SYRACUSE, N.Y. (BP) -- When Ronnie Wyatt moved with his wife and three of his daughters from North Carolina to central New York state, they settled into one of the roughest neighborhoods in North Syracuse. Having left a secure pastorate in the South, Wyatt soon learned that only about 4 percent of Syracuse's residents are Christians.
"There are more Muslims in our area than Christians," said Wyatt, a North American Mission Board church planter who is starting The Neighborhood Church.
He has counted more than 10 nationalities in the impoverished Butternut/Schiller Park neighborhood where his family now lives. The neighborhood is so crime-ridden that Syracuse police have told Wyatt they only go there to respond to 911 calls. The neighborhood is that dangerous, Wyatt said.
"God really broke our heart for the neighborhood," he said.
The Wyatts began home Bible studies last August and now have as many as 50 people attending, of which he estimates that 35 have never associated with a church. And most families are among the lower socioeconomic strata.
"High poverty and high crime -- they usually work hand in hand," Wyatt said.
"Four blocks over from where I am right now, a man was shot and killed in the street," Wyatt continued. "A few days later his wife came to look at the (impromptu) memorial and was shot and killed in the same place."
Wyatt soon learned that acts of kindness created inroads to the community. That's when he got a phone call about distributing children's backpacks for Christmas.
Backpacks for Appalachia began in 2001 when Appalachian Regional Ministries missionary Bill Barker received 300 gift boxes for children from an Atlanta-area church. He sent them to West Virginia. Now a national missionary appointed by the North American Mission Board, Barker said the initiative has continued to mature and grow. Last December, Southern Baptists delivered nearly 24,000 backpacks to children throughout Appalachia filled with toys, schools supplies, food, clothes, a copy of the Christmas story and an invitation to take a correspondence Bible course.
"The intent has been to show the love of Christ by sharing Christmas with a child in an appropriate way," Barker said. Read More