Students plant seeds of hope during Spring Break mission trip to New York


A team of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students spent their Spring Break planting seeds in Coney Island. Sponsored by the World Mission Center, the seven men and women spent eight days serving with Graffiti Fellowship sowing seeds of hope in the New York City neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn.

Working with Stephen Trainer, pastor of Graffiti Fellowship, the students took part in what for them was a different kind of evangelism. Nate Childs, a Master of Divinity in apologetics student from Oklahoma City, said he was expecting “more along the lines of explicit spoken Gospel-sharing evangelism,” but was “humbled with what we got to do instead …, letting the Lord have His way the whole week.”

Ashley Allen, assistant professor of women’s ministries at Southwestern and leader of the mission team, said Conspiracy of Kindness: A Unique Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus by Steve Sjogren was one of three books the students were required to read prior to going on the trip. Allen said Trainer mentioned the book in a phone conversation last fall and its subject became the emphasis for the weeklong mission trip. The book talks about what it means to be “biblically kind” and not do things for some kind of repayment, “but to show the love of Christ,” Allen said.

Team members cleaned bathrooms and washed windows of businesses along Mermaid Avenue, a major thoroughfare of Coney Island. They also picked up trash after gale-force winds blew through the community and performed other acts of service throughout the week. Childs said serving in a fourth-grade classroom touched his heart. When it was time for him to leave after two days and he said goodbye, “the whole classroom erupted into a roar of ‘byes,’ which I didn’t expect.” Childs believes the Lord put him there so the children could have a positive interaction – something he sensed could be missing from their lives. He said he hopes “the Lord will use the seeds we planted to get the Gospel out to that school somehow, in His way.”

The team also visited laundromats and offered to pay for the laundry of the customers there. Bill Bonar, an Austin resident enrolled in the seminary’s Missions 2+2 program, said one woman in a wheelchair was in tears and told the students no one had ever done anything like that for her. Chiwon Ahn, a Master of Divinity student in missions and evangelism from South Korea, was able to talk with a laundromat owner in her native Korean and believes that may have opened a door for the Gospel to enter.

“There was a joy in me when I was serving,” Ahn said, adding he didn’t mind cleaning bathrooms or doing the other activities because of the joy he felt. Ahn said he was most impacted by what “Pastor Stephen” said about the need for consistency in evangelism – that it “shouldn’t be something that you only do when you go on a mission trip; it’s something that should be part of your life.”

Moain Kumsangmar, a Master of Theology in missions student from India, served on the 2023 spring break NYC team and said she felt compelled to return to the city because “despite its worldly illumination, there’s darkness where many live without knowing the real light that is in Christ.”

She said the different approach to evangelism was unexpected, but noted she “saw the different side [of] how to do ministry in a situation where it’s difficult to share the Gospel.”

Richard Silva, a Master of Divinity student from Brazil who is enrolled in the five-year program, said he was honored to be part of the mission trip. “We as [the] church are called out. All the knowledge we’ve been acquiring in the seminary is [to] be light for those living in the darkness, pain, and fear. I’m glad we had the opportunity to shine Jesus’ light in Coney Island.”

Allen said a lot of people know about the Boardwalk in Coney Island but don’t know about the generational poverty and high rate of crime and violence in the rest of the community.

“It is a hard place” to share the Gospel, she said. “But we have to go to hard places because they still need Christ just as much as everybody else.”

There was an emphasis on prayer in preparation for the trip. Allen said each student on the team was required to have a minimum of five people commit to pray for them for 12 weeks leading up to the trip. Those who have committed received “prayer prompts” every Sunday morning reminding them to pray for their team member. There also was a Zoom call with the prayer partners in which one person from each of the team member’s prayer partners was called upon to pray for that specific member of the team.

“The mission trip itself is bathed in three months of prayer” in preparation for serving for eight days, Allen said.

The trip received some financial support from Southwestern faculty, staff, and students during the New York Music and Market Night event held Jan. 25. Baked goods, paintings, photography, and more were sold at the event, which also included both a silent auction and a live auction. All items were donated by mission team members and their families, the Southwestern Women’s Club, the Women’s Center, the World Missions Center, Student Life, and seminary employees.