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'Hope’ scholar shares gifts through Ozark Mission Project

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Ben Crismon (center) helps guide Alyssa Baldridge (left) and Nate Bishop as they work on a client's porch in West Memphis, Ark.
Aug. 26, 2005

By Allison Scahill*

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (UMNS) — A United Methodist Gift of Hope scholar has spent his summer giving hope to the residents of this Arkansas community.

Ben Crismon has been helping lead a team of young people who have been repairing homes in West Memphis through the Ozark Mission Project, a mission of the denomination’s Arkansas Area. Crismon also is a recipient of a Gift of Hope Scholarship, provided by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The Gift of Hope scholarship is for undergraduate students at any accredited college who have shown leadership in the United Methodist Church.

“The Hope Scholarship just gives me the chance to go to college. I get to learn, and I’m planning on going into the ministry,” Crismon said. “So it gives me the ability to go to a Methodist private school where I can learn about myself and learn about God, then go to seminary from there.”

Throughout the summer, Crismon has worked as a major group leader for the Ozark Mission Project, which had 12 camps throughout Arkansas. Youth and adults come from churches all over Arkansas to do minor home repairs for people who need a hand.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Ben Crismon (second from right) helps Lydia Dunlap with a caulk gun.
Crismon, a sophomore and religious studies major at Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport, said he received the call to ministry at age 12. The idea of being a minister intrigued him, he said.

“I’ve always believed in using the gifts God’s given you. I think a lot of the gifts God’s given me would be best suited in the full-time ministry,” he said. Besides working in the Ozark Mission camp, he also is an intern for Asbury United Methodist Church in Bossier City, La., where he works with a group of high school boys.

The summer job has helped him prepare for his future in the clergy, he said.

“It teaches me a lot about responsibility, about leadership. I’ve never been directly in the leadership of this many people before,” he said. “It’s keeping me focused on God at all times and making me rely on him more than it does in my daily life. There are a lot of things that are out of my control here, and I have to rely on God.”

Receiving the scholarship allowed him to take the staff position with the mission project instead of a higher-paying job somewhere else, he said. “This scholarship gives me the opportunity to make less money but change people’s lives.”

The Ozark Mission Project is unlike anything Crismon has experienced.

“I keep coming back year after year because God is in this place in a special way,” he said. “He moves here like I’ve never seen before. I can do the physical labor elsewhere, but not see the same results.”

Lydia Dunlap, a recent high school graduate, was a participant in the Ozark Mission camp, and she helped build front and side porches for a woman who could not walk out of her home safely. Dunlap said the project has strengthened her relationship with God.

“It’s not (about fixing) the porch; the porch isn’t going to last forever, but your relationship with God will,” she said. “That’s what I get out of it.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Alyssa Baldridge helps repair a client's porch in West Memphis as Ben Crismon provides guidance.
Dunlap plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where she will major in either finance or psychology and minor in religious studies. A member of Conway First United Methodist Church, she also wants to be an ordained minister.

“I think (the project is) important because of the connection you make with yourself and the connection you make with God,” she said. “You’re really humbled here. Just being around stuff like this, you realize how much you take for granted every day.”

Other participants agree.

“I’m glad to be a part of this project first off because I’m here with my students — I’m a youth pastor — and I love to see them get out and get involved with other people,” said Nate Bishop, with Siloam Springs (Ark.) United Methodist Church.

“I’m really glad to be a part of this project because I really love coming here and helping people and it always reminds me of how blessed I am when I go back home,” said Alyssa Baldridge of Goddard United Methodist Church in Fort Smith, Ark. “You’ve changed somebody’s life and it’s a really great feeling.”

Crismon has enjoyed seeing the project’s impact on the student workers.

“The students are here with the right mind, and they’re focused on God,” he said. “It’s amazing to watch them grow, and it’s amazing to see the neighbors and how they interact with the students and how they interact with me, and it makes me want to come back. I don’t ever really want to stop.”

Applicants for the Gift of Hope Scholarship must be active, full members of a United Methodist church for at least a year, admitted to a full-time degree program in a college or university, and maintain a grade-point average of 2.5 or higher.

Information about scholarships and loans in the United Methodist Church can be found online at or by contacting the Office of Loans and Scholarships, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007; phone: (615) 340-7342.

*Scahill is a mass communications major at United Methodist-related Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan. She worked as an intern this summer at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or


Video Interview with Ben Crismon

“I’m learning lessons from God and the neighbors.”

“It gives me an opportunity to study my field.”

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