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Schools, pockets of unemployment among Appalachian outreach avenues

ROANOKE, Va. (BP)–When mission volunteers from across America visit Appalachia, they will find a variety of creative avenues of outreach, speakers told attendees at the Appalachian Mountain Ministry kickoff.
The Aug. 20-21 gathering, at North Roanoke Baptist Church, aimed to encourage missions personnel in the region by sharing information and insights, said AMM director Tommy Goode.
Among those who talked about what God is doing in his ministry was Charley Drake, pastor of Burke Memorial Baptist Church in Princeton, W.Va.
He shared how God showed him the passage in Matthew to “suffer the children” is a mandate to reach children with the gospel. The best place to find children is in schools, he said, outlining how his church offered to adopt a nearby elementary school.
Although Burke Memorial’s membership was mostly elderly, 23 people signed up for the effort. It involves such activities as reading to children, eating lunch with them and providing tutoring.
The school even asked if the church would offer its facilities for after-school tutoring, Drake said. That means children come for lessons and see the “ABCs” of how to become a Christian posted on the wall, he said.
The outreach has paid considerable dividends, the pastor said. He credited an outward focus with helping unify the church and leading a number of children to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
When one fourth-grader got baptized in July, 10 family members attended and now his parents are asking what they need to do to follow God, Drake said. Meanwhile, a volunteer who had attended the church for many years but never joined also accepted Christ.
“It has shown what the love of Jesus will do,” Drake said. “If you’re looking for a place to minister, schools are more open then ever to receiving help. Not from people protesting issues like prayer in schools, but to show the love of Jesus.”
Not everyone at the conference was Southern Baptist. Gary Lee Corns attends a non-denominational church in Logan, W.Va., and is co-director of Dayspring, a community ministry in the economically depressed coal-mining town.
Corns said the county of 40,000 people has been hard hit by job losses — 500 in the last two months alone. With unemployment at 40 percent and many businesses closing, he said God had brought different denominations together to lift up the Christian banner.
“God has given us a vision to transform the town into a ministry center for southern West Virginia,” Corns said in a workshop for ministry coordinators. “We hope to have a monthly reunion of all churches for celebration and worship.”
Michelle McCluskey of the Cleveland, Tenn.,-based Bradley Baptist Association, shared how a free housing repair program had led people to Christ and opened other doors.
The recipients of the outreach included a man who had lost his job after 30 years because the factory where he worked had closed. The man had stopped attending church because he didn’t feel worthy, telling volunteers, “Look at my home,” recounted McCluskey, director of church and community ministries and an appointee of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.
However, after the Ocoee Outreach replaced the roof on his home and restored a faulty water system, he and his wife rededicated their lives to Christ. His wife sent the association a letter saying, “We feel we’ve got a handle on life and we think we’re going to make it.”
In addition, McCluskey met a number of people at hardware and building supply stores while purchasing supplies for the program.
One man was a former corporate executive who quit a job paying a six-figure salary to live a carefree lifestyle and raft frequently on the Ocoee River. When she asked if he attended church, he pointed at his multiple body piercings and asked, “What family would want me sitting next to them?”
After learning he held a second job as a rafting guide on the river, McCluskey asked if she could start a Bible study for resort workers. There are now three such studies. The ministry has also been invited to start recreational outings at seven other river outposts that will include dinners and Christian music.
In addition, this ministry inspired another man to start sports clinics for underprivileged children who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to attend summer training, she said.
Bruce Sheets, interim director of the Bland Ministry Center in southwest Virginia, said God has been providing a wealth of food and other supplies this year for its food pantry, clothes closet and other programs.
“I’m an electrician by trade but God has me giving out food,” said Sheets, who will become the center’s director of ministries Sept. 1. “You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing. God can use anybody if they’re willing to be used.”

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  • Ken Walker