Sunday, April 09, 2017

My reflection having attended the Michael Eastman Memorial Service yesterday.

The best memorial service I have ever attended.

So powerful with many people taking part 
all painting a picture of Michael Eastman - FYT man.

He was the  CEO of FYT for many years and the founder along with other key urban workers.

I first heard of him and eventually met him when I was a one-man-band Youth Worker in a back street Youth & Community Centre in St Helens - The Y Club.
Only one staff member, me, + many many volunteers including MrsBeautiful who lived in the upstairs flat with two girls and myself.

It was a 7 days a week job as we were residential so always available to callers in the flesh or by phone. 
FYT gathered beat up Youth Workers together for mutual support and inspiration.
We usually gathered at Shrewsbury House Youth Project in Everton Liverpool; where Jenny & Roger Sainsbury were doing similar work in urban priority areas.

Before this era when Joan & myself were running a Young Offenders unit for Manchester boys in the 1960's, we had a supportive visit from Will Barker who became a FYT Staff member in the foundation days. 

Jim Punton then visited the Y Club during these early days. 
He was the Training Officer for FYT and was a major influence on my development over many years.

Michael led the small team at FYT, totally committed to supporting and rescuing workers working in tough contact - Inner cities, Council Estates and urban priority areas around Great Britain.

They/he was a life saver for me.
Support, training, team working, philosophy, theology and a depth of specialist values which I was much in need of.

In 1975 we moved as a family to live and work in East London - with the highest crime. the worst education and youth unemployment in the nation = 80% Youth Unemployment during the Thatcher Years.

I could write so much about Michael & FYT because he/it was foundational in my work & development.

In 1985 I moved with the family to live and work in the 11 story tower block which was/is Romford YMCA. 
Michael became a Board member and even to his latter days, a member of the finance committee.

Back in the day we started together an Annual full days training experience at Romford YMCA called 'The Take-Away'. Aimed at inspiring & equipping Youth Workers, from all over the place, with greater awareness & skills.

This, below, has been (imperfectly) grabbed from Keith's reflection at the service - and he gave me this extended version for you. 
Dr Keith White - such a great man himself.


A Tribute to 
Michael L Eastman from FYT
Given on Saturday 8th April 2017 
at Romford Baptist Church 

Dear Thulani, (Michael's Grandson)
I have written a letter to you, in which I try to explain how and why grandpa was so committed to something called Frontier Youth Trust (FYT). 
You know that grandpa was involved in many, many things, but FYT brought 
them all together and was probably the dearest to his heart. I hope you don't mind, but I have copied it for others who would like to know more about grandpa and FYT. 

For a very long time Christians have been sharing the Good News of Jesus with children and young people. They 
did it in orphanages and Sunday Schools, for example. Then there were also summer camps and beach missions. 
CSSM and Scripture Union have been at the forefront of this. But not all children and young people can afford to go on holidays to places like Cornwall, Norfolk or North Wales. In fact lots of young people never leave the streets of the estates and schemes were they grow up. And grandpa began to get to know more about them through his work with those who attended what were called in 1959, Secondary Modern Schools. 

It may seem strange to you, but it was only sixty years ago that some church leaders woke up to the fact that if 
Jesus were around today he would not just be singing and having barbecues and games on beaches (although he 
loved that), but getting alongside and having fun with young people who had to find something to occupy their 
time and channel their energy in urban streets, parks and shops. 

FYT started with a clear focus on these young people, and grandpa did all he could to help get alongside them, 
listen to them, and to share good news with them in the name of Jesus. At the start FYT was part of Scripture 
Union and, as you have heard, grandpa was known and loved by many in SU, not only in the UK., but also around 
the world. He knew of course that there were young people on every continent who were pretty much trapped in 
townships and slums, with little hope of making their own way in life without turning to crime, or trying to make 
things better by taking drugs. 

So what did he and others do about this in the UK? They found and then supported and inspired Christians who cared for these deprived young people, and then put them in touch with each other and encouraging them. It wasn't about doing something for young people, or trying to get them to join church activities, but about going to where they were, and being alongside them and listening to their real experiences of everyday life. 

After a lot of hard work and careful research, grandpa discovered that there were Christians trying to help such 
young people all over the UK, and so he started getting details of who they were, lists of what they were doing, and maps of where they were. This is the sort of research you always have to do when you are in a pioneer situation, and on or beyond the frontiers of what is known and familiar. One of the things the youth workers had 
!I^O"Tonwas,their sensethat the Offering and despair of the young people they were listening to was so deep and so ingrained, that in trying to empathise with and help them, they often tended to become despondent and feel 
lonely themselves. 

FYT is about SUPPOrting' encouraging, listening to, training, inspiring these Christian youth workers region by region. This sounds simple, but it is very difficult practice to get Christians.

As it happened I was asked to be his line manager for the last seven years London (Romford is very much part of that, of course), Jesus, young people who were tough,'rugged theology, networking, and... cricket. I never played cricket with grandpa, but we talked a lot, and we spent a day watching Essex at Chelmsford. 
You were one of those who ce at the same ground. I always knew in my bones what sort of batsman he was: frustrating for everyone, bowlers and colleagues alike. A version of Trevor Bailey. Like a limpet, impervious to comments and criticism. If he 
hadn't inherited the skills that came from his cricketing family and played the game so well, he would have made a perfect, forensically meticulous scorer of cricket matches. 

And this was how he was with FYT. Nothing could shake him from his commitment to these young people, 
however hard it was, and whatever the difficulties. And he faced a lot. I have a complete set of minutes of all the meetings I chaired during those seven years. Every jot and tittle is in place (including as it were, byes and no balls!). And he made sure that all the records were carefully filed and kept. 

Over time SU decided that FYT should become independent of the SU family. There was a crisis of identity, 
funding and premises. Grandpa held fast through this difficult time. The regional network was always a struggle 
to maintain across four nations, and the staff team members had their own problems and challenges. Youth work was changing: in fact, it was being run down all over the UK. Christian youth clubs like the Mayflower Family Centre in Canning Town, which were famous in their heyday, were closing down or changing. And church attendance was dwindling in the UK, except in some pockets. There were less resources. 

But nothing could shake grandpa's faith. I was close to him in the biggest crises, and can testify to that. Before 
the end of this year we plan to have the story of the first 50 years of FYT. It isn't about grandpa, but it will stand as a record of his determination, his courage, his faith and his love of young people in the name of Jesus. He never sought the limelight, but rather amplified the voices and views of others. His last written note to me (after he had mentioned Essex cricket of course!) encouraged me to make sure this history was completed. 

Two features of his contribution to the work and dynamics ofFYT. (If you want to know more or have more to 
tell me about, then see me afiterwards!) 
First, he encouraged listening to the stories of real young people and encounters with them. For some years the staff team meetings were held at Mill Grove E18, just by Charlie Brown's roundabout, where I live. 
I was privileged to be part of them, and I came to love the way in which grandpa listened to stories for hours on end, and how the team revelled in sharing the joys and many trials of being alongside hurting young people. 

You can get statistics about poverty, and all sorts of figures spelling out the many problems of deprivation, but it is not until you hear the stories of real young people that you get to the heart of things. The experience of those team meetings will never leave me. For grandpa was infinitely patient. 
He never interrupted, and was never despondent. The staff teams' own stories, and the stories of the young people, were interwoven. And that is the whole point: just like Jesus, they came alongside and lived among the people they served. And so they celebrated with them, and often wept with them too. Your grandpa truly felt with and for young people, and the team, which 
to him was a community or extended family. 

Second, he wrestled, and I really mean this (Jacob in the Bible is perhaps one of the best examples of the painful reality of this), with how to connect the good news to be found in the Bible, with the realities and experiences of young people for whom little of their lives could be seen as good at all. There was a gap, almost a void. And as we near Easter, we are reminded that this is exactly what Jesus experienced when he cried out on the cross, God, My God Why have you forsaken me?" That's it. That's what it feels like. And that is the space that FYT was committed to occupy, the struggle it was called to engage in. You remember that when the tomb was found to be empty on Easter Day the followers were told that Jesus was not there: he had moved on ahead of them. 
That readiness to leave the familiar places, structures and ways of doing things is a1 never stand still. 
Grandpa spent the whole of his life trying to work at how to connect the good ne^ with the harsh realities of young people struggling with, or even giving up in the face of, surf listening both to their stories, and also to what God was : and he engaged with those who were scarred by this struggle. He wrote, he lectured thoughtfully after careful preparation. One who has been a major blessing to FYT was Jim Punton. They really got to grips with the Bible and the suffering of young people. But grandpa searched around the world for others who were trying to hold open space for the good news of Jesus in the most difficult situations. 
Among them were David Sheppard, lo Smith, George Burton, June Osbourne, Joe Campbell, Pip Wilson, Ray Bakke, Donald Kraybill, Alan Kreider, John Howard Yoder, Bob Linthicum, Roger Sainsbury, Jim Wallis, and many, many others. 

I asked grandpa to preach at Mill Grove some years ago for our annual gathering of the clan. Mill Grove is a place where children and young people who are struggling with the realities of life can come, can be, can live, and can stay. It is a place of welcome in the name of Jesus. 
Grandpa preached simply about the Kingdom of God, which was at the centre of the ministry and prayers of Jesus. He told how to the rest of the world it was insideout, upside-down and back to front. Some of us have never forgotten it. 
And he was right. If you really listen to the stories of the Kingdom of God, the life of Jesus, and the stories of young people, then you begin to see that the way the world is organised, and the things that we prize and value are just that, inside out, back to front and upside down. The way God sees things is that celebrities are nobodies, and the wealthy are outsiders, while the 
poor and marginalised are at the heart of the feasting and celebration. 

So it shouldn't be a surprise to find that FYT isn't your usual sort of Christian ministry. As long as it occupies 
the difficult, even dangerous space between the good news of Jesus Christ, and the realities of life on the edge and 
the underside, then the life, work, belief and hope of grandpa will not have been in vain. Jesus Christ who is Lord, offered pure, life-giving water, life that was rich, fully, creative in every way. One biblical way of describing this 
is to use the word "shalom". Discovering and sharing this in down-trodden, run-down areas and communities is a risky and daunting task. But that is what FYT is called to be, and to do as a mission community, in the name of 

I became aware of FYT in 1971 in Scotland when I was working in West Pilton, one of the most deprived estates 
in Edinburgh (long before Bob Holman moved to Glasgow). 
Quite frankly I was at risk of burn-out. 
I was challenged and encouraged in equal measure by the creative Scottish conferences facilitated by Jim Punton. 
And when I came to take up my life's work at Mill Grove, in East London, I made a bee-line for FYT, at that point as 
I recall it, in the basement of SU in Marylebone Road. Michael and Jim were in conversation surrounded by 
books and papers, and they were a great team. 
They were completely different from each other, but there was mutual respect. 

From that moment on my walk with Jesus among hurting children and young people has been informed and enriched by grandpa. And I know that there are many, many others who would have said the same, if they had been given the opportunity to speak today. 
I am speaking on behalf of hundreds in expressing thanks for the life and example of grandpa. 
In case, you hadn't realised it, he loved you a lot. 
The Kingdom of God and FYT are not about statistics but about 
individual young people, loved in the name of Jesus. Which is why I have written a letter to you.