For 16 years now, MCL has partnered with Belhaven University to honor outstanding Mississippi high-school seniors who show Christian character and academic excellence. Applications are reviewed by trusted believers, and we honor the finalists and winners at our yearly awards program at Belhaven.

    One young man and one young woman will each receive a $2,000 scholarship to be used at the college or university of their choice. Two other finalists will receive smaller scholarships from Mississippi Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Ballet Magnificat! Check our Facebook page for the live announcement of the winners starting at approximately 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 5.

    We hope these excerpts from the finalists’ application essays provide an encouraging look at what God is doing in Mississippi’s young people.

Kitchen Tune-Up

Thank you to our 2024 sponsors:

Gold: Morgan White Group Silver: William Carey University, Mississippi College, Taylor Group of Companies
Bronze: Mississippi Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Ballet Magnificat!
Friends: Herrin-Gear Lexus, Blue Mountain Christian University, Lakeside Moulding
In-kind: MMI Dining, Fresh Cut Catering & Floral

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Julia Jane Averette

Julia Jane Averette
Tupelo High School
Harrisburg Baptist Church, Tupelo
Parents: John and Jennifer Averette

     We live in a lost, selfish, and self-centered world, with people always saying, “Do what makes you happy!” What these people do not know is that true joy can only be found in the gospel … There is so much to be joyful about through God’s free gift of grace! John 15:11 is one of my favorite Bible verses because Jesus tells us that He came so that His joy may be in us, and that our joy may be made full. Though the world may try to tell Christians that living for Jesus is a boring life, we can show that there is so much joy in living for Jesus.

 

James Daniel Bailey

James Daniel Bailey
Brandon High School
Crossgates Church
Parents: Anthony and Rachel Bailey

     Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not from Babylon, and they did not belong there. However, they were there for a reason, and instead of bending like the other Israelites, they held firm in their faith. … I am often in situations where I don’t feel like I belong or where society is pressuring me away from God, but God always has a plan. Oftentimes it can be hard to hold faith when things don’t turn out how I expect. (Daniel 3:18) reminds me that faith is not based on results, it is based on God. This passage encourages me to continue to fight for my faith even when I don’t see God’s plan.

 

Caroline Batson

Caroline Batson
Stone High School, Wiggins
Venture Church, Wiggins
Parents: Chet and Ashley Batson

     I plan to live out my faith intentionally by being considerate of others around me. I will be loving of my neighbors, forgiving of those who wrong me, responsible for any duties I am given, and helpful to the people I encounter in my life. I will continue to be strong in my faith by reading the Bible, praying, and being involved in church. I think the key to this is being consistent in all aspects of life. Being the same person no matter what or who is around shows your true character and heart for the Lord.

 

Abi Alden Benton

Abi Alden Benton
Madison-Ridgeland Academy
First Baptist Madison
Parents: Brad and Bridget Benton

    God showed me (through a traumatic knee injury) that I was placing too much of my value in the achievements and recognition that came from sports … This very challenging time in my life tested my faith and ultimately allowed growth in my relationship with God, teaching me that placing your value in something else besides God can leave you feeling broken and empty, but when God is at the center of your life, that is all you need … Although I believe God wants us to give our best effort … I realize that being a good teammate, encouraging others, and shining the light of the Lord is far more important than any athletic achievement.

 

Ruth Bishop

Ruth Lewis Bishop
Parklane Academy, McComb
First Baptist Church, Summit
Parents: Steve and Melanie Bishop

    I believe God is calling me to an occupation where I can serve others. As the second child of four, my parents refer to me as the frugal child. When I am gifted money, I save it. I try to be a good steward of my blessings and help my parents by taking care of my belongings. We live in a society where most people spend more than they make. I would love to become an accountant and work to help a company or individual manage their assets. I pray that God will lead me in accordance with His will.

 

Catelyn Brown

Catelyn Brown
Wheeler High School, Booneville
Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Baldwyn
East Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Booneville
Parents: Curt and Natasha Brown

    Around my sophomore year of high school, I experienced a form of addiction that revolved around my nutrition …. I failed to listen to so many of (my Christian role models telling me) I was quite literally destroying my body. I turned to prayer, knowing that God was the only way out …. After (about eight months), I decided that this was not the way I wanted to live, and I can honestly say that God pulled me out of that addiction. One Sunday at church, the Lord completely convicted my heart and on that day, I knew something had to change. I still struggle from day to day, but my faith has held strong.

 

Kalina Byrd

Kalina Byrd
Christian Collegiate Academy, Gulfport
Lemoyne Boulevard Baptist Church
Michael Memorial Baptist Church
Parents: Ryan and Alexia Byrd

    I wanted to be as influential as possible, so I chose to run for student body president. (In my campaign speech, I) spoke – through tears – about how the Lord had prompted me to do this … I did not win, but as I told many, I felt as though this was not a campaign speech: It was a proclamation of God’s love. I have come to realize that my God-given desire to run had nothing to do with becoming president; it was about obedience and allowing God to speak through me. I thought that I needed power to have influence, but I was reminded that God uses the meek, like David, to reveal His power.

 

Breckyn Cooper

Breckyn Cooper
Germantown High School
Grace Crossing Baptist Church, Canton
Parents: Kevin and Pamela Cooper

    God calls us to work hard for our families and for His name’s sake, not for recognition and fame. I have seen the Proverbs 31 woman lived out personally in both my grandmothers. Because of their daily commitment to Christ, I want to be a woman not clothed in Lululemon but “clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Prov. 31:25). Even through the adversity of losing children, husbands, and lifelong friends, my grandmothers have lifted their losses for the cause of Christ and remained joyful during dark times. It is my prayer that I will also live this scripture out as an example of Christ’s love.

 

Britton Bradley Cooper

Britton Bradley Cooper
Bayou Academy, Cleveland, Miss.
Boyle United Methodist Church
Parents: Brad and Angela Cooper

    My favorite Bible passage is Isaiah 40:31. … This was a verse that we would recite every week in chapel. I try to live by this verse by not being weary and (by) waiting on the Lord. This passage is so close to me that I try to base my day‐to‐day life on it. It has strong words that mean a lot to me, and those words will stick with me for the rest of my life. Living upon the Bible’s expression is one of the best things anyone can do because the words are so good and truthful that they improve daily life.

 

Audrey Dean

Audrey Dean
Germantown High School
Word of Life Church, Highland Colony
The Gathering Church, Madison
Mother: Allison Dean

    I believe intentionality starts by creating time. This world is becoming antagonistic because no one is making time for God anymore. I plan to live out my faith intentionally by creating time to spend with God by hosting Bible studies and creating environments where people want to worship God and honor Him. I want to be the example of great faith towards the Lord, and that is what motivates me to be intentional with my own faith. That is also why I have chosen a Christian college to further my education and stay rooted in places that encourage my faith.

 

Aubrey Dew

Aubrey Dew
Hartfield Academy
Lakeland Presbyterian Church, Flowood
Parents: Michael and Melanie Dew

    Getting to share about the life and miracles of Jesus with 3- and 4-year-olds (at church) is so wonderful because even at their age, they are able to grasp that Jesus loves and cares for them. I love that I am able to see that the Holy Spirit is planting seeds in children. Hopefully, I will one day be blessed with children of my own that I can teach the Bible to, and if I am not then I would love to be able to teach (other) children. Training children up in the way of the Lord can result in teenagers and adults who love the Lord and love sharing His Word with others.

 

Karleigh Mei Gager

Karleigh Mei Gager
Homeschooled
Colonial Heights Baptist Church, Ridgeland
Parents: Karl and Jennifer Gager

    In 9th grade, I was on a public school basketball team. (My) teammates’ speech was not edifying to the Lord. … On and off the court, I encouraged my teammates, sought to understand them, and displayed love and compassion. Just as Jesus valued relationships … it was important to me that I established relationships with each individual player. (Some) girls realized that I carried myself differently. (They) were attracted to (my confidence) because it was unusual. Their curiosity led to many questions. This led to praying before each game, which set up how we played. … Although we lost more than half of our games, planting seeds of faith mattered most.

 

Averie Gundy

Averie Gundy
French Camp Academy
First Presbyterian Church, Kosciusko
Parents: Paul and Annie Gundy

    I believe that if I approach antagonistic reactions from the world with a humble and contrite spirit, I will show Jesus shining through me. In response to being antagonized, many Christians respond in a defensive manner. Instead, my responding in boldness with humility and meekness can show others Christ’s character. Whether on a college campus or in a workplace, I must cling to the truth found in 1 John 4:4 – “Greater is the one living inside of you than he who is in the world” – when I am antagonized about my faith and beliefs.

 

Isaac Hale

Isaac Hale
Homeschooled
First Presbyterian Church, Gulfport
Parents: David and Ginny Hale

    I have several roles within my church. On Wednesdays, I sometimes teach my youth group, an experience that has been both fulfilling and educational. I’m also a greeter, bell-ringer, and sporadic odd-job doer. I’m also employed as a custodian for the facility. Psalm 84:10b states, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” I seek to exemplify this spirit of joy in my work. I enjoy serving my community, and am often kept busy with calls to assist elderly and disabled neighbors. (Also, teaching at my homeschool co-op) has caused me to more appreciate the work involved in education.

 

Hannah Holm

Hannah Renee Holm
Park Place Christian Academy, Pearl
Park Place Baptist Church, Pearl
Parents: Kenneth and Renee Holm

    I am in charge of the worship band for my youth group. … I believe that because I am in charge, it is of utmost importance that everything I say and do reflects Christ. In (moments) of frustration, I have to remind myself that whatever happens is for the glory of God. It is not about me or my performance. There is only one reason for what I do, even if that means humbling myself and changing plans … It is a personal challenge to use my authority in a way that shines for Christ instead of simply shutting down an idea or suggestion that I disagree with.

 

Cooper Holmes

Cooper Holmes
Clinton High School
Morrison Heights Baptist Church
Parents: Jaret and Sarah Holmes

    (My dad) has shown me how a Godly man should lead his wife – with love and compassion. He taught me to be loving and stand firm in Christ in trials and tribulations. He was the one who led me to Christ, and now he is my role model for how someone in Christ should conduct himself. His life has impacted mine the most by showing me his wisdom whenever I have a problem. He points me back to how Jesus would respond, giving me spiritual guidance on how I should be living my life. He has shown me the most remarkable example of living like Jesus and has dramatically impacted my life.

 

Alice Kitchens

Alice Kitchens
Wheeler High School, Booneville
Trinity Bible-Believing Church, Baldwyn
Parents: Chris and Shelly Kitchens

    I wholeheartedly believe that God has called me to serve through missions. I know in today’s time, this is not viewed as a “career,” but it definitely can be. I remember the exact moment God confirmed to me that this was His will for my life. It was two years ago, and I was praying at the altar during church camp. God spoke so clearly to my heart: “We are gonna go.” For a 15-year-old girl, this was nearly terrifying. However, peace soon came to me through the realization that He had not intended to send me, but rather go with me.

 

Stuart Long

Stuart Long
Tupelo Christian Preparatory School
Harrisburg Baptist Church, Tupelo
Parents: Chad and Amanda Long

    My favorite Bible verse is Proverbs 27:17 … “Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another.” (My) dad taught me this verse at a young age, which has stuck with me ever since. … One cannot go through this journey without people being there for them. When you fall, they will be the ones to pick you up. When you make bad decisions, they will be the ones to call you out. … Accountability is the number one thing that has helped me grow in my faith. I am so thankful for the people God has surrounded me with, and I will continue to seek these relationships.

 

Clara Lott

Clara Lott
Purvis High School
First Baptist Church, Purvis
Parents: Matt and Amy Lott

    (My coworker said) she did not understand how I always had a smile on my face. I was so excited … God had answered my prayer and planned to use me, but I got uncomfortable and nervous and did not share the gospel .… after much prayer, the Lord gave me the confidence to reach out and tell her that the reason I was always smiling was because I have the joy of the Lord in my heart. I read her 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” God helped me overcome my anxieties about living out my faith, and through that, I planted a seed.

 

Lauren McElhenny

Lauren McElhenny
Laurel Christian School
Grace Covenant World Ministries, Ellisville
Parents: Daniel and Melany McElhenny

    I intend my first mission field to be the speech and debate community. (I want) to share the love of God in an area where I was once afraid to reveal that I was a Christian. I am determined to be courageously different from my competitors and show the light of Christ brighter than I ever have. As I go to college this next year, I will also stand boldly in my faith and speak up about what I believe. I will refuse to be conformed to this world …. Most of all, I will always strive to show the love of God. The love of God can melt the coldest heart.

 

Will Meyer

Will Meyer
St. Augustine School, Ridgeland
Riverwood Bible Church, Jackson
Parents: Clay and Kristen Meyer

    Around a year ago, my boss approached me with a ministry opportunity: Go to inner-city Jackson and teach football and the gospel to children from around the area. … This was the first big chance I had ever received to evangelize, and truthfully, the idea initially scared me. … That night, I prayed earnestly to God, asking for the right words to say …. God blessed my time with energetic, vibrant kids who had a blast playing football and listening intently to my explanation of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Some of them even hugged me at the end. On the drive home, I felt something I never had experienced before: purpose.

 

Conner Shurden

Conner Shurden
Lewisburg High School, Olive Branch
Getwell Church, Southaven
Parents: Ron and Kimberly Shurden

    By spending time with God in prayer and study, I am able to keep my focus on the love and grace of Jesus and then mirror that in my relationships with others. Also, I feel it is important to attend church and (mentor) those younger than myself to hopefully lead them to Christ. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” By being a part of the children and youth programs at church, I can provide an example of a Christian to them and hopefully make an impact on their lives that they will then pass to the next generation.

 

Hannah Claire Smith

Hannah Claire Smith
Pisgah High School
Pinelake Church, Reservoir
Parents: Aaron and Laura Smith

    (When) I am constantly in the Word and in a deep and meaningful relationship with the Lord, I am given the strength and wisdom to protect myself. I also surround myself with a Christ-like group of friends …. I will pray and ask God for wisdom when I am making big decisions … Lastly, I will spread the gospel wherever I am in life. One of my youth pastors (said), “People can’t be found if they don’t know they are lost.” This has always stuck with me (because) people who do not know Jesus do not know that they are living the wrong way. Therefore, it is our job to help them understand the gospel.

 

Ansley Claire Strong

Ansley Claire Strong
Madison-Ridgeland Academy
Madison Methodist Church
Parents: Jason and Stephanie Strong

    In (my school’s Student Leadership Institute), not only was I transformed radically in my faith journey, but I was also able to be under the guidance of Nathan Stamper … I am grateful to have experienced his firm faith in Christ as my teacher and as my spiritual mentor. … I had such a hard time understanding (theology), but he always aided me thoroughly in my questions. In this particular season, Coach Stamper has impacted me the most by calling me out in love where I fail to understand and helping me learn to fill my life with the abundant truth/light of Jesus regularly. Without his guidance, I would still be chasing the world.

 

Maci Thomas

Maci Thomas
Mooreville High School
Hope Church, Tupelo
Parents: Sam and Nikki Thomas

    Reading (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) makes me so thankful to be created by a God who loves us so deeply and gave us instructions to love the same way He does. There have been many times when I have tried to replace the word “love” with my name in hopes that it would accurately apply. These four verses have been my favorite verses because they help me to love other people the way that Christ loves His bride. I believe the foundation of sharing the gospel is in loving people. God’s Word emphasizes in John 13:35 that everyone will know we are His disciples if we love one another.

 

Emma Claire Thompson

Emma Claire Thompson
Mooreville High School
Lawndale Presbyterian Church, Tupelo
Mother: Misty Thompson

    I know that I must feed on the Word daily, spend time in real prayer, and really seek godly counsel from older and wiser believers. Upon making college visits, I have requested meetings with the campus RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) ministers to find ways to be involved in this. I also plan to visit local churches right away and seek a college church home to become very active in. I feel that it is important for me to speak up about my faith when needed, but more importantly to let my life be an example that draws others towards Christ and makes them actually doubt the agnosticism that might be calling their name.

 

Joseph Treadaway

Joseph Treadaway
New Albany High School
Hillcrest Baptist Church, New Albany
Christ Church, New Albany
Parents: Justin Treadaway, Jenny Hall

     Before I was saved … I may have known all of the doctrines of justification, sanctification, and substitutionary atonement, but I did not know the one true God. … Instead of having faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, I was having faith in my own faith, in my own knowledge! (But God) softened my heart and showed me more of my own sinfulness and helplessness. Instead of trying to pray the right prayer, instead of trying to fully understand, I was like the man beside Jesus on the cross. If I knew nothing else, I knew that I couldn’t save myself … but that man, Jesus Christ, could.

 

Margaret Ulerich

Maggie Ulerich
French Camp Academy
French Camp Presbyterian Church
Parents: Richard and Erin Ulerich

    I will strive to be a strong follower of the Lord Almighty, and to follow wherever He leads me. I do not care about the distance or the danger. If I can touch at least one heart and encourage them to keep going, even if times get rough, then that is a win, and the glory will always go to the Lord. To prepare to live in this world as a believer, I am also planning to attend a Christian college. I believe this environment would help me grow deeper with the Lord, build relationships with godly people, and to learn to stand my ground when it comes to my faith.

 

Friend Walker

Friend Walker
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, Ridgeland
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Tom and Crissie Walker

    As I read (David Platt’s book “Follow Me”) this summer … I began to see this world that is out to destroy my faith less as my enemy and more as my mission field. Furthermore, through passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, God has shown me the importance of being tethered to my fellow brothers and sisters in godly community. (I am called) to make disciples who make disciples while at the same time staying rooted in godly community which will keep me from the power of the enemy over my life and will guard my path with the accountability that comes from the Holy Spirit.

 

Leah Walker

Leah Walker
Lewisburg High School, Olive Branch
Eastpoint Church, Olive Branch
Parents: Timothy and Peyton Walker

    I met Mrs. Ginger (Osborne) because we attend the same church, and I (attend) a Bible study she leads … The Bible study includes women from all walks of life ranging from age 12 to 70 years old. I think it is an incredible picture of how the gospel unites believers. Mrs. Ginger is the picture of a wise woman with a passion to teach women how to love like Christ. … I will forever be grateful for the opportunity Mrs. Ginger has given me and so many other women to meet and walk through life together by building one another up in the Word.

Pro-Life Mississippi