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:

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county economic levels

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

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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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NHIM Pastors Retreat Cruise

img_0387Over the past week, 26 friends and co-laborers participated in a pastors retreat cruise sponsored by New Hope International Ministries.  The goal of the cruise was to provide a time to get away and refresh for several pastors with whom New Hope works in Eastern Kentucky.  The theme of the week was “Come Apart Before You Come Apart” with the theme verse of Mark 6:33Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat” (NLT). 

The ship sailed out of Mobile, Alabama, and included two full days at sea and a day each in Progreso and Cozumel, Mexico.

A major purpose of the retreat was to provide time away from the pressures of daily life and ministry. We spent much of our time enjoying fellowship with each other, sharing victories and difficulties, and eating dinner together as a family.

The retreat provided important opportunities for our group to get to know each other personally. Hectic schedules, work and ministry obligations, and family responsibilities leave little time to visit and learn about each other when we are at home, but the fellowship in sessions and around the dinner table provided opportunity for encouragement and enjoyment of each other.

While we were together as a group for many activities, we also wanted ministry couples to have some private time together – catching a nice lunch together in the dining room, watching the waves in the moonlight, or a late night coffee and dessert date provided an important time of refreshing and renewal.

In our scheduled sessions, Brother Roy preached a message on how Hezekiah took his challenges before the Lord, Pastor David Spencer shared about his vision for church planting and evangelism in Eastern Kentucky, NHIM Board Chairman Matt Kinnell spoke about how God’s plans for our lives – both physical and spiritual – are always better than we could have imagined, the laypeople traveling with us provided input on what they expect from a pastor, and we ended with a celebration of ‘The Lord’s Supper’ as a family.

Here are some photos from our week together:

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Sad News from Kya Sands

10944376_1569695026604278_921775643271970204_nIt has been a hard Tuesday morning. I am feeling sad, frustrated and just plain mad! For the past year I have been volunteering in a preschool ministry of our church at Kya Sands (a squatter’s camp/informal settlement) here in South Africa. We have met under a tree, beside an illegal garbage dump where children have to cross about a 4-foot-wide open sewage ditch to come to us. Not ideal conditions, but we had our space for our “school under the tree”.

This morning when we arrived after a 6-week break for Christmas and summer holiday, we were horrified and heartbroken to see that our place, our school under the tree, had been covered – actually buried with enormous mounds or rubbish. While we never had safe or ideal conditions, today it is a huge health hazard (burning rubbish and dead rats everywhere), and there is absolutely no way to meet or work with kids there.


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Our church is working to secure land where a proper preschool can be built; however, that has been in process for a couple of years (nothing gets done quickly here!), and even when approved, it will take time before we can meet there.

I am trying hard to rest in this verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you says The Lord, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Hard to realize at this moment, but I know HE has plans for Kya Sands far beyond what I could ever imagine.

~ Lori Lauter Wright
NHIM Board Member

Kya Sands Catastrophe

kya little girlFollowing God’s path for our lives has led Rich and me across a 9,000-mile journey from Crestwood, Kentucky, to Johannesburg, South Africa … an amazing and beautiful country in which we daily encounter the faces of those living in desperate conditions.  Since moving here last January, I have had the great privilege of working in a special ministry alongside exceptional women from our church, Bryanston Bible Church (BBC).  We meet weekly with small children, ages approximately 3-8, in Kya Sands squatter’s camp (a slum area).  These children live in extreme poverty in crudely constructed shacks made of tin and other discarded building materials that provide only meager shelter.  Our deep desire is to be in some small way, the hands and feet of Jesus … providing lots of love and hugs, food, physical activity to increase hand/eye coordination and basic language instruction.

The "classroom" under the tree

The “classroom” under the tree

The children eagerly meet us each Tuesday morning in a small open area at the edge of the camp in our outdoor “classroom under the tree”.  An open sewage ditch about 5 feet deep is a major obstacle for the small children to cross as they come to our “classroom” among the piles of rubbish and debris.  A large burned out area of grass off to the side is the bathroom … open for all to see … no privacy … no proper toilet facilities.

Ben Wright helps a child across the ditch

Ben Wright helps a child across the ditch

The "bathroom"

The “bathroom”

Miss Sue singing "Jesus Loves Me" with 4-year-old Kenny

Miss Sue singing “Jesus Loves Me” with 4-year-old Kenny

The tragic Kya Sands fire

The tragic Kya Sands fire

As if life was not hard enough for these precious children and their families, a few weeks ago a tragic fire roared through parts of Kya where many of our children live.  Over 750 shacks were destroyed and more than 3,500 people were left homeless, having lost everything.  NHIM has joined with some of my former colleagues at Crestwood Elementary (Oldham County, Kentucky) and donors from BBC to provide much needed assistance.  When I asked the ladies what they needed, the response was just 3 simple items … a small kerosene stove to cook on, a pot to make pap in (the staple starch in South Africa – think thick grits) and a large bucket with a lid, as the ladies must carry water a considerable distance.  While these items seem simple to us, they represent life to these families.  In addition to these desperately needed items, we have also been able to provide plastic plates and cups, silverware, blankets, towels, clothing and toiletries.

Fire victims and donated relief supplies

Fire victims and donated relief supplies

Even though the fire has long since been extinguished, the emotional scars on an already disenfranchised people will take time, prayers and the loving kindness of Christian people to heal. Please, pray and help as you can … you can be a part of the healing process.  “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40 (ESV) 

~ Lori Lauter Wright, NHIM Board Member

Revival on Shoemaker Ridge (Or, How New Hope Became the Proud Owner of a Horse Trough)

The little church that NHIM helped to plant on Shoemaker Ridge in Lee County, Kentucky, has experienced its ups and downs since it was dedicated on Easter Sunday two years ago.  The ridge is a tough place to minister – poverty, alcoholism, and drugs have plagued the community for years.  A revival meeting was scheduled for September 17-21, and the Holy Spirit moved in a special way in the little church on the ridge.  After more than 90 people crammed into the tiny sanctuary on Sunday night, the revival meetings were extended for another night, then extended again to Tuesday and Wednesday.  Many spiritual victories were won at the altar.  On Wednesday night, the last night of the revival, three believers were baptized in a horse-watering trough purchased by New Hope to serve as a baptistry.  We thank God for the moving of His Spirit on Shoemaker Ridge and ask that you would join us in prayer for the ministry of Ridge Chapel and for the believers, some young and some old, who have begun a new walk with the Lord.

Here are some pictures and videos from Wednesday night’s closing service:

A simple purchase with a profound purpose

A simple purchase with a profound purpose

Pastor David leads the congregation in singing

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NHIM Board Chairman Matt Kinnell sings during the service

More congregational singing

One of the baptisms that took place on Wednesday evening

One of the baptisms that took place on Wednesday evening

Samburu Update

kenya flagLast week I heard from Michael Lolwerikoi in Samburu, Kenya. There had been a recent robbery attempt on him as he traveled north into the region where we have drilled wells. Highwaymen shot the rear tires on his Land Cruiser. He kept driving on shredded rubber and the rims reaching safety when a group of vehicles headed south came to his aid. Michael is safe, but suffered the loss of very expensive tires. Since NHIM helped with the first water well in the area, Michael reports that there are 16 wells now in operation. We are thankful that a couple of other like-minded missions have taken up the cause.

The Minister of Parliament in the Samburu region was shot recently. He was a friend of NHIM’s work in that region. I met with him the last time I was it the area. I do not have an update on his condition.  Pray for the Lord’s protection as Michael ministers in this unstable and dangerous area.

With the help of Sam Powdrill and Tenwek Hospital, NHIM sponsored the first eye clinic in the region. Sixty-five people who were blind due to cataracts and/or trachoma received their sight. Now more than a year later, the Tenwek team has taken two more clinics to Samburu. Approximately two hundred and fifty people can now see. Praise the Lord!

Catherine, Michael’s niece who graduated from Asbury University in 2012, will receive her Master’s Degree in May. Her degree in the area of Community Development in Third World Countries will be invaluable as she works among her  people in Samburu.

~ Brother Roy