A Testimony: Emma Howard
My name is Emma Leigh Howard.
And this is my story.
I was born and raised in the small, rural farm town of Greenville, Illinois.
No, that is nowhere close to Chicago.
Greenville is a little town of approximately 7,000 (including the federal prisoners) located along the Mississippi River, 45 minutes east of St. Louis, Missouri.
I grew up in a stable home with my mom, dad, and younger brother. We went to church on a regular basis at the local First United Methodist church and became pretty involved. I was baptized as a baby, and in middle school, I was confirmed and became a member of the congregation.
My parents always supported me in everything I did. We had a loving, caring home. I was so blessed to have encouraging parents who loved and cared for me so much. (Thanks mom and dad!)
One of my fondest memories growing up was attending Beulah Holiness Camp in Elderado, Illinois. Every year I would pack my bags and bedding and head to the Kentucky/Illinois border to a little old run down campground to learn and love the Lord. This is also where I came to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior, during an altar call at Bible Camp when I was 12 years old.
I was a “do it all” kid; I played volleyball, soccer, and softball. I was in choir, select choir, band, pep band and was the drum major (conductor) for the marching band. I performed in the school musicals and was the assistant director for the school play. I mean, I don’t even remember sleeping in high school.
While I succeeded in almost every way in my high school years, I struggled immensely with depression and self harm.
Beginning my junior year, I battled with my own mind for control over my thoughts and feelings after being sexually assaulted by a peer, which manifested itself in destructive behavior.
An internal battle with external wounds.
At the time, it was the only way I knew how to cope. An escape. An outlet for things I was feeling and the sense of hopelessness that had crept its way into my life.
I won’t go into great detail in consideration of those who may be battling depression and self-destructive behaviors.
Five years later, two years of Christian college, a marriage, and a kid later, I still battle depression and self harm.
For the longest time I kept telling myself that my battle with self harm was a thing of the past; a mistake I made when I was young and impulsive. Each I time that I did it again, I told myself it was a one time thing.
Over. And over. And over again.
My first year of college, I battled the depression without the self harm. I was fortunate enough to walk onto the Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcat Softball team. That program and community of women after God was such a blessing to me and my health.
My second year of college, I transferred to Cincinnati Christian University to study Urban & Intercultural Ministry (and also chase a boy).
I was running cross country in the fall and playing softball (first year program) in the spring.
Depression and anxiety came after me hard at CCU. I had a season-ending injury after my second race during cross country season, which ended up affecting me greatly during softball season. My athletic trainer noticed that I was struggling to breathe while practicing indoors, and recognized it to be an anxiety disorder. I began seeing a sports psychologist.
This was just the beginning of my recovery process. It took a considerable amount of time for me to admit to myself, and my psychologist, that I was struggling with these intrusive thoughts. And I still wasn’t being completely honest.
But in time, I realized the totality of my condition; that, when repeated, “one time mistakes” are actually an addiction. Repeating said actions were relapses.
And I was addicted to the pain.
There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5
In the midst of our sufferings, God is on the move.
Okay, let’s rewind a little.
Summer of 2014. I had just graduated high school. I decided to go on my second mission trip with the Greenville First United Methodist Mission Team (I even designed the shirts, thank you very much)
This trip was life changing for me. I still remember entering the city limits of Washington DC, looking out the windows, seeing all of the hustle and bustle and thinking,
This is where I belong.
Through the course of the week, we worked with Age In Place; a nonprofit that helps the elderly in the area with basic household tasks so they don’t have to move into an assisted living residence,
City Gate; a summer day camp for inner city kids in one of the poorest districts, dedicated to giving the youth an alternative to the hardship of home life,
and a new church plant.
The church planter shared his story with us. How God had never placed a specific call for his life, but instead he lived each day open to whatever God is calling him to. One day he was praying and God told him to pick up his family, and move from California to DC to plant a church. So he did.
And when he shared that, something just clicked. All of a sudden it made sense; all of the little seeds being planted here and there leading to the Holy Spirit led light bulb.
Urban ministry. That’s it. Church planting and urban missions.
Fast forward to the next summer.
Summer of 2015. I had finished my first year of college at Indiana Wesleyan University with the intention to transfer to Cincinnati Christian University the next fall to study Urban Ministry.
This was also the season of life in which my dad was undergoing his surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
It touches everyone’s life in one way or another, it seems.
And that summer the word cancer took on a whole new meaning for me.
At the end of May, I was due to arrive at Kids Across America Kamp and spend my very first summer there as a Komo (kitchen/dining hall worker). It just so happened that my dad’s surgery was scheduled for the same week I had to leave.
I still remember stopping at the hospital to see him on my way to KAA.
Hey mom, how is he?
“He’s doing okay. He can’t talk because of all the tubes.”
Can I see him?
”He doesn’t want you to see him like this. But thanks for coming to see us.”
The next 5 hour drive was spent bawling my eyes out. I was about to spend 7 weeks away from home at a camp I’d never been to before, with no one I knew.
And I knew when I got back my dad would never be quite the same.
Upon arriving at KAA (U KNOW!) I was greeted by a total stranger jumping into the passenger seat of my car with a ninja outfit and foam sword in hand.
”Are you ready?”
Ready for what?
”To kill the zombies.”
So I did. I got of the car and slayed all the zombies.
Welcome to KAA.
And everything there after was just as hype. Kids Across America is an urban ministry camp that equips and establishes Christian leaders in urban communities. It’s a beautiful place filled with amazing people chasing after the Lord.
This summer was the most challenging for my faith, but yet the most rewarding. I made lifetime friendships, learned to put God first, others second, myself third,
And this is where I met my husband, Michael.
I found a man after God’s own heart, with a call to church planting in the city.
It was wrap.
It was hard. Walking with the Lord and being obedient in the midst of pain and trial is so hard.
But God’s grace and goodness is too powerful to ignore; in a time of hardship He gave me a strong, loving, accepting community that supported me throughout all of my dad’s treatment, even when I left. He gave me a group of young women chasing after God as aspiring P31s (Proverbs 31 women).
He gave me my future spouse and ministry.
And since then I’ve been using my struggle, my story, to relate to others who have the same struggles.
Because guess what?
You are never alone.
Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy. Zephaniah 3:17
Somewhere, someone else is struggling with ___________.
Bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, depression, anxiety, panic, suicidal thoughts, homosexuality, lust, porn, anger, pride, drug addiction, alcoholism.
Whatever your “blank” is, God has used it for His good and furthering His kingdom before, and He loves you so much that He will do the same for you too.
You there, feeling completely unworthy, too shameful and dirty.
God looks at you as blameless, innocent.
He loves you.
He wants you.
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:16-17
Choose today to stop hiding behind shame and guilt. Those feelings are not of God, but of the enemy.
Be bold, dear child of God.
You are so loved.
If you feel God stirring in you, moving your heart for urban church planting, or just want more info on where we are now, you can visit our website and contact us at greaterhope.church.