About 100,000 people live in a strip of land that runs two
miles east and west of the Hudson River and four miles north and south. The
population includes college students, immigrants, Jamaicans, Jews, Greeks,
Catholics, African-Americans, old people and young people. This slice of Fort
Lee, N.J., is diverse and largely representative of a population that does not
know Jesus Christ as personal Savior.
When pastor Won Kwak and the Maranatha Grace Church began
meeting in the area, they did not rush in and try to attract a lot of
attention. They went to community events, served the community, got to know
people, and then slowly their presence was felt in the community.
Kwak, a second generation Korean American, worked with a
core team of leaders to start the new church in February 2010.
“My heart was not to reach out to any specific group but to
just reach out to the people of the greater Fort Lee area,” Kwak said.
Kwak and the team prayed for God to make them a church
reflective of their context and a church that teaches people how the gospel
transforms all aspects of life.
God showed His faithfulness to Kwak and the church as they
baptized 10 people in early December. Those baptized included a Filipino nurse
who grew up Catholic, a single mom, a husband and wife who run their own
business, and a woman now praying for her husband’s salvation.
The church meets at a high school about three blocks from
the George Washington Bridge, so they held the baptism service at another
church in the area.
Maranatha Grace is one of five churches financially
supported last year by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
The BSC entered into a partnership last year with the Metropolitan
New York Baptist Association to help minister in an area where only three
percent of the population has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“We want to help North Carolina Baptist churches enter into
partnerships with church planters like Won Kwak and help these planters advance
the gospel in their communities,” said Michael Sowers, senior consultant for
the BSC Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
“We want to come alongside churches and learn how we can fit
into their strategy for reaching their community. In turn, we pray that North
Carolina Baptist churches will see their partnerships with churches in New York
and other areas as part of an overall missions strategy that touches the
community, North Carolina, the nation and the world.”
The Office of Great Commission Partnerships is also helping
connect North Carolina Baptists in Toronto, Boston and Moldova.
Maranatha Grace used some of the funds from the BSC to
sponsor a Vacation Bible School for the community.
As a result, several families are now coming to worship
services at the church. Most of those who came to the Vacation Bible School did
not attend Maranatha Grace. Throughout the week “we made the gospel message as
clear as possible,” Kwak said. “We sought to love the children.”
Kwak received Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior in high
school, but never thought he would be a church planter; he never had any desire
for ministry at all. Growing up as a pastor/church planter’s son, “I felt
animosity toward my dad and the church,” Kwak said. “I didn’t like the fact
that I grew up in church.”
By the end of his junior year in college Kwak was well on
his way to preparing for law school — until God called him into pastoral
ministry. “That came out of nowhere,” Kwak said.
Although he didn’t understand, Kwak obeyed. He served for
awhile in bivocational ministry, working in the church while also working a
full-time job. He worked in advertising, information technology and taught
Kwak’s first pastorate was in Flushing, N.Y., where he
worked with youth and led the English-speaking ministry of a Korean church.
Kwak remembers the day he drove through a neighborhood on
his way to work. He passed the neighborhood every day but “had never noticed
He saw the Catholic churches and people on their way to
“I saw that every day but it never fazed me,” he said.
Although “church planting wasn’t even a category in my mind,” Kwak couldn’t
deny that God was calling him to plant a church.
He did plant a church, and the church eventually merged with
another local church. Kwak said he learned many things from his first attempt
at church planting, lessons that helped him when he started Maranatha Grace in
Fort Lee last year.
“I had a better understanding of the gospel foundation that
I didn’t have the first time,” he said.
“The gospel was not as real to me then as it is now.”
Kwak also learned more about the amount of time and
sacrifice required to be a church planter, and how to better gather resources
and leaders when planting a church.
Kwak asked North Carolina Baptists to be in prayer for
Maranatha Grace as they seek to equip leaders and to be intentional in their
Your church can be part of ministry in the Fort Lee area, as
well as New York City.
To learn how, visit www.ncbaptist.org/gcp.
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