Bringing Hope to Appalachia

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Often when we think of poverty and hopelessness, our minds go to developing nations such as Nicaragua or to communities in cities such as Baltimore and Detroit. However, that is only part of the story.

Once a thriving region in the United States due to its abundance of coal and lumber, Appalachia, which includes parts of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, has been in a state of poverty since the mid-1960s. While there are a number of factors that contributed to the poverty that exists, including the evaporation of jobs, corruption, and an opioid epidemic, it is the lie of hopelessness that allows poverty to continue to persist. With rampant drug use, unemployment and underemployment, and many other byproducts of poverty, hopelessness has ravaged many of the communities in the area. Written off or unnoticed by most of the United States, Appalachia is a stark example of the consequences of allowing the lie of hopelessness to fester.

This is part of the power of the lie of hopelessness. Not only does it convince those in the grip of poverty that they are hopeless, it does the same to those who are on the outside looking in. This only continues the cycle of poverty and hopelessness as we resort to sticking temporary Band-Aids on the short-term byproducts of poverty instead of addressing the long-term wound of hopelessness that gives it life.

The community of War, West Virginia is sad picture of this reality in Appalachia. Located in McDowell County, once one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, War has become one of the poorest communities in all of Appalachia. With an estimated 85% of the adult population addicted to opioids or methamphetamines according organizations addressing addiction in the area, death from drug-involved overdose is common place. It is easy to see why people would believe they are destined for a life of “less than” in a place like War, WV.

A New Beginning Community Center

Despite the incredible hold the lie of hopelessness has on War, WV, Rick and Mary Smith have a very different perspective. Rick, a home builder from Central Ohio, and his wife, Mary, decided hopelessness did not have to be the end of the story. Around 2015, the Smiths decided to pack up there stuff to move to War, WV to bring all-in spiritual and practical hope. Committed to long-term change in the community, Rick and Mary started A New Beginning Recovery Ministry and purchased an old Catholic Church in the town to turn into a community center. Undeterred by the challenges they face, A New Beginning Recovery Ministry now has a weekly kids ministry focused on breaking the intergenerational cycle of addiction and poverty by reaching out to the youth. The also host weekly recovery meetings, a weekly Bible Study, and a weekly church service on Sunday afternoons, the best time to reach the community. Additionally, the partner with the West Virginia Food Bank to distribute food to the community.

Food Distribution

In a confirmation of their call to War, shortly after Rick and Mary took the step of faith to move there, The State of West Virginia announced the Hatfield & McCoy Trail System, a popular destination for ATV enthusiasts, would run through War, WV. As a home builder this opened up an incredible opportunity for Rick, who started to purchase rundown houses to renovates and turn into rental properties for tourists coming through on the Hatfield & McCoy Trail. This has allowed him to provide significant funding to their ministry though the rental income generated by the properties, a great example of bring what you have to the table.

Through A New Beginning Recovery Ministry, Rick and Mary are creating opportunities for reframed identities through the power of spiritual hope, showing people they were created on purpose and for a purpose by a God who loves them. They also come alongside people to provide the practical hope they need to escape addiction, a real opportunity to exercise their reframed identities. While the journey is hard and messy, they are beginning to see the power all-in hope has to change lives and overcome the power of hopelessness.

Take a man we will call John. After meeting John, a drug addict living in War, John and Mary were able to connect him with Justin’s Place, a Christ-centered residential recovery and transition program and affiliate of Crossroads Church in Westminster, MD. After completing the program, returned to West Virginia, has been clean from drugs for 5 years, and has started his own business.

Another beautiful picture of the power of all-in hope to create change in War is a twentysomething named Chris. Paralyzed from his work in the mines, Chris was not sure what the future held. While he avoided drug addiction, his disability left feeling confused and a bit hopeless despite his relationship with Jesus. After meeting Chris, Rick and Mary developed a relationship with him and began to disciple him. Realizing he had a gift to teach, they offer him a practical hope opportunity to teach on Sundays at church. Despite his challenges, Chris is now a beacon of all-in hope in War.

War, West Virginia once was a clear picture of the power the lie of hopelessness has to trap people in poverty and its byproducts. While there is still a long road ahead, Rick, Mary, the A New Beginning Recovery Ministry team and their partners are beginning to breakdown the walls through the powerful light of all-in hope.

As we celebrate Independence Day on the United States of America this 4th of July Weekend, the hope Rick and Mary Smith have for War, WV speaks to the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence, which says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” While most certainly still a work in progress, the United States of America was founded on a belief that their is real hope for everyone. Like Rick and Mary, let’s continue to fight for a world in which hope wins the day.

Would you like to “get in the game” like Rick and Mary Smith, but you are not sure where to start? Click here for a free resource I created called 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life. You will also be signed up to receive my newsletter and stay up to date on my upcoming book, Hope Realized.

Happy 4th of July and remember, no one is truly hopeless.

James Belt

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