"These people are your people"
As we stepped off of the plane in NYC for the first time in the summer of 2009, we weren’t greeted with the angelic visitation I was hoping for. It was simply another airport with scammers trying to carry our bags for us to the taxi line and gypsy cab drivers vying for our attention, hopeful that we’d pay them some cash for our ride into Manhattan.
It was the end of August, and we’d taken a trip to the city under the guise of celebrating our wedding anniversary to see if this truly was the land in which God was calling us to plant a church.
We arrived safely at our hotel in Midtown, smack dab in the heart of Times Square (not the place I would recommend anyone to stay if visiting), and took the sweaty, packed elevators up to our room the size of a shoebox.
We changed out of our airplane clothes, and as fast as we could, stepped out to walk around Lower Manhattan, wander into Central Park and take it all in. When we got back to our room that night, it began to thunder, lightning and pour down heavy rain outside of our window. I assumed the fetal position on our bed as fear began to sink in. The questions relentlessly circled round and round my mind, “How are we going to raise our kids here? Would anyone ever care or even come to the church? How would I buy groceries? What are we thinking?!?!” Before I knew it, shaking with fear, the words slipped out of my mouth as Paul sat in the corner chair reading, “Do we have to move here? Do we have to do this?” Paul laughed, not in a mocking way but in a loving and compassionate, yes we are crazy or this is totally God-sort of way and said, “Well, no we don’t have to. But we should pray and ask God to make it clear if we’re supposed to.”
The next morning we were going to make our way to St. Paul’s Chapel near 9/11’s Ground Zero. This church is iconic. It’s one of the first churches that was built in Manhattan and was also George Washington’s church. It was the place where the volunteers were housed, loved, fed, prayed for and generally cared for in between going back and forth of searching through the wreckage of the Twin Towers after 9/11.
As I stood outside of the church, looking up at its beautiful architecture, I heard a whisper in my heart, “Do you see what I want to build here with you? My Church. And I will build it because the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against her.” You see, as the Twin Towers fell in the tragedy that rocked and united our nation, buildings all around it fell, but St. Paul’s Chapel did not fall. It was right in the Twin Towers backyard and it stood strong as all hell broke loose on its doorstep and it became a haven and sanctuary in the aftermath. I began to sob as the depths of what God was saying to me resounded in ways I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully explain.
As we stepped onto its threshold, I turned to see a portrait hanging on the wall. In it were four men: a reverend, a firefighter and two volunteers looking around in total shock, standing amidst the rubble. In their diversity, they were united in the tragedy. As I stood there staring, tears began to roll down my cheeks and again, a whisper resounded in my heart, “These people are your people.” I covered my mouth to catch the sob that welled up and out of me. I was home. These people were now my people.
So just a year later in the summer of 2010, we moved to New York City with our three children from Sydney, Australia to begin a new adventure and pioneer what is now Liberty Church, linking arms in the renewal of all things that was already taking place through countless other beautiful churches in the city. The first gatherings were around a picnic table in Central Park as we studied the birth of the church in the book of Acts and prayed over our vision to influence a city that influences the world.
In January of 2011, we launched our first service at the iconic Tribeca Cinemas, and now have four Liberty communities across Manhattan and Brooklyn. I’m so glad we looked fear in the face and moved anyway. Life is so rich… my children are thriving and don’t remember life before city living. I order my groceries online so yeah, that problem was solved. I adore the mess, chaos, diversity and pulse of the city that has my heart. People are finding Jesus, life and freedom every week in communities across the city, and these people truly are my people.