PHILADELPHIA – Volunteers with Send Relief’s Serve Tour arrived to minister in Kensington, a neighborhood in Philadelphia known as a hotbed for drug abuse and addiction. Theirs was one of the largest projects of the Sept. 15-16 event that occurred in the city.
“There is a huge misconception about people who have addiction issues,” said Gerald Waters, project manager for the event as well as pastor and Send Network planter of Proclamation Community Church in Philadelphia. “They happen to be some of the most gracious and the most receptive to being ministered to that I’ve seen…We were down there as missionaries to share the gospel…We’re down there to be human beings to other human beings.”
Serve Tour Philadelphia was the final stop of the 2023 season. Forty-six churches from 10 different states sent 450 volunteers to participate in dozens of projects throughout the city.
In Kensington, Send Relief volunteers set up a shower trailer and worked with other organizations in efforts to help people see a pathway to get out of addiction and off the streets.
Buff McNickle, network development and compassion ministries director at the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey (BRN), said that some even had the opportunity to use a naloxone medication to revive people who were overdosing.
“We literally had some of our team bringing people from death to life,” said McNickle.
All in all, volunteers reported that more than 70 people came to Christ for the first time, and they served nearly 4,500 people through projects throughout the city, including beautifying schools and streets, serving first responders, distributing food and ministering to the homeless.
“We saw an unusual openness to the gospel in Philadelphia,” said Sammy Simmons, national project director for Send Relief. “While it was our smallest Serve Tour stop this year in terms of the number of volunteers, we saw more people come to Christ than any of our other events. I think it was due to the extraordinary emphasis on prayer during the Serve Tour and the fantastic partnership with the Baptist Resource Network.”
The Send Relief Serve Tour is an effort of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) that cooperates with a local Southern Baptist state convention, associations and churches to serve communities through ministries of compassion and open the door for gospel opportunities.
“One of the most creative projects that I saw, which was a huge success, was a brother who was giving away bikes and fixing people’s bikes,” said Waters.
While giving away and repairing bicycles, volunteers prayed with people and invited those who were interested to hear a gospel presentation.
McNickle emphasized the diversity of Southern Baptists in Pennsylvania and South Jersey, highlighting the way everyone came together for a common purpose.
“If you see any of the volunteers, you see the wide range of, really, who we are as Southern Baptists,” McNickle said. “You see people from all different cultures, all different ethnicities, all different socioeconomic backgrounds—all putting those things aside for the sake of the gospel. To me that that is Southern Baptists at our best.”
Every Serve Tour stop includes a rally where the volunteers come together for a time of worship and encouragement.
“The rally was a real good way to put a bow on everything. I just saw people who wouldn’t, under normal circumstances, be in the same room all together, talking about serving, talking about salvations, talking about future plans, talking about the joy, and being together,” said Waters. “That was a true highlight for me…to see all the different people just coming together from different churches, different areas and really enjoying being around one another.”
Send Relief’s Serve Tour is designed to help churches take their next missional step by engaging their communities, serving those in need and presenting the eternal hope of the gospel.
“That’s what Serve Tour ignites,” McNickle said. “It creates those incredible incidents where God gets people out of the pews and into the streets, and then what we see and what we celebrate is those moments when God just steps in and shows his power and his glory and an incredible way.”
The Serve Tour continues in 2024, with five more stops in cities and towns across the U.S., and two international stops. Running concurrently to the Serve Tour stop in Philadelphia was a week-long event in Athens, Greece.
To learn more about how to participate in the Send Relief Serve Tour, visit servetour.org.
Published September 21, 2023