by Mylene Herd
“The Top of the Town”
Stirling is a beautiful city to live and work in. “The Haven”, is a community hub run by Stirling Baptist Church, which is surrounded by historical buildings, the castle, and parks. The city’s beauty masks countless tragedies however, not least in the community in which we are based, known as “The top of the town”. The ingrained problems here include terrible rates of drug and alcohol addiction with all their associated problems, and it’s one of the very worst postcodes in the whole of Scotland for child poverty. Statistics show the scale of the problem, but don’t reveal the tragedy of what we see here. I could cross the road from The Haven, and show you a mother sharing her heroin needle with her 16 year old daughter, which is absolutely heartbreaking. From my window, I cannot only see the tourist sights, but also the addicts heading down to the local chemist to queue for their Methadone, and customers coming and going from the drug dealer’s house too.
Yet, it is right here in the middle of the ‘Top of the town’ community that we have seen God at work in the most wonderful ways this year. He’s been working through The Haven to bring people not just to faith in Christ, but has set about a complete transformation of the lives of several families.
When I started at The Haven, I had no idea how to penetrate the tightly-knit, and suspicious drug-using community. But I sensed God prompting me to me speak to one particular lady who used to pass by my window, so I literally stepped out of the office and said, “Hi” and invited her for coffee. She was taking a cocktail of drugs and methadone, and was barely aware of me even being there.
Ellen recently said to me, “Were you not frightened of me, when we first met?” And I said, “No, I wasn’t frightened because God had told me I should be talking to you”. Actually she was moved to tears purely because I wasn’t afraid of her. Ellen was suspicious of me though, in fact she thought I was nuts! But I could see a glimmer of something there, and I kept working with her. Amazingly, eventually, she started engaging with me and other volunteers. And over months of talking to her, she became more and more comfortable with The Haven, we developed a relationship with her and invited her along to ALPHA, where she became a Christian, and she was baptised in May, Her life has been absolutely transformed. She loves the hymn, “Amazing Grace – I’ve been set free”, as it so perfectly describes her experience.
Because she has come off heroin, she looks great. Her inner transformation has been matched by a physical rejuvenation too. She looks so different that it has drawn a lot of attention. In fact, people shout to her in the street, “Hey Ellen, what has that drug dealer got you on now, you’re looking fantastic, doll!” And she shouts back, “I’m not on anything, I’ve got Jesus in my heart!”
Seeing Ellen transformed was amazing, but what I didn’t realise was the effect that this would have on several other people in the community.
Katie used to share a flat with Ellen when they were addicts, and had been on heroin for 14 years. She came to The Haven and we got to know her well. She came to us when she was trying to quit heroin, and sitting in my office I could see how her withdrawal had affected her. She was very seriously unwell, ‘rattling’, as her poor body was starved of the drug. I prayed with her, and phoned Teen Challenge’s Benaiah rehab centre who gave me some advice. Someone went and got her just enough heroin to keep her alive while she was waiting for a space in rehab. Wonderfully our prayers were answered, she survived, became a Christian, got into the Teen Challenge centre, and got off heroin. Teen Challenge are about to open an information and drop in centre in the Forth Valley soon, so hopefully there will be more help for people like Katie and Ellen.
Katie now wants everyone to know that she is a Christian. But you should have seen her when she first came here. She was covered in sores, wore a cap because her hair was falling out, and weighed 6-stone. But I could see that in there, there was an intelligent, articulate, inquisitive, beautiful young woman. Now God has transformed her into what she should always have been. Her letters are just amazing and she has real potential to be a future leader!
Katie wrote, “My favourite Bible verse is Ezekiel 36:25-27. It was the first Bible verse I really connected with and felt it was truly for me. It says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you: I will remove from you, your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Katie’s daughter who is a teenager, has been involved at The Haven for some time now too. She’s been to the Motiv8 camps at Scoughall a couple of times with us too. Scripture Union run these camps for children who are facing difficult circumstances at home. The first year she came, she was disengaged and angry, but this year amazingly she has become a Christian. Now several members of Katie’s wider family, are coming to The Haven and engaging with us and church too.
Katie used to shoot-up with a guy named Lee. But Lee was one of the first people I met who had become a Christian from the ‘Top of The Town’. His mother had a difficult upbringing and this caused her severe mental trauma. As a result of difficulties at home he made all the mistakes that you’d expect a young, broken, hurting man to make. God drew Lee to Stirling Baptist Church where he attended an Alpha course. However, after being brought low and hospitalised due to continued drug abuse, Rab Donald, the Community Pastor from the church visited him and Lee said “I want to change my life. I don’t want to do this anymore, I think I’m going to die”. And he literally was dying, his body was emaciated, and he looked horrendous. Rab referred him to a Christian rehab centre run by Teen Challenge. It was there Lee gave his life to Christ in rehab and came back a changed man. He has helped so many people since then, including his Mum, who although deeply damaged as a survivor of some traumatic experiences – also has faith in Jesus. Lee’s story is going to be published soon.
Some people are afraid of the addicts and their challenging behaviour, the sores on their skin, vacant expressions and their dirty clothes. I just see somebody’s daughter, or somebody’s Mum, somebody’s child who is suffering and broken and hurting. Many people just break down when you show them any kind of compassion and love. They’ve forgotten what it is like to be loved because they have been rejected for so long. They say, “Why are you doing this?” “Why are you talking to me?” “Why are you nice to me?” “Why are you talking to my friends?” – they are initially really suspicious, but then they realise that we are giving and we are not expecting anything in return; we’re giving and giving and giving – and it’s Jesus that we are giving them.
On Sunday morning, at the end of church I looked around me and saw this little group of folks from the ‘Top of the Town’ that God has saved, and thought – “Wow- God is amazing!”
My prayer is now that God would use these people who have become Christians in the community to reach many more people and that there would be a huge ‘bending of the knee’ to our Lord in the Top of the Town. We pray not only for protection for ourselves, but for the transformation of countless lives for Jesus too.
works for Stirling Baptist Church, at The Haven. Follow these links to find out more about supporting their work. If you are in the Stirling area and want to know more about the life-changing message of Jesus, they are a good place to start! Some of the names in this story have been changed for confidentiality.