PIKEVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Thousands of people gathered in Pikeville on Sunday for what was perhaps the largest religious crusade ever in central Appalachia, an economically depressed region where the scourge of drug abuse has broken families and filled jails.

Aware of the hopelessness many people are feeling, the Kentucky Baptist Convention organized the Hope for the Mountains crusade, an effort to trigger a spiritual revival in the mountains.

“We know there is hope for the mountains,” said Appalachian native Paul Chitwood who serves as executive director of the 750,000-member KBC, the state’s largest religious organization. “What we witnessed here tonight is the evidence of that hope. We had a huge response, much larger than we expected.”

Evangelist Jon Reed, a Georgia preacher with a deep southern drawl, said he understands the rut drug addicts have gotten into. He overdosed twice in his younger days and was involved in more than a dozen car wrecks before he gave his life to Christ.

“God is not wanting you to clean up; he wants you to give up,” Reed said. “I’ve got good news for you here tonight. God can save you, no matter how hard your heart has become.”

Other speakers, including Ashland resident Amy Compston, testified to the Lord’s ability to change lives. In an emotional presentation, Compston said her life was spiraling downward as a junky who was taking whatever drugs she could get her hands on. Six years ago, Compston said she surrendered her life to Jesus, asking for His forgiveness: “I said I’m sorry for wasting my life. God, take my life and do with it what you want.”

Compston is now the founder of Amy for Africa, an organization that ministers to hurting children a half a world away.

Another heart-wrenching testimony was from Jason Lovins, lead singer of The Jason Lovins Band. Lovins told how he was conceived when his mother, then a 15-year-old Christian girl, was raped as she walked home from the pool. He told how that naïve teenage girl refused to abort him, opting instead to give him life.

Lovins had never shared his story until he was a student at Morehead State University.

“I had a pastor pull me aside and say ‘son, I don’t think you understand what the Lord can do with your story,’” Lovins said.

Now, Lovins tours the country singing with his band and telling people about forgiveness, redemption and the incredible depth of God’s love from a perspective that is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. He said he was incredibly loved by his mother and grandmother who told him: “You don’t have a dad; you don’t have an earthly father; we don’t even know who he is, but you have a Heavenly Father who loves you more than you could ever know. I’m here to tell you, that has been enough.”

Pikeville City Tourism Director Jimmy Taylor said the event also had a huge economic impact, especially for hotels, restaurants, and shops during a time of year that can be slow for tourism.

“It’s like a little blessing before Christmas,” Taylor said.

Jordan Gibson, Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president, said it’s not every weekend an organization as large as the Kentucky Baptist Convention comes to town.

“It’s just a huge benefit to our community, especially when we can sell out entire hotels,” Gibson said. “This is one of the first, bigger conferences we’ve been able to secure.”

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