The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) launched Together for Hope as the rural poverty initiaitve at its 2001 General Assembly, making official the Fellowship’s support in rural, impoverished areas. Together for Hope is CBF’s rural poverty initiative, a 20-year commitment to offer hope to people in and around 20 of the poorest counties in the United States. The goal is to work with local residents, state and regional CBF groups, churches, and other organizations to maximize local resources, empower community members, and make a difference in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).
The dream for Together for Hope developed out of the CBF Global Missions' commitment to most neglected peoples. Then Co-Coordinator Gary Baldridge, inspired by CBF of Alabama's effort with Sowing Seeds of Hope, began in 1999 to think about helping in the world’s poorest countries, and then encouraged research to find the pockets of the greatest poverty in the United States. Realizing that there are many ways to define poverty, it was decided simply to find the counties with the highest percentages of their total population living below the nationally established poverty line, based on U.S. census data.
The 20 counties that emerged from the study were all in rural areas in five regions (Appalachia, Black Belt, Mississippi River Delta, Rio GrandeValley, and High Plains) and seven states (Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and South Dakota). By 2003, there was active service in 8 of the 20 counties; now efforts are going on in 17 of the 20 counties. More than 4500 volunteers participated during 2004 in house repair, church construction, health care, clothing, literacy, church planting, food supply, recreation, Vacation Bible Schools, economic development, and job skills training. One encouraging aspect in every county is that there are people of faith who are living out the Good News in their presence and witness.
Together for Hope may be more like a movement than a program. State and regional CBF organizations are now working with people in seven additional very poor counties that are not on the original list of 20. Just as importantly, the volunteers and others who are participating with the people in all of these poverty-ridden counties are realizing that there is poverty in their own communities. They are taking the lessons learned from their Together for Hope efforts back home to make a difference there, too.