Urban Impact Ministry in New York City

Purpose and Overview
Urban Impact (UI) is a unique ministry that focuses on reaching the 10/40 Window by raising awareness of the need to reach unreached people groups and by evangelizing the unreached people groups who have come to the United States.

Urban Impact seeks to evangelize Muslims, Hindus
and Sikhs who have come to New York City.

Our hope is to evangelize Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who have come to New York City from “closed countries” around the world. Urban Impact missionaries can make inroads into these immigrants’ lives, and thereby into the lives of all their friends and family in their homeland. Our long term goal is to see converts trained and sent back to their own closed countries as church or political leaders.

Daily Ministry and Focus at Urban Impact
Much of our daily ministry involves meeting the many needs of the new immigrants from our target countries. Currently, we are concentrating on Muslims from West Africa, South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. We have various programs and outreach events targeting these groups, including children’s and youth ministries and classes in ESL, computers and citizenship. We emphasize meeting needs and building relationships; yet we are meticulously focused on leading those we interact with to a clearer understanding of Christ and the gospel.

Our ministry is built around the particular needs of distinct immigrant groups. One of our strongest outreach programs is geared toward the five to ten thousand West African Fulani tribespeople who are now in New York City. The Fulani tribe is a far flung, diverse ethnic group of West Africa spanning some nineteen countries. They are the largest nomadic people group in the world and are also the largest of the unreached tribes of Africa—numbering some twenty to twenty-four million. According to the 2000 United States census, in the past few years thousands of Fulani have immigrated to New York along with at least 120,000 other West Africans.

Because of their nomadic tendencies and their history as the “bearers of the banner” of Islam in Africa, evangelization can be a very difficult, slow process amongst the Fulani in Africa. One persistent missionary recently shared that he had served in Burkina Faso for twenty years and only saw six or seven people who were genuinely interested in Christianity. 

In the United States, things are very different. Many Fulanis see America as the country of their dreams and are very eager to befriend Americans and hear of our way of life. Though Muslim, many Fulani are surprisingly open to hear the stories and teachings of Jesus. They are also very curious to learn of the true teachings of the Christians who have shown them so much love and compassion.

Sharing the gospel with these Muslims can be a long and tedious process. Most must overcome a lifetime of misinformation and doctrinal inoculation against Christianity. Often it takes months for them to verbalize their many questions and objections. In Brooklyn, we are now meeting weekly with a group of twelve Fulani men to discuss Christian ideas. We watch a short video clip, and then use the video and a selected Bible verse as the theme of the discussion. We also conduct an annual men’s retreat, where we take groups of Muslim men on weekend retreats to the beach to further teach them about the Bible and the gospel.

Urban Impact Missionaries
Dedicated missionaries and workers of all ages and from all areas of the US are the foundation of what we do. We have also had missionaries from Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Guyana.

Some serve a week or a day; others serve a summer, semester or one-year term. Short-term workers raise support to pay costs of room and board in New York. Missionaries who come for three months or longer are required to come as “tentmaker missionaries” and work a job in the community so as to assure both their daily involvement with their focus group and their financial stability. Missionaries work in teams, live in UI missionary apartment/houses and have weekly meetings for prayer, fellowship, planning and training. We currently have five missionary apartments in Queens and Brooklyn with two more to be added in June. Summer 2006 we will have twelve to fifteen new missionaries serving amongst the 10/40 Window peoples of New York.

Help from the Outside
Many Christians and churches from around the US have a strong burden for reaching the 10/40 Window for Christ. Hundreds of groups have worked with Urban Impact during the past three years to share the gospel with New York’s unreached peoples. Teams have come to us from all over the US and Canada. They come as youth groups, senior adult groups, singles groups, families, choirs, seminary teams and through many other Christian organizations. 

Mission teams help our ministry in many ways. Many groups do direct evangelism with immigrants on the streets, while others help run various weekly outreach programs or other special events. 

Children from 10/40 Window countries participate
in Vacation Bible Schools.

During the summer, teams help host eight weeks of outdoor children’s Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs. There are sometimes up to six simultaneous VBSs going on involving hundreds of 10/40 Window kids. Around the holidays we enlist teams to help with special outreach events like our annual Thanksgiving evangelistic dinner. Teams come from all over the country throughout December to host our “Home for Christmas” programs in the homes of Arabic, Bengali or African Muslims. The teams hosting these parties bring gifts for the kids and use nativity sets or books to tell the Christmas story and share the gospel with the children and their invited neighbors.

Many teams help out with light construction and rehab work. Our missionary apartments are in very old buildings and are always in need of repair. Teams also help us with repair work in some of the very needy tenement buildings in Brooklyn. Over a three month period, visiting teams helped us gut and restore our new “African Friendship Center.”

Churches, ministries and individuals also help by providing website services, serving on our board of directors, sending financial support and mailing school supplies, backpacks or clothing for young immigrants. 

We are excited about reaching the far corners of the earth in New York City. Unfortunately, there are still thousands of Muslims arriving in New York City and other American urban centers every year who do not get even one chance to hear the gospel. Because there are so few missions-minded Christians in our inner cities, many Muslim immigrants could possibly have had a better chance of hearing the gospel if they had stayed in their own remote country. By remaining in their closed countries, at least Christians might be prayerfully aware of their plight and need for the gospel and have a strategy to reach them. I have met many Muslims who have been in the US for five years or more and still only speak Arabic or Bengali. They have little chance of ever “stumbling onto” a Christian witness here in their language.

The African Friendship Centers seeks to
reach out to Africans and Bangladeshis.

Urban Impact is working to change this. Last year we established the first of five Urban Impact Muslim Evangelism Centers in New York City. This center, called the “African Friendship Center,” focuses on evangelizing West Africans, North African Arabs and Bangladeshis in Brooklyn. We are scheduled to open one new center per year. The second center is scheduled to open spring 2006 and will focus on ministry to Indians and South Asians in Queens. 

We are convinced that even if someone is able to “escape” and crawl through the 10/40 Window, God still wants him or her to hear the gospel. And we are convinced that God has called Urban Impact to take a lead role in exposing the need to reach America’s 10/40 Window immigrants…and inspiring others to help us in addressing these needs.

Larry Holcomb is a missions speaker and director of Urban Impact.  He has served in San Francisco, California; Birmingham, Alabama; and New York City (USA). Larry, wife Linda and their four children live in an immigrant neighborhood of Queens.