News Articles

Appalachian Mountain Ministry to be 9-state Baptist missions effort

ROANOKE, Va. (BP)–While coordinating the Mississippi River Ministry, Tommy Goode was told by one Baptist association’s director that the multi-state effort underscored the need to take missions beyond their county line.
Goode hopes a similar consciousness develops through the new Appalachian Mountain Ministry (AMM), slated for its official kickoff Aug. 20-21 at North Roanoke (Va.) Baptist Church.
Baptist conventions in nine states are sponsoring the initiative in cooperation with the North American Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union, with the rally expected to attract at least 300 missionaries, state and associational missions directors, pastors and volunteers.
“Our vision is to strengthen and expand Southern Baptist work in Appalachia,” Goode said. “We want to mobilize (Southern Baptists) through volunteer missions. We will network with NAMB, WMU and others on behalf of these state conventions.”
“Come to the Mountains: A Celebration of Appalachian Mountain Ministry” runs from 1 to 9 p.m. on Aug. 20 and 8 a.m. to noon on Aug. 21. The meeting will include testimonies, workshops and opportunities to publicize regional missions projects.
Goode coordinated the Mississippi River collective as an official of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention before moving to West Virginia last winter to spearhead the AMM partnership involving the state conventions of Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland/Delaware, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, the Baptist General Association of Virginia and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
AMM will seek to duplicate the success of the seven-state Mississippi River Ministry, which began in 1992 and in its first six years completed more than 200 missions projects involving more than 7,000 volunteers. In 1997, for example, it registered 931 professions of faith in Christ and started 14 churches and 93 ministries.
AMM, though still in its formative stages, is working with state missions directors and directors of missions in the region to compile a list of missions projects. The information will be distributed in booklet form next January.
The ministry covers an area with an estimated population of 15.7 million and more than 4,200 SBC churches with 931,000 members. Maintaining a regional outlook will be vital, said Goode, who saw the strength of such an approach in his former position.
“It brought more involvement and developed a missions-field mentality,” he said. “It caused people to respond in ways they might not have responded to a lesser missions context. People don’t call and say, ‘I want to go to [a particular town];’ they say, ‘I want to go to Appalachia.'”
Goode outlined the ministry’s four primary goals as:
— Increased social ministry, such as job development, literacy, after-school clubs and clothing and food distribution.
— Evangelism, including taking worship services and other gospel-based outreaches into parks and outdoor recreation centers.
— Strengthening existing SBC churches by attracting building teams and long-term volunteers who can help fill staff positions.
— Planting new churches.
Various missions personnel throughout the region are greeting AMM with enthusiasm.
“We’re excited about it,” said Leon White, state missions director in West Virginia, a relatively young (29 years old) state convention with just 200 churches and missions. “I think this is going to fill the vacuum in NAMB’s [city-oriented thrust] ‘Mega-Focus’ and help focus some attention on rural areas.”
Southern Baptist officials in the mountainous state are hoping to attract more long-term volunteers, bivocational pastors and Mission Service Corps volunteers. There are many small, struggling churches and mission points lacking the resources to pay for full-time staff, White said.
In the 1998 church year, more than 4,000 volunteers worked in West Virginia, but nearly 50 projects were left undone. White also hopes the ministry will also encourage more residents to participate in the state’s Mountaineer Mission Corps.
In neighboring Kentucky, state missions director Randy Jones believes AMM will be a more effective way of matching volunteers with needs. He regularly receives inquiries from churches around the nation about missions needs in his state.
Although the ministry only encompasses several dozen counties on the side of Kentucky, Jones hopes churches throughout the state will be active in the outreach. He also wants to see residents of the mountains going out to help others.
“This is a two-way street,” Jones said. “We don’t want to create a spiritual welfare mentality where we’re only receiving missions teams.”
David Aker, the state’s director of mountain missions, hopes the ministry will lead to more clothing and food distribution and upgraded housing. The latter is a major need in the region, he said.
“An offshoot of this will be a general sense of encouragement that will help the area feel better about itself,” Aker said. “There’s a feeling of desperation among some who have been debilitated and pressed down. Knowing that someone cares will instill hope.”
North Carolina’s volunteerism coordinator, Gaylon Moss, expects the ministry to bring the region to the forefront of Southern Baptists’ awareness.
“It’s very exciting because it’s an answer to prayer,” Moss said. “People are already calling me, saying, ‘Tell me about this Appalachian Mountain Ministry. I’ve always wanted to do something there.'”
Since his state has typically been a “sending” area, with frequent participation in volunteer missions, he expects his biggest challenge to be generating requests for help within his borders.
Thus far, most calls he has received have been from people wanting to come into the area to help, rather than from North Carolina churches asking for assistance, he said.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker