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The Test Room: a real life story of passing the test of love

I've discovered more about a pastor who lets rough sleepers bed down in his church

In the March-April 2019 edition of idea magazine, you will have read an interview with a senior pastor who took the love of Jesus to the streets and ended up offering the floor of his church’s auditorium to 40-50 rough sleepers every night.

Through the pastor’s book The Test Room, I discover a lot more about this ministry to some of the most vulnerable men in London, and the challenges that Rev Alex Gyasi, his family and his church congregation have faced along the way. 

In his foreword for the self-published book, Dr Jonathan Oloyede, organiser of the National Day of Prayer and Worship, suggests that there are two types of Bible-believing Christians: the church-minded ones and the kingdom-oriented disciples.

While many church leaders, out of necessity, spend much of their time preserving church buildings and existing programmes, others recognise the need for taking the gospel beyond the walls of their buildings and undertaking programmes of social action which anticipate the coming of the kingdom of God in our world.

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Rev Alex Gyasi is recognised by Dr Oloyede as belonging to the kingdom-oriented category. He is the senior pastor and founder of Highway of Holiness Church in Tottenham, London, which is a member of the Evangelical Alliance. Originally from Ghana, Alex has been involved in various charitable initiatives in both Britain and Ghana, provides a television ministry available via the Sky network, and his church is linked to affiliated churches in India and Kenya.

He has spent more than a decade in a pioneering ministry to provide food and shelter for homeless men (and, to a lesser extent, women) in north London, where his church is based. Highway House, the shelter, is based in the church’s building, a converted warehouse in an industrial area of Tottenham, and his book The Test Room is an account of the congregation’s night shelter for homeless people, from its beginnings in about 2008 through to 2014, a work which is still ongoing to this day (read his recent interview in idea magazine).

In the early sections of the book, Alex recalls several seemingly random encounters with homeless people, which led him, and his wife, to take regular gifts of food to people living on the streets, before eventually opening their church premises to homeless people on a regular basis. 

One of their earliest encounters was with a homeless man from Morocco, who had been a successful musician in his own country but had been reduced to coming to the front door of the Gyasi home to beg the gift of a little oil for cooking. This man’s fortunes were eventually restored after he responded to the gospel, as explained by Alex, and he became a regular member of the musical team in the Highway of Holiness Church.

Alex’s account does not minimise the challenges of trying to minister to homeless people, many of whom exist in conditions of great squalor and may have problems with alcohol and drug dependency. Some early opposition to the homeless shelter came from businesses occupying premises adjacent to Highway House, whose livelihoods seemed threatened by the influx of homeless men into the area and the resultant mess of empty bottles, discarded needles and human excrement. 

There have also been problems with the landlords of the warehouse rented by the Highway House of Holiness Church. Problems were encountered when some of the shelter’s residents turned up at the Sunday services and proved to be a disruptive influence. These difficulties were made worse by the fact that many of the residents came from Poland and other Eastern European countries and had little knowledge of English.

Coming into this area of work with little previous experience meant that Alex and his colleagues inevitably made mistakes and sometimes found themselves in conflict with the relevant authorities as a result of breaches of fire, health and safety, and other regulations. At one stage they were reprimanded for taking a pregnant woman into the shelter, which apparently was against regulations. 

By God’s grace, however, Highway House has been able to resolve its various difficulties, and to raise the funds required to make necessary improvements to the building. By 2014, the ministry is said to have helped more than 600 homeless people from some 50 nationalities, and you’ll read in Alex’s interview in idea that these totals have increased in the ensuing years. Alex’s contribution was acknowledged recently when he was awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for 2019.

Despite the inevitable disappointments in this kind of work, many of the men and women who have stayed at Highway House have become Christians or have beaten alcohol and drug addiction, found jobs and accommodation of their own and, in some cases, been able to return to their families in their countries of origin. A final chapter of the book contains personal testimonies from some of the individuals whose lives have been turned around by Highway House.

There is no doubt that Alex, his family and his church congregation have passed the test of love mentioned in the book’s subtitle, and their account should provide inspiration for other churches to open their premises to the many homeless people who continue to sleep rough on the streets of our towns and cities.

About the author

Graham Hedges is the Secretary of Christians in Library and Information Services and a trustee of the Christian Book Promotion Trust.

See more from Graham Hedges

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