Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama Baptists are on track to collect more than 9,000 backpacks destined for holiday outreach efforts at ministry sites across the state and region.
Christmas Backpacks is a ministry partnership between Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union and the missions mobilization team of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. In the months approaching Christmas, Alabama Baptists collect Bibles, toys, shelf-stable food, toiletries, clothing, school supplies and other items to fill new backpacks. Those backpacks are then distributed in the Mississippi River Delta and in Appalachia through church, association and state partnerships, like the Mississippi River Ministry.
Alabama WMU and the SBOM offices of global missions, associational missions and church planting work together on the emphasis, using funds from the Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering to provide age/gender identification bands and a copy of “The Christmas Story” for each backpack and to mail those supplies to participating churches.
Alabama WMU missions and ministry consultant Pat Ingram said initial numbers suggested this year’s collection might fall short of the goal of 12,000 bags, but in spite of the pandemic, Ingram said MRM requests were met.
“God just worked things out,” Ingram said. “Every time I turned around, more bags came in. Every time the phone rings I’m thinking ‘Well, what are you going to do now God?’”
Gratitude in giving
Thirteen regional collection sites received backpacks during the general collection week of Oct. 24–30.
Backpacks were still coming in in late November, and Ingram anticipates more than 9,000 bags before the end of the year.
At churches and collection sites around the state, volunteers are expressing gratitude for those who have continued to give.
“COVID-19 hit, and we were not certain that we would be able to do any of the backpacks,” said June Whitlow, WMU director for Birmingham Metro Baptist Association. “We are thrilled to see the number that has come in and to hear stories from the women about how much packing these backpacks has meant to them.”
BMBA missions involvement consultant Linda Peek said regional volunteers received 852 backpacks from 17 churches in five associations over the course of five days.
And in West Cullman Baptist Association, churches prepared 280 Christmas backpacks. WMU director Iva Rodgers said students from Calhoun Community College helped volunteers with logistics company like Plano Movers in sorting the bags and preparing them for pickup by Alabama WMU.
Many churches and associations partner directly with distribution sites, delivering backpacks and assisting with passing out the bags, praying with families and sharing the gospel.
Pandemic-related restrictions limited some partnership efforts this year, however. Ingram said she facilitated 10 partnerships instead of the usual 30, but she noted that some churches and associations have continued working in partnerships they had previously established.
‘Missions every day’
One of those churches, Cave Spring Baptist Church, Decatur, collected items monthly for the past year and packed more than 300 backpacks this year.
Those backpacks will be distributed through their partnerships with two Louisiana churches: Gulf Coast Baptist Church in Golden Meadow and First Baptist Church of Grand Isle.
The rest will go to the Decatur office of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.
“We have grown as a church in the missions field,” said Cave Spring missions director Amelia Nelson.
“Missions does not mean you have to travel internationally; missions can be done every day just by obedience to the Spirit.”
Cave Spring volunteers also transport bags to distribution sites along the way to their church partners, and this year the church helped deliver some of the backpacks collected by students involved in Alabama Baptist Campus Ministries.
BCM groups across the state filled more than 160 backpacks and also received some from the general collection.
For example, in Madison County, 11 churches in Madison Baptist Association prepared 342 backpacks, 200 of which were added to BCM collections.
BCM partnered with Alabama WMU to adopt three distributing ministries: Calvary Chapel in Drew, Mississippi; Binghampton Community Church in Memphis, Tennessee; and Community Impact/Bayou Baptist Association in Chauvin, Louisiana.
“While COVID has made planning and executing our traditional methods of distribution difficult or impossible, we are celebrating the fact that these bags have been collected, prayed over and will be distributed to needy children,” said Chris Mills, student missions mobilizer for the SBOM.
“I am praying that God use these bags as gospel seeds in the lives of these children and their families.”
Mills said involvement with the backpacks ministry helps to open students’ eyes, he said, not only to the physical needs of high poverty areas like the Mississippi River region but also to the great opportunities that exist in their own communities and around the world.
“BCM is about reaching students and seeing students reach their world. One tool in that process happens to be a backpack filled with toys and school supplies and a Bible for a child in need,” Mills said.
“This backpack can not only be something that creates excitement and joy for that child, but it can also be a seed of faith planted in that child’s heart.”