Doing God's work at a small church in Brooklyn, N.Y., is what being a Christian is all about for a group of young people from Harlem Baptist Church.
The teens - Taryn Birchfield, Matt Dobbs, Amanda Mills, Cameron Mason and Taylor Fulcher - participated in a five-day mission trip to New York City earlier this summer. All agreed that the experience was life-changing.
"It was a great experience," said Taryn, a 17-year-old senior at Harlem High School. "I'm going to go back next year for sure."
The trip, which was the second time members of Harlem Baptist Church have gone to Brooklyn, is part of a partnership between the local church and Greater Restoration Baptist Church in Brooklyn. This year's group focused primarily on a children's ministry program.
"We held a children's ministry in a local park down the street from the church at night," said Philip Vestal, pastor of Harlem Baptist Church and one of 10 people who went on this year's trip. "During the day, we participated in a cleanup project at a mediation center."
Pastor Ken Bogan and his wife, Bettye, started Greater Restoration Baptist Church six years ago as a means of fostering "reconciliation in the neighborhood" among its various cultural and racial groups.
Harlem Baptist Church youth members Taylor Fulcher (clockwise, from left) Taryn Birchfield, Amanda Mills and Cameron Mason participated in a five-day mission trip to Brooklyn, N.Y. Matt Dobbs (not shown) also participated.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Bogan calls the partnership with Harlem Baptist Church critical to building a solid foundation at his church.
"Out of the work that they did this summer, we have been able to have some contact with families and children in the neighborhood," Bogan said. "One of our main core values is reconciliation; having a predominantly Anglo group coming to our community raises a lot of questions, and it has helped us tear down some barriers and gives us a launching pad for dealing with other cultural groups in our community."
"When I help people I just get an awesome feeling," said Amanda, a 16-year-old junior at Harlem High. "I feel like I'm doing God's work."
The trip also fostered a greater appreciation for what the teens have, Mills said, adding that the Greater Restoration Baptist Church is in a store front barely large enough for a convenience store.
"I got closer to God because I was not so involved in worldly things," Amanda said. "It made me see how selfish we are."
Vestal said his church's involvement in the Brooklyn mission project helps fulfill a core value that Harlem Baptist has: missions. "We want to be a great commissioned church," said Vestal, whose congregation numbers about 450 people. "We're looking forward to working with them in the future."
Bogan anticipates a long relationship between the two churches. "I'd like for it to continue for a long time," he said. "Without partnerships like this, we couldn't do many of the things we do in our community."
Greater Restoration Baptist's membership is between 30 and 40 people. Bogan said he hopes to build the membership into a multiracial and multicultural congregation and says having members of Harlem Baptist Church come to his neighborhood has helped to break down some of the stereotypes each group has for the other.
"We want to get the Kingdom of God to really look like the Kingdom of God," he said.
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