Homeless man

Food for thought

Food banks are increasingly important but Victory Church in Cwmbran is taking the idea a step further to help people.

Bekah Thomas is excited about her church charity’s latest project – a supermarket with a difference to support disadvantaged people in Cwmbran.

“Food banks are great, but we thought surely there is something better,” she says. “The idea is that people don’t lose their dignity by having a pre-selected bag of food left for them.

Instead, it’ll be fully shelved like a supermarket, but they’ll pay a subscription or a small amount, which will give them a sense of contributing back.

“That money will go back into the supermarket, but the food will come from sources that mean there’s no loss, and the people using it will get enormous reductions.”

The supermarket is just one creative idea from a church that has long been dedicated to supporting marginalised and disadvantaged people in Cwmbran and nearby areas such as Pyllgweny – one of the most deprived areas of Newport.

Elim’s Victory Church has been actively involved in community outreach for many years. Its activities include large-scale tent and town centre events, building a children’s soft play centre, and working on the streets with people in addiction.

Bekah says people there are very receptive to the church, particularly in Pyllgweny where addiction is common. The church has plenty of interaction with Muslims in the area too. 

“It creates a real diversity of people who on paper would reject the gospel, but in reality have their arms open wide. They want to engage; they will chew your ear off and beg you for conversation,” Bekah says.

Victory Church is always looking for new ways to build relationships with local people. In addition to the new supermarket, it is also planning to use a recently donated trailer van to engage creatively with children in the area.

One plan is to use the van for a Metro Ministries-style outreach. It will also be used for outreach to women in Pyllgweny’s red-light district, and the church works hard to help people recover from addiction.

“Victory Church was founded out of a rehab context, so that has always been in our DNA,” says Bekah.

She and her husband Clyde run a rehab charity, Hope Centre, which is connected to Victory Church. Through women’s and men’s rehab centres, they help people overcome their addictions. The church community is key to their success, she says.

“Every Hope Centre house is connected to a church community. That’s fundamental, because with a lot of rehabs when you leave you to lose the whole community you gained, which defeats the point because then people are back on their own.

“This way, they are part of the church family, so they are still part of that same community even when they progress out of rehab.”

Victory Church has its own charity through which it also offers supported housing.

“This is for people who have been through rehab, recovered, and found a lot of healing, transformation and breakthrough, but wouldn’t find it helpful to live alone.”

The housing is also offered to people needing interim support between addiction recovery and a new step in their lives.

“We have one guy in our housing who is leaving the Hope Centre and applying for international missions. He needed some extra support in between the two,” says Bekah.

Sadly, the pandemic has made this support for people battling addiction all the more crucial.

“The amount of referrals for functioning alcoholics has gone through the roof. Lockdown has left people who no longer have work to go to the next day not just having a glass of wine with their meal but having a bottle, then two.

“A lot of people who were doing well have been sideswiped by lockdown and we’ve seen heart-breaking cases of suicide and overdoses.”

But it’s not just those who Victory Church and the Hope Centres support who are blessed by this work.

As church members help vulnerable people through rehab, supported housing and community outreach, Bekah says their own faith has grown amazingly.

“My missional group has a mix of people from different backgrounds and practically every week someone from a middle class background will say, ‘I just can’t describe what this group means to me, what it’s done for my faith and how it’s growing my horizon of who Jesus is.’

“Many men and women volunteer at the Hope Centres and help run Bible studies. Several have never met people who’ve been through what these people are going through.

“When they share their stories they are blown away. It really inspires their faith, because they say they knew God could do things like this, but they’ve never seen it before.”

While Bekah understands churches being afraid of stepping into unknown arenas, she encourages any that haven’t already done so to consider how they can support people suffering from poverty and addiction.

“When people take that step, the joy of growth and faith is so worth the fear and risk,” she says.

Now Covid restrictions are lifting, Bekah is taking Hope Ministries on tour.

“Through powerful testimony, creativity, teaching and worship, this tour will inspire and equip local church communities, while offering hope and support to those in addiction and their loved ones,” she says.

A church member’s viewpoint: Lauretta’s story

Lauretta has been part of the Victory Church community for many years and has been richly blessed by the way she has seen the lives of Hope Centre men and women changed by Christ.

“It’s an absolute pleasure to watch the transformation in the lives of the girls at Hope,” she says.

“I’ve watched God’s transforming power at work in them, from the first time they attend their first church meeting with their ‘Don’t mess with me’ stance to see them slowly soften week by week and watch them fall in love with Jesus.

“You see how their whole demeanour changes, their faces shine, their attitudes soften and they are radically changed.

“If you ever want to see a living picture of God’s power of transformation and grace, see a woman come into Hope Centre, and then see her again at the end of the programme. You won’t recognise her – she will have changed from the inside out.

“It reminds you that no one is beyond God’s help, no matter how anti-God or anti-Jesus they are, or how far they have walked from the morals instilled in them. God is still transforming lives and can reach them wherever they are.”

If your church is interested in hosting the Hope ministries tour, email Bekah at r.thomas@hopecm.com

First published in the March 2022 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered to your home.

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