"Teenagers learn they're capable of something they didn't know they were," Neil Tullos explained. "They develop a courage."
I had the privilege of speaking to not just one long-time visitor of Mission First, but two—Neil Tullos, who leads Starkville’s youth group and has been coming for the past 10 years, and Emory Stevens, who’s been coming every year since she was in eighth grade.
As we stood out in the Mission First parking lot under the beating sun, I managed to catch Neil Tullos helping his students tug down a clump of vines. While his students teased and joked with him from the sidelines, I asked him what it was about Mission First that brought him back every year. He had a unique perspective.
He told me that coming here gives his students the chance to do things they’ve never tried before—whether it be tending a garden, leading a Bible study, or even sharing Christ. Neil says Starkville wants for their students to have experience with missions on multiple levels, so that they know what it is to serve at home, serve regionally, and go global. By getting out of town and spending time in another city, the students get the experience and perspective they need to be able to put it all into practice at home.
In his words: they see what they’re capable of, and it gives them courage.
Neil explained that they choose Mission First specifically for a few reasons. One of the main ones is that, coming and seeing the children here year after year, they can see the difference Mission First is making in their lives and in the area. They also get to serve in a variety of different ways, with some of their time devoted to more physical service and some to ministering to the children on a personal level.
Emory Stevens agreed. “There’s nothing I don’t like about it,” she answered when I asked what’s brought her here every year since the eighth grade. Even though the work is hard, it doesn’t feel like a burden. She really enjoys getting the chance to serve, whether it be by digging flowerbeds (as she was doing when I found her), or by spending time with the children.
As Emory put it, “We really get to know each other.” It’s a source of bonding for the youth group as a whole.
In the time they’ve spent here, FBC Starkville’s youth group has truly exemplified fellowship in the body of the church and what it means to have a servant’s heart. It’s an honor to get the chance to make a difference together.