Alabama BCM students spend spring break ministering in NYCcomment (0)
April 5, 2012
By Doug Rogers
As a theater major at the University of Alabama, Emily Couch was looking forward to spending spring break in New York City — but not for the reasons you might expect. Having spent the past two spring breaks doing missions work in Memphis and Mexico and last summer in Gulf Shores, Couch began feeling God leading her to New York, not just for her career but to serve Him through missions.
Then when she learned that her Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) was planning a spring break trip to New York City, she began packing her bags.
“I knew this was an opportunity for me to come up here to see what God is doing and see a way for me to be involved, and I knew this was where he would begin laying the foundation for my future,” Couch said.
Couch was one of around 130 college students and leaders from five Alabama BCMs who spent their spring break in New York City as a part of Passport New York. The brainchild of John Ramirez, Passport New York is designed not just to provide college students with a missions experience but to immerse them in a different culture.
Ramirez, strategic partnership coordinator for the Metro New York Baptist Association, explained that people often only think of Manhattan when they think of New York. But this experience introduces students to ministry needs in all five boroughs of New York City, where there are more than 550 people groups and 800 languages spoken. “The world comes to New York,” he said.
Over the course of one week, students in BCMs from Alabama State University and the universities of Alabama, Alabama at Birmingham, Montevallo and South Alabama became New Yorkers, learning how to use the subway, talk with street vendors and interact with people of different cultures.
Along the way, the students connected with church planters, pastors and other leaders, doing everything from prayer walking, handing out free coffee and picking up trash to teaching English as a second language, renovating a church building and leading in worship.
Like Couch, Twon Mai, a University of Mobile student traveling with the Metro Mobile BCM team, already had a sense of God’s hand on his life. He had been praying about planting a church in New York when this opportunity came along at just the right time. “It’s given me more of a burden for the people here, it’s given me more to pray about and given me more of an emotional investment,” he said.
For many others, like Kasey Barrow, this was their first multicultural missions experience. Barrow, a senior at the University of Montevallo, had never participated in a missions endeavor beyond Vacation Bible School. And while adapting to New York’s culture was frustrating at first, Barrow quickly saw God’s hand at work. “The amount of lost people in New York seems overwhelming, but God reminded me that He is mighty to save and that it is our job to pray, minister, preach and love,” she said.
One of the church planters that Alabama students connected with was Nathan Creitz, who is from Alabama himself. Creitz and his wife Kim moved to New York recently to plant a church in the Forest Park area of Queens. For two back-to-back weeks, a group of Alabama students worked with Creitz, prayer walking the area where the church will be planted and engaging people in conversation.
The help the students provided was a great encouragement to Creitz, because right now they don’t have a core group or a team — it’s just his wife and two toddlers. “To have all these additional hands and feet on the ground serving multiplies what I’m doing incredibly,” he said. “It’s absolutely essential for us to have teams like this to come in and help us along the way.”
Ramirez explained that one of the goals of Passport New York is for some of the students who participate to return for a summer, a semester, a year or even a lifetime. But for those who don’t, Jerrod Brown, campus minister at the University of South Alabama, sees a huge benefit for the local church.
“I think the investment that Alabama Baptists make in college students through their Cooperative Program gifts makes an eternal impact,” Brown said. “We’re investing in folks who will be our future church leaders with a missional mindset, who will help mobilize people for missions or who will be missionaries themselves.”
That’s one of the primary purposes of BCM spring break missions trips, explained Chris Mills, associate in the office of collegiate and student ministries at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “One of the main reasons we have these trips is because when students help meet needs in other places, it opens their eyes to needs in their own communities,” Mills said. “Plus the opportunity to take several groups to New York was ideal because Alabama Baptists have a missions partnership with Baptists in New York.”
As for Couch, she’s ready to go back. “Just walking the streets, I’ve seen where God is at work and the opportunities for me to jump in when I move up here. He’s showing me such big things that I couldn’t have ever imagined,” she said.