Brooklyn mission house at the center of Baptist outreach in New York City

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (BP)--It’s just another nondescript red-brick building in Brooklyn dating back to the 1920s. It has been a furniture store, a funeral home, a dentist’s office and, during World War II, it housed a draft board that sent troops to defend the country.

Today, with its green door facing the corner of 5th Avenue and 21st Street in Brooklyn’s Park Slope community, the David Dean Mission House is a launching pad for Southern Baptists’ post-9/11 mission work across the New York City’s five boroughs.

In 1991, David Dean, then-executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, had a dream.

“I envision MNYBA purchasing a mission house ... a residence with 5-6 bedrooms, easily accessible to the city and public transportation for the purpose of providing housing for mission volunteers, like Mission Service Corps, US-2, student workers and others who cannot afford to come to New York because of the high cost of housing,” Dean wrote 15 years ago.

“I envision a Mission Service Corps couple living in the house and making it a home-like atmosphere for people. Each person would contribute a nominal sum ... for the room they occupy. Such a dwelling would open up many opportunities for ministry in the city....”

Accelerated by the jolt of Sept. 11, 2001, Dean’s vision became reality in August 2002 when the North American Mission Board bought the building from the Park Slope Community Church. Donations for the project had begun rolling in right after 9/11.

More than 700 people have stayed at the center since the first of this year, reported Jack and Becky Snyder, the center’s resident hosts since 2004 and Mission Service Corps missionaries for NAMB.

Sixty-three-year-old Jack and Becky, 55 -– married for 28 years -– left the relatively quiet solitude of Cleveland, Tenn. (pop. 37,000), to relocate to Brooklyn (pop. 2.6 million). Jack, who has had two major heart operations, was a retired millwright for Duracell.

“This is the final run for us,” Snyder said. “This thing is about to wind down. I’m not getting any younger. So we have to go all out and do what we can. We want to make a difference. People need to get on board for missions.

“After I had already been coming up here on mission trips, I told Becky that I felt like the Lord was leading me to go on mission in New York,” Snyder said. “She told me that I was crazy, that neither God nor anybody else was leading us to New York. I told her just to pray about it. She later came up [to New York] with me and the Lord touched her during a church service.”

Becky, who attributes her peace about living in Brooklyn to God, feeds up to 50 mission volunteers two meals each day, while Jack handles office administration and maintenance.

Her southern cooking is legendary –- especially the biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Mission teams -- particularly those from the South -- fall in love with Becky and her down-home Tennessee cuisine. “We haven’t had any complaints about the food yet,” Jack said with a smile.

While summer is the prime season for volunteer trips to New York, the Snyders are busy year-round -– not only running the center but also conducting a variety of ministries on their own, including a high-rise apartment ministry, Bible studies and worship services twice a month at the famous Bowery Mission, a shelter for New York City’s homeless. Earlier this year, Snyder sensed God’s call to preach.

The David Dean Mission House can house up to 50 volunteers at a time who pay only $35 a day for room and board.

Groups arrive at the mission house -– from around the U.S. and even throughout the world -- generally on Saturdays when Big Apple traffic is lighter. They’re met by the Snyders, who give them an orientation, the mission house rules and a key. Usually, the visitors check out New York City on Saturday night and after church on Sunday -– perhaps enjoying a Broadway show or a Yankees game.

“Monday through Friday, that’s when the real work is done,” said Philip Slusher, church growth pastor for Temple Baptist Church, a congregation of 5,500 members in Hattiesburg, Miss.

“This is the fifth year I’ve been up here on a mission project,” Slusher said, “and the second time we’ve stayed at the David Dean Mission House.” Temple has sent five groups of five to 16 adults to New York this summer for “Paint the Town” projects that involve painting a number of the city’s older schools.

Temple’s mission teams wake up early, enjoy Becky’s breakfast, have a devotional time, take a train or subway and arrive at the worksite by 8:30 a.m.

“We work until 4:30 p.m., go back to the mission house, clean up, eat supper and have evenings free,” Slusher said.

Temple’s volunteers pay $600 each for the privilege of going to New York, which covers their airfare and meals and lodging at the David Dean Mission House. The Temple teams are comprised of families, single adults, deacons, staff members and students at the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University in Hattiesburg.

“It’s a wonderful place to stay,” Slusher said of the David Dean Mission House, “because we’re located right in our targeted community, Park Slope. The accommodations are very clean and you can’t beat the price. More than that, it’s the relationship with Jack and Becky. They’re one of the reasons we go back time after time. In fact, Temple Baptist has adopted Jack and Becky and supports their ministry with a monthly missions offering.

“We just couldn’t go up there and do mission work if we had to stay in hotels or motels in the New York area. It’s simply cost-prohibitive.”

But why do Temple volunteers keep returning to Brooklyn to do mission work, especially when their home state of Mississippi continues to dig out from last year’s hurricanes on the Gulf Coast?

Although Temple has sent members to minister on the Gulf Coast and even has an ongoing missions partnership with a church in England, Slusher said the church has a special burden for New York.

“After 9/11, the spirit of God just led us to go to New York time after time,” Slusher said. “Right after 9/11, we heard how New Yorkers started flocking to churches, but then it tapered off. We wanted to know why and what we could do.

“In Brooklyn and New York, we have found that people -– five years after 9/11 -- are very open to discussing the things of God with you. If you use the subways, you see many people up there reading things like ‘The Purpose-Driven Life.’ In other words, they’re interested in anything that deals with ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘What is my purpose in life?’”

Slusher said he loves to be walking down the street in Brooklyn and someone -– overhearing an unmistakable southern drawl -- will simply ask, “Georgia or Texas?”

“They hear our accent and want to know where we’re from,” Slusher said. “That opens the door to tell them and then share the Gospel. It’s just relationship evangelism –- loving and caring for people.”

Slusher likes to tell the story of Giovanni Lanzo, owner of Luigi’s Pizza, a landmark neighborhood pizzeria across the street from the David Dean Mission House. Slusher said the pizza there is so good that New York-based movie stars eat at Luigi’s all the time. Temple Baptist members even have been known to have Luigi pizzas shipped to Hattiesburg for special occasions.

“We’ve gotten close to Gio because of all of our mission trips up there,” Slusher said. “He has told me his church, St. John’s Catholic, has never done what the Baptists do.”

Gio once told Slusher, “Phil, when I see you Baptists and the work you do up here in Brooklyn, I see a different God than the God I grew up with in the Catholic Church.”

“There are 80 different ethnic groups in the Park Slope community of Brooklyn,” Slusher noted. “We have the opportunity to impact the world right there in Park Slope. We feel we are an extension of Jack and Becky’s ministry.”

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