The word on the street
The ordinary lives of residents in a small market town in Suffolk are being transformed by stepping inside a humble building.
The Number 72 family support centre lies at the heart of Sudbury on a busy high street with shoppers and workers passing by everyday.
The unassuming centre, which was opened in 2009 by Tim and Joy Ayrton - who work with Christian charity Counties, houses a range of services all under one roof with the aim of helping families with a range of issues including bereavement, parenting, debt advice and relationships.
Tim said: "Sudbury is a pretty Suffolk town with chocolate box cottages but underneath the pretty façade there are family break ups, people needing help and support with difficult relationships and parenting issues - ultimately people looking for answers in their lives."
The team at Number 72 are able to share the Bible's healing message to people who often simply feel compelled to enter the building. Tim explained: "An ex- offender came in and was very angry. I felt God told me to challenge him, so I said to him: 'what do you think about Jesus?' How do you pay for your sin? He got very cross, ranted and raved and stomped off. I thought he wouldn't come back.
"But a few days later he walked in and said he had been thinking about our conversation and had been praying. He said when he had left Number 72 all he could see was the sun shining and hear the birds singing – he felt so happy. He knew something had happened. His flatmate thought he was on drugs because he was so high. I then prayed for this man and shared the Gospel message and explained the prayer of salvation. This man now regularly attends church."
The life of one woman who was drawn to Number 72 has changed dramatically since stepping inside. Julie*explained: "It was the end of a Saturday and I had been doing some shopping in Sudbury. I was walking around aimlessly trying not to cry. I was at a real low point in my life, having just gone through a divorce and carrying a lot of baggage from my childhood. I stumbled across Number 72 and felt drawn towards it and decided to go in for a coffee.
"I asked what they did and when they told me I burst into tears and said that was just what I needed. Joy spoke to me and prayed with me and they have been so supportive, there for me all the way, I am now a changed person.
"I now attend church and my faith has been renewed. I have met the most wonderful people who are selfless, dedicated and all love the Lord. I have a new family where I have found acceptance. I now know freedom and am spirit filled and alive!"
Julie added: "Number 72 is an oasis in Sudbury, you can pop in any time and go for coffee or prayer and meet smiling faces – there's a real safety in there, it's such a spirit-filled building."
Another lady walked into the centre and declared to the volunteers 'my life is a mess'. Joy said: "We asked her if she ever prayed, she then burst into tears. She was a heroin addict, we helped her find support and gave her a Bible. I bumped into her the other day and she said to me 'Your Bible – it's so good!' You can see the Lord is working in her life."
A mother from Sudbury sent her daughter Abbie, 11, to Number 72 to attend the Lost & Found bereavement course. Abbie was deeply affected by the sudden death of her granddad last year. She became withdrawn and isolated herself, so her Mum Michelle decided to seek help.
Michelle said: "A year after my Dad had died Abbie was still not getting any better – it hit her really hard and I knew she needed help from outside of the family. I looked at various things and came across Number 72 by chance and it just ticked all the boxes.
"She is able to talk to other people about her feelings and relate to other children who are going through similar issues. She has been on the course five weeks now and she is a different child. She is back to her old self. I can't thank the centre enough for the way they have helped our family."
Around 60 people visit the centre each week, most from a non-Christian background. Jozef, 43, from Poland, is a regular visitor who was given a Polish Bible by the Ayrtons. He said: "I love my Bible, it was a very good present from friends. I am very happy because my life has been traumatic and I felt like I had no support until I came into Number 72, now I have a good family who have given me clothes, food and prayer support and my faith has helped me through these difficult times."
Tim added: "Our keen emphasis is to do what God tells us to do – we tell the volunteers we always need to ask God about any situation. Our primary purpose is to share the Gospel and to see Jesus transform lives as a result. But it's not always the right time to share and speak out – we have to be careful and get our timing right.
"We are often told 'there is something about this place' you can see God working in people's lives, it's really encouraging what God is building in this town, His presence is here and people can sense that when they walk in. It can be life transforming for those who walk through the door."