PITTSBURGH, PA (BP) – While more than 100 volunteers and well-wishers filled Vintage Church's freshly renovated basement during the grand opening of Pittsburgh's Send Relief Ministry Center, Adam Sewell heard one word repeat in his mind. Faithful.
That's how Sewell, a Send Relief Missionary in Pittsburgh, described the Oct. 19 grand opening ceremony, which included a homeless care package assembling event, a Chick-fil-A lunch for volunteers and a time of worship and sharing the Gospel. Volunteers filled 250 backpacks with food and daily living supplies.
"God has definitely been faithful," Sewell said. "This has been a dream for so many years. So just to be here with over 100 people who were in here just serving, the bags up front, the love being shown here -- this is God's people serving God's people. It's pretty overwhelming."
Rob Wilton, the North American Mission Board's (NAMB) Send City Missionary in Pittsburgh and a former New Orleans church planter, echoed similar sentiments.
"This has always been a dream of mine," Wilton said. "I'm thankful to God that we're able to see this dream come alive."
Send Relief is NAMB's compassion ministry arm. The Pittsburgh ministry center is the seventh, joining centers in New York City, Appalachia (Ashland, Ky.), New Orleans, Clarkston (Ga.), Las Vegas and Puerto Rico.
Each ministry center focuses on one of Send Relief's core ministry areas: poverty, refugees and internationals, foster care and adoption, human trafficking and crisis response.
Pittsburgh's center, housed in Vintage's lower level, will focus on poverty and includes showers, a laundry room and serves as a point place for feeding and clothing ministries.
For Sewell and Wilton, Vintage Church's lead pastor, the ministry center's launch is a culmination of more than a year of watching God's hand work by knitting together unlikely relationships and partnerships to create a way for Southern Baptist churches to provide compassion ministry to Pittsburgh's most vulnerable.
Six years ago, Sewell, a central Pennsylvania native, and his wife planted The Well Church, launching it from their home.
"Later, we were able to rent a storefront right down the road from here, and when that happened, we felt it was God opening a door to compassion ministry for us," Sewell said. "It made sense to us because these are our neighbors."
When Sewell and his church plant made the move out of his house, he began seeing God provide as only He can.
"We had no budget for the kind of ministry we wanted to do here," he said. "We just had availability. I didn't know how to stock any of it. We put out our vision to our neighbors, and the neighbors were the ones who showed up. All the clothes in our clothing store came from our neighbors, so many of our neighbors heard the Gospel regularly.
"People would say, 'How is a small church plant going to do this?' But it was people in the city who heard the vision and saw the vision, and then God just stepped in and said, 'I got this.'"
God's provision crystalized when Wilton left New Orleans -- a place where he'd spent 10 years as a church planter and chaplain for the New Orleans Saints -- to become Pittsburgh's Send City Missionary in August 2018.
He launched Vintage on Easter 2019 as a merger with Sewell and The Well, because both pastors sensed God calling them to something larger than themselves.
"Coming into the city, we could tell God was already doing amazing work here," Wilton said. "So, the first step here was getting to know the faithful guys serving here along with faithful churches which allowed me to link arms with Adam and The Well."
When the idea of a merger first emerged, Sewell didn't balk. In fact, once he discerned Wilton as a kindred spirit, it didn't take much thought at all to know it was a God-ordained connection.
"Rob and I have the same heart, so I said, 'Let's do this together,'" Sewell said. "For us, it was a no-brainer. I don't care what name you call the church or who's in charge. None of that matters to me. Our neighborhood needs this, and this place is now alive because of Jesus."
The need is also what drew Wilton.
"My wife and I took a trip here to pray and consider, and God did what He does," Wilton said. "The appeal was the need. To have this opportunity, specifically with the SBC and Send Relief, to come into a city where there's not been a lot of traction and to be a catalyst to do ministry all over the city -- when we saw what was needed, we wanted to be here."
But both Wilton and Sewell see an even more expansive vision for the center.
"We're dreaming of planting 25 new churches by 2025, and we want to use this center to make sure that every church is equipped with Send Relief's mission to meet needs and change lives," Wilton said.
"This place is just the beginning of Send Relief in Pittsburgh," Sewell added. "Here will be the hub, but we want to see it multiply throughout the city's planters. This is where we want to train church planters and churches through modeling events similar to this, to let people know it's not so hard to do this yourself.
"In five years, I want this to be one of many spots in Pittsburgh where needs are being met and lives are being changed."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabriel Stovall writes for the North American Mission Board.