Faithful ambassadors: Southern Seminary students share gospel in inner city Baltimore during SBC Crossover
BALTIMORE — Delivering faithfully the message of Christ as ambassadors of the gospel anchored the evangelistic efforts of students from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Baltimore, June 5-7.
Southern Seminary students joined other seminaries as part of nearly 2,000 volunteers from 18 states and Canada to serve the Baltimore community and share Christ with its residents during Crossover. The North American Mission Board event takes place each year prior to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in the host city. SBTS students earned modular course credit for Theology and Practice of Evangelism.
In a new development for Crossover, students from all six Southern Baptist seminaries gathered for morning devotionals led by Jim Stitzinger, director of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization at Southern Seminary, and other seminary professors. Church planters across the Baltimore area also spoke to the students during those gatherings.
Centering his message on 2 Corinthians 5:21, Stitzinger taught the evangelism course for Southern students and emphasized the need to establish relationships with unbelievers, not take rejection personally and connect them to a local church.
“Christ gives us the message, we have to faithfully deliver it -- not to change it, not to alter it, not add anything to it, but to deliver it faithfully,” Stitzinger said, elaborating on the function of an ambassador.
After students spread throughout the city, the class convened on the final morning to partner with an inner-city Baltimore church plant, the Garden Church, to minister to neighbors.
The Garden launched in 2009 when Ohio native Joel Kurz, along with his wife, Jessica, moved into the city from a rural part of Maryland, where they worked with youth at an established church. The Kurz’s growing desire to plant a church and their love for Maryland’s largest city collided in 2007, and they decided to pursue what became the Garden Church.
Kurz planted in a history-rich, troubled neighborhood on Eutaw Place just north of downtown, a street that forms a functional and actual economic and racial divide. The east side of Eutaw is Bolton Hill, a historically a well-to-do, neighborhood home to many artists — notably American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. West of Eutaw — though it boasts its own proud history of civil rights heroes and jazz musicians — is a poor and hollowed neighborhood, characterized by constant violence and influence from the Nation of Islam.
“What drew us to this area initially was that divide between the rich and the poor — the racial, economic divide,” Kurz said. “The thought that guided us — and still guides us today — is that if the gospel unites us with God, then it should also unite us with each other. And what better way to display that gospel than to plant a church in the midst of all that historic tension?
“We want to be a good thing for Baltimore city long term. So we want to raise up godly men and women who will lead families and guys who will lead churches in the future,” he said.
Partnered with Garden members, 15 seminary students canvassed the neighborhoods and talked with residents on the sidewalk, on the steps of row houses, and even through the windows. Southern worked with the Garden Church “to really come behind and fuel their efforts,” Stitzinger said. “Our posture is to come alongside them and help them do their job better, as we learn to do our job.”
Southern Seminary M.A. student Beau Hughes from Denton, Texas, said, “The most helpful part of Crossover and the class is renewing my vision, compassion and love for those who do not know Christ -- a renewed sense of awareness for the sheer need of people to hear the gospel.”
Another student, Daniel Lisa, pursuing a M.Div. in pastoral ministry, said, “I complicate evangelism way too much.” The Westchester, New York, resident shared the gospel with a Muslim woman in a clothing store. It was his first impromptu evangelistic experience.
“This class and this environment really helped me to gain some confidence to help me see that you don’t get saved by the gospel to hide it under a rock; you get saved by the gospel to tell other people about Jesus Christ. So I felt such a conviction to do this more often.”
On Sunday, June 8, The Garden Church welcomed several visitors as a direct result of the ministry of Southern Seminary students, which also consisted of painting the elementary school and playground where the church worships.
"The generosity demonstrated through the work and resources which SBTS students brought our neighborhood was a breath of fresh air," Kurz said.