Mission America w/ Kris Newman
Issue 6, Vol. 2
About one year ago, John was teaching five second-grade boys the story of David and Goliath. John was shocked to discover that not one of those boys had ever heard that story before. We think of America as a Christian nation. The reality is that Christianity in America has been in a steady decline for a generation. According to George Gallup in “Church in the World Today”, North America is the ONLY continent in which Christianity is in decline. One of the biggest mission fields in the world is our own urban centers in our own backyard.
We decided it would be a good idea for us to learn how to engage urban children from someone who has been doing it for more than thirty years. Recently I (Kris) along with our daughters Gloria and Joy, had an opportunity to visit Metro Ministries, founded by Bill Wilson, in Brooklyn, New York . When Bill Wilson was 12 years old, his mother left him on a street corner in Florida and said, “I can’t do this anymore. You wait here. I will be back.” He waited three days! Finally, a Christian mechanic named Dave picked him up, fed him and paid his way to go to church camp that summer. There, Bill gave his life to God. After Seminary, Bill pioneered the first bus ministry in the US. In the mid 70’s, his bus ministry took him to Davenport, Iowa, my home town. He was always doing something big, like creating the largest ice cream sundae or dropping tootsie rolls out of a helicopter. In 1980 he moved to the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York with a bullhorn, station wagon, and a worn out Yogi Bear costume. His named his Sunday School “Yogi Bear” because he wanted a name that the kids would remember. The name stuck.
Life in the Bushwick neighborhood is still tough. I can’t imagine what it was like 30 years ago. I know for me the sounds, smells, and sites of a big city close in fast when you spend a few days there…the homeless man sleeping on the corner; the trash everywhere; and the butcher who “guards” his delivery truck with a make shift spear. You look around and wonder how can there be any hope here. But now after 30 years the Yogi Bear trucks pull up to hundreds of street corners every week and for blocks you can hear the kids singing “My God is a good God, oh yes He is.” Within all five New York City boroughs there are 20,000 kids that are reached each week!
So now that we are home, what was our take away? We came away with some programming ideas, some ideas for discipline, but our big take away from Brooklyn is the importance of having a good reputation. In the five days that we were interacting with the community we heard no negative comments from the neighbors. People would recognize the “Yogi Bear” trucks from when they were part of sidewalk Sunday School. Other people we met had brought their kids to listen and now they were bringing their grand kids We worked alongside a Metro staff member that had grown up as a “Yogi Bear Kid.” Our friend, Freddie, started going to Sunday School when he was 5. Now he is in charge of his own truck and a lead teacher on Saturday. A good reputation and years of dedicated ministry have brought hope to Bushwick.
Our ministry at New Hope is not just for a season. In order to bring about life change through Jesus we need to be in it for the long haul. Are we willing to hang in there until some of the kids that are second graders now have their own kids? Maybe longer?
The only way that will be possible is by love. It’s hard to love. We need to be selfless. Philippians 1:9 – 11 sums it up well. “So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.”
So, in our own backyard, let’s all dig in together, building a good reputation of consistency, perseverance, and demonstrating God’s love, and let’s see what God’s love can do through us and for us.