This article was written by Dr. Sam Roberts, the Missions Team Leader at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Raised in the Delta of Northeast Arkansas, I was familiar with poverty. For as long as I can remember, both my parents worked extremely hard to provide for our family. Until my third-grade year, Dad worked as a farmhand. His compensation included a small salary, the crop proceeds from a small piece of land, and the farmhouse in which we lived. Then, until failing health forced him to retire, he provided for our family as a jack-of-all-trades handyman. Mom worked for the Marked Tree school system for 42 years as a cook in the cafeteria. She retired at the age of 79. Although we never had much, we always had what we needed, and my parents taught us by example to be generous with what we had. The reality is, there was always another family who had less.
Generosity is a characteristic that reflects the heart of God, especially as it relates to the poor. “For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘Open your hand willingly to your poor and needy brother in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). “A generous person will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
One of the three essential intents of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention is to “focus our evangelism partnerships toward people that are unengaged, unreached, and underserved in access to the gospel.” Arkansas Baptists are a generous people. Gifts through the Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering reached an all-time high in 2022. A sizeable portion of Dixie Jackson gifts administered through the Missions Team helps provide training and much-needed ministries that focus on serving the underserved in our state. As needs are met, barriers that have limited Gospel receptivity are dissolved. Thank you, Arkansas Baptists, for your generous gifts to Dixie Jackson!
Arkansas is second in the nation for food insecurity. According to the Arkansas Food Bank, an estimated 549,000 Arkansans do not know where their next meal may come from. Among our children, 1 in 5 are at risk of going hungry, and in some rural areas, the rate is even higher. Although poverty knows no geographical boundary in our state, there is a greater concentration of poverty present in the region of our state known as the Delta. The Rural 2022 Profile concluded that “rural areas of the state ranked low in key health factors and outcomes compared with urban counterparts.” Eight of the 11 counties with the worst health outcomes were in the Delta.
These factors break my heart. These are my people. The Delta is my home. The loss of manufacturing and consolidation of schools, among other factors, led to a mass migration of people out of the Delta which led to an incredible rise in poverty, illiteracy, crime, and unemployment among many who remained.
Recently, Clint Ritchie and I had the opportunity of leading a group of 21 pastors and church leaders from across our state on a Delta Vision Tour. Over two days, we traveled almost 500 miles across the Delta stopping to hear the heart of church planters and pastors of established churches. Participants were challenged, Delta planters and pastors were encouraged, and I was grateful.
As I write this article, I am still processing my thoughts, but I offer these four insights I scribbled on a piece of paper on our journey through the Delta. If you serve in the Delta, hopefully you will be encouraged. If you serve in other parts of our state, hopefully you will be challenged to pray for and perhaps even to serve in partnership in the Delta.
- Pastors in the Delta are passionate about their calling.
Many of those serving in the Delta are from the Delta. Several are even serving/planting in their hometown. Those who are not from the Delta but serve in the Delta are just as passionate about their calling. These men could serve anywhere else in our state, but they have followed the calling of God to the Delta.
- Ministry in the Delta is messy.
Yes, ministry in other places can be messy as well, but in the Delta, it is extremely messy. There is a pervasive spiritual darkness throughout the Delta. Though there are patches of light, a spirit of hopelessness and despair is present. Those serving in the Delta are expanding the light of Christ, but it is difficult and extremely messy.
- Partnerships in the Delta are vital.
Throughout most of the Delta, resources are limited within established churches and church plants alike. Those serving in the Delta realize the enormity of the needs within their community. They also realize they need help. They are not looking for handouts. They value partnerships. (I am developing a list of partnership possibilities which I plan to make available soon.)
- God is present and working in the Delta.
Across the Delta, God is present. He loves the people of the Delta and He is at work using church plants and established churches to reconcile people to Himself through Jesus
If God is placing the Delta on your heart, let’s talk.
Arkansas Baptists, thank you for your generosity. Let’s go!