There have been many that have helped inspire my own community activism, one of which was George Müller, and has done so from my youth. “George Müller (German – born as : Johann Georg Ferdinand Müller; 27 September 1805 – 10 March 1898), a Christian evangelist and Director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England, cared for 10,024 orphans in his life. He was well known for providing an education to the children under his care, to the point where he was accused of raising the poor above their natural station in life. He also established 117 schools which offered Christian education to over 120,000 children, many of them being orphans” – Wikipedia. One of the reasons for being attracted to Müller was that not only did he do what he did out of compassion for the poor and disadvantaged but he did so in order to glorify God. He undertook his activities in ways many, including most Christians, would regard as unusual and that was to pray concerning all the needs he knew about and to trust God to meet these needs in the belief that since it was God’s work that is what God will do. The fact that he and his co-workers achieved what they did without asking for money from anyone is perhaps testimony to the efficacy of these principles. One of his legacies is the George Müller Foundation that is supporting many orphanages and care of orphans around the world, and is still adopting many of Müller’s principles.
I mention this in context with my dreaming dreams (something old men are apt to do) as well as working at the coal face concerning how best to address all sorts of human need that I am aware off, even on my own door step, and in a small part chipping away at trying to do something about it. Clearly, things are quite different to Müller’s day. For one thing there was no welfare state. Also, there is now a plethora of agencies, not necessarily faith based, that are seeking to supplement what is provided under welfare and through the family and other networks of those in need. Some of those agencies started off as faith based but no longer operate under such an ethos. And of course there is the Church, which despite its shortcomings is waking up to the possibilities. Moreover, the often repeated experience of those working on the ground is that unmet needs and unaddressed gaps remain big, the system operates sometimes like a pin ball machine whereby the needy are bounced between one bumper to another without issues being resolved and the horse being led to water syndrome is seen too often, ending up with the horse not drinking as intended. All this gets me dreaming of what might be – a faith based enterprise (inclusive and non pushy that seeks to work with non faith agencies for the common good) that squarely deals with a major obstacle often encountered – disempowerment, a one stop shop to stop the pin ball effect and in addressing the gaps, and this can apply in all sorts or areas.
But back to the reality of the here and now and my particular area of community activism, specifically managing one of the Southend Church Winter Night Shelters (CWNS) between the months of November and March… The good news is no one has died and notwithstanding some inevitable altercations and reading of the Riot Act a lot of people have been helped, not just in my night shelter but the other six also. I should say it is with a certain amount of relief I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, knowing we are two thirds the way through the program. But if I am honest, it is with some consternation I look forward to this coming November when it starts all over again and, while there are benefits of having seven coordinated centres, I can’t help thinking there must be much more efficient and effective ways of managing limited resources rather than duplicate seven times a lot of what we do. My dream is a single centre dedicated as a homeless shelter also offering certain elements of a one stop shop. Moreover, it will operate some of the same principles of George Müller or if looking at another age and at the other end of the ecclesiological spectrum, we apply the order of St. Benedict, whereby we serve people as if we are serving Christ.