Edward Yeates of Columbus spends "dad time" with his children, Christian, 7, Charity, 12, and Faith, 9, on the basketball court at First Baptist Church's Ministry Activities Center Wednesday. Fatherhood, Yeates says, takes courage and energy. In addition to family activities, Yeates makes sure to spend "boy time" with his son and arrange weekly "dates" with his daughters. Yeates and his wife, Barbara, founded The Father's Child Ministry in 2004. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
June 17, 2017 10:13:12 PM
Jostling for position, Charity, Faith and Christian Yeates bob around the basketball goal. Rubber-sole squeaks and bouncing balls echo in the brightly-lit First Baptist Church gym. The game is on, at least until the three siblings erupt in giggles. Coach stands close by, looking physically intimidating. Lucky for the gigglers, he's forgiving; he's their dad, Edward Yeates.
As inconsequential as the pickup session may seem to others, Edward doesn't take times like these for granted. He knows their value -- he grew up without his own dad.
"It's always been in my heart that if I was blessed to be a father one day, I was going to try to be the best one I can be," the big man says, choosing words thoughtfully. "That is something that is very deep and very personal to me."
He's kept that promise. The extended impact has been felt community-wide.
A powerful thing
There was a time 20 or so years ago when Edward didn't much like what he'd become. He'd been a football standout at Starkville High School, selected for the state's Dandy Dozen, defensive player of the year, showered with praise. A scholarship to play for Jackie Sherrill took him to Mississippi State University. Outwardly, life looked pretty good, but Edward knew differently. The road to adulthood had been a hard one, and disappointment in his relationship with his father festered. It all came to a head in college.
"I looked in the mirror, and I saw something I didn't want to be," he shares. "I thought, even though I have all these great opportunities, I'm doing stuff that I shouldn't do. Something's got to change."
Something did. Within weeks, Edward met his future wife. Barbara was a Christian girl who encouraged him to start going to church with her. They were sitting in a pew at Maranatha Faith Center in Columbus when Pastor Steve Jamison's message on God's love hit squarely home.
"April 13, 1997, was a turning point in my life," Edward says, his voice deep and resonant. "I realized I'd been looking for love in all the wrong places; I went looking in football and accolades. I was a Dandy Dozen and all that, but nothing compared to the joy I felt that Sunday morning receiving Christ as my savior. I surrendered, and that anger that was so bottled up, it turned to peace."
Two weeks later, Edward went to see his father with a new spirit, one of forgiveness.
"We began from that day to grow our relationship." As that process continues, Edward says it's awesome that his kids have a granddad and he now has his own father in his life. "Reconciliation is a powerful thing. It just shows you how important a dad is in a child's life, even a grown adult child."
By 2004, Edward had been working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in other roles. He vividly remembers a prison ministry event at the Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, Alabama. As the men who attended walked from the room at 5:30 p.m. to report for a head count, he thought, "These guys made a great decision today. A lot of them had surrendered to the Lord, but their children and communities will never benefit from the decision because many would be in there for life. ... I wanted to help this not to happen to someone else." That's when he quit all jobs and answered a call he couldn't turn away from: somehow he had to reach out to children.
"My wife thought I'd lost my mind for a second," Edward smiles.
Barbara admits it gave her pause. She was pregnant with Charity, and they had just purchased a home. "Even though it was scary and I didn't really understand clearly the whole picture, I knew my husband had a vision to help young people, especially those whose fathers weren't in their lives." She knew, too, it was important to do it together. That's when they began The Father's Child Ministry in their Starkville living room, backed only by savings from Edward's previous jobs.
"I had to. I felt so burdened to do it," he says.
The ministry's first official day was March 24, 2004. Two children attended. Barbara had met their mother at WalMart and invited them. Word spread, more children came and soon sponsors joined in. A civic club purchased a van, and about 20 kids were overflowing the living room. Armstrong Middle School opened their doors to the group. And then a facility in Columbus at Brickerton opened, and the ministry and family moved.
"It wasn't hard to find the kids. It was hard to find the help," says Edward. "The kids are all around us."
The ministry's mission is to end fatherlessness by turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and children's hearts to the heavenly father. Children are mentored, dads offered outreach, and moms have a support group. Manhood camps, father-daughter banquets, father-son days out, family prayer breakfasts and day camps are organized. Children are taught biblical principles and learn life skills like tying a tie, changing a tire, and study and time management. For summer camp, teachers have been brought in to help children with any academic deficits.
The mission is not possible without partner churches, dedicated volunteers and sponsors.
Ken Hargett is a board member and longtime volunteer. "I think most of today's problems are caused by fatherlessness or fathers not being in the home," he says. "We're trying to reconnect fathers with their kids through community resources and the word of Christ."
Results are positive. "So far, every child that has stayed with us has gone off to college or gone to trade school," Edward says.
"We've seen so many kids come through there and how their lives are affected. I've seen a lot of changes in their lives," adds Ken, with praise for Edward's and Barbara's team mentorship and compassion.
Nowhere is Edward's commitment to children and to his promise more evident than at home.
Dads have to be intentional, flexible and organized, he believes.
"You have to be courageous, and you have to have energy," he laughs. Energy for basketball; all his kids like to play. Energy for wrestling with 9-year-old Faith and playing video games or lifting weights with Christian, 7, who's proud he can do 40 pushups. All the children like that he reads to them at night.
"He helped me to learn how to read," grins Christian. "It took me a long time!"
Barbara says, "I can honestly say I thank God for the fact that Edward has a heart for his family. Regardless of what's going on, he's the one that says we've got to have our family time."
The couple's eldest daughter, Charity, 12, shares one of her dad's most enduring legacies to his children: "He's taught us how to live for God, how to pray and how to try to be a spiritual child on this earth."
It's what this father hopes for not only his own children, but for every child, Barbara says. "He's always letting them know you have a purpose, that God has a plan for you. You're not a mistake. He wants you to receive that love in order for you to be all you can be."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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