The King's College, which closed more than three years ago (CT, Nov. 14, 1994, p. 66), has emerged from bankruptcy under Campus Crusade for Christ ownership and hopes to take advantage of a remarkable spiritual, social, and economic comeback in New York City by opening a campus in the Empire State Building.
The college, then in nearby Briarcliff Manor, peaked in the 1970s, but started to decline and finally collapsed into bankruptcy with more than $25 million of debt, mostly from the mortgage of a new suburban campus (CT, Dec. 12, 1993, p. 60).
But King's President Friedhelm Radandt used a marketing study to convince Stan Oakes of Campus Crusade for Christ that New York City needed a Christian college because of ongoing renewal. At the time, Oakes himself was hatching a plan for a network of colleges under Crusade's International Christian University. He needed a model college with accreditation and a headquarters.
"New York City has a growing church, a lot of optimism, and a growing unity," Oakes says. In exchange for ownership of King's and campuses in the Empire State Building and in suburban New York, Campus Crusade for Christ settled the debts. King's will retain Radandt as president but will operate as part of Crusade's International Christian University under the leadership of Oakes.
CITYWIDE RENEWAL: King's College's decline mirrored the disastrous 1960s and 1970s in New York City. Stricken by crime, economic catastrophe, and weak leadership, the city became a byword for trouble.
Radandt reflects that the larger church had also abandoned the Big Apple. "We didn't equip people in the city church at The King's College," he says. "That was a failure. God had to bring us to a point of humbleness before we could recognize it."
But the city—and its church, too—revived. Bankruptcy, job losses, and demographic flights have been replaced by budget surpluses, employment growth, and massive in-migration.
The renewal of King's rides on an increased demand for education by a renewed New York church. Suburban Nyack College also has branched into the city. And New York has 70 Bible institutes training more than 3,000 students.
New York remains more Catholic (42 percent) than Protestant (30 percent), but the numbers do not capture the strong movement into evangelical Protestantism. A recent City University of New York (CUNY) survey indicates at least 18 percent of New Yorkers (1.3 million) belong to evangelical churches.
EVANGELICAL DIVERSITY: The New York church is also probably the most ethnically mixed in the world, reflecting the fact that 34 percent of New Yorkers are recent immigrants. Tamil, Pakistani, Indonesian, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Hispanic congregations have started recently in the city.
More than one-third of Hispanic church leaders in training joined their churches within the past three years, according to a Columbia University study. In one poor, south Bronx district, a new Hispanic church is founded every month.
The hopes at King's lie in students such as Caroline Miranda, who came from a drug-infested block and now directs the daily business of Operation Exodus, an educational ministry for Hispanics. She is typical of the new Hispanic Christian in the New York mix. Her parents are from El Salvador and Colombia, her church is mainly Puerto Rican, and her mentor, Operation Exodus founder Luis Iza, is Cuban. A board of directors includes immigrants from Cuba, Egypt, China, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic—and one Mayflower descendant.
Half of the Asian immigrants in the city identify themselves as Christian, according to Andrew Beveridge of CUNY. Evangelical Koreans have started more than 350 churches and 15 colleges and seminaries in the city.
King's steering committee cochair Roderick Caesar, Jr., typifies the new African-American leadership—more evangelical, upwardly mobile, and education-minded. Caesar leads an 800-member congregation, a 400-student Bible institute, and 18 affiliated churches. He is also cochair of the local Promise Keepers. "You need to feel the power of God today," Caesar says. "Something is happening."
UNEXPECTED CONVERTS: King's also hopes to gain support from New York's highly educated professional and creative residents who have increasingly turned to God. Two groups stand out: Russians and young Manhattanites.
Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People, began meeting Russian Jewish immigrants during street evangelism. "To my surprise, the first night we held a Russian Bible study, 30 people showed up," he says.
In Brooklyn, Greg Zhelezny, a young immigrant from Ukraine, led several hundred Russians, mostly Jewish, to establish a new church. "In the Soviet Union, we had been cut off from religion and our Jewish identity," Zhelezny says. "We have so much to learn."
In Manhattan, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which specifically targets young business and creative professionals, has blossomed into an 2,100-strong church from a Bible study. More than one-third are Asian.
Church founder Tim Keller speaks the language of his audience by mixing references to hip city culture, corporate anxieties, and the Bible. But Keller had been wary of coming to New York.
Samuel Ling, a Chinese-American church leader, took Keller on a tour of a Hindu temple, a high school with students from 136 nations, and upscale Fifth Avenue. Keller recalls, "I found myself becoming awed and stirred by the arrogance, fierce secularity, diversity, power, and spiritual barrenness of New York City."
Christian New Yorkers face such challenges with a new optimistic attitude. In 1957, evangelist Billy Graham faced Gotham warily "with fear and trembling" in preparing for a crusade. His return in 1991 marked a turning point in the church's visibility as 250,000 people packed Central Park in the largest religious assembly in New York City history. Today, God's good news is echoing down the alleys and the valleys of New York into God's classrooms.
Copyright © 1998 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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