In late August, as the east coast watched to see where Hurricane Irene would strike, Dickie Spargo had his eyes set on something very different. Spargo was preparing to leave that same week for a vision trip to New York City, and although the storm caused the trip to end early, experiences from those three days sent Spargo on a whirlwind of change.
When Spargo returned from New York he knew it wouldn’t be long before he headed back. During the trip he met Boto Joseph, pastor of House of Worship Church in Queens. “I felt a real sense of kinship with Boto,” Spargo said. “In Queens you have the most diverse zip code in the United States. And you don’t see a lot of things about Christ in that neighborhood.”
In Jackson Heights, Queens, 130 languages are spoken and Greek Orthodox, Sikh, Roman Catholic, Hinduism and Buddhism are all represented.
Seeing firsthand the diversity and desperate need for the Gospel is what the vision trip was all about. The Office of Great Commission Partnerships (GCP) coordinated the vision trip and coordinates trips to other partnership areas throughout the year. GCP hosted a breakfast before the Nov. 8 morning session of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina annual meeting.
Bethlehem Baptist Church in Gastonia, where Spargo has pastored for 21 years, is intentionally reaching out to its community through ministry efforts such as Hope for Gaston (see article) and Coats for Kids. Ministry at home is important and must continue, but Spargo is ready to step up and do more.
In September, Spargo met with Joseph to talk about how Bethlehem can partner with House of Worship. “I really want Bethlehem to be a catalyst for change in our county, our country and in the world,” he said.
Bethlehem will be partnering with Joseph and House of Worship to plant a church in Queens. “Queens is a very pluralistic area. It’s hard to imagine groups or people any more distinct,” Spargo said.
Although being in Queens helped Spargo understand even more the depths of spiritual darkness and lostness in the world, he also saw the power of God at work. For example, the priest of a Sikh temple in Queens met Joseph, got to know him and attended a service at House of Worship.
“Ministry is relational and it takes time. Seeds have to be watered. We can’t sit back and do nothing. We’ve got to love them,” Spargo said.
One of the first things Bethlehem and House of Worship are going to do through their partnership is “Coats for Queens.” The goal is to collect 750 coats and Bibles and to distribute them to people in Jackson Heights during an outreach event next month
Bethlehem is already involved in sponsoring a similar effort in North Carolina called “Coats for Kids,” which has provided coats for thousands of children in Gaston County who do not have one.
Many people in Jackson Heights are not used to cold weather because they are from other areas of the world. Spargo prays that this outreach is a tangible way to show God’s love and will provide opportunities to share the gospel.
“I pray that our congregation will develop a passion to reach out and love and share the gospel with the people God brings to our own soil,” Spargo said. “God has told me that we as church need to be targeting an area outside our own community. New York City may be the most strategic city in the world.”
George Russ, executive director for the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA), would say that Spargo is right on target.
“New York City has always had an international impact. It is a central point for the flow of ideas, people, commodities and money. What happens in New York has always touched the world,” he said to the group gathered for the GCP missions breakfast Nov. 8 during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s annual meeting in Greensboro.
“Most of the people in the world do live in cities. God is urbanizing the world so we can have access to reach people.”
During the breakfast Spargo and other pastors, mission leaders and lay leaders from across the state heard Russ’ heart for the nations and for his hometown New York City.
Russ explained that while the Pilgrims were settling farther north, the Dutch settled in New York and began Manhattan as a business enterprise for the sole purpose of becoming a worldwide enterprise. “This was fundamentally different from all the other colonies,” Russ said. “The genetic makeup was not religion. It was a government hub with bankers, lawyers and office towers.”
Despite that beginning, Russ said New York City is experiencing an “evangelical renaissance.” The number of evangelicals is growing faster than the population. On average, in 2008 and 2009, one new church was founded in Manhattan every week.
North Carolina Baptists can join the work being done in New York by helping with service evangelism and mercy ministries, or helping reach people in a high-rise apartment complex. Russ explained that many such complexes are like communities, and it really takes someone living in that community to reach that community.
North Carolina Baptists can partner with an existing church to help plant a church. Or, they may take the Acts 17 approach, coming to the city with a specific platform that will help cross bridges in order to share the gospel.
“When Paul went to Athens he could have gone as a tourist, like the disciples did in Jerusalem. But his spirit was provoked. He had a spiritual discomfort; pain in his heart,” Russ said.
“I pray you will have an inner discontent to enter the city like a missionary. To come as a learner, with no preconceived ideas of what a church needs. Strip away what you think a church needs – a building, a parking lot. All you need are two people who love Jesus and want others to love Him.”