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By Joe Conway
WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. – Thanks to the efforts of Southern Baptists in nearly
a dozen states, thousands of children and families throughout Appalachia are
having a brighter Christmas. “It’s been fun watching God do God things,” said
Bill Barker, describing the collection and delivery of more than 23,000
backpacks stuffed with clothing, school supplies and toys to children across
Barker, director of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB)
Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM), said the bulk of the backpacks came from
Georgia Baptists, but churches from Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North
Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia also participated.
Each backpack and its contents are valued at around $75.
This particular ministry journey began for Barker with a children’s
sermon 12 years ago. He spoke, for the first time as a missionary, in a church
in North Georgia in 2001. Prior to his presentation to the congregation, the
pastor unexpectedly asked Barker to deliver the children’s sermon.
“I used the Scripture from Romans10:15,” said Barker. “‘How beautiful
are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things.’ I had the
children take off their shoes, and we talked about the gospel. Then I told them
there are children I serve who don’t have any shoes or school supplies. The
Woman’s Missionary Union leader was so struck by that fact that as a Girls in
Action project that year the church collected 300 shoe boxes of school supplies
that we distributed in McDowell County, West Virginia.”
The vision for this year’s significant increase came from Georgia
Baptist Convention president John Waters, pastor of First Baptist Church,
Statesboro. Waters said God placed on his heart the number of 20,000 backpacks
to aid the ministry. Georgia associations and churches responded to the vision
and exceeded that number by 1,000.
In the span of a dozen years, thousands of children have received gifts
from churches through ARM. And Barker’s garage became a warehouse, as it
remains to this day. In its second year the project that would become today’s
backpack distribution grew from one church to dozens of churches participating
from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. By 2011 more than
5,800 children received gifts throughout ARM’s territory.
“A little in the hand of the Lord is a lot,” said Keith Decker, director
of Cedaridge Ministries in Williamsburg, Ky. The Cedaridge site hosted 1,600
recipients for a backpack distribution Dec. 14, 1,000 of them children. And in
addition to the backpacks and welcomed boxes of food, the gospel was shared throughout the day. A total of 60 people came to faith in Christ as
Crystal Hall is a single mom and struggles to provide for her children
in the best of times.
“I’m here because I need help,” said Hall. “With Christmas coming up I’m
thankful for anything we can receive.” Hall said she appreciated the dignity
she and her children received adding that it allowed her to not feel ashamed to
ask for help.
“If we don’t get involved, these families may not have any
help,” said Decker. “This is what He has called us to do.”
The North American Mission Board’s Disaster Relief Team assisted with
logistics and volunteers to help load, transport and deliver the backpacks.
Seven semi-trucks full of backpacks were unloaded at 19 distribution sites. All
of the loading and unloading was done by the hands of volunteers.
“I can’t say enough about all of the help, the donations, the
volunteers,” said Barker. “The generosity of Georgia Baptists has been amazing.
The volunteers, the help from the NAMB team, especially the Disaster Relief
team–it’s been great. To say I am humbled would be an understatement.”
One unanticipated benefit of this year’s effort has been the sense of
unity the project facilitated, at every level.
“The Georgia Baptist Convention promoted the effort this year in
cooperation with the GBC WMU,” said Barker. “The GBC was purposeful in making
it an associational project. As we received backpacks I heard again and again
from directors of mission that nothing had unified their associations like this
project in years. Pastor after pastor said that this project brought their
churches together in powerful ways.”
Even with 23,000-plus backpacks and others helping in outreach this
year, needs remained. Barker recently shared with a congregation about the
project’s limitation saying that three requests in New York and Pennsylvania
would not make this year’s list. There was simply not enough to fill those
“A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail,” said Barker. “It
was from a new widow who heard me speak. She said she knew her late husband
would want to help, so she sold his woodworking tools and shop contents. In the
letter was a check for $5,000.” The three locations were added to the
Barker said plans are already taking shape for next year, and Baptists
in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia are inquiring about joining
with Georgia and ARM. You can learn more at namb.net/arm.
To view a video of the backpack distribution at Cedaridge Ministries,
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.
Date Created: 12/18/2013 12:58:23 PM
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®© Copyright 2014 North American Mission Board, SBC