John Kirkby started Christians Against Poverty (CAP) in 1996. He believed God was calling him to sacrifice his career in finance and use his knowledge of the industry to help those in need.
How it all started
In his hometown of Bradford, John set off on the incredible journey of CAP. His faith adventure led him to people weighed down by debt; parents who couldn’t feed their children, families facing eviction and desperate people living without hope. He used his expertise to negotiate with creditors, set up budgeting systems and offer a lifeline to those trapped in debt.
John knew that people all over the country were struggling in a similar way, so he began looking to expand the work across the UK. With the vital ingredients of a church to partner with, a passionate person to be trained as a debt counsellor and the faith that God would provide, four new CAP centres were opened at the end of 1998.
You can read about this journey and so much more by taking a look at our books.
For now, come and join us for a chat in the kitchen and see where it all began.
People ask me when CAP started. Well, it started really in 1996, but that’s not where it really started. In the early 90s I had a really, really difficult time.
I had a very difficult early childhood and as a young adult, my father died when I was eighteen and my mother was sectioned under mental health and I was left on my own. I had a very difficult early life. I’d been reasonably successful working in the finance industry.
Things had looked really good as we got into the early 90s but underneath that veneer of success was still very much the broken guy that I’d been earlier in my life.
I basically lost everything; I ended up massively in debt. I lost my first marriage, had to move out of the home, ended up just living in one room of a friend’s house. When the girls were with me they used to have to sleep on these horrible camp beds. I was hounded by debt collectors, I was pretty poor, struggled, really struggled with life.
But it was in the midst of this that the most amazing thing in my life happened and I met these amazing people. I now know what it was that drove them, but I couldn’t work out why they would be bothered with me, why they seemed to care about me, why they were always asking how I was and helping me and my two little girls.
They were showing me the love of Christ. I had a massive hole within my spirit and within my soul that only the love of Jesus could fill and that’s where I found Christ as my personal saviour. Within a few weeks, I was baptised and when I look at this picture I can see myself punching out of the water. I was born again. I did have a fresh start. I did have a future and a hope.
God began to rebuild me, and very much part of that rebuilding was meeting my beautiful wife, Lizzie. We met and over a couple of years we decided that we would get married and we would spend our life together, and everything looked brilliant. By now my career was back on, I was paying my debts off, I’d got my old home back and I’d seen my kids and my life begin to turn around, and then God came knocking at my door. I felt a real sense of him saying, ‘Come on, Johnny boy. Let’s go and help the poor!’
So literally two weeks after we’d got married, just after our honeymoon we sat down in my home office and started Christians Against Poverty. We had a few pounds, an old computer, and started to help poor and needy people.
Wow, I haven’t been here for so long! There it is: the office where it all started. We had a titanic struggle in those early first few years. We really, really did struggle, the story is well known. We were on our knees on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, praying and asking God to provide.
And people ask me, ‘Why didn’t you stop when it was so difficult? Why did you carry on when you had to leave this house? Why did you keep going?’ And the truth was, the reason was, the people I was helping. It was here that we saw the first clients’ lives touched by amazing debt counselling. This is where we saw the first clients find Christ as their personal saviour and be drawn into the local church. The reason why we didn’t stop is we couldn’t stop.
We couldn’t stop because a few families, there were only so few at the beginning, relied on us and were working with us and we were seeing the fruit of what we were doing. And even though no one else noticed and no one else recognised it, we knew God was in it. We knew he was with us. And I remember the first clients that gave their heart to Christ in our front room.
We remember the first mailshots we did on those evenings around the kitchen table. I remember with such amazing joy the first Centre Managers who came to our home to be trained around our kitchen table, the first staff that joined, the first money that came in. So many firsts. It was a very, very difficult time.
It really was difficult. But it was also amazing and it also built within us a faith that God would provide and that he was with us.
It’s amazing to think what happened in that room twenty years ago. I’m really glad I started it.
Well, we have come a long, long way since we started in that small home office over twenty years ago. So this is our Bradford office complex, we have over 50,000 square foot of offices, over 300 workers here supporting over 1,000 frontline workers in 500 CAP centres.
Every year we celebrate thousands of families going debt free, hundreds of people being released from addictions and dependencies, and hundreds of people finding work that have been unemployed for so many years. It’s a place of celebration; it’s a place where people’s lives are transformed and it’s been an absolute miracle to see how far God has brought us from one small office to this in twenty years.
What an amazing God we serve! ‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing the finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry and meet the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, your night will become like noonday. The Lord will guide you always, he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and raise up the age old foundations. You will be called repairer of the broken walls, restorer of streets with dwellings.’
I believe Christians Against Poverty is an Isaiah 58 ministry. We have seen this word become life. We have seen this word become real. I’ve seen it in my own life and I know that these words are as true today as they were when I first picked them up some twenty years ago; that my God is a faithful God, that he will do what he has promised.
As we look forward to the next five years of seeing CAP expand around the world and particularly here in the UK to double in size, to have a thousand church based services. We still need God, we still need the miraculous intervention of the living God. We still need thousands of people to support this work; we need people to give, to pray, to join in. We need hundreds of churches to get involved in this fantastic thing called Christians Against Poverty here in the UK and around the world.
I used to come up here just to spend time with God in those early days. Hey, I believed that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord was on me but I wanted God to make it real, I wanted him to expand and grow and provide for our ministry. And hey, we all know the story, it’s been a remarkable twenty years.
CAP has grown beyond anything that I would have ever dreamt or imagined. When I see what God has done, when I look at my family now, when I see the grace of God in it and the amazing transformation that he has done, I’m inspired of the tens of thousands of other families that we can reach, who twenty years from now will be grateful for an organisation that brought God’s love in action to their home, of a church that was willing to step out in faith, and a bunch of ordinary people who were willing to do some extraordinary things. And I pray that you’re inspired by this amazing thing that God has done.
We couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for supporting us, and I pray that you’re inspired to get involved and see this vision become a reality.