NEW YORK CITY- Student missionary Season Helms can pinpoint the day in July of 2012 when she began to look at New York City and urban ministry differently. Traveling with friends on the subway, Helms spotted a young woman dressed less than modestly.
As Helms looked beyond her clothing to the puffy eyes, scrapes and bruises, she saw a young girl obviously in pain. Helms and her friends soon discovered the girl had been attacked at Coney Island and her phone, money and extra clothing had been taken from her, leaving her with only a swimsuit. Helms and her friends helped the girl find more clothing to wear, connect with her friends and begin to heal her wounds.
“Then we got an opportunity to talk to her about God,” said Helms, who recently wrapped up her term as a North American Mission Board student missionary “She told us that God couldn’t love her. She had done too many bad things. Her perceived absence of the Lord in her life had led her to believe He wasn’t there and He didn’t love her.”
Ministry is how you live your whole life…so that you can’t tell where my job ends and my ministry begins.
Over the next few months, they continued to minister to the girl and share with her about God’s love. To their knowledge she never made a profession of faith, but Helms and her friends did what they could to move her closer to such a decision.
“That experience was monumental to me because it began to change my perception of what life and ministry here in New York City is about,” Helms said. “Ministry is how you live your whole life-not what I’ve scheduled from 9 to 5. It’s something that can be and should be integrated into all of my life-so that you can’t tell where my job ends and my ministry begins.”
Helms is among 750 Southern Baptist student missionaries who serve in locations across North America throughout the year with NAMB. As many of these student missionaries build relationships in the community and serve on the frontlines of ministry, NAMB believes they represent both the present and the future of Southern Baptist efforts to penetrate lostness throughout North America.
To reach NAMB’s goal of helping Southern Baptist churches start 15,000 new churches over the next decade, many more church planters and church planting team members will be needed. Student missionaries-along with interns and church planting apprentices-play a critical role in the church-based “farm system” needed to get there.
“The 15-year-old today is the church planter in the next decade,” said Chad Childress, NAMB’s director of missionary and church development. “So our desire is to see thousands of churches begin to discover next generation missionaries within their own church and then deploy them into the greatest areas of lostness in North America. NAMB’s farm system promises to be a helpful tool to these churches as they develop those missionaries for a lifetime of missionary service.”
Student missionary Sam Kim serves as the discipleship minister at a church plant in Vancouver, B.C. Now transitioning to a church planter apprentice with NAMB, Kim says God has used his time in student missions to open his eyes to church planting, particularly in Vancouver’s multi-ethnic context. Before being a part of The Point Community Church, a multi-ethnic collegiate congregation in the city, Kim had always been a part of Korean-language churches and collegiate ministries.
“God really gave me a heart for Vancouver and multi-ethnic ministry,” Kim said. “The Point Church gave me a great opportunity to use those passions that God gave me.”
Helms, who served in New York City from the summer of 2012 through the end of this July, came to the city after graduating from the University of Georgia. While primarily serving with the Metro New York Baptist Association, she also led worship at Graffiti 2, an SBC church plant in the city. Though reluctant to go to New York City when she first applied as a summer missionary, it didn’t take long for her to “fall in love with the city” and she ended up staying an additional year.
Through Helms’ ministry at Graffiti 2, she developed a passion for helping low-income children. This fall she heads to Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., to work on a masters’ degree in social work. She plans to return to an urban area after graduate school to work with inner-city children.
“The need for the Gospel [in New York], particularly in the neighborhood where I lead worship, is so overwhelming,” Helms said. “[The Gospel] could do amazing things in that neighborhood. It could restore families. It could restore relationships. It could create a whole new sense of what community means.”
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board