In May of 2008, I packed my bags and moved to Madill, Oklahoma to live with thirty teenage girls for two months at the Oklahoma Baptist Girls Home. Jokingly my parents told everyone they were sending me to the Girls Home because of my bad behavior. But the real reason I went was to give my time to serve girls as a summer missionary.
My mission was to share with the girls the love of God. It was pretty much one big slumber party – painting nails, styling hair, and watching girly movies all summer long. I worked as an event coordinator, writer, speaker, and model. Everyday was filled with laughter and learning and frequent trips to Sonic.
My job was not easy. I discovered that girls are very mean and sometimes I don’t like them. I was driven crazy having to live in the middle of nowhere with no friends and no classes, completely out of my comfort zone. I had an identity crisis about halfway through the summer. I was constantly being mistaken for one of the girls and often treated like a teenager. The youth minister asked me what grade I was in one Sunday at church and I watched his jaw drop as I told him I was a junior…in college.
I felt as if we were shut off from the rest of the world. It took a while to figure out what exactly was expected of me. But when I changed my focus from all that I couldn’t do this summer to seeing the power I had to make a difference in the lives of the girls, I began to see my purpose. I was able to teach the girls and watch them grow, as well as grow myself.
The girls at the home are all unique in their own ways. Several of the girls I thought I had nothing in common with were the ones who I connected with most. Some of them wanted a friend to talk to, others wanted a swimming buddy, and some girls just wanted a hug each morning when they came to breakfast. Some girls I found myself drawn to, and others it took work to reach out to. I found myself being challenged and stretched, something that I needed. I wanted to be everything I could for them, while pointing them to Jesus Christ.
The girls’ unique backgrounds and personalities resulted in the many different difficulties they each faced. Each girl carried around emotional baggage from the past that she wrestled with on a daily basis. Some had been abused or neglected; others had behavioral problems. It can be very hard to move on and have hope of a bright future when you have been hurt emotionally or physically. I could definitely relate to their struggles, having battled anxiety and depression myself.
The most prominent issue that every girl dealt with was self-image. My heart went out to them because I believe this is an issue that everyone struggles with no matter what age we may be. Each day, through television, books, billboards, and even people around us, we are constantly told the “right” way to look and act. We are led astray when we are made to believe we have to conform and make ourselves beautiful in the world’s eyes.
The amazing thing is that God’s word provides all the answers we need and gives us guidance to be able to discover our true identities in Him. My message to the girls this summer was that God sees each and every one of us as beautiful and He loves us just as we are. He designed us each with special talents, abilities, and a purpose.
I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to share my summer with the girls. My prayer then and now is that they can grasp the biblical concepts we taught them this summer, and that those ideas can become the foundation for their lives and their future. I hope my time with them is something that they will always remember. I know I will.