By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
BALTIMORE, Md.—Joshua Smith, minister of Intentional Living at Gallery Church, practices what he preaches. He lives in West Baltimore in an old refurbished drug house and his door is open – to prostitutes and drug addicts who stop in for water, to talk and pray, for a moment of refuge.
“These are the people who Jesus’ heart broke for—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the heroine dealers…” They’re probably not going to go to a church, Smith said. “I wouldn’t either if I smelled bad and didn’t have any decent clothes to wear,” he said.
Smith literally meets them where they are. Along with several others who, like Smith, chose to move into the city and be intentional about reaching the lost, Smith rides in a van with others giving out gift bags of snacks and toiletries. They invite prostitutes to come back to the house for a shower, hot soup, and coffee.
He works with organizations such as “The Answer,” a faith-based recovery program for those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse and with local hospital detox programs, but mostly, Smith works in a very “organic” church atmosphere, meeting with others in the neighborhood. They meet regularly together for prayer and they go out on the streets to minister. The call themselves “The Church.”
“That’s what we are!” Norman Davis said with a giggle. Davis lives with Smith and was rescued from the streets. He was living under a bridge. Davis grew up in a life of abuse and death. His parents, drug users, both committed suicide. It’s a long, sad, painful story. He continued to drink one night and took bottles of pills. He collapsed on Payson Street, around the corner from Wilkens. Friends found him and got him help. God used the ministry of the “members” of “The Church” in the neighborhood to lead Davis to Christ.
“Now I have a real relationship with God and He has set me free,” Davis said.
Smith grew up in a Christian home in Milwaukee. “I grew up in the early 90‘s when crack hit the streets and there was an influx of gangs.”
His parents were teachers so Smith said he grew up “privileged amongst poverty.” His mom insisted that he go to a public school to enable her son to know people from all walks of life.
Smith accepted Christ in high school. “I was reading the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew and it felt like the words were moving on the page. They came alive.”
As Smith read, he began realizing that this was from God. Man would not say to turn the other cheek, to give to someone who takes your cloak, to walk the extra mile. “I thought, this is crazy, it must be from God!”
A friend had started a Bible study in school and Smith began participating and eventually took it over. “I was on fire for the Lord in high school. I was even evangelizing on the street,” he said. But in college he fell away and got involved in the party scene.
He laments it now. “I went pretty low. I was at the height of popularity. I had friends with all the connections – they were selling drugs, carrying guns, some were pimps. I didn’t like what I was becoming.”
Smith’s mom saw the struggle in her son and said, “Joshua, you’re not talking to me. I feel your pain. Whatever you do, don’t give your soul away!”
“I screamed out for Jesus!” God heard Smith and changed his life.
Smith left college, and his academic scholarship to “get his head straight.”
“I told God I had messed up, I confessed all my sin… Then God said, ‘I can finally work with you now.’”
God renewed the vision he gave Smith in high school—Smith once again saw the hustlers, the drug dealers, the pimps, as lost sheep.
“I had run from it, but God said go back.”
Smith then went to Anderson University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Bible. He began working with juveniles in correctional facilities, and with high school dropouts and drug dealers. A friend told him about an opportunity in Baltimore working with an evangelical church on Monroe Street. Smith became the youth pastor and began building community in the Sowebo community in southwest Baltimore.
That’s when he met Tom Yoo, a Christian businessman who ministers on the streets. Yoo has been buying old drug houses and rehabbing them, and using them for ministry. He offered Smith the opportunity to live in one of the homes while continuing his ministry.
“Tom saw what I was doing in the neighborhood. This was a drug house. There were needles everywhere, vials all over, just disgusting, but it was fine structurally.“
Work teams came to help clean it, though Smith said he too helped with the dirty job.
Smith left the youth ministry position, but continued his street ministry, doing freelance media work to help support himself. He met Ellis Prince, pastor of Gallery Church at a Partners for Transformation meeting. Smith visited Gallery Church.
“It was a pretty cool place,” Smith said. Prince and Smith spent time sharing their visions – building community, bringing the light of Christ to the city, and living intentionally.
Prince asked Smith to be part of Gallery’s ministry team. Smith will focus on teaching intentional living, strategically living the life of a missionary.
That comes naturally to Smith. He intentionally ministers day in and day out. As he drives through west Baltimore, he stops on corners and yells greetings out to street people who know him by name. He points out prostitutes who have visited the house, and he shakes his head about drug dealers, some just 14-years-old as they hang on the corners.
“The brokeness I experienced and grace I received allows me to understand how God has grace for people on the street,” Smith said.
“When I see someone in prostitution come in for prayer, calling out for the Lord, when I see someone come off of drugs and start to walk in the purpose God created him for, it’s like a garden rising from the concrete. I see the city of Baltimore like broken concrete and the kingdom of God growing like a rose. That’s imagery from Tupac,” Smith says with a big smile.
(Tupac Shakur was a rapper who was shot and killed in LasVegas in 1996. His songs reflected the violence of inner cities. “A rose that grew from concrete” is a poem written by Shakur.)