The South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) has been in regular contact with church planters and SEND partners serving in New York City (NYC), Boston and other parts of New England throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteer teams cannot provide onsite assistance just yet, but SCBC encouragement and support continue through video conferences, organized prayer sessions and financial resourcing. In April, the SCBC gave $100,000 grants each to the Baptist Conventions of New England and New York to assist with ministry and relief aid to their areas.
The Budget, Finance & Audit Committee of the Executive Board approved the grants, comprised of monies from the SCBC general reserve and South Carolina Disaster Relief. SCBC Executive Director-Treasurer Gary Hollingsworth shared the news with leaders from each area during a video conferencing call, saying the gift represents the support and prayers of SC Baptists.
“It’s one thing to watch what’s going on from home through the television, but it’s another for some of you to look out your window and see what’s happening. While we cannot physically come now, we can send funds for you to do what we cannot do. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with you,” Hollingsworth shared.
SCBC Send Team Leader Ken Owens echoed that sentiment, adding that SC Baptists “want to do all we can to partner in the gospel, to help and serve alongside of you and ultimately help meet needs.”
George Russ, Executive Director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, expresses gratitude for the funds which have gone to the hardest-hit areas of NYC to provide meals, purchase personal protective equipment and ministries to first responders and chaplaincy workers. “We send a huge ‘thank you!’ In some of these places our churches were the only ones in the community providing for a hospital, precinct or fire station. We have had the chance to put a unique footprint on the relief efforts going on here.”
Russ reports the pandemic has encouraged a deeper dependency on God, not just for health and protection, but for ways his churches can serve moving forward. He is seeing greater church cooperation and partnership with community-based organizations which has extended their reach. One NYC Spanish church’s weekly video conferenced prayer time now has participants from Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
“The COVID-19 experience across the city isn’t uniform, everyone has felt this thing but in different ways. One of my French speaking congregations had 30 funerals in one month. The economic and emotional residual of this will be felt for a while and we are looking at how we can serve the churches once this has flattened completely. God is able, He is in this and He is with us,” Russ says.
SCBC Executive Board Member Homer Reeves’ corporate career took him to NYC where he worked for over a decade before relocating to South Carolina about 15 years ago. For the last five years Reeves and his wife have served as mission service coordinators with NAMB and church plant team members with the Global Mission Nepali Church in Queens. Still based in South Carolina, the couple also works with several South Asian churches and helps to connect SCBC churches looking to partner in NYC.
“While my corporate career in the financial district of Manhattan was rewarding and productive, it in no way comes close to the joy my wife and I experience by getting to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our church planters in Queens as we share the good news of Jesus,” Reeves says.
He describes NYC as “one of the toughest battlefields” with residents who despise any hint of Christianity mixed with those who have relocated there to escape homeland persecutions. Local church plants are having opportunities to care for neighbors and share the hope of the gospel during this pandemic. Reeves shared recent updates from front-line pastors:
Patrick Thompson, New City Church, Long Island City, personal COVID-19 survivor:
“God continues to open doors of spiritual conversations as we minister to those in need. While we have delivered over 22,000 meals to those in need, some of the greatest spiritual impact has come in those that are volunteering with our ministry. Eventually the conversations turn toward our church ministry, my role as a pastor and how people of faith are walking through this crisis. In seven years I haven’t seen a better opportunity – even on the phone while stuck in my bedroom sick with COVID – to have deep, meaningful spiritual conversations with people who are fearful and willing to have gospel conversations.” A portion of the SCBC grant helped to provide 2,000 meals to vulnerable individuals, helping to deepen Thompson’s relationships with local restaurant owners and open new doors of ministry.
Larry Mayberry, Connections Church, Queens, launched in Sept. 2019:
“God has been developing the spiritual lives of many who have recently followed Jesus. Throughout the quarantine we have seen many take the next steps in their walk with God by joining a Bible study for the first time, stepping out in faith to give tithes for the first time and trusting Jesus through grief and great loss. We have also seen three people trust Christ as their Savior through online Sunday gatherings, who are now being discipled by others in our congregation. We have also continued to live on mission by partnering with a local coffee shop and two other churches to purchase and deliver 100 cold brew coffee growlers to teachers and first responders.” Mayberry reports that every member of his church knows someone who has died or been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, but that his church’s “DNA to love and serve the community” is moving them forward.
One ethnic church pastor in NYC reports Hindu friends have asked him for prayer and that a seeker who was healed of the virus now says she’s ready to be baptized. Another pastor is targeting urban unreached families identified through mapping software. Reeves welcomes further SCBC church partnerships with NYC church planters, who are facing great personal and congregational needs.
“We are deeply and overwhelmingly grateful for the SCBC's quick response and support of our association during this time. It illustrates the heart of God in giving and lets us know we are loved and not alone,” Reeves says.
Executive Director - Treasurer of the Baptist Convention of New England Terry Dorsett says SCBC monies have already helped his churches to feed the hungry, purchase Bibles, personal protective equipment and provide for the unemployed. Grant money helped Pastor Dan Coleman of Central Church in Augusta, Maine, to deliver food boxes to families in 100 towns across the state. The funds have also assisted 25 ethnic church pastors whose ministries during the pandemic have continued despite not receiving salaries since January.
“If our churches do not reach out to their communities and make a difference during what many consider the most significant crisis in our lifetime, then communities will not care what those churches have to say when this crisis is over. It is time to put our all on the line and move forward in full force with gospel centered love to our communities,” says Dorsett.
Updates from others serving in the SEND city of Boston:
Joey Thompson, Celebration Church, Boston:
“I’m confident in God’s sovereignty laying the groundwork for revival that we’re all praying for. Nothing prepares a heart to hear the gospel like a pandemic. God has been caring for our church well and online services are engaging more people than we normally would. Bostonians tend to be uncomfortable walking into a church, so we are hoping that those who watch online will become more comfortable visiting when churches reopen.”
David Butler, North American Mission Board SEND City Missionary:
“One of the best things happening lately is seeing church planters take care of each other, and realize it’s not about gathering on Sunday but about equipping people to be mobilized to be everyday missionaries. We have a vision to see 300 life-giving church plants by 2030 when Boston turns 400 years old, and that hasn’t changed. I don’t know how God will get us there but, with church planters on the ground now, we are confident this will happen.”
SCBC connections to COVID-19 “hot spots” in these Northeast areas include missionaries and church planters native to South Carolina, as well as churches that send mission teams and maintain ongoing partnerships there. These leaders request prayers for themselves, their church members and communities during this time of illness, fear and uncertainty.
Steve Canter, regional director for NAMB’s New England SEND network, works to connect with and encourage missionaries and church planters. While he acknowledges some church plants will not survive this difficult season, the focus is shifting to what future church planting will look like. Regarding the grant, Canter says “thank you to South Carolina, we appreciate you setting the pace and being an example of what it means to be open-handed.”
To each of these partners, Hollingsworth says “we aren’t just praying for you, but putting our money where our mouth is. Know that we are blessed and want to be a blessing.”
For more online information about strategic SEND partnerships and COVID-19 ministry opportunities visit www.scbaptist.org/send, or contact SCBC Partnership Mission Director Tim Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org.