Welcome to the Just Love 2022 Summer Report. This is our opportunity to update you, our generous supporters, on the past year in the Just Love movement: celebrating the activities of our students and graduates, outlining our financial situation and presenting our hopes and plans for the coming year.
Next Easter, Just Love will reach its tenth birthday. It’s incredible to think of all of the ways that God has been good to us over this past decade – it has been an amazing privilege to have been part of that story for most of those years and to see year after year of growth, flourishing and innovation in the faithful pursuit of God’s justice in our world. The 2021-22 academic year has been no exception to that story of growth. During the first lockdown, one of our advisors encouraged me that we need to be preparing ourselves for a world that is going to need Just Love more than ever. Those words have proved all too true. The need to raise up a generation of faithful, Christ-like leaders of character, integrity, compassion and resilience is greater than I have ever known. After God carried us through all of the challenges of the pandemic in remarkably good shape, much of our focus over the last year has been positioning ourselves for a world that needs Just Love more than ever. Much of our student work has focussed on going back to the basics: in the wake of the pandemic, rebuilding the essentials of a thriving group – particularly the practice of serving their local communities. That hasn’t been without challenge, but we are ending the year with our student groups in a far healthier place than they were this time last year, and well set up for growth going into the future.
On a national level, a lot of our attention has been focussed on beginning a long-term project to develop an impact assessment model that will serve us well for the long-haul. A lot of my time this year has been focussed on leading the movement through a process of refreshing and clarifying who it is that God is calling us to be. Along with the work on assessing impact, this is part of recognising the stage we are at as a movement as we prepare to enter our second decade. We are no longer a start-up and the challenge facing us is working out how we set ourselves up to thrive in the new circumstances we will find ourselves in over the coming decade, at the same time as retaining the core vision and culture that have fuelled our rapid growth and deep impact over the last nine years. With six new members of staff joining the team this summer (taking us to fifteen people), this is a crucial stage of transition for us. I am excited for the new possibilities to shape the habits, values and trajectories of young disciples towards a whole-life, life-long pursuit of Jesus and His justice that will come with the improved systems, renewed clarity, and additional capacity that we are going to have moving forwards into a world that needs Just Love more than ever.
It has been a year in which God has blessed us richly and taught us a lot. I would like to thank you for your faithful support of Just Love. I am always deeply inspired by the ways in which Just Love students and graduates are acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God in their various contexts. You will read some of the incredible, life-transforming stories from the past year below. None of this would be possible without your support, whether that is through praying, financial support, or providing expertise to our movement. Thank you, and I hope that reading this report is deeply encouraging and inspiring.
Josh Smeldey, CEO
It has been a privilege for our staff team to have supported our 23 student groups throughout England (18) and Scotland (5) this past year.
Our staff support has focused particularly on local volunteering. One of our organisational objectives for this academic year has been to see all our groups engaging in high quality local action. We’ve encouraged our students to set SMART goals around this local action, and have set our students a target of 5,000 volunteer hours this academic year. The first two academic terms took us to 3,000, so we expect to get reasonably close by the end of August. The group in Birmingham have been particularly active, contributing 560 local volunteer hours in just the first two terms this past year, almost entirely with local charity Let’s Feed Brum.
As usual, Just Love students have also been raising money for effective charities: over £15,000 in the last year. Just Love Warwick partnered with Christians in Sport on their campus to raise almost £2,000 by covering the distance between Coventry and Kabul (5,784kms), raising money for Tearfund’s humanitarian work in Afghanistan in the midst of its food crisis. In Scotland, Just Love Glasgow and Just Love Aberdeen suited up for their Dressember campaigns and fundraised over £3,800 for International Justice Mission.
Just Love groups have run over 800 events in the last year with an aggregate attendance of over 10,000! These range from theology talks and prayer sessions to awareness-raising “Just Lunches.” Particular highlights include JL Bristol running a two-day conference with Restored exploring domestic abuse, JL Aberdeen hosting a lunchtime event with Professor John Swinton on the topic of “Disability and Theology,” and JL Birmingham gathering around 50 students for their “Mental Health and Christianity” event at the start of March.
Unfortunately, in the past year two of our groups (Southampton and London) made the difficult decision not to continue, largely due to struggling to gather momentum as they emerged from the pandemic. On the positive side, a group of students from Falmouth are preparing to launch a Just Love group there in September, with several joining us at Just Love Easter Training back in April.
Speaking of training, we gathered all Just Love committee members at Just Love Autumn Training (JLAT) back in September in London. This was an inspiring three days for our students, with sessions on topics such as racial justice, climate change, and leadership development. Speakers included, beyond our own staff, the likes of Chine McDonald and Jack Wakefield. The feedback was remarkably positive, with 91% of attendees describing training as “excellent.” Indeed, only one person who attended in-person chose the label “good” rather than “excellent.”
One student said this about JLAT:
“Incredible vibes, incredible teaching, incredible boost for the year ahead. Just such real and authentic teaching from amazing staff and speakers and such wholesome times spent with other groups learning from them and creating connections.”
The Just Love committee year runs from April to March, and this April we had the privilege of meeting our new committees at Just Love Easter Training (JLET): 2 days of training for students regionally, in Edinburgh, Manchester, and London. With sessions covering topics such as biblical justice, vision & values, and team dynamics, JLET provides students with the theology, character, and practical skills they need to run their Just Love groups with high impact.
Here’s what a couple of students had to say:
“I came not sure about my role, not excited really and very disengaged and have left excited, hopeful and with loads of ideas about how we really can work towards the vision of Just Love and ultimately towards seeing the wholeness of God’s kingdom come!”
“It was a great place to not only deepen my knowledge of Just Love, but a place to deepen my faith. It was an insightful and transformative time.”
It has been an exciting year for the Alumni Network, and generosity has certainly been in the air.
In November we held our FOURTH annual Alumni Conference, this time on the theme of Generosity. 159 graduates and final-year students attended the conference across three different locations: London, Sheffield, and Glasgow (as well as online). This is the first time we’ve ever put on a multisite event, which enabled more people to access the event. It was a wonderful time of encouragement, challenge, and community. The day included worship, prayer, a keynote talk by our CEO Josh Smedley on “The Gift of Abundance,” a panel discussion on “Embracing Freedom and Cost,” and a whole host of seminars on various topics within the broad theme of Generosity. The feedback was been really positive: the average rating was 8.7/10 for how relevant the content felt to our graduates, and 8.1/10 for how our alumni’s vision to pursue justice was refreshed.
Here’s what one attendee said:
“Thank you for hosting a day that has reignited me & sparked my heart and brain for the first time in a very long time. What you hosted is deeply unique, influential and will not be forgotten for a very long time. Thank you for tackling the difficult topic of generosity and presenting it in such a way that I feel excited and freed to be generous.”
Over 100 graduates have been taking part in Sixes this year, small groups of graduates who go deep together in issues of theology, leadership, and justice impact. After the November event we launched Series 3 on the theme of Generosity, building on what we learned at the conference. Topics included Wealth in Ezekiel, Ubuntu, and Hospitality. We had the privilege of recording expert interviews with the likes of Myrto Theocharous, Harvey Kwiyani, and Ruth Padilla DeBorst.
Why not get a taste for Sixes by watching our interview with Ruth Padilla DeBorst on the theme of Hospitality.
The other main part of our Alumni Network is our Sphere groups: small communities of alumni working in the same career area who meet regularly in order to connect and learn together so that they can pursue justice in their work. A few of our Spheres ran events off the back of the Generosity conference, with the Business and Science & Technology groups co-running an event entitled “Purposeful Profit: How to Be Part of Ethical Work Culture.” The Education Sphere is into its second year of meeting semi-regularly to support one another, the Healthcare Sphere is running a bookclub, and the Charity Sphere hold a monthly prayer event. A few of our groups have struggled to gather momentum, and so there is definitely room for improvement in this area of our Alumni Network.
Looking forward, planning is firmly underway for our 2022 Alumni Conference in November, which this year will take place in Leeds. Our title for the event is “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” We will explore what it looks like for us to be people of restoration and relationship. We want to learn how to be people of deep character, who seek to change the narrative with imaginative compassion, to build relationship, and to work with those who are different to us. Our Sixes Series 4 will launch after the conference and will be on the theme of Peace and Reconciliation. This past year we have attempted to increase our alumni’s ownership over the network, reflected in a large volunteer team at the 2021 conference. This will happen again at the 2022 event, as well as alumni input into Sixes Series 4. We are also currently setting up the Alumni Council, which will consist of around 5 graduates who will meet on a quarterly basis with Just Love staff to feed into discussions regarding the discussion of the Alumni Network, feedback on events and projects, and help develop changes in the network as it grows.
One of the greatest joys at Just Love is the partnerships we enjoy with other organisations and individuals, which ensures that we can provide wonderful opportunities to our students and graduates to engage in justice work. Whilst partnering with many effective charities, we have continued to benefit from working alongside our two main partners, International Justice Mission and Tearfund. This was particularly evident in the Justice Conference Tour, of which Just Love was an official partner. Just Love students featured on an expert panel at the four evenings, alongside individuals from Tearfund, IJM, and local charities.
In the past year we have also become members of Micah Global, an “international network of Christians active in relief, development, care and advocacy.” We are excited to see what impact this membership will have upon our movement as we learn from Christians pursuing justice throughout the world.
As mentioned, the number and quality of our partnerships mean that we can offer wonderful opportunities to our students and graduates. This year we launched our Student Noticeboard so that our students can explore all the opportunities that our partners offer to them as groups and as individuals.
We are gearing up for Sixty One in August, a new festival by New Wine and Fusion. Motivated by Isaiah 61, this festival for students and young adults will focus more on themes of justice than a normal conference, and so we are delighted to have a presence there. As well as having an exhibition stall, we’ve been asked to deliver the first session in “Engage” (the justice-focused venue) on the theme of “Jesus-centred justice.” We are excited to see the impact that Sixty One will have on this generation, whether involved in Just Love or not.
Finally, this year we have been partnering with Eido Research as we begin the process of developing an impact assessment model that will serve us well for the long-haul. We are working with Eido to assess our current impact strategy. The first stage of this has been the completion of a needs assessment, where we have surveyed nearly 200 current Christian students about the interaction of their faith and their pursuit of justice. The final report from this survey, which we are in the process of writing up, will be invaluable in providing hard data, and not just anecdotes, to shape our understanding of the needs that Just Love exists to address. This clarity will significantly influence our strategy and effectiveness moving forwards, as well as being a useful piece of research for the Church and other organisations in the Christian student world.
Finances and the Future
Just Love’s financial year runs from September to August. This year our budget has been £320,500 and we set a fundraising target of £350,000 to allow room for growth, so we can maintain our trajectory of growing the staff team each year. As of the end of June, we expect to raise around £325,000. We are still going to grow the staff team this summer (see below), but will use some of our reserves to do so.
On the whole, we are pleased with our fundraising this year. We have poured lots of energy into increasing substantially our regular giving. We have not hit the targets we set for this, increasing our monthly income by just less than £2,000 rather than the hoped-for £3,000. Thankfully, we have far exceeded our targets for one-off giving, having already raised over £100,000 via this means, with around £35,000 from grant organizations. This figure was partly so large thanks to our involvement in the European Great Commission Collaboration for which we were nominated this year and from which we received over £10,000 towards our student training programme. We are also privileged to have received generous support this past year from the following grant-making trusts, churches, and organisations: The Bishop Radford Trust, St Aldatetes, The Joseph Rank Trust, The G. F. Macaulay Charitable Trust, The Cambridge Community Foundation, Goodnews Evangelical Mission, IJM, and Tearfund. We are very grateful for this generous support. With staff fundraising challenges taking place this summer, as well as some local fundraisers and some grant applications, we are hoping to raise at least £25,000 more in one-off giving this academic year.
Whilst not yet finalised, we are setting an ambitious budget for 2022–23, which will be substantially larger than this past year. This means that we will be growing the size of our staff team this summer. From the end of August there will be 15 Just Love staff workers, which marks our biggest summer of transition yet. Several members of staff have decided to move on to pastures new: our Operations Specialist Tim Hendry is entering full-time church ministry; our Head of Theology and Partnerships Joel Butcher will be starting a New Testament PhD; our Head of Alumni Esther Platt is going to work full time with a charity consultancy; and our Deputy CEO Sarah Blackburn will be training as a teacher. To replace these colleagues, and to grow as a team, we are hiring 6 members of staff. These are six exceptionally gifted young leaders who between them will bring a diversity of gifts, skills and passions to our staff team.
We recognise that the current economic climate might encourage cautious spending plans, but having prayed and having consulted various trusted advisors, we are confident that continuing our trajectory of growing the staff team is the right choice for Just Love. Now more than ever we need to invest in raising up a generation who are going to live and lead for Jesus and justice with every bit of their lives for the rest of their lives. Now more than ever, our world needs leaders of compassion and generosity, wisdom and faithfulness, who will care about others flourishing than their own.
God has faithfully provided for us over the past years, and we trust that He will continue to do so. We have a healthy level of financial reserves well above the three-month benchmark that we aim for, and so we believe that the right thing to do is to grow our team, even if that means depleting our reserves for a brief period as our fundraising catches up with our increased expenditure. Growing our team to 15 people will significantly increase our capacity to invest in the formation and leadership development of our students and to level-up our alumni network, all of which will mean more young lives set on a long-term trajectory towards Jesus and justice, and a multiplication of justice done for the world’s poorest as a result. That is what this is all about.
On that note, thank you once again to all of those who have supported us financially over the past year: we are incredibly grateful to God for your generosity. We hope you don’t mind us including an appeal for increased giving. As always, this is invitation not obligation, relationship not transaction. We want to be upfront and transparent with our supporters about our financial needs, and this year as we step out in faith and grow our staff team, our real need is for a steady increase in our regular giving. With inflation and the rising costs of living, we would love to invite you to consider whether you could increase your giving in line with inflation? If half of our regular donors increase their giving by just 10%, that would bring in an additional £850/month, which would put us on the front foot for the next financial year.
If anything in this update has piqued your interest or raises questions, please don’t hesitate to email us at [email protected] Alternatively, feel free to contact any of our staff team from around the UK if you want to find out more about our work in a particular area. Thank you for reading this summer update, and we pray that you enjoy a restful and peaceful summer.