NEW YORK, N.Y. (BP)–Lorraine Knabe, a member of Martindale Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., took her first mission trip in July. Just shy of her 85th birthday, Knabe was one of 100 mostly senior adult volunteers from 10 Pulaski Baptist Association churches who left the blistering Arkansas heat to head up to New York City to participate in the association’s Paint the Town mission trip.
Paint the Town volunteers spent time prepping and painting classrooms and hallways at A.J. Demarest Middle School in Hoboken, N.J. They also did some sightseeing, took in a Broadway show and some even watched the New York Mets play the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium.
Danny Johnson, Pulaski’s associational missionary, hopes the trip will build relationships in the Hoboken community and help local church planters in New York reach out more effectively to the residents. “On a more personal level, my goal is to build partnership and unity among our churches,” Johnson said.
He also wanted to give senior adults the opportunity to experience missions firsthand. “A lot of senior adults have prayed for missions and given to missions, but they’ve never experienced it,” he said. “That’s my goal -– to get senior adults on mission together.”
Paint the Town is part of New Hope New York, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) strategic ministry effort begun in 2004 in cooperation with the Baptist Convention of New York and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association to “plant churches, support existing churches and ministries, and develop new initiatives to share God’s love in metro New York,” according to the New Hope New York website.
Southern Baptist groups across the nation have participated in the ministries of NHNY. In addition to painting schools in the metro New York area, volunteers also have conducted sports camps and hosted block parties with area Southern Baptist churches.
Volunteers from the Pulaski association worked alongside teenagers and adults from Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ill., during their July 23-29 stay in New York.
Nietta George, 60, of Martindale Baptist Church in Little Rock, had dreamed of going on a mission trip for years. A brain aneurysm and a debilitating automobile accident made such a venture doubtful. But George’s dream became a reality when she made the Pulaski trip.
“Sometimes God uses the bad things in our lives to bring about blessings unlimited,” she said, recalling her automobile accident. “I was told I was going to lose my leg, but God had other plans,” she said. “… I wondered why God spared me and brought me through these trials.”
The mission trip may be one reason. In the days leading up to her departure for New York, George faced doubts about her ability to keep up with the pace of the project. But during a Bible study, God calmed her fears. “God spoke to me and said, ‘You can’t, but I can.’
“My first mission trip was a blessing beyond words,” George noted. “God has shown me we can all be useful on the mission field. He can still use those of us with health problems and we are never too old.”
Omer Dreker, 79, a member of Ironton Baptist Church in Little Rock, also was on his first mission trip.
“I feel like every time I do something it might be my last time,” Dreker said. “You can always do something to help somebody.”
During free time, Paint the Town volunteers struck up conversations with local residents, whose questions about the group’s work in the neighborhood often led to opportunities to witness.
“It’s been amazing to me the people who’ve asked what we were doing here,” said Shirley McDonald, a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.
“Many people were really impressed that we’d come that far and that we didn’t come just for the sights,” said Anthony Rhodes, minister of worship and adult ministries at Life Line Baptist Church in Little Rock.
“One of the things that lingers in my mind is the mass of people in the New York area,” said John Perkins, a member of Geyer Springs First Church in Little Rock. “You step on a subway and it’s like a United Nations meeting, people from everywhere … so many of them without the Lord.”
The trip also dispelled some stereotypical ideas about New Yorkers. Ted Stanton, minister to senior adults and pastoral care at Geyer Springs First Baptist, said people speak of how gruff New Yorkers are. But that’s not what the Arkansas group experienced.
“I was really pleased to see the kind of response we got from New Yorkers and those from New Jersey,” he said. “When we needed some help or directions or something, people would absolutely stop what they were doing and help us. I think we need to be fair and say folks up there were extremely receptive to us.”
“They always say the people of New York aren’t friendly,” said Helen Walker, also a member of the Geyer Springs church. “But every time I got on a train or subway, I never lacked a seat.”
Robert McDaniel, pastor of Little Rock’s Otter Creek Church, noted how few churches there were in the metro area. “I only saw one church in Hoboken,” he said.
“We just pray that [painting the school] will open doors for people that come after us,” said Nancy McDaniel, Robert’s wife. “We pray it will be an opportunity to reach the community with the Gospel.”
Reprinted from the Arkansas Baptist News.