ST. PETERSBURG — After a trip to Belize this summer, community outreach was forever changed in the eyes of some local teens.
Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church took a group of 8-10 youths to rural villages in Santana, Lucky Strike, Maskell and Bomba, Belize, to focus on working with children and teens in each village that are plagued by similar issues faced in the United States.
“It was amazing how that trip changed our youth’s perspective. It began to change their hearts and their desire to help people,” said Rev. Shawn Thomas, youth pastor at Mt. Zion Progressive.
The mission to Belize focused on youth evangelism and provided a vacation bible school to the children in the area.
Since returning from the Central American country, Thomas has seen a significant change in the youths who participated; he believes something was ignited within them.
Previously, when asked why they volunteer for these events, the children would say, “Because Pastor Shawn said we were going to do this,” explained Thomas.
“The youths are now coming to me with community involvement ideas.”
Noticing a change in his own teenage daughters, Thomas believes “they have learned what it means to live our lives helping other people and to be grateful.”
“In America we have people we classify as poor but they have resources to live decently, but to go to a country where people don’t have resources and not even have access to the resources, it’s a different experience,” said Thomas.
Although they are looking forward to next year’s trip, Thomas and the Children and Youth Ministry participants keep busy by participating or hosting a community event every month.
Thomas joined Mt. Zion Progressive three years ago after finishing his master’s degree in divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He came prepared to take on his new responsibility with a single motto: “To be spiritually connected, socially conscious and smart in culture.”
He believes to succeed, youths need a real and relevant relationship with Jesus, a strong social concept about what’s going on in the community, the knowledge to know they need to do something about it and to be well rounded and educated.
To help build a relevant relationship with Jesus, Thomas created a dynamic worship experience for the community’s youth. The experience consists of three different services focused on age specific needs:
“Masterpieces” focuses on the basic introduction of the bible and the importance of a relationship with Jesus to preschool aged children.
“King’s Young Divine Servants” focuses on elementary aged youths and places emphasis on the fundamentals to begin the journey of spiritually and socially impacting their communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ
“One80 Teen Ministry” is dedicated to continuing the process of spiritual and social development needed for middle and high school students to impact their communities and the world.
“Each worship service occurs simultaneously and focuses on reaching out to children and youth at their own level,” explained Thomas. “Even the music is relevant; the youths have a great band that plays. We focus on small groups and really getting the message across.”
The ministry’s message is to love God and to love people, no matter their background, color, sexual orientation, et cetera, said Thomas.
In addition to the Teen Mission Team, other programs exist for youths who want to get involved in their community and prepare for life as adults.
The Social Justice team consists of 20 youths who try to figure out what they can do to rectify issues of social injustice and create social change on matters of racism and miseducation in the community.
Children and Youth Ministry also offer college prep programs and offer information on career alternatives such as military service.
“We’re trying to change a generation, we want them to grow up and be world changers,” said Thomas.
The next two months bring two major events to the community:
Mt. Zion is partnering again with the City of St. Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Department to sponsor OctoberFest, a free and safe event for children Monday, Oct. 31 from 6 – 9 p.m. at the Thomas “Jet” Jackson Recreation Center, 1000 28th St S. There will be entertainment, candy, games and costume contests.
On Christmas day, Mt. Zion will invite 25 families in transition with school aged children to the Jesus is Coming to Town event. With the help of community partners, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic and the School Board of Pinellas County, the families will be chosen based off of need.
Mt. Zion will pick up the families from their residences so that they can attend Christmas service and will be provided a true Christmas feast, according to Thomas.
“We are going to be their family for the day,” excitedly explained Thomas. “The children will receive gifts and the parents will be provided with necessities.”
The event comes with the intent to follow up with each family and assist when needed during their time of transition.
Thomas invites anyone interested in joining the Mt. Zion Progressive community and encourages anyone who knows a child or youth who needs the type of leadership they provide to have them join, even if they are not members of the church.
More information on Mt. Zion Progressive’s Children and Youth Ministry can be found online at mzprogressive.org/ cym/ or Facebook at mzpOne80teens.
For further inquiries, please contact Christina Brown at 727-894-4311 ext. 219.