It was the first week of December 2006. You know the week – it’s the week we hide our credit cards so we don’t overspend on our Christmas shopping. It was right after breakfast when my wife spoke to me a message straight from the Lord. It wasn’t a long sermon – just one sentence; actually it was one question. “Have you thought about Baltimore?” That was the point of clarity we needed. We had been praying for cities in the Northeast for nearly three years. I suppose it would take about 10 newspaper articles for us to communicate all the ways God confirmed Baltimore in our lives! Incredible God Moments! Needless to say, we were excited that God was bringing us back to Maryland.
As we researched the condition of the city and where to live, God seemed to be saying, “Get there and I will take care of the details.” Consequently, God led us to a great house and a wonderful school (a public charter school). On Jan. 1, 2008, my wife and I relocated our family to Baltimore to help lead this city to become a “display of His greatness to the world.”
Then one day this question came to my mind: “What if: we decide everyone matters?” This question has become the measure for how we want to “display God’s greatness to the world.”
There are some great buzz words circulating in the church world. Our family has adopted the word “intentional.” It makes its way into almost all of our sentences somehow. But let me tell you what it means in the eyes of my daughter.
Lauren, age 8 at the time, was riding in the car with us the first week of January right after we moved. She said to us, “Mom and Dad, if you want me to start school this semester I will do it.” “Why would you say that?” we asked. This is the response that still brings tears to my eyes. “Well, if I go to school, I will make friends, right?” We said, “Yes, Honey.” She responded, “If I make friends, then I will have them over, and they will have me over to play. You will meet their parents and have a chance to share about the church and Jesus.”
As a family we decided to eat at the same places every week (it helped not having a car payment). We attempted to “shop local” as much as possible. Walking became our primary mode of transportation. Before long, we were invited to a community progressive dinner and as a result, the world we were seeing became personal. We started having people over for coffee and dessert. It was awesome getting to know a wide variety of people.
This journey wasn’t all fun and easy. During this time our kids’ bikes were stolen, which was followed by their scooter a few weeks later. Our car was even smashed on an icy day by an out-of-control driver. One day our daughter was playing and came across a drug needle. The needle pricked her finger, which led to a six-hour process at Johns Hopkins Hospital (praise the Lord, she is fine). It was the first time I have ever had to think about what the city of Baltimore might cost me. Did I love it enough to lose one or both of my kids? Those were a couple of dark, lonely days for my wife and me.
Over the summer months, we had 307 volunteers from 11 churches across the country come to help us “display God’s greatness.” They put on blue shirts that had the “What if: we decide everyone matters?” as big as we could put on the front and www.togetherbaltimore.com on the back (our blog with the city). They restored broken down school buildings, cleaned parks, served food to over 1,200 people, provided a soccer and baseball camp (free of any charge), cleaned streets, handed out water bottles on a hot day (many hot days), passed out light bulbs, gum and ice cream, just to name some highlights.
One day, we had just finished orientation with a mission team. I was holding open the restaurant door for the group as they walked in. There were several people from the community sitting outside at a sidewalk table. One lady that I didn’t recognize spoke to me. “I have been watching you and all the other people in blue shirts. I read the article in the paper and I like what I see. You must really believe in Jesus if you live that way. I am used to pastors standing on the corner and trying to guilt me with their preaching or handouts. But you have said more to me through your actions. I actually feel guilty without you saying anything. Keep up what you are doing and you might make a believer out of me. I might actually show up in one of your church services.”
People really are watching us. What do our facial expressions and body language say to the man on the sidewalk, the teenager at the drive-through, the mother in the emergency room, the kids on the playground, the waiter bringing us our food or the person watching us from a window? I was told once that 90 percent of what we communicate is non-verbal. Is that a part of our evangelism training?
“Living intentionally” doesn’t mean that you have to work every minute of the day. We don’t need another generation of pastors who become workaholics. We need a generation that leads people to be intentional in everything that they do.
So let me ask you, What if: we decide everyone matters?
Ellis Prince is the church planter at Gallery Church of Baltimore. He can be reached at (410) 563-7250 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.