By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal
RIPLEY – The season of giving continues year-round for members of the Robbie and Felesha Rowland family.
With their daughters Tuesdae and Page, the Rowlands returned home from their most recent mission trip in Arlington, Texas, just in time for Christmas.
“Ministry is the center of our lives,” said Felesha Rowland, director of My Choices Pregnancy Help Clinic, formerly Sav-A-Life.
Robbie Rowland is youth minister at Springdale Baptist Church in Ripley, Tuesdae is a senior at Blue Mountain College, and Page is a junior at Ripley High School.
The entire family went back to Arlington for a five-day mission trip with Springdale youth after Tuesdae returned from a week’s mission trip there with fellow students at BMC.
“They have a huge mission for the homeless helping with a Christmas store,” Felesha Rowland said. “She’s been helping to babysit the kids while their parents Christmas shop. It’s a really good opportunity for youth to help needy people and get involved.”
Though Felesha and Robbie Rowland give service all year through their jobs, they and their employers made their biggest commitment to missions more than six years ago with annual mission trips to the Ukraine.
“Bro. Randy Hamilton, our pastor, has been such a support,” Robbie Rowland said. “It was his idea letting us off. Bro. Stacy McKee, our associate pastor, the youth committee and deacons all do my jobs so I can be gone. Summer for youth is a busy time, so they take on a lot.”
Likewise, Felesha Rowland’s employer is generous to let her devote her summer to the mission project.
“My co-worker Terri Stanford just takes over and fills in while I’m not there,” Felesha Rowland said. “There’s no way we could go without the sacrifices they’ve made, while we’re the ones who get to go and have the good experience.”
For two summers Robbie Rowland went alone on the mission trip for a couple of weeks after being invited by another associate. He later learned that the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention wanted more volunteers for their Reach Ukraine mission program.
“We never try to go there and pastor, just help them plant the church and support them with their mission,” Robbie Rowland said.
In the Ukraine, a country that Robbie Rowland said is roughly the size of Texas, they work from the city of Poltava, with a population of about 350,000 residents. They have lived in the same apartment each year and the city is known for its universities.
The Rowlands tutor students in English and help with organized sports activities as part of their ministry to spread the word of Jesus Christ.
“We work with the older kids and university kids,” Felesha Rowland said. “They want to learn English really bad but are kind of intimidated, so interacting with us makes it easier for them.”
The students come from high schools, universities and private schools.
“The private school students are my favorites,” Page said. “Two classes have one group that’s one year younger than me, and we play soccer and other sports.”
The annual summer ventures have shaped much of 16-year-old Page’s life, since they began making the trips when she was 11 years old.
“The sports programs are sort of modeled like Upward with soccer, travel football, Frisbee and other activities,” Robbie Rowland said.
Not only do the Rowlands work with student groups in the city, but their weeks include visiting an orphanage every Monday for Bible school, crafts, game time, story time and songs.
They venture out into small nearby communities, more the size of their Ripley hometown, averaging about 6,000 people.
“There are about eight small churches, half of them with church buildings, but the others meeting in houses,” Robbie Rowland said. “A church we helped start about three years ago began by meeting in a tent, studying the Bible one day a week. They have it so hard financially. The average salary is about $320 a month, and there’s not much of a middle class.”
A special part of the ministry that Felesha Rowland has established is a girls’ night out.
“We have it at our apartment one night a week, just watching a movie and talking,” Felesha Rowland said.
Returning to those same communities year after year has helped the family build strong relationships, enhancing their ability to minister to those communities. For the past three years Mindy Morton of Blue Mountain College has been with them like a member of their family.
The family had to overcome some fears and step out to answer their calling, but they’ve been joined by others through the years: Students from Blue Mountain College, the University of Alabama, the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Mississippi, Samford University in Alabama, Judson College in Alabama and others for varying lengths of time.
“It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve done in my life, but I’ve gotten the biggest blessing from it,” Felesha Rowland said.
Besides the service they give to others, the Rowland family has received as well.
“My sister and I are best friends,” Page said. “People think we’re twins, and she’s really cool.”
“It’s brought our family closer together than ever,” Robbie Rowland added. “We feel like it’s what the Lord has called us to do, and the people have been so good to us. We love them.”