On Monday night, Feb. 12, 2018, René Warren Softball Field would be the site of a beautiful, dark night, where scores of Hinds student athletes and friends gathered for the annual event known as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Lantern Festival.
This event includes meeting at Mayo Gym where tables are arranged to be used for work surfaces. Here the participants write, draw and scribble messages and prayers all over the white paper Chinese lanterns which will be launched later in the evening.
After an hour of fellowshipping, selfie-taking and adding prayers to the lanterns, the students walk over to René Warren softball field for the lift-offs of the lanterns.
Music is playing as they arrive and congregate on the synthetic turf infield to hear a short message and instructions from organization leader, Hinds' head soccer coach, Doug Williams.
"I got the idea to do the FCA Lantern Festival from my daughters' birthday parties. We adopted our daughters, Esther and Lily, from China. The Chinese Lantern Festival takes place each spring, marking the end of Chinese New Year. Since my girls were both born in the spring, we go outside and fly lanterns on their birthdays. It's our way of incorporating Chinese traditions with our American ones. As we watch the lanterns fly away, we pray over our children. This has become a meaningful tradition for our family, so I took the idea and created the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Lantern Festival.
This was our second year to do the Lantern Festival and we have had over 100 students participate each year. Before we fly our lanterns, we spend time writing prayers on the lanterns. We write the names of teammates, friends and family who are on our hearts. We write personal prayer requests. We write praises to God. It has been really neat to see our students connecting with God through prayer at this event. I think this serves as a time that many of our student athletes are able to go to a deeper level with each other as they share their prayer request and needs with one another. I hope to continue this annual tradition and to see many more students experience the power of prayer through the FCA Lantern Festival."
Williams and his assistants did all they could to help students put their messages down on the lanterns. For the first few minutes, there was a quietness in the gym, as the prayer lantern senders pondered what messages to put down. Near the end, the chatter and excitement increased as students settled on things to scribe.
From my perspective, the students really seemed to enjoy spending time with each other and working together for a common purpose. And once the lanterns began to fly, it was a beautiful thing, ...watching them float toward the south, seeming to gather together in their quest to light up the night sky with their individual messages and yellow and orange glowing paper bellies.
As a simple bystander, there just to document, I was in awe of the sight. Watch the video clips below to get a sense of the lanterns lifting off into the darkens, joining the group then disappearing into the night.
The evening ended with the group gathering for a prayer led by Coach Williams.
Come out next year and see for yourself how enlightening the FCA Lantern Festival can be.