About 12 miles north of Manhattan in Yonkers nearly 200 people came out on a cold, snowy day to receive a free coat. To the south of Yonkers in Queens, in the Ridgewood community, many Romanians received a free coat.
In Woodside, a predominantly Hispanic area with a good representation of Asians and Eastern Europeans, a woman named Luce came by the coat distribution and shared her personal struggles. And in Astoria, which is only four square miles but home to 220,000 people, volunteer Jessica Lohman met a woman early in the day who asked lots of questions.
“She just wanted to tell me her story,” Lohman said. “She has experienced a lot of heartache.”
Volunteers braved the chilly temperatures in New York to minister at 14 different sites. More than 5,000 coats were distributed, and connections were made with local churches.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, at 14 distribution sites throughout Queens and New York City, local church members and 100 North Carolina Baptist volunteers heard the same question repeated all day: “Why are you doing this?”
During the “Coats for the City” outreach, volunteers all over the city shared hot chocolate, coffee and distributed more than 5,000 coats. Volunteers also shared the gospel and made connections with people in the community. The event was hosted in partnership with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), Metropolitan New York Baptist Association and Global Gates.
Coats for the City was birthed three years ago when Bethlehem Baptist Church in Gastonia began a partnership with House of Worship in Queens and church planter Boto Joseph. Bethlehem pastor Dickie Spargo met Joseph during a vision tour with the BSC Office of Great Commission Partnerships and wanted to help him reach the diverse Jackson Heights community.
This year additional coat distribution sites resulted in a more widespread impact. People received a coat and also a Bible or a copy of the Jesus film in their language.
The day before Coats for the City, North Carolina volunteers helped churches pass out flyers and also participated in evangelism training.
Chuck Register, BSC executive leader for church planting and missions partnerships, challenged volunteers to use outreach efforts such as Coats for the City to not only meet a physical need, but a spiritual need as well.
“Your presence here is a display of your faith,” he said. “But don’t just stop meeting a need for the body. This is a platform to meet the deepest need of the human heart – a spiritual need. You have a wonderful story to tell; be bold with your witness of the gospel.”
Sharing the gospel is a priority for Lohman and her husband, who joined a team of five churches from South Roanoke Baptist Association to serve with Coats for the City. Association leaders asked church members to use Coats for the City as an opportunity to seek and pray about developing long-term partnerships with New York City church planters.
Lohman, a member of First Baptist Church in Washington, appreciated the opportunity for parents to be on mission together with their children.
“We want to get them involved in missions,” she said. “We have a burden to see people saved.”
Lohman and other members of the South Roanoke team served alongside Connection Church in Astoria, which National Geographic’s “Genographic Project” identified as one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the world. It is also home to the third largest Greek speaking population in the world.
“We want to show God’s love in small, practical ways. Coats for the City is one way we can do that,” said community pastor Larry Mayberry. “It falls in line with our goal to ‘LoveLoud’ and help make our community a better place to live.”
Although Connection only recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, the church is already praying about planting a church in 2015.
Winter Archibald moved to New York about four months ago to serve as an intern with Connection Church. Archibald is from North Carolina and spent about a month this summer in New York helping lead mission teams from North Carolina. During her last week in New York she worked with Connection Church and felt God calling her to move to Astoria.
“Connection Church wants to meet the needs of the community. When we do that, people are curious and they ask why,” she said. “They see us doing this not separately, but with them.”
Connection Church involved local businesses in Coats for the City. For example, the church posted flyers about the event in a local coffee shop and paid for people to have a free cup of coffee when they donated a coat.
Coats for the City helped Connection Church members and North Carolina Baptists demonstrate God’s love to people in Astoria and begin building relationships.
In Ridgewood, Donna Fox and a team of ladies from Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Hickory served alongside church planter Nathan Creitz.
“We prayed for 30 days before we came for God to put people in front of us,” she said. “On Saturday, we were able to see what God wanted us to do.”
Fox has been to New York about six times, one of those times in August 2012 when she and her husband participated in a vision tour through the Office of Great Commission Partnerships. They spent a day meeting church planters throughout Brooklyn while their music minister spent the day with Creitz in Queens.
Through Coats for the City, the team and Creitz connected with people like Maria, who has five children and no way to provide them with Christmas gifts. Maria not only received a coat, but the team also purchased toys from a local toy store for her children.
Fox said the team is praying about how their church can establish a partnership in New York.
“New York is already in the hearts of the other ladies.”
To learn more about how your church can get involved in partnerships in New York, visit www.ncbaptist.org/gcp.