Saturday, May 12, 2012

"An Appalachian Dawn - Christians Took Their Town Back!"

"Manchester, City of Hope," Kentucky
Population 2,200
by Ben Mutti

         Isolated in the heartland of Appalachia, the city of Manchester, Kentucky, appeared to be the unlikeliest place for societal breakthrough to occur. Located in Clay County, any attempt to “change” the dysfunctional way of life was considered futile. With the decline of the coal and salt industry, and their best years seemingly behind them, a 1964 CBS news report gave Manchester the dubious distinction “Depressed City, USA.” Forty years later, Clay County still could not escape from its “backward” stereotype, being listed as the sixth poorest county in the United States.
         And that was not all! In 2001, the Drug Enforcement Agency included Manchester in a region listed as the “Painkiller Capital of America.” This notorious nickname did not bode well for a county that actually had more people residing in prison than people residing in the county seat.
         While Clay County's outcast image has always been a hard pill for the area to swallow, its outlaw image has always been widely renowned. In a TV exposé by the HistoryChannel on Clay's family feuds, it was reported that four local clans killed more than ten times the number of family members than those killed in the infamous Hatfield and McCoy rivalry. This prevailing mountain man mentality, along with a sectarian church mindset, furthered the notion that Clay County resembled the O.K. Corral. The community was devoid of all hope.
         That is until May 2, 2004, when 63 churches and 3,500 people united together as community catalysts to march against drugs. Like troops advancing upon a city, these civic pilgrims for progress joined together under the direction of church leaders who publicly repented before GOD for their lack of civic involvement. Their slogan was, "Get Saved or Get Busted!" Suddenly, a pulse could be felt; hope had been resuscitated. Many felt this climactic prayer event helped break the vice-like grip of drug addiction that had tormented daily life.  

         The following year, Manchester became the only area in the region where painkiller prescriptions actually decreased. Beyond that, drug arrests would increase by a staggering 300 percent. Where favoritism, fraud, and extortion were once the law of the land, government corruption would soon be uncovered. Within three years, public officials, including the mayor, the city supervisor, the assistant police chief, the 911 Director, the fire chief, the circuit court judge, a handful of city councilmen, county commissioners and county clerks, would all be exposed and jailed for racketeering, distributing drugs, and voter fraud.
         As newfound stakeholders in society, churches and citizens partnered together with law enforcement to root out this crime and corruption. In fact, a court watch program was initiated by the churches, and with the help of their Congressman, a local Jesus-based rehabilitation center was completed in 2008.
      As a result, a profound optimism had instantly been injected into everyday life. Local drug dealers soon began surrendering their lives to Jesus and getting delivered from drug addiction. This fresh adrenaline also caused high-ranking officials like the new mayor and the sheriff to begin advancing the kingdom cause of Christ in their respective spheres of influence.
      According to Sheriff Kevin Johnson, the church partnership with the police was “the best thing to happen to Clay County.” Furthermore, this uncommon collaboration, “Operation: Unite,” has become the model for the entire state.
         Consequently, in 2007, the city council voted to change the name of the city to “Manchester: City of Hope.” As a result, this obscure community has become a regional influence, receiving desperate calls from 49 different states, and five foreign nations, all soliciting Clay Countians for guidance in their battle against drugs. 

         Not only are students now being drug tested in school, Bible elective courses are also being offered in high school. Meanwhile, Clay County was chosen as having the model-reading program for children in the state in 2008, significant for a region traditionally plagued with high illiteracy rates.
         Remarkably, in the Fall of 2009, with bated - breath, the city announced that a recycling company would be coming to Manchester, bringing a breathtaking 1,400 new jobs; this despite the rest of the nation stumbling through a global recession.
         Last, but not least, located near the Kingdom Come National Park, Clay County now possesses one of the largest Rocky Mountain Elk populations in the country; and with turkey, bear, and deer populations making a comeback, a new campground and new bike trail accent a tourist industry on the upswing. Manchester city water was even chosen in 2008 as having the best tasting water in a statewide competition. In fact, the local water treatment plant is now selling “Hope Water” as a commercial product.
         With this unusual avalanche of events, there is no question that Manchester’s cup of blessing is running over. What seemed like a mountain that was insurmountable is now becoming possible with GOD. Ironically, a community once considered "behind the times" has now become a compelling story for our times.