As I was listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 on the way to work this morning I heard a story that completely blew me away. It was an interview with Pastor Mimi Asher who lives in Brixton. The estate she lives on has been utterly blighted by gang violence. She describes her estate “as a place that not even the devil would walk through because young people living there at the estate were terrorising people.” When she found out that her son had joined the local gang she decided that she had to do something to stop him wrecking his life, so she began to take on the gang not with violence, but instead with love.
She started inviting the gang members into her house and cared for them by offering to feed them and wash their clothes. From there a remarkable story has emerged of the gang eventually being decommissioned as a result of the love that she has constantly demonstrated. Through her Word of Grace ministry the lives of many of the gang members have been transformed. The ex-leader, Karl Lokko is now a successful musician and acts as a mentor helping young people leave gangs.
Leader of Lambeth Council, Labour Councillor Steve Read, has written this about Pastor Asher:
“Myatt’s Field Estate is plagued by violent youth gangs whose activities include drug dealing, street robberies, and violence involving knives and even guns. One gang member was pictured on the front of the Sun newspaper brandishing a sub-machine gun. You can imagine why Mimi was terrified when her young teenage son got involved with one of the gangs.
“Mimi decided to take action herself. She got together with other worried parents on the estate, involved the local youth club, the church where she is a pastor, and set up a range of activities to give the young people positive things to do. They set up a football team, cookery lessons, dance classes, prepared healthy meals, and got the young people access to computers and information about training courses. Over three years Mimi and her neighbours helped 60 young people out of gangs and put their lives back on track. The young man pictured with the sub-machine gun is now respected as a mentor helping other young people get out of gangs.”
This story goes to show what one individual is capable of achieving when they live out their faith and devote themselves to changing the lives of those around them. When we follow God’s calling on us and rely on His strength, it’s amazing what can happen. As Mimi puts it:
“It was a big task. sometimes I was afraid for my own life. there were times I would get paranoid. I had to hold my faith and keep my head high. But I don’t let fear stop me doing what I’m doing.”
She has also had a considerable impact on the local leaders’ understanding of how communities should be supported. Cllr Read continues by saying:
“The only public funding they [Word of Grace ministry] received was a £15,000 grant after they staged a demonstration at a police consultation meeting.
“Many councils spend several hundred thousand pounds a year to steer at-risk young people away from gangs, but with success rates barely any different to what Mimi achieved. So why was this community-led initiative so successful? It’s because the community itself understands the social networks, individuals, families and highly localised circumstances far better than any outside professionals could do. They use all this, driven by their urgent concern for their own children, to engage with the young people and divert them away from the ruinous path they are following. It works, delivering better results for the community but at a fraction of the cost of what the public authorities were spending.”
Conservative Home also praises her and commends Cllr Read’s response to Mimi’s work:
‘Working with the local church she has got young people out of gangs and back to playing a positive role. Apprenticeships have been organised, a football league started, an array of other activities. She has succeeded, with a tiny budget, where the Council with its huge budget of youth worker bureaucrats has failed. Cllr Reed has spotted this and is decommissioning the Council’s youth provision with a view to getting better value for money by funding church and community groups instead. Good for him.’
Mimi Asher has shown that if you want to change lives and build community, love and compassion is worth so much more than money. But also if there is money available by giving it to those on the ground who know how it can be used effectively, you can make a little go a long way. Cllr Read has also learnt that when public bodies support the work of Christians rather than ignoring them, many people outside of the church irrespective of their beliefs can benefit.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Mimi Asher moved a mountain on her estate because she saw the situation through God’s eyes and acted. When I read stories like this my it stokes in me a desire to be used by God and to have the faith to truly believe that nothing is indeed impossible through Him.
Thank you Mimi for the example you’ve set and I pray that God will continue to bless all that you are doing.
You can listen to the interview with Pastor Mimi Asher here.