During the trip when I went to Queens by myself I had made contact with this pastor in Long Island. I do not remember the circumstances around this contact. He was a pastor and he may have had some connection with someone in Greenville, SC, but I really do not remember at this point. I do remember calling him and going to his house. I stayed overnight, we talked and then I went home to Greenville.
I called him before I left Queens to get exact directions to his house. I think I took the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) to Long Island. I seem to remember that. He gave me good directions and I knew I had to hit it just right. I would arrive at night time and I didn’t want to be asking anyone for directions in NY late at night with out of state plates and an even further out “out of state” accent. My goal was to drive from Queens, through Brooklyn into Long Island and to his house w/o stopping for anything and w/o talking to anyone. I also didn’t want to miss his house and drive around a neighborhood with one way streets and seemingly disorienting traffic engineering configurations. It is much better to hit it “spot on” and not have to wander too far off the straight line.
I made it to his street, but was unsure of his house. I knew it was on the right side of the street. The houses were like “row houses”. They were very close together with minimal front yard, but enough front yard to place them back about 75 feet from the dark city street. I couldn’t see the house numbers unless the porch light was on. I eased onto the street and made my way down toward my goal counting the houses the best I could and hoping I didn’t miss it since it was one way and nearly impossible to turn around. Looking down the street I saw a lady standing at the end of this drive seemingly waiting on someone.
As I got closer it seemed apparent that she was standing in the very drive I needed to turn into. She was dressed in black, including black netted stockings with high heels. It was evident she didn’t live there. She was in the way so my hope was that she was one house down or up from where I needed to be. I eased past her, very slow and looked at the next house number and noticed I’d just past my destination. I eased a bit forward and then stopped, not wanting to go around the block and possibly get lost. I put it in reverse and my backup lights came on. I had out of state plates, was driving real slow at night and was backing up to a hooker. She knew exactly what I wanted. It was a dilemma. I backed-up to the drive and there she was, larger than life. I let my passenger window down and she stuck her head in and asked if I wanted some company tonight. I asked her if she knew about Jesus and whether or not she knew if she died tonight where she would go, heaven or hell. She backed up so hard that she caught her head between the window and ceiling. About that time a jeep pulled up in front of me and she went to the passenger side and said something to the driver. He let her in and they drove off. I pulled in and met the pastor. I told him there was a hooker in his drive and he said she is down there a lot. They had called the cops a few times, but she keeps coming back. Welcome to New York.
We were in-between witnessing events one afternoon and decided it was time to eat something. We settled on a pizza place. This pizza place had an outside area that was quite large like a food court with picnic tables. The place was bustling and every picnic table was full except for one. There was a lady sitting at this one table by herself. There were about 8 of us. I “told” the Lord that if that lady is still sitting there after we order our pizza that I would go sit by her and begin witnessing to her. I knew she would not be there when I came back out so it wasn’t much of a “bargain” with the Lord. There was a line in the little restaurant and it would be nearly impossible for her to be there.
I ordered my pizza and came out and low and behold, she was still sitting there alone. There was no way. The place was too busy for her to be there by herself. I had no choice. Fear of man kicked in and I had to do what I “told” God I would do. I sat down beside her and began talking to her conversationally. My friends eventually joined me and I introduced her to them. At one point I asked her why she was talking to me because that was unusual for New Yorkers. She said she talked to me because I was harmless. I asked her if she knew karate. She said, “No”. I then asked her what she meant by “harmless”. She said when I sat down she looked in my eyes and knew I was a peaceful man, harmless. She said I was like “Daniel” whatever that meant. The conversation turned religious and she began to tell me about how her and her husband had been in a search for a church for a long time and couldn’t find one. Both of us were intrigued that this Southern boy was in NY telling her about a church in her area. This was a sign for her.
The other guys left and I continued to engage her with my friend David. As I was about to leave I asked her if I could pray for her. She said, “Yes” and I did. I was about to get up and she asked if she could pray for me. I was surprised by that because I come from a world that doesn’t do that kind of thing, women praying for men. Without thinking and with no exit strategy I said “Yes” and she then asked if she could put her hands on me. This was really out of the box for hardcore fundamentalists. Once again, I said, “Yes”. She put one hand on my head and another on my neck. I was securely locked in. I couldn’t move. She began praying and then went off into tongues. That had never happened to me before. I started laughing and the more I laughed the worse it got. Finally it was totally out of control. I couldn’t stop laughing and knew I could offend her. So I began saying things like “praise the Lord”, “Hallelujah” and “praise God” and more. I said this in the midst of laughing my butt off. It was hysterical. My thought was that she would think I was overcome by holy laughter or something. She finished praying and then asked my friend David if she could pray for him. He was mortified. He was more fundamental conservative than me. He didn’t know what to do. He said, “Yes”. She put her hands on him in like fashion as me. It was hilarious. Once we left David asked me to never tell anyone about what just happened. We got back to the apartment and the guys were laying all over the floor sleeping or trying to. I walked in and said very loudly, “Hey Guys!! Guess what just happened?” David was mortified all over again.
A few years ago I had the privilege to spend some time with some friends in NYC. It was Queens actually. Their church was planted many years prior and was going strong, but thought it would be good to have some guys come in to serve them evangelistically.
I was immediately exhilarated by the ease and opportunities for evangelism in New York. People were everywhere. It was nearly overwhelming the first time we went. And there was so much freedom in telling people about the Savior. Not only were people everywhere but they were mostly un-churched with very little idea of what it was all about. It was a most unusual place for me to be. It was comparatively different than my religious South. God opened my eyes to so much and allowed me to step out of my hermetically sealed world into a real world. Things were all of a sudden not safe. Yes, it was exhilarating.
One day before the church meeting on Wednesday I was making my way to the meeting at the American Legion Hall and there was a couple sitting on the park bench just across the street from the Hall. The couple was not talking to one another. They had carry-out Chinese. They were focused. She was overweight. He was slightly overweight. He had reddish hair that was a bit greasy and long. He face was acne covered. They were probably about 27 to 30 years of age. They had just got off work, stopped somewhere for some rice and whatever and were eating on the park bench. This was normal. There were many people milling around them in the smallish park.
He had a T-shirt that said, “51% Good & 49% Bad: Don’t push it”. That was a welcoming sight. I approached them hoping not to push it, but yet a desire to tell them about Jesus. It was a bit surreal. They were sitting, eating, focused simultaneously downward and most certainly in no hurry. I began the small talk, which led to the deep talk. I had 30 minutes before the meeting started. He was not a Christian and knew very little about it. He was either interested or didn’t have anywhere to go so he listened to this weirdo from Greenville, SC. I’m sure it was non-threatening to him. In his own laid-back, semi-interested coolness he talked to me as did his wife.
I asked him about heaven and hell and whether he believed in either and whether he knew how to get to either. He believed, but didn’t know the course to take. I invited him to the meeting. He said he couldn’t come because we would not accept him. That might be true in Greenville, SC, but not in NY and praise God I was in NY and it didn’t matter what you looked like. He also had a six pack or more of beer at his side. I told him to come on in that he was welcome here. He was taken aback by that, in a positive kind of way. We talked some more and then I told him I had to go. It was a pleasant conversation. I did plead with him to come to the meeting.
I hung around the inside entrance for a long while. He never showed. About 20 minutes into the meeting he and his wife came in. I was so encouraged. He told me later that he got saved and the reason he was late for the meeting was because he went home to pour his beer out. He wanted to walk a new way. The truth is he was 100% bad, but God changed that.
Once upon a time while in NY we all were out walking around checking things out and on the prowl to witness to someone. I approached a lady who was sitting on a park bench. I walked up to her and said something like, “Excuse me ma’am, may I sit down?” She began hollering at me like there was no tomorrow. She was loud and very rude. She was shouting at me telling me to go back home and don’t come around here anymore. To go away and never come back, she kept on saying. It was another in a long list of surreal moments.
I sat down and began talking to her anyway. She was talkative in her NY kind of way. She was old, probably 60. She had lived in Queens most of her life, I think. After awhile I asked her why she was hollering at me when I approached her. She said she thought I had just moved up here or was planning to move up here. I had told her by that time that I was up here on behalf of the church to tell people about Christ and that I would be going back in a week. She was relieved. She began telling me how difficult and, at times, horrible it is to live in NY. She didn’t want me to make that mistake if I had a chance of living anywhere else. She assumed by my accent that I had a choice and if I did that I should not screw up my life by choosing to live there. In reality she was being nice to me. She was being kind. It was an odd style of kindness, but she was and I appreciated it. One of those odd interactions, but amazingly the norm in such a place as NY. The people are lovable, eccentric and always adventurous.
I think on the same day I had met another lady earlier who was hanging out of an apartment window on the first floor. It was hot and she was cooling off. Since they didn’t have air conditioning it was not unusual for folks to be lined up hanging out of their windows talking to folks on the street. I caught the eye of this elderly lady and she seemed engaging. I had never witnessed to a lady hanging out her window while I was walking up the street. However, in NY there are always these types of opportunities. You just have to have an awareness and desire.
We began to talk and I was trying to connect someway, somehow. She said something, I said something back and the conversation took off. At one point I was going to reference a verse from the bible, but couldn’t remember it. I shouted at one of my friends and asked him if he had a Scofield (meaning Scofield Reference Bible). She heard the name Scofield and in light of our conversation about angels she thought Scofield was an angel. So she questioned me about this. She was Catholic, like everybody else, and thought there was another angel out there that she was not aware of. She didn’t want to miss out on something. She did see Mary (Jesus’ mother) in Brooklyn one time.
One of the more common statements I heard repeatedly while in NY was “You are not from around here are you?” It was apparent. As one lady said, “I don’t know what you said, but could you say it again? I like the way you said that.” It was quite humorous.
One time I walked out of the church meeting at the America Legion Hall and out on the sidewalk was a small boy about 3 or 4 years of age. He had a stick in his hand and he was tormenting (or playing with) some ants that were scurrying in and around the cracks in the sidewalk. I got down on my knees and began to poke at them as well. He never once looked at me. He didn’t look to see who I was, where his daddy was or anything else. He never broke stride so to speak with what he was doing. I engaged him in conversation and he talked back to me. We carried on a conversation while both of us played with the ants. It was sort of odd. Finally I asked him if he knew where I was from because I spoke different from him. He said, “I think you are from Texas.” That was funny. I told him I was from South Carolina. We chatted a bit more and then I told him goodbye. I don’t think he ever looked up at me.
Another time we were going into McDonalds. Brook Sutters (I think his name was something like that) was from the mountains of NC. He had one of the more “hick-a-fied” voices you would ever want to hear. He was a hoot to talk with, listen to. The folks in NY loved to hear him. He sounded something like what they thought the Beverly Hillbillies would sound like.
One evening we went into McDonalds and Brook was ahead of me. He was at the counter ordering something. I walked in the double-doors while he was ordering. There were about two registers between him and a lady who was about to order. When Brook opened his mouth the lady two registers down turned to look to see where that sound came from. It was my friend. Apparently she had never heard anything like it before. She froze, trancelike as she stared at him. She never turned her body, which was still facing the counter. However, her head was turned and it was facing Brook. It was a 90 degree sort of thing from her shoulders to her head. I stopped and savored the moment at the front door. She was mesmerized by it all and everything became sort of surreal and frozen in time.
I walked to one of the middle registers, between the two of them. Brook had no idea she was staring at him. I stood there, then turned and faced the frozen lady. She never saw me though I was impeding her view. I said, in my most drawn out Southern voice, “He ain’t from around here.” She said “Yes” before she realized she was talking to another one of them. Then she snapped out of it all and realized there were at least two of them in the building.
We were staying in Queens on one of our trips. It was Vivian Williams’ apartment. It was a very nice neighborhood as far as those kinds of neighborhoods go. It was clean and family oriented. It was not as rundown as Jackson Heights for example. It was old, but had a family flare to it. There were bushes on the sidewalks and some small trees as well. Not many, but one of the few places where there was some greenery.
I remember one night when I walked out in the street in my pajamas and began talking with all kinds of people. All the people hung in the streets because the air conditioning either didn’t exist, or was too expensive, or didn’t work. In the evening you just hung in the streets. I would walk up and down the street around our apartment talking to all kinds of folks in the streets. These were not apartment buildings that were stacked. They were all connected, but were not high-rises.
One evening Brook Sutters was coming back to the apartment with me. We got off from our ride, whatever that was, I don’t remember and we were walking down the street toward our apartment. There were about five kids or so leaning, sitting on/around a car. They were talking smack. For some reason I began talking smack with them. They were talking real big like they were going to beat somebody up or destroy this or that. I jumped in there and began mocking them, threatening them and talking smack as well. Brook was freaked out. He was not raised on the street. He didn’t know they were not serious. Though my language was different and my accent was really different and they knew I was not from NY we were all in there talking it up. I took a stick away from this boy and began telling him that I would beat him with it. I jacked him up against the car. It was a surreal scene for Brook. He had no idea which way was up. I had to tell him after we left that we were goofing off.
During that week, maybe that night, we were walking down the street, Brook and me. There was a gang at the end of the street and I walked up to them unannounced and began talking a similar smack. Brook was really scared at this. He had no clue. It was frightening. We jawed around for awhile, threatened one another and then begin talking about where I was from and what I was doing in NY.
It didn’t matter that we were from different “streets”. We were from the street and it was discernible between two guys raised on the street even though my street was Olive Branch Road in the country of Monroe, NC and theirs was somewhere in the maddening world of Queens, NY.
David Schulter pastored Lefferts Park Baptist Church. This was an old church building built in the early 1900’s. David was in his 30’s. He was the son of a gangster-type dad. He told that story often. He had part of his finger missing due to his early life. It was his claim to fame so to speak. I think he had two kids or three. He had a very nice wife. They lived in an apartment in Brooklyn. It was, like everything else, right on the street. In NY you were either in a building of some sort or on the street. There were no buffers. It seemed a heck of a way to raise kids. I thought about this more with David than with my friends in Queens. I guess that was because he was the only one I hung with in Brooklyn while I hung with teens and adults mostly in Queens. David’s kids reminded me of the difficulties of child rearing in such a place. I admired him.
I met David through Richard Johnson. Richard was a friend of mine who wanted to be a missionary in NY. He met David somehow and Richard asked me if I would go to NY with him to take pictures for his deputation work. Deputation is when a guy goes around raising money from churches to go on the mission field. The potential missionary shows a slide presentation of his soon to be mission field. I took Richard to NY in my Buick and shot many scenes for his slide show. Richard did go to NY and planted a church. I assume he is still up there today.
David Schulter reminded me of Pluto on the Popeye cartoon. He was barrel chested, a bit shorter than me, rotund, but not fat. He had black hair and a beard. He was a bit comical looking, boastful in a NY kind of way, but seemed to be a pastor. He was a survivor and a good fit for the city. I hope he is doing well today.
We arrived in Brooklyn a bit late, around 8 PM. It was raining and we didn’t know exactly where David lived. We called him to come get us. While we were waiting we walked around. I saw a theater that was converted to a church. It was Charismatic. We went in. The ushers looked like bouncers. The place was gutted with folding chairs on a slant incline. It was loud and charismatic in every caricatured sense of the word. We stayed awhile. It was an experience. Neither one of us like it. They had prayer after some loud, bouncing, singing and the preaching. We turned around and put our heads in our seats and prayed. It was so loud that you couldn’t hear one another praying out loud. I was hollering. When I finished I tapped Richard so he would know I was through. We left.
David showed us around. One time I jumped from his car to witness to two guys. He lectured me sternly never to do that again. He said I didn’t know what they were doing. It could have been a drug deal going down and I could have been killed. I was wreckless and full of unwise zeal. He also took us through Harlem. That, too, was an experience.