NEW YORK (BP)–The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may have scared some people away from New York City. But it seems to have had the opposite effect on many Southern Baptists.
More than 24,000 Southern Baptist volunteers have flocked to New York since 2001 -– and some have felt God’s call to plant their lives in the city permanently.
One such volunteer-turned-missionary is Tim Simpson. When 9/11 occurred, Simpson and his wife Brigitte were living in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where he was working for an insurance company. In response to the tragedy, Belle Aire Baptist Church where Simpson attended began to think of ways to minister in New York.
By early 2002 Belle Aire’s efforts had kindled Simpson’s interest in New York and he began to plan a vacation in the city. Though the vacation never materialized, Simpson’s research meshed with his church’s vision and a friend’s ministry in New York to captivate his heart. In 2003 the Simpsons moved to New York to coordinate collegiate ministry efforts for New Hope New York, a Southern Baptist initiative to reach the city.
“It just kind of fit,” Simpson told Baptist Press. “My wife and I sat down and started talking about it … and we started taking into account the influence of the city. I believe New York is the center of the world. Everything comes out of here. Everybody cares about it.”
Simpson originally expected to be in New York for three years. But when his service with New Hope New York ended, an opportunity opened for Simpson to head up a training initiative for college students, The Leadership Journey. Based at The Gallery Church where Simpson is an associate pastor, the program pairs college students from across America with churches in New York for a year of ministry.
Simpson took the position with The Leadership Journey and says he plans to remain in New York indefinitely.
“I have no idea when I’m going to leave New York, and I don’t plan to leave New York,” he said. “God’s got us here now, and we’re here until He decides to move us on.”
Paul Gomez is another Southern Baptist who relocated to New York when 9/11 opened an opportunity for ministry.
Nearly a decade ago Gomez began work as a church planter in Texas but soon felt the need to plant churches in another state where there were fewer evangelical churches. Early in 2001 he began investigating the possibility of planting a church in New York.
When the Sept. 11 tragedy occurred, Gomez felt compassion for New York but had to put his plans for work in the city on hold because he hadn’t finished putting together a leadership team for the church he had planted in Texas. But suddenly the leadership team fell in place and Gomez set his sights on the Big Apple.
In his first New York church-planting initiative, Gomez partnered with Greg Farah to start Mosaic Manhattan, a Southern Baptist congregation near Ground Zero. After working with Mosaic for a year, Gomez became the church planting director for New Hope New York. Currently he is planting another church in New York named Christ Communities.
“God was already here [before 9/11],” Gomez said. “But we felt like He was calling us to plant our lives here.”
Like Simpson and Gomez, Aaron Coe also felt drawn to New York after Sept. 11. Coe went on staff at a Georgia church just six months prior to the terrorist attacks. But when God put New York on his heart, Coe moved north to work with New Hope New York’s college ministry.
Though Coe and his wife Carmen thought they would be in New York just three years, they “fell in love with the city” and began work to plant a church in early 2005.
“As we realized we wanted to spend our lives here, church planting was kind of the next logical step for us,” Coe said.
Coe’s church, The Gallery Church, began as a Bible study in an apartment, held its first worship service in January and has grown to an average attendance of 75. The church held its official launch on Sept. 10 — a day before the five-year anniversary of the day Coe’s burden for New York began.
“God has used 9/11 for His own glory here in the city,” Coe said. “And part of that is that we’re seeing a lot of churches planted here in the city. A lot of things that were not taking place beforehand are taking place now, and it can only be attributed to God and how He moves in His own timing and His own wisdom.”
In addition to the individual Southern Baptists who have volunteered in New York since 9/11, churches also have offered assistance. To date 364 churches have been engaged — both through sending volunteers and donating resources — in starting new churches in the New York metro area. The Paint the Town initiative, which uses Southern Baptist volunteers to repaint New York schools and perform other mission work in New York, will involve an estimated 1,400 volunteers this year alone.
Gary Frost, executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, commended Southern Baptists for helping the city recover from 9/11.
“The churches of our SBC family responded to a Macedonian call to come help us in New York City,” Frost said.