By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
BALTIMORE—For many people, meeting someone new on a mission trip can be a great experience. Stories are swapped, tears are shed, bonds are formed, and while occasionally contact information is shared, most short-term missionaries accept the bittersweet fact that they will probably not see that person again on this side of eternity.
For several Baltimore churches, that just wasn’t enough.
When the Dover Association decided to partner with the efforts of Embrace Baltimore in recent years to reach the lost and hurting in Baltimore, they formed relationships with local pastors and congregations that were not easily broken. They were so strong, in fact, that the partnership outlasted the planned end of the Embrace Baltimore organization. This was proven last summer when three Baltimore churches–Hazelwood Church, Tabernacle Church and First Church of Lansdowne–traveled to Manakin Sabot to partner with Dover Church for summer outreach events. The group added a new church, Central Church of Norfolk, Va., and came back again this summer.
And it was amazing what God did with a unified group serving Him.
“It was like a homecoming,” said Tinney Parish, pastor of Central Church and former pastor of Tabernacle Church, Essex. “We were like part of their church. They remembered our names. It was quite enjoyable because working together the second year you have an idea of what to expect.”
It wasn’t just a matter of strong relationships for the churches–it was also a way of giving back. The Baltimore churches who participated saw growth as a result of the mission teams they received. Bill Cochran, pastor of Lansdowne Church, saw this change firsthand.
“We were able to take what others taught us and apply it to help another church reach their community through Bible Clubs, mini sports camps, Vacation Bible School…” said Cochran. “The partnership worked great for us both years…we picked up where we left off and complemented each other.”
During this second trip, new relationships were formed and previous ones were strengthened. Several pastors’ families accompanied them on the trips, and for many it was the first mission trip. For others, such as Ed Reese, pastor of Hazelwood Church, it was a chance to build on current relationships with those in the church they visited as well as their own church.
“Last year we didn’t know what to expect,” said Reese. “This year we could relax and get to know some of the other team members.”
In addition to building church growth and relationships, Parrish said long-term partnerships allow teams to fine tune ministry.
“You can modify and grow based on ongoing needs,” he said. Parrish said that because the team knew “the ropes” there were also less people just standing around not sure what to do.
The four churches have tentative plans to return next year to Dover. Parrish is also working with Mike Garner, Dover’s pastor, to do a combined mission trip to New England.
Parrish said Embrace Baltimore missionaries would be surprised to see that the efforts of partnership ministry could grow so much–going from three Baltimore churches, adding in two Virginia churches, then next year a New England church. The tentacles keep growing, he said.
“It’s the way partnership is supposed to work,” said Parrish.
Shelley Allen contributed to this story.