Posted Mar 11, 2010 by 8 Comments

As The Relief Bus pulled up to the Love Gospel Church in the Bronx, I looked out the window to see a crowd of hungry people gathering to enjoy some hot soup and bread.  There were smiles all around.  After months of bitter winter, the sun was finally starting to warm the air.

I stepped off of the bus and looked around.  Face after face.  Life after life.  I saw homeless people, immigrants, drug addicts and prostitutes.  I saw broken people, forgotten people… I saw the “least of these.”

As volunteers inside the bus started serving soup and hot chocolate, I smiled.  This was going to be a good trip!

One of the many children in NYC who struggle under intense poverty.

My own culture

In a city filled with wealth, there are inevitably many who have nothing.

So… New York City.  Like many places I’ve been, it’s filled with deep disparity.  The very rich and very poor live right next door to each other.  But unlike the slums of Nairobi or the mountains of Panama, this community speaks my language.  This culture is my own.

And while I won’t need to worry about eating meals of goat brains and pig ankles, I am preparing myself for an experience that will hit very close to home.

For the next four weeks I’ll be living and working with a ministry doing some incredible things on the streets.  It’s called New York City Relief (

NYCR’s mission is “to respond to God’s heart for the poor and broken by going to the streets to offer food, compassion and connections to resources that lead to life transformation.”

Essentially, they have turned two old school buses into mobile soup kitchens.  They drive the buses out each morning from their headquarters in Elizabeth, New Jersey and set up shop in each of NYC’s boroughs throughout the week (North Bronx and Harlem on Tuesdays, Manhattan on Friday, etc.).

While they are there, volunteers with The Relief Bus distribute delicious vegetable and rice soup, freshly baked Portuguese bread and hot chocolate or iced tea, depending on the weather.  People come from all around to enjoy a tasty and nutritious meal and to talk and laugh with the team.

The Relief Bus set up in South Bronx.

More than just food

But it doesn’t stop at just food.  Each Relief Bus is a fully equipped resource center for people needing jobs, shelter, clothing, drug rehab or prayer.  In their 21 years as an organization, NYCR has touched the lives of tens of thousands of people by directing them to their partner organizations all over the city and getting them connected with life-saving programs.

The Relief Bus, a symbol of hope for many in downtown New York City.

Get any of The Relief Bus staff talking and they’ll tell you story after story of life change and transformation that has come about simply by being available to the broken souls they have met on the street.  Because of the Relief Bus, people have turned their lives away from drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution and crime to become fully functioning members of society.

But most importantly, The Relief Bus offers something that is in very short supply on the dark streets of New York City… compassion.

The light of the kingdom of God shines through each of these incredible Christ-followers, and their own stories of transformation are an amazing testimony to the hurting people that come to visit the bus.

Homeless men can find a listening ear to help them process the stress of their day-to-day lives.  Female prostitutes can talk about their choices without feeling judged and shamed.  Drug addicts can cry about their helplessness to a person that will not hesitate to offer hugs and prayer.

And along with all of this, despite being in a city filled with distrust, The Relief Bus is rock of consistency.  They operate rain or shine.  They head out on holidays.  People in North Bronx know that every Tuesday morning, the Relief Bus will be at 183rd and Grand Concourse… No matter what.

The Plan

In broken English, this Guatemalan immigrant said it best. "Full stomach, happy heart." Good work, Relief Bus!

This is the organization I will be “embedded” with for the next four weeks.  I’ll be gathering stories, learning about urban American social injustices and writing about the incredible work God is doing on the streets of New York.  I’ll be sleeping in homeless shelters, experiencing a night at a Department of Homeless Services (DHS) drop-in center and even living for a few nights on the street.

It’s going to be difficult on many levels, but I know that what I learn will give you and I a valuable new insight into the plight of the poor in our nation’s cities.

Oh, and without wanting to give away the ending, I have a feeling we’re going to see God at work in some powerful ways!

So stay tuned to World Next Door all this month for my latest stories from the street.  Follow me on Twitter (@barryrod) for regular updates on my experiences.  But most of all, prepare your heart for the stories that will begin in just a couple of days.  Who knows?  They might just change your life as well!

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. KIm said... 


    March 11th, 2010 at 10:21 am  

    Why do I get the feeling that this trip of yours is REALLY going to mess me up?!

    The level of dedication of NYCR is remarkable…truly doing God’s work on earth. Can’t wait to see what He reveals while you are there.

  2. Steve Heiniger said... 


    March 11th, 2010 at 1:30 pm  

    Be on the look out for Benny…Puerto Rican who has a daughter in Colombia and frequents the bus often (Drivers know who he is). Would love to hear an update on his story!

  3. Dave Rod said... 


    March 11th, 2010 at 3:58 pm  

    Yep gotta agree with Kim. This one could mess with us in new ways. So I guess…bring it…not sure I’m ready for a fresh round of wrecking but I’ll be reading and waiting.

  4. Steve Buczkowski said... 


    March 11th, 2010 at 5:57 pm  

    Barry – Thank you for bringing the work God is doing through the team at NYCR to the forefront. Each trip I’ve taken out there has been so incredibly rewarding. I encourage everyone to keep up with Barry as he brings NYCR to you. This ministry is truly a source of light in the midst of much darkness.

  5. Jim.M said... 


    March 12th, 2010 at 12:11 am  

    “no matter what…” these words rattled around in my head while reading this story. Think about the depth of those three words, and what they mean to those souls being served, and those serving. Look forward to reading what you serve up here in coming weeks.

  6. Juan Galloway said... 


    March 12th, 2010 at 6:00 pm  

    Thanks for your heart and giftings to communicate what God is doing on the streets through The Relief Bus.

  7. Austin Bonds said... 


    March 13th, 2010 at 12:37 pm  

    Barry, looking forward to hearing your insights and perspective as we journey together for a few weeks. May the Lord greatly bless you for your obedience to Him.

  8. Jenn said... 


    March 16th, 2010 at 12:19 pm  

    You will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your time with the folks at NYCR, as well as all the experiences you will have and the incredible people you’ll meet on the streets. I’m jealous. I can’t wait to get back there in the summer!!

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