Last summer, the New York Times asked, “What’s the Matter with Eastern Kentucky?” While there are plenty of answers to that question being thrown about by reporters and politicians, on a recent trip to the mountains, I was impressed by some things that are right about Eastern Kentucky. Preaching three times in two days in the Pike Baptist Association, I was able to fellowship with three congregations and a host of ministers and laypersons from the association and came away feeling immensely hopeful.
After a foggy drive through the mountains and along the swollen Russell Fork River, my first day began with joint Sunday School followed by morning worship at Elkhorn City Baptist Church. During the joint Sunday School hour, Pastor Jason Johnson asked that I teach on the Cooperative Program, an assignment I gladly accepted. Elkhorn City is a healthy church in a small mountain town. The church led the association in baptisms last year, with a total of 22. Considering the church averages just more than 100 in worship, the evidence of God’s blessing and the evangelistic zeal of Pastor Jason and this church family is astounding! Growth has the church positioned for renovation work on the building and continued outreach to the community. In addition, I learned that the Johnsons are finishing training to become foster parents, answering the call to “Be the One” to provide a home to hurting kids in Kentucky. I praise God for this faithful couple, faithful church, and God’s faithful blessings upon their work.
Dr. Brian Horton invited me to speak at Grace Baptist Church on Sunday evening. Grace is another growing church, evidenced by the ongoing construction of a significant building addition. The year prior to Horton’s arrival, the church reported one baptism. They have baptized a total of 19 during his first two years as pastor. I was able to use the Sunday evening discipleship hour to share with the church about the Cooperative Program. I was thrilled to have the opportunity and found church members eager to learn more about the Great Commission work of Kentucky Baptists and Southern Baptists.
Monday evening I had the privilege of speaking during Pike Baptist Association’s semi-annual meeting at host church, Meta Baptist. Meta’s bivocational pastor, Bill Staggs, was even bivocational at the meeting, in that after he welcomed everyone to the worship service, he made a quick exit to the nursery where he spent the rest of the evening taking care of children! Meta is a very active church with a great facility that includes a recently completed multipurpose addition the church uses as a ministry to the community.
Not only was I impressed with the local ministry of each of these churches and their pastors, I was impressed by their commitment to take the gospel to the nations. Each church gives sacrificially through the Cooperative Program as a means of obeying our Lord’s Great Commission.
Though one of the youngest DOMs in the state, Jason Lowe is effectively leading Pike Association to help churches as they minister amidst many difficulties. Lowe is also helping the association make intentional plans for the future in light of the pressing financial challenges facing the churches and, thus, the association.
With many communities in eastern Kentucky plagued by poverty, drug addiction, and an economy devastated by federal policies effectively dismantling the coal mining industry, some would think people in the region are hopeless. But where Bible-believing churches preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, hope is always close at hand. My prayer is that God will continue to use and bless those churches for the sake of the lost and the glory of His great name.