In The Name Of Love

MONTHS OF planning, training and praying have paid off. The Pastors have been an undoubted success in the months which have followed, and have become the most high-profile ‘arm’ of Love Southend…as was indicated when, along with David Ince and two of his fellow Pastors, Padma Amliwala and Jacky Rossi, I attended the launch of the local Crime, Drugs and Disorder Reduction Strategy at the Odeon, recently.

Manning the Love Southend/Street Pastors stall, I spoke to many members of the public, including local dignitries, and staff and volunteers from bodies such the police, Council and youth services. When asked if they’d heard of Love Southend, most said they had – when asked about the Street Pastors, they’d not only heard about them, but were often grateful for all that they were doing!

During the launch day, the CDDR dvd (as opposed to ‘document’) was playing continuously in Cinema 3, before it was played again at the Official Launch at 2.00pm, which was introduced by Supt. Steve Currell of Leigh Road Baptist Church – himself a great supporter of Love Southend and the Street Pastors.

The dvd – produced by the team behind the Love Southend dvd, including Richard Newnham(LRBC), Chris Watts(Shoebury Baptist Church) and David Elcock(LRBC) – is twelve minutes-long and will be going out to many different organisations across the town and further afield. Showing the work going on to reduce crime in the Borough, the final part of it and the most impressive feature, was the Street Pastors.

Pulling no punches, the footage showed the Pastors in action in Southend and made it quite clear that these were Christians, from different churches – in fact, God was mentioned around half-a-dozen times and there were scenes of people praying for the Pastors and those they serve, from the prayer-base at Clarence Road Baptist Church.

As a prominent Officer from the Home Office watched, we saw the Pastors spreading their brand of Christian love to partygoers and nightclubbers of Southend. We were shown that they don’t actually preach at people, or act judgementally, but are a welcome, calming presence on what can sometimes be hostile, threatening streets. Helping people who are under-the-influence, or just lost and afraid. The Pastors are a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear and much more.

But away from the images and the interviews, what exactly has been achieved, since the 28th May? Okay, they’ve been briefly mentioned a couple of times in The Times – as well as the front page of the Evening Echo – and have been featured on radio and TV, where the BBC1 local news covered them: a news item which was shown after the main news at 6.00pm and 10.30pm, on Breakfast News and even briefly on a Sky channel. But what about the real work?

In just five months, over 1,100 contacts have been made with members of the Southend public – most of which have been extremely well received.

A team of at least four Street Pastors has been out every weekend, and normally on both Friday and Saturday nights. The main area covered has become the High Street to Pier Hill, along the golden mile to the Kursaal, and the roads along the back of the seafront such as Lucy Road, where there’s several nightclubs and a strip-joint.

Leader David Ince shares some stories:

>> “Two 19 year-old men who I met on the week of the tragic London bombings: both were very distressed by what had happened, and yet we were able to have a good conversation, around how a God-of-love could allow this to happen. One of them was very angry and wanted to join the army, so he could “go out there and get some of them back”. We were able to talk about whether retaliation achieves anything, and gave him the chance to express his feelings – he didn’t change his mind, but accepted that I was going to pray that God would cool his anger and take away his desire for revenge. I believe that not only will God answer this prayer, but the man will re-discover his faith.”

>> “I met a young man in the doorway of Marks & Spencers. At first he was cocky and jokey, but as we spoke to him we realised that he’d been sleeping on the streets since his romance broke up, a few month back – he has a small daughter and he’s missing her. He claimed he’s kicked his habit for class A and B drugs. At least we were able to show an interest in him, encourage him and pray for him.”

>> “We met another young man in the doorway of a nightclub in Lucy Road, at 2.30am. He was drunk, or had had his drink spiked. He’d been celebrating his brother’s birthday but they’d left him there, and his wallet and his mobile-phone had been stolen. He couldn’t remember any phone number at first, but we managed to sober him up a bit, with coffee, and eventually he was able to recall his nan’s number…we phoned her (she was already worried and waiting by the phone) and we put him in a taxi to her house.”

>> “We stayed with a man who had collapsed with diabetes and made sure that he wasn’t robbed or attacked. We left our contact card in his pocket, before the ambulance came to take him off to hospital. ”

>> “We helped two women in Lucy Road, and one said, “Oh it’s you – thank God. I feel so much safer, now you’re here. Thank you so much…”.”

>> “We entered a scene, one night when five men had set upon one guy outside a nightclub. I helped one lady, who was screaming at the men for picking on one guy whilst another Street Pastor bravely began talking with, and distracting the protagonists. I then made a phone call to our prayer supporters, back at Clarence Road, and we were to see remarkable answers to prayer with this and other things, all night.”

>> “Another young man spoke to us at 2.15 one morning, saying; “You people are better than the police, because when you are here, things are better and people feel safe with you guys, so we really respect you…”.”

Street Pastors has the full support of Southend and Essex Police. But David will tell you, of course, that at times it can be hair-raising, being a Street Pastor: on more than one occassion, they’ve had to intervene and ‘mediate’ between groups of youths, when it’s been threatening to kick-off. So they deserve your ongoing prayer-support.

This is just some of the wealth of anecdotal and factual evidence to show the success of Love Southend’s Street Pastors.

If you would like to invite a Street Pastor to come and talk about their work, at your church, group or Christian Union; if you’re personally interested in becoming a Street Pastor, a Prayer Partner or a Prayer Supporter, then please contact David Ince using the contact details contained within this News Item.

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