By KATIE EUBANKS
Earlier this year, MCL called for nominations for our 2021 Christian Leaders of the Year. Each of our five winners has a unique story of God’s work in their lives, whether through foreign missions, workplace ministry, running a nonprofit, or simply sharing office space. We hope their stories will encourage you to lead in whatever ways Christ has called you to!
Anne is the director emeritus at Pioneer Ministries (Camp Pioneer) in Pearl. She and her late husband, Maurice, were married for more than 50 years before he passed. She has six children and 14 grandchildren, lives in Pearl, and attends Christ Temple Church of Christ (Holiness) USA in Jackson.
From her nomination:
“Mrs. Bingham is close to her 90s and still working hard! I worked in the office with Mrs. Bingham for about a year and a half. She not only cared for the organization but she cared for me as well. She challenged me and encouraged me spiritually and I hold those moments dear to my heart over 15 years later.” – Candace Robins, former camp counselor, Camp Pioneer
From helping out to taking ownership
In 1948, Erwin and Ruth Wedel started Camp Pioneer to minister to the African-American community.
“There was strict segregation here in Mississippi, and they were white. So they took I would say many risks of their lives … And they did not pull back,” Anne says.
She got to know the Wedels when they worked at Piney Woods School, where Anne graduated high school. Later, the Wedels asked if she’d be a camp counselor at Camp Pioneer. That turned into a lifelong vocation.
In 1970, when the Wedels felt called elsewhere, they offered Anne and Maurice the chance to take over the camp.
“We had never run a nonprofit. It was just a totally different ballgame, believe me. For us to take that on, a young married couple with a family … the challenge was raising funds, and having people that we could appeal to, because we were a part of those to whom they were ministering. We didn’t know any people of means.”
Fifty years later, God is still providing the means to keep Pioneer Ministries going.
What she’s learned about leadership
“When it comes to reality, like bills that have to be paid, and to knowing the Lord and trusting Him and having everything on the line, I’ve learned the faithfulness of God, how He really does care about His work here on earth, and about His people.”
She’s also learned to pass the torch, as her son Ronald now runs Pioneer Ministries full time. She does some office work, and “I’m a mother, so I have a lot of ideas,” she says with a laugh, but “I am not Pioneer Ministries. I am a servant of the Lord. If He doesn’t return until the year 5000, I want His work to be carried on.”
Antho ny is the missions pastor at First Baptist Church of Madison. He and his wife, Suzannah Russell Britt, live in Madison and have three children.
From his nomination:
“There has always been a desire from the WMU at FBC Madison to have their own missionary house. (Anthony) did the research, met with the church administrator, set up the day-to-day operation policy .… I have found (Anthony to be) a man who loves the Lord and loves people. He has a vision and is able to implement (that vision) to reach people with the gospel.”
– Laura Leathers, church member
The Christian leader in his life
“I would say my youth minister growing up, John Daniels, was probably the biggest influence. When I was in high school, I came to Christ, and he played a big role in my life, just mentoring, discipling me. (And) watching him with his family and how he treated his family and what a Christian family looks like was very influential in my life.”
From saying to doing
Anthony was the Baptist Student Union director at Southwest Mississippi Community College when the time came to mobilize students for summer missions. But Anthony wasn’t very active in missions himself at the time.
“I remember sitting at my desk … and thinking, ‘God, how am I going to promote summer missions when I’m not serving and I’m not going myself?’” he recalls.
So he wound up going on a mission trip with his students to Cambodia.
“I remember standing on the banks of the Mekong River … and seeing for the first time these little children … picking up trash and looking for food, and I remember tears rolling down my eyes, and I remember thinking, ‘God, this is what You’ve called us to do, is to love,’” he says.
In that moment, he learned that often the best leadership style is leading by example. Now he could recruit student missionaries by “having a passion for something I had done,” he says.
“I’ll never forget reading (Henry Blackaby’s book) ‘Experiencing God,’ his quote that says, ‘Find where God’s at work, and join Him there.’ We’ve got to join Him. We can’t just assume and just say, ‘God, do a work.’”
Jay is the groups’ pastor at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison. He and his wife, Nikki, live in Ridgeland and have two married children and two grandchildren.
From his nomination:
“Not once did (Jay) ask us about the compensation package. … he was focused on finding out if the job would use his skill set and if this is where he felt called by the Lord to work and not how much money he would make. (Also) Jay possesses the rare combination of being a minister who can counsel, teach, and preach well but also is wonderfully gifted in administration.”
– Doug McDaniel, board chair, Young Business Leaders Jackson
The Christian leaders in his life
“My first was my grandfather. He was my first pastor growing up. … He would take me to visit nursing homes, visit people at their homes … so I was really being trained for ministry and didn’t know it, and it was a lot of fun because he made it fun, and he made it seem like a very normal part of life,” Jay says.
“The second I would say was (a pastor I served with named) Bill Spencer. (From him I learned about) getting the best out of (people’s individual) gifting but also creating that organizational structure that just lets ministry flow.”
From the marketplace to the church
“The focus (of Young Business Leaders), and I did it for five years, is workplace ministry,” Jay says. “And then the hallmark of that ministry is the small groups that meet all over metro Jackson.”
As executive director of YBL Jackson, Jay was not looking for a job change. But “when you hear God speaking, just don’t ignore it,” he says. “Nikki and I were both going to Broadmoor and leading the newlywed life group and just enjoying being church members. (But) it was just very evident from the affirmation of the Lord and the affirmation of the team at Broadmoor (that I needed to join their staff).”
He’ll definitely bring lessons from YBL to his new role, he says: “Marketplace ministry is a niche that isn’t really being tapped into by the local church. So I see opportunities for us to do that at Broadmoor potentially.”
On living for Christ in the workplace
“Don’t look at (work) as a ho-hum boring thing that you’ve got to go do. That is absolutely the platform God gives men and women every day to live out the expression of who Christ is,” he says.
Kateri is the facilitator at Hope Exchange, a poverty alleviation ministry in Jackson. She and her husband, Levi, live in Jackson with their two kids and attend Redeemer Church, PCA, in Jackson.
From her nomination:
“Kateri is one of the most humble, God-fearing, wise and impressive women I have ever met. She always works behind the scenes and this would be a great way to celebrate (her). She is also a visual artist and has helped our community arts ministry publish their first advent calendar and Lent devotional book.”
– Candace Robins, fellow church member
Sticking around and exchanging hope
Hailing from Minnesota, Kateri had graduated from Belhaven University in Jackson and was about to move to Arizona for a master’s program when she met Levi, who was working in the woodshop he had helped establish at We Will Go Ministries in downtown Jackson.
“He had a clear vision to stay here with no backup plan. … We like to stay places and see the growth that happens. ’Cause if you stick around, things will get interesting,” she says, laughing.
Kateri did leave — briefly — for a nine-month art residency at a small church in inner-city New Orleans, and then came back to Jackson. She and Levi married, bought a house, and started getting trained in the ministry that would become Hope Exchange.
“We moved to west Jackson to be in context. … When things go bad, they go bad for us too, so we have a lot of buy-in.”
By 2017, “the bones” of Hope Exchange were there. The ministry includes financial literacy, workforce development, healthy relationships, and equipping the church to serve people who need those things. Kateri has focused a lot on the Wednesday night community group that she and Levi hold at Redeemer, where they offer classes on job readiness, financial literacy, and whatever else folks need.
She says she and Levi try not to be immediate “fixers”: “There’s usually something to know about the person before you go, ‘Here’s the diagram of how your life is going to get better.’”
What she’s learned about leadership
“Ever since I was little, I got a weird compliment: ‘You’re really resourceful,’” Kateri recalls. “Being able to use what you have as a leader is important. … Neither (Levi nor myself) is very charismatic. There is an awkwardness to what we do.”
Why she’s excited about this story in MCL:
“It’s exciting to think about someone reading about being involved in God’s kingdom and thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe I will.’”
Karyn is a lobbyist at the state Legislature and owns LifeHouse of Mississippi, an office space in Jackson for startup Christian nonprofits. She and her husband, Michael, live in Brandon. They have two grown children and attend Pinelake Church in Brandon.
From her nomination:
“Karyn is the epitome of following Christ as He leads, filling the needs she sees and doing it in her ‘normal’ life. In 2012, when she needed office space for her lobbyist work, she listened to God and purchased what is now LifeHouse Ministries that serves nonprofits by providing office space and community in downtown Jackson. (But) she also serves our state through her work as a lobbyist, helping advocate for important work that needs to happen for her clients, friends, and community.”
– Hallie Brand, former LifeHouse tenant
Leadership lessons through lobbying
As a lobbyist for clients in the healthcare and agriculture industries, “I’ve sort of lived a life of high performance. And now I just see that God’s just really brought me to a place where … It’s just getting up every day and treating people the way I want to be treated,” Karyn says.
“I’m a lot calmer. I think people at the Capitol would tell you that,” she says with a laugh.
In summer 2012, Karyn was paying “an absurd amount of money” for an office space in Flowood that she rarely used. Then after reading in Acts 2 about the early church sharing what they had — and “souls being saved” — she got convicted.
“(God told me), ‘Take this same (rent) money … and get the largest space you can get with it, and share it with others,’” she recalls.
After more prompting from God, a year later she bought the house that would become LifeHouse. Because LifeHouse is for startups, many organizations have come and gone as they’ve outgrown the space. Current tenants include the Jackson Leadership Foundation, Hope Exchange, the Children’s Foundation of Mississippi, and Karyn herself.
On finding God’s will
“I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself, what is God’s purpose for my life? And we wring our hands over it. And somewhere along the way, He just said, ‘Why don’t you just cross off the last three words?’” she says.
“(Then it) became more about jumping in and getting to be part of His will, and less about my will. It just feels like the days and the leadership opportunities … start taking care of themselves.”
In memory of Ken Sims
Ken Sims, a faithful member of First Baptist Jackson who sold video equipment to churches for a living, went to be with the Lord in January 2021 after battling COVID-19. MCL received a nomination from Deryll Stegall for Ken to be included in this year’s Christian Leaders of the Year edition.
From his nomination:
“He lived his faith out loud more than any layperson I’ve known,” Deryll said. “Would tell anyone about Jesus at the drop of a hat. He was an absolute expert at finding ways to interject something about Jesus into a brief elevator conversation just to get someone (even total strangers) thinking about Jesus and their salvation. He’d do it in such a friendly, loving, upbeat way, that no one was ever offended, they were always intrigued and responsive.
“He was also a leader in (Evangelism Explosion) training, encouraging others to share their faith. No telling how many people he led to faith in Jesus.”
Ken also worked with the FBJ youth for decades, Deryll said. “His favorite thing he’d ask kids when he’d run into them was, ‘How’s your love life?’ meaning how’s their relationship with Jesus, with God, the One who is love, which could take off into all sorts of conversations.”
A faithful member of the FBJ choir, Ken played a king in the church’s “Carols by Candlelight” Christmas production more times than anyone, Deryll said.
“He was always there, always an encourager, always with a glowing expression when singing in the choir loft or wherever you saw him.
“Just weeks before he got sick, we did a special video and he participated as a singer — this is the last time he sang in front of a camera. What a way to go out — singing about ‘peace all over the world’ through his Savior — you can see the joy on his face.”
From his widow, Terry Sims:
“Ken would be totally humbled and blown away by this honor,” Terry says. “He was a wonderful man who loved the Lord with his whole heart and being. I don’t know if I ever realized just how much he witnessed and loved on others until he passed, and it’s been completely overwhelming.”