Scores of volunteers from more than a dozen Baptist churches around Greensboro and High Point distributed thousands of coats to local immigrants from a dizzying number of nations and language/cultural groups in a major outreach effort Saturday, Nov. 4, ahead of the annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) in Greensboro Nov. 6-7.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Crossover Community Church volunteer Kim Taylor helps an immigrant girl try on a coat at the High Point church’s coat distribution Nov. 4.
Taking part were staff and volunteers from Friendly Avenue Baptist Church, Daystar Español Church, Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, South Elm Street Baptist Church and Southside Baptist Church in Greensboro; Crossover Community Church and Green Street Baptist Church in High Point; First Baptist Church of Summerfield; plus Karen people, Matu and Khmu churches and a Hispanic class that meets with Green Street Baptist; and a Congolese church. Also, a five-member team with years of cross-cultural outreach came from North Side Baptist Church in Greenwood, S.C., to help.
Though heavy clouds threatened rain all day, it remained mostly dry until after the distributions were completed in the early evening.
Volunteers set up tables of coats, tents and refreshment stands in several of the Triad area’s “pockets of lostness,” which are identified areas where concentrations of unchurched people live. Baptist state convention staffers have identified such areas across the state through extensive demographic studies in recent years. Workers with the convention’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships and Peoples Next Door N.C. ministry took part in the event.
High concentrations of immigrants have also settled in these same areas.
Volunteers were reminded that about 10 percent of Guilford County’s population was born outside the United States.
A 10-member team of Baptists from New York City brought multicultural and multilanguage expertise to share with their North Carolina Baptist partners for the project. Since at least 2011, N.C. Baptists have been sending coats and volunteers to New York for new church plants to distribute in their local neighborhoods. They first worked in the Jackson Heights area of Queens, and in recent years, coats have been distributed at a dozen or more points all over the city.
This year Coats for the City in New York City will be held Dec. 2. Hundreds of N.C. Baptist volunteers will help distribute thousands of coats with the aim that New York Baptist churches can multiply their outreach into local areas.
“I’m really glad to be able to give back to North Carolina Baptists through the efforts of some of our pastors and members of our churches,” said George Russ, executive director of Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, who was present to observe and offer suggestions during the Nov. 4 effort in the Triad.
Following are highlights from the various coat distribution areas.
Pocket No. 22
Volunteers from Friendly Avenue Baptist Church set up tables bearing some 200 coats about a mile from their church in the parking lot of a grocery that caters to Hispanic customers.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
At an apartment complex filled with immigrants near downtown High Point, New Jersey visitor Ruben Rodriguez, right, and Zac Lyons, who heads Great Commission Partnerships and Peoples Next Door NC, pray with immigrant men from Sudan, while in the background Boto Joseph and other New York helpers provide music.
“Our church is mostly Anglo, but we have a small Latin ministry,” said Steve King, Friendly Avenue’s associate pastor for discipleship and evangelism. “That means missions,” he explained about his title.
Friendly Avenue is partnering with Daystar Español, a Hispanic church led by Pastor David Duarte, a member of the Baptist State Convention’s Board of Directors, in the outreach to immigrants.
“We anticipated many Hispanics would come, and we have made a great number of contacts today,” Duarte said. He estimated that about 40,000 or more Hispanics now live in Greensboro with approximately 30-40 percent from Mexico and the rest from across the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Duarte said Hispanics have been in North Carolina long enough now that some have attained a middle class lifestyle. Although they may not be as prosperous as middle class Anglos, having a house, a car and perhaps a business means they are doing well compared to what they had before coming here.
Though no signs are posted to say so, the distribution was happening in “pocket of lostness No. 22,” where Friendly Avenue will be focusing on outreach in months ahead.
This is more than a passing program for the church, King indicated. Friendly Avenue volunteers were contacting many Hispanic young people, many of whom have grown up speaking English.
“We are inviting them to come take part in our youth basketball program, and we will be doing everything we can to develop good relationships with them,” King said.
“We are praying now on whether we should start a new church or bring these immigrants into our fellowship and change the very face of our congregation,” King said as he moved among the volunteers and distributed pastries from a large plastic bag as the cool morning sped by.
Friendly Avenue volunteers Krystal Weeks and Elizabeth Danner were among the dozens of fellow church members who used warm smiles and hand signals in place of Spanish to help Hispanic women plow through the coats-laden tables and find coats that fit.
Also on hand to help with the Hispanic outreach was Ruben Rodriguez, a church planter from Union City, N.J., who started a new church two years ago in a neighborhood that has about 110,000 residents in 1.25 square miles. More than 90 percent of those residents are Hispanic.
Rodriguez said his church gave out some 200 coats in 45 minutes during the 2016 Coats for the City event, and he became convinced it’s a good outreach tool. They are planning distributions at two locations for 2017.
At an apartment complex on Summit Avenue, volunteers from Pleasant Garden Baptist Church set up tables with hundreds of coats sought by hundreds of immigrants from the surrounding neighborhood.
An African girl – barefoot despite the chilly, damp weather ran happily around in her coat that was so new it still had the brand tags dangling from it. Across the way, a Pleasant Garden volunteer made faces at a young African boy as she tried to get him to smile.
Volunteer Ben Willey, who already signed up for the Coats for the City distribution in New York, approached volunteers with clipboard in hand as he tried to get names and addresses for follow-up.
Marty Tobin, Pleasant Garden’s associate pastor who heads such ministries, said they were delighted with the good turnout. Tobin and Pleasant Garden have worked with Coats for the City in New York from the earliest days.
He talked to many immigrants as he moved about the yard in Greensboro.
Beyond the coats project, Tobin said Pleasant Garden Baptist has been working with an immigrant ministry group called New Arrivals Institute. In August, the church distributed backpacks filled with school supplies to immigrant children.
“They’re scrapping for every dollar, and the backpacks were a big help to them,” Tobin said. “Many of the immigrants are just overwhelmed with living in a new country; sometimes they don’t even know what school supplies their kids are needing.”
First Baptist Church, Summerfield
Hundreds of immigrants gathered at a distribution point set up at Legacy Crossing Apartments in northeastern Greensboro to get about 900 coats handed out by volunteers from First Baptist Church, Summerfield. This church has long been involved in Coats for the City in New York, and its volunteers are known for their good work in both acquiring and distributing hundreds of coats each year.
Volunteers saw people from Burma, Burundi, Nepal, Rwanda, Congo, Ghana and Sudan and counted 17 Arabic speakers, among others, according to Larry Kirby, associate pastor of music and college at First Baptist.
“It was like New York all over again,” Kirby said. “The people came from everywhere and organized chaos ensued. It was beautiful – so many nations together in one place. Folks receiving coats, Bibles and having great conversations with the volunteers.
“We were not sure exactly the crowd that we would have, and it was certain in very short order that God had gone before us and we were able to catch up to the work already being done.”
Downtown High Point
At Hamilton Place apartment complex near downtown High Point, the Baptist team visiting from New York sang as Boto Joseph played guitar as the last of 350 coats were picked up by immigrants that included those from Myanmar (Karen people), Vietnam, Sudan and several other African countries, plus refugees who fled the bloody conflict in Syria.
Ruben Rodriguez, a volunteer from New Jersey, and Zac Lyons, who heads Great Commission Partnerships and Peoples Next Door N.C., prayed with four men from Sudan.
One volunteer from Green Street Baptist Church in High Point held a long and animated conversation with two Syrian refugee men. That worker has traveled five times to New York to work on coats distributions.
Immigrants also included Hispanics, people from Nepal, plus several ethnic groups from Myanmar (Burma).
Pastor Derick Mehboob, who started a new church in Brooklyn in 2010, was looking perplexed as he surveyed the refugees. He is accustomed to seeing people from around the world back in Brooklyn, but he admitted he had not expected to see immigrants from so many places here in North Carolina.
Along with coats, the refugees were offered DVDs with multiple language editions of the Jesus film and bags of candy.
Crossover Community Church, High Point
Leaders of Crossover Community Church decided to distribute coats from inside a fellowship hall after heavily overcast skies threatened rain. Lines stretched across the lawn as immigrants from many lands waited to gain access.
Inside the front door, Crossover’s Senior Pastor Daryl Love greeted refugees and asked questions about their residence and what they understood about Jesus.
Crossover volunteer Debbie Anglin talked to a woman wearing Middle Eastern clothing whose face was etched with concern.
An equally concerned Asian woman waited with a wide-eyed infant in her arms.
Once inside the hall, refugees saw hundreds of coats laid out on long tables – one for men and one for women.
Crossover volunteer Tim Mottey helped men find coats and helped them check for fit.
On the women’s side, Crossover volunteer Kim Taylor was rewarded with a brilliant smile from an African girl as she tried on a purple coat. Nearby a boy smiled broadly and almost danced with happiness as he slipped his arms into a jacket with bright orange patches.
“This was wonderful!” exclaimed Jonathan Lawson, connections pastor at Crossover, as the day ended. “This was the first time we have tried such a distribution.”
Lawson said they expected to give away 500 jackets and 300 heavy coats.
In a training and prayer class held at Crossover Community Church on Friday night, Naomi* reminded volunteers that they needed to do more than just say a few sentences about Jesus or just give a coat. She is a missionary volunteer with Joseph in Queens.
Try to establish a friendship, she urged, which is the only way to become trusted enough to present a meaningful Christian witness.
She told of how she became friends with a Muslim woman in New York and has been able to have weekly meetings to discuss matters of faith.
In North Carolina, Baptists are praying that many friendships and discussions about Jesus can come about through efforts like giving away coats.