Behind the scenes at the DNC, Baptists aid first responders

DENVER (BP)--Southern Baptist volunteers are donning aprons this week in Denver as they prepare meals for city, state and national personnel providing protection and aid to those attending the Democratic National Convention.

Just as the convention is an enormous undertaking for the city -- 4,440 delegates, 15,000 members of the media, 21,000 volunteers and numerous dignitaries from dozens of countries -- the Southern Baptist first responder ministry, called "Love Denver," has taken considerable effort as well.

Each day volunteers prepare and serve 9,600 meals, distributing the meals to 11 different sites throughout the downtown area. More than 600 volunteers serve eight-hour shifts, staffing feeding stations 24 hours a day. More than $250,000 worth of food and drink -- paid for by law enforcement agencies -- is being prepared and delivered.

Local Southern Baptist churches and the Mile High Baptist Association have partnered to make the effort a reality, saving law enforcement thousands of dollars that would have been spent on catering staff. For the churches, meanwhile, it's an opportunity to minister and meet needs in Jesus' name.

"We wanted to find a way to be a part of this event in a non-political way," said Jim Shaddix, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in downtown Denver. "This grew to something far beyond what we ever envisioned it would be."

Soon after the Democratic Party chose Denver as the site for its 2008 convention, Shaddix said a staff member had the idea of opening the church gymnasium to police officers who needed a break and time to relax from their convention duties. Slowly, that idea evolved into the volunteer operation Denver-area Baptists are staging this week.

"We thought we'd have a couple of video games in here with some drinks and snacks," Shaddix said, "and now here we are."

Riverside reached out to the Mile High Association and other Denver Southern Baptist churches. The North American Mission Board gave $60,000 to get the effort underway. Law enforcement eventually drew the group closer and closer into its planning. By the time plans reached their final stages this summer, Baptist volunteers were gaining security clearances to some of the most security-sensitive venues at the DNC.

"When we started serving this past Saturday, some of the officers were still a little hesitant about us. They thought we were hired caterers," said Bob Ryan, leader of the Mile High Association team. "But when they learned we were church volunteers, their whole tenor changed."

At a feeding site in the Denver Convention Center on Monday, volunteers served a steady stream of police officers and other emergency response personnel.

"Who are you and why are you doing this?" one officer asked as he was served a hot meal of lasagna, bread sticks and salad. "We're Southern Baptists and we're doing it because we love Jesus and you," a volunteer answered without hesitation.

Charles Bass, a retired pastor and chaplain who helps train chaplains with the Colorado Baptist General Convention, said the police he has had contact with during the previous three days "are very appreciative of what we're doing. One told me all they usually get in their break room at an event like this is a power bar and maybe an energy drink."

Ryan said he has prayed from the start that Love Denver would be an opportunity for Southern Baptists to develop closer relationships with the citiy's law enforcement community in a way that would lead some to Christ.

"We've learned that it's not easy for many of these individuals to get involved in a church," Ryan said. "They never feel like they can relax in a public setting. They are never off duty. So making a personal connection is a very important first step with them. And that's what we are doing all this week."

Among the volunteers, Keith and Myrna Vest decided a few years ago they were going to make their retirement years count for the Lord. So they have participated in missions work and the disaster relief team at their church, Arapahoe Road Baptist Church just south of Denver. And when word went out a few months ago that volunteers were needed to prepare and serve meals to law enforcement personnel during the Democratic National Convention, they signed up.

"We live with an urgency because we've both had cancer and we know time is limited," Myrna said as she paused from wiping down tables and preparing the next pot of coffee. "This was a chance for us to show the love of Christ and hopefully point some people toward the Lord."


Mike Ebert is the publications and media relations coordinator for the North American Mission Board. For more information on the Denver outreach, visit www.lovedenver.org.

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