June 2011


Looking Global
By John Ashmen

Minding the gap, I got off the London Underground at Bank and walked up the steps into daylight. The six streets that converged in front of me were full of classic black cabs and red buses. I dodged them all and made it to Mansion House. At this official residence of the Lord Mayor, the London City Mission (LCM) was holding its annual gathering of supporters.

Warmly welcomed by Chief Executive John Nicholls and his staff, I was escorted to the lavishly appointed Egyptian Hall and introduced to several distinguished Brits. A loud voice rose over the chatter and announced the processional of dignitaries, which put us all in our seats in silence. Looking around, I was fascinated by the opulence of the prestigious venue. As the morning wore on, I became more fascinated by the scope of this 176-year-old ministry to the people of greater London.

The London City Mission
In its early years, LCM was a powerful influence in making Members of Parliament and the wider public aware of the terrible conditions in which people were living in the burgeoning city. LCM pioneered many of the methods of gospel outreach and social provision that have become the norm for churches and government. Most certainly, ministry to the poor is LCM’s legacy.

Today, LCM still works with the marginalized, but also ministers to people in hospitals and care homes, plus it provides chaplaincy services for railway and Tube workers, police officers, ambulance workers, taxi drivers, postal employees, and others.

The venture that I spent the most time contemplating was its Ethnic Ministry.

London is a “global city” where 300 languages are spoken. Nearly two million London residents were born outside the UK. LCM believes its role is to welcome these aliens, provide refuge, help them to be understood and find services, and introduce them to Jesus Christ (see Mark 13:10). The UK church has never lifted high this obligation, and now, with church attendance in a virtual freefall, LCM is clearly in the lead in this regard.

With English often a common language, cross-cultural involvement is a real possibility. Sharing the gospel with different nationalities in London requires sensitivity and cultural awareness that LCM’s staff and registered volunteers—some 300 strong—can provide. They come from 20-plus countries, providing an enormous range of life experiences, skills, and languages.    

What is a global city?
A global city—also called a world city or world center—is a major metropolitan area that is seen as one of the spokes in the global economic wheel, often supporting a disproportionate amount of global business. Global cities are home to institutions that influence international events and world affairs. Additionally, global cities are renowned for their cultural exhibitions and sports.

Another thing that marks a global city is a large expatriate community. In a global city, you can go from one community to another and get the sense that you need to have your passport stamped. 

London certainly is a global city. In North America, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston all have high rankings as global cities. Dozens of others are quickly climbing the charts.

Should we in AGRM be thinking about global cities in North America?
Not long ago, I rode with a mission president from his administration building to his warehouse. In a span of 12 blocks, we passed through four different African “countries.” Signage, restaurant aromas, and traditional attire all told us when we had crossed another “border.”

The tight communities kept most of their people from falling into the cracks of the liberal American culture, but there were still obvious needs not being addressed. The mission had no presence in these communities—and neither did any of the established local churches.

As much as some of us would like the melting pot to homogenize the population, t
wenty-first century societal norms will not allow the heat to get that high. Immigration has superseded integration. North America is no longer a melting pot, but rather a lumpy pot of stew. Cultural “clumps” and strong resistance to assume Western points of view and religious persuasions are becoming the norm. We have to get used to the fact that global cities are the future—and they could change much about the way rescue missions approach ministry.

If you are from a small- or medium-size city in Middle America, you might be thinking that this subject is irrelevant. Where you’re from, Taco Bell is still considered an ethnic restaurant, the parking lot at the local independent Bible church remains full, and diversity continues to be a black-and-white issue. But whether you see it or not, one by one, North American cities are becoming globally minded (if not actual global cities).

The question is, can the same be said for rescue mission ministry?

How are we doing with ethnic diversity?
The job of every mission president/executive director is to understand the times and position the ministry for what lies ahead. There is every indication that what’s ahead is the need for greater cultural awareness and ethnic diversity. Toward that end:

  • Do you know the demographic makeup of your city, and how it has changed over the past five years?
  • Do you know the demographic projections?
  • Does your mission leadership mirror the demographics, or at least come close?
  • Are there ethnic “pockets” in your city that you haven’t explored?
  • Is your city becoming globally minded at a faster rate than your mission?
  • How many different languages do staff members at your mission speak?
  • Does your staff know how to share the gospel with sensitivity, considering unique cultures?
  • Does your mission statement allow for broader city involvement than you already have?
  • How are you praying about opportunities outside your “bubble” of familiarity?

In Triumph of the City (Penguin Press, 2011), Edward Glaeser tells us: “In the richer countries of the West, cities have survived the tumultuous end of the industrial age and are now wealthier, healthier, and more alluring than ever. In the world’s poorer places, cities are expanding enormously because urban density provides the clearest path from poverty to prosperity. Despite the technological breakthroughs that have caused the death of distance, it turns out the world isn’t flat; it’s paved. The city has triumphed. But as many of us know from personal experience, sometimes city roads are paved to hell.”

Rescue missions sit along the intersections of those roads, offering (in theory) help and hope to people of every tribe and tongue. What’s interesting is that in the days ahead, that famous “green” slogan—Think globally, act locally—might need to be our new mantra.

  leaders are readers  

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale (NavPress, 2006)
My book recommendation for this month may be outside of the comfort zones of some of you, but nevertheless it is an excellent read. Ian Morgan Cron’s novel tells the story of a pastor who comes to the end of his faith road and ends up flying to Italy to get a fresh understanding of Jesus, and new direction for his own life from the example of St. Francis of Assisi. I read it during my recent trip overseas and found it to be both fun and insightful. You will especially appreciate the emphasis on serving the poor.

  San Diego recap
If you missed the San Diego convention last month, you missed a good one. Many have said it was the best AGRM event they can remember. Three different directors had tears in their eyes as they hugged me goodbye. One was sobbing and could only get out, “John, thank you. You don’t know how much I needed this.” Other comments on the survey were similar to these:

  • "[I've] been attending the AGRM conferences on and off for many years. This one was the best so far."
  • "This upbeat, high-energy conference was excellent and very well-orchestrated. You are bringing a younger crowd to the dance, and we need it."
  • "It was a time of spiritual uplifting and refreshment. And this was in addition to great training and support received from the different seminars."
  • "[I] thoroughly enjoyed every moment."
  • "The apex for me was when we were all down on our knees in Tuesday’s general session, praying. You could feel the Spirit of God."
  • "General sessions with networking stories/opportunities and the speakers...all outstanding."
  • "The Wednesday morning impromptu prayer and laying of hands on the lady from Joplin was almost electrifying. I didn’t see anyone who wasn’t in tears."
For those who are curious about numbers, our full-time paid attendance was 550, the highest in four years and 17 percent higher than the 472 at Pheasant Run. When you add in the part-timers, we were at 662—21 percent higher than Pheasant Run.  The “body count”—which includes all of the above plus exhibitors, speakers, volunteers, and staff—took us to 891, which compares to 744 in 2010. Fifty-eight percent of our missions had one or more people in San Diego.

Come to Colorado Springs this August!
If you couldn’t make it to San Diego—and even if you could—there is another chance to come together. Our CEO Summit will be August 23–25 at the Glen Eyrie Conference Center in Colorado Springs.

AGRM and the missions it serves are definitely on the front lines of ministry these days. But as in any battle, the front lines are never stationary—which means the generals need to rendezvous from time to time and discuss strategy. We’re calling a meeting for this very purpose.

It won’t be your typical AGRM gathering where the talk is about building projects or staffing issues. This will be about rescue missions as we know them and the world as we have known it, what the days ahead are likely to bring, and how we might have to position ourselves during the next three years to better accomplish our kingdom goals.

The steering committee has identified three subjects for discussion:

  • The traditional rescue mission and its cultural readiness
  • The church and its reawakening to the needs of the poor
  • The next generation and its ascent to ministry leadership
Our guests will be Dr. Jerry White, president emeritus of The Navigators; Dr. Larry Johnston of McConkey-Johnston; and Dr. Brad Smith of Bakke Graduate University. But mission CEOs will be doing most of the talking

The cost for the summit is $280 per person. This includes five meals, two nights of lodging, and optional transportation from and to the Colorado Springs (COS) airport. You can register online, or sign up by calling Lisa Miller at (719) 266-8300, ext. 107.
Association of Gospel Rescue Missions l www.agrm.org