Posted on : Thursday November 30, 2017

Mandy Memmel, executive director of The Well in Curtis Bay, Md.

By Sabrena Klausman

“The places I once traveled were undesirable and grim;
Surrounded by self-loathing, hurting people.
Drenched in drugs and sin.”


These words, penned by Debra, a mentee from Curtis Bay, Md., capture the before-essence of thirty diverse women—old and young—all congregated into one of the ministry’s side rooms.

Not one of them looked undesirable or grim. Instead, their faces were split with radiant smiles. Their welcoming voices resonated throughout the space. Some were occupied with setting up a luncheon of sandwiches and chips. While they worked, one teased another for bringing a bag of chips so small that it would never feed the whole group. Together they chuckled and continued their work. Others were cuddling children on their laps, wiping snotty noses as they laughed and hugged other arriving women.

This was The Well, a safe community space that had served over 800 people in 2016 through programs, classes, and counseling.

On one wall of the room, a talented artist had fashioned a mural displaying a large ceramic jar spilling out water. Scripted upon the water were Jesus’ words from John 4:14, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

As if to punctuate this truth, a floor-to-ceiling wooden cross rested against the olive-hued walls next to the verse.

Before long, a woman named Mandy Memmel positioned herself at the back of the room, before a screen projecting announcements, and welcomed the loud gaggle of happy women.

She spoke with gentle authority and genuine affection when she asked the women to turn off their phones and minimize distractions. In her words, “It was time for the Women of Hope to pray and worship.”

Some stood, while others sat, but all sang out the words to the worship song, “Your Love Defends Me.” As they worshiped, the freedom in the room became tangible. Many lifted their hands with tears flowing freely, and others prayed in the corners of the room with other women. After a time, the worship paused and a sacred time of prayer commenced.

Memmel prayed that the room in which we were seated would be a safe place for fellowship and worship. She interceded for the mentees in the room, some of whom would graduate this very day from the program. Throughout her prayer, the women audibly agreed with her, so that “Yes, Jesus” rebounded off the walls of the small room in a cacophony of praise.

Memmel introduced the study for the day and the women dug into their Bibles to learn how to better control their emotions. They communicated how they felt safe doing this because The Well provided them a place where they could develop friendships and discover value as women of God.

Each week, these women do more than just study their Bible together. Mentees also attend year-long life and job skills training courses. As they are discovering their great value in the kingdom of God, they also are navigating out of poverty, crime, drugs, sex trafficking, domestic violence, and unemployment.

Memmel founded The Well to help the women of this underprivileged, industrial community find their value. The program began as a simple, weekly women’s Bible study, attended by a few women in a nearby recreation center. Before long, the word began to circulate that The Well offered hope. The demand became so great that the programs exploded to include mentoring and life-skills classes.

One mentee from the The Well described Curtis Bay as many people’s “rock bottom.” She said, “That is all they have. That is all they know. But now a lot of people know that The Well is here, and they can come here for help.” She further insisted that The Well arrived right on time. She had lost hope. Like so many others in Curtis Bay, she was at her rock bottom.

Another mentee, Victoria, disclosed that her mother used to sell her for drugs. Through her words and actions, Victoria’s mother convinced her that her worth was found in her body.

Now Victoria is a mother herself and through her time at The Well, she learned to be strong and to find her identity in Christ.

Sharon shared her similar story of a drug-addicted mother and absentee father; a situation which led to Sharon raising her younger sister when she was merely a child herself. Required to grow up too fast, Sharon witnessed much as a child that traumatized her into adulthood.

Thankfully, Sharon’s story, like so many others, doesn’t end there. Sharon found herself at the end of her rope at The Well.

The Well demonstrates to women that these challenges are merely a symptom of their greater need to understand their identity and giftedness in God. The Well encourages the women to live transformed lives by maintaining long-term mentorships and attending classes. The community they offer is ultimately purposed to lead these women to their true manifestation in Christ. In 2016 alone, The Well held over 600 mentoring sessions and transformed countless lives in the process.

Sitting at the Bible study table, conversing with this small group of women, it is impossible not to recognize the fruit of The Well’s work in their lives. A small group mentor, Jan, spoke of how King Solomon entitled a person’s heart, “the well-spring of life” (Prov. 4:23). As a group, the women chuckled at the irony of finding themselves at a center named The Well, while speaking about living water. As Jan opened the topic, the women at the table shared their own experiences of how, even in living with the consequences of their actions, God was still redeeming their lives. There was no judgment; only raw camaraderie born out of a shared suffering. While some were at different places in their redemptive journey, they were still all in it together. They cracked opened Bibles collectively and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, began to interpret the words of the Scripture.

Before long the hour had flown by. It was now time to celebrate the graduation of two of the mentees. A beautifiul turquoise and white cake was set up in one corner of the room. To the cheers of all the women, Memmel called the two graduates to the make-shift stage in the room and presented them with special sashes. One of the graduates was Sharon, the women raised by a drug-addicted mother.

As someone played Pomp and Circumstance on a nearby phone, the two graduates walked proudly to the front of the room, bombarded with hugs and high-fives each step of the way.

When they finally made it to the front and put on their sashes, they were each presented with an award that celebrated their unique giftedness. Sharon received a certificate for “Ambition,” and Brenda (“Brett”) received one for “Serving.” Both were visibly trembling with a burgeoning, yet unfamiliar, sense of self-confidence. As the ceremony concluded and most were crying out for cake, one of the graduates called out in tears, “This is our sisterhood in the hood!”

Sharon was evidently emotional. Her sister she had raised when she was merely a child herself was there to celebrate this accomplishment with her. In Sharon’s own words, “The Well made me feel loved and empowered.” So empowered in fact, that for the last few weeks Sharon had become a conduit of that encouraging power to the other mentees.

“The Well is a great place to get great love,” Sharon stressed. In her case, The Well is also a powerful space to learn how to demonstrate that great love to others.

As the women mingled together—mentees and mentors—they discussed the upcoming driving school, resume-writing classes, and financial workshops offered through the program. They were more than just classmates; they were dear friends. Love had become both the great leveling field and a powerful catapult into a new life.

Many who attend The Well also call Restoration Church, a church plant that meets in the facility, their home church. Led by Pastor Anthony Petini, the church regularly prayerwalks throughout the inner city streets at night, begging God to save those who reside there. They also host free movie nights, block parties, and ongoing outreaches.

The Well is one of many such non-profits and faith-based organizations that are rising up to boldly address the needs of underprivileged members of society.


Josh Turansky, pastor of Haven City Church in Baltimore

Haven City Church is another such organization, whose core values reveal that they “value the city where we live and believe that faithful obedience to Christ will manifest itself in a care for justice and mercy. We express this value by speaking up on behalf of the weak and vulnerable. We seek to relieve those in need and influence policy that will provide justice and mercy.”

Led by Josh Turansky, a church planter from Southern California, Haven City Church is launching in southeastern Baltimore, in the neighborhood surrounding Fells Point, Harbor East and Patterson Park. Currently, they are locking arms with other active churches in the neighborhood through service projects to help meet the needs in those urban areas.

Out of that service, the Lutheran Mission Society has granted Haven City Church the management of one of their thrift shops, affectionately dubbed the Compassion Center, in Fells Point, in exchange for the church using the facility.

The center is nonprofit and accordingly hosts an easily identified gathering area near the entrance of the building. There, on Wednesday mornings, Turansky leads English chapel services for members of the community, many of whom are homeless or finding difficulty making ends meet.

A former Bible college professor, Turansky says this teaching time is the “funnest thing” he does. He’s had as many as 15 people at one time asking for help as they navigate through the Bible together.

After each service, guests take home a full outfit and a bag of groceries. Turansky also sits down with each person to learn how they got to where they are in their lives and what their ongoing needs are.

On Sunday evenings, Haven City Church hosts services on the second floor of the building, which has plenty of meeting space for worship services and for children’s ministry.

Mostly young working professionals who live in the area are a part of the church plant’s core group. Some knew Turansky, who previously hosted Pastor’s Perspective, a national radio program that fields questions about the Bible and the Christian life. That program became instrumental to Turansky’s call to Baltimore.

“Some of the most sincere raw questions that came to my radio show came from Baltimore, and that really touched my heart,” he said.

The Compassion Center provided the perfect opportunity to not only have a larger space for worship but to help meet immediate needs in the community.

“This [place] is the perfect intersection of what young working professionals care about… if they are going to be attracted to a church, it will be a church that goes,” he stressed.

Many of the young members feel drawn to reaching those in the community and have spent much time in renovating the center, bringing a more polished look and feel to it.

Several church volunteers from other churches also came to fix up the place, cleaning, painting, renovating, and sorting merchandise.

Among the group was Pastor Mark Dooley, who brought volunteers from his church, Leonardtown Baptist; Pastor Jeremy Rhoton and a team from Redeeming Grace Baptist, Lexington Park, Md.; and a whole other team from Summit Church, Durham. N.C.

“The long-term neighbors love this place. There is a lot of foot traffic,” Turansky said. “One of the big things we need over the next few months is a new influx of volunteers” to sort clothes and interact with the guests.


Likewise, the Transformation Center of Brooklyn, Md., led by Brian Zimmerman, longs to come alongside of lives with their Christ-centered approach. They strive to address five giants that haunt the city: poverty, addiction, poor education, unemployment, and family and social dysfunction. They address these needs though community hunger and homelessness programs. The core values are reflect in this statement from their website:

“Hunger is a major issue in our city. We believe that there is no shortage of food; it is actually a matter of food distribution. In a city like Baltimore, where the poverty level hovers around 20 percent, we want to be on the forefront of ensuring that people not only have food, but also the opportunity to have well-balanced meals.”

According to Zimmerman, one in every four children in this area are hungry. Lilie’s Place is the foundational ministry for the center, offering hunger relief and spiritual connection for the weak and vulnerable in the surrounding areas. The run-by-volunteer center strives to be a kingdom place. As such, they seek and cultivate partnerships with local churches to collect one high-demand food item each month. For example, one church partner in Virginia is their “Tuna Fish Church.” This partner collects and donates all the Tuna Fish that the center requires to feed the recipients for an entire month. Recently, they added another church partner, whom they affectionately named the “Spaghetti Sauce Church.”

Through the hard work of 30 weekly volunteers and the engagement of church partnerships, the Transformation Center has been empowered to meet needs and build relationships with over 3,000 members of the Brooklyn Community. Zimmerman mentions that the center would like to add even more church partnerships so they can continue to be a “repairer of the breach” in the Brooklyn community.

Nonprofits and churches are stepping up all around Baltimore to become, as Isaiah 58:12 states, “the restorer of the streets.” Organizations such as these earn the trust and respect of the people by first meeting their physical needs and then attending to their higher emotional, mental, and spiritual needs through relationships.

By doing these things, places like Haven City Church, The Transformation Center, and The Well are offering communities hope and restoration. One city at a time, the church is uniting—partnering together—to take back the streets of Baltimore from the darkness of drug addiction, crime, homelessness, and human trafficking.

In the poetic words of Debra at The Well, she found unconditional love and acceptance: “No one is turned away. I have learned God’s purpose for my life, and that I am forgiven today.”

With additional reporting by Shannon Baker