I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I do remember where it was. I was working as a weather forecaster for the Met Office and was heading home after shift, back into Belfast down the Crumlin Road.
On the radio was a man being interviewed about the work of his charity. I didn’t catch the name, but he was describing how, through the local Church, the charity helps people in debt, bringing release and freedom from that awful burden.
Wow! Local churches doing something really practical to help people in their communities with this massive problem. That was all well and good, I pondered, but the church I was at the time would have no interest in doing anything like that. I put it to the back of my mind.
Fast forward to Spring 2008. God was capturing my attention with articles on poverty, emails about those struggling to make ends meet, child sponsorship newsletters and much more. It was hard to ignore. One evening, I sat down at my PC and typed into a search engine: Christians……… poverty.
Up came a list of results topped by Christians Against Poverty!
Oh yes, I knew that name – that was the charity I heard about on the radio a number of years ago. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘what are you up to, God?’
By that stage, the leadership in the church had changed so, after requesting an information pack, I approached the pastor and chatted about the possibilities of working with CAP. A short time later, another Pastor and I travelled to CAP’s head office in Bradford for a Church Partnership Day. This was in July 2008. We loved it and returned to Belfast full of enthusiasm and excitement about what God was planning.
We started the process of partnering with CAP and in December of that year I was back in Bradford to be interviewed for the role of Centre Manager.
In January 2009, I returned to Bradford for training and the first CAP Debt Centre in Northern Ireland was officially opened!
A month of publicity followed, before we were let loose on the unsuspecting public of East Belfast, where the centre was based in Church of God, Glenmachan. As a brand new charity in Northern Ireland, there was much pioneering work to do. I visited Citizens Advice, constituency offices of local political parties, the Housing Executive and many more. There were also press articles, which came off the back of our initial press release, and even some radio interviews on UCB, Belfast Citybeat and BBC Radio Ulster. I was thankful for the media training I’d received in the Met Office!
There was a lot of interest from other churches and I met with church leaders who were keen to find out more about opening centres in their areas. It was fantastic to see another four Northern Ireland Debt Centres open in November that year. We had an official launch which took place in Parliament Buildings at Stormont.
Our first client visit took place in February. From there on, I was seeing four new clients a month, squeezing my CAP responsibilities around my Met Office shift work. The first client response to the good news of the gospel happened in early April. We were shocked and delighted in equal measure. Wonderfully, the client is still attending church and walking with Jesus day by day.
Above: Kylie and her family are one of the thousands helped by CAP in Northern Ireland.
Now, I run a CAP Job Club, and the network has grown beyond recognition in those ten short years.
CAP has 40 services across 30 lead churches with more than 100 congregations partnering across Northern Ireland. Hundreds of volunteers give up their time to play their part and around 85 churches run the CAP Money Course. We gather together to worship, pray and live out a common mission.
Thanks to this amazing united effort, 5,000 people have been helped and cared for, many of whom were truly vulnerable and suffering, which makes me feel so very, very thankful.
Jim Fleming is a CAP Job Club Manager and Debt Centre Manager in Killicomaine, Northern Ireland.