Chike Uzuegbunam is a full-time, open-air preacher in New York City. He is a member of New Covenant Church NYC. For more information about his ministry, including how you can support his labor in NYC, visit magnifyingchrist.net
REFORMED HOPE: PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW YOU BECAME A CHRISTIAN.
CHIKE UZUEGBUNAM: I grew up in Georgia, in the heart of what is known as the “Bible Belt.” I knew—or at least I thought I knew—the basics about Jesus Christ and Christianity. I had a nominal association with Christianity and Christians, but I did not find my identity in Jesus. At the end of my time in high school, God started to use certain life experiences to cause me to ponder matters of life and death and eternity. Just prior to entering college, one of my co-workers shared that he was struggling with thoughts of suicide. One week later, he was dead. The reality of death struck me in that moment in a way it had not before. I wasn’t yet converted, but God was beginning to work in me a deep awareness of the brevity of life and the immediacy of entering into eternity.
When I entered college (Georgia Southern University), I was still living in sin and chasing after the pleasures of this world. But I was soon struck with this thought: even if I gain everything the world has to offer, I am still going to die, and all the temporary pleasures of this life will fade. Contemplating this reality caused me to have an increasing uneasiness about my spiritual condition, and it started me on a path towards Jesus.
In God’s kind providence, I began meeting with a group of Christians on campus. I soon realized something about them was different—Christianity actually meant something to them. When I transferred to another college (Georgia Gwinnett College), my top priority was to find people who loved the Lord and treasured his Word. God connected me with another group of Christians and I began studying the Bible with more seriousness and earnestness than I ever had before. It was during the course of these studies that everything I knew about Christianity was flipped rightside up. I finally met the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible—not the “Jesus” of American, cultural “Christianity.” I was confronted with the radical nature of Jesus’ demand for discipleship. Prior to this, I viewed “radical” Christians as fanatical. I came to understand that rather than only being for “radical” Christians, a wholehearted commitment to Jesus is essential to genuine Christianity. I finally understood the identity and work of Jesus. I also realized what he demanded of me. It was during the course of this exposure to biblical Christianity in my college years that I was born again. For the first time in my life, I experienced true joy in the Lord Jesus. God had graciously poured out his love within my heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
RH: WHAT BROUGHT YOU FROM GEORGIA TO NEW YORK CITY?
CU: That’s an interesting story, and it demonstrates how God uses the prayers of his people to accomplish his purposes. A faithful Christian man who lives outside of New York City began praying for God to provide a Reformed open-air preacher to minister full-time in the city. This is a city that hosts over 60 million visitors a year and, to my knowledge, there was not a single full-time preacher proclaiming the doctrines of grace on the streets. God started working through this brother and others, and eventually I got a phone call about the possibility of moving to New York City and ministering full-time. When I got that call I knew this would be an amazing opportunity, but I did not know how it could happen.
The first step was a two-week preaching trip to New York City. Two things from that trip solidified the decision to move there. First, the congregation I visited really impressed me with their commitment to Jesus and desire to reach the lost. I knew that if ministering in New York City (or anywhere) was going to work, I needed to be part of a healthy church. New Covenant Church NYC is one of the few Reformed Baptist churches in New York City, and without this group of brothers and sisters, the already daunting task of ministering in New York City would have been near impossible. The second thing that confirmed my desire to go was seeing the innumerable multitudes of souls on their way to hell, in desperate need of salvation. If God opened the door, I couldn’t stay away. Everything ended up coming together, including my old church being very supportive, and I ended up making the move.
RH: WHAT IS YOUR WEEKLY SCHEDULE?
CU: I generally hit the streets five to six times a week. Monday through Friday, I will usually minister on college campuses. That setting leads to a lot of dialogue-style preaching, as I get to interact with college students. Picture Paul at the Areopagus—and add some postmodern objections—and you get the idea of what I am trying to do. While I certainly get to proclaim the gospel clearly, I also engage in a lot of apologetics when on college campuses. It is a great opportunity to hear objections and answer questions. On the weekends, I will often go to local abortion clinics—in order to proclaim Jesus and plead with people not to shed innocent blood. The nice thing is that many brothers and sisters from the church are also involved in reaching out to the lost—I do not have to labor alone. Other venues to open-ar preach include Union Square Park, the subway, and pretty much anywhere people gather—which in the Big Apple is a lot of places.
RH: WHAT EXACTLY IS OPEN-AIR PREACHING?
CU: Open-air preaching is the open proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to go out into public places and declare what Jesus has done for sinners. It is to be done for the glory of God and the salvation of the elect.
Early in my ministry, and even to this day, people questioned the method of open-air preaching. Those critiques and challenges caused me to go to the Bible and study open-air preaching. What I found was that the biblical record, especially in the book of Acts, is replete with examples of open-air preaching. The more I studied, the more I became convinced of the biblical basis for open-air preaching. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for lost sinners. Therefore, I desire to go where lost sinners can be found. A fisherman goes to where the fish are. It logically follows that if this gospel is the only way sinners can be saved, then I ought to take it to them. Charles Spurgeon once said: “No sort of defense is needed for preaching out-of-doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse.” I agree with that.
RH: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN OPEN-AIR PREACHING?
CU: Open-air preaching falls under the general category of evangelism (sharing the good news). By God’s grace, when I was converted to Christ, the importance of evangelism was sort of a “no-brainer” for me. The greatest news in the universe—that Jesus saves sinners—is worth sharing! Like every new Christian, I had a desire to see others come to know the Savior. More than that, I also began to have an intolerable burden to publically speak the truth of Scripture. The multiple exhortations in the Psalms to “declare” or “proclaim” God’s greatness resonated with my soul. In studying the Psalms, I caught a glimpse of God’s passion for his name being proclaimed. Like Jeremiah, the need to herald the name of the Lord was like a burning fire in my heart (Jeremiah 20:9).
My passion came to a boiling point one day when I grabbed my stepladder and headed out to the college’s free speech zone. Prior to stepping onto that stepladder, I was terrified. However, as I began to speak of Jesus, God allowed me to get into a rhythm. The Lord brought to my mind Scripture passages that I then spoke freely to the passersby. I remember getting down from that ladder and having a deep joy in what I was doing. I knew that if God would allow, I wanted to keep doing this.
Later on, two men really helped me focus my passion into full-time ministry. I watched them open-air preach and learned from their example. Serving alongside these Christian evangelists really encouraged me to pursue the special desire in my heart to proclaim Jesus to the masses. This inner call was seconded by the “external call” of the affirmation of godly men, including my pastors. I was given a lot of tips and instruction for improvement, but I was also convinced that this is what I was meant to be doing.
RH: SHOULD PASTORS OPEN-AIR PREACH?
CU: There are several reasons why I think every pastor should at least seriously consider open-air preaching. First and foremost, open-air preaching glorifies God. Second, when a pastor is willing to open-air preach, he motivates and encourages the members of the church to be more evangelistically-minded themselves. Third, open-air preaching gives the pastor an opportunity to come in contact with people he otherwise would not be able to reach. Many pastors have noted how being in ministry prevents them from rubbing shoulders with people who would never darken the door of a church building. Open-air preaching solves that problem. Fourth, open-air preaching will help pastors become better communicators to their own flock. When preaching to the masses, you have to make sure you explain things at a level the unchurched will understand. This practice will help pastors communicate with new Christians and unbelievers that do attend their church services.
I know that some pastors will disagree about the value and importance of open-air preaching. I want to err on the side of grace and not sit in judgment on those unwilling to proclaim Jesus in the highways and byways. But I do want to lovingly challenge those men and ask: Why would you not open-air preach? Despite the need to explain concepts in different ways, open-air preaching is not drastically different than preaching from the pulpit. When a pastor preaches on Sunday morning, he is declaring the authoritative and powerful Word of God. Just take that same confidence in the power of the Word, strip down the four walls of the church building, and preach to any who will listen. As the Apostle Paul told the young pastor Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist.”
RH: YOU’VE BEEN OUT PREACHING DURING THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS, INCLUDING ON THE NEW YORK SUBWAY. WHY NOT STAY HOME DURING THIS TIME?
CU: A great analogy is this: imagine if someone found a cure for the coronavirus and simply kept it to themselves. That would clearly be a wicked thing. Now, as Christians, we have the greatest news in the universe: the soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel saves from the greater virus—sin. I go out because the gospel of Jesus is the only remedy for sinners. It is the one and only cure for sin. Imagine if all the doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals quit their posts as soon as the virus hit. That is when they are needed most. To an even greater degree, how much more do lost sinners need to hear the gospel now?
The real question is this: Why would I not be out preaching the gospel? I know not everyone is called to open-air preach, but we are all called to reach the lost. That could be a phone call, a letter, providing a meal for a homeless person and sharing the message of Jesus. In my case, there are men and women all around me on their way to hell and my task is to tell them about the glorious message of salvation in Jesus Christ. I do think that we should take precautions and be wise when we go out in public during a health crisis, but I think we do a disservice to those around us if we do not use this unprecedented platform to magnify the Savior. Now is the time to show people that our God is better than life.
To donate to Chike’s ministry, click here.