By Maggie Ingram
The Mustard Seed’s Color Is Joy
Thirty-five years ago, a small group of parents had an Everest-sized vision to give a future and a hope to their children who were touched by disability. They wanted to provide opportunities that celebrated their children’s abilities, experiences that would enrich their lives, and a place they could grow and learn alongside their peers.
They used Matthew 17:20 as their guide: “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Having children who have developmental disabilities can seem like the rugged, tough terrain of the Rockies, but they had faith that God was able to do far more than they could imagine.
They organized a hand bell choir, and after years of watching God move those mountains, their vision has grown to a full-sized ministry called The Mustard Seed, a bustling campus on Luckney Road in Brandon. “I can sit back and see God working here,” said executive director Del Harrington. “To see this place grow from that initial vision to where it is now is really special.”
Around forty Seedsters, as they are famously known in the Jackson metro area, join each morning in devotion, hand-bell practice, educational and life-skill classes, and of course, painting and crafting their wildly popular ceramics. “Pottery is a big part and a neat part of what we do here,” Harrington said. For former Seedster Nate Rogers, it calmed him when the storms arose.
“He was so afraid of doctor appointments,” said Rogers’ mother Mandy Rogers. “He would bring a piece of pottery as a gift to the doctor and staff, and it calmed him to have that with him. He called painting his job, and he loved it. I bought all his pottery, and he gave it all away. But his work caused us to not have so much stress for appointments. It was a beautiful thing.”
Nate passed away in December 2012, but from time to time, a piece of his work will show up, maybe pushed to the back of a shelf or packed in a box of seasonal pieces. They let the Rogers know so they can come pick it up, a tangible reminder of their son and what The Mustard Seed meant to their family. “They still think enough to call me and save it for me,” she said. “We have so many good stories about our time at The Mustard Seed.”
The Rogers’ other son Ben was also a Seedster but was offered a full-time job with the City of Ridgeland, where he now works. “We are just so thankful we had The Mustard Seed here,” she said. “They both loved going. They got up every morning, ready to go. Everyone there is just like family. Actually, they are family.”
One of those Mustard Seed family members is Beth Carraway, who works in the ceramics studio and helps glaze and fire the pieces. In one week, between 300 and 400 pieces, some starting as liquid clay poured into molds and some hand crafted, roll through the studio. Each piece is uniquely painted and sold in their gift shop on campus. “It’s really rewarding to open a kiln and see what they’ve accomplished,” Carraway said. “It’s a high privilege to work here.”
They also have a booth at Mistletoe Marketplace and other festivals. While their ceramics remain their most beloved items, they also sell a signature candle scent called Seedster Love, a stationery line decorated with Seedsters’ original paintings, and customizable Christmas cards.
“Painting and creating pieces gives our Seedsters a job and a sense of ownership,” Harrington said. “They have a meaningful way to enrich their lives and use their talents and gifts.” Approximately 20 percent of The Mustard Seed’s annual budget comes from the sale of the ceramics, the other 80 percent coming from donations. But the ceramics value runs much deeper than just its economic benefit. It serves as the Seedsters’ loudest voice in the community and gives them ownership of their abilities and unique gifts.
“People fall in love with us because they have a friend or relative who gives them an ornament every year or they see our booth at Mistletoe. Some people collect a particular artist’s work because they love their style,” she said. “We get to share our greater goal and ministry because their pottery goes out in to the world. I feel like the stories we hear at our gift shop or from people at Mistletoe are so encouraging, people relating to us or someone in their life who has been touched by disability.”
Each day, the group begins with a devotional, sometimes led by a staff member and sometimes led by a Seedster. They paint four days each week, and staff members hold classes on just about anything anyone has an interest in. “If someone is interested in World War II or science or whatever, we try to put together lessons for them,” Harrington said.
Rogers believes it is possibly the happiest place on earth. “I go out to visit, and there are always tons of hugs,” she said. “No matter how bad you’re feeling, when you go to The Mustard Seed, you’re going to leave happy.”
“They’re so full of love. If our world had as much love and caring as the people at The Mustard Seed, we’d have no problems whatsoever. They have to be doing something right to be around this long.”