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To share Christ, Crosspoint staff live like inner-city neighbors

BALTIMORE (BP)–Slum housing. Rodent-infested living quarters. Low wages. Crime-ridden inner-city neighborhoods. God’s mission field.
Nine Southern Baptist young adults who served as Crosspoint staffers in Baltimore’s inner city lived like their neighbors this summer just for the chance to tell children about God.
The assignment means the young adults — most in college, some recently graduated — kept to exhausting schedules. Up at sunrise; in bed long after the clock struck midnight.
The group participated in a Baptist Sunday School Board-sponsored project that used sports camps as a way to reach unchurched youth for Christ. In the mornings, the nine Crosspoint staffers trained others visiting from churches how to conduct sports camps; in the afternoons and evenings, they demonstrated what they had taught.
“I just love it,” said Sandy Maddox, Crosspoint staff director and a recent graduate of North Georgia College. Maddox, of Pendergrass, Ga., is back for her second year, knowing full well she would again live in a four-story dilapidated row house with no air conditioning during the height of a sweltering Baltimore summer.
The Crosspoint team stayed in Baltimore nine weeks, traveling to conduct three-hour sports camps in seven different city areas that ranged from hard-core inner city to more affluent neighborhoods. The camps included songs and games, sports time, Bible study, special track time (drama, creative recreation, puppetry, sign language) and challenge time (the final application of relating the day’s events to Jesus). In an attempt to establish relationships with the kids, the staffers went to each site at least once a week, sometimes two and three times.
“The wealthier-class children require a different type of ministry than the poorer children,” Maddox explained. “With the wealthier, we try to teach them that being a Christian is nothing to be ashamed of. With poorer kids, we’re just trying to show them that we know life is a struggle, and that there is someone who loves them and can help them through it — God.”
The first Crosspoint inner-city project was conducted in the summer of 1996, and Maddox, as its first director, feared the group made little impact on the children.
“I went away a little discouraged last year. I didn’t see a lot of fruit. I guess I wanted a lot of kids to accept Christ, and that didn’t happen.”
It wasn’t until she returned home that she discovered she did make a difference. That’s when letters in child-like handwriting started pouring into her university post office box.
“I got the most precious letters, and I answered them all,” Maddox recounted.
Relationship-building is what the whole project is about, said Ellen Udavich of the Baltimore Baptist Association, who in cooperation with the Sunday School Board helped establish the Baltimore inner-city Crosspoint ministry.
“It’s about meeting unchurched kids, building relationships with those kids, building relationships with their families, and then getting a chance to share Jesus. We just have to keep talking and loving and modeling.”
Udavich is a member of Seventh Baptist Church, the congregation which housed the Crosspoint staffers and the visiting churches in row homes adjacent to the church. Having a strong missions background, Seventh (home church to Annie Armstrong) also gave the group access to its inner-city facility for classroom training. In exchange, the Crosspoint group directed a sports camp on Tuesday evenings in a park near the church.
“This sports stuff is a real magnet for the kids in the neighborhood,” said Jack VendenHengel, co-pastor of Seventh. “The church has historically contained its ministry within the walls of the church.
Crosspoint is helping us blow that (wall) down.
“They are creating a challenge for our church. We are a mostly white church in the middle of a black community, and we have to take the relationships these Crosspoint kids have started and try to follow up on them.”
Bill George, pastor of Patterson Baptist Church, and his wife, Diane, host the Crosspoint group three times a week. The staffers set up the sports camp in a large park near the church. George describes the area surrounding his church as a melting pot, a mixed bag of ethnicities that come from diverse religious backgrounds.
The Georges attempt to immerse themselves in their neighborhood by offering a buffet of events and activities that appeal to the neighbors. The Crosspoint sports camp takes its place among Bible studies at the local Salvation Army, block parties, backyard Bible clubs, music camps, Vacation Bible Schools and craft classes for the children.
“These kids want to be loved so much,” said Diane George. “They just can’t believe that someone is doing things for them just because they care about them. I have craft classes where kids won’t even take what they make home because they’re afraid their parents will laugh at them and just throw it in the trash.
“I tell them, ‘I’ll take it and hang it up in my house or in the church office.’ You know you’re making some sort of impact when kids all over the neighborhood call ‘hello’ to you from way down the street.
“I mean, some of these kids are preschoolers whose parents lock them out of the house. It’ll just break your heart,” said George, who is called “Mrs. Di” by neighborhood children.
“When the children hear about Jesus and how he died on the cross for them,” she said, “they ask, ‘You mean he was a little boy and he grew up to be a man, and then he died for me?’ They just can’t believe someone would do something like that for them.”
Churches in the Baltimore area that hosted the Crosspoint sports team in addition to Seventh and Patterson include Long Green, Harbor Heights, North Point, Middle River, Canton, Second and Fourth.

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  • Terri Lackey