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'Power of the local church' on display in NYC

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
NEW YORK CITY (BP) -- The elderly lady was afraid to open the door. Alone in the dark in her apartment on the 23rd floor of the Fulton government housing complex in Chelsea Park days after Hurricane Sandy struck, she was not accustomed to people helping.

But Gallery Church in midtown Manhattan was in a position to help. Ministry leader Cliff Mills climbed the 23 flights of stairs Nov. 1 to reach the elderly woman, one of dozens too frail to exit the building, elevators of no use because of power outages.

"She hadn't seen anybody in three days. She had been without power since Monday night and we were the first people to show up to her apartment, so she hadn't seen anybody since the hurricane," Mills said. "People get scared and don't know what's on the other side of that door. When she did open the door, she saw what we had to give her. She was very thankful and gave us a list of a few more things that she needed. We were able to go back today with that list and give her some more items that she needed."

Mills, a member of Gallery Church for three years, leads a youth ministry outreach in Chelsea Park, a community the church has adopted for ministry.

"We didn't show up until maybe two days after the hurricane and we're the first ones that they've seen. It just shows you the power of the local church. Usually in a situation like this the local church is the first one on the scene. We're kind of first responders in that," Mills said. "It's just amazing that there are so many people in the housing complex here that have not seen anybody but us. That was surprising to me and overwhelming."


Southern Baptist Gallery Church pastor Freddy T. Wyatt mobilized 20 volunteers, nearly a third of his membership of 70, to survey apartments in the Chelsea Park and Stuyvesant Town neighborhoods, looking for those in need, and extended his efforts Friday to include two other areas.

"We have found dozens of elderly people. Some had no contact with anyone before we got there since the storm hit. We found some that were running out of food, some that were running out of water and some that needed their dialysis, and we were able to make that emergency connection for them," Wyatt said. "We're a central location that has power, and we're able to distribute the people out to different places."

Wyatt is focusing on providing the necessities of food, water and medicines to those suffering, while looking forward to opportunities to share the Gospel.

"I think that the Gospel sharing opportunities will take place over the long haul rather than in the immediate wake of the storm," he said. "The urgency right now is finding the immediate life and death needs. But over in Chelsea Park we do have a prayer station set up today where we're actively praying with the people in the neighborhood. Out of that, there will be opportunities to share the Gospel.


"The aid that we're providing will open up the opportunity to share the Gospel for at least the next couple of years, I think," Wyatt said.

He established a Sandy relief fund on his church's website that had collected $7,000, which will help a church family, Wayne and Erin Burton, who lost their Jersey City home and 95 percent of their belongings in the storm.

"Our priority in that fund is to go to help the Burtons replace all that they lost," Wyatt said. Most of his membership fared well, he said, with perhaps a dozen still without electricity. His church building is just on the edge of the power outage but lost power for only a day. The basement of the apartment building he lives in flooded and the building has no power, forcing him to stay in a hotel in midtown Manhattan.

The devastation has impressed upon Wyatt the importance of the local church, often in the best position to respond to neighborhoods in need.

"Last night I tweeted that Sandy has shown us why it really would be good to have a church on every block in New York City," he said, "because the needs are so vast. There's 66,000 people per square mile in Manhattan and you really do need churches on every corner to take ownership for their neighborhoods."


"God has been very gracious to help us to process all that's going on and to put together a clear, cohesive plan today to mobilize people to meet some of the most critical needs in Manhattan," Wyatt said.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. To contribute to the relief efforts, contact state Baptist convention offices or, for the North American Mission Board's disaster relief effort, visit Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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