In the space of 18 months my father passed away, my mother moved in with us, my husband downsized his job, I was made redundant and became pregnant with our first child. Our finances soon spiralled out of control. I had 17 creditors who would call me up five or six times a day, and some of them were just horrible. We entered into our first debt management plan.
I started going to church because I wanted free childcare on a Sunday morning. It’s what my parents did when I was a little girl. They used to drop me off at Sunday school then go back to bed, and I thought that seemed like a genius idea. But the church said I should probably get to know them first, which made sense! So I stayed for the session, then weeks, then months.
The church told me about this Christian break called Grapevine at Lincolnshire Showground. There would be kids’ work, and my husband and I would get a bit of time together. I fibbed a bit to him and just told him it was a holiday where some ‘Christian stuff’ would happen.
On the third day of the camp, John Kirkby, who founded Christians Against Poverty (CAP), shared his story. I thought I could work for CAP because I knew exactly what it felt like to be in debt. I told the church I wanted to do it, but they said I couldn’t because I wasn’t a Christian and that was literally in the name of the charity. I really vividly remember telling them: “I can just lie because there’s no God, so who’s going to know?!” They were so gracious to me.
That evening during worship I had a ‘word’ with God: “If you’re so powerful prove it.” Then I had a real moment with God. It was a Damascus Road moment, although I wouldn’t have known it by that name at the time. I ran to the front and gave my life to Jesus. Fast forward 18 months and my husband and I were getting baptised.
I applied to work with CAP within months of that moment. I trained to become a CAP Money Course coach and applied the principles to my own finances. On 17th October 2017, eleven years after drawing up that first debt plan, we were debt-free. We ate takeout for five days in a row just because we could. I think that unless you’ve been in debt like that you’ll never know how incredible it feels to be free of it.
I want to give young people the best start in life with their finances
I started working for Ashby Youth for Christ alongside my CAP role. One of the things I’m really passionate about is sharing with young people how to manage money well. I am about to run a CAP Money Kids course for the Year 6s. We talk through wants and needs, where money comes from, how we ask for things (and accept the answer “no”!) and what God tells us about stewardship. I also do assemblies that teach kids about signs to look out for at home. 67 per cent of parents (who have called CAP) miss meals on a regular basis so they can feed their kids. So during the assemblies I teach the young people to wave the CAP leaflet at their parents and say: “We need to keep this safe in case someone we know needs help from CAP.” By making children aware of accepting a good “no” it takes some pressure off parents. And if they need more help, they’ve just been given a flyer too.
We also teach CAP Money Youth. That looks at pocket money, part-time jobs and how to manage money once they leave home. And CAP Money Students to those going off to university. I want to give young people the best start in life with their finances, so they never need to call CAP when they’re adults. But if they need that help further down the line, it’s there. Learning about the CAP Money Principles changed my whole family’s lives. I want it to do the same for others.
Katie Johnson is senior youth worker for Ashby Youth for Christand is East Midlands area manager for ChristiansAgainst Poverty. She is also mum to three kids.
If you are in debt, or know someonewho might be, CAP have a free debthelpline: 0800 328 0006.