While many students spend their time going to the beach, taking vacations or catching up on rest during spring break, 10 women from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College spent theirs serving in New York City where they saw both human “brokenness” and God at work.
Sponsored by the World Missions Center at Southwestern and working through SEND Relief — a partnership of the North American and International Mission Boards — the women spent four days alongside members of Graffiti 2 Baptist Church and its ministries in the South Bronx.
Ashley Allen, assistant professor of women’s ministries at Southwestern, led the group of six graduate-level students and three from the seminary’s undergraduate college.
“I have been on and led several mission trips, but I think the way this was planned is the best,” Allen said. “We intentionally asked what we could do to help the church in their normal ministries.”
The students worked in the neighborhood of Mott Haven alongside pastor Andrew Mann, serving the Graffiti 2 Baptist Church in specific ways to meet needs, not just leading a special project.
“I have known Andrew since 2011,” Allen said. “It is amazing to see how the church has grown in their community over the last 12 years.”
The team was split among different tasks, either handing out coffee as an evangelism and outreach tool, going to a local school to help with whatever was needed or working with the church’s stop-and-care ministry that seeks to help the homeless with items for everyday life.
The team also came together to assist with an after-school program for elementary through high school students.
“It was a joy to help with the kids,” said Cristina Aguilera, a doctor of education student from Colombia.
“This place is a refuge for some of the children and teenagers where they are loved, encouraged and they learn about the Lord and the gospel,” Aguilera said.
Though the trip showed how God was moving in the city, the students experienced some difficult things.
“The trip to New York City was life-changing for me,” said Catherine Chan, a master of divinity student from Malaysia. “For the first time I was up close with people suffering from drug addictions. All my life I have lived in a safe neighborhood, and I have never seen so much brokenness.”
Through the stop-and-care ministry, the team spent time sharing the gospel and providing for the physical needs of the homeless in Mott Haven.
“I walked around this neighborhood with our team and talked with several homeless people,” said Hannah,* a master of music student from East Asia. “We initiated conversations with them, connected them to the church, distributed hot coffee and food kits to them, and shared the gospel with them.”
Aguilera noted, “This was a heartbreaking experience. We encountered many people using drugs or showing symptoms of withdrawal.”
Mann was instrumental in “modeling for us how to approach and engage in conversations” with those struggling with addiction, she added. “The idea is to foster opportunities to spend more time with them and be able to eventually share the gospel.”
Sharing light amid ‘darker picture’
While depictions of New York City from media outlets and movies can be distracting, one master of theology student from Southeast Asia said she saw the “darker picture” of the city.
“Before I went on this trip, I never thought New York City had this darkness,” Alexandra* said. “I always thought that New York was this place where everyone had a beautiful life.”
After seeing the city Alexandra said she knows “there are many souls” who need the gospel and “who need to be shown the love of Christ.”
“I pray that God [will] send light to those people who are in darkness,” she continued. “And if God wills it, I would love to be the one to show that light.”
While the group experienced a “different ministry context than normal,” according to Allen, the trip served as a “reminder that everyone in the community is an image bearer of God.” They saw “a lot of brokenness” and realized the “church’s job is tough,” but they saw God work in great ways.
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*Names changed for security and to protect future mission work.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by James Dugger and originally published by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.