A seemingly endless line of cars filled with children pulled up to the long, curbside table where Davis Worley and members of the Sandtown Church of Christ in Baltimore, Maryland, distributed book bags for the community.
The recreation center where the West Baltimore church first began meeting in 2017 is closed, but the fall book bag campaign went on in front of the church’s future home.
Much of the Sandtown-Winchester community looks like a ghost town, full of homes with boarded-up windows. The area was hit hard by rioting after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury and died in police custody.
“We are trying to win souls for Christ and keep souls saved,” Worley said as he stood inside his storefront sanctuary. “When the recreation center closed, we were blessed with a building, but it needs extensive repairs to open.”
Even though the old building is still being renovated, a pulpit, communion trays, stacks of chairs and used hymn books silently declare that the Word of the Lord will be preached here on Sunday.
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But on a recent Saturday, it was all about the kids.
Children could choose from the 400 different backpacks laid out for them, and for some, deciding was hard. After years of experiencing so much crime and violence, even the sound of a rooster crowing in a vacant lot next to the church was welcomed.
Worley, a retired U.S. Marine staff sergeant, works full time at the Pentagon. He began his ministry in Sandtown in 2015 and doesn’t take a salary. He said church members hope to raise $64,000 to complete the building by December.
Darlene Grant, a member of the East Baltimore Church of Christ, came and distributed book bags because she lives in the community.
“I hope that once the church is up, many souls will be saved,” she said. “The backpack drive and the many things that they do, you can see that the people are pleased.”
Michael McFadden, minister for the College Park Church of Christ, about 30 miles southwest of Baltimore, said, “Development is coming to West Baltimore, and I hope there can be a plan where the church can build homes and businesses.”
Today the police have “prayer walks” with volunteer chaplains in the community, and many churches have begun work in some of the abandoned properties.
“When you see the conditions of the community, you see that Sandtown has a lot of needs,” said Reginald Burrell Jr., the church’s assistant minister. “But we are here to meet people’s spiritual needs.”
“We thank God so much for the donations that already have been given,” Worley said. “Now the work that needs to be done is inside the building. That’s why we’ve asked for contributions to help us cross the finish line.”
As he talked, he watched his wife, Tracy, break down a table nearby.
“Honey, do you need help?” he asked.
“No!” she replied.
Meanwhile, their daughter Enomi Worley was busy with the book bags.
Several young mothers came out, and some recognized the Worleys.
“It’s good that you all support the community like this,” said Sharnea Stansbury, 29, who came with her daughter. “For me, being a mom keeps me going because I have someone looking up at me to make sure that I am doing the right thing.”
This story was originally published by The Christian Chronicle.
Hamil R. Harris is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland College Park and senior contributor at ReligionUnplugged. He is also minister at the Glenarden Church of Christ and a police chaplain. A longtime reporter, Harris contributes to outlets such as The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Chronicle and the Washington Informer.