NEW YORK (BP) — Some school supplies were priced as low as a dime but, for some parents, paying any amount was a sacrifice. Tears streamed down the face of one young boy because his mom couldn’t afford a pack of markers.
At Graffiti 2 Church’s school supply sale in the Bronx’s Mott Haven community, the first few people in line were regulars, waiting every year for the event before buying any supplies elsewhere.
The school supply sale was made possible during its first six years through donations from area churches and Graffiti Church in Manhattan, the parent church for Graffiti 2. But this year donations poured in from across the country as churches learned about Graffiti 2 and pastor Andrew Mann from LifeWay’s “Big Apple Adventure” Vacation Bible School curriculum.
Graffiti 2 ministers to people in an area where more than half of the families with children under age 18 are below the poverty level — the highest percentage of anywhere in New York City — and one in six students will not graduate from high school. Mott Haven has the highest percentage in New York City of births to teenage mothers, and more than 1,000 violent felonies are committed there each year.
Although it is a hard place to live, Mott Haven is the right place for Mann because it’s where God has called him. Mann is beginning his seventh year at Graffiti 2 in his mission to “revitalize, revive and revolutionize” the community.
Graffiti 2 offers an after-school program for children, youth opportunities for service and leadership, mission trips, job training, monthly workshops for parents, and an avenue for parents to volunteer, mentor and serve.
In the past seven years Mann said Graffiti’s ministry not only has expanded in breadth, as they are reaching more age groups and doing more outreach, but in depth, as they continue building relationships and seeing lives transformed by the Gospel.
Mann said two types of churches are common: churches that meet practical needs but do not talk about the Gospel and churches that do not meet needs but talk about the Gospel.
Outreach such as the school supply sale is one way Graffiti seeks to be a church that does both. “We try to be intentional with the interaction,” Mann said about the outreach.
Every person who comes to the sale is paired with a volunteer to help them shop. Afterward, the volunteer asks if the person is willing to talk through a few survey questions.
Sandra Curry of Maple Springs Baptist Church in Seagrove, N.C., was one of the school supply volunteers this year who saw the Holy Spirit at work. Curry walked one parent through the questions, asking her to identify the greatest strengths/weaknesses of the community and how Graffiti can better serve the community.
Then she asked the last survey question: Can I share with you our greatest hope? The woman said yes, Curry shared the Gospel and the woman prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.
“The woman said her son had prayed to receive Christ, but that she had not,” Curry recounted. “She said she had never trusted Jesus.”
The woman’s son already was involved with Graffiti 2 and came to know Jesus Christ through Mann’s witness and testimony.
Curry was part of the 17-member team from North Carolina who served in mission projects throughout New York City the weekend of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Another team member also had opportunity to pray with a mother to receive Jesus Christ as her Savior. Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina sponsored the mission trip.
The team served two days with Mann, helping sort supplies, setting up and shopping with families. The school supply sale benefited 133 families and 293 children.
The sale is just one way Graffiti reaches out during summer months. About 2,000 children attended its sports and fine arts camps this summer — programs that help Mann and church members build relationships that pave the way for ministry throughout the year.
The summer also brought new staff members Josh and Kerri Johnson from West Virginia to Graffiti. “We never really had intentions to come this way,” Josh said. “I would never have picked this area. God picked this area.”
Josh was born and raised in West Virginia. He served as associate pastor in the same church where he grew up. Yet, he knew God was calling him to full-time missions.
The Johnsons began talking with Mann in February about coming to work at Graffiti in a few years. They prayed about the move with their children, ages 12 and 8. “We decided if we weren’t called as a family we weren’t called,” Josh said.
Although God called their family to Mott Haven as Mission Service Corps missionaries with the North American Mission Board much sooner than expected, they are ready to serve however He leads.
When Graffiti 2 began seven years ago, Mann had no idea the ministry would be where it is today. “I praise God for that,” he said, voicing a prayer drawn from Ephesians 3:20 that God will continue to expand his vision and to do greater things than he can imagine or ask for.
Melissa Lilley is research and communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.