MOUNT VERNON, Ky. (KT) - The Kentucky Baptist Convention's Christmas backpack initiative isn't only making the season brighter for thousands of children, but it's also changing lives.
Rockcastle Baptist Association Director of Missions Randy McPheron was among those handing out backpacks filled with goodies Saturday to kids in the Appalachian region who might have otherwise faced a lean Christmas.
McPheron was tasked with presenting the gospel along with the backpacks to kids in the Mount Vernon area.
"I preached the gospel six times to groups," he said. "Over 600 attended, plus 160 volunteers; 80 professions of faith. Every person who received a gift heard the message."
Kentucky Baptists across the state donated about 8,000 backpacks for children in impoverished areas.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention, in partnership with Kentucky Woman's Missionary Union and the North American Mission Board, originally set a goal of collecting 5,000 new backpacks that could be distributed by missionaries and ministries in Kentucky and Cincinnati.
Eric Allen, KBC Missions Mobilization leader, said the generous response by churches, Sunday School groups and individuals has been a wonder to behold.
"We know that many children in Kentucky don't have some of their basic needs met, let alone new toys for Christmas," said Allen. "I'm glad we can assist missionaries and church planters who are using the backpacks as a means of sharing the Greatest Gift - Jesus."
Along with new clothes, toys and non-perishable food items stuffed inside new backpacks, each child also received a leaflet about the Christmas story and a postcard to register for additional free Bible lessons provided by Appalachian Regional Ministries' Mailbox Bible Club.
Four-year-old Matthew Taylor could not wait to open the new backpack he received at Cedaridge Ministies in Williamsburg. He gave a little shout to his mom as he pulled out a small football and waved it in the air for her to see.
"It would be impossible for us to help families without the help of churches," said Keith Decker, director of the southeastern Kentucky mission. "They give us the financial support to put on events like this. Words cannot express the gratitude I have."
Decker led families in singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus before distributing 160 backpacks and other donated items, such as blankets, shoes, clothing and huge boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. More importantly, he said, 12 people decided to accept Christ's gift of salvation.
"The gift of Christmas is Jesus Christ," said South Union Mount Zion Baptist Association Director of Missions Steven Jett. "It is a gift that keeps on giving throughout eternity."
Other ministries distributing backpacks include Moore Activity Center in Covington, the Kathy J. Strange Answer Center in Henderson, HR Ministries in Princeton, and various ministries through Kentucky Baptist associations and churches.