Our Move to North Carolina

Dear Family and Friends,

Eight and a half years ago we left beautiful St. Petersburg, Florida,  a job we loved with K-Life, a ministry role as a chaplain in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, a wonderful church,  as well as many great friends and mentors to come to Mississippi State and start doing discipleship ministry on campus.  None of it made sense to us at the time but we just knew that God was leading us to MSU. We had such a peace about it and didn’t mind the waiting it took to sell our house, raise support, and get settled in Starkville.  At the time it did seem like we were crazy, but looking back on it now, everyone would say it was definitely what God was leading us to do.  God had some really unique doors to open for us here at MSU and the past eight years we have seen the Lord use us in many ways from the original Phase 2 Ministry we took over on campus, serving as chaplain of the MSU baseball team, getting more groups and ministry going on the island of Eleuthera, and helping launch Lightbearers here in Starkville.

Last semester the Lord began to give me a restless spirit similar to what I had when we left Florida. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what God was doing or where He was leading.  We have always assumed we would stay in Starkville the rest of our lives, raise our kids here, and continue to do college ministry in some way, so the thought of anything different than doing ministry at MSU never came to mind.

A couple of months ago Crystal and I were up early having our quiet time.  With us outgrowing our house, we had been looking for a while for a home that would be a better fit for our family in Starkville and were trying to decide if we wanted to sell our house and buy a new one or just add on to our current home.  We finally decided that we would add on to our house since we love our neighbors and the area we live in so much.  We already had a design architect come out and look at our house and tell him what we wanted to do.  He had given us a budget on what it would cost, and we were about to enter into contract with him to get started on the design.  But I never had a total peace about it, and Crystal just had a feeling God would drop something else in our laps if this wasn’t what we were supposed to do.
 
That morning I was telling Crystal I just didn’t have a peace about signing a contract. She had a list of things she had written down that would be a “perfect home and culture for our family” and started reading the list off to me and I just said to her, “We aren’t gonna find a place like that around here that we can afford.”  She said “can’t we just find a house in the mountains somewhere?” And for the first time it hit me that maybe we weren’t supposed to stay in Starkville.”  No sooner than I had that thought, came “Western Carolina University.”  I looked at Crystal and said “Maybe we are supposed to go to Western Carolina University.”  I only knew the name of the school because Nick Mingione, our former baseball coach and close friend, coached there for 1 year before coming to Mississippi State and had told me some about it.  So I googled “Western Carolina University” and found out it’s a small university in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains called Cullowhee.

Crystal was just as surprised as I was and we started doing more research and praying.  The more we looked into it, we both had this peace and later excitement that God was leading us there.   We first asked our parents what they thought since we would be moving seven hours away and most importantly taking the grandkids with us!  My parents were surprisingly supportive!  Crystal, not wanting to leave her mom in Mississippi asked if she wanted to move there too, and she was immediately excited at the possibility, as well.  

Next, we started looking at churches and campus ministries.  One church, The Bridge Church, just really stood out to us as a church we would want to be a part of and partner with to do discipleship on campus.  Of course, we started looking at houses in the area to see if we could afford a home there that would be a good fit for our family.  So after a couple weeks of research and prayer we still had a peace about everything and decided to move forward.

So on Wednesday, August 23rd at 4:36pm I texted Nick and told him I thought the Lord may be leading us to Western Carolina and asked if he still knew anyone there.  He replied, “MATT!!! You’re not gonna believe this!!! I just hung up the phone with their head baseball coach at 4:24!!!  That’s 12 minutes ago. Call me tonight.”  That led to him putting me in touch with one of the assistant coaches at Western Carolina, who told me his brother-in-law was a pastor in town at The Bridge Church!  The next week I talked to the pastor, Josh Hyde, and just really connected with him on several levels.  One awesome thing he said is that he had been praying for God to send laborers and wanted to know how soon we could get there!   At this point, we figured we better make a trip there and meet some people and get to know the area, so we drove up on Labor Day and spent a week there. During our time there the Lord continued to confirm that is where He is leading us.  We are just as surprised as you are, but just have a peace that this is what the Lord has for us for the next season of our lives and ministry.  We actually  found a home with some acreage that seemed so perfect for us, and we are now due to close in January!

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So what’s next you ask?  Well, we are committed to be in Starkville and finish this school year out with Lightbearers. We love the Lightbearers ministry and all of the staff, locally and nationally, and we want to make sure to do all we can to leave on the best of terms and help them find the right person to take my place and make the transition in Starkville.  And, we obviously love Starkville, MSU, and all the wonderful people here, so it is really bittersweet to think about leaving.  Just typing this out is so emotional and brings tears to my eyes! But just like when we left St. Petersburg, FL eight years ago, on one level it doesn’t make sense to go somewhere else and leave a place we love and people we love where God has used us in so many ways, but we just know God is leading us there so we are going to trust Him and follow.  We are thankful to know we have several more months here to see everyone we want to see and make the most of our time here.

Once we get to Western Carolina we will still do discipleship on campus much like we’ve done here at MSU.  We will also continue to be really involved with ministry in Eleuthera going forward.  We are planning our annual Christmas break trip with some of the former and current MSU baseball players and hoping to get a few players from Kentucky and Auburn to join us this year as well.  We have 4 church groups signed up to come down next spring and summer for a week and are hoping to put together a month long discipleship program for college students there in the coming summers.  We know God has called us to Eleuthera long term and can see our family being down there 2-3 months a year in the future.

One of the many blessings of working for Lightbearers the last two years is that they have paid 1/2 of our salary, while we’ve raised 1/2.  So we will also start doing some support raising in the coming months to help us make up the difference Lightbearers has been paying.  For those of you who have been supporting us you can begin praying if the Lord would lead you to continue as we make this transition.  We know some of you have supported us because we have been at MSU and we totally understand if the Lord leads you to find someone else to support that will be doing ministry at MSU.  

We are also praying for the Lord to bring us new supporters to partner with us in this next season of ministry, so please be praying and seeing if that is something the Lord would lead you in.   We are looking into where our support will go through as we make this transition and hope to know something by December so we can let everyone know.  The Lord has been so good and faithful to provide all we need these past 8 years and we know He will continue to do so!

This is all we know for now and will update everyone as more things come together.  Please feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions. Thanks so much for taking time to read this and praying for us!


God Bless,

The Jolleys

Diamond Dawg (Cat, Tiger, etc.) Discipleship

It’s 9:27 pm on May 11, 2017. Our kids are in bed and already dreaming.  I’m also in bed slowly fading off to sleep when I hear a text message come through.  I roll over and get my phone and read, “Matt someone that works with our team gave his life to the Lord today in my office…GOD IS SO GOOD….Thanks for all you’ve taught me.  You’ve made a HUGE impact on my life.”  I sit up with excitement and hand my phone to Crystal, my wife, and just sit there smiling as she reads the message. 

As many of you know, we moved back to Starkville 8 years ago on faith knowing the Lord was leading us to MSU to disciple college students. We had no idea what doors God was going to open, but came back knowing this is where God wanted us.  I had the opportunity to share some of that story in the first “Diamond Dawg Discipleship” story I wrote before our Super Regional series against Virginia in 2013, so I won’t go back into that now (just click on the link if you didn’t read the first story) but l’ll summarize with a quote by Phillip Yancey shared by my friend Will Rambo on twitter this week that said, “I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”  Looking back at all the Lord brought us through to get here 8 years ago and all the Lord has done since we've gotten to MSU it makes perfect sense now!  He just wanted us to trust Him and continue to trust Him through the process. That truly is how faith works.

It’s been four years since that magical run all the way to the National Championship series and we find ourselves again on the eve of another Super Regional and Lord Willing another trip to Omaha!   So what better time to share some of what the Lord’s been doing and how He is using His plan of discipleship to impact, not only lives here in Starkville, but throughout the SEC and across the Atlantic Ocean on a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean called Eleuthera.

Before I go any further I think it’s best to define what I mean by discipleship.  I simply mean sharing your life and God’s Word with someone for the purpose of helping them grow in their relationship with Christ. As Paul said in Colossians 1:28, "We proclaim Christ, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man mature in Christ. For this purpose I labor, striving according to His power which mightily works in me."  So Paul's purpose that he labored for wasn't just getting people to heaven, but helping them grow to maturity as a believer during their time on earth, which in my opinion, can only happen through discipleship.

For me, this usually starts with a meeting once a week to study God’s Word together.  Many people ask me what curriculum I use, and while I’m not against books and curriculum and definitely use them from time to time, I’ve found that most people feel helpless to open the Bible and study on their own.  So my goal is to just start with God’s Word and teach each person I meet with how to study the Bible for themselves…learning how to make careful observations of key words and repeated themes in each book, looking up the Greek and Hebrew definitions for the key words as well as cross-references in the same book and other books, and how to think critically, interpreting everything in the context of the individual book they are reading and the Bible as a whole. 

Most importantly, we think about how to apply what we are learning specifically to our life, context and culture so we can be "doers of the Word, not just hearers." (James 1:22)  So my time with the guys each week just includes a New Inductive Study Bible, a notebook, a set of colored pens and highlighters,  my favorite website for definitions and cross-references,  Blue Letter Bible and me just being as honest and real as I can about my struggles and victories.  When Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17, he repeats the phrase, “I have given them Your Word” throughout the chapter.  Then, in John 17:17 he says, “Sanctify them in truth, Your Word is Truth.”  We must know the Word to be Sanctified by the Word and ultimately all of the written Word is about the Living Word, so we are just trying to know Jesus more.

 Going through the book of Galatians with Cody Brown this past fall

Going through the book of Galatians with Cody Brown this past fall

Also I try to have everyone in our home on a regular basis, which is very hard to do, but it’s worth the effort and sacrifice. There is just so much value and personal connection that comes from being in someone’s home and around their family that can never happen during a weekly meeting. Any of us can act like we have it all together for a couple hours on Sunday morning or in a meeting at Starbucks once a week, but just spend some time with me at home and it’s pretty clear our life isn’t perfect, especially with six little kids! 

 Milk, cookies, awesome people and God's word...that's hard to beat!

Milk, cookies, awesome people and God's word...that's hard to beat!

And last but not least,  I think a key part of discipleship is going out and sharing God’s love, God’s Word, and serving together.  Jesus did teach in a lecture format from time to time, but so much of his time with His disciples was traveling to different places. There is just so much value in getting out of your comfort zone and going into different cultures and contexts that help you learn and grow, so we try to do several retreats and mission trips or projects each year with those we are discipling. After a recent trip to Israel I'm amazed at how much Jesus and his disciples traveled and how long it must have taken them to get to each place they went walking or riding a donkey!  I'm sure just as much of their learning took place during conversations, interactions and experiences on these trips as it did when Jesus sat down and taught them.

So when I say discipleship, that's what it means to us.

 A little male bonding over manual labor!

A little male bonding over manual labor!

One thing I didn’t realize when I started working with the MSU Baseball team 7 years ago is how much turnover there would be among the team.  Over that period of time we’ve had 3 athletic directors, 2 head coaches, 10 different assistant coaches and over 100 different players.  I now realize that's pretty normal for a college baseball team and really a college town in general. Honestly, I didn’t think much about the significance of it for God’s Kingdom until recently when I was reading the book of Acts.

 MSU pitcher Blake smith sharing his testimony at father-son baseball camp

MSU pitcher Blake smith sharing his testimony at father-son baseball camp

As you read about Paul in the book of Acts you find him going from town to town sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and starting churches, staying in each town a few days to a few weeks.  However, we read in Acts 19:9-10 that in one city he stayed for at least two years, and during his time here it tells us “all who lived in Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”  So how was it that the the Word of the Lord made it out to all who lived in Asia while Paul was in Ephesus?  Well it tells us during those two years he was at “The School of Tyrannus” teaching daily.  We don’t know much about this school except that they gave Paul the freedom to reason and teach about Jesus.  I’m not the smartest person in the world, but there seems to be two options for how everyone in Asia heard the Word of the Lord during this two year period.  Either all of them came to this school to hear Paul teach or the people who Paul taught at this school went out all over Asia and shared God’s Word wherever they went.  I’m going with the latter option.  I don’t think they were necessarily missionaries like Paul, but just going on with their life and career and just sharing God’s Word with others wherever their life took them.  

Well, in the past 8 years that’s a picture of what’s been happening here at MSU. I’ve been here teaching and making disciples and those I’ve poured into are going out sharing God’s love and God’s Word with those around them.  Out to where you may ask?  Kendall Gravemen is in Oakland, California; Ben Bracewell is in Midland, TX; Luis Pollerena is in Cincinnati, Ohio; Ross Mitchell is in Jackson, MS; Chad Girodo is in Buffalo, New York; Caleb Reed is in Fairhope, AL;  Jonathan Holder is in New York; Nick Mingione is in Lexington, Kentucky; Butch Thompson is in Auburn, Alabama…I could keep going but I think you get the idea.  

 Hanging out with Jonathan holder in New York last September

Hanging out with Jonathan holder in New York last September

Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things your learned from me…entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  Paul taught Timothy, Timothy was to teach faithful men, those faithful men were to teach others…4 generations in that one verse.  That verse was first pointed out to me by Tim Cole, the man who discipled me for 6 years in St. Petersburg, FL, so it’s really neat when I think about all that I was taught by Pastor Cole, now I'm getting to teach faithful men here at MSU, and them teaching others wherever they go out!

 With Pastor Tim Cole in Florida last summer

With Pastor Tim Cole in Florida last summer

Oh and Eleuthera, that little island in the Caribbean… Four years ago, we took the first group that included MSU baseball players there.  We did work projects each morning and baseball camps each afternoon, loving on kids and sharing testimonies and growing together in God’s Word.  It’s been amazing to see the relationships that have developed there as players like Kendall Graveman, Ben Bracewell, and Nathaniel Lowe come back each year to invest into the kids there.  This year we had one of the University of Kentucky players, Storm Wilson and his girlfriend Morgan Riggs join us and we hope to have more Kentucky players and some Auburn players from Coach Thompson’s team join us this year.

 kendall graveman

kendall graveman

 Ben Bracewell

Ben Bracewell

 Nathaniel Lowe up to bat during a softball game against the local team that in James Cistern won the Bahamian National Championship in fast pitch softball.

Nathaniel Lowe up to bat during a softball game against the local team that in James Cistern won the Bahamian National Championship in fast pitch softball.

 MSU outfielder Hunter Vansau and UK outfielder Storm Wilson

MSU outfielder Hunter Vansau and UK outfielder Storm Wilson

 Mixing concrete to put in a basketball court for kids on the island

Mixing concrete to put in a basketball court for kids on the island

 Such an awesome crew!

Such an awesome crew!

Four years ago, a 15 year old boy began coming to our baseball camps and hanging out with Kendall, Ben, Ross and some of the other guys.  It was clear he was a really good athlete, but in Eleuthera there is very little chance that you would ever have the opportunity to go to college in the U.S. or play sports past high school.  Well last month, Micah, now 19, spent a week with me in Mississippi and I reached out to former MSU player Trent Waddell, who is now an assistant coach at EMCC and asked if he would give Micah a tryout.  It became clear during his tryout that his talent level was above average and both coaches said he would be a difference maker on their team!  So we are in the process of getting him enrolled in EMCC and trying to figure out the finances to get him over here for school.  This week I received handwritten letters of recommendation from Kendall and Ben and hope to have a meeting soon with the school president to see if a scholarship is possible.

 Micah after his tryout at emcc

Micah after his tryout at emcc

 And his first experience of college baseball ever....it's gonna be hard to beat!

And his first experience of college baseball ever....it's gonna be hard to beat!

With more and more people asking about Eleuthera and discipleship we started hosting a few church groups down there each summer to learn more about discipleship and how to study the Bible on your own, while serving and having the opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful places in God’s creation your eyes will ever see.  All of this coupled with the purpose to train and equip them to go back and get more discipleship going at their church.

Also, last year I starting working with a ministry called LIGHTBEARERS that builds apartment complexes in college towns to provide a context for life on life discipleship, while partnering with local churches to have a different pastor come each week and teach an institute class for the students and help us find mentors in their church for each student to meet with weekly, all while using the students rent money to fund missions overseas.  And wouldn’t you know that an MSU baseball supporter that I met in the Left Field Lounge heard about Lightbearers and donated 10 acres of land 3 miles from campus to build the apartments on.  I truly believe this ministry will be similar to the “School at Tyrannus” teaching, discipling, equipping and sending students out all over the world.

 Jason King(top) from Pinelake Church, Wes Shrickel (left) from The Orchard Church, and Scott Cappleman (right) from Crosspoint Church teaching at the Lightbearers Institute this year.  Our Institute class is every Tuesday morning at 6:30 and these students come hungry to learn God's Word (and for the Shipley's donuts! Thank you Mr. Hardy Mitchell!)  I've found one way to find out if a college student really wants to know God and His Word is to have your meeting at 6:30am!  This year they got taught an overview of every book in the Bible!

Jason King(top) from Pinelake Church, Wes Shrickel (left) from The Orchard Church, and Scott Cappleman (right) from Crosspoint Church teaching at the Lightbearers Institute this year.  Our Institute class is every Tuesday morning at 6:30 and these students come hungry to learn God's Word (and for the Shipley's donuts! Thank you Mr. Hardy Mitchell!)  I've found one way to find out if a college student really wants to know God and His Word is to have your meeting at 6:30am!  This year they got taught an overview of every book in the Bible!

 a 3d Model similar to what will be built in starkville.

a 3d Model similar to what will be built in starkville.

How can you be a part of all this?  The first way is to pray for us.  I can’t tell you how many people I run into who tell me they pray for us and our ministry on a regular basis, and I know they genuinely mean it and are doing it. So please be praying for myself and our family, for us to keep our eyes and our mind set on Christ and the things He has called us to both with our family and our ministry on campus.  

The second way is that you could partner with us financially.  Paul thanked the Philippians in chapter 1 for their financial support of him, which he calls “their participation in the gospel” and in chapter 4 he tells them he doesn’t seek the money they give him, but the “profit that increases to their account.”  Paul knew that their giving was an eternal investment that God would greatly reward them for one day.  It's clear the Lord has called us and positioned us in a unique way to make disciples and further His Kingdom across the U.S. and the World here at MSU. We have only been able to do what we do because of faithful supporters who believe in what we do, which we are so thankful for!  As our family and ministry grows, we are praying for Him to lead others to be a part of God's work through us here in Starkville.   As you can see, it will be a wise eternal investment!  If the Lord leads you to give to our personal support, to the work in the Bahamas, or to help us build the Lightbearers apartments here in Starkville, I’d love to visit with you and share more, so just send me a message. (jolleydawg@yahoo.com)

So when I get a text message as I’m going to sleep from first year Kentucky head coach, Nick Mingione (who also has his team playing in aSuper Regional this week and was voted SEC Coach of the Year!) telling me about someone from his team coming to Christ and thanking me for all I’ve taught him I can’t help but smile as I think about God’s plan of discipleship and His Word going out!  Yes God is good!  So I'll add a bit to Vic Shaefer's famous line for this weekend's games...Praise the Lord and Go DAWGS and CATS!

 With coach Mingione and Storm in Starkville

With coach Mingione and Storm in Starkville

The Dogpile That Really Matters

Saturday, March 8th 2014 may not be a date that stands our for you, but for Bulldog fans there was something significant that happened…after starting the first 3 years of his college career 18-0 Ross Mitchell took his first loss.  Later that night I got a call from him and my first thought was that he may be disappointed about the loss and need some encouragement.  His voice on the other end of the phone was anything but discouraged, instead it was full of excitement.  You see one of his teammates, that he had been praying for, asked if they could meet that night and talk about the return of Christ.  “Do you have 30 minutes to explain to me the book of Revelation and the return of Christ?” Ross asked me.  “Well I’ve got 30 minutes but I’m not sure we can get it all in.” I replied.   So we just talked about the high points, how crazy the end times will be, and that while there are many interpretations about when, where, and how, one thing everyone can agree on is that Christ will return and some will be ready and some will not.  After getting off the phone with Ross and telling my wife, Crystal what was going on and praying for everything, Crystal said something so true…” Of all the days that God could have given Ross to have this time with his teammate how good of God to give it to him the day he got his first loss of the field.”

 

As we know God's timing is always perfect and this time last year God put it on my heart to share all that had been going on behind the scenes with our baseball team.  The run to the National Championship game, coupled with social media’s ability to share my story to thousands, instantly connected myself and so many of the players to our fans that already knew something was different with many guys on our team.   I honestly had no idea that my “Diamond Dawgs Discipleship” story would be read by so many people and that what I had quietly done behind the scenes for 4 years would become the center of so many conversations, interviews, and opportunities to go speak and share about God’s sovereignty in getting my family back to MSU, His provision along the way and His plan of discipleship that impacted my life and is impacting many others at MSU.   

 

So with MSU set to make another run back to Omaha I figured I would give everyone another update on how the Lord has been working this year.  First of all I think everyone knows that last year’s team, the stories that came from it, and what they did were special and while we never want to forget that magical June, what Paul says in Philippians 3 comes to mind, “One thing I do, forgetting what behind and pressing on toward what’s ahead…”  We usually take this spiritual principle and apply it to bad things that happen or mistakes we make in our walk with Christ that can make us feel so unworthy to pray, read our Bible, and even call ourselves Christians.  While that is applicable and we do need to be reminded the past is in the past and that God loves us - mistakes and all, in the context Paul is talking about the many good things about his life and background and how those things can also hinder him from pressing on and fulfilling his purpose and calling because they produce pride, laziness, entitlement and apathy.  The same is true for anything in life and in one sense this year’s team has had to work through the success of last year’s team and the challenges and expectations it brought. Sure, there have been struggles along the way, but we all know how trials can make us stronger, and I believe this team will be at their best when they take the field this weekend with a goal to make it back to Omaha and to have a dogpile before they come back to Starkville this year.

 

I think that I was also guilty of putting expectations on this year’s team based on all that happened on last year’s team, not on the field, but all that happened off the field spiritually in the lives of so many guys.  This has been a new year and a new group of guys, with new stories to be told. And what God really cares about is not wins or losses but what is going on in our hearts.

 

Paul also says in Philippians 3 the reason to forget what’s behind is so we can press on toward the goal and prize that is ahead.  What is the prize he is focused on? Is he talking about winning championships?  Actually I think Paul was focused on people: sharing God’s love and God’s Word with them and trying to win them to Jesus.  As he says in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, “…I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”  Using our time, talents, treasures, and platforms to share with people and see them come to know Christ or grow in their relationship with Him is the ultimate prize, and while we all want a dogpile in Omaha, we can’t lose our perspective that the ultimate dogpile will be in heaven!

 

So that goal is what led Ross Mitchell to start the Outlet, a campus outreach event he puts on several times a semester, that brings students from all backgrounds and walks of life together for a night of worship and teaching centered on God’s Word. That’s why you’ve heard interviews on 107.9 WFCA each week from guys like Jonathan Holder, Ben Bracewell, Brett Pirtle, Trevor Fitts, and C.T. Bradford who have taken the opportunity to share about their relationship with the Lord.  And several of the guys go out nearly each week to share to a school assembly, an FCA group, or church youth group about their faith. Not to mention there would be around 15 guys at a 6:30am Bible study each Thursday morning on “Authentic Manhood” led by FCA staff Tyson Lee and Jimmy Gilford.  And while there has been no Chris Tomlin blaring on the loud speakers at Dudy Noble this year, you probably haven’t noticed a different Bible verse written on Demarcus Henderson’s taped wrist each game that gives him something to meditate on while he is in the outfield.  Oh and five of these guys, including Coach Mingione left the country for a week to go to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas where they spent their mornings mixing concrete by hand to build a floor in someone’s home and each afternoon led baseball camps and shared their testimonies to the kids who came. And yes, 1-on-1 discipleship is still happening each week as I meet with around 10 guys to dig into God’s Word together, talk about life, and how we can apply what we learn.  So while they have been working hard on the field to get back to Omaha, many of them have also been working hard to grow in their faith and to share God’s love and God’s Word to people. 

 Demarcus getting ready for a game

Demarcus getting ready for a game

 Ross sharing at MSU Father-Son baseball camp

Ross sharing at MSU Father-Son baseball camp

 Ben Bracewell sharing his testimony at baseball camp.

Ben Bracewell sharing his testimony at baseball camp.

 C.T. Bradford giving some hitting instruction in Eleuthera.

C.T. Bradford giving some hitting instruction in Eleuthera.

 Coach Mingione getting the camp started.

Coach Mingione getting the camp started.

 The whole group the last day of camp

The whole group the last day of camp

 

 

So while we all watch our Dawgs this weekend, lets not compare them to last year, but embrace them for who they are this year and remember that they aren’t just a name on the back of a jersey, but real people who live real lives,  and are doing so much more that what we see on the field.  I don’t know of any other 18-22 year olds who have the pressure of carrying the hopes and dreams of the largest most passionate fan base in college baseball on their shoulders.  So let’s cheer them on just as much for who they are, not just for what we want them to do. Let’s follow Ross Mitchell’s lead and be more excited about what is happening off the field than what is happening on it...and lets hope our friend Wade from Eleuthera in the video above has the gift of prophecy!

JESUS, MSU BASEBALL, AND THE BAHAMAS

A True Christmas Wrapped in Maroon and White    Written by Mark Stowers

Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!
On Thursday one of our greatest state treasures had a birthday. Whenever I call him for an interview, I call him, Coach, as do hundreds of his former players. Dave “Boo” Ferriss turned 92 and the celebrated former Boston Red Sox pitcher said he got calls all day from folks all around the country. Back in October, Ferriss was honored at his alma mater, Mississippi State, as the Grand Marshall of the homecoming parade and his fraternity, Kappa Sigma, honored him by naming their courtyard in his honor. As the first ever, full scholarship baseball player for the bulldogs, he’s always worn his maroon pride along with his Red Sox and Statesmen achievements. While at homecoming he took time to talk to the bulldog baseball team that had made it to the finals of the College World Series. He joked with them, recalled their stats to them individually just like the biggest fans do. He’s a proud bulldog but there’s something else about this team that Ferriss is probably just as proud of.

A few players, former players and other State students as well as an assistant coach and the team’s chaplain are headed to the Bahamas. No, not for relaxation and fun in the sun – it’s a mission trip. And Ferriss, who brought the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization to the Magnolia State many decades ago would probably be going with them if he could. And I wouldn’t count him out just yet. During the Christmas break when most folks are playing with their new toys and watching Bowl Games, this rag tag bunch will be driving to Orlando, then hopping a flight to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. They’ll be working on building projects in the morning and then teaching the kids and others the finer points and fundamentals of baseball and building relationships and talking a whole lot about Jesus.

Now this isn’t one of the well-known spots where vacationers sip drinks with umbrellas. No, it’s an island with a population of about 12,000 but many of those residents live in poverty. Ross Mitchell, MSU’s 12-0 All-American reliever and leader of the celebrated dugout “Bench Mobb”, will be a part of the team from the MSU Phase 2 campus ministry.“Our chaplain, Matt Jolley, put it all together and he invited the baseball team to take part as well students from across campus,” Mitchell said. “It’s a baseball mission trip.”

The Phase 2 team will get up every morning and put in some construction time around the island and then will gather up kids and adults to play some baseball – something most of the team has a pretty good idea of how to do. And each team member is paying his own way, scraping together the $1,000 needed to cover the costs of the trip including travel, lodging and meals. The team has been fundraising and accepting donations of any type of baseball equipment to take down for the kids there.
“People have been constantly blessing us with what we need for the trip,” the redshirt junior. “We are so privileged here in America that when we want to play (baseball) we just pick up stuff and play. But in more poor places like where we’re going, there’s not much of an opportunity.” The islanders apparently play softball but Mitchell and the rest of the crew will be bringing the fundamentals of hardball to the island and hopefully leaving them with more than just a bat and glove.

“In having a heart for other people and a heart for God, I just felt like this is my job as a Christian to go and share with people who may not hear the word as much but also show them the love,” Mitchell said. “And provide them with some of the same opportunities we have here in America.”

Jolley has been the team’s chaplain for the past five years. The MSU alum is a full time missionary that raises all of his support and works under the guidance of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Starkville. The team has to be careful in working with NCAA athletes, especially when raising funds for the mission trip. The compliance office keeps tabs on trips such as these.

“This is not a ‘Baseball team mission trip’ but a student mission trip through the Phase 2 campus ministry that some of the baseball players are going on,” Jolley explained. “This will be the seventh trip that I have led down there. All of the trips in the past have been focused on some type of construction project. We have worked on a health clinic, a community center, and several individual houses.” But on each trip, Jolley noticed “how much the Bahamians love fast pitch softball. It is the main sport on the island that the youth and men play. This past year the school system decided to stop having fast pitch softball as a sport and to instead start a baseball program. The kids there love baseball but many do not even have their own glove, much less know the fundamentals of the game.”

So as the chaplain to the College World Series Runner-ups, Jolley knew he had some cache he could use to the betterment of the project. “This year I decided to use my role as the chaplain of the MSU baseball team to bring down some of the players along with others students involved in our Phase 2 campus ministry and let part of our trip be putting on baseball camps,” he said. “Our group will spend the mornings working on a building project and the afternoons putting on baseball clinics. We will use the clinics as a way to share our faith by sharing our testimonies with the boys who come and wrapping up each day with a short Bible study. Our hope is that God will use us to impact everyone who comes and that this will become an annual trip that will allow us to build on the relationships we make this year.”

The team members are collecting new and used equipment – anything any kid or adult would need to play baseball.“Each person going will have their own personal suitcase and then a bat bag packed full of baseball equipment. The kids who take part in the camps will get to pick out their own glove and bat and will be so excited to have their very own baseball equipment.”

The mission team consists of five current players, two former players, one coach, 15 other students as well as Jolley and his two oldest daughters, Anna Jaymes (6) and Adolyn (4). In less than a month, the team will be headed down but they are still in need of equipment and funds to get the whole team there. Jolley estimates about half of what is needed has been collected so any and all donations from churches are welcome too, along with individuals and businesses. You can check out the program’s website, www.MSUphase2.com, and there is a link to donate online as well. If you wish to write a check you can make it out to Emmanuel Baptist Church and put “Phase 2” in the memo line and mail it to Emmanuel Baptist Church at
P.O. Box 1763, Starkville, MS 39760.

So instead of getting a few more gifts under the tree that will probably be exchanged anyway, why not give a gift that celebrates the true meaning of Christmas?