The seven believers who started First Baptist Church of Laurel (FBCL) on Dec. 17, 1891, couldn’t have fathomed what God would do with their small step of faith. Chartered in 1892, those saints, as they sang hymns while meeting at Laurel Presbyterian Church, did not know they were laying the foundation for a multiethnic, multigenerational church. FBCL is now home to believers from over 50 nationalities, Spanish and Korean congregations, and ongoing international ministries.
Since 1917, the church has planted at least ten churches, including First Baptist Church of Savage; First Baptist Church of Beltsville; Faith Baptist Church of Laurel; Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Clarksville; Hope Baptist Church of Laurel; Burtonsville Baptist Church; Maryland City Baptist Church; Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel; Korean Baptist Church of Laurel; and Hammond Village Baptist Church.
They’ve been involved in international ministry and have members who serve as vocational missionaries with the International Mission Board (IMB). Recently, the IMB accepted another couple from FBCL. Names are withheld for security.
“We have folks from over 50 different nations who attend,” said Senior Pastor Brent Brewer.
Becoming an international church
Asked how the church became a multiethnic, multigenerational church, Brewer said, “I credit a lot of focus on the multiethnic change of direction to Stan Beall.” Beall pastored FBCL from 2000-2016.
“If you visit FBCL, more than likely you’ll be sitting next to someone from a different country,” said Beall, who now serves as the pastor of mobilization and member care at Emmanuel Church in Huntingtown.
While Beall expounded the multicultural emphasis with a team of twelve shortly after his arrival, he said the passion and original vision for international ministry go back to Franklin Perry, the pastor with the longest tenure, who served from 1954 to 1990.
As a history major, Beall warmed to the subject and explained, “In the early 1960s, Franklin Perry (FBCL’s first pastor) preached against racism.” Perry took even further steps and initiated a partnership with an African American church — Tenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., regularly doing a pulpit exchange. “That was somewhere in the early to mid-’60s, and that was radical!” Beall exclaimed. “But he had that vision that it’s not white or black. All of us are in this together. At that time in the SBC, that was not usual.” Beall said, “Franklin Perry set the pace.” And the church kept up!
FBCL grew tremendously, swelling to over 900 in 1971. Through the decades, they built and added staff. Perry retired in 1990, and Dennis Ball became the pastor. During Ball’s tenure, the church purchased 32 acres on Interstate Highway 95 and state Route 198. Beall said it was a Godsend. The property is incredibly valuable today, and the location is perfect. “They had the vision for moving out,” he said.
Like many older churches, FBCL had some significant challenges. But God sustained them. When Beall began ministering in 2000, attendance had dropped significantly. So, he formed a vision team to discern where the church was and look to the future. “What came out of that study was that Laurel was quickly changing to an international city. We had Pastor Segundo Mir and a Hispanic congregation, but we found out through demographics that there was a large African and African American population,” he said.
As they considered how to reach internationals, they realized they already had a strategy. Church Member Norma Barkdull had already been reaching them through English as a Second Language (ESL) for more than two decades. “In the midst of the dozen on that vision team, it (the realization) rose up from God— that’s the direction we needed to go,” Beall recalled. They had the vision and the vehicle.
Barkdull, who has been involved in English literacy ministry since 1985, calls ESL her “heart ministry.” She teaches and trains others in teaching ESL and befriends and genuinely cares for internationals. The church added citizenship programs and international Sunday school classes. As more internationals began attending, they brought family and friends.
“Basically, by the time I did the next vision assessment ten years later, we were not seeking to be an international church. We were already one of the most multicultural churches on the east coast,” said Beall.
As internationals joined FBCL, the church naturally began serving on international mission trips. A family from Nigeria moved to Laurel and began attending the church. The family had started a church in Nigeria in their home village. FBCL members traveled to the country and helped the family to fortify the little church. Relationships were strong. Beall traveled to Nigeria to perform weddings. As others from various countries began attending and fellowshipping, more missions naturally occurred. “We went to Mexico because we had people from Mexico and El Salvador, and we even sent a team to Russia because we had a church member who served in missions there,” Beall said. As people come in from other areas, it becomes natural to visit their countries, and they send missionaries back to us.” The relationships “drive the missions,” Beall reflected.
The international emphasis has been so ingrained in the church’s DNA that when Beall gave his resignation a year before he left in 2015, the church ensured there was a requirement that the new senior pastor had experience in a multicultural church.
Brewer arrived at the church in 2016 with a heart for missions, local and international, and a passion for church planting near and far.
He began developing relationships and forming partnerships with the city and is on the mayor’s advisory council. The church, in collaboration with the city, does food drives and coat drives in the winter. Recently, the church hosted an expungement fair for the state attorney’s office in conjunction with “National Second Chances Awareness Month.” When the city celebrated Juneteenth, Brewer prayed the invocation. City leaders also signed a memorandum of understanding that FBCL would be a distribution point in the case of a disaster.
Sharon Carkhuff, the church administrator, has been a member of FBCL for decades and was baptized by Franklin Perry. Carkhuff explained, “We cultivate the relationship with the city so they know we’re here, so they can come to us when they need help, and we can go to them.”
She explained that by forming and strengthening local partnerships, the church is also fortifying its international reach because of the diversity prevalent in the city. “I grew up in Laurel, and it’s a very different place now. It’s even more diverse than when Pastor Stan was here,” she said.
Moving forward, Brewer said he wants to continue the focus of strengthening partnerships, leadership development, and increasing diversification in leadership.
He developed a year-long leadership training program and has raised 30 new leaders since 2018. In addition to deacons, Brewer has established eldership roles.
“The nations have come to us. Our vision is to become an equipping and sending hub of multicultural disciples across the region and beyond,” Brewer stated.
“We feel as people come for a few years and then go — whether they’ve relocated for a job or are returning to their native countries, we want to equip them to be disciple-makers wherever they go. Near and far,” he added.
How far will the Word spread from FBCL? The congregation will know when they get to heaven.
Sharon Mager is a Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware communications specialist and BaptistLIFE church correspondent.
Cover photo: The congregation at FBCL worships together (photo by Sharon Mager).