In contrast to this, the London City Mission perseveres with the long-term commitment and depth of relationships that we find described in the Bible.
Jesus was ready to take the role of a servant, washing the feet of those he ministered to. Paul writes about his relationship as a ‘nursing mother… sharing not only the gospel of God but our own self’. The relationships we see between Jesus and the disciples or Paul and the Thessalonians are a challenge to all Christians. We are called to avoid seeing people as ‘ministry projects’ and instead we should form genuine, loving, friendships.
At the heart of London City Mission is the idea that the same person goes to the same people regularly, to become their friend for Jesus’s sake. Someone once asked a previous training director how we start conversations during our regular door-to-door visits. His response is informative: ‘Normally we’ll start with something like, “Hello Mavis, how’s the knee – did the hospital get back with a new date for the operation?”.’ The implication being that the house-to-house visit has taken place in the context of an ongoing relationship. We don’t knock on a door once and give up. We go back again and again and again for decades.
The housing estates of London are tough places and it can be difficult for Christians to break in to established communities. There is a wariness of outsiders who parachute into an area for a week of outreach in the summer and disappear. London City Missionaries live, work and worship within the district where they minister. We shop in local corner shops and our kids go to the local schools. By sharing life with people week in and week out, we earn the right to share the love, hope and good news that has driven us to live there.
Ready to count the cost?
We give thanks for missionaries and their families who have chosen to live on the estates of Tottenham, Dagenham, Brixton, Kings Cross, Newham and so many spiritually needy corners of our capital. During interviews with candidates and their spouses I will pointedly ask if they are ready to count the cost of serving the Lord in the city’s most deprived places. It still amazes me when people say they have prayed it through and they have an assurance that the Lord’s strength will be sufficient to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get the good news out. In a world where the overriding aim is often to get our kids into the best schools and own the biggest houses, it is encouraging to work with Christians ready to lay down their lives to reach the Bangladeshis of Mile End or the cockneys of New Addington.
I was moved to thanks and prayer last month by news of the passing of one of the Mission’s retired missionaries, Harry Hanks. During his decades of service, Harry visited the same people again and again. The Mission’s urban trainer, Pastor Rob Prendegast, and his wife Helen, both professed faith after Harry’s repeated visits to the postal sorting office where they once worked in South London. Recently they visited Harry to tell him the good news that the church they now help lead has started meeting in a building owned by the London City Mission in Lewisham. They were amazed when Harry pulled a book from the shelf full of the names of the contacts that he had ministered to over the years. ‘I pray through this name list in my quiet times every day’, said Harry. Among the hundreds of names they could see their own – marked with a PTL as a reminder that they had professed faith. Despite being retired for over a decade, Harry had not given up the habit of praying for his beloved ministry contacts and friends each day. I pray for comfort and strength for Harry’s loving wife, Doreen, at this time. I pray too that the Lord will raise up more ‘Harrys’ for London City Mission and churches around the country, with a heart of love and courageous perseverance to go back to the same people day after day with love and the good news of Jesus Christ.
Graham Miller is the chief executive of London City Mission.