13 December 2017

Interview with Patrick Regan

Patrick Regan has travelled to over 30 countries working with, and on behalf of, some of the poorest communities. His passion is to see children and young people, from the most deprived and challenging backgrounds, succeed in life. Patrick founded the charity, XLP, that is committed to fighting poverty, supporting education and serving hundreds of young people and their families in inner London. Rejoice Always interviews Patrick as he launches his latest book, No Ceiling to Hope.

Tell us a little of your own spiritual journey.

When I was 16 I went on a two-week mission and found myself in ‘Cardboard City’ underneath Waterloo Bridge. I sat with 8 or 9 homeless guys as they passed around their one hamburger and everyone had a bite, then they passed it to me. I couldn’t believe they were giving me something, when they had nothing. Written on the walls were the words “welcome to reality” in big red letters. That night I prayed a prayer that changed my life. I prayed that I would see the world as God saw it, that I would capture His heart for people, and that wherever He wanted me to go I would go. My perspective on life, career, everything changed. As soon as I could move to London full-time I did, which was 18 years ago. Since then life has been full of ups and downs, trying to love people and inspire them to be involved in working in inner cities across the world. Realising God’s heart for the marginalised and God’s heart for justice is so much more important than some of the other things we get hung up on as Christians.

How did your work with XLP Start?

I was a youth worker in a church when a local school asked us to help raise the moral fibre of the school, after a stabbing. The vicar sent me! The school had 62 mother-tongue languages. We began lunch clubs and started to address some of the issues facing young people like sexual health and conflict. Teenage pregnancy rate in this part of London was very high, were the aspiration of girls as young as 14, was to become a single mum.

Conflict focussed on different postcodes fighting each other. Our work was so successful there, that other schools approached us to support them too. I managed to find 17 people willing to give £25 a month and with this money I started XLP. P stands for Project and XL stands for wanting to see young people excel in every aspect of their life.

How has this developed?

We have three main objectives.

Firstly, education – working with kids everyone else has written off. We work in 50 – 60 schools doing a range of things including reading support, running lessons and mentoring, often with the bottom 10% who won’t pass GCSE’s.

Secondly, to be involved in working on the estates the young people live in. We now have 2 double-decker buses, which travel onto these estates daily, engaging with families and young people. It’s all about being there, in the community. It’s a longterm strategy, but highly effective.

Finally, we work with families as much as possible. We started a mentoring programme that matches young people on the verge of exclusion with local mentors, whom we train. As part of this process we get to know their parents and family and it’s a real privilege as we get invited into their homes to talk to them about their kids and their behaviour and how we can support them. It is really about tackling the drivers of poverty, such as low aspirations. We create platforms for kids to express themselves, like our arts programme, where kids can perform in front of their families and communities.

What inspired you to write your book ‘No Ceiling to Hope’?

I wanted people to be inspired to do something in their community and across the world. So often we look at situations and just see the doom and gloom, or read the media and believe that this is a lost generation. I’ve always said that, “hope is a refusal to accept a situation as it is.” I wanted people to be inspired to believe that when we love the poor and the broken, when we are committed for the long haul, change is possible. Isaiah 58 has been a key passage for XLP since we started. The people of God are whinging and moaning because He is not paying enough attention to their fasting. God says to them that the kind of fast He is interested in is when you care for the poor, invite the homeless into your homes, and stand against injustice. Part of getting to know God better is caring for others, getting to know them and being committed to them long term. Some of the most amazing stories in the book are women in their 60s and 70s who have loved Jesus for most of their lives and have gone to some of the most dangerous places, whether that is Belfast, Trenchtown, Bangladesh, LA or London. These are not just a lot of nice stories, this is really what the gospel screams at us to do.

How do you deal with working with people who are suffering so much?

I cry a lot! To be honest I don’t have a great answer to that. It’s hard, that’s the bottom line – overwhelming sometimes! I find it hard to sleep, thinking about what to do in a certain situation, but I’m glad we are there in the middle of the mess and complexity of people’s lives rather than standing on the sideline watching. I have asked this question to my friends in poorer countries and their response is that they have a real vision of what this world will look like one day – there’ll be no tears or pain, injustice or poverty, no them and us, the rich won’t get richer and the poor poorer. God is working in this world, it won’t just get worse like some people would have you believe. He is recreating heaven and earth and what we do now really matters. Everything will be restored one day, so even the most broken people and situations will be restored when Jesus returns. So you hang on to that because that is the ultimate hope – but it doesn’t necessarily make the here and now any easier.

What message do you wish to share with any who may be reading this and who are feeling broken?

At the end of the book I have a chapter called, “Hope in your own life.” Sometimes it’s easier to have hope for others than for yourself. You can believe in others but can’t believe in yourself. I went through a period when, health-wise, everything went wrong for my family, my dad got cancer, my little girl was seriously ill, all sorts of things went wrong. I needed to have a big operation on my knees and I asked myself, “Why? Why me? Why is it happening to us?” I realised that Jesus doesn’t always answer the “why” questions, which is frustrating. I also realised that in the midst of the pain and anxiety He promises never to leave us. He is there in those times, though it can feel like He isn’t there. I don’t believe He causes those horrible things to happen, but when they do, they can be used to help us grow closer to God and others.

It’s easy to have faith when everything is going well but when things go wrong, as they often do, having faith that you’re not alone is the way to start getting through, realising that God doesn’t want you to burn out but He wants to teach you things because He loves you and cares for you.

What message do you want to share with our churches concerning our responsibility towards the broken and suffering?

It’s the sense that worship isn’t a departure from justice but it’s an out-working of it. A lot of our programmes and a lot of the things we do are caring for the things we perceive to be going on inside church. I believe the church needs to go beyond charity and giving money towards causes, important as money is, but when you really identify with people, really know your community and want to work with people, it costs in other ways. I’ve recently been preaching about Nehemiah and the fact that he was living in a big palace in captivity, but he identified with his people already back in Jerusalem. This led him to prayer. He then asked permission from the king to go to Jerusalem to rebuild its fallen walls. His desire cost him something. He could have stayed in the palace and have had a good career there. Even though there is a cost it’s worth it, as it’s about doing the work of the Kingdom. The tragedy is that everyone knows what Christians are against, but it’s trying to communicate what we are for, that we are for people, for dignity, the marginalised and the broken. We’re not just there to give them hand-outs, we are there to journey alongside them. When we see stuff happening in our society and we see the church declining numerically we have a choice, either we batten down the hatches, keeping ourselves to ourselves, making an appearance in the community once a year, or just go along with the culture so we are not distinct at all. Alternatively we can stand up and stand out in our world by being distinctive in the way that we communicate and relate to it. My hope is that the church will realise its God given potential and face the challenge to become a community that we are part of, rather than somewhere to attend.