By Kaylee Sims
Shelby Franklin Howell is a local insurance coordinator for Oxford Dental who, as a missionary, is dedicated to something greater than herself.
In March of 2016, Howell went on her first mission trip to an orphanage in the Philippines. It became an instant passion and she has been traveling back to visit the same children ever since.
The children of the orphanage she visits are her favorite part of mission work, she says. Because Howell has returned for four years straight, she has had the privilege of forming special relationships with them. She has also witnessed how Jesus has worked through them and in their lives.
“There honestly is nothing more joyful than watching people live without Jesus for all of their lives and struggle miserably, to watching the same people live with Jesus and have the same amenities live so much more purposely,” Howell said.
Building meaningful relationships that will last a lifetime on these trips always seems to happen easily for her. However, Howell explained there is a lot of preparation and funding that must go into a mission trip.
“You have to know what the needs are, you have to fundraise for the money, you have to prioritize what are the most important needs…. You will never be able to do it all, but you can do something,” she said.
There is no doubt mission trips overseas are expensive. Howell has hosted many events and fundraisers in the last four years across northeast Mississippi. Even though it can be tough to fundraise the large sum of money a mission trip requires, Howell said when you have 45 kids depending on you for breakfast and an education, “there is nothing you wouldn’t do.”
Howell also says missionaries don’t have to cross the ocean in order to be a role model. Local communities, like Oxford, donating their time or money to a fundraising event helps in more ways than they know.
“There is absolutely no way any missionary could go across the ocean and do everything they do without the support of those around them,” Howell said.
From 2016 to 2018, Howell mostly traveled on these mission trips with church groups or other local people she did not meet until those trips. Sometimes she would travel by herself so she could fully devote herself to the children with no distractions. But, Howell’s life got unexpectedly better when she went on a trip to her beloved orphanage in March of 2018 and met the love of her life.
Howell’s husband, Garrison, a youth minister in Ripley, Mississippi, is now her forever mission trip partner.
“My favorite thing is just seeing that God gave us the same passion. Nothing makes me happier while taking these trips than looking beside me and seeing the person I love most and getting to do what God has called us to do,” Garrison said.
The pair have big dreams of opening their own orphanage together in the future. While their dreams are to mostly help children overseas, they do want to start mission work in Oxford due to its many resources.
The Howells described Oxford as a great and supportive community and they hope to find others in the community who share the same passion for missions as they do. By doing so, they want to build enough support for locals to get involved through funding or mission teams.
“Some people are called to do domestic work right in their backyards and some are called to go across the ocean,” Howell said.
Howell and her husband highly encourage anyone considering taking a mission trip to do so.
“Don’t think about all the reasons you can’t or all the reasons you shouldn’t or all the reasons this isn’t the right time for you. Take a leap and just go because God didn’t tell us to sit down and be still. He said go,” she said.
Howell also explained that it’s almost impossible for someone to go on a mission trip, do God’s work, see people surrender their lives to Jesus and then come home just to regret it. It is an experience like no other that is truly humbling.
“The connections I’ve made with the people and kids is something that I will take with me forever. I’ve gained a whole new perspective on people. It has allowed me to see people as Jesus (did.) To love them as He would, not as how the world would. Also, it’s where I asked my wife to marry me. One of the best moments of my life,” Garrison said.
Howell and her husband pray for God to guide them to their next step in their journey. They also pray for people who share their passion of mission work to be placed around them.
“We love Oxford and hope that we will be able to use our home here to help our home across the ocean,” she said.