OXFORD, Miss (BP) -- Students at the University of Mississippi's Baptist Student Union have traded trash for cash to raise money for summer missions.
The Grove, Ole Miss' 10-acre site for tailgaters at the center of the Oxford campus, is always covered with plastic plates, fried chicken, leftover cookies and everything in between after a home football game. BSU students have had the unique opportunity to partner with the university's landscaping employees to clean the Grove in the evenings after each home game.
Baptist Student Union members have received part-time pay for Grove cleanup for eight years. The school's landscaping staff hasn't always had the extra hands that BSU brings for the job. Jeff McManus, Ole Miss' director of landscape, airport and golf services, said a university crew cleaned the Grove on Sunday mornings in the past from eight to 14 hours, clearing 40-50 tons of garbage.
"With BSU here, we're working shorter hours. Our staff is not beaten down after every ball game," McManus said about the two- to six-hour cleanups with the extra help. "When BSU comes in here, it's like a breath of fresh air coming through, and we've got all of these extra hands."
McManus said the students meet each night's challenge with a good work ethic and a good attitude.
"The BSU students have definitely been a godsend, so to speak, and we have been blessed by them and really appreciate the value they bring to the campus," McManus said. "They are a big morale boost to our guys."
Blake Johnson, a senior journalism major from Houston, Texas, said he believes the optimism he and other BSU students maintain through the long hours and late nights comes from a desire to minister to the campus and an awareness that they are raising money to send students nationally and internationally for missions.
"We think to ourselves, 'I'm doing this to spread a message, and I'm doing this to raise money to spread that message,'" said Johnson, a member of The Life Church in Oxford, a church plant sponsored by First Baptist Church, Oxford, the ONE8 Network, and Mississippi Baptists' Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering.
Johnson also said the BSU students know that their strength comes from Christ -- especially during the Grove cleanup after Ole Miss played the University of Texas on Sept. 15. Students began the five-hour task at 1:30 a.m. and picked up a record 87 tons of garbage.
"I was thinking Jesus. That was all I had to run off of, and I think we were all thinking the same thing," Johnson said. "I think that says a lot about our students that we didn't give up."
McManus said that he and others also notice that BSU students are spurred by something greater.
"They seem to have a higher purpose and a higher calling for what they are doing, and it's not just about getting the task done," he said. "They do a great job with it. They feel they're contributing to a bigger cause."
Students also enjoy the time together during Grove cleanup.
"One of my favorite parts is just the idea of the fellowship that you get out there," Johnson said.
With the last campus game of the 2012 football season completed on Nov. 24, McManus looks forward to Grove cleanup next season despite six home football games scheduled in a row.
"I think BSU will step up to the challenge again," he said. "I'm not fearful at all because I know we have a great partnership with them."
Reprinted from the Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
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