“Every Sunday, I get to stand behind my [middle-school] students as they worship," said Mishel Browning, senior Spiritual Formation major and Global Ministries minor. "Standing behind them and watching them sing and dance and praise the Lord -- every time, I think it's a glimpse of Heaven.”
When Browning enrolled at Lincoln Christian University as an education major, she knew that God was calling her to work with Children. “I thought education was the route to take,” she said. But after her first field observation — a seventh-grade math class — Browning realized the classroom wasn’t for her. “I loved the kids,” she said, “but I couldn’t imagine planning lessons for the rest of my life.” Browning began looking for another major. She soon landed on Spiritual Formation. How her studies would connect with kids she didn’t quite know. That is, until her first Restoration Week trip.
She was initially hesitant about visiting House of Faith (a religious nonprofit focused on serving at-risk, under-resourced kids and their families in San Angelo, Texas) because she didn’t know anyone going on the trip. When she got there, however, the doubts melted away. “It was super hot outside, and we were playing kickball with the kids,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I never feel more freedom than when I’m with students, especially middle school or a younger age. When you’re playing around, there are no barriers, they just love each other.'” She realized that ministering to kids can happen in all different contexts — not just in the classroom.
Back at Lincoln Christian, she began pursuing middle school ministry. A mentor at a nearby church connected her with a small group of middle school girls, and Browning agreed to serve as their small-group leader. At the time, Browning was entering her sophomore year at LCU. Her students were in sixth grade. This year, they’re going into eighth grade. “My students are gifts,” Browning said.
Through her studies at LCU and her experience in ministry, Browning has developed a love for ministering to middle schoolers, a love that stems from the similarities she sees between them and herself. “I see so many parallels,” she said, laughing. “We’re both kind of weird and we’re both in transition and we’re both trying to figure life out.”
As a small-group leader, Browning strives to equip her students to take ownership of their faith. “I want to help them believe that they’re not just the future of tomorrow,” she said. “They’re the leaders of today.” Browning and her supervisors treat the students like that. Of the nearly 400 students who are actively involved with her church’s ministry, a core group leads everything from worship singing to Communion.
“Middle schoolers don’t have to wait until they get older to really make a difference. They already are,” said Browning. “They may think they’re small and unimportant, but that’s not true. I tell them, ‘God still loves us, even when we’re in the midst of some of the weirdest parts of our lives. The Lord sees us, even when other people tell us that we’re small or not important.'”