Serve Tour: Building Bridges in Baltimore

By Sharon Mager

BALTIMORE — When the Send Relief Serve Tour came to Baltimore on April 29-30, 400 volunteers from thirty-five churches in eight states arrived ready for action. They completed 21 projects. They helped with light construction and beautification, gave away food, manned block party stations, and even built mini houses for people without homes. There was a lot happening, and it was all bathed in prayer and done for the glory of the Lord. The tour was sponsored by Send Relief, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and the Baltimore Baptist Association. Larry Lin, a member of Village Church, Hampden, oversaw the projects.

One of those churches was the historic Jesus Our Redeemer Church (JORC) in the Federal Hill neighborhood. Pastor Brad O’Brien has been prayerfully building a relationship with the local police. He’s involved with the Baltimore Police Department Southern District’s Community Relations Council. O’Brien says the group comes alongside the police command staff to build and improve relationships with the community.

Brad O’Brien, pastor of Jesus Our Redeemer Church in Baltimore, chats with police officers as they step out to get coffee. The church provided a coffee trolley for the morning.

O’Brien has a heart for the police staff, knowing it’s a difficult job. “In December, one of the officers, Keona Holley, was killed in the line of duty,” he shared. Holley was shot in an ambush while sitting in her patrol car. O’Brien said that in a God’s providence, the Friday, April 29, of the Serve Tour coincided with the day the police department was honoring Holley, officially dedicating the 4400 block of Pennington Avenue as Keona Holley Way. The reminder was emotional for the officers, O’Brien said. “They were confronted with the reality that their partner, their friend, was killed doing what they are doing.”

On the morning of the dedication, with the help of Serve Tour volunteers, JORC members sent out a portable trolley and served coffee for the precinct’s 6:30 a.m. roll call. O’Brien was there to meet and chat with those who stopped by for some hot java. “I met one Muslim officer, and we talked about his experiences in the country. I also met with a Christian who was previously serving with a Puerto Rican police department. He was really excited that we were doing this for them, and we had a really sweet conversation,” O’Brien said.

Additionally, over the weekend, church members and Serve Tour volunteers painted the police station lobby. “It had gotten beaten up over a period of time, and you know what a fresh coat of paint can do,” O’Brien said. They also picked up trash around the building. The church had also scheduled a barbecue truck to serve the officers dinner.

The police major took a break to grab some food, and he stopped to talk with O’Brien. Eventually, the major invited O’Brien to his office, and the two men informally chatted about the community and its needs. O’Brien said the major had only been heading up the station for about two months, so their relationship was pretty new. Doors opened.

“That day, the church’s acts of service helped us gain more trust. We had a really good conversation about the state of things in the district. There have been a lot of homicides, and it has been a difficult 28-day period,” O’Brien said. “Just a few nights ago, a detective on duty in an unmarked car was carjacked.”

O’Brien also stated that the Major cares for his team. “It was an encouraging moment to see how he loves and appreciates his officers,” he said. The conversation was very uplifting. “We built a deeper relationship as peers, working together.”

On Saturday, April 30, church members and Serve Tour volunteers helped clean and beautify Solo Gibbs Playfield in the Sharp — Leadenhall neighborhood near M&T Stadium. Afterward, the volunteers enjoyed a meal together, followed by premium Codetta Bakert cupcakes for dessert. O’Brien explained that there are 200 Baltimore neighborhoods. “The boundaries are clear and defined.” Often there is a division between neighborhoods. Working together to try to upkeep the park is helping to build bridges between the church in Federal Hill and the Sharp—Leadenhall community.

In less than 48 hours, Serve Tour teams and Baltimore churches built bridges and trust and bonded with others in the body of Christ. God did that.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on the website of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

Published May 19, 2022

Sharon Mager

Sharon Mager is a communications specialist with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.