While politics was the biggest draw in Charlotte during the week of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), many North Carolina Baptist churches in the area saw the large out-of-town crowd as an opportunity to share the love of Jesus.
Getting around the Charlotte area, however, came with many challenges. Tight security and closed roads often made it difficult to access some of the areas where ministry was taking place.
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
National Guard soldiers pick up freshly laundered clothes from North Carolina Baptist Men volunteers on Sept. 4. The soldiers were part of security for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Laundry and medical teams were on site to provide needed services.
Several National Guard soldiers and a Humvee blocked the entrance to a makeshift military base where N.C. Baptist Men volunteers provided needed help. On the base, a few miles outside of downtown Charlotte, the team of volunteers carried out their own special mission – sorting, washing, drying and bagging freshly cleaned clothes for troops who helped with security in Charlotte.
“These guys are doing an outstanding job,” said Staff Sgt. Danny Smith, who was picking up a load of laundry. “It’s a benefit to us especially with the way the missions are running. It would be hard for the soldiers … to sleep and then do laundry and then [go] right back on mission. This has been 100 percent very affective.”
“We try not to get used to it,” he said with a laugh. “We can’t pack them up and take them with us in the field.”
By the end of the day, the team had washed nearly 100 loads of laundry.
Volunteers pointed out that the large volume of laundry couldn’t have been done without the help of N.C. Baptist Men’s portable laundry station, complete with 10 washers and 10 dryers.
“[The volunteers are] amazing because they have a one-day turnaround,” said First Sgt. Barbara Campbell, who has served in the National Guard for more than a decade.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this because there wasn’t anything in place for us to have our laundry done with what’s going on out there.”
Campbell added she especially appreciated the artwork drawn on the plastic bags of clean clothes that were provided by Sunday School classes. When time allows, volunteers also like to write Bible verses on the plastic bags.
“[We appreciate] words of encouragement,” added Campbell. “It’s good to know someone’s praying for you.”
A couple miles away another N.C. Baptist Men’s team, invited by the state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services, helped set up medical equipment. They also provided a medical unit to help support other emergency crews from around the state in case of an unexpected crisis situation.
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
Police officers set up a perimeter with bicycles on North College Street in Charlotte Sept. 4 near the Democratic National Convention was being held. The increased traffic and closed streets made travel a challenge for those trying to do ministry.
Richard Brunson, executive director-treasurer of N.C. Baptist Men, described the opportunity as a “high security event.” He estimated there were about 30,000 law enforcement and emergency response personnel in the Charlotte area that week.
While Brunson admitted there were some initial concerns about N.C. Baptist Men’s involvement with a political event, he said the need outweighed the politics.
“This has everything to do with having our volunteers in places where they can respond to disasters,” he said, “and where we can serve county and state emergency management people in Jesus’ name.”
For Baptist Men’s volunteer Sharon Chilton-Moser, who led the medical team, opportunities to share Jesus were everywhere they turned.
“The beautiful part is when you’re sharing the love of Jesus you don’t have to do it by throwing tracts and Bibles at people,” she said. “You [can] do it with your life, with your hands and feet first. Then they ask you the question ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘What’s different about you?’ Who needs a tract at that point?”
Meanwhile uptown, other N.C. Baptists were also sharing the love of Christ as opportunities developed around them. But ministry in the heart of the city wasn’t easy – especially since rain was in the forecast most of the week.
Throughout the week, helicopters circled around the city. In many places traffic moved at a crawl while protestors drew crowds with their signs. Some shouted into megaphones under the watchful eyes of law enforcement.
While many locals tried to avoid the downtown traffic, and many streets were blocked off or difficult to access, volunteers from throughout the Metrolina Baptist Association were there in force.
Near First Baptist Church, close to the corner of Third and South Davidson streets, a group of volunteers handed out water bottles and the Gospel of John booklets. Other teams made their way through the city handing out Christian materials and inviting people to various outreach events.
Bob Lowman, executive director of the Metrolina Baptist Association, admitted he was initially tempted “to be as far away from Charlotte as [he could be] that week.”
But – similar to Brunson’s decision to involve N.C. Baptist Men – the opportunity outweighed the politics – and the inconveniences.
“The way I look at it, as an associational missionary, is they’ve come to our mission field,” said Lowman.
“Personally, I couldn’t abandon this mission field I look out the window at every day.”
Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charlotte and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, also saw the DNC as an opportunity that couldn’t be ignored.
Harris spoke one afternoon at a forum on politics and religion hosted by First United Methodist Church in downtown Charlotte. It was one of many similar events held during the week of the DNC.
Harris and RJ Davis, minister of evangelism and outreach at Nations Ford Community Church in Charlotte, were the lone Southern Baptists on a panel of more than a dozen people.
The panel also included a Muslim, a Mormon, a Jewish rabbi and a host of other religious and political leaders.
“We have a responsibility not only to be stewards of the gift we’ve been given [to vote] but also to be salt and light,” Harris told the crowd that was made up of many college students from the area. “And that means … we must, we must be involved in the process.”
Davis urged those in attendance to vote according to their values.
He described his first voting experience in 2000 when he was admittedly “uninformed.”
“I had just graduated college,” he said. “I didn’t know too much about either party.”
Davis decided to ask his parents for advice.
“They said their reasoning behind the way that they were voting was because [that] person and this platform closely aligned with the values that we shared,” he said.
Davis said those “deeply rooted” Christian values that he and his family shared helped him decide which way he needed to vote. “Now I can say that no longer am I uninformed.”