NEW YORK CITY—It’s more than 1,000 miles from his Missouri hometown of Poplar Bluff, but North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter Andrew Mann feels right at home in The Bronx, New York.
Mann grew up at First Baptist Church, Poplar Bluff. He went away to college in New York City before finishing at Wheaton College in Illinois. Through NAMB summer missions, God eventually led him back to New York City and the Mott Haven neighborhood in South Bronx. He is now a NAMB church planter in the nation’s largest city.
Graffiti 2 is a ministry plant from Graffiti Community Ministries in Manhattan, also known as East 7th Baptist Church.
“Our mission statement is ‘Revitalize, Revive and Revolutionize,’” Mann said. “It’s the idea of ministering to the whole person and trying to meet the needs of this community.”
A community that is light years away from Poplar Bluff, and a church that looks different on a Sunday morning than most in Missouri.
“This community is characterized as a pretty difficult place,” he said. “It’s pretty frequently described as the worst neighborhood in the city to raise kids. We work in that environment trying to address the needs of those families.”
The needs Graffiti 2 is meeting include after-school programs, youth programs and summer activities, special events that draw more than 1,000 people, all while sharing the gospel.
“We want to become a church of disciples making disciples,” Mann said. “We want to follow the Great Commission, and it says to tell everyone, not just some, and to make disciples, not church members. We want to ‘go,’ not ‘come.’”
Mann said God has used the Cooperative Program every step of the way to spread the gospel in the nation’s largest city.
“As a summer missionary, the Cooperative Program enabled me to come to The Bronx nine years ago,” he said. “When I first began my work here I was a USC-2 missionary supported by the Cooperative Program. Now I’m in the fourth year of a five-year church planting program through NAMB supported through the Cooperative Program. We also receive hunger funds through Cooperative Program giving. It’s a good part of everything we’ve been able to do.”
Grafitti 2 also gives through the Cooperative Program.
Mann offers the story of a young man named Quest and his family as evidence that God is blessing their efforts.
“He began with us years ago in one of our sports camps,” Mann said. “He came to those every summer and before long he was a part of our after-school program two years. This past October during our after-school program he prayed to accept Christ and began coming to our church. As a result of that, his mom began coming to church. She raised her hand on Sunday morning and said she wanted to accept Christ. I was about to ask one of our staff members to come over and talk to her some more, when Quest came up and said he wanted to talk to her and explain how to accept Christ. It’s the idea of disciples making disciples in action. Now his sister is in church, his aunt is in church and his godmother and godfather are in church. His entire household is changing.”
Mann and “Missionary Dog” Proof were featured in the Vacation Bible School materials last year as part of LifeWay’s “Big Apple Adventure” theme. 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. She is even listed on Graffiti 2’s church staff page of their website.
“A lot of our kids have quite a bit of emotional instability, due to some of the circumstances in their lives,” Mann 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.”
Proof, a purebred yellow lab, is originally from Kansas. She was raised and trained by inmates at the Huerfano County Correctional Facility in Colorado. She got her name because of her ability to draw people in and create an opening to share the gospel.
Before she came to be with Mann in New York, her owner was browsing with her in a bookstore at a mall. They were interrupted by an disheveled woman “on whom one could read her pain and struggle across the wrinkled lines of her face.” Proof began wagging her tail as the woman sat on the floor and began petting Proof. As Proof began licking the woman’s hands, tears flowed from her eyes. After five or six minutes, the woman got up to leave saying, “That dog is proof that God exists.”