The mental health crisis has affected every part of the U.S., including North Carolina. Here’s how one association has been able to meet a local community’s mental health needs through the support of the North Carolina Missions Offering.
Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, Boone is a thriving mountain town with picturesque views, a major university and a growing population.
But like many places within the U.S., it’s also a town whose residents are increasingly facing significant challenges to mental health.
“Anxiety, depression, these types of things are always at the top of the leaderboard,” said Bud Russell, an associate pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Boone. “And so much of that now is children, teenagers, college students — that is so heavy. We see a lot of that.”
It’s an issue Mt. Vernon Baptist has been seeking to address for over a decade. In 2009, the church — a member of Three Forks Baptist Association — began a counseling ministry with the original intention to aid church members with mental health needs.
The ministry quickly expanded, however, when they started getting calls from the surrounding community — especially from concerned parents of students at Appalachian State, the nearby university.
“We were getting a number of calls to seek to do counseling to assist college students at Appalachian State,” Russell said. “Parents would call us, knowing that their kids were having some kind of crisis …. And they were calling on pastors at our church to do that.”
The issues were broad and severe. Some parents called because their children were harming themselves; others were calling for counsel on gender dysphoria and transitioning.
“That’s not been our world,” Russell said. “We’d never gone to school to be trained and equipped to do some of this stuff. So we really felt the need to say, ‘If not us, who?’ Somebody needs to address this.”
As the pastors at Mt. Vernon Baptist looked into their community for resources, they realized that the community’s options for biblical counseling were extremely limited. Parents were calling churches in the area because they were looking for counselors with a Christian worldview, and they were struggling to find anyone.
“They were crying out to churches up here, saying, ‘What can be done?’” Russell said.
Meeting local needs
This realization prompted the church to expand their counseling ministry to serve the outside community. Within a few years, the church was able to bring in several part-time, licensed counselors, all independent contractors who agreed to operate at a significantly reduced cost.
“The counselors come in knowing that this isn’t just a job for them,” Russell said. “It is a ministry that we want to have for our community. We try to keep the cost much lower than the market, if you will, because if there’s that kind of need going on, we want to be a part of the solution.”
Over the past several years, demand for the ministry has grown — to the point that counselors can no longer keep a waiting list for fear of leaving clients waiting for too long. Just this year, nine counselors collectively saw over 200 clients and logged over 1200 sessions from January to June.
“We have never been in a situation yet where our counselors didn’t have something to do,” Russell said. “It hasn’t slowed down a bit.”
According to Russell, many of these clients come in with significant financial burdens and cannot afford to pay for counseling, even with the reduced prices offered by the counselors. To assist these clients, the church established a benevolence fund, allowing donors to give to help further offset the costs of the counseling services.
But the budget has often been tight. Despite generous contributions from members of Mt. Vernon Baptist, instances arose when counselors had to limit how many sessions they could provide to clients.
“(The church) has always stepped up to see that benevolence gets taken care of,” Russell said. “But the sessions have to run out sometimes.”
Support from missions giving
Every year, local Baptist associations across North Carolina receive funding for special missions projects through the annual North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).
In addition to supporting ministries such as Baptists on Mission and SendNC, approximately 10% of the NCMO is dedicated to local associations to meet missional needs in their communities. Many associations set the funding aside for local mission projects, while others use the money to fund compassion ministries such as food pantries.
“I’ve seen some associations use (the NCMO) to put on youth rallies, or associational revivals, or other things that bring the church together in other ways,” said Wesley Smith, executive director of Three Forks Baptist Association. “The possibilities are endless.”
This April, Three Forks decided to give this year’s designated portion of the NCMO to the benevolence fund of Mt. Vernon Baptist’s counseling ministry.
“(Many of our pastors) were referring people to that ministry,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Look, if we’re going to refer people to this ministry … let’s make sure that we’re helping fund this. It’s been a great ministry.’”
Seeing the ministry as a benefit to the entire association and local community, the Three Forks executive committee collectively agreed that this year’s NCMO designation should go to support clients who could not afford counseling services.
In doing so, the association saw a way for Boone-area churches to be on mission together to meet the needs of the region — just as Mt. Vernon had always envisioned for the ministry.
“We want (our churches) to feel like this is an ‘our-ministry’ thing, not only Mt. Vernon,” Russell said. “We’re just the place where it happens to be. We’re the location for it, but it’s bigger than just us.”
“One of the best things”
When the counselors heard that NCMO funding would be going to support the ministry, they were elated, Russell said.
“We can say yes a little more freely,” Russell said. “(It’s good) just to know that it’s not a burden so much to say ‘yes’ to people who need more assistance. And it’s good to know that it’s not just (a) Mt. Vernon (ministry).”
For Russell, the past several months have been a perfect picture of the effectiveness of church cooperation efforts.
“I was elated to see that we’ve got a network that we get to be part of … that’s far bigger than anything we can do by ourselves,” Russell said. “We get to be a part of something that’s far bigger, that touches more lives than we could ever touch alone.”
For Smith, the counseling ministry was just another reminder of the broad reach of the NCMO. He said that in his years of ministry, he has seen time and again how N.C. Baptist missions giving is changing lives in local communities across the state.
“I don’t think there’s another offering in Baptist life that is as important as the North Carolina Missions Offering,” Smith said. “Because I don’t think there’s a single person in a North Carolina Baptist church that doesn’t love the state of North Carolina. And to think of the different ways we are serving our own state together, sharing and showing the love of Jesus — the NCMO is it.”
Now, Boone residents have a better chance to see churches “sharing and showing the love of Jesus,” as Mt. Vernon and Three Forks partner on mission together to meet mental health needs.
“With the number of things that this offering goes to support, it is truly one of the best things that we have going for us,” Smith said.
When you give to the NCMO, you are offering relief for today, hope for tomorrow. Consider making a contribution to this year’s NCMO by visiting ncmissionsoffering.org/give.