Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: Jericho Road Project

Weighed

Today’s Lent word, weighed, reminded me of a cold night when I was volunteering with a Christian charity working with women in the sex industry. I was on the outreach van, driving round the red light district looking out for working women in need of food and a safe place to rest and chat for a few minutes.

It was late when we spotted one of our regulars on her way out to work. She was limping along, painfully and slowly, clutching the arm of her ‘boyfriend’. The van pulled alongside and my team-mate and I jumped out.

‘Hi Molly*, would you like a hot chocolate?’

With her boyfriend’s permission, Molly climbed onto the van. She wrapped her hands around the beaker of hot chocolate and slipped the cheese sandwich and crisps into her bag for later.

‘How’s your leg?’ We looked at her with concern.

‘It really hurts.’

We could see Molly was in a lot of pain. All we could do was urge her to see a doctor and offer to accompany her if that would help.

Her boyfriend was hovering outside the van. She needed to start work. So we held hands and quickly prayed with her.

The step down from the van was high and Molly hesitated, trying to figure out how to get down without jarring her painful leg. My team-mate and I glanced at one another and I nodded. I jumped down onto the pavement and held up my hands.

‘Come on Molly, I’ll lift you down.’

She weighed nothing. I’d worried that I might drop her or hurt her bad leg. But she felt weightless in my arms. I’m not sure to this day whether God gave me supernatural strength to lift this precious child He loved or whether she was so skinny as to be almost weightless. Either way, Molly was safely off the van.

But I had tears in my eyes having to watch her limp away with her boyfriend. On the corner, a client was already waiting.

 

 

* Name changed to protect identity

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

I, Daniel Blake

I’ve just watched a disturbing film I, Daniel Blake.

It’s based on true stories, and reminded me of things I’ve seen and heard – and experienced personally to a certain extent.

My brief synopsis is that Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old skilled carpenter who has worked all his life until having a heart attack. Despite doctors telling him he’s not ready to go back to work, he falls into the black hole that sometimes (often?) exists in our flawed benefits system. He spirals down through frustration, unfair sanctions, and trying to get his appeal heard. Through all of this he meets Katie, mother of two, who is new to the area. She too falls foul of the system through no fault of her own and ends up being unfairly sanctioned. After starving herself to feed her kids and having no electricity or heating, she eventually turns to sex work out of sheer desperation.

I heard similar stories so many times when volunteering at Grace Church’s food bank. I meet women through the Jericho Road Project who feel they have no alternative to provide for their families. These are good people. They are not monsters. They are not undeserving poor. They are people. Just like me.

Me in ChiChiI’ve learned that anyone can end up on the street. Everyone has a story to tell. I’ve met people who were well-off and had their own business, but through various circumstances – including sudden serious illness – have found themselves needing to be referred for a food parcel.

I was briefly in the benefits system myself and although my experience was largely good (a safety net), it was still a scary place to be. What came out tonight was that people on benefits are treated as guilty until proven innocent. That was true in my case, though quickly resolved.

I, Daniel Blake reminded those of us watching tonight of the harsh reality faced by thousands in our country. We were uncomfortable inside. It made some angry. There was emotional pain. We wanted to do something. Because how can such things happen in the UK in 2017? How?

God used the film to reopen my eyes to what I’ve forgotten or become used to.

At the entrance to the car park sat a man wrapped in a grey blanket. He’d given up asking for money. He just sat. And my heart broke for him. I only had 27 p on me. But I couldn’t walk past and do nothing. As I looked into his eyes and touched his dirt-grimed fingers, I saw someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s grandson.

My God has a big heart for the poor. Jesus was adored by the homeless people and sex workers of His day. May God break my heart with what breaks His until His streams of living water flow out through me and make a difference.

Jesus Loves Prostitutes

For most of my adult life there was a wide gulf between prostitutes in the Bible and the ones I saw working on the streets of Nottingham.

Those in my city are often despised because of what they do, or ignored.

But many of the prostitutes I’ve met in the pages of my Bible became women who were honoured and loved by God.

It’s almost like the Father went out of His way to make sure a prostitute (Tamar) featured in His Son’s family tree. Rahab, who presumably worked out of a brothel on the walls of Jericho, demonstrated such faith in God that she is mentioned in the heroes of faith line-up in Hebrews 11.

Jesus didn’t shun them, but welcomed them. He showed unconditional love and acceptance to the broken women working the streets of towns and cities He visited. I love the opening words of Luke 15: ‘…the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.’ But the religious people weren’t happy about that, which led Jesus into his three famous parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Religious people looked down on the prostitutes and outcasts. Jesus valued them.

When God really got hold of my heart in 2013 and I began to have the first inklings of what grace is (it’s all about Jesus, not me; I am loved more than I can imagine simply for who I am and because He wants to love me), an immediate change was the way I saw other people.

I crossed the street to talk to a Big Issue seller – such people had never been on my radar before. I got involved with my church’s food bank and social hub, revelling in chatting with fascinating people I wouldn’t normally have opportunity to rub shoulders with including ex-prisoners, refugees, the homeless, drug addicts.

From there, it was a small step to getting involved in an inter-church charity reaching out to women working in the sex trade.

I love spending time with these amazing women: gutsy, brave, struggling, desperate, broken. So many words can describe them. The Father says of them that HeAshamed loves them like He loves Jesus. His blazing heart of love overflows with compassion for them. He is as crackers about them as He is about me. God is adamant that it was worth Jesus giving up His life for prostitutes, so that He can invite them into His Kingdom and call them daughters.

I’m writing a blog series on prostitutes of the Bible. When I read their stories, I see the faces of the women I meet and am getting to know. There may be several centuries between then and now, but God’s love for broken people will never change.

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