In summer 2008, Belhaven University President Roger Parrott approached MCL with an idea for a Christian scholarship program. Since then, Belhaven has partnered with us each year to honor Christian Leaders of the Future. Applications are reviewed by trusted believers, and we honor the finalists and winners at our awards program, to be held March 1 of this year. Check our Facebook page for the live announcement of the two winners, who will each receive $2,000!

Kitchen Tune-Up

In the meantime, we hope these brief excerpts from the finalists’ recommendation letters and essays give you hope for what God is doing in Mississippi’s young people.

Thank you to all our 2022 sponsors of Christian Leaders of the Future:
Gold: Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company
Silver: Smiles By Design, Dr. Eugene Brown
Bronze: Mississippi Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Friends: Herrin-Gear Lexus; First Commercial Bank
In-kind: Fresh Cut Catering & Floral; MMI Dining










Madison Central High School
St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church
Parents: Michael and Sarah Adcock

     “Emily’s servant heart was first revealed to me when a straight-line wind damaged our church grounds in 2018. She came with her family to help clear debris, and she worked with the determination and grit of a grownup! (Then this summer) Emily called to say she wanted to serve in Congregational Care Ministries. … Not only does she bake cookies for our homebound members … but she also communicates Christ’s love by sending them cards.” – Kay Schloemer, St. Matthew’s United Methodist

     “I feel like the community Paul advocates for (in Galatians 6) is key to the success of the church. We are called to ‘carry each other’s burdens,’ meaning we should support each other through issues. … The honesty of sharing your burdens with other believers ultimately transforms into a deeper love of Christ.” – Emily Adcock










Saltillo High School
First Baptist Church Tupelo
Parents: Nik and Brandy Carnathan

     “On a personal note, I have had the good fortune as a father to watch the impact that Caitlyn has had on my own daughter. As a senior on the Saltillo High School volleyball team and a leader on our softball team, I have seen Caitlyn take my daughter under her wing, mentor, and care for her in a time when most upperclassmen would never pay attention to an 8th or 9th grader.” – Casey Dye, principal

     “My favorite passage in the Bible is (when) Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet …. I created a motto for myself from this verse that says, ‘Be living proof of a loving God.’ I need to live a life of proof. One that serves others and puts their needs before mine.” – Caitlyn Carnathan










Hernando High School
Crossroads Church, Hernando
Parents: Thomas and Belinda Eldred

     “(Lauren) displays Christian leadership through leading a girls’ middle school small group each (week). Lauren has built a mentor relationship with these girls. She studies scripture and takes her job seriously … She also makes sure to welcome the girls into the group by making them feel special. She has attended school volleyball games and any other activity in which they participate.” – Geri Hill, youth pastor 

     “Sometimes the unconvinced just need to be loved. They need to see the true love of Jesus, and I hope that I can show them that. Jesus changed my life beyond what I could have ever imagined, and I want everyone else to experience that same kind of life change and unconditional love.” – Lauren Eldred










Jackson Academy
First Baptist Madison
Parents: Bill and Kimberly Felder

     “Regan is inclusive and has a way of making people feel good and special about themselves. She is the type of girl that where she walks into a room it lights up and the people there are better because she is present.” – Alan Loving, student minister

     “(God) has given me joy, peace, and contentment with the life He has given me. Now, my biggest concern is allowing the Lord to continue molding my heart to be more like His, and I want everyone to know the radical, eternity-altering transformation that has taken place in my life.” – Regan Felder










Purvis High School
Good Hope Baptist Church, Purvis
Parents: Guy Foret, Tiffany Hudson

     “Avery sets and performs at incredibly high standards in all (aspects) of life. Ironically, her standards are never selfish. Everything she does is an effort to help, serve, and better the people and community around her. Ms. Avery is and will continue to be a blessing to every person, school, and organization in her path.” – Michael Wilson, Gulf Coast Community Ministries

     “Above my work life, I deeply want to create a family of my own and lead my own children to Christ and teach them how to love others more than themselves. While I would love to have my own children, I also would love to foster children ranging from newborns to teenagers, attempting to give love and comfort to youth that have already experienced so many challenges in their young lives.” – Avery Foret










Itawamba Agricultural High School
Itawamba Christian Church, Fulton
Parents: Greg and Caryn Gann

     “What few spare moments (Elizabeth) has in our busy pharmacy, she seeks opportunities to keep workflow going. … In a time where many people her age are running from the workforce, I remain impressed with her very immediate desire to be the first to grab the customer at the pharmacy’s drive-thru window or the inside counter.” – Cyndi Bowen, pharmacy manager

     “When people realize that Christ wants them, and that He rejoices over a single soul that is won for Him, they know that they have someone who truly loves them — someone who wants them, holds them, and cares for them when the world shuts them out, and someone who was willing to die … so that they could be saved from their sins. I believe that so many people in the world today feel that they are not worthy of love, and I hope to show them that that is the furthest thing from true.” – Elizabeth Gann










Itawamba Agricultural High School
Itawamba Christian Church, Fulton
Parents: Greg and Caryn Gann

     “Whether it be cleaning up after others, getting equipment out, or taking trash out, Kate is always willing to do the little things that sometimes go unnoticed. Personally, my wife and I always talk about how we like for Kate and her sister Liz to babysit our daughter simply because we hope some of her character and goodness rubs off.”– Randy Earnest, cross-country and track coach

     “I personally believe that the number one way to reach the lost is to invest in building relationships. … This year at school, I have started sitting with students who sit alone at lunch. Jesus ministered to the outcasts; He ate with sinners, touched the lepers, and forgave an adulterer. We are called to walk as Jesus walked.” – Kate Gann










Lafayette High School
Community Church Oxford
Parents: Josh and Heather Guest

     “Gracie has guided my girls in being confident in themselves by (pointing) them to Bible verses or studies that prove God’s love. She also hosts a girl’s Bible study on Sunday nights that my oldest daughter attends. … She always uses the Bible as a reference for where she will lead from. … I am thankful that she has become a part of our family.” – Kayla Martin, employer

     “The Christian leader that has impacted me the most in my life is Misty Parmer, the children’s director at my church. … There are many people who will ignore you when you talk to them and, afterwards, try to give you the advice they were waiting to give … (Ms. Misty) not only listens, she hears. And after that, she speaks wisdom over me.” – Gracie Guest









Tupelo High School
St. James Catholic Church, Tupelo
Parents: Doug and Rhonda Hanby

     “(Olivia) has joy because she tries her best to see the good in this world and focuses on others. (She) not only leads by example, but for the past two years, she has organized a Bible Study for girls … only asking my permission. I, of course, said yes! It was life giving.” – Mary Frances Strange, youth minister

     “There was one night where all of my best friends stood praising God’s name during worship. … I was incredibly humbled and realized that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior who died for the sins that I have committed. While I grew up memorizing this idea, it never really hit me until that moment.” – Olivia Hanby










Hartfield Academy
Pinelake Church, Brandon
Parents: Jason and Sunday Holmes

     “JM transferred in the middle of his junior year, and from the moment he stepped on campus, he brought a gospel-fueled light and Christ-centered perspective … He has an outspoken love for his Savior that is contagious, and the effect on his peers is evident. Within just a few short weeks, he organized a once-a-week prayer group of his new peers that continues to grow.” – Blakeney Hatcliff, teacher and theatre director

     “Paradoxically I sometimes think (obeying God) will drain life from me, but God is gracious to promise that as I lose my life to Him, I will stumble upon a wonderful encounter with the God who loves me … This is a great encouragement to remember when I think God’s will simply isn’t worth it.” – JM Holmes










Hernando High School
Hernando Baptist Church
Parents: Lloyd and Tara Hood

     “Catherine has been a leader in the life group since she entered. Her care for others, especially the unchurched, is unmatched. She will always sacrifice her time to make sure that a guest feels welcome and loved.” – Chad Fowler, life group teacher

     “One of the biggest things I hear from non-Christians is that us Christians are hypocrites. I plan to live my life as a full Christian, not just a part-time one. I do not want different people to see a different me. … It is my goal to stay humble and always love others, even when they do not love me.” – Catherine Hood










Jackson Preparatory School
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Josh and Cameron Huff

     “One of the better leadership qualities (Abby) has is the ability to let her (FCA) team do their jobs too without micromanaging. (At Jackson Prep) I was fortunate enough to have a head coach who trusted me to do my job without staring over my shoulders … So I understand the importance of leaders surrounding themselves with good help.” – Shane Bennett, Fellowship of Christian Athletes

     “God has blessed me with a multitude of strong Christian leaders in all areas of my life, but the one that comes to my mind first is my grandfather, Buddy Huff. … Leaving church on Sunday mornings, it’s a common occurrence that someone asks the question, “Where’s Pop?” Nine times out of ten, he has stopped to talk to someone else, genuinely seeking ways that he can help them. His heart is big, and it all comes from the overflow of the love he has for Jesus!” – Abby Huff










Houston High School
House of Mercy Worship Center, Houston, MS
Parents: Stan and Shalandor Johnson

     “Kirklyn is an outgoing young man that goes out of his way to talk to every person that he can. He greets most students by name daily. He is always positive, no matter what is going on in his life. Kirklyn is always willing to talk or pray with anyone who may need it.” – William Cook, principal

     “At the age of three years old, I was diagnosed with autism. … I walk every day by faith knowing that God’s power is greater than any diagnosis I may have, and every single day I choose to live in that truth. I went from low-functioning and needing to be in special inclusion classes to on track and graduating with honors.” – Kirklyn Johnson










Richland High School
Pinelake Church, Brandon
Parents: Jason and Melissa Knippers

     “(Chloe) has been placed in a leadership role with her peers (at the Richland High School Fire Academy) and she has never been satisfied with less than her absolute best. In times where this said training tested her resolve, she (bore) witness that self-sacrifice, hard work, and determination alone are not enough without the Light of Christ to guide us.” – Deputy Chief Todd Muli, Clinton Fire Department

     “I have always known that I wanted to help people. … After entering the RHS Fire Academy, I realized that having a career in fire service is where God is leading me. I am now following my dreams and pursuing this career to become a paramedic and firefighter. I want to continue to help people and be the person they need.” – Chloe Knippers










Lewisburg High School
Compel Church, Olive Branch
Parents: Stewart and Lisa Lott

     “(Hailey has) taken invitations to Compel Youth’s monthly gathering to sporting events to invite classmates, and volunteered her time on school nights to set up and tear down from these events. Simply put, she has a servant’s heart. I’ve witnessed her pray over friends and peers through difficult times and lead others in worship as well.” – Bethany Williams, girls youth leader

     “(My youth leader Jay Williams) threw me into certain things such as leading youth groups even if it was uncomfortable. He knows that people need a community, and he makes sure that everyone feels welcome .… I hope I will do the same thing someday for a young girl who longs for a (fulfilling) relationship with Christ.” – Hailey Lott










Tupelo High School
Harrisburg Baptist Church, Tupelo
Parents: Drew and Jennifer Love

     “Many people, especially young students, think of worship leading as a stage or a platform for their fame, but Emerson never saw it that way. Much like in her personal life, Emerson shies away from the spotlight, giving glory to Jesus, where it belongs.” – Cole Gandenberger, former student ministry associate

     “Music has been important to me my whole life. Before I understood how God gives us each unique spiritual gifts, I was unsure of my purpose. After He revealed to me what He had in store for me, I fell in love with leading worship. I believe that God has called me to lead people to Him through music; I can’t see a future without worship being a part of it.” – Emerson Love










Central Hinds Academy
First Baptist Raymond, Pinelake Clinton
Parents: Shannon and Anna Lowery

     “Karson took (my daughter) under her wing and taught her softball skills, and encouraged her walk with Christ through devotions and by leading the team by example. She always made sure that the younger girls felt like a part of the team, and she was always cheering them on during their game.” – Tyanne McCoy, teacher

     “I feel God calling me into a career of orthotics and prosthetics. I want to measure the patients, order their supplies, and help them use their new brace or limb in their daily lives. When I was in eighth grade, I fractured a vertebra in my back and fell in love with everything about orthotics. (Helping) people and having an opportunity to spread the gospel is all I want to do.” – Karson Lowery










Seminary High School
The Springs Church, Sumrall; Magnolia Baptist Church, Hattiesburg
Parents: Jason May, Lisa Carroll

     “(Summer asked to) lead devotion after cheer practice, and I agreed. She would study, prepare, and stay after even if it was only a handful of girls there … Many days, I felt as if the devotion was sent to me by God.”  – Joannie Harrell, coach and teacher

     “Last year I didn’t have many friends …. but my cheer coach, Ms. Joannie, and I became very close. … I was always welcome at her house, and I always knew that if I ever needed to talk to anybody or needed anything, she was my girl. (She) had faith in me and made me feel seen … She has inspired me to have that impact on others.” – Summer May










Madison Central High School
Greater Bethlehem Temple Apostolic Church, Jackson
Parents: Makeicha and Donald Ray McWilliams

     “McKenzie has contributed to (our) ministry in attendance (at) meetings, community service outreach to nursing homes (and teen) shelters, designing and making blankets for the elderly (and participation) in (church youth missions) events. (I’ve) had the pleasure to watch her mature into a lovely and intelligent young woman.” – Michelle Aldridge, facilitator, Bethany Ministries

     “When I was younger, my mom was the host of the coolest science camp for the children in the church and community. We would spend the entire summer learning about the wonders of God through science. It was there that I learned how to use black lights and cool science experiments to minister the word of God to my peers.” – McKenzie McWilliams









Jackson Academy
Fondren Church, Jackson
Parent: Ashley Nichols

     “Anna Carlisle is a student who sets a tone for other students. Girls in our youth group admire her and want to imitate her. It gives me joy to know her heart and walk is what I would want my daughter to imitate.” – Allison Barnhill, youth group leader

     “I thought God was a sort of genie in a bottle or Santa Claus type figure. On some days, I even thought God was more of a police officer or Supreme Court judge. It wasn’t until after my conversation with (my youth pastor, Daniel Wagner) that I truly realized who God is: father, friend, salvation, hope, freedom, love, and so much more. When I finally realized who God is, I decided that I wanted to truly know Him and live my life for Him.” – Anna Carlisle Nichols









Germantown High School
Grace Crossing Baptist Church, Canton
Parents: Eric and Crissy Parker

     “I have not seen many students buy into what they believe the way that Laura Beth has. She is always eager to learn and grow … She is not content where she is in her walk with Jesus, she is consistently desiring more. (The) culture of our student ministry would not be the way that it is without people like Laura Beth.” – Luke Comfort, student pastor

     “I believe (God) is calling me to pursue a career in foster care or mental health. All of my life, I have been surrounded by children in the foster system … A career in a nonprofit organization (would) allow me to work hands-on with systems and children and watch connections form with families and children.” – Laura Beth Parker










Germantown High School
Colonial Heights Baptist Church, Ridgeland
Parents: Cliff and Leslie Reynolds

     “Isabella has a love for others and a love for life. She is sensitive to feelings and a good listener. She always has a smile on her face and something positive to say. … She continually puts others’ needs ahead of her own. … Knowing her and watching her grow has been a pleasure.” – Dana Kinsley, teacher and yearbook sponsor

     “(In college) I want to be intentional by holding myself accountable to know the Word, so when I am asked those hard questions, I can do my best to help give the most biblically accurate answer I can. As well as putting myself in uncomfortable situations for the sake of something greater than myself, spreading the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Isabella Reynolds










Germantown High School
Greater Saint Matthew Missionary Baptist Church, Canton
Parents: Michael and Nia Robinson

     “I have found Arielle’s character to be above reproach, stain or blemish. In difficult situations, without prompting, Arielle takes on a leadership role mediating sustainable solutions for all involved.” – Raymond Rideout, former teacher

     “My pastor, who is also my father, is the Christian leader that has influenced me the most. I have witnessed firsthand a consistent selflessness and valuing others above himself. I have seen how he handles conflicts and how he seeks to find the good in every situation. I have seen how my father takes on the burdens of others while giving of himself all the time … My dad is my hero as he has demonstrated what love should look like.” – Arielle Robinson










Madison-Ridgeland Academy
Pinelake Church, Madison
Parents: Jason and Beth Smith

     “I have seen (Josie) transform a friend group and a small group with her love for the Lord. She is compassionate and has a heart like Jesus that fights for the outcast. … She is honest. I have witnessed her facilitate conversations with peers that led to growth and forgiveness.” – Tatum Willis, student minister

     “I am pretty confident that God is calling me into social work/counseling at a children’s hospital. I know firsthand what it feels like to be sick and need someone to talk to in the most vulnerable and scary moments of a serious diagnosis. I believe that my experience, as well as my natural giftings … will help me be successful in a career like that.” – Josie Smith









Madison-Ridgeland Academy
Madison Heights Church, PCA
Parents: Tom and Amber Thompson

     “I have coached (more than) 1,700 kids in my career, and Hunter is ABSOLUTELY one of the highest-character kids I have been around. … Not only do I adore Hunter, her AAU teammates do too, and most importantly, her rival players at other high schools. This is something that I don’t see very often.” – Henry Gatz, basketball coach

     “My best friend, Peyton Young, has been the biggest Christian influence in my life. … Peyton was the first person to make me realize that my faith was superficial. … Peyton loved everyone, and she didn’t care how it made her look to hang out with the ‘unpopular’ crowd. … Peyton showed me how to be a good Christian friend; be consistent and real.” – Hunter Thompson










Jackson Academy
Mount Nebo Baptist Church
Parents: John and Felice Wicks

     “Prior to the pandemic, John spent countless hours of his summer serving younger children and families who visited the (museum). He has assisted in the galleries, conducted programs and art activities, assisted in prepping for events, (and) showed compassion to children who were exhibiting various learning and developmental delays.” – Monique Ealey, Mississippi Children’s Museum

     “I paid close attention to the way (my father) would inflect his voice to make key points (in sermons). I loved how he explained the stories of the Bible …. I would come home, stand before the fireplace, and preach my own sermons. (I) plan to study journalism and pre-law in college so that I might possibly use my voice to inform and uplift.” – John Wicks III










Saltillo High School
Saltillo First United Methodist Church
Parents: Tim and Kelly Wiggington

     “I have observed firsthand Erin’s witness while living out her faith. One of Erin’s passions is to work with special needs students through our school REACH club. Erin encourages these students as they seek to participate in activities that the average human takes for granted.” – Deana Jackson, school library media specialist

     “I believe that God is calling me to pursue a degree in fashion design and merchandising. Too many women have bought into the lie that putting themselves out there in a provocative way is the only way to be noticed … I hope to own my own brand that (would) show women that they can still dress cute and trendy without abandoning their morals and values in Christ.” – Erin Wiggington










Itawamba Agricultural High School
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Fulton
Parents: Bryon and Jeannine Wilemon

     “On our (mission) trips to Pikeville, Kentucky, Emma was one of the students who took part in the Shoes of Hope Day.  We not only gave new shoes to needy children, but shared Christ with them in a one-on-one setting. Even though she was a middle-school student at the time, Emma was bold enough to be one of the students who shared Christ with the children.” – Tim Holsonback, pastor

     “Since I was saved, I have had doubts of my salvation … Whenever these came up, I thought I was alone, abnormal, or even that there was something wrong with me. No one I knew my age ever expressed their doubts … but once I found (James 1:2-4), I knew I was not alone. I realized that (these) challenges I had gone through were not in vain, but they were meant to draw me closer to Christ.” – Emma Wilemon










Hartfield Academy
Eureka Baptist Church, Lena
Parents: Floyd and Sylvia Wingo

     “Even as a child, Margaret had an unwavering faith in her Savior and a steadfast sense of right and wrong that has only strengthened in wisdom and grace as she has grown into a young woman. Coupled with her warm demeanor and servant-heartedness, these attributes have made her a natural leader and drawn her peers to seek her advice and biblical knowledge.” – Blakeney Hatcliff, teacher

     “In this increasingly hostile and agnostic world, I plan to continue living out loud for Christ. (When my faith is challenged), I will go back to the one thing keeping me running, God. (I’ll) return to those who know God and know me. … My plan for living out my faith is keeping grounded in what I know to be true and trusting God with the rest.” – Margaret Wingo










Germantown High School
Pinelake Church, Madison
Parents: Dow Yoder, Melinda Yoder

     “(Carson) has a lot to do with his academic success and accomplishments. Not only that, he’s an individual that displays resilience, and that is often a far better predictor of success than any test score or award.” – Nancy McCullough, guidance counselor

     “People still look down on Christians and find them to be judgmental. I was that person, and I thought I would be judged. However … I was sheltered by grace and love. I was told that I was not the only one who has sinned. … I feel that to reach others and bring them to God, I will need to do the same.” – Carson Yoder  

Pro-Life Mississippi