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Interview: Rae-Anne Preece, youth worker

19 November 2021

‘The young people I build relationships with often have no one else to guide them’

When Reach Out was set up by the Bromsgrove PCC, it wasn’t faith-based. Whilst on outreach before Covid, with partners from The Hub [a youth and community centre], we’d walk round the Bromsgrove area looking for young people we’d see regularly — who didn’t seem to be engaging with any activities — and introduce ourselves.

Depending on the relationships that we created with them, we’d have a conversation regarding faith or whatever issues they were facing: mental-health problems, substance misuse, peer issues, and so on, and we advised them as best we could.

Although I wasn’t required to preach the gospel, I’m really pleased at how well the young people have accepted and even learned about Jesus in some of our workshops.

I’d call myself currently an evangelist and a teacher. I’ve been a born-again Christian for three years now. I came to this role the same time I got saved by Jesus; so I see it as a sign from God that this was my calling.

Bromsgrove [south-west of Birmingham] is the fifth richest area in the UK, but there are pockets of deprivation for which we have to try harder to get funding. Since the cut to youth-work funding back in 2010, austerity has become a problem for all communities, with the most vulnerable being most affected by these cuts.

The music workshops that I do with Keira, a music mentor, normally differ each week. Sometimes, we reflect on recent news that the young people have seen, and that will determine the theme we would use for our creative-writing sessions. It’s more about raps and storytelling, giving people a chance to talk about their experiences, but drawing them away from negativity, violence, or drug-taking.

I’ve experienced the sorts of problems these young people have; so that’s inspired me on my journey to help young people think critically about decisions and consequences, and what paths they can take in life.

I went to do youth and community work at Newman University in 2015, while I was still on a suspended sentence from Birmingham Crown Court, and then went on to do a JNC-qualified youth-worker degree. I also volunteered with the criminal justice system to create change, from a service-user perspective.

We need more rehabilitation and reform. I know it’s hard because of the massive number of people, but most people in prison don’t have any GCSEs or any sense of belonging. I used to attend a programme for women, and did maths and English, and learned thinking skills. That helped towards my personal development. If they gave more people these opportunities rather than sending them to prison, it might give them a bit of hope.

The young people who I build relationships with often have no one else in their lives to guide them. Being a mother and helping other young people who have complex lives can be a big demand, emotionally and mentally.

I’ve been surprised by the way young people have responded to me. Some were quite sceptical at first, assuming I was a police officer; but these relationships have continued for over three years, and I believe they’ll be lifelong relationships — not just with the young people but with their parents and my co-workers also.

I definitely try to empower single parents. I tell them that they can do whatever they put their minds to. For me, education was what stopped me from offending. It was really hard to do a degree and look after my daughter, but I did it for her; and it was also therapy for me. I’d encourage them to follow their passion, and I know God makes a way. We only put limitations on ourselves.

When I was eight years old, I was always asking my parents about God. I always felt so close to him, but I didn’t know why. I just knew there was something else out there, like meaning and purpose to life. My dad shut me down. When I turned 11, my mum was permanently hospitalised, and I had to live with my older sister, as my dad couldn’t cope with me.

I became a delinquent, hanging around with older teenagers. I began to use drugs, and I was then sexually exploited and groomed until I was 19, when I had my daughter.

I became a prolific shoplifter until I was 25, but when I was arrested I used to pray, unconsciously bargaining with God. I started to reform when I got my suspended sentence; but I went down a path of witchcraft, angel cards, and crystal healing for five years, until a pastor — a friend’s boyfriend’s mum — told me I shouldn’t be messing with these things. She showed me a passage from Deuteronomy, delivered me of unclean spirits, and I became a born-again Christian.

I was baptised and never looked back. On Sundays, I go to a house church run by a South African couple in Solihull.

Jesus has comforted me in some of my lowest times, and I’ve felt his warmth and love in my heart when I’ve needed him most, like in Psalms when he says: “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” My journey with Jesus hasn’t been easy, although I’ve felt him calling me throughout my life.

God knew I would come out of my traumatic adolescent years to find him. I have come to know God’s character, and how much grace and mercy he has for us through his son, Jesus. I love to share my testimony with others who feel there is no hope.

I love to travel, and I hope that in five years’ time the Lord takes me on as a missionary to evangelise to others. I believe the Lord will use me to heal the sick and to deliver those in need.

Anger’s an emotion that I have battled with in my past, because it led me to make some impulsive decisions. Oppression, liars, and injustice in the world used to make me angry.

I’m happy on an exotic beach, or scuba diving in the ocean, looking at exotic aquatic life. Seeing my daughter happy makes me the happiest.

During the pandemic, I’ve definitely been given the gift of discerning of spirits. This gift helps me to forgive me people, as I am aware that “we battle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of the darkness of the air.” I have definitely matured more in my faith through hearing and reading the word of God, which is the most important thing to me, other than my daughter.

The pandemic’s made me more grateful for my health and my career. Before the pandemic hit, I was definitely on autopilot with my jobs, and not stopping for time for myself. I have definitely started making time aside for myself and my mental health, and, of course, my 12-year-old.

Time alone, or time with God is the most important part of life for me. When I am aligned with God’s will for my life, everything else seems to harmonise.

I love the sound of the water. It is God’s way of helping us to relax in a troubled world. Even the sound of rain is therapeutic — when you’re indoors.

My only hope is in Jesus. Before I came to Jesus, I read a lot into conspiracies, and this not only made me angry, but also inspired me to want to go and make changes in the world. I hope everyone I come into contact with feels the love of Jesus.

I pray for my daughter mainly, and any tensions because of my roles as parent and youth worker. She chose to get baptised two years ago; so I know God has an assignment for her. I also intercede for other young people that I work with, for God’s provision, and that he sends them dreams and signs to let them know how real he is.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with Enoch. I am in awe of him and his journey with the Lord. I’d like to know if he is going to be one of the witnesses that the Lord sends back during the end times.

Rae-Ann Preece was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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