MT. VERNON, Ky. (KT) – Randy McPheron experienced such a rush from Saturday’s “Give Hope” event at Renfroe Valley Entertainment Center, he still has the tingles.
That’s because the hope of the world was on full display.
Sixty-three decisions for Christ were made and more than 1,100 gift-filled backpacks were handed out to children at the annual event that a few short months ago looked like it may not happen after COVID-19 put a stranglehold on everybody.
“In early conversations, some of our leaders were cautious, and rightly so,” said McPheron, associational missions strategist at Rockcastle County's Baptist association. “At one point, I didn’t know if we were even going to be able to press forward.”
McPheron said the association does nothing unless they are united in the effort.
“My heart was burning for this thing,” he said. “I had one of my pastors step up and went out on a limb with me. When he did that, some of the other leaders overcame some apprehension. It was what God did. He was doing this from the start.”
If it was going to happen, one of the biggest events of the Christmas season in Rockcastle County was going to have to look different. And almost daily, McPheron said, the pieces began falling into place for everything to work.
There was an initial fear of not having enough backpacks. The Kentucky Baptist Convention provided 700 backpacks after at first telling McPheron they only had about 300 to give them. A church in Lincoln County gave them another 100 and churches in the association provided about 300 more bringing the total to about 1,100.
“We gave every one of them away,” he said. “I was scared out of my shoes. The biggest parking lot in the county and it was packed. I was thinking about the people in the back of the parking lot. I just started praying and told God it was going to have to be like the fishes and loaves. It’s phenomenal how God supplied.”
Renfroe Valley Entertainment Center had the biggest parking lot in the county and offered it as a distribution site, along with a sound system and DJ “Country Charlie” for some fun. They also offered their radio signal so nobody had to leave their car to hear instructions and, more importantly, to hear about Jesus.
McPheron enlisted Todd Gray, KBC's executive director-treasurer, to deliver the gospel message.
“In my opinion, he’s the best evangelist in the state,” said McPheron, who usually does the gospel presentation himself. “There are a lot of good preachers and a lot of good pastors but not everybody can set that hook. He preached a 15-minute gospel and it was powerful. I’ve not heard a sermon like that.”
The message was short by request, McPheron said. “What we try to do is a brief presentation for the sake of the event.”
They advertised there would be a special message at the event and then they would give away Christmas-filled backpacks. They observed all social distancing, including masks and gloves. They also took temperatures of the army of volunteers, he said.
Even when COVID guidelines are relaxed, they plan to hold Give Hope outdoors again next year because people were less intimidated, McPheron said. A local realty company set up a giant tent to keep the backpacks dry on the December damp day.
“It all came together and people were so grateful,” he said.
Participants could text "hope4me" if they wanted to know more about following Christ. The messaging system also requested contact information like their name and email address.
“That information is in the hands of every one of our pastors,” McPheron said. “One of our pastors looked at the list and recognizes his daughter-in-law who came from the next town. He calls her and says, ‘I heard something good happened to you today?’ and she said, ‘It did! I got saved and not only me but my sister’ and her sister didn’t even text us.”
Another woman texted McPheron and said she gave her life to the Lord. “It not only went out on the parking lot but the radio broadcast was an AM-FM station. Because of the internet, I can safely say 3,000 people could have heard the overall broadcast.”