By David Dawson
KENTON — The fabric of Tennessee Baptist history is woven by small churches doing big things.
New Salem Baptist Church, in Kenton, is a prime example.
Teaming together with several other churches in the Beulah Baptist Association, the New Salem congregation is helping operate a backpack ministry that provides food for underprivileged children on the weekends. The ministry is having a major impact in the Obion County area, with food being delivered to children at six different schools each week.
“We’re just a small church in a rural community — a very small church, as a matter of fact,” said New Salem pastor Darrell Morgan. “We started (this ministry) about five years ago with one school in our area, Kenton Elementary School, and it just kind of grew from there.”
The list of schools that are being reached by the ministry currently includes Kenton Elementary, Yorkville (Elementary and Middle), Hillcrest (Elementary and Middle), Black Oak Elementary, Lake Road (Elementary and Middle), and Ridgemont (Elementary and Middle).
Morgan said the school leaders at Kenton Elementary were looking for ways to ensure that some of the children, who come from financially-challenging backgrounds, were getting enough nourishment on the weekends, when school lunches obviously aren’t available.
“Our church just jumped right in, and started helping them out,” said Morgan.
The ministry quickly bloomed, Morgan said. “We now have approximately 118 children that we are serving through the program at the church.”
The success of the ministry is proof that a church doesn’t need a massive amount of people in order to make a difference for the Kingdom. Rather, it just needs commitment and cooperation from those involved.
“Our God is bigger than numbers,” said Jack Long, the director of missions for the Beulah Baptist Association.
New Salem Baptist works together with several other churches from the area — Crosswind in Union City, Lake Road Baptist Church, Pleasant Hill Baptist (Rives), First Baptist, Union City, First Baptist, Obion, and Second Baptist, Union City — to fund the ministry. Two businesses, Tyson and Williamson Sausages, also help provide financial support.
Long said the ministry has been able to serve those who need it most.
“We depend on the teachers and administrators to give us the number of students that need help,” said Long.
Each week, church members from New Salem Baptist Church go to Sam’s and/or Walmart to pick up the food.
The items are then brought back to the church, where members get together to put the food into the backpacks.
“We have a ‘packing party’ each week, with about 20-25 people,” said Morgan, before adding with a laugh. “Of course, being Baptists, we always have something to eat while we are doing it.”
Morgan and one or two members from New Salem deliver the backpacks to the schools on Thursday or Friday each week.
The backpacks generally include items like Ramen noodles, ravioli, PopTarts, oatmeal, Nutrigrain bars, cookies, cheese and crackers, along with Kool-aid juice boxes or Yahoo boxes.
The backpacks often include one other special item: a Gideon Bible.
“My wife is a nurse, and one of the doctors she works with is a Gideon,” said Morgan. “After hearing about the backpack ministry, he donated 150 Bibles.”
Morgan said the inclusion of the Bible into the backpacks is a great example of how the ministry is opening doors for the gospel to spread.
“Gideons can’t hardly get in the schools right now — but we can,” said Morgan. “When the schools see that we are bringing food to the children, there’s not a school in the country who would turn us away.”
Morgan said the ministry has been a great outreach for the church, and many of the children who receive the backpacks have visited New Salem, either for worship services or for special events, like VBS and Trunk or Treat.
“The end goal was to connect our churches to our communities,” said Morgan, “and we’ve seen that happen. The school is the first place to start when you are trying to reach the community.”
Morgan said he hopes the ministry will inspire other churches to get involved with needs in their community.
“Sometimes I will hear people say, our church can’t do anything like that; we’re not that big,” said Morgan. “And I tell them, you don’t even understand.”