westhills group 480xOn May 30th, 2009 twelve members of West Hills Community Church (Morgan Hills, CA) arrived in Mount Olive Mississippi. Flying from California, this team consisted of ten young adults, the pastor of young adults, and the children’s minister. It made little difference to us that some of us had been to this state before; all of us were excited to fulfill our purpose of serving the community. Our passion was to encourage the church, work with the children, and honor our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our host for this week was Tony C. Duckworth, pastor of Mt. Olive Community Church and Founder of Mt. Olive Ministries (MOM), a Christian tutoring program. Pastor Tony and his wife Shannon serve the community by being examples of Christ’s love to the local families. Throughout the years Pastor Tony has acted as the children’s mentor and advocate while Ms. Shannon has tutored and guided the children at MOM.

Our team came to tutor, hold a Vacation Bible School (VBS), and do some painting for a few church members. The daily routine usually began with a hearty breakfast followed by our tasks: the men went to paint and work on a local house, while the women went to the ministry building to tutor. This year there were over 100 children every day for tutoring at VBS. Though it was a challenge to maintain order at times, it was evident that the children learned and had so much fun as we interacted with them. We give God praise for providing us with such skills and teaching us through each day that He is the One who works through us for His glory. He also allowed all of us to remain safe and build bonds with the Mt. Olive community.

The real fun seemed to begin after lunch when our team and the children came together at the high school to learn life lessons from the Bible. We opened with songs and followed with the lesson and memory verse. Each day one of our team was blessed to challenge and explain how these wonderful children could make good choices and live wisely. Along with that teaching each age group would rotate and play games, have snack, and make a craft. During these break out session the leaders were able to love and encourage these kids, trying to leave them with an impression of God’s love for them.

The highlight for most of the team was to end the day by sharing great meals with Pastor Tony, his family, and the local believers. We were overwhelmed with grilled catfish, plenty of crawfish, and lots of ribs. More than that, we were able to glean what life is like in such a beautiful state: how people thrive and struggle yet there is always hope in our gracious God. What a joy it was to serve such caring people. All of us learned much that week; about ourselves, those in Mississippi, and our Lord. To complete this letter here are a few quotes to summarize the impact of this trip:

Andrea Glass– As the days went on, it was great to see the kids pay attention more and want to listen to what we were bringing them. One thing that blessed me was seeing the kids singing our songs even when the program had finished for the day. We saw several kids at dinner and they always asked us to sing the songs with them. My prayer would be that all those kids, from 3 to 16 would reflect on what we did and said and when we go back next year we might see what God has done in their life. I cannot wait for next year!

Joey Khan- VBS, probably the most impacting thing that we did in Mississippi, was a huge success. I noticed that some of the children were impacted by the message, music, crafts, or even just the one on one time that we had with them. I look back and I see God’s hand planting some seeds that may eventually blossom into fruits of salvation and that over joys my soul.

Michaela Perreira– I learned a lot about myself and my teammates, especially from the Mt. Olive kids. I saw God working in all of them and was blessed to be a part of that. What a joy it was to work with the kids during tutoring as well as during VBS. I loved getting to know them throughout the week and being an example to them.

Spencer Lines– Last year, humidity and human error had made our painting jobs a significant trial, but this year God blessed our efforts incredibly and we accomplished more than I could have hoped for. However, the biggest blessing came through the increased attendance in our VBS. Although it was hectic at times, we were able to calm the kids and deliver several powerful Gospel messages which I hope impacted those kids as much as they impacted me. The sincerity of love that I witnessed being poured out on those kids really amazed me, and to see some of them begin to reciprocate that love in the short period of a week was even more amazing.

Alex Pelaez– I really looked forward to traveling to Mississippi and getting to know each child and adult alike; and for a week to show them the love of Christ. One thing that amazed me is the authority and influence that Pastor Tony Duckworth has in the community. We were given the local high school for use and the parents trusted us with their children. God has truly blessed the ministry that Pastor Tony and his family have started.

Valerie Lines
– I really enjoyed tutoring in the morning, we taught them different subjects and I loved encouraging the children to expand their minds (even if it was summertime!). For VBS I lead the music, which was such a blast to see everyone praise God each day. Then on this trip I learned how to put aside my self interests and care for the needs of others, a very important aspect of my growth as a follower of Christ.

Tim Hunter– Praise the Lord; we made it to Mississippi and back safely! The trip was truly a blessing…We experienced some fatigue during the week, but the Lord sustained us and gave us the strength to get through! (I think He definitely used red velvet cake to help do that) : )

Monica Lines
– This year I came away with a confirmation of why we need to support our brothers and sisters in Mississippi. My heart went out to the children, knowing that the One they really needed is Christ. Only His grace and strength can help them to live God honoring lives, making wise choices regarding friends, faith, and their future.
Personally I grew more in leading the children through tutoring and a VBS lesson. I gladly admit that growth came through mistakes and error, for the most trying times opened my eyes to the grace of God. He provided the strength to supervise and cherish these kids so that we would see our need and give Him the glory.