BALTIMORE—Josh Turansky went to Walmart eight times in five days. He and a few volunteers filled four carts each time; every trip was an hour long with another half hour to check out.
“We ended up at the point where we cleaned them out of their school supplies,” said Turansky, planter and senior pastor of Haven City Church in Baltimore’s neighborhood of Fells Point. “There were no more supplies we could get.”
About 25 volunteers filled 800 Send Relief backpacks for City Springs Elementary and Middle School in just three weeks. A little over half of the volunteers were from the church, about 12 people were from the community’s Facebook group, Patterson Park.
“We handed out 400 backpacks at the school,” Turansky said. “City Spring did the distribution inside. Parents met us at the door. We had our volunteers bring the parents and kids into the room full of backpacks. Many people were their neighbors, ‘Hey, the school is giving away backpacks.’ And we had letters inside each backpack from the church, inviting them to come to Haven City and telling them about Jesus.”
The remaining 400 Send Relief backpacks were held until the school identified who else needed them as the schools are four blocks north of 629 living spaces in section eight housing.
“Our community is made up of two types of spiritual cultures,” said Turansky. “The first is poor folks who grew up in cultural Christianity with the pressures to look incredible every Sunday. They have told our church staff the constant requests for tithes and offerings were challenging.
“The second group is working millennials disengaged from church because of church scandals or because church didn’t weave itself into their lives. Both believe in justice and want the neighborhood to be safe. When they see a church like ours participating in the neighborhood, feeding the community and joining the fight to fix social ills, they want to be part of it regardless of their spiritual pasts.”
When Turansky planted Haven City in Fells Point in 2018, the mission was to be a neighborhood church in Southeast Baltimore that loves Jesus, preaches the gospel and lives like missionaries every day.
This wasn’t the first time, Turansky and Haven City Church members have stepped in to love on their city and meet its physical needs.
Last year, Haven City members followed their pastor’s lead and handed out 180 frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners. At Christmas, they gathered and gave away 160 winter coats. They’ve hosted school supply and teacher appreciation events. And this spring, they took the school’s fourth to eighth grade classes to see a movie.
“Because we love humans,” said Turansky. “We even have a podcast about it. It’s literally called ‘I Love Humans.’ It’s something birthed from a personal project I started to start discussions with neighbors on the amazing ways we can help our community. People who don’t attend Haven City listen because we are more than a building. We are a group of people.”
Other churches are in support of Turansky and Haven City Church.
Redemption Church in Annapolis donated all the college ruled paper in Haven City’s Send Relief backpack event. Over 45 people bought supplies off Haven City’s Amazon Wishlist. Eight individuals donated online. Three organizations gave money or bought bulk supplies. The Baltimore Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware both gave to Haven City to support their Send Relief backpack event.
“What’s also cool and very touching is Gallery Church, one neighborhood over from us, watched our backpack giveaway and was extremely supportive of the impact we are having on the community,” said Turansky. “The pastor emailed me, and we had a great talk. He gave towards our next school initiative.”
Amidst the community outreach and Sunday services, Haven City also helps run a 50-year-old relief center called Compassion Center.
“We never planned having a ministry center but God’s story in our lives is that He goes beyond our strategic plans,” said Turansky. “We’re spending a good part of our week meeting physical needs. At first, I was worried that all the time and energy it took to meet those needs was not fruitful. For three months, nobody from the center was showing up to church services or getting involved in our outreach programs. We wrestled with thoughts like, ‘Is this a good use of our time?’ and ‘Is this fruitful?’
“But then, God start bringing people. We started doing breakfast before church and really seeing the community turn out. God was showing us that there was a real need for patience, and now the pieces are coming together.”
Now, Haven City Church has a reputation in the community.
“People call us because they know we are the church that will help people,” Turanksy said. “From medical bills to school uniforms, we are trying to respond to those needs.”
With around 40 people in attendance, Turansky knows the church can only help to a certain capacity. But, with partners like Send Relief and other churches and organizations, Haven City has impacted thousands around them and has an ongoing relationship with the schools at City Spring.
“Such a swirl of people coming alongside us really gives us the momentum and ability to move forward and reach high goals, like filling 800 backpacks or feeding 180 families at Thanksgiving,” said Turansky. “Church planting isn’t easy, but it’s an easy way to see God’s miracles at work. He’s always up to something, and we get to be part of that through our active and engaging church every day. It’s really fantastic.”
To learn more about Haven City Church and their work in Baltimore, visit baltimorechurch.com.
For more on Send Relief backpacks, and to find your church’s next step on mission, visit Sendrelief.org/backpacks.