Despite struggles, Woodside pastor would 'do it all again'

by BSCNC Communications
Monday, December 10, 2012 | 5 yrs old

NEW YORK – Every time Trinidad went to work at the Laundromat on 48th Avenue in Woodside, Queens, she couldn’t help but notice Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida across the street. As often as she came and went to work, she finally decided to visit the church.

“The Lord brought her that Sunday. She was at a point when she needed the Lord. She had reached the point that she didn’t know what to do,” said Walter Valencia, Nueva Vida pastor.

That Sunday, Trinidad prayed to receive Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior.

“Since the day she came to the Lord she hasn’t stopped inviting people to church. She never hesitates,” Valencia said. “Even though she’s a new Christian she’s been an example to others.”

Earlier this year Trinidad invited her friend Elizabeth to church and that morning Elizabeth, now a Sunday School teacher in the church, came to know Jesus Christ.

Valencia is praying God will raise up more leaders like Trinidad and Elizabeth to help Nueva Vida reach their community with the gospel.

Nueva Vida is in a predominantly Hispanic area with a good representation of Asians and Eastern Europeans as well. Across the street from the church are a Nazarene church and a Roman Orthodox church. Just around the corner is a Greek Orthodox church, Pentecostal church and mosque.

“Many influences are here, and that’s a challenge,” Valencia said. “If we present Christianity as just another religion, it will not work. We have to show people that we know their need for real life; for eternal life.”

Valencia wants to help the religious community in Woodside understand that while religion is about what they must do to get to heaven, the gospel teaches that they enter heaven because of what Jesus Christ did for them.  

A native of Colombia, South America, Valencia has lived most all his life in New York on Long Island. He is a bivocational pastor, working full time doing auto body repair and also investing many hours each week with his congregation.

When Nueva Vida’s pastor retired about two and a half years ago, the congregation retired with him, and something had to change.

“They just got discouraged. What keeps the congregation alive is sharing the gospel. God has entrusted this ministry to us. If you don’t share, it’s like burying a talent,” Valencia said.

Valencia came once a month to preach and before long, after encouragement from a mentor who is also a pastor and church planter, began serving as full time pastor.

This is Valencia’s first pastorate, and although he lacks formal theological education, he knows God placed him in this role and he wants to be obedient.

“I don’t see myself doing anything else,” he said.

Valencia is helping his congregation of about 20 build relationships with families in their community. He is especially focused on reaching children and young adults, with a long-term goal to start a daycare at the church.

Earlier this year First Baptist Church in Dublin, N.C., began a partnership with Valencia. They sent their first team to Woodside in April and have since sent four teams. Church volunteers have helped with repairs to the church building and served alongside Nueva Vida in sports ministry, playground ministry and street ministry.

“We have a very close friendship with Walter,” said First Baptist pastor Cameron McGill. “We want to help Nueva Vida, but not do the ministry for them.”

The partnership has helped First Baptist Dublin shift from self-focused to Kingdom-focused. “Throughout the years we became extremely inward focused. We were trying to grow our church and our programs,” McGill said.

The church is now reaching out to lost people in their community and is in the process of partnering with a congregation in the Eastern European country of Moldova.

Next year a women’s team from First Baptist will help the Woodside congregation with a women’s conference. In September, as part of the Embrace Women’s Ministry mission trip to New York, McGill’s wife, Tiffany, participated in a women’s conference at Nueva Vida.

As Nueva Vida is primarily a congregation of women, Valencia wants to help encourage and equip them for ministry to the community and to their family. “Men have lost their leadership,” he said. 

Another challenge is drug use. Once, while the church was hosting Vacation Bible School, drug dealers decided to hang out in front of the church. 

Ministry in Woodside is also challenging because people often work two or three jobs, keep unusual work hours and families constantly move in and out of the area.

“People don’t trust other people here,” Valencia said. “Many don’t have true friends. We want to help them find long-term relationships with brethren through Jesus Christ.”

Valencia is grateful for the partnership with First Baptist Dublin. “Their partnership humbles me and it has transformed my heart. We have felt loved,” he said.

Ministry in Woodside is often frustrating, as spiritual growth and Kingdom fruit is slow, and Valencia must divide his time between two full time jobs.  

Yet, he presses on with the hope that he will see the gospel transform more people like Trinidad and Elizabeth.

“If it’s only a few who will be saved, it’s worth it. I have no regrets,” Valencia said. “If I had to do it again, I’d do it again, right here.”

Through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships, North Carolina Baptist churches across the state are forming partnerships with churches and church planters in the metro New York area. To learn how your church can get involved visit or contact Michael Sowers at (800) 395-5102 ext. 5654 or [email protected].