When COVID-19 forced the cancelation of their mission trip to Memphis, Tenn., members of Lawton’s First Baptist East’s student ministry didn’t give up. Instead, they chose to use the time and funds set aside for their trip to perform community service across Lawton, turning their missionary trip into a mission to help their home.

“If you don’t do missions in your own backyard, then you’re missing part of your mission,” First Baptist East Youth Pastor Tim Martin said.

Martin was part of the group of 50 students and 35 adults who spent the last week performing community service work around Lawton. Among the projects the ministry undertook were home repairs, a Bible school for Northside Baptist Church, renovations to Lovesick Ministries, as well as cleanup efforts around the city.

On Wednesday, Martin and a dozen students and adults were sweating in the summer sun, their bright orange “Hope 4 The City” shirts reflecting off the surface of Lake Helen as they went around Elmer Thomas Park cleaning up trash.

“We started ‘4 The City’ five or six years ago and we adopted the phrase hope because Lawton was supposed to have the Day of Hope, but that got canceled because of COVID-19. We wanted to continue that because we believe hope is a huge word for people, and right now we’re all trying to find it in different places,” Martin said.

Elmer Thomas Park is a heavily trafficked area, and the students were filling trash bags quickly as they went around the park. But despite the heat, the sweat and the occasional snake, everyone was in good spirits.

“We want to be out here picking this up. This is our city, we want it to look nice,” Martin said. “You know, we were supposed to be in Memphis right now. It’s nice to take your students off and go do this somewhere else because they have to get out of their comfort zones. … But there are people hurting in every community.”

While the cleanup was just one of many projects the church was undertaking, Martin hoped it would leave a lasting impact on the students who were there.

“This group can come out here and love the community,” Martin said. “This has been a real blessing.”

Sarah Dodd has been attending First Baptist East since sixth grade, this year she will be a senior. In her six years, she has enjoyed working with the student ministries. She and Sarah Lindsey were among the students cleaning up the park on Wednesday.

“It was nice picking up trash near the museum because I volunteer there and it’s nice to see it clean,” Dodd said.

Lindsey agreed that the ability to perform community outreach through the church was a rewarding experience.

“I’ve been going to the church for about three years, it’s nice to be helping the city,” Lindsey said.

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