God's Heart for the Poor (Luke 4:16-21, by Robyn France)

Message by Robyn France of Christians Against Poverty

Luke 4:16-21

I’m Robyn and I started working with CAP and came to beautiful NZ in two years ago. But my story with Christians Against Poverty started long before that. Obviously, I am English and I was born and brought up just 8 miles from where John Kirkby founded CAP 19 years ago. And over 10 years ago my mum started working there. Over that time I got to see what this charity was about, I got to see people being helped practically and coming to know God. I always loved the work of CAP but to be honest, I never imagined myself working here, I always felt like that was my mums thing, it didn’t feel as relevant to me. But two years ago when I was in Australia for a fe months, I came over to New Zealand and I fell in love. I completely fell for this amazing place! I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was that made me love it so much or why I felt the urge to move out here, that tells me it was God! So I asked God, how can I move here? And the answer was CAP.  

My heart was to come to NZ and see what God had for me here, I thought of CAP as my way of coming here, not much more. Since I’ve been here – I can tell you that God has changed my heart, he’s challenged me to truly love people where they’re at, and he’s challenged everything I used to believe about poverty and about his heart for the poor.

In two years of working for CAP, of meeting families around our country in poverty because of debt, I realised that poverty is all about loss – and not just about loss of money or possessions. It’s much bigger than that.

Poverty is about a loss of well-being.

When every trip to your letter box and every phone call you receive from an unknown number is marked by growing anxiety and stress about the money you owe, your health begins to suffer.

Poverty is about loss of relationships.

When you can’t afford to put petrol in your car or credit on your phone and friends and family aren’t within walking distance, you lose connection. When you’re afraid that others will find out the truth about your financial and living situation, shame robs you of the strength to continue your friendships, and they begin to slip away.

This brings a loss of dignity.

When you’re trying to figure out how to feed your children on $5 a day, like most of our clients when they come to CAP, you begin to hate yourself for not being able to provide. When, like one of our clients, you decide that selling your body to a man for 30 minutes is the only way to feed your children dinner—you begin to lose your soul.

And most heart-breakingly, poverty, especially poverty caused by debt, is about loss of life. When there’s no money, when rent day comes around and you can't sleep the night before ... you lie there paralysed… wondering if it would be better to end it all - just to make the problems go away.

The reality is, four out of ten of our CAP clients – when they first ring our head office for help -- tell us they have considered or attempted suicide, because there seems no other way out of their debt.

 

Crippling debt causes loss – and there are families, all over our country, suffering this loss. But this isn’t where it ends. This is why CAP is here.

CAP was founded 18 years ago by John Kirkby, in Bradford, England, and was birthed out of his own experience with debt, joblessness and loss.

As John began to pick up the pieces of his own life, God gave him an idea: He would help families who were deeply in debt, just like he was.

He’d negotiate with creditors, help them set up new budgets so they could pay back their debts – and he’d do it all in partnership with his local church, so that he could bring hope and transformation into the homes of those suffering brokenness and loss.…

This is the kind of hope & transformation Jesus announces in Luke 4:16-21 – where He speaks to the great religious leaders in that day

V.21, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” I love this statement – because for hundreds of years, religious leaders had expected the Messiah to come as a revolutionary – to release them from the oppression of their government and to rule as an earthly King.

What Jesus says is revolutionary – but not in the way they wanted – he came to bring good news to the poor, to set the captives free, to bring release to people living in bondage. The question is, how do we continue to live that out mandate, that charge, today?

 

At CAP we’ve found one way to do it.

19 years ago, John Kirkby built CAP around Jesus’ proclamation and today, CAP exists to bring practical help to and good news, to release people from the imprisonment of debt, and to set the burdened, battered and beaten down – absolutely FREE.

We work only in partnership with local churches because this is where true transformation happens – this is where people experience the love of Jesus first-hand, and this is where lives are restored.  

So today, CAP has three completely free services that we run in partnership with churches across New Zealand -- there are 51 churches bringing CAP Debt Help to hundreds of families who are in poverty because of debt. These churches work with our team in Auckland to negotiate with creditors, set up repayment plans, build budgets, and walk with clients as they pay off their debts.

 

There’s the CAP Money programme – which is a top of the cliff approach, to help people get on top of their finances, budget wisely, and live well within their means. It’s designed for anyone – no matter if you’re good or bad with money, if you’re young or old. Now, there are 2 people in this church who’ve been trained to run the course and your leaders are looking at running the course this year – as well as getting a couple more people trained up to run it!

And in October 2014 we launched CAP Job Clubs, a programme focused on helping the long-term unemployed get jobs – this grew out of our debt help work; where over 60% of our clients are unemployed or on a benefit. Today, there are 15 clubs up and running – and more about to start! In only one year since clubs started – 64 people have found work. CAP Job Clubs and the local church are going to make a HUGE difference for people looking for jobs!

Now this morning, I’d like to talk more about the wider work of CAP and what I’m seeing God do in churches – and families – all across New Zealand.

I want us all to keep Luke’s words in mind, to ask God how each of us can show His love to those in need – and I want to encourage you in the work you’re doing here, to encourage you that just doing life with people – outside these church doors -- can bring about amazing transformation.

 

Now, the CAP Money Course was actually developed because of our work with families who were in debt – at some point, John said: how can we actually prevent this loss, this debt and poverty in the first place? How do we bring financial literacy to people in a friendly format that works?

 

Proverbs 2:11 says: Wise planning will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe!

 

The fact is, if you we don’t plan our finances wisely, and if we live under the constant stress that money can cause – we simply can’t make the most of what God has given us, no matter how much or how little we have.

And that’s what the CAP Money course does – it helps you plan, and it helps you take a good look at what money is going in and what money is going out, it helps you save for future needs and surprise expenses – and it helps you make the most of your God-given resources.

CAP Money is also a fantastic way to build bridges into the community and because money is something everyone deals with, you actually reach a whole new cross section of people. And yes you can help them with their money but it also give you a chance to introduce them to the church and God! At the end of last year we received this email from a CAP Money Coach about a delegate who came to the Lord through CAP Money “On Sunday at Riverstones Church, Rebecca (36 years old) who attended the CAP Money Course we are running at  WINZ last Friday came to church and committed her life to Jesus. AWESOME..... Before she left to go home after the session last Friday (our first one), she specifically asked several times about where our church was and indicated she was planning to attend our Sunday service. Well, she did and got saved!

How awesome!

The course is run by CAP-trained coaches over a period of three sessions – and you can be one of those coaches. If you love to teach, if you have a heart for helping people, and if you’re one of those people who enjoys putting together a budget or talking through people through sticky situations, this is a perfect opportunity to start a ministry that reaches your church family and your community.

What’s even better: You’re not alone as a coach! You’ll get trained by the CAP team and given the video-based programme and thorough workbook. You’ll be equipped and ready to go.

With just about half of all Kiwis living w/out a budget, w/out a strong savings plan – there’s huge opportunity for the church to be at the forefront of change in the area of financial literacy, and reach people in your community in a new way.

 

More than 4000 people have been through the course and every single one I talk to tells me how transformational it was – and those who aren’t Christians tell us how great it was to experience church through the course. The next CAP Money training is in Auckland on 9 April. If you’re interested in becoming a coach or finding out more about it, talk to your pastor after the service.

 

Now, for the rest of the time, I want to tell you about CAP’s work with the poor in New Zealand – about our debt help service and how it’s meeting the Luke 4 mandate. I thought instead of bamboozling you with stats about poverty in New Zealand, I’d tell you about a friend of mine who has been working with CAP Debt Help for a few years. Her name is Valerie.  Like many of our 725 current CAP client families, Valerie never dreamt she’d end up in crippling debt. Five years ago, she had a well-paying job, owned a small section out of Auckland and had plans to build her dream home for her and her daughter Hannah. One day she woke up and went to work with hope for her future - but that same day, she came home without her job. She had been let go… and suddenly, her world began to unravel. Her daughter Hannah needed major surgery and speech therapy and try as Valerie might, she couldn’t keep up with the medical costs and mortgage repayments … and still feed Hannah and herself. Valerie was isolated, fearful and ashamed – isolated because she never had any money and, as a result, avoided seeing friends, stopped going out and stopped answering the phone – fearful that she and Hannah could become homeless any day.

Ashamed that she constantly had to say no to giving Hannah a gold coin for mufti day, or $3 to go to the school disco. Ashamed that Hannah knew she could never get anything, never go anywhere and never do anything because her mum didn’t have the money.  Valerie told me she found this all extremely disheartening and demeaning – knowing that she couldn’t provide like other parents could. For 2 years, Valerie applied for job after job – but continually found herself rejected - despite her skills and experience. Meanwhile she had to battle creditors, and was being bounced around between WINZ, Citizens Advice Bureau & food banks. One day it all got too overwhelming – she was exhausted, demeaned and utterly alone, and with nowhere to turn – she seriously considered taking her own life. She told me “I thought it would be so much easier if I wasn’t here. I could just end it all and not have to have any more stress, concern or worries – it would fix everything for me.”

I am incredibly grateful that Valerie decided to keep fighting and to stay alive for Hannah... and that just a few months later, she found a life-transforming solution. On one of her many visits to WINZ, she noticed a CAP brochure and immediately called for help. And Valerie was fortunate – when she called us - we told her that, yes, there was a CAP Debt Centre in her area and that yes, we could help.

 

And what does this help look like? When one of our Debt Centre Managers from a local church -- Sue and her support worker, Tanya -- first visited Valerie in her home – Valerie told me that, for the first time in years, she felt empowered. She told me that instead of a business meeting, it felt like two friends had come over for a cuppa tea – that’s a beautiful statement, isn’t it?

When Valerie handed over one bill after another, she realised what it meant: No more arguing with creditors, no more fighting on her own. She had an advocate…and she had new friends.

 

As Proverbs 31 says: “We speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves; we defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

 

Having an advocate is a powerful thing: Valerie told me:  “I felt like I had been given a little more control of my destiny, a little bit of my life back on that first visit.” Once Valerie started working with CAP - our caseworkers in our South Auckland head office began phoning her creditors to negotiate fair repayment terms and get unfair interest charges written off. The team built a liveable budget so that Valerie could start repaying her debt at a rate she could afford – while providing well for Hannah and even saving some money for future needs. With her debt repayments under control, Valerie could focus on finding work, being a good mum and getting more involved in her community. Valerie’s isolation, fear and shame began to dissipate.

After only 2 visits from Sue and Tanya, Valerie found herself walking through the doors of their church with Hannah at her side. And the welcome she received from that community blew her away. As the people in the church began to embrace her and Hannah, Valerie discovered what she hadn’t had in years – a circle of friends, a group of people to support her and love her.

 

Her walls slowly began to come down and in February 2013, Valerie gave her life to Jesus.

 

Letting Jesus in has radically changed her. She said it has helped her to think and see differently. She was set free from the fear that God was punishing her.

 

Through knowing Jesus, her loss has been turned to gain.

 

And she’s not alone: 594 clients have made commitments to Christ because of CAP and invitation of the local church.  

 

And nothing excites us more at the Head Office, then rejoicing together in a new life, one more precious person who has been changed forever by the love of Jesus. But wait… there’s more: Just a year and a half ago, Valerie was able to pay off the remainder of her debt! That’s right – CAP clients pay off their own debts or go through the process of getting debt cleared; on average, it takes them 3-4 years – and CAP never pays a dollar along the way – our team simply empowers families and provide long-term support as they journey out of debt.

 

I’ll never forget how Valerie described that debt-free feeling: She said ‘Becoming debt free was like getting out of prison. I had been trapped for a very long time – and now I am free!’

 

This is Luke 4 in action – Valerie was set free financially, and she’s been set free spiritually. She is one of the 536 client families who are also completely debt-free!!

 

Now, I’d like to show you a short video testimony– it’s Robert & Katie’s story – and they, like Valerie, came to CAP a few years ago… but before I do that … I want to make sure you have a chance to get a FREE copy of Nevertheless, the book describing CAP’s journey through the eyes of its founder, John Kirkby, who struggled with debt before coming to know the Lord. I know you’ll be inspired by it—it tells of God’s faithfulness and His ability to do so much more than we can imagine, if we trust him and step out in faith. To get your copy, all you need to do is complete the form on your seat with your contact details. We would love to keep you updated on our exciting work, and the progress we make as we move forward into all God has for us.

 

ROBERT & KATIE’S VIDEO

What a powerful statement about how showing God’s love in action transforms even entire families.

And at the start of this year Katie accepted a Job at the CAP Head Office where she is now helping others in similar situations to her – their family has been restored and they are a living testimony to the power of God in their lives.

 

You know, what’s so amazing to me about this movement of God is that debt-counselling opens the door—it gives people a way out of debt and poverty, but more importantly, it offers them NEW HOPE AND NEW LIFE IN CHRIST. Lives are changing every day — 302 families have gone completely debt free and 594 people have given their lives to Jesus and been discipled into their local church through CAP services! There is now Light where there was darkness, HOPE where there was NO HOPE, and NEW LIFE that will impact their children … and their children’s children.

What started with one man’s faith and vision, has now become a movement of God involving more and more people and transforming families all over our country. Does anyone else here believe that God can do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine?? I want to see even more people helped out of debt, more people managing their finances, more people into jobs and ultimately -- more people transformed by the saving love of Jesus! Because that’s where real true, transformation happens. Will you join me?

 

I do want to say that we love the local church, we want you to sew into this church first before you give to CAP.

But whatever you can give to CAP, I promise we will use every dollar for good— to continue to build and expand these FREE services, so that even more families can experience life free from debt and transformed by the love of Jesus. The fact is, that for every family like Robert and Katie’s that have been helped, there are so many more that desperately need the same help ...