Brittany Howard took a life-changing trip to Africa six years ago.
In December, the pastor’s daughter is heading back to the continent for a much longer stay.
Howard spent 18 days in Rwanda in 2014 and knew she always wanted the chance to return. Earlier this year, the opportunity presented itself once again and the 2009 Triton High School graduate pounced. Only this time, Howard signed up for an entire year.
“I always wanted to go back,” Howard, 29, said. “I had prayed for the opportunity to return. I wasn’t sure how long it would be, but I would at least try and get back there.”
While taking a walk back in January, Howard prayed for some direction on the new year and her desire to continue what she started. Within a few days, Howard received the answer she was looking for.
“I was thinking about Africa and said ‘Lord, if you want me to go back this year, I need you to have someone contact me about it,’” Howard recalled. “Three days later, the mission in Africa called and said he had prayed for me to come and teach here, and asked me if I would write a letter to come. That’s how it started. It was pretty miraculous.”
Howard faced some tough decisions as her prayer drew closer to reality. In addition to leaving her friends, family and job as a 911 dispatcher in Cumberland County, Howard also realized the costs of spending a year on the other side of the world.
“I think it was hard for them to swallow at first, but they were supportive,” said Howard. “The general consensus was that it would happen at some point in time. Now that it’s getting closer, it’s a little more real. I think they were all just surprised about the timing and how fast everything happened. There have been a lot of different emotions. Everyone is excited, but it’s also hard.”
Howard grew up around the church, but her faith took a little time to develop. Howard’s father, Doug, is the pastor at Taylors Chapel Church of God of Prophecy and helped his daughter raise money for her first venture across the Atlantic Ocean. When she finally discovered her calling, Howard knew her future would focus on helping others.
“I didn’t really develop a relationship with the Lord until I was 13,” Howard said. “I started to do my ministry and have been doing it ever since. So much is going through my mind. I’m very excited about going. My heart breaks because I wish I could have everything I love in one place and take everyone with me, but of course going by myself there are some concerns about being lonely. I have a lot of anticipation.”
Members of the church rallied to her cause and jumped into fundraising mode. Debra Barefoot met the Howard family 10 years ago and immediately recognized the passion Brittany showed for her ministry. Barefoot and others helped organize several fundraisers and have another planned for Nov. 20 at Pizza Inn, where sales proceeds will go toward the Africa trip.
“She is an inspiration, even to somebody my age,” Barefoot said. “Even at 19, she was a big inspiration to people. You see kids who go to church, but when you see Brittany or hear her preach, it’s all real, just like her dad. She affects all ages with the faith she has in God.”
Born in Dunn, Howard graduated from the University of Mount Olive and Grand Canyon University. She spent her time in Africa the first go around teaching and ministering to local children, and plans to revisit the same area when she returns. The prospect of seeing familiar faces after six years added to Howard’s already budding excitement.
“It was very eye-opening,” said Howard of her 2014 trip. “I learned a lot about people and I learned a lot about myself. I also did some humanitarian stuff for some villages that weren’t able to feed the people who never even had bread before, so that was really humbling. It was different because I didn’t speak the language, so we had to learn how to communicate in other ways. I’ll be living on a compound that is a home to children, so I’m going to be around a lot of older kids. Some of them I know because they were there before. I’m really excited about building a relationship with them and mentoring them. That’s probably my biggest excitement.”
COVID-19 created a few months of uncertainty, especially over the summer when Rwanda imposed strict measures to control the spread of the virus. With only 200 active cases, Howard said the country finally eased some of its restrictions that paved the way to her return.
“We had to play it by ear for awhile,” Howard said. “It’s almost eradicated in Rwanda. They were very strict with their rules. The borders were shut down, everything was kind of closed and they weren’t letting anyone in. But now that it’s almost gone, they have let up a lot of those boundaries. Between April and August there was a big push about how this would happen.”
Howard expressed some concern about being alone for such a long period of time, but she doesn’t fear for her safety.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any more dangerous than Fayetteville,” said Howard. “It’s just like here in that there are places you don’t go at night or by yourself. It’s not really a dangerous part of Africa.”
Barefoot said friends and family plan to continue their fundraising efforts all year, so they can send Howard as much money as possible during her stay. Howard posted a link to Helping Hand Ministry on her Facebook page for anyone interested in making a donation.
A little bit older and a little bit wiser, Howard said this next trip offered an opportunity to really make a difference.
“I really would like to be a catalyst for the future for the kids,” Howard said. “I want to help them break a lot of those generational curses of poverty and things like that.”
Second chances don’t come around often. Howard plans to make the most out of hers.
Anyone interested in donating to the Nov. 20 bake sale, can contact Connie Howard at 910-890-3460 or Barefoot at 910-237-2294.
-Dunn Daily Record