For Spring Break this year, I went to New York City—not for a vacation or for sightseeing, but to serve with about 20 of my fellow students with the Hardin-Simmons University Baptist Student Ministries. It was a part of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association’s “Passport New York: A Collegiate Missions Experience.” It was described to me as a trip where we would do mission work in New York City and help local church planters with whatever they needed. I hopped on board right away, as I love New York and have wanted to go back ever since I went three years ago. To be honest, I was just as interested in going because I wanted to be in New York, not just because I wanted to spread the gospel. God sure had a greater plan, though!
My team was assigned to Pastor Slava and the Russian church. There were about nine of us with HSU and four from Mississippi. At a worship service on Sunday night, we got to meet some members of the Russian-speaking church, sang songs in both English and Russian, and heard a sermon from Pastor Slava. As everyone went to bed that night, I wondered exactly what we would be doing the whole next week, because that’s what we humans do best—wonder and worry about the unknown.
Bright and early Monday morning, we set out for Coney Island. The sweet and smiling face of Pastor Slava met us there on the boardwalk of Brighton Beach, and we listened for his instruction. The plan for the morning and afternoon was to split into a couple of groups and each go with Slava to talk to people walking by and ask them a few questions about their faith and beliefs. Since that area is heavily Russian, we came across many people who did not speak English, so that is where we really had to rely on Slava to translate.
We met and talked to one couple in their 70s and 80s, and we discovered the wife is Russian. She told us about how everyone in her family died in the Holocaust except her, and how she feels God has always looked after her. She said she lives life day to day and believes in God but does not have a strict religion. Another man we met was a 90-year-old fishing off of the pier. He said he is a bit of a skeptic of the church, as there are so many different religions and he has heard of bishops stealing money from the church. Both of these encounters showed me how different these people’s lives have been and are than mine, yet God loves all of us the same. Since the day that we met the couple and the fisherman, I have prayed for them every day.
When you are doing missions and just talking to people on the street, it can be a bit discouraging, because you have no way of knowing if you made any impact on them or if they are going to embrace God’s love after you leave them. I experienced this doubt and worry, but I also felt God saying to me, over and over, that they may not walk away from our conversation a completely changed person, but we have put the thought in their mind and showed them who we are. Now we pray for them. That’s really all you can do when you are evangelizing like this.
We visited diverse places, like the Brighton Beach/Coney Island area, Jackson Heights and Corona throughout the week. It was so interesting to feel like we were in a different country with each area we visited. My roommate, Madison, wrote in a blog post: “To think that we serve a God who speaks so many languages and has the hearts of so many people from so many different countries is so awesome”.
The week flew by, with us getting to explore and see how God is working in the city. One day, we prayed in different parts of New York City. We prayed for the people in the area and for the church planters. We thanked God for the freedom this place represents and the freedom we have in Christ.
On one of my favorite days, we went to the Brighton Beach Public Library to grade papers from prison. It is called Lamplight Studies. They are Bible study papers inmates have the opportunity to receive and send back to be graded. For each lesson, they have to read a certain chapter of a certain book in the Bible, answer questions and send it back to be graded. That is where we came in. Several of us sat at a table in the library with red pens in hand and graded each paper, following the appropriate answer key. My favorite thing about this was that it showed us how God is reaching people that are incarcerated, essentially cut off from the rest of the world. They are still receiving the good news and learning about Christianity. It also touched my heart to see how many people had written the name of a friend or acquaintance that they wanted us to sign up to start receiving the Lamplight Studies. This simple task of grading these papers remains one of my favorite memories from the trip.
Looking back on this amazing city full of life and diversity, I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite songs by Lauren Daigle, “Trust In You. The lyrics say: “Your ways are always higher, your plans are always good / There’s not a place where I’ll go, You’ve not already stood.” This reminds me of what my BSM leader told us in the weeks that we were preparing for New York, that we were not going to bring God to New York City; God is already working there. That was so powerful to me, because I needed to realize that God is everywhere, not just in Texas. with me and my school.
You can’t tell me God isn’t working in New York. By the end of the week, after seeing so many kinds of people, all God’s people, I felt and still feel so inspired by the Lord’s amazing plan for the whole world. Things really are coming together.
Ashlyn Schulle, a student at Hardin-Simons University, served in New York City.