NEW YORK CITY—As Missouri Baptist churches prepare for another Vacation Bible School (VBS) season, a young man from Poplar Bluff is being featured across the nation as part of LifeWay’s “Big Apple Adventure” theme.
Andrew Mann, a 29-year-old North American Mission Board missionary to the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx, grew up in First Baptist Church, Poplar Bluff, and became a national VBS spokesman because of “all those people throughout the years who invested in me.” He ministers in one of the worst parts of the city overseeing the mission, vision, strategy and implementation of Graffiti 2 Community Ministries.
At an after-school tutoring center, Mann and his 5-year-old missionary dog, Proof, work as a team. Proof is a K-9 Assistance Animal who is trained as a professional therapy dog. This is a calming influence in a place marked by crime, drugs and gangs.
“A lot of our kids have quite a bit of emotional instability, due to some of the circumstances in their lives,” he said. “They may act out, sometimes even violently at times. Proof’s presence can calm a kid down quite a bit quicker than just trying to calm him down on your own.”
Mann was out for a walk one day with Proof when a man stopped to talk. Of course he petted Proof and asked how she was. That led to the man sharing about various prayer requests, concerns, and hardships in his life.
“This was a pretty tough guy, and we were on the corner of the street, in front of everybody, and he was in tears, and I prayed with him there,” Mann said. “Since then, he and his family have come to church and actually become Christ followers and are looking to get baptized.”
Working in Mott Haven is no VBS picnic. It is packed with 90,000 people, many of whom are known for their involvement in crime, drugs and gangs. Mann has been in this community since August 2005, blessed and ordained, in his words, to be there.
“It’s recently been ranked the worst neighborhood in the city to raise kids, so there are a lot of tough things that happen here,” Mann said. “But in the midst of those difficult circumstances, we’re seeing God move in mighty and powerful ways.
“We have young people that are making bold decisions to stand up for Christ, to follow Christ in every way and shape and form. We have adults that are altering the ways they interact with their own kids. They begin to experience the revolution that comes from Christ in their own lives, and that affects their entire family.”
Mann is grounded in Poplar Bluff values that were shaped and molded at church. Recently a couple that influenced him greatly at First Poplar Bluff, Dewayne and Norma Beckemeier, came to the big city to minister alongside him. Norma at various times was his Mission Friends, Sunday School, and Bible Drill teacher.
“Sometimes what you do will have a much greater impact than you will ever know, or maybe you won’t find out for years down the road,” he said. “I’ve just been surrounded by people in that church that are very much like family.
“I think the biggest thing that shaped me is a sense of calling. When you find the calling that God has for your life, and follow that with abandon and trust Him with the rest of the details, then I think that’s maybe the largest component of my testimony.”
ALLEN PALMERI/associate editor