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During cancer battle, student pastor urges others to ‘press on’

Daryl Summey, associate pastor of youth and missions, poses with students on Graduate Sunday, May 23, alongside Tony Brooks, associate pastor of students and discipleship, top left.

Daryl and Leigh Anne Summey pose with their children in June 2020. With them are (at their current age) Charis, 22; Kaylyn, 20; Kinsley, 17; Christen, 14; Aggrey, 13; Babi, 9; and Ddembe, 8.

EASTMAN, Ga. (BP) – The metrics for determining a ministry’s effectiveness are subjective. Being about numbers is often scrutinized but still looked at closely. Don’t trust anyone, however, who says the measuring stops there. A ministry’s impact runs broader and deeper, often beyond the sight of even the ministry leader.

Daryl Summey’s numbers as student pastor at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga., are impressive yet difficult to nail down. Since 1998 he’s led numerous students to summer camp or at discipleship weekends. Interns have worked alongside him, parents have learned to disciple in their home and church members have taken part in mission trips he led. When you start to think about the lives those individuals have impacted as they moved on from First Eastman’s student ministry, the word “exponential” comes to mind.

And yet, for the last year or so Summey’s witness has been acutely modeled as he’s battled a rare form of cancer of the appendix. It started with abdominal pains during Christmas 2018. In January 2019 his appendix was removed when doctors found the cancer, but a checkup later that year showed the cancer remained.

Summey’s thin frame hid the physical effects until late in 2020. He continues battling today, but hasn’t preached since a Sunday evening service on March 28. On Graduation Sunday May 23, Summey “willed himself to be there,” said one of his best friends, First Baptist associate pastor Clay Layfield.

The people at First Eastman know the pain Summey faces daily, and are equally aware of “Press on.” It’s the phrase out of Philippians 3:14 he has signed on cards and every manner of formal writing. It’s the example Summey has lived out as the cancer grew stronger and, while showing no physical weakness in actions or speech delivering a sermon, he’d collapse afterwards into a chair.

“He’s very stubborn,” said Layfield. “But that’s part of his success. He keeps pressing on.”

Lindsey Rahn, a former member of the student ministry, said Summey goes above and beyond in showing students how much he loves them while including the concepts laid out in Scripture.

Daryl Summey, associate pastor of youth and missions at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga., delivers a sermon on a mission trip to Central Asia. Summey, who became the church’s student pastor in 1998, has battled cancer for the last two-and-a-half years.

“Students know he loves them. That has had more impact than he can know,” added Rahn, who is set to begin her first post-college job as a nurse. “He has continued to live out ‘Press on’ in the midst of his trial with cancer. There’s no better example of that verse than him.”

Jerry Peele is the only minister in First Eastman’s history whose tenure, at 27 years, has thus far outlasted Summey’s. As a senior pastor he most appreciated Summey’s devotion to biblical teaching. But an eye for organization and devotion to his calling also led his student minister to stand out.

“Most guys do student ministry a few years and go on to something else,” said Peele, who retired last year. “He’s the best youth guy I’ve ever seen.”

Those skills and word-of-mouth about Summey led to numerous opportunities to leave for more prestigious gigs over the years, but he always said no.

“He has great pastoral skills and is solid biblically,” Peele said. “He’s been good to our church in a number of ways.”

One of those ways is through First Eastman’s missions ministry. That wasn’t part of Summey’s job description, but he basically made it so. During his tenure, he organized and led local and stateside missions, but also overseas mission trips to Kenya, Romania, Russia and Central Asia. His current title, associate pastor of youth and missions, more accurately reflects his work and calling.

As student minister, Darryl Summey led First Baptist Eastman to also increase its participation in missions. Here, he preaches while on a mission trip to Kenya.

Tammy Rahn, Lindsey’s mother, can testify to the effect those trips have had on her family. Lindsey went on the Central Asia trips. Tammy’s husband, Jim, and their son, Hunter, took part in one to Kenya.

The Rahns are close friends with the Summeys and have been there not only during Daryl’s health issues, but as he and his wife, Leigh Anne, adopted a group of three siblings from Uganda in 2014 to join their four older daughters.

Married in 1992, Leigh Anne Summey has been a fiercely-devoted warrior for her husband since his diagnosis. That includes driving him two-and-a-half hours to the other side of Atlanta for treatment more times than you’d care to count. It meant a six-week stay in Decatur, Ga. this spring for treatment. Only recently did her years of teaching Sunday School and hosting home Bible studies for girls pause so that she could devote more time to caring for Daryl.

Interns have also soaked up ministry alongside Summey, many going into the ministry themselves. Tony Brooks was the first, a new high school graduate when Summey arrived in 1998 who remained as an intern. Brooks would go on to earn a degree from Southern Seminary in Louisville and lead student ministries in Georgia, Mississippi and North Dakota. Last fall, as Summey’s health battle intensified, Brooks joined First Baptist as associate pastor of students and discipleship. In June Brooks also filled in to lead the student camp trip, the first one Summey had missed in 22 years.

“In a lot of student ministries it’s games first and then Bible study, but with Daryl it’s different,” Brooks said. “He has always been Word-driven. We’ve gone to camps where our students notice a leader teaching the Bible, but not the way Daryl does.”

Brooks has also noticed the effect Summey’s missions emphasis has left on students. “Student know about missions and come to love missions. Daryl wanted them to know that God’s purpose was for them to go to the nations, and he has led them well in that.”

Blake Rogers was another member of the First Eastman student ministry who also served as an intern. He would go on to earn degrees from Boyce College and Southern Seminary before entering the ministry. Today he’s the associate pastor at Christ Covenant Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Atlanta that will celebrate its fourth anniversary in September.

“We’re all shaped by our experiences, and Daryl definitely had a desire to teach God’s Word in a way that students could clearly understand it,” Rogers said. “He is gifted at contextualizing a sermon for a student to understand it more clearly.”

Dodge County, where Eastman is the county seat, sits in a rural area of the state 60 miles southeast of Macon. That can be seen as a challenge for student pastors in keeping students entertained. For Summey, it was an advantage as he remodeled the student building and renamed it The Station with a gas station motif. There, more than a hundred students would show up for the Wednesday night gathering, called The Pump.

“In Dodge County the hub of our friend group was the church,” remembered Rogers. “Daryl made it that way, where students felt someone cares for them.”

That sense of caring sometimes took the form it required. As young people do, many step away—even if only for a season—after being in the student ministry. Tony Brooks was one of them. Although he’d been pretty involved in a Christian group at college, he had all but stopped attending church.

Summey confronted him about it. You’ve lost focus, he said, and aren’t seeing what is important. You know better than this. Don’t stay where you are. Keep your eyes on who God has created you to be and honor that with everything you do.

In other words, don’t let up and don’t give up. And remember to press on.