In the face of poverty’s most pervasive symptom, God declares we’re created for community.
Can you remember a time when you felt completely alone? Perhaps it was back when you were a child and you got lost, separated from your parents in the supermarket. The total fear that washes over you when you look around and the world seems vast, empty and frightening is all-consuming.
Now imagine that all consuming anxiety has no end. It’s with you constantly, day and night. In fact, the fear and anxiety of isolation are your only companions. That’s what every day is like when you’re drowning in debt. Over the 21 years since CAP began, we’ve seen time and time again that poverty and isolation go hand in hand.
People bury their heads in the sand, afraid to talk to anyone about what’s going on, afraid of what others will think, convinced there’s no way out.
They become prisoners in their own homes, hiding behind closed curtains, terrified of a knock at the door or the sound of the telephone. Over a third of CAP clients say that debt made them afraid to leave the house. One in ten were completely housebound.
The more isolated they become, the more the debt builds. The more the debt builds, the more isolated they become.
That’s not to say our clients are alone physically. Very often they’re surrounded by people: friends, family, work colleagues are around them, but nobody has a clue about the anxiety weighing down relentlessly day and night.
Almost half of our clients say they put off seeking debt help out of embarrassment or shame; 27% out of fear. It’s often years before they finally speak out. It means they could be standing in a crowd full of people yet feel like they’re in the middle of an empty desert.
For Olly Black, a medical condition trapped him in unemployment. Struggling to provide for his family whilst relying on benefits pushed him into debt. Depressed, Olly started drinking heavily and shutting himself out from the world. ‘When I was in debt I couldn’t face going out. It didn’t seem worth it. I felt like I couldn’t get out of that situation, totally out of control. It was like a black hole and I was going further and further down. Twice I almost took my own life.’
‘I’d have to decide whether to spend money on food or electricity that week – that’s how bad it got. So of course I’d feed my kids, but then I couldn’t power my home and we were in the dark.’
Imagine going through all of that – the uncertainty of whether you’ll be able to put food on the table for your children or keep them warm in the winter, the depression, the suicidal thoughts – and being too afraid to talk to anyone about it.
Psalm 68:6 says this: ‘God sets the lonely in families’. Through CAP, God is doing exactly that every day. Our service has always, and will always, centre around breaking the isolation in lives made derelict by poverty.
Our debt counselling service is unique because it’s face-to-face. Our frontline workers physically step into people’s homes, offering company, friendship and a way forward. Last year, we carried out 8,377 home visits, with two thirds of clients receiving additional support from a local befriender, throughout their journey out of debt and beyond. For Olly, this was life changing.
‘A wonderful man called Mark Rumsby came round to my house with a befriender. The first moment I opened the door to them, it felt nice because someone understood where I was coming from.’
‘They helped me in so many different ways. Our bed was broken so they got us a second-hand one. We were out of food at home so they got us Foodbank vouchers. Mark even invited me round to his house for a meal. He’s like a guardian angel; a real good friend. To this day I can phone up or message him at any time.’
What’s more, CAP has the privilege of being able to pray with clients and invite them to church. Here congregations become families, and there’s a chance to discover the most important friendship of all.
In Matthew 8, Jesus meets a man suffering with leprosy, a condition that, at the time, meant he would be cast out of society, forced to leave his family and his home. We see the man say to Jesus, ‘Master, if you want to, you can heal my body’ (MSG).
You can hear the disbelief in his voice – not in Jesus’ ability to help him, but in his desire to. Like so many clients before coming to CAP, he has become so isolated that he can’t see why anyone would want to help him.
Of course, Jesus reaches out his hand and the man is healed. He can return to his family and start again. Through CAP, Jesus is reaching out his hand to the lost and lonely every day, setting them in families and reminding them how valued they are. Just like Olly.
‘One day, Mark said, “Would you like to go to an Alpha course?” I was an atheist then and I went along just to shut him up! I was the most sceptical person, but I liked it and I wanted to know more. I found I had more questions than answers, so I went away and did some research and Mark answered my questions. In the third to last meeting, I gave my life to Jesus.’
‘Going to church has been a total life changer. It’s like a big family. I’ve never had so many friends! I never used to keep a diary but now I need one to keep up with all the things I’m doing!’
In February, Olly became debt free. ‘I didn’t think I was ever going to get out of that spiral. Now I can have a good night’s sleep. I feel at peace. I’ve stopped drinking – I’ve been sober for eight months now and that’s largely down to the help of CAP.’
Our mission to break the cycle of poverty and isolation doesn’t stop with our debt counselling. Our other services are no different. When it comes to CAP Job Clubs, Fresh Start and CAP Life Skills, one essential element is community. Members meet people who have been through similar experiences and support one another on their journeys. Lasting friendships are born and lives are transformed.
God sets the lonely in families. Whether this arrives in the form of a welcoming church family, a new group of friends, a befriender who’s always on the other end of the phone, relationships with relatives restored or faith in Jesus himself, CAP is determined to show people like Olly that they don’t have to go through it alone. Yes, poverty and isolation go hand in hand. But CAP goes hand in hand with friendship, support and the amazing love of God. Which do you think is the more powerful combination?
Written by Gemma Pask
Photography by Stuart Bailey Photography