A woman wept as she showed off the nearly new coat sent by North Carolina Baptists.
“It’s beautiful!” she said through tears.
The promise of warm coats drew people from across New York for Coats for the City. Teams of volunteers from North Carolina traveled to the city to help with distribution at several churches and church plants. Coats for the City is a partnership between Metro New York Baptist Association and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
It took the promise of a warm coat to draw her into Graffiti 3 Church, a new Baptist church plant in Brownsville, a high-crime, high-poverty neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn, one of New York City’s five boroughs.
Pastor Norm Cannada, church members and a team of students from Fruitland Baptist Bible College in Hendersonville, greeted local residents outside and sent them upstairs to look through tables covered with coats. The locals left with coats, gospel tracts and copies of the 24-language Jesus DVD. Many had heard the gospel and seen Christian compassion expressed.
“Graffiti 3 had a great day with the coat giveaway,” Cannada said. “I had people sharing how much they appreciated the way our team from North Carolina and here at Graffiti 3 prayed for them. Thank you so much for allowing us to participate.”
Six Fruitland students who worked at Graffiti 3 were led by Ben Tackett, librarian and professor who teaches Christian literature, computers in research, Greek and Hebrew.
“I personally prayed with four different people and talked to probably 30 to 35 people,” said second-year student Byron Allison of Olin. “It was an excellent experience.”
The Brownsville scene was repeated across New York City on Sat., Dec. 3, in the sixth annual Coats for the City outreach, a ministry carried out in partnership between the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA).
Twelve churches, mostly recent church plants, distributed about 5,000 coats collected by N.C. Baptist churches and shipped to New York for the ministry.
A 13th church in the Bronx will distribute coats later this month.
“Coats for the City has been a great example of how partnership with multiple churches and volunteers can help us here in the city to multiply our contacts and gospel conversations and as a result, greatly strengthen our church-planting efforts,” said Kelli Creswell, staff member of MNYBA, based in Manhattan.
The association includes some 250 churches of many cultures and languages across greater New York City and beyond, plus parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.
About 135 N.C. Baptist volunteers went to New York to help, starting on Thurs., Dec. 1, as church planters picked up the coats in three locations.
A team from First Baptist Church of Summerfield helped unload, sort and later reload more than 1,000 coats which had been delivered to a ministry warehouse operated by Cru Inner City Ministry, an arm of Campus Crusade for Christ. Saturday the Summerfield team helped give out more than 700 coats in Jackson Heights, Queens.
First Baptist Church has worked with Coats for the City since soon after the ministry began there in 2011. Jim and Wilma Morgan, leaders of the coats ministry, were on hand to sort, tote and distribute the coats. The two lead efforts to acquire coats from multiple sources, then rally volunteers to help clean, repair and sort the coats before hanging them on store racks in the church for delivery.
Marsha McDaniel, a 15-year member of First Baptist, was along to help with the coats on her first mission trip, though she serves year-round with Operation Christmas Child.
The First Baptist team worked as in previous years at Jackson Heights, Queens, where they handed out hundreds of coats in a public square to long lines of people eager to get them. This is one of New York’s most people-diverse areas, with many residents from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and beyond.
“We had a great coats outreach. It was really well received by the community,” church planter Brad Wall said of the Jackson Heights ministry. Wall leads South Asian outreach for the Global Gates Network and also directs strategy and leadership development.
“We have 18 follow-up appointments with people who requested a Bible and someone to study it with them,” Wall said. “We are going out tonight to connect with some of them. Please be praying.”
Bud Davis, a member of Lakes Community Church in Sanford, drove the 22-foot truck packed with coats to New York. His son, Clay, accompanied him.
Six other Fruitland students – led by Fruitland facilities director Bobby Garrett – helped with coats in Jackson Heights, which is one of the most culturally diverse areas of the city. Few in Jackson Heights spoke English, so most of the talking required interpreters, Garrett said.
They talked with people from South Korea, Peru, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Ecuador.
“It was an incredible thing,” Garrett said. “Only one Muslim man refused to talk to us.”
Zac Lyons went to a coats distribution in Jamaica, Queens, where many people from Bangladesh live. Lyons recently became director of the Baptist State Convention’s Great Commission Partnerships ministry which helps churches set up missions partnerships in the United States and overseas.
“Coats for the City has proven to be a good way for North Carolina Baptist churches to partner with church planters and missionaries in New York City for the spread of the gospel to the nations God brought to us,” Lyons said.
The impact of giving out coats was clear: Lyons said one Bengali family was so touched by what the visitors were doing on the chilly day that they bought cups of hot chai and gave to all the volunteers so they could be warm while serving.
“Several people asked ‘Why are you guys doing this?’ and we were able to share the gospel with them,” Lyons said. Many wanted a copy of the New Testament in their language.
One man told Lyons he had tried to read the Bible once but had found it difficult to understand. Lyons pulled out his cell phone and used an app to audibly read out the Gospel of John in Bangla (as Bengali is called).
Volunteers at Jamaica were from Wilkesboro Baptist Church in Wilkesboro, Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville and Tar Heel Baptist Church in Tar Hill.
In a different cultural context, pastors and members of three churches in Ridgewood, Queens, joined with volunteers from Dudley Shoals Baptist Church in Granite Falls to hand out coats. Kristo “Beni” Pango, pastor of an Albanian language church; Emanuel Grozea, pastor of Maranatha Romanian Baptist Church; and Nathan Creitz, pastor of City Life Church, worked together as they set up tables laden with coats along the sidewalk in front of Maranatha’s building.
“We had a great response to our coat giveaway,” Creitz said.
“Our English-speaking church plant connected with people of many different languages, including Arabic, Polish, Spanish, Romanian and Albanian.
“Our volunteers from Dudley Shoals Baptist Church were able to speak with many families, and the scarves and hats they brought from North Carolina were a big hit.”
Creitz said he wanted to send a message to North Carolina Baptists: “Thanks so much for your gift of coats and helpers to make this event a success every year.”
Pastor Bartley Wooten led a team from Beulaville Baptist Church in Beulaville, which included Wooten’s wife and daughter.
They served with Swerve Church, a newly planted church which meets in the building of longer established Evergreen Baptist Church in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The two churches set up the basement as a distribution center for coats, doughnuts, hot drinks and other goodies. Wooten was able to swap pastoral stories with Swerve’s pastor, Danny Torres.
Beulaville member Todd Jackson, his son, Lance, and member Ransom Smith helped local people sort through tables laden with coats to find good fits. Kim Longbottom, a member of New Friendship Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, and Courtney Combs from Beulaville Baptist Church worked with children at a table to one side.
Ann Combs had an extended conversation with a young couple from Italy.
In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a team from West Canton Baptist Church, braved freezing breezes outside in a park to distribute coats and talk with people who came to get them, working with the pastor and members of Mosaic Baptist Church.
Crystle Fletcher, Harriett Worsham and Beth Gray talked with a woman who sipped the hot chocolate they gave her while member Daniel Fletcher talked to a local man while they sat on a park bench.
A training session was held the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 3, at First Baptist Church in Manhattan by Baptist state convention leaders and local church planters.
Staff and leaders with the Baptist State Convention and MNYBA are already planning 2017’s Coats for the City.