While the breakdown of Joanne’s marriage was a very traumatic time in her life she says she put her trust in God to help her through.
As a result she found a calling, to help others in need and in 2011 she was instrumental in helping to set up the Christian organisation RUTH (Raising Up The Hurting).
Despite being a legal secretary at Portadown company John P Hagan Solicitors, Joanne is also the director and ministry co-ordinator of the charity. While RUTH was originally set up to reach out to the homeless in Belfast, she says it has grown significantly over the years.
She said: “In RUTH we aim to be a support and friend to hurting people, should that be on the streets, in hostels, in their homes, in hospital or in prison. Being practical and not judging. Reaching in to their world, their pain, their situation.”
As a result of her work with the charity Joanne says her faith has grown stronger day by day and she regularly relies on God’s guidance.
“My hope is when I’m with the hurting that they will see Jesus’ love through my actions, smile and voice.
“RUTH is a Christian organisation but we don’t go out to preach or push anything on people. We don’t represent any one church, we simply represent Christ.
“We want to show Christ’s love in practical ways, a smile, a chat, giving a warm drink, a pair of gloves, a coat, a sleeping bag. One man told us a smile is worth a million pounds. Some we only see on the streets once, but many we see time and time again, and have built up great friendships with them. When I see someone with an addiction I am more concerned about why they have the addiction, the addiction I believe is a symptom of a trauma which has happened in their life.”
The organisation RUTH work with a number of other organisations and hostels such as the Belfast Welcome Centre, Rosemount House, Utility Street Men’s Hostel and the LIFE Centre in Dungannon.
They run events and even serve meals in the hostels as well as running other outreach
Joanne said: “Once a month we can bring people from the streets, hostels and individuals’ homes to a night of fun, music, sports and always lots of food.
“These nights are usually good fun but also providesthose who attend the opportunity to chat and seek help if needed.
“We have seen successes in Belfast, lads lying in shop doorways, high on drugs and sleeping on the streets - nine months on those same lads are off all addictions, their mental and physical health has improved significantly and they know it has simply been down to the power of God in their lives.
“These lads have given their lives to Christ. The transformation is amazing, families have been reunited.
“Sadly I have seen too many deaths in Belfast over the past four years of reaching out to the homeless and hurting. Kids in their twenties, young men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. All have fought with addictions for years and their bodies can take no more. Since the start of 2015 RUTH knows of four fatalities, and they are only those we knew well, there have been several others who we didn’t know so well. Each time I hear of a death it hits me really hard.
“I am thankful that when my marriage broke down I had the coping skills, I had my belief that God would get me through and I had the support of great family and friends. Not everyone has these and so my hope is that God will use RUTH to bridge a gap between despair and hope, leading the person on a road of recovery.
When I am on the streets of Belfast with the ‘hurting’ we do have many fun times, but there are many emotional times, times when words are not enough and all I can do is hug the person and allow them to express their own emotions.
“I am a single mum and I co-ordinate RUTH. I simply could do neither of these tasks if I didn’t have my faith. Being a single mum can be a lonely job, in Deuteronomy 31 v6 God says ‘Be strong and courageous, Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you’.
RUTH: Raisingupthehurting can be followed on facebook or by logging on to raisingupthehurting.org.