NEW YORK CITY (BP)–Some people may have thought Southern Baptists were biting off more of the Big Apple than they could chew with their Paint the Town project.
But nearly 2,000 volunteers proved any skeptics wrong.
“Paint the Town is proving to be what I call the doorway to the soul of the city,” said Gary Frost, director of missions for the Metro New York Baptist Association. “Southern Baptists are perceived by many in the Northeast to be fundamentalist Bible-thumpers. This project really allows us to be seen as who we are: compassionate people who love Christ and each other.”
By the time school starts the first week of September, Southern Baptists in two months will have painted the interiors of nine schools in the Bronx, one in Harlem and two on Long Island. Less visible are the hundreds of New Yorkers’ lives changed as a result of connecting on the subways and streets of the nation’s largest city with SBC volunteers.
“Only on the other side of heaven will we see the lasting impact these volunteers are having on New York City,” said Roy Mallory, volunteer Paint the Town project foreman. “I know directly there have been at least 200 who have professed Christ that we’ve heard about, and we haven’t begun to get our data back.”
The question -– What are you doing here? -– is an open invitation to share the Good News of God’s love for all people, said Mallory, a member of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock.
“We’ve actually had people ask, ‘What have you people done to have to come out and paint in the schools?’” Mallory said. “They’re even more astonished when we tell them we have paid our way to come and be here.”
In addition to travel and lodging expenses, each Paint the Town volunteer gave $100 to help offset the cost of paint and supplies, said Sandra Mallory, the project’s volunteer coordinator.
“It’s not a fee; it’s a contribution,” she said. “Every mission trip I’ve ever been on, I have spent money on supplies and materials…. We used that same philosophy and, with other donations, that’s how we’re able to paint as many schools as we are.”
Benjamin Moore paint company donated 2,000 gallons of paint, which was enough to complete two schools, and made additional paint available at reduced cost.
But painting the schools -– as daunting a task as that can be, when hallways sometimes are 125 feet long and ceilings in school gyms 30 feet high -– is only a part of Paint the Town. The summer included six block parties and 25 sports camps, even a Twin Towers mural painted on the side of a building. And: Each school was “adopted” by a local church.
“Our goal is that if the school needs anything, the church will be their first call,” Roy Mallory explained. “It will be a way the church can better serve its community, serving children and families in need.”
Paint the Town is part of New Hope New York, a Strategic Focus Cities evangelism and church planting thrust sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB), now in its second implementation year in NYC. The painting project’s genesis was in the wistful dream of a Bronx middle school principal to have the 100-year-old building she was in painted last summer.
Though ordinarily a much smaller project would be a year or two in the planning, the Bronx painting project was organized in less than a month, and completed in less than two.
The 2004 effort involved more than 500 volunteers from at least 70 churches in 15 states.
“What can we do now?” painting project leaders then asked last September. Connections were made with the school superintendent of Region 1, “the most high risk region in the Bronx, the poorest, the most gangs,” said church planter Steve Kelly, who facilitated the contacts with government officials.
“We chose the schools in the worst condition, where we could make the biggest impact,” Kelly said.
But the painting jobs could not be started until July 5 and needed to be done by Aug. 29 to give the teachers a week before school started to get their rooms in order.
“Our [school] superintendent is impressed, so we’re hoping Paint the Town will spread across New York City,” Mallory said. “We go in to a school and say, ‘What do you need?’ We patch small holes, but we tell them we don’t do restoration. We’re here to paint.”
That “we” includes people of all ages from across the country.
“They come from everywhere,” Sandra Mallory said. “They’ve seen the information on The Bridge, NAMB’s construction volunteers project’ website. They understand how painting the schools and giving to the community with a service project like this can be used to till the soil and plant the seeds so we can share Christ with people.”
By the end of August, the volunteers will have spent about a half-million man hours completely painting the inside of five schools in the Bronx -– teachers’ offices, cafeterias, halls, rooms, bathrooms –- while four other Bronx schools will have freshly painted halls, classrooms and bathrooms.
And in Harlem, volunteers aided Albert Tibbs in starting the I AM Christian Center. Having received permission to use the cafeteria at Rice High School, a Catholic school for boys, as a meeting place, Tibbs requested a contingent of Paint the Town volunteers, who freshened up everything at the school but the headmaster’s office with paint donated by World Vision.
Meanwhile, Rick Crews, pastor of North Shore Baptist Church on Long Island, arranged for Paint the Town volunteers to paint two North Shore schools that the church had adopted.
One long-distance caller got so excited over the Paint the Town efforts that rather than volunteering his church members to paint in New York City they would do the same type of thing in his city, Sandra Mallory said.
As summer draws to a close, plans already are being made to continue Paint the Town next year, said Shane Critser, associate director of New Hope New York.
“It went so well this summer,” Critser said. “We saw God moving. We saw teachers, principals and parents welcome us, and people being reached with the Gospel.”
The blessings rolled in because the goal never was simply to paint some school buildings, Roy Mallory said.
“Sandra and I didn’t come to be involved in painting schools,” the project foreman said. “I’m a building contractor. I could have stayed in Atlanta and painted.
“We came to be involved in evangelism and church planting through servant evangelism,” Mallory continued. “We came to put ourselves in a position where we can tell people why we’re here and who sent us here.”
He and his wife and about 2,000 others responded to God’s call, Mallory said.
“Most of the team leaders felt a real draw to ministry in New York, even those who maybe didn’t completely understand all the outreach that was being done and the things we hoped would happen,” Mallory said. “While they’re out and about in the city, maybe going home or coming in on the subway, maybe going to a ball game, they have the opportunity to lead some guy to faith in Christ. We’re beginning to see a lot of that activity taking place.”
And New Yorkers have been responsive to Paint the Town because it involves their children, said Frost, of the Metro New York Baptist Association.
“The fact that we’re working with the schools speaks to the people about our concern for children and youth,” Frost said. “Other people outside our church family are seeing this as us saying their children have value.”
For more information on NAMB’s partnership to reach New York City go to www.NewHopeNewYork.com and to find a Southern Baptist volunteer mission project go to thebridge.namb.net.