Students in Hardeman County serve the community through Youth Evangelism Project
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
BOLIVAR — Sitting in her car with the window rolled down on a steamy morning in West Tennessee, Ella Hayes had a peaceful smile on her face. She was feeling a refreshing mist of water on her arm, but that wasn’t the reason she was smiling.
Her joy came from watching the youth who were enthusiastically scrubbing the car in front of her. The students were washing cars, free of charge to the customers, as part of the Youth Evangelism Project.
“This let’s you know there is still some love in the world today,” said Hayes. “With so much prejudice and racism and all that stuff going on, it puts a damper on your heart. But to see this right here — these kids out here working for Jesus — it’s nothing but love.”
The Youth Evangelism Project is a program that allows students to experience all the elements of a mission trip, including service projects and witnessing, without ever leaving town.
This year, there were 101 youth, representing four churches in the Bolivar area, who participated in the Youth Evangelism Project, commonly referred to as “YEP.”
Dixie Hills Baptist was the host church, and the other participating churches were Parrans Chapel Baptist, Hornsby Baptist, and First Baptist Bolivar.
Josh Clark, pastor of Parrans Chapel Baptist, served as YEP coordinator.
During the week, the youth are divided into groups of five, along with two adult leaders, to perform assignments on a rotating basis each day. The list of projects includes: door-to-door outreach, visiting shut-ins, prayer walking, construction work, picking up trash, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, cleaning churches and church buildings, hosting Backyard Bible Clubs, washing cars and more.
“We do a little bit of everything,” said Wes Depew, the youth minister at Dixie Hills Baptist. “It’s a blast.”
All of the YEP services are provided at no charge. Even the items at the “yard sale” are free.
Those involved with YEP say they are compensated for their work in ways that have nothing to do with money. The gospel conversations that take place at each of the stations is the best payment.
“Just seeing the joy on people’s faces when you walk in and have something to offer — like Jesus – is the best part,” said Emma Gibson, a rising junior at Bolivar Central High and a member of the Dixie Hills Baptist.
“A mission trip without the bus ride”
YEP has been an annual event in the Bolivar area since 2013. The event was first envisioned by Dixie Hills Baptist Church pastor Jimmy Garrett after a member of the community asked him why the church sent the youth on missions trips to other parts of the state when there was so much that could be done in the Bolivar area.
Garrett soon came up with the idea for an “in-town missions trip” — a concept that would not only help local churches establish connections with the community, but would also provide youth in the area with an opportunity to engage in missions work at an affordable price.
The cost for this year’s YEP was $50 per youth for the four-day event.
“There are a lot of the kids who might not be able to afford to pay $200 or $300 to go on a missions trip,” said Depew, “but they are able to do this.”
Depew said Dixie Hills Baptist puts in $25 for each youth who participates, thereby cutting the cost from $75 to $50. The money comes out of the church’s youth-ministry budget, he said.
Aside from a long bus ride or perhaps even an airplane flight, YEP includes virtually all of the other staples of a missions trip, including suitcases.
During the week, the youth are housed at Dixie Hills Baptist, with the boys sleeping in the church’s gym and the girls sleeping in the fellowship hall.
The church has two showers that the “campers” can use, and this year, Tennessee Disaster Relief teams from Beulah Baptist Association and Fayette County Baptist Association each supplied a “shower truck” for the youth to use.
Depew noted the number of participants in YEP has grown each year since its inception. It started with about 30 youth, representing two churches, in 2013.
Out and About
Main Street in downtown Bolivar was a hot spot for this year’s YEP activities.
On one side of the road, a YEP team was assigned to a gas station, where hamburgers and hot dogs were grilled and given away to anyone who was interested.
Across the street, the free yard sale was taking place. Shoes, pants, toys, sports equipment and electronics were among the items on the “gift tables.”
“This is for people to come by and really just let us show them our love and show them Jesus,” said Tina Hickey, a member of Parrans Chapel who was overseeing the youth team at the yard sale. “We also pray with them if they have prayer requests. We’ve had a lot of people and they’ve been really receptive.”
Up the street was the car-washing station, where a steady flow of “customers” was streaming in.
Hayes said she was prepared to pay $10 or $15 to have her car washed, and said she could hardly believe it when she was told that it was free. She was also surprised to find out that she could receive a free snow cone, to boot.
“I am truly amazed to see so many young people out here working for Jesus,” said Hayes, a member of St. Paul Skipper Spring Baptist in nearby Grand Junction. “And they are doing it for free — which is what Jesus would have us be all about.”
Cayleb Richardson, a rising sophomore and a member at Dixie Hills Church, was one of the members of the team that was assigned to the mid-morning shift at the carwash.
When asked if it was his top choice among the YEP projects, Richardson was candid.
“No, I wouldn’t say this is my favorite part,” he said with a smile, before adding: “My favorite part is spreading the word about God and going out and helping people.”
Richardson said he enjoys a unique form of witnessing.
“I like running around and yelling, ‘do you know Jesus?’ — that’s probably my favorite part,” he said.
Across town, two YEP teams were assigned to Truth and Life Church. One team was hosting a Backyard Bible Club, while another team was inside the building doing repair work on the ceiling.
Wayne Webster, who has been involved in YEP in each of the past six years, was in charge of the “construction” crew.
“The kids get excited about the projects,” he said. “And sometimes, when we are done, they will say, ‘Wow, Mr. Wayne, I didn’t think we were going to be able to do that.’ I try to make sure that I am not doing the work myself — I want them to put their hands on it. It’s exciting to watch what God is doing in their lives.”
Perhaps the most “unique” project — which is new this year — is a “foot-washing” station. At the same gas station where the hamburgers and hot dogs were being given away, there was a tent set up where customers could have their feet washed by one of the YEP youth.
“It blew our minds when we heard that the kids were doing that,” said Depew.
Beyond the Work
At the end of each day, the “campers” meet for a time of worship, fellowship, and prayer. It is often an emotional time for many of the youth, Depew said, and for the adult leaders, too.
“Just hearing how God is working in the lives of these youth, sometimes the hairs on my arm will stand up and I will start to tear up and cry,” he said. “It’s just phenomenal.”
The evening worship was led by Drew Murphy, the pastor at Fayette Baptist Church, who has served as “camp pastor” at YEP for the past two years.
“It’s probably the best worship I’ve ever been to,” said Ella Richardson, a first-time YEP participant. “It hit me hard. … I will definitely be back (at YEP) next year.”
Although YEP lasts less than a week, Depew said the spirit of the event doesn’t end on the last day.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that (YEP) has a carry-over effect,” he said. “A lot of times, kids will go to camp or go on a mission trip, and the excitement and the emotion of the trip will only last a couple of weeks and then begin to die out.
“But with (YEP), for whatever reason, the spirit just seems to keep going,” Depew added. “It really carries over all year long. And for me, that is what is so exciting about it.”