Holly McConnell might not have a crystal-clear view of where she’ll end up in this life, but one thing is perfectly clear — God will lead her there.
God has given the 16-year-old Gate City High School junior a heart for mission work, taken her to South Africa, and he’s taking her back to the African continent later this year, this time to Uganda.
It wasn’t until last summer that McConnell felt the tug toward international missions. A band student, she had considered a career in music, maybe working as a music teacher. But God told her otherwise, she said.
“Last summer, I felt that mission work was what I was supposed to do. God was really telling me ... I needed to do missions,” she said.
She had done mission work in Alabama and has served as a leader at CrossRoads Camp and Conference Center near Lynchburg, Va. But she still felt like she was called to go farther.
“I prayed and asked God,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. It matters what God is doing.”
Last December, she and three others from Gate City joined a missionary for a 10-day stay in South Africa’s most populated city, where they worked at a church and an orphanage. At the time, McConnell was attending First Baptist Church of Gate City.
“In her youth group at First Baptist, the only thing she was interested in was international missions,” said Holly’s dad Bob McConnell.
Now attending Cowan’s Branch Missionary Baptist Church, McConnell had been seeking God’s will about another trip. She wanted to go to Ethiopia because she sponsors a Compassion International child there.
“I wanted to meet him. I felt God was telling me to go somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where,” she said. “I said, ‘God where do you want me to go? Is it really Ethiopia?’”
Turns out, it wasn’t. McConnell was led to an organization called Restoration Gateway in Uganda. This ministry, born in 2004 on 500 acres overlooking the Nile River, is led by missionaries Tim and Janice McCall and ministers to people who have experienced the horrors of the Lord’s Resistance Army — a brutal rebel group that abducted between 30,000 and 60,000 children and forced them to serve as soldiers, slaves and wives — and the AIDS epidemic. Restoration Gateway has more than 70 orphans, eight house moms, a primary school staff, seven senior Ugandan employees and more than 70 employees who are mostly unskilled and uneducated.
McConnell will lead a team of four to Uganda this winter. Accompanying her on the three-week trip will be Lindsey Thacker and Hunter McDavid, Gate City High School students who joined her in South Africa.
Also making the trip will be her dad. “My girl has been called to this, and I knew I was a roadblock,” he said. “I didn’t want her to go. But I was called to be a father and empower her. ... I cannot stop her from doing what God wants her to do.”
McConnell is considering meeting her high school graduation requirements early so she will be ready for whatever God has planned for her. She’s doesn’t know yet if college is part of the plan.
“I just follow God every step of the way,” she said. “If I had to guess, I’d say I’ll end up living in Africa. I feel like I was created to love those people. God calls us to make disciples of all nations.”
She admits that if she does move to Africa, she will miss her family and the comforts of home. But she also knows that to truly follow Christ, you have to sacrifice your comforts.
“God says I can’t stay comfortable. I have to get out of my comfort zone and follow Him. I want to reach the point where I love Him so much that everything else doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re not all called to give up everything. We’re all called to be willing and follow Him wherever He may lead.”
McConnell and her team are currently raising funds for the Uganda trip. They’ve held a yard sale and are planning other opportunities for people to support them, including during an upcoming service at First Baptist Church of Gate City, and during an upcoming gospel singing at Cowan’s Branch. Dates for those events haven’t been set. Chick-fil-A will support the trip from 4 to 8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 30. Chick-fil-A customers must say they’re there for the Uganda mission trip.
McConnell also sells bracelets through Threads of Hope, an outreach helping people living in impoverished areas in the Philippines. Half of the proceeds from the sale of the handmade bracelets go to Threads of Hope; the other half will help fund the Uganda trip.
For more information or to make a donation, e-mail to email@example.com, or call McConnell’s mom, Kristen McConnell, at (423) 389-6401.
Visit McConnell’s blog at http://thebarefootvagabond.wordpress.com/.