It was Christmas day. My bags were packed and my heart was ready to serve on the mission field in New York City. I left Texas the following morning, arriving in New York City with the anticipation of my team concentrating our efforts solely in the Chinatowns of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Flushing. Although I was sent by Go Now Missions to work with Chinese churches in the first-ever "Christmas in Chinatown" project, God orchestrated my week much differently than I had initially expected.
After two full days of ministry with Chinese churches in Brooklyn, I had already been humbled and stretched far out of my "Christian comfort zone." God taught me about what evangelism looks like practically and how He is our strength. However, Wednesday I learned about prayer and service through working in a very different cultural community.
My group and I were sent to Jackson Heights – the most ethnically diverse place in the world! The smell of curry filled my nostrils as I stepped off the line seven subway car into what is known as Diversity Square. We were in Little India, a place that is populated by immigrants from India, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. These South Asians brought approximately 168 dialects and four major world religions with them – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism.
Boto Joseph, a church planter in the borough of Queens and head of the South Asian Community Center in Jackson Heights, organized our day of outreach. Contrary to my previous two days of on the mission field when the team and I were walking the Chinese residential communities giving away church information packets and gifts, we walked the commercial streets of Jackson Heights with brooms and trash bags, sweeping up the profuse amount of litter.
Jesus set an example of humble service when He washed the feet of the disciples, so we followed His example and washed the streets of Jackson Heights with prayer and service in what Boto called "Pray Serve."
He explained that many of the South Asian people come from a society which observes the caste system. They view Americans as people who are at the top of their hierarchal system. The lowest members of the caste system are called Dalits; they are street sweepers. People were so surprised to see us doing the work of the untouchables.
Picking up the trash of people who practice false religions and try to earn or pray their way to heaven reminded me of how our works of righteousness are as filthy rags. The coupling of prayer over the people of the community and the humble act of service opened up doors to share the one true way of reaching God – Jesus.
In such a culturally diverse place, I realized that Jesus has always been counter-culture.
However, God transcends culture, and the Gospel breaks ethnic barriers.
Even though I never left the U.S. borders, my experiences in NYC gave me a picture of God's global perspective. I am thankful that one day people from every culture, language and country will gather together and worship God in heaven as one body of believers!
Jaclyn Bonner served in New York as a student missionary with Go Now Missions over Christmas break.