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Investing in homes to rebuild communities

Two Christian organisations that invest millions of pounds in homes to rebuild communities open up about how obeying God's call is enabling them and their partners to transform lives.

As I put my fingers to the keyboard to write this article, I’m still struck by my interview with Pete Cunningham, director of Green Pastures CBS Limited. Pastor Pete, as he is known, insisted that we meet face to face at the Evangelical Alliance’s head office in London for the interview; and if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to perceive how much he loves Jesus and the extent to which he’s modelling his own ministry on that of Christ’s.

Green Pastures buys properties to help churches and Christian organisations across the UK house local individuals and families who are homeless and hurting. This community benefit society, based in Merseyside, was set up almost 20 years ago by Pete, his son Andrew, and Vicki Woodley, who each used their own money to purchase the first property. Pete cashed in his pension, Andrew used part of his monthly salary, and Vicki remortgaged her home.

Faith in action
The Bible tells us to speak and live out the gospel,” emphasises Pete when I asked him why. Jesus reached out to the marginalised and outcast in society, and so do we. We take the love of God to people who are struggling with drug addiction, failed asylum seekers, rough sleepers, ex-offenders, the casualties of broken marriages, and many more. We’re ministering to the needs of communities, just as Jesus did; and, in doing so, we are extending the kingdom of God.”

The first house was a great success, so Pete and his team continued investing in property. It wasn’t long before a friend, stirred up to support the initiative, offered to put down a deposit for another house. It was that act of generosity that birthed a business model which would not only see vulnerable people, who tended to be unbelievers, housed and exposed to the goodness of God, but Christians and churches sow into the kingdom of God and share in a spiritual and financial harvest.

Godly business
We didn’t want to go around with our cap out; we wanted to be self-funding,” explains Pete who, at 75 years old, exudes the enthusiasm and energy of a younger man. God blessed us with an affordable and sustainable business model.” Individuals and organisations lend the community benefit society money for a return of up to 5 per cent interest per annum (www. green​pas​tures​.net/​i​nvest). This money is used to purchase the property. Rent, which is typically covered by housing benefit until tenants get on their feet, pays the mortgage and yields a profit, which enables Green Pastures to offer investors a return on their loan and expand its housing ministry.

It’s brilliant,” declares Pete, before he leans towards me and adds: We’re doing the work with Jesus. And it’s this submission to God’s will that has caused Green Pastures to grow over the past 20 years, the broken and homeless to come to know Jesus Christ, and churches to invest money, which would otherwise be dormant, and get a return that they can put into their churches and communities. The more people who come to Christ, the more righteous the UK will be.”

Success stories
From the moment Pete and I shook hands upon his arrival until the point we hugged before he went on his way, he excitedly shared example upon example of success story. It’s no wonder the meeting, which was scheduled for one hour, lasted two; and it could’ve easily gone on for longer. We’ve spent £10m on property this financial year,” he says when I asked him to list some of the achievements. We also saw 25 per cent of our residents either come to faith or be encouraged in their faith last year.”

Pinpointing specific examples, Pete talks of the recent acquisition for £1.5m of a block of 38 self-contained flats in Chesterfield. Since December 2017, 18 tenants have been born again,” he shares. Keen to highlight the value of the smaller projects, he mentions Luke, who was determined to help others after he became a Christian and overcame a heroin addiction. Green Pastures, and Luke’s church, backed the purchase of a house last year which is run by Luke. So far two tenants have given their lives to Jesus.

The list of success stories goes on, but we editors are limited by word counts (visit www​.green​pas​tures​.net to find out more). Pete says the following has helped him personally and in his ministry: reading the Bible daily, talking to Jesus frequently (becoming a personal friend), fellowshipping with other believers, and talking about Jesus. And obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit, although this remains an area for growth – I have a tendency to disagree with God,” Pete concludes.

A housing association on a mission
More than 200 miles south-east of Merseyside, Mission Housing is investing hundreds of thousands of pounds in homes in London to help key Christian workers spread the love of God in areas of need and opportunity. The charitable housing association raises funds from, mainly, wealthy Christians, and uses that money to buy properties to house Christian ministers, youth workers and other kingdom employees, who would otherwise be priced out of the capital.

Not long after my appointment with Pete, I caught up with Jim Gilbourne, Mission Housing’s chief executive, to find out more about the organisation and the positive change it’s helping to bring about. I had a long list of questions for Jim, both on a sheet of paper and in my head. One of the things I wanted to understand was why these individuals are moved to part with such large sums of cash. He speaks of one man, for instance, who is investing £150,000 across three properties. He then mentions a group of seven people who pooled their funds through Mission Housing to buy a property in Clerkenwell, central London. (Need I mention, that property wouldn’t have been cheap.)

Spreading God’s wealth
We offer a vehicle that enables individuals who have wealth to support people who can’t access the housing that they need to carry out their work in churches and Christian organisations around London,” he explains. Jim stresses the importance of key Christian workers being able to live in decent and affordable housing within the communities they serve, and that this has become increasingly difficult due to the spiraling cost of housing. A lot of Christians, particularly young couples, are being priced out of the city; they just can’t afford to live here,” he says as we meet at the Evangelical Alliance’s London resource centre at Kings Cross.

If salaried Christian workers can’t afford to live in the areas where they serve, or volunteers are spending most of their time struggling to make ends meet, how can they successfully get into the hearts of communities and reveal the kingdom of God – God’s love – to the people who need Him?” So, Mission Housing offers cheaper rent on its properties, which is typically more than 50 per cent below the market price. 

It’s a model that’s mutually beneficial, Jim explains: Christian workers are equipped to extend the kingdom of God; communities come into contact with the love of God; and well-off Christians are able to support what is essentially mission work (which is why Jim calls it missional investment’) and, as with Green Pastures, be partakers of the spiritual and financial harvest — Mission Housing also offers supporters a return on their funds. 

More than money
Yet Jim is keen to emphasise that it’s not the prospect of profit that makes these individuals support. First and foremost, they want to see lives transformed by the love of God,” he states. That is why it’s not uncommon for an investor to donate the interest gained on their loan to Mission Housing at the end of a term, or to reinvest the original loan and the interest all together.” Jim also gives an example of a lady who donated one of her houses to the nonprofit organisation, which was formed through the merger of Victoria Park Homes and Affordable Christian Housing Association in 2014. It’s great that these individuals who have been blessed by God in their personal lives are using that money to help extend God’s kingdom,” Jim delights.

The need is great
Many cities, towns and villages UK-wide need ethical housing projects, which is why Mission Housing is offering consultative support to groups outside London that would like to set up something similar. But Jim acknowledges the size of the challenges in London and the need for Christian intervention. He says: London is so much more expensive than other parts of the country, and when people’s financial needs are combined with their spiritual needs, spiritual ghettos’ emerge. We want to continue to help change this pattern through the provision of affordable housing for Christian key workers.”

Joint effort
Speaking with Jim and Pete about how Mission Housing and Green Pastures, with the much-needed assistance of their partners, are helping to change lives and rebuild communities through the provision of housing, such a basic need, got me excited. I was, and still am, excited by what God does through His people, and what can be achieved when Christians pull together. 

About the author

After asking God to bless her with the right role at a God-centred organisation, Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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