I had two heroes last year, both called Mark.
Mark Ruston was the vicar of ‘The Round Church’ (Holy Sepulchre) in Cambridge, decades ago, and had an internationally influential student ministry built largely on the old-fashioned ministries of prayer, preaching, and personal work (that is, reading the Bible with individuals). Solid stuff – I only met him once, although many of my friends were shaped by him. His is a wonderful template for ministry. But that’s not why he was my hero.
No, it’s this: when he was in terminally ill in hospital, a friend went to visit him and asked if there was anything he needed. “Well, actually, there is,” he said. “I find I’ve run out of evangelistic booklets, and if you could bring some in, that would be very kind.”
This great Christian minister, in his last weeks, was evangelising the staff and patents as they came into his circles.
I have no idea how he managed to so unselfish and gospel hearted. His selflessness and zeal were a constant rebuke and encouragement as I lay in my own hospital bed. How did he find the energy to be so concerned about the eternal destiny of others?
My other hero was also called Mark – Mark Ashton. This Mark followed the other Mark as vicar of The Round (yes, their names are very similar; for a while those who had known them both called them ‘Mark One’ and ‘Mark Two’), and he led the church to a new venue, St Andrew the Great, and a new era of student ministry. Once again, many of my friends were influenced by him, and one again he laid foundations for youth and student ministry that are hugely important – I read his book on youth work with our staff last year. But once again that’s not why he’s my hero.
This great Christian man, someone of formidable energy and discipline, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and went through his treatment, diagnosis, illness and eventual death, seeming to hardly break stride in his desire to win as many as possible before he finished. I spoke at the church in his last few months, and was in awe of how he was still able to lead, speak, preach, with such determination.
From my position now, that awe is only increased. How does someone manage to be so other-person centred, so Christ-centred, while going through a public process of dying?
He even wrote about it, and you can get it from 10ofthose here.
Mark R and Mark A. Two of my heroes from a year where I came close to their troubles, but nowhere near their godliness. You can find out more about them from Christian Focus here.
As John Wesley put it, ‘Our people die well.’
Update: since I wrote this, it has become clear that Mark Ruston made a spectacularly poor judgement call in one now-notorious instance. Confronted with evidence that one senior leader on a summer camp had engaged in systematic physical abuse of some of the teenagers (not on the camp itself, but during the rest of the year), Mark and several other responsible men decided that rather than go the police, they would get that leader shipped out of the country and have the whole affair covered up. There is no hint that any leader other than that one man was an abuser, but it was the wrong call even at the time, and is only now coming to light.
To state the obvious, I am not claiming that Mark R was my hero in that regard! But I do not find that single circumstance to be sufficient ground to invalidate a lifetime’s ministry, any more than the connection with summer camps invalidates the work of the camps and the generations of Christian leaders who have come through them.
Like you, I know no more of this case than I read in the papers, and the perpetrator has now died in South Africa. It seems to have been an ugly matter, deeply traumatic for the young men involved, and badly handled by the leadership.