People often pass by the miraculous unaware. Like royalty in plain clothes, God moves through humanity in mundane settings unaccompanied by the crescendo of a musical score to hint at what is happening. Yet when I’m in New York City, I become more cognizant of the miraculous as if the entire city were a miracle in process. And it is.
In his essay, Here is New York, E.B. White wrote “The collision and the intermingling of these millions of foreign-born people representing so many races and creeds make New York a permanent exhibit of the phenomenon of one world.” It’s a microcosm of the world where stories of redemption are happening and are waiting to happen. When I met Zarina there, I knew I was witnessing a miracle.
Years ago in Central Asia, Zarina dreamt that Jesus appeared to her. As a Muslim, she wondered, “What is the significance of Jesus?” In her search for answers, she visited a house church that subsequently closed due to government restrictions. Then two years ago, she and her husband moved to Queens, New York with their daughter. When she became pregnant with her second child, her elation turned to anxiety when the doctor told her that the baby tested positive for Down Syndrome. The doctor’s prognosis became worse when further tests revealed deformed limbs and a heart condition. In search for a second opinion, they consulted a second and third doctor, but the report was just as dire. The doctors counseled her to abort the baby. Inconsolable, Zarina cried every day for a month because she did not want to abort her baby. One night her husband had a dream that God had a special plan for their baby daughter.
Four days before her scheduled abortion, Zarina was relaxing at a park near her home when Inna, a Russian Jewish Christian from Every Nation New York, approached her and explained the Gospel to her. Inna and her husband, Misha, lead an outreach to Russian-speaking people in Brooklyn and Queens. Although Zarina had wondered about Christianity ever since she visited the house church many years ago, she had never heard about salvation through Jesus Christ until that day. She prayed to receive Christ and when her husband arrived at the park later, he also prayed to receive Christ. In tears, she told Inna about her plans to abort. Emphatically, Inna responded, “No, you cannot do this. Let’s pray that God will heal her.” So they prayed together and asked God to do a miracle. “I was amazed to see a new believer in Jesus pour out her heart so passionately in prayer,” said Inna. When Zarina went back to her doctor two days later, the tests came back negative for birth defects. Doctors at the clinic were shocked by the results and started to apologize to Zarina for their mistake, but Zarina cried out: “This is not a mistake, Jesus healed my baby!”
A few months later in February 2014, Zarina gave birth to a healthy baby girl. On the afternoon when my husband and I visited the family a week after the baby was born, they were radiant with joy. Ornate Persian rugs carpeted their simple, immaculate apartment. As they showed us their daughter, I felt like paparazzi snapping photos at a major event. At that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the city. The eternal significance of what God had done through Jesus Christ dominated our conversation. Now, they are learning about the foundations of faith.
A transformed life is a powerful message to friends and family. As Zarina and her husband related their story to family members in Central Asia, they have already had opportunities to lead several of them to faith in Christ. So the miracle goes on. Zarina and her family were ready and waiting for someone to explain the Gospel to them. The new frontier of missions must be to the urban centers of the world where unreached people groups dwell among a density of humanity.
In their book Why Cities Matter: to God, the Culture and the Church, Stephen T. Um and Justin Buzzard state, “This much is clear—the cities are where the people are. In the course of less than 300 years, our world will have shifted from one in which only three percent of people live in cities, to one in which 80 percent are resident in urban areas. If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities. As these new numbers make clear, there really is no choice.”
From the aspirational person who seeks purpose to the marginalized person who seeks refuge, the church has something to offer. No matter what methods the church employs to engage people, only the Gospel of Jesus Christ will change lives. We must become prolific at preaching the Gospel and welcoming people into loving community. The impact in cities like New York reaches far, even to the ends of the earth.