By Brandon Elrod
(NEW YORK CITY)—As the No. 7 New York City subway line rises from underground in Queens, N.Y., passengers suddenly find themselves riding above one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. In the school system alone, there are 176 languages spoken.
Overall, an estimated 800 languages are spoken in Queens according to Business Insider. “For reference, there are 195 countries in the world,” North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting catalysts Jeremiah Brinkman and Vijaykumar Allampalli remind their visitors.
A group of NAMB trustees and some staff met church planting missionaries Adam Bishop, Joseph Biswas and Silvanus Bhandari on the aptly-named Diversity Plaza in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights.
North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting catalyst Jeremiah Brinkman shares with a group of NAMB trustees and staff about the church planting missionary work in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. The group toured the neighborhood and heard the stories of church planting missionaries serving in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. NAMB photo by Hayley Catt.
That part of the city recently received a facelift, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio called Queens the city’s “most diverse borough” when he attended the ground-breaking of the plaza in 2017.
Walking around the neighborhood with the church planting missionaries helped trustees gain a better feel for their mission.
“To be able to see the diversity,” said Stephen Spurgin, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Miamisburg, Ohio and a current NAMB trustee, “Reading about it is one thing, but seeing it, experiencing it, is another. It will help me to pray more efficiently—more fervently—for their needs and what they’re dealing with.”
Bishop and his wife grew up in the United States and answered the call to go to the nations by ministering in New York City.
“Our church is Jackson Heights Community church,” Bishop shared with the trustees. “I’ve been here almost four years. Me and three other guys planted the church.” They currently meet in the Pakistani-owned, Muslim restaurant where the group shared a traditional meal.
“They’re very open to our church being here,” he said. “They’re very supportive of us. The owners are devout Muslims, but they love that we love our community.”
Church planting missionary Joseph Biswas shares his vision for growing his Bengali-speaking church in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. with a group of North American Mission Board trustees and staff. Queens has become one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world with an estimated 800 languages spoken. NAMB photo by Hayley Catt.
Biswas is from Bangladesh and Bhandari from Nepal. Both felt called to Queens to reach South Asians who had immigrated to the city.
“My wife and I came to New York about three and a half years ago,” said Bhandari. “God called me and my wife to come to New York to reach our Nepali-speaking Hindu and Buddhist people…Nepal is a small country, but a lot of people, 70,000 Nepali-speaking people, live in metro-New York” with a dense population in Queens.
Bhandari’s church, Global Mission Nepali Church, began in 2016 and has seen several people come to faith in Christ, and around 30 people now attend his church—many from a Hindu or Buddhist background.
When he and his wife came to New York as new immigrants, they had zero credit history and little means to establish themselves. He shared with trustees his gratitude for the myriad ways NAMB supported him and his wife, including missionary housing in Brooklyn that helped them find their footing in New York.
“We are truly grateful for that mission house,” said Bhandari. “We thank you so much for having that prepared for the missionaries, and we are so grateful for your financial support, prayer, encouragement, the gift cards, books, the hand-written cards, which is a huge, huge encouragement to me and my wife and to our team.”
A group of North American Mission Board (NAMB) trustees and staff travel around the New York City borough of Queens in order to get a feel for the neighborhood where several NAMB church planting missionaries live and minister. NAMB church planting catalysts and church planters showed them the various cultures that have converged on Queens, N.Y. to make it one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. NAMB photo by Hayley Catt.
Biswas began his journey “very alone” before he met a Southern Baptist pastor who connected him with NAMB, and after five years of working to start a church, there are now 60 regular members in his congregation, Evangelical Bengali Church.
“When I came, my dream was not to stay in this country. When I saw a hundred thousand people—it’s like Bangladesh everywhere [in Queens]—God whispered in my heart, ‘Why not start it from here? Because if you can transform one life here, they will transform their community,’” Biswas said as he pointed to indicate his native nation.
Biswas described how the lack of religious freedom in Bangladesh has made it difficult to share the Christian faith there.
“We are not free to share our faith with other faiths, with other people,” he said. “But [in the United States], we have rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion.”
Biswas embraces that freedom as a challenge to share the gospel with as many people as possible.
“Our goal is, for 2019, we would like to share the Good News with 20,000 Bengali people,” he said as he explained his vision. “My heart is all the time to go, share Good News very honestly, and [God’s] job is to transform peoples’ lives.”
Left to right: North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting catalyst Jeremiah Brinkman, church planter Joseph Biswas, NAMB catalyst Vijaykumar Allampalli, church planter Silvanus Bhandari and church planter Adam Bishop. The group of church planters and NAMB church planting catalysts shares their testimonies and the stories of their churches in Queens, N.Y. NAMB photo by Hayley Catt.
Typically, all of NAMB’s trustees travel and meet church planters together during their fall meetings. The logistics of getting large groups of people around New York City, however, required the trustees to split up and visit different boroughs.
Along with the group that traveled to Queens, trustees visited catalysts and church planters in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey.
“I absolutely love coming on the tours as a trustee, getting to see boots on the ground, what people are doing,” said Erin Bounds, a member of North Valley Baptist Church in Odenville, Ala. “It puts so much more meaning to the decisions we’re able to make. They aren’t just decisions on paper. It’s actually real people, real souls.”
As the tour of Queens began winding down, Bounds’s smart watch buzzed her wrist with a calendar notification. She couldn’t help but smile at the timing and shared the bit of serendipity with the group.
Her scheduled prayer time for that evening was for the people and church planters in Jackson Heights.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.