Mississippi Christian Living, in partnership with Belhaven University, is pleased to introduce our 2020 Christian Leaders of the Future. High-school seniors from across Mississippi submitted applications answering questions about their faith, service and leadership, along with letters of recommendation. Five diverse believers each reviewed and scored the applications, with student names redacted. We will honor our 24 finalists and announce the two scholarship winners March 3 at our awards program at Belhaven.
We hope these excerpts from the finalists’ essays encourage and inspire you in your own walk with Christ!
We also want to thank all our 2020 sponsors of Christian Leaders of the Future. Gold: Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company. Silver: First Commercial Bank, Pinelake Church, and Smiles By Design — Dr. Eugene Brown. Bronze: FCA Mississippi. Friends: Atmos Energy, Herrin-Gear Lexus. In-kind: Fresh Cut Catering & Floral, Primos Cafe, and Stegall Imagery. We are grateful for you!
First Baptist Brandon
Parents: Michael and Joy Bratcher
One day in chapel at Hartfield Academy, we were worshipping, and everything seemed to finally click. I talked with a couple of my friends that day and decided that I really did need a personal relationship with Jesus … Christ did not die on the cross for me to only know about Him; He desired for me to know Him deeply. When I got home that night, I immediately talked to my parents (and) made the best decision of my life when I prayed and accepted Jesus into my heart on the couch in my living room.
First Baptist Madison
Parents: Michael and Kristin Carraway
One of my all-time favorite passages is the entirety of James’ letter to the church. … Despite having studied it countless times, I always learn something new when I read it … The passages he writes about taming the tongue (3:1-12) and about faith and works (2:14-26) are two of my favorites. Throughout the letter, James highlights how fallen man is and how he will never be able to be righteous based on his own works alone.
Jackson Preparatory School
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Marvin and Rachel Cochran
When I was in eighth grade, I was diagnosed with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). … in which one’s heart rate and blood pressure change dramatically when changing position. … (Becoming) lightheaded and then fainting became part of my daily routine (which) made attending school a difficult task. I spent more time sitting in the offices of many cardiologists, neurologists and psychologists than I did sitting in a desk at school. People began to consider me “the sick girl,” and that label made me feel worthless. … I began to make daily time in prayer with the Lord a priority. I truly learned how to trust that His plan is far greater than I could ever understand.
Covenant Presbyterian Church, Jackson
Parents: Josh and Sara Cole
During one of my first weeks (working at Twin Lakes Camp) this past summer, I had a very difficult cabin of girls … One of the girls, the worst behaved, asked me the most questions. … She asked me why we were so loving even when she was disrespectful. She asked me who God was, why I believed He is real, why He loves us, and why He created us. This was so much at once, but thankfully God put on my heart the right words to say. I prayed for her and encouraged her to pray about God working in her heart. She asked Jesus to come into her heart and life.
Clinton High School
Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton
Parents: Bryan and Allyson Collins
My favorite Bible passage is Proverbs 3:5-6. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” … Once I stop and set my heart back on the Lord and realize that I cannot always control the outcome, I have this peace that all will work out.
Resurrection Catholic High School
First Baptist Vancleave
Parents: James and Kristi Cook
My mother and my father complement each other as they each have distinct impressions on my spiritual walk. … My mom has always encouraged me to use all of my God-given talents to further God’s kingdom. She has given me countless opportunities to serve others and to lead worship. My father has always encouraged me to have a daily relationship with the Lord, making certain that I follow His will for my life.
Broadmoor Baptist Church, Madison
Parents: Rob and Kimandria Futral
My favorite Bible passage is Proverbs 31:25, which says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” This is my life verse. … Strength and dignity definitely come from her faith in God and her faithfulness to live for God. … Confidence isn’t something that I find in myself, but in my God.
Christians in every generation have had to stand strong in what they believed … While our culture may be changing, Christians in many other countries face much greater challenges to living out their faith. I think we can and should learn from their examples.
SARA CARSON HAILEY
Vertical Church, Madison County
Parents: Ross and Lauren Hailey
Up until (the summer after 10th grade), I lived completely relying on myself and what I believed was right for me. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to go to Young Life camp, where I learned I could never get through life without God leading me step by step. … God taught me that my own self-sufficiency will never satisfy me, that I am in desperate need of a Savior. Ever since God softened my heart and allowed me to be in a relationship with Him, there have been many highs and lows, but because I am equipped with the power of His Spirit, I am able to rejoice.
Central Hinds Academy
First Baptist Raymond
Parents: Randall and Laura Love Harris
The Christian leader who has impacted my life the most would be Matthew Gaddy. He was the minister of music at my church for four years. … He took the time to grow my knowledge in music, leadership and Jesus. He gave me many unique opportunities, allowing me to play an important role in the Sunday morning services.… I would not be the person I am today if he had not believed in me and invested in me musically and spiritually. I hope to be as impactful to a younger, upcoming musician as he was to me.
South Jones High School
Springhill M.B. Church, Ellisville
Parents: Derrick and Ebony Holliday
In November of 2018, my parents took sole responsibility of my cousin. At the time he was only seven days old. The day I met Nathan … I heard God speaking to me saying that he was ours and he would always be in our family. … When he was around 6 months, the court began to consider removing him … I know that it was no one but God who allowed Nathan to stay with us.
Soon after, Nathan began getting sick … By seeking God, it was revealed that the main cause of Nathan’s grief was his ears. This was a blessing and after having surgery, Nathan was finally well. (Trusting) God about the placement of Nathan as well as his health was a trying time. (But) in the end my faith was strengthened.
ANN LAMAR JEFCOAT
St. John’s United Methodist Church, Greenwood
Parents: Justin and Amanda Jefcoat
When I came to understand that Jesus really loved me, all I wanted was to give him what I could, my heart. I did not want to be half in with God, I wanted to be all in with God. … Surrendering my life to God was the most important thing that I will ever do, and I am committed to following Him with my whole heart.
Highlands Presbyterian Church, Ridgeland
Parents: Chip and Cindy Johnson
My father has taught me so much about being a Christian. … It might be a little thing, such as staying after everyone else has left the church picnic to pick up trash … or it might be bigger things, like joining the high-school mission trip every year when I was in elementary school. … Every morning, my parents and I have devotional time that we spend together in God’s Word, and he encourages me to have my own quiet time … He constantly checks on my relationship with God, because he wants me to have a firm foundation going into college. I want to imitate him when I have my own family.
Park Place Christian Academy
First Baptist Church Richland
Parents: Brian and Brandy Jones
Three years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Watching my grandmother go through chemo and radiation was the hardest thing I have had to do. I was reading through my Bible one night and came across Isaiah 40:31. … The verse reminds me that God will renew my grandmother’s strength and that one day all the pain will be gone. … My grandmother is now two years cancer-free, and all the glory goes to God’s healing hand.
ANNAH JANE KYSER
Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton
Parents: Jeremy and Jill Kyser
Evangelism is one of the most important aspects of the Christian walk. … (But) we cannot spread the word of the Bible if we are not daily dwelling in it and living in Christ. Daily intentional time with the Lord, listening and discerning what His will is for my life, is as important as going out and sharing the Lord with others.
First Baptist Fannin, Brandon
Parents: Glynn and Melanie McLeod
My favorite Bible passage is probably Job 42, in which God describes the Leviathan to Job. … Firstly, the idea that God actually created such a fantastical creature as the one described in the passage is a wonderful one … Secondly, that passage was the catalyst for my interest in the creation versus evolution debate. From that, I gathered interest in other apologetic discourses … Now, I am surer than ever of my faith, and know a few answers to the innumerable questions about my beliefs that I might encounter.
Jackson Preparatory School
Fondren Church, Jackson
Parents: Joshua and Amelia Metcalf
I went on a mission trip to Cambodia after eighth grade (with The) Hard Places Community, an organization that works with children who are sex-trafficked.
On this trip, a case was opened up with a girl who was being abused by her stepfather, but thanks to (HPC), she was sent to a safe place. We knew that there was a possibility of backlash from her family … but the staff and my other team members weren’t going to let fear stop us from doing Kid’s Club with the other children.
I was still terrified. … Nevertheless, I went and played with the children. Then, I saw lightning slash through the sky … Normally, thunderstorms scare me, but (this) storm reminded that even though I felt powerless, I was not alone … I had the God of the universe with me in real life.
Greenwood Church of God
Parents: Michael and Amber Mooneyham
The one beloved Bible passage that has gripped my heart is Jeremiah 31:2-6. … Here, Israel was in the trenches of captivity and needed to recall the love of their Father. … The prophet describes the kindness of Abba Father through showing His “favor in the wilderness” and His extension of “faithful love” … God tells the nation of Israel that they will see a graceful restoration despite their sin and “will take up (their) tambourines again and go out in joyful dancing.”
Fondren Church, Jackson
Parents: Ted Morris; Barry and Elizabeth Crain
Last year, (while out of town) I woke up to 19 missed calls from my closest friends. I decided to call back the most familiar name … They answered immediately and frantically asked if I had talked to my best friend, because they could not get ahold of her. (I) began calling her and her family. Finally … my friend answered and said, “I am in the hospital. It’s bad.”
I grabbed my suitcases and started driving home. … my friend (had been driving) and a car was in her lane, causing her to drive off the road, into a fence. The fence went through the windshield and cut her face, causing her to black out. I remember just questioning God (about) how He could let this happen.
While I was praying … her mom sent me a text that said, “A cop randomly decided to drive down the same road while off duty and found her. She would have died if not for him.” My perspective instantly changed … I know (God) was watching over her … and because of that, I learned to never take His power for granted.
Germantown High School
New Hope Baptist Church, Jackson
Parents: Ken and Katrina Myricks
Outside of my mom, the Christian leader who has had the biggest impact on my life is the choir director at New Hope Baptist Church, Giselle Gentry.
She always has time for me; therefore, I have learned to use her as a listening ear …. Ms. Giselle doesn’t judge me! When she gives advice, she incorporates the perspective of a teenager. As an African-American woman, she understands those specific concerns too. She always incorporates a spiritual view as a way of pointing out how we should always consider our relationship with Christ when making life decisions. She has a funny way of referring me to scripture … asking me to think it over and let her know the outcome.
Holcomb Baptist Church
Parent: Vicky Mitchell
(This year) I began to feel God call me to step up for Him by speaking at FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes at my school). … I always thought it would be cool to speak at FCA, but I was too scared. … I tried to push this calling aside at first, but God is a persistent God. … So, on October 11, I finally spoke at FCA. I was extremely nervous … and I was afraid that what I had to say might not be good enough. However, God wanted me to speak for a reason, and I am so glad that I stepped up and obeyed.
ANNA KATHERINE RAY
Christ United Methodist Church, Jackson
Parents: William and Martha Ray
(In ninth grade) I participated in a weekend-long retreat in Pulaski, where I got to fully experience God’s love and mercy as an individual, not just as a part of a routine. … I felt the Holy Spirit moving in me.
The final night of the retreat, I felt called to ring the bell in the center of the campgrounds and publicly accept Christ into my life and into my heart. The immediate feeling after I rang that bell was unlike anything I had ever felt before. It felt as if a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and that I had finally been set free.
Northeast Lauderdale High School
Northcrest Baptist Church, Meridian
Parents: Rob and Lori Smith
John 8:1–11 has been a passage that has specifically meant a lot to me, and I also give it credit for allowing me to break once-heavy chains. During the summer of my junior year, I attended FCA leadership camp. During this camp, I heard a pastor preach from this passage. I had been carrying the weight of many sins … but when I heard the pastor speak about the accusers leaving the woman, I was overfilled with peace when Jesus told me personally that He does not condemn me.
Christ United Methodist Church, Jackson
Parents: Cobb and Cheryl Ware
The Christian leader who has impacted me the most is my guidance counselor, Young Life leader, Student Leadership Institute mentor, and friend, Libbo Crosswhite. I am just one of a vast number of high-school girls who would tell you the effect that she has … She is completely honest about where she struggles, how she is broken, and what she is learning. … She doesn’t pretend to have it all together … she just loves us and listens to what is going on in our lives. … I am truly blessed to be mentored by such a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
Jackson Preparatory School
New Life Apostolic Church, Jackson
Parents: Terrence and Beverly Wilson
Psalms is a great testament of faith in God. My favorite chapter in Psalms is chapter 46. It talks about God being our refuge. … The whole chapter resonates with me because it is great to be reminded that I don’t have to worry. God is with me, and He is my place of safety.
(My mother) has a walk with God that I do not see in many Christians. Her faith is strong. Her prayers are fervent. Her actions are kind. She is a true woman of God who encourages me to continue my walk with Him. Through the tests and trials, my mom has kept the faith.
CATCHING UP WITH A PAST CHRISTIAN LEADER
Winner, class of 2015
What she said then: Our CLF application asks each student to describe a time when they lived out their faith in a way that was challenging. Emily, then a senior at Oxford High School, recalled wanting to share the gospel with her AP English classmates in a positive way — and getting the opportunity in the form of a research paper assignment. Emily convinced her teacher to let her write the paper on the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection. She used the Bible as a source, but also cited atheist scholars on the Bible’s reliability — and presented the gospel clearly. Go, girl!
Since high school: Emily enrolled at Mississippi College on a cross-country and track scholarship. But after freshman year, “I decided that I was still super in love with the school, but I wasn’t exactly cut out for the rigorous training of cross-country and track,” she says.
Quitting the team helped her learn her first major life lesson of her college years, she says. “I needed to fail at something. I don’t need to be defined by what I do. I can just be defined by Christ.”
Also freshman year, she visited Grace City Church in Jackson for the first time. She “fell in love immediately with the church,” she says, and interned there sophomore through senior year while attending MC.
“Right before graduation, I had no idea what I was going to do next, and I got offered to come on full time at Grace City as the children’s minister,” she says.
Now Emily shares the gospel with babies through fifth-graders at Grace City, and she and her roommates also host a weekly worship and fellowship night for young adults at their home.