Missions discipleship is personal for Mary Lou Sinclair and her Acteens group — even amid a pandemic.
Sinclair has served as the Acteens director at Freeman Heights Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, for more than 20 years. During that time, five of her Acteens have been named National Acteens Panelists and three others have been selected as Top Teens.
They also have traveled extensively through the years to participate in missions trips, state and national Woman’s Missionary Union annual meetings and Blume, a national missions gathering for girls.
A close-knit group that reflects the church’s multicultural community, the Acteens describe themselves as family and thrive on frequent fellowship among the teens and their adult mentors. Based on their close connections, the sixth through 12th grade girls refuse to let coronavirus-induced social distancing and sheltering in place derail their missions and ministry focus.
Anticipating good things
“We can’t begin to understand what is happening right now,” Sinclair acknowledged, “but we, as Christians, can be sure that there will be some good that comes out of all of this.”
On a practical level, Sinclair asked Marisol Sandoval, one of Freeman Heights’ youth ministers, to set up virtual Acteens meetings online to keep the group connected.
Sandoval, a former Top Teen who grew up as a member of Sinclair’s Acteens, now serves alongside Sinclair as an Acteens leader.
In order to help transition the group’s meetings to video conferencing, “I had to learn everything I could about Zoom,” she said.
“It’s worked out pretty awesome. The girls are adapting well,” Sandoval added. “They want to be with us. They want to see us. They want to hear from us. It’s been really neat that we have the ability to use technology for our Acteens meetings.”
Sinclair said their virtual meetings still include several typical features such as “praying for people in our church, praying for national and state WMU, having our lesson and having Bible study.”
Along with using available tech options to stay in touch, the teens and their leaders also have been continuing with missions projects, such as a virtual prayer walk of their neighborhood using GPS mapping. They sewed protective masks for residents in area apartment buildings and sent letters of encouragement to members of a local Chinese Christian church in case they were feeling ostracized during this time.
Sinclair said the goal of the letters simply is to say to fellow Christians, “We’re praying for you, we’re so thankful that you’re here and safe and we want you to know that we care about you.”
As her Acteens navigate a new normal, Sinclair plays a huge role in encouraging their ongoing missions commitment.
“Mary Lou is one of those people who does whatever’s needed,” said Larry Venable, her longtime pastor at Freeman Heights. “What she has done with Acteens is fabulous, just teaching them spiritually, getting them involved in missions activity and growing. … She’s definitely captivated by her relationship with Christ and the gospel.”
While coping with social distancing, loneliness and disappointment, “I think there’s been a lot of growth spiritually,” Sandoval reflected.
“This has definitely taken us out of our comfort zone. We know from looking in the Bible that whenever we’re taken outside of our comfort zone, there’s growth and we learn to trust in God. We learn how important relationships are.
“It’s hard because we can’t really go and hug them,” she said. “That’s one of the hardest things for this social distancing because you just want to hug them and just comfort them and you have to trust God that He’s there to comfort them and love on them.”
‘God finds a way’
Before the current crisis erupted, Sinclair said she was involved in event planning with a group of state WMU leaders who “talked about being the hands of God and being able to use the tools that we have in our hands to do ministry.”
During a recent follow-up video conference call, “we talked about how the things in our hands are totally different than what they were before,” she said. “But God finds a way and we just have to be looking for how He can use us to do His ministry.”
Even amid the turmoil of a global pandemic, pursuing new and creative ministry opportunities is precisely what Freeman Heights’ Acteens continue to do — just as Mary Lou Sinclair has faithfully taught them.