Monday was the first day that we really did “ministry.” At least, the specific kind of ministry we went to New York to do.
The best way I can describe the kind of ministry we did was “outreach-driven prayer.” Our first and foremost job was to pray for the city. The Wesley Foundation believes in the power of prayer. Just like we prayed so much before the trip, we were not about to stop just because we had arrived in New York. It was a foundation for every day of our trip.
What it looked like practically was something Wesley calls “treasure hunts.” You begin by spending about 20 minutes or so praying, asking God to do two things. First, for Him to speak to you specifically. You petition the throne of God to hear what He has to say. You want Him to speak directly to you. But, more than just speaking directly to you, you want Him to reveal specific things to you, usually involving encouragement. Whether that be a Bible verse, encouraging note, or just a simple sentence, your heart’s cry is to receive something in order to bless others. You can write them down so that you do not forget or make mental notes for when you are talking with someone.
That leads me to the second thing you would pray for: the people whom you would be sharing these encouraging “words” with. You would ask God to somehow give you clarity to whom you would be talking to. Sometimes, we would pray for specific things like asking God, “Show me something that this person might be wearing…” whether it be a red hat, a white peacoat, or a Starbucks barista; the only stipulation is that do not dismiss whatever God puts in your mind for fear it might be dumb or insignificant. All throughout the Bible God uses ordinary, everyday things to do extraordinary things. Each thing that God brings to mind, you would write them down so that you would not forget.
The last step was to actually go and bless people with the encouragement you received from God.
The process is that simple, but also that terrifying. I would be lying if I told you it was easy, because it’s not. Any time that you are talking with anyone who might not be a Christian about something that God told you is intimidating–for most people at least. It was definitely the one thing that stretched me most during the trip: talking to people.
It seems so silly to say that, but I am not extroverted or a people person. Sit me down with a couple people who are interested in having an intellectual conversation and I’ll hold my own. But street evangelism? Not so much. I have a buddy who is an evangelist at heart. He’ll preach at a brick wall if no one is around, but that is his spiritual gift–the evangelism, not the wall preaching. That is not me, at all.
This was the basic outline for the ministry outreaches my small group did. We took some liberties with the system–which I will point out– but followed the general plan.
Back to the narrative.
We started out in the morning taking the subway to Staten Island. Looking back, it was complete bust because there was nothing to do over there. So we actually turned around and went back Manhattan almost immediately. It was good for one thing tough: pictures.
On the ferry we passed by the Statue of Liberty. Like good tourists, everyone took pictures of Ellis Island and the statue that had welcomed immigrants for years. This was definitely the coldest day of the entire trip, so standing outside taking pictures was an experience to say the least.
When we arrived back on Manhattan we split up into small groups to eat lunch and figure out what exactly we would be doing for our ministry time that day. My group commandeered a table at McDonald’s and ate lunch. After we had finished our fearless leader, Brittney, laid out the plan for what we were going to do.
Brittney had admitted earlier that street evangelism was not a gift she had; she was more inclined to relational evangelism–building a relationship and sharing the Gospel through that connection. So she understood our apprehension and timidity right out of the gate. Her thought was to take small steps. If we could do small things, one at a time, we would become more comfortable and bold each time we went out.
It made sense to our group and we rallied behind the idea. This is what it looked like for us:
We were going to do a treasure hunt. We were going to ask God to reveal to us specific places and people to go to or pray for. But, instead of going up cold-turkey to someone and asking to pray for them, Brittney encouraged us that if we were still a little hesitant, to just pray for them as we saw them or passed them. God does not work in someone’s heart just because they hear our prayers. God works whenever we petition His throne. That can be from us asking out loud or asking internally. It makes no difference to Him.
So we prayed and asked God to tell us who and where, and we wrote down what images, thoughts, or words that came to mind. Three main things came to mind while I was praying: Red coat, white hat, and reading Scripture over Columbus Circle.
Others in our group had visions of globes, homeless people, and other places. So, we made a list of what God had revealed to us, charted a subway route to get us to the different places, and set off.
The first place we went was Wall Street. It does not take a genius to figure out that Wall Street is one of the most powerful areas in the world, not to mention one of the darkest–filled with greed and selfishness. We took the opportunity to find the Bull statue on Wall Street to symbolically represent those who are in control of the stock markets and economy.
Our next stop was the site of the World Trade Center. This was a very unique experience for me since the last time I visited New York was in 2004 when most of the rubble had been cleared, but there was still devastation at Ground Zero. Then, it seemed like as you drew closer and closer the background noise of the city seemed to fade into the distance until you stood face to face with a gaping hole that was only separated from you by iron bars. Back then, there was an eerie silence that rivaled nothing I experienced to that point. Today, there was a life that had been reinstated in that spot. With the new Freedom Tower being resurrected in place the same place, there was an anticipation in the air. We stopped on a street corner facing the construction and prayed for the families that have been impacted by 9/11, the lives that had been lost, the construction of the new buildings, and the attitude of America as she is still recovering in the wake of this catastrophe.
We got on the subway and made a quick stop at Madison Avenue. This is known as the home of advertising. As a newly accepted student into the advertising major at UGA, I really felt a burden to pray for the advertising industry. It does not take long to watch television and see how dark the world of advertising is. How long does it take to see a commercial or program that highlights the sexual deviancies of American culture or play to the consumerism that has engulfed our psyche? This is why we prayed for Madison Avenue.
Next we went to Times Square, probably the most recognizable nexus of the world. One of our team members had a vision of a toy store (Toys ‘R Us) and wanted to pray for the child sex trafficking that was so prevalent in America. I had also felt a strong burden to pray for the nations. What a better place to do both than in Times Square. We found a small table in the middle of Times Square and prayed for those who were busy running around behind us taking pictures, going to work, or just living life. It was a surreal moment realizing that so many people move through this area on a regular basis and that we could intercede on their behalf before the God of the universe. Unbelievable.
Our last stop was Columbus Circle. This is a major hub and traffic circle on the southwest side of Central Park. It reminded me a lot of Piccadilly Circus in London; there were people everywhere. This had been the place that God had laid on my heart to read Scripture over, not in a condemning way, but just to speak truth into a place where so many people were going this way and that. Two of our group went to the middle of Columbus Circle, while three of us went to the edge of Central Park. There, I pulled out my Bible and began to read Psalm 119 while the other two listened and prayed over the people who passed us. I remember sitting there and reading just feeling a difference in the air as I spoke the words of God over people. Something about the Word of God being spoken changes things. It is unbelievable, mysterious, and beautiful.
We headed back to the hostel to meet up with our group because there were a couple of us who had purchased tickets to hear Rob Bell speak about his new book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The six of us met before we left to bring everyone up to speed on what the situation with Rob Bell was since most were not aware of the controversy surrounding his new book–or previous ones.
I will not go into any of the details about Rob Bell here. That is not the point of this post, nor the series of posts. The only thing that I will say about the talk was I was glad that I got to attend. I was able to meet Bell, have him sign a pre-released copy of Love Wins, and take a picture with him. I will write a review about Love Wins and my thoughts about Rob Bell in the near future, but the point of the New York trip was not Rob Bell. It was Jesus. While the talk did open up some really good conversations about Jesus, it was only a experience that happened to work out while we were there.
After the talk, we went back and debriefed about what had been said before we met as a big group for a devotion.
Looking back on the day, I think the pervasive theme was understanding that wherever we walk, Jesus goes with us. We carry Jesus with us. Wherever we step, we are taking Jesus too. Therefore, the areas that we walked into that were dark places (i.e. Wall Street, Madison Avenue), we were carrying Jesus. With every step, light invaded the darkness. Wherever we walked, we changed the area.
It was like when I was reading Psalms at Columbus Circle. I could feel tangible difference in the space that I was sitting. It was as if Jesus had invaded the space and changed it. It is extremely hard to explain unless you have been there. But I am sure you have. I am sure you have been in a moment where the Word of God is being read, preached, or taught and there is an essence of life that seems to just be… different.
That is what we experienced on Monday. We experienced Jesus bringing life wherever we walked. Whether we were praying out loud, praying in our hearts, reading scripture, or listening to someone talk about Him, life was invaded these spaces.
Jesus said this would be the case. And we experienced it first hand.