Andi Andrew is not your typical pastor’s wife. After considering the term “pastor’s wife” she smiled. She is co-pastor of her church and responded, “Then is Paul a pastor’s husband?” She rocks out to eighties pop ballads, calls her kids “rad” and has no problem telling a congregation her husband is hot. In the middle of a sermon, she once interjected, “I’m not weird. Well, I am weird, but I’m not weird weird you know?”
She’s not your typical New Yorker either—or maybe she is. With her co-pastor husband and 50 supporters, she launched Liberty Church NYC at the end of January 2011 with services in Tribeca Cinemas.
The Andrews come from Hillsong, Australia’s largest church. Their parent church has also recently started Hillsong NYC, which is focused around music concert style services. Hillsong people tend to speak in terms of visions from heaven and bold actions.
“Today was a dream come true and the beginning of something amazing,” Liberty’s Twitter feed @ read on Sunday afternoon in a late January.
For young missionaries of all sorts of religions, New York City now is the field of dreams and the symbol of prevailing and revival. The young believers’ experiences as new New Yorkers contain the founding elements of our future identity. They are probing and defining what it means to be a New Yorker. The cruel void of the Twin Towers in our skyline is being literally filled with new buildings and emotionally filled with new imaginative spiritual aspirations.
Andi grew up in church but didn’t take her religious faith seriously until she became nineteen in 1998. After she took her finals at the end of her freshman year at University of Washington, she went home with a sense of drift. She hadn’t found a passion in any career or her studies. Back home, she was confronted with her best friend dealing with her Mom’s death from cancer.
As she watched her best friend gain closure, she realized that the spirit of her friend’s mother was no longer in her. The acknowledgment hit her like a revelation. It brought home to Andi that materiality isn’t the only dimension of reality. “I had a revelation,” she says, “that the spiritual realm was real.” Andi’s sense of drift now took on a feel of spiritual aimlessness. At about that point her parents invited Andi to go to their church’s summer camp.
There an evangelist spoke. Andi was ready for the message. “I was hit with the presence of God, and I gave my life to Jesus.”
She felt electric with purpose. “I could hardly sit in my seat.” Then, the evangelist did an altar call, a time when people go forward to ritually declare their new spiritual state that they are “saved” or “born again.” Conversion is a moment when life’s pieces seem to fall into place signaling a new direction. The change from a directionless life to a purposive one can release an exhilarating energy. For Andi there was also a vivid sense of God’s presence. “I had never experienced anything like it!”
She recalls that when she got to the altar, she whispered to God, “I’ll do anything for you.” She started volunteering with the youth ministry in her church. Her excitement was a contrast to her dread of going back to the university which she associated with personal drifting and deadness. She wanted to find a place that connected with her new faith. “That summer I realized that I didn’t want to continue spending $24,000 per year on an education with no direction.”
During two more years in Washington, she knew that all she really wanted to do “was to go to Bible college and ‘work for God.’” Building up inside her was a desire to move on. But where? Finally, someone mentioned a Bible college in Australia called Hillsong International Leadership College. To Andi the idea sounded more exciting than a typical year studying abroad and more practical than staying at her university. It would be the start of a new vocation. She thought, “Why not go to Australia for year?” She went, and a year turned into ten, a husband Paul and three kids.
In 2001 Andi was in bed at the Bible college when someone knocked. Andi recalls the moment, “and I’ll never forget. ‘A plane has flown into one of the World Trade Towers,’” her friend said. Andi was in shock and ran to watch the television in time to see a plane hit the second tower. Sobbing, “it hit me like a ton of bricks. I so badly wanted to be home in that moment, doing something. I remember the next day all of the American college students gathered to pray.”
A few years later, Andi was again thinking about New York City. “I woke up from a deep sleep having just had what seemed like a crazy dream,” she recalled.
She found herself riding the subway in a strange new world – New York City.
“This seemed to be craziness in dream land.” However, Andi felt deep inside that God might be calling. “Even then, I thought it was more than a dream.”
Andi grew up in Spokane, Washington. Paul grew up in Sydney. Neither had ever been to New York. Her dream painted a quaint, idealized picture of the city’s subways.
“I could hear the sound of the clicking and clacking of the subway on the tracks,” Andi said. “I saw and felt the wave of people swaying to the movement of the subway car … and I knew that this was in our future. It was vivid and real. I could see these three little people that were my children but not their faces, and I knew in my heart that our family was home.”
Although the incident certainly got her attention, Andi continued ministering at their local church, Hillsong. She focused on serving youth and women, people she can easily relate to.
It was at a friend’s wedding, after her dream, that New York came up again.
“Someone mentioned New York and that was all it took for Paul and I to start talking about the idea again,” Andi said.
They began reading books about New York City and watched a sixteen hour documentary on the city’s history. As a plan for a church started forming, Paul announced one day that he had a name, Liberty Church.
Andi said, “Wait here,” then ran upstairs to get her journal. “Just a few days earlier I had written that I felt like the name of the church should be Liberty Church.”
Having never before discussed the name, the two took this as another sign of God’s blessing. In 2009, they took plans a step further by visiting New York.
“Paul and I were in the valley of decision as to whether we were going to move our whole lives here, including our three children under the age of five, to plant a church,” Andi said. “When we landed on the runway at JFK, I was expecting to feel some semblance of home but if I am totally honest, I didn’t at first.” Though disappointed that her dream hadn’t included a jump starter of love for the city, Andi and her husband took off to the explore the new land. They started to read the character of New York in the faces of its inhabitants.
While riding the subway, this time in real life with eyes wide open, Andi felt “overwhelmed by the scale of need” surrounding her. To her eyes the subway was a psychiatrist’s waiting room. “If you only take a moment to look up out of your own life in this city and look into someone’s eyes, you can see so much. Loneliness, depression, exhaustion, lack of peace.” She lamented the city’s desolation. The next day, the Andrews visited the 9/11 memorial inside St. Paul’s Chapel.
Throughout its history, the church has survived disasters--the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the collapse of the Twin Towers. Many of its neighboring buildings fell to shambles in 2001.
While looking at the church, Andi heard “an almost audible voice from God, saying, ‘And I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it [Matthew 16:18]. Do you see what I want to do in this city? I want to build what is lasting … what is eternal. This city needs the church because no matter what, the gates of hell won’t bring it down, try as it may.’”
Tears streamed down her face as she imagined the church taking care of the city in its time of crisis, and of all the people who sought solace from the church in their time of need. “I was so moved at St. Paul’s because of the way they spiritually, emotionally, and practically loved and took care of the workers at Ground Zero.” Andi imagined all of the churches taking care of the city.
“Every church has a role to play. I love how, since Paul and I moved here, countless other church pastors and leaders have reached out to us to work together and lift each other up.”
“I was broken, changed, and moved,” Andi said. “My heart was set.” At this moment Andi says, “I became a New Yorker.”
Andi struggled the most with taking her children away from their schools, friends and church in Sydney, but has faith she made the right decision.
“I know my kids are called here too, and that God will take care of them, bless them and bring them amazing friends,” Andi said.
The Andrews moved to Brooklyn in June 2010, and have invested in Liberty Church ever since with the intention to create “a Christian community in New York City with the audacity to believe that by [God’s] grace, we could influence a city that influences the world.” The leaders of Liberty Church have big dreams. By 2020 they plan to establish new church communities in each borough to reach local neighborhoods. So far, they have branches in Downtown Manhattan, Union Square, the Upper West Side, and Brooklyn. The church is also planting churches in St. Petersburg, Florida and San Francisco, California.
Although the Andrews will also face the struggles, corruptions and failures of the city, they have their God and dreams to see them through. “I don’t care how hard this gets, these people are my people and I am called to serve and love them all the days of my life,” Andi said. “So to that end I will pour myself out for this city and the people that call New York home.” We wish them well.
Liberty Church NYC can be reached at www.libertychurchnyc.com.
Andi Andrews on "The Journey through America's troubles" --