February 2011
  One’s the Limit
By John Ashmen

The human mind has a hard time magnifying grief. Maybe God made us that way to protect us from emotional overload.

If a school bus overturns on the highway and a child dies, we feel instant anguish and sympathize with the parents about their tragic loss. But if the next week another school bus overturns and 15 children die, we don’t experience 15 times the amount of pain we did in the first situation. In fact, at some point a calamity grows so sizable that our feelings surrounding it move from being immediate and visceral to being distant and surreal.

That’s why international child-sponsorship organizations do not show the hundreds of children in a poverty-stricken village who need food and medical attention. They show just one. They tell you her name and do a close-up on her face that’s aching for a smile. The human mind engages much better with one than it does with a multitude.

Paul Slovic from the University of Oregon did research that illustrates this principle. He showed a group of people the photo of girl living in African poverty, and asked them how much they were willing to give. Another group was shown a boy in the same village, and were also asked about an amount to contribute. Both groups volunteered roughly the same amount. A third group was shown the girl and the boy together and confronted with donating. Interestingly, the third group gave the least. Rather than express an elevated level of concern or perceived need to engage, they expressed less when shown two needy children.

In another study, Slovic told a group they were on a humanitarian mission and had a fixed amount of money that would save 4,500 people who were starving in one of two refugee camps. One camp had 11,000 people in it. The other had 250,000 people in it. The group chose to save 4,500 people in the smaller camp rather than 4,500 in the larger camp. It was difficult for them to get their arms and hearts around dealing with so many people.

So what does this mean for us in rescue mission ministry? Three things come to mind.

First, this tells us that the more we speak of the growing number of people who need food, shelter, and admission to our addiction recovery programs, the less support we will likely garner. Fund-raising professionals have correctly advised that one hungry face will bring in more donations than the photo of a dinning room full of people waiting to be served.

But sometimes we get so overwhelmed with the needs we see daily that we desperately want to push that message of magnitude before we discuss the profile of the one person who requires something right now. To do so only diminishes the donor interest. Keep showing single faces in need, and telling the stories of individuals who have turned their lives over to Jesus and have been changed for eternity.

Second, this is a good reminder that we must look at our teams (staff and volunteers) as individuals working in different roles beside us, and not as a solitary work force moving forward in lockstep. Those of you with larger teams—say 20 or more—must remember that no all-staff meeting or mass email memo can replace one-on-one conversations in hallways, on stairways, and in offices. The mind engages better with one than it does with many.

Keep a running list each month—on your iPad if you have to—of whose turn it is to have a focused conversation with you. That’s a tough assignment for those of us who are task-oriented leaders, but that’s where we’ll have our best engagement.    

Thirdly, consider this: As I thought about the human mind’s struggle with magnifying grief, I started wondering about Jesus who was fully man—and fully God. Perhaps He didn’t suffer from this human limitation. For us, when it comes to tragedy and trauma, as the numbers involved increase, our anguish fortunately flatlines or we would be overwhelmed. But could Jesus have felt the full effect of mass heartbreak?

That would put a different spin on Matthew 14:14. Getting out of the boat, Jesus sees the crowd, has compassion on every single person, and begins to heal their sick. A few verses later, he knows the hunger of each individual and prepares to feed the group.

Carry those thoughts over to the cross. We can easily say that Jesus died for the “sins of the world.” Is it possible He felt not just a blanket agony for our collective iniquities, but the grief each human mind must ultimately release? Did He feel not just sustained emotional pain as He considered all of humanity, but the multiplied pain of every individual? The magnitude of such a thought is enough to make someone sweat drops of blood.

One is a limit I can live with. 
  leaders are readers  

It’s time to get serious about the AGRM 98th Annual Convention. In fact, if you register by tomorrow, March 1, you will save $20 per participant. You can easily register online. Or complete the form in the January/February issue of Rescue magazine, and be sure to fax, scan and email, or postmark it by March 1. Set in sunny San Diego, the May 22–25 event will offer a lifeline of meaningful encouragement, relevant education, and powerful peer networking you won’t want to miss. Read about the schedule, speakers, seminar titles, and more on our convention webpage.

On the AGRM staff front, we will be splitting the position of director of member services into two roles later this year. We will have a director of member services and a director of member engagement.

The former will be involved with measurements, testing, and producing new programs and services. The latter will handle connecting missions to the association through membership, and mission staff to the programs and services offered, ensuring what AGRM produces is understood, used, and continually improved upon to meet the needs of members.


There is so much going on in Washington, D.C., these days—especially with the new Congress—that affects rescue missions. For this reason, AGRM has scheduled a Washington, D.C., Summit for Tuesday, March 29, and Wednesday, March 30. We’re inviting rescue mission leaders to fly in to the nation’s capital for two days of important meetings.
On the morning of the 29th, we will assemble with AGRM Government Liaison Rhett Butler and talk about the association’s 2011 public policy agenda and the most important governmental issues facing your ministry. The afternoon and all of the next day will be reserved for appointments on the Hill and with the executive branch.

We have appointments set with several key senators and members of the House. We will also meet with the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness and the White House Office on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. There will also be opportunities to meet with your own representatives.

This is a time to make you voice heard. Please block out the dates, and we’ll send a detailed schedule and logistical details in about two weeks.  

For our members in Canada, we are looking at doing a similar event in Ottawa in the fall. Watch for more details later.

Association of Gospel Rescue Missions l www.agrm.org