Posted on : Thursday May 4, 2017

By Sharon Mager

ROSEDALE, Md—Freedom Church Baltimore’s annual “Unplugged” conference on April 29 was “unscripted,” but a God-given theme emerged. Speakers Kevin Ezell, James White, and Shelley Allen each shared the words God put on their hearts—time is short, our lives are about Him, not us, suffering is inevitable and it’s in that suffering where we find the most intimate, treasured, joyous moments with Jesus.

Allen asked the question, “Is God enough?” That was the title of Josh Allen’s letter to his congregation, Grace Bible Church, Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he served as senior pastor. The last words of the letter were from Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” A week later, Josh was dead after a drunk driver crashed head on into his car, killing both Josh and the other driver and leaving Shelley a 26-year-old widow and mother of a 9-month old baby boy.

Shelley Allen aks, “Is God enough?” as she shares about the death of her husband, Pastor Josh Allen, at the hand of a drunk driver.

“In the blink of an eye Josh was in heaven, and I was dropped into hell,” she shared.

Shelley told how she moved back to Maryland to be with her family while reeling from her loss of a husband and father of her child, and her church and friends. She shared how in her journey of grief she discovered God had been preparing her for the tragedy, from Josh’s last sermon series about suffering, to the 100 love letters he wrote to her during their engagement that she will pass down to their son, Josiah.

Quoting Psalm 4:13, she said, “I will tell you, ‘He is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ When I was at my absolute lowest, and I was out of tears, and I didn’t want to take one more breath…I knew that if I just opened my eyes and I could reach out, that Christ would be right there. I could feel His presence more profoundly than I could at any other time in my life. I would never sign up for this…but I will tell you that when you go through something horrific you know Christ in a way you never could have.

“Is Christ enough? From everything I’ve been through, God has shown me again, again and again that He really is enough…for

the things we’re going through right now…for the things we’re afraid will happen,” she said.

James White shares that significance often ones in the midst of suffering.

James White, senior pastor of Christ Our King Church in Raleigh, N.C., shared about the Genesis account of Joseph, being sold by his brothers, his ordeal with Potiphar’s wife and imprisonment, and how throughout, God had his hand on Joseph, blessing him in the midst of despair. “In a frightful, dangerous place, Joseph thrived,” he said.

“Significance is often discovered in strange places of suffering, not our success,” he said.White said Joseph also knew the story wasn’t about himself, it was about God’s plan.

Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, continued the unofficial thread.
He shared about the briefness of life, reminding listeners, “You have a limited amount of time.”

Reading from Ecclesiastes 3, Ezell said, “Life is full of seasons and Christians must live with the purpose of God in their minds.” It’s about God, not us.

“We will be accountable for how we use our time,” he said.

Dr. Kevin Smith (left) and Mike Crawford (center) present NAMB President Kevin Ezell his own Baltimore Orioles shirt before Ezell speaks at “Unplugged17”

A panel discussion about women in the church featured Jenny Yang, Word Relief vice president of policy and advocacy on refugee resettlement; Colleen Smith, founder and director of Captivate Church’s GEM (Gospel Education and Mentoring) and “Pretty in Pink,” a ministry to prostitutes in Baltimore, and Church at Severn Run Connect Group Leader Amber Adams. Speaker and Author Ekemini Uwan served as moderator for the group.

Yang shared that both race and gender have had an impact on her ministry.

“Whenever I do public speaking or if I’m writing, I always feel like I have to do better than anyone else asked to do it because I’m an Asian American woman. I feel like I have to be extremely eloquent and articulate. I can’t have any grammatical mistakes because if I do they’re going to think it’s because I’m a woman or because I’m Asian and, ‘She can’t speak English well.’ I have to be extra careful about everything I do.”

Yang said that while she sees race and gender as hurdles, she also sees them core parts of her identity. “They have shaped the ministry God has called me to do,” she said.

Ekemini said she too deals with the combination of “layers,” being black, with a Nigerian background, and being a woman.

Colleen Smith moved into a predominately African American high crime neighborhood for the strategic purpose of ministry. Smith said many question her, why she, as a single white woman would move into such a dangerous area in Baltimore.

“For me, this is where I’ve been called…” she said. “He has equipped me for this,” Smith said.

Amber Adams said there are difficulties at times with being a woman and being very young serving in a ministry. At 23 years old and fresh out of college, she said she has to gain trust.

In addition to the speakers and panel, the Baltimore City College choir had the audience on their feet as the choir sang a variety of rousing spirituals.

New this year was a pastor’s conference prior to the Saturday “Unplugged” plenary session. H.B. Charles, author and pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., preached on Isaiah 40:28-31 on encouragement for those in ministry.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint, nor is He weary? His understanding is inscrutable.

He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.”