guest blog: community changes (part 1)

One of the great privileges of being on the Sanctuary’s journey is the like-minded and like-hearted people who become part of our dispersed family as we spur each other on. One of those people is Helen Griffiths. Together with her husband, Tom Elmitt, she is part of Koinonia, an intentional Christian community rooted in and reaching out to the St Mellons Estate, Cardiff – and backed up by their local church Glenwood Church Faith Community.

Helen is many things including a part-time youth worker at the Beacon centre on the estate and a PHD student in International Human Rights Law and Violence Against Women. To the Sanctuary she is a source of huge encouragement and inspiration. As you read part 1 of this guest blog, and hear her share her journey into intentional community and outreach to the disenfranchised, we know she will be to you too.

Helen Griffiths

Can you tell us a bit about how you came to faith and what has been important in your growth and discipleship ?

I became a Christian when I was 18. I wouldn’t have described myself as an atheist before then but I did particularly dislike Christians!

A friend and I (reluctantly) began hanging out with some Christians at sixth form during a time when I was struggling. My father was very ill and my uncle had just died.

One day I got out a New Testament and psalms, given to me by the Gideon’s, and started to read it for the first time. From that first time I started to take it everywhere with me – reading it at every opportunity.

I had a decisive moment of deciding to follow Jesus just days before my dad was due for a big surgery. I didn’t have answers but God’s words, almost audible in my ears, ‘it is in my hands’, were enough. This was the moment when I realised that whatever happened to my dad, to me, for the rest of my life I was going to live for the God that holds me in his hands.

I wasn’t able to go to church very often for the first few months but read the bible constantly.

I loved those red-letter words of Jesus – they were changing me from the inside out.

They remain by biggest encouragement: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

How central do you feel poverty is to Jesus’ message?

I feel poverty is absolutely central to Jesus’ message and his ministry on earth. Jesus invites us all to know him and be part of his coming kingdom – his heart is for each person without exception – but his kingdom is for justice and righteousness and central to that is a heart and passion for the poor.

I believe this comes across in Jesus’ teaching and the choices he made – who he spent time with, who he ate with, who he advocated for.

The red-letter words of Jesus couldn’t be clearer.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

They speak of how God loves us and how he intends us to love our neighbour and love him.

What do you think Christians are called to do about poverty?

As a very rich nation we can be blind to poverty on our doorstep but I believe that our response to Jesus – our day-to-day walk with him – will also require a response to the poor.

Across a lifetime these day-to-day decisions affect what our life looks like – where do we live? where do our kids go to school? who are our friends? what do we do with our social time?And if we respond to God but ignore the poor we end up living lives isolated from them.

For us, we wanted to stand with the poor and to do that we needed to move.

But this is not a formula – its a response – firstly to Jesus and secondly, through Jesus, to the poor in our communities. And so our lives shouldn’t be formulaic – but with cuts to welfare spending hitting the most deprived, 1 in 6 children living in poverty, threats to the NHS, and high unemployment – I believe that God is asking his people to respond.

What are you trying to do in your estate?

We live in a community house that is part of a wider community of Christians, Koinonia, living in the St Mellons estate – to be part of God’s kingdom here.

We hope to model a way of fellowship and community that blesses each other and those around us and displays the love of God.

Along with others in the community we have a particular heart for the local young people.

Living in community grew quite naturally for us but we now see it as a key part of what God is doing in St Mellons.

Whilst we wouldn’t consider ourselves as ‘church planting’ as such, we do believe we are local church and are excited by the way this is developing – whether this is youth work, getting involved with local events, meeting to pray together and share communion, or having our neighbours over for dinner.

We have found that the love of God expressed in day-to-day life is the most powerful. Many people living in similar communities speak of ‘the power of the dinner table’. For the young people and families we know this is at the heart of our relationships – prayer and food – and we have seen some amazing things happen!

Why did you move on to the estate physically?

In 2005, along with other students, we started serving at the Beacon Centre in St Mellons – opening the youth lounge once a week.

Over the next few years it grew to take over our lives – our time and prayer became focused on the youth work. In 2010 Tom and I got married and lived in a small flat in a lovely part of the city. We continued to drive the 10 miles across town to do the drop-in clubs.

Our hearts would break as some of the young people struggled with massive problems – drugs and violence, particularly – and we would wait days to see them. We felt God asking for a bigger response and so we knew it was time for us to move.

We initially moved with one other person, this quickly grew to a group of 6 of us and now there are 3 houses with 12 different people and a baby on the way!

It has been quite an organic route to living in community but it’s now at the heart of what we do – sharing day-to-day life with Jesus at the centre. To develop our relationships with the young people we knew we had to move.

You can’t know or share in the poverty others face but you can stand in solidarity with them – to do this we needed to be close-by, with an open door.

Why does what you’re doing matter?

We want to see God’s kingdom come in St Mellons and we want to join in with what he is doing here. We caught a glimpse of how God sees St Mellons and we knew that was where he wanted us.

It doesn’t matter where you live if you’re there because of God but we used to live in the ‘nice part’ of the city because it was nice not because we saw it how God sees it, not because we were passionate about his kingdom coming there.

If we looked at our villages, towns and cities and asked God ‘what do you see?’ we might find a passion for his kingdom in new and challenging places!

In part 2 of this guest blog, Helen will explore more of what’s been encouraging, challenging, and what keeps them going day to day as they live in community and seek to bring hope to the community in St Mellons. She’ll also ask us again where we are called…

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