As the No. 7 New York City subway line rises from underground in Queens, N.Y., passengers then find themselves riding above one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world.
NAMB photo by Hayley Catt
Church planting missionary Joseph Biswas shares his vision for growing his Bengali-speaking church in Queens, N.Y., with a group of North American Mission Board trustees and staff. An estimated 800 languages are spoken in the borough.
In the school system alone, 176 languages are spoken among an estimated 800 languages spoken in Queens.
A group of North American Mission Board (NAMB) trustees and staff exited the subway to meet church planting missionaries Adam Bishop, Silvanus Bhandari and Joseph Biswas on the aptly-named Diversity Plaza in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights.
That part of the city recently received a facelift, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Queens the city’s “most diverse borough” when he attended the plaza’s groundbreaking in 2017.
Walking around the neighborhood with the church planting missionaries Oct. 2, trustees gained a better vision for their mission.
“To be able to see the diversity,” said Stephen Spurgin, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Miamisburg, Ohio, “reading about it is one thing, but seeing it, experiencing it, is another. It will help me to pray more efficiently – more fervently – for their needs and what they’re dealing with.”
Bishop and his wife Erin grew up in the United States and answered the call to go to the nations by ministering in New York City.
“Our church is Jackson Heights Community church,” Bishop shared with the trustees. “I’ve been here almost four years. Me and three other guys planted the church.” They currently meet in a Pakistani-owned Muslim restaurant where the group shared a traditional meal.
“They’re very open to our church being here,” Bishop said. “They’re very supportive of us. The owners are devout Muslims, but they love that we love our community.”
Seeking South Asians
Bhandari is from Nepal and Biswas from Bangladesh. Both felt called to Queens to reach South Asians who had immigrated to the city.
“My wife [Elano] and I came to New York about three and a half years ago,” Bhandari said. “God called me and my wife to come to New York to reach our Nepali-speaking Hindu and Buddhist people…. Nepal is a small country, but a lot of people, 70,000 Nepali-speaking people, live in metro New York,” with a dense population in Queens.
NAMB photo by Hayley Catt
A group of North American Mission Board trustees and staff visit the New York City borough of Queens to get a feel for the neighborhood where several church planting missionaries live and minister an array of cultures that have converged in its neighborhoods.
Global Mission Nepali Church, which Bhandari began in 2016, has seen several people come to faith in Christ, with around 30 people now attending worship – many from a Hindu or Buddhist background.
When Bhandari and his wife came to New York as new immigrants, they had zero credit history and little means to establish themselves. He told trustees of his gratitude for the myriad ways NAMB supported him and his wife, including missionary housing in Brooklyn that helped them find their footing in New York.
“We are truly grateful for that mission house,” Bhandari said. “We thank you so much for having that prepared for the missionaries, and we are so grateful for your financial support, prayer, encouragement, the gift cards, books, the handwritten cards, which is a huge, huge encouragement to me and my wife and to our team.”
Biswas said he began his journey “very alone” before he met a Southern Baptist pastor who connected him with NAMB, and after five years of working to start Evangelical Bengali Church, he and his wife Rozi are joined by 60 regular members.
“When I came, my dream was not to stay in this country. When I saw a hundred thousand people – it’s like Bangladesh everywhere [in Queens] – God whispered in my heart, ‘Why not start it from here? Because if you can transform one life here, they will transform their community,’” Biswas said of his native nation.
Biswas described how the lack of religious freedom in Bangladesh has made it difficult to share the Christian faith there.
“We are not free to share our faith with other faiths, with other people,” he said. “But [in the United States], we have rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion.”
Biswas embraces that freedom as a challenge to share the gospel with as many people as possible.
“Our goal is, for 2019, we would like to share the Good News with 20,000 Bengali people,” he said in explaining his vision. “My heart is all the time to go, share Good News very honestly, and [God’s] job is to transform peoples’ lives.”
Typically, all of NAMB’s trustees travel and meet church planters together during their fall meetings. The logistics of getting large groups of people around New York City, however, required the trustees to split up and visit different boroughs.
NAMB photo by Hayley Catt
North American Mission Board church planting catalyst Jeremiah Brinkman shares with a group of NAMB trustees and staff about church planting missionary work in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.
Along with the group that traveled to Queens, trustees visited catalysts and church planters in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey.
“I absolutely love coming on the tours as a trustee, getting to see boots on the ground, what people are doing,” said Erin Bounds, a member of North Valley Baptist Church in Odenville, Ala. “It puts so much more meaning to the decisions we’re able to make. They aren’t just decisions on paper. It’s actually real people, real souls.”
As the tour of Queens began winding down, Bounds’ smart watch buzzed her wrist with a calendar notification. She couldn’t help but smile at the timing and shared the bit of serendipity with the group.
Her scheduled prayer time for that evening was for the people and church planters in Jackson Heights.
See the Biblical Recorder’s related story.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)