About seven years ago, David and Beth Castle sensed a call to actively minister to the struggling residents in Paintsville, a community of about 4,200 near the West Virginia state line.
It’s a beautiful, mountainous region, but it suffers from its share of Appalachian angst – high poverty, lack of jobs, opioid addiction.
The Castles decided to make a difference. So in 2014 they founded Encounter Missions, a new faith community that the husband-and-wife team oversee. Among their ministries:
- A Celebrate Recovery program that works with as many as 200 people over the course of a year. On any given evening they will have 30-40 at a meeting.
- A Pharmaceutical and Medical Assistance Ministry that uses grant money to assist people – often elderly – with prescription costs.
- A backpack ministry that provides blankets and other gear to the homeless to help them survive the winter months.
- Sunday morning services that average about 40 people, plus a Tuesday night Bible study.
Their fulfilling but challenging ministry soon will receive a much-needed and welcome financial boost as one of the recipients of the annual Bishop’s Missional Offering to be announced at Annual Conference June 10-12.
In a recent interview by videoconference, the Castles talked about Encounter Missions and how much their ministry means to their community, as well as their hopes for building on what they’ve already begun.
“You know, it always seems like God provides enough for what we’re doing,” Beth Castle said.
David Castle recounted the history of Encounter Missions from its founding in 2014. He said it had its origins in a Celebrate Recovery program dating to 2011. At the time, David Castle was still a lay member of Paintsville First UMC; he has since become a licensed local pastor. Beth Castle is in full-time ministry with him as a lay person.
Many of the people they ministered to in CR felt that they were too broken to attend church or have a relationship with Christ. The Castles decided early on that Encounter Missions would be a missional church. David Castle said it has a high percentage of low-income and homeless members; most of the rest are there because they have servants’ hearts and want to help the less fortunate.
The backpack ministry has its origins in one of the church’s first event, a monthly “burrito breakfast” on Saturdays at the town gazebo. They found they were connecting with a significant homeless population. The homeless could survive Paintsville’s warm summers pretty well, but winter was a different story.
Encounter Missions started to hand out backpacks in the late fall, generally about 30. Each backpack contains a blanket, poncho, flashlight, foot and body warmers, high-protein snacks, toboggan, warm gloves and socks.
“It helps them survive at night,” David Castle said.
The Castles and their volunteers also try to find them actual housing, whether in a shelter or a house that will let them stay a few nights.
The homeless population in Paintsville used to be stable, but these days it’s more transient, David Castle said. The Big Sandy Regional Detention Center is in Paintsville, and sometimes when inmates are released, they have nowhere to go, so they stay in the area, he said.
Many are de-churched or have never even been to church. “They are very receptive” to discipling, David Castle said; carrying on a conversation with them is easy because they are very spiritually hungry. But their trust level is low, and it takes time to form friendships and relationships.
Food is central to much of what Encounter Missions does for the community, David Castle said. The town has two food pantries, but they only serve people once a month and they need identification, which many homeless and transients lack. Encounter Missions has an emergency pantry and sometimes gives out food with the backpacks. It also serves community dinners once a month.
They are considering opening a soup kitchen but haven’t made significant progress yet. They’re hoping to at some point. “We have a lot of hungry people,” David Castle said, adding, “Just about every ministry we do involves food, somehow.”
The Pharmaceutical and Medical Assistance Ministry, started about five years ago, uses grant money to assist people, often elderly, with prescription costs. Beth Castle previously worked in a pharmacy before God called her to full-time ministry.
The Castles said some people were having to choose between eating and buying their medication. The ministry also provides help with dental and vision care.
Beth Castle said the ministry has brought people to church with a renewed sense of faith. The theory behind Encounter Missions is that by serving and ministering to people, encountering Christ will be part of the experience, she said.
The Castles are the only paid staff at Encounter Missions. They have a core base of about 15 volunteers who help with various tasks. Some of them come from other area churches. They have been married 21 years and have three children in their blended family.
Beth Castle said she prefers her husband to be the church’s main face while she works more behind the scenes. But they are clearly partners in ministry.
“Everything we do, we do together,” David Castle said.
This year the Bishop’s Missional Offering is going to assist Encounter Missions in Paintsville, Grace Kids: A Church for Children in Louisville, and a special fund to assist immigrant populations in Kentucky. There’s still time to donate; just go to https://www.kyumc.org/ac2019missionoffering