By definition, missiology is the area of practical theology that studies the mandate, message and work of the Christian missionary.
Students in a summer term missiology course at Samford University applied their classroom study to real world needs during a working, three-day mission trip to rural central Alabama.
At the end of the five-week course, students teamed with Birmingham’s Brookwood Baptist Church to assist with a sports and academic enrichment camp in Wilcox County. Located in the middle of Alabama’s Black Belt region, Wilcox is among the poorest counties in the state.
Brookwood, which Barnette serves as teaching pastor, has sponsored varied mission programs the Black Belt since 2004.
At an elementary school in the small Wilcox County town of Pine Hill, Samford students helped coordinate and lead the camp for 200 children and teenagers. The daily agenda included Bible studies, worship services and reading and science tutorials. Personal development sessions offered information on educational opportunities and how to prepare for college.
On the last night of the trip, Samford students initiated a meeting with a county commissioner and other community leaders to explore ways to strengthen and expand Samford’s presence and ministry in the area. Such an effort would complement Samford’s ongoing social ministry programs in neighboring Perry County.
The students were especially concerned, said Barnette, with the need for programs that address mentoring and college preparation.
“The discussion was rich, intense and insightful,” said Barnette, whose course syllabus included a study of poverty in the area through research and class discussion.
Even though well-armed with data---such as the fact that Wilcox’s 25 percent unemployment rate puts it on par with many third-world countries---class member Clay Huffaker was surprised at what he saw during the visit.
“I have been amazed at how neglected the area is,” said Huffaker, a senior religion major from Signal Mountain, Tenn. The experience, he said, opened his eyes to a need for church congregations to support local projects as well as world missions.
“We often forget our next door neighbors,” said Huffaker.“There are people with just as much need in our backyard.”
The class roster also included religion majors Austin Davis and Billy Shepard, sports medicine major Meagan Sloan and graphic design major Lauren Bond.
Pine Hill Baptist Church pastor Carl Williams, who observed the students’ interactions with camp participants, believes such hands-on field experience is a good thing, especially for those who plan a career in ministry.
“It is important for them to see the needs of small towns, and to know that there is a large opportunity for them to make a difference,” said Williams, himself a Samford religion graduate.
Many new seminary graduates, he noted, begin their careers in small rural settings such as Pine Hill, which can have barriers, including racial. “It is good for students to see the cultural and economic challenges that can exist,” he said.
Barnette is satisfied that the mission trip was a good way to end the course.
“People talk about the culture shock that they experience upon returning from overseas mission trips,” said Barnette. “As we pulled back onto our campus after three intense days in the Black Belt, we all experienced a similar shock after being just down the road in our own state.
“All it took was a two-hour trip to remind us of our calling to address issues of poverty and injustice.”