By Ashley Perham
Baptist and Reflector
The backpacks are filled with toys, hygiene items, food, Bibles, and clothing and are given to needy children in Tennessee through local churches.
Joe Sorah, compassion ministries specialist for the TBMB, said backpacks were usually donated by individual churches, and it was unusual for an association to work together to donate so many backpacks. “What they’re doing is a blessing, and it’s a big blessing, but it’s unusual. It’s not characteristic across the state,” he said.
While some Robertson County churches have been participating in the backpack ministry for a few years, last year was the first year the association, and the state, as a whole participated. Last year, the association collected 600 backpacks, said Robert Tyson, director of missions for the RCBA.
Twelve of the 35 churches in the association participated in the ministry. One church, with around 50 members, Battle Creek Baptist Church, Springfield, donated 216 backpacks.
Sharon Cobb, who coordinates the backpack ministry at Battle Creek, said the church provides the backpacks and Bibles. Then, in July, the church members start to collect hygiene items at a “Christmas in July” event. They continue to collect more items until eventually they work their way up to donating toys through September and October, said Cobb.
Last year, Battle Creek collected 204 backpacks. This year, their goal was 215, and next year the goal is 225, she said.
“It was one way that being a small church, with about 45-50 members, that we could actually do missions,” she said. “I also felt that the kids needed to learn to give instead of receive so it was a good way to also teach them about missions.”
Amanda Spivey, WMU director of RCBA, said her church, Williams Chapel, Springfield, collected 51 backpacks. She said Williams Chapel focused on each backpack representing a child in need.
“We set the backpacks in front of the congregation, and as they sat empty, I was like, ‘That’s a child in need that’s not being helped,’” Spivey said. “That kind of helped people open their hearts a little bit to think ‘If that backpack is not filled, that’s a child that’s not getting something that they need this Christmas.’ ”
Spivey had a personal motivation for the backpack ministry. She heard that in Kentucky, backpacks were distributed in Logan County, where she works as a special educator.
“It really impacted my heart because I knew that even my students were going to benefit from this project,” she said. In fact, she found out that one of her students had received a backpack last year.
As of now, Tennessee Baptists have donated a little over 5,000 backpacks, Sorah said. Each one of those backpacks will go to a child in Tennessee, unless the backpack was specifically designated for the New England mission partnerships.
Last year, the first year of the program, Tennessee Baptists donated 3,500 backpacks from 115 churches. “For our second year in the program, to get 5,000 is tremendous success,” said Sorah.
This year, when including backpacks sent from other states, more than 12,000 backpacks will be given to Tennessee children.
Sorah said that while this number is down from last year, every ministry that requested backpacks will receive 100 percent of what they requested.
Sorah said the number of total backpacks was down because fewer churches had requested backpacks. Churches interested in handing out backpacks to their community next year can sign up online after the first of the year.
Every church that hands out backpacks is required to do an event, Sorah said. At the event, the gospel is shared and churches can follow up with those who have received Christ.
Tyson said his favorite part of the backpack ministry was seeing churches work together to do more than they could by themselves. “Our churches are coming together and working together to do the Lord’s work,” Tyson said. B&R