Home to more than 500,000 people, Manchester is exceptionally diverse.
One in four people claim to have no faith, and the largest non-Christian religious groups are Muslims (16% of the population) and Hindus (one per cent).
In 2020, SIM UK workers Dave and Helen Smithers moved to the north of the city to live and work among a diverse community that’s 80 per cent Muslim and with a very limited church presence.
Previously, the couple served in a Muslim part of Birmingham for almost six years, before spending two years in South Asia learning the language and culture in order to help them in cross-cultural ministry back in the UK.
“Spending time in South Asia equipped us for our long-term vision, which God put on our hearts, to break down barriers that exist between Muslims and Christians,” explains Dave.
Leaving behind the patriarchal South Asian society, extreme heat and mosquitoes, the couple have used what they learnt in their ministry. They are partnering with the Antioch Network, a network of small churches where people share life, food, fun, God’s word, joy, sorrow, prayer, and love for their neighbours.
“As a small church plant, Dave and Helen are an invaluable part of our church family and their commitment to the diverse groups of people who live here, is a real encouragement,” say Upper Room Church leaders Stephen and Becky Dimmock.
Dave works at a primary school as a sports coach, running activities at lunchtimes and also using football to help a group of boys, who are struggling with anger and discipline. Some of them also have ADHD, autism and mental health conditions.
“Many of these kids are set to struggle in school and some may become lost to organised crime gangs, so football is a kind of therapy they find can be fulfilling and enjoyable,” explains Dave, who is starting to see progress in their behaviour.
“I’m able to be a positive role model and show them that there is more to life than just academic success. I’m also trying to show Christ’s love as I get to know them.”
Helen spends much of her time building relationships and engaging with neighbours and mums from school.
She’s also capitalising on her natural people skills to train as a counsellor and gain more knowledge to help further with pastoral care of people she meets.
“I’m looking forward to becoming qualified counsellor and be in a better position to help and support women,” she says, “throughout our time in South Asia, I gained more of an understanding of how difficult it is for women in this culture.
“A woman’s role is usually seen to be in the house with the kids, while the man goes outside, works, and socialises. That’s just the way it is, and it’s given me new insight into how difficult it is for women from this culture when they move to the UK.
“In a society where men have more authority and are considered more important than women, it strikes me how much these women need to know and see God’s love for them.”
The couple also host Bible studies to support church leaders and younger members of their congregation, many of whom are from very different cultures.
Their two children, Daniel (seven) and Amy (now four) go to a local primary school, which the couple say provides many opportunities to chat with other parents, many of whom are open to talking about Dave and Helen’s faith.
“It’s lovely to be part of an inner-city church plant and in the long term, we want to work with churches and others in culturally diverse areas to help them to build bridges into their communities,” adds Dave.
“Overall, our main goal is to love our neighbour and be good Christian examples to the people around us.”
By Kerry Allan
- Give thanks for Dave and Helen as they use every opportunity to share their faith with others.
- For the Manchester church plant to grow and find creative ways to engage with the diverse local community.
- For others to come and work in multicultural and challenging areas of the UK.