BALTIMORE (BP) -- More than 3,000 Southern Baptist pastors and leaders experienced the city of Baltimore without having to leave their seats during a sold-out fourth annual Send North America Luncheon, held in conjunction with the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
The free luncheon immersed participants in a sweeping 200-year story of this year's Southern Baptist Convention host city through a theatrical narrative played out in the midst of a variety of iconic representations of Baltimore, such as Orioles Park at Camden Yards and Baltimore Harbor. Luncheon participants also dined on traditional urban street food -- including Baltimore crab cakes.
"Every month there are Catch the Vision Tours in cities all over North America, helping pastors and churches get a glimpse of what potentially could happen in those cities if they understand the needs in those cities," North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell told attendees. "That's the reason we thought we'd give you the opportunity to catch the vision for Baltimore."
Baltimore's first story highlight, as shared in the luncheon, was in 1814 when Francis Scott Key who, after watching the defense of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, penned what would become known as the Star Spangled Banner. He later played a central role in starting churches in frontier areas. The story then followed the city's growth throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming one of the largest cities in the United States and producing cultural, social and spiritual icons like Frederick Douglass, Annie Armstrong, Johns Hopkins and Babe Ruth.
But the city's upward trajectory dramatically switched gears after World War II, ultimately leading to multiple decades of economic, social and spiritual decline. Throughout the luncheon, participants were introduced to the stories of several longtime Baltimore believers who had been praying for spiritual awakenings in their churches and for the city. Participants experienced the changing ministry context of the city through the stories of these Baltimoreans.
Finally participants were taken through the story of the city's rebirth, starting roughly a quarter century ago with the rebirth of the Inner Harbor. They were also introduced to the beginning of a spiritual rebirth in the city through the story of a new church plant that had merged with a dying church.
Luncheon participants were then urged to find the story of where they live within the story of Baltimore.
"You have an opportunity," Eugene H. Russell IV, the event's narrator, said. "We pray that your story, just like our story, is to be continued. So go. Write the next chapter in the story of your town."
Aaron Coe, NAMB's vice president for mobilization and marketing, continued the theme by connecting the urbanization of Baltimore with the growing urbanization of all of North America.
"In North America every square inch has been touched by density and diversity," Coe said. "What do we mean? More people live there and it's more diverse today. We, as churches, are now faced with a mission field that is very different than the one we faced 50 years ago. We believe the lessons we're learning in a place like this town can apply in places like your town."
Coe shared NAMB's desire to help pastors mobilize every member of their congregation to push back lostness in their communities and throughout North America.
"For the Send North America vision to move from just a few churches and a few people into a movement, we have to move the conversation forward to the people who sit in our churches, to the people who sit in our pews," Coe said. "We have to communicate a vision that everybody's life on mission matters."
To help pastors communicate that vision within their congregations, Coe announced a new book and small group study that will be released this fall, called Life On Mission, along with an accompanying evangelistic tool, the "3 Circles Life Conversation Guide," already available.
Coe highlighted the Send North America Experience Tour coming to 25 locations around North America and culminating in the Send North America Conference in Nashville, Aug. 3-4, 2015. The tour and the conference will provide places where pastors can bring their congregations to help them catch the Send North America vision.
At the end of the luncheon, Coe recognized representatives from the Baltimore mayor's office and the South Baltimore Little League who had attended the luncheon. NAMB gave the baseball stadium fence and bleachers that were a part of the luncheon set to the South Baltimore Little League.
Ronnie Stewart, the pastor of Gourd Springs Baptist Church in Spring Lake, N.C., said the presentation of Baltimore at the luncheon provided many parallels to the ministry needs in his community. He said it also introduced him to the ministry needs of Baltimore itself.
"It was awesome," Stewart said. "I think it gave a great overview of how the city of Baltimore has been transformed [in recent years]."
Dean and Elaine Mabry, who attended the luncheon and are planting Ilion Church in Ilion, N.Y., said they saw some of their city's story in what was presented about Baltimore.
"All cities and all towns have a story," Elaine said. "Our hope, in the church plant we're at -- it's a slow go but it's going -- is that we want to make an impact just like they're talking about today. But we need people to come to our area to look, see and get a feel for the people. The reality is that there's such a gospel dryness that they'll see the hopelessness -- just like the guy who wrote 'No Hope' [on the wall in the middle of presentation] today."
For more information about how you can get involved in Send North America, visit namb.net/mobilize-me
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Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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