By Blake Tommey
“When You’re Poor, You’re Prey.”
The night Holly McAdams took her daughter and fled her home in Ohio, it cost her a house to live in. After years of forfeiting her own pain medication to her pill-addicted husband, it cost her own health. When she reported her violent husband and neighbors to the state police, it cost her safety. Because she had been without a car for many years, her newly-acquired Chevy Malibu cost one of the highest interest rates on the market for car insurance. When she landed in Somerset, Kentucky, it eventually cost her marriage. And when she took out a $1,000 loan from Castle Payday, it cost $8,640 in interest payments — an interest rate of 864 percent.
“It’s a vicious cycle and you can’t get out of it,” McAdams explained.
“When you’re poor, you’re prey. You get your paycheck, you pay your bills, you buy groceries and then you have nothing left. If something goes wrong with your car, you’re stuck. So you get one of these loans and you pay to fix it, and you’re stuck. And it’s legal, perfectly legal! If the banks are geared for the rich and their interest rates are low, and payday loans are geared for the poor and their interest rates are high, how does that make a bit of sense? It’s hypocrisy at its finest.”
In Southern Kentucky where poverty means prey, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Scarlette Jasper is partnering in renewing God’s world with support from the CBF Offering for Global Missions. Through education, housing assistance and developing the assets of local residents, Jasper is bearing witness to Jesus Christ and working to repair lives broken by rural poverty — including McAdams’.
McAdams had connected with Jasper through Bethany House, a domestic violence shelter in Somerset and one of Jasper’s many partners in the region. They met for a warm meal and an even warmer offer on a place to live. Jasper connected McAdams with an affordable apartment, even contributing to the security deposit, and assisted her daughter, Alice, to get plugged into a local school. Jasper also arranged for workers at Potentials Inc., another assistance partner, to drive McAdams to her medical appointments and help her apply for disability benefits.
McAdams says her journey through poverty has taken a lot from her, but her faith and her friends have given her the strength to stand. Alice, now 18-years-old, is attending college and McAdams is working with a credit counselor to clear the disabling interest. Though there is no easy solution for the cycle of poverty, Jasper says combatting predation means bearing witness to the transforming love of Christ in the lives of others.
“God’s call to us in light of global poverty is to help each other,” Jasper said. “The solution to persistent poverty is not a handout; it’s a hand up; it means doing what Jesus did — feeding the poor, clothing those who need clothing, taking care of the sick, but also helping them make sustainable changes that move them into community and opportunities to help their neighbor. It means forming partnerships that will help engage communities in transformational development together.”
For Jasper, partnership means impacting more lives than she ever could alone. At her commissioning in 2014 at the CBF General Assembly, Jasper brought with her more than 20 years of partnerships around fighting rural poverty in southern Kentucky, including with Potentials Inc., a nonprofit that assists families with medical crises, and with Mountain Moms, an organization that provides support and self-care education for women fleeing domestic violence. In addition, Jasper’s long-term partnership with the Housing Authority of Somerset yields numerous development opportunities for families living in poverty, including a bi-annual financial counseling series, workshops on predatory lending and home ownership and nutrition education for elderly and disabled housing communities.
With support from local and other partners as well as the CBF Offering for Global Missions, Jasper attends to the 10-county region surrounding her home in Somerset. McCreary County, home to many of the families and individuals with whom Jasper works, has a median household income of $20,000 and a poverty rate of 47 percent. It
would be easy to swoop in and tell a community like McCreary County what they need, Jasper noted, but bearing witness to Christ means identifying the assets already present in a community and building a support system to grow them.
Rockie Chick, a resident of McCreary County, was homeless for a year before he met Jasper. Most days, he survived by catching squirrels or rabbits and sleeping in a box or wherever he could find shelter. Chick said he encountered Jasper and Potentials Inc. just as his despair had grown to thoughts of suicide. Through Potentials, Chick found an affordable apartment, a job as a woodworker, travel assistance to the doctor and aid drawing his social security and disability benefits. In the end, Chick said, Jasper and Potentials ensured he continue living a life he was intent on ending.
“Everything was down in the dumps and I thought about committing suicide, but they helped me; they got me out of it,” Chick said.
“They helped me get an apartment. They got me a job and everything. And then I started doing woodwork, which is what I did in school.”
In one of CBF’s most dynamic partnerships, Jasper is forming together with CBF Kentucky and Together for Hope, CBF’s rural poverty initiative, to provide housing assistance to families and individuals in southern Kentucky through Extreme Build.
Extreme Build engages churches, community partners and residents in building a home for a local family in only 10 days. Over the first three days, expert carpenters, plumbers and electricians install the primary structure, after which more than 50 volunteers from all over the state finish constructing the remainder of the home. Ultimately, Extreme Build not only provides homes for families living in poverty, but empowers them to purchase the home for only the cost beyond what has been donated or funded by donations. This purchase is typically made possible through low-interest loans through the USDA Rural Development.
Last year, McCreary County resident Tasha Patton purchased her own Extreme Build home, complete with three bedrooms and one bath for her two children. After living in a camper with her son, Lucas, and daughter, Gracie, for two years, Patton saw the Extreme Build advertisement in the newspaper and signed up to be considered for a home. At the time, she was working two jobs to sustain her family but still could not afford a home or apartment. Patton said she never dreamed of owning her own house, but when she qualified for Extreme Build, she experienced the biggest relief of her life.
On the days of the build, Patton even joined more than 100 volunteers to help build her own home. After financial counseling with Jasper, Patton acquired a low-interest USDA loan and created a financial plan to pay off her home. Patton said a year of holidays, meals and homework in their own home has not only grown her family, but also her desire to assist others in finding renewal.
“It has changed our family life completely,” Patton said. “God has helped me so much. Lucas is doing better in school, and Gracie is doing really good too. It’s really helped us a lot. But we also help others in this community. If somebody came to me and said they needed a hand, I would try to help them in any way that I could.”
As Jasper and the residents of Southern Kentucky continue to form together, the CBF Offering for Global Missions is an opportunity to extend partnership across the Fellowship and the world, Jasper said. Under the new model for funding field personnel, the CBF Offering for Global Missions will secure the long-term presence of all CBF field personnel by funding their salaries, benefits and housing costs. In addition to her upcoming ordination, Jasper said, the new funding model will support and sustain her in countless ways as she bears witness to Christ in the midst of rural poverty in Kentucky.
“Please partner with CBF field personnel by giving generously to the CBF Offering for Global Missions,” Jasper added. “What I find most joyful about following Christ is the relationships that are developed. We turn into family; it’s not just me and them. We are together. We are a Fellowship. We are a community and we work together for common goals. Your gifts allow us to minister to the most marginalized around the world. Your gifts allow me to minister in Southern Kentucky.”