FAIRBORN, OHIO—What does a missions leader do when her Girls in Action group can’t meet together? For Ginny Howell, the answer is simple: Form a one-woman neighborhood parade and go to them – from a safe social distance, of course.
Howell, statewide GA consultant for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, is in her fifth year as the GA director at First Baptist Church of Fairborn, Ohio. But she and her grade school GA girls have never experienced a year of Girls in Action quite like this one.
After getting off to a great start last fall and looking forward to more missions discipleship and service projects this spring, all their plans came to a screeching halt amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“You’ve got to be fluid” to navigate the unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, Howell reflected. “It’s kind of like a missionary. You have to just see what works and you try things and that’s what I’m doing.
“I do have a lot of concern for the kids that come in on our vans” from low-income neighborhoods, she added. Citing the realities of the socioeconomic-driven digital divide, she noted that “those kids don’t have technology” in their homes which hampers them being able to stay up on school work or connect with friends.
Getting through this together
Several weeks into social distancing and sheltering in place, “it’s getting kind of depressing for some of my girls and I was starting to see that,” Howell explained.
“That really concerned me so I talked with moms. I said, ‘Hey, do you mind if I come by, do a church check?’ They’re like, ‘What’s a church check?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. … I just want to come by and see their faces.’”
The GA parents were receptive to her idea so she made a poster board sign with a simple but heartfelt message: “I Miss You! Love, Miss Ginny.” She said her primary goal was to “tell them that I love them and I miss them and it’s going to be over soon, that we’re going to get through this together.”
“My heart’s aching for them,” Howell acknowledged. “I’ve been praying, ‘How can I do this, God?’ I just haven’t had a good answer except I’ve been driving the neighborhood and that’s on a daily basis. I pray through the neighborhood.
“It’s really strange, you don’t see the girls out. Usually, they’re out running around the neighborhood,” she said. “I just asked God, ‘What can I do?’ That’s how the sign and the visits came up is just seeking the Lord’s guidance because I have no clue. He knows the big picture. I don’t.”
Life comes full circle
Howell’s love for her GA girls is deeply rooted in her own life journey. Growing up in a home setting she described as dysfunctional and abusive, she began attending GAs at First Baptist Church of Fairborn at age 11 while staying with an aunt. A family in the church befriended her and took her in, eventually becoming her adoptive family.
“I started in GAs by coming on the bus ministry,” Howell recalled. “What I saw was people that were living out a life that was so much different than mine. I had a yearning for the peace and the happiness I saw in people at that church.
“To see how people would go out and they would share Jesus with others, I was like, that would be awesome,” she said. “I went more and more on Wednesday nights and I went through GAs and Acteens.
“Acteens was the major focus in my life that really turned my life around and gave me a personal relationship with Christ,” she affirmed. “I accepted Jesus as my Savior in 1985 and have been with Him ever since. I’ve come full circle from being a student in GAs, loving missions and going into leading missions. It’s a big desire of my heart.”
Shining light in the darkness
Fast forward to 2020 and Howell is seeking to provide those same life-impacting opportunities for her GA girls even during these unusual days. Drawing on her professional background as a counselor, she voiced concerns about the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on children and youth coping with the pandemic.
“I think we’re going to deal with that for many years down the road,” she cautioned. “They’re going to need somebody to talk to. I want to be available to help get them through this.
“The fear of the unknown can stop you where you’re at or it can be a pathway to something new and amazing,” she added. “We’re currently working on how to be ‘on mission’ in their neighborhoods. This has included them writing notes to friends to let them know they are missed and to see if they have any prayer requests.
“The biggest thing that we teach in missions education is to tell others about Jesus,” she emphasized. “Right now, most of that is just in their home. I pray daily that my girls will see an opportunity every day to do something positive for others in their family.”
During her recent one-woman parade, her GAs “were genuinely excited and you could just tell that they were happy to see somebody else besides Mom and their sisters and brothers,” Howell said with a laugh. “They all had made notes for me. It was a blessing to me as much as I know it was to them because I saw it in their faces.”
Noting that “it was really hard not going up and grabbing them and giving them a hug,” she said she felt prompted “just to let them know that we can get outside of our comfort zones and still be the light that this world needs” – even if it’s from a safe social distance for now.
By Trennis Henderson, WMU National Correspondent