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Friendships grow as Baptists serve first responders at Democratic Convention

DENVER (BP)–As Democrats celebrated the nomination of Barack Obama as their presidential nominee Wednesday, Southern Baptist volunteers continued at work behind the scenes providing law enforcement personnel with thousands of meals and cold drinks.

“We are having to be flexible and willing to change quickly,” Mile High Baptist Association team leader Bob Ryan told volunteers at a briefing Aug. 27. “We know we have pushed you very hard and we are very appreciative of your patience.”

The effort, called “Love Denver,” is a massive undertaking to serve nearly 10,000 meals a day to police, FBI, Secret Service and fire personnel charged with keeping the peace at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Some 600 volunteers are involved in the ministry, most from local Southern Baptist churches, but some from farther away.

On Thursday, efforts will shift to Invesco Field where Obama will deliver his acceptance speech to an estimated 70,000 people. Southern Baptist volunteers will set up police feeding operations in a tent on the stadium grounds beginning in the early morning hours and will staff it late into the evening until the celebratory crowds have dispersed and police can return to their more normal routines.

“At 6 a.m. Friday, we need to be ready to start tearing down,” Ryan told the volunteers. Before sending them out for another day of serving peacekeepers, Ryan reminded them, “This is not an event, this is not a project; this is about building relationships.”

Volunteers say the process of building relationships with police has become easier with each passing day as they interact over food and ice chests filled with bottled water and energy drinks.

“You could see the first day they were thinking to themselves, ‘Who are these people?'” said Pam Erwin, a volunteer from Parker, Colo. “But as the days have passed, their guard has dropped and it’s easier to start conversations with them.”

Erwin said she and her husband Dave, members of First Baptist Church in Evergreen, have had several conversations about the Gospel this week. “Monday I just said hello and was having casual conversation with an officer and he just out of the blue said, ‘One problem I have always had with Christianity is the Trinity.’ So we discussed it for quite some time and I brought him a book the next day. Today, another volunteer said he saw him reading it.”

Cynthia Reno has had similar experiences on her food-serving shifts. Reno, a member of Four Way Baptist Church in Lupton, Colo., said she volunteered this week as a way of “walking my ministry. Putting my faith into action.

“They are overwhelmed that we would do this for them and when they ask why, it’s very easy to tell them,” Reno said. “Today we started handing out peacemaker Bibles and several of them were so glad to receive them.” The Bibles, specially designed for police officers, went out to every food site and quickly became popular distribution items.

Reno has served at police feeding stations at the downtown Marriott hotel and the library. Both positions are strategically located near much of this week’s DNC activity.

“You have to be sensitive to what these guys are going through,” Reno said. “One day several of them had just come in from managing a protest and you could tell they were exhausted and really on edge. They didn’t need us to try to make conversation then. They just needed a cold drink and a chance to unwind.”

Many law enforcement personnel have expressed their gratitude for the service they have received this week.

“We appreciate you guys,” officer Jeff McDonald of the Denver Police Department said amidst a sea of Love Denver fluorescent yellow T-shirts at Riverside Baptist Church where food is received and divided up for distribution. McDonald said he was on hand for other major events such as Pope John Paul II’s “World Youth Day” in 1993 and the Summit of Eight world leaders’ meeting in 1997.

“This is the first time we’ve had this kind of operation,” McDonald said of the feeding effort. “If we wanted something to eat back then, we had to bring it in ourselves.”

Reactions like that are why Reno knows her efforts and those of the other volunteers this week will have far-reaching effect.

“They see something different about us,” she said. “Our group had some police officers cheer for us when we walked in from the street today. I know this is going to have a lasting impact.”

Each day volunteers have prepared and served some 9,600 meals, feeding first responders at 11 different sites throughout the downtown area, in a project spearheaded by local Southern Baptist churches and the Mile High Baptist Association. The 600 Baptist volunteers have worked eight-hour shifts, staffing feeding stations 24 hours a day. More than $250,000 worth of food and drink — paid for by law enforcement agencies — is being prepared and delivered during the Democrats’ four-day convention, which has drawn 4,440 delegates, 15,000 members of the media and thousands of others to the city.
Mike Ebert is coordinator of publications and media relations for the North American Mission Board, www.namb.net. For more information about Southern Baptist ministry efforts at the Democratic National Convention, visit www.lovedenver.org.

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  • Mike Ebert