Posted on : Wednesday December 9, 2009

By Sharon Mager, For Embrace Baltimore

BALTIMORE, Md.—In 2004, “Embrace Baltimore” and “Strategic Focus City” (SFC) were words that were a little elusive and maybe even mysterious. The thought of a huge partnership with Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, Baltimore Association and neighboring associations, LifeWay and the North American Mission Board, with enormous resources supporting a massive effort to reach the city and surrounding areas sounded impressive, challenging and perhaps daunting. It began with prayer. And then, God ignited a Holy Spirit fire that began to catch and burn brightly and now, five years later, the initiative is winding down. The thousands of volunteers and the committed missionaries are gone. But the fire lit in Baltimore churches and their partners, and in those who came to help, continues to burn brightly and only God knows how far and long the fire will burn, how many souls will be saved, churches started, communities engaged and Christians discipled and matured.

David Lee, BCM/D executive director, prays for Bob Mackey, Embrace Baltimore, executive director.

David Lee, BCM/D executive director, prays for Bob Mackey, Embrace Baltimore executive director.

Mitch Dowell was a key piece of the Embrace process. He came from Chicago to Baltimore as an urban strategist, to prepare Baltimore pastors and their churches and to develop the required infrastructure for the possibility of Baltimore becoming an SFC.

Prayer meetings flourished. Ryan Palmer, pastor of Seventh Church, had prayer meetings at the church and pastors joined together to earnestly seek God’s face. Robert Hurd, then pastor of East Baltimore Church, formerly known as Second and Fourth Church, led prayer walks. There were meetings at Skycroft. God began to bless mightily. As the pastors began meet and pray together, they began to trust each other.

“They began talking about personal issues in their lives and their struggles. Guys really began to talk to each other,” Dowell said.

“Those were the beginning steps. Those pastors’ prayer meetings were catalytic,” Dowell said.

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) did indeed select Baltimore and appointed career missionaries and US/C2 missionaries from Baltimore and from across the country to serve with the newly named Embrace Baltimore executive director, Bob Mackey, who led Cleveland Hope’s SFC effort. Dowell served as associate director.

The team jumped into action and Baltimore began changing. Pastors were meeting, sharing, laughing and partnering together to engage their communities. Mission teams poured into the city providing thousands of man-hours and in many cases funding. They tirelessly led VBS and Upward camps, distributed materials, did light construction and much, much more. Dying churches were resurrected in new ways. Targeted church planting areas saw new works begin and grow. Quietly, pastors had coffee shop meetings with Earl Gray, the Embrace evangelism director, for one-on-one time for encouragement and get and share evangelism strategies.

Community groups began seeing churches want to partner with them to help their neighborhoods, without wanting anything in return. Volunteers painted schools and cleaned parks. Churches partnered with Baptist Family & Children’s Services to provide school supplies and Christmas toys. There were large church picnics, huge evangelistic events, prayer concerts, backpacks and Christmas toys. Summer missionaries and “May-Mesters” provided extra temporary staff hands to overworked pastors.

The impact?
•    Fourteen new churches started
•    Over 9,000 volunteers were mobilized for evangelism from 25 states, representing 162 entities.
•    410 evangelistic events
•    66 Vacation Bible schools
•    15 Back-yard Bible clubs
•    78 Upward camps
•    21 other sports camps.
•    And the best – 2,030 professions of faith were reported and growing…

Those statistics don’t represent the thousands of volunteers whose lives were transformed through their ministry in Baltimore and many of them want to and will come back. The ripple is huge and may not stop until we all reach heaven.

“It has been incredible to see our pastors encouraged, their ministries changing their DNA, the great staff God put together for such a short season, and finally, the ownership our pastors and planters are taking of reaching their communities for Christ. We celebrate the movement of God in the future of the BBA. Great days are ahead,” Bob Mackey said. The BBA is deeply grateful for all who have been a part of all that God has done.

Embrace director of church planting, Troy Bush, said God used Embrace to not just start churches, but to begin healthy, disciple-making churches.

“When I first met with Dr. Lee about coming to Baltimore, I shared with him I was more concerned with us establishing viable processes of church starting than reaching numerical goals. In many areas we have met or exceeded our goals. More importantly, there are a group of leaders who have both the vision and the capability of continuing the work we have begun. They are already shaping the strategy and initiatives for church starting in days ahead. They are taking ownership of this process.”

Now, as most of the Embrace team has said their goodbyes to pursue other ministries where the Holy Spirit leads, the association and churches are picking up the baton and they’re running with it.

To make the transition, teams have been established to continue the evangelism and mobilization emphasis. Mackey is staying as Baltimore’s director of missions. Theresa Sassard, who served as executive office administrator, will serve in that capacity for the BBA and assist Mackey as they continue to support churches, assist with partnerships and continue to embrace Baltimore, to hold the city and county closely and gently share encouragement, support and love through Jesus Christ.

“I think it was best assessed by a pastor who said, “Embrace gave us hope,” David Lee reflected on the Embrace initiative.

“I want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who played a role in Embrace Baltimore. Only God knows the ultimate impact of this effort,” Lee said.

Embrace Wilmington has begun with Mitch Dowell serving as executive director. If you are interested in partnering with Embrace Wilmington contact Mitch Dowell at or call him at (410) 707-7614.