Baltimore is a beautiful, twisted, powerful, and intense city to spend time in. It has a dark history, full of hatred and heartbreak; heartbreak which is seen in the abandoned and boarded up buildings with trees growing out of the caved in roofs, the people walking up and down the street at every traffic light asking for anything you can spare, the balloons and stuffed animals on street corners signaling that something bad has happened there, trash on the streets and the sidewalks. And, yes, we have rats. But, amid all this heartbreak, there is so much beauty in this city, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it this summer.
Throughout the summer, Baltimore has grown on me. I have found a certain comfort in this city that never sleeps, in the sounds and the lights and even in the compactness of the buildings. I’ve even reached a place where I don’t hate driving or parallel parking! While I am excited for the upcoming year and all the incredible things and big decisions I have ahead of me, a piece of my heart will always belong to Baltimore.
This job has been one of the most exhausting experiences of my life; there are early mornings, late nights, days spent in the hot and humid weather, last-minute schedule changes, and kids who spill their water on you (not once, not twice, but THREE times). But this job has also proved to be one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences I could have asked for. This has truly been a learning experience for me, as I have learned about the history of the city, the people who call it home, what I want out of my future career in ministry, and about myself as a human being.
The Center programming and the partners that I got to spend my time with this summer have taught me to view mission through different eyes. They have taught me that mission is not about helping people, but it is about building relationships and being vulnerable with the people in your community. Mission is about paying attention to what God is already doing in the community and understanding that we are not there to act as Saviors. We are simply there to love and learn as we have been called to.
This summer has been intense in the best way. I have learned how to love fiercely, how to put my heart and soul into any task I am presented with, and how to be confident in my teaching abilities. I have also learned that one of the requirements for any future church I am employed at is that they grow grapes so that we can make our own juice for Communion. I have been overwhelmed by the grace I have experienced from the visiting groups and from the people I have talked to on the street.
Baltimore is a hard city to live in, but once you let go of the premonitions and stereotypes of city living and let yourself look deeper into the neighborhoods you’re surrounded by, you can begin to truly see the beauty. There is beauty in the murals scattered on the sides of buildings and in the gardens being planted and taken care of to provide life in this concrete jungle. There is beauty in the 1st grader who offers to share his breakfast with you on the first day of summer camp. There is beauty in watching campers get excited about reading or get excited about bowling for the first time in their lives. There is beauty in bonding with someone receiving food from a food pantry because you both have red hair. There is beauty in this city, but you must be willing to open your heart and your mind and your soul to the places and the people that God is calling you to. You must be willing to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), no matter where that takes you, because the journey is not always easy, but the destination is so emotional and so incredible and so worth the exhaustion.
-Emma Kate Lander