Rural Life Ministries battles giants

1/3/2007

Commentary
By Doyce W. Gunter 

Is the Rural Life Committee that was voted into existence at the 2001 Annual Conference working?  

Yes! 

After early attempts to impact the Mississippi rural crisis, the Rural Life Ministries Committee realized that we were like the Hebrew army facing Goliath (I Samuel 17). We needed a “David” to step up and face this giant.  

Our “David” is the rural United Methodist churches. These churches are the only ones who can lead their communities out of this crisis. They, like David, are willing to face these giants, but they must be empowered. Our task as a conference is to empower and enable these churches to lead their communities to new life. 

How could we enable these rural churches? We spent several meetings planning how to do this.  

One goal is to keep the conference and general public informed about the plight of the rural areas and the vision of what rural Mississippi can become. We are doing this through news articles and any other means of communication at our disposal.  

A second goal is to help all the churches of the conference catch a vision of the possible future for rural Mississippi. To do this we have prepared 13 Sunday school lessons with a strong emphasis on stewardship of God’s creation. We urge all conference churches to use these lessons in all their adult and youth classes for one quarter. Any quarter will do, but the spring quarter would be an ideal time to use these lessons. This would fit well with National Soil Conservation week, which is the last full week in April each year.  

The spring quarter also includes “Rural Life Heritage Sunday” which is the fourth Sunday in April in the Mississippi Conference. Rural Life Ministries has developed an order of worship for this Sunday. We will be happy to send you a copy to guide you in this celebration, which will be on April 22. (To obtain the order of worship, contact Dr. Doyce W. Gunter, 2800 West Main Street #201-B, Tupelo, MS 38801 or e-mail dagunter@wojonet.com.) 

Rural Life Ministries also plans to develop “model rural communities.” This requires hands-on work in the rural communities. We plan to start “probe staffs” in rural areas to do this work. In 2005 we started the first probe staff in Itawamba County in the Tupelo District. The probe staff spent its first year responding to the most urgent needs and studying the county to determine what was already taking place.  

Our first need surfaced at the Wesley Foundation at Itawamba Community College. We have helped the district reorganize the board of directors for the ICC Wesley Foundation. That board is now working with the new Wesley Foundation director to launch the group into the future.  

The need for health care for the poor and elderly has led to a parish-nursing program, which is in its infant stages. Working from the food bank program, we are helping families start gardens to give them a source of fresh vegetables.  

The probe staff has approached the Itawamba Cluster about the two cooperative ministries becoming one. This would make both groups stronger. The cluster needs a coordinating group, such as the probe staff. The probe staff needs a laity group, such as the cluster, to help reach out to people in the communities. 

The probe staff has also approached the Itawamba County Development Council (ICDC) about working cooperatively in economic development. ICDC has welcomed this offer. ICDC is doing good work but is having difficulty reaching some of the more isolated areas of the county. The local churches can help reach these areas.  

With these two links, many good changes can take place in Itawamba County. Itawamba County may also point the way for other areas in Mississippi. 

Someone has to lead when there is a crisis. God called David to lead the Hebrews in their crisis, and Christ is calling the United Methodist Church to lead in the rural crisis in Mississippi.