Profile of Courageous Leadership: Simon Forsythe
This profile was written by Asia’s Hope Executive Director, John McCollum. His friend and colleague Simon Forsythe died on November 10, 2018 while riding his bike on sabbatical in Spain.
The first time I heard Simon’s name was when my pastor, Jeff Cannell, told me, “You’ve got to meet this guy named Simon Forsythe. He’s planting a church here in Columbus. You’re going to love him…”
“He’s such a sweet guy. He really is one of us,” Jeff said. “I’ve been talking to him about Asia’s Hope, and he’s really excited. I think Simon might be our next Asia’s Hope sponsoring pastor."
Well, Jeff was right. I did love Simon. He was one of the sweetest, most sincere leaders I’ve ever met. He really was one of us — a man vulnerable enough to be shattered by the stories of children orphaned by crime, disease, accident, abandonment, abuse or imprisonment — and courageous enough to lead his family and congregation into sacrificial — maybe even reckless — generosity.
Shortly thereafter, I met Simon for coffee. We talked about our respective childhoods. A kid from Northern Ireland who grew up in Australia, his was much more interesting than mine. We talked about our families, our “calling” and our dreams for Central Vineyard and for Life Church.
And we talked about Asia’s Hope. A lot. I shared how it had started, how we learned from our Cambodian staff that there really could be such a thing as “family-style, non-institutional residential care for orphaned kids.” We talked about the desperate need for this kind of care in places like Battambang, Cambodia. And we talked about how much it would cost for a church to build a home and support all of the kids and staff on an ongoing basis.
A few exceptions aside, it takes three or four years for a conversation like that to turn into a hard commitment. With Simon, it was immediate.
He told me, “I’ve been praying about Asia’s Hope since I first talked with Jeff about it, and I’ve already decided that we’re going to do it. I don’t know how — we certainly don’t have the money for it — but we’re going to do it. Just let me talk to the staff and elders and then we’ll figure out how to move ahead.”
A couple of weeks later, I asked him how the conversation with church leadership went. He said, “I told them, ‘God wants us to do this. I’m sure of it. If you guys aren’t behind me on this, I quit.’” “You’ll quit? You mean like you’ll withdraw the proposal?” “No,” he laughed. “I told them I’d quit the church.”
One of us indeed.
By April 2012, under Simon and Melanie’s leadership, Life Church had secured the commitments necessary to hire four full-time staff and welcome 24 previously orphaned kids in Battambang into their new forever family at Asia’s Hope. And in March 2015, Life Church celebrated the opening of their second home, this time in Kalimpong, West Bengal, high in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas.
Thanks to Simon’s vision, faith and courage, more than 40 vulnerable kids who had faced a life of poverty, exploitation, loneliness and hopelessness now live each day in the care of loving, Christian parents who have given them the protection, provision and guidance that our God intends for every child.
Simon’s vision — his confidence, his faith — was contagious. He made those around him more compassionate, more courageous, more willing to face fears and risk failures, illuminated by the light of his audacious, God-sized dreams. Life Church has become a laboratory, an incubator for ambitious Kingdom initiatives. Simon knew that following Christ isn’t like following a celebrity on social media; it requires actually getting up and changing one’s location to join Jesus, setting aside safety and comfort and starting to walk paths so risky that only Jesus himself could provide security. Today, two businesses owned by Life Church members — Crimson Design Group and Holy Moses Hair — have taken the extraordinary steps to sponsor Asia’s Hope children’s homes in Thailand.
In a world full of lousy role models — crass, unkind, violent, feckless, selfish leaders — Simon truly set an example worthy of emulation.
In John 12, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
We would squander Simon’s legacy if we merely admired him. His death is a tragedy, but I am confident that it will not be a waste. If in our sorrow we find a renewed sense of passion for our city, our country and our world, and if we commit to living out the daily patterns of compassion and courage that made Simon Forsythe such an extraordinary pastor, husband, father and friend, we will have done lasting damage to the darkness and injustice that Simon dared to defy.
If, as a result of Simon’s life and death just one or two young men or women in Columbus, Ohio — or in Battambang, Cambodia or Kalimpong, India — find a worthy role model, an exemplar of empathy and vision, this world will be kinder and more just. If all of us would truly follow Simon’s lead, entire nations would be changed. Chains of poverty and exploitation would be broken and God’s will would, on a massive scale, be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Learn how Asia's Hope can guide your family, your church or your business into courageous leadership on behalf of the world's most vulnerable children. Contact us today.