NEW YORK – A couple doors down from the Urban Impact office in Jackson Heights, Queens, are two Nepali/Tibetan restaurants and across the street is a Korean grocery store.
Just a few blocks away is an area known as Little India. Indian restaurants and stores with elaborate gold jewelry line the streets, and fortune-tellers and astrologers pass out their business cards. One store is filled with all kinds of statues of Hindu gods, such as Ganesha, known to Hindus as the Remover of Obstacles.
A little farther down is Little Bangladesh, where the population is largely Muslim and restaurants serve up traditional Bengali food.
Jackson Heights is home to many South Asians. In addition to Indians and Bengalis are people from Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan.
Camille Samuel is director of Urban Impact’s South Asian Center. “Some days I walk down the street and I don’t hear any English at all,” she said.
Samuel, 26, came to Urban Impact after serving two years with the International Mission Board in India. Samuel said the work in Jackson Heights is hard, as people come and go and it takes awhile to build relationships, but she enjoys serving because she cares for the people.
Urban Impact seeks to reach immigrants and those from the “10/40 Window” (the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude that includes the majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists) who are living in New York City. Urban Impact does this through ministries such as Vacation Bible School, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and computer classes.
Urban Impact also has a center in Brooklyn to reach West African Muslims and a center in Woodhaven, Queens, to reach Yemenese Muslims.
Although many religions are represented in Jackson Heights such as Greek Orthodox, Sikh and Roman Catholic, Hinduism and Buddhism are what Samuel encounters most often at Urban Impact.
Although these immigrants now live in a country where they have freedom of religion, that does not mean converting to Christianity is easy. Samuel said some people come to New York with family and are pressured by family members not to convert.
But Samuel has already seen God at work during her first year in Queens. She has befriended an older Indian woman and been able to share the gospel.
She has seen a Bengali man, a Muslim, become open to reading the Bible and volunteering with ESL. Another Bengali man has prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
Samuel wants people in Queens to know they can find peace in Jesus Christ. “People here are hungry for rest,” she said.
Sometimes family members stay behind in their country while other family members come to New York City to try and make a living. When the time is right, the rest of the family makes the move overseas. Samuel met an Indian woman who was separated from her husband for 10 years in such a situation. Some of the ESL attendees are women who have never been to school of any kind. Others are women in their 50s with grown children who want to try something new. Yet other participants were professors in their country and now cannot get a job because they do not speak English.
A team from North Carolina recently spent a day serving alongside Samuel, prayer walking and helping with ESL registration. Ministry with Urban Impact was part of a mission trip sponsored by Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The team also worked with churches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Donna Elmore of Southside Baptist Church in Greensboro helped with the ESL registration. From the outside looking in it seems evangelism comes quite naturally to Elmore. Even in the short time it took to register someone she was able to show compassion and share the gospel.
Elmore prays for God to help make her aware of opportunities to be a witness for Him. “It doesn’t come easy to me. It’s easier to just be quiet. You have to trust the Lord,” she said. “The more you share the more you know you have to trust Jesus.”
Elmore said people were very surprised the ESL classes were free – another reminder that sometimes it’s the small things that lead to the greatest opportunities to witness.
The team also spent time at the West African Center and prayed for the ministry to West African Muslims. They also prayed for Mike Flaschenriem, who began as director of the center only six weeks ago.
Flaschenriem, 29, is a former direct TV salesman from Tampa, Fla., who ran from the Lord. “I didn’t want to do it,” he said about his call to full-time ministry.
It took his brother’s suicide to get his attention and turn him back to doing what he knew God had called him and his wife to do. Flaschenriem graduated from Word of Life Bible Institute in February and is ready to begin the work God has for him in Brooklyn.
Whether it is West African Muslims in Brooklyn or Hindus in Queens, laborers are needed in the fields ready for harvest. To learn how you can get involved in reaching the nations in New York City visit ncbaptist.org/gcp.
Visit embracenc.org for more information about Embrace opportunities.