What’s Wrong with Eastern Kentucky?

hazardI was recently asked to speak to a civic organization about NHIM’s work in Eastern Kentucky. I shared a number of newspaper articles and various reports concerning the plight of people in Appalachia. During a Q & A period at the end, I was asked point blank, “What do you think is wrong with Eastern Kentucky”?

Let me share some of the observations with you that I shared then. First, I related to the gathering my recollections of growing up in the hills more than five decades ago. I had been largely absent from the area since graduation from high school. Except for an occasional visit or vacation weekend, I had spent little time there. A few years ago, I started working on a regular basis in Eastern Kentucky, I soon discovered, to my dismay, that it was a far different place than my boyhood memories. I have struggled to determine what had changed. My conclusions are as follows:

  • Small churches in many communities were gone, which contributes to a lack of moral fabric and opportunities for healthy social interaction.
  • Although there appears to be a number of churches in some areas, they are often totally independent. There is no accountability or oversight as to religious doctrine or financial matters. Heresies and confusion abound.
  • High unemployment, lack of job opportunities, and chronic poverty dominate most areas.
  • There is a low priority on education and marketable job skill training.
  • Welfare and reliance on other government programs have created a mentality of dependence and a sense of entitlement.
  • Poor diet, obesity, and lack of accessible medical care exacerbate the situation.
  • Drugs are rampant and violent crimes are a major problem. An abundance of ‘Pain Clinics’ greatly contributes to the crisis.
  • Breakdown of the basic family unit is leading to large numbers of neglected and abused children.
  • Human trafficking is on the rise. Recently a social worker in Eastern Kentucky informed me me of the heartbreaking and rapidly growing problem of human trafficking. Young girls (children) being sold by addict mothers for drugs is common.
  • Hopelessness and a fatalistic world view permeates the region.

Take a look at some of these heartbreaking statistical maps:

ky_poverty_rates_hca

county economic levels

Economic Levels of Appalachian Counties (source: Appalachian Regional Commission)

KyOverdoses2012

change in life expectancy at birth

Change in life expectancy between 1980 and 2014 (source: Business Insider)

In the face of these overwhelming obstacles, most programs that are meant to help only seek to change the external environment. They are based on a belief that people change from the outside in – change the environment, change the man. This failed philosophy is repeated over and over again as things continue to deteriorate in the mountains.

NHIM takes a completely different approach. We believe that the only way to truly change a person is for change to take place from the inside out. There needs to be a ‘new birth’ of moral conviction, principled life styles, and a strong work ethic in individual hearts. We rest solidly on the premise that when people become new creatures in Christ old things pass away and things become new.

Our church plants are positioned in communities where little, if any, Biblical teaching takes place. They are centers for moral instruction, healthy social interactions, and community-building. As individuals make internal changes, they link with others in the church who have also changed. They then form the building blocks for a better community and a better way of life through Christ who strengthens them.

~ Brother Roy

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