By Sharon Mager
ESSEX, Md—First Baptist Church of Essex (FBCE) is partnering with “Churches for Streets of Hope,” a coalition of at least 30 other local churches from various denominations, to minister to the needs of the homeless.
FBCE opened their doors in November for one week to provide overnight shelter to 16 homeless men. Each evening the guests arrived at 6 pm and left the next day at 6 am. Members from various churches brought hot dinners.
“We’ve wanted to be more involved in the community and we’re blessed with this property. The fellowship hall is self-contained, and we had facilities not being used, including showers,” said FBCE Pastor Kevin Gift.
In an effort to be good neighbors, and let the community know FBCE cares, Gift visited several neighbors to make sure they were aware of what the church was doing. Most were very supportive.
Gift said he and several others spent time with the men, getting to know them. A few began regularly attending the church. Unfortunately, one man died in December of an overdose. Gift said that’s a sad reality in the area. “Baltimore County has had 500 overdoses over the past year and most of them have been in the Eastern part of the county,” he said.
Another man is striving to work his way out of homelessness. Gift said he comes to the church in the morning to take a shower, then goes to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.
“Two thirds of the men choose to be homeless, they don’t want to settle down. But there are others who want to get their life together.
“We want to hear their stories,” Gift said. One man was a truck driver who had a heart attack on the road and wrecked his truck. He lost his CDL licensee and his truck. That was his home.”
In addition to hosting the men, about a dozen FBCE members, including several youth, help prepare and serve the food at the other churches taking a turn providing winter shelter.
Church members Al and Amber Potts brought the ministry to the attention of Pastor Kevin Gift. The local couple had visited a friend, Dan Hopple, at Dundalk Presbyterian and saw how the shelter operates. They knew FBCE is in a strategic location with great facilities to help the homeless, and they knew it would benefit the church family.
Gift has also participated with the Essex police in an outreach program to help the homeless community. The initiative, led by Captain Andre Davis, is designed to reach out to the homeless and connect them with local shelters, and resources, including churches. Davis sent out requests for community resource representatives and clergy to join him. Gift responded and was the lone clergyman as they visited homeless camps and areas where homeless people congregate, giving them personal supplies. Gift offered prayer.
FBCE wants to get more involved, Gift said, and he is prayerfully leading members to step out and volunteer in a continual effort to let the community know the church is there, ready to love them, and to reach them for the Jesus.
They’re looking forward to do more. Longtime church member Mabel Fritch is already crocheting hats so she’ll have plenty to give to the men when the men return for the shelter next winter.