By Brandon Elrod
NEW YORK—New York City has entered Phase 2 of its reopening plan following the COVID-19 shutdown, but several churches and church plants have plans 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.
North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionaries and others in New York City work together to unload food from City Harvest, a non-profit in the city. These missionaries return to their churches to distribute food to their local communities, build relationships with residents and share the gospel. NAMB photo by Jeremiah Brinkman.
“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 being there week-in and week-out has led to their developing relationships that should extend over the long-term.
Edwin Pacheco, lead pastor and planter of Redemption Church in Brooklyn, launched his church two years ago and had become a key part of their neighborhood after coming alongside local leaders to assist the community’s struggling schools.
So, while Pacheco had come down 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.”
When he recovered from the sickness that Pacheco, at his lowest point, felt like he “wasn’t going to come out of” and completed his two-week quarantine, he got on the phone, and he and Brinkman 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. Now 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 neighborhood of Red Hook 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.
Edwin (left) and Melinda (right) Pacheco assist with the unpacking of dozens of pallets of food that will go to underserved communities in Brooklyn and around New York City. Pacheco is the pastor and lead church planting missionary of Redemption Church in Brooklyn. NAMB photo by Jeremiah Brinkman.
“Something that looked like chaos in COVID has provided a platform to meet needs in our community. We have been able to disciple our neighbors and our neighborhood through these tangible means,” Pacheco said. “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 spent reaching out to their community, Sauceda were set to launch the main Sunday gathering for their church, Everlasting Church, when the city shut down. Yet, their ministry to their neighbors has not stalled.
“This has totally changed our plans and our strategy,” said Sauceda. “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 our roughly 200 bags of groceries on Saturdays.
“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 the Queens borough of New York City, church planting missionary Silvanus Bhandari discovered a unique need when they started delivering boxes of food to their neighbors. Exchange students from around the world have been in limbo since the COVID-19 shutdown.
North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send Network church planting missionaries, Rajan Shahi of Vines Nepali Church Elmhurst (center) and Silvanus Bhandari of Global Mission Church (right), and Global Mission Church member Sunil Tamrakar (left) prepare food boxes that will be delivered primarily to Nepali speaking residents of Queens, New York. NAMB photo by Jeremiah Brinkman.
“We primarily helped the Nepali speaking community,” said Silvanus, whose Global Mission Church is comprised 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 in the community 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 Katmandu 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,” said Sauceda, “to see what will happen at our church and the other churches that have been giving resources away here in the city.”
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.