First Baptist youth seek to make a ‘huge difference in this place’

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By Angye Morrison

When you take a look at fingerprints closely, it’s easy to see two things: everyone has them and each person’s prints are unique.

Using fingerprints as fodder for a lesson for both themselves and the children they served last week, 17 teens and their leaders, a total of about 22 people, embarked on a unique mission to serve their community and their Lord.

Mike Park, minister of students, said the youth at First Baptist Church in Quincy wanted to do something locally to help their own community.

“We’ve done a lot of work outside of Quincy and even Florida, but we made a commitment as a student ministry to make sure that before we go off and help other people, we want to help people in our own community,” he said.

Students and adult leaders spent last week working on a house on Gray Road in Quincy, which they were steered toward by ChristTown Ministries. The home will be used by people looking to segue into the community after drug or alcohol rehabilitation.

First Baptist youth spent their mornings last week clearing weeds and other foliage on the property, and even worked to remove portions of a tree that had begun to lean on the house. Once the outside was in better shape, the teens set to work on the house itself, scraping old paint and then painting both the inside and outside. They also painted the deck and put in new steps on the front of the house.

In the afternoons, the group conducted Backyard Bible Clubs on a softball field on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Quincy. In addition to games and songs, the teens led the 26 to 27 children who attended each day in making crafts and in Bible-related lessons. The group closed out the week with a water day, featuring all sorts of cool and refreshing water-filled activities.

The group stayed at Lake Seminole, and gathered there each night to reflect on the day, rest and regroup.

The week wasn’t all work, however. According to the teens, there was lots of pranks, very little sleep, laughter and even shaving cream fights.

Park said he was amazed at how the community and the membership at FBC came together in support of the project.

“We worked with ChristTown Ministries to get the house, Charles McLellan Funeral Home donated a tent for us to use for the Backyard Bible Clubs and Stone’s donated materials,” he said, adding church members at FBC fed the youth all week.

“It’s been neat to see the community get behind these kids and what they’re doing by supporting them and providing them what they need to get this done,” he said.

The students who worked all week really didn’t see it as work at all – instead, they say they were mostly having fun and were glad to give of their time and energy to help others.

“I would rather give my time to do something like this, to help out our community,” said Chris Buell, who is homeschooled. “If I wasn’t here, I’d just be doing school work or hanging out with my friends. This is better.”

Hannah Spanos echoed Buell’s commentary, adding that the kids they worked with are “adorable and we love them.”

Cliff McPhaul said he couldn’t wait to begin the weeklong project.

“To get away from home and fellowship together was fun and I got pumped up for it,” he said. “Seeing what we can accomplish together for the Lord, that’s what does it for me. Instead of just leaving and going elsewhere, we’re making a huge difference in this place.”

Although the students all knew it would be a long week and a lot of hard work, they were committed, even before they knew what their project would be.

“I didn’t know where we were going or what we were doing, I just knew it would be fun and I was looking forward to it, whatever it was. It’s been fun,” Buell said. “Jesus said it is better to give than to receive, and we just want to give.”

One student, Joshua Balingcongan, broke his collar bone when attempting a handstand during backyard club time, and had to be taken to the hospital. His concern was not for his own injury, but rather that he’d miss the rest of the work week.

“He wasn’t saying, ‘Oh, I hate that I broke it,’” said Spanos. “He was saying, ‘Man, I have to go to the hospital. I can’t stay.’”

Park said that since many of the students have experience with this sort of work, not much overall preparation was needed to get them ready. They have, however, faced some challenges. There were those who hadn’t done this type of work before, and they had to quickly learn some new skills.

In addition to that, Park said the group has had to deal with some racial barriers.

“We intentionally went to a section of town where we normally don’t go. We went there to establish a bridge prior to the work week to help students understand that regardless of the color of someone’s skin, we’re all just people. We’re all souls that God loves and wants to know. We’re trying to reverse some of the tracks that have been laid behind us,” he said.

McPhaul said he’s enjoyed playing with the kids, and he was surprised by some of the kids’ willingness to get involved and help them.

“We walked some of the kids home, and when we got back, there were still six or seven kids there that just wanted to help us pack up and I never thought they would think of doing that. That just wowed me,” he said.

Spanos said what the group has accomplished goes beyond race or religion.

“We’re not just helping them out and forgetting them. We’re making friends. We know each other by name. One kid wanted us to meet his parents. We’re making a connection with them. We’re building friendships,” she said.

The students are passionate about what they’re doing, and are hopeful they’ll get a chance to speak with the people who will utilize the house once it’s finished.

“(I’d tell them we’re) glad we would restore a place you can make your own and recover from whatever you’ve had in the past,” McPhaul said. “Here’s something new you can build on and look toward the future, and start anew.”

Buell agreed, but added a little humor when asked what he’d said to future occupants.

“I hope y’all like the paint,” he said with a smile.

Park said the work won’t end just because the allotted time is spent.

“All you have to do is open your eyes to see that our county is in desperate need economically, socially, spiritually. We want to continue this; it’s not just a one-shot deal,” he said. “It will take a conscious effort to keep your eyes open and we’ve already seen a playground that is run down. That’s something we can fix up and keep up.

“We want to work with local social service agencies and ministries to help these students understand that it is better to give back than to sit and soak. We want to create in them a lifestyle of service that continues wherever God may take them in their next phase of life, so they won’t just sit back and complain about problems, but instead will invest and create change when and where they can.

“We have a passion. Jesus tells us that anything we do for someone is like doing it for Him. We really took that to heart this week.”