A little Texas twang in the Big Apple

HARLEM, New York (BP) — Long known for its rich culture and diversity showcased in such movements as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, modern Harlem bustles with newly constructed multistory apartment buildings complementing traditional brownstones and thriving new and old businesses. It’s trendy.

Harlem also offers opportunities for the gospel, as the planters of Cultivate NYC are discovering with a little help from some friends at Texas churches and a series of events that could only have been orchestrated by God.

In 2021, Indiana natives Luke Calvert and his wife, Shelby, felt called to plant a church and were surprised when God led them from the Midwest to the Big Apple—a city they had never even visited before.

“We moved to the city on June 1, 2021, in the middle of COVID with a six-month-old baby,” Calvert said. 

During the pandemic, the Calverts saw New York pastors exiting the city at alarming rates. “The Lord was burdening our hearts that the city desperately needed the gospel in a time of strife,” Luke said. In the borough of Manhattan with a population of 1.8 million, only 1.8% believe in Jesus, Calvert said. That percentage of faith is slightly larger—up to 2.4%—over the five boroughs (including Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) with 7.5 to 8 million inhabitants, he added.

Before heading northeast, the Calverts partnered with CrossCreek Church (formerly First Baptist Colleyville) and its CrossCreek church planting network. Through CrossCreek, which became their sending church, and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send New York City initiative, they completed NAMB’s church planting assessment and underwent training.

Once in Harlem, they made connections. Co-planting pastor Robin Carabin and his wife, Jessica, with more than a decade of experience serving Harlem, joined the work six months after the Calverts’ arrival. Eventually, small group Bible studies grew to monthly gatherings to twice-a-month meetings until Cultivate NYC officially launched in September 2022. 

The church has office space, and on Sundays, the congregation of about 50 meets in a school in northwest Harlem. In neighborhood outreaches, they target West Harlem and the South Washington Heights area, about 30 blocks north of Central Park. 

Within the Harlem church, people from all over the world are represented, speaking a variety of languages in addition to English, including French, Creole, Spanish, and German. “We are socioeconomically diverse, ethnically diverse, but united under the gospel,” Calvert said.

Meeting the people where they’re at

Texas churches are among those partnering with Cultivate NYC, especially during community outreaches.

CrossCreek assists with family days in the summer and children’s programs throughout the school year. Using a truck provided by another ministry organization and featuring a fold-down stage, Cultivate NYC members and volunteers take what Calvert called “a Sunday school on wheels” to strategic areas near massive apartment buildings after school 26 Fridays per year. 

“We mirror the school semester,” Calvert says, noting that the day before, volunteers make home visits and pass out flyers.

The “Sunday school on wheels” features music and characters relating Bible stories. CrossCreek has even sent its children’s ministry mascots to make appearances. Church members engage parents who bring their kids down from nearby apartments. This past year, 10 moms professed faith in Christ and joined the church, along with their families.

The Family Day summer outreach serves some 800 families over two days. Families enjoy snacks, free haircuts, photo opportunities, and the chance to hear about Jesus.

First Baptist Church of Rowlett has made Cultivate NYC’s Christmas outreach possible, not only providing volunteers but also gifts to distribute, as well as meeting other financial needs.

“FBC Rowlett has sent mission teams twice with funds. They have funded 80 to 90% of what we have been able to do with the Christmas outreach,” Calvert said.

A divine appointment

The Rowlett connection began as a divine appointment.

When the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) sponsored a pastor prayer trip to New York in 2022, FBC Rowlett Senior Pastor Cole Hedgecock went, in his words, to “simply refresh, rest in God, and refocus.” 

One morning during the trip, Hedgecock was strolling outside following a breakfast meeting with Colin Rayburn, SBTC Missions Mobilization associate. The men happened to walk by the Cultivate NYC office in Harlem.

Intrigued by the name on the door, Hedgecock paused.

“It was as though God tapped me on the shoulder to notice this was a church,” he recalled. “An intern opened the door and welcomed us, asking if we had any questions about the church. Then we met Pastor Luke and their team and felt like this was a divine church planting partnership appointment.

“Through the initial conversation, I just really felt like God wanted us to partner with Cultivate,” Hedgecock said. “We connected quickly with their team … and clicked with their heart for Harlem. It really was a God moment where I felt God directing this partnership.”

Since then, FBC Rowlett has taken two groups and nearly 30 people to NYC to help Cultivate with community outreach. FBC Rowlett also financially partners with Cultivate and stays in communication with its leadership team. 

Hedgecock said he has been grateful and humbled by the connection, noting FBC Rowlett had been praying for some time about a missions/church planting partnership. 

“When you go on a trip to focus on communicating with God, it should not surprise you when He speaks to you, taps you on the shoulder, and reveals directions He wants you to move,” Hedgecock said. “Prayer is not just talking to God … but also God speaks to our spirit in prayer. This was evidence of His greater desires for FBC Rowlett.”

The post A little Texas twang in the Big Apple appeared first on Biblical Recorder.