ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Southern Baptists’ ambitious plans for sending thousands of volunteers to work with new and existing churches in New York next year once faced a harsh reality of life in the city. With hotel rooms running $200 or a more a night and local churches far too small to serve as overnight hosts, housing was a problem.

The solution: a corner building in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn that once housed a funeral home, dentist’s office and a drugstore. It is now being converted into living space for up to 50 volunteers at a time who will work with churches throughout the metropolitan area.

The New York effort is one of the best examples of an emerging trend for buildings dedicated to housing volunteers — particularly in areas where the needs are great but the facilities of existing churches are small.

Two similar buildings also are in the works. One will be a major addition to the main office of the Canadian Southern Baptist Convention in Cochrane, Alberta, and another will be built beginning later this year at the Puerto Rico Baptist Seminary near San Juan.

All three projects are themselves dependent on volunteers, with aggressive efforts currently under way to enlist construction teams.

“These projects won’t work without a commitment of volunteers,” said Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization for the North American Mission Board. “We’re hoping to have teams of 10-12 volunteers per week at each work site until they’re done.”

“This is an indication of what God is up to in the future,” added Randy Creamer, who coordinates volunteer construction projects for NAMB. “This also goes well with Strategic Focus Cities. We’ve had success with mobilizing volunteers, but to be able to build a mobilization center in the city positions them well for becoming a popular destination point.”

The Brooklyn effort was made possible through Enduring Hope, a comprehensive plan of long- and short-term relief efforts funded by about $3.5 million contributed through Southern Baptist entities in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“New York Baptists believe relationships as much as anything will help them recover and heal from that experience, so they wanted a place to house volunteers,” Burton said. “With this building we’re talking about individuals being able to go and volunteer in New York and stay for $100 for a week — which is unheard of.”

J.B. Graham, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of New York, said the center will help with all aspects of New Hope New York, the name of the city’s Strategic Focus Cities effort. “I think it will be a lasting effect on the whole city,” he said. “We’re thrilled about it, and anxious for its completion.”

The building, which Burton said is in a “stable and safe neighborhood,” was made available at a below-market price, and volunteers working at the site are helping save about $200,000 in labor costs for renovations. When finished, the site will have sleeping accommodations for 25 men and 25 women.

“The theory is we create a place where people can sleep and shower and have a nice industrial kitchen,” Burton said. “And the idea is to create a central place near the subway system so groups can ride the subway to their destination.”

The experience also will help volunteers experience more of what life in the city is like for residents, Burton said. And for New York Baptists, it provides an opportunity to have volunteers working within the association year-round.

“It’s still a drop in the bucket in a city of 20 million people,” Burton said. “I’d eventually like to see two or three more and just circle the city. It’s going to take that kind of presence of volunteers in New York to really strengthen and impact the churches and win that city to Christ.”

In Canada, the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists is building a two-story 50-by-110-foot addition to its Cochrane, Alberta, offices that will house a total of 36 people in beds — 50 if sleeping-bag space is included. Dining facilities will handle 80 people.

The building will be used not only for missions volunteers, but also for those attending major conferences and meetings at the convention offices or the Canadian Baptist Theological Seminary across the street.

D.K. Hale, volunteer ministries coordinator for the convention, said the goal is to complete the project entirely with donated funds and volunteers.

“I’m sharing this project all over the country and asking God to provide volunteers and resources to build it debt-free,” he said. “My hope is we can have it dried-in this summer, so that we can continue to work on it through the wintertime.”

The Puerto Rico project has similar goals, lodging about 50 people in a 40-by-80-foot concrete block building on the campus of the Puerto Rico Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary is part of NAMB’s Contextual Leadership Development (CLD) program for providing certificate-level theological training.

The project is made possible by a missions offering from World Changers, a NAMB-sponsored student mobilization ministry.

“We’ve chosen to build it at the CLD campus because it complements the larger strategy of Puerto Rican Baptists,” Burton said. “The kitchen and eating areas at the seminary also will complement the sleeping quarters that we’re putting in.”

An apartment also will be included to provide housing for longer-term workers such as Mission Service Corps missionaries.

“It’s going to greatly enhance the work of Puerto Rican Baptists while also providing ample opportunities for stateside Southern Baptists to help in the missions effort throughout the San Juan area,” Burton said.

Construction volunteers interested in assisting with the projects may call 1-800-462-8657.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at Photo titles: BUSY IN BROOKLYN, ENVISIONING VOLUNTEERS and SITE LEADERS IN NYC.