October 2004 – Despite a few exceptions, most high school campuses across the nation are desolate during the hot months of June and July. But for Principal Jerry Brackett such is not the case at Murphy High School (MHS) in Murphy, North Carolina.
MHS becomes a home away from home for the participants of various mission camps who permeate the rural community for one-week periods during the summer. The mission camps may involve anywhere from 150 to 400 youth and leaders at a time. Accommodating these visitors means providing them with meals to eat and places to sleep and shower – not the typical amenities of a public high school.
“[But] availability is the important thing,” Brackett said.
Since the early 1990s, Brackett has made various schools in the Cherokee County School District available to meet the needs of Southern Baptist-affiliated Christian camps that function to make a difference in communities, nationwide.
One such camp is M-Fuge Merge, a mission camp that teaches 7th- through 12th-graders to put their faith into action (www.lifeway.com/n/Product-Family/Fuge).
However, the beginnings of Brackett’s community activist efforts are grounded in a similar camp known as World Changers in which participants specifically work to eliminate substandard housing in various communities through hands-on mission experiences (www.studentz.com).
“I’ve always been involved in missions in one way or another. I love mission work,” Brackett said.
The Lord cultivated a desire for mission work in Brackett’s heart 20 years ago after he completely surrendered his life to the Lord. He has been involved with church-sponsored mission trips to West Virginia and New York. He also assisted in aiding victims of Hurricane Hugo alongside his good friend, Paul Crisp, who introduced him to World Changers.
“…When World Changers came into existence in the early 90s, that was great!” he said. “That was just a natural fit for me.”
Soon began Brackett’s local mission work in Cherokee County that remains a significant part of his life and testimony.
Brackett, a Sunday School teacher and deacon, has served in various leadership positions with World Changers in Cherokee County and has participated in at least 12 projects. But it is Brackett’s position as a public school principal that places him in what he refers to as “one of the greatest mission fields on Earth.
“It hurts me to have someone to stand up and to say publicly that God’s abandoned the public school system,” he said in response to a resolution proposed at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptists Convention. The resolution, which died in committee, urged all Southern Baptists to remove their children from the public schools.
Instead, it moved Brackett to tears.
“There are thousands and I hope hundreds of thousands of the remnant left in the school system, and we’re plugging away on a daily basis,” Brackett explained. “We have front line duty, and I don’t know whether those folks ever realized that or not.”
Fortunately, Brackett realizes the evangelistic opportunities that are placed before him as he enters the hallways of his school, be it during the regular academic session or during the summer.
“It’s projects like World Changers and those others that are just kind of the mountain peaks,” he said.
Such peaks bring a glimpse of Christ to the schools, as well as the entire community.
“These World Changers kids go out all over the community…. They’re interacting with the community at-large [building and repairing houses],” Brackett said.
“So it’s just a good fit…for our community…for our school,” he added.
But the fit wouldn’t be exact without a place for the mission-minded youth to stay when they come into the community. While Brackett is the one responsible for opening the doors of his school to benefit the kingdom, he could not do it alone. It takes the help of local students, school and community volunteers and the cooperation of the school district for the summer ministry to unfold.
“Other communities across the nation are catching on to this, and they’re opening up their communities and schools, as well,” he said.
In addition, Brackett’s Christ-centered efforts are also encouraging to youth ministers, according to the Rev. Ryan Rodgers, who directed the M-Fuge Merge camp at MHS last summer. Rodgers is also a student at Beeson Divinity School and a youth ministry intern at Liberty Park Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.
“It’s encouraging just to watch him and to know that there are people besides those within the church who are out there making a difference for Christ,” Rodgers said.
“Because that’s what being in the church is all about – to equip the saints to go out and make other followers and disciples,” Rodgers added. “So he’s been equipped by being in the church and now he’s able to go out in the public arena and the world and make disciples there.”
Rodgers’ claims are evident in Brackett’s testimony.
“A lot of these kids who have been on this mission will wind up as missionaries or actively involved in their church’s mission work in some way,” Brackett said. “I guess that’s the greatest blessing!”