By K. Faith Morgan
Since 2001, Appalachian Regional Ministries (ARM), a ministry of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has collected and distributed over 140,000 Christmas backpacks and boxes filled with toys, school supplies and other gifts. All of those gifts were delivered to children affected by poverty in Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta and beyond. With every backpack, there are at least two stories—the story of the family who gave, and the story of the family who received. There are also the outlier stories—the narratives of the people who have the honor of delivering those backpacks.
Ryan Potts, Director of Missions, Polk County Baptist Association
Polk County has a poverty rate above the national average and, normally, double-digit unemployment. Most every home could benefit from their child receiving a backpack. Thanks to our school system, administrators, staff and employees, the opportunity was opened for us to display the love of Christ to every pre-K to 8th-grade student in West-Polk County. Each left the lunchroom with a backpack filled with toys, snack items, hygiene products, school supplies and a Bible.
One association provided hand-crocheted scarfs and hats for several of the backpacks. These were made by a lady who is over 90 years old and lives in a nursing home in Georgia. She works all year making these items to donate to the ARM Christmas Backpack program. Thankfully, we have been the recipients of some of those backpacks over the last couple years.
Letters were distributed with the backpacks about the ministry and the churches of our association, so parents could be informed of the source and the ultimate goal to convey God’s love in a practical way.
Mark D. Partin, Pastor, Indiana Avenue Baptist Church
Through NAMB, we have been enabled to touch many lives in an area that has so many needs. Our largest distribution took place at the Lafollette Elementary School. All 750 kids in the school are on free lunch. Many of these children do not eat again until school the next day. The backpacks are truly a blessing for these kids. We prayed over them for children who needed food to get food and those who need a blanket to get the blankets. God heard and honored our prayers.
One little girl received an outfit of clothes (along with other items). She was adamant she did not want the clothes. Her concerned and confused teacher took the rejected clothing and was walking down the hallway when another teacher came up to her and asked if there were any more backpacks, saying, “I have a little girl who desperately needs clothes, and she did not get any.” She was the same size as the one little girl refused to take the outfit. Another boy who was so excited, he got exactly what he wanted, and he told his teacher, “I’m going to do the happy dance!”
As each grade came into the gym, I was allowed to pray over them and for them in the name of Jesus Christ. It was truly a blessing.
Bill Barker, National Director of Appalachian Regional Ministry and Mississippi
River Ministry, NAMB
We get to see and hear the stories every year, but the novelty never wears off, and this year is no exception. We hear stories of the little girl who came without a coat and opens her backpack, and some mother in Georgia or Alabama or North Carolina bought a coat and crammed it into that backpack. And when the kid opens it up, again and again, I hear, “It was just my size and my favorite color.” Whether it’s blue or it’s pink or it’s purple or yucky green, “It’s just my favorite color.” There are the kids had a Christmas gift in mind, and they open up the backpack, and it’s there. I can’t explain that. It’s God.
We receive lots of thank you’s for the food. One of the little girls sent a thank-you note back to her ministry center that said she was grateful for the toys and grateful for the other stuff, but she really liked the food best of all, because that’s all she had at Christmas.
This year we distributed 46,112 backpacks. It’s more exciting every year; my heart can’t stand it.
Barker estimates that ARM has seen over 4,000 salvations as a result of the program. To learn more about how to get involved in the 2016 Christmas backpack program, visit http://www.namb.net/arm.
K. Faith Morgan writes for the North American Mission Board.