By Lonnie Wilkey

PIKEVILLE—A rural Tennessee Baptist church is doing its best to show the love of Christ in one of the most impoverished areas of the state.

According to statistical data, Bledsoe County is one of the poorest counties in Tennessee. In 2010, Bledsoe County was ranked 94th among 95 counties in the state with a per capita income of $12,907.

In order to aid the community, Lee Station Baptist Church in Pikeville, which is located in Bledsoe County, has provided their House of Hope ministry for the past five years.

House of Hope offers food, clothing and furniture year-round to not only residents of Pikeville and Bledsoe County but seven surrounding counties as well according to pastor Bill Wolfe.

“We attract poor people,” Wolfe said.

Church member and volunteer, Phil Colvard, agreed.

“Hungry people need to be fed,” he said. “People don’t realize how many residents in the surrounding area don’t have enough income to get by. That’s why we do what we do.”

The small congregation of about 50 people helps between 700 and 800 families monthly, reaching between two and three thousand people.

“It’s so awesome to see how God works,” Wolfe said. He is a bi-vocational pastor who has been at Lee Station Baptist for 16 years.

Even before the church opened House of Hope, the congregation sponsored a food bank. Their ministry is currently funded by the church and private gifts from individuals, business, other churches and organizations.

“We get donations almost every day from people who know about the ministry and want to help,” said Wolfe. In addition, the church has received hunger funds from Global Hunger Relief.

“That has been a blessing,” Wolfe stressed. “We put those missions dollars to excellent use.

Joe Sorah, compassion ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board attributed the success of churches and organizations to Baptist community generosity.

“Because Tennessee Baptists give through Global Hunger Relief, we are able to assist churches and ministries with needed funds to buy food to feed hungry people in Tennessee,” Sorah said.

Sorah also noted Tennessee’s poverty rate is 15 percent and 20.9 percent of Tennessee’s children live in poverty. Ten percent of Tennesseans live in extreme poverty which is below half of the poverty line.

“Almost 13 percent (12.9) of Tennesseans live with food deficiency, meaning that at some point in the year they experienced difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources,” Sorah said. “There is no shortage of people in need in Tennessee. Meeting hunger needs opens the door for gospel sharing. As we help to feed hungry people, the doors open to share the Bread of Life. Hunger ministries do more than give out food. They meet the immediate need in order to address the greatest need.

“Lee Station Baptist Church has seen the need, heeded the call to help and is making an eternal difference in many lives.”

Lee Station Baptist Church uses the donations to buy about 15,000 pounds of food each month from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. And their ministry goes far beyond food.

“God has opened up so many doors of ministry through the House of Hope,” Wolfe said.

Even more important than the physical help provided, the House of Hope meets spiritual needs as well, the pastor said, noting that volunteers are available to answer spiritual questions.

“We have seen people come to the Lord through the House of Hope and its ministry,” Wolfe said.

The Pikeville pastor is not only grateful for the financial assistance the church receives but also for the men and women from other churches who volunteer their time at the ministry site.

Laura Arner, a member of the Pikeville Seventh Day Adventist Church, is one of those volunteers. She observed that though Lee Station is a small church, “they do a wonderful work and help so many people.”

Noting that her church does not have a similar ministry, Arner said “it’s nice to be involved in their ministry. It’s a blessing for me to come and help them. It’s wonderful what this church does for the community. They are a blessing to everybody.”

Richard Lewelling, director of missions for Sequatchie Valley Baptist Association, said House of Hope “meets physical, emotional and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name.”

“When Lee Station Baptist Church saw the needs of their community and the facility that now houses the House of Hope became available, they saw this as an opportunity to reach out to their community with the love of Jesus,” Lewelling said.

For more information on the House of Hope, call 423-667-2287.

This article originally appeared in the Baptist and Reflector, a news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Lonnie Wilkey is author of the article which NAMB originally found here on the Baptist Press website.