Rain did not keep the lines from forming as volunteers distributed nearly 5,100 coats and 2,100 sets of gloves, scarves and hats as part of the annual Coats for the City initiative.

This year’s event, which took place Dec. 2-3 in New York City and Jersey City, N.J., included 22 churches from North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama. Each church worked with N.Y. Baptists at 20 distribution sites across the area. In total, 155 volunteers from 12 N.C. Baptist churches participated in the coat distribution, while many other churches collected coats prior to the weekend.

“Man, did we watch God move,” said Marty Tobin, executive pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C. “We watched folks stand in line with umbrellas waiting to get those coats, we watched tables come in, we watched canopies go up … we were able to be the hands and feet of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Αt each of the distribution sites, volunteers wοrked to organize and pass out winter apparel while local pastors and church planters took the opportunity to pray for and build relationships with recipients. Many sites had large turnouts despite the downpour.

“[The rain] created some challenges, but at the same time, it didn’t really stop anything either,” said Janet Packard, executive assistant for the mission catalyst group for N.C. Baptists. “There were some where we had to open the site up early because of the amount of people they had waiting for their coats, despite the rain … that was good to see, because people were waiting in torn-up jackets or under umbrellas, or underneath trash bags or tarps.” 

For some areas that experienced smaller turnouts, the rain proved an unexpected blessing, as it allowed pastors and church planters to have deeper conversations with smaller groups of people.

Lawrence Clapp, pastor of Elm Street Baptist Church in Greensboro, said that the Coats for the City trip always provides his church opportunities to share the gospel. 

“We’ve had people receive Christ, we’ve had people who have prayed and rededicated their lives to the Lord, some have come to [our partner church] and have become involved,” Clapp said. “But what it has enabled us to do is to be one-on-one with people, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He said that the rain gave them multiple chances to hear prayer concerns and invite people to visit their partner church, Connection Church in Astoria, N.Y.

Other N.C. Baptist churches that participated in this year’s Coats for the City included: Bethlehem Baptist Church in Knightdale; Crosslink Community Church in Mebane; Beulaville Baptist Church; First Baptist Church of Lake Junaluska; First Baptist Church of Sanford; Tar Heel Baptist Church; East Taylorsville Baptist Church; Rich Fork Baptist Church in Taylorsville; New Friendship Baptist Church in Winston-Salem; and First Baptist Church of Summerfield.

Several testimonies emerged from their work over the weekend.

On Facebook, N.C. Baptist Mission Catalyst Mike Sowers shared the story of a  man  named Jose, who received a coat in Queens, N.Y. on Saturday. The next morning, he returned for Sunday worship and surrendered his life to Christ.

“We do not know which generous [N.C. Baptist] gave that brand new black North Face coat, but this morning God used it to change a life for eternity,” Sowers wrote in his post. 

Coats for the City started in 2011 when an N.C. Baptist church committed to distribute 600 coats across Queens. Since then, more than 70,000 coats have been donated, and countless people have heard the gospel and had their lives changed as a result of the ministry.

“Jesus said if you give a cup of water in my name, I will bless it,” Clapp said. “… I’m honored to say to you today that we’re not just giving a cup of water — we are giving a coat, a hat, a set of gloves, a scarf, and people are responding. They’re hungry to be loved, and this is how we love.”