Archive for February, 2012

A Love That Lasts

Posted: February 10, 2012 in Ministry in Baltimore

I fell in love with the Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church community of inner city Baltimore when I was an early teen.  Coming from rural PA to help with Vacation Bible School, I was enthralled by the noise, the action, and the accessibility of neighbors living close-by.  But more than that, I was drawn by the feelings of acceptance and love that I felt from the people at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church.

Twenty-five years later, my husband and I find ourselves living here in Baltimore and pastoring this same church.  I still love this community.  Where else can you go where people are just sitting out on their front steps, ready to include you in their conversation?  Where else are neighbors so intimately involved in one another’s lives – for good or for bad?  Of course my eyes are now opened to the difficulties of life here, too, the hopelessness, the layers of bondage that addiction brings, the poverty, the dearth of positive examples to follow.  But consequently, it’s a simple thing to shine in the darkness here – as simple as meeting and caring for a neighbor with the love of Christ.  The hard part is continuing to shine with faith and love, and to not fall prey to the hopelessness that always lurks in dark places.

As a congregation we are learning that in this atmosphere it is vital that we stand together and recognize our need for one another.  The needs outside the walls of the church as well as inside are often too great and we cannot face them alone.  Our weekly Care Groups are vital places where we are refreshed and where we invite others to be refreshed.

We also understand that the church building itself can sometimes be a barrier to those who feel too ashamed or too different to enter.  We have endeavored to go outside as much as possible to break down this barrier and make Jesus and His Church a little more accessible, with outdoor services on our front parking lot (complete with hotdogs and snow cones) and outdoor prayer meetings which allow those passing by on the sidewalk to casually join in for needed prayer.

Lastly, in the past few years in particular, we have found partnerships with others to be so valuable:  Nueva Esperanza, a beginning Latino church plant, meeting in our building on Sunday evenings and sharing our heart for reaching this neighborhood;  Narcotics Anonymous, ministering to over 100 addicts each week on our front parking lot and in our church basement; college students with the Baltimore Urban Program volunteering their time; Westside Assembly of God, a near-by church, sharing services with us this winter while their church was under construction; churches from PA helping with a new neighborhood food ministry; work groups who have come to help on projects in our church and school.  We genuinely appreciate the larger Body of Christ that interconnects with us and encourages us here at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite!

-Marita Scholtz

The following is a record of a school day at Mount Clare Christian School in 2008:

1:05 PM  Through the upstairs window we see three people gathering around a drug dealer.  Money and drugs are exchanged.  Gwen, our administrator, calls 911 and describes the offenders – “blue pants, white shirt…”

1:07 PM While giving the description, Gwen opens the door of the school and sees the dealer doing another hand-off directly in front of our school door.

1:10 PM  Just as she hangs up the phone,  Jason, a high school teacher, sees a pick-up pull in front of the school waiting to be served with drugs.  Jason asks Gwen to call 911 again and grabs a pen and paper and heads out the door to try to get the license number.

1:13 PM  The dealers spot him.  Jason heads back into the school.  One dealer follows him, pounding on the door, ordering him to come out and “talk about it like a man.”  The officer on the phone hears the commotion and warns Jason not to go outside.  The dealer yells, “$%^ you!  I’ll take care of you all in there!”

1:45 PM  An officer shows up at the school.  Gwen tears up as she talks to the officer “We’re trying so hard to make this a safe place.  The dealers are so blatant!  Our kids can look at that and think the easy money is worth it.”

“Yeah I know.  Some of them make $80,000 in a day,” He says.  He offers to send a police car around when school lets out.

2:30 PM  School dismisses.  Kids are running around the front, mostly unaware of the tension felt by the teachers.

2:45 PM  We spot a cop putting a man in handcuffs at the end of the block and are thankful to see 4 cop cars in front of the drug house on the corner.

3:00 PM  The cop cars are gone.  Everybody’s back to business as usual.

We’re at Mount Clare Christian School on Vincent Street a haven for 50 students in the midst of the drug-infested streets of Southwest Baltimore.  We’re right around the corner from our founding church, Wilkens Avenue Mennonite.

While we’ve often tried to ignore the dealers outside our doors, recently it’s been much more “in your face” as their activity has intensified – probably since we’re on a narrow street, conveniently out of the sight of the blue police cameras, which were placed on the larger streets last year.

Our women’s Sunday school class has chosen to meet outside this summer for this very reason – once right in the middle of Vincent Street to deter the foot traffic up the street to the guys waiting vigilantly on the corner.

Elaine, our Sunday school teacher, has emphasized the importance of making a presence.  She has talked privately to some of the young dealers, showing care and offering to pray for them, but also telling them clearly that they may not continue to deal drugs on and around our property.

Matt, one of our middle school teachers, discovered the crack between the cement wall at the back of our property where they hide their stash of drugs when the police come.  He’s also observed them using their escape plan – through the abandoned house and over the fence by our parking lot.

Jason considered the possibility of planting a crop of poison ivy right there or transplanting a hornet’s nest to that location.  After all Exodus 23:28 says, ““I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you.”

I’ve been calling the police department the past several days asking what more they can do for us.  What about drug-free school zone signs (which increase the penalty on those arrested)?  I organize for the teachers to get crime watch numbers.

Our students are watching to see what will happen.  Will the drug dealers win or will the God we’ve taught them about intervene?  I overhear one girl talking disparagingly about the police “They’re probably in on it, too.  They think they can get away with it since they carry a gun!”  Another student talks about what he’s heard happens when people snitch to the police – “Firebombs!”

Tammy, the elementary teacher, asks if anyone has anointing oil to use to pray over the school.  I walk through the school, praying Psalm 91 and Psalm 27, anointing each door and window.  Tammy anoints the teachers’ cars, remembering how our cars have been targeted in the past.

This is truly on-the-job training for all of us enrolled in the “School of Faith and Deeds.”  Absolutely, we need a spiritual breakthrough over our land to see lasting change come to our neighborhood!  We need the powerful prayer meetings and prayer walks, the calling of heaven to our very broken earth… and yes, we need to figure out the deeds part of it too.  What conversations do we need to have with the youth who are sucked into the drug-scene drama?  What is our relationship with the police and how much do we rely on them?  How do we wisely make our presence known in our neighborhood?  What actions do we take?

As you’ve taken a moment to look at this snapshot of our life, please take another moment to pray for us at Mount Clare Christian School as we find answers to these important questions.

-Marita Scholtz

Mount Clare Christian School is a ministry of Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church in Southwest Baltimore.  Begun ten years ago in response to the high truancy rate at the public schools which were known for violence and poor education , M.C.C.S. ministers to nearly 50 neighborhood children in grades 1-12.  Tuition is kept affordable at $25 a month so as not to exclude those who would benefit from a Christian education the most.  Staff, believing strongly in the mission of the school and that God wants to change the inner city  take low or no salaries to keep costs low.  M.C.C.S.  is largely supported by outside donors.  For more information, visit their website at:  mountclarechristian.org