NEW YORK — How much does it cost to show and prove that Christians care about more than just converting people but also take Jesus' mandate to love others as themselves at face value? Well, if you're in New York City, it apparently costs $10 million.
That's the budget set aside (more than 90 percent of which has been raised) for The Luis Palau Association's NY CityServe project that couples Christian evangelism with good works in an effort to build long-lasting relations between believers and their neighbors, and connect believers with other believers.
New York City is home to more than 8 million people, representing various ethnicities, languages and religious beliefs. Protestants, less than 30 percent of the city's population, are scattered throughout the city's five boroughs and gather over the weekend in empty school auditoriums and storefront tabernacles or in big concert halls and equally massive church buildings.
Some 1,700 churches were participating in NY CityServe, which had organized more than 100 outreach and service-oriented events across the city's five boroughs and in locations in New Jersey and Connecticut.
"This is by the far the biggest effort in the history of the Palau team, because it's NYC," Kevin Palau, president of The Luis Palau Association, told The Christian Post in May.
"Thank the Lord we went into it with this idea, because NYC is this global city, it's almost like a national city. Normally, when we go into a city we don't charge anything for our efforts. Luis Palau doesn't get an honorarium, none of our staff … none of us are paid for this effort," Palau explained. "The Palau Association ends up being one of the biggest contributors to this effort. But when it comes to the direct local costs, normally the city (bears the costs). We come alongside them to help them raise the money, but the local city raises the money and it's spent locally."
The budget was being met through the contributions of people in the U.S. and abroad, according to Palau. He stated during the May interview that $9.2 million of the $10 million budget had been received so far and more than 10,000 people had donated.
"It's the biggest one we've ever done," he repeated.
Despite the big budget costs to facilitate service projects and outreach events, "We don't regret it for one second," Palau added, noting that the $10 million budget ensures that NY CityServe isn't just "a flash in the pan," but covers the costs of continuing the project through 2017.
"I think NYC is a tremendous platform for the Gospel. … There are thousands of vibrant churches, African-American, Haitian, Korean, Jamaican. You may not be aware of them, but in every neighborhood, trust me they are there shining the light of Jesus and loving their neighbor, and we just have a chance to shine a light on that," Palau told CP.
He explained excitedly, "The whole ad campaign for NYC is called 'Good News in the City."
"What we mean by that is it's good news to see unity in the midst of the most diverse Christian community in history," he added. "There's never been since Pentecost a more diverse Body of Christ than in the Tri-State area right now. Two hundred languages, churches that are reflective of every part of the community — wealthy, poor, every ethnicity, denomination, geographically spread out …"
Not only is it a benefit for their schools, civic organizations and everyday neighbors, but Palau described NY CityServe (also incorporating parts of New Jersey and Connecticut) as "a huge blessing" for churches that previously may have felt isolated.
Palau said that there were more than 50 regional pastors groups now meeting monthly in 10 neighborhoods spanning from Chinatown, near the tip of Manhattan, to Harlem, one of the island's northernmost enclaves.
Palau, tasked with overhauling his father's evangelistic events over the years, has brought a diversity of Christians and city leaders together many times before.
Instead of just descending on a city for a day or two of preaching (normally done by his father Luis Palau or brother Andrew Palau), the evangelistic celebration (CityFest) would be preceded by service projects (CityServe) to offer a tangible reminder that participating Christians want communities and souls to be transformed.
The catalyst for the CityServe movement, which has now been introduced in several U.S. cities, came in 2008 in Palau's home state of Oregon, in irreligious Portland to be exact. At the time, "several Christian leaders met with Portland's mayor to simply ask, what do you need, and how can we help?"
It's a surprising success story (to some) that's been well-documented over the years, by The New York Times, ABC News, PBS — and now, in Palau's Unlikely. In his debut book, Palau gives the backstory to how Portland's Season of Service came to be, and inspired what he calls the Festival 2.0 model (CityServe-CityFest).