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Howard’s mission: Africa
Former FHS athlete puts C-N softball aside for missionary task

Despite impressive stats and league honors as a true freshman college athlete, Jessie Howard’s No. 1 mission at Carson-Newman isn’t softball. Not even academics. Her mission is serving Jesus.

Think it’s just convenient “God talk?” Well, follow her to Africa.

“I’ve always been interested in missions overseas, and I really wanted to experience God in a different culture,” said Howard, a former Farragut High School standout third baseman, about her two-week mission trip to Kollo, Niger June 4-20. “We have churches a certain way that we worship here, and I know that it’s going to be completely different serving God and also worshipping God in an African culture.

“I know that in the Bible we’re called as Christians to go and serve … I think I would be obedient going on a mission trip.”

The International Mission Board, in connection with the Southern Baptist Convention, sponsors the 16-day trip to Kollo. Howard, 18, was accepted for the trip based on filling out an application, which included an essay. She’s among a 7-student college team “from across the country.”

Specifically, “We’re going to be walking the streets and talking to people about our religion,” Howard said. “... There’s a ton of power in prayer. One day we could be, like, praying with children in an orphanage, or praying around the halls where we’ll be staying. And the next day, we could be working with, like, the government, and, like, … community activities.

“Apparently there are a lot of people that come up to you if they notice you are different, ’cause they say the people love Americans, and they can see that you’re different, so they’ll want to talk to you,” Howard added. “Ask why you’re here, what you’re doing, ’cause it’s a very small town. … We wouldn’t be, like, forcing a conversation.”

Under the direction of the Rev. Jim Bradford, youth minister at Faith Promise Church for five years, Howard and other church youth took a mission trip to Jamaica last summer. “I grew up in a church that’s very evangelical … they encourage mission trips overseas,” Howard said.

In Jamaica, “We built a house for some people,” Howard said. “I noticed in Jamaica, you’d see people hanging around and they’d wave at you and talk to you because they knew you were here for a different reason. … The majority of people were really interested in [Christianity].”

Bradford, now an interim pastor at a local church, labeled Howard “a strong Christian young lady, mature in her faith. Well-rounded.”

As for her commitment to Africa, “I think it’s understanding something bigger than yourself, something bigger than temporary existence that’s eternal and about changing lives and giving to other people,” he said. “She has definitely got leadership qualities and a passion for other people to know the word and understand what Jesus Christ has done for them.”

Jennifer Ellis, Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader for college-age adults in Howard’s adopted church in Jefferson City, Mill Springs Baptist Church, said Howard is “very energetic and a very giving young lady. She just has a bright light in her eye, and it’s just a great pleasure to be around her.

“She definitely stands out,” Ellis added. “She’s dedicated to her work and she loves people and she just has the gift of service.”

Howard’s home of worship “since middle school” has been Faith Promise Church off Pellissippi Parkway. “Just a few months being there, I learned what it truly meant to be a Christian and accept Jesus Christ as my Savior,” Howard said. “I met a core group of Christian friends, and we built each other up and kept each other accountable.”

Happy with the Christian atmosphere at Carson-Newman, a Baptist college in Jefferson City, Howard’s athletic accomplishments were numerous at the NCAA Division II school — especially for a rookie: a First Team All-South Atlantic Conference third baseman who led the league in batting average (.441), on-base percentage (.480), runs scored per game (1.36) and stolen bases per game (.68).

As for how athletics and her faith relate, “I’ve been learning a lot about that my freshman year, I’ve been searching a lot for the answers about, what the point of playing softball is,” the 5-foot-5 standout said. “I believe fully God has given people the talent and the ability to play a sport. … So they can have the ability to tell people about Him and tell other people just what he’s done for you.

“I believe the reason I am playing softball is that I can be on a team and share my faith … I think He’s using me to reach people in athletics.” Howard added. “… There’s a lot of girls on the team that have the same kind of outlook that I do.”

Among “three of four” other C-N softball freshmen and Fellowship of Christian Athletes members who “have the same belief” as Howard, “we came in standing firm on what we believe,” Howard said. “I think the rest of the team saw that, and respected us for who we were and saw that we were different.

“We’ve all been able to get along. And we’ve had some great conversations on the bus rides … and in the dorm room. We’ve actively tried to witness to people on our team.”

Teammates “who aren’t strong in their faith respect what we believe,” Howard said.

Vickie Kazee-Hollifield, C-N head coach, said Howard “was able to impact our team, number one, by her athletic ability.

“But something more important, above her athletic ability in my eyes, was her spiritual influence. She just walks a Christian pilgrimage every day of her life. That is what Jessie, first and foremost, strives to do.

“Jessie is just a great example, and role model, to others, and for other teams to see that,” the coach added. “But she’s hard-nosed on the field and plays extremely hard.”

About witnessing, “Jessie has a burden for the lost, and I think she truly wants to be in the center of God’s will,” the coach said.

The Lady Eagles finished the 2007 season 35-16, including one win in NCAA regional play.

Although noting that Howard still has to develop a “keener eye” and draw more walks, plus improve her defense, “she’s come in and made great strides,” the coach said. “But it was a learning process for her, the game is much faster, the kids are a lot stronger.”

Softball itself “was a huge adjustment,” Howard said about a rigorous schedule she adjusted to by second semester allowing more campus involvement beyond classes and softball.

A close friend since sixth-grade, and through FHS, remains so at Carson-Newman.

“Jesse Stephens is one of my best friends,” Howard said about the C-N freshman, a former Lady Admiral All-state soccer star now on the Lady Eagles’ soccer team. “We’ve stayed close. We can always count on each other about problems we’re having.”

Kollo can count on Howard.


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