Mention New York City to most people and you usually get one of two responses. A negative response is common since these persons envision thoughts of crime or imagine the great crowds of people that one routinely expects to encounter in such a large urban center. On the other hand, many respond quite positively. They see the beauty of the location, the plethora of activities from Broadway shows to landmark sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, or Times Square. Is your reaction positive or negative when you hear the words: “New York City?”
Twelve spies were commissioned in the Old Testament to investigate the Promised Land and bring back a report to the people of what they saw. The majority of the spies reported the land was full of giants. They saw the negative in 3D. Their overwhelming recommendation was to change course and find an easier way. The minority report, largely overlooked, was silenced by the voices of the majority. Those in the minority did not deny the risks and dangers but in the midst of looking the land over they called it a place “ flowing with milk and honey.”
A few weeks ago I traveled to New York City with seven Baptist leaders on a guided missions tour. We stayed on the 4th floor of Metro Baptist Church in Hell’s Kitchen located at 410 W. 40th across the street from the Port Authority of New York City and next to the Lincoln Tunnel. A dorm-like setting has been provided to house mission groups who come to work in the area.
We saw dedicated church leaders who were called by God to this city and ministry. They are investing their lives in trying to make a significant impact for Christ on a daily basis. Metro Baptist Church and its ministry center, Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries are making a difference to the residents of this area 24/7. The congregation led by pastors Alan Sherouse and Tiffany Triplett Henkel are engaged in ministries which include: worship, a food pantry, teen center, HIV support group, ESOL classes, summer camps, and more. A Head Start program uses one floor of the aging building originally the home of a Polish Catholic Church until the mid 1980’s when the Metro Baptist Church began.
Our group also spent a day with Pastor Kenneth Bogan who serves as pastor of the Greater Restoration Baptist Church in Brooklyn in the Crown Heights community. This is a diverse community with Hasidic Jews, Caribbean, and African American cultures seeking to live in close proximity geographically though culturally they are often divided and separated. Pastor Bogan works with many community-based ministries seeking to end gun violence and bring harmony where it is easier to see differences rather than similarities. One recent local project has brought Jewish and African American teenagers together to write a cookbook celebrating their cultural diversity by highlighting the cuisine of their respective cultures.
One afternoon we went up on the roof of the Metro Baptist Church with Pastor Sherouse to see the beautiful New York skyline. Here he shared one of the dreams for the future as he spoke about the possibilities of constructing a rooftop garden here in the middle of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. This garden in the midst of a bustling city would not only provide needed produce to area residents but it would be a symbol of a land brimming with milk and honey.
Many foreign visitors have entered the shores of the New York harbor looking for their Promised Land. As tourists and ministers from the deep South, we approached the city primarily searching for ways to connect our local churches with future mission possibilities. Certainly like in our own neighborhoods, there are giants that abound. There may be obstacles that first appear to be overwhelming until we remember that the God we serve delights in taking down giants.
I believe New York City is a land of “milk and honey”, a land ripe with opportunities to serve the Lord from working in VBS, children’s clubs, building repairs, providing holiday meals or school supplies, or bringing toys or winter clothing. Working alongside the partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship we can be the hands and feet of Christ to those who live in this great Promised Land.