The blast of the airhorn startled me. I turned and saw a grinning K. Ray as he drove another 18-wheeler onto the church parking lot of Ingleside Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia. K. Ray was a volunteer driver with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), who was assisting with the delivery of Christmas Backpacks from Georgia into the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. With one load of 3,300 Christmas Backpacks delivered and more loads to follow, he had recruited another retired truck driver to assist.
Swinging down from the cab of the truck, K. Ray, laughing said, “Got you that, didn’t I!” Still laughing he took me over to meet his recruit, Bill. “Bill, meet Bill,” he said. Adding, “I hope ya’ll can remember each other’s names.”
Once the rig was in place, so the collegiate volunteers could begin loading it with incoming Christmas Backpacks from across Georgia, the three of us grabbed a cup of coffee and got acquainted. I soon learned that Bill had retired after a career of interstate trucking, mainly moving freight from terminal to terminal. He had volunteered for this trip because he had never been into the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, let along drove there. Bill had heard the stories of the hairpin curves, the winding, twisting, and narrow roads, the 100-foot drop-offs on your right and no margin for error. At the age of 66, he was ready for his next adventure.
Slipping away to see how the loading of the semi-trailer was coming along, I called Greg Whitetree, director of the Freeda Harris Baptist Center, Lookout, Kentucky. I had been in touch with him earlier that day to assure him that the next load of Christmas Backpacks from Georgia was headed his way.
Greg, like myself, is always up for a good-natured prank, plus he was the Fire Chief for the local volunteer fire department. Quickly we worked out a plan. Greg would meet him in the Fire Chief’s car just outside of Jenkins, Kentucky and lead him slowly into the Freeda Harris Baptist Center with lights flashing and sirens blaring. We thought it was an excellent way to break in a retired truck driver to the Eastern Kentucky mountain roads.
With K. Ray’s blessing, I carefully explained to Bill that since he had never driven in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, he would be required to have an escort due to the treacherous, narrow mountain roads. When the trailer was loaded with boxes filled with Christmas Backpacks, K. Ray and Bill headed for Lookout, Kentucky.
The next day I received a call from a weeping K. Ray. It seems that Greg decided to expand the escort into Lookout to include firetrucks, a sheriff’s car, an ambulance, and the fire chief’s car. Like a parade, the emergency vehicles headed off on Highway 195 towards the Freeda Harris Baptist Center. To their surprise, word quickly spread about the “parade” and soon the roadside was lined with people waving and celebrating as the NAMB Disaster Relief truck rolled past. As Bill and K. Ray climbed out of the cab of the truck they were greeted by a cheering crowd. Greg explained that they were happy for as one man explained, “We thought Southern Baptists had forgotten us, but they haven’t.” One lady told Greg, “Southern Baptists still care for us.”
As we prepare for this year’s distribution of the Christmas Backpacks, mental pictures of the faces of children receiving a backpack flash through my mind; faces filled with gratitude, with joy, with happiness. The faces of children that say, “Thank you Southern Baptists for caring.”
This year as you prepare your Christmas Backpack for a needy child, remember, to the child receiving your backpacks you are saying to them, “You are not forgotten. Southern Baptists love you, and most of all Jesus loves you.”
For more information on how you can become involved go to christmasbackpacks.org.