Lessons from New York City

By Traci Jahnke

In July of 2019, one of my biggest dreams came true: a trip to New York City.

As a young girl, reading fiction was one of my favorite hobbies and a primary setting in many of my books was New York City. I dreamed of attending Julliard School of Music, enjoying free time in Central Park, eating at Sardi’s, riding the subway, and walking the city streets.

MANY years later married to Jeff, some of our favorite tv shows were set in New York City, such as Blue Bloods and Law and Order: SVU. While the NYC dream remained predominantly mine alone, Jeff agreed to the trip in 2019.

We rode Amtrak from my daughter’s house in northern Indiana to Penn Station in NYC. We toured the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, 9/11 Memorial, Rockefeller Center, and Grand Central Station. We took a nighttime double decker bus ride, walked the High Line, took a Food on Foot Tour of the East Village, went to ‘Live with Kelly and Ryan’, took a guided bicycle tour of Central Park, visited Coney Island, worshipped at Hillsong NYC Church, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and ate at Grimaldi’s under the bridge.

Trust me: this trip was a DREAM COME TRUE. I LOVED IT! If you ask either of us what our favorite part of the trip was, it was not an event or a specific tour. The food was close to the top of the list, but it wasn’t #1.

Our favorite part of NYC was the PEOPLE.

You weren’t expecting that, were you? Many weren’t expecting that, including my dad. He thought I was crazy to want to go to the city. As a matter of fact, when I called to ask him if he saw on the news that there was a blackout while we were there and if he was worried about us, he replied, “No, that’s what you get for going there!”

Also, common opinions are that New Yorkers are rude and that the city is dangerous. Our experience couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I think it is because God has been changing our hearts towards people.

We quickly found out that if we needed directions or information, we should seek out anyone other than white-skinned people. Generally, they were European tourists and did not speak English. But the more ethnic persons were New York natives who spoke English and were very friendly and helpful. We enjoyed learning about all the different ethnicities that came to the United States, NYC specifically, for freedom and for hope. The city still today is a beautiful tapestry of peoples and heritages.

Preparing for the trip, I did a lot of reading and researching, so I would have a good understanding of the different boroughs of NYC and the different neighborhoods, for planning daily activities for efficient travel using the subway system. One piece of advice I read over and over was to not make eye contact on the subway trains, much less strike up conversations. If you know Jeff, that is impossible for him. He would tell his jokes to whoever was sitting next to him on the train. Some would just smile, but some would laugh and interact with him. Waiting for our train to Coney Island, a husband and wife approached us and started talking. The husband was taking one train to work and the wife was taking a different train home, which just happened to be the train we were going to take to Coney Island. I sat next to the wife on the train for the whole 45 minute ride. We so enjoyed getting to know each other! We were different races and of different religious backgrounds, but we were both mothers and grandmothers. Our commonalities made for an enjoyable visit. While we may have been the only people on our subway car conversing and laughing, I sensed other riders watching and listening. I hope we were a light in their day!

On our Food on Foot Tour, there were many countries represented by our small group. We walked the East Village together, ate together, and fellowshipped together. It was a joy to spend time with people from Finland, Argentina, India, Hong Kong, and The Netherlands.  Our Central Park bicycle tour guide was from Russia and he had fascinating life stories to share with us. We worshipped at Hillsong NYC Church with a beautiful diversity of people. It was a great experience to be the church together on that day.

I could give many more examples, such as the amazing front desk employees at our hotel, the Amtrak employees who were so nice to talk to, or the people we sat with waiting for Grimaldi’s to open.

But I will touch on one more aspect of our trip: danger. We never sensed any danger in NYC. In almost every block, there were police officers parked or hanging out on the sidewalks. They usually said hi or were talking to people walking by.  During our East Village Food on Foot Tour, we stopped at Tompkins Square Park for a break. This park has a large homeless population, matter of fact, the whole park seemed to be their home. Jeff and I have handed out food and water to the homeless in downtown St. Louis at night before, so this daytime experience didn’t worry us. A neat moment was when several of us women went to use the park restroom. As expected, it was not very clean and had an odor to it, but as we entered, we were offered toilet paper to use, from 2 homeless women’s private possessions. That may not mean much to you, but their smiles and kindness did not go unnoticed on me.

During the blackout, the Rockefeller Center security staff and employees kept everyone on the 70th floor calm and safe. Once out on the street during the blackout, we did not witness any riots, stealing, or any bad behavior. In fact, we saw the opposite! Common people stepped up to the task of helping direct traffic at each intersection without working stoplights. Actors came out to the sidewalks and performed part of their shows that had been interrupted. Restaurant owners told debit or credit card patrons that were in the midst of a meal, to come back the next day and pay for their meal. Since the subway was not in service, we walked 28 blocks back to our hotel. Not once did we see something or someone that made us nervous.

As I mentioned earlier, God has been transforming our hearts for people: any and all people. I used to form opinions about people based on their external attributes. Now, we LOVE meeting people. People deserve dignity, respect, and kindness no matter their religion, race, or economic status. People deserve our smiles and our conversations, to be seen.

Matthew 22:37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are commanded to love our neighbor – persons crossing our path in life.

1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Loving and caring for others is PROOF that we have a relationship with God. What does that say about the opposite? In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus says that our love for God is expressed in how we treat others: the sick, needy, strangers, and imprisoned.

Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

This trip turned out to be WAY more than a little girl’s dream to experience her favorite city. It gave me just a small glimpse of how God wants us to SEE people. And hopefully, during this trip, God used Jeff and me to display and share God and His love with the people that we met.

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