McDOWELL, Ky. – A crew of teenagers worked their way through a patch of green beans behind McDowell First Baptist Church last week, filling buckets destined for a ministry that feeds the hungry in Kentucky’s mountain region.
Rows of corn will be next, though the pink silks suggest the ears won’t be ready for another week or two.
The church’s initiative helps to supply food for God’s Appalachian Partnership while giving McDowell teens an opportunity to do their part to help in a region where lots of families are struggling through a slump of historical proportions in the coal industry.
“There are lot of people living in poverty, and we want to help,” said Austin Newsome, 15, a member of the church youth group. “That’s what Christianity is all about.”
Christians in churches like McDowell First Baptist stay busy serving their neighbors, but many Americans are oblivious to their efforts, according to a survey by LifeWay Research in Nashville.
Forty percent of Americans don’t know churches feed the hungry, according to the survey. Fifty percent have no idea that they provide clothing to people in need. And the vast majority of Americans have no clue that churches teach job skills, shelter the homeless, teach English to immigrants and perform so many other needed services.
But, when Christians see a need, they provide the solution, and that’s how the McDowell garden came into being. The idea evolved from a discussion begun by Mary Slone, a teacher at the local high school and member of the McDowell church, about the biblical principle of gleaning, the act of collecting leftover crops after they’ve been harvested. In biblical times, the poor were permitted, even encouraged, to collect wheat and produce of various kinds that were left behind by harvesters.
The McDowell teens took the idea a step farther. Instead of giving away leftover produce, they opted to keep nothing., to give everything away.
Similar initiatives have spread among churches across the nation. Church lawns are being plowed and planted. In some instances, church leaders are supplying acreage on their farms for vegetable production.
Sabrina Owsley, a McDowell church member who learned gardening from her parents, provided guidance to the teens who have spent most of the summer keeping weeds at bay in the rich Kentucky soil.
“I believe it helped them mature, and they had a great time doing it,” Owsley said. “It has been a summer of laughs and giggles.”
While neighbors get fresh produce, church member Sonya Slone, also a teacher here, said the teens have come away with the greatest gift.
“It’s a big deal that people in our county who don’t have a lot are getting help,” she said. “But our youth are getting the blessing of helping others.”