HURRICANE, WV – Bill Barker has been the epitome, the archetype, and the personification of North American missions for years. No one has told the story of missions on this continent better than Bill Barker. In fact, his missionary stories have always been personal, poignant and powerful.
For the past 16.5 years Barker has served as the Executive Director of Appalachian Regional Ministry and later assumed the responsibility for the Mississippi River Ministry. He recently stated, “It has been an exciting journey of daily waking up and wondering what God is ‘up to today.’ The stories of his grace and provision over these years have never ceased to amaze me.
“But after one million miles of travel and over one million short-term mission volunteers being mobilized to serve Christ, it is time to retire from the North American Mission Board. My retirement from the Board will be effective on December 31, 2017.”
Through Barker’s ministry and with the partnerships he has developed churches have been started, built, repaired and strengthened. Through these partnerships he has assisted with resourcing ministry centers and churches across Appalachia and the Delta regions resulting in 77,000 salvation decisions.
Georgia Baptists are most familiar with the Christmas backpacks for Appalachian children that have been channeled through the Appalachian Regional Ministry led by Barker. In 2012 Georgia Baptist WMU changed the focus from Christmas Shoeboxes for Appalachian Children to Christmas Backpacks for Appalachian Children and the simple change resulted in an exponential growth in that ministry.
It’s like having twenty-one 53-foot semi-trailers of backpacks
Last year 53,589 children and their families were touched with the Gospel as they received a Christmas Backpack. Barker reported, “This is like having twenty-one 53-foot semi-trailers rolling into the Delta, Appalachia, and New York City. This year, eight state conventions have signed on to partner with us in reaching a goal of 65,000 Send Relief Christmas Backpacks for impoverished children.
“In 2016, through Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM), 83,251 short-term mission volunteers (STMV) were mobilized, serving on 767 projects and seeing 5,551 people make a profession of faith in Christ with 3,964 churches involved in sending STMV. Also, donated funds of $99,723.48 were sent to churches and compassionate ministry sites primarily to feed hungry children.”
Similar stories can be told from the Mississippi River Ministry and the ARM Mailbox Bible Club. For example, a church in Florida has used the Mailbox Bible Club to touch the lives of 601 incarcerated men. They mailed out 18,538 lessons to these students, graded their papers, returned the graded lessons to the students, told the students where to get the correct answers to any questions they have missed and returned the corrected lesson with a new lesson booklet. As a direct result of the lessons, 65 students trusted Christ as their Savior.
Barker says, “If I were asked to summarize the past sixteen years of serving as the Director of (these ministries) in three words, I would reply, ‘ partnerships, change and miracles.’”
George Barnett was on the Board of Directors for the Appalachian Regional Ministry over 16 years ago when they were seeking a new director. He commented, “When they began to talk about the qualities needed in the new director, I knew immediately it was Bill. He turned the vision of Dr. (J. Robert) White and other state executive directors into reality. Bill has been a son of Issachar for the Appalachian people. He always knew what they needed and how to provide those needs.”
“Bill has an impeccable character and incredible integrity.”
Frank Nuckolls, Georgia Baptist missionary in Associational Missions and Convention Planning, commented, “I have known Bill Barker for over 45-years. I have never known a person to have a better character and have more integrity than Bill. He pastored several challenging churches prior to becoming the director of ARM, but even in those churches, neither his character nor his integrity ever wavered. In many ways, the two of us have been accountability partners over then past 16 years. Bill has an impeccable character and incredible integrity.
“Bill has had a very positive impact upon Georgia Baptist churches by connecting them with the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong offerings. He is the face of NAMB to most Georgia Baptists. He has worked with me,” Nuckolls stated, “to connect thousands of Georgia Baptists to serve on mission in Appalachia. He has led approximately 200,000 Georgia Baptists to serve in volunteer mission work in Appalachia.
“Over the past four years Bill has inspired Georgia Baptists it give more then 126,000 backpacks to Appalachian children at Christmas resulting in more then 4,000 professions of faith.
“Bill Barker is a native Appalachian like me,” Nuckolls continued. Bill has a heart for the people of that region. His daily prayer is based on Romans 10:1 where Paul wrote that his heart’s desire was that they (his own people) might be saved.
“We have prayer walked numerous communities, hollows, and even the streets of the larger cities like Pittsburgh, Rochester and Buffalo. I have heard Bill pray, “Heavenly Father, these are my people. You know who lives here. I pray for their salvation. Lord my heart’s desire is that they may be saved.”
Dwayne Boudreaux, missionary for the Augusta Baptist Association, who has also worked closely with Barker, wrote the following:
“The man – Bill Barker is a loyal gentleman and he is an encouraging friend to pastors and churches as he helps and supports both our partnerships and relationships as we network for the sake of the Gospel. The man is true to his word.
“The Missionary – Bill Barker is in the truest sense a compassionate, loving, and caring missionary who loves people regardless of who they are. Being a missionary is who he is and not just what he does.
“The Ministry – Bill Barker has impacted my ministry in ways he will never completely know and understand. However, his personal care for us when we are in the mission fields doing ministry has always been outstanding.
“The Message – He has told me, ‘you need to know that those living in poverty understand their condition and there is no need to remind them of how they already live. You just need to love them and share Jesus with them right where they are.”
Terry Robertson, Executive Director/Treasurer of the Baptist Convention of New York stated, “I don’t even want to think about Bill Barker’s retirement. It is difficult to imagine ARM without him. He has been a constant source of encouragement to me and so many others.
“He has been an advocate for those in need. He has always stressed that in meeting needs we must clearly see the greatest need is the need of salvation. Bill Barker was ready and willing to highlight the needs of the more northern parts of the Appalachian Chain.”
Steve Sallis, Church Growth Associate for the Baptist Convention of New York, added, “Bill has been a blessing to churches in New York, but has especially been a blessing to NY pastors.”
“Bill Barker sees people who are invisible to others.”
Ronnie Wyatt, pastor of the Neighborhood Church in Syracuse, NY exclaimed, “Bill Barker sees people who are invisible to others. His efforts have seemed to be tireless and extremely energetic.”
Wyatt’s wife, Michele explained, “He has a way of casting a vision that causes others to want to be involved.”
Although he will no longer be a NAMB missionary, Barker has indicated that would like to continue his ministry in Appalachia and is praying about how he might be able to continue the expansive work he has so successfully orchestrated for nearly 20 years.
For more information
Since 2012, Georgia Baptists have sent 124,969 backpacks filled with food, school supplies, hygiene items, toys, and Bibles to Appalachia. That number reached a crescendo last year, with 33,831 backpacks from Georgia Baptists making their way to the region.
For more information visit www.missiongeorgia.org and click on the “read more” link in the rotating banner. Churches are being encouraged to register their intentions of meeting specific needs as identified on the website. Collection sites are also listed, if backpacks cannot be delivered to the convention site in November.