Missions in Marks, MS
Mission in Marks, MS
For three years FBC Starkville has taken a team of church members to Marks, MS, partnering with FBC Marks and Reclaimed Project to put on a day camp for children in that community. This camp provides children with the opportunity to be fed physically and spiritually while they are on spring break. Kids aged anywhere from 3-17 have come to the day camp over the last three years. Throughout the camp day, kids worship, have Bible study, particpate in activities, eat lunch, and end the day with a time of reflection on what they learned in Bible study that morning. The beauty of this trip is that it is affordable for larger families who are looking to serve with their children, college students who may not have a lot of extra money in their pockets, and anyone else that wants to be involved!
One of my favorite things to watch is the Starkville kids, students, and families build relationships with the people from Marks. Eyes are opened to the poverty that is in our state, and to the children who have next to nothing, who are overjoyed that people want to come and invest in their lives for five days. Families and college students cannot wait each year to see "their kiddos" again and show them the love of Jesus.
This year, we had the awesome opportunity to start an evangelism team as part of our trip. Those who felt led to be a part of the team went through training beforehand to learn how evangelism would be done there. Once we got to Marks, the group was split into smaller teams of 3 or 4. As soon as camp was over, the teams went out into the community, walking door to door talking to the people, sharing with them, and praying with them. We are always looking for opportunities to grow this trip, and this was a very positive way for not only kids to have the chance to hear the gospel, but for adults in the community as well.
When Jason Stoker approached me the first year and asked if I could plan and execute the camp side of this trip, I was not sure what I was getting into. I was nervous about agreeing to help lead a trip, since I was only 22 at the time. I was also not sure what to expect, as I had never been to the Mississippi Delta before. When I drove into the small town of Marks, my heart began to break. My heart began to break even more that night as small children approached us at the cookout we were hosting to draw in families from the community. They came alone, with no adult supervision, wanting to eat and bounce on the inflatables that we had set up.
We used this cookout as an opportunity to tell the children about the day camp. Initially, I had planned for only 1st-6th graders to attend, but when younger children and teens started coming, those rules were quickly thrown out. If you know me at all you know I am not about to turn any child away! We pulled out our registration forms to get all of their information: emergency contacts, and the list of people that were authorized to pick them up from camp. Every child that came our way could only tell us their name and grade, no emergency contacts, no authorized pick-up list. When asked who would pick them up after camp, almost every child said they would walk home. Working at camp and interning at the church prepared me to take the highest safety precautions, but after 5 minutes of pre-registration, I knew we were going to have to throw all of that out the window as well. While Marks is only 2 hours away from Starkville, it is an entirely different culture. Walking is the way to get where you're going, and kids take care of themselves (for the most part) during the day when school is not in session.
At that moment, I knew we were going to have to re-do a lot of what I had carefully planned out. I had not grown up in this type of environment, so I had not planned for this. And this was definitely not how I wanted to run our camp. Very quickly, the Lord reminded me that it's not about me or how I want to run everything. I was in a different culture; I had to learn how to adjust this trip to meet the people where they were. From the walking on their own to the food consumed, we had learned to adapt to what they knew.
At Pine Cove Camp in the City's student orientation they teach us this phrase:
It's not about you.
Little did I know just how much I would remind myself of that in my daily life. While I wanted to do everything this one way, it was not in the best interest of the children or the ministry that we were doing there. I needed to see the bigger picture. If that meant relinquishing my desire to do things the way that I wanted, then I needed to do it for the sake of the gospel. Leading this trip has been one of the most rewarding experiences. Families and college students from our church love the children so well, all while having the opportunity to grow closer together as a church body.
But most importantly I learn more about my pride and selfishness every year we go back and am reminded even more of the goodness and graciousness of our Father, that he could love someone like me. I am reminded not to get caught up in the organization and prep work that comes along with the chaos of that week. The Lord reminds me to pause, to be intentional, to love and serve fiercely, and to exemplify the love of Christ to the people of Marks.