To paint any people with a broad brush is not to see them for who they truly are.

We live in a world of paradoxes.

As in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times and somehow also the worst of times. It appears to be the age of information and knowledge, yet proves to be an age of foolishness. It is an era of belief and a time of faithlessness, a season of light in a world of complete darkness, a spring of hope amidst the winter of despair. This seems to be the narrative of many churches in America, but especially in rural America.

The story of rural America is one of grit, resourcefulness, independence, craftsmanship, and sheer determination. It is the story of community, lifelong relationships and family bonds. This image holds a nostalgic place in many hearts.

Those who live in, or have spent significant time in, rural areas may have witnessed its endurance — the warm-heartedness of neighbors, the firmness of family values, the closeness of relationships and community. There are still examples of this today throughout rural America. It is a wonderful narrative to embrace and catalyze in ministry and mission, an ideal worthy of aspiration.

But it is not the full picture.

There is another story of rural America, and it is much more troubling.

J.D. Vance called our attention to this last year in Hillbilly Elegy. It is a story of a struggling, aging, diminishing, and sometimes decaying culture. It is a story of limited resources in communities abandoned by a population that has clambered to its cities. It is a story of losses in industry, government, philanthropy and even the church. It is a story of growing poverty and challenges with healthcare and addiction. It is a story of dramatically disintegrating family structures. This story is also part of the picture.

Facts are our …

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