The streets are dark at 8:30 on this cool November night. The asphalt highway is just two-lanes and it seems narrow winding through the Appalachian Mountains on either side. There is a sense of peace to this area for me. I have come to love the people I have met here and their desire to live a life with Jesus. I sat in awe and joy recently listening to them talk and joke about life together. Their heavy Virginia country dialect brings a smile to my face.
However in many of the homes life’s hardships are taking their toll. The once booming industry of coal has been destroyed by the political correctness imposed. For many life has become so difficult the choices they are making to ease the pain have turned lethal.
“I don’t know if you have done much research on our area but the drug problem and fatherlessness is hitting us hard,” explains Pastor Shea Shrader at Harmon Memorial Baptist Church in Harmon, Virginia. “We are experiencing over 60% of our kids being raised by their grandparents. The epidemic of the fatherless has turned to parentless. Most of it is because of drugs. Oxycodone has been the cause of death from overdose or jail for many of the parents, it has hit our county hard.” I can hear in his voice the pain and compassion from all he has seen happen here.
In the daylight as I drive through the communities I see buildings in disrepair everywhere, abandoned in many cases. Areas once booming are now littered with heavy equipment, trailers, tractors, cars and pickup trucks. Tall grass and small trees encase the rusting steel graveyards and leaning wooden structures. Old rail yards and loading areas once teaming with activity are sedentary. It is almost eerie and my mind is drawn into the thoughts of what once was. I have to keep reminding myself to pay attention to the road.
Between the seemingly despondent homes and businesses are organized yards with lush green grass, freshly mowed. The lines from the mowers are in order and you know it took time to cut. Then there is a new shopping area with trendy retailers and restaurants. The downtown areas are a mix of updated and closed buildings and businesses. The renewal of life is coming from the people here who refuse to leave or let their communities die. They are creative, hard working and resourceful and are rebuilding their lives.
The connecting point for those here who refuse to be taken out by the economy or life’s hardships is the church. Harmon Memorial Baptist is a great example. “I have a strong church where the men have stepped up,” pastor Shrader explains as we chat over lunch in the small café off the highway. “Our men’s ministry is strong, we get things done.”
Across the country men truly participating in their church can be a rare thing. Historically and statistically the women have run the church. They are the ones doing the leg work and hands on ministry. The women held prayer meetings, led the children’s ministries and organized the outreach programs. Yes the men would come set up tables and enjoy the potlucks. Maybe the men, a few of them, went to a Wednesday morning bible study or a Tuesday night. Perhaps they would gather every quarter for a meat feast or a pancake breakfast.
Robert Lewis and Dennis Rainey are two of Americas prominent ministry leaders and for years proponents of men becoming active and taking over in their church. They both called out all pastors and men in 2014 at the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries conference, their call was for men to step up, push in and lead. Assume the natural order God has in place for them. They, along with others have continued to produce top shelf ministry tools for men and churches. Sadly, many churches are still mired in old traditions, lazy men and unsupportive pastors toward the men’s movement.
But that is not the case in every church. There seems to be a slow awakening today for men to assume their role at home and in the church. Some pastor leaders have begun to empower there men to do what their hearts have called them to. Supporting what these men have been longing for. These men are doing mighty works in their families, communities, churches and the Kingdom. These are the pastors and churches that are truly honoring the biblical calling on men and the fruit is good.
It was over three years ago Pastor Shrader picked up a Kids Outdoor Zone (KOZ) flyer at a men’s conference in Lynchburg, Virginia. “I knew it fit our church but the timing was not right. The guys training here this week, some of them were not even at our church yet. I knew when we began talking about it this time God was behind it, it was His perfect timing.”
At Harmon Memorial the men here are stepping into the gap for the hearts of the boys in their church and community. They stand with a growing army of men across America using the KOZ program. Many of the men have been praying and asking God to reveal to them where they fit, what it is He wants them to do in their walk with Him. To give them a sword that fits their hands.
If we claim to be Christians, Christian men, then we have a responsibility to do something for the hearts of those who do not know Him. We have been commissioned to fight and we must find our place. If you cannot get the support from your church to step into the fight find one that does. The Virginia boys have always been fighters and I love that about them.
Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our lives, but they’ll never take… our freedom! William Wallace
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