Baptist and Reflector
TRENTON — For the past 20 years Mississippi River Ministry and Randy Pool have been synonymous in Tennessee.
A former pastor and Southern Baptist missionary for 11 years in Central America, Pool and his wife, Cindy, returned to the United States in 2000 for a leave of absence to deal with family issues. During that time they became caregivers for his wife’s mother. “It became apparent that we were going to be here longer than a personal leave of absence,” Pool reflected.
Within six months, Pool was selected and approved as coordinator of Mississippi River Ministry, a ministry designed to reach those affected by poverty in West Tennessee.
At the time, MRM was a joint ministry of the North American Mission Board, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (then Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention) and Gibson Baptist Association, based in Trenton.
In 2013, Pool noted that NAMB withdrew its support of all cooperative agreement missionaries who were not church planters. He added that Gibson Association also had to withdraw funding due to budget issues, leaving the TBMB to fund MRM.
Pool became a contract worker with the TBMB and assumed responsibilities as a Harvest Field catalyst in West Tennessee in addition to his MRM responsibilities.
Pool acknowledged that the worldwide pandemic played a role in his decision to retire, especially since he observed his 20th anniversary with the ministry in 2020.
“It allows me to say on going out that I’m going out with having accomplished all that I could do and that to some degree, COVID put a squelch on what I could do.”
Pool observed that his retirement will “allow compassion ministry to take on new dimensions” in a post-COVID world. It will take time, he said.
During his tenure, MRM ministered to those in poverty in four distinct ways:
- Ministry Project Funding: The Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions provides funds that can be used by churches for specific ministry projects impacting poverty. Part of Pool’s responsibilities included approving requests for GOTM funds so they could be channeled to churches so they could impact poverty, he said. He estimated he has distributed more than a quarter million dollars of GOTM funds for ministry projects.
- Material Resource Channeling: MRM facilitates donations of clothing, diapers, canned food, mattresses, school supplies, furniture and toys. Generally, Pool would make sure donated items got to the places where they could best help impoverished people.
Pool described himself as the “Radar O’Reilly of West Tennessee ministry.” Pool laughed that when he said that to Millennials, he normally “received blank stares.” O’Reilly was a character in the 1970s television show, “MASH” who was responsible for getting items needed for a mobile medical unit during the Korean War.
- Compassion Ministry Coaching and Training: MRM provides church consultations and multiple training events and classes that help churches engage in ministry to the impoverished.
- Volunteer mobilization: MRM facilitates placing volunteers from churches to ministry sites in West Tennessee. Pool noted he would train church teams before sending them out to impoverished areas. He noted that a few years into the ministry he realized MRM was “a cross-cultural ministry and training was needed. “A lot of people did not know how to minister to the poor because they didn’t know how the poor thought.”
As with all ministry, the goal was to build relationships by meeting needs in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Pool is grateful for the memories he has of volunteers who built relationships and were able to share the gospel.
“Watching God at work in these ‘glory stories,’ especially over the years, is just an ongoing testimony to His faithfulness in the face of their faithfulness,” Pool said.
Steve Holt, church services director for the TBMB, observed that Pool “brought a greater awareness of poverty and its impact to Tennessee Baptists” through his “poverty mindset” presentations in churches and conferences, as well as his displays at annual meetings, the Summit and other TBC events.
“Randy has been a faithful advocate for the impoverished people of the Delta for 20 years. He will be missed by the many ministries he championed throughout West Tennessee,” Holt said.
He added that Pool “is one of the most genuine people I know. He projects his passion for Christ in every conversation.”
As to his future, Pool said he looks forward to opportunities for supply or interim pastorates and training opportunities as well if they arise.
“I feel like God still has work for me to do as a missionary,” he said.