Urban Immersion NYC

By Hope Klepper

It really was 9 o’clock on a Saturday, just like Billy Joel said. Ever have a moment in your life you know you need to take a mental picture of? You remember the big picture details: a CBF trip to New York City for an Urban Immersion Mission. And you remember the smaller details: the fact that Madi and Michael both sang the first verse of Piano Man together from across the makeshift circle without realizing it. 

This past week, a group of 10 modern day disciples made the journey to the concrete jungle to experience God in a way that was foreign to almost all of us. For me, it seems that the words “mission trip” and “New York City” are not synonyms. New York is the tourism capital of the world with entertainment and less than Godly images as far as the eye can see – what a peculiar place to serve on a mission trip. 

Going into this mission trip, I must admit my preconceived notions of what I expected of the week. I must warn you that I am often a “glass half empty” kind of person, so be forewarned of my initial attitude. It seems that mission trips can be problematic, both for the missionaries and the communities they enter to serve. We, as Christians, are called to serve the people of God – all people with differing needs. Mission trips can often become quick fix solutions to this calling. Mission trips where a picture on social media is worth more than the short time we spend on a week-long project. Or mission trips dedicated to spending a single week helping a community, only to let the work you put in fade away in real time as it does in your memory. I went into this week slightly fearful – asking myself, “what tangible good could I do in a week in New York City?”.

The fact of the matter is – the need for God is everywhere, especially New York City. Not only are the staggering homelessness population statistics proof enough of a needed effort of mission work, there is a disconnect that we hoped to lessen between the homeless community and society at large. A misunderstanding between the two that can often create an “us” and a “them”. When in fact, our differences (which, of course, make us unique) are often not quite as separating as we make them out to be. This week, we were introduced to an ongoing legacy of mission at Metro Baptist Church in Hell’s Kitchen. A legacy that we helped to cultivate. Cultivate, literally, in the rooftop garden which would help supply the 80+ families that we would serve in the food pantry the final day of our stay. We would also cultivate, in a broader sense in the Page Turners program, to support healthy growth for the children whose home situations are less than promising.

Throughout the week, there were many instances that we referenced scripture that was very fitting to what we were doing. Matthew 25:35, for example, the perfect mission trip mantra. “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat…”. The truth of the matter is that, for me, I could not get a single person out of my mind. That person was the widow in Mark 12 (& Luke 21), who gave all the money she had in her offering. For the better part of the week, I could not figure out why the nameless woman would not escape my thoughts as I tried to sleep at night. Thankfully, a lot of prayer has clarified this conundrum for me and allowed me to see why she was ever-present in our doings of this past week.

We are called to be the widow in Mark, who gave all the money she had in her offering even in her poverty. Jesus revealed that it was her, not the rich who would tangibly give more than the widow, who truly was pleasing to the Lord. This week, I felt the spirit of the widow in Mark all around me. I felt her in Kiera in the Page Turners program, who was grateful to finally have a bed of her own even if it was in a shelter. I felt her on a rooftop of a Saturday night, in the friendships I found in Kristen, Greer, Madi, Amber, Michael, Kaylee, Karlee, Micah and Steve. I felt her in Debbie, who showed me the beauty of harvesting in a rooftop garden that feeds hundreds of people in New York in a single season. I felt her in Scott, as we witnessed the incredible work of Metro and RMM in which he spearheads as a generous, thoughtful, and downright incredible leader. The widow in Mark guided me this week, in her selfless example. 

So should we be, as Christians, with our love. My prayer is that I never forget the legacy our group helped contribute this week at Metro Baptist Church in Hell’s Kitchen. May it bloom and grow. 

– Hope is a graduate of The University of Oklahoma. She will begin law school this summer at The University of Oklahoma College of Law. Hope is a member of Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.