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‘Families on Mission’ draws participants from across U.S.


LYNCH, Ky. (BP)–Nestled in an isolated pocket of southeastern Kentucky, the Appalachian hamlet of Lynch (pop. 900) holds warm memories for 200 mission volunteers who gave up their Fourth of July to become closer-knit families and minister in Jesus’ name.

The families -– coming from as far away as Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan –- made Lynch their summer vacation spot for four days.

“It was the best vacation we’ve ever had as a family,” said Sharon Guinn, who came with husband Creig and their four children from Lugoff, S.C. “It was a life-changing experience for all of us.”

It was an eternity-changing experience for Creig, who was led to Christ by another dad during their four days in Lynch.

“That was the crowning moment for us,” said Sharon Guinn, a member of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Camden, S.C.

“Our new Families on Mission pilot was a phenomenal experience for all of us,” said Rick Head, adult volunteer mobilization senior associate for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board and one of a dozen NAMB staffers supporting the Lynch project. “We actually had to turn people away because we could only accommodate 100 in each of the two sessions [July 1-5 and July 5-9].”

Most of the coal mines around Lynch have long since played out and are closed. Good jobs are hard to come by.

“The local economy and poverty push many in Lynch into depression, drugs, liquor and into their own little cocoons,” Head said. “If you’re not a local, people are suspicious of you. They normally don’t like outsiders.”

Lynch was selected for NAMB’s inaugural Families on Mission experience because it is the home of Meridzo Center Ministries, a local ministry led by NAMB Mission Service Corp missionaries Lonnie and Belinda Riley, who are well-known in the Lynch area.

“Since this was our pilot program, we needed to plug into something with instant credibility in the Lynch community and that was Meridzo,” Head explained.

Part of Meridzo Center Ministries is Solomon’s Porch Retreat Center, an old four-story hospital built in 1917 to treat coal miners. Renovating it, the Rileys now use it to house and feed mission volunteers year-round.

“All of our families stayed at Solomon’s Porch,” Head said. “Family mission events are different than others we do, such as World Changers. With World Changers –- which is for students -– you can throw sleeping bags on the floor. Only families can participate in Families on Mission and, for families, you need better sleeping accommodations.”

Though far from fancy, Solomon’s Porch offers beds and community showers and baths on each floor as well as a kitchen for hot meal preparation. It also includes a gift shop, dining room and wireless Internet access.

The Families on Mission initiative is not just another mission project to help the local community -– although many Lynch citizens certainly need help, Head said. It’s also designed to help bond participating families closer together –- physically, emotionally and spiritually.

“We spent half of every day on family devotionals, prayer, worship, mission awareness, family small-group discussions and interacting with missionaries like the Rileys,” Head said.

After morning family time, Head said each session’s 100 participants were assigned mission projects in the Lynch area, including minor home repairs, painting, free car washes, visiting shut-ins, cutting grass and offering free swim lessons to local Lynch children.

The Guinn family, who usually travel to the beach or mountains each summer, was looking for a different kind of vacation when mom Sharon searched for a family mission trip on the Internet last February. Despite a collective groan from her family when she told them about going to Kentucky coal country to do mission work, she nevertheless signed up the clan.

“We had done the same things for summer vacation over the years and I was just burned out,” said Guinn, who drove six hours to Lynch with her husband Creig and their four children, ages 9-16.

The Guinn family’s work projects included grass-cutting for Creig and park cleanup and weed-eating for Sharon and the kids. Daughter Lydia dressed up as a clown for a Fourth of July block party at a Lynch park.

Tammy Sicz, a single mom, and her 9-year-old son Donavan traveled 13 hours by plane and rental car from Arizona to participate in Families on Mission in Lynch. And she hates to fly.

“God had been leading me to do missions,” said Sicz, a preschool teacher from Wickenburg, near Phoenix. “I saw the ‘Family Missions’ page on the NAMB website. I guess He helped me overcome my fear of flying to get me there.”

When they weren’t leading Bible studies for local Lynch children, they were teaching them how to swim in a community pool. Another day, Sicz and her son spent four hours painting a horse corral fence, which will be part of Meridzo Center’s equestrian ministry.

“I would do it again,” Sicz said, adding that she and Donavan actually enjoyed and embraced the sudden culture shock between Arizona and southeastern Kentucky. “Donavan made so many new friends -– 50 percent of the people there were kids.

“I knew in advance I would be helping people, and I really wanted to be used. What I didn’t know is how much we would be fed spiritually as well. That was a plus for me.”

Head said plans are under way for next year’s Families on Mission projects, which will expand to five days. While it will again include a mission to Lynch, other U.S. sites also are under consideration.

Families on Mission is open to family members who are at least 6 years old. A per-person fee covers housing, meals, T-shirts, mission education and project materials. For more information about NAMB’s Families on Mission program, e-mail Rick Head at [email protected] or call at 1-800-462-8657, ext. 6219.

The Meridzo Center Ministries (www.meridzo.org) have been operated by the Rileys since 1999 (“Meridzo” is the Greek word for care.) Meridzo has served thousands in southern Appalachia through the distribution of food, clothing, furniture and appliances. The ministry undertakes home repairs, church repairs, construction assistance, backyard Bible clubs, concerts, festivals, job training, worship services and more. The center can be contacted at 606-848-2766 or e-mailed at [email protected]
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  • Mickey Noah