From hostility to hope
A grieving community responded to a gang-related murder by launching a new youth club in the local Baptist church. Minister Peterson Anand explains how it came about
For all six years of my pastoral ministry at Nansen Road Baptist Church, we have sensed that there is something seriously wrong about the safety of our young people in the community. We have visited door to door and spoke with people on the door to invite them to our events. Some of the concerned families of the community approached us to share the need of having regular events for young people, but we didn’t have enough resources to run this regularly.
It was Saturday 2 June that the murder of Tavis Spencer Aitkens took place. I had received a call about this sad news from a lady from the community who knew Tavis and family. She asked me to pray for Tavis who had been rushed to the hospital. She would later let me know that he had died. I came with my wife Esther to open our church that evening so it could be used by the police personnel who were present at the scene of the murder. The main road of Packard Avenue leading to the church was blocked by the police barriers. They had a huge presence.
We also opened our church for hospitality and prayer for the community. We kept a prayer vigil, sang gospel songs, and read the Bible at the place of tribute near the tree where the young people from the community had gathered.
On Sunday, 3 June, we had ‘Baby Blessings’ of two children from the community who attended our church with their family members. We celebrated the blessings of babies with refreshment on that Sunday with mixed feelings. We organised a prayer walk and talk with the community which other local church leaders participated in. We also organised a prayer meeting and a joint prayer evening service.
The community was shocked and grieved with this gang and drug related murder. It attracted huge media attention and impacted all the government agencies of Ipswich. The murder took place because of the gang and drug related crime that has been active for some time in the town of Ipswich through the invasion of ‘County Lines’ gang and drug related networks. There has been rivalry between two gangs of different post code areas of Ipswich in which Tavis was targeted to be stabbed to death.
Soon, a public meeting was organised by the Police Crime Commissioner and the Ipswich Borough of Council, to listen to all the grievances and explore a future course of positive actions. It took place in our church hall. This meeting was jam-packed with the people of the community. I was privileged to start this meeting with a Bible reading and a prayer for the family, followed by the Lord’s prayer. I gave interviews for our church responses to this sad news.
As time moved on the church kept in touch with Neville (Father) and Helen (Stepmother). Neville and Helen want to move forward in life after the heart wrenching experience of losing their son. And they also wanted to give young people, a safe, positive, peaceful and prosperous future in the community.
With the vision and burden in our hearts for the Youth Club Centre, we began to reach out different organisations and agencies to help guide us to establish a Youth Club Centre, but we initially we didn’t have any success. The trial in Ipswich Crown Court of took place and three men and a teenager were convicted of the murder of Tavis. Neville and Helen were determined to start a Youth Club Centre at Nansen Road Baptist Church. With my leadership along with the Youth Club leaders: Neville, Helen, John and Amanda Southgate and our elder and deacons: John Sacre, Peter Downing, Emmanuel Lynch and Dawn Lynch, we helped plan the youth activities with legal documentation for the Youth Club to run. We expressed our vision in different meetings. The church agreed to provide our church hall. It was previously used for meetings like Bible studies, Missionary Prayer meetings, deacons’ meetings and church members meetings. We now have these meetings in our big church hall with the media projection facilities. We vacated our small church hall in order to set up this place for Youth Club Centre.
We also engaged the community. About £1000 was raised by the community for the Youth Centre. There are committed volunteers from the community and the church who are working together in partnership.
And so, on 27 June, we opened our Youth Club Centre called ‘Reflections’. It was overwhelming and exciting to see the both church halls converted into a Youth Centre. I was full of children aged 8-16 with their parents who joined in playing different games. The news was broadcasted by BBC Look East, BBC Radio Suffolk and the Ipswich Star, a local newspaper.
We want to give all children a safe environment and help them develop better relationships with each other, children from all different backgrounds in life. We want to give them a sense of purpose and meaning in life, help them know their value and provide them guidance through showing and sharing the love of Jesus.
We will run this youth club every Thursday at 6-8pm to see how best we can manage with our limited resources and volunteers involved. After, reviewing it, we aim to run this youth club on Tuesdays as well.
The Lord provided new leaders in the church to reach out the children with new creativity after the tragic event of Tavis’ murder. We never imagined that God would answer our prayers in this amazing way.
We have seen a change of attitude among the parents of the young people in the community. They are much more serious about the need of bringing their children and young people to our events. This had been evidenced through the participation of children and parents joining on our ‘Easter Fun Day’ in April and ‘Disco Time’ in May, organised by the Church which was well supported by the church volunteers and leaders. Parents have requested us to do more events like these to keep their children away from the street and away from the danger of gang culture to provide them a haven.
Our desire is to keep in touch with parents and young people and be available to chat and pray with them and share the gospel personally if they ask questions about our faith and God.
It is wonderful to know that the Community and the Church have come together in the partnership to start this Youth Club Centre. This will help our church to reach out our community with the love of Jesus. We are aware that further resources will be required for the ongoing needs of running of this Youth Club Centre.
We believe, God is changing the attitudes of the people in the community and we are praying that God may open their spiritual eyes to see and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour. Nothing is impossible for God as we have seen a fresh move of God’s Holy Spirit for saving the lives of people from darkness to the marvellous light of Christ. We give all the glory and praise to God.
The Revd Peterson Anand is the minister of Nansen Road Baptist Church. A version of this story featured in the autumn 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine