NEW YORK, N.Y. (BP) — New York City has entered Phase 2 of its reopening plan following the COVID-19 shutdown, but several churches and church plants plan to continue serving those on the margins in their communities into July. They believe that their efforts of providing for their communities will open more doors for further ministry.
“We are watching God mobilize churches and volunteers,” said Jeremiah Brinkman, a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in New York City who serves as a regional coordinator for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in the metro area.
In more than two months, Southern Baptist volunteers have logged nearly 6,500 hours, delivered nearly 124,983 prepared meals and distributed more than 410,000 pounds of food.
“It’s mind-boggling to stop and see all of this,” Brinkman said after reviewing the numbers. “All that God is doing here is incredible. This isn’t a massive operation out of a major warehouse. It is very grassroots.”
Those roots extend into all five boroughs of New York City as local churches provide food and other resources to families in need. These churches’ presence week-in and week-out has led to their developing relationships that should extend over the long term.
Edwin Pacheco launched Redemption Church in Brooklyn two years ago, and it has become a key part of the neighborhood after investing in the community’s struggling schools.
So, while Pacheco dealt with a severe case of COVID-19 in March, his phone was ringing constantly because he and his church had become known in the community as a helper.
“The community has looked to the church to be an answer,” Pacheco said. “I’m sick and in bed and getting calls asking what we were going to do.”
At his lowest point, Pacheco felt like he “wasn’t going to come out of” the illness. But when he recovered and completed a two-week quarantine, he got on the phone. Along with Brinkman, he started making arrangements with Send Relief and other partners to send food.
What started with providing food for 75 families doubled to 150 by the third week. Every Tuesday for the last month, a tractor trailer from a nonprofit called City Harvest has delivered 1,600 boxes of food to Pacheco’s Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn. Just under half of those boxes stay in Red Hook. The rest go to churches and nonprofits who serve hundreds of people across New York City.
“Something that looked like chaos in COVID has provided a platform to meet needs in our community,” Pacheco said. “We have been able to disciple our neighbors and our neighborhood through these tangible means. We have built relationships with people week after week. We have been able to meet them online or pray for them in person while they’ve waited in line for food.”
Jordan Sauceda, a church planting missionary in the Bronx, leads one of those churches that has been able to take some of the food distributed in Brooklyn to those in his community.
After three years building relationships in the community, Sauceda and others were set to launch the main Sunday gathering for Everlasting Church when the city shut down. Yet, the group’s ministry to their neighbors has not stalled.
“This has totally changed our plans and our strategy,” Sauceda said. “We have blessed thousands of families in our neighborhood, and my phone is going crazy with requests and prayer requests. We have people go out to talk with and pray with those who are waiting in line for their food bags.”
In the initial aftermath of the COVID-19 shutdown, their “blessing bags” were filled with hygiene and other hard-to-come-by products. Over time, food became a greater need, and Everlasting Church began packing and handing out roughly 200 bags of groceries each Saturday.
“The best stories we’re getting, the ones that mean so much to me as a pastor, are those from our members,” Sauceda said. “They are getting bags, going out and loving their neighbors. They are being intentional and getting to know people around them.”
In Queens, church planting missionary Silvanus Bhandari discovered a unique need when members started delivering boxes of food to their neighbors. Exchange students from around the world have been in limbo since the COVID-19 shutdown.
“We primarily helped the Nepali speaking community,” said Silvanus, whose Global Mission Church is composed mainly of Nepali-speaking people. “Eventually as the word of our ministry came out to our community, some international students reached out to us.”
These students traveled to Queens to take university classes at one of the several colleges and either could not return home or did not want to return home and put their education at risk.
Of the homes that Global Mission Church and Vines Nepali Church Elmhurst, another NAMB church plant, deliver food to, roughly 100 include students.
“One student reached out to us, and we delivered the food,” Silvanus said. “We knew that her situation was really difficult. Her parents in Kathmandu had a small store they were not able to run because of the lockdown. So, this student had no food and no money, and she was very depressed.”
These three church planting missionaries, along with several more across the city, have been able to build relationships and share the Gospel hundreds of times as they have served in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am excited to see what happens when we start meeting in person,” Sauceda said, “to see what will happen at our church and the other churches that have been giving resources away here in the city.”