• Frank Haight: Local couple heeds God's call to serve in New York

  • Every day Josh Collins leaves his apartment in Queens, N.Y., to work as an urban missionary in this diversified borough of 2.4 million people.

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  • Every day Josh Collins leaves his apartment in Queens, N.Y., to work as an urban missionary in this diversified borough of 2.4 million people.
    The Independence native, though, doesn’t have far to go to reach out in love to the 60,000 Bangladesh immigrants he holds dear to his heart.
    “The streets are my office,” says Josh, whose work takes him into homes, cafes, shops, parks and other venues where the Bengalis – most of whom are Muslims and Hindus – hang out. “That’s where I am working.”
    In June 2012, Josh, his wife Stephanie and their 23-month-old daughter Eowyn moved to New York City on a God-led mission to show and spread the love of Jesus Christ to everyone in the Bengali neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx.
    “And whether that results in them becoming Christians or listening to (God’s word), that’s ultimately up to them and to God,” says the Tri-City Christian School graduate.
    Josh and Stephanie didn’t go to New York City on a whim. They originally had their sights on a cross-cultural ministry in a foreign country. But when a medical issue prevented Stephanie from going abroad, they looked in another direction – New York City.
    “We learned not only was there a need for new churches in New York, but we learned there was an opportunity there to do basically what missionaries had been doing overseas – crossing cultures, learning new languages and working with people,” he explains, during a recent trip to Oak Grove to visit his parents, Jim and Kim Collins.
    “There is a huge need for that in New York City, specifically. So we really felt a connection there and that is what got us there,” he says, noting Stephanie spent a week in the Big Apple during mission work while in college, and he spent six months doing an apprenticeship through an inner-cultural studies program in West Bengal, India.
    “I picked up some of the language and then learned that in New York City there were thousands of people from the country of Bangladesh – one of the fastest growing emigrant populations in the city.”
    After an initial four-day visit to Queens in August 2011 “to figure out if God would have us move,” Josh and Stephanie returned to Blue Springs, where Josh was youth pastor at Plaza Heights Baptist Church. Following the visit, they were sure.
    “We just kind of fell in love with the place and the diversity and the opportunities that are there,” he says of New York. “It was like this is where we are going. We want to be there.”
    Josh’s missionary effort was motivated by the 10th chapter of Deuteronomy, he says, where God calls His people to love the fatherless, widows, strangers and foreigners as He loves them.
    Page 2 of 2 - On any given day, Josh might be found tutoring and helping Bengalis prepare for their citizenship tests, teaching them English in their homes, seeking to bless strangers he encounters in eateries and parks by offering to pray for them and their families.
    “It’s just a way we found to be helpful,” he says.
    Josh and Stephanie found that assisting several organizations conduct a December clothing drive in emigrant-populated areas was another way to be helpful. In addition to giving away some 10,000 coats, “We offered to pray for people who wanted it ... and to show love in that way.”
    Any converts thus far?
    “We haven’t yet. We have several people that we share Bible stories with on a regular basis,” Josh says, adding: “One of the good things about (sharing stories) with (Muslims) is that they have a high respect of the person of Jesus and many of the Old Testament prophets.”
    Says Josh: “Because of that, we are able to share about some of these people and share what our faith believes in them and share that we believe Jesus is different from what they hold.”
    However, no pressure is used.
    “We are respectful of them,” he says, “and we can’t force anybody to believe what we want them to believe. We put the information out there and let them decide for themselves.”
    Though they exist and function in Muslim neighborhoods, the young missionaries are not fearful.
    “The truth is that the vast majority of the people that we encounter and work with are not radicals. In fact, they will go out of their way to say, ‘hey,’ to you,” Josh says. And if asked their religious background, they say, “I am a Muslim. But not the kind you see on TV. We are not radicals.”
    What would Josh and Stephanie, who are expecting their second daughter in July, like to see happen in their ministry?
    “Our goal is to see a healthy, reproducing church in each Bengali neighborhood, led by Bengali followers of Jesus.”
    That can happen, he says, if “people open their eyes at those around them and ask themselves how they can love those strangers who cross their paths.”

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