By Sara Shelton
Michael Crawford’s (@edward1758) Malibu beginnings among California’s white and wealthy gave him a skewed view of God’s work.
“I was raised primarily around white people, my church experience has predominantly been around white people and the majority of the things I’ve seen God do have been around white people,” said Crawford. “Religion sort of always looked like white people to me.”
After finding Christ at the age of 19, Crawford, an African American, immediately felt a burden for others just like him to experience that same kind of life change.
“I immediately had a sense that God had saved me and set me apart for a reason. I developed a growing burden for cities and the African Americans living in them who were lost, just like I had been.”
After college and seminary, Crawford set to work looking for a way to reach African Americans in the city for Christ.
“I just went looking for churches and places where African Americans were,” said Crawford, “But, ultimately, it wasn’t really the kind of city where I felt God was calling me to serve. I just never could shake the conviction that I was supposed to serve in a predominantly black city.”
Crawford spent the next decade serving at Cornerstone Bible Church in Ridgecrest, Calif., growing as a leader and all the while praying for God’s guidance to lead him to an African American city in need of Christ.
In 2008, with Crawford and his family preparing to transition out of leadership at Ridgecrest and praying through their next steps in ministry, the church came to him with their support.
“They came to me and basically said, ‘We know your heart is to reach an African American city for Christ, and we will send you wherever you feel led to go.’”
Where they sent him was across the country, all the way to Baltimore. A friend and fellow pastor at Trinity Church in Maryland had put the city on his radar, asking Crawford to consider putting down the roots of his ministry in Baltimore.
After one visit, Crawford knew this was the city he had been called to serve.
“It had more to do with the demographics than the geography of it,” Crawford said. “I wanted to see God do all I’d seen him do in Caucasian circles in these African American circles in Baltimore. I wanted to see God move there to bring the gospel to life and see an entire community be saved.”
One year later, the Crawford family made the cross-country move to Baltimore where they set to work starting Freedom Church. Now, three years into ministry, the congregation has grown to almost 150 people each week.
They have baptized more than 40 people, and this year will be ordaining their first deacons. The congregation is infiltrating the area with the gospel, with discipleship groups meeting weekly throughout the city to study the Bible and serve their respective pockets of the community.
Though God’s favor has blessed the growth of the church in the last three years, there is still much to be done. The city is plagued by trouble, with a growing HIV population, crime and poverty rates skyrocketing and families in deep distress. Still, Crawford and his congregation at Freedom Church believe the hearts of the city are open to change.
“Baltimore is hard ground; that’s for sure,” Crawford said, “But the city is ripe for involvement. People are open to us, but we have to get around this preconceived notion of what ‘religion’ or ‘church’ looks like to them. Here, it’s a building, not a people, but we’re working hard to change that perspective and, in turn, change their hearts.”
Crawford hopes to continue to engage the community of Baltimore and see future leaders raised up to go out and serve other communities just like theirs.
In fact, Crawford is working with partners to launch a campaign to reach other cities like Baltimore. Together, they hope to plant churches in the ten most African-American populated cities over the next decade.
“We have a passion for planting healthy churches in cities with real need,” Crawford said. “The healthier our churches are, the better off our cities will be.
“I know the greatest institution for change is the local church. If we want to really make an impact in a city like Baltimore, we’ll do it through the church.”
For more on Michael Crawford and Freedom Church, visit freedomchurchbaltimore.org.
Date Created: 5/10/2013 4:03:31 PM