JACK Merrett would not recognise the young man he was three years ago.
“I was an angry and violent person,” said Mr Merrett, who has lived in Hamilton South community housing estate for the past seven years. “I had sudden outbursts of rage, I was snapping and going off at people who hadn’t done anything to me.
“Now I’m learning to control my anger, which has helped me feel calmer and happier.”
Mr Merrett, 19, attributes his turn-around to his friendship with Jesse Bulley and his involvement with Hamilton South Jesus Church, which Mr Bulley and Kevin Sawers established in mid 2013.
The church began after Mr Bulley and Mr Sawers walked into the neighbourhood and approached a group of men sitting outside a block of flats.
“We told them we wanted to talk about Jesus and asked if we could bring some food and sit down and have a chat,” Mr Bulley said.
The group met again the next week and grew to four small groups gathering in flats to share a meal and study the Bible.
The church held the first of its monthly 30 minute Sunday services, followed by lunch, in December 2013.
It now draws about 60 people each month. About 20 people have been baptised.
The church also hosts about 30 people at its informal Bible and barbecue lunch every Friday and about another 50 at the five Bible study groups it operates weekly from within the flats.
“People’s attitudes are changing for the better,” Mr Bulley said. “It’s not an attitude that’s isolated to Hamilton South, but it’s one where people feel they don’t have to do anything for anyone else and they have no obligation to help out. When people see how Jesus served other people – and want to follow Him – they start to make service more of a habit as well.”
Mr Merrett’s mum Karen Taylor said the church had also taught her to “turn the other cheek” and improve her own health so she could continue to support others. “Everyone has started talking to each other because there’s more get-togethers,” she said. “Before that they were too scared to come out of their own home. They’ve taught us to care for each other around here – and that’s what a suburb like this needs.”
Mr Merrett said the church becoming a “big part of our community” had motivated residents to address some of their problems – including drug and alcohol use, violent behaviour and broken relationships – and feel supported to make changes.
“It certainly makes me feel better and safer in the community because I don’t see as much violence and I think this is one of the reasons why,” he said.
“I feel like the community is an unstable tower where if one person falls, then everyone else does too.
“This community is more happy now the church is around, it brings good vibes to people.”