The Appalachian Immersion Experience
Appalachian Immersion is a project of First Baptist Church, Middlesboro offering missional groups opportunities for contextual learning, service, and relationship that might change our assumptions about Southeastern Kentucky. We hope to respond to a central question, “What if we offered to serve and bless, but then discovered that our experience here changed us and blessed us?”
“Mountain Missions, the [CBF] Baptist Way”
A stereotype is a powerful thing. A stereotype does more than describe a reality; it prescribes one. It comes prepackaged with assumptions about power, worth, intelligence—even dignity—and because there is a lining of truth to just about every stereotype, it’s easy to embrace the assumptions along with the truth and move on. In fact, we human beings seem to learn to do so almost effortlessly.
I do ministry alongside a great group of people in the heart of one of the most stereotyped regions in the country. Best I can tell, the stereotyping of Appalachia began slightly before and around the so-called War on Poverty initiative signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. Appalachia had always been a rural, low-income, familial society. In the ensuing years, it also became known outside and in as uneducated, socially-backward, and poor.
In response to the power of this pervasive and debilitating stereotype, First Baptist Church of Middlesboro has dreamed of an Appalachian Immersion Experience. The details are coming together, and we already have three groups booked to come in the summer of 2016. The idea is simple: to offer a one-part service, one-part learning “mission trip” opportunity in eastern Kentucky for youth and adults. We’ve repurposed the second floor of our education building into a mission wing to house groups and group leaders. We’ve partnered with the Appalachian Ministries Education Resource Center in Berea, KY, to ensure the integrity of the learning experiences. And we’ve reached out to our community here in Middlesboro in search of service projects that will help our neighbors. Over several summers, we hosted groups from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, churches from Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky, and a group of Amish young men restoring historic structures in our national park. As part of their experience, each of these groups volunteered in a food pantry, worked in a clothing closet, worked on a mountain farm, toured a coal mine, and learned about ecology, farming and art at one of the settlement schools.
Perhaps most importantly, while doing all of that and more, they worked on growing themselves and their perspectives beyond of the stereotypes of Appalachia they brought with them. They learned to see a place in the world in all of its richness—challenges and blessings. Whatever else that might look like, to me it looks like redemption. To me, it looks like learning to love the world that God so loves.
—Zach Bay (Pastor of FBC Middlesboro, KY)
FBC Middlesboro Ministries
Flowers Memorial Mission Wing
2 rooms with 12 bunks each
Hall shower room has 3 private stalls
Leaders’ suite has 2 bedrooms + bath + common lounge area
2 additional bathrooms with one shower each
Other Spaces at First Baptist Church
Gymnasium with a full-size basketball court, corn-hole games, and other recreation
Conference room and Chapel available as needed for larger group meetings
Small “commercial kitchen”
Fellowship Hall that seats 80+
Extra linens or washer and dryer available for emergencies
Groups in Appalachian Immersion are charged per person nightly fee to off-set basic costs
$20.00 per person each night
Groups using our space for lodging only can inquire about current costs
Groups are asked to pay a deposit in advance and complete the Facilities and Church Policy form