Several members of the youth groups at Covington churches First United Methodist and First Baptist have been on international mission trips, and a few to other U.S. states.

This summer the churches’ youth pastors decided to do something different. Instead of helping out people and spreading the gospel in third-world countries they decided to spend four days in Covington doing the same thing.

“I think a lot of times we’ll go overseas or to other states, but we might not do as much in our own backyard,” said Matt Butler, youth pastor at First Baptist. “The ideas was to pour our time and energy into the place we live.”

Approximately 60 youths from the two churches performed various tasks around town for four days starting last Monday.

Some did some landscaping at Covington Sportsplex and Magnolia Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation. Others helped the staffs at Covington High, Tipton Christian Academy, Covington Integrated Arts Academy and Crestview Middle get ready for the upcoming school year by moving around desks and cleaning the grounds.

Last Thursday two groups of about 15 people each paid visits to the Boys & Girls Club and Parkway Cove Senior Living.

At Parkway Cove a group of middle schoolers played bingo with residents. Another young man sat with a resident and talked.

Darby Marion, 14, called out the bingo numbers with a lot of spunk, putting smiles on the faces of several elderly women.

“I am a very extroverted person and I love talking to new people,” Marion said. “It definitely is a challenge because of their age. They may have a mental disability and that can be a roadblock when it comes to making conversation, but I just know that I’m doing this for a good purpose and it really pushes me to talk to them more. I want to form a relationship with them and form a bond.”

“It makes me feel good to do it,” said Haylee Benard, 11. “My grandfather is in a nursing home. I don’t get to visit him a lot so it makes me feel good.”

Over at the Boys & Girls Club male members of the youth group played basketball with the kids there and a group of girls instructed kids their age on the finer points of volleyball.

Andrew Davis, the youth pastor at First United Methodist, said there are a lot of benefits to doing a local mission trip. More kids can participate, it’s infinitely less expensive and it’s a way to give back to the community.

“Whenever we went on mission trips we always reminded the kids there are needs at home,” he said. “We tell them, ‘When you get home you can do the same types of things.’ This year we just decided to keep it local.”

He also said it’s a good thing to get kids together from two different denominations. When the workdays were over the two groups met, shared meals and took a trip to Jackson.

“The biggest thing, though, is that we recognize there are a lot of things we can do right here,” Davis said. “There are a lot of needs here.”

It’s the first year this has been done, Davis said, and the plan is to not make it the last.

He said the kids at Parkway were nervous at first but eventually became comfortable interacting with senior citizens.

“When they see the fruits of the labor, so to speak, they enjoy it,” he said. “They realized, ‘I can do this.’ We told them we’re going to ask them to talk to strangers, which is anti what you usually tell teenagers. This is some socialization they might not usually get.”

Marion seemed to fully grasp the point of the endeavor. And, being a self-proclaimed extrovert, she had no problem expressing her thoughts.

“I think it makes them feel good to see young faces because maybe they have grandchildren who don’t get a chance to come and see them. It’s like, ‘Wow, we’re not forgotten about.’ There are people out in the community who care about them … I love the city of Covington. There are many, many lost people here who don’t often get to hear the word. It’s nice for us to go on local missions to spread the gospel to the people in our community so we can plant seeds. Local missions are just as important as international missions.”

Jeff Ireland is The Leader's sports editor. To contact him, call 901-476-7116 or email​