James, Hannah & Eli
Before moving to Falinge, we were working as youth and kids workers for our local church in Rochdale. As most of the young people were moving on to university or elsewhere, that gradually slowed down and came to an end quite naturally, so we started to think about what was next for us. We had heard about Eden a long time ago, but when the opportunity in Falinge came up, our first thought was, ‘We might just love this!’
We only moved from the top of the hill to the bottom, but it’s like a different world. Our postcode only changed by one letter, but the car insurance almost doubled! Hannah was pregnant with Eli at the time, so we had some concerns about whether the baby would be safe, and whether he would miss out on certain things as we were moving from a very comfortable, middle class area. It also felt a bit awkward to move such a short distance, to a different church, because we really loved our church. It was quite painful to leave. But it really helped that we knew this church already, and the youth leaders, as we had connected with them many times in the past.
The estate is home to a lot of asylum seekers, so it’s a very multi-cultural blend of English, Africans and Eastern Europeans. There’s an amazing lady from Ethiopia who has basically been doing her own informal ministry that looks a lot like Eden! She’s been here for ten years and engages with all of the Ethiopians who arrive here. We don’t have a connection with that community except through her, so that’s been a really great opportunity. When we arrived, she told us that she had been praying for a long time that someone would come to connect with the young people, so it definitely felt like God was putting the various puzzle pieces together.
It was May when we moved, which turned out to be really helpful timing as people were keen to hang around outside in the nice weather, so there were lots of opportunities to meet our neighbours. The problem with this is that it’s the people you don’t see, who don’t come out of their homes to chat, who are perhaps most in need of connection, community and support.
There is a Sure Start Children’s Centre on the estate, and Hannah has been able to get involved with Eli, meeting other mums and connecting with people in a very easy and natural way. He is a really friendly and smiley baby, and people always stop to see him and have a chat, so he actually opens up so many more opportunities for us and we might have really struggled without him!
Before we started Eden, I think we expected it to be quite fast-paced and action packed. People tell these amazing, dramatic success stories, and you kind of expect to hit the ground running. What we’ve realised is that those stories might be five or ten years in the making! We’ve definitely learned that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but that’s because it’s about building authentic community and not just jumping in for a short-term mission. In real life, and real relationships, you don’t get to know people in an instant – in a day, a week, or even a month. It might start with a nod when passing in the street, then a smile. The next week you might get a ‘Hello.’ The great thing about Eden is that we’re not going anywhere! In a funny way, it takes the pressure off because we don’t need to change people’s lives in a single conversation. It feels ordinary, in the best possible way. You’re just living your life, but more ‘open’ than usual.
We’ve found that, because we’ve already made the decision to come here and be part of Eden, that makes it easier to be tuned in to the opportunities in front of us, however small. It removes any question of whether or not to get involved. At the back of your mind you always have that voice telling you, ‘This is why you’re here.’ Someone might mention in passing that their washing machine is broken and you think, ‘How can I meet that need?’ We always said we’d give as much time as people ask of us so it does mean that you have to open up your whole life, and be available for people. If someone knocks on your door late at night and says, ‘You told me you’d be here if I ever needed anything,’ you have to be prepared to see that through.
We were excited about Eden and thought that we’d love it, but it’s been about so much more than that. We have been challenged and changed, even in just five or six months. Becoming a part of a community like this, making your home here and bringing up a child here, challenges your prejudices – prejudices you didn’t even know you had. It’s changing who we are and how we see people. Everyone has a story.
Feel inspired by this story to play your part in transforming communities with the love of Jesus? Find out more and start your journey today.