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By Jim Burton
BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Austin Coleman has spent
each of the last two summers in New York City looking for intersections. If
ever there was a city where success would seem inevitable, America’s largest
city would be that place with its blur of 24-hour activity. New York City is a
seemingly endless maze of intersections populated by yellow taxicabs,
limousines, delivery trucks and personal vehicles.
Despite potential risk, Coleman has
navigated the city without incident or peril. Now, he has a love for New York City
and a desire eventually to return there to live and plant churches.
Coleman’s father is a pastor and a
church planter, and the family made frequent moves during his childhood. For most
of his formative years, his father served First Baptist Church in Trenton,
Tenn., in the western part of the state. There are fewer intersections there,
but it served as a launching pad nonetheless for engagement in New York City.
While in the eighth grade, his family
volunteered in support of Billy Graham’s last official evangelistic crusade. His
home church started To Trenton With Love, a series of block parties and food
and clothing drives meant to give back to the community. When Hurricane Katrina
smashed the Gulf Coast in 2005, Coleman volunteered through the North American
Mission Board’s (NAMB) Project NOAH Rebuild initiative that worked to restore
1,000 homes. More recently during college at Liberty University in Virginia, he
spent two summers as an intern with a ministry that sponsors youth camps in
Georgia, Texas and Costa Rica.
“With GenSend there’s not going to be a
lot of structure,” Coleman said. “We’re going to show you what it really is for
you to drop into a city and plant the gospel to see a church come from that,
and to see how difficult that can be.”
GenSend is part of the NAMB Farm
System, aimed at assisting churches in discovering, developing and deploying
the next generations of missionaries. Coleman describes the value of GenSend
summers, “We are pushing forward the Great Commission. It fit better with my
personality. I wanted to pioneer something.”
There are no church plants currently in
District 2 of Brooklyn.
“It’s like a dot on the map where they
want to plant a church,” Coleman said of a NAMB map with dots covering the
major metropolitan areas, indicating communities needing new churches. Through “gospel
conversations,” Coleman and his team were able to gain a greater understanding
of the people inhabiting District 2. This will help inform future church
Coleman discovered people were more
willing to talk than he imagined. As with most inner cities, Coleman has not
found hostility toward the gospel as much as ambivalence or self-determined
“People in cities are very open to
talking about what they believe, their spirituality and why they believe what
they do believe,” Coleman said.
One person is a gay man from Ireland,
who regularly hung out with Coleman’s GenSend team. The man knows that the team
embraces a biblical standard for sexuality, but he apparently feels safe and
accepted by them.
“You come to Jesus as you are,” Coleman
said. “It’s okay to be messed up, but not to stay that way. Once you come to
Jesus, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. He will change your mind on things.”
Then there is a young man from Belize,
who regularly joined the team for their Thursday night cookouts. While walking
back to Long Island University where the team lodged, Coleman asked about his
He had been raised in the faith and had
a grandmother who was particularly devout. But both his mother and grandmother
had died. That’s when he walked away from the faith.
“I steered the conversation back to
Jesus as the only hope,” Coleman said. “We can have spiritual beliefs, but if
they aren’t pointed back to a true hope, they mean nothing.”
Having a “gospel conversation” with
people is an art, Coleman said.
“If you are listening well and being
intentional, people bring up things that parallel who Jesus is and what the
gospel means,” he said. “It looks different every single time. I’ve never had a
gospel conversation in New York that looked the same as the next.”
Now with a Master’s degree in church
planting and evangelism from Liberty University, Coleman foresees returning to
New York City someday to start a church. But first, there was the small matter
of a wedding.
Coleman and his fiancé, Sara Wallman, got married in October
2014. She was among his first recruits for the District 2 Brooklyn GenSend team.
He also accepted a position as youth pastor with Second Baptist Church in
Clinton, Tenn., which is near Knoxville.
That church is interested in possibly
starting a church in an urban area. After spending several years in Clinton,
the Colemans hope that God will take them back to New York City.
“One of my greatest prayers for this
summer is that God would make both of us fall in love with New York,” Coleman
said. “If God called us back to New York to be part of a church plant, than we’d
both have that urge and that urgency.
“I do believe God is changing the world
from New York.”
The goal for the 2015 Annie
Armstrong Easter Offering® is $60 million. To learn more about the
Week of Prayer, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and how your church can be
mobilized to push back lostness in North America, visit www.anniearmstrong.com. To read about the other 2015 featured missionaries,
To view a related video, visit namb.net/video/coleman
Burton writes for the North American Mission Board.
Date Created: 3/4/2015 12:15:07 PM
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®© Copyright 2015 North American Mission Board, SBC