KNOXVILLE — More than 35 Tennessee Baptist churches have informal relationships with the “Mission of Hope (MOH),” a Christian Appalachian relief ministry based here that serves the less fortunate in economically distressed mountain communities of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
“The majority of churches involved with MOH are Tennessee Baptist Convention churches,” said Emmette Thompson, MOH’s executive director. “We have informal arrangements with at least 35 TBC churches and one Baptist association.”
The ministry is celebrating its 15th anniversary.
The awareness for an Appalachian ministry need began in the 1990s, when Bill Williams, a member of Central Baptist Church, Fountain City, Knoxville, and then WBIR television news anchor, covered the plight of impoverished children in Kentucky with a series of stories called “Hunger for Hope,” which reached the Knoxville viewership.
Following the news stories, in September 1996 Julie Holland, a member of Central Baptist Church, Bearden, Knoxville, talked her church friends into taking clothing, back packs, baby food and Bibles to an elementary school in Leslie County, Ky. This early fall Appalachian relief response soon became a Central Baptist, Bearden, missions project for “Back to School” for children.
Holland, who had grown up hearing the Depression stories of her step-father, the late John Boggs of Harlan, Ky., and had traveled with Boggs to Kentucky coal mining towns, felt called by God to make a difference in the poverty stricken lives of the children, who lived there.
Soon planning began for a Christmas missions project to follow the Back to School project with more donations including food, toys and Bibles.
For Christmas 1996, three Knoxville Baptist churches came together to work with Holland’s MOH project. Central Baptist, Bearden, picked up the toys in the barrels; Central Baptist, Fountain City, picked up the food in the barrels, sorted it and packaged it; and First Baptist Church, Concord, Knoxville, picked up the clothing in the barrels.
Each year’s growing missions projects brought in more items for the children. Now too big for Holland’s garage, the items were stored in a West Knoxville warehouse that was donated to the ministry. Barrels were placed at additional business locations, and more warehouse locations were added for the donations.
“The Lord was at work with the ministry,” said Holland. “If someone called with a need, then someone else called to answer the need.”
An MOH board of directors formed in 1996, which included ministry staff and laypeople from the three Knoxville Baptist churches.
Serving as the first board chairman from 1996-1999 was Mark Moreland, the current pastoral care and missions pastor of Central Baptist, Bearden.
“The MOH deliveries were a major catalyst in our church’s going and being more externally focused,” said Moreland. “Over the years, Central Baptist, Bearden, has had around 200 members packing and delivering back packs and Christmas gifts to two elementary schools in Leslie County, Ky.”
Others serving on the board during the early years included: Ron Mouser, associate pastor of Central Baptist, Fountain City, and Steve Peek, legacy builders pastor of First Baptist, Concord.
“MOH is an amazing organization of Christian benevolence that delivers what it is supposed to do by helping the people. It is one of the best cooperating missions projects among churches that I’ve ever seen,” Mouser observed.
Peek, a former First Baptist, Concord, minister of missions, noted that over the years around 500 of his church members have participated in the projects.
The MOH board relies on its subcommittees to coordinate the Back to School and Christmas deliveries, scholarships and fundraisers and construction and medical teams, Peek added.
Recently around 100 volunteers, made up of First Baptist, Concord, middle school students and legacy builders, completed their annual 2010 Christmas MOH project by taking a team in February (due to the snow) to Burchfield Elementary School, Oneida, and Huntsville Elementary School. “God keeps the door open to do MOH religious programs in the schools,” said Peek. “One reason God blessed MOH is that we keep Jesus in the center of the organization, and our purpose is to show God’s love.”
In 1999, Thompson, a member of First Baptist, Concord, and a former Knoxville (LifeWay) Baptist Bookstore manager, was hired as the ministry’s executive director allowing Holland to step aside from her volunteer leadership role. In the same year, the ministry’s board of directors established it as a 501c3 non-profit organization.
“God allowed us a blessing to be a part of this plan to help other people,” Holland added. “But the ministry has really been a blessing to the workers, and the children are a blessing to us.”
Today’s ministry has expanded programs which involve resource distribution assistance, gifts in kind, spring programs for school family resource centers and community ministries and other programs.
“We feel very fortunate to play the role we do in introducing churches to a new missions field that they may have driven around or flown over for years,” noted Thompson. “The resources we have been given, which we in turn take to the mountain ministry centers we serve, are amazing. But we feel taking the gospel and sharing its Good News is the greatest source of hope we could ever share.”
Thompson reported for Christmas 2010, MOH ministry served over 17,000 children and families in 80 schools and community organizations within four states.