LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Mississippi River Ministry has reached a new milestone: More than 20,000 people have made professions of faith in Christ since the outreach began in 1992.
MRM is a partnership between eight state conventions (Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee), the North American Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union.
In addition to 20,000-plus decisions for Christ, the Mississippi River Ministry has drawn the efforts of more than 100,000 volunteers.
It began after the U.S. government-sponsored Delta Commission conducted a study of poverty along the lower Mississippi River. Using data from the study, Southern Baptists began meeting together to explore ways to address some of the many needs.
“The Mississippi River Ministry calls attention to this great mission field along the lower Mississippi River, where mission volunteers have been serving since MRM began,” said Diana Lewis, Arkansas Baptist State Convention mission ministries team member, who coordinates Arkansas MRM efforts. “MRM ministries serve people who are spiritually and/or physically living in poverty. Southern Baptists are working together to provide ministries, evangelize, strengthen existing churches and start new churches in over 165 counties and parishes of the MRM region.”
Among the 250 MRM projects in the eight-state region are evangelistic initiatives; construction and maintenance efforts; medical, dental, health and wellness clinics; Vacation Bible Schools and Backyard Bible Clubs; block parties and Bible studies; prayerwalking; children and youth activities; Hispanic outreach; sports clinics and camp ministries; mentoring programs; nursing home visitation; Bible distribution; crisis pregnancy centers; assistance to battered women and their children; and food, clothing, recovery and jail ministries.
Lewis has seen God at work through MRM volunteers, recounting, for example, the time when a prayerwalking team paused in front of a home and a young woman got out of a car that had pulled up. She asked if they were there because they knew her brother. No, they answered, then explained what they were doing.
The woman had just received word that her brother, who lived in the house, had died that morning.
“They prayed for her and asked if they could share her name with a Blytheville [Ark.] church,” Lewis said. “I think about how God ordered their steps that day, so they could be right there at the right moment for her.”
Another volunteer, who had prayed all week for God to give her an opportunity to share the plan of salvation with a senior adult, began visiting with an 89-year-old man at a nursing home.
“He shared that he didn’t believe there could be a God who could forgive him of all he had done wrong in his life.” Lewis said. The volunteer assured the man there is a God who loved him and wanted to forgive him.
“That 89-year-old man in his wheelchair prayed to receive Christ,” Lewis said.
The eight-state, 165-county/parish region has been referred to as the “third world along the Mississippi,” according to the MRM website, www.riverministry.com. Low-income families in the region suffer from inadequate health care, reflected in the highest infant mortality rate in the United States and the lowest ratio of doctors and nurses per 1,000 population. In some counties, newborns stand less chance of survival than in Chile, Cuba or Malaysia, the website notes.
Many people in the region live in substandard or deteriorated housing or they face homelessness, the website also notes. Only about 50 percent of people 25 and older have a high school diploma, reflecting a high illiteracy rate.
Lewis said in addition to the 20,000 salvations and 100,000 volunteers involved, the ministry also has had an economic impact on people’s lives in the region, but that impact is difficult to measure.
One of the Arkansas projects is in the impoverished Dixsonville area, where Lewis has been personally involved for about 20 years.
“I can see economic changes there, but a lot of them are small things to celebrate,” Lewis said. “Some things are improvements we won’t see in this world. These ministries are changing generations and changing a culture. Such changes are slow to come. We celebrate the small things. Some of the people we have helped may say their lives are better economically because of this ministry, but the region is not better statistically than it was in 1992.”
Mission volunteers and mission teams from churches and associations can get involved by going to the MRM website, www.riverministry.com.
“Church volunteers should get involved with the Mississippi River Ministry for two reasons: It will change the lives of other people and it will change them,” Lewis said.
“When we work with people in poverty, we are reminded of how great the Father’s love is for all of us. And people’s hearts are touched through what we do and their hearts are then more open to the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Charlie Warren is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News (www.arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention.