Mississippi Christian Living,in partnership with Belhaven University, is pleased to introduce the 2019 Christian Leaders of the Future. High-school seniors from across Mississippi submitted essay applications answering questions about their faith, service and leadership. A diverse panel of local community leaders — each working independently — reviewed the applications, with student names redacted. Scores were tabulated, and the top 20 are recognized here.

We will honor the 20 finalists, along with their families and guests, on March 5 during a special event at Belhaven.

Enjoy these excerpts from the finalists’ essays, which can teach us all a little something about faith and leadership, regardless of our age.

We also want to thank all the sponsors of Christian Leaders of the Future: Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company, Capstone Treatment Center, First Commercial Bank, Paul Moak Subaru, Miskelly Furniture, MMI Dining Systems and Stegall Imagery. We are grateful for you!


Editor’s note: Photos from the scholarship event at Belhaven can be viewed on the MCL Facebook page or at bit.ly/MCLEvent2019.


Madison Central High School
First Baptist Madison
Parents: Paul and Donna Ahlrich


After (junior prom), people always do something fun to end the night. I got asked to go on a party bus with all of my friends. Knowing what takes place on those buses, I chose not to go. I got judged and asked a lot of questions about why I did not go. Although it was awkward at first, I realized this was a chance for me to witness to my friends.

A Christian leader that has impacted me the most is an older friend from my youth group, Scarlett Hodges. … In both high school and on the soccer team, she showed me that it was possible to stand firm in my faith and not give in to temptation. Scarlett faced several adversities during her first couple of years in college. The way she addressed and handled those adversities was a wonderful example for me.

After serving in a medical clinic in Haiti this summer … I believe that God wants me to be a pediatrician. I alsobelieve that God wants me to continue to help in Haiti. My goal is to use my connections in medical school and the medical community to form a group of caregivers that would commit to going to Haiti on a regular basis.



Madison Central High School
Broadmoor Baptist Church, Madison
Parents: Philip and Autumn Blaylock


My times (working) at Mocha Mugs are my absolute favorite. For many, work is not something they enjoy; however, at Mocha Mugs I am spiritually refreshed by my coworkers and value my alone time in the shop greatly. My coworkers and I always laugh about the funny interactions we have with customers because oftentimes we are singing and dancing to worship music around the shop.

I know that God can be glorified in all things; so, I think it is crucial that Christians disperse into all workplaces
and areas of life, coming into contact with all different types of people and establishing personal relationships with them for the sake of the gospel. As a worship leader, I thought for some time I needed to pursue worship leadership as a career. However, after prayerful consideration and by the godly influence of others in my life, I found engineering to be the best route.



Oxford High School
Grace Bible Church of Oxford
Parents: David and Amanda Brown


During my time in Salerno (Italy), I made friends with a student, Fredrica, who was not only an atheist, but was also in school studying against the Bible. She peppered me with all sorts of questions about both Christianity and my faith. This was challenging, and yet it provided me with an opportunity to share with her about my faith. The time that I spent with her was time that I deeply cherish.

One way that I plan to live out my faith intentionally is to be in community with others. I am thankful to have strong
Christian friends that encourage me to grow in my faith and walk daily with the Lord. As others invest in me, I want to invest in those that I come in contact with.



Jackson Preparatory School
First Presbyterian Church of Jackson
Parents: William and Cambi Burnham


I had accepted Christ and prayed to Him every night, but I did not yet realize that I needed to actively reflect my salvation to bring others to God — that is, until my grandfather passed away during my sixth-grade year. He was the most godly person in my life, and it wasn’t until he was gone that I finally understood why he had so significantly impacted me. It was because he trusted God with his life, even in his cancer-stricken days. He made the most of every opportunity by teaching the Word or reflecting God’s heavenly qualities. These traits of my grandfather could be noticed by anyone in the same room as him. … I decided to model my life after my grandfather and not just accept Christ as Lord, but to also spread the good news through my actions and words.

My favorite Bible verse is Isaiah 40:3: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” I read this verse the night my grandfather passed away. … This verse did not just help me to get through that difficult time in my life, but so many others.


Park Place Christian Academy
Crossgates Church, Brandon
Parents: Chad Callender and Cindy Lee


Psalms 8:2 — “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

While serving on praise band, I have learned it is crucial to see worship as a weapon of war rather than just passive praise. When we worship, it is more than singing. It is giving back to God the one thing you can give Him. Worship is declaring that the name of Jesus is greater, going to the gates of hell to war for souls, and believing God will do a powerful work on your behalf for His glory.

We serve a God that loves pouring out blessings on His children. He loves acting on their behalf (in accordance to His will). When I get to heaven I would rather have God tell me I asked for too much than tell me He had so much more to give.

I will continue to daily ask the Lord for boldness – boldness to do His will despite myself and my flesh. I know I will fail but I also know that my God will pick me up, heal me with more than just a Band-Aid and give me my next assignment.


Jackson Academy
Meadow Grove Baptist Church, Brandon
Parents: Greg and Leslie Carpenter


I became saved at a very young age. … It was not until my ninth-grade year, however, that I started to truly understand the commitment that I had made. I struggled with depression my ninth-grade year tremendously, and it was through those circumstances that I began to understand that Christianity is not about God preventing difficulties from coming into our life, but that God promises to be with us in those difficulties.

I think that the United States is beginning to adopt views that have historically been uncharacteristic of it, particularly in regards to its treatment of Christians. I know that a lot of Christians around me tend to respond with anger toward this new shift. But as it says in the book of James, we should be glad when we are persecuted for our faith because the eternal benefits far outweigh the temporal disadvantages. I know that as this new trend continues to grow, it will be especially hard on me since I want to be a pastor. The best thing that I can do is stick to the authority of scripture as God’s Word, yet be loving at the same time of people who challenge it.



Copiah Educational Foundation
First Baptist Church, Hazlehurst
Parents: John and Brandi Coates


The passage that speaks to me most is Matthew 6:25-34. This passage deals with worry and is very relevant to my senior year. Between football season, honors courses and everything else … there is very little time to focus on God and His timing. Fairly often, I push away the thought of the future, but I have peace when I read this passage. If God feeds each sparrow and clothes every flower, then He cares so much more for us, His image bearers.

My mom is definitely the Christian leader who has impacted me the most. She taught at my school for years, so I really saw her impact on her students, and still see it today …. she prayed for her students before each practical, test and exam. … She is a prayer warrior, always engaging in deep conversation with friends and family and looking for different ways to pray. She always encourages me in my faith, whether sending me a quick text before a big Calculus test or worshipping while on a road trip. She is quick to forgive and slow to anger. Growing up, she took me to church even when I really did not feel like it, and for that I am thankful. She is gracious, kind and compassionate. I wholeheartedly believe that I would not be where I am in my faith today without her influence.



Germantown High School
First Baptist Ridgeland
Parents: Richey and Rebecca Cobb


One of my favorite passages of scripture comes from Mark 5:25-34. In this passage, a woman suffers greatly from a disease in which she consistently has a discharge of blood: a disease of which she cannot be healed. She exclaims, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” … She knew that the power of God was so powerful that to even touch the end of Jesus’ cloak was to be healed … I love how Jesus graciously and authoritatively makes
“unclean” or “dirty” people whole and clean in this story. And I love how Jesus has the final say on what is complete and clean.

I believe that the Lord might be calling me to pursue medical mission work in Spanish-speaking countries. I have an unyielding passion for the Spanish language and I desire to be able to speak it fluently. I have found that I am particularly gifted and interested in my anatomy and biology classes. Most importantly, I have a desire to help people who do not have the means to attain the medical attention that they desperately need. I have, additionally, always been burdened for the gospel and have had the calling to “go” for many years now.



Clinton High School
Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton
Parents: Michael and Suzanne Cole


As I read about Islam in attempts to better witness to my Muslim friend, I began to doubt my own faith. … After several nights in prayer, begging God to show me the truth, I called a friend in seminary and we talked through everything. He showed me not only the truthfulness of the Bible and Christ, but he gave me historical evidence to support his points. That is when God revealed to me His truth and the beauty of the gospel. That night, I chose to make Jesus Savior and Lord over my life.

Last summer, I had the privilege of going on a mission trip to New Orleans … In previous years, I would let other
people in my group share the gospel with the homeless while I just stayed back and watched. I can be pretty shy
at times … This past summer, I decided that I would step out of my comfort zone and obey the Great Commission.
… I was able to share the gospel with two people, an older man and a younger woman. They asked me questions and it delighted me to answer them. They were not ready to accept Christ then, but I was not upset because I know I planted a seed that I pray will be harvested.



Germantown High School
Grace Crossing Baptist Church, Madison County
Parents: Kevin and Pam Cooper


My favorite passage is found in Galatians 4:7: “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” … I never had the opportunity to know my biological father and never will. His identity will always remain a mystery; however, it is not a mystery that I desire to solve. … I have had the opportunity to be adopted twice in my life and both experiences have been life-changing. In September of 2001 I was adopted by my earthly parents from an orphanage in Asia, and when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior I was adopted by my Heavenly Father into His kingdom.

The Christian leader that has impacted my life the most is my mom. She has always taught me to lead others toward Christ through my actions. She has explained that not everything is going to go my way and that I should follow the plan that God has set for me. My mom has shown me how to see situations through Christian eyes and to not let things or people take control over me. She cares for me and even when I don’t want to listen, she is always right about many situations and leads me back to my faith. She helps me persevere through teenage drama and heartache, and she makes my days better when circumstances seem overwhelming. My mom is an amazing Christian leader who has truly been an inspiration in my life and she will always be the Christian example I choose to follow.



Jackson Academy
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Chuck and Virginia Gautier


Last summer, I served on a medical mission team near Galette Chambon, Haiti. Haiti’s primary religion is voodoo,
which makes it a very dark place spiritually. However, our team was able to share the gospel of Jesus Christ while treating very sick people. … After arriving, we learned that most of the people in the village had never seen a
doctor or a dentist. I worked in a makeshift pharmacy filling prescriptions and translating medication instructions to the Haitians who could not read. Although overwhelming at first, we were able to treat over 250 patients and to pray with them. … This opportunity profoundly affected my desire to serve others while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Throughout my junior year of high school, I volunteered with three of my classmates at Canopy Services (Mississippi Children’s Home), which provides a temporary home for children in unhealthy or abusive family situations. Together we planned and implemented activities on a quarterly basis with the 12 children living in the elementary cottage, such as dyeing Easter eggs, making Christmas ornaments, reading with (the kids) and spending time with them.



Germantown High School
Broadmoor Baptist Church, Madison
Parents: Mike and Lori Haight


Psalm 139 has been a constant testament of peace in my life. …David is reassuring believers that there is no height, no depth and absolutely NOWHERE that you can run from the love of Christ. … The Lord CHOOSES to walk with us through all things, even the hard, and still loves us in spite of it. That gives me hope to know that I am never too dirty and that I am NEVER alone.

As a child I would watch with wide eyes full of curiosity, I would follow him around everywhere he went, I would even pretend that I was him, and I decided that I wanted to grow up and be just like my father. I will always
admire him (for) the many godly characteristics that he has exhibited as a father, but more so I will never be
able to describe how much admiration I have for the godly characteristics he exhibits as a man, a pastor and a
believer. My father’s ability to lead people with a great amount of both confidence and humility will continue to give his little girl an example that she strives and hopes to reach one day. His heart for people, his compassion for those in need and his capacity for love and kindness will never lose its wonder. I not only want to share the job that he performs (worship minister) but more so his never-ceasing attitude to strive to be Jesus’ hands and feet.



Madison Ridgeland Academy
Broadmoor Baptist Church, Madison
Parents: Brad and Linda Ishee


In the spring of 2017, I went on a mission trip to San Francisco … On one of the last days of the trip, I had an encounter with a man named Ron who lived under an overpass. … I noticed that his shoes had no laces and were in horrible condition. This made me think of the countless pairs of shoes that I owned back home and how much I took them for granted. (The) Lord put it on my heart to give Ron the shoes off my feet. I asked him what size shoe he wore, and it turned out to be an 11, which was the exact size that I wore. I immediately took my shoes off and handed them to Ron … I saw an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

My parents have been the two people that have impacted me the most in my Christian journey. Through every situation, they try to set a Christian example (and) they encourage me and redirect my decision-making back to how a Christian is to live his life. My parents have taught me to pray without ceasing, to read God’s Word, then to apply what I have read to my life. (My) parents remind me to fix my eyes on Christ, to not get caught up in the everyday drama. … They have taught me that forgiveness is not a feeling but it is a choice not to let hatred rule in your heart; it is choosing to go to God to find comfort.



Clinton High School
DaySpring Community Church, Clinton
Parents: Dennis and Joanna Miller


My favorite Bible passage has to be Proverbs 31. Specifically, I love verse 25 that reads, “She is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.” I want to be exactly what that verse says. Sometimes it is especially hard to exhibit that verse because of my anxious and naturally pessimistic personality, but I want to be so grounded in my future as a believer that it does not matter what comes my way. Through it all, I want to be someone who can be herself without worrying about what is to come.

This past April, I organized and directed a Girls’ Day Out event for special needs ladies of all different ages and abilities, which was a day filled with pampering. This event won the Therapeutic Special Event of the Year awarded by the Mississippi Recreation and Park Association.

Growing up with a brother who has Down syndrome and my medical field interest has showed me that the Lord is calling me to occupational therapy, a career that can enhance the lives of many children who might not be able to achieve things as easily as others. This fits into my desire to adopt a special needs child and do orphanage mission work.



Terry High School
Greater Tree Of Life MB Church, Jackson
Parents: Doris Benson and the late Willie Miller


My favorite Bible passage is Jeremiah 29:11. It reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It is my favorite passage because it lets me know that God has already made plans for me and they are great plans. I also understand it to mean that we are going to go through things that are not pleasant, and these things are in place not for us to escape, but for us to learn, grow and persevere. I remind myself of this passage when I get discouraged about things in my life. We all have strengths and limitations that are all a part of God’s plan.



Jackson Preparatory School
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Michael and Kimberly Nichols


I always listened to my Sunday school teachers and parents telling me about the hope we have through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and at the age of 7 I felt this hope for the first time. In the car on the way to church, the song “East to West” by Casting Crowns came on, which is based on Psalm 103:12 that says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” As the song played, I broke down in tears. I felt the Holy Spirit rest on me as it became clearer than ever before how great a sacrifice Jesus made for me even though I, an imperfect and unworthy person, will never deserve it. I wanted a relationship with the God who loved me enough to die for me, so I began my relationship with Christ by surrendering myself and asking Him to be the Lord of my life.

I plan to interact with people of all backgrounds, forming intentional relationships, with the goal of sharing why I can have joy in life: the gospel. Truly caring about a friend means not placing the fear of rejection over their eternity.



Jackson Preparatory School
Christ United Methodist Church, Jackson
Parents: Charles and Shannon Plunkett


My favorite Bible passage is John 13:33-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” … I want people to feel loved and appreciated when they are around me. To know that I am loved by someone has a big effect on me …
and I want others to feel the same way.

My youth pastor J Nelson has been the Christian leader to impact my life
the most … He is always supporting me in all the many activities that I am involved in, but he has mainly
encouraged me to simply live out my faith on a daily basis. Through many lunch meetings and after-church chats,
J has always asked me one question: “Who will tell me in a year that you have shown them Jesus?” This question has changed my life. Every day, I strive to show Jesus to others by being a positive role model for my peers … Because of J’s influence in my life, I have become confident with sharing my faith with others, even when it is an uncomfortable situation.



Tupelo Christian Preparatory School
Gloster Street Church of Christ, Tupelo
Parents: Chad and Beverly Ramsey


My favorite Bible passage is Romans 12:2, which says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” … Oftentimes I have a hard time doing that because the ways of the world seem to be fun and pleasurable. (But) I know that through Christ I can overcome the temptations.

The Christian leader that has impacted me the most is my father, Chad Ramsey. My father is the most Christian man I know. He has impacted me more than anyone else in the world has, both with his words and his actions. My dad is a Christian all the time, not just when it is convenient … (He) does not act like a Christian just because he is a preacher; he is a Christian because he loves the Lord. He uses his words and actions to help whoever he can, and he has helped me become the man that I am. Through his actions he has made me fall in love with Christ … I have never seen my father intentionally skip church or avoid something where he could be doing good for others just to do something for himself, and because of that, he has inspired me to do the same.



North Forrest High School
Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Hattiesburg
Parents: Gregory and Tessie Reed


I have seen God protect my grandmother just this year in a wreck that totaled her vehicle. I have seen God bring my grandmother from not walking to walking in 2005 and 2006. I have (also) seen God open doors for me, such as allowing me to complete 27 dual credit hours for free during high school, wiping out an entire year of college I’d have had to
figure out how to pay for.

(My mom) is the most Christ-like person I know. She is always giving of herself and her resources … She teaches in the youth department. She teaches us at home. She never curses. She works tirelessly. Everyone calls her “mama Tessie” but she’s my mama. She uses great examples to get God’s message across, even though my siblings and I are sometimes the example. She has instilled values in us. People straighten up when she walks in the room at the school, at her job, everywhere. Even when I don’t feel like going to church sometimes, she makes me go. I’m glad she does. She’s an awesome volunteer in the community and has received the Presidential volunteer service award twice from the U.S. president. I’m proud to call her mom.



Brandon High School
Brandon Baptist Church
Parents: Shane and Amanda Stocks


I would not be where I am today without (my mom’s) constant encouragement, example of true leadership and acts of affirmation. She has even gone on some of the same mission trips I have, and seeing how hard she works even away from her job is an inspiration for me. Any free time, money or energy she has goes to me and my younger brother. I am beyond blessed to have her example to show me what it means to stay humble and live a life for God’s glory. She is a living example of a Proverbs 31 woman and the mom, wife and friend I strive to be. Even the way she handles negative situations or people is with grace and optimism. This is the kind of leadership and love that has impacted me for 17 years in a
profound way.

My word this year has been “consistency.” Consistency in prayer, consistency in how I treat my parents, consistency in my quiet times: I’ve strived to make that a priority. Ultimately, I know it is the smallest day-to-day decisions of moving forward in my faith, like keeping my mind on God and His promises, that will help me to trust in His goodness in all situations.




Christian Leaders of the Future Class of 2013


Following graduation from Madison Central High School in May 2013, I enrolled at Delta State University to pursue a bachelor of science in athletic training. I am currently employed as a graduate assistant athletic trainer at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where I work with the women’s swimming and diving team while pursuing a master of science in human performance. I have seen God’s hand at work through the entire process that has taken me from Madison to Lynchburg.


Shortly after being accepted into DSU’s athletic training program, the university announced that the program was being eliminated. Our group would only be allowed to graduate if we completed our requirements one semester early, so more classes were added to my already full schedule. The final semester of the program was a required internship. Following months of being told that it was arranged, I learned that was not the case less than two months prior to my report date. After many tears and prayers and countless emails sent nationwide, a door opened with Auburn University’s women’s gymnastics program with only two weeks until my deadline to start. My church family sent out a plea for help and found me a place to live in a town with over-capacity dorms and apartments.


While at Auburn, I passed my licensing exam, and I became a certified athletic trainer upon graduation from DSU in December 2016. I returned to Auburn for the remainder of that school year to work as an intern with their soccer and track and field teams. The relationships I formed at Auburn ultimately led me to Liberty University and the position I now hold.


I am not certain where I will go
following graduation in May. However, I know that God’s timing is perfect and He already knows where I will be. He stands in our tomorrows, going before us with His provision, love and wisdom. He has led me to this point and will continue to do so in the future. “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8