NAMB increases funding for Appalachian Regional Ministry
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (BP) -- Matthew Hallenbeck got a phone call no pastor wants to get on a Sunday morning. The church was on fire.
An incapacitated driver had plowed into Bellewood Baptist Church in Syracuse, N.Y., early that morning causing massive damage -- and a fire. The church decided -- as they worshipped together outside on a cool, crisp October morning -- to rebuild again.
Now, a year and a half later, Bellewood is just months from worshipping in a new building -- thanks, in part, to a church nearly 900 miles away and the Appalachian Regional Ministry that connected the two.
First Baptist Church in Barnwell, S.C., looking for a new mission trip to replace one that had been cancelled, found out about Bellewood's need through Bill Barker, ARM's longtime executive director. First Baptist then scheduled a construction trip to help Bellewood. It was the first of several volunteer connections made by ARM to help the New York church.
"One of the reasons I'm Southern Baptist is that I believe in the Cooperative Program," Hallenbeck said of the help Bellewood received from volunteers through the Appalachian Regional Ministry. "Southern Baptists learned a long time ago that we can do a lot more together than we can by ourselves. This just proves it to me -- these people coming together and working with us to build the church.
"It's not something we could have done on our own."
ARM started in 1999 as a partnership of 13 state conventions, the North American Mission Board and Woman's Missionary Union. It has been a catalyst for nearly 600,000 volunteers' ministry throughout the region. More than 60,000 people have come to faith in Christ through ministries associated with ARM.
Because of its unique role in penetrating lostness in one of the poorest and least-churched regions of North America, NAMB has increased its role, taking full responsibility for funding the ministry starting in January 2012. NAMB will pay the salary and benefits for Barker and cover the ministry's operational expenses. Because of some of the similarities to Southern Baptist ministry in the Midwest, ARM will relate to that NAMB region.
"We're excited to have the Appalachian Regional Ministry fully under the umbrella of the North American Mission Board," said Steve Davis, NAMB's vice president for the Midwest region. "Bill Barker is one of our finest missionaries. By making this ministry a full part of NAMB, it guarantees our commitment to the spiritual needs of the Appalachian region for the long term through our Send North America strategy."
The Appalachian Regional Ministry began as a Southern Baptist response to the immense spiritual and physical needs of the region, which runs from the state of New York to Alabama, following the path of the Appalachian Mountains. Barker said ARM focuses on five key areas: church planting, ministry centers, construction projects and church strengthening within Appalachia.
"There are still so many needs in this region and our foremost concern is the spiritual need," said Kevin Ezell, NAMB's president. "With NAMB's increased role, we plan to mobilize more churches and more Christians to become involved in the ARM ministry."
According to some reports, parts of central Appalachia have endured a poverty rate three times the national average. Barker, who grew up in West Virginia, says poverty is greater today in the region than it was when the ministry first started 13 years ago.
"Just in the area of West Virginia where I live, 950 people lost their jobs recently," Barker said. "They shut down several mines. These are permanent layoffs."
The spiritual needs are vast as well. Barker estimates some counties within the region are nearly 90 percent unchurched -- with little to no evangelical work. In an effort to reach the region with the Gospel, ARM helps church planters in a variety of ways -- from providing volunteers to recruitment.
Barker worked with church planter David Crowe to start a church in Green County, Pa., which today averages between 80-90 people in worship each week.
"We wouldn't be here without ARM," Crowe said. "Bill [Barker] had our backs. He made our needs known, and God used that to provide for our needs as we started the church."
To meet the physical and spiritual needs in the region, ARM connects Southern Baptists to an array of ministries within Appalachia. Barker speaks at 125 churches a year sharing the needs of the ministries and churches relating to ARM -- along with sharing the church planting opportunities within the region. Barker also keeps an updated list of ministry needs and volunteer opportunities on the ARM website.
Just last Christmas alone, ARM collected and distributed more than 5,000 Christmas boxes stuffed with toys, gloves and school supplies to children in Appalachia through local Southern Baptist churches and ministry sites.
In meeting Southern Baptist volunteers ministering through ARM and seeing the massive amounts of donated items Southern Baptist churches sent through the ministry, one local non-Christian couple who had been regularly volunteering came to Christ. Eventually the entire family turned to faith and were baptized at the church Lester and Bessie McPeek started at the ministry center in Jenkins, Ky.
"Pray for laborers," Barker said. "We need people to come here long-term and start churches, and we need people to help us fight the poverty, too."
For more information about the Appalachian Regional Ministry and to find out more about the ministry needs among Southern Baptists in the region, visit arministry.org.
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).