by Amy Tartick
From calling to planning to launch, and then onto building sustainability, Church planting presents unique challenges for pastors who desire to see new expressions of the Body of Christ planted and growing in Western New York. Many church plants begin and end in a very short period of time due to a lack of support along with other resources. With a goal to see gospel saturation in WNY, the Church Planting Initiative (CPI) was formed to help like-minded pastors establish new local churches with a solid foundation so that roots can be set deeply into a community where a gospel presence is needed. CPI is supported by a group of WNY churches that provide funding, experience, and other resources to assist pastors with a vision to plant in the Greater Buffalo Area.
After a comprehensive application process, the CPI selection committee awarded grants and support to five church planters including Eric Napoli, Sheridan Parkside Life Center; Jim Furey, Buffalo Project; Purna Tamang, Saransthan International Fellowship; Art Hall, The Journey Church; and Yoshua Bashizi, Mission of Christ. On Mission was able to connect with this group in a roundtable setting asking them to share about their hopes and plans for this opportunity.
On Mission: It would be great to hear how and why God led you to plant a church here in WNY.
Eric Napoli: I believe that certainly church planting has to be a calling. In my case, it was a calling that I was not particularly looking for. I was simply following where God was leading and ended up right in the middle of the church planting process. I found myself prayer walking through streets I was formerly unfamiliar with and meeting people for whom I was gaining greater and greater love. It was, honestly, one of the most organic ventures I have ever been on—developed not from strategy or intuition of my own, but rather simple submissive following of Christ.
Yoshua Bashizi: In 2012, God laid a call on my heart to plant a church, but I was not sure if my dream was true since I had no desire to become a pastor. I continued to pray about this call and things started to become more clear. Over the years, I developed friendships with brothers from the Wesleyan denomination, the Church of WNY team, and CPI, who have been helpful for support and guidance. On August 2, 2015, it became official when I launched our first service of 12 people or less. Since then, Mission of Christ has been going and it’s moving in a right direction.
Jim Furey: This is our second church plant; our first was in Indianapolis. We felt God’s call to come home (I grew up in Buffalo; my family is still here) and plant a church here for several reasons. One, that my own family may come to faith in Christ, but I believe the Lord has also given me an affinity, a love for the people of WNY. This community is a very religious community, but also a very lost community. I was a faithful church goer while growing up in Buffalo, but it wasn’t until I went away to college and met my future wife, did we ever hear the gospel. I want to share this life-changing, good news of salvation and eternity in Christ with our community.
Art Hall: I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and grew up in this same zip code, but different neighborhood. The Lord laid on my heart to begin a church in 2004. The Lord transitioned my wife and me to Orlando, FL. There I learned and grew. Upon arriving back to Buffalo, the Lord directed to begin the work as He had in the past.
Purna Tamang: I had a dream to engage myself in a souls-saving ministry since I received Jesus on December 23, 1993, in Nepal. But, due to my jobs in Atlanta, GA, I was totally forbidden from ministry and was unable to engage in the community. I was even unable to attend regular Sunday worship services for almost a year and a half. So, I had a clear vision of “lostness” or barren land without any fruits, and yet I refused to move to Buffalo, due to my better job. However, my wife and I ended up being in a car accident. Indeed, I was challenging the Muslim imam that Jesus is the living Lord, and he was driving my car, trying to kill us. All of a sudden he said he heard a voice and he did not kill us. So, within a week we ended up being in Buffalo, NY with a church planting mission work among Hindus and Muslims.
On Mission: We understand church planting isn’t for the “faint of heart.” What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing or have faced already?
Eric: No question that church planting has pulled me so far out of my comfort zone that I have greatly leaned upon, and thrown myself into the arms of God for direction, wisdom, and any source of hope. The most difficult struggles for me have not been in knowing what I’m called to, but rather how tactically I’m going to carry it out financially long-term. In today’s world, church planting in some ways seems like an endless job of salesmanship. While I love to build relationships, it is a stretch for me to always be looking for support from others.
Yoshua: My biggest challenge was fear first. I had no idea on how churches are planted in the United States. My view and expectations were totally different. The strategy, planning, and model they use here for church planting was not familiar to me. Another challenge is to get other people from different ethnicities engaged in ministry. My belief is that the Church of Jesus Christ is diverse. And lastly, frustration for the tools needed is the other challenge.
Jim: This church plant has been so different and more challenging than in Indianapolis. When we came here, there was no core group to help invite folks and launch this new church. This was going to be a scratch start – witnessing to and discipling new believers, and enfolding them into the church. The plowing has been difficult. While most Buffalo people are warm and polite, willing to listen (thinking they’re already Christian), hardened hearts still hang onto religious pedigrees, church roots and good works; yet the Lord continues to encourage us with new souls coming to faith – trusting in Jesus Christ alone. We have to learn to persevere. We want to see the church up and running yesterday, but we need to continue to pray to the Lord of the harvest to increase our faith and trust that He will reap His harvest in His time.
Art: There are a number of levels of challenges you face as a church planter. We have challenges with the neighborhood, although this is an area that has a number of churches. The area itself has high levels of crime and other activity that we are confronted with as a church. Although this is an area we would like to work with other churches and stakeholders to reach the community, we cannot ignore safety issues and concerns. We are a discipleship church that engages the community. This is important for us to be able to be safe in doing so.
Purna: Vulgarity and vandalism are some of the challenges that we face in the ministry. Almost all the families of the community live in the heart of downtown, specifically in the West Side. Refugees’ children and teenagers began sneaking through windows taking jewelry and electronics to get some cash. Due to these criminal activities, most of the families migrated to cities in Michigan and Ohio. Thank God, I sent my co-leader and they restarted the churches wherever they moved.
On Mission: How are you working to overcome them or have you overcome them?
Yoshua: I have overcome some challenges and prayerfully, by God’s grace, I shall overcome all.
Jim: We continue to commit everything to the Lord in prayer and step out in faith in Him. Christ Church Buffalo’s mission is: To know Christ and to make Him known! And our vision for this new church as we faithfully follow Christ’s mission is to be: A community made new by the gospel of Jesus Christ! Loving God. Loving God’s Word. Loving God’s People. We have been active, plugging into the community with things such as: leading a private devotional and prayer time with our local town council; reacquainting and sharing Christ with former high school alumni that I haven’t seen in years; hosting local Bible studies, and community outreach events. We have also recently begun one Sunday per month worship services (eventually we will go to weekly) as we gather to hear God’s Word and praise our Lord and Savior. We’ve seen 20-40 come, including new people and the unchurched.
Art: We have incorporated our Walk-A-Mile in an effort to reach the residents and families within a mile radius of the church. We have participated in various community events that are held by the local block clubs and other community groups. This has allowed us to build key relationships and have a presence in the community.
Purna: With the help of other organizations, as a church leader I personally organized some security meetings with local police officers. So far we are safe and able to start one more new church as a daughter church in the City of Buffalo among French and Swahili speaking populations.
On Mission: How did you hear about CPI?
Yoshua: I heard about CPI from a friend who saw some godly seeds in my calling. He asked me to consider CPI for support.
Jim: I heard about CPI through another church planter who encouraged me to apply. I have found the spirit of CPI so refreshing! Christ-centered, Word-centered, gospel-driven churches willing to faithfully come together to see the gospel go out throughout our city and to the ends of the earth is so encouraging and uplifting to me. Thank you!
On Mission: What does it mean to you and your church plant as a whole to have been awarded a CPI partnership this year?
Eric: For me, and the Sheridan Parkside Life Center, we would be nowhere near the progress we are today without CPI. They have come alongside of our vision and have supported the concept since the time I first mentioned I work there. As we are refurbishing the building in which the Life Center will reside, much of the material has been obtained through CPI grant money. It also has given me the opportunity to bring alongside of me an assistant director, Joel Patrick, who is being trained to take over the work there.
Yoshua: It means a lot to be awarded a CPI partnership this year. I was working full time, overnight shift, before this award. The ministry was suffering because of my lack of time. Right now, I am spending more time in ministry to improve and explore more opportunities to expand the ministry. The CPI award has been a blessing to me and my church in general. I am feeling more like a normal person now.
Jim: We are very grateful. Your encouragement to us, your partnership in the gospel, and particularly your faithfulness to Christ’s Great Commission fuels our enthusiasm to press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Upon moving back to Buffalo (after being away for so many years), what really impressed us was this Christian community’s unique desire to come together across denominational lines to unite to reach the people of Buffalo with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our city has been ranked by Barna as the eighth least Christian city in America. May we see our community, by the grace of God, become the eighth most Christian city in America!
Art: To be an awardee of the CPI partnership is a tremendous blessing and a unanimous win for The Journey. We were able to continue our community evangelism efforts and meet the needs of the community. We have been able to continue to reach the community and impact our neighborhood.
Purna: Actually the Lord heard our tearful prayer. We might have left the ministry and would have thrown ourselves into other secular businesses for feeding families. But, now, due to amazing grace through CPI funding, my wife and I are able to fulfill Christ’s Greatest Commission through aggressive and all-nations church planting mission here in WNY territories.
On Mission: Do you now have a greater ability to impact the “lostness” of your geographic context than you did before your partnership with CPI? If so, how?
Eric: Because of CPI’s investment we have already had the opportunity to do outreach in the community and have brought the gospel of salvation and fruit of salvation to the area of Sheridan Parkside. The construction and work in this area has piqued the interest of people and has brought hope to a very hopeless situation.
Yoshua: I have enough time to reach out to those who are not attending church. I am listening to the concerns of why people are becoming unchurched more now than before. I am praying with those who are feeling discouraged and making plans for discipleship conversations.
Jim: Absolutely! We are using the funds provided to launch our one-Sunday-per-month worship services (pay for rent, postcard advertising, refreshments, and other needs), along with community outreach events to reach people. Also, I am encouraged by the Christian brotherly camaraderie for coming together for the gospel of Jesus Christ. CPI has also hosted, directly or indirectly, sessions for learning and growing as pastors and congregations, which I have been able to participate in.
Art: I believe we have a greater ability to reach the lost because of the partnerships we’ve established and also the outreach we have been able to do. With the CPI funding we have been able to serve the community through various outreach efforts.
Purna: I had a clear vision without any provision until now. I had a dream to reach the lost immigrant and refugee population with the true gospel of Jesus Christ through the church planting mission work. However, since I am blessed by CPI funding, I have more time for witnessing and doing many more ministry activities among the next generation, like soccer clinics, musical concerts, and many more.
On Mission: How can we best pray for your church?
Eric: Please pray for the ongoing reconstruction of the Life Center. There is a huge job yet to be accomplished there and thousands of dollars needed to do that. We are at a point of needing to hold up major construction at this point due to financial need. Also, raising of support for both the materials and the assistant director‘s livelihood is of high priority. But also, please pray that the spiritual climate continues to develop, that more salvations will be seen and that discipleship will take root.
Yoshua: My prayer request is to pray with me to God to overcome challenges and circumstances. Also pray for the unity and welfare of the church.
Jim: Pray for gathering of not-yet believers to hear and receive the good news of Jesus Christ and also for believers committed to the mission of knowing Christ and making Him known, willing to serve, and be a part of this new mission church. Also pray for the Lord’s blessing of a gifted music team (singers and instrumentalists), who desire to lead congregational singing in worship and grow with us. We want to be a church singing scripturally-rich music (old and new) in worship for the glory of God.
Art: Pray that the Lord sends laborers, skilled laborers with a servant’s heart, and for us to be more impactful in reaching our community.
Purna: Since I have been discipling and equipping over 50 students every year through Foundational Discipleship Bible School here in Buffalo, please pray that the Lord would raise His laborers in planting many more churches here in WNY territories.
Thank you for joining us at the table with these exceptional Greater Buffalo church planters. We encourage you to pray for them and their local churches that God would use them for His glory so that many will come to faith in Christ Jesus.
Editor’s Note: This is the full version of the interview that appeared in On Mission magazine in October 2018.