Susan didn’t expect her retirement years would involve doing crafts with homeless women. This is her story.

When I retired, I knew I wanted to do some sort of voluntary work. Maybe something like tidying the countryside or signposting at a health centre. But three years ago, I went to a London City Mission supporters’ coffee morning.

There Lynne, one of the missionaries, spoke about her work with women living in hostels. Afterwards we talked and she invited me to a craft session at the women’s hostel. And I’ve been involved ever since.

The room we meet in has a toaster, kettle and fridge so we can provide drinks and snacks. Usually around half a dozen women join us – quite hungry it seems as all the food disappears.

On the women’s birthdays, we’ll sing happy birthday and give them a cake and a card. Then we move on to our craft activities.

We sometimes use adult colouring books – it’s relaxing, calming, and the women seem to enjoy doing that. Some particularly like making cards which is great as I like doing crafts and hand-making cards.

Recently we’ve been doing a lot of painting in different forms. They have really enjoyed this and have been encouraged and surprised at what they can do. Last year the women exhibited their work at a cafe and are hoping to do so again this year.

The women are in the hostel with a view to moving on to independent living, but some of them have been there for years.

Many don’t have much in their lives. They tend to keep things hidden and seem to find it difficult to build relationships and to trust people.

I’ve learned I need to be quite thick-skinned – quite a few women have been vicious with their tongue or in other ways. I once asked a lady something I thought was friendly, but the answer she gave was quite hurtful. But it wasn’t just me she was attacking, other people got the same treatment. I think she just couldn’t cope with kindness.

Lynne and her colleague have a bubbly, positive attitude – I wish I had more of that. But I know even the missionaries can be discouraged at times because seeing fruit takes a long time.

Many are happy to hear about Jesus and God’s love, and to look at scripture. We’d like to see results more quickly than we do. But the problems these women face have often been years in developing, so change will not happen overnight. They need lots of love and encouragement.

People’s stories are often surprising. Some of the women have run their own businesses, until something went wrong. One of the ladies recently told me how she’d given her life to the Lord. She said she was a new person and now had a reason to get out of bed each day. That is why my being there for them on a regular basis is so important.

Volunteering has helped me see people differently, especially people sleeping on the streets. Christians should be the quickest to give people a second chance, and to show love that others may never have been shown before.

It’s taken me out of my comfort zone, as I’m not a particularly outgoing person, usually happy quietly helping out in the background. But I’m learning that if God is behind you, you can do things you never thought you could.

If me, why not you? Step out in faith and have a go!

Susan McGowan

Susan’s story first appeared in Premier Christianity magazine. To read four testimonies from Christians who’ve proved you’re never too old for mission, request a free sample copy of the latest print issue at here.

To explore a host of volunteer opportunities, see the AfterWorkNet web pages on Serving. And if you have an experience to share please do so here or with our Facebook Group. Thank you.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife