SAVANNAH — As messengers rolled into Calvary Baptist Temple on Monday morning for the first day of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, they brought with them tens of thousands of backpacks for needy children in Appalachia.
Bill Barker, director of Appalachian Regional Ministries (ARM) based out of the North American Mission Board, said he was confident a record 50,000 backpacks would be collected this season with Georgia being the front runner.
This is the fourth year that Georgia Baptists have responded to the call for the Christmas gifts for many children who otherwise would not have a Christmas present. As of Nov. 9 Georgia Baptists had pledged 25,893 fully stuffed backpacks, well on their way to the 30,000 goal. Last year churches collected a record 31,396 backpacks.
The response from Georgia Baptist churches has grown considerably since the first 4,400 were collected in 2012 from a challenge issued by then-Convention President John Waters, pastor of First Statesboro.
Four states involved
Campus ministers statewide have been busy today unloading the boxes from trailers and cars and loading them into the North American Mission Board’s 18-wheeler headed for the forgotten hollers and communities of Appalachia.
Barker said four states are participating in the effort and show the best spirit of Southern Baptists to the world.
“About 3,000 children who received backpacks last year are already participating in the mail-in Bible study lessons administered through ARM,” he noted. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board partners with ARM to identify sites where the backpacks are most desperately needed.
As a child completes a lesson, he or she mails their answers to ARM which grades the lesson and sends a new lesson. At the end of the program the child receives a free Bible.
Physical, spiritual needs met
State Missionary Frank Nuckolls, who oversees the program for Georgia Baptists, said last year’s donations of school supplies, warm winter coats, gender specific Christmas presents, and copies of the Christmas story resulted in 1,317 professions of faith.
“These backpacks provide a wonderful means to meet both the physical as well as spiritual needs of the children and their parents. For many they are the only Christmas presents these children will receive.”
Elsewhere this morning (Nov. 14), Executive Committee members heard reports which will be presented in more detail in tonight and tomorrow’s sessions. Among those, Convention President Thomas Hammond refreshed Executive Committee members with an overview of The Big Invite, a plan to encourage Georgia Baptist congregations to reach their neighbors through invitations to attend Easter Sunday services.
“It’s sad for me to tell you that only two percent of our church members … 2 out of every 100 … will invite anyone to church this year. There is a great potential for a harvest if we will get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the harvest,” he noted.
Hammond then explained how members of his church recently knocked on 2,200 doors in Alpharetta to invite residents or leave printed invitations on their doors. That Easter Sunday saw 800 first-time visitors to First Alpharetta’s Easter service, and 11 professions of faith.
“Statistics show that many people – not all, but many – are open to attending a worship service if only we invite them,” he added.
This year’s 195th annual meeting will begin at 6 p.m. tonight at Calvary Baptist Temple and will adjourn at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. For a full schedule visit the Index website at www.christianindex.org and click on the Annual Meeting link on the right-hand side of the page.