The Missionary: Martin Street works as a London
City Mission (LCM) missionary in Battersea, on the south bank of
the Thames. He grew up being taken to church by his mother, but it
was while he was at university in Cambridge that he first began to
engage with Christianity.
"I was really blessed with people opening up the Bible there,"
he said. "It was the most wonderful thing in the world to
understand the love of Christ for me. . . Ever since then I have
had this passion for bringing the truth of the gospel to the man on
After six years as an electrical engineer, he decided to give it
up to work for the Church.
Considering ordination, he studied at theological college, but
came to believe much of the Church had lost touch with both the
scriptures and the needy.
"We have lost confidence in the authority of the scriptures and
we have failed the poor and the marginalised of our society. My
fear is that's where the English Church has ended up - upper-middle
class circles without the gospel."
So, instead, he ended up with LCM, working on deprived estates
in south London. He says he wanted to be in the places that Jesus
would go: "In 21st-century Battersea, that often means hanging out
in a tower block in a draughty hallway, speaking lovingly to
someone on the doorstep, and reaching out . . . with grace."
Much of his job is simply going into people's homes and chatting
with them for a long time over cups of tea. Mr Street seeks out the
marginalised, the isolated, and the friendless, and tries to build
Embedded in a local church, he has set up a lunch club for the
elderly, and targets the immigrant communities living in Battersea.
Those living with mental-health problems are also among his regular
list of contacts.
But he is brutally honest about the uphill struggle of his work.
"To be perfectly honest, most days I tend to come back and think 'I
did a pretty bad job,' or 'That was exhausting or
"Just now we have had a men's evangelistic night and it's
routinely mayhem - just trying to get them to get along with each
other is quite a challenge some times. They all think everyone else
is an idiot."
But, every now and then, he sees a small step forward that makes
the battle worth while. He described how he read a Bible passage
with one man he knows who has long-term depression. The Holy Spirit
"turned on the lights", he said, and made sense of the hope the
passage was talking about.
"A frown turns into a little of a softening of the face. That is
just beautiful, and I really praise God for that." But there is no
trace of self-satisfaction in Mr Street. He insists that often his
charges make the most progress when he has had little to say. "All
I care is that he's finding hope and comfort. This is not me -
I'm just a bystander."
The Volunteer: Apart from weddings,
funerals, and the occasional school trip, Andy Simpson had never
set foot in a church until 2011. But, two years after a breakdown
forced him to stop working as a lorry driver, his marriage failed,
and his wife left him. "The world fell apart," he said.
He walked to the A13, a huge dual-carriageway road that bisects
the East End of London and began to walk across it, never intending
to make the other side. "The wing mirror of a lorry missed me by
inches," he remembered. Somehow, he stumbled to the other side, his
suicide bid foiled.
For reasons he still can't quite explain he found himself
driving to a church near by. The vicar, noticing that Mr Simpson
was penniless (he had given all his money to his wife), sent him to
a local foodbank, which was run by LCM.
"They were very friendly and kind people," he said of the
volunteers and missionaries he met there. "They were prepared to
give everything and want nothing back. It was like an atom bomb
After a few weeks, he began helping out with the washing-up, and
was eventually taken on as a volunteer. Seeing the changes in him,
his wife took him back, and later he became a Christian. As he
recounted the story last week, he grappled for the words to
describe the transformation in his life.
"I've found out what was missing in my life. There was a hole in
my life, and every time I stuck a plaster over it, it fell off - a
new car, or a new telly. . . I was probably a very selfish person,
but everything now is about serving rather than taking."
He is effusive about the missionaries of LCM: "They are saints.
. . helping people regardless of what the world throws at
them. If there were [more] people like that who care for one
another this world would be so much better."
Now, he's considering whether to go beyond "keeping the coffee
hot" and start training to be a missionary himself. "The more I
step up to the mark and do a little bit here and there, the more I
love it," he said.
The CEO: Graham Miller, the chief executive of
LCM, came to the organisation after nine years running mission work
in Beijing. But he said that the two jobs weren't as different as
"The thing that fascinated me was that, while I was running
missionary work in Beijing, there was a real need for
cross-cultural mission work in London," he said last week. LCM
staff are expected to embed into their communities and learn how to
speak about Christianity in the local culture just as foreign
"One of our values is courageous perseverance. Keeping going for
a long time," Mr Miller said. "The work we are doing - for example,
with the Bangladeshi community on the Isle of Dogs - it will take a
Mr Miller also pointed to work among the cockneys of the East
End: often it might take one person more than a decade to go from
first joining an LCM-run football team to making a profession of
Most days, his time is filled with steering through fairly
radical change, though, rather than chatting with people or running
football teams. He was brought in to turn around several years of
decline at LCM, by boosting the number of missionaries it has,
re-opening centres, and investing in training.
There are currently 71 missionaries with LCM, but Mr Miller aims
at having 100 by 2018, and a further 20 young people on its
restarted gap-year programme.
"We are basically doubling the number of boots on the ground,"
he said. "There are slightly uncomfortable moments but it's an
exciting time. We are looking at where are the most spiritually
needy areas - and making difficult decisions where necessary."
A slight note of frustration creeps in when Mr Miller talks
about how LCM partners with other churches across the capital. "Our
target is the bottom 20 per cent - about two million in the
neediest parts of London. If you look at where the growing churches
are, almost none of them will be in those areas. We don't want to
be criticising but encouraging them that the mission field is still
Before a day of celebrations to mark LCM's 180th anniversary, Mr
Miller said that he was acutely aware of what and who had gone
before him at the Mission. Before he even took the job, he read a
biography of LCM's founder, a young Scotsman, David Nasmith.
Knowing the history was something that was both valued and
unavoidable at LCM, he said. At one recent event, he stumbled
across a supporter who was 91-years-old - he had first met an LCM
missionary 76 years ago, aged just 15.
As for the next 180 years, Mr Miller is convinced LCM will
continue. He said: "I would love it if the Church did the work
we do, reaching out to the least-reached and marginalised, [but] I
imagine there will always be a need for LCM to help the