By Katie Eubanks Ginn
For the fifth year in a row, MCL has asked for nominations for Christian Leaders of the Year, servant leaders in Mississippi who embody the character of Christ. Nominations this year were reviewed by the MCL Advisory Board, and six Christian Leaders of the Year were selected. They recently sat down with MCL Editor Katie Eubanks Ginn to share their stories and their heart for the gospel. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Head of Middle School
From her nomination: “Several years ago, (a Prep student) made a mistake … While some would have called it grievous, I watched as (Reta) gently coached the child back on the path. She talked about mistakes and forgiveness and redemption … And although there was a fair punishment, she didn’t seek to make an example of said child … The relationship between (her) and the child (was) strengthened over time.”
– Emily McClain, former colleague
KEVIN & ANDREA REID
Lead Pastor and Executive Pastor respectively
From their nominations: “One of (the Reids’) greatest leadership traits is how they pour into and invest in others … Recently they have created a four-part leadership training for church members. (Pastor Kevin) has been teaching these classes sometimes twice a week because of the demand … Additionally, Pastor Andrea is a certified executive coach and offers this service to church members to allow her to pour into the ladies of the church on a one-to-one level.”
– Mandy Bufkin, Ministries Director, CityHeart
“While most (churches) were trying to hold on and maintain (during COVID), Pastor Kevin and Andrea led us to not only increase in numbers but transitioned our church into a new building … Average attendance has gone up at least 40 percent and we are now thriving in our new location.”
– Joo Reynolds, Connections Pastor, CityHeart
Mississippi House of Representatives District 73 Rep.
From her nomination: “(Jill) encourages everyone she meets to form a personal relationship with Jesus … When we go out to eat she not only prays for our meal, but she asks the waiter how she can pray for them. As we travel in a cab, she witnesses to the cab driver … She has been involved with Manna, taught VBS and Bible studies in the Delta, and witnessed to everyone along the way: gas station attendants, homeless (people), and homebound.”
– Amy Adams, friend
Retired District Director
CenterPoint Energy; serves on boards of several organizations
From her nomination: “There is no telling how many lives Tina touches through her daily devotions (on Facebook), her children’s book … her service to her church, her role model, her friendships, her mentorships, her love and passion which show through her volunteerism and willingness to serve on many nonprofit boards which help so many needy individuals. She walks the walk and talks the talk.”
– Jan Collins, friend and colleague
Chairman and founder
Ridgeland; vice chair of the board
Unite Mississippi Foundation
From his nomination: “George saw a great opportunity to bring together pastors, business leaders and (other believers) for a monthly time of fellowship and faith sharing (to) equip and encourage the body of Christ to go out and make disciples. George has been faithfully committed to this for over 10 years and has a vision for the state of Mississippi to be fully reached with the gospel AND discipled out of this effort.”
– Jamie Rasberry, colleague and friend
Katie Eubanks Ginn: Who are the Christian leaders who’ve influenced each of you?
Jill Ford: My grandmother. She was a mother of 11, mostly boys. She taught me how to pray on my knees. I still, every morning, get on my knees and pray.
Tina Lakey: My mother. We grew up very poor. My mother taught us about God, His love for us. When the church doors were open, we were there.
Reta Haire: My parents. I was able to see them live out the Christian life in a very normal way. My mother was a servant leader. My dad was a leader by example.
Kevin Reid: My grandmother. She was a pastor before that was a popular thing (for women to be). She grew up without her parents from the age of 3. She was raised by siblings in a sharecropping family. She planted a church with her kids.
(And) she never met a stranger. We’d go with her to the grocery store, and by the time we got through checking out … the cashier would be saved. (laughs)
Andrea Reid: My grandparents. I remember seeing my grandfather reading his Bible and weeping.
George Hester: My mother was probably the spiritual side … My dad was an alcoholic. But the good news is, he became my best friend later in life. (But) God brought people along(side) me — God gave me a passion for African American people because of where I was raised. I had a lot of really great mentors.
At different seasons in life, God brought men and women alongside me to help me get to the next level, because I was broken in so many ways.
KG: George, I know part of Unite Mississippi’s mission is to bring believers together across racial lines. How did that get started?
GH: When I turned 66, I asked God, ‘What do You want me to do?’ (He) said, ‘I want you to go make disciples.’ I didn’t know what that meant. The next day, my black friend Smokey John Reaves in Dallas called (and said), ‘God told me to call you and say He wants you to go make disciples.’
Discipleship is when you teach someone to do the same thing you do for them — it’s a mentoring process. (Some friends) and myself started in my office and said we’re going to do this discipleship program for a year.
Then God started stirring in our hearts, what’s wrong with the country is because the church hasn’t done her job. You can’t bring the country together if the Body’s not together. So we began to expand our thinking. If we begin in Jackson, and 10 people (each) discipled two people, and repeat that process, in 10 years we’d reach 590,000 people.
(So Chip Miskelly started) the Unite Mississippi Foundation … We started doing a (luncheon) once a month and have somebody share their testimony, and we exhort the body of Christ to amplify their faith in the marketplace.
KG: I know the rest of you also do a lot outside of your day jobs. Tina, you’re retired but probably busier than all of us. How do you decide which causes to get involved with?
TL: I think you start with people you trust who come to you. I don’t jump in until I feel that’s where God wants me to be.
(I’m involved with The) Salvation Army because they do good, they help people … If it had not been for others helping us (when I was young), we would not have survived.
You want to take God everywhere. So if I can go (sit on a board) and just one person sees something in me that they would like to have, and not because of me but because of God … then I’ll feel like I’ve been a big success.
KG: Jill, the last time I interviewed you, the COVID pandemic had just started. How have the last few years been for you in the Legislature?
JF: The last four years have been incredible. It’s not an easy position if you don’t get on your face before the Lord every (day). I’ve seen Him answer prayers. For instance … last night, Gluckstadt voted to put in the second Baby Box in Mississippi.
A Baby Box is where a mother (has) the opportunity to go place the baby in a box and not leave it on a doorstep or in a garbage can (and first responders are immediately alerted).
I was the one who got the (Baby Box) bill passed. And you would think that in the post-Roe v. Wade world that we live in, it would be an easy bill to pass. But it didn’t pass until the very last 10 minutes of deadline. I texted (a friend and said), ‘I need prayer.’
That job has allowed me the opportunity to walk out my faith. And trust me, there are days when I feel like I’ve forgotten I have faith. … You have to fight. And I grew up fighting — I had four brothers. (So) I’m not necessarily intimidated by men. … If they don’t have a chair at the table, I’ll just drag one up.
GH: Amen, sister. (laughter all around)
KG: Andrea, what drew you to come back to Jackson to plant CityHeart Church, and Kevin, what led you to join her?
AR: (I grew up) in north Jackson, and we drove all the way to Farish Street for church. But it wasn’t until I left the state and went to Duke University … and then you come home and you’re like, ‘Oh, how did I not see this (poverty)?’
When we got married and started talking about ministry, the Lord placed Jackson on my husband’s heart. (I thought) oooh, that’s a tall order.
We got a prophecy (that said) it’s going to take heavy machinery to till the soil (and that we’re) part of that machinery. So having that word, hearing from the Lord, having a husband that has vision — (because) when we first came home, all I could see was the devastation.
But in the seven years of ministry here (I’ve seen) there are people with a heart for Jackson. (We’re) not doing this alone.
KR: I remember the first time we visited Jackson. I didn’t know what to expect. I grew up in the north. … It was coming here, meeting the people and really just gauging people’s hearts that we really began to see, OK God, there really is a work to do.
Everyone thinks, ‘We can’t be in Jackson after 5.’ No, we’re going to be here. (We’re going to have) fall fest and all the things that people think can only happen in certain enclaves.
Sometimes we think it’s going to be a political fix or an economic fix, but really (it’s) spiritual. (It) even starts with how we speak … One of the things we’re saying in our church this year is, ‘Jackson Is Rising.’ (There) is business, there is economic development coming, but it’s going to take awhile. There needs to be a spiritual presence here, fighting against the enemy.
For a guy from Boston, having people tell me, ‘You’ll never be able to do that in Mississippi … ‘ (God has created at CityHeart) a community that is very diverse, not only generationally but also racially and people from different walks of life, different denominations.
KG: Reta, you’ve been at Jackson Prep for your entire career. What are some of the changes you’ve seen in education, and how have those changes impacted the way you relate to students?
RH: I don’t think the changes are specific to Prep. (But) one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in students is a decrease in grit. It used to be, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Now when the going gets tough, (students think) ‘I want to bail. …’ So we talk a lot at Prep about productive struggle (and) the things we learn through struggle.
You cannot ignore the change from cell phones, the camera, social media, and the unbelievable pressures on children and parents. … this whole idea that my life has to appear perfect. In the middle school, we don’t have cell phones (in class).
But I don’t ever want to sit in judgment on parents … We love the kids and families where they are. I am very privileged to work at a school where I can pray with my faculty, where I can pray for struggling parents in my office, where I can pray with students, and start the day with scripture.
We’ve got to raise men and women of character. That’s what I want to do every day.
GH: The root issue goes back to children’s identity. If they don’t find their identity in Christ, they’ve got to look to others for validation. And that’ll wear you out.
If we could teach people, adults too, that their worth is based on what Jesus did for them 2,000 years ago … Why aren’t we sharing our faith in the marketplace? (If) you don’t know who you are in Christ, you’re going to keep your mouth shut.
The Bible Belt is one of the hardest places (to share the gospel). We’ve still got a works mentality … when you’re serving God out of servitude, you’re not going to share your testimony.
RH: I think also (when we share our faith) we want instant gratification. (We) can’t forget the importance of planting seeds in someone’s life: the way you treat someone, the way you say you’ll pray for someone and then you actually follow up and let them know you prayed.
And I don’t want to sound like it’s all doom and gloom with students today. I’m thrilled with how many students attend our Bible studies. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Prep is student-led. I think I’m seeing revival on my campus.
I think through all these challenges that we all see, the bottom line is, Christ died for you.
TL: If we can instill that one thing in our children …
RH: That’s how much He loves you. That’s how important you are.