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Lighthouse of hope

16 January 2015

ST GEORGE's Crypt, in Leeds (West Yorkshire & the Dales), has been a beacon of hope to homeless people for more than 80 years. A large, well-run centre, with an outpost in Armley, it provides beds, warmth, medical care, counselling, and training to hundreds of homeless men and women each year.

And now it is celebrating the first anniversary of its Lighthouse Network, a Christian community for addicts, ex-offenders, and the homeless which has changed lives. One such is Tony White (left in photo, with Mark, and the Revd Jon Swales), who once led the National Front demonstrations in Bradford and Leeds.

He was driven by the hatred of Islam; his father had been severely beaten up in Halifax by a Hamas group because of satirical sculptures he had made of Saddam Hussein. But one day he walked into a church because he could not stop crying. "I felt out of control, and kept praying: 'God help me.' But I picked up a Bible, and had a lightbulb moment. I've been given hope, joy, and peace, and, after joining a couple of Alpha courses, I've gone on learning from there." He now regularly attends the Lighthouse.

Mr Swales (right), the member of the clergy team who co-ordinates the Lighthouse, says that they have set up a Sunday gathering, as well as a mid-week drop-in and Bible study, for those who do not feel comfortable in a regular church service.

"Around 40 men and women come on a Sunday," he says, "and we've built a safe community where people who have little reason to trust others have established firm friendships. We have a hot meal and many want to share their story of finding a faith that's helped them move away from addiction and crime."

He has a Lighthouse team, he says, who spend time on the streets and in the parks "looking for the most broken; letting them know that there is hope and a community waiting for them". They also work with the police, hospitals, and prisons, and send people to Christian rehabilitation centres, which often take the people that the secular agencies refuse. "And because they sign off benefits when they're there, I estimate that we've saved taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds."

It can be exhausting, he says, to support such men and women through particular struggles such as violence and addiction. "Sometimes it is three steps forward and 2.9 steps back. But we're called 'The Lighthouse Network' because we believe Jesus provides a light in the storms of life, and direction when we feel like all hope is lost."

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