‘Tis the season. The Christmas season. The season when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The season of giving.
In our work it is also the season of filling and distributing Christmas backpacks for children, which began in 2001 when a group of GA’s (Girls in Action) in Georgia wanted to bless less-fortunate children in Appalachia who might not get a lot for Christmas. The backpacks are filled with toys, clothes, hygiene items, food, a Bible, and a copy of “The Christmas Story.” (In the early years gifts were placed in shoeboxes but transitioned to backpacks in 2012.)
Bill Barker, then Appalachian Regional Ministry Director, started promoting this project and, eighteen years later, the Christmas Backpack Project is still going strong. As a result of Bill’s efforts thousands of children have a better Christmas. This year an estimated 75,000 backpacks will be filled by Southern Baptists, with a total estimated 390,000 shoeboxes and backpacks filled during the eighteen years.
Bill Barker served as Director of Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM) from the Spring of 2001 until December 2017 when he “retired” from that position. In 2018 Georgia Baptist Convention launched Appalachian Mountain Ministry (AMM) with a similar purpose as ARM and covered the same geographical area. So, the work continued.
I was introduced to Bill on a July evening in 2001 during the Mountain Missions Conference at Oneida Baptist Institute and have worked closely with him since that time. The Christmas Backpack Project is just one of many ways Bill has served in Appalachia.
Well over a million mission volunteers have been mobilized through Bill’s efforts, partnerships between churches and associations have been developed, long-term missionaries have been called to the mission field, church buildings and homes have been built and repaired, resources of all kinds have been shared with ministries, tens of thousands of children have been fed and clothed, churches have been strengthened, and the list could go on and on. But, the most important statistic, and the reason Bill spent the long hours doing what he loved, is that over 83,000 have prayed to receive Christ.
As we come to the close of 2019 Bill will “retire” once again from AMM and is now back in the pastorate in Georgia. The Lord has used him in mighty ways across Appalachia.
Thank you, Bill, for your ministry. Many men, women, boys and girls have been blessed because of it. We will never know, this side of eternity, the huge impact you have made in eastern Kentucky and all of the Appalachian region.
May the Lord continue to bless and use you and Arlene in His Kingdom work. We love and appreciate you!!