Father to the Fatherless
A former bouncer who came to faith ten years ago is beginning to see fruit in an evangelistic charity he set up to serve people affected by being raised in a fatherless environment.
Ian Williamson, 38, and wife Rachel of Marske Baptist Church founded SixtyEightFive in South Bank, just outside Middlesbrough and, in January last year.
SixtyEightFive, takes its name from Psalm 68:5, and seeks to promote and support the role of fathers while providing positive male role models to men and boys who have been raised in a fatherless environment. Ian is a community chaplain and offers guidance both spiritually and practically.
The charity also works closely with South Bank Baptist Church in what is one of the country's most deprived wards.
Despite its evangelistic aims it has seen a remarkable acceptance by local government and statutory agencies in the town, with a number of referrals and opportunities to work with people of all ages.
A local housing provider has invited Ian to offer a chaplaincy service to its sheltered housing project. The local sixth form college has done the same, while social services and Sure Start projects refer individuals and families. The charity is also working very closely with and supporting other secular charities and groups.
Ian said a combination of great need and the practical support the charity gives has led to this willingness.
'We explain that evangelism is the main aim, but that practical love and support comes with evangelism, and they've been receptive. It's an area of great need. They want to try something. The police realise that although they're arresting people it's having little effect.'
Many of the contacts Ian has made are now proactively contacting him to work through their problems.
'The first year was all about building relationships,' he explained. 'It was tough, many didn't really engage, but we're really now beginning to see the fruit. Lads are phoning me - they're embarrassed about going to a counsellor.'
Ian and Rachel both felt called to leave their roles (in prison ministry and social services) to set up the charity. Rachel brings a wealth of experience from her time at Social Services and supports mothers and their families.
Ian had been brought up in a single parent household and had a number of negative male role models which led to a life of violence drink and drugs. He ran pubs and worked as a night club bouncer.
He says his life turned around after becoming a Christian, and is now committed to ploughing back the discipleship he received - and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.
'God says he is the father of the fatherless, and I think the church should be replicating God's heart to the fatherless.
'I want to show that with enough determination and prayer we can make a difference. If God can do it in South Bank he can do it anywhere - we really feel He is working in the town.'
Follow on twitter @sixtyeightfive
Ian is happy to visit any churches to share about the charity's work