By Chad Freeman
Baptist and Reflector
TRENTON — During the height of the Jesus Movement in 1972, 15-year-old Randy Pool, witnessed an explosion of students coming to faith in Christ. Students from all over the country flocked to Dallas, Texas’ Cotton Bowl stadium. Many students Pool personally knew from his hometown in Millington also attended the “Explo ’72” event.
The Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) event, drew more than 80,000 college and high school students.
“When they came back they had an excitement and enthusiasm that I just did not possess or experience,” he recalled.
A discerning youth minister noting Pool’s confusion, took Pool aside and explained the difference of “believing in and believing on” the Lord Jesus. For the first time, Pool truly understood what salvation was. That night he gave his life to Christ. The subsequent transformation in his life was as radical as the “Jesus Freak” term implied. Pool’s all-out involvement in multiple ministry opportunities gave ample evidence of his newfound life in Christ.
Years later, in 1989, Pool was appointed as a career missionary with the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board), and began serving in Central America where he remained for 11 years.
In 2000, Pool returned to the U.S. and was introduced to the Mississippi River Ministry (MRM). His introduction to the ministry started on a somewhat skeptical note. Pool was told of “pockets of poverty” on both
sides of the Mississippi River Delta that “resemble third-world poverty.” Pool found this description hard to believe, especially having just served over a decade in real third-world countries throughout Central America. Pool set out to see for himself and was astonished to discover that the poverty was indeed very real.
More troubling to Pool was the realization that he, along with so many churches, somehow never even notice this underserved people group. As Pool learned more about the ministry, he discovered that MRM took a cross-cultural approach to reaching this people group defined as “poverty.”
MRM began as a partnership with the North American Mission Board, a local association, and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. However, in 2013, the MRM’s three sources of funding dwindled down to one. Despite this hardship, the ministry grew to a partnership ministry involving eight states, under one singular purpose, “impacting lostness through touching poverty” by “connecting churches with the underserved affected by poverty.”
In 2013, the TBMB approached Pool and asked him to join the new “Harvest Plant” initiative. Pool considered this a great opportunity as it implemented missiological principles in Tennessee that he had used as an overseas missionary.
MRM has become an integral part of TBMB’s “Five Objectives.” As a compassion ministry, MRM spreads the gospel through local churches to the “underserved,” defined by Pool as “those who are not normally evangelized.” Among the four primary services, MRM trains churches on how to impact and evangelize low income families in their community.
In addition to evangelism and church growth, Pool states that the MRM promotes church revitalization. “One of the things I have discovered,” adds Pool, “is that a church’s health is greatly affected by the degree to which they will get outside of its walls.”
The ministry has not flourished without some resistance though. According to Pool, apathy and passivity are the strongest forces of resistance to the ministry.
“Some churches believe they do not have the resources to get involved in the ministry, while others believe they are doing enough,” Pool explains. Pool wants to encourage these churches to see that “the work does not begin until they get outside the walls of the church and into the field where the work is.
“My prayer for the last 15 years has been Matthew 9:37-38,” Pool said. “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the workers are few.” He said it is his desire that more workers will find their way out into the field where the work is being done. “God is already at work out there. They just need to join Him.”
The Mississippi River Ministry provides individuals and churches in Tennessee a unique opportunity to take an active part in seeing millions of lives transformed by the gospel of Christ. Pool encourages volunteers to reach out to these underserved through MRM programs such as Street Reach, Church without Doors, and Gallaway, to name a few.