In the summer of 2015, I went to a predominately Chinese area in Brooklyn, NY to help out at a VBS-like summer program called Summer Splash put on by Dorcas Ministries (which I wrote about here). Last April, I went back to the same place in Brooklyn, though the reason for that was to put on a “retreat” for the youth and college students (which I also wrote about). Last week, I went back again to do a bit of both: We had some more teaching sessions for the youth and college kids on Monday and Tuesday (July 4) but also did Summer Splash from Wednesday to Friday. It was a lot of work, but God had even more blessings in store for me and my team.
There is a lot I could write about, but I will attempt to be brief so that this is not unreasonably long.
The Youth Sessions
We arrived on Saturday, July 1 and settled in at the Dorcas building, which is large enough to house mission teams (girls upstairs, guys in the basement). We went to the nearby EV Free church on Sunday and got to see some of the youth there, and we hung out with them for a bit that day before the youth program started on Monday morning. Because of the 4th of July, Summer Splash would not start until Wednesday, so we had two days to dedicate to the youth. There were four topics: Devotional Bible reading, discipleship, evangelism, and small group, and they were taught in the mornings and afternoons on Monday and Tuesday. We also carved out time for worship and testimony. Two girls on our team shared their testimonies, and they were both very impactful.
I taught on evangelism, and I was originally slated to be the last teacher on Tuesday afternoon. However, one of the members of the team had an idea the night before: We should teach evangelism in the morning and then go out during lunch time to evangelize in the local community. The first reaction from many people on the team was a bit of apprehension because they had very little experience doing that kind of evangelism (plus, it’s always awkward to walk up to random people like that), but we all agreed that it was a good idea and would be a good example for the youth.
So that night, I modified my lesson to incorporate this new idea, and I attempted to go to bed. However, I couldn’t sleep because a lot of things were on my mind, including some personal stuff. I prayed in bed and came to a lot of peace about what I was thinking about, and I got back up after laying there for only about two hours. Though I typically do my Bible reading at night because I’m a night owl (and I don’t like mornings), I read a chunk of Scripture and spent more time in prayer. I prayed for our team, the youth, some people at home, and for the evangelism that was to occur just a few hours later. And I decided to pray big and prayed that someone would be saved that day. After that, I set up the technology for my presentation, went running with a team member in the morning (which I rarely ever do because I dislike mornings and distance running), ate a bit of breakfast, and waited for the youth to show up.
When it was time to teach, I was pretty excited even though I got virtually no sleep. For my session, I started off with some fun activities that also helped them think about the core tenets of the gospel. First, they were to get into groups and try to summarize the gospel in 140 characters or less as if they were on Twitter. After that, I made them try to share the gospel with only emojiis, which resulted in some interesting and creative responses. I spent a lot of time not only on the content of the gospel but on the “why” question: Why should we share? Ultimately, not only is it a command, evangelism is consistent with the desire of God that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and his love for the world for which Christ died. I felt like this was the question that was the most important to emphasize, and I warned against being too formulaic when sharing the gospel (though I did teach them the Romans Road). In any case, I gave them some guidelines for evangelism and first had them practice by role-playing for one another. Then I sprang the news on them: We were going to go out in groups and share the gospel with complete strangers. There was some trepidation but also excitement.
I went out with a group, and before we entered the park just outside the building, I prayed with them that God would bring someone to share the gospel to. As we walked, we got the sense that a guy sitting on a bench alone was the one to talk to, so we went up there and started a conversation. He was a very talkative Muslim man whose name was, interestingly enough, Islam (though he wasn’t a devout Muslim). He was very open to talk and eventually even took us to coffee because he liked us so much, though he had a hard time seeing the difference between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We tried our best to tell him how Jesus makes all the difference, and he expressed interest in visiting the church the following Sunday. It was a good conversation that we felt that God had appointed.
When all the groups got back to Dorcas and ate lunch, we had a time of debriefing, and everyone was excited to share about their experience. For sure, not every encounter was a fruitful one; obviously, some folks the groups tried to share to had no interest in talking and a lot of people were new at it, which resulted in some admittedly funny stories. Still, I was encouraged by how much the youth really took ownership of evangelizing and went out. Some wanted to go out again that afternoon, though it was not feasible with the schedule. Furthermore, it became apparent as time went by that the evangelism session caused some of the youth who either were not saved or were not dedicated to Christ to think more deeply about the gospel. In turned out that God answered my prayer that day–someone was saved at Dorcas during the evangelism practice as he talked to our team leader–and at least one other would become saved later as someone on our team continued to reach out. I was amazed at how God worked that day and throughout the rest of the week.
Summer Splash started on Wednesday and went through Friday, and the schedule was like this: We got up around 7:15 to eat breakfast and get ready, and we started walking some kids (from 1st-6th grade) from the Dorcas building to the church. It’s not a long walk but also crosses some intersections, so we had to wear orange vests and one of us was equipped with a stop sign to tell the New York drivers not to kill us.
At the church, the day would start with songs, a testimony, and story time for the Bible story of the day. Then we would split up into our respective grades, and two team members were partnered with two youth counselors for that grade. In our classrooms, we would have time to review the story before having snacks and gym time, and then after lunch, there was time for recess, math and reading (…I think Chinese parents like this part), and crafts. Then we met up in the sanctuary as a big group once again for another song or two before we dismissed the kids at around 3:00 and walked some of them back to Dorcas.
It was pretty tiring and it could be difficult to try to have spiritual conversations with such young kids, but it was also amazing to see how God worked and how much the kids could actually understand. Though it often looked like they spaced out, they actually retained much of what we said. Every class gave invitations to faith and had responses, and while it is true that there is a big risk that kids respond with no clue of what they’re doing, I think it’s also possible that some kids do understand, and that makes it worth it to try.
We had time for debriefing after Summer Splash, and after that… well, we spent a lot of time with the youth. Some of us would spend all night with them, and many of us visited their youth group activities on Friday night. The nearby Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Donuts was visited frequently, where I enjoyed some triple scoop ice cream cups. It was a lot of fun hanging out with them, getting to know them more, and having spiritual conversations with them as well. They asked questions about Bible reading, small group, and theology, and it once again very encouraging to see how eager many of them were to learn. This has always struck me every time I’ve visited.
This time around, we didn’t go out much to eat, but we still got fed pretty well at Dorcas as people cooked some good Chinese food. We literally never left that small area in Brooklyn the entire time, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we really cared that we didn’t do touristy stuff (I’ve been to NY several times now and I’m really only interested in trying more food, anyway). Instead, we enjoyed all the moments we had hanging out with the youth.
I remember two years ago that I was hesitant to go on this trip because I was busy, but when I got back, I told everyone that the trip was a very good one to go on and that they should consider it. The opportunities to share God’s Word there are great, and though I’m not an emotional person, I found both the kids and youth there to be easy to attach to (though I don’t show it because I’m, you know, a man 😉 ). I wasn’t even planning on going this time around again, but after April, I joined the team late and had to fly on a different flight going there, waiting 8 hours for the rest of them to arrive. Many of our team members were there for the first time, and they didn’t think it was going to be that much of a blessing until they started to cry their eyes out when they had to leave. A lot of them want to go back the next chance they have, though it’s harder for some than others depending upon work and school.
I think God has forged a special relationship between our church and the people there, particularly through our English pastor who elected not to go this time around. He really wanted to, but he decided to let others lead this trip and experience the blessing that he has. However, he may be able to go again with people realizing how great this trip is, as I think more people will be interesting in going to see how God is working there. We have already started talking about the possibility of sending two teams to Brooklyn for two separate weeks (Summer Splash is a seven-week program). We’ll see, but regardless, it’s always great to go there and see how God is working, and while I came back physically exhausted and slept like a rock for a couple of days, it was one of the more spiritually refreshing trips I’ve been on.