ATLANTA — Last summer Matt and Melanie Storie moved to rural Perry County, Ala. Statistics say it’s one of the nation’s poorest counties, but these Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel believe it is a place where hope and the presence of Christ are bringing about change.
“The people here face enormous challenges. There are not many jobs here and many people have given up, but there is hope,” Melanie said. “The people here are the county’s greatest asset. When people come together, there is no end to what can be accomplished.” Since 1999, the community and CBF partner churches from around the country have been coming together through Sowing Seeds of Hope, a CBF-supported ministry based in Perry County.
The ministry has grown to offer access to job training, housing assistance, health care, children’s enrichment and more in a community where census reports in 1999 found more than 30 percent of the county’s families living in poverty. As part of Together for Hope, CBF’s rural poverty initiative in 20 of the nation’s poorest counties, Sowing Seeds of Hope embraces the importance of community development and the community’s role in inciting change. “Because we are very new to this community, we are taking our time to build trust with people before beginning programs. We don’t want to push our own agenda but want to be aware of how God is leading us to help fulfill the dreams of the community,” said Melanie, a native of Sanford, N.C.
Already, the Stories have been invited to help in the local schools, where encouraging and spending time with children can help shape the county’s future. “At times it can seem there is an overwhelming need for help, but by focusing on individuals and smaller projects we are hoping to make a difference one child, one teenager, one parent at a time,” said Matt, a native of Salisbury, N.C. Graduates of CBF partner Campbell University Divinity School, the Stories have both previously served at CBF partner churches including Grandin Court Baptist Church in Roanoke, Va.; Edenton Baptist Church in Edenton, N.C.; and Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church in Sanford, N.C. Even then missions played an important role by placing “the focus on helping others and their needs,” Matt said.
Now the Stories help facilitate missions experiences for other churches who travel to Perry County to serve. One of the first congregations they helped host was John’s Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., which traveled to Perry County to help with construction and repair projects, as well as the assembly of more than 50 bookcases that will hopefully boost literacy among local children.
“Churches come and show the love of Christ through building handicap ramps, leading activities for children and forming caring relationships with the people here,” Melanie said. Serving through the Fellowship’s Global Service Corps, the Stories will live and serve in Perry County for two years, continuing to “be the presence of Christ by living out our conviction that in Christ there is unity and love,” Melanie said. Like many CBF field personnel, the Stories’ ministry is funded by gifts to CBF’s Offering for Global Missions.
Without financial gifts to the Offering, the Stories would be unable to live in Perry County and serve among people whose lives can be so significantly changed through a ministry of presence. “The Offering supports us and enables us to minister,” Matt said. “I have learned how difficult it could be to try and balance a field mission assignment while at the same time keeping a base of financial support from different churches. I am thankful for the many CBF churches across the country that give to the Offering, which helps us continue being the presence of Christ to our community.” Carla Wynn Davis is communications assistant specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.