Last weekend, members of 16 N.C. Baptist churches gathered in New York City and Jersey City, N.J., to help distribute over 9,600 coats as part of the largest Coats for the City outreach in the initiative’s 12 year history.
Over 400 volunteers gathered in New York City and Jersey City, N.J., last weekend to distribute more than 9,600 coats as part of the largest-ever Coats for the City initiative since its inception in 2011.
The outreach event, which took place Dec. 1-2, saw teams from 32 churches across North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama partner with the New York Metropolitan Baptist Association to distribute coats at more than 30 distribution centers throughout the region. In total, 16 churches from North Carolina sent teams to participate in the event, while many other churches collected coats prior to the weekend.
“(Members of our neighborhood) were begging us for jackets,” said Humberto Solis, pastor of Templo Evangelistico Bautista in Manhattan. “These jackets came at the right time, the right moment.”
Distribution took place on Saturday morning, with volunteers passing out nearly all of the 9,600 coats within a matter of hours. At some distribution sites, the allotted coats were gone within 30 minutes.
At each distribution center, local pastors and church leaders used the opportunity to share the gospel and make lasting connections with their neighbors. Teams saw 17 people profess faith in Christ over the course of the event, with one North Carolina team even seeing professions of faith shortly after their arrival into New York on Wednesday.
“It was amazing, the movement of God during the time we were there,” said Rodney Baker, pastor of Grace in Willow Spring in North Carolina. “It was really exciting to see young adults (on our team) get involved … and seeing those that they were speaking to moved by the Holy Spirit, tears streaming down their face. It was very moving.”
As a team of 15, members of Grace in Willow Spring decided to use their first-ever Coats for the City event as a mission trip for the church. The team arrived early in the week to begin evangelism and missions efforts prior to the coat distribution on Saturday morning.
While preparing to set off from the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association building on Wednesday morning, the team began a conversation with an Amazon delivery driver who had entered the building. Baker had the opportunity to lead the delivery driver to Christ.
Later that afternoon, Baker met a realtor on the subway who prayed to receive salvation. As the week continued, Baker’s daughter — also on the mission team — shared the gospel with two young women. They would also make the decision to receive Christ.
On Saturday, while distributing coats with Everlasting Church in the Bronx, the team from Grace in Willow Spring saw 12 professions of faith in Christ.
“We asked God to move mightily and for hearts to be receptive to the gospel,” Baker said. “We asked Him to give us boldness, the way Paul prayed for. And I just really feel like there was a move amongst our ministry team.”
Other N.C. Baptist churches that participated in this year’s Coats for the City included: New Friendship Baptist Church in Winston-Salem; Crosslink Community Church in Mebane; Dublin First Baptist Church; First Baptist Church of Summerfield; Buies Creek First Baptist Church; Lake Junaluska First Baptist Church; South Elm Street Baptist Church in Greensboro; Aversboro Road Baptist Church in Garner; Kure Beach First Baptist Church; Pleasant Garden Baptist Church; Middlesex Baptist Church; Beulaville Baptist Church; Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville; Tar Heel Baptist Church; and First Baptist Church of Sanford.
In addition, a group of 30 students from Fruitland Baptist Bible College (FBBC) participated in the weekend event, using the days leading up to the coat distribution to engage in cross-cultural missions training. On Saturday morning, the team split into groups, assisting three New York churches in the coat distribution process.
Later that Saturday, as a group from FBBC was packing up and praying, a man approached the group with what one group member described as “eyes of desperation.”
“He was standing at the bottom of the stairs and looked up at me while we were praying with desperation in his eyes,” said Lisa Furstenberg, dean of students at FBBC, “It was truly beautiful and so humbling.”
As he approached, the man began speaking in Spanish to the group. After finding a translator, the gathered students realized he was asking for their help. He shared that he drank too much alcohol, and he was ready for a change in his life.
“He came to us; we didn’t even have to come to him,” Furstenberg said. “He was at a desperate place, and, praise God, he accepted the free gift of salvation.”
Coats for the City started in 2011 when an N.C. Baptist church committed to distribute 600 coats across Queens. Since then, more than 80,000 coats have been donated, and countless people have heard the gospel and had their lives changed as a result of the ministry.
Every year, the trip gives pastors, church members, students and many others an opportunity to engage in cross-cultural mission work, as churches partner together to meet the physical and spiritual needs of local communities across New York and Jersey City.
“Neighborhoods like Queens and East Village are full of hurting individuals seeking a glimpse of hope — as Christians, we hold the answer to what they are searching for,” said Josiah McMurphy, a student at FBBC. “The Bible calls us to reach the nations, and in New York, the nations have come to us.”
Currie Tilley, director of the Mission Catalysts group for N.C. Baptists, said that he was deeply encouraged by what he saw on the trip to New York.
“We saw the Lord at work in and through our N.C. Baptist teams,” Tilley said. “N.C. Baptists impacted the kingdom for the glory of God by giving and going … The love of Christ was on display as physical needs were met and the gospel was shared all over the city.”
Next year’s Coats for the City trip will take place Dec. 7, 2024. Registration will begin in early spring. Churches are encouraged to begin praying, purchasing coats and considering other ways they can participate in next year’s outreach event.
“We’re praying that more people from our churches will mobilize on mission together as we continue this wonderful outreach ministry in the years to come,” Tilley said.