Although Hicksville, N.Y., is no longer the last stop on the Long Island Rail Road, a distinction it held for several years after the rail station was built in 1837, this hamlet of Nassau County remains a hub of activity.
This growing activity is due in large part to an increasingly diverse population, primarily South Asian and Indian. About 10 percent of Hicksville’s 41,000 residents is South Asian or Indian. Commercials and advertisements in India even encourage people to move to Hicksville – the “new Little India.”
Three students devoted two weeks this summer to meeting with community leaders, religious leaders and Hicksville residents to learn about the South Asian influence in Hicksville.
They learned that in the 1980s South Asians began moving to Queens to pursue a better life, but soon began settling and opening businesses in Hicksville. People are coming from northern India locations such as Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat and Bombay, and are known for being well educated and economically savvy.
But what really grabbed the students’ attention is that Hicksville is less than one percent evangelical. About 65 percent of Indians in Hicksville are Hindu and 30 percent are Sikh.
“We learned that many Indians and South Asians are open to the gospel when they move here,” said Will Earls, a sophomore at Gardner-Webb University. “But the reality is that we are not reaching out to them. So they go back to what they know; to what is familiar.”
Earls is in his second year of the Next Generation Missional Journey, which is a three-year initiative sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
From left, front row: Tori Ford, Jessica Francis, Rebecca Nivens, Emily Compton (ministry assistant in Office of Great Commission Partnerships), Hannah Davidson; back row: Josh Williams, Mike Sowers, Will Earls. Part of the Next Generation process is spending time on the mission field.
Students read assigned texts and attend three, one-day training sessions throughout the year. During the training sessions they learn from pastors, missionaries and missions strategists. At the end of each year students participate in a hands-on missions experience.
In their second year, leading up to the summer missions experience in New York, Earls and his five classmates spent the year learning about the theology of the city and how to impact the world from North America.
Last year the group learned about their responsibility to help fulfill the Great Commission and spent a week in the summer serving in North Carolina. Next summer, at the completion of their third and final year, they will study how to reach unreached people groups and will serve in Southeast Asia.
“What will really help is when we take what we have learned home with us,” said Earls, who is a youth minister at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church in Shelby and planning to pursue full-time vocational ministry.
“It’s not about anything I can do, but how I obey and follow Him. It’s how you love God and people.”
Students learned how they can better obey the Great Commission by learning how to intentionally share their faith and reach out to people from unreached, unengaged people groups.
While Earls and two students served in Hicksville, three other Next Generation students, including Rebecca Nivens, were learning about the Sri Lankan and Buddhist influence on Staten Island.
Nivens was reminded that reaching people with the gospel begins with building relationships and caring about people.
“I learned a different perspective on people and how God wants us to reach them,” she said. “This has opened my eyes to missions. It’s not something you can do and just leave. You really want to know and learn about the people.”
Live like a missionary
Prior to serving in New York the group received training from Chris Clayman about how to gather people group information and learn about the community.
Clayman is employed by the North American Mission Board and is author of EthNYcity, which features profiles on immigrant groups in metro New York.
“There isn’t much being done for raising leaders like this in this context; it fills a big need,” he said.
Clayman challenged the students to live like missionaries and to always look for opportunities to share the gospel.
“Put yourself in their space,” Clayman said. “Be in the place where you start to see them. Buy things from their store. Put yourself in situations where God can use you to speak into their lives.”
In New York the students also received training in how to start conversations with people on the street, in restaurants and in businesses, and how to turn those conversations into opportunities to share the gospel.
The students then went out across New York City to share the gospel.
The students served in Jackson Heights, Queens, seeking to share the gospel with South Asians.
“We never expect to live in the radical obedience we see in the Book of Acts,” said Brad Wall, who led the training and partners with Metropolitan New York Baptist Association through a local ministry called Global Gates.
“Be the aroma of Christ. Are you a picture of the gospel?”
Chuck Register, BSC executive group leader for church planting and missions development, described the Next Generation class serving in New York as “trail blazers.”
“With excellence, they have faithfully and passionately served their Lord and shared their faith on the streets and in the boroughs of one of the world’s most strategic cities,” Register said.
“Their research will assist future ministries and mission teams in reaching the Sri Lankan and South Asian peoples living in metro New York City.”
Next Generation Missional Journey students are eligible to earn 13 credit hours from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.