The Mississippi river region is a land of dichotomies. While it has served as an icon of commerce for generations, the Mississippi river winds its way through some of the most impoverished and underserved areas in the nation. It's rural terrain holds many of the same struggles, like drug abuse and homelessness, that are usually associated with inner-city life. And while it's located securely in the Bible belt, much of the population is unreached with the gospel.
In an area that's been called the "third world along the Mississippi" because of its poverty (as much as 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line), the Mississippi River Ministry helps Southern Baptists evangelize, strengthen existing churches and start new churches in 220 counties and parishes. Over 50 individual ministry efforts comprise the Mississippi River Ministry offering a wide range of services from food to childcare to job training to education. By ministering to and meeting physical needs of people living in this underserved area, doors are opened for the gospel to spread and multiply. "This ministry believes that whatever the question is, Jesus is the answer," says one ministry leader.
Mississippi River Ministry addresses needs through the development and coordination of volunteer mission projects, working with local churches and associations. The ministry is a partnership of the area's eight state conventions (Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee), the North American Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union.
Because of the poverty associated with this region, residents often encounter difficulties accessing necessary goods and services, and the area is plagued with
· Inadequate health care
Infant mortality rates are the highest in the nation, the ratio of doctors and nurses to population is the lowest, and in some counties newborns stand less chance of survival than in Chile, Cuba, or Malaysia.
· Substandard housing and homelessness
Generation after generation in the Mississippi river area struggles to live without basic human needs. One study showed 30 percent of residents live in substandard housing.
· A lack of education
Slightly more than 50 percent of the people 25 years of age and older have a high school diploma, and illiteracy rates are high.