CINCINNATI (BP)–Every Tuesday morning Jedediah Blake prayerwalks Over-the-Rhine, an inner-city Cincinnati neighborhood filled with rundown storefronts, mom-and-pop businesses and, in Blake’s words, plenty of people searching for hope and purpose in their lives.
As pastor of Over-the-Rhine’s only Southern Baptist church, Blake has seen his fair share of crime and violence. The streets abound with prostitutes and open drug sales.
Even churches are not exempt from the neighborhood’s evil side. Several months ago, an unknown gunman shot and seriously wounded the pastor of a church following an evening worship service just a few hundred yards from Blake’s church, Evangel Baptist.
And on Tuesday, April 10, Blake found himself under a hail of gunfire when he was caught up in a riot that engulfed Cincinnati and forced the mayor to declare a state of emergency in the racially troubled city.
The riots were sparked by the shooting of a black youth by a white police officer. Hundreds of people, mostly in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, took to the streets to protest the shooting.
On Tuesday, the worst day of the violence, unstoppable youths looted stores, burned buildings and assaulted unsuspecting motorists caught in the melee. Blake was one of those motorists.
“On that particular day I was prayer-driving the neighborhood and it was a good thing,” Blake told Baptist Press. “Every Tuesday morning I have a prayer with a fellow minister and I usually prayerwalk the neighborhood. By doing that I make a lot of contacts with people in the community.”
Blake had just provided assistance to a young man with AIDS when he got into the church van and turned onto Vine Street — and right into the face of an angry mob.
“I was quite concerned,” said the native of St. Kitts Island in the Caribbean and a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. “I immediately remembered that one of our church members, a young Kenyan woman, worked on Vine Street so I decided to drive down the street and check on her.
“By that time, the tumult had increased considerably and the mob had stopped traffic,” Blake recounted. “They were traveling north and started to throw rocks and bottles. I was in the church van so I decided to get away.”
Blake apologetically confessed he had to violate a few traffic laws to escape the rioting mob, but he was finally able to make it to his parishioner’s store. That’s when the soft-spoken pastor said he had to start dodging more dangerous projectiles.
“Out of the corner of my eye I witnessed a young white woman who was hit by a brick,” he said. “It cut her face considerably. Then, shots rang out and I ducked inside a store for cover. After a while I was able to safely leave the building and finally check on my parishioner at the store.”
Unable to convince the young Kenyan woman and her brother to close the shop and go home, Blake said he left and found a woman across the street in a laundry mat who was scared.
“She was frightened and told me she wanted to go home but had no transportation,” Blake said. “Well, we had the van so I got her on board and took her home.
“I discovered that the van would become very helpful that afternoon,” the pastor said, especially since the city had suspended local transit service, stranding people across the city. Blake was able to come to the rescue of many parishioners and non-parishioners throughout the area. The van itself, which cost about $20,000, was provided to the church after the congregation prayed for a new vehicle and God provided abundantly, he recounted.
The following day, Blake returned to the Kenyans’ store and discovered that after it had closed, looters had broken in and destroyed it — breaking windows, stealing merchandise and vandalizing the walls.
“I was appalled to discover what had happened,” he said. “This was a business that was owned by a Kenyan who had invested everything he had. And now he has nothing. We just thank the Lord they were not injured in the riot.”
Blake also spent time discouraging young people from involving themselves in the melee.
“During some of my time driving around on Wednesday I continued to provide assistance to the neighborhood and I talked several young people out of trouble. I tried to encourage them to be involved in productive pursuits.”
In the aftermath of the violence, Blake said he sees a chance for “real ministry opportunities.
“We are getting ready for a vigorous evangelistic effort in the inner city,” he said. “We’ve already planned for a revival in May and we want to intensify our efforts.”
Blake said his church will be working in conjunction with the Ohio Valley Baptist Association to develop evangelism strategies for the area.
Blake also wants to see children and teenagers get off the street and into the church building. Fluent in French and armed with an undergraduate degree in English and literature, Blake has a vision to develop a teen center that will evangelize children, teach them music and the arts, and develop artistic abilities.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take these children and show them how to use their time and talents to honor God?” he asked.
For Blake and the 51 members of Evangel Baptist Church, the riots are simply another sign of how people need a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“In reality, that is the fundamental problem here,” Blake said. “People need Jesus.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CHECKING ON THE STORE and MAKESHIFT MEMORIAL.