Peter Lynas: Ricky, who are you and what do you do?
Ricky Wright: I’m one of the pastors at Causeway Coast Vineyard Church, and Chief Executive of Vineyard Compassion.
PL: What is the heart of Vineyard Compassion?
RW: We exist to support people in crisis and see them reach their fullest potential. We do that through three main strands, one is provision based projects, where we provide resources that people don’t have, whether that’s food, clothing or if in debt then debt counselling. The second strand is empowerment based projects, where we want to help people move from a place of dependency on resources to independence and build their capacity. We run different courses like CAP Money which teaches people how to budget their money, and our Compassion Housing project teaches people how to live confidently and independently in managing their tenancy. The third strand is employment. We believe that work is the fastest route out of poverty, and God has created us for work, and there’s mental health benefits as well as being able to put food on the table at the end of the week. We want to mentor people towards the aspiration of getting a job. This will look very different for a lot of different people because we operate a holistic, tailored approach based on a person’s circumstances and how God has wired them.
PL: What are some of your success stories?
RW: We’ve seen many people come to us in crisis, and we’ve seen their basic needs met, and they are also empowered to deal with their addictions and life controlling issues. They’ve gone on to get meaningful employment and some of them are volunteering in the very project that first rescued them. We have a phrase called “when the rescued become the rescuer”. Our ultimate goal is to see the very people that we reach go on, not just to get on top of life themselves, but to go on and be rescuers of others.
PL: There’s a lot of chat around social justice these days, what is distinctive in what you do as a ministry?
RW: We’re not behind the door about our faith. Our volunteers will live out their faith quite openly, but faith isn’t a pre-requisite to receiving our services. If people don’t want to receive prayer, there’s absolutely no strings attached. Also, our services are based on biblical values, the first being worth. People are made in God’s image, that means they have infinite worth and value, so we treat people with dignity, respect and honour. The second value is hope. We want to inject hope into the situation and offer a practical solution. The third value is relationship because we were created to live in community, and individual growth and healing happens best within relationships with people that love and care. The fourth value is an holistic approach. We don’t want to only see the presenting problem, but we want to see the person behind the problem. People may come in with an issue of debt, but debt isn’t the only issue. What has led them to get into debt? How has it effected their mental health? The final value we have is empowerment. We desperately want to make sure that we don’t just help in that moment of crisis, but we want to break that cycle of poverty and see people released to become confident and independent and be able to live sustainably.
PL: As an organisation who are very open about their faith, sometimes there’s a perception that that means you can’t have any relationship with government. How have you found that relationship to be?
RW: It has taken a while to build a platform with trust, respect and confidence. But now we currently engage with the prison and probation board that would send prisoners on day release or guys doing community service. We get referrals from social services, the housing executive, mental health teams and are contracted through the Northern Trust to provide counselling and CBT therapy. We have a very positive and healthy relationship with government organisations, who know we’re Vineyard Compassion, we’re not hiding the fact that we’re birthed out of a church and we’re faith based, but they’re aware of how we deliver those services.
PL: One of the things you’re known for is Link Logs- how you bring people into employment. Could you explain a bit more about how that works?
RW: Link Logs is a social enterprise we’ve developed. It’s a micro step into a productive working environment for people to get mentored and have a meaningful use of time. We have a couple of production lines which create logs and kindling. The aim is to give valuable work experience to guys who haven’t worked in a long time, or maybe have never worked before. We teach people simple skills such as, signing in, cleaning up, doing safety checks and the work in itself is positive and gives an opportunity for our own volunteers who work alongside Link Logs to mentor the guys over tea breaks. We end up with a product; logs and kindling which we are then able to sell. It’s a valuable project in taking people on that journey towards employment. The mantra is that we’re not there to get work done, we’re there to get people done, in terms of mentoring people to deal with life issues, life choices and skilling them up to go into the work place. For some people, that can be a pretty long turn around, when they need to learn how to turn up in time, learn how to take instruction positively, not giving attitude to a supervisor and just get mentored through issues of addiction and mental health issues. A lot of the guys we work with have failed through the education system or been told they’re failures and are not going to amount to anything. We get to speak truth and hope over their lives, and value and appreciate them.
PL: For someone who is thinking, ‘I didn’t realise the scale of what’s going on, I need to do something about this’, can you give us any advice as to how people might begin to engage in compassion ministries more generally?
RW: A simple way to get involved would be to throw in an extra couple of items as you’re doing your weekly shop and donate that to the foodbank- that’s something that everybody can do. On the Trussell Trust website there’ll be a list of all the local foodbanks across Northern Ireland, there will be one near you. Most of the main supermarkets will potentially have collection points. You can also volunteer at a number of projects. Whether that is something like Foodbanks or Christians Against Poverty debt counselling. There are centres all across Northern Ireland that would be keen to have you involved as a befriender, where you can join a debt coach and go out to visit a family in debt and offer emotional and practical support. There are lots of other independent projects that are going on within a church or charity near you, try to get involved in ways that fit your gifts and your passions. Some people love working behind the scenes in administration, in restocking the Foodbanks and doing practical roles. Other people love face to face interaction and sitting with someone who is devastated and offering hope and having the opportunity to pray. People often ask, ‘why do you do this?”. We get to tell them that God loves them and that they are incredibly valuable to him and that we believe that prayer can change things. We can get the opportunity to speak hope and even lead people into that relationship with Jesus the ultimate hope.
PL: I think the work you do is absolutely fantastic and for people listening who want to look up a little more about this particular ministry, where would they find information on what Vineyard Compassion are doing?
RW: We have a website, www.vineyardcompassion.co.uk and there are lots of different volunteering opportunities there. We’re also on Facebook if you search Vineyard Compassion you’ll find us. If you do want to buy any of those link logs you can order online at www.linklogs.co.uk and we will deliver to your door.
PL: I love it, you never miss an opportunity to sell and quite right too. Ricky Wright, thank you so much for your time today