'Paint the Town' links churches, NYC schools

NEW YORK CITY (BP)--Usually associated with the color red, the phrase paint the town holds connotations of celebratory revelry. Since 2004, Southern Baptist volunteers have celebrated the love of Christ and reveled in the joy of ministry as part of New Hope New York’s Paint the Town initiative.

The North American Mission Board sponsored New Hope New York as part of its Strategic Focus Cities emphasis, and Paint the Town evolved from that.

“Paint the Town was not something New Hope New York dreamed up; it came about because that was the expressed need,” said Eric Hoenigmann, executive director of Paint the Town.

As Hoenigmann cooked hot dogs at a Paint the Town block party in Queens Aug. 15, he told Baptist Press that New Hope New York leaders attempted to contact the presidents of all five of New York City’s boroughs with the desire to impact their communities in a positive way, offering whatever general services/ministries each borough might need.

The timing of that request “was something God laid out; He put that in place,” said Hoenigmann, who added that the Bronx borough president -– the only one to respond to New Hope New York’s offer -- had already been contacted by a middle school principal whose facilities were in dire need of fresh paint.

Thus, Paint the Town was born, and the Bronx middle school -- five stories high, the size of a city block, and about a hundred years old -- was its pilot project, drawing more than 500 volunteers from 17 different states.

At a block party celebrating the completion of the project, the borough president declared it New Hope New York day in the Bronx. Soon after that came the request to repeat the project elsewhere in New York the following summer.

In 2005, volunteers planned to paint six schools, but completed 10 because “the volunteers who came did such great work and painted so quickly, they started running out of walls to paint,” Hoenigmann said.

“Their ministry impacted about 8,000 students, not counting the faculties and staffs,” he said.

Recounting what one school principal said about Paint the Town’s significance, Hoenigmann said that about 90 percent of the students qualify for financial aid. Living below the national poverty level, he said these students endure disadvantaged home lives in downtrodden neighborhoods.

Paint the Town provides the kids with “the nicest thing they see eight to 10 hours a day,” Hoenigmann said. “It gives the kids a place that is conducive to their education. It’s comfortable, it’s inviting and it’s warm.”

Of the schools’ faculties and staffs, Hoenigmann said their “seeing such a transformation just lifts their spirits. They have a different spirit about what’s going on, and I know why: because the volunteer teams are praying over the classrooms and in the hallways. They’re even writing prayers on the walls and covering them up with paint.

“They were praying for the people of the school, and that happens all over the city,” he said.

Hoenigmann said a church in Queens -- the Oasis Christian Center -- had reaped benefits from the project well before the first wall was ever painted simply because the local church made the offer to serve.

“Oasis Christian Center is the face of this neighborhood’s project,” Hoenigmann said, because two of the church’s members were Paint the Town project managers. “That brought them into direct contact with the school’s administration and staff, which is exactly what we want to see happen.”

Planted by Charles Simpson, an employee of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, the Oasis Christian Center’s relationship with the Queen’s school has opened doors of other ministry.

Starting this fall, church members will offer a “Kids’ Night” each Friday for neighborhood children. Activities include arts, crafts and Bible stories, all on school property. Members also will offer tutoring services twice a week at the school.

“Guess what?” Hoenigmann asked. “Some of these kids who are in these projects here are going to have some Christian people invest in them. That is huge.”

Hoenigmann counts this aspect of Paint the Town as a smashing success because the project has joined church and community in ways that helps local churches impact neighborhoods with the Gospel.

“[Paint the Town] would much rather fly under the radar and elevate the local church and help them with their relevance in their communities, because, really, that’s what we see as the best leave-behind,” Hoenigmann said.

“Because if we just paint the school, then in a couple of years it’s dirty. But if we have that local church rightly related with the school, and that church is who the school calls when they’ve got a family in crisis –- hey, that’s a great place for God to invest in changed hearts and lives,” he said.

“If you could boil down what we do to one word, maybe facilitate, or enable or foster. It’s all about relationships, deep-type relationships that will last because we’ve done something with no strings attached. And that gives a platform and a privilege of someone listening to you and saying, ‘Oh, this is what Christianity is about -– helping others and serving others without asking for anything in return. I see that you care because you made a difference in my child’s life because of what you did at the school.’”

Jimmy DeMoss, former PTA president and current representative to local public schools for parents of children with special educational needs, said, “Paint the Town is a wonderful idea because it enhances the kids’ education. It means a lot to the parents because they respect other people who will come and paint their kids’ schools for nothing. It’s talked all around, especially by me.”

To date, Paint the Town has directly impacted the lives of nearly 15,000 students, along with other school officials. “What does that say?” Hoenigmann asked. “That the local churches love their communities. They’re investing, and they care.”

Hoenigmann said there are at least three major cores to community: “One, family, which is all too often messed up in inner-city neighborhoods; two, church, which should be relevant and a part of the core fabric of the community as one of the pillars; and three, school, and that’s mandated. The kids have to go to school.”

By helping to establish relationships between local churches and schools, Hoenigmann believes the remaining core of the community, the family, will be impacted for Christ.

“We have a huge opportunity to really touch the fabric of community and engage life where it happens. That’s what the goal is.”

While Hoenigmann is grateful for all the volunteers who’ve come to New York to help, he is as much grateful for others who pray and send resources.

He said Girls in Action groups from Georgia sent a contribution of $1,028 to the Paint the Town project. He recalled explaining to the GA director that, because he is able to buy paint that retails for $20 per gallon for only $1 per gallon, then the money from the GAs bought 1,028 gallons of paint – enough to paint three schools.

Hoenigmann said he’s seen many such “fishes and loaves” kinds of miracles in the painting ministry. “For me, it expands the boundaries of Who we think God is. They are absolutely false boundaries. This initiative has expanded my vision and solidified the fact that when we step out in faith, God will deliver.

“God is showing me that He is still in the miracle-working and multiplication business, modern day. He is,” Hoenigmann said. “I think God is poising this city for a revival. It’s been a long time, about 150 years ago when they had the last big one.”

Persons interested in Paint the Town projects for next year may contact Sandra Mallory at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association: 1-800-291-3692, ext. 35, or via e-mail, sandra@newhopenewyork.com.

Paint the Town numbers for 2006:

Volunteers: 1,556, with 1,318 involved in painting.

Schools painted: 13 on 10 campuses (eight in New York City and two in New Jersey).

Professions of faith: 117.

Bibles distributed: 988.

Block parties: seven, with 2,000 people attending.

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