A Staggering Challenge

Nicholas and Stephanie Hanson, currently U.S. missionaries and Chi Alpha campus pastors in Manhattan, a New York City borough, faced a life-changing moment in 2016 crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

As novice U.S missionary associates from the University of Texas at San Antonio, they traveled to the Big Apple for a weekend Chi Alpha prayer walk trip.

Viewing lower Manhattan’s harbor with the Statue of Liberty in the background, they sensed God’s calling to reach the estimated 400,000 university students studying in Manhattan with the gospel.

“We knew it was a staggering challenge, but with Jesus we could do it,” Nicholas, 30, recalls.

After interviewing with the South Texas Assemblies of God Ministries in Houston and the U.S. Chi Alpha national office in Springfield, Missouri, the Hansons raised financial support and moved to New York in July 2019. They rented a sixth-floor walk-up apartment uptown in Harlem, home base for the first Chi Alpha ministry in Manhattan.

Probing New York’s university culture and student demographics, plus forming a support team, took another six months. Then the onslaught of COVID-19 threatened the official launch in March 2020. On their first campus visits with the pandemic raging, the Hansons and team members offered free hand sanitizers. Subsequently, many colleges adopted virtual online classes as the primary method of teaching.

Upon learning about the massive number of students marooned in dorms and apartments, the Hansons switched tactics and posted appealing and humorous videos on TikTok and Instagram inviting students to Bible studies. They received an overwhelming response.

Marcellous Valentin, 23, a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, reacted soon after scrolling through the videos.

“I was praying and hoping to link up with a godly community,” Valentin says. “I was living an unruly life and never followed through with my belief in God.”

Valentin joined a Bible study and began hanging out with Chi Alpha members. Since then, he has trusted Christ as Savior.

“I want to serve Jesus the rest of my life and join the Chi Alpha ministry when I graduate,” he says.

After COVID-19 restrictions loosened, the Chi Alpha team (six missionary associates and a part-timer) as well as student members began inundating campuses with creative evangelism. Sometimes they flashed large white boards shouting thought-provoking questions, such as Is Jesus God? and What is something you are anxious about today?

Interesting conversations always result.

New York students are hungry for spiritual answers, according to Stephanie, 27.

“Young people are searching, but nobody is sharing Jesus,” she laments. “We want to fill that void.”

Teams visit schools and places where students congregate, such as Washington Square Park in the Greenwich Village neighborhood, home to 52,000 students attending New York University (NYU).

Committed Christian Eric Sun, 19, a NYU sophomore studying finance and data science, joined a weekly Bible study and discipleship class.

He evangelizes regularly with Chi Alpha teams in the park’s main gathering spot, the stone circular fountain in front of the landmark arch entrance. Those in the group show signs asking intriguing questions and hold banners announcing Bible studies.

While standing on a fountain bench, Sun alternates with team members reading Scripture aloud for two hours. Hundreds walk by. The curious stop, listen, and ask questions. Prayer is offered as well.

“We engage in conversations and share the gospel,” he says. “I once worried about classmates recognizing me, but the Lord gave me boldness not to fear if they think I’m weird.”

Sometimes Stephanie brings her 15-month-old toddler, Truett, to outreaches.

On one occasion at City University, a young woman noticed Truett’s sweet smile and began talking with Stephanie, who invited her to a Bible study. The woman, raised a Muslim, divulged that she read the Bible secretly and accepted the invitation. She was recently baptized.

In addition to discipleship training classes, the Hansons and the team they lead conduct four Bible studies weekly in apartments and will add more this year.

While major crimes in New York have increased to pre-COVID levels in 2022, the couple stays calm, trusting God. They are vigilant and street smart.

Ministering in Manhattan doesn’t come cheaply. The Hansons rely on the generosity and support of 40 churches and 100 individual donors, as well as the South Texas AG Ministries and the New York Ministry Network.

“There are no dollar signs on a soul,” Nicholas says. “Jesus loves the lost and that is why we are here.”

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