HARRISBURG (BRN) – Seven years ago, the Appalachian Christmas Outreach was birthed in the mountains of North Carolina through the combined efforts of the Appalachian Regional Ministry and Baptists on Mission (BOM), an auxiliary to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
At the ground level, the ministry stretched across the state of North Carolina, with NC churches packing small tote bags and drawstring pouches with essential items and a brief gospel presentation for local children in need. To start, the goal was less than 5,000 bags.
Since 2015, the Appalachian Christmas Outreach has expanded its reach to several other states – including Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia, Virginia, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Most of these states have adopted the outreach program and are autonomously meeting needs through their own churches.
For a few states, though, North Carolina is still the heartbeat of this ministry. According to Kathie Aiken, a missionary for BOM and one of the founding voices in the Appalachian Christmas Outreach, North Carolina supplies backpacks for parts of West Virginia, southwest Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as a few graffiti ministries in the Bronx, Manhattan and Baltimore.
This year, North Carolina projected to fill 19,000 backpacks to distribute in state and share with its out of state partners. The churches of NC exceeded their goal by 1,275 backpacks, collecting a total of 20,275 backpacks.
Aiken responded to surpassing this goal by saying, “People are seeing the need more. They’re being more involved, and [with] this, the wonderful thing about the backpacks [is] every age can do this – from the collecting all the way through to hanging out at an event. This is something the entire church – all age levels – can be involved in.”
In Pennsylvania, several Baptist Resource Network (BRN) churches are involved with the Appalachian Christmas Outreach by either hosting a mission team from North Carolina or receiving backpacks from Baptist on Mission’s Appalachian Outreach. These churches include: Anastasis Fellowship Church in Reading, Vida Life Church in Harrisburg, God’s Field Church in Freedom and Plaid Community Church in Pittston all received backpacks to distribute to their communities.
Pastor Larry Baker of Anastasis Fellowship challenged his congregation to pray about who they could share backpacks with, resulting in several different touches throughout Reading, Pennsylvania. Several church members gave bags to personal needs they were aware of, and many got busy learning about organizations who had needs.
The first to receive the backpacks, filled with age-scripted toys, clothes, hygiene items, Bibles and food was the manager at the storage unit where Anastasis stored the bags. Up to that point, the storage company had not received any Toys for Tots donations. She was thrilled when Baker offered her 20 of the bags to fill her donation box.
In addition, three members delivered 50 backpacks to Family Promise of Berks Co., who provides services to homeless families, youth and individuals facing a housing crisis. Another 30 backpacks were given to one of OneLuv Ministry’s annual Christmas toy giveaways.
Baker explained that the effort has been a great opportunity to see God at work outside the church and to help initiate partnerships between Anastasis and these hard-working organizations.
“We are very grateful for all the donors who have given of their time and money to bless people here in our community,” said Baker.
Other BRN churches benefited from North Carolina mission teams coming to their communities and helping prepare or distribute backpacks. These BRN churches include: Covenant Community Church in Harrisburg, Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Bedford, The Foundry Church in Wallingford and Hazleton Community Church in Hazleton.
The Foundry Church in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, has partnered with BOM for the Appalachian Christmas Outreach from the beginning. Senior Pastor of The Foundry Church Chuck Kieffer shared that this year was the church’s seventh year of doing the backpack outreach.
In total, the church, with the help of a mission team from Wrightsboro Baptist in North Carolina, was able to distribute at least 325 backpacks to the Wallingford community, with 80 of those backpacks going to students at Stetser Elementary School and another 185 being distributed at a Christmas party hosted at Kinder Park Community Center.
Kieffer shared that a batch of 30 backpacks was also given to a church planting project in the Wallingford area and another set of 30 backpacks is being prepped to be sent to a local after school program called “The Garage,” which serves immigrant Hispanic youth.
What started as a ministry in the mountains of North Carolina has grown to be a national effort to help the gospel take root in the hearts of children.
“There’s some things that make a difference. Making a difference in a child’s life and introducing them to Jesus, maybe for the first time, is something that is just eternally important,” remarked Aiken.
“In our communities, we meet physical and spiritual needs, but especially at this time of year it just makes a difference. I don’t know, I just feel like all of us need to really concentrate on making a difference for Jesus…and this is one way to do it.”
If you or your church is interested in getting involved with the Appalachian Christmas Outreach, you can learn more on the Baptists on Mission website or contact Kathie Aiken at email@example.com.