Phil Craig grew up in Dundonald, raised by parents who were heavily involved in the Methodist church led in those days by Ken Irvine. In true 1970’s style, church life was 3 times on a Sunday & out to as many organisations as possible including Christian Endeavour during the week, but it was at CSSM in Millisle that, while still at primary school, Phil decided he should give his life to following Jesus.
Undoubtedly it was Phil’s Mum, who passed away in August last year, who was the biggest influence on his early spiritual development. How many parents would open their homes before school to a small crowd of young believers for morning devotions? Those early teenage years were indeed special and formative times.
The next significant turn in Phil’s spiritual growth was back in Millisle for a summer mission led by that Charismatic pioneer Keith Gerner. In Phil’s own words “that changed everything”. He started attending meetings in Keith Gerners house in Holywood & eventually decided that this house fellowship was to be his church.
Keith Gerner recognised a strong teaching gift in Phil & took him under his wing to develop his skills for the first 3 years after Phil left secondary school. Phil started to lead a similar house church in Dundonald but that didn’t work out as well as he had imagined. Being married by then & with the responsibility of providing for a family Phil gave up his dreams of a teaching ministry & started secular employment.
In his own words, Phil “drifted away” from the calling he knew was on his life & from the intimately close walk he had enjoyed with God until his own father became terminally ill with cancer. Phil nursed his Dad at home and, perhaps having more time to think and consider what he was doing with his life, started to listen for the voice of God again through prayer and Bible study.
Looking for a church connection, this time in Bangor, Phil went along to Kings Church where he found others from Dundonald Methodist had also found a new spiritual home after moving to the area. A sense of Gods specific call on his life returned which Phil likened to Peter’s restoration in John 21 having previously denied that he had ever known Jesus.
I asked Phil to tell me more about Safe Zone and how he got involved there. Phil was looking for an opportunity to serve God and saw Safe Zone as a ministry of good works where help is given in a really practical way. In 2009 Phil was introduced to Chris Bower who had just been diagnosed with a form of cancer that, barring a miracle, he would not recover from. There in the hospital Chris told Phil that he believed that he was the person to look after Safe Zone in his place. As well as fulfilling a chaplaincy role for the team Phil has managed all of the practicalities for each night since then.
On any given Saturday night at the bottom of High Street in Bangor drugs and alcohol are consumed to excess, which often brings individuals to a low ebb, even to suicidal thoughts. On many nights people have been talked out of jumping off the pier. The Safe Zone team also deals with people who are feeling unwell due to over consumption, who have injured themselves or even been assaulted. They walk people to taxis, help them sober up and patrol the Harbour Ward looking for anyone who might be in distress. They also give out tea and coffee from the Safe Zone van. This happens from about 11 pm to around 3 am and involves 10 people a night, 4 who work around the van and 2 teams of 3 on patrol.
I asked Phil what the typical profile of a Safe Zone volunteer was. The first thing he said was that age was not important as long as team members are over 18 and physically able. New members go through some initial training and a 6 week probation period where the basic mandate is the Biblical instruction to do good to all men and to be a light shining in the darkness. As part of the ongoing training team members attend courses on drug awareness, first aid, dealing with confrontation and so on.
Phil is also involved in an Order that Chris Bower established called the Heart of Saint Patrick. Through this ministry Phil teaches the Bible to various groups and also works with individuals on a one to one basis. One of his main themes is that our individual walk with God must bring about real change in our lives, and part of the evidence of this is serving others. Also as we learn to honour and respect God in every aspect of life we fulfil our responsibilities as parents, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. As we learn to serve where we are first, Phil firmly believes that God equips us to serve elsewhere.
As our time together came to an end Phil shared some scriptures with me about the disciple and apostle Peter. When Jesus asked Peter if he “loved” him in John 21, the word for love that Jesus used was “agape” which defines an unconditional love. But when Peter responded with “Lord you know that I love you” the word that he used was “philio” which is more of a fondness. However, later in his letters when he exhorts the believers to love one another the word he uses is agape.
Phil sees God taking us as individuals on similar journey, where he meets us where we are & leads us into a maturity where love is not just a feeling but an act of our wills. As we are affected by the love of God, it comes out in the effect we have on others. That in a nutshell is what Safe Zone is all about, showing the love of God that we have experienced to others.
Safe Zone is recruiting!
Phil would very much like to expand the teams that are out on the streets to 15 per night. If you would like to help out in any way you can contact him on 077 4058 4150 or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Safezone is listed in ChurchWorkNorthDown Support Services.
Interview by: Trevor Magee, 9th March 2015.