Rural Poverty

Shannon County is in red.

Shannon County is in red.

On Monday, I traveled three hours south of Jefferson City, Missouri, to Shannon County.  Shannon County is a county located in South Central Missouri and is the poorest county in the state.  It is also one of the most beautiful areas of the state as it is home to the Mark Twain National Forest and Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  Many people travel to this area for camping, floating, and trail riding.  One of the towns in that county, Timber, is home to Schwagstock, an regular music and drug festival in the style of Woodstock.

But for all of it’s rich beauty and culture, it is home to some of Missouri’s poorest individuals.  Often we think of urban areas as having a monopoly on poverty.  But rural areas throughout our country are just as impoverished – if not worse.  And resources to help are few and far between.

As of the census of 2000, the median income for a household in the county was $24,835, and the median income for a family was $30,102. Males had a median income of $21,917 versus $16,024 for females. The per capita income for the county was $13,127. About 21.00% of families and 26.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.10% of those under age 18 and 20.20% of those age 65 or older.

The purpose of my trip on Monday and Tuesday was to observe and to cast nets – with two hats on.  One hat as a member of the Coordinating Council for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri.  The other hat as pastor of missions for First Baptist. We have been praying about mission opportunities within our state borders – opportunities to partner with good people already at work in areas with great need.  It is an idea born out of the Together for Hope (TFH) initiative of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  TFH is a long term commitment to working with people in the 20 of the nation’s poorest counties in order to affect change and break the cycle of economic disparity.  It is about relationships and about transformation.  Transformation of lives and of communities.

There are some amazing individuals hard at work in Shannon County.  Every day they work to help each other and to dream about a future for the children of the community. It was a blessing to travel there and learn from them.  To learn how they work together to meet needs through a free medical clinic.  To learn how community action leaders continue to fight against all obstacles because they love their community.

I’m looking forward to more conversations in the next month about how we might be able to work alongside them  – learning about the amazing heritage and dreaming of the hopeful future.

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