A bell jingled as a middle-aged man walked through the door. He laid a few dollars on the counter for gas and requested prayer.
Photo by Alison Pulliam, Kentucky Today
Baptist missionary Vickie Pinkley talks with customers in the eastern Kentucky convenience store that she helps operate.
This may be unusual behavior at most convenience stores, but Black Mountain Exchange is anything but usual.
Bible verses and decorative murals dot the walls around the thinly stocked shelves. Free gospel tracts and Bibles sit in stacks by the register where they are frequently given away. Christian music floating from the small stereo fills the background as customers shop.
Operated by missionaries Jim and Vickie Pinkley, this gas station and small store serve both the financial and spiritual economy of Lynch.
Lynch, like much of eastern Kentucky, was hit hard by the recent decline in coal mining. A town that once boomed with more than 10,000 people has dwindled to fewer than 800.
In its prime, Lynch was the world’s largest coal camp and housed over 4,000 employees of the United States Steel Corp. The company spared no expense in building up the town – adding beautiful new schools, churches, and even a hospital.
When U.S. Steel decided to close its mines in the area, it took thousands of jobs and the life of the community with it.
“It wasn’t just the company leaving town, it was the town closing down,” Jim Pinkley said.
Now there are very few jobs allowing people to stay in their mountainous home.
“The only thing we’ve seen in the last five years, as far as any type of business – other than the Kentucky Mine Museum and Portal 31 – are the outreach programs like Meridzo ministries that Vickie is aligned with,” said Lynch resident Don Elliot.
Founded by pastor Lonnie Riley in 1999, Meridzo Ministries has grown to be an integral part of the southeastern Kentucky landscape.
The non-profit branch offers many outlets for proclaiming the gospel. Among its ministries are a church, housing for short-term mission teams, two facilities used to host children’s camps and more. The for-profit branch contributes to community development by adding businesses such as Lamp House coffee shop and Black Mountain Exchange gas station.
In its years of operation, Meridzo has partnered with more than 30,000 volunteers in more than 20 local ministries.
The Pinkley family turned their own short-term partnership with the ministry into a long-term commitment last year when they decided to leave their home near Louisville and move to Lynch.
Hearing of the opening with Black Mountain Exchange pricked their hearts for this place they had grown to love. After 12 years of mission trips through their church, Jim and Vickie felt the Lord calling them to step out of their comfort zone.
They sold their house and moved their three children down to Lynch, leaving two adult children behind.
This required an incredible amount of trust in God, not only because of the separation from friends and family, but because of the lack of financial security. With Jim only five years away from retirement, the Pinkleys were unsure how they would support themselves.
However, Jim and Vickie knew the Lord would supply their needs if this is what He called them to.
Like the nine other Meridzo missionary families, the Pinkleys are funded on a “by faith” premise. This means they accept donations but they never go out and fundraise for support. They simply take it “by faith” that the Lord will know their needs and provide them in His time.
And while God continues to faithfully bless their growing business at Black Mountain Exchange, financial profits are not the main concern.
“Our intention, of course, is not to sell gas and is not to sell pizza and is not to sell food, but it’s to give out the Word of God which is the bread of life,” Vickie Pinkley said. “Our heart’s desire is to see lives of the middle people here in Lynch changed completely for His glory.”