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10-state Appalachian Mountain Ministry kickoff focuses on motivation


ROANOKE, Va. (BP)–The Appalachian Mountain Ministry welcomed a 10th state into the fold as the Southern Baptist cooperative missions effort celebrated its kickoff Aug. 20-21 at North Roanoke Baptist Church.
The AMM event, attended by more than 160 people, aimed to motivate and share information with state missions officials, directors of missions, ministry directors and volunteers.
During the conference, AMM director Tommy Goode announced that officials with the South Carolina Baptist Convention have expressed a desire to join the multi-state effort.
That will boost the number of churches (more than 4,200) and resident members (more than 931,000) involved in the effort, which has the cooperation of the North American Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union.
Current participants include state conventions from Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland-Delaware, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania-South Jersey, Tennessee, West Virginia, Baptist General Association of Virginia and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
Goode, formerly director of the seven-state Mississippi River Ministry (MRM), called the enthusiasm generated by the weekend contagious.
“A man said this was as close to birthing a baby as he had ever been to,” remarked Goode, a North American Mission Board appointee. “When folks are saying that, you’ve hit the mark.”
Based in the West Virginia state Baptist office, AMM will serve as a clearinghouse for the grassroots missions thrust. Although the Aug. 20-21 gathering in Virginia marked AMM’s official beginning, the ministry had already distributed a list of approximately 65 summer projects in Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee encompassing such needs as construction, Vacation Bible School, medical clinics, revivals and sports camps.
Goode said he expects local churches and ministries to submit at least 200 requests for assistance for next year, with a booklet of needs to be ready for distribution throughout the SBC by early November.
Projects and prayer requests also will be listed on the group’s Internet site — www.sbclink.net. However, the site was not yet operating at AMM’s kickoff.
“The mobilization of volunteers is the resource most needed in Appalachia,” Goode said. “We heard a lot this weekend about partnership. Partnership regionally through the states, and nationally, is essential to accelerating missions work here.
“The thing that always touches me is points of pain and problems. I heard of problems [this weekend] like apathy, limited resources, overwhelming needs and lack of openness to starting new churches. All of those are something we can do something about through a regional ministry.”
In addition to workshops, speakers in several general sessions discussed what people can expect the Lord to do as they respond to his call.
Tim Cox, who coordinates the Mississippi River Ministry’s work in Tennessee, told participants the Lord would create an opportunity to believe in and trust in him so he could reach unsaved people.
“One of the great things about Mississippi River Ministry and Appalachian Mountain Ministry is these ministries enable churches of any size to minister to people,” said Cox, pastor of Brinkley Heights Baptist Church in Memphis.
Composed of a handful of members when he came to the church 10 years ago, its building was in such bad shape it eventually had to be demolished. But thanks to assistance from MRM, today the congregation has grown and maintains a vibrant ministry center, Cox said.
Among the church’s ministries are Memphis’ third-largest food bank, clothes closet, medical clinic, after-school tutoring and a series of summer Bible camps.
“Mississippi River Ministry has made it possible to do whatever we believed God wanted us to be,” said Cox, formerly an associate pastor at a suburban church. “We’ve never failed. How can you when you’re looking for what God is doing and joining him? My challenge for you today is look for people who don’t look like you and look for what God is doing in their life.”
Reginald McDonough, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, told the crowd if they don’t develop a vision of what they want to do, they will fall flat on their faces.
Recalling his grandmother showing him the high-water mark in her neighbor’s house prior to the construction of a flood-control levee, he said AMM won’t rise above its supporters’ vision.
“You can pour money and resources into it and not achieve what God wants,” McDonough said. “There’s a lot we don’t understand about visioning. There are days when I’m not very visionary. I’m trying to hang on.”
Using the story of the two men who walked with the resurrected Christ to Emmaus (Luke 24), McDonough said the passage includes a number of lessons about vision.
These men had theirs renewed by their encounter with Jesus, they couldn’t wait to share it and they saw how God’s vision was much higher than theirs, McDonough said.
“We’re going to have fresh encounters with Christ and then apply ourselves with risk as we serve him,” the Virginia Baptist said. “If we see the needs as so overwhelming we can’t do anything about it, then we’ll go back into our shell and try to shut ourselves off from the needs.”
Darlene Tew, WMU’s coordinator of volunteers and the agency’s representative to AMM, lamented this “fortress” mentality. She said she discovered it when she returned to the United States in 1995 after 12 years as a missionary to Japan.
“There was a mentality of ‘us vs. them,'” Tew said. “It’s ‘us for them.’ God didn’t call us to stay in our fellowship; he called us to clean the filth out of this world. There are 6,250 churches in this area. Can you imagine, if every church adopted one homeless family what a difference that would make?”
In addition to deciding whether they are ready to respond when God calls, Tew said church and denominational leaders must ask themselves whether they believe in the priesthood of all believers.
“When a 17-year-old girl comes to you and says, ‘I want to make quilts for the homeless,’ are you going to listen to her?” Tew asked. “Are you willing to listen to your people and the heart cry God has given them? We have to decide how to respond. Until we listen to the vision of people in the pew, we won’t make a difference.”
Douglas Beggs, strategy coordinator for NAMB, said many people in Appalachia live “where nobody goes.” The idea of reaching those who are often overlooked fits with the mission board’s strategy of taking the gospel to everyone on the continent, he said.
Referring to the demon-possessed man who lived in a cave until he was freed by Jesus, Beggs said the man hadn’t shaved for awhile and didn’t smell too good, and he wouldn’t have ranked very high on a church’s prospect list.
“Yet he’s the very person Jesus died for,” Beggs said. “We need to go where the people are and touch them where they are. Then they’ll become like Jesus, not like us.”