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Statesboro pastor fuels Appalachia relief effort
Project will contribute more than 27,000 bags to children
Appalachian backpack JohnWaters6 W
Dr. John Waters, pastor of Statesboro First Baptist Church, encouraged local churches in the Ogeechee River Baptist Association, along with Southern Baptist churches across Georgia, to donate backpacks for needy children in the Appalachian area. More than 27,000 backpacks with toys, clothes, school supplies, hygiene items and Bibles will meet some of the needs of impoverished children this Christmas. - photo by FRANK FORTUNE/special

Local churches that are part of the Ogeechee River Baptist Association, as well as Southern Baptist churches throughout Georgia and beyond, will contribute more than 27,000 backpacks this Christmas filled with clothes, toys, school supplies, hygiene items and Bibles to needy children along the Appalachian mountain range.

A project that began three years ago as a small effort to bring hope to the hurting greatly expanded when Dr. John Waters, the pastor of Statesboro First Baptist Church, got behind the initiative.

"When John Waters got involved, it took on a whole new life," said Bob Barker, national missionary with the North American Mission Board and director of Appalachian Regional Ministry and Mississippi River Ministry.

The first year, Georgians donated more than 4,000 backpacks. As Georgia Baptist Convention president, Waters encouraged the voluntary participation of Southern Baptists and brought about awareness of the ministry.

"All across Appalachia, there are houses about to fall down inhabited by people who can barely stand up, and the unspeakable drought of basic human necessities is easily forgotten, or worse, rarely ever seen," Waters said. "Children who live there experience breathtaking poverty."

Paraphrasing from Matthew 5:14-16, Waters continued: "Jesus said, 'We are the light of the world, shining brightly like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.' The hills of Appalachia are covered in darkness, needing the light and love of the Lord. By providing backpacks for Appalachia, we demonstrate in tangible ways our allegiance to Christ and love for others. Let's transform mountains of poverty into backpacks filled with hope."

After Waters' address and awareness efforts, Georgians and a few from other states donated 21,800 backpacks. And this year, the third year of the project, Barker estimates between 27,000 and 30,000 backpacks will be donated by the end of the campaign.

"We are deeply indebted to John Waters' vision and passion to make this happen," Barker said.

Thousands of children have heard the gospel for the very first time because of that vision.

"The project opened up a whole new world that exceeds backpacks," Barker said.

After learning of the plight of families in the area, a large surplus clothing company donated clothing but was unable to transport it. A businessman in First Baptist Church who wishes to remain anonymous paid for the shipping, and $1.75 million worth of brand new clothing was delivered.

And an anonymous farmer from North Carolina donated two 18-wheelers full of food after reading about hunger in crisis locations.

Waters said that when he first encouraged the Georgia Baptist Convention participants to join the initiative, he wanted to set a goal so audacious that it could only be met by God.

With a chuckle, Barker said that Waters was "working him to death" with the large amount of backpacks to distribute to those in great need.

"This has been a time of watching God do God-things," Barker said.


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