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Idols Aside Ministries Reaches Fatherless Youth Through Outdoor Retreats

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Idols Aside Ministries Reaches Fatherless Youth Through Outdoor Retreats

by James Coulter


As someone who has been a wakeboarder since the age of 12, and as a former/current contender on American Ninja Warrior, it would be easy for Emily Copland Durham to get caught up in her own fame and talent, and yet she remains humble about it through her faith in God.

Durham cited her experiences to evangelize about her own personal faith, comparing that faith to the faith required to take hold of a wakeboard rope.

“Victory only comes when you get off the dock,” she said. “Jesus offered us the handle and the rope so we can take hold of it and go with God.”

She offered these words of wisdom during an outdoor retreat on Saturday in Lake Wales for Idols Aside Ministries, which included barbecue, outdoor activities, and a campfire worship service.

Saturday’s retreat drew in approximately 33 young girls brought in through three different organizations (Sheriff Youth Villa, Youth for Christ, and Lakeland Grace Academy). Including volunteers and mentors, the event drew in approximately 55 people.

Idols Aside Ministries seeks to reach “hopeless youth” with the Christian gospel through sports and outdoor recreation. Their primary demographic is single mothers and fatherless children, the latter of which are middle to high school age ranging from 12 to 17 years old.

The ministry was founded in 2009 by Mark and Becky Wright, both of whom use their outdoor lodge in Lake Wales/Paducah, KY to host youth retreats twice a month.

The lodge sits on 92 acres of property along Highway 60, with an adjacent 212 acres leased out to them, providing them with more than 300 acres of wilderness that they use for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

Mark Wright was inspired to start the ministry while playing football in college. He and other Christian athletes felt dishonored that fans would worship sports stars like them, explained his step father, John Kirkland. The calling was answered in 2008 as Mark decided to make the jump from the corporate world and founded Idols Aside Ministries in 2009.

“They(IAM) don’t want people to idolize sports stars, [but rather] to worship the one true God,” he said.

Such a mindset later inspired the name of his ministry, Idols Aside, the very name of which stems from the Second Commandment forbidding false idols.

He and his fellow athletes would set up weekend retreats allowing them to fellowship with youth and offer their personal testimonies. For these retreats, Wright rented facilities all over FL, but this proved expensive.

“We learned that we were spending a lot of money that we would rather have to afford more trips, so we started searching and raising funds for our own property,” Kirkland said.

Through a close personal friend who worked in land development, Wright was able to locate and purchase property in Lake Wales.

However, even with the property on hand, and even with a blueprint for the lodge, they still required material and labor.

Levi Goldsmith, a current board member for the ministry, and someone who attended the same church as Wright, heard of his need to build the lodge and gladly offered his own services.

“They had a blueprint for this building, but they didn’t have anybody to build it yet,” he said. “I asked them if they had a builder. They told me that the Lord had not led them to one yet. I told them that he has if you would let me.”

Through donated material and labor, the dream to build the lodge soon became reality and was constructed in 2013.

Nine years after inception, their ministry has become so successful that they were able to expand with another lodge in Kentucky earlier in September.

The new lodge resides within Western Kentucky(Paducah) which ranks extremely high in the US for single and unwed mothers, making it the opportune location for their ministry.

“There [are] a lot of fatherless youths and single moms that are hurting, and a lot of people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Jeff Shills, Idols Aside Director.

Partnering with the ministry are local county organizations such as Florida Baptist Children’s Home, Parker Street Ministries, Integrity Care Homes, Lakeland Grace Academy/Teen Challenge, Youth for Christ, Sheriff Youth Villas, The Refuge; many of whom offer support, resources, and all offer children for them to reach out to. IAM is also blessed with the opportunity to minister/mentor to local fatherless youth that reside in single mother homes.

Since its humble beginnings, Idols Aside has seen over 1,100 young people who have made the decision to follow Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

While the founders and leaders of the ministry do not focus on reaching numbered goals, they consider reaching such a goal to be a blessing from God nonetheless.

“God has blessed IAM in amazing ways to the point where Mark and Becky have been able to move to Kentucky in the past fifteen weeks. By a partnership with Southland Baptist Temple, we have been blessed with the opportunity to utilize a piece of Southland’s property to pour into many single mothers and fatherless children in McCracken county by teaching them about the gospel of Jesus and their need for a personal savior and relationship.” Shills said.

Aside from funding to scholarship youth on retreats, which is mostly through private donations and not from public funding, their next biggest challenge is recruiting volunteers who have the resources and time to be able to invest into mentoring/discipling post retreats.

“[God] asks us to reach out and get dirty, to serve and meet people where they are at,” Shills said. “It is nice to see relationships being built, and to see people falling in love with the Lord through this ministry. It is such a blessing to see what the local church has been able to do for these fatherless children and IAM by helping us with resources…it is extremely exciting.”

With the recent expansion into Kentucky, this small local ministry has high expectations of growing in their size and scope to reach even further into other states.

However, regardless of their personal expectations, no expectations can match the very will of God and what he has planned for the ministry, Shills explained.

“I don’t want to put my stamp on it, because God’s plans for this ministry are way bigger than what our minds can wrap around,” he said.

Idols Aside Ministries Annual Banquet will be held on February 22nd, 2018 at Ardella Baptist Church in Lakeland. For more information or to make a much valued donation, please visit their website at: http://www.idolsaside.com/ or contact Jeff Shills, FL Director at 863.529.7640 or at [email protected]

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