MD/DE Baptists Respond to Bridge Collapse

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The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26 after being hit by a cargo ship stunned families in and around Baltimore. Divers are working to recover those still missing. People are traumatized, and many said they cried as they saw footage of the bridge as it fell into the water.

Marty Bennett, the pastor of Life Connection Church, Severn, woke up at 6 a.m., much earlier than usual, on Tuesday and told his wife, Demetra, who serves as BCM/D church partnership specialist, that he was going to pray. An hour later, he received a text from a friend checking on his family with links to the news about the bridge collapse.

Marty was horrified and immediately began to be concerned for his son, Meric, a truck driver who worked right by the bridge. Marty couldn’t remember Meric’s shift but thought it was night.

“I didn’t know if he was driving at the time of the collapse, and that threw me,” Marty said.

As someone who regularly counsels others to be anxious for nothing, Marty began telling himself, “It’s going to be okay.” He tried to contact Meric. “I called and texted him, and after 10-15 minutes, I didn’t hear anything.” He began sending out texts to three groups asking them to pray.

“I was trying to keep it together; I didn’t want to get my wife anxious, but when I finally talked to her, a few tears came out.”

Marty said he didn’t want to keep calling Meric. He knew his son understood the situation and would let them know he was okay. “He could have been unloading. I was refusing to get myself worked up.”

Demetra suggested they visit his house to see if his car was there. They decided to give it a little more time, and Marty made coffee and breakfast. Finally, Meric texted Demetra. He had tried to get Marty, but the ringer was off.

Marty said, “Demetra got him on the phone and handed it to me. The minute I heard his voice, I started crying — tears of joy.” Meric said he was on the bridge the night before it collapsed at the same time. On Tuesday, however, Meric was training another driver, and they traveled a different way. Meric told his father, “I don’t know why this particular night I decided to take him on a different route and not take the bridge.” As Meric and the driver-in-training were driving away from the exit to the bridge, emergency vehicles were flying in faster than he had ever seen them go.

Marty said, “This is why I got up to pray. I’m so grateful to God for pulling me out of bed earlier.”

“God is faithful,” Marty said, adding that if Meric had fallen into the water and died, he would have been devastated, but he knows where his son would be, and he would still trust in God.

However, many individuals are grieving and traumatized. Maryland/Delaware pastors near the bridge are prayerfully determining how to best minister to their communities.

Tyler Silvey, pastor of Church of the Harbor in Edgemere, said many in his church regularly commuted across the bridge. One family has two sons who pilot ships in the area. It’s hitting pretty close to them,” Silvey said.

He’s been in touch with contacts at the local fire department to see how the church can help. “There’s not a lot that can be done now, but we’ve offered to open our space for workers to eat and take breaks if needed. The community really seems to be coming together,” he said.

Ken Ledwell, the pastor of Watersedge Baptist Church in Dundalk, said the community is grieving, and traffic is “plentiful” as people are rerouted and emergency workers have been pouring in. No one at the church was affected, though several in the community were. A friend of a Watersedge member knew one of the missing construction workers, Ledwell said, and “is taking it hard.”

Ledwell and others have been checking in at the disaster command center at the State Police Barracks on Broening Highway, offering coffee, lunch, and snacks.

Chris Gudmonson, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dundalk, shared about Eastern Assemblies of God Pastor Ed Michael in Dundalk, who was returning home from a mission trip and crossing the bridge less than a half hour before the collapse. On his Facebook page, Michael shared, “I was returning from Honduras and went over the bridge about 1 a.m., then came home, crawled in bed, said goodnight to my wife and heard a loud boom — a loud roar. I thought it was thunder. I didn’t know what to think, so I woke up and found out it was the bridge.” Michael, on social media, emphasized that the bridge collapse brings to mind the brevity of life, and more people may be open to the gospel this Easter.

Redemption City Church held a community prayer event this morning at the Patterson Park Observatory in response to the tragedy. First Baptist Church of Dundalk will open its doors tonight at 7 p.m. to offer a training session on “Caring Skills in Times of Crisis,” led by Tim Bonner, the associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockville and a Disaster Relief chaplain. Bonner will share ways for laypeople to comfort and minister to those suffering from this type of trauma.

BCM/D Executive Director Tom Stolle encourages all to pray for the heartbroken and traumatized individuals and families who are impacted by the situation. “We thank God for and also pray for the brave rescue workers and others giving of their time and skill, and for churches who will be ministering to those affected.”
Stolle said BCM/D Ready Director Ellen Udovich is assisting in mobilizing churches to minister to the communities near the bridge. Additionally, Baltimore’s Port Ministry workers are ministering to crews who are at the port and unable to leave for an unknown period of time.

Feature Photo: Screenshot WSJ news