Sarah Small

Head Of Eden

We caught up with Sarah Small, Head of Eden, as she reflects on 10 years of the Eden Network.

‘It was dark, blowing a gale and there were some interesting dealings going on outside our new home as Steve and I first moved onto the Merseybank estate in South Manchester 10 years ago. We’d unpacked our van of stuff into the front room, feeling a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, and then headed to bed to attempt some sleep (this was tricky as we discovered our bedroom window had a hole in it and we were living just off a six-lane trunk road into central Manchester!)

10 (almost 11) years on from that first night so much has changed. We built (and rebuilt) our team, opened a café, planted a church, baptised people, conducted weddings and funerals, prayed countless prayers and wept many tears. We had our boys, lived through a pandemic and said goodbye to the majority of our core team in the past few years. 

I’ve heard it said you can do a lot less in one year than you think and a lot more in five. We’ve certainly seen and done a lot in the past 10 and yet there’s still a sense that we’re not finished. There are still so many opportunities and it’s clear that God is working differently in and through us now. We have established a group of over 30 local Christians both homegrown and movers in. We’re regularly praying together, finding ways to serve the community together and seeing God continue to use us to reach and support our neighbours. 

Here are 10 things I’ve learned (and need to keep learning!) this list is not exhaustive but hopefully might help you whatever stage of ministry you find yourself in: 

– Prayer is essential – when things are good, when they’re bad, when you don’t know what to do. Regular prayer times with our team have at times felt like a chore and at times like a joy but prayer has always been a key foundation – and we’ve seen God answer so many. We’ve seen so many people open to prayer as well – it’s a great tool for blessing our neighbours and loads of our community want prayer. 

– Team wasn’t what we thought – but God knew better! We started out with a plan for loads of our friends to move in but one by one they all dropped out. God then built our team drawing in people already resident in the area as well as calling people from miles away. That team has completely changed over the past 10 years and now a significant number of our team are people who have come to faith through our Eden work. Team is hard work at times but such a blessings and beautiful thing. 

– Change is constant – a big part of me deeply desires order and things to be settled but that’s not the way of life in our context. Things change all the time and actually this can be a really positive thing. Drama soon blows over, frustrations transfer away and opportunities come back time and again. Also we need to be open to God changing us – so often we want situations and others to change, even more often still we need to open up ourselves to change! 

– Hope never fails – even when it all looks bleak God calls us to be people of hope. To shine our lights in the darkness and cling onto the fact that the darkness will never overcome. This truth has sustained us and has helped us to sustain others.  It’s one to stand on and build on. 

– It is blessed to receive – its easy to assume we will be the ones giving out to our community, the ones with ideas and time and energy (and of course all that the gospel brings too) but the reality is we’ve had to fall on our community over and over again and we’ve been so blessed as a result. Our need and at times weakness or foolishness have been bridges that have connected us more closely to our friends and neighbours. 

– Sometimes we get broken – whether that’s physically or emotionally – as we love our communities and love those who are hurting it causes our hearts to break again. It’s so tempting to try and resist this pain, especially once you’ve been through it, but so necessary to try and avoid becoming hard hearted. God has healing for our pain and knows it so well himself. 

– Trust is sacred – gaining trust, building a relationship is a sacred thing and the result of this has been being asked to accompany people at really desperate and precious times of their lives. Funerals are particularly special moments and it’s been an honour to have been asked to take a few now. 

– Comfort and familiarity are a problem – after the first few years its easy to start to feel more comfortable and familiar with the culture and challenges of your community. Try and avoid this – don’t assume God’s aim for you is to assimilate with your community. There will always be times when you need to be different, will need to stand up and say something, should feel uncomfortable in your community. 

– You know so much less than you think – sometimes I think I know a thing or two and that is a dangerous position to be in because that’s usually just before I realise I know very little and things come crashing down. Stay humble and open to learn and find some people to teach you what you don’t know or understand about your community. 

– Find some champions – whether it be the Eden Network, your local church or another set of supporters it’s essential to have people that you can turn to for prayer, support and wisdom when it all gets a bit much. We’ve been so blessed by our friends and partners within Eden – it’s so essential to have a bunch of likeminded people to journey with, to share so many ‘me too’ moments with and to bring refreshment, fun and wisdom for the journey.’