They moved to Peterborough where Walker started working for a homelessness charity.
The death of one of the residents provoked him to question the inadequacies of the system he is working within:
‘I saw, as I looked at the hostel system, a focus on beds rather than homes. I noticed the high rents taken to cover the overheads of large organisations made finding employment difficult and could lead to people being stuck in hostels where it was hard to engage in positive, enriching relationships.’
His response was to use he and his wife’s own saving to purchase a house and create a home for people who are homeless. From this step of faith and sacrifice, the organisation Hope into Action was born. Walker and his wife had the courage to bring their ‘loaves and fishes’ to God and they have seen this be multiplied many times.
Today, Hope into Action has 76 homes with over 200 tenants. It partners with 67 churches to provide befriending and support to each house.
A House Built on Love is the story of how this happened. In its many short chapters, it contains countless stories of how people scarred by addiction, crime and low self-worth have found restoration, wholeness and a home through their work.
Walker writes in a disarming way. He is frequently self-deprecating and expresses feelings of being out of his depth and lacking confidence. I found this adds to the challenge of the story.
It is not a ‘super-hero’ narrative because he writes about difficulties, failures and doubts. He expresses amazement and gratitude as the journey sees the organisation grow and and win significant awards from The Guardian, the Centre for Social Justice and others.
But the Christian faith remains front and centre to the whole story. In essence, this is a book about a desire to explicitly, overtly and confidently put compassionate faith in Jesus into action. The combination of this faith, along with Walker’s clear skills, smart thinking and the ability to build partnerships, have enabled great things to happen.
What most struck me is the ‘multiplying effect’ that this faith brings. In an early chapter, someone from a local authority says to him:
‘Ed, I am not a Christian, don’t believe in God and don’t go to church, but I can’t find the kind of social capital you are talking about anywhere else in the city.’
She goes on to offer him a £44,000 to buy a new property.
This is not one of those ‘miracle on every page’ kind of Christian books. But it is full of straight-forward, yet challenging theology. It shows how taking risks for God is rewarded.
Walker also offers some sharp challenges the Church. He is critical about rich Christians who hoard their wealth and the overly-conservative reserves policies in churches which don’t use assets well. Reflecting on Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep, he writes:
‘We have to leave those 99 sheep who are already sitting in church, and go out and find that one. We need to go out into the mire, into the bog, onto the craggy cliff edge…Our mission is to help church members get out into the world in a relational, long term way and do so showing respect and humility.’
He is also honest about the reality of this work. Hope is not the same as naïve optimism and he writes about those they have had to evict and the pain of broken relationships.
This is part of the reality of this work, and Walker writes with hard-earned experience about the grace and truth required to support people well.
Walker does not write about ‘the homeless’ in some faceless or abstract way. Using his learning from overseas ‘asset-based’ development, he emphasises the empowering of people’s strengths.
Most deeply, he emphasises the humanity of those affected by homelessness, and their similarity to all of us:
‘Therefore they need love. They need to feel they have a home, and they need to belong: they need to believe they hold innate value, and they need someone to believe in them. Put another way, they are almost exactly like you and me.’
I would highly recommend this book. It is challenging, authentic and will help inspire more people to put hope into action in their local communities.