Young people show love for Leeds
Local teenagers challenge stereotypes and commit to a lifestyle of mission
As I asked for directions on the bus, I was told not to walk down ‘that’ road on my own as it’s a ‘dodgy area’ and ‘you could get mugged down there’. This was the very direction I needed to walk to find the Harehills hub for the HOPE Leeds ’11 mission.
Seventy five young people, from a wide cross section of churches, denominations and backgrounds in Leeds, had given up five days of their summer to challenge stereotypes, experience mission and demonstrate love to people in some difficult and deprived areas of their city.
HOPE Leeds ’11, which took place 26-30 July, enabled teenagers to grow in their faith by experiencing mission and giving them an opportunity to share the love of God with people through words and actions.
At the hub, the initiative provided space for participants to worship together, learn from each other and receive teaching. Then each afternoon the young volunteers were sent out in teams to community projects in areas such as Holbeck and Beeston, Harehills, Armley, Kippax, and Meanwood.
Work at the five mission centres was varied, depending on the area’s needs and demographic, but activities included gardening, chatting to locals, cultural learning, clearing public land, running holiday clubs, litter picking, hosting free fun days, participating in festivals and creating activities for children in parks.
Glenda Down, one of the core team of HOPE Leeds ‘11 and youth Pastor at Moortown Baptist Church, talked about the young people taking part: “Just by being themselves they are really changing the image of young people. On one level, seventy five is not a massive number but when you see the positive atmosphere and good effect they have in the five areas –it’s great. It amazes me that they sleep on the hard church floor at night and they work during the day and yet they are having the best time!”
“Harehills is definitely a misunderstood area of Leeds.” said Max, 17, from Holt Park, who was taking part in the cross cultures project just down the road from the hub. ”It has a bad reputation as being full of crime, and yeah there are bad parts and derelict houses etc, but everyone has been friendly and most were well up for a chat.”
Doyin, 21, a participant from Living Hope Church who worked at the Holbeck/Beeston mission centre said: “I have learned quite a lot, especially with the mix of churches and different ethnic backgrounds in the teams. They have taught me stuff I didn’t know about and we bring something new they didn’t know about, so it’s really nice. I did speak to a couple of people about God but some of this is mission by example too - letting people see God through us. I was braiding the hair of one lady and she was surprised to see Christian young people doing this kind of thing.”
Some of the young people had come to HOPE Leeds ’11 because their youth leader has encouraged them, its part of their gap year, or their friends are here, but Ben Cordy tells of how quickly they begun to understand what living out their faith really means for them: “They connect with it because they own it. When we talk about ‘sharing the Gospel’ this concept will no longer be foreign to them – it is something that they have done. I got back last night to thirty lads sharing stories of what God has done and praying until late. Suddenly they can’t wait to get to the mission centres.”
Ben added: “It also really helps them see the bigger picture when they realise this is not just them, their youth group, or even just Leeds, the Church nationwide is doing something that they can engage with. We join with existing projects like community cafes or youth clubs that will carry on after HOPE Leeds ’11 has finished and we love to see churches inspired to continue.”
In Armley the teams joined with a youth project, held a fun day and completed practical tasks. Rev Dave Young, from Christ Church Armely said: “It was great to have HOPE Leeds joining with us. They are very enthusiastic and there is a really good feel around the area. This is a great opportunity to work together for mission and community engagement. Hopefully this is the beginning of something really big.”
Joey Hughes, who also lives in Armley and was a leader of the team there said: “I’ve seen the team members stepping out of their comfort zones, talking to strangers about God and having the courage for the first time to be part of it.”
Most of the young people made a commitment to continue sharing their faith in words and actions. Nathaniel, 16, from Adel said: “I don’t think mission can be something you do for a week and then you stop. It has to continue and become a lifestyle choice.”