Baltimore pastor reflects on what it will take to heal the brokenness
By Shannon Baker
BALTIMORE—Michael Crawford recalls the day he finally understood why Baltimore was such a tough environment to do ministry.
He was watching his 13-year-old son Ezra, who attends one of the best schools in the city, play soccer against a rival Baltimore inner city school.
Ezra’s school had 25 players. All of them had cleats. They all had uniforms. They all knew how to play soccer.
In contrast, the other team pulled in from the inner city, piled into two or three cars with their coaches. The mostly African American team of teenagers had torn-up tennis shoes, mismatched shorts, jeans, and a t-shirt.
“And you know what these kids did out there?” Crawford, lead pastor of Baltimore’s Freedom Church, asked. “They played the game. They didn’t know what they were doing.”
Ezra’s school started “rolling up the score: 10-0; 12-0; 15-0; They’re all cheering,” he recounted.
It made Crawford extremely uncomfortable.
“The [other kids] had their heads down! That’s not right!” he said, tears now streaming down his face.
“You want to know why these kids are angry? You know why they want to shoot somebody? Why they want to hurt people? Because they look over there and say, ‘You all got cleats, you’ve got a beautiful building, you got uniforms, you know how to play this game, you are beating our butts—and you’re cheering.”
He stressed, “They know in their heart of hearts that something is not right.”
And yet, this is the everyday reality for those who live in this part of the city.
The whole scenario causes pain for Crawford, who carries a loud voice and a commanding personality. When he speaks, people in the room stop what they are doing and listen. Underneath his words is a passion inflamed by what he sees in his city.
The truth is that most of the residents in inner city Baltimore would leave the city as fast as they could, if given the opportunity, he said. Christians must ask the hard question: Why? Why would they move?
Crawford, who also serves as the church-planting team strategist for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, remembers the day he asked why.
“That’s when it hit me in the face. That’s what you are seeing in these riots,” he offered. “And this is why I am hurt. Because of the complexity. Because of systemic injustice. Because some of the police have been used for decades to oppress black people.”
Crawford attempted to dig his index finger into the surface of the wooden table, to no avail. “The problem is so big and systemic, and we’re going like this,” he said, pushing into the wood.
He added, “I’m shocked we are not in a state of emergency every day!”
But he isn’t defeated. He believes God has a plan.
But it means churches can’t do church the way they have always done it. There are underlying deeper issues—poverty, injustices, racism—that must be dealt with and not ignored.
The pastor challenged, “We have propensity toward ‘spirituality without touching physicality.’ … Do we really want to rally ourselves and build the new schools, get the new teachers,” and otherwise deal with these systemic issues?
What can you do?
Listen. Race relations require communication. If you can’t have relations, then you are undone, said Crawford. African Americans need a safe place to sound off.
“The reason we are stuck is because we can’t talk about it. We get offended and then we do not hear,” he said, claiming many multi-cultural churches are “facades and superficial.” “The real work is listening, getting offended, offering forgiveness, and then reconciling together. That’s real!”
Know what is really happening in the inner city schools. It’s been said some of the high schools still use 1970s curriculum. Adopt this school. Instead of just renovating the campus, put your hard-earned money into good use and buy the entire school new textbooks. Understand the difficult circumstances students face every day—whether it be hunger, hard commutes to and from schools, or lack of sleep due to home environments. Fix those problems so these children and teens can have a real education.
Provide healthy food sources. With the destruction of West Baltimore’s CVS Pharmacy, what was for many the only food source in the neighborhood, there is literally now a food desert. Local residents have nowhere to buy food. What can you do? Raise capital to build and manage grocery stores. Build partnerships with local farmers and host farmers’ markets right there on the streets every weekend.
Pray. Not just on Facebook and Twitter. Really pray and coordinate prayer with your small groups. Really spend time with Jesus to hear what He would have you do to make a difference.
You can help reach the city of Baltimore with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your prayers and your financial support can continue the ongoing work that this city needs. As the Lord leads you, you can make a difference through your generous donations through www.bcmd.org/lovebaltimore.