Jesus was the son of a carpenter, so it seems appropriate the items found in a toolbox that lend well to making things could help young men and women learn what it takes to be made a stronger, better person and Christian.

Yet, a simple toolbox and its contents are doing just that for athletes at a number of DeSoto County schools who work with the North Mississippi Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

John Engstrom is the Multi-Area Director for FCA representing DeSoto County and several other counties of North Mississippi and the Delta and is based out of Southaven.

Engstrom and Colonial Hills Church Southaven Student Pastor John Sayger began serving the Southaven High School football program as chaplains for the team about five years ago and the toolbox idea was developed as the two were planning their weekly talks to the players in the weeks before last season started.

Engstrom remembered his youth and the toolbox his father had, noting it became a rite of passage for him to obtain his own toolbox and not have to depend on his father’s toolbox anymore, but rather to have his own.

He and Sayger determined a toolbox would be the means to teach their lessons for the season, but quickly realized the best way to do that was to give each of the 100 players their own toolbox and set about determining how they could find 100 filled toolboxes with each one filled with 12 items to represent a Biblical or moral principle.

Resources quickly appeared on the scene that made the vision a reality before the season began.

“Southaven Supply cut us a break on tools,” Engstrom said. “They told us that any tool we could order you can get it at cost. There was no markup at all.”

Items that could be engraved with a related Bible message or verse were also done on a donation basis and other items that the supply company could not order, such as an hourglass, came from other sources.

Engstrom explains there is symbolism and a message from each item in the toolbox and the toolbox itself.

The toolbox itself is the heart and represents your life, what’s in it and what you choose to put in it. A Bible provides guidance and is the Guide for your life. The hammer is the foundational tool of any box as the Gospel is the foundational message of the Bible.

Duct tape inside the toolbox represents love, the greatest virtue known to man. Love mends our hearts and binds us together. A level represents balance for us to balance our physical, mental, spiritual and relational self. The hourglass reminds us that we have only a certain number of days and we should make every day count.

A picture frame inside is a reminder that the decisions we make impact our future. A screwdriver reminds us to be wary of the pitfalls of pornography and sexual activity outside the marriage of a man and woman and a compass is a reminder that there are moral standards that do not change with time.

The other toolbox items are needle-nose pliers for precision and excellence, a tape measure as the true measure of a man or woman being their value and heart for the Lord, and a nail apron, indicating service, to see others’ needs above your own.

“The symbolism of the toolbox just resonated with me instantly,” Engstrom said. “The toolbox to me symbolizes the independence that every man has his own box, his own tools, has his own set of skills and can’t be reliant on another. What great symbolism and what a great practical gift for a young man.”

As more people have learned about the toolbox concept, it has expanded to other athletic programs in DeSoto County, requiring FCA volunteers to be able to enter those programs and teach the same principles.

“We needed some boots on the ground, some character coaches,” Engstrom said. “We needed somebody in the locker room to unpack and teach their spiritual principles because that’s the meat of it. That’s the lesson of it. A tool without a lesson is a practical resource but we want more than that.”

Engstrom said that football is where the program starts, but it can quickly expand from there.

“We go into the principal’s office and say that football wants it,” Engstrom said. “We’re going to do it with the football team, because that’s where the majority of the athletes are. We also ask if there are any other coaches who would be interested in this and maybe tweaking their practice schedule, working with their coaches and having an informational meeting with all of them.”

The lessons taught are very important for today’s youth, especially given the current atmosphere of uncertainty in the world, Engstrom said.

“People are concerned about the direction of our young people and of our country,” Engstrom said. “You can be reactive, but people are looking for an avenue to be proactive, but they don’t want to throw money at the problem. They want to see a program, a structure they want to see something that works.”

More information on the FCA Toolbox, “Building Men of Character,” can be found on the www.fcatoolbox.org website.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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