Stressed out

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During Stress Awareness Month we are made aware of the consequences that stress can bring in our lives. Each of us has experienced stress to some degree and we are familiar with the body switching from fight or flight mode when we encounter pressure that we don’t feel we can handle. We may have experienced some of the negative symptoms such as memory problems, inability to concentrate, moodiness and anxiety, chest pain or high blood pressure. Even I have the occasional anxious moment when I’m overwhelmed with work. But what if we were to lose a home or find ourselves in a situation where we had no-where to go and needed a bed to sleep at night? Homelessness can happen to any one of us. According to statistics by Shelter Scotland, people sleeping on the street are almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence and more than one in three people sleeping rough have been deliberately hit or kicked or experienced some other form of violence whilst homeless. Homeless people are also over nine times more likely to take their own life than the general population.

Homeless people suffer high levels of stress from their lack of control over their housing situation, combined with high levels of poverty and often poor living conditions. Stress in people who are homeless can happen more slowly and subtly over longer periods of time and can be easy to miss. The stress of experiencing homelessness may exacerbate previous mental illness and encourage anxiety, fear, depression, sleeplessness and substance use.

This is why Bethany staff take time to care and listen to people in desperate need. Bethany staff work hard to create community among vulnerable people, which helps to tackle stress. In the care shelter, staff have created an environment where people look out for each other despite the hardship and stress that goes with homelessness and rough sleeping.

I remember hearing that one night at the Care Shelter, as the guests were gathered at the entrance waiting for the doors to open, one of the regular guests suddenly collapsed and had a seizure. Staff swung into action – they are trained to deal with such incidents. At the same time, all the guests showed huge concern and willingness to help by any means possible.   They gave staff space and time to care for the stricken individual, and they made sure no one entered the building while the staff were distracted.  That concern and caring by the other guests continued as the seizure subsided and the man began to come around. Some guests waited in the street to flag down the ambulance that had been called.

Even though the vast majority of the guests did not know this man or maybe only knew him by his first name, and even though some of the guests are in terrible situations themselves, they still showed love and caring towards the unknown man.  The Care Shelter is a community; many individuals from different backgrounds, brought together by a lack of accommodation. Despite their many differences, there is a willingness to look out for one another. This is why I’m proud to work for Bethany Christian Trust.

Bethany has been at the forefront of turning hopeless, stressful situations around, transforming lives and will continue to work hard ending homelessness one person at a time.

As Christians we are called to fill our lives with the concern for others, so let us follow the example of those guests at the Care Shelter, watching out and caring for those around us who are stressed, offering peace and demonstrating the love of God to all those we meet.

Joni McArthur

Team Lead

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Laughing without fear of the future

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She is clothed with strength and dignity,
& laughs without fear of the future. (Proverbs 31: 25)

I love these verses from Proverbs 31 assigned to the ‘Wife of Noble Character’. Now I’m no wife, but living with ‘strength and dignity, and laughing without fear of the future’ is a lifestyle that I imagine many of us would be keen to embrace and live to the full, whether male or female, married or otherwise.

But sadly I see that the opposite is too often true, that many people in my city are living life in constant fear: fear of illness, abuse, rejection; fear of wondering how to make ends meet, wondering what the future holds, wondering if they’ll make it through to the next day.

In my work with Destiny Angels, we seek to get alongside those who are fearing the future, to take time to hear their stories, to build relationships, to build self-esteem and confidence, to let them know that they are loved, that they can face their future with strength and dignity.

Whether it’s sitting alongside someone affected by homelessness to offer them hot chocolate, a listening ear and prayer; whether it’s setting a table and inviting those affected by isolation or poor mental health to join our community meals; whether it’s teaching English to those struggling to adjust to life in a new country; or inviting vulnerable women to experience the security and love of a safe, welcoming space where they can learn new life skills and ‘just be’— I’m always blown away by the simple act of listening to someone’s story.

Attending a recent event marking International Women’s Day, and with March being Women’s History Month, I have once again been reminded of the stories of inspiring and extraordinary women who have gone before me, changing the world in which I live for the better—the Mother Teresas, Emmeline Pankhurts, Marie Curies and Rosa Parks of this world.

But I don’t need to look far to see remarkable women—and men— crossing my path every day, bringing hope, love, encouragement and joy into the darkest of places, remarkable individuals who are both story tellers and story listeners. I am always struck by the compassion with which our Destiny Angels’ volunteers serve and the lengths they go to to support and build others up, regardless of their own circumstances and challenging personal situations they may face. Many find strength and worth in the midst of their own weakness as they look beyond themselves to serve and encourage others.

Jesus said ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). What a promise for each one of us to take hold of, offering our time, treasures and talents, as we seek to restore our communities to fullness.

And what an invitation for each one of us to listen to the stories of those around us, to allow those stories to move us to action and to see our communities clothed in dignity and strength, helping them to laugh again without fear of the future.

Elizabeth Bowes is the Community Action Coordinator for Destiny Angels which is part of Destiny Church, Edinburgh.

Food or tampons? The impossible decisions homeless women are making every day

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As a woman, I can honestly say that not many women jump for joy when it’s that time of the month. And when it’s that time of the month for a woman who is homeless, the depth of dread sinks deeper than I or any of us could imagine.
According to Shelter Scotland, roughly 21% of the 34,972 people who registered as homeless in the 2017-2018 year were single women; 17% were single mothers (Shelter Scotland, 2017). While these women not only worry about sleeping rough, finding food and searching for eventual stability, they also must navigate the inevitabilities of being female, many without adequate funds or resources.

Just the other day, I walked into Asda looking to restock my supply of pads and tampons. I was shocked to see how expensive a single box of tampons was, but I needed them and after throwing them into my cart, I didn’t ponder on it much longer. Yet, there are women in this very city who cannot afford to buy the sanitary towels or toiletries they need. What would you choose if you were homeless: food or tampons?

The larger part of history, society – even charities – has rarely talked about homelessness and periods. I didn’t even consider it as something homeless women faced until I discovered #TheHomelessPeriod. Founded by three women who were interning together at a London advertising agency, the movement quickly took off.
Working to gain awareness about the issue, The Homeless Period has paired with various charities, beauty companies and every day women in donating hundreds of thousands of “Period Packs” for women who are homeless across the UK (TheHomlessPeriod.com).

#TheHomelessPeriod, however, were not the only ones to notice the difficulties homeless women were facing. Thanks to a 2015 Huffington Post article discussing homeless women and periods in the UK, Stephanie Arnold and Sharron Champion from South Carolina, United States decided that enough was enough and were inspired to start their own charity.

Arnold and Champion’s charity, The Homeless Period Project, also has worked to create and distribute “Period Packs” to women who cannot or struggle to afford necessities for their periods. Volunteers, community members and women who experienced homelessness in their past help Arnold and Champion to not only provide women and young girls with sanitary products, but also end the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Arnold and Champion are heavily involved in their work, hosting “Period Pack” sessions with volunteers, delivering hundreds of pads and tampons to schools in surrounding districts, and running the overall operations of the charity. In an interview for a Restoring Dignity documentary, Champion states that “moms will go without [sanitary napkins], but the thought that you’re so much in poverty… that you can’t afford the products for your child and how hurtful that must be for the mothers.”

The work all of these women have done brings me back to Scotland and the 21% and 17% of women who have to sleep rough and endure the pains and stains of Mother Nature’s monthly ‘gift’. Working at Bethany, I’ve discovered the countless employees, volunteers and service users who are strongly committed to not only eliminating homelessness across Scotland, but also preserving and upholding the dignity and respect of all who seek our help.

So, with that in mind, how can we – how can I – help the women sleeping rough across Scotland even more than we have already? How do we empower women experiencing homelessness and help restore their dignity?

As I’ve said before in previous blog posts, I strongly believe in the power of small actions. A few ways to help out could involve simply talking with a woman you see, listening to her story and asking her if she needs anything (you, of course, should not flat out ask “do you need a tampon?” but engage in civil conversation).

Simply donating online to charities of your choosing is another great way of supporting women. #TheHomelessPeriod encourages donors to set up Crowdfunds and projects, using their social media presence to promote these initiatives to the wider community. You can even gather your own “Period Packs” and donate them to local shelters for female residents.

My favourite way of helping women who are homeless is through hosting my own Bethany Afternoon Tea. Gather all your strong, empowering gal-pals and raise some money – and tampons – for women in need.

There are countless ways to help those sleeping rough across Scotland one sanitary product at a time.

 

Haley Allaben

Communications Intern

Give kindness every day, not just one day

Last week on 17 February was National Random Acts of Kindness Day which encourages folk to promote good deeds or pledge acts of kindness, often to strangers, in the hopes of making the world a better place. Ruth Longmuir, Care Shelter Manager, reflects on why we should give kindness every day, and not just one day.

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On 17 February the US celebrated National Random Acts of Kindness day, a time to surprise others by showing them unexpected kindness. This might include paying for the bus ticket of the person behind you in the queue, buying flowers for your elderly neighbour, backing a cake for a friend, giving money to someone who is begging or stopping to help someone change a flat tyre. The other day I was walking back to the office when I came to cross the road. A man with a bike was waiting there and as I approached he gave me a big smile and wished me a happy Valentine’s Day, before immediately crossing the road. I couldn’t help but smile, his act of kindness made me feel good. Random acts of kindness are great but do we really need a day to remind us to be kind to one another?

 

The Bible tells us that kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Along with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, kindness is a characteristic seen in us when we have the Holy Spirit shaping us to be more like Jesus. There are numerous examples of Jesus showing kindness to people during his time on Earth. Just think of all the people he healed and all the time he spent with people rejected by society or considered unclean. In Ephesians 4:32 we are told to, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is not merely a suggestion for one day a year but something that should permeate all of our actions because of the incredible kindness God has shown us.

 

At the Care Shelter I see acts of kindness all of the time; as a staff team we aim to treat guests well and go the extra mile for everyone who comes through the door. What amazes me is the kindness guests show to each other. People are often in the worst place in their lives when they find themselves at the Care Shelter – everything has fallen apart and they are homeless, without anyone who cares about them. You’d understand if they were focussing on themselves but instead they are letting more needy people go ahead of them in the dinner queue, sharing a box of chocolates with the staff team or giving away their bed to someone who needs it more when the shelter is at capacity. Recently one man took another under his wing and spent time with him during the day, helping him to visit the GP and present to the council to get accommodation so that he no longer needs to stay at the Care Shelter.

 

Being kind to others involves us being generous and giving something of ourselves – our time, effort, or perhaps money. It is easy to think that the recipient must therefore be deserving of our kindness but God calls us to be kind to everyone. If we are motivated to act in true kindness, we don’t expect anything in return. The man with the bike didn’t wait around to see if I was going to wish him a happy Valentine’s Day back, he just wanted to do something nice to make a stranger feel good.

 

Instead of showing kindness once a year on a particular day, why not aim to show kindness every single day?

 

Ruth Longmuir

Care Shelter Manager

 

How your leftovers could make a difference

In one of my favourite movies The Good Lie, there is a particular scene that always strikes me. With the help of a social worker played by Reese Witherspoon, three Sudanese refugees arrive in the United States and are quickly tasked to find employment. Working at a grocery store, one of the refugees is directed by his boss to dispose of unwanted, yet still fresh food. Despite his retaliation against throwing away good food, the man complies with his boss’ order. As he throws away the food, a homeless woman nervously approaches him. Rather than brush her away, he smiles, quickly throws food into her bag, and goes back to work.

Far too often, I have taken for granted the value and importance of food. Especially in the United States where I’m from, we’ve become extremely wasteful when it comes to food production and consumption. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2010 alone, the United States wasted roughly 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food. Such high levels of waste ultimately prompted the USDA to establish its first ever national food loss and waste reduction plan in 2013 (USDA, 2013). In spite of waste reduction efforts, society has continued to foster a culture of eating with our eyes and letting the rest go to waste, not thinking of those who are struggling to find their next meal.

Like most people, sometimes I get nervous when I notice a homeless person along the sidewalk. I try to think of things to do to help, but more often than not, I follow the crowd and walk on by. It’s not that I don’t want to help, but rather that I’m unsure how to help.

Recently, I was walking home from a wonderful dinner with new friends I had just met through my study abroad program here in Edinburgh when I saw a woman who appeared to be homeless sitting along the side of the pavement. She was wrapped in layers of blankets asking passers-by if they had any change to spare. I watched as a couple in front of me and my friends passed by her without acknowledging her presence and I quickly thought, “Alright, what can I do?”

Rather than my leftover food – which was quite a substantial quantity as I hadn’t been hungry – presumably be carted away to the waste bins behind the restaurant, I had asked for a box to go. And I’m thankful I did. Seeing no grocery store nearby, I approached the woman sitting on the sidewalk, apologised for not having cash on hand, and offered her my pasta instead. She gladly accepted.

Often, when we think of helping people who are homeless, we immediately think we must make a grand gesture, and while those gestures are not bad in the slightest, little actions can equally make a big difference to a homeless person’s day. Simple acts, like offering to buy someone their preferred meal or snack from the shop down the road, perhaps sharing that granola bar packed in your bag, or giving someone your substantial leftovers rather than let the restaurant throw them out, can make a world of difference for someone without the means to purchase a meal.

The next time you’re dining at a restaurant, think twice about those leftovers because they may just make someone’s day.

 

Haley Allaben

Communications Intern

Who you say I am

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The theme for Prisoners’ Week this year is, ‘Who do you say I am?”, looking at whether what others say about us matters more than it should and how the labels, tags and names we use for ourselves and others reflect our own and their prejudices.

The theme is inspired by a passage in the Gospel when Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying He is.  Answers of ‘John the Baptist’ the ‘prophet Elijah’ come back to Jesus from the disciples. Then Jesus asks: “Who do you say I am?” Jesus isn’t interested in what the others are saying about Him. He is, however, interested in what the disciples  say about Him.  And it’s Simon Peter, who hits the nail on the head: “You are the Messiah. The Son of God”. Peter’s response is as personal as Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”

Just as Jesus is more interested in what we personally believe about Him, rather than what the others say, He is more concerned about who He says that we are, than what we say about ourselves or others say about us. God says each of us is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Jesus calls his disciples ‘children of God’ and ‘my friends’. These words from the New Testament really speak to me, both personally, and as someone working with those who have been in prison.

“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.” – Galatians 4:7 

Others can view us as slaves, captives or indeed prisoners, but the truth is; we are God’s precious children and therefore co-heirs with Christ, regardless of how the world views us or we see ourselves.

When I was a wee girl, my Dad had a book called “How to Build with Bananas.” As an intrigued 8 year old, I remember asking him what was it all about as it sounded distinctly silly to me.  The gist of it was that God’s people come in all shapes and sizes, a bit like bananas, and yet somehow God can use all these people to build His church and work to restore His Kingdom. I’m sure 8 year old me thought that this was still all a bit silly but the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realised the truth of this analogy. We might not call each other ‘bananas’ but we can certainly look around our churches and ‘label’ one another: there’s the ‘musicians’; the ‘prayer warriors’; the ‘fixers’; the ‘traditionalists’; the ‘radicals’; those with a ‘chequered past’ – the list is endless. Yet God calls us each ‘my child’ and uses all of us to further His kingdom.

In our Connect to Community training we use the book of Philemon to illustrate God’s call for us to work in prison ministry.  Onesimus was a slave, known to Philemon, who had been imprisoned with Paul.  In verse 11, Paul refers to Onesimus: “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become both useful to you and to me.”  Paul is sending Onesimus back to the community that he has wronged, telling them that he is “no longer a[..] slave , but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” (Verse 16)

God still takes prisoners and makes them useful.

During Prisoners Week – please pray for your ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ who are in prison and those who have been in prison who walk among us. Pray that you see them as God sees them and not how the world labels them.

 

Mhairi Phillipson

Connect to Community Referrals and Communication Worker

The gift of being known

Recently, it was reported that 440 homeless people died on the streets in the UK over the last 12 months. The report expressed the horror that such a thing still blights our modern society.  However, what horrified me more, was a haunting sense that each individual had become a combined statistic rendering each one anonymous – unknown – even to the point of death.

I recently was at a funeral of an older lady, Nancy, who belonged to my church. I knew her for many years and she was always an amazing encourager. I visited her regularly when I was a young Christian and she would share her wisdom and insight in order to challenge and enhance my growth. She had a unique ‘way about her’ that was inspiring, humorous and yet slightly commandeering all at the same time. However, at her funeral, I realised there was so much more about Nancy and her life!

Then it dawned on me – there is so much we have yet to know about one another regardless of the amount of time that’s been shared. Yet it’s only because we have invested in each other’s lives that we get to hear some of our treasured stories.

Sadly, this isn’t the case for many on the streets. For many who are homeless, we know nothing except that they might have an addiction, suffer from poor mental health, or they have spent their days and nights as wanderers in our cities and communities.

Peruvian theologian and philosopher, Gustav Gutierrez, says: “So you say you love the poor? Name them.”

Gutierrez challenges us all by arguing that loving is incomplete without knowing. He creates an up close and personal visualisation of how humanity surely must be in relationship.

John Piper writes: “Deeper than knowing God is being known by God. What defines us as Christians is not most profoundly that we have come to know Him but that He took note of us and made us His own.” To be known and still loved is the most powerful thing any human can experience. Despite our idiosyncrasies, faults and sometimes destructive actions; we are still known and therefore loved.

I hope that the 440 people who died last year on the streets encountered being known by another. I am thankful for every cup of kindness offered on the streets in our cities that is accompanied by a conversation and an exchange of knowing; and for every open door and a safe bed that is attached to a community of people who prize knowing just as much as providing practical shelter.

 

Shirley Berry, Group Head for Fundraising and Development

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