With Thursday being such a early, busy day, we were given the morning to sleep in a little bit before we took on the city one last time. So we took full advantage of sleeping as long as we could before being summoned downstairs for the day.
Our plan was to go to the United Nations and prayer walk the facility. So we made our way to there.
Everyone was feeling refreshed from some extra sleep and there was a lot of laughing and joking along the way. This made for some good candid photos and spread a lot of joy throughout out group for the afternoon.
We ended up getting tickets for a tour of the UN. We thought it would be a good idea for each of us to pick a different country, and as we walked through the different rooms–whether it be the General Assembly Hall or Security Council Chambers–pray for specific countries and their leaders. We learned about the different kinds of relief that the UN provides and policies they enact, but on top of all the information we learned, we had the opportunity to intercede on behalf of a dozen countries all over the world. It was definitely a surreal moment realizing the God of the universe was walking with us as we lifted up countries in prayer, asking for revival, wisdom, and peace. Knowing that we were partnering with other believers around the world praying for all these things was such an incredible experience.
The tour ended up taking a little bit more time that we had planned, so we our next stop was a late lunch before we went back to the hostel. Little did we know lunch would take longer than we anticipated.
We wanted to go to Shake Shack for our last lunch in the city. We had fallen in love with its burgers and shakes. With food like this, who could resist? We planned to go to one we found in Madison Square Park, but the line was wrapping around the park. So we punted on that idea and opted to look for another place.
This is the point where everything started to go downhill. We started walking up and down streets looking for places that fit two criteria: 1) Could seat 15 people, and 2) Cheap. Neither of which we could find in one place. This led to more walking up and down streets, jumping on and off subways, and a group of hungry college students who were growing impatient.
After another failed attempt we settled for going to Shake Shack, again. Only, this time, we went to the other one we had been to earlier in the week. We made it there some time between 2 and 3 for, what was now considered, a late lunch. While there was still a line, we did not care at this point; everyone was too hungry.
We ordered our food and found an area just outside the Museum of Natural History that everyone could sit down and eat. A couple of us brought the food back to the group and before we knew it we had been picked clean. It was like a flock of vultures had descended on the only roadkill carcass for miles, fought tooth and nail for their morsels, and retreated… leaving no traces, acting like nothing happened.
That was our group. Food, gone. Everyone inhaled their burgers, fries, and shakes almost to the point where no one enjoyed it.
I think that was the problem, because afterwards a couple people in our group were not feeling well. Shake Shack had hit Brittney particularly hard which did not bode well for the trip back to the hostel.
We made it back to the hostel, though. It took us a little longer than expected and involved more walking than we had probably liked, but we made it back. And, because a handful of us were feeling a little sickened by the burgers we had eaten, we were given the opportunity to try and sleep off the sickness for an hour or so since we had plans to go to the Brooklyn Tabernacle’s College/20somethings gathering that night.
Because of everyone not feeling up to par and the sheer time constraints us getting back late put on us getting from the Upper West side of Manhattan to Brooklyn, we did not make it to the Brooklyn Tab. Most of us were disappointed, but we understood. Instead, we ended up convincing some of the group to try out a church that Tyler and I saw on the way back from taking extra food we had brought to St. Paul’s House earlier that morning called Times Square Church. We had seen a sign advertising their College/20somethings gathering and made it just in time for the service.
This was the third different service we attended while in New York, and it was different than what we had experienced before still. If you have lived in the South long enough, you begin to realize that churches are really not that different from town to town. Many sing the same hymns, have the same demographics, and use a similar liturgy. You do find churches that deviate from tradition–more and more often actually. But, even those churches have a similar style.
In New York? Not so much. Each part of the Body we visited had a unique style, atmosphere, and congregation. It is beautiful reminder that our God is not just the God of the Bible-belt, Baptist-preaching, Hell-Fire-and-Brimstone, and Sin-emphasizing churches. His church is multiracial, multigenerational, and multivoiced. It is full of people who are pursuing Jesus, regardless of how that looks in a logistical setting. New York reminded me that the church is an organic movement that cannot be defined by one group of people here or there because Jesus is everywhere His disciples are. So we had the opportunity to worship with another body of believers, all the while being reminded that our God is greater than the geographical, socio-economical, political, or racial boundaries.
Afterwards, we went back to the hostel to meet up with the other people who had not gone to the service. By then, everyone was hungry…again. We found a local pizza shop and ordered our food to go for our last night. Then, we headed to “The Spot.”
The Spot was discovered by a group earlier in the week. It was just off a pier overlooking the Hudson River towards New Jersey. Different people from our group had ranted and raved about how beautiful The Spot was at sunset or during the day, but I had never had the chance to go down there. So this was my first time. And it was a breathtaking sight.
Imagine sitting on a park bench in front of the water listening to the sounds of the water lap against the side of the boats in the harbor. The wind is blowing calmly against your face wafting the smell of the water and earth around your nostrils. You look across the expanse of water and see the twinkling lights reflect off the surface as a buildings stand quietly in the distance like a vast city on a hill. Imagine you are also surrounded by some of your closest friends, telling stories, laughing, and enjoying good food.
That is what happened on Friday night. It is hard to imagine if you were not there, but it was a moment I will never forget.
After we finished eating, we gathered around to listen to share what the two groups had done during our times that evening. Our group shared our experience at Times Square Church, connecting the dots about what had been preached that night and what we had been learning all week.
The other group–which consisted of Brittney, Nick, and Andy–shared their story. They had been the people who opted not to go to Times Square Church. They originally were going to go back to Central Park to do more prophetic art, but God had a different idea in store.
As they told it, they got to southwest corner of Central Park and began to walk towards where we had painted earlier, but there was a group of people standing on the corner who had amassed a large gathering. A group called the Black Hebrew Israelites.
If you want to know more about their beliefs, there are more than enough sites that help sort out all of those issues. This is not meant to be a theological treatise on why the Black Hebrew Israelites are wrong in their beliefs, but I will have to point out their beliefs in order for the story to make sense.
They believe that they are the only legitimate descendants of the ancient Israelites. This particular sect on the corner of Central Park was preaching a hateful message not the gospel. The scary thing: they knew Scripture. I cannot remember the specific arguments that Brittney cited, but they were firmly planted in their beliefs and defending them to the death.
This normally would not have been a problem for our group, but they were teaching a gospel that was not the real Gospel. They were degrading races other than their own, speaking lies about Scripture, and mocking mainstream Christianity. Naturally, this pushed a button for the three people from our group–good thing I was not there, otherwise I would have exploded. Nick did tell us that Andy had to be restrained at some point because there was a fire in his eyes he was going to beat those guys to a pulp.
But that is exactly what they wanted. They wanted to incite anger. They wanted to cause a disruption. They wanted to create tension.
Brittney recognized this and in the middle of the large group of people that gathered, she knelt down and just began praying for them. She was mocked and ridiculed for her stance, but she kept on praying for them. They kept preaching, but Andy told us that after Brittney started praying people started dropping off. Instead of a group of people close to 20 to 25, it started to dwindle down less and less.
After a few minutes, Brittney, Nick, and Andy removed themselves from the situation just to regroup away from the hostile environment. When they did, three people sought them out specifically. Each person came to each one of them individually wanting to know what was the difference between what the Black Hebrew Israelites were preaching and what they (Brittney, Nick, and Andy) were proclaiming.
God opened up an opportunity to share the core essence of the gospel right there.
Each of them had the opportunity just to have a conversation with someone about what the love of Jesus looks like. It was not forced or intrusive, but it was as simple as having a conversation. Nick said the girl he talked to just needed a friendly, warm conversation. Brittney talked to a Muslim guy about foreign policy and Jesus. Andy ended up giving away his Bible to the guy he was talking to.
Do not try and convince me that those moments were not divine appointments. Those three conversations were the reason we went to New York. As the three told their story, there were two feelings that welled up inside of me. First, jealousy. How could you not be? They had an opportunity laid in their lap to talk about Jesus, and I did not get to be a part of it. I know that sounds selfish, and it is. But the second feeling–retrospective of course–was a sense of pride. Not the kind of self-promoting pride, but a feeling of being proud that the prayers we had prayed for weeks before, God had answered in that moment.
Nick put it succinctly when he commented that throughout the week God had started off by preparing us, then having us plant seeds in people via our outreaches, and to see the final step of harvest–granted, no one believed or turned to Jesus, but it was still a harvest of sorts–was just the most encouraging aspect of the whole trip. God’s faithfulness and our faithfulness met that night, and God worked in ways that none of them had experienced.
There was a sense of joy and elation that filled our group during that moment. People were so excited to hear the story and to share in the experience God orchestrated. We had a couple of other people stand up and share short stories of what God had taught them during the week too.
Then, I felt like God was stirring me to speak.
I always hate those moments. Not because I am afraid of crowds or uncomfortable speaking, but because I never want to intimidate anyone. I know that God has given me the spiritual gifts of teaching and preaching. I also know that he has given me the ability to communicate passionately and clearly. Couple those things and I have learned on more than one occasion to never begin the “testimony time” or start off answering the “What do you want to do with your life” question.
Please, hear me. I am not trying to sound prideful. That is the last thing that I want to communicate here. In fact, to keep myself in check most times, I try NOT to say things in large groups. I do my best to listen to what God is speaking through other people and only speak when God is practically pushing me in front of everyone.
This was one of those times.
I said something about how our prayer since the beginning of our time as a group was to immerse ourselves in the city and that God would give us His heart for the city of New York. And, that wherever we would go, we would bring Light because we knew New York was a dark place. We knew that there are established churches that are helping spread the Light, and we wanted to partner with them. We also knew that we would have opportunities that the would not. We were temporary. We were mobile. Therefore, our mission had a sense of urgency that established ministries do not have. We only had a week, they had a lifetime. We wanted to be the Light mobilized. Everywhere we set our foot, we wanted to light up the city. Each step carried hope. Each step carried love. Each step carried peace. Each step carried grace. In a city that was en-strangled by consumerism, sex, commercialism, materialism, and self-gratification we wanted to bring a Light that shown in that darkness.
God answered that prayer. We saw the Light invade the Darkness. We saw the love of God melt hearts. We saw the power of God break through strongholds. We saw the grace of God give second chances. We saw our feet radiate Light as we walked through Brooklyn. We saw our feet radiate Light as we walked down Wall Street. We saw our feet radiate Light as we walked in Greenwich Village. We saw our feet radiate Light as we walked through Harlem. We saw our feet radiate Light as we walked through Times Square.
We were the Light in the Darkness. All the prayers that we petitioned the throne of God over the previous weeks, He had answered. In a moment of epiphany, I think the lightbulb turned on for everyone as I was speaking these words. There were smiles that came across faces. There were heads nodding up and down. People were starting to understand that we accomplished what we came to New York for.
Sure, it did not look like to the traditional Christian standards. We had no knowledge of anyone who became a believer out of it. We did not build any houses or orphanages. We did not do any of the traditional Christian mission trip activities.
We just loved people.
Jesus said that is how people will know that you are his disciples, by the love we show one another. We did that, both externally (to the people of New York) and internally (to those on the team). This is what I encouraged the group with.
We had been successful…better yet, God had been faithful.
Then, I asked if we could all gather around the leaders and pray for them. We wanted to show them our appreciation and gratitude for all the hard work they put in for months leading up to the trip. We all gathered around them, laid hands on them, and just thanked God for their leadership and direction for the week.
And that was how the night ended. We ended with a confidence knowing that through our prayers, God had been faithful. Even though we might have bogged down during the middle of the week, God was still faithful. He gave us a fresh vision that carried us through the remainder of our week.
We are Light. Not just in New York City but everywhere we step foot. That was the beauty of the focus of our trip. The things we learned, the things we implemented, and the things we practiced were not things we had to leave in New York–like you would a building or people. We were able to take everything we learned back with us.
Light is not restricted to only the darkest of cities. It is for everywhere you go. Your office. Your apartment. Your dorm room. Your home. Your church.
So, may you remember that you carry Light everywhere you go. May you be aware that every step you take brings Light into the darkness. May you be divinely attune to the work that God is doing around you; so that when you step into a room, you can be that city on the hill…or on the river, at The Spot.