Ishmael Rush, 10 years old, sands down his wooden pine car in the making Saturday afternoon at the Lighthouse Baptist Church off Hwy 182 with other children. His parents are Dorthy and Junior Rush from Caledonia and he says he will paint it blue because that is his new baby cousin's favorite color. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
February 25, 2012 9:11:00 PM
You usually don't associate church with competing in a pine car derby, but those two things are exactly what John Harvey, youth minister of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Columbus, has combined.
Harvey, along with his wife, Raeann, and children, Michael, Emerald, Gabriel and Pricila, moved from Colorado to Columbus in August. Harvey has since started work on the first annual pine car derby through Lighthouse.
For the next three weeks, the church gymnasium will be filled with wood, paint and the sounds of fellowship. The workshop, open to the community, consists of four Saturdays, starting Feb. 25 and ending with a devotional and race on March 17.
During the workshops, kids and adults design the cars together, hoping to place in the top three of two categories, speed and design. The winners in each category will receive a trophy, but that's not the end game Harvey has in mind.
"I want to establish a connection between kids and their parents," Harvey said. "I noticed that there just isn't a whole lot for children to do around here, and in my experience, I have also noticed that parents don't spend a lot of time doing activities with their kids. I really hope that everyone walks away from here with a better appreciation for family time, and also a stronger faith in Jesus Christ."
The workshop is free to the public, and in order to keep it that way, volunteers from the congregation have donated everything, from the wood used in the cars to transportation for the children.
"I may not know every kid's name, but at least I'm here to help," joked Christopher Howell, church member and volunteer.
Donnie Wright, another volunteer, reinforced the main reason for the gathering.
"It's all about reaching out to people and spreading the word," said Wright. "We've had 43 people saved already this year, and it's only February. We've set out to do great things."
Even though there has been a great response from the church itself, Harvey says the biggest challenge has been spreading the word to the community about the derby.
"Unfortunately, being the youth minister, I don't get to interact with most of the younger kids," Harvey said. "We're also competing with sports like basketball and other activities for time on Saturdays, so it's been difficult getting the word out. I hope to improve our methods of advertising the next time and even go door to door inviting everyone to come out."
Still, Harvey has high hopes for a big turnout for this year's race.
"I'd love to see at least 100 racers and even more," Harvey said. "Some of my best memories are of seeing my own children compete and win in these contests, and I'd like for others to have that experience as well."
A well-traveled man, Harvey has lived in five states, with stops on each coast. He grew up in California, earned his degree at Pensacola Christian College in Florida and has spent time working in ministry everywhere in between.
And everywhere he goes, he tries to incorporate pine car derby into his ministry.
"I first learned how to build these cars through a church program in Illinois, and I saw what a great opportunity it presented for bonding between parents and kids," Harvey said. "I tried it with my own kids, we loved it and I've been doing this for the past 20 years. I'm even thinking about adding a new award division to the derby -- best gas mileage," he added with a grin.
For those interested, there are still two weeks left to participate in the workshop and enter the upcoming race.
1. Lowndes Narcotics Unit searching for 10 suspects COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. The accidental entrepreneurs STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
3. Two arrested in Motel 6 robbery COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. First Vote: A Dispatch special series COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Starkville man arrested for statutory rape COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY