BALTIMORE, Md. (BP) — Michael Crawford, pastor of Baltimore’s Freedom Church, recalled the day he truly 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, a t-shirt. No jerseys.
“And you know what these kids did out there?” Crawford 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 recalled.
The situation made Crawford uncomfortable, he says.
“The [other kids] had their heads down. That’s not right.” he said as tears streamed 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 truth is that most of the residents in inner city Baltimore would leave the city as fast as they could, if given the opportunity, Crawford said. Crawford, who also serves as the church-planting team strategist for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, recalled the day he asked himself why they would leave.
“That’s when it hit me in the face. That’s what you are seeing in these riots,” he said. “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.”
But Crawford said he believes God has a plan.
But it means churches can’t do church the way they have always done it, he noted. 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?
Crawford shared suggestions on how fellow believers can get involved in helping to heal the brokenness in Baltimore.
— Listen. Race relations require communication and relationships, Crawford said. 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 multi-cultural churches can be “facades and superficial” if not handled right. “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. Crawford encourages Christians to adopt these schools. Instead of simply renovating a campus, people should help a school replace outdated 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. Christians should help fix those problems so children and teens can begin to have a better education.
— Provide healthy food sources. The destruction of West Baltimore’s CVS Pharmacy left many in the community with fewer places to turn for food in their neighborhood. In addition to those who may feel called to help start or support a new business, partnerships also can be established with local farmers to host farmers’ markets on the streets every weekend.
— Pray. But prayers need to be more than a post on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter. Pray and coordinate prayer with small groups. Spend time with Jesus to hear what He would have His followers do to make a difference.
For more information on how you can pray and get involved, go to www.bcmd.org/lovebaltimore.