Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly History
Sophia Sutton Mission came into being through a Miracle from God that His Son might be known and His love demonstrated among all races in Jefferson Davis County where racism and prejudices were at its peak. God's providential plan was working through Mrs. Sophia Sutton Begley. For sixty years, this was a mystery to her. But deep within her heart she knew that God was working through her to make this sacrificial contribution, in order that many poor and deprived Black children would be blessed by having been given this opportunity to receive free literature and teachings about God's love for all people.
During the later days of her sixty-first year, the Lord moved her to write Dr. Herbert L. Lang, President of the Mississippi Baptist Seminary, inquiring for persons willing and interested in sharing their lives doing Christian work among Black children in South County that would be attainable. God, through His divine and miraculous power, laid it on Dr. Lang's heart to take this important matter up with Dr. William A. Keel, his assistant.
The meeting took place between these two great leaders, Dr. Lang and Dr. Keel. No one is sure of the exact dialogue that took place in this meeting. But one thing we firmly believe: God was in the plan working out a plan through these individuals, "To multiply the power of the Lord."
After ample time and consideration, Dr. Keel accepted the proposition. Mrs. Begley's heart was made to rejoice. She immediately arranged for deeds to be made, and this Mrs. Sophia Sutton Begley, did on the 15th day of November 1954, execute a warranty deed to 119 acres of described land situated in Jefferson Davis County, state of Mississippi to the Mississippi Baptist Seminary.
The land had been deeded, "This is the Dream; I have given it to you. For we are laborers together with God, and stewards of the mysteries of God," whispered Mrs. Sophia Sutton Begley.
A bi-racial group was organized to discuss ways and means of executing the Dream under the leadership of Dr. William A. Keel. This group consisted of men dedicated to Christ, full of faith ...faith enough to believe that God was going to provide the necessities needed to begin this great Ministry -"To Multiply The Power Of The Lord."
Bro. U.S. Polk offered a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude, after which, a committee was named to work with Dr. Keel in raising money for a well, tent, and an auditorium. Bro. U.S. Polk, chairman, Bro. S.L. Richmond, Bro. J.C. Burns, and Bro. William A. Keel were named.
This committee worked untiringly. They worked very hard because they believed, "That all things work together for the good to those who love God."
A well was finished through united prayer and great effort. Money for a tabernacle tent, 300 chairs and 100 hymnals were allocated by the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Monthly meetings were scheduled. Three hundred (300) Bibles/were given to children. Sophia Sutton's dream had come alive. On February 23, 1955, the land was dedicated in memory of Sophia Sutton Begley.
In September 1956, a campaign to raise funds for an auditorium was approved. The campaign was launched October 1, 1956. Groundbreaking for the auditorium August 13, 1957. The building program commenced September 3, 1957. The contracted price of the auditorium was $17,000, which was paid in full December 16, 1957. Allocations: Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, $12,000, W.M.U. $1,500, Blacks $3,500.
More money was needed for basic improvements: $8,500 for furniture; fixtures, chairs and appliances; $1,732.49 for a water well and water conduits from the well to the auditorium, and the men's restroom, a gas tank, heaters and gas; $1,100 for the men's restroom. A total of $28,332.49. This did not include operational expenses, the donated drive-way from the property line to the auditorium, the donated power line and labor. Blacks raised $14,832.49 of the $28,332.49.
The auditorium and basic improvements were dedicated debt free February 23, 1958. The auditorium was named the Sophia Sutton Begley Memorial Auditorium. The -Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly adopted for its Motto the words of Mrs. Sophia Sutton Begley: Use All Time, Talents, and Possessions To Multiply The Power Of The Lord.
The dream of Sophia Sutton Begley grew rapidly; therefore, a demand for expansion was very urgent. The interior of Sophia Sutton Memorial Auditorium had to be completed, a guest bedroom furnished, the athletic field graded, a twelve-stall shower house, a concession, a storage house built and a mower bought at an estimated cost of $20,000.
The Co-chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Baptist Seminary Dr. R.W. Woullard agreed to supervise free of charge, the building and improvement operation.
July 1, 1959, Sophia Sutton Mission's first leader, Dr. William A. Keel retired. Things were most difficult during his administration, but he kept the faith and served faithfully until retirement.
November 6, 1964, Mississippi Baptist Seminary leased to Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly for a period of sixty years the property Mrs. Begley deeded to the Mississippi Baptist Seminary.
February 26, 1968, Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly purchased from the bank of Prentiss 40 acres of land deeded to Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly.
March 7, 1969, Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly purchased from the First National Bank of Laurel, Miss. , the South Eastern Benevolent Hospital: Lots 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, and the North 384 feet of West half of Lot 50 of Oak Park Addition to the city of Laurel deeded to Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly, July 25, 1969. Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly purchased from Mr. Jim Berry 79 acres of land deeded to Sophia Sutton Mission Assembly.
The Sophia Sutton Mission Child Development Program was launched June 9, 1965. This program included five counties, Lawrence, Jefferson, Davis, Covington, Simpson, Marion, and there were children who participated in the program. Had it not been for this most needed program, hundreds of these boys and girls might not have lived or been physically able to enter public school at the age of six years old.
They came from families who were not economically able to secure girls. These changes took place because of the experiences that were provided for the children: Readiness activities, musical activities, playing house- keeping, supervised recreational activities, sharing and listening.
On October 1, 1971, the name was changed from Sophia Sutton Mission Child Development Program to Five County Child Development Program. Lots that were acquired from the First National Bank of Laurel, MS in March 1969 were sold in 1985.
The donated land (119 acres) together with land purchased by the Mission totaled 238. Since the inception, some 29 acres have been sold, leaving a total to date (Dec. 1988) of 218 acres.
In 1984, the National Baptist chose to assume responsibility of sponsoring and supporting the Mission. The joint venture of Southern and National Baptist was dissolved.
Following the retirement of Dr. S.L. Richmond and interim of Mrs. S.L. Richmond, Dr. J.E. Wells was elected by the Board as Executive Director, February 15, 1985.