By Mo Scarpelli
At the Christian Community Center in West Baltimore, a familiar chorus is heard every day across the playground area: “Mr. Tom! Mr. Tom!”
More than 50 kids show up at the community center at any one time, where they take Bible classes, play on the jungle gym, and this past summer, spent time with senior high Experience Mission volunteers.
“This is the best summer I’ve ever had here,” said Tom Homans, director of the Christian Community Center on Hollins Street. “Experience Mission has been such a blessing. The kids especially love the one-on-one time.”
One-on-one time is something Homans, or “Mr. Tom,” has had trouble giving all the children that attend the Community Center since he stepped into the full-time position almost exactly five years ago.
And although the kids in West Baltimore have a laundry list of needs, Homans says their need for meaningful relationships should be at the top of the list, even if it’s somewhat new to them.
“You can tell from some of the kids, the way they act, they just need attention,” said Homans. “They need someone to come in and hang out and listen to them. ”
This kind of ministry can be new to some volunteers, even if they’ve been on the mission-field for years.
TJ Speer of Peqauannoc, New Jersey spent a week in Arizona in 2006 and then another in Gary, WV in 2007, working under Experience Mission. He says he spent most of his time building and repairing homes.
This summer, Speer got to see a different side of mission work in Baltimore when he spent a day at the Christian Community Center.
“Just having the chance to interact with them on a more friendship basis than a service level has been really meaningful,” said 18-year-old Speer. “It’s very important for them because some have troubled backgrounds. They get to see that people care about them and they take on a positive uplifting spirit.”
Sleeping just around the block from the community center and passing by old row houses every day, Speer noticed that West Baltimore is not the safest place for a child.
Homans says drugs and alcohol are a constant temptation.
“The kids in the neighborhood are out 24/7,” said Homans. “Some of them have been through some rough stuff, they want to be happy, so they can’t say no to drugs or alcohol.”
Actually, that was Homans’ brothers’ story. Before Homans considered himself a Christian, he watched his brother become addicted to crack cocaine.
“I thought I’d get a call that he’s dead, even though he had a wife and kids,” said Homans, thinking back to just six years ago. “I didn’t think he’d ever get clean.”
But to Homans’ surprise, he did. Furthermore, he found God in the process. And then he told Homans about his faith, and instilled a sense of conviction in his brother.
“My brother - he helped me know God’s power,” said Homans. “God got a hold of him and one night, he just started witnessing to me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Homans started pursuing his faith and volunteering with youth ministry at his church in “the County” (what Baltimoreans call the suburban area around the inner city). He heard about the Christian Community Center in Baltimore through his girlfriend and started stopping by to help out twice a week, when he wasn’t working.
“I felt called to work with kids and the church was a great place but my heart was really here,” said Homans, sweeping his hands to show his small office in the middle of the Community Center’s ground floor.
The Center first opened its doors in the fifties, in partnership with the Helping Up Mission, a drug rehabilitation center for men. In 1992, the Center became an independent institution, owned and operated by Betty and Charlie Horn, who still live in the area.
EM teams tour and help serve lunch at the Helping Up Mission, where volunteers get another shot at relational ministry - this time with adults trying to overcome their addictions with their faith.
The Helping Up Mission boasts a recovery rate of 67 percent - more than twice that of the average drug rehabilitation center. Mission employees attribute this to implementing faith in recovery.
Homans feels certain that faith helps everybody, no matter how hard the situation seems. After all, he was introduced to a living faith through his drug-addicted brother.
“If they don’t have the Lord, there’s not much you can do to help them,” said Homans of children and adults alike. “Around here, the temptation is so great to find pleasure that everyone needs the Lord.”
Experience Mission is facilitating mission trips to Honduras and Belize for Summer 2009. To learn more, visit <a href=”http://www.experiencemission.org”>ExperienceMission.org</a> or call the EM office at 360-732-0986