By Sharon Mager
COLUMBIA, Md.‑Regarding the upheaval in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died in police custody, and the ensuing protests and riots, Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network churches in Baltimore swung into action, literally picking up the pieces after the riots, providing food, water and prayer in support of city residents and law enforcement officials.
Former Network Executive Missional Strategist Will McRaney told General Mission Board (GMB) members at their May 5 meeting at the Network Center in Columbia, “God made a lot of plans for us to be prepared.”
McRaney said the Baltimore situation has provided the Network a platform to speak on government, state and local levels. The ongoing ministries of Network churches and staff have provided the credibility the Network needed to be able to make a difference, he said.
Ellen Udovich, Network strategist for church strengthening and community engagement, was noted for her faithfulness in organizing local disaster relief ministries. Udovich had volunteers prepared and ready to deploy, if necessary; Church Multiplication Strategist Michael Crawford, hired earlier this year, is an African American man serving in the city with a passion for church planting and a heart for black pastors serving in Baltimore. McRaney said Crawford’s transition to the Network Staff was providential. “God was all over that hire,” he said. Little did we know what was going to happen in the city, but God knew, he added.
Also, providentially, just a few days before the riots, the “Unplugged” Conference, an annual event focused on ministering in the Baltimore area, was held at Freedom Church, Baltimore. There, long-time Civil Rights activist and minister, John Perkins, passionately shared about the importance of prayer, the sin of racism and the need for racial reconciliation.
The Network was prepared to respond to the aftermath of Baltimore’s riots following a week of building tensions exploding into a day of violence, looting and fires. “When it hit, we were ready to deploy,” McRaney said. The Network quickly prepared a “#LoveBaltimore” logo and web presence (www.bcmd.org/lovebaltimore). As news about our churches poured in, staff quickly promoted the stories on social media sites, highlighting opportunities to partner with and give to Baltimore churches to help them minister in the city.
“We have been trying to be responsive and communicate the love of Christ. We really are about loving our neighbors and sharing Christ,” McRaney said.
What Satan intended for harm, “…God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done…” (Genesis 50:20). McRaney said the crisis provided a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to help the Network be a significant partner not only in Baltimore, but in other places around the country.
Making a change, an impact in Baltimore and beyond, is going to take more than starting churches. “Our hope is not in government, not in schools; our hope is in Christ and Christ alone and His church,” McRaney said. In times like these, we definitely see the value of our Network, he said.
“It’s going to take more than starting churches, a lot more. We need to get ready as a staff, as members of the General Mission Board. McRaney said God has thrown open a huge door. There are challenges, but we will march forward. We are going to walk through that open door,” McRaney said.
Michael Crawford, discussing the Baltimore crisis situation, told GMB members, “This is very personal for me. It’s personal because you hear people say color shouldn’t matter in the Kingdom. We know that we have huge challenges in the Maryland/Delaware Convention. Race problems are really relationship problems,” he said.
“One reason we’re stuck is because we can’t talk about it,” he said, noting the recent unrest in Baltimore uncovered a lot of wounds.
Crawford explained it isn’t just African Americans who are feeling the discrimination. The Koreans and Chinese are really hurting but there are no news crews interviewing them or taking their sides. They had their stuff ransacked and stolen during the riots, but it happens all the time and nobody notices, he said.
He related how visitors took pictures of dilapidated buildings and talked about how damaged they were from the riots. “Those buildings have been like that for 20 years!” Crawford said.
Michael Crawford, Network team strategist for church multiplication, paused to gather his emotions after sharing about his passion for those hurting in Baltimore.
“My heart hurts for all the people in Baltimore City. My heart hurts for police officers that stood there with terror on their faces as they expected to get pelted with rocks and bricks. It’s wicked; it’s systemic…it’s all sin. Everyone has to repent: the police, African Americans, Asians, Caucasians,” Crawford said.
Crawford shared how he met an African American pastor ministering in the middle of the city and meeting at Frederick Douglass High School, where most of the kids involved in the riot attend. That pastor said to Crawford, “We need help. We’re out here all alone.”
Crawford encouraged the pastor and said, “You are not alone.” Already, Network staff are in discussions to bring this man and his church into the Network and partner with him.
God is in the city, Crawford told GMB members. He’s going to move as He will. “God’s like, ‘I’m already out there! You guys just need to get on the train!” Crawford said.
“I am so grateful to serve a God who knew what He was doing and brought me here for such a time as this,” he said.
Sharing some of his own personal testimony, Crawford said he wanted to kill himself at the age of 18, but after reading the Bible, he committed his life to Jesus. He was living in California and visited Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, where John MacArthur pastors. God spoke to Crawford and gave him a vision of preaching in a city with diversity and a passion to reach young black men.
“The first time I came to Baltimore, as soon as I saw the city, I started crying. I knew God was calling me here. I would have never imagined I would be in the position I have now.
“Let’s pray we have really big ears and really big eyes to see what God wants us to see and hear what God wants us to hear; for us to know the love of Jesus and share it with everyone. May God give us strength to persevere,” Crawford said.