By SAMUEL BOLEN and PAULA BYARS
“I think we can all agree that what the world needs is not more nonprofits. Instead, what the world needs is well-equipped leaders.”
I heard a nonprofit executive share this feedback recently. His words echoed in my mind. What could Mississippi look like if her leaders were well-equipped, well-networked and well-resourced? What transformation could occur if those leaders who are called and committed were provided the necessary capacity-building tools for leadership growth?
These burning questions gave birth to the Jackson Leadership Foundation. At JLF, we partner with neighborhood leaders to ensure they are well-equipped, well-networked and well-resourced. Each of our six ministry programs focuses on empowering leaders to transform communities. One such program we provide is Leader Lab.
Leader Lab is a six-month leadership training cohort for nonprofit ministry leaders. Leader Lab includes six half-day training sessions, one-on-one leadership coaching, a full-scale ministry health assessment, growth plan development, and a grant for each graduate of the program. Paula Byars, executive director of His Heart Ministries, was part of our 2022 cohort. Here is a glimpse of Paula’s leadership story told in her words.
“God has a way of bringing things full circle. My story and connection to Calvary Baptist Church and His Heart Ministries has been a twisty, turny road. I grew up in the sticks of northeast Louisiana. Never did I see myself working in Jackson, Mississippi. I learned about Jesus from my mama and the feisty preacher at the country Baptist church we attended. From a young age, I wanted to be a missionary and teach children in Africa about Jesus. God had other plans, however.
“While at Mississippi College, I met and married Flint Stodghill, who grew up at Calvary Baptist Church. Making those many trips down Capitol Street for church in the mid-’90s opened my eyes to the needs of the city. My heart was broken. I had not seen anything like this before, and I could no longer shut my eyes to it. One day riding home from church, I had a vision of people from Calvary walking up and down sidewalks praying with people and sharing the gospel.
“Years later I became the executive director of His Heart Ministries, the student outreach ministry of Calvary Baptist Church. At His Heart, we hold weekly Bible clubs, youth Bible studies, tutoring, mentoring, home visits, and school outreach. I remember my daughter saying, ‘Mama, you may never get to go to Africa, but His Heart may just be your mission field!’ She was right. I did not need to go overseas to find people who need the gospel. There is need here in our own backyard.”
Celebration of leadership
As Mississippi Christian Living highlights 2023’s Christian Leaders of the Future, we celebrate Jackson’s leaders like Paula, who are doing amazing work in their communities. You are invited to attend His Heart’s 25th Anniversary Celebration on April 2 at Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson. His Heart also is looking for more volunteers with their tutoring programs and Bible clubs.