Taking the gospel to the streets of NYC

James (top left) taking the church to the kids on the streets.
James (top left) taking the church to the kids on the streets. / SUR
  • James Harper was just 19 years old when he first ventured into the poverty-stricken areas of Brooklyn

When 19-year-old James Harper told his parents that he had decided to work with a charity in New York, they had certain reservations about his decision.

James had volunteered to help dysfunctional families in areas like Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem and Coney Island. These areas are notorious for gangs, drug lords, daily muggings and shootings; a different world to what the teenager was used to growing up on the Costa del Sol.

To his parents' relief, James survived all this and returned to Spain after four-month internship with Metro World Child, a ministry that cares for the inner-city children of New York City.

On returning to Spain, he realised there was not much opportunity for this type of work in Andalucía, and so it wasn't long before he was making plans to return to New York .

His parents, originally from Walthamstow in East London, have lived on the Costa del Sol for almost 30 years. Although they at first had concerns, they now wholeheartedly support the work their son is doing.

James, now 27, was born on the Costa del Sol and lived the best part of his life in Fuengirola.

When he first considered his internship he was relatively new to the Christian faith, but he was fascinated by the work of Metro World Child. He had witnessed the poverty first hand and so he thought it would be rewarding job to do.

"When people think about New York, they rarely think about the poverty that exists there; they think about the famous parts like Time Square. If you actually venture into the poor areas of Brooklyn, you will find a great deal of necessity," James told SUR in English.

The Metro World Child mission was started by an American called Bill Wilson nearly 40 years ago, and it has since expanded throughout the city and is now an international concern.

Wilson began ferrying the children to church by bus, but the organisation began to grow significantly and it became impossible, and impractical, to continue to provide transport for the children. Nevertheless, Bill overcame the problem by converting his bus so he could take the church to the children.

The organisation now has 14 mobile churches that visit 200 sites in New York every week.

James began as an intern and he worked his way up and became a team leader. He now works in the administration department, while helping the 14 teams that operate in different neighbourhoods of the city. He also goes out into the streets to visit the children on a one-to-one basis.

James admits that it was a bit of a culture shock at first, because he missed the laid-back ambiance of sunny Spain.

"It was a bit scary in the beginning, because I live in a dangerous area and the people are very rough. It was a far cry from the tranquility of Andalucía," James says.

He currently cares for around 250 children every week and he has built up a good relationship with them.

The children call him Yogi Bear because of the uniform he wears.

His team occasionally takes the children out for a burger or a trip to the park, but their main aim is to provide the gospel to children in the poor areas of New York City.

"Something unique about our ministry is that we actually visit the kids that we work with, and they trust us because we have become part of their family," James explains.

The Metro sponsorship scheme helps provide the children's with necessities such as clothing and education. Supporters can sponsor a child and get a monthly update on his or her progress.

The organisation now looks after more than 20,000 children in New York; across the world in places like the Philippines, Romania, India and Kenya, Metro reaches over 200,000 children every week.

Aside from the work James does in New York, he has also been active in India, where he helped to set up a missionary. He has also visited Indonesia to help with training projects.

James returned to Spain last week in order to visit his parents, and while here, he has been busy promoting the missionary.

He aims to raise awareness and help to fulfil the works of the ministry, while developing other funding platforms to ensure that the work continues and grows.

"The work we are doing is unique, because we are helping people that need help," James says with a hint of satisfaction.