By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
BALTIMORE—New Christian Bible Church in Baltimore, Md., commissioned Baltimore native, Vernon Watkins, who will be serving through the Mission Service Corps office of the North American Mission Board, during their Sunday service on June 28.
In this self-funded position, Watkins will oversee the development of a drug recovery house to be located on either Walbrook St. or Fayette St. (depending on final negotiations) in downtown Baltimore. The home is projected to be dedicated in September.
To be named “I Can’t, But God Can!” this recovery home will offer a Christian residential social and educational program that will help people permanently overcome substance abuse. The program will include Bible studies as well as a community outreach component, designed to help residents make positive changes in the neighborhoods around them.
“Serving the community helps change you because the addictive lifestyle is so negative,” explained Watkins. “Focusing on positive things gives residents meaningful opportunities to grow.”
Watkins has first-hand experience in recovery programs having himself graduated from a six-month secular program in Baltimore called “I Can, We Can.” Though he thought he was recovered, he relapsed and soon found himself involved with Baltimore Outreach Ministries, which offered a yearlong Christian-based program.
“They had this thing: ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’ all the time,” Watkins related. “Before, I didn’t realize that what I needed was Jesus.”
Watkins acknowledged that he always believed in God but he did not understand that he could have a personal relationship with Him.
“I believe that a lot of people believe in God but they don’t have a personal relationship with Him. That relationship is key,” he said.
As a young teen, Watkins started out as a drug dealer in order to fit in with all the African American teenagers around him. Before long, he “became his own best customer” and found himself spiraling down.
But, as he looks back now, God had His hand on him.
He recalls the day when two men in a U-Haul truck had an altercation with him, ultimately shooting his car. Watkins sped away and pulled into the gas station. There, he saw bullet holes in his gas can.
“Just a few sparks could have ignited the car!” he exclaimed.
“That defies natural law. Even a bullet hitting the car would have caused an explosion,” marveled Stephen Hardnett, senior pastor of New Christian Bible Church. “When God has a plan, He protects you even if you don’t know it.”
Watkins, now 39, grew up in Baltimore with his mom, a long-time member at New Christian Bible Church who now serves as the church’s administrative manager.
“I have a great mother,” Watkins said. “But it is really hard to teach a man how to be a man.”
Without a father in the home, Watkins said the life on the streets of Baltimore was all about doing what it took to be cool and accepted by others in the neighborhood.
In his early 30’s, Watkins started attending New Christian Bible Church, but it took three years before he gave a solid commitment to Christ. Now, nine years later, he has helped lead mission trips to Gulfport, Miss., to help in rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina and has been a regular volunteer at Baltimore’s Helping Up Mission and Oasis Station.
Through a partnership with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Michael Bingham, of Calvary Recovery Home, is mentoring Watkins as are other men through the church’s ongoing partnership with Friendship Church in Sykesville, Md.
“My passion is ministry. I do inventory at Under Armour (in South Baltimore), but I do believe that all I have been through is leading to this point. It’s just my passion,” Watkins said.
Pastor Hardnett agrees.
“It’s the pastor’s greatest joy to see the fruit. It’s not about the paycheck or about the number of members, but it’s about watching someone being discipled and become full grown in Christ and able to make disciples themselves,” he said. “Vernon supports me tremendously. I see great potential in him as God moves in his life.”