It’s like William Booth said, ‘We want to be reaching the worst souls.’ That’s Aaron Williams’s motto when it comes to young people in the Kelvin Grove area of Palmerston North.
Aaron grew up in The Salvation Army—his grandparents on both sides were heavily involved in the church. That gave him a good grounding in life, but things are tougher for a lot of children in the Kelvin Grove area where he grew up, and now he wants to give back. ‘You only have to drive round here at night and you can see young kids, nine and 10-year-olds, out walking round in the middle of the night, they’re in little gangs really.’
At school, Aaron said he got a taste of what it was like for some young people struggling with education. ‘I have been in that situation where the normal box of education doesn’t fit and you get shunted to the side.’
That motivated him to give back, and he and wife Elisha-Jane Williams have been helping where they can. Elisha-Jane has tutored failing students, and Aaron, a trained chef and barista, mentored a young man training to be a chef. ‘He had no confidence and told me he was a bit of a hermit. He came for confidence and life skills and managed to get a job out of it.’
Aaron’s love for troubled youth was summed up in a comment made to him by a fellow Salvation Army youth worker. ‘He said to me the difference between church youth and street youth is that church youth can be quite superficial. Street youth have something deeper because they have to have each other’s back. I thought this is an amazing thing our kids can learn from.’
Four years ago, the couple moved to a church in Feilding, working as youth workers before moving back to Kelvin Grove Salvation Army this year. Elisha-Jane has been tutoring a group of children who were failing at school, helping raise their marks to excellence. The couple, with the support of new Kelvin Grove corps officers, Lieutenants Nathan and Jessica Bezzant, also set up The Lounge café at Kelvin Grove Corps (church), providing food, drink and a new way to connect with the community.
The café has helped raise the corps’ profile in the community, and encourage new people to come in.
‘We had an older Asian man who came in the other day and said, “My family are kicking me out of home,” and we were able to point him in the right direction to get help. We’re getting more of that now—there’s so much life going on and people coming in for help, which is really exciting to be a part of.’
The café will also help fund the Williams’s dream of a youth drop-in centre. They have spoken to CYFS and reached out to schools and are hoping to launch the drop-in centre at the corps this month.
‘The goal is to break the cycle for kids who have no goal or no hope in life. We want to show them that just because family life isn’t great or you don’t have the support you need, you can be who God wants you to be.’
by Aaron Williams (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 20 September 2014, pp9.
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.