was worth loving and from that point I started loving myself and I am now off the streets and have a job and a good relationship, so thank you for changing my life`.
Is it biblical? In John 4, Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and in doing so broke 3 social taboos. Firstly she was a woman and secondly she was a Samaritan. You will notice she was drawing water at midday when culturally they would draw water either mid morning or mid afternoon and it was a huge social occasion. This lady because of her past, was not allowed to be part of society and so for Jesus to talk to her was breaking a big taboo. Street Pastors go out in the middle of the night and talk to those who are drunk or high (a lot of them are doing this to ease the pain in their lives) and also to the rough sleepers, who for a lot of people in society are the lowest of the low. They are breaking social taboos. Jesus spoke to the woman in a loving and non judgemental way and in the end led her to God. Street Pastors always treat whoever they come across in a loving and non judgemental manner. The best bit in the story of John 4. That woman then went and converted her whole village, wouldn’t it be great if that happened in Southend?
How do I get involved? There are many ways to get involved whether it is praying for the team, becoming either a street pastor or prayer pastor. You can sign up to get the weekly reports to pray into or you can give financially to support their work. Contact the coordinator Del Thomas on firstname.lastname@example.org or ring him on 07958722234. You can also find them on Facebook under `Southend Street Pastors`.
God bless and thank you for your support.