Houston’s First mission trips come in all shapes and sizes. This fall, 25 couples simultaneously stormed New York City to share the love of Christ and retreated to fan flames of matrimonial harmony. Their unique approach to ministry opened hearts and changed lives.
Busy New Yorkers weren’t expecting God to step into their lives through conversation and temporary tattoos, but that’s what happened when Houston’s First couples from the As One Life Bible Study (LBS) at The Loop Campus went on mission to NYC this fall. Minister of Mobilization Jerrell Altic, also the LBS teacher, and his wife Kay purposed to give couples a break from home responsibilities to grow closer to each other and to God, worship Him and hit the streets in ministry.
“We wanted couples to encounter the power of God and victory in their marriages,” said Jerrell, “while loving people in the city in their everyday patterns of life — as they stopped for coffee, went out to eat, or just walked down the street. Giving temporary tattoos to engage people in conversation is like handing them a modern day [Gospel] tract.”
Kay came up with the idea of the “loved.” tattoo more than a year ago as a non- threatening way to break the ice. Armed with a stack of tattoos, Houston’s First couples prayed the Lord would create opportunities to talk with people as the Spirit guided them. They weren’t asked to force a Gospel presentation, but rather to engage in conversation and let spiritual talk develop naturally. Many times, “Can I pray for you?” opened doors to an unmistakable God encounter.
The group partnered with Pastor Boto Joseph, a church planter and pastor, in Jackson Heights, in the borough of Queens, an area of great ethnic diversity. Groups of four went out each afternoon to engage people on the street after spending the morning in worship, prayer and marriage building.
Joanna Calderon struck up a conversation with a woman who appeared to be studying a medical textbook. “I gave her a tattoo and asked how I could pray for her,” said Joanna. “She and her daughter had come from the Philippines five years ago and her husband was finally coming to the States to rejoin the family. After we prayed, the woman said, ‘God noticed me.’”
Joanna and her husband Omar left their six children in Houston with relatives so they could recharge their batteries and spend much-needed time reconnecting. “Besides waking up, sharing breakfast and hearing from God together, I was able to see God using Omar’s spiritual gifts in a way I had never seen before,” she said. “After Jerrell led a prayer time, Omar stood and began speaking truth over groups of praying couples, many in tears, as God brought emotional and spiritual healing to lives and marriages. We actually felt the Holy Spirit covering us — it was not a typical church experience.”
Jason and Brielle Gage were relative newcomers to As One when they signed up for the NYC trip. The Gages prayed for God to pair them with just the right couple for ministry. As they stood to leave, classmates Matt and Sayure Cotter walked up and asked to join them.
They made their way to a restaurant where Jason struck up a conversation with an older man who identified himself as Muslim. Jason asked if he could pray for him and he said he had already prayed that morning, but he conceded, and Jason covered the man’s hand with his and began praying. At “Amen,” he grabbed Jason’s hand, put it over his own heart and said, “Now pray for my heart.” Brielle, two tables over, saw joy and life in the man’s face. “The man treated Jason as he would a family member after they prayed together,” she said.
On the street, Matt and Jason approached a man, and after a lengthy conversation offered to pray for him. He seemed hesitant, but agreed to pray. Laying their hands on his shoulders, the men boldly prayed while Sayure and Brielle prayed nearby. They heard the man’s response: “Wow, I feel different,” he said, “I feel peace.” They dug in their pockets for Boto’s business card and found their last one, hoping he would make a connection.
“We had never talked to Matt and Sayure before,” said Brielle. “Now we feel a crazy closeness and bonding after spending time doing ministry together.” She says it wasn’t easy to be vulnerable as they opened themselves up to others.
“We were initially timid about going up to strangers on the street — we didn’t want to be yelled at or rejected,” she said. “But we had to choose to ‘get out of the boat.’ We didn’t have an agenda or plan in advance what to say; we just trusted God to give us the words to show His love.”