Ronjour Locke would meet his girlfriend Annie at McDonald’s for a breakfast date every Monday morning during college. He would grab a napkin as they talked to scribble down their brainstorm sessions filled with dreams and what-ifs for the future.
“We discussed if we were ever going to do ministry somewhere, where would it be?” Locke says of the morning conversations when they talked about where they might live and minister after they married and completed their studies at Washington Bible College near Washington, D.C.
Having gone on their first date and gotten engaged in Baltimore, they thought it would be a “pretty cool” place to settle.
“We knew the need was there,” Locke says, “and the diversity was something we were passionate about — being someplace where people from different walks of life and different backgrounds could worship the Lord together.”
In January 2012, the Lockes, their dreams and their four children made their way to one of Baltimore’s southernmost neighborhoods, Brooklyn, where Ronjour, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, became pastor of First Baptist Church, the only Southern Baptist church in the area.
Baltimore encompasses more than 200 individual neighborhoods. Whether it is the trendy, up-and-coming Federal Hill filled with young urban professionals or the iconic Inner Harbor with its waterfront shops and restaurants, each neighborhood reflects a distinct history, culture and personality.
Brooklyn is an ethnically diverse, mostly low-income and lower-middle-class neighborhood. “I initially thought that this was an older neighborhood based on how many folks in our church lived in the area,” Ronjour says, “but I was wrong. It’s actually a lot more generationally diverse than I thought.”
Over the past few decades, government-constructed Section 8 housing left a densely populated neighborhood. “They put houses everywhere, squeezing them in all kinds of places,” Locke says, “… and of course, within them are people.”
FBC Brooklyn encompasses “people who are making good money and we have people who are struggling,” Locke says. “We’ve got some folks who have lost their jobs over the last couple of years, who cannot find a job for the life of them. We’ve got some folks that are homeless and we’re trying to help them.”
As with many urban communities, Brooklyn also suffers from crime, drugs and broken homes.
“You’ll have homes where the mom is there and you have, say, five or six kids, and each kid has a different dad. That’s not uncommon around here,” Locke says.
While the streets immediately surrounding the church are quiet, Locke says, “you go down [a couple streets] and you’re going to see a lot more drugs, a lot more violence, a lot more stuff going on.”
“It’s really sad,” Annie Locke says. “It’s a lot of theft, but it’s usually a family member to a family member because of their addictions.”
“It’s sort of the personality of Brooklyn that we are the forgottens,” Ronjour says. “We’re not the cool Federal Hill. We’re not the Inner Harbor.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press