NEW YORK – Some school supplies were priced as low as a dime, but for some parents paying any amount was a sacrifice. Tears streamed down the face of one young boy because his mom couldn’t afford to buy him a pack of markers.
The first few people in line to shop were regulars, waiting every year for the school supply sale at Graffiti 2 Church in the Bronx before buying any supplies. This was the seventh year the church hosted a school supply sale for families in the Mott Haven area.
Usually the school supply sale is made possible through donations from area churches and Graffiti Church in Manhattan, the parent church for Graffiti 2. But this year donations poured in from all over the country as churches learned about Graffiti 2 and pastor Andrew Mann from LifeWay’s “Big Apple Adventure” Vacation Bible School curriculum.
Graffiti 2 ministers to people living in an area where 51.8 percent of families with children under age 18 are below poverty level; the highest percentage of anywhere in New York City. Eighty-three percent of babies in Mott Haven are born into poverty.
Education is also a challenge, as one in six students will not graduate from high school and 72 percent of children do not meet educational standards. Mott Haven also has the highest percentage in New York City of births to teenage mothers.
More than 1,000 violent felonies are committed each year in Mott Haven.
Mott Haven is a hard place to live, but it’s the right place for Mann because this is where God has called him.
Mann is beginning his seventh year with Graffiti 2 in his mission to “revitalize, revive and revolutionize” the community.
Graffiti 2 offers an after-school program for children, service and leadership opportunities for youth, mission trips, job training, monthly workshops for parents, and opportunities for parents to volunteer, mentor and serve.
In the past seven years, Mann said Graffiti’s ministry has expanded not only in width, as they are reaching more age groups and doing more outreach, but in depth, as they continue building relationships and seeing lives transformed by the gospel.
Mann said two types of churches are common: churches that meet practical needs but do not talk about the gospel, and churches that do not meet needs but talk about the gospel.
Outreach such as the school supply sale is one way Graffiti seeks to be a church that does both. “We try to be intentional with the interaction,” Mann said about what goes on during the sale.
Every person who comes to the sale is paired with a volunteer to help them shop. After they shop, the volunteer asks if the person is willing to talk through a few survey questions.
Sandra Curry of Maple Springs Baptist Church in Seagrove, was one of the school supply volunteers this year who saw the Holy Spirit at work. Curry walked one parent through the questions, asking her to identify the greatest strengths/weaknesses of the community and how can Graffiti better serve the community.
Then she asked the last survey question: Can I share with you our greatest hope? The woman said yes; Curry shared the gospel, and the woman prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. “The woman said her son had prayed to receive Christ, but that she had not,” Curry said. “She said she had never trusted Jesus.”
The woman’s son was already involved with Graffiti 2 and came to know Jesus Christ through Mann’s witness and testimony. Curry was part of the 17-member team from North Carolina that served in mission projects throughout New York City the weekend of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina sponsored the mission trip.
Another team member also had opportunity to pray with a mother to receive Jesus Christ as her Savior. The team served two days with Mann, helping sort supplies, setting up and shopping with families. The school supply sale benefited 133 families and 293 children.
The sale is just one way Graffiti reaches out during summer months. About 2,000 children attended sports camps and fine arts camps this summer at Graffiti. These programs help Mann and church members build relationships that pave the way for ministry during the year.
The summer also brought new staff Josh and Kerri Johnson from West Virginia to Graffiti. “We never really had intentions to come this way,” Josh said. “I would never have picked this area. God picked this area.”
Josh was born and raised in West Virginia. He served as associate pastor in the same church where he grew up. Yet, he knew God was calling him to full-time missions.
The Johnsons began talking in February with Mann about coming to work with Graffiti in a few years. They prayed about the move with their children, ages 12 and 8. “We decided if we weren’t called as a family we weren’t called,” Josh said.
Although God called their family to Mott Haven as Mission Service Corps missionaries with the North American Mission Board much sooner than expected, they are ready to serve however He leads. When Graffiti 2 began seven years ago Mann had no idea the ministry would be where it is today. “I praise God for that,” he said.
Mann prays Ephesians 3:20 for Graffiti. He prays that his vision for the community would never really be reached as God continues to expand his vision and to do greater things than he can imagine or desire.