Big things often come in small packages. And that goes double for impoverished children receiving backpacks from Georgia Baptists, regardless if they are for Christmas or back to school.
Those big things result in higher self-esteem and less shame for not receiving Christmas gifts like other friends might be receiving. And the small packages pack an overwhelming amount of items such as toys, school supplies, and warm clothing to ward of the cold winter days and nights with plunging temperatures.
Georgia Baptists are well into their annual collection for the needed items for children in Appalachia, and the second year for distribution to southwest Georgia children, as well. Last year, churches collected 38,246 backpacks for children and their families. This year’s goal has been set at a record 40,000.
As last year, Bethel and Summerhill Baptist Associations will be on the receiving end in the state. They are among the state’s Top 10 counties with the highest poverty rates among children.
Terrell County in Summerhill is number 8 in Georgia in the number of children under the age of 19 living in poverty. That rate is about 48 percent, but Clay and Randolph counties in Bethel Association are even higher; they have nearly 54 percent.
That is why the distribution will return to those areas rather than rotating among a new mission field, explains Bill Barker who heads up Appalachian Mountain Ministry (AMM).
Whether distribution occurs in the dozen states of Appalachia or rural counties, staying in one location is the best decision in order to reach the population. While new locations will be eventually added, Barker explains the repeat exposure builds relationships among a population that may be suspicious of the giveaways.
“A one-time-shot does not really open doors for ministry from the local churches. It takes a while for the families to become trusting of the congregations before they let their guards down and begin to feel accepted rather than being an object of a mission project.
“It takes about three to four years before you begin to see long-term fruit. Seeds can always be planted, but a conversation about Christ usually results from a relationship of mutual trust and respect,” he explained.
The higher the poverty rate, the longer it takes to see transformation occur. And that is why each year there is more demand for the backpack items that flow into the two locations.
Georgia’s participation is part of nine states and the WMU partnering through AMM. When all nine states are added together, last year’s total reached 74,391. The overall goal for 2019 is a record 80,000.
Many of those big things the children receive, such as self-esteem, are packed with love and care by churches of all sizes. When it comes to small but dedicated churches, look no farther than the two southwest county churches that are on the sending as well as receiving end. Curt Hampton, who serves as director of missions for Merritt and Summerhill, oversees that dual ministry for his impoverished part of the state.
36 small churches with a big commitment to impoverished children
For four years his 36 churches, spread across four counties, have been activity involved in collecting and delivering backpacks for the emphasis. In 2016 they carried about 300 backpacks to Williamsburg, KY for Christmas. They learned about the distribution site at Mountain Ash Baptist Church which was requesting that number of backpacks. They created a partnership which they have maintained ever since.
But during that first trip at the Christmas season, members mentioned that the would really appreciate having future backpacks for their back-to-school emphasis. “No problem,” Hampton said. Now each year around the last weekend in July, members from the association’s churches make the five-hour trek to Williamsburg, the first exit from Tennessee into Kentucky.
In 2017 they delivered more than 400 backpacks filled with school supplies for boys and girls. In 2018 it exceeded 500 and last year topped out at 610. Next weekend, June 27-29, the members will make their annual trek to the church, participate in an evangelistic service on Saturday, and distribute the items, and return on Sunday afternoon.
And in the first weekend of December the Associations will distribute backpacks from Georgia Baptists earmarked for the impoverished children in their communities. Hampton has been well pleased with the commitment from the very small churches in his area of the state. There are only 36 churches in both Associations and about 14 participate, which is commendable based on their size.
A church with nine in average attendance contributed nine backpacks
One church – Parrott Baptist Church in Parrott – averages nine in Sunday worship and contributed nine backpacks. Some of the larger churches average 38-40 in attendance.
Salem Baptist Church in the unincorporated Raleigh Community of Meriwether County averages about 20 in attendance. Last year they donated 130 backpacks and are on track for a similar number this year, Hampton said.
And it may be no surprise about the commitment to children that motivates its pastor. For years before his retirement, Ken Dobbs oversaw the Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries from its Palmetto headquarters.
And then there is Cove Baptist Church, also in Meriwether County, which donated 120 backpacks from among its 40 average attendees. Hampton says Pastor William Brown, one of the youngest in his 40s among other pastors in their 60s and 70s, has done a great job encouraging participation. The small church located outside of Woodbury – “And I mean way out in the country,” Hampton adds – is a real testimony that congregation size does not limit a commitment to the Great Commission.
Georgia Baptists have sent nearly 163,895 backpacks to needy children and families since the ministry began with 5,473 in 2012. Nearly 4,000 professions of faith have been recorded.
Other state conventions joining the effort through AMM include Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Backpacks are also received from churches in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.
For other information visit the Christmas Backpacks website here.