On Saturday, Nov. 14, the day after terrorists executed an attack in Paris, North Carolina Baptists partnered with New York Baptists to hand out coats in primarily Muslim communities in New York City.
Coats for the City, the name of the distribution event, had been planned long before the terrorist attacks, but the timing could not have been better for Christians to show their Muslim neighbors an act of love. That day thousands of people lined the streets of New York City with the hope of receiving a free coat to keep them warm during the city’s winter months. What they did not expect was to also receive a message about the good news of the gospel in the process.
Doug Huttleston, pastor of Panther Creek Baptist Church in Asheboro, said many of the Muslim men he met on the trip wondered why the group was ministering to Muslims in light of the attacks the day before.
“I told them, Isa al-Masih (the Arabic name for Jesus the Messiah) tells us that we need to love our neighbor, so that’s why we’re here,” Huttleston said.
The Coats for the City team handed out coats at 14 different distribution sites in New York City. They had received upwards of 7,000 coats from churches in North Carolina and New York to hand out – more than double the amount they received last year. The group also had copies of the New Testament in various languages on hand to give to those who were willing to take one.
“Even if there’s that one conversation that happens where somebody either comes to Christ or is interested, it’s worth it,” said Lauren McCall, ministry assistant at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), who participated in the coat distribution.
Some in the group continued ministering to people they met in New York after the trip had ended. Abby Edwards, a ministry assistant at BSC, connected on social media with Raashid*, a Muslim storeowner who offered the team his storefront as a coat distribution site.
“There are avenues to still share (the gospel) even from afar,” Edwards said. “Sometimes I think we go and do missions and think we’re not going to be able to communicate past that point, but we really can.”
Huttleston also had the opportunity to continue a relationship with someone he met in New York. Aamir*, a Muslim man with whom Huttleston had shared the gospel, came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior shortly after the trip. The two text about scripture frequently and have weekly, gospel-centered phone conversations.
Huttleston hopes this discipling relationship will have an echo effect — that Aamir, having experienced God’s love, will go and share it with others.
“I want (Aamir) to be able to be safe and share the gospel and see people’s hearts turned,” Huttleston said. “I’m just praying that God will use him to talk to people that will never talk to me. They’d never talk to an American, but they’ll talk to a Bengali who used to be Muslim.”
* The names of these individuals have been changed to protect their identities.