Sometimes, being missional requires creativity in the development of new ministries. At other times, it means recognizing the innovation of others and simply offering a helping hand.
A North Carolina couple is modeling the latter approach by getting behind a rural community’s creative effort to overcome the poverty and hunger its people face.
Conetoe (pronounced ka-NEE-tuh) is a town of about 300 residents in eastern North Carolina and is so rural and isolated that it’s considered a severe food desert. The nearest grocery stores are 10 miles away, LaCount Anderson said.
Anderson and his wife, Anna, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel who long served in another impoverished town 30 miles away. But the work and ministry they heard was happening in Conetoe has drawn them there to expand those efforts.
“They’ve [the residents] already identified the problem and they are providing the solution,” he said.
Youth run bee-hive operation
That solution is astonishing in its creativity, scope and success, the Andersons said.
It began as a farming project led by Richard Joyner, pastor at Conetoe Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. A two-acre plot created more than a decade ago has blossomed into a major farming effort with five large sites led by the area’s youth.
“The teens have taken over the church from the older folks,” LaCount Anderson said. “They raised the money to build the building, they started the 501(3)c.”
Now known as the Conetoe Family Life Center, the project includes youth development, a healthy living initiative and a bee-keeping operation.
The nonprofit drew national attention last year when CNN reported on the center’s efforts to address the malnutrition once rampant in the town about an hour east of Raleigh.
Joyner and more than 80 youth plant, care for and harvest about 50,000 pounds of crops annually in predominately African-American Edgecombe County, the CNN report said.
The bee-keeping project came along later — at the insistence of youth, the center said on its website.
“The Conetoe Family Life Center ‘bee bus’ is a recycled school bus-turned-honey bee-hive that will help ensure better crop cultivation,” the center said. “The children have managed the project from the start — learning the science behind building hives … and harvesting the honey to sell at farmers markets around the region.”
Joyner said it all began as a response to deaths in the county.
“Diabetes, high blood pressure — when we first got started, we counted 30 funerals in one year,” Joyner told CNN. “I couldn’t ignore it because I was spending more time in funerals than anything else.”
‘Other spiritual things’
Anna Anderson said it’s easy to see why she and her husband are so eager to join in with the center — especially in its plans to expand to neighboring towns.
The Andersons are accustomed to ministering in the midst of poverty and hunger. They live and work in Scotland Neck, about 30 miles from Conetoe and also a significantly impoverished community.
By partnering with Joyner officially in 2015, the Conetoe Family Life Center will benefit from the expertise and resources available through Together for Hope, the CBF’s rural poverty initiative, LaCount Anderson said.
“This fits in perfectly with the rural poverty initiative. This is as rural as one can get and everyone is in poverty.”
The couple also is tapping into their contacts with CBF congregations in the region, some of whom already have gotten directly involved in Conetoe.
The field personnel also plan to help with Bible studies to supplement food distribution efforts in Conetoe, LaCount Anderson said.
“If you can meet the need of giving food, they are probably going to listen to you on other spiritual things.”