An Intern from Ithaca Reflects on Missionary Work in NYC
“When I walk around the littered city streets I try to adopt the distant urban stare of the natives, but it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m fresh out of the country. I like telling people that where I’m from, the tallest buildings are silos, and they usually ask, ‘What’s a silo?’ I didn’t expect New York City to have such an effect on me. As I have been rejected by the people of New York for the sake of the gospel, I feel like I’ve been rejected by the city itself. I long for the bucolic farms and verdant hills of home. When I look out the windows in New York, I see empty brick walls or crowded streets boasting of man’s creation rather than God’s.”—a summer journal entry
I had prayed for a challenge to further my faith, saying “God, here am I, use me for Your purpose.” That’s probably why I ended up working with Jews for Jesus for the summer.
When I accepted my position as editorial intern at Jews for Jesus, I knew I’d be at the San Francisco headquarters for a month and then in New York for a month of campaign. I figured I’d spend my days at the computer from 8-5 only marginally outside my comfort zone. And, in San Francisco, it actually did work out pretty much that way.
When it came to New York, I knew I’d be going out on the streets to witness here and there. But I didn’t know that I’d adhere to the campaign schedule, arriving at the office at 6:30 A.M. and often not returning to the hotel until 11 P.M. That’s where the stretch came—and in case that sounds like a complaint, it’s also where I found the answer to prayer.
There I was, an intern who had just finished his junior year at Grove City College, proclaiming the gospel on a New York City street corner some four hours away from my home in Ithaca, New York. On the surface I was handing out broadside tracts. But on the inside I was wrestling with a question that had taken me by surprise: why was it that for the first time in my life I felt ashamed of the gospel?
As I stood on the curb of 34th Street handing out broadsides (tracts inviting interaction with the gospel) passersby sneered, cursed, and spat at me. One man ripped the broadside I handed him and threw the tiny pieces in my face, unaware of the New York Times reporter who observed the scene. Frankly, I was afraid; perhaps more afraid of “man” (women can be intimidating, too) than of God.
That night, I was overcome with guilt that I hadn’t started more conversations. I was not excited about going out the next day. Was this guilt coming from Satan to discourage me, or was it God, convicting me to risk more for His sake?
There is an inherent element of fear in putting ourselves on the line for God because we fear people’s rejection. Even when we get used to the negative comments they still hurt, but not because they are personal. People’s objections reveal their animosity towards the gospel and their rejection of God, which is painful for believers to see. Maybe this is the Lord’s way of appealing to our emotions to convict us to proclaim the gospel. Even so, I couldn’t deny my fear, or the fact that I felt ashamed to proclaim the gospel message. My adoption of the “urban stare” indicated my fruitless desire to fit in and be accepted, despite the message I proclaimed and the T-shirt I wore. I prayed that the Lord would give me courage to care more about pleasing Him than the people around me.
Each successive day that I went out on the streets, the Lord answered my prayers and gave me peace, joy and courage. I discovered that a simple smile and nod went a long way.
God gave me courage to engage people, even if they weren’t exactly looking for conversation. One night I was finishing up a sortie in Coney Island when I noticed two young Hassidim. I told myself they were too young and avoided talking with them. (We don’t talk to people under the age of 18 without parental permission.) Karol Joseph, the Brooklyn campaign leader, suggested I go find out their age. So I went to them and engaged them in a conversation. Who knows if they had ever heard the gospel before? My words did not cause them to instantaneously realize the truth, but that’s okay. The Lord will do what He wants with the seeds that we planted.
I stopped feeling guilty if I didn’t end a sortie with a handful of contacts. I came to understand that God leads people to us, people He has chosen for us to engage. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have to put forth effort, but it is a great encouragement to know that God is in control. I have never before felt a stronger sense of His providence and direction.
Furthermore, God has many people in New York. Some of them stopped to offer encouragement, and of course, I met many wonderful campaigners— likeminded believers with whom I’ve bonded as we’ve done the difficult work of street evangelism together. Their encouragement, wisdom and experience truly blessed me. I rejoice because the Lord heard my prayers and challenged me by putting me in a situation where I had to rely on Him and seek Him fervently. He replaced my fear and shame with a joy that enables me to better serve and glorify Him. He provided His grace and sustaining power when I wanted to hide because, as He promises, He will never challenge us beyond what we can handle. I was truly blessed to be in a position to proclaim the gospel with Jews for Jesus in New York this summer.