Homelessness, Poverty, Theology

Reflecting God’s generous justice

I want to tell you about two inspiring people I have got to know over the last few years through my work.

Pastor Alex in Tottenham

The first is Alex Gyesi (pictured left), Pastor of Highway to Holiness, a Pentecostal church in Tottenham, North London.

Back in 2009 the church was growing but Pastor Alex, and his wife Dorcas, felt they needed to connect more deeply with the community around them. They ventured out on evangelistic outreach but encountered so many homeless people that they were drawn into providing meals for them. Getting more involved they then allowed them to sleep over in the church building.

Quite quickly, the church turned into a night shelter serving rough sleepers every night. And this went on and on and for over 13 years Pastor Alex and his church have helped hundreds of homeless people. Many of them have been sent to them by statutory agencies like hospitals and councils, as well as more famous charities like Crisis.

It has not been easy. Many of their church members did not like this outreach and the disruption it brought. But Pastor Alex saw all these as tests of the depth of the church’s love. Did they really mean what they preached and sung about? Alex wrote a great book telling the story of the church’s journey called The Test Room.

Ed Walker in Peterborough

The second person is Ed Walker (pictured on right). Ed worked in disaster response for Tearfund in Africa before returning to England and settling in Peterborough. 

One day, he was in the park with his young daughter when he noticed a man sitting abjectly on a nearby bench. He got talking to him and found out he had just been let out of prison and had nowhere to go. Ed tried to help the man get a bed in a hostel but nothing was possible.

This stirred Ed about the lack of options for this man and the likelihood that he would re-offend and end up back in prison.  From the park, Ed could see the spires of many local churches and wondered what the church could do to change the situation for people like this. 

Later on, Ed received an inheritance of £30,000 when a relative died and he and his wife Rachel decided to use it to buy a house to provide a home for homeless people. It was the start of a charity called Hope into Action

From this root, it has grown to over 100 houses across the country with over 350 tenants living in the homes. Ed has also written a cracking book called A House Built on Love about the whole story.

Faith in action

Alex and Ed are from very different backgrounds, but both have been awarded MBEs for their work. And both are unapologetically and passionately motivated by their deep Christian faith to address the injustice of homelessness.

Both of them are great reflectors of the generous justice of God we see in Deuteronomy 15.

Social justice in law (v.1-6)

Deuteronomy is a book of Hebrew law. And chapter 15 gives radical instructions on how God’s people should manage money and debt:

“At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for cancelling debts has been proclaimed.”

Every 7 years debts are forgiven and the slate is wiped clean. Debt could not hang over people forever. This is so radically different to how our society operates that its hard to comprehend. The impact was to hugely undermine the power of money to create inequality and be used as a tool of oppression.

It stands alongside the other Old Testament economic laws about not charging interest on loans (Deut. 23:19), leaving the edges of the fields unharvested (Leviticus 23:22) and leaving olives on the trees so that widows and the poor could take them (Deut.24:20). The point of these laws was social justice:

There need be no poor people among you’

This is a different concept to charity. Remission of debt was a law: a structure to establish the kind of society God wanted.

Generosity of heart (v.7-11)

But this passage goes beyond just policy, it also speaks about attitude:

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 

Whatever laws are in place, poverty will remain in some form and there will always be a need for grace and generosity:

‘Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart…there will always be poor people in the land.’

The Bible reveals a God is passionate about a generous form of justice. Its deeper than just economics. It’s a equitable and fair approach to wealth and resources which wants people living in right relationships with each other. 

This is the form of justice our world badly needs.

Hope into Action

This week it has been my immense privilege to start work as the new Chief Executive of Hope into Action to continue the brilliant work that Ed Walker and his team have done over the last 13 years. 

I will write more about the work in the coming months but please watch this short video about how they have helped a man called Rob to escape the nightmare of homelessness and experience the generous justice of God.

This article is adapted from a talk given last Sunday at Streatham Baptist Church. The talk can be viewed on You Tube here and it starts from 46:36.

10 thoughts on “Reflecting God’s generous justice”

  1. You missed my favourite bit of OT law / justice, about taking someone’s coat as security for a loan … but returning it in the evening in case they get cold. Just ‘cos it’s in Exodus not Deuteronomy!


  2. (I think) I understand the moral case and individual imperative around the remission of debt. But I do have some questions about the impact on society and the future of the planet of doing so.

    If you walk past the Wetherspoons on Streatham High Road at 4pm on a weekday it is usually full. The pub next door is almost empty. There various reasons for this. But at the core is the price for drinks and food there. Wetherspoons cannot actually afford to sell things that cheap in reality, so they borrow – their NET debt is currently approx. £750 million. And, even at their cheap prices, many of the people who go in there still cannot afford those prices, so they borrow too.

    Both Wetherspoons and their clientele seek to do all they can to keep rolling over their debt and by and large are pretty successful in doing so. On one hand all this borrowing, by both the sellers and the buyers, is great; everyone is clearly enjoying themselves. But it has also driven a huge expansion of consumerism in society, which is now proving very hard to control and to square with lots of other more important things, inc those relating to the human impact on the earth and the earth’s impact on humans.

    You might wish that no one had ever had the idea of debt, but given that they did, to me the only thing that just about keeps some vague lid right on the very top of the consumerist explosion is the idea that you might actually have an obligation to pay back what you borrowed and that there is a cost to that. So one concern I have with the idea that you wouldn’t have that obligation, and there should be no cost to that, is where that might lead us all collectively (apart from the obvious even greater number of Wetherspoons which I would take advantage of)?


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