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By Tobin Perry
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Pastor Matthew Hallenbeck got a phone call no pastor wants to get on a Sunday morning. His church was on fire.
An incapacitated driver had plowed into Bellewood Baptist Church in Syracuse, N.Y., early that morning causing massive damage—and a fire. That morning the church decided—as they worshipped together outside on a cool, crisp October morning—to rebuild again. Yet no one worshiping on the church lawn that morning knew exactly how the congregation would come up with the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to do so.
Now, a year and a half later, Bellewood is just months from worshiping in a brand new church building—thanks, in part, to a church close to 900 miles away and the Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM) that connected the two.
Looking for a new mission trip to replace one that had been cancelled, First Baptist Church of Barnwell, S.C., found out about Bellewood’s need through Bill Barker, the long-time executive director of ARM. The church then scheduled a construction trip to help Bellewood. It was the first of several volunteer connections made by ARM to help the church.
“One of the reasons I’m Southern Baptist is that I believe in the Cooperative Program,” Hallenbeck said of the help his church received from ARM volunteers. “Southern Baptists learned a long time ago that we can do a lot more together than we can by ourselves. This just proves it to me—these people coming together and working with us to build the church. It’s not something we could have done on our own.”
Started in 1999 in partnership with 13 state conventions, the North American Mission Board and the Woman’s Missionary Union, ARM has involved nearly 600,000 volunteers in ministry throughout the region. More than 60,000 people have come to faith in Christ through ministries associated with ARM.
Because of its unique role in penetrating lostness in one of the poorest and least-churched regions of North America, NAMB has increased its role, taking full responsibility for funding the ministry starting in January of 2012. NAMB will pay all the salary and benefits for Barker and cover the ministry’s operational expenses as well. Because of some of the similarities to Southern Baptist ministry in the Midwest, ARM will relate to that NAMB region.
“We’re excited to have the Appalachian Regional Ministry fully under the umbrella of the North American Mission Board,” said Steve Davis, NAMB’s vice president for the Midwest region. “Bill Barker is one of our finest missionaries. By making this ministry a full part of NAMB, it guarantees our commitment to the spiritual needs of the Appalachian region for the long term through our Send North America strategy.”
ARM began as a Southern Baptist response to the immense spiritual and physical needs of the region. The region runs from the state of New York to Alabama, following the path of the Appalachian Mountains. Barker said ARM focuses on five key areas: church planting, ministry centers, construction projects and church strengthening within Appalachia.
“There are still so many needs in this region and our foremost concern is the spiritual need,” said Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president. “With NAMB’s increased role, we plan to mobilize more churches and more Christians to become involved in the ARM ministry.”
As recently as 2009, ABC News reported that some parts of Central Appalachia had a poverty rate of three times the national average. Barker, who grew up in West Virginia, says poverty in the region is greater today than it was when the ministry first started 13 years ago.
“Just in the area of West Virginia where I live 950 people lost their jobs recently,” Barker said. “They shut down several mines. These are permanent layoffs.”
The spiritual needs are vast, too. Barker estimates some counties within the region are close to 90 percent unchurched—with little to no evangelical work. In an effort to reach the region with the gospel, ARM helps church planters in a variety of ways—from providing volunteers to recruitment.
Barker worked with church planter David Crowe to start a church in Green County, Penn. Today that church averages between 80-90 people in attendance each week.
“We wouldn’t be here without ARM,” Crowe said. “Bill [Barker] had our backs. He made our needs known, and God used that to provide for our needs as we started the church.”
To meet the physical and spiritual needs in the region, ARM connects Southern Baptists to ministries within Appalachia addressing the needs. Barker speaks at 125 churches a year sharing the needs of the ministries and churches relating to ARM—along with sharing the church planting opportunities within the region. Barker also keeps an updated list of ministry needs and volunteer opportunities on the ARM website.
Just last Christmas alone ARM collected and distributed more than 5,000 Christmas boxes stuffed with toys, gloves and school supplies to children in Appalachia through local Southern Baptist churches and ministry sites.
Through meeting Southern Baptist volunteers ministering through ARM and seeing the massive amounts of donated items SBC churches sent through the ministry, one local, non-Christian couple that had been regularly volunteering came to Christ. Eventually the entire family came to Christ and was baptized at the church Lester and Bessie McPeek started at the ministry center in Jenkins, Ky.
“Pray for laborers,” Barker said. “We need people to come here long-term and start churches, and we need people to help us fight the poverty, too.”
For more information about the Appalachian Regional Ministry and to find out more about the ministry needs among Southern Baptists in the region, visit arministry.org.
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.
Date Created: 4/9/2012 5:17:11 PM
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®© Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC