Alabama-Crenshaw Baptist Association collects backpacks for the Appalachian Regional Ministry
Recently, the Alabama-Crenshaw Baptist Association donated 132 backpacks to the Appalachian Regional Ministry with the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
National Director of the Appalachian Regional Ministry Bill Barker visited Magnolia Baptist Church in Lapine last week to not only collect the backpacks but also to tell the story behind the backpack ministry.
“In the world in which I live and work as your missionary, I could not do what I do and what I have done over the past 16 years without your support of the Lottie Moon Easter offering,” Barker said.
“As you give to missions, you are supporting missionaries who are serving Christ across the nation.”
Barker referenced Acts 9 at the beginning of his tale; he fondly refers to this passage as ‘The first Women’s Missionary Union (WMU)’.
This passage speaks of Dorcas, which is translated to mean ‘a graceful lady’, and the ministries she participated in.
Barker went on to explain the importance of WMU groups in churches around the nation, and he tells of how even the works of one woman can change the lives of children who have nothing.
When Barker was first asked to speak on his experiences as a missionary, he was a bit uncertain of what to say. After seeing the crowd of children approach him for a story at the start of the service, he soon knew where to begin.
“I told them all to take off their shoes and socks, and to their mothers’ horror, they did it,” Barker said.
“I talked about kids in the mountains where I was going to be serving who didn’t have shoes and basic necessities of life. The kids left; I preached. That was in June. In November, I got a call. The Girls in Action (GA) leader in that church felt led by God to put together shoeboxes for Appalachian children with school supplies, hygiene items and a Christmas toy.”
The church had prepared 300 boxes for the Appalachian children.
Since the idea of a shoebox ministry was mainly associated with the ministry of Samaritan’s Purse at that time, Barker was unsure of what to do with the boxes; regardless, he travelled back to the church and collected them.
After checking with all of his superiors, he was given one last phone number to call; this was the call that would set the backpack ministry in motion.
“All I heard on the other end was sobbing after I told her who I was and what I had,” Barker said.
“See, that morning, Nora and her friend had gone to church, buried their faces in the carpet and pledged before God they they would not get up until God answered their prayer.”
Barker stated that for several years that church had given school supplies for the 300 impoverished students in the area.
Because of the floods in 2001, the bridge in front of the church was destroyed, which kept the church from holding services for about a month.
After the bridge was replaced, the church’s funds were depleted, leaving no extra money for school supplies.
“They had nothing to give the kids. In addition to providing school supplies they also fed them every Wednesday and Sunday. They had kids walking up to five miles on the railroad tracks one way just to get a hot dog, a cookie, a bag of chips and cheap Kool-Aid. And they couldn’t do any of that,” Barker said.
The school system had also called the church searching for supplies, because they too were bankrupt.
When Barker arrived at the church with shoeboxes in hand, he was taken aback at the sight he beheld.
“When I got there that evening, I looked down and there were wet circles on either side where those two women had shared and poured their hearts out to the Father,” Barker said.
“Baptists began to respond by giving shoeboxes. By 2011, we had given away almost 6,000 shoeboxes to impoverished children in West Virginia, Kentucky and east Tennessee.”
Soon after, Barker received a phone call from Samaritan’s Purse notifying him that he could no longer use the terminology ‘shoeboxes’ in regards to this ministry. It was decided then that backpacks would be used instead.
“I’m so grateful for that phone call, and I am a big supporter of Samaritan’s Purse, by the way. I think it’s marvelous, but their call to us changed our world. This is how God works,” Barker said.
Each backpack is prepared for a specific age and gender in mind, and comes with school supplies, hygiene items, a Christmas toy, clothing, food, a Bible and more.
During the first year of doing these Christmas backpacks, over 5,400 were collected. Two years ago the Alabama Baptists Association came alongside this ministry and it began to expand. The ministry then had the opportunity to expand to the Mississippi River area.
This year, the Alabama Baptists Association put together 5,471 Christmas backpacks, with over 5,100 going over into the Mississippi River area.
Since the ministry first took off in 2001, 135,000 backpacks and 65,000 shoeboxes have been given through this ministry.
“We’ve seen over 5,000 people come to faith in Christ because one woman said, ‘Father I’ll do 300 shoeboxes’, never dreaming what God had in mind,” Barker said.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen on the other end of those backpacks. What’s God laying on your heart to do that will make a difference in the lives of others?”