For 15 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 male and one female will each receive a $2,000 scholarship to the college or university of their choice, and 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 around 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, March 7.

     We hope these brief excerpts from the finalists’ essays and recommendation letters encoure you as you discover what God is doing in Mississippi’s young people.

Thank you to our 2023 sponsors:

Gold: Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company; Morgan White Group Silver: Dr. Eugene Brown’s Smiles by Design
Bronze: Mississippi Fellowship of Christian Athletes; Ballet Magnificat!
Friends: Herrin-Gear Lexus; TrustCare Kids; Lakeside Moulding
In-kind: Fresh Cut Catering & Floral; MMI Dining



Madison-Ridgeland Academy
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Todd and Natalie Adkins

     “The (prodigal son) walked away from his family and faith to spend his fortune on the things of this world but his father still loved him. … No matter how many times we walk away God will always rejoice when we come home to Him.” – Ryan Adkins

     “My son changed schools recently and did not know very many people at his new school. He is several years younger than Ryan, but Ryan has included him and made him feel welcome … and invited him to small group Bible studies .… I believe that those seeds of love and truth that have been planted in his heart will produce fruit.” – Mark Rich, fellow church member


Jackson Academy
Fondren Church, Jackson
Parents: Gabe and Ashley Baldwin

     “I was living out of fear, constantly scared I was disappointing God. One night, I had a conversation with a friend (and) recognized Christ’s love for me is more than sufficient to cover my failures … Once I understood this, I fully surrendered my life and my plans to Christ!” – Molly Baldwin

     “Molly has a joyful spirit and radiates love and warmth for others. She has a deep devotion to Christ and a magnetic personality. Molly enjoys learning. I’ve enjoyed seeing her not only at church but at a local bookstore selecting some books to expand her thinking.” – Robert Green, pastor


Clarkdale Attendance Center, Meridian
Evangel Temple Church, Meridian
Parents: Jonathan and Kylie Boles

     “The most influential Christian leader in my life would be my Mamaw Rosie. … She stood beside my Papaw Melvin, who was also a pastor, for years as they struggled with naysayers, poverty, and everything in between. … She would do anything for anyone and pray for you without question. She did not have a judgmental bone in her body.” – Avrie Boles

     “We can always depend on Avrie to step out within her Sunday school class and youth services to open us in prayer or lead us in worship. She takes initiative to see progress within the group and projects completed. … without me having to ask her for help.” – Joe Ivey, youth pastor


Gentry High School, Indianola
New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, Indianola
Parents: Curtis and Patricia Boyd

     “The world is temporary, while God is everlasting. The world offers certain pleasures, riches, and provisional happiness, while God has the ability to bless us with everything we need. To love God is to obey God. I know that I am called to rely on God, to be obedient, to put others before myself, and walk in honor.” – Tyren Boyd

     “Tyren has prided himself on being an advocate for the youth and his community. He gives so much of his time listening to the needs and wants of his fellow classmates, underclassmen, and community friends, so that he can become a vessel of positive change through Indianola.” – Jasmine S. Styles, mentor


Madison-Ridgeland Academy
First Presbyterian Church, Jackson
Parents: The late Paul David Chinchen, Laura Chinchen

     “People may assume that being raised by a missionary family means you naturally come to accept Christ. I am thankful that my father took the time to tell me about Jesus and pray with me. My father baptized me this summer in Lake Malawi … It was a special moment that I now realize (was) the completion of my father’s mentoring.” – Vanndel Chinchen

“I’ve seen (Vanndel) take initiative planning meetings with other Student Body officers, interacting with administration, and speaking to the entire student body. He has learned the importance of delegating responsibility and empowering those whom he leads.” – Austin Fortenberry, teacher and academic counselor


Simpson County Academy, Mendenhall
Liberty Baptist Church, Raleigh
Parents: Ernie Lee Easterling II, Wendy Laura Easterling

     “It hit me like a ton of bricks that I didn’t know Jesus as my Savior. We were in the middle of a revival at my church, and my mom was also saved … We were able to be baptized together … It’s so important that we know we have a true relationship with Jesus.” – Lee Easterling

     “His dad was injured in an accident and Lee took on the responsibilities of a grownup while his dad was in the hospital. At a time when most of us would have been asking, ‘Why me?’, Lee just did what he needed to do to make things at home run smoothly.” – Christy Smith, family friend


Laurel Christian School
Summerland Baptist Church, Taylorsville
Parents: Russ and Michelle Freeman

     “Success is not determined in the outcome (but) by whether (God) receives glory in the process … He does not want the A+ or demand academic perfection; He wants a joyful heart that admires His creation as I study and do honest work. I have found so much freedom in that.” – Katye Freeman

     “(Katye’s) leadership on the basketball court is exceptional; however, her leadership off of the court is beyond remarkable. … Katye approached me with the desire to hold a weekly devotion for our team. Katye developed and now typically leads our weekly devotions. Katye’s discipleship has and will continue to change the lives of those around her.” – Stephanie Risher, coach


Corinth High School
Foote Street Church of Christ, Corinth
Parents: Jason and Beverly Grisham

     “While the life of a Christian can be difficult in a world consumed with hatred of the Christian lifestyle, the all-consuming love of God can help us not only to show our faith to him, but to use our faith to change the world around us.” – Catherine Grisham

     “Not only does (Catherine) attend our youth events but (she) is working toward the highest honor, The Red Coat Award for our Lads to Leaders Program. This award requires her to take on a large project that she has executed perfectly. (Her project) has our entire congregation involved and working in teams to serve the church and community.” – Mason Cothren, youth minister


Corinth High School
Foote Street Church of Christ, Corinth
Parents: Nathan and Allison Hall

     “I want to be able to know the Bible well enough that if I were asked a question about something I could answer it. And in a civil, respectful way but also being firm in my own beliefs.” – Emma Hall

     “Emma is a kid that everyone would love to have in their youth group. Emma works hard to make sure that everyone stays involved, and she is the first one to make any new members feel comfortable … Her excitement and love for the church has been contagious and is a vital part of the growth we have seen over the past few months.” – Craig Strickland, fellow church member


Madison Central High School
Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Madison
Parents: Mills Heard, Samantha Kalahar

     “I have heard many people talk down about Christians and give very considerable arguments for why they denounced God. I have had to learn to cope with these (arguments) and maintain my relationship with the Lord. Going to my church and family leaders for help has always been the most effective way to work these challenges, so I will continue to do this in college.” – Olivia Heard

     “Olivia is also an extremely hard worker. She has held a couple jobs outside of the church since I have known her, which have been demanding and time consuming. However, Olivia made it a point to attend church.” – Logan Ellzey, student pastor


Hartfield Academy, Flowood
Pinelake Church, Reservoir campus
Parents: Jason and Sunday Holmes

     “I have always wanted to be a nurse. … Nursing gives me the opportunity to help people while at their worst. I think of no better way to show God’s love in the world than to be a servant to others.” – Sarah Sunday Holmes

     “Sarah Sunday lives out the understanding that her choice to follow the Lord with abandon means sometimes standing alone … but she never fails to do so with a smile on her face and a kind word. Even in her youth, she is the embodiment of Proverbs 31:25 — ‘Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.’” – Blakeney Hatcliff, teacher and theater director


Northpoint Christian School, Southaven
Getwell Church, Southaven
Parents: Jimmy Johnson, the late Laurie Johnson

     “I felt the looks of pity and whispers (after my mom passed away. But) God revealed that He would use me to reflect His glory. (So) I decided to not let satan win. I decided to allow God to use me as a vessel to show His love through me.” – Elise Johnson

     “(I serve with a nonprofit where we) pack and deliver non-perishable lunches … (Elise) volunteered to help deliver these lunches when the scheduled drivers were unavailable. … Further, I watched her choose joy and trust God when her mother — her best friend — died suddenly last year. The way she grieved this loss at her young age displayed faith and strength beyond her years.” – Ann Starker, mentor


Purvis High School
Little Black Creek Baptist Church; Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Lucedale
Parents: Eld. Joseph and Denise Ladner

     “I believe that we as Christians (should) show compassion. Instead of condemning people for their sins and isolating them from God’s people, I want to show kindness and tell them how the Lord has been kind to me, and that He is offering that same kindness to them if they will put their faith in Him.” – Katherine Ladner

     “(Katherine) exhibits a sense of honesty, dependability, and responsibility in a way that I have never seen from a person her age. She is wise beyond her years. … People look and listen when she walks into the room.” – Hannah Morris, church music director


Winona Christian School
Kilmichael Baptist Church
Parents: Dywayne and Rose Lishman

     “There is nothing in sinners to call forth (God’s unconditional) love .… Christ did not die for us because we were good people; He died for sinners … which included everyone. I take that act as evidence of God’s great love for us, especially since God went first. God proved His love for us and that makes Him worth trusting.” – Autumn Lishman

     “Autum has accumulated (123) community service hours. … She watched children when their parents were unable to keep them as well as helped collect items for needy children. For the elderly, Autum raked yards, set out flowers, and spent valuable time with them.” – Misty Holder, guidance counselor


Madison-Ridgeland Academy
Highland Colony Baptist Church, Ridgeland
Parents: Johnny and Laura McCrory

     “It always (seems like God) is going to call you to do things for Him when you’re older, but I feel like that (mindset) needs to be changed because when one accepts Jesus, He can and will call you in every season of life.” – Cate McCrory

     “I returned to school after missing a few days and there was an envelope on my desk. I immediately knew (it) was a handwritten note from Cate. This wasn’t the first or last time Cate left a note .… She didn’t wait until class started to bring me the note in front of her classmates. When no one was watching, she showed me she cared.” – Frances Dykes, teacher and mentor


Park Place Christian Academy, Pearl
Pinelake Church, Reservoir campus
Parents: Kurt and Rachael Monaghan

     “I had the privilege of leading a small group of eighth grade girls. … their lives were riddled with heart-wrenching issues …. I had to stay strong in my faith for their sake, because for a few of them I was their only support system. … God has showed me that through Him I have the strength to walk in His plan.” – Olivia Monaghan

     “From the time I first met Olivia … she has a exhibited a spirit of servanthood towards others that impacts those around her for the better. While many of her peers are enamored with ‘what’s new’ for a #1 priority, Olivia has chosen to ‘keep the main things, the main things.’” – Brett Christensen, teacher


Russell Christian Academy, Meridian
Northcrest Baptist Church, Meridian
Parents: John and Courtney Nelson

     “Being able to see medical work in its purest form (on the mission field), I formed a great admiration for it. I want to be a doctor because I love the idea of being able to help those I serve physically and create relationships with them emotionally.” – Caroline Nelson

     “(In helping Caroline make decisions) I always get the impression that she has already spent time in prayer about what direction to go, and usually has been given an answer, but wants extra validation that she is making the right decision. The fact that she has this type of reasoning and decision-making skills at such a young age is very impressive to me.” – Emily Harbour, teacher


Mooreville High School
Hope Church, Tupelo
Parents: Eric and April Pittman

     “In fifth grade, I felt God leading me to step out of my comfort zone and share with my classmates the gospel (through) salvation bracelets. … I made over a hundred salvation bracelets …. I went to each table and told them what the beads represented. (It) was scary, but I had to trust God to give me the strength to share.” – Nan Pittman

     “I can remember (Nan) being in lower elementary school and getting up on stage one Sunday morning to tell the church congregation about how she (had) been telling people about Jesus on the playground. (She) is the same young woman today, who desires to see others come to know the Lord.” – Kristen Bailey, small group leader


Jackson Academy
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Paul and Paula Pratt

     “I love how the Proverbs 31 woman constantly serves others with ‘willing hands.’ She puts her relationship with Christ first and everything else in her life flows from it, and I try to hold myself to that same standard.” – Gracie Drew Pratt

     “Gracie Drew has attended my (Bible study) for four years now …. I have seen her be inclusive of others, encouraging to others, and always true to who she is in Christ. I have asked her upon several occasions to share (to the) very large group and she always is a ‘yes ma’am’ girl and shows up and shines bright!” – Amy Bates, Bible study leader


Hartfield Academy, Flowood
Crossgates Baptist Church, Brandon
Parents: Kevin and Amy Rogers

     “(Hebrews 11) goes through many Biblical figures who were used by God and responded in acts of faith. … Although they made mistakes along the way, God never forsook them … This passage inspires me because I know that no matter what I do, I am loved by God, and even when I have no idea what the future holds, I know He is in control.” – Victoria Rogers

     “(Victoria) is well-respected by her peers and is an excellent Christian role model. I have never seen her fail to assist others who were having difficulty. She strives for improvement and readily seeks advice from teachers and faith leaders.” – Leslie S. Lee, teacher


South Panola High School, Batesville
Pilgrim’s Rest Missionary Baptist Church, Batesville
Parents: The late Kevin Cooper, Latisha Rudd

     “(During COVID) I began a weekly virtual spiritual session with (my peers) who needed a safe place to speak. … they admitted to me that even though their environmental situations did not change much, their mindsets did. As they came closer to Christ and began speaking Christ’s word in their homes, they became stronger … The sessions were also therapeutic for me as they brought me closer to God.” – Kyla Rudd

     “She serves (my nonprofit) without complaining; she serves without boast; she serves without others having to consistently tell her what to do, and most of all she serves without being paid.” – Lt. Col. Leonard Boothe, nonprofit leader


Madison-Ridgeland Academy
Broadmoor Baptist Church, Madison
Parents: Lance and Vanessa Sceroler

     “(As a pediatric speech pathologist, I will be) strengthening children’s abilities while also showing them grace and patience. Being able to help children with motor skills is something that I feel God has called me to pursue.” – Anna Sceroler

     “Anna is one of the few people that I allow into my home to watch my children. My wife and I want students whom we can trust and that we know will influence our children in ways that will lead them to know and love Christ more. Anna is one of those students.” – Nathan Stamper, spiritual life director, Madison-Ridgeland Academy


Parklane Academy, McComb
Trinity United Church, McComb
Parents: Ryan and Tabitha Speights

     “God created me for spreading the good news of Christ and that is what I will do until the end of my time. My plan is to do as Jesus said in Ephesians 6:14 and stand firm in Christ by fastening the belt of truth around my waist, and by putting on the breastplate of righteousness.” – Grace Speights

     “When I think of Grace Speights, I am reminded of Psalm 19:14. She truly desires for the words of her mouth and the meditation of her heart to be acceptable in the sight of God.” – Sarah Willis, teacher


Park Place Christian Academy, Pearl
Lakeland Presbyterian Church, Flowood
Parents: Andrew and Michelle Vincent

     “Recently, I believe I found my calling to begin my journey of becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner. Neonatal patients are some of the most vulnerable in society. Not only do I want to be able to provide medical care for their needs, but also be a support system to families walking through a potentially scary time in their lives.” – Anna Vincent

     “At camp, (Anna) is a great cheerleader for fellow staff (and even directors like me). She welcomes new staff members and helps them feel a sense of belonging. She loves others as we are called to love our neighbors.” – Lizzy Rhett, Twin Lakes assistant camp director


Gulfport High School
First Baptist Gulfport; Trinity United Methodist Church, Gulfport
Parents: Michael and Alice Walker

     “I believe God is calling me to pursue a degree in education and coaching so I can invest into students and help them reach their full potential spiritually, academically, and athletically. I have seen firsthand the impact a coach can have on his team. … Teachers and coaches are a great support system that can change students’ lives for eternity.” – Smith Walker

     “(Smith) has completed over 100 hours of community service … But even beyond (that), Smith can always be counted upon to provide kindness and understanding to his peers inside and outside of the classroom.” – Kelsie Dove, teacher


Oak Grove High School, Hattiesburg
Hardy Street Baptist Church, Hattiesburg
Parents: Rev. William and Christy Wall

     “Despite the difficulties (of pastoral ministry), my father never neglected his relationship with my mother and with his two boys. He understood that he could not faithfully love and serve Christ’s church without doing the same with his family. He has shown me that my ministry will not be successful if I neglect my relationship with Christ and my family.” – Jackson Wall

     “The manner in which (Jackson) builds relationships with those of opposing worldviews while interspersing Biblical truth demonstrates wisdom that can only come from the Lord.” – Amanda Kirk, Sunday school teacher


Madison-Ridgeland Academy
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Danny and Tamah White

     “Since I can remember, every morning I wake up I see (my dad) sitting in his chair reading his Bible and praying. Most nights when I go and tell my parents goodnight, he is (doing the same). My dad leads our family in the godliest way and truly exemplifies what it means to be an ambassador for Christ.” – Abby White

     “Young children are wonderful judges of character. Come to a pep rally, football game, soccer game or anywhere children are able to see Abby, and you will witness dozens of children running to Abby to receive a big hug from her. She is important to them because she has shown them that they are important to her.” – Frances Dykes, mentor


Hernando High School
Hernando Baptist Church
Parents: David and Jennifer Williamson

     “I have been immensely blessed to be a leader in my school and community, but how am I leading them? … Without Christ, it is like the blind leading the blind. God has given me opportunity after opportunity to be a light. My prayer is that I am obedient and bold enough to take it.” – Peyton Joy Williamson

     “As a freshman (Peyton’s) attitude was different from everyone else. She never let her teammates feel alone or discouraged. She played a vital role in keeping positive momentum in our backfield. She has only matured this leadership throughout high school. It is no surprise, that as a Senior, Peyton was voted team captain.” – Jana Perkins, soccer coach


Jackson Academy
First Baptist Jackson
Parents: Samuel and Alicia Williford

     “(At Girls Nation) I quoted Bible verses and told them that I wanted to embody specific Christian leaders. Even though I became (the) object of acrimony (for many), nor received the scholarship, a small group of girls thanked me for speaking what I believed and for being fearless when holding the microphone despite the consequences.” – Olivia Claire Williford

     “For someone who excels in all she does, (Olivia) maintains a humble demeanor. She recognizes her strengths and uses them to improve her weaknesses. She is very willing to help others with classwork without condescension or pride.” – Leah Busby, teacher


Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton
Parents: Wes and Carly Winborne

     “(My D-group leader AJ Kyser) taught me that I have no reason to be intimidated when it comes to reading through scripture and stepping up to become a leader. I learned that a good leader listens to those around them. I truly saw Christ through AJ.” – Jordan Ann Winborne

     “(Jordan Ann) discreetly moves to sit by a student who is sitting alone during service. She recognizes when a younger girl needs a comforting hug. She steps up to greet and include first-time visitors or those infrequent attendees. … Jordan Ann embodies all that I hope my young daughters grow up to be.” – Erin Taylor, small group leader