Editor’s note: The video below is from the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network.
Southern Baptist pastors are among those trying to spread hope and healing after violence broke out in Baltimore late last month. And Christians outside the city—including a mission team from Chicago who visited Baltimore last year—are praying for peace, reconciliation, and spiritual awakening.
Hundreds of people were arrested during protests over the death of 25-year-old African American Freddie Gray, who died April 19 from injuries sustained while in police custody. During rioting that broke out April 27, at least 20 police officers were injured and cars and buildings were burned. Gray’s death has since been ruled a homicide, and six police officers have been charged.
In the wake of the riots, Maryland’s governor declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard. The Orioles played an eerie afternoon game closed to fans, in fear that more riots could break out.
Things have calmed down since then, said Bob Mackey, executive director of the Baltimore Baptist Association, because starting the day after the riots, “everybody who lives in the city had to keep living in the city,” he said.
As life moved on, a group of pastors met to pray together and then went out into the city to help with the clean-up effort. Church planter Brad O’Brien was one of the pastors in the group; his church, Jesus Our Redeemer, is four miles from a CVS Pharmacy that burned during the rioting.
“We know that if the gospel can resurrect our dead hearts then it can bring hope to this community,” O’Brien told a writer for the North American Mission Board. “Our hope is not in our mayor, not in our police chief or the governor. Our hope is in Christ alone.”
Praying from Chicago
Doug Nguyen was thinking about Baltimore just before the rioting started. The missions chairman of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago visited the city last summer during the Southern Baptist Convention, and worked with Pastor Ryan Palmer and Seventh Metro Baptist Church during the annual Crossover evangelism outreach.
Seventh Metro has historical import for Southern Baptists; it’s the church where missions pioneer Annie Armstrong was baptized.
Pastor Palmer was in Chicago the Sunday before the rioting started as part of a vision tour for those interested in helping plant churches in the city. Nguyen said they spent the day with Palmer, catching up and hearing about what was going on in Baltimore.
Rioting broke out on Monday.
“We’re all praying for them right now, for churches to really step up and be the salt and light in that community,” Nguyen said. The Seventh Metro neighborhood is not unlike their own in Uptown Chicago. In fact, the North Avenue they walked along there is similar to Chicago’s own North Avenue on the west side.
It’s an impoverished area, Nguyen said, with obvious signs of homelessness and addiction. Churches in communities like Seventh Metro’s (and Uptown’s) “depend on a lot of laborers in order to disciple the people around the neighborhood,” Nguyen said.
“There are a lot of ministry opportunities there, to help build the church. You’ve got young leadership, you’ve got evangelistic opportunities similar to what we were doing out in the streets (during Crossover).”
As the protests settled down, Palmer told Baptist Press God had protected his church, located near one of the riot zones.
“Literally, the violence was a few blocks west and a few blocks east. In both cases, you could see the steeple of our church from the locations, but they did not come into our block. They have not come into our block yet. We’re giving God praise and thanks for that.”
A way forward
Even amidst the upheaval, Bob Mackey said it was encouraging for him as a director of missions to watch God’s people partner with others in the community to respond in positive ways. He told the Illinois Baptist churches in the area were planning community block parties, “just to have some fun back in the city. In Jesus’ name, if you will.”
After the rioting, Disaster Relief volunteers provided meals for first responders, and Baptists worked together to supply groceries and other basics to areas where stores weren’t immediately accessible.
As the city moves forward, churches must respond to its complex needs, African American pastor and church planting strategist Michael Crawford told Baptist Press. He gave a four-point plan for healing in Baltimore, based on listening, understanding what goes on in inner city schools, providing healthy food sources, and prayer. Communication and relationships are key, he said, adding that African Americans need a safe place to be heard.
“The reason we are stuck is because we can’t talk about it. We get offended and then we do not hear,” he said. “The real work is listening, getting offended, offering forgiveness, and then reconciling together. That’s real!”
By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting from Baptist Pres