Reaching out…

April 23, 2009

Published: Coleraine Chronicle, 23rd April 2009, page 17

In scenes resembling the TV shows Ground Force and Changing Rooms, local church folk – many of them teenagers – spent part of their Easter holidays carrying out acts of kindness in the Triangle Area last week [15-17 April]. For three days over 80 volunteers picked up litter, mowed lawns, weeded gardens, painted fences and stripped wallpaper free of charge as part of a programme called StreetReach, run by several of the local churches to demonstrate love to the local community.

After the success of the programme last year, local church leaders decided that it would be beneficial to run StreetReach again this Easter. Volunteers met each morning for a debriefing and time of worship, before heading into their local areas to help anyone who needed it in what one leader described as ‘The most relevant act of worship we will carry out’.

One of the co-ordinators, Jonny Doey explained what it was they were doing. ‘Streetreach is were we get people together from the local churches to go out into the community and to show acts of kindness and to relate the love of God in word and deed.
‘We’ve had young people involved from the age of 14 who have been coming in and serving during their holiday time. Not only that, but the Council and the Department for Social Development have got involved too.’

Having advertised their services via leaflet drops in Ballysally, Dhu Varren, Portstewart and the Heights area of Coleraine, the job list had mounted even before they began. In Ballysally the team spent much of their time picking up litter in the area as well as spending time with people in the community over cups of tea. In Dhu Varren, around 20 folk dressed in red and yellow t-shirts from the Elim and Presbyterian churches cut grass, painted fences and stripped layers of wallpaper. In Portstewart the young people learnt just in time the difference between a plant and a weed as they tidied up gardens in the Mullaghmacall and Lever Road areas. And in the Heights area, some of the young people decided to paint the park at Kylemore Nursery School as a way of brightening up the area. Robert McMullan, a 17 year old from the town had had the idea. ‘It was really old and there were names scored on so we just sanded it down and washed it and started painting it with bright colours and you can see a big difference in it now, it just shines so much more.’

One woman who StreetReach had a big impact on was Linda McAuley, who had just recently moved into Ferndale Avenue in Portstewart. She had responded to one of the flyers, as she needed help to chop large amounts of timber she had received into blocks for firewood. Initially four people had turned up to help on the first day, but as time went on the rest of the team followed. ‘ I looked out the back window at one point,’ Linda says, ‘and it was like a flurry of wee birds and worker fairies had come in in brightly coloured t-shirts. At that stage there were about 15 young people then working incredibly hard, and they ended up giving the garden a complete makeover, cutting the grass, trimming the back bushes, not just chopping the wood.’

‘The thing that I was noticing and that I couldn’t get over,’ Linda continued, ‘is that they were all so happy doing it. They were young people that were genuinely happy out helping other people and it just warmed me through to the soul. I cried and l laughed all in the one day. It was a lovely sight and I will never forget the kindness because it wasn’t done in a way that made me feel bad about asking for the help. Everybody has been so friendly and kind and happy and chatty and normal. It didn’t feel like there was an act of charity being done – it just felt like really genuine people coming out to help other people.’

With little reward, organisational chaos and extra responsibility, why would those who organised StreetReach do such a thing? ? ‘In the book of Jeremiah,’ Jonny explains, ‘it says to seek the welfare of the city and we believe that God here is calling us to seek the welfare of our cities and in the upkeep of them as well. We also want to go out and be hands and feet of Christ in the community, to let people realise that being a Christian is about serving and that the church is interested in people and the church wants to be real with people. We want people to see that the church is alive, but more importantly that Jesus Christ is alive.’

With dirty hands, paint in their hair and wet clothes from Wednesday’s rain, what inspires young people to give up three days of their Easter holidays, and get involved with StreetReach? Robert, who was volunteering for the second year, concludes, ‘I guess it’s for the love of Jesus. He’s got such a big part to play in all our lives. For me he’s changed my life. I would never have dreamed of painting a park, or helping someone clean up their garden just for the complete love of Jesus. He’s got so much to share and he wants to share it with everybody and to use us.’