By Marv Knox
Scarlette Jasper came to Appalachia to take care of her family, and that move has blessed thousands of families across more than three decades.
“My dad was a contract engineer in Monticello, Ky., and my mom got sick. So, I came from Texas to take care of my brother and sister while my mom recuperated,” she recalled.
But Jasper did more than look after her siblings. “I met a young man named Brian through a bowling league, where he was on a team with my dad,” she said. “We fell in love… and we got married. He was born and raised in Somerset, Ky., and that’s why I settled here.”
She fell in love not only with Brian but also with Appalachia—its lush beauty, and more than that, its straightforward people.
Since 2014, she has been serving them as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel. Her service area covers south-central and southeastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee. It encompasses about 10 counties of persistent poverty, where median family income remained below the U.S. poverty level 30 or more years.
But Jasper’s passion for helping hurting people developed long before she arrived in Appalachia. “I felt called to ministry as a child,” she explained. “I didn’t have a faith foundation, and I didn’t know what ministry was. But one of my earliest memories is meeting a candy striper at the hospital. I saw that girl volunteering, and I felt called to help people.
“As a young adult, I tried to meet that call through volunteer work,” she said. “I got involved in Habitat for Humanity, PTA, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and other groups. But I could not fulfill whatever that desire was.
“We also were members of a Southern Baptist church, and I was active in Acteens, Vacation Bible School, teaching Sunday school—every position a woman could do. I didn’t have permission to do more, but I still had this desire to do more.”
She did more working for nonprofits covering a large swath of her part of Kentucky.
Then she heard about CBF through her son, Roger Jasper, who was pastor of Living Faith Baptist Fellowship, a congregation in Elizabethtown, Ky.
She discovered CBF had launched Together for Hope, a rural development coalition to combat poverty in the 20 poorest counties in the United States, which included parts of Appalachia.
“I read about CBF and field personnel, and the Lord just spoke to me,” she said. “I already was living and working in the region, including McCreary County (Ky.), one of the original Together for Hope counties. It was a natural fit for me.”
CBF commissioned Jasper as field personnel in 2014. She subsequently earned a Master of Divinity degree from Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, with a concentration in pastoral care and counseling, sharpening her skills for that lifelong call to ministry.
Through her Olive Branch Ministries and networks of relationships, Jasper serves folks in crisis across an area characterized by a poignant contrast between scenic vistas and human need.
“There is a lot of natural beauty here, a lot of natural resources,” she said. However, state and federal governments own vast swaths of those gorgeous mountains, making them off-limits for economic development. And although the communities are distinct, they share a litany of woes—lack of infrastructure, healthcare, transportation and job opportunities.
[Top left] Scarlette Jasper discusses White Flag Ministry’s winter relief plans with Alex Lockridge (left) and Paul Sims (middle), ministers with First Baptist Church, Corbin, Ky. [Top right] Jasper leaves Wal-mart after purchasing needed clothing for a homeless participant at White Flag Ministry. [Middle right] White Flag Winter Relief Ministry participants experiencing homelessness embrace while waiting for a hot meal and shelter. [Bottom] A participant at the rapid health clinic receives a rapid COVID-19 test. These clinics are open and free to anyone.
Since Jasper started with CBF, Together for Hope has expanded to cover 301 counties of persistent rural poverty. She serves at least 10 of those counties, expending her energy alleviating poverty’s dismal destruction.
“A large part of my ministry is financial literacy,” she reported. “The main goal is to help families learn how to budget and improve their credit, because credit affects everything in our lives.” The people she helps can’t get housing, car insurance and even cell phones until they get their credit in order.
Her ministries naturally extend to myriad problems of poverty—homelessness, hunger, lack of health care, transportation, home repairs and even a bat infestation.
One of Jasper’s most prominent endeavors is providing case management for White Flag Ministry at First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky., smack in the middle of three impoverished counties.
White Flag Ministry started five years ago, providing temporary shelter for homeless people on nights when the temperature dipped below 29 degrees, Pastor Alex Lockridge explained. The ministry partners with a hotel to secure warm rooms at a fair rate. It provides meals to homeless people weeknights throughout winter, and it includes a winter clothing ministry.
“Our dream is to help [homeless people] find sustainable living, where they no longer need our services,” Lockridge said. “Scarlette came into our lives at the right time. We’d always known Scarlette; we’d partnered with her. But in terms of our White Flag Ministry, she came when we realized the need was greater than we could handle.
“Scarlette showed us there are ways she can help these people long-term. So, she’s helping us find permanent solutions for these people’s lives, and they’re living the lives they want to live. We help them survive the night; she gets them to a life that’s worth living.”
Darrell Jackson, a former White Flag client and now a ministry volunteer, agreed. “I’ve pretty much been a loner since I came here, and interacting with Scarlette really opened my eyes to just, you don’t have to be out here by yourself,” he said. “There are people willing to help you get on your feet.It’s stressful, but her financial skills, man, the best I’ve ever seen.”
Glynda Jackson, no relation to Darrell, also praised Jasper for helping her deal with financial, health and emotional issues. “Besides being a financial advisor, with her being a minister, of course, she does the counseling,” she said. “So, if I’m just stressed, I can call her. Sometimes, I will call her before I call my doctor. So, she will talk me through it, and I’ll feel better afterward.”
As those on-the-ground assessments indicate, Jasper believes in “a place at the table for everyone.”
“As someone who was born and raised in the South, hospitality was how I grew up,” she said. “My mom’s philosophy was serving others over self. If you showed up at our house, you ate. A place at the table means everyone is welcome here. We’re all together. We’re all equal.”
The invitation to that table points equally in two directions, Jasper added. “It’s an invitation to relationship and community, because we all need community,” she said. It’s an invitation of care and empathy, because Jesus takes us as we are. The Lord’s going to help and walk with us.” It’s also an invitation for Cooperative Baptists not only to support field personnel, but also “to create a relationship with folks who don’t feel they are welcomed at the table.”
“How do we reach out to folks in our own communities, our congregations and even our own families who don’t feel they belong at the table?” she asked. “We have so much work to do in just loving each other.”
CBF’s Offering for Global Missions is vital for allowing Jasper to be a conduit of that love.
“If it weren’t for the Offering for Global Missions, I would not be on the field. That is the bottom line,” she stressed. When she became a field personnel, CBF had several funding models, and her commissioning stipulated she raise her own support—including salary, project and programming funds. Now, the Offering funds the salaries, benefits and housing of all field personnel, who raise support for their projects and programs.
“Back then, CBF covered travel to my required team meeting, but I never received a salary,” she said. “My husband provided for my needs. And he was disabled, so we lived on Social Security Disability Insurance. It put my family in a place that, as a financial counselor, I would not advise someone to do. But I felt God calling me.”
Not long after CBF’s funding model changed, Brian died. “I would not be on the field today without the Offering for Global Missions,” she acknowledged. “I still had a daughter at home, and I was not old enough to get a widow’s pension. So, the offering makes all the difference.”
That “difference” means Jasper still pursues the calling to ministry God planted in her heart as a girl. And it means she keeps on bringing Appalachian people to God’s table of relationship and wholeness.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of fellowship! magazine. Check out the issue and subscribe for free at www.cbf.net/fellowship.