So many are going through overwhelming challenges right now. Strained, stretched and near breaking point, we find ourselves experiencing something of the “second winter of discontent” predicted in the media. From the financial – the Universal Credit cut and energy crisis – to physical and mental health challenges, to the emotional – loneliness, isolation and bereavement – the list goes on, and on.

The Salvation Army says one in five young adults will have no choice but to rely on charity this Christmas. And here’s how Christians Against Poverty (CAP) summed up the financial side of things: This Christmas, many of the people CAP helps, and thousands of other families living in poverty, are facing a perfect storm of price rises and reduced incomes. They are desperately trying to make ends meet as the cost of their food, fuel and heating soar, and when many have had reductions in their income.

As a result, we have seen a 92 percent increase in requests for emergency support to our local Debt Centres.”

Of course, these extra money problems are entwined with other huge impacts of Covid. Earlier this year, we suggested how Christians can be good news in the mental health crisis that was unfolding. Many among us have suffered bereavement, with over 146,000 Covid-related deaths in the UK to date. Not to mention new problems in December’s difficult first half: Omicron, storms, power cuts and for many a sense of being let down by leaders as reports of Christmas parties seemed to add insult to heartbreak.

Christmas will be hard this year, for your community and mine. But as Christians, we have a God who stands in the gap for us, with the sacrifice of Jesus. Our wounds are serious, but He’s been wounded for us to bring healing to each of them. Underneath us are His everlasting arms and He is our source of all righteousness and strength. He is close to the broken-hearted, inviting us to pour out our hearts at all times. So we point to Him as His hands and feet in this world, standing in the gap for our communities this winter.

In deepest winter, the love of Jesus is deeper

Our autumn survey showed that wonderfully, 61 per cent of church leaders said their church was involved in foodbank and nutrition work and 50 per cent were befriending the elderly and isolated. Churches served their communities across a wide range of activities despite challenges, and from the anecdotes we’ve heard recently, they’re continuing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in communities this winter too.

We spoke to Abigail, from Highway of Holiness House in Tottenham, which currently has 30 people in its night shelter. Although things aren’t as bad as winter 2020, she’s seeing the numbers creep up, as more people lose the places they have in hotels. One story especially struck Abigail’s heart recently:​“We helped a gentleman who had been living in a van, and never got connected with the government outreach workers, so he missed out on accommodation. Then, he lost his van too and his health deteriorated, so his sister called us and we helped him get assessed and get hotel accommodation.

Since then, he’s been coming into our day centre. His health has totally changed and benefitted from getting help. He came in one evening to pick up his food voucher, met our pastor and decided to stay for the service. He couldn’t explain what he heard in words, but he wanted to come on Sundays and said we had reminded of his mother, and her love and compassion. He felt connected, a sense of belonging, and kept saying,​‘I never thought nothing like this would happen’.”

Without you, I would not have seen a single person on Christmas day.

Meanwhile, folks at Hope Church, Newtown, Wales are gearing up for a 5am start on Christmas day. This year, we’ve had double the requests for assistance in regard to helping the under-resourced with food parcels. Working in conjunction with social services, the church members have committed themselves to meeting every request to ensure that the most needy receive excellent food on Christmas day.

This year we anticipate that 200 – 300 people will be fed through the giving of the church. We have Turkey-fest’, where families in the church purchase and create a hamper containing everything a family needs to cook their own Christmas dinner. The hampers are created and contain gifts for the children too. The second option is called Community Christmas’ and involves freely providing a tray containing a hot meal and evening tea.

Following our Christmas day service, volunteers take these meals and deliver them with a smile and Christmas greeting. A letter from last year said ‘…without you, I would not have seen a single person on Christmas day.’”

From Wales to Birmingham

Member organisations are standing in the gap too. The Salvation Army is running food banks across the UK and offering free debt and employment advice. And CAP are​“focusing our Christmas appeal on providing emergency food and fuel packages for people who are struggling to feed their families and heat their homes this winter. Working on the frontline, our local Debt Centre teams are supporting people and bringing a little colour back into people’s Christmas this year.”

Smaller member organisations are also playing their part in a big way. Birmingham City Mission (BCM) received more referrals than previous years for families who need help to get toys this Christmas. By the end of Christmas Eve they will have wrapped and delivered toys to 1,500 families across the city, showing God’s amazing love through their Toy Link Project.

It’s been a real community effort, with Birmingham University Air Squadron turning up to help wrap presents and the staff of Jaguar Land Rover turned up with 30 vehicles to distribute them! Not to mention one lady came all the way from Wales just for one day to help wrap toys.

No greater gift than the gospel

BCM also have a drop-in centre for the homeless and marginalised. Loneliness will be one of the biggest challenges for our guests,” says care centre manager Steve Bagnall.​“Many people who we see each day are in hostels or supported accommodation and can feel very isolated during the winter months. We will also see many rough sleepers and our priority will be to help them into some form of accommodation.

We offer a warm meal, hot drinks and clothing. We offer practical support with housing, benefits and bank accounts. But above else we offer companionship. A safe space to come and talk. We try to build trust. Ultimately for everything we give out, we believe there is no greater gift than the truth of the gospel.

We recently helped a Polish man who was sleeping rough. He wasn’t entitled to public funds which ruled out most hostels as they’re government funded. We eventually found him accommodation which has now led to him finding a job. We bought him some safety boots to get started. He told us that for the first time in many years,​‘he now has hope in his life’.”

And finally, if you’re thinking, “I’m so small, what can I do?”

Here’s what CAP suggest, whether you do it by helping a neighbour, through your local food bank, or by supporting an organisation like CAP, this Christmas we are urging all Christians to reach out to those who are struggling to make ends meet. The gift of a simple food shop, or a fuel voucher can genuinely transform the way Christmas will feel for many this year.”

And remember our motivation. As Abigail explains,​“our main motivation is practically demonstrating the love of God, making the expression of our faith as practical as possible. Micah 6:8 inspires me – walk humbly.”

Keep your eyes open in the new year for Stories of Hope, when we look back on how God’s abundant love and compassion has been demonstrated by the church to communities this year.