The lower half of the 2400 block of Lakeview Ave. looks every inch a place God and his angels would fear to tread. Stacks of trash greet your eyes if you enter the street from where it intersects with Whitelock Street. Boards cover the doors and windows of about half the houses.
Drug dealers hawk their wares to a steady stream of clients who cruise along Lakeview in a assortment of vehicles -- vans, pickup trucks, cars. But at 8 every morning comes a joyous sound unto the Lord from one house snuggled between two vacant ones, a shout that shows that neither God nor his angels has abandoned the place.
In the Isaiah House Church Ministries, eight men hold their morning devotions. Dressed simply and comfortably in work clothes, they take turns reading Scripture in a front living room dimly lighted by only a candle and one floor lamp. In between readings they break into songs, clapping, stomping their feet, letting their voices resound to send a message to the devil and his minions hovering outside their door.
The pastor is Timothy Bailey, a bespectacled man with flecks of gray in his mustache and hair that are the only hint of his 47 years. He started Isaiah House this year to help men who, like himself, are recovering alcohol or drug addicts. "This is a place of refuge," Bailey asserted. "We like to call it a safe haven for people who have got lost in the cracks." The eight men live in the house. They range in age from 20 to 73. Most were homeless before they came there. Bailey can empathize because he has walked a mile in their shoes. In Atlanta, to be specific, in 1984 -- where he was homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol.
"I don't know what your spirituality might be," Bailey told me, "but I had a vision of what I would do." That vision was to start a ministry like Isaiah House, which he opened in 1992. After moving briefly to East Baltimore, the ministry returned to the Reservoir Hill community just south of Druid Hill Park this past summer.
Bailey interpreted the return to the Reservoir Hill neighborhood as part of God's will. The man who owns the building where Bailey and the seven other men now live had previously told him he had no intention of ripping off the boards and renovating the place. Bailey believes God touched him.
Isaiah House survives on what Bailey described as a "shoestring budget." The phone was reconnected only recently after members of a Washington church took up a collection that netted $300. The ministry owes the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. $3,000, and has only begun to receive donations, Bailey said.
Residents of Isaiah House survive mainly by pooling their meager resources -- usually disability or social security checks. But the elimination of the DALP program in July hurt them financially, Bailey claimed.
The men begin each day with a devotion service at 8 a.m. At the end of devotion they hug each other affectionately and then eat breakfast. The men spend the remainder of the day either performing chores, being counseled by one of the eight volunteers who work with them, visiting other recovery centers or senior citizens' homes or attending study groups.
Living quarters tend more toward the Spartan than the lavish. Bailey sleeps in his office -- a middle room on the first floor -- furnished with a single bed and a desk where he keeps a small computer. Books fill a small bookcase across from his bed.
Light for the first floor living room where devotions are held is furnished by stringing a series of extension cords from an outlet on the third floor.
"It's not about anything fancy," Bailey mused. "It's what God has given us and we're grateful for that."
Eventually, Bailey hopes, his efforts at salvation will touch the drug dealers on the block, but admits he does not proselytize.
"I don't believe in hard-sell and shoving the Gospel down people's throats. I don't think that's the way Christ did it." Isaiah House sets an example, he says, so that even the drug dealers will know there's a "place they can go if they want to get up out of that mess." Already two dealers have approached him and said they were tired of the lifestyle.
Bailey sounds like my kind of preacher man -- one worthy of a pat on the back. He stays at Isaiah House 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His ministry is a testimony to the tenet that if you want to redeem sinners, you have to go where the sinners are.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.