In the early days of our stint in NYC, I met a youth pastor named Dario who had a fantastic church facility, but few students to fill it. We got talking one day about what Cru did well, and how he wanted his church to serve his neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens. So, I asked a few of our staff about forming a special tactical squad of evangelists, and three of them volunteered (or did I assign them?). There was Jordan, a part-time intern, who wore what looked like go-go boots to campus. There was a full-time intern of Haitian descent named Clint, and finally, a young staff woman tried and tested in city evangelism named Mandi. The idea was that every Tuesday afternoon we would hike it out of midtown on the F train, to share our faith in a park adjacent to Jamaica High School. Somewhere along the way one of us came up with the idea to dub ourselves Purple Rain.
In Jamaica, skyscrapers are replaced by low lying tenements, garbage littered streets, and the signs of decay. It was a short walk up a steep hill to the park. When the school bell rang, 4,000 students headed home, or to the nearest bodega, or their favorite hangout spot, which happened to be where we were waiting.
We were strangers, and out of place in their eyes, so at first only the bravest would entertain our little survey, typed on white paper, our hands shaking and smile drooping as either they would dismiss us with sarcasm, or reject us outright. One afternoon the students told the cops we were drug dealers, and so New York City’s finest approached us asking questions.
“Hey, what are you doing in this park?”
I explained we were ministers, interested in the souls of these young ones, not so much in selling them dope.
They smiled, and said, “We already knew that.”
“Yea, we know who everyone is coming to this park. Keep your eyes open, and be careful, and thank you! These beautiful kids need Jesus!” We breathed easier, and they left us. That afternoon we saw the first glimmers of student interest.
Purple Rain took the F train to Jamaica all Fall that year. Our team grew more and more resilient. The go-go boot intern was encircled one day by about 15 young men. I heard catcalls and jeering from across the park. I raced over and jumped into the fray to extract her, not sure what would happen next. It turned out she was sharing Jesus with them! I noticed something every time we would show up, rain or shine. Students would clamor around us, for no other reason than wanting to talk. God was doing the unexplainable and unimaginable.
I remember it was the week before Thanksgiving, and we decided to invite students to the church for pizza and Jesus. Mostly pizza, we surmised. Dario asked us how many we should expect. Purple Rain huddled up and decided 300 was a good number. He was skeptical, and frankly, so was I. But we planned toward that goal. When the day came, it was overcast and drizzling. We were posted at all corners of the park that afternoon, each holding a fist full of fliers, about a 1000 in total. When we handed out the last quarter sheet with a prayer and picked up a bunch of them now crumbled spit wads, we started back to the church.
We heard the clamor before we opened the sanctuary doors, and what met us defied our expectations. There was no room for us to sit! Packed in, row upon row on those old oaken pews, were over 300 students, waiting for the program to begin, patient for the pizza that followed. That afternoon was the beginning. The youth group grew from 10-15 on a good night, to over 200 showing up on a regular basis, not for pizza, but for another kind of food, fit for kings. The kind that changes lives, and turns fear on its head. The kind that builds the next generation of godly parents, dedicated teachers, and bold evangelists.
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Why are we so fearful of what we don’t know? God commands us hundreds of times in Scripture to not be afraid–and you proved what fearless faith could do because of our faithful God. Thanks for sharing this, Kev.