Although the team was briefed on Hinduism before entering the temple in Jackson Heights, Queens, Wendy Mitchell was surprised to see all the different gods lined up along the wall. Dressed in sequined outfits, she said the statues looked almost like giant dolls.
Mitchell visited the Hindu temple during a mission trip to New York City last year with Embrace Women’s Missions and Ministries of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC). Mitchell, whose husband pastors LaGrange Missionary Baptist Church, was one of eight women to participate.
“I can’t go back to the city and look at it the same way. I learned so much and saw so many different cultures. The people are hungry for the gospel,” she said.
The women met people from all over the world who represented different religions. In Jackson Heights alone more than 130 languages are spoken and, in addition to Hindus, live Sikhs, Roman Catholics, Buddhists and Greek Orthodox.
The women served throughout the city, from Manhattan and Brooklyn to different neighborhoods in Queens, and worked alongside pastors, church planters and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. They helped with prayerwalking, English as a Second Language classes and women’s conferences.
They also hosted a henna party for Indian, Bangledeshi, Nepalese and Pakistani women. Team members had the Creation to Christ gospel story designed on their hands and forearms using henna, which is temporary body art unique to South Asia. After the henna party the team still experienced opportunities to share the gospel on subway trains, on the street and while waiting in store lines.
Embrace, under the leadership of director Ashley Allen, has sponsored two mission trips to New York City and two international mission trips – one to Moldova and one to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Any mission trip allows a woman to see God at work – both in those with whom she is sharing and herself,” Allen said. “Jesus calls all believers – not just a select few – to be a part of taking the gospel to the nations. Obedience is necessary for any follower of Christ.”
This year Allen will lead a team of women to serve throughout Boston, an area with a population of more than 4.5 million people, but an evangelical population of less than three percent. More than 1,000 towns in New England are without any evangelical witness.
“The time to reach Boston is now. There are many church buildings in Boston that have been converted to high rises and businesses because the churches that once occupied the buildings shut their doors and had to sell their buildings. Yet, the population of the greater metro Boston area is growing rapidly,” Allen said.
Mitchell is already preparing her application for the Boston mission trip. New York was her first mission trip, and she is ready to go and serve again.
“The mission trip was an eye-opening and amazing experience. You just don’t know until you go,” Mitchell said. “I had never shared my testimony before, and I have a fear of speaking in groups. I had to face that. It was a big step out of my comfort zone. But I’m so glad I did,” she said.
Since returning from New York, Mitchell has committed to learning more about other cultures and is already on her way to learning Spanish.
Shirley Sells, executive leader assistant to the church planting and missions development group at the BSCNC, also experienced life change as a result of participating in Embrace mission trips. Sells joined both the 2012 and 2011 New York mission teams. The 2011 trip compelled her to return with Embrace last year, and to also join a New York City vision tour with the BSCNC Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
“Ministry is not a one-time trip; it’s a lifestyle. God spoke to me clearly that this needs to be a lifestyle,” Sells said. “There is so much work to be done and so many needs, but so few laborers.”
With about 3.5 million people from unreached people groups, Sells saw firsthand the great need for the gospel to penetrate New York City.
“No matter where you are in New York – Starbucks, subways, cabs or McDonald’s – there are opportunities to tell others about Christ,” she said.
Sells and her husband are going to New York this summer to help lead a Vacation Bible School for First Haitian Baptist Church in Canarsie, Brooklyn, where Embrace served the past two years. Sells’ husband serves as director of missions for the Randolph Baptist Association, and churches from the association are joining them this summer for the VBS.
“The children there haven’t had a VBS in several years and they keep asking the pastor when they are going to be able to have VBS,” Sells said.
Although Sells returned from the Embrace trips overwhelmed at the lostness, she also returned more resolved to make a difference for the Kingdom.
“We are praying about how our association can partner long-term with ministries in New York City,” she said. “These mission trips changed me forever.”
The Boston mission trip is Sept. 19-22. Cost is $650 and includes airfare, missionary insurance, lodging, ministry expenses and ground transportation.