Urban Nations began in good, New York fashion. Immigrants were "in our faces" and we knew we had to do something about it, something honoring to God, something whereby Christ's claims and Kingdom might be extended. But what?
Though we now use the teaching of English as a Second Language from the Bible as our primary means of entrée into the immigrant communities here, the original manner of service we envisioned was something quite different. We thought we could create a training center for foreign-bound missionaries.
The idea was simplicity itself. Mission-sending agencies would have their overseas missionary candidates come first to New York City, work with us for two to three years, reaching out to their chosen people group (undoubtedly well-represented here: more than 125 languages are spoken in homes in New York City), and thus make a facile transition into the language, culture and ways of their target people-group, rendering them thoroughly prepared for foreign service.
For during their New York tenure they'd literally be conducting foreign missions at home. The advantages are innumerable. Just think of how much time and money is wasted by sending missionaries overseas first to learn the language and ways of those they hope eventually to reach. Real ministry awaits the missionary's acclimation. By beginning foreign service on our turf, the first years become years of actual service.
But even more compelling to us was the consideration that at the conclusion of their experience of working with immigrants in NYC, the missionaries would move onto the foreign field with a list of contacts a mile long, the "left- behind"friends and relatives of those they had been ministering to here for years. Imagine: Instead of wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars and precious time (as is typical with the traditional method), we'd be saving money and redeeming time by training foreign missionaries to spend their learning years doing foreign missions at home.
The idea was so good, one could have predicted it would be rejected by mission bureaucrats! Thus, for five years now we've had not a single bite, not a nibble from any denominational or non-denominational mission-sending agency expressing interest in this method.
Of course, as you know, we haven't been twiddling our thumbs waiting for bureaucrats to bite. We've been doing the work here, reaching souls from literally dozens of different nations with the gospel, without setting foot on a plane. And God has blessed us in these efforts. Still, we know we're not fully seizing the opportunity provided to us in God's good providence until we use the contacts we make here as a segue to missions "over there."
Well, blessed be the LORD our God, we think the first ray of light of a new dawn may be shining. Rev. Jan Werkman (on the left in the accompanying photo) of the Liberated Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (gereformeerde kerk- vrijgemaakt), contacted me a short while ago to arrange a visit to our work in The City. Jan and I then spent a brief but productive time together in Brooklyn.
By the time you read this, Rev. Werkman (Lord willing) will have joined his colleague, Rev. Marten Nap (on the right in the photo), in Kiev, the Ukraine, to do the work of Christ in planting a Reformed church in Kiev and in providing theological education to those whom the Lord may be calling to ministry.
Now it "just so happens"that we have oodles of Ukrainian students at Urban Nations, many of whom have family and friends in Kiev. In fact, when Rev. Werkman dropped in on one of our UN classes, a student eagerly and instantly provided contact information about a relative when she learned that Jan would be going to Kiev.
As soon as Jan and his wife Anja, along with their children, settle into their new quarters near Marten and Janneke Nap, we plan to flood them with contact information.
It seems like God is opening the door to do ministry from both sides now — here and there. First stop, New York; second stop, the Ukraine. But by no means should that be the last stop. We plan to develop and maintain contacts in every foreign field which corresponds to a people-group we are reaching here, in the hope of providing them with referrals to whom they can freely bring news of God's glorious grace. This is a new phase of missions that cannot be ignored by those serious about the Great Commission.
And we'll continue to pray that mission bureaucrats become afflicted with a serious case of common sense and take us up on our offer to prepare their foreign-bound missionary candidates on the streets of New York City.
It's the right thing to do. Having looked at the matter from both sides now, we find the proposed method more compelling than ever. Don't you? Write to us with your thoughts.
2662 East 24th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11235-2610
718-332-4444 (Fax) 332-2222
- Steve M. Schlissel
Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.