BY JOSIAH HAKEN, VP OF OPERATIONS AT NYCR
There are a lot of really good reasons to sign up for a short-term missions experience. For one, it means you get to explore a new environment, meet some incredible people and experience things that would never happen where you normally live. But let’s be real, the same can be accomplished on business trips, at conferences or because of flight delays. The real reason you should consider signing up for a short-term missions experience is because God is always ready to show his face to those who are willing to step out in faith.
New York City Relief for almost seven years. We send retrofitted vehicles, called Relief Buses, throughout the NYC metro area that engages and serves folks struggling with homelessness, hunger, and poverty. We throw parties for people who don’t have a lot to celebrate and we always bring food and new socks as party favors. We need volunteers to make our parties successful, so we’ve built incredible partnerships with church communities around the world. One of our closest partners is Grace Church. I’ll never forget my first experience with a team from Grace. I had just started as an Outreach Team Leader and was learning the ropes of driving a school bus through the streets of Manhattan along with all the other parts of my role.
It just so happened the Grace team had agreed to do a double shift with us by serving in Harlem during the day, and then traveling to another area of NYC to serve in a once-a-year collaborative outreach NYC Relief helps to run called Don’t Walk By. At the time, I was living about 90-minutes away from our base of operations, so I left my house around 5:30 a.m. to get there by 7:00 a.m. for the preparations of making soup, going to the bakery, and stocking our outreach vehicles. After a full day of outreach and then another few hours driving a van all over Manhattan transporting homeless folks with Don’t Walk By, I was crashing pretty hard. But I volunteered to drive the Grace team home that night, so like a good soldier, I connected with their leader and waited as they gathered together.
As they approached the van I was driving, I could tell that they had experienced something significant. Don’t Walk By is an outreach that breaks volunteers into small groups and has them walk every block of Manhattan in search of people with no place to stay. The Grace team had been split into two small groups to walk the streets on that cold January night. One of their teams encountered a young lady named Natasha shivering on the sidewalk. Natasha had a deep scar on her face where she had been slashed by a gang member. She had also been devastated by witnessing the traumatic death of her baby in a car accident. She moved to NYC for a fresh start, but unfortunately, things didn’t get any better. She was surviving the winter on the streets of NYC and had recently been diagnosed with cancer. When the Grace team came along, she was burning with fever and she hadn’t eaten anything substantive since her most recent discharge from the hospital. One of the Grace volunteers, Jo, had connected with her very deeply and persuaded her to travel back to the anchor church for some assistance where she could get some basic medical care, a meal and hopefully a place to sleep indoors that night. The team that was there to do some basic triage assessed she was in bad shape and called 911. They didn’t know if she was going to make it or if years of sleeping outside in the blistering heat and the freezing cold were going to get the last laugh. Jo was visibly upset and the whole team spent time praying for this young lady throughout the ride back. I drove them to where they were staying that night, and when I parked, I felt words bubble up within me. I turned to Jo, who I didn’t know at all at the time, and I said, “Jo, even if she goes to meet Jesus tonight, she will recognize him because she saw him in your eyes.” She gave me a slight smile and everyone got out of the van.
I didn’t really think about it again until a year later when I was walking through the Indianapolis airport with Steve Buczkowski and he told me that the words I told Jo had made a big impact on the team. “Really? Why is that?”
“You don’t know?” He was surprised.
“Know what?” I was as confused as ever.
“Well, when Jo had encountered that young lady and they were on their way back to the church, Jo kept on saying to her over and over, ‘look in my eyes, these eyes love you, and Jesus loves you.’”
I don’t think Jo had any idea what God had in store for her when she signed up for that short-term missions experience with NYC Relief. She had no idea that God would use her to speak words of life to a daughter of the Most High God who was freezing to death in the streets of NYC. She also didn’t know that same God would confirm the significance of those words to her just a few hours later through an exhausted Outreach Leader who would end up getting lost as he tried to find his way back home later that same night.
She didn’t know that she was going to look into the face of God that night. She also didn’t know that God would use her face, her eyes, to reveal His face to another. Over and over again, I have seen firsthand the significance of small steps of faith. The founder of NYC Relief, Richard Galloway, likes to say that God only uses one kind of Christian: the kind that shows up. Maybe you feel like God is distant or that you just aren’t connecting like you used to. Maybe your prayers feel empty or you just need a break from the grind of work or school. Just know that God is closer than you could possibly know. The best way to see God’s face to take a step of faith.
Take a Step
If you’d like to take a step of faith by signing up for a short-term mission experience with New York City Relief, there are multiple trips scheduled throught the year! Just visit our website to sign up. You never know the ways you might encounter God or how someone might see His face in you. Can’t wait to see you out there!