New York City

Renewal Story: Erika Liu - New York City

Renewal Story: Erika Liu - New York City

One Sunday a couple of years ago, I found myself at Trinity Grace Church. As I returned again and again, I felt God’s presence, but I would not embrace it. Then through a small group for skeptics, I saw how I was standing on a cliff, not knowing what was ahead, and yet needing to trust the outcome and jump.

City to City Projects Update

City to City Projects Update

Every month CTC sends you news, videos, blogs, photos, and tweets about new churches. In response, you gave over $80,000 to help 14 new churches get started in global cities. Thank you!

A Church in the Cross-Section

I first visited the Bowery ten years ago while volunteering at the Bowery Mission. In those years, the neighborhood has changed dramatically. Although the industrial restaurant supply shops remain, many have been replaced by high end food establishments, boutiques, and expensive housing. However, the Bowery is still a cross-section, not only of different ethnicities and economic backgrounds, but of tradition and progress. As we walked with Pete Armstrong around his hood, we tasted this variety that energizes the community:

  • We stopped by Gimme Coffee for a pick-me-up. Pete said hello to a Chinese couple that has lived in the neighborhood for a long time. They were his old neighbors in his father-in-law’s apartment building on Mott Street. Chinatown is southwest of the Bowery, thus many Chinese families live in this part of town.

  • At the Elizabeth Street garden, Pete talked to a woman he had met at a Community Board 2 event. Neither of them wanted the garden, a 30 year-old fixture that brought the community together, to be replaced by a residential building. She asked about Dwell church; he said, “It’s a Protestant church,” and gave her the address and time.

  • He talked about the friendship he formed with Broadway actress Melissa Errico and her children through Bowery Babes, an organization she founded. Melissa is married to former tennis star Pat McEnroe.

Dwell meets on Bond Street, in the heart of the Bowery, where the homeless and hedge fund managers converge. Pete’s desire is for the church to occupy that space in the center of the cross-section, where people from all walks of life will come to know Christ and “live out the good news of Jesus Christ.”

You can partner with Pete and Dwell Church and help them reach their goal of $5,000. 100% of your gift goes to this project.

The Penthouse and the Flophouse

There's a new church in the Bowery and they need folks like you to help.

Dwell Church seeks to, through worship and outreach, connect the Mission of God to the Bowery. They are a group of people who are trying to discover and live out the good news of Jesus in a dynamic urban context. Their prayer is that you connect with God and your neighbor today.

In this video, Pete and Jeffrey talk about their dreams of how the rich and poor will come together to worship Jesus in their neighborhood. That's why the Bowery needs a church like Dwell, but they can't do it alone. 

You can partner with Pete and Dwell Church and help them reach their goal of $5,000. 100% of your gift goes to this project.

Oldest Street in Manhattan


The Bowery is the oldest street in Manhattan. Long before the Dutch arrived it was a Native American foot trail, but it has an even more fascinating story to tell. Prior to the Civil War it was the place where Peter Stuyvesant retired to his farm, George Washington had a beer, James Delancey built a house and the Astors expanded their real estate holdings. It continued to be deeply influential throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, especially in the area of arts and culture.

Despite having a positive impact on American culture, the neighborhood also saw very bleak times. When the elevated train was installed along the Bowery in 1878, times grew dark. It cast a metaphorical and physical shadow on the entire street, and men and women sought refuge in darkness instead of light. Cheap flophouses – a few of which still remain today – came in to “serve” the population. Even when the train was removed in the 1950s, it took the Bowery decades to experience economic stability. And eventually, as The Bowery epitomized the grit of Manhattan in the 70s and 80s, Patti Smith rocked CBGBs, beautiful arias streamed out of the Amato Opera house, and Roy Lichtenstein redefined pop art from his loft at Bowery and Spring.

Even though this neighborhood in lower Manhattan hasn’t always been associated with stability and prestige, Pete Armstrong felt called to the neighborhood long before he ever lived in New York City. His interest in serving in New York City began in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2004, when he was managing a coffee shop.  One of his friends had recently returned to Michigan after an 18 month stint in New York.  Pete had only visited New York once, but enjoyed listening to his friend’s stories. The more Pete listened, the more captivated he was by these conversations and he began to pray about one day serving Christ there, although church planting was not on his radar at the time.  As he continued to pray and dream, Pete saw himself at the jazz clubs and museums of New York and training for marathons in Central Park. He began to see himself sharing the gospel with New Yorkers.

Restoration Community Church

Restoration Bronx launched on January 12, 2014. This church exists to answer God's call to be a safe space, a voice, and a neighbor in the South Bronx. They are united by the desire to connect God and community through the message and mission of Jesus and the gospel. 

Now you have the chance to get involved. You can partner with Restoration Bronx and help them reach their goal of $5,000 and 100% of your gift goes directly to this project. From day one, Rich Rivera and Restoration Bronx have been giving back to fund another church plant in their neighborhood so that your dollar goes even further.

To give to Rich's church, visit his project page.  

Restoration in the South Bronx

This post by Rich Rivera was originally posted on The Gospel Coalition blog.

The South Bronx of New York City is filled with loud, creative, proud, and resilient people. Yet it's still an incredibly poor neighborhood where we do all we can to get by from one week to the next. Our community is host to countless liquor stores, check-cashing spots, and methadone clinics. You'll also find a church or two, but despite the presence of a few older churches, our people don't often see Jesus as precious. Finding joy in the cross is a foreign idea. All we can see are the hard truths we face on a daily basis:

  • Surveys reveal 37 percent of our families cannot provide enough food to feed their families because of a lack of financial resources.
  • Median annual income for Melrose and Morrisania is $8,694. Yes, you read that right.
  • One out of three South Bronx residents lives in subsidized housing (the projects).
  • As many as 98 percent of homeless families in the South Bronx are black and Latino.

These statistics give you a small idea of the daily hardships we've faced for as long as I can remember.

The question I've begun asking myself is this: What would the South Bronx look like if everybody who "made it out" didn't leave but instead made their home in the same neighborhood that formed them, where they grew up? What if instead of placing our children in a private school (that we can't afford in the first place), my wife and I got to know the teachers and parents in the school across the street? What if it were possible for a church to be "present" on the block, bodega, and parks of the South Bronx? What if the local church were actually local?

Of course, the hardships would persist. After all, no one knows the hardships our community faces better than we do. But would our neighborhood and community be better equipped to serve those needs if the local church truly became local? Would we be able to face them—hand-in-hand with our neighbors—with a stronger united force for good? Although overwhelming and monstrous to undertake, this strategy is the only way to face these needs.

Real and Hard

Contemplating that scenario ultimately instigated my desire to plant Restoration Church in the South Bronx. I read Matthew 9:36, and I was completely broken. God moved me to understand his grace in a way that I never had before. I began to see the people as Jesus sees them. Because of the real and hard circumstances in our neighborhood, we simply do not see hope or help as viable options. Then God opened my eyes to an incredible truth. Grace is hard to extend if it has never been received. Because the everyday difficulties of living in the South Bronx are indeed real and hard, it's challenging to grasp God's grace when life is seemingly absent of grace or second chances. We need someone to point us toward the real hope and help we so desperately need. I knew immediately that God was calling me to say, "Yeah, I know how you feel, but take a look at Jesus. Do you see what I see?"

So when I walk around my community, I know in my bones that this place was built for the gospel. The hope and help that comes attached to God's grace is precisely what we need to grab a hold of the good things we've made ultimate things and put them back in their proper place. Preaching the power of God's truth in the same community that I call home makes his undeserved grace even sweeter to my soul.

While there are many organizations doing amazing work around the globe, not many are doing ministry in my neck of the woods. That's why we need more men who have been called to cultivate the natural resources of a people made to create culture. My dream is that God would use Restoration Community Church to crank out men who are rightly motivated and gracefully equipped to make the South Bronx a cultural stronghold of the Christian faith in New York City.

Call me crazy if you want, but I believe God can make it happen. After all, our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Ps. 115:3).

You can partner with Rich and Restoration Community Church and help them reach their goal of $5,000. 100% of your gift goes to this project.

The Bronx is Divided by a Highway.


Bruckner Expressway over Bruckner Boulevard. 

You can live without a car in NYC and most people do. So I was a little surprised that we had to cross an eight lane highway as Rich was showing us around his neighborhood.

Hunts Point is cut off from the rest of the South Bronx by the Bruckner Expressway above and Bruckner Boulevard on the ground. Rich tells us that as soon as Robert Moses put down this highway Hunts Point was finished. It couldn't flourish. It was cut off.

So now Rich and Restoration Community Church spend their time as a bridge: crossing Bruckner to help out at The Point, pray for the neighborhood, and serve a community that has been isolated.

You can partner with Rich and Restoration Community Church and help them reach their goal of $5,000. 100% of your gift goes to this project.




New Churches Fan the Flames

New churches in the South Bronx are important because they stimulate and encourage existing ones. They approach the message and mission of Jesus with audacity and a contagious stubbornness. And they help other churches from growing too comfortable or too complacent. Church plants — by their very nature of being new — force established churches to revisit and question their vision for renewal.  New churches fan the flames. And Rich’s church plant in the South Bronx is hoping to do just that.

People often lose the passion to serve and engage the community. As a church planter, Rich gets to deal with individuals where he often sees real life changes take place firsthand. The small things become big wins. When he sees transformation in the way a husband treats his wife or the way a mother treats her child, he knows they’re doing the right thing. When those things start to happen, it means God is moving.

Exploring Longwood

The 5 train dropped me at the Prospect Avenue stop in the South Bronx on a cool, pleasant November morning. I had met Rich Rivera only a few times in the City to City office, but now here I was on his turf, part of his entourage for the day. “Fair warning, I walk a lot!” Rich told us. “Get your trooper gear ready.” 

Most of the day we explored the Longwood neighborhood where Rich’s church, Restoration Community Church, is located. Right away I noticed Casa Amadeo, a fixture of a music shop selling records and cassette tapes. Some old Latin jazz tunes floated from outdoor speakers.  Next to Casa Amadeo sat a Habitat for Humanity building called “The Melody,” etched with quarter notes and instruments on the outer walls, an homage to a borough loaded with musical heritage. 

We also visited The Point, an unheralded community development corporation that’s been resourcing the neighborhood since before it was cool. They offer programs for youth, arts and culture, and economic revitalization. “They’re a well-kept secret,” said Rich. “They do more for kids than anyone else in the neighborhood.” The church has a good relationship with The Point because of their common commitment to being a positive, long-term presence in the community. 

These two places evoked what is special about the South Bronx—a culture that is creative, diverse, and resourceful. However, it is also a place in need of churches with a gospel witness to tap into these assets. I can see Restoration doing this. Their mission statement is “to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus in the South Bronx through worship, community, and service.” They have developed a parenting workshop and employed the musical and artistic gifts of members of the church and community. They are helping people see how idols turn them away from God. 

At the end of the day, with the savor of our afternoon snack of pastelillos lingering in my mouth, I felt encouraged by how God is using the church to bring renewal. 

Will you help Restoration continue being a gospel presence in the South Bronx?

Who Is Rich Rivera?

So, who is Rich Rivera anyway? 

Rich is a church planter and he's Bronx-born and bred. He’s lived in the Bronx all his life and can’t imagine living any other place. Aside from his church planting passion, Rich's weekends are about his family. The South Bronx is packed with cultural activity, museums, parks, zoos and great food — and all of it is right in his backyard.

His greatest dream is to see restoration in the South Bronx through his friends and neighbors coming to understand God's grace. This, he says, will change everything.

Built for the Gospel


The South Bronx is an incredibly artistic and proud collection of beautifully broken folks. You see the symptoms of gentrification everywhere. There’s an antique shop in Mott Haven and a bistro where there used to be a crack house. This neighborhood never used to have those niceties. Although in some ways it is still criminally under-resourced, the community in the South Bronx continues to influence the world and the city. It’s the birthplace of hip hop. Some of the fathers of graffiti art hail from the South Bronx. This place was built for the gospel, and that’s why Rich Rivera loves it so much.