|Florida worship leaders take the ‘Big Apple’
By Barbara Denman
June 19, 2014
NEW YORK CITY—Can the still, small voice of God be heard amid the sensory overload of New York City’s Times Square with bombastic billboards, screaming LED lights and amid a teeming crowd of people from life’s every corner?
That voice was heard by Nick, a young Marine from New Jersey who came to the Big Apple on leave with his buddies.
Listening to the Florida Baptist Worship Choir and Orchestra sing “Open up the Heavens,” during a flash mob music event Sunday, June 1 in the exact location where Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball drops, Nick heard the message God had for his ears—and heart.
He asked Wes Ratliff, worship pastor at Wright Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach, a simple question, “What are you doing?” and as result of that conversation, received eternal life.
“We spoke about why we were in New York City and our desire for God to “Open up the Heavens” on this great city and those that were visiting from all over the world,” Ratliff said, making reference to one of the team’s most compelling songs.
“My wife and I explained to him how God speaks to us individually and that his interest in our flash mob performance was no accident, but most likely God was speaking to his heart.”
The young soldier who had been deployed to the Middle East once and would soon be returning to active duty, promised to come hear the Florida worship choir in concert the next night at Carnegie Hall.
Near the end of that concert, Bill Hild, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sarasota, who accompanied the choir, extended an invitation for anyone to come and speak to him after the concert.
Nick however, headed straight to Ratliff, who reiterated some of the pastor’s Bible message points to the young soldier. Ratliff stressed the “holy” moment occurring in a place like Carnegie Hall where so many special moments have taken place.
Ratilff asked if Nick wanted “a holy moment that would change his life forever?” After the Marine confirmed he did, “I led him in prayer as he admitted his need for Christ’s forgiveness, his belief in what Jesus has done for him, and confessed he wanted Jesus to be Lord of his life.”
It is estimated that as many as 50,000 persons heard the 300-plus choir singing in Times Square, their voices resonating four or five blocks away, drawing more and more people who sought a glimpse of the singers. Members of the worship choir visited with the throngs that came, thanking them for their interest, some striking up spiritual conversations and distributing tickets to the next day’s performance at Carnegie Square.
Becky Collins of First Baptist Church, Leesburg, struck up a conversation with a woman and her daughter. When Collins told them of her purpose, the mother quickly dissolved into tears, unable to finish the conversation.
“She began crying uncontrollably when I shared with her. I believe she had been in church at one time and God was dealing with her life. I didn’t think we could do anything but pray for her, so we did.”
Before the trip, Collins said God shared with her the verse found in Matt: 11:18, “Come unto me, all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” and she asked Him to show her those who were “needy and seeking and that their hearts would be open.”
She found numerous times to share her Christian faith throughout the five-day trip and left evangelistic tracts with many she met in hotels, shops and restaurants.
Others engaged their new mission field in similar ways.
Terry Williams called these moments “God stories” that happened as 350 worship choir members landed in the world’s fifth largest city. As strategist for the Florida Convention’s Music and Worship Team, Williams organized and coordinated the trip for the choir and orchestra composed of worship leaders, choir members and musicians from Florida Baptist churches.
The trip began Friday, May 30 as church groups arrived and headed for Central Park. That afternoon, the choir and orchestra sang in the Central Park’s iconic Naumburg Bandshell as tourists, representing a world of nationalities and faiths, and New Yorkers heard the Florida Worship choir’s spiritual music repertoire.
Serving NAMB “SEND” church plants
On Sunday, the choir members visited North America Mission Board “SEND” church plants throughout the city and New Jersey to lead worship, provide assistance and leave behind musical instruments and sound equipment needed by each congregation.
A group of ten traveled to one of Brooklyn’s farthest communities, Canarsie, a working class neighborhood that once was home to mostly Italian and Jewish families. It’s now become a haven for Caribbean immigrants, especially Haitians.
It is there that First Haitian Baptist Church, led by Pastor Joseph Victor, ministers to the community. With nearly 300 in attendance in its French Creole service, the church with a downtown Canarsie building is beginning a second service for English-speaking adults in the community. This new church will be led by the pastor’s son, Woodley Victor, a recent graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
After the Florida Baptist musicians sang in the first service and Roy Lee Saint, director of missions for Florida’s Emerald Coast Baptist Association preached to only a small group, who in turn called others to come to the second service where a full house came. The Florida team also provided help for the church’s drummer and revamped the church’s sound system. Wright Baptist Church, Fort Walton Beach, donated a drum set, microphones, cables and stands to the congregation.
Woodley Victor is also assisting Mosaic Church in Brooklyn, where another team of Florida music leaders led a worship service in Brower Park. The Floridians provided an amp, microphone, cable and boom stand, wireless headset, projector, keyboard and two guitars for the new church plant.
The worship service in Brower Park and the new church’s participation in a carnival that weekend, Woodley reported, led to a record number of persons attending the Monday night Bible study.
The willingness of the Florida Baptist team to “model how to lead a service to those who were not familiar with leading a worship experience,” was beneficial to both churches, said Victor. “It was encouraging that a group of people were interested in our work and being a blessing to us,” he added.
NAMB church planter Patrick Thompson and his family felt God leading them to leave the Southern comfort of the Georgia Bible Belt to start New City Church in Long Island City. The Queens community, just a subway stop away from Manhattan, has experienced a rapid gentrification in the past decade and now draws young families to more affordable apartments—by New York City standards--waterfront parks and its thriving arts community. Thousands of families and residents live in the gleaming, new towering apartment buildings located along the Hudson River.
Meeting in the community room of the apartment building where the family of four including two teenagers lives, New City Church has recently signed a lease on a more permanent location.
A 30-plus member team from the Florida Baptist worship choir and orchestra, led by David Shenning, worship pastor at First Baptist Church, Brandon, presented a concert on the oval at Hunters Point Park and prayer-walked throughout the community.
Performing on the Hudson River in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline, the worship choir members sang many of their upbeat songs as young families played on the grassy lawn while others rode skateboards and bikes along its open sidewalks. As the residents stopped to listen to the music, Thompson and New City Church members engaged them in conversation and distributed cards inviting their neighbors to church.
The team left the church with acoustic and electric guitars, a bass, a portable sound system, music stands and keyboard, mostly provided by First Baptist Church, Plant City.
Carnegie Hall and Brooklyn Tabernacle
During the final two nights of the New York trip, the choir and orchestra presented concerts in two of the city’s most renowned institutions—Carnegie Hall and Brooklyn Tabernacle during the church’s Tuesday evening prayer service. The music leaders had distributed free tickets to the Carnegie Hall performance when they met people on the Manhattan streets, after the flash mob event and in the churches.
The group performed 14 songs from the Choir’s CD “Almighty God,” which was arranged and orchestrated by Mark Bovee, who accompanied the Florida group.
For many of the choir and orchestra members the opportunity to serve the Lord with their own God-given music talents, in two such awe-inspiring settings, was more than they ever anticipated.
Susan Gibney, librarian for instrumental music at Tampa’s Idlewild Baptist Church, met family members of her birth father, who came to the Carnegie Hall concert, even though they lived out of state. Spending the next two mornings with them, she was able to witness to them and tell of her birth father’s story of salvation.
“I believe with no doubt that part of God’s purpose in all that has happened over the past 10 months is to allow me to bring His light to their very dark world,” Gibney said. “The entire experience of our time together was born of God. I cannot wait to continue the journey to see what He will do next.”
Kay Nicol of First Baptist Church in Ocala returned with a renewed vision of what she could be accomplishing for the Kingdom at home, she said. Calling the trip “far beyond expectations” she loved the experience at Brooklyn Tabernacle where the spirit of God was evident.
“Being in the churches and hearing the testimonies of people working to help their communities find Christ was awesome, makes me feel like I am not really doing all I could be doing. Maybe it is time to do a bit of soul searching and try to find out. I didn't expect to come back feeling this way,” she noted.
“God opened doors and it was all so amazing! I hope we pleased Him with our response to the opportunities He provided.”