Without Hope in Small Town America

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS

volume 15, number 52, December 29, 2016

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to an end without hope.”– Job 7:6

Without Hope in Small Town America

Unlike every other demographic in America, middle-aged white Americans (age 45 to 54 years old) with no more than a high school education have increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014. That’s an increase of twenty-two percent. Angus Deaton and Anne Case, both Princeton economists, after analyzing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have concluded that the higher death rates among middle-aged whites, age 45 to 54, are not due to heart disease or diabetes but to an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.[1] Deaton said that only H.I.V./AIDS in contemporary times is a parallel to what they have found among white, middle-aged blue collar workers. 

Why is this happening? Some are suggesting that the white working class, middle-aged people are depressed and pessimistic about their financial future. After all, their wages, adjusted for inflation, have fallen by nineteen percent in the last fifteen years. Another study has shown that the United States has lost five million manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.[2] In 1960, twenty-four percent of workers were employed in manufacturing. That percentage now is eight percent. A casual drive around west Alabama, as only one example, proves the point very easily. Towns like Demopolis, Marion, Selma, Moundville, Centreville, Greensboro, Fort Deposit, and Camden are suffering an average unemployment rate of thirteen percent, while in Wilcox County the rate of the unemployed is twenty-four percent. 

Consequently these small towns across the country are dying a slow, painful death. The young people leave as soon as they are able. Depression sets in among some. With too much time on their hands, some begin to drink too much and get hooked on heroin, meth, or any number of other deadly drugs. 

What is the solution? Of course, from a political perspective it seems that many of the working class people are hopeful that President elect Donald Trump will bring back jobs to our nation. Certainly I hope this does happen. But what if it does not happen? What if the unemployment rolls continue to grow? What if the sense of hopelessness grows exponentially greater? What then? And what if Donald Trump is able to usher in an unprecedented revival of blue collar jobs and our small cities and towns thrive once again, like they did in the 1950’s and 60’s? 

After all is said and done in economic development, money is not our savior. In Job chapters 1 and 2 Job has lost everything and later in Job 6,7 he is lamenting his situation. He says that nights of trouble are appointed to him, that the night continues, that he is continually tossing until dawn (Job 7:3,4). His days are running away swiftly from him like a weaver who weaves his cloth with a shuttle, and he is living without a sense of hope for the future. We know, after Job is taken (so to speak) to the woodshed (Job 38) by Yahweh, that he puts his hand over his mouth and submits (Job 40, 41), repenting in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). In other words, man’s greatest need-whether he works productively as a white collar worker and lives in a very nice neighborhood; or is reduced to getting a weekly unemployment check or a part time, hourly wage job at Home Depot or Walmart, while living in a trailer park-is to know what Job finally knew. “Thou canst do all things, and no purpose of Thine can be thwarted,” (Job 42:2). 

So, the job of the church of Jesus Christ is to take the good news of the true gospel to all the peoples of our small, dying towns. Many of them, especially in the South, assume all is well with their souls; but this is not always the case, as proven by the suicides and substance abuse issues which still persist.  

As a genuine, specific, concrete example of how we ought to labor in our small towns, take Paul Golden, Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship evangelist, who has been working under the direction of Evangel Presbytery at the Southwood Presbyterian Church (SPC), Talladega, Alabama. Talladega has 16,012 people with a median household income of $31,835. The average in Alabama is $42,849. When Paul Golden began his ministry at SPC in November, 2014, the church had three members, all over the age of seventy-five. Through prayer, diligent, consistent door to door evangelism, enlisting at least twenty-six evangelistic workers from Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, in the last two years Paul and Pat Golden have:

–made 1200 door to door visitations

–talked to over 800 individuals

–made 200 return visits

–had 65 people call on the name of the Lord to be saved

–received thirteen new members.

Southwood Presbyterian Church now has nineteen to twenty people attending, most of whom are new believers. These new believers are African American, Hispanic, and Anglo.

I have rarely seen a more diligent, hard working church servant than Paul Golden, who by the way is in his mid sixties. 

The answer for the downtrodden in our small towns, as in our poor urban centers is the same. We must take the gospel to the people. Sitting in our offices or at coffee shops will not get the job done. What are you going to do about it?

_________________________________________

1. The New York Times, November 2, 2015, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds.”

2. By Heather Long, March 29, 2016, “U.S. Has Lost 5 Million Manufacturing Jobs Since 2000.”

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