13 December 2017

Baptist Missions on the Shankill

We all live in community of some sort or another. Some communities are notorious and some are infamous, but the community that lives in the streets off the Shankill Road in Belfast are both. Thirty years of sectarian violence across the province of Northern Ireland seem to be embodied in the divide in the streets of West Belfast. It is here, in the Shankill Road area that Kim Kelly was brought up and where the Lord has called her to minister.

Six years ago I applied to Baptist Missions to start the work God had called me to do on the Shankill Road. It has been an amazing journey of ups and downs but through it all I have seen the power of the gospel in so many lives and families and most of all, in my community.

I believe many people still haven’t heard this good news or understand its message, even on the Shankill Road. My eyes have been opened, to see that people need this gospel explained.

On talking with people, many have said, “I tried that … I was a Christian! Didn’t work for me.” The question arises, “What did they try?” Maybe they were genuinely saved but just needed ‘discipled’ and help to understand and to grow in their walk with God. Getting to know the residents and building relationships with them has opened the doors wide for me to share the gospel. Many were ready to receive and listen to what God wanted them to hear.

The Holy Spirit was working and convicting people of sin and within the first few years, many came to know Jesus as their own and personal Saviour, many like Jean, a 63-yearold lady. Jean came to ‘Christianity Explained’ and had always thought she was on her way to heaven, by going to church and ‘being good’. When she read Mark’s Gospel she realised she was a sinner and only through Jesus could she get to God. At the end of the course she literally cried out, “Here I am Lord, take me!”

Some of the people have serious addiction problems, do not know where to turn and struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings. One day I went into a home to find a rope hanging. This girl felt she couldn’t face life anymore. She couldn’t find the answers to her questions anywhere she looked, until she opened up God’s Word and realised that this was the answer; Jesus taking complete control of her life. Someone had to bring this good news to the girl.

Building friendships has been the key for me. I have said to God, “When you have me working on the Shankill, I will eat, bank, shop, walk, get my hair cut… all to get to know the people.” That’s how I got to know the girls from Mikala’s Kitchen, a café on the Shankill Road. As I reflect back I can see how God has been doing amazing things! Seven bibles have been given out and one person has been saved. I remember being in the café one day and a young man complained because he didn’t get a bible. I told him I would certainly get him one if he promised to read it and that is what happened. We continue to develop these friendships always praying that the Holy Spirit will do His work and save others. This initiative has spread to the families of the girls, and now five of their kids are connected to our children’s work.

In September 2009 the mission decided to open the doors of SCF. Shankill Community Fellowship was started to reach more people of the Shankill area. People ask, “Why have another fellowship when there are over 40 churches on the Shankill?” We believe we had to open our doors because the people we are reaching weren’t ‘doing church’ but would come into a simple unit in the middle of a business park! SCF doors are opened 6 days a week…. We have a drop-in ministry on a Monday; men’s morning, Zumba class, Bible study on a Tuesday; addiction meetings on a Wednesday; ‘Drop-in’ again on Thursday and our kids’ programme on a Friday. We meet to worship our Lord on a Sunday morning. Throughout each week we have approximately 70 people coming through our door; people who would never go near a church.

In addition to the activities that happen at SCF, we are often ‘out and about’. We have a team of five, each with a different role to play. Two of us go into the school four days a week and as a result of this over 20 children come to SCF on a Sunday. With this number in attendance we have had to start a Sunday School for them.

I am so encouraged at the freedom we have in the school; getting to know people and pray into many different situations. This includes the principal, teachers, classroom assistants, caretaker, cleaners, kids and their families.

Many bibles have been given out, not just to the kids, but also their families and the staff and literature to others connected to the school. People say when you love their kids… they’ll love you. Many parents have come to hear the gospel through the children going home and inviting them. I think of one girl who said “I don’t do church” yet because of her child and through the links with the children, she is happy to come to informal events at SCF.

God is also at work in families…

The Johnston family has 10 members; mum, dad and 8 children. Mum and dad weren’t saved yet they sent their children to almost every Sunday School or children’s meeting that was available on the Shankill Road. I really believe God is blessing their faithfulness today. Again, through building up relationships, mum attended ‘Christianity Explained’ and came to know the Lord. Uncle Davey was saved through asking for help for his son; next granny and granda decide to come and see what this fellowship is all about and are now saved, baptised and growing in their faith. One of the kids, Julie, became a Christian. During our most recent ‘Christianity Explained’ course, the oldest daughter, who is now married, recognised her need of Christ and accepted Him into her life.

We continue praying and keep working at telling others the Good News and faithfully carry out the ministry God has given us in this community. “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5)

Kim Kelly