Repairing old bikes, preparing young lives
With Church Army in Leeds
The Seacroft estate, in Leeds, is an area that is facing significant levels of poverty and deprivation. Statistics show that poverty levels have risen to four times that of the rest of Leeds, with 24% of adults now estimated to live in poverty in this part of the city. This has resulted in serious deprivation, with healthcare, education, employment and housing opportunities becoming increasingly limited for young people growing up in Seacroft. It is here that Leeds Centre of Mission led by Evangelist Neil Obbard, and in partnership with the Diocese of Leeds, is working to bring lasting change to the lives of people living in this area.
The vision for Leeds Centre of Mission is to start a new youth church on the Seacroft estate. Neil, who has seen significant change in his own life through his journey to accepting Christ, is passionate about young people’s self-esteem and longs to see them fulfil their potential and develop life-changing relationships with Jesus.
‘I haven’t been a christian all my life’
Before I came to Christ, I was a sniper in the British Army for 25 years. I was sent to different places to fight, such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Iraq. I was always a fighter, even in my younger days, I would engage in unlicensed fighting.
When I left the army, I was engulfed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts. I was invited to go on a church holiday one day. Although I had no intention of getting involved in any of the Christian activities there, I decided to go and find some respite as I was still struggling with thoughts of suicide at the time.
The house we were staying in was one of those big seaside type holiday places and all the meetings happened in one of the larger rooms. One night during my stay, there was an evening reflection service. I didn’t really want to go in, but for some reason I ended up walking in and taking a seat. The message being preached was about the verse in Matthew 11:28 ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ I remember saying ‘Lord, if you’re there, I need you now. I need to be honest with you because I haven’t really thought much about you.’ I ended up giving my life to Christ that evening. I woke up the next morning after a full and decent nights sleep. I was a changed person.
‘LAYING IN A PRISON CELL ISN’T SUCCESS’
I’ve come across a lot of young people who don’t have the encouragement they need to channel their potential in the right direction. I’ve also done a lot of work in prison, so I know what life looks like on the inside. When I say to these kids ‘You’ll end up in prison’, they often tell me, ‘My dad is in prison and he says it’s alright’. For some of them, going to prison is almost an ambition. I have to explain to them that their dad may be putting on a brave face and the reality is that no one wants to go to prison. Other young people I’ve talked to tell me that they aspire to be the biggest drug dealer in the area, especially when they see the instant financial gains. I have to try to change that mentality and more it towards something positive.
I’ve lived a varied life and have been involved in many things, from fighting to the military. This means I am able to reach them on a level they find engaging, rather than lecturing them.
These are not young people with no potential: some of them are amazing, natural athletes, intelligent and natural leaders. You can see all this potential and know if they don’t change, it will all be lost. I have to tell them that laying in a prison cell isn’t success. I have to try and get them to see what an actual life is. Being an ex-army person, I think some of the world’s most elite regiments and they way they do things differently. They’re innovative and think outside the box and that’s what a lot of the youth here are doing to try and get by.
Repairing Old Bikes, Preparing Young Lives
A lot of the young people in the area are passionate about motorbikes, and they’re incredibly talented and capable, but often in ways that people may not recognise. To be able to do a wheelie up the A64 with one hand on a motorbike while holding a mobile phone in the other, weaving in-and-out of traffic, is an amazing talent. Yes, it might be illegal and needs to be redirected, but it’s an amazing talent!
We’ve partnered with the Christian Motorcyclist Association (CMA) and have set aside a section of my garage for them. We recently received a donated bike from CMA, which we keep securely chained up to prevent theft. We’re working on it to make sure it can pass an MOT. When the weather’s warmer, more of our youth come in with their own bikes, and I provide extra helmets and other protective gear. I contact their parents to make sure they’re aware of what we are doing and that they give permission for their children to ride. They’re often surprised by how seriously we take safety! Some tell me that their kids often ride motorbikes without any safety equipment. Then we all go out together for rides around town.
When there has been any trouble in the area, police officers often show up at our doorstep right away. Recently, this led to an incident where one of the young people was taken away in an inappropriate manner. This led me to make a complaint against the police force involved. Our work becomes much harder when incidents like this occur; we try hard to instil respect for uniformed services among our members, and such events undo all that effort.
Last year, in September and October, West Yorkshire Fire Youth Intervention worked with us on a project teaching our members about fire safety around Bonfire Night – leading to the fewest emergency calls in years on 5 November. Fortunately, our relationships with local Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) have remained good, though sometimes I need to step in as an authority figure to show that fairness will be maintained no matter what happens. This strengthens our bonds with these youngsters even further.
Encouraged and impressed by the biker outreach program, the Bishop of Kirkstall, Arun Arora, Diocese of Leeds, visited the group at the end of May to see first-hand both the need in Seacroft and the wonderful work Neil and the volunteers are doing at the Centre of Mission. It was a great evening with many of the young people in attendance. They were keen to engage and display their knowledge and skills but also asked questions about faith and participated in prayer.
There is a lot of work still to do with the young people here in Leeds. Please pray for Neil this week in the work he is doing with the young people in Seacroft. Neil wants to organise a trip for the group to Limekiln Woods in Catterick which is a dedicated facility for motocross and trial biking and needs to raise money to pay for the insurance. If you could donate to this project, it would enable young people to experience a rare day out doing what they love in a safe environment whilst strengthening the bonds between the group.
- Pray that the young people in the area will think about what they are doing and how their actions may impact themselves and others.
- Pray that the young people in contact with the Centre of Mission will come to know Christ.
- Pray that the work of the Centre of Mission will help the young people to realise their potential.
- Pray for the safety of the young people in the area.
- Pray for people to be generous with donations to enable the set-up of ebike conversion hubs that will help lift young people out of poverty and give them an opportunity to realise their potential.