Back to the estate

Bob gew up on an estate in Southampton where experiments with drugs led to him becoming a registered drug addict on the day he left school at 16. Life as an addict and mostly as a dealer led to him being sectioned 5 times under the mental health act. At age 42 Bob left his marriage of 14 years and his son and daughter when, despite managing to hold down a job, addiciton took its toll on the relationship. Despite time in prison and having lived on the streets of London he describes the separation from his children as “the worst thing I had been through, it ripped me apart.”

It was at this rock bottom point considering suicide that an encounter with a Christian who offered him a place to stay led to Bob being welcomed into a church. Prayer led to Bob breaking his addiction and the help, generosity and trust of his new friends enabled him to restablish contact with his children. Social action in the church opened Bob’s eyes to what being a Christian was about, he says: “I got so much out of it, I realised that, in a way, I was being shown that this is what my life was going to be now, serving other people.”

Here he tells the story of that return home and his work on the estate.

We moved back to Southampton, back to the estate where I grew up, where my Mum still lived. One day I was prayer walking, the Holy Spirit was talking to me mainly on Isaiah 61 about oaks of righteousness and about the people living here. If you know the flower estate you would know it has a reputation. Its people were in court frequently, the estate had a bad reputation. I grew up here and when people know that they want to fight you. There’s more a mixture here now because we are right in the University area and we have now got a lot of students, but even the students were told not to walk through our estate in case they get mugged. All that has changed.

The first year or so, 11 years ago, my wife Colette and I spent listening to God and He told us to look into the history of this area. I went back to 1835. God showed us the witchcraft that has been going on for years and years, the witches that have been burnt here. When the estate was built in 1932 people were taken out of the slums down in St. Mary’s and put here. The people came from Victorian tenements, with a toilet down the bottom of the garden to houses with a bathroom inside. These were very poor people and God was pointing at things for us to pray about. I remember reading a book by Floyd McCalum called “Spirits of the City” it really encouraged us. So we started to pray and today 11 years on every road is prayer walked every month systematically. We’ve seen God bring amazing changes.

We were seeking God on what to do, I had no idea I’d be doing what I’m doing today. Then one day He said really clearly that the kids were the key to the whole area. He wanted us to work with the kids. So I set up a Teenage Youth Group on a Monday night in the Methodist Church. It was a battle to even get a place to hold it. It was only because the Holy Spirit spoke to the Methodist Minister during my conversation on the ‘phone to him that he actually gave us a go. For six months we only had about a dozen or so, and they included the kids that smashed up the other Youth Cub down in Swaythling. They became my right hand men. We’d prayed that God would give us the hardest kids because we knew that if we got them on our side we wouldn’t have any problems, and that’s what happened. It grew to about l20/140 kids a week and it was totally Christian as well.

My Mum was alive for two years when I returned to Southampton living on the estate. I know God got me back for that as well because my Dad died years ago and he never saw me off drugs, but my Mum, well God gave me a bit of time with her, before she died, so that really made a big difference. I know He had me back for that reason as well.

The Youth Club went on for a long time, it got really big and one night I got a ‘phone call, it was about 5.30pm, the Club started at 7pm but I was told there was 60 kids down the Methodist Church waiting for the club to open, they were not happy about it. By the time I arrived about 100 had gathered. As I walked in people were shouting that they were going to close me down, this and that. The Minister looked at me and said “what are you going to do Bob?” I said “can’t you see Fred, the harvest is coming” and he sort of looked at me. That’s the way I saw it, but in the end they shut me down. God spoke to me and said don’t take any notice just carry on working with the kids.

We next worked with the kids down Daisy Dip, it’s a green area and there’s two sides to this green, its where the kids go to have sex, do drugs etc. That’s what I did when I was a kid there. We started sitting with the kids who do lighter fuel and that stuff. We watched them one by one become Christians and come off it. We just hung in with them, we never judged or anything. We sat there loving and caring for them.

One day I had all these little kids around me. I’d never really thought about them, but God was saying they are even more important, these little ones, because they are the future, and I want you to put into them. When we first started teaching the kids about Jesus, none of them knew who He was. They had no teaching at all. They were blank bits of paper really. In the Schools and the Churches around Swaythling there was nothing going on. So the kids didn’t understand that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus and what Easter was about. Everyone on the estate knows that but no one had told the kids.

The same summer I got shut down God spoke to me about putting on an event. We called it Daisy Dip Week and it was a free week. God’s idea was that it would draw the community together, and also show the community that God’s people are OK. This year is the 8th year we’ve done Daisy Dip, and the last three years we’ve baptised 60 people by the end of the week. Its God, its not me or anybody else, its God’s plan for what He wants to do.

It blesses so many families because 70% don’t have a summer holiday. They have nothing to look forward to but everyone looks forward to Daisy Dip Week. People start saying in April and May “Oh its going to be a good one this year Bob” it really frightens me because I’ve never got the money for it. We do a lot of things on faith, most years I get the money a week before I’m going to do it, God’s really generous.

Throughout all this outreach meetings were all mid-week, but recently he has started meeting on a Sunday morning. Bob explains how that came about:

Through the kids we have had so many adults become Christians. Mums have ‘phoned me up inviting me to a barbecue “we want to meet you, we can’t understand why little Jimmy is behaving like he is. He’s a little toe-rag and now he’s like a little angel, what’s going on?” We’ve had so many Mothers come to Sunday club to check us out, and everyone has become a Christian. It’s through working with the kids. God has shown me that parents love it when someone is doing something with the kids, and they trust you. It’s taken years to build up the trust but through that we’ve found their other needs.

We found that some Mums have 2 or 3 days without food. God is saying to me feed them. So we started to feed them, some weeks we feed 20 families. Then God showed me that they were in debt. He started talking to me about how he wanted to free people from poverty, and how unjust the system was. Mothers who had become Christians on our estate will get a job and it all goes against them. The minute they get a job their rent is stopped, council tax, water rates etc. but they can’t earn enough money to cover all of that. Within 2 or 3 months they are back in debt again. God is saying to give a proper solution to the problem, not part of a solution. The world is good at giving part solution to the poor people but God was saying to me this is what I want you to do, you feed them, you negotiate with the debt people. When you negotiate and offer them something, they have to accept it. Most places will take £1 a week or whatever. The family can start to pay off their debt, but to do that you have to feed them otherwise they will go hungry because that’s all the money they have. On our estate we have hundreds of loan sharks who charge 50 to 100% interest. These people are preyed on all the time.

Through helping people with the food project, every now and then you get a ‘phone call or somebody will turn up at your front door crying and saying they want to ask God into their life. We haven’t preached the gospel at all to them, but they have felt God’s love, all we’ve done is to connect them to God. Its quite hard living here and having your door knocked all the time, having your dinner interrupted half a dozen times, your ‘phone ringing. Everyone says “but you never answer your ‘phone” and I say “no, I don’t”. This is all part of God showing me to lose your life so that you can find it. There’s a cost to Christianity if we want to see God moving and see the miracles.

I then formed 10 cell groups, about 90 people. I had to shut most of them down because I couldn’t get the workers to help me. I’ve also had to move Sunday Club. The Council offered me a building but wouldn’t give it to me on my own because I’m ‘in your face Christian’ so I have to share it with the Residents Association. We run a women’s group on Wednesdays at the moment, about 24 attend, and a women’s prayer group meeting between 10 and 3pm.

Our Sunday meetings have no clear time limits. It’s not exactly 10 – 12 or anything like that, that doesn’t work on estates. I start about 10 and I probably finish at about 2.30 or 3pm. In that time people come and go. They love worship, you wouldn’t believe the songs they love to sing, “This little light of mine” some of the oldest Christian songs you can think of, they love to sing them. It takes me back to when I first became a Christian, as long as I was worshipping God, that’s all I wanted to do. Our people feel the same, God has changed their lives. They pick out the songs they would like. We haven’t got a worship band or anything, it hasn’t happened yet, but we have some old books Songs of Fellowship, and they love them. We worship half an hour, 1 hour whatever. In between times we have fag breaks, people come and go, but we have seen some people come out of things. God has delivered people from nicotine.

To begin with it was really hard for me. All the time people would be getting up and moving around, but God said to me “don’t worry about it” and they don’t do that so much now, although it does still happen.

When we get round the word it’s really inclusive. I don’t stand up and preach to them, I actually sit with them and give them the opportunity to share what God is doing. I encourage testimonies because God is moving in these guy’s lives everyday. We pray and share how God has answered our prayers. I ask God what word does he want me to share. At the end of Mark and Matthew it say’s go and make disciples of all nations, baptising in the name of the holy spirit and teach all the things I have commanded you. That’s what we teach them. Luke 6 about loving your enemies, about thinking about what you would like done for you, and doing it for someone else. It’s about not judging people, about accepting people. Luke 6 is really hard. We’re trying to disciple these people with reality. This is the way God wants us to live, we’re teaching them what I was taught. Laying down your life, Jesus purchased us with his blood and we don’t belong to ourselves anymore, He wants all of us. Our treasure is in heaven, it’s not here, and we see miracles.

Recently we had a girl who was prayed for at Sunday Club, the kids prayed for her, she was aged 10. She had about 50 warts on both her hands. She had been to the Doctor’s a couple of days before, she woke up the next morning and there wasn’t one wart on her hands. They took her back to the Doctor and he couldn’t believe it. ‘It’s impossible’ he said, ‘they come individually, and they go individually’. Her Dad is a heroin addict and her Mum also was. They’ve all become Christian’s and the whole estate knows about it.

Bob was talking to mission workers at CMS