The Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee is an area distinguished by natural beauty, rich cultural textures, and a history of economic injustice and persistent rural poverty. The people of this region meet their many physical hardships with faith and resourcefulness. But the constant struggle against the indignity of poverty often gives rise to feelings of shame, loneliness, and despair that can be even more devastating than the lack of physical resources.
Mountain T.O.P. takes a holistic approach to the physical, spiritual, social, and emotional needs that people face in this part of Appalachia. While the problems here are complex, our approach is simple. We believe that the heart of Christian ministry is about forming relationships through the love of Christ—a love powerful enough to overcome hopelessness, to fight injustice, and to break through the cultural, racial, and ideological barriers that divide us.
Specifically, Mountain T.O.P. seeks to empower those it serves through a philosophy of partnership. Every aspect of how our camp operates is made possible through partnering with the community, local businesses, friends of the ministry and participants. For example, any family or individual we work with is given the opportunity to contribute to the project, whether that is through providing a meal for the work group or providing materials for the project. We try to be intentional in saying we work “with” a family instead of “for” a family. We find it makes the most sense to approach ministry as a partnership, so that ownership is divided among everyone involved. Ministry then becomes what can we do with one another versus what can I do for you?
Likewise, we have immersed ourselves in the same communities for over 35 years. We make it a point to form relationships with our neighbors and to stimulate the local businesses that will sustain this region economically.
The Mountain T.O.P. Story:After serving together at the Hinton Rural Life Center in North Carolina during the summer of 1974, several youth from Blakemore United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee wanted to take their experience into their own "backyard." After much prayer and planning, the Mountain T.O.P. dream was born. The backyard turned out to be the Cumberland Mountain counties east of Nashville. In the summer of 1975, the first Mountain T.O.P. camp was held at Beersheba Springs Methodist Assembly in Grundy County. Over 200 participants, representing 12 church families, were a part of this first camp.
Since that first camp week, the ministry has continued to grow. Initially begun as a youth camp program, Mountain T.O.P. now also offers opportunities for adult and college individuals and groups. As the ministry has grown, three things have remained constant. These are the foundational objectives of Mountain T.O.P.
Foundational Objectives:* To help meet the physical, spiritual, emotional and social needs of the Tennessee Cumberland Mountain people.
* To actively encourage the Christian growth of the participants and staff who come to Mountain T.O.P.
* To develop the leadership skills of participants and staff.
In meeting these needs, Mountain T.O.P. has been able to inspire change in the lives of many. As we move toward the future, we strive to keep our hearts rooted in the knowledge that He who began a great work in us will see it to completion.
Foundational Scriptures:In its beginning, George Bass felt strongly about challenging volunteers to see beyond a week of service at Mountain T.O.P. He knew that the higher calling was and still is to go into the valley below with a sense of urgency in spreading the good news of Christ. The calling of the first disciples, found in the gospel of Matthew, then became the foundation of Mountain T.O.P.’s spiritual direction.
"As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him." - Matthew 4:18-20 (NRSV)
As a reminder of that call, the fish hook has remained Mountain T.O.P’s symbol for 35 years and is offered to every camper who comes through our gates.
Likewise, George saw the need for an organization where servant leadership could be experienced among staff and participants alike. To understand the true nature of a servant, one must look to Jesus as the example.
"Then the King will say to the people on his right, 'Come, my Father has given you his blessing. Receive the kingdom God has prepared for you since the world was made. I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me'....And the King will answer 'I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.' " - Matthew 25:34-36,40 (New Century Version)Mountain T.O.P. seeks to provide a model of leadership that always points towards serving Jesus Christ.