A group from First Assembly in Columbus take a quick break from their walk in front of their van on the side of Highway 82 before continuing their trip from Greenville back to their home church. Their goal is to raise awareness and money for a van for Pan Theological Seminary in Togo, Africa, so they don’t have to walk extended distances within their own community. From left, Pastor Matt Taylor, Lindsey Gurley, Sunny Higgins, Alexis Nelson, Austin Rickert, Sarah Rickert, Lead Pastor Jody Gurley and Preston Sudduth. Photo by: Sarah Dutton/Dispatch Staff
A group of eight motivated walkers from Columbus First Assembly walk from Mathison to Starkville on a cool, stormy Thursday evening. The trip is divided into roughly 30 mile sections to cover the entirety of a trip from Greenville back to their home church in Columbus. Their efforts are to raise awareness and money for a personal van for Pan Theological Seminary in Togo, Africa.
Photo by: Sarah Dutton/Dispatch Staff
June 17, 2017 10:13:12 PM
When 11th graders Sunny Higgins and Alexis "Leki" Nelson were in sight of the end of their 166-mile journey walking from Greenville to Columbus, they burst into tears and hugged each other.
They, along with other members of the youth group at First Assembly of God in Columbus, had begun their journey just outside Greenville on June 11. Their mission: to raise money for a specialized van for teachers and missionaries at a theological seminary in Togo, a country in western Africa.
Every year the youth group raises money for missions around the world, said youth pastor Matt Taylor, who also participated in the walk. But this year they expanded their goal.
"We wanted to do something big," Higgins said.
She, Nelson and other members of the youth group came up with "Move 166." They would spend just under a week walking across the state of Mississippi until they reached their church Friday. Along the way, they would tell their story and hopefully raise the $25,000 necessary to buy the kind of van the seminary needs for its students and administrators.
"They need a van because a lot of their students are walking to the school, and they're also having to walk into the communities to make an impact," Taylor said. "So can you imagine having to walk into communities with Bibles, with Sunday school material, with food, with water? ... So (the youth group) came up with the idea: Why don't we walk so they don't have to? So we're taking a week to walk across the state in hopes of them not having to walk anymore. We'll go through what they go through for a week so they don't have to go through it for the rest of their lives."
Though their whole team had between 15-20 members walking at one time -- including a couple of sheriff's deputies in Montgomery County who walked along with them for about a quarter of a mile -- the core group included Taylor, Higgins, Nelson, fellow youth group students 10th grader Austin Rickert and 12th grader Preston Sudduth and First Assembly pastor and his wife Jody and Lindsey Gurley.
So the teens and their chaperones packed sun block, workout clothes, baseball caps and enough food and water to get them through six days of walking along the highway under the Mississippi sun. They split into multiple groups so while one group walked one mile, another group drove a mile and parked, waiting for the first group to arrive. Then they would switch -- a tactic Taylor called "leap frogging" and which would keep the teens from getting overheated.
Of course along the route they met up with other church members and even strangers who walked part of the way with them after the students told their story.
"We did run into a biker who's biking from South Carolina to California," Nelson said.
"He said he did it when he was 18, and 50 years later, he's doing it again to celebrate it," Higgins added.
Higgins, Nelson and Rickert all agreed that may have been their favorite part of the trip -- comparing experiences with someone on a similar journey.
By Friday at 4 p.m., after several days of walking and finally in sight of First Assembly, the students were sweaty and, in their own words, "on their last legs."
As they crossed Military Road, a group of church members stood in the parking lot to greet them, holding signs that said "Welcome Home" and hugging the kids. The group had raised just over half of their $25,000 goal, Taylor said.
"Five months ago it was just a dream," he said. "I'm so proud of Sunny and Leki, their commitment to it, their dedication, their work. It just goes to show that whatever you dream, it can come to pass."
To donate to the students' cause, go to https://mycolumbusfirst.breezechms.com/give/online or https://www.gofundme.com/move166, or text 662-546-4632 "amount + move166.
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