Translation needed from Ky. to Queens
    March 10 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

    For his first sermon at the new church Tom Richter wanted to do his best and seeing people whispering to one another while he spoke didn’t exactly evoke feelings of confidence. Not until after the service did he realize they were not being rude, but were translating for family members.

    “That’s when it hit me – we aren’t in Kentucky anymore,” Richter said.

    Richter first left his small Kentucky town when a campus minister at Murray State University advised him to “step out of the bubble” for seminary. He went to Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey and because New York City was only one hour by train and visiting the city was the “cool thing to do,” Richter did.

    By the time seminary was over, Richter had his fill of the northeast and was ready to go back to Kentucky.

    Then he met the pastor of a church near Atlanta, Ga., who asked him to consider leading their church plant in Jamaica, Queens.

    “I told him he was crazy,” Richter said. But he went to see and never forgot what he saw, nor what he heard. 

    “When you walk through my neighborhood you don’t just hear a little Spanish here and there. You hear countless languages,” he said.

    BSC photo

    Tom Richter, center, pastor of New Hope Christian Church, shares about his congregation with Mark Gray, left, Baptist State Convention church planting team leader, and Richard Brunson, right, director of North Carolina Baptist Men.

    For seven years Richter has lived in Queens and pastored New Hope Christian Church. The church, like its community, is diverse. His wife is a first grade teacher and one year the 26 students in her classroom represented 26 different nations. 

    “No two children were from the same country and not one child could say he had a grandparent born on U.S. soil,” Richter said.

    Richter’s associate pastor grew up Hindu and married a woman who grew up Greek Orthodox. Both are now believers in Jesus Christ. The church is so diverse Richter joked that they considered changing the name to “New Hope Jewish and Gentile followers together of the Jewish Messiah Jesus Church. But who could afford the signage?” he said.

    Being a church of great diversity means “no one is going to be completely comfortable with every kind of worship style,” Richter said. “And I as the pastor am often the least comfortable. If it were up to me we’d have hymns and an old organ.” He knows some people may not come to New Hope because of choices they make, such as music style, but that is not what really matters. “The gospel is the point. That’s what transcends,” he said.

    New Hope meets Sundays at 6 p.m. in a Lutheran church. The Lutheran congregation meets Sunday mornings and New Hope rents the building Sunday, Tuesday and Friday nights. Before that they rented space in a YMCA, storefront and Chinese church. “It’s pretty common for churches to meet in and use the space of another church,” Richter said.

    Living in Queens and being among the nations means living among religions of the nations. Almost overnight Richter has seen entire neighborhoods go from Catholic to Muslim. Evangelism among Muslims is one of the greatest needs for his community. “I’m not sure everyone gets the urgency,” he said. “This is not 50 years away from Raleigh. This is not five years away. This is here.”

    Evangelism is only going to happen when the church owns its responsibility to the Great Commission.

    “I don’t think the attraction model will work in our neighborhood,” Richter said. “That really doesn’t impress someone if they’re coming from another cultural background. The only way to do it is for each church member to take seriously their circle of accountability.”

    To equip his congregation for this task, Richter takes discipleship seriously. “No program has ever made a disciple,” he said. What does work is “the Holy Spirit working in the lives of people as people pour into people.”

    In his seven years serving in New York City Richter has learned to rely on God’s provision and to stop praying for things that “work God out of the equation.” Instead of praying for his daily bread, Richter often found himself praying for a huge budget so the daily bread would no longer be needed. Now, this pastor has learned that God provides when he prays for daily bread.

    Richter said his purpose in being at New Hope is to continually point the church to the Head of the Body. Their vision is clear: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

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    3/10/2010 9:13:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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