By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md.—At the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s annual meeting in November 2011, Executive Director David Lee presented Robert Gerstmyer, executive director of Baptist Family & Children’s Services, a picture showing a smiling, carefree looking Jesus dancing with children. Lee said, “It’s a good reflection of the ministry you have led so faithfully and we want you to know how much we appreciate that.”
It is the children that make Gerstmyer smile. Each quarter as he reports to the General Mission Board, Gerstmyer shares the highlights from the agency but it’s when he tells the stories about adoptions, foster care, children being saved from hunger, abuse and neglect as well as being saved by Jesus, that Gerstmyer becomes animated and smiles.
Now as he retires, Gerstmyer is amazed at how much God has blessed over the past three decades.
“It’s incredible to think about those humble beginnings,” Gerstmyer said.
“I still have a picture of Bob Moore, then president of the Board of Trustees and director of missions for Howard Association, and me in front of the door of Baptist Family on my first day,” he said with a smile.
Gerstmyer came at a time when BFCS had been without a director for a year and a half. There was one other full-time worker and two part-timers. Located at that time in the Baptist Building in Lutherville, the agency only focused on sponsorship programs, providing clothing, school supplies and gifts to needy families that churches identified.
Since that time, under Gerstmyer’s leadership, BFCS began a counseling service, catering to those who couldn’t afford counseling and ministering holistically to families in crisis situations and to pastors and their families. Now they provide family preservation services through The Good Samaritan Network; treatment foster care in Christian homes through CHOSEN; and through SAFE Families for Children and temporary Christian housing support for children whose families are in crisis in an effort to prevent abusive situations.
Gerstmyer is thrilled with the churches’ responses to annual back to school backpack and school supply giveaways and Christmas stores, offering donated toys and gifts that needy families can purchase for one dollar. Those programs have helped up to 4,000 children annually.
“We really hit on a winning formula – not only helping the poor, but doing it with churches right in their communities,” he said. That’s where Gerstmyer’s heart is – he has a passion for seeing churches on mission on behalf of the poor and he’s overjoyed to see that growing.
“In some ways I wish I could stay to see that blossom even more,” he said.
He’s happy that pastors are now using the Good Samaritan Network phone line daily to ask for help with difficult family situations in their churches, or in their own lives.
“We’ve intervened in quite a few troubled situations with pastors and that’s been gratifying,” Gerstmyer said.
Also during Gerstmyer’s tenure, BFCS has developed a satellite office on the Eastern Shore, and three transitional houses in LaVale, Ellicott City and Baltimore City.
Gerstmyer grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ when he was 11 years old. He was attending Watersedge Church and he went forward during an altar call on a Sunday night. Marshall Parsons was the pastor.
The church did not have a baptistry so he was baptized at First Baptist Church, Dundalk. “I just remember that as a wonderful experience. I think back on that a lot. It was like a light shining down as I came up out of the water,” he recalled.
Gerstmyer felt the call to ministry when he was 17. He studied music at Bluefield College in Virginia and he played piano and organ and was active in church choirs. He returned home and attended the University of Baltimore and received a Bachelor of Business Administration. Then he went to Luther Rice Seminary, Jacksonville, Fla., where he received his Master of Theology degree.
He began pastoring Hampstead Church in 1973. While pastoring he earned a Masters degree in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University. In 1981 he became the executive director of BFCS.
Since that time, Gerstmyer has served 15 interim pastor positions and is currently the interim pastor of Chestnut Ridge Baptist Church.
In January, Gerstmyer and his wife, Karen, moved to their new home in Shepherdstown, W.Va.