There is a framed piece of artwork in my home which bears the words from Isaiah 61: Beauty for Ashes.
These words are some of the first ones that we sensed God speaking over the ministry of Riverbank over 8 years ago, and they are reflected in the storylines of the many families that we are supporting and walking alongside.
As many of you may now have heard, this will be my last blog as Director of Riverbank Trust. I will be leaving the Trust and eventually moving on to join the team at Youth for Christ, a charity working to see young people’s lives transformed by Jesus. This is not a decision I have taken lightly and as I reflect on the last 8 years of ministry with Riverbank, it is to these verses that my mind has continually turned to.
It takes some grit to bring your ashes. To bring your brokenness, to bring all that you have in your hands, to bring the fragments, the dust, the small things of life and trust that somehow God can do a beautiful thing. But that is the promise of the gospel. It’s the whisper of hope into our brokenness that says even the darkest corner can be lit up, even the most fragmented heart can be made whole.
And made beautiful. Jesus gives beauty for our ashes. He gives hope for our despair. Life in exchange for all the dead places.
Founding Riverbank has taken me on all sorts of adventures. It has taught me immeasurably about my own weaknesses, and the unending Grace of God. It has given me friendships, made me laugh, made we weep, got me on my knees, humbled me and given me countless reasons to rejoice. The last 8 years have been filled with all sorts of groups, parties, afternoon cups of tea, appointments, DIY days. I’ve discovered I’m more handy with a screwdriver than I thought I was and that there’s really no point wearing nice clothes to visit a newborn baby. I’ve been incensed at the social injustice which still oppresses the poor in our society, and humbled by the radical generosity that people are willing to show to someone they may never even meet. I’ve learnt that people are resilient, that children bounce, that hardly anyone will ever refuse prayer and that holding up your hands and saying sorry is a transformational act.
In 8 years… we’ve done some stuff. But nothing NOTHING comes close to seeing Jesus take the grey ashes of someone’s life and colour it beautiful. I have often been asked, over the last 8 years, why we can’t just ‘do good’ to people, why we have to bring Jesus into it. And as I look back on the last 8 years I can answer wholeheartedly.
Because Jesus is the colour. He’s the splash on the canvas that transforms everything forever. He’s light in the dark, the hope in the wilderness, the beauty in all these ashes. He’s the only one who can save us, the only one who can offer us peace with God. He IS justice, He IS generous, He IS kindness, He IS compassion…
He is beauty. And He gives us himself, in exchange for all our ash.
I believe that there is much, much more colour to come for the ministry of Riverbank and I pray in faith it will go from strength to strength, giving hope and offering grace to those often found on the margins of our community.
It is with much love and many tears that I hand over this wonderful ministry of Jesus, and that I still say – for all that we have witnessed, all the stories and all that is yet to come,
Not to us, O Lord, Not to us, but to your name give glory.
Ellie Hughes, Founding Director of Riverbank, November 2018