By Shannon Baker
BALTIMORE—Following the riots that led to the looting and burning of a CVS Pharmacy in West Baltimore, a team from the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network responded by feeding hundreds of people lunch at the site. It was the same day Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers with the death of African American Freddie Gray.
The day before, Michael Crawford, a local pastor and team strategist for the Network’s church multiplication, and Joel Rainey, team strategist for evangelism and mission engagement, brainstormed during a lunch meeting about what the network could do to help the community affected by the recent rioting.
As they ate their lunch, the idea hit them: Why not feed cheesesteak sandwiches to 1,000 people? The owner of the restaurant, a personal friend of Crawford’s, agreed. He would close down his restaurant, “The Real Thing,” to make and deliver the sandwiches.
Rainey called a Network pastor whose wife worked for Maryland’s lieutenant governor. He asked if it would be possible to get a permit to feed 1,000 people at the site of the riots the next day.
Within a few hours, Rainey received a call from the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. After Rainey explained they had enough food and needed the permission to serve it, the office granted permission.
Rainey also contacted the church office of Jamal Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple, who preached Gray’s funeral. Bryant agreed to help secure the site for the ministry.
As the Network team drove to West Baltimore, the state attorney’s office announced the charges against the officers. As a result, the network team arrived to a jubilant crowd and began to set up the tables for lunch.
Some individuals were in the middle of the intersection, instructing drivers to honk their horns as they drove by the mass of people. Employee trucks as well as regular travelers joined in the celebratory chorus as two lines of police officers quietly observed the scene. Members of the National Guard stayed in the background as groups of people hugged each other. Many posed in front of their camera phones, capturing the moment.
As Rainey waved to the growing crowd, he said, “Oftentimes, in our churches we ask the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ And sometimes in scenarios like this we ask, ‘Where would He be?’
“Let me tell you where He is,” Rainey said. “He is here! God is at work here through His people bringing reconciliation to this city, and He’s doing it through the greatest reconciliation story that has ever been told in humanity.”
Within the hour, Rainey and Will McRaney, former executive missional strategist for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, served the demonstrators and law enforcement officers. Among those serving were Bryant, Kevin Moore, the man who captured the video of Freddie Gray’s arrest; Juan Grant, who said Gray was his best friend, and Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, whose tragic death in 2012 sparked racial tensions and protests throughout the nation.
Also serving was Ron Larson, church-planting catalyst for the North American Mission Board, and Charlie Brown, church planter for East Baltimore’s Graffiti Church.
McRaney, who handed out water to individuals, said, “It’s a great day of unity for the church here in Baltimore and for the people here coming together.
“This is a great way to display who we are as some 560 churches just coming together to advance God’s Kingdom — together with ourselves and with the city and our fellow sister churches…. We’re just excited for the future kinds of things that can happen here as a result of us pulling together.”
He credited the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network of 550-plus churches for the opportunity. “Since the network represents so many churches, city officials take notice,” he said. “We can do so much more together.”