Visiting Baptists in Crown Heights
Visitors from Muscle Shoals, Alabama
The Muscle Shoals group consisted of five young adults; Jamie Dorroh, Austin Campbell, Gracie Stanfield, Ashlon Harkins and Christopher Ouellette. These young adults from Muscle Shoals, all ambitious in their growing education and careers, came to Brooklyn, NY to help the Mosaic Baptist Church further plant its roots and reach more people with their fifth year anniversary celebration. In a Bible belt state such as Alabama, church plants take two to three years before that church is fully self-sustaining. As for Brooklyn & most of New York, it takes a church five to seven years to fully root and thrive in a community. This is why we (all the church groups) are here, to help our brothers and sisters in a different part of the country grow in Christ.
Our goal the week of September 5-8th, was to help Mosaic Baptist Church connect with the locals in Crown Heights, and invite them to the churches fifth year anniversary service on Sunday morning at 10:30am, located in the upstairs of the Black Lady theater. As we became locals in Brooklyn, hanging out in coffee shops and passing out fliers by the subways, we made connections with many people and got to talk about where the church was located and what time service starts on Sundays.
Gracie and I even met a guy originally from Mobile, AL while passing out flyers. He didn’t accept our fliers the first day, but the second day he came up and asked which part of Alabama we were from. Gracie had on a University of North Alabama sweatshirt, which gave us away as not being from there. It could have also been the thick southern accents too! This one thing we had in common allowed us to connect with someone so far away from home that now resides in another part of the country. There are connections happening like this everywhere in our daily lives. Some call it coincidence, randomness, or luck; however, we believe there is a purpose to it all. There was a reason that we ran into an Alabama native that day. Maybe he will show up at Mosaic Church one Sunday morning!
Our mission was about more than drinking really good coffee, passing out fliers and helping John with local community service of picking litter up off Nostrand Avenue. We came to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and extend a warm welcome to the residents of Brooklyn, in hopes that something greater will be at work in their lives after spending time getting to know them. I will leave you with a verse that inspires us, the group from Muscle Shoals, to go make a difference in the world, a difference that you can also have on others. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:14.
Visiting Baptists in Crown Heights
Over the course of the summer, groups of Baptists came to visit Crown Heights from four different places in the United States. They usually visited for about a week participating in the services at Mosaic Baptist Church and doing volunteer work in the community. I was delighted to get their help with Tree Care and Litter Pick Up and also to find out something about these people and the places they came from. One member of the group from Atlanta, not only helped NAIA with its physical labor but wrote up her experience with her group. The article by Blair Sanders makes up Part Three below.
Part One: The group from Bethany, Missouri
I first had the pleasure of working with a group from Bethany, Missouri. They were being hosted by Tze Hoong Tan, who has been training to be a pastor at Mosaic, and there were eight people in the Missouri group led by Casey Joyce, pastor at the church, but someone who also runs a lawn care company and publishes a newsletter advising people about having a backup way of making money if times turn bad. He obviously practices what he preaches. Also there was Valerie McCoy, mother to Sarah and Adam, two teenagers. Brooke Barnett, a school teacher was the other adult, and the other members of the team were Jad Cornett, Rylan Stewart, and Megan Norris.
I met with this group twice and divided them into three groups that either picked up litter or did tree care. They were hard workers and curious students, asking lots of good questions about Crown Heights. I took the adults to pick up in the area of Lincoln Place. They admired the cool shady streets and gasped at the prices of the buildings. We met a few people along the way, and I think the Missouri group were surprised at the diversity – Caribbeans, American Blacks, and whites. Bethany is mostly white; the few Black people there live outside of town. I think the Baptists were surprised at the diversity of religions as well – many different Christian churches – we walked by St. Gregory's, and they saw Lubbavitchers in black clothes, and Mosaic is right across the street from the Kawthar Mosque.
Later meeting with the whole group at Meme's, I discovered other contrasts. Teenager Rylan loves cars and owns one that he drives. He has been stopped by the police who tell him to stop driving illegally. I told him this would not be his experience in Crown Heights. Owning guns and hunting with them is a normal part of life in Bethany. I think some members of the group were anxious about crime in Brooklyn and were relieved to hear the statistics point to the lowest rate of crime in decades. Bethany is a small town where everyone pretty much knows everyone else, but one reason Valerie opted for home schooling was to keep her children from young people who didn't behave well. The military figures prominently in the lives of Bethany people. Valerie told of a relative joining the army hoping to learn about meteorology. Instead he became a chauffeur to an officer and then served with an outfit firing off salutes for those killed in combat. His ears were damaged doing this duty, and he never did get to working as a meteorologist. Rylan hope to continue his interest in cars by working as a mechanic in the army.
I would say that everyone in the group subscribed to the idea that Brooklyn is a nice place to visit, but they wouldn't want to live here. The group put two more trees into tree care, and when I asked mournfully who would continue caring for them, the answer was loud and clear – “You will.” However, I do hope the Missouri group will return. This was Casey's third visit; maybe coming here will become a tradition. Just as I found their lives interesting, I hope they feel the same about Brooklyn
Part 2: Visitors from Mount Washington, Kentucky
I missed the Richmond team coming to Brooklyn during the week of July 7th. I was away in Vermont, but the day after I got back, I encountered another team from Kentucky. Their church is in Mount Washington, a suburb of Louisville. There were four people in this group. The leader was Jeremy Forrest, who it the successful manager of a Car Max. With him were Maddie, a Spanish teacher in the local high school, Abigail just starting college with the idea of becoming an optometrist, and Mattie, on his way to an engineering degree. One day I worked with Mattie and Abigail working on tree care and found out a bit about their plans, and the next time I saw the group, I took a shot at cleaning up the whole length of Nostrand Avenue from Empire Boulevard to Fulton Street, twenty blocks of avenue that are often filled with trash on the sidewalks and in the streets. On this occasion I worked with Maddie and found out a bit about her, Mount Washington and the churches there. She told me she loves being a teacher and regards herself as an easy one, meaning that she always gives her students a chance to do more. If someone doesn't like getting a C, she will let that person do extra work to improve the grade. She wants her students to succeed and will meet them half way. She told me Mount Washington is a liberal community where education is important. As people have flocked into the town, the high school has become badly overcrowded, but it still gives a very good education, one of several attractions of the town. Mattie and Abigail are both products of the school and are going on to college and good careers. The politics of the town tend toward the Democrats. Maddie's father ran for D.A. over and over as a Democrat and won every time. He finally retired when the Republican legislature passed a bill cutting pensions; he did not want to lose the one he had. Maddie also told me that the Baptist Church is the largest in Mount Washington but does not regard the other Protestant churches or the Catholic Church as competitors. They cooperate with each other in holding events and bringing the community together. However, if Mount Washington is a center of liberal values, Kentucky as a whole is not. Maddie was quite sure that Trump would win the state in 2020, and she also did not believe that Mitch McConnell could be defeated in an election. Maddie told me that she and her sister have bought a house together, something that would not be possible in Brooklyn. Even though they have modest salaries, she thought they could manage a mortgage, but it is very important that they don't lose their jobs.
The Kentucky group were hard workers, but the weather was against them. The second day we were out the temperature went into the nineties and the humidity was high. Seeing that Maddie seemed to be wilting and feeling a bit light-headed myself, I cut our pick up area by two blocks, and when we rejoined the others, I got drinks for whomever wanted them. That was the day I said goodbye to the Kentucky group, hoping very much they return next year. I feel like Maddie may very well do that. She has brother who lives in Bed-Stuy and she estimated she has been to Brooklyn about nine times. Maybe she will even come and live here. Brooklyn collects people from all over America, in fact, from all over the world.
Part 3: Visitors from Atlanta, Georgia
Let me introduce myself. My name is Blair Sanders and I spent a week trying to step outside my bubble, and try to impact, or at least make a dent in, a community far away from my comfort zone: Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
I’m from a church in Loganville, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, called Berean Bible Church. We sent a team to assist Stephen Stallard and Mosaic Baptist Church in Crown Heights. We visited from July 20th until the 26th.
We started our work by helping Mosaic Baptist Church organize their annual time outdoors, a worship service and festival set up in Brower Park. Worship was led by Anthony Thomas, the worship leader of Berean Bible Church, with various members of the mission team assisting with backup vocals and guitar, and teaming up with Mosaic members with other instruments. Stephen Stallard gave a brief message on the Gospel during a break in the music.
It’s one thing to have a church service in the four walls of the church, with people who choose to be there. It’s another to have church in an open place like Brower Park. However, people seemed very receptive to the music and Pastor Stephen’s message.
The next day, our team met with John DeWind to help with the beautification of the areas surrounding Nostrand Avenue, Lincoln Place, and New York Avenue. Some of us watered and cleaned up trees, while others planted trees. Half of our team returned a couple days later to help clean up litter and make sure the area looked beautiful. Rodney Massey, Chris Florey, Alvin Smith, and myself.
In addition, we also sent part of our team to help with the Brower Park garden. Some members carried mulch, others helped to weed. This group consisted of Greg O’Connor, Bri Mack, Olivia Thomas, Rynn Thomas, and Anthony Thomas.
Another day, we spent a large portion of the day conducting surveys geared to figuring out ways the church can both pray for the Crown Heights community, but also how they can directly address the fears and concerns of the people.
We also took the time to go outside our bubbles, whether by talking to strangers in a coffee shop or by handing out fliers to people rushing to the subway to get to work. It’s important because in one-to-one encounters that’s where real connection is made. In an automated world, it gets easier and easier just to drift away.
What did we take away from this trip? Make the effort to be intentional. Not just be intentional with efforts to make your community a better place, but truly connect with people. This may mean working with my local park and arts organization. This may mean trying to engage in solid conversation with the barista when you get your morning coffee. This may mean picking up cigarette butts on the street because it needs cleaning. Be intentional.
Blair Sanders and John DeWind