NEW YORK - Urban ministry's a tough battle. If folks go into it untrained, it can eat them alive.
That's why the New York School of Urban Ministry, or NYSUM, has been filling a vital need in the Body of Christ for 25 years.
That's when twin brothers, Robert and Paul Johansson, started NYSUM, which has now taught nearly 50,000 short-term, visiting students the special art of bringing Christ to the rough and tumble of the city streets.
"They come for a week, a weekend, three months -- they come for all lengths of time," said NYSUM Chairman of the Board Paul Johansson.
When asked if the students are shocked or scared to death by the big city he responded, "We tell them we haven't lost anybody yet."
The Need for Training
With two-thirds of the world living in urban centers and that number growing all the time, it's becoming more important than ever that the Body of Christ be trained to minister there.
Fellow-laborers gathered this weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a ministry that's not only survived, but thrived in the nitty-gritty neighborhoods of New York.
"Just trying to find a parking space in New York City is spiritual warfare," said Peter DeArruda, NYSUM's executive director.
DeArruda says the Big Apple's a crowded spiritual pressure-cooker.
"We're all compacted together," he said. "In Manhattan, if you'd draw a five mile circumference there's probably 22 million people."
But DeArruda says he caught the NYSUM vision when God spoke to him through Isaiah 61.
"'They shall replace the waste cities, the desolations of many generations,'" DeArruda said, quoting Isaiah. "And we're here to do whatever it takes to reclaim the city block by block, street by street."
It's using the roughly 3,000 students who come here each year to help accomplish that.
CBN's Special Bond
Their practical training is to do whatever ministry New York's local churches ask of them, be it hitting the streets, shelters, the AIDS ward or hospitals.
"We do nothing unless it's to lift up the church," Paul Johansson said.
CBN has been right alongside NYSUM from the beginning.
"The founders and Pat Robertson connected together," DeArruda said. "And CBN has been very, very supportive with blankets, toiletry packets; they've been able to give us some
love offerings for our homeless outreach."
Paul Johansson recounted how CBN helped NYSUM from its earliest days.
"When we went out into the streets looking at homeless in boxes and so on, we said 'who will help us?' And Operation Blessing and The 700 Club all came together, and they helped us with thousands and thousands…probably 50,000 to 75,000 blankets," he said.
"We are so blessed to be partners together for the work of the harvest," DeArruda said.
Reaching America's Darkest Places
Now, co-founder Robert Johansson wants to see NYSUM serve missionaries in a unique way. Because New York City is such a global city and melting pot, it could serve as a mini-
training field for anyone wanting to become a missionary to almost any nation.
"So that a prospective missionary going to the field would have lived with, ate the food, learned the language, pastored together with a foreign pastor presently in New York," Robert Johansson said.
But so far, almost all the work of NYSUM has been to prepare American Christians to work in some of America's darkest places.
One church in Virginia was changed when Paul Johansson visited and, as Pastor Carter Goolsby said, "began to inspire us with the fact that the world was moving to cities."
Goolsby's church, Mechanicsville Christian Center, now ministers in some of Richmond's roughest neighborhoods.
"(It takes) having a heart that beats stronger than your fear or apprehension would, and that's what NYSUM taught us," Goolsby said.
DeArruda points out many churches have fled to the suburbs, but that's not where the biggest needs are.
"Sixty-five percent of where the world lives is in the urban area and about 25 percent is where the church lives," he said.
That's why NYSUM has spent 25 years training and ministering in America's largest city, preparing the Body of Christ to take the gospel right to the urban heart of America.