Apparently, when I was four, I’d come downstairs asking my dad to tell me the story of the cross.
When I was 16, I went to Cardboard City, underneath Waterloo Bridge, and saw hundreds of homeless people, and God broke my heart for the poor. I prayed a prayer that changed my life: “Break my heart for the things that break yours.”
I became a youth worker in London. A school phoned up my church to ask for help after a local stabbing. I found 17 people to give me £25 a month, and I started XLP: the Excel Project. These kids had tremendous, God-given potential.
I had no qualifications. I didn’t think that they needed that: they needed relationship. So I was always trying to be a presence. It was incredibly multicultural — there were 65 mother-tongue languages spoken there; so I tried to ask questions, tried to understand. I tried to understand the violence, and understanding always changes your perspective. I was really surprised by how quickly young people can go from nought to 60 in their anger; but that’s their response to unresolved pain and the amount of fear that was in our communities.
The most difficult thing I had to deal with was lots of mums whose children were murdered because of knife crime; also, when a young girl of 14, who’d just started working with us, took her own life.
The project’s been successful due to the amazing dedicated team, which grew to 70 people while I was there, seeking to have a sustainable impact on poverty and educational failure. The team works with 1600 young people each week, through one-to-one work and small groups, and runs community projects, schools’ projects, arts projects, and mentoring projects.
XLP believed that relationship was its key value. Relationship nurtures the belief that change is possible, and that takes time to build, grow, and nurture. XLP rarely does a one-off project. It’s about being there, week in and week out, not rescuing people but loving them in the midst of some of the most challenging situations.
I see three recent trends in the violence: the kids are getting a lot younger, the girls are much more involved, and there doesn’t seem to be a level of violence that isn’t acceptable. There’s no “code of the street” any more. Young people are more scared than they’ve ever been, which creates paranoia, a mental-health condition that needs to be looked at.
Kintsugi Hope (KHope) was founded by Diane and me after a series of operations that took us to the brink — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually — at a time of illness and loss all around us. When we wrote about this, and made a DVD, we realised that lots of other people feel alone in their struggles; so we wanted to be vulnerable and open about hard times. This is the way that healing can take place, in safe and supportive spaces.
I came across kintsugi, a Japanese technique for repairing pottery with seams of gold, while I was having major reconstructive surgery on my legs. We’d also had losses and stress in the family, and I was working very hard with XLP, and suddenly there was a perfect storm of things going wrong. But we learned so much, which I don’t think we would have learned otherwise.
Kintsugi repairs brokenness in a way that makes the object more beautiful than it was before. Instead of hiding the scars, it makes a feature of them. It’s a beautiful concept, giving broken people hope for the future.
Sometimes, I felt quite angry, particularly when my kids were sick, and it felt unfair. But God’s not scared of our honesty. Forty per cent of the psalms are laments; so you find meaning in those times.
We’re designing a 12-week course in partnership with CWR, with leading experts in healing, on themes such as acceptance, community, honesty, patience, tackling anxiety, and depression. Putting on a course would be a wonderful opportunity for churches to reach out to people who suffer, and Christians could offer the course in prisons, rehab centres, and schools.
We want to open up conversations about trusting in God through life’s ups and downs, and living with thankful hearts even in tough times. We’ll examine our need to be in control, look at how we can stop comparing ourselves with other people, and become the people God intended us to be.
One of our values is to be outrageously generous. We realised that people provide food and tents for refugees, but no one’s looking at the future of the children in refugee camps; so we’re backing three small charities to enable refugees to have access to specialist qualified counsellors and further training.
I’ve just come back from a school in Trenchtown, Jamaica, where the kids have all been abused in some way, and feel worthless and that they don’t matter, particularly the girls. It’s a Christian school; so we are trying to provide a mental-health counsellor to help them unpack some of what has happened to them, and try to teach them about the Father’s unconditional love — which is hard when most of them don’t have fathers.
I wrote Honesty Over Silence for people who struggle with life. It’s OK not to be OK. We sometimes need to let go of things. To trap a monkey, you put a hole in the coconut. It puts its hand in the coconut to get the fruit and doesn’t let go, and then you can catch it. If it just let it go, it would be free.
The second part of the book is about being compassionate, hopeful, being still. God’s interested not in what we do, but in what we’re becoming. It’s raw, honest, down-to-earth; it doesn’t hide away from questions like miscarriage and how you respond as a man. There’s a chapter on suicide, because it’s the biggest killer of young men.
We all relate to God differently. I love praying with others, spending time with others, being accountable to others, and to realise I’m not on my own. We’re a community, with an amazing thing in common. As we share our frailty, we share our humanity. So find people who you can pray with.
I most often pray for help, and I often pray, walking with God.
When I’m not working, I like walking the dog, reading, watching football, going to the gym.
My children laughing is my favourite sound. Listening to them, and having quality time with Diane, is what makes me happiest.
Abuse of all forms makes me angry, and injustice when the poor get broken and the rich get richer. I visited a memorial in Jamaica to children who lost their lives to violence between 2005 and 2015. There were over 2000 names on there, and then they ran out of space. Some of them were as young as one year old. I can’t understand how you can kill children in the name of any war.
I love pioneering new things. I never want to get comfortable. I love what I’m doing.
I’m convinced that God isn’t going to ask whether I managed a big organisation or bank account, but: “Did you know you were loved, and did you show that love to others?”
Hope is a choice you make. It isn’t simply a feeling. The response to Kintsugi Hope has been very humbling. I love talking to people who have no faith, or have given up on faith because of poor theology, and watch them engaging with God again.
I was really inspired by the civil-rights movement; so I’d love to chat to Martin Luther King; or Henri Nouwen, who is probably my favourite author.
Patrick Regan was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. Honesty Over Silence is published by CWR at £8.99.