By Ben Brown
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced the world to new vocabulary. One of the most common terms in this new lexicon is “social distancing.”
Scarlette Jasper is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in a large geographic region stretching from south central Kentucky to eastern Tennessee, where her ministry is one of connection. Several of these counties are among the poorest in the country and experience persistent rural poverty. Part of the reason for this poverty is geographic isolation.
While distance can increase safety from a contagious virus, isolation and other social distancing can also lead to challenges in mental health.
Jasper’s ministry as a CBF field personnel is vast, nearly as vast as her geographic area of ministry. Currently, she is involved in several pop-up vaccine sites, a winter relief homeless ministry in partnership with First Baptist Church, Corbin, Ky., and in the launch of a program aimed at elementary school students called “Reimagining Recess.”
All of these missions help vulnerable people in Appalachia with compassion and necessary tools and resources for thriving.
“That’s the nature of my ministry, you have to be in contact with people,” said Jasper.
On the coldest nights of the year, a white flag flies on Roy Kidd Avenue in Corbin, Kentucky. White Flag Ministries offers a meal each weekday and emergency food bags on the weekends for those who are food-insecure. On nights when the temperature drops below 30 degrees, a local motel houses those who are in need of safe housing for the night. This ministry runs from late November until mid-March each year.
“The ministry provides shelter to keep people from freezing to death. A large part of my ministry is building relationships with the folks coming through, which COVID has made much harder. My role is case management, trying to help stabilize individuals and families coming through,” said Jasper.
The White Flag building has also hosted vaccine clinics and currently serves as a testing site.
“The site is not available just to those experiencing homelessness; it’s open to the community. It’s a great location downtown next to the post office and the library,” said Jasper.
In feeding, clothing and housing those that are in need, Jasper builds relationships. She helps individuals apply for health insurance, gain transportation for a job, or secure permanent housing. She listens to their experiences and provides pastoral care and presence. She responds to their pain and sees the trauma of this global pandemic.
“I always disliked the term ‘social-distancing.’ That is exactly what has happened, and it wasn’t necessary. It was meant to be a space for safety, but I think unfortunately, a literal social distancing is what has happened. It has had an impact on mental health for everyone,” said Jasper.
Mental health counseling is a growing part of Jasper’s ministry in Appalachia. She hopes to undo the stigma in Appalachia attached to counseling and assist her participants through expanding her pastoral ministry by pursuing her license as a pastoral counselor to meet the needs of her people.
“If you had a family member that had cancer or diabetes, you would want them to seek help. It’s the same way for mental health,” said Jasper. “Counseling is good for everyone, especially after these years of trauma from COVID, from this pandemic. And that’s a larger part of my ministry now.”
Learn more about the ministry of CBF field personnel Scarlette Jasper at www.cbf.net/jasper.