Native of Greenville, Mississippi, Jerjuanna says she somewhat grew up as a “preacher’s kid” because the father figure in her life – her uncle – was a pastor. Although she went to church every Sunday, she only followed that lifestyle because she had to. She went on to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech and Communications from Mississippi Valley State University (Itta Bena, MS). She packed up and moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to pursue a Master’s Degree in Radio and Television Production at Arkansas State University. Jerjuanna says she truly started following Christ during her time in Jonesboro. She finally realized that she didn’t have to live up to other people’s expectations. She felt the weight of her sin, but in the midst of it, she felt the Lord saying, “I am the peace that surpasses all understanding. I am who you have been searching for all along.” Jerjuanna describes this as the moment she gave her life to Christ.
Jerjuanna moved to Memphis to participate in the Downline Ministries Emerging Leaders program, a nine-month discipleship program designed to equip young adults in Biblical knowledge. Participants in this program are required to work, and while she was job searching, many people pointed her in the direction of MAM. However, her response was, “I don’t want to work in youth ministry. I don’t think it’s for me.” Although she did end up working in youth ministry, MAM was not her first employment opportunity. She began working with the Memphis Grizzlies and at Hope Presbyterian Church. While working at Hope, a former MAM employee approached her and said, “I know the perfect job for you.” Sure enough, it was an opportunity with MAM.
Jerjuanna began working at MAM as a full-time youth coordinator at Bethel LaBelle in June of 2018 and was eventually promoted to neighborhood director in November of 2020. She describes the MAM Bethel LaBelle team as a fun and playful family. The staff are able to demonstrate what it looks like to have friendships with the opposite sex and a true picture of the body of Christ.
Jerjuanna says that the kids are hands down her favorite part about working at MAM. She enjoys coaching a sports team because she can use that time as so much more than just a practice or a game. For example, she is able to creatively share the Gospel and teach life lessons with the team, and they don’t even realize they’re learning because it is combined with something they love – sports. Because the youth are learning as they are doing enjoyable activities, these life lessons are recalled during necessary times. Former MAM youth who have graduated randomly text Jerjuanna saying things like “Coach, you taught me this!” and “Coach, I learned this at MAM!”
One of Jerjuanna’s most memorable moments over the last few years was a Bible study on Matthew 14 when Peter walked on water. The lesson focused on trust, and she incorporated the trust fall activity. One student did not want to participate at all! She said, “I don’t even trust my own family. Why would I trust you to catch me?” After about ten minutes of encouragement, the girl finally did it, and when she fell back and was caught by another student, she was completely amazed. She could not believe that the other student actually caught her.
In March 2020, MAM closed its doors, along with the rest of the world, due to the pandemic. This brought obvious challenges in connecting with kids; however, this didn’t stop MAM coaches. They hosted Bible studies on Zoom, coordinated birthday parades, and delivered food and care packages to families. MAM staff also hosted weekly drive-thru food distribution events, serving over 84,000 families over five months. When we safely reopened our gyms in the fall of 2020, MAM shifted to operating as virtual learning centers. When reminiscing on virtual learning, Jerjuanna said, “There were lots of challenges, but it gave us the opportunity to see ‘the whole kid.’ We were able to see kids at school, in a different context. We could see what they needed to work on academically, and sometimes we could determine what caused a certain behavior from a kid.”
The start of this school year has certainly brought its challenges as well, as youth are in and out of school and MAM centers due to the coronavirus and/or quarantine. “Youth are missing a lot of opportunities to experience life and Jesus in a new way. It’s more difficult, but we have to be intentional in the way we reach kids,” Jerjuanna says. MAM coaches play games like Connect 4 to spend one-on-one time with kids, having conversations and building relationships. MAM Bethel LaBelle has also recently started “cooking conversations,” capitalizing on the universal love of food. First, a coach hosts a Bible study with his or her group of youth, and then they cook together. While they are cooking and eating together, they continue discussing the Bible lesson. The coaches have found that youth are more excited to attend Bible study and more eager to talk and ask questions.
The transition to neighborhood director at Bethel LaBelle has been somewhat bittersweet for Jerjuanna. Since she spends more time in meetings, completing administrative tasks, and managing staff, she doesn’t get to spend as much time with the kids as she’d like. However, she has really enjoyed leading her team. The staff at Bethel LaBelle do devotionals and go through scripture together during daily meetings. Jerjuanna loves seeing them grow individually and together as a team.