Editor’s Note: In September, the International Mission Board hosted Baptist state paper editors in London to introduce its new media network and to explore its Global Cities Initiative, a part of IMB President David Platt’s desire to introduce a “limitless” missionary force of Southern Baptists. In December, Southern Baptists are observing a Week of Prayer for International Missions and are collecting the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering which supports missionaries around the world.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
LONDON — The statistics on London, the self-proclaimed “Capital of the World,” are staggering.
London is home to about 270 nationalities with 300 spoken languages. The city is home to 66 unreached people groups (second highest in the world). In a city with an estimated population of 6.83 million (12 million in the greater London area), only 1 percent of the city is considered to be “reached” with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What’s more, statistics reveal that there is a 97 percent likelihood that a young person in their 20s in the United Kingdom has never met a follower of Jesus Christ.
Sounds daunting? It is, but that’s one of the reasons the Southern Baptist International Mission Board has tapped London to be in its Global Cities Initiative to reach more than half the world’s population that lives in major cities around the world.
Ben and Judy Armacost, who formerly served as missionaries in Australia, began serving in London three years ago before it became a GCI city. They are well aware of the lostness of the city.
Though not Tennesseans, the couple has strong Tennessee ties. Two of their children (Tim and Josh) graduated from Union University in Jackson. In addition, Tim Armacost married Christina Pool, daughter of former IMB missionaries Randy and Cindy Pool and the couple now lives in Jackson and has four children. Randy Pool is director of Mississippi River Ministry in Tennessee.
The Armacosts do not fall into the trap of thinking the task of reaching people for Christ is so large that it is impossible or that evangelism “is hard” to do in London.
“Evangelism is hard only if you say it’s hard,” the couple agrees.
Judy Armacost readily admits that evangelism is not a “gift” that she and Ben have been given. “I don’t have a gift but when I step out in obedience God will give me boldness,” she affirmed.
When they first became missionaries they admitted they fell into a trap of listening to people who told them to not share verbally or not to talk with strangers. “We started to believe that stuff,” Ben recalled.
His wife agreed. “Fifteen years ago we hoped people would become spiritually interested because we were nice people. It didn’t change anything,” she said. “We didn’t win anyone to Christ. We regret that,” he said.
The couple changed their approach and began to establish relationships with people they came into contact with. And, they stressed, a relationship doesn’t need six months to get established. It can start in 10 minutes, Ben said. That approach worked well for them prior to their move to London.
“During the last seven of our 18 years in Australia, we made a radical change in how we do ministry — moving from traditional church planting to an obedience-based, disciple multiplication approach. From 2010-2013 we saw a movement where a dozen groups swelled to 110 groups and churches in seven countries,” Ben noted.
They are quick to give all the glory to God. “It’s God who draws the people to Him,” Judy acknowledged.
Their philosophy of reaching the city for Christ is fairly simple. They win one person to Christ, disciple that person, and teach him or her to share their faith with others so they can lead people to Christ.
There are two kinds of people in London — those who are lost and those who are saved, said Ben Armacost.
“If we find someone who is not a believer, we share the gospel. If we find a believer, we try to take them to the next level through discipleship,” Ben said.
David Wilson, a member of St. Luke’s Church (where the Armacosts also attend), is one of those believers who is being discipled by the couple.
“Ben and Judy have been such a blessing. They have made such a difference in my walk,” he noted.
Wilson and Ben Armacost have especially become close and often go out witnessing with each other. Judy Armacost notes they make a good team. Being from London “David has trust” with the people which in turn gives Ben “credibility,” she said.
As they have led people to the Lord, the two men will meet with the people individually, usually in a local coffee shop, for discipling. “As we reach people we want to teach and train them to share their faith effectively,” Ben said.
Their goal is to find other “Davids” whom they can pour their life into. “Our heart is to raise national partners,” Judy said. Ben agreed. “We want to find local leaders and teach them to start groups, make disciples, and send them out.”
The Armacosts base their philosophy on the Baptist Faith and Message that states, “It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations.”
“On this basis, we frequently remind people that we want to get the Great Commission back into the hands of ordinary people, not merely a few ‘gifted’ ones,” Ben said.
“While we place a strong emphasis on evangelism, we always keep this linked with disciple-making. Evangelism is what disciples do. Ultimately, our role here is not about being good evangelists, but about seeing the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches that sweeps through the entire nation,” he added.
The couple is optimistic about their ministry in London even when they don’t see a lot of immediate results.
Ben draws upon a farming background. “When you plant a seed you don’t see anything for a long time. You have to patiently wait,” he said.
The same applies to reaching souls for Christ in London. “We are sowing (seeds) and investing (ourselves) heavily. We know we have to stay the course,” he said.
For more information about their ministry, visit their website at aimtrainers.org.