Even though we are a few weeks removed from the events that happened in Baltimore, I want to bring us back to those events just for the sake of trying to get a fuller picture of the events that took place. It was not all bad things that came out of this.
While the destruction was very troubling, not everything that happened was bad. Sometimes, out of great tragedy, we see heroes step up and do great things in bad situations. They are like little beacons of light in an overall dark place. We saw this very thing so powerfully on 9/11 and the weeks and months following that great tragedy.
If you were like me, you saw the images coming from Baltimore and the destruction to that city very troublesome. Following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a man who died in the custody of Baltimore police, rioters in Baltimore torched countless vehicles, businesses, and community assets. With police officers injured and some 200 rioters arrested, no wonder Maryland’s governor called in the National Guard. Destroying property and endangering lives is not a protest, it’s a crime. Lighting things on fire is not the right course of action.
I am a White Sox fan and because of the riots, the Orioles and White Sox played the first game in the history of baseball in which fans were not allowed into the stadium to watch the game. This was because they decided that they could not spare security or any law enforcement to be at the game. The Sox lost by the way.
The steady stream of images and sound-bites coming from Baltimore quickly got wearisome not because they weren’t true, but because they weren’t the whole truth.
In an article that ran in the Washington Post, Trilla Newbell of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission asked, “can we please start sharing the good news out of Baltimore?”
If you didn’t know that there was good news, you were not alone. Newbell calls them “stories of quiet faithfulness.” There were photos of Baltimore residents forming human barricades to keep rioters from the police, children passing out bottles of water to National Guardsmen, and a video of a Vietnam vet shooing hoodlums away. These photos showed a side of the city that many people never saw.
But what really filled me with hope was the response made by the Christians of Baltimore. Local pastors locked arms and marched into the heart of the riots, urged people to remain calm, and even held impromptu church services in the streets. A video was shown of a chorus of “Amazing Grace” breaking out into the streets. There were images of church volunteers sweeping up broken glass among all the chaos. These were just a few of the moving images and stories that leaked out on Twitter while footage of burning police cars dominated the TV coverage.
After several schools closed, several area churches opened their doors to provide safe place for students. Some, like Metropolitan United Methodist, handed out sack lunches to kids who otherwise would not have eaten.
Brad O’Brien, a Baptist minister and church planter, turned out with others early on that Tuesday morning to help with the cleanup. “We know that if the Gospel can resurrect our dead hearts then it can bring hope to this community,” he said, trash bag in hand. “Our hope is not in our police chief or the governor. Our hope is in Christ alone.”
Amen. I agree completely.
Perhaps the most profound moment was a Monday night CNN report on the three-alarm fire at a community center. Slated to open this year, the Mary Harvin Transformation Center was a joint project between churches looking to provide housing, recreation, and a family atmosphere in one of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods.
Looking on as flames engulfed years of work, Reverend Donte’ Hickman of Southern Baptist Church had nothing to offer but forgiveness. “My heart is broken,” he said. “…somebody obviously didn’t understand that we were working on behalf of the community…we were seeking to restore people.”
“What do you see here?” asked a reporter.
“I see revival,” Hickman calmly replied. “I see the opportunity to rebuild from the ashes.”
As Chuck Colson once said, “In the worst of times, Christians do the best of things.”
There’s no question that what happened in Baltimore was the worst of times, but the examples of Christian citizens who weren’t content to spectate or to curse the darkness, brought me great hope.
You can be sure that for the residents of Baltimore, these peacemakers did what the rioters failed to do: they brought positive change. Even if not all of them made the evening news.
Let’s learn from their example and the next time the world around us is filled with darkness, let’s step up and be shining lights of hope. Let’s be the people who God created us to be. Let’s let the ways of love and peace guide our thoughts and actions. Those are the very first baby steps to real and lasting change.