During Spring Break 2011, several GCF members made a service trip to New City Fellowship in Atlantic City, NJ. Here are some reflections on their experience!
New City Fellowship is a new church plant in Atlantic City, NJ. The church is lead by Santo Garofalo and a dedicated (and HILARIOUS) group of individuals from the Atlantic City area. Santo and his team had been in Atlantic City for two years when we visited. They spent that time getting to know the area and the community, which I admired so much. It showed their genuine and humble desire to serve the city.
It’s so difficult to summarize the experience, because the entirety of the trip, with its little details – the way people smiled or the sound of this girl’s Little Mermaid shoes clicking on the wooden floor – told a full story of God’s faithfulness to His people in Atlantic City. Sitting in Santo and Mary Ellen’s living room the first night we arrived, we heard about how over and over again they prayed and God provided. And I think that sometimes as Christians we become so numb to answered prayer as if it’s a normal thing or something we’re entitled to, but being with New City Fellowship this Spring Break reminded me of how absolutely beautiful it is when, by faith and through grace, God hears and answers.
During our time in Atlantic City, I was really encouraged by how God was working in and through the new church plant. The faithfulness and vision of a few men and women, who love the Lord and each other, is bearing fruit in Atlantic City. Even our brief visit served a key role in their mission to build relationships with individuals in troubled communities. Our assistance with moving furniture and painting walls was an act of love which we pray God will use to soften hearts to the gospel. I was also encouraged by how little things, like a weekend Bible club, or helping someone move, or encouraging someone, when done consistently can really change a community. I was reminded that this work takes time and patience, but God does ultimately provide fruit, and shapes us in the meantime. P.S. Santo is a wicked awesome guitar player.
I am constantly encouraged to see how well truth is communicated by an open and applied approach to Christian life. This may be especially true in cross-cultural ministry where, for the gospel to be understood, particular cultural wrappings must first be stripped away. The ministry of New City Fellowship was an encouraging example to me of how Christianity can be distilled, and the gospel’s essence communicated, by a community of Christians, embedded in a place, tangibly loving and serving. The truth about Christ and our need for redemption in him must still be spoken, but the act of living Christianly in a visible and unashamed way embodies our calling to love like Jesus, and to, “renounce secret and shameful ways … setting forth the truth plainly and commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). Such truthful, vulnerable, and open living seems a most effective manner of ministry and discipleship, though is sometimes unpleasant, and always counter-cultural in its selflessness. Our brief time living and serving with friends in Atlantic City, and their stories of the Lord’s work through them, provided to me a new picture of His work through an openly- and actively-loving Christian community.
For me, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of uneasiness about visiting an area outside of Ithaca to lend a hand in something and then leaving shortly after, only because I wondered what type of impact that could have. But if anything, I am more than grateful to have been a part of this trip because of what Santo shared with us, which was more than just time and a story. While we may have been involved in service projects, Santo’s illustration of everything in his life that the Lord had provided and encouraged him to be bold about showed us that our visit meant more than just lending a helping hand.
In my life, I feel that I grow the most not when I do something that I am capable of, but when I do something that I am not capable of. Through this process, it requires you to be dependent on the Lord. Since you cannot rely on yourself, you must depend on prayer, on patience, on humility, diligence and especially on faith for the Lord to open the rest of the doors you can’t. In seeing the community that God was bringing together at New City Fellowship, I think I felt overwhelmed at the timing of each of the events in the timeline of the Fellowship. The Lord provided, time after time, funding, helping brothers and sisters, opened doors to the different projects in Tennessee and to the community in Atlantic City. It felt like we came not out of our own decision, but because the Lord had already called us to be a part of this. In essence, the experience was not a one-way exchange of services, but inasmuch as we helped to move furniture, or paint a house, both GCF and NCF were refreshed in our spirits to worship the Lord and work to spread his word through our actions and build community in Atlantic City as well as between Ithaca and Atlantic City. It felt like a family. It takes a strong unit to carry out the work that Santo and NCF are doing around Atlantic City and I can tell that they were being prepared for this. Even still, we were reminded that the Lord works in all places. Not simply in our everyday lives or places that we usually see or think about, but in the places we don’t see also.
I am grateful for the connection we made with Santo and NCF for the fact that it was reminder to be bold in our faith because of God’s never ceasing love. Our souvenir of that connection of course was something more than just a feeling.. some coughs, congestion, and warmth.