CBF MS's Coordinator's response to ICE raids in Mississippi during MIRA Press Conference Aug. 8, 2019

First of all, I want to let all the families that were affected by this injustice know that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi cares for you and wants to help in any way that we can and we are partnering with other organizations that are doing the same. I dropped my eight-year-old daughter off at school this morning for her first day of 3rd grade. My two older sons rode the bus. I can’t imagine their horror if they came home to an empty house and had no idea where their parents were or when they may eventually come home.

As a religious leader, I cannot think of anywhere in our holy Scriptures where this sort of thing would be ok. In fact, our Scriptures tell us just the opposite. We are supposed to care for the most vulnerable in our society. As people of faith, that’s how we will respond. Any law of any country or state that contradicts our love commandments, we consider unjust and incompatible with the Kingdom of God. For a state that is so saturated with religion and religious groups—specifically Christians, and even more specific Baptists—these raids should be appalling and reprehensible.

The love of God is not in what happened yesterday. Nobody is safer in Mississippi. Nobody is better off. What happened with these raids devastated hard working families that are trying their best to make it. Now we have 680 families with no income and no way to get income. They are stranded with nothing. What will their children eat? What recourse do they have for anything better.

The United States of America and the State of Mississippi has perpetrated a great injustice and for this immoral and inhumane behavior, I pray for our soul. Leave these people alone. Help them instead of hurt them. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were a foreigner in a strange land—or just treat people the way you would want them to treat you. That’s what our Savior, Jesus Christ, told his followers to do. If we claim to be followers of this same Jesus, then, let’s live accordingly. Shame on any public official that thinks this is okay. This is not okay; it’s contradictory to the love of God. God doesn’t take food out of the mouths of children and neither should we. Lord, help us.

Rev. K. Jason Coker, Ph.D.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi

Coker Portrait.jpg

Can We Talk? - J. David Waugh

As I rapidly approach my “three score and ten” with good health and prosperity, I am deeply conscious of how slowly I have moved in addressing the egregious ills perpetuated by white male privilege, privilege from which I have benefitted, sometimes knowingly but most often unwittingly. For the past twenty-five years I have talked and written about the importance of sustained intentional dialogue across lines of diversity, be they racial, gender, religious, cultural and/or sexual orientation. In fact, I have been fairly proud of myself as one who wasn’t a racist misogynistic homophobic nativist. But of late, my true-self and my self-righteous self have entered into an intense internal dialogue.  I have had no choice but to engage. It has not been a comfortable conversation. I wish decided to share some of it with you because it is a conversation which was repeated in multiple venues during the June General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Beyond the recognition of the ministry of Suzi Paynter as our retiring Executive Director and the installation of Paul Baxley as our fourth Executive Director, the focus of this year’s annual meeting wove around the topics of racial reconciliation, justice and civility. Truth be told, these topics are much easier to talk about than do, but talk and listen we did, moving toward a deeper resolve to act accordingly. Even the music chosen for our worship sessions dreamed of a time when the barriers which separate us would tumble like the walls of Jericho so that all would experience welcoming affirmation in the fellowship of God’s community on earth. To that end the program of the assembly as well as the diversity of those in attendance reflected greater racial diversity than I have experienced in the past. At the same time, the confessions shared by our presenters in the stories which they told were constant reminders of how far we have yet to go if we are to live the walk which we talk.

One pastor reflected on the history of the beautiful church house in which the congregation he serves once worshipped. It was built just before to the War of Southern Treason (okay, The Civil War). Prior to its construction, the congregation’s membership had been comprised of both whites and blacks (slaves) with the blacks relegated to balcony seats. A recent study of the church’s records from that period revealed that during the building fund campaign for the new facility, a goodly number of the white slave owners had sold some of their slaves in order to donate to the building fund. The slaves who sold sere their fellow church members. Christians selling Christians, splitting up families, so that they could build a more elaborate house for the worship of God! With time the black members split off and built their own church so that there became two First Baptist Churches in that town. Today, led by their respective pastors, those two congregations have entered into a covenant of truth telling and reconciliation working toward just reparations. Dialogue which moves from words to action is hard but important stuff which cannot be shunted aside. I happen to believe that the CBF of Mississippi is on the cusp of modeling for the entirety of the CBF the joy and the hard work of what it means to put aside white privilege and become an inclusive welcoming and affirming body of Christians – white, black, straight, gay, male, female, and all the variations in between.

It was as a twelve-year-old white boy that I first encountered the hard lessons of social stereotyping, inequality and injustice that carried the stench of death every time we breathed from our mouths words of religious piety. On the day that I turned 12 my neighborhood playmate, James, suddenly took to addressing me as “Mr. David”. Overhearing this new title bestowed upon me, my father took offence. As Dad was blind, he insisted that I walk him over to James’ home. He needed to speak with James’ parents. So, I gave him my elbow. It wasn’t a long walk as Dad was the pastor of a congregation near the invisible boundary which divided and segregated our town.

James’ parents were home and invited us to join them on their ragged, but neat, front porch for a glass of iced tea. Not waiting long past the initial cordial pleasantries, my Dad suddenly burst out with, “Why has James started calling David, Mr. David? He was David yesterday and he will be David tomorrow. Gosh (closest to swearing Dad ever got), they have been friends for years and just because he is now 12 there is no difference!”

“But you don’t understand, Brother Jay. If our son doesn’t learn now to show deference and respect to your son, he might grow up believing that he don’t have to show no respect to any white man. You know what that means don’t you? He could get himself beat up or worse by the whites. So, Brother Jay, from now on my boy will address your boy as Mr. David.”

They talked about it for some time, my father arguing his point from a Biblical perspective and James’ parents arguing theirs from the reality within which we lived. Then there was silence. No more could be said. Then, after thinking about it a moment longer, my father turned to me and unequivocally stated, “Then, David, that being the case, from now on you are to call James ‘Mr. James.’ He’s no less equal than you and you will not treat him so, nor will you allow him to treat you as better. Others will never cause us to treat anyone as less than equal because of the color of their skin.”

Over the past weeks I could not help but recall that conversation between neighbors which ultimately helped shape my life.  And over these weeks I have heard or read multiple responses from African-American friends who echoed the very real fears shared by James’ parents. African-American parents continue to be aware of the care which they have to exercise in instructing their sons on how to conduct themselves when outside their homes. I have thankfully acknowledged how a conversation between parents, a dialogue about common concerns, helped build understanding and transformed relationships for me far into the future. Yet I cannot get away from the fact that now, 58 years after that conversation, the very same systemic racism to which it introduced me remains the truth to nwhich Black parents have to introduce their young sons. “Don’t run in public spaces;” “don’t play with toy guns like the white boys do;” “don’t stick your hands deep in your pockets, behind your back and most certainly near your waist band if stopped by a police officer or store security guard;” “don’t reach into your car’s glove box to retrieve auto registration and insurance papers when stopped by the police when driving;” “don’t demonstrate team spirit by rallying in the street following a team victory;” don’t…..don’t…..don’t…don’t do hardly anything which, should a white boy do it, would be entirely acceptable. We look one another in the face, black and white, and clearly see that we continue to deal with the vestiges of a social sin, a dis-ease, which has corrpted us. We wrestle with one another and with ourselves; we wrestle with anger which has been building generation upon generation; we wrestle with God however God may be understood; and we hold on grasping for hope and a new future.

This is the struggle which the Church has long denied and which it is now beginning to face. Following the Ferguson Grand Jury decision to not indict the police officer who fired the fatal shot some of us white clergy busy penning condemnations of that decision were challenged by an  African-American pastor to be just as bold with our pronouncements while we stood safely in our pulpits the following Sunday. He challenged us to remain very public in the wrestling of dialogue through the nights ahead. Instances such as Ferguson have continued since those days. If we are to walk together into the light of a new day we must maintain a consistent witness in our public and private face.

Another African-American friend, the proud new father of a son, envisioned how he would hold that future, inevitable conversation with his son warning him of the dangers of being a black boy in a white man’s world. A white pastor friend penned a letter to his daughters exposing the dangers which they would face growing up in a white patriarchal society where the frat boys’ version of the events carries more weight than the physical evidence condemning their abusive behavior.  How much harder it is for anyone who is black or female to see justice prevail in the court of public opinion, much less the law. White privilege is deeply rooted from the court house to the church.

As delusional as it may sound, I still believe that open, honest dialogue between individuals remains one sure way to transform individual hearts and to overcome systemic or institutional racism. While I may understand the ethos that gives rise to anger vented in mob violence, I also understand that fear of the “other” fuels those actions which drive us further apart. In the safe space of honest dialogue fears are pulled off the heat of the flame as personal stories are shared. A recognition of common humanity along with common aspirations and concerns nurtures those who were formerly “the other” into “brother/sister” from another mother. And, while there are some who would argue that “we can no longer talk about this,” talk about this we must! But such talk will not, and must not, come cheaply. Honest dialogue requires much of those who are willing to participate. Old opinions and self-deceits must be placed aside. Hearing the hurts and pain of another can open up personal wounds of our own. There can be moments when nothing short of restitution in some form must be freely given. Personal and systemic patterns of behavior must be placed aside and the hard work of developing new patterns and systems be put into place.

Interracial dialogue most often occurs in response to a particular ‘crisis event’.  A coalition of leaders may put aside their historic differences to address a critical concern, and then, return to ‘business as usual’ once the crisis has passed.  Yet, many of our deeply rooted human conflicts are seldom addressed in such negotiations.  The concept of “sustained dialogue” offers a means of addressing the chasm created by the basic mistrusts often found between groups.  Models such as those offered by the New Baptist Covenant build strong bridges across the racial divide which continues to exist within the Baptist church culture. Sustained dialogue around issues of race is essential tool for facing our fears, our historic grievances and injustices while discovering our common roots, hopes, dreams and even, faith. They demand the formation of sacred covenants between groups long divided by systemic racism and misogyny and homophobia. The covenantal approach is an interactive process designed to change the core of troublesome relationships.  Its intention is not to bring together contending parties to get equal pieces of some real or imagined pie.  The intent is to lead the participants to probe the dynamics of conflictive relationships which lead to the problems experienced in community.  By developing a capacity for change and then designing actions to change the ways in which they relate for the better, participants are then able to decide how to take those steps to the wider community.

And it is to this end that the CBF of Mississippi’s programmatic focus has turned over the past three years. Our congregations are more concerned with being servant communities openly embracing the rich diversity of those with whom we live than we are with maintaining peace with those religious institutions from whence we have come in the hope that they will join us if we do not speak the truth which we have come to embrace. We are not going to grow by building walls to segregate us from “the other” but rather by tearing down those walls so that we can walk alongside those same “others.” We will embrace “the beloved community” by entering into partnership covenants with churches, organizations and individuals once ignored, if not distained, so that elbows in hand, we might be led into walking the walk we have so eloquently talked. Genuine partnership implies the possibility of being changed by the experience; therefore, such covenants are inherently risky! 

I continue to reflect on how the dialogue held so many years ago on the porch of James’ parents shaped not only who James and I came to be in future years but impacted individuals and systems that we encountered since then. For me, that dialogue did not end that one afternoon. It has continued internally through the course of my years. Trials of personal wills and social unrest call me daily to face the issues of racism and white male privilege within my psyche and within my society. Just as we all are.


J. David Waugh, current Moderator of the CBF of MS, has served pastorates in VT, RI, NY and MS as well as serving as founding director of Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries in NYC.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast (The Gospel According to Simon and Garfunkel) - Bert Montgomery

It is Paul, the great writer that he is, who, along with one of his missionary companions – not Silas, not Barnabas, but Garfunkel – writes:

“Slow down, you move too fast;

You got to make the morning last;

Just kicking down the cobblestones,

looking for fun and feeling groovy.”

Sacred music scholars will recognize these are lyrics from “The 59th Street Bridge Song” by Simon and Garfunkel. 

And what sacred words these are! Slow down! We move too fast!

 I have a “mindfulness” app on my phone. Twice a day – mid-morning and mid-afternoon – the app chimes like a gong. A reminder note pops up offering me a minute, or three minutes, or fifteen minutes, to pause; to walk away from the computers and the news and the music and the people and the thoughts and the demands and the noise. Twice a day I get interrupted and reminded to breathe deeply. Just breathe, deep, the breath of God.

 The Trappist monk Thomas Merton says that church bells ring (like the chime on my phone), interrupting our busy-ness, and reminding us that God alone is good, that we belong to God, that we are not living for this world. He says the chimes and ringing disrupt our worries in order to remind us that all things pass away, and that our preoccupations are not as important as we think they are. They remind us that we are free – good news when we feel enslaved to the demands and expectations of others. We belong to God, not to the principalities and powers of this world!

And so, twice a day, my phone chimes at me to remind me to be still, and to know that God is God, and the world is not. To be still and know that God is God and that I am not. To be still ... and to know … that I am God's beloved child, despite all the voices telling me otherwise.

 And twice a day the chime interrupts my busy-ness, and far more often than not, I silence the chime and just keep on working.

 We're busy people. We have far more to do than ever before, and even far less time to do it. We are lured into worship at the unforgiving altar of busy-ness.

 It's hard to be still and be quiet.

The roar of the machines, the cars, the trucks, the motorcycles, the airplanes, the mowers and blowers, the air conditioners, the stereo in the vehicle two cars over, the dull humming of the artificial lights … the noise never pauses for us.

 The ever-increasing glow of our TV screens, our computer monitors, our cell phones, the billboards outside our windows, the street lights, our church signs …

 the constant breaking news of every second of every minute of every hour of every day …

 the Twitter feeds, the Facebook posts, the text messages, the never-ending music and sports and comedy shows and dramas and talk shows and talent shows …

 everything keeps multiplying faster and faster, and it keeps getting louder and louder.

 It's like we are software from the early 1990s trying to keep up with the newest and fastest computers. We still get jammed up just by trying to run two programs at the same time. We keep trying to go on with more and more programs opening up. Multi-tasking is the latest god to have seduced us. We add more and more until we freeze – mentally, and sometimes physically. Our minds, our bodies, our souls, give out.

 Anne Lamott says that almost everything will work again if we unplug it for a few minutes, including us.

 Jesus chose to regularly unplug. He didn't even live when plugging in was a real thing. Jesus didn't live with all the technical demands on every moment of every second that we do today – the gadgets that make us accessible to everyone, all the time.

 Jesus stopped. Often. Repeatedly.

 Jesus withdrew. Alone. To be silent. To be still. And to rest in the Presence of God.

 The Gospel of Christ, the Good News of our Lord Jesus, is the call to slow down. And then keep slowing down. Then come to a complete stop.

 Holy interruptions.

 Holy invitations to be still and silent. Holy opportunities to rest. Holy reminders that we are deeply, truly loved by God. We are loved not for what we do or how much we can produce or how many things we can cram into our over-stuffed calendar, but because we are God's children in whom God delights.

May we heed the call of Simon and Garfunkel to slow down, because we move too fast. May we practice the call of Psalm 46:10 (my paraphrase): Be still, and know, that God is God, and that you, I, and all the demands of others, are not.

 Slow down. We move too fast. Let it be so. 


CBF is Working to Change MS! - Katie Carter

My journey at CBF of Mississippi began only about three and a half months ago when I came on as an intern for Together for Hope and CBF MS. Throughout these past few months the people and purpose of CBF MS have become very dear to me. I am an undergrad student at Mississippi College studying Social Work and originally came on to do community development work with Together for Hope, but I have learned and experienced so much more. One of the things that I really value about CBF of Mississippi is how the four public witness pillars of racial discourse and dialogue, poverty relief and development, interfaith and ecumenism, and gender equality are truly upheld in word and deed. In my short time at CBF MS, I have seen each of these be a priority to the people and churches of CBF MS.

I am so excited about the work that Together for Hope is doing and really would not be able to do in full without the help of CBF members. Whether you are a potential partner, practitioner, or just a church member who is on board with TFH’s mission and purpose, we need you to reach the poorest people in our state. Just for some background information, Together for Hope is a rural development coalition that is committed to the 301 counties of persistent rural poverty in our country. Mississippi contains 42 of those counties. FORTY TWO! That means that about 14% of the nations most impoverished people are right outside of our doorstep. Together for Hope believes that each person was made in the image of their creator and therefore has inherent dignity and worth. That being said, the community development practices that we implement must reflect the fact that we fully believe in the dignity of all people. Together for Hope abides by the asset-based community development model, which focuses on the strengths, assets, and resources of each community and then aids the community in leveraging those for sustainable development. Together for Hope truly believes that the people of the community have the answers and they have the potential for change within them. They just need to be given permission to see, celebrate, and move toward action. The work that Together for Hope is doing is extremely important. As the name expresses, more than anything, TFH desires to unveil hope in communities where hope is a rarity. However, the work of community development is slow and takes patience, persistence, always being fueled by hope. CBF of MS, we covet your prayers and support as we engage in this work. Be praying for the leaders of Together for Hope, the practitioners, our current and future partners, leaders in communities, and the people of the communities, that all would be led in wisdom, truth, and grace as we seek His Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Because I do work primarily with Together for Hope, a lot of my work has looked like involving the people of CBF MS in the work that TFH is doing across the state. In the past month I have seen people rise up in numerous ways. We were able to pack 30 buckets with cleaning supplies that will be distributed to 30 different families that were affected by the floods in the Delta. In addition, CBF MS churches raised both cash funds and collected supplies for families who lost everything that they had in an apartment fire. These families were able to go “shop” for items in a space that was set up in store-like fashion, thus extending dignity to numerous families. Two more events are in the works for the coming month. At the end of this month, CBF of MS is sponsoring a Racial Discourse and Dialogue at the Mississippi Civil Right Museum (more information on cbfms.org and on our Facebook page). Lastly, the missions team is planning a work day to serve a partner church in Jackson that needs some serious repairs to their building. Just in this month alone, CBF MS has been involved in poverty relief, interfaith work, racial discourse and dialogue, and is still upholding its commitment to gender equality as men and women work equally alongside each other in roles of leadership and service.

Wonderful things are happening at CBF of Mississippi and Together for Hope and I am so thankful to have been a part of it!

Northminster Spring Break Trip- Major Treadway

“There’s not a lot to do.”

“The people are so nice and friendly.”

“It seems like a lot of buildings aren’t being used for what they were made to be used for.”

After spending four days being with Delta Hands for Hope in Shaw, Mississippi, I asked the eleven students from Northminster Baptist Church, in Jackson, Mississippi, what they had learned or observed about Shaw in our brief time there. These were their immediate responses. The four days that preceded this conversation had been spent engaging with children and adolescents who had entrusted their care to Delta Hands for Hope (DHH). The students from Northminster had talked about tornadoes – constructing water tornadoes in two-liter plastic bottles duct-taped together, molding tornadoes out of Play-Doh, and coloring pictures of tornadoes while discussing how to seek safe cover should a tornado descend upon Shaw. They spent a lot of time painting – a concession stand and ticket booth at the local high school football field, fire hydrants all over the community, newly installed doors at DHH’s facility. They built tomato trellises for community gardens. Importantly, all of these activities were done alongside residents of Shaw. Teenagers from Jackson and teenagers from Shaw working together on projects identified by stakeholders in the Shaw community. There were plenty of opportunities for play, as well. Every step of the way, where time and opportunity permitted, the two groups of teenagers were together – working, eating, playing – together.

northminster 2.jpg

After four short days, when asked what the students from Northminster had learned about Shaw, the three above responses came. Incredibly, and likely accidentally, these teenagers stumbled on two exceptionally common traits of impoverished communities around the world and one that distinguishes a community as having not always been impoverished.

Before accompanying this group to Shaw, I had spent the greater part of the last decade living and working in Southeast Asia with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). My life and work with MCC was limited to communities in two countries. In these places, I encountered thriving communities of people living with less tangible wealth and property than many people in the United States – even in the Mississippi Delta – would think possible. Communities where electricity was inconsistent in availability and strength, communities where water was only available in public spaces to be carried to private spaces, communities where a “Boil Water” notice would be laughable because water always had to be boiled, communities where houses had only one room and no doors.

By any monetary or development index consideration, these communities would be considered impoverished. Stories I heard from colleagues living and working in impoverished communities in all corners of the globe, similar to what the students observed in Shaw, supported the observation that there was “not a lot to do.” There were no movie theaters. No cellular network would support streaming high definition digital content or gaming. Stores, restaurants, and other businesses were few. There was not a lot of time for entertainment, but when people were able to make time for recreation, they entered into it the way they did most other activities: In community. They would play soccer, tell stories, or go to worship.

Northminster 5.jpg

Somehow, in each of these spaces, despite their lack of material wealth and that there was “not a lot to do,” people exhibited notable welcome and kindness – something that the students observed in Shaw, noting that “the people are so nice and friendly.”  One of the best examples I can remember from Asia occurred in a small mountainside farming village. A friend was visiting my wife and me over the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday (the biggest religious holiday of the year in Indonesia). We decided to take a morning public bus from our home up to this little village so that we could hike a relatively short mountain (though tall by Mississippi standards). Having made this trek many times, I knew the route from the bus stop to the mountain (and back). I also knew that, while we were likely to find a motorcycle taxi to take us to the mountain on this special holiday, we would almost certainly have to walk the two miles (or so) back from the mountain to the main road, where we might (hopefully) catch a bus home. What we did not predict was the rain waiting for us on the mountain. When we descended, thoroughly soaked, we started our trek back to the main road that would take us home. We walked through a village that was devoid of signs of wealth. To our surprise, a van pulled up beside us. The family (easily outnumbering the seats available) motioned for us to get into the van. We protested that we were wet with rain and sweat, and they were all wearing their finest clothes, in celebration of the holiday. They insisted. They took us directly to the bus stop, offered us water and snacks, and refused to take any compensation for transporting us. There are so many parts of that story that seem unimaginable in the suburbs of the United States. Yet, when I imagine the many other impoverished communities I have visited (inside the US and outside), it seems very possible, if not likely.

The first observation by students from Northminster about Shaw, that “a lot of buildings were not being used for what they were made to be used for” stands far afield from what I observed in impoverished communities in rural SE Asia. In these communities, the people had always been subsistence farmers. There had never been enough commerce to merit building anything beyond what was immediately necessary and useful. In Shaw, and in other towns like it scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta, there are many buildings that have long been abandoned, sometimes repurposed like the one that is home to DHH, more often (it seems) left vacant until they eventually collapse. These buildings are evidence of a thriving economy that once was – a time when these buildings had a purpose and when there was enough economic activity to support their use.

Northminster 3.jpg

Together for Hope is a coalition of development practitioners organized under the direction of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Together for Hope started with a twenty-year commitment to the twenty poorest counties in the US. Bolivar County, home to Shaw, in Mississippi is among these twenty counties. Importantly, Together for Hope subscribes to development methodologies rooted in Asset Based Community Development, which has as a core belief that the development of a community should begin with identifying what assets, or strengths, the community already possesses (rather than starting with deficiencies).

Utilizing this methodology, DHH and the community in Shaw were able to repurpose a building that was no longer being used for the purpose for which it was constructed. The building that houses Delta Hands for Hope formerly housed a grocery store, a club, and a retail store. This space now has new occupants with a fresh purpose: DHH operates a computer lab, library, community activity space, and food service space. They make available to the community a safe after-school and school break space for elementary-aged children. When children come to DHH, they are provided with a meal and meaningful interaction with volunteers who are interested and invested in their positive development. DHH also hosts a pharmacy technician class and opportunities for adults to complete a high school diploma equivalency. They are active agents in the community, seeking out ongoing activities, making concerted efforts to avoid redundancy in provision of goods or services, while also looking to make connections between existing assets and opportunities.

Delta Hands for Hope invites groups to join in what is already happening in Shaw. When I first called and talked to Executive Director, Lane Riley, about the prospect of Northminster being with DHH for Spring Break, I asked what she hopes for most, from groups that come. Her response was telling of the kind of relationship-focused work in which DHH is engaged. “Repeat visits,” she responded succinctly. I am already looking forward to our next visit and what I might learn from my new friends in Shaw.

Northminster 1.jpg

Survival and More - Jason Coker

Jason Coker-  CBF MS Field Coordinator

Jason Coker- CBF MS Field Coordinator

I confess that I used to watch Survivor when it first came out—a hundred years ago! I’ll also confess that I like the current slate of survivor shows with people like Bear Grylls (Google him if you don’t know him). Basically, all these survivor shows drop someone off in the middle of nowhere—specifically a “nowhere” that is very difficult to survive in: Amazon Jungle, Namibian Desert, Andes Mountains, Louisiana Swamp, you get the idea. In every show, those trying to survive have to do at least three things in order to survive: make some sort of shelter, find a way to produce safe drinking water, and find a food source. Food, water, and shelter—the three basic ingredients to survival. If you don’t have any one of these three components, you cannot survive! Survival skills help one to find and secure these three basic necessities of life.

A couple of years ago, one of our small towns in Mississippi (this is not the only one, but just one that I know of) had to issue a Water ban/boil for the whole town because the water lines and water infrastructure were so dilapidated that the water that came through them and ended up in the houses and schools and churches and town hall was not potable. It was actually dangerous to drink the water because it had too many contaminants in it. There are a lot of reasons water systems fail, but this one was from years of neglect. Not long after the town elected its first African American mayor in the 80s, the white population began to move out in masses. This left the town with a much lower tax base, so it had much less income to do basic maintenance on municipal projects like roads, sewers, water systems, electrical systems, etc. Without the economic power of these families, the town slowly began to decay. Stores closed, jobs left, crime increased, and those who could get out, did.

It took eleven months for the town to figure out how to fix the water problem. This was during the school year. Kids couldn’t drink from the water fountains in the hallways, wash their hands after using the bathroom, and the cafeteria had to improvise in just about every way imaginable. The whole town was lacking a sustainable water source—one necessary component for human survival. While the town was able to work together to alleviate the problem, many still feel it was only a temporary fix, so they are always waiting on the news of a renewed water ban/boil.

In this same town, all the grocery stores are gone. The Dollar General on the edge of town has started selling some grocery items like milk and bread, but not much else. People have to drive over 10-15 miles to find a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit. The only food available in the town is at the local gas stations that has chips, candy, and other forms of “junk” food. Healthy food is not available unless you have adequate transportation, which is one of the major issues facing rural America. Food—another necessity for human survival.

Food and water are legitimate concerns for the citizens of this town, but Shelter is also a problem. The vast majority of housing in the town is falling down. Old wood structures sag under the heat and humidity of the Delta and many houses are simply falling in and collapsing. I was in another one of our small towns in Mississippi just last week and I saw a house with the front door wide open. I thought the house was so dilapidated that no one lived there, and then a young girl—maybe 10-12—walked out of the house and closed the door behind her. I don’t know if she lived there or was just visiting, but it hurt me to think about a kid the same age as my children having to go into a house that run down. In an area where there are not enough jobs for the people and where the elderly barely hold on to these old houses, this is the rule not the exception. Shelter—another necessity of human survival.

In Mississippi we have 42 counties of persistent rural poverty. People in these counties and many of the other counties in Mississippi struggle not to excel, but to simply survive—food, water, and shelter. There’s enough blame for all of us to find fault with ourselves in the reasons why our state has the highest poverty rate in the nation—and has had this distinction for nearly all my life. However, blame won’t change anything! CBF of Mississippi is committed to poverty relief and development. We want to be part of the solution to the blight of poverty in our state. In an attempt to change this narrative and reality, we are partnering with churches, organizations, and individuals across the state to intervene in systems that continue to produce these issues, bring innovation to some of these issues to try something different, and advocate for policy that we know can make a difference.

CBF of Mississippi’s work in poverty is not an attempt to be some other political action group. We do this because every human being in the state of Mississippi is created in the image of our loving God. Every child, every teenager, every adult, every senior adult reflects back to us the image of God—the God we worship and love. We are compelled by the love of God and the love of neighbor to work for all people in our state. And, honestly, I don’t want to work hard just for the people in Mississippi to survive. I want more than basic survival for our people. I want our people to live into the plans God has for them, and that’s got to be more than survival.