FREMONT, NE.-- It’s not a matter of age but a matter of faith for 16-year old Jessica Howard, who after being nurtured by the American Baptist (AB) Girls since she was in the third grade has now taken a step forward to become a leader in the National AB Girls Leadership Team.
Howard fully realized her potential and desire to serve AB Girls as a leader when she attended the National AB Gathering in Greenlake, Wis., in her freshman year of high school.
"I've always grown up in the church and God and the church have always been a major part of my life,” said Howard, who has been actively serving her local church, First Baptist Church, in Fremont for years.
“I felt a calling to do this and I felt this was part of my future, and that I needed to do it.”
AB girls, which ministers to girls and young women, offers Bible studies, fellowship and community service through four age groups: AB Girls of Joy for grades 3-5; AB Girls of Faith, grades 6-8; Young Women of Hope, grades 9-12: Young Women of Purpose, college age.
Jessica Howard has progressed up to the Young Women of Hope group. Baptist First Church is one of the few churches in Nebraska that has active members in all four age groups, around 36-40 girls total.
Howard wanted to apply for the position but wasn’t eligible until her sophomore year. Despite concerns her age would affect her candidacy, Howard took a leap of faith and filled out the long application, which included a section where she had to name the reasons why she should be chosen for the position.
"I'm a very organized person," she said. "I get things done when I say I'm going to do them. I get along with other people."
It didn’t really come to her how lucky she was to be one of the four young leaders installed in July 2003 at the AB Assembly in Greenlake.
"I was thinking how many older girls could have gotten it and how much more maybe they had to offer," she said.
After being called to a two-year term, Howard is now proving she is a responsible leader of the national team to serve Baptist girls nationwide. For five days in January, she met with adults and young members of the team in Rochester, N.Y., to update the 10-year old curriculum used by AB Girls.
She and other youth leaders also did a survey among the AB Girls nationwide to get a better feel for what they would like to see in the new curriculum.
"We just need to modernize it. Girls need something new and more appealing to them," she said.
"I hope they like it. We've put so much work into it so far. I hope they're able to understand that they aren't alone in the world - being Christians."
Already, she has learned a lot about what it takes to be a leader, even overcoming personal fears. "It has given me a sense of confidence. I can get up in front of people and talk," she said. "I got up and gave a speech (at church) and I was so terrified, but I did it." She also speaks to churches that do not have a AB Girls group.
But it seems like there will less for Howard to fear as she tackles bigger tasks, such as leading Bible studies for one of the peer groups among 2,000 students at the National AB Youth Conference in Estes Park, Colo. and planning the National AB Girls Gathering for 2005.
Even though by age Howard is considered a young leader, her faith suggests otherwise.
"I've grown in the Lord. I read a lot more of my Bible and do my daily devotions and pray about anything and everything," she said. "I'm not alone. God is here to help me and I think I understand that more now.