The Appalachian Adventure: Mission in the Mountains

Published 11:00 pm Friday, August 17, 2012

The Mission to the Mountains members are from left to right, Scott McKenney, Rochelle Duebelt, Grace Nicholson, Kendra Hetrick, Chesley Barbaree, Johnny Doster, Lauren Bryant, Abigail Nicholson, Ursula Bryant, Thomas Bryant, Sam Brand, David Barbaree, Julie Barbaree, Chad Manion and Melissa Manion. The children in front are Lucy Manion (red shirt), Josie Manion (purple jacket) and Samuel Manion (infant). In the top image below, members of the Appalachian Adventure team lead kids in the opening Worship Rally of Vacation Bible School at Pillar Community Church. In the bottom image, Julie Barbaree (left) and Rochelle Duebelt (right) clear brush and debris at the Covenant Mountain Mission Bible Camp.

The Appalachian Adventure: Mission in the Mountains team from Salem Baptist Church in Brundidge had their eyes opened, not only to the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, but also to the poverty and desolation that exists there and to the blind faith needed to scatter spiritual seeds on rocky soil.

The mission team was led by Chad Manion, church pastor. This was his first time leading a mission team.

“I’ve been a member of four mission teams to Africa but this was my first opportunity to lead a team,” he said. “It was a challenging and rewarding experience.”

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The mission team included 15 youth and adults and Manion’s three young children. It was an experience that he believes will impact the lives of all of those who participated.

“It opened all of our eyes to a world that maybe we didn’t even know existed,” Manion said. “We had heard about the poverty that exists in many areas of Appalachia but you have to experience it to really understand what it’s like to live in those circumstances and under those conditions.”

The Salem mission team went to a place called Pennington Gap, Va. and took the message of God’s love and redeeming grace to those who know what it is to lead a hard- scrabbled life.

“We went to the Pennington Gap to support a friend and his wife, Jesse and Joy Frazer, who went there five months ago to plant a church, the Pillar Community Church of Pennington Gap,” Manion said.

The couple went totally on faith to a place that is completely foreign to them. They went because God called them there.

The Salem mission team went to help with the “planting of the church” by sowing the seeds of their faith.

Pennington Gap, like many areas of Appalachia, has been victimized by drugs – the drug OxyContin, which has been dubbed the “hillbilly heroin.”

Some years ago, in the 1990s, a large pharmaceutical company used the area to test OxyContin, which is a powerful prescription painkiller.

The drug was tested on large numbers of people who were suffering from the effects of having worked long and hard in the coalmines, Manion said.

The pill maker was selling the drug to doctors in areas rich with coal mine injuries and government healthcare cards.

“In time, these people became hooked on the dope,” Manion said. “So, you have a generation of parents who are on drugs. They’re not working and they aren’t caring for their children. Many of the teenagers and children are being looked after by foster relatives, who are not eligible for financial assistance that would be available to foster parents. If there’s a kinship, the government is not as obligated to give assistance.”

Manion said the teenagers in the Pennington Gap area have no cars, no jobs, no money and no parents to facilitate those things.

“Some of them are living at the pastor’s house because they have nowhere else to go and it’s not safe at home,” he said.

The mission of the Salem Baptist team was to bring God’s message of love and hope to the young people of the Gap.

The youth team offered Bible study groups in the morning for the older youth and Vacation Bible School in the afternoon for the younger children. In between those times, the team interacted with the youth and children. The days were filled with various ways to worship God and opportunities for the young people to get to know each other.

Kendra Hetrick, Grace Nicholson and Abigail Nicholson reflected on the week they spent in Pennington Gap and all said they were deeply moved by the plight of their Appalachian peers.

“It was so beautiful but there was so much poverty,” Grace Nicholson said. “Nothing like I had ever seen before. It was a wonderful experience for me. Kendra and I have been asked to go back next year and we both want to go.”

Nicholson said the children responded to the teachings and especially to the music.

“They enjoyed Bible school and were eager listeners,” she said.

Hetrick said the children were a bit skeptical at first but quickly warmed up to the teenage mission team members.

“They don’t have many material things. One little girl had an old Barbie doll that she had wrapped in tissue paper for clothes,” Hetrick said. “But they were all affectionate and loving.”

Hetrick said their conversations with the teenagers were not much different from what all teenagers talk about but they were reluctant to talk about their family life.

“They seemed ashamed or maybe angry about it,” she said. “They went to school but they didn’t seem to have much hope of getting out of their situation or for having a better life.”

With no means to attend college, the teenagers didn’t talk of furthering their educations.

“Some of the older boys were into mixed martial arts and planning to go into the military,” Abigail Nicholson said. “That’s a way they have of getting out.”

The young women said the teenagers they befriended spent a lot of time “hanging out” at Walmart.

“They don’t have money to buy things. They just hang out there,” Hetrick said. “Most of them don’t seem to give a flip about anything. There’s not much for them to care about.”

Ursula Bryant was an adult member of the team and spent a lot of time at the nearby Covenant Mountain Mission Bible Camp, which is attended by area youth.

“The camp has been in existence for a long time but it’s not well funded,” Bryant said. “It’s just kind of tucked away and we were able to go in there and give aid, not with major things, but with the smaller things that the couple that manages the camp wouldn’t have to do.”

Bryant said it was an uplifting experience for her to see the Frazers stepping out on faith to plant a church.

“Jesse and Joy are not from that area so they are removed from their environment and the securities that they are used to,” Bryant said. “They have stepped out on faith to plant a church in an area where people are addicted to drugs and where drug dealers are openly on the streets and in an area where there is widespread poverty and little hope for the future.

“It’s encouraging to see a couple that is so willing to struggle to bring God’s word to these people. If, in some small way, we helped plant seeds in their ‘garden’ in the belief that the garden will one day be a ‘field’ where people will grow and prosper spiritually, then we have been successful in our mission.”

Bryant said that she returned home more mission minded for her community and dedicated to what she needs to be doing “here” at home.

Manion said, too, that his hopes are that the membership of Salem will “come along for the ride.”

“Hopefully, Salem will take an interest in the Pillar Community Church of Pennington Gap and affect what we can do to support the church and Jesse and Joy in their mission,” he said.