Efforts to share gospel with kids lead to Denman awards


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Two people willing to seek out those other might ignore have been honored as the 2006 Harry Denman Evangelism Award winners in the Mississippi Conference.

Jane Bowling of Mendenhall and the Rev. Brownie Tohill of New Albany have been chosen for the laity and clergy Denman Awards, respectively, which go each year to those who have made an impact through evangelism.

The awards were presented Monday during plenary sessions. Other awards presented included:

  • Emma Elzy Award to Maudessa Smith (posthumous)
  • Tobias Gibson Award to Hattie Pearl Decell
  • Francis Asbury Award to George and Kay Verrall
  • Scholarships

Bowling, 71, reached out to a Navajo family that moved to Mendenhall and invited them to First United Methodist Church. From that beginning, seven to 10 non-white youth have been attending the church’s youth group.

“Jane reached out to kids through personal contact in their homes and the Bowling home,” wrote the Rev. Gilbert Prince, pastor at Mendenhall First UMC. “She always has birthday parties, personal recognition times and private Christian nurture to offer young people. Our youth group can see Christ in Jane, and Jane encourages them to bring others to Jesus.”

Tohill was cited for developing a Wednesday program for children at Hickory Flat United Methodist. The program attracts more than 50 children. It began when Tohill and his wife began going out in their car and picking up children who did not attend church and bringing them to church.

The Tobias Gibson Award goes to someone who has supported and promoted United Methodist history in Mississippi. It is named for the first circuit rider appointed to the Mississippi territory.

Decell spent 49 years serving as an administrative secretary to bishops serving the Mississippi Area of the United Methodist Church. She retired in 1991. That year, Decell was awarded a lifetime membership to the conference Commission on Archives and History. She was also twice a delegate to the World Methodist Conference.

"The history of the church has been a large portion of my life and keeping the Methodist Church alive has been a joy,” she said.

The Emma Elzy Award, presented by the Commission on Religion and Race, recognizes those who have worked for racial reconciliation in Mississippi.

In 1975 Smith answered God's call to become director of Mississippi Rural Center, serving in Lampton for 15 years. The project there that garnered state and national recognition was "Operation Garden." She began with 13 women, expanded to 150 families, and eventually reached some 1,000 individuals with gardening, canning, and living skills.

Smith became an ordained deaconess and was the first African American to be elected to General Conference by the merged Mississippi Conference.

A Maudessa Pittman Smith Outreach Ministry was established shortly after her death in 2003. The ministry provides funds for under-served children, youth and young adults in the spirit of Christian service that Smith gave to others.

Smith’s daughter, Lillian Smith Walls, accepted the award in her mother’s memory.

The Asbury Award recognizes those who have been involved in campus ministry. The Verralls of Starkville have been long-time supporters and leaders in the Wesley Foundation at Mississippi State University. George Verrall is a former Wesley Foundation executive director, and both hold lifetime seats on the board of directors.

The Board of Higher Education and Campus ministry presents two sets of scholarships – Conference Merit Awards and Cooper Fund grants. The two Conference Merit Awards are for $500 each. The scholarships are funded by a rebate from the annual Student Day offering and administered to United Methodist students attending United Methodist colleges or universities.

The 2006 winners are Adri Kaylin Bullard of Brandon, a sophomore at Millsaps College, and Lind Faye Dixon of Columbus, who attends Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

The Cooper Fund provides $1,000 scholarships. Cooper Fund grants are awarded to students who are planning to enter full-time ordained ministry. Funds for these awards come from an endowment established in the early 1900s under the leadership of Dr. I.W. Cooper and enhanced over the years by additional gifts. It serves to assist those preparing for ministry.

This year’s winners are Ebony Nicole Jones of Lexington, a student at Alcorn State University; Pamela Jewel Cameron of Louisville, a student at Candler, Nathan Phillips of Florence; and Tanya Yvette Edwards-Evans of Jackson, a student at Memphis Theological Seminary.