In Queens, N.Y., a partnership blossoms
"The Lord brought her that Sunday. She was at a point when she needed the Lord. She had reached the point that she didn't know what to do," Walter Valencia, Nueva Vida's pastor, said.
That Sunday, Trinidad prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
"Since the day she came to the Lord she hasn't stopped inviting people to church. She never hesitates," Valencia said. "Even though she's a new Christian, she's been an example to others."
Earlier this year Trinidad invited her friend Elizabeth to church. That morning, Elizabeth came to know Jesus Christ and has now become a Sunday School teacher.
Valencia is praying God will raise up more leaders like Trinidad and Elizabeth to help Nueva Vida reach the surrounding Woodside community in Queens with the Gospel.
Meanwhile, North Carolina churches like Dublin First Baptist Church are playing a role in Woodside and other parts of metro New York through partnerships with churches and church planters there facilitated by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
Nueva Vida's Woodside community in Queens is a predominantly Hispanic area with a good representation of Asians and Eastern Europeans as well. Across the street from the church are a Nazarene church and a Roman Orthodox church. Just around the corner are Greek Orthodox and Pentecostal churches and a mosque.
"Many influences are here, and that's a challenge," Valencia said. "If we present Christianity as just another religion, it will not work. We have to show people that we know their need for real life; for eternal life."
Valencia wants to help Woodside-area residents understand that while religion is about what they must do to get to heaven, the Gospel teaches that they enter heaven because of what Jesus Christ did for them.
A native of Colombia, South America, Valencia has lived most of his life in New York on Long Island. He is a bivocational pastor investing many hours each week in the congregation while working full-time doing auto body repair.
When Nueva Vida's former pastor retired about two and a half years ago, the congregation seemed to retire with him, and something had to change.
"They just got discouraged. What keeps the congregation alive is sharing the Gospel. God has entrusted this ministry to us. If you don't share, it's like burying a talent," Valencia said.
Valencia came once a month to preach and before long, after encouragement from a mentor who is also a fellow pastor and church planter, began serving as Nueva Vida's pastor.
This is Valencia's first pastorate, and although he lacks formal theological education, he knows God placed him in this role and he wants to be obedient. "I don't see myself doing anything else," he said.
Valencia is helping his congregation of about 20, mostly women, build relationships with families in the Woodside community. He is especially focused on reaching children and young adults, with a long-term goal to start a daycare at the church.
Enter Dublin First Baptist. The North Carolina congregation sent their first team to partner with Nueva Vida last April and have since sent four teams to the Woodside community.
Church volunteers have helped with repairs to the church building and served alongside Nueva Vida in sports ministry, playground ministry and street ministry.
The partnership also has helped First Baptist Dublin shift from being self-focused to Kingdom-focused. "Throughout the years we became extremely inward focused," First Baptist pastor Cameron McGill said. "We were trying to grow our church and our programs."
Now the church is reaching out to lost people in Dublin and is in the process of partnering with a congregation in the Eastern European country of Moldova.
This year a women's team from First Baptist will help Nueva Vida with a women's conference, following a women's ministry mission trip last September to New York in which McGill's wife Tiffany participated.
As Nueva Vida's outreach grows, drug use continues to be among the foremost challenges in the Woodside community. Once, while the church was hosting Vacation Bible School, drug dealers decided to hang out in front of the church.
Another challenge: ministering to people who often work two or three jobs, keeping unusual work hours and to a transient community where families frequently move in and out.
"People don't trust other people here," Valencia said. "Many don't have true friends. We want to help them find long-term relationships with brethren through Jesus Christ."
Valencia is grateful for the partnership with Dublin First Baptist.
"Their partnership humbles me and it has transformed my heart. We have felt loved," he said.
Melissa Lilley is research/communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. To learn more about North Carolina Baptists' outreach in metro New York, visit ncbaptist.org/gcp.