Twice as many people live within the boundaries of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association as live in North Carolina.
Within a 50-mile radius of the famous Times Square in Manhattan live 20 million people speaking nearly 500 languages. There are more Jews in New York City than in Jerusalem. There are more Muslims in New York City than in Bahrain. There are more Hindus in New York City than in New Delhi.
Pastor and researcher Chris Clayman tried for years to establish a Christian beachhead in Mali. When health forced him back to the States, he made contact with West Africans in New York City who have since provided him with unparalleled access in Mali.
The world is in New York and the 260 Southern Baptist affiliated churches there are joining North Carolina Baptists in a partnership both to reach New York City and to help N.C. Baptists understand and reach the urban centers in this state.
Already nearly 50 specific projects have been identified, ready for help this year. A vision team of Baptist State Convention staff spent three days in metro New York in February to meet pastors, visit sites and gain a sense of the possibilities. Much of the work is ethnic and none of it will be receptive to a rural, southern culture approach.
Still the sheer need for manpower in neighborhoods open for ministry and hungry for genuine relationships compels N.C. Baptists to head north. Single buildings in New York house more people than many towns in North Carolina.
Churches often meet in facilities they share with other churches, or with a school, restaurant or civic club. Many need construction and renovation help.
Mercy ministries, presence in parks and at special events, Bible studies, Backyard Bible Clubs, Vacation Bible Schools, and training in witness and teaching and church organization are all areas in which New York Baptists are asking for help.
But the partnership will be reciprocal, as North Carolina Baptists and New York Baptists learn from one another. Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA) Director George Russ identified three areas where New York may be able to help North Carolina Baptists: urban church planting, reaching international students and pastoring multi-ethnic churches.
“It’s one thing to say this is what heaven should be like,” Russ said. “It’s another thing to pastor people who have very different expectations of what a church is and what a pastor does and what worship should be like.”
Mike Sowers of North Carolina Baptist Men is coordinating the project. Requests from New York churches will come to him.
So North Carolina churches interested in helping should contact Sowers first ([email protected]).
New York is a 10-hour drive from Raleigh. Flights go into any of several airports, depending on where you will work. Parking is a significant issue. It is highly advisable that any church planning to participate in New York do a detailed planning trip beforehand for leaders to familiarize themselves with transportation in the city. It is highly efficient but can be terribly confusing.
The MNYBA encompasses parts of three states. A number of southern New Jersey churches formed an association out of the MNYBA and when a 2003 New Hope New York emphasis sponsored by the North American Mission Board operated independently of association leadership, it set the association back.
“We’re kind of starting over,” said Michael Chance, pastor of Raritan Valley Baptist Church in New Jersey and a former association staffer. “That’s why this partnership is so important to us.”
Group leaders and other staff from the Baptist State Convention split into three groups and toured the association in February. They heard from pastors and church planters, association and New York Baptist Convention staff and got a taste both of New York pizza and of the needs and opportunities for ministry that abide in the city.
A major housing and shopping development is being built across the street from Chance’s church. His 70 members — which represent 19 countries — will welcome North Carolina help in reaching out to the future residents.
With 25 Filipino churches in New York and New Jersey, Chance calls pastors like Rowel Del Mundo and David Sera Josef “the real heroes of Southern Baptist work in this area.”
Del Mundo was a student dissident who was arrested, jailed and tortured many times in the Philippines before he became a Christian.
He leads a Baptist congregation meeting in Third Reformed Church and like so many congregations that share facilities, his church has no identity in the community.
Anonymity is not a desirable trait for a congregation wanting to reach out. In fact, gaining help in establishing a visible identity in their communities was a frequent request from MNYBA churches.
Filipino pastors intend to form a separate Filipino association in June because they feel they can concentrate church planting efforts better.
That move is not entirely welcomed by Russ, who covets the energy and leadership the Filipino pastors provide in the association overall.
Del Mundo leads a Tough Guys martial arts class in the basement of his shared facilities. Tough Guys is an outreach brand started in the Philippines that now has 39 branches in several countries.
Sera Josef meets in a Presbyterian church and is starting a church in Easton, 50 miles west. His members, many in the medical and computer industries, operate Project Lazarus which resurrects computers and sends them to schools in the Philippines.
The partnership will be responsive, with both partners responding to requests from the other. Sensitivity to the cultural context is important.
“God has people in New York City that are going to help us transform North Carolina,” said Sowers, during a debriefing.
One partnership challenge is affordable housing for those who go to New York to serve.
The association office in Manhattan has some sleeping accommodations.
A guest house owned by NAMB in Brooklyn also provides 50 affordable beds.
One idea floated by Mark Gray, BSC team leader for church planting, is that a church or association in North Carolina might adopt a people group in MNYBA.
Russ said his goals are to develop vital churches that start new churches and grow leaders for the next generation; transform communities by sharing the gospel in word and deed on the street and in board rooms; and network the metro association for global impact.
“Whatever happens in the world affects people here,” Russ said.
For example, members of the 38 Haitian Baptist churches were greatly affected by the earthquake in Haiti. Russ urges everyone to pray Isaiah 62:7 and keep reminding God about New York “until the city is a delight of praise,” he said.