WARNER ROBINS — A steady rain and plunging temperature reduced the collection of backpacks at this year’s annual Convention meeting but the popular Christmas gifts are still being collected.
Two semis on loan from the North American Mission Board were loaded and closed shortly after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, a few hours earlier than anticipated. State Missionary Bill Barker reported 31,388 backpacks had been collected by the 1:30 p.m. cutoff. A total of 4,251 were delivered to the annual Convention site between Sunday afternoon and the Monday cutoff.
Last year’s goal of 35,000 was surpassed with a final tally of 38,641. This year’s total is set at 40,000 but it will be several weeks before the final number is known.
“The number of outstanding backpacks correlates directly to the number of outstanding provisional ballots in an election,” Barker joked. “We will not know the total until the very last backpack is counted.”
Some churches and Associations forget … or delay … to report the numbers so the count is very fluid until around the first of the year or even into February. Last year Barker learned of 400 backpacks that were not reported for several months.
Some backpacks already delivered to ministry sites
Not all backpacks are collected at the Convention or regional collection sites. Many are delivered straight to the mission field by churches and Associations beginning in August as back-to-school backpacks as requested by some ministries. The vast majority are delivered beginning in early December.
Georgia collects half of the 80,000 backpacks for distribution throughout Appalachia as well as two impoverished Associations in South Georgia. Appalachian Mountain Ministry, the outreach of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, partners with 10 states to provide school supplies, warm winter coats, and Christmas gifts for children living below the poverty level.
Churches of all sizes spend months building their backpacks, tailored for age groups and divided by gender. Ministries that distribute the gifts include a gospel presentation and provide follow-up through local churches.
Thousands of children and their extended families – including parents and grandparents – have found Christ through the ministry, Barker noted. Last year’s professions of faith totaled 2,088.
Ebenezer Baptist Church in Douglasville is one church that represents the vast majority of smaller churches that are energized by the annual event. Pastor Terry Braswell Jr. said his congregation, “which averages about 30 on a good Sunday,” collected 46 last year and surpassed that with 50 this year.
Their contribution found its way to Kentucky with 500 others from West Metro Baptist Association which took them directly to a ministry center.
Ebenezer in Douglasville “is committed to helping the children”
“We are one of the smallest churches in the Association but our people are committed to helping the children,” he told Barker on Tuesday afternoon during a break in Convention sessions. The church collects 1.5 backpack for every member.
“It is churches like Ebenezer that make this ministry a success each year,” Barker said. “They have an energy and commitment to missions that is so encouraging,” he added.
Barker said the backpacks that are enroute from the annual meeting are already being awaited by children throughout Appalachia.
“A few days ago I had a 78-year-old woman come up to me and said she had just filled her first backpack and she could not remember when she had ever had so much fun. Her backpack will be in the hands of a needy child in very short order.
“Then there is the school teacher on the receiving end who jokingly told me to hurry up and get those backpacks up there because the kids are more anxious about them than they are about Christmas.”
Barker hopes groups that are assembling backpacks will contact him at email@example.com and report their numbers. While the collection sites are now closed, he can still get them to Appalachia or South Georgia. In fact, he expects to be collecting them throughout Christmas.
He already has plans to pick up more than 500 along Interstate 75 from the Florida to Tennessee state lines. Yesterday, Nov 14, he made stops in Jonesboro and Carnesville. Click here for more information on Appalachian Mountain Ministry which Barker coordinates.