The seed of this ministry began in the early 1940s when a young missionary couple was appointed to Nigeria, West Africa. They arrived in early 1944. Mary Katharine, their first child, was born later that year as her parents, Rev. Dr. E. Milford Howell and Eleanor Katharine Howell, RN, were engaged in missionary service to the Delta area of Nigeria. They answered the desperate call of the people in the Delta State of southeast Nigeria. It was in the strategically located village of Eku that Mrs. Howell began in a one room mud hut, a medical clinic. Rev. Howell as the missionary advisor began to teach the national pastors, preach the gospel throughout the area and building churches and schools, as well as preparing a site to address the healing ministry of medicine and loving care. As the clinic grew, Rev. Dr. Howell saw the need for permanent buildings for a hospital and began to oversee the design and construction for a facility.
This is now the Eku Baptist Hospital, a 150-bed institution with a compound of over 70 acres. It was carved out of a rubber plantation by the village of Eku because they so much wanted to have Christian medical treatment for this area. It became a magnet for drawing people to experience the love of Christian medical and spiritual care from the area, Nigeria, and from other countries in Africa. The fruit of these seeds continue to produce a harvest. The pioneering spirit of the Howells, the push through the jungle and bush to the isolated villages, the canoe trips down the crocodile infested rivers, the bicycle and walking paths to teach, preach, and heal those in need of God’s love and message, were the influences in which Mary Kay was raised.
This clinic grew into what is now the Eku Baptist Hospital, a 150 bed institution with a compound of over 70 acres. It was carved out of a rubber plantation by the village of Eku because they so much wanted to have Christian medical treatment for this area. It became a magnet for drawing people to experience the love of Christian medical and spiritual care from the area, Nigeria as a whole, and from other countries in Africa. The fruit of these seeds continue to produce a harvest. The pioneering spirit of the Howells, the push through the jungle and bush to the isolated villages, the canoe trips down the crocodile infested rivers, the bicycle and walking paths to teach, preach, and heal those in need of God’s love and message, were the influences in which Mary Kay was raised.
Eku was her village, and she was known as Omoteko, child of Eku. This was the first white child that many in the area had ever seen. She would tell people at a young age that she was “not a missionary kid, but a kid missionary.” The desire to preach the Gospel of Good News in Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls was a heritage from her father. Her mother’s kindness, gentleness, compassion, bravery, and the desire to see people’s whole spirit, soul, and body are the results of spending those early days interacting with them on those early ministering trips. When the hospital was built and missionary doctors were on site, Mary Kay was more involved with the care of the medical needs of the people whether in the wards, helping in OB, or the surgery room. There was always time for all of us to be soul winning and working with a full staff of chaplains to disciple the new Christians and help them as they returned to their villages in which many would start churches. At its peak there would be 100s weekly to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
This was home to Mary Kay. At 15 and due to the missionary board policy, she had to return to the states to complete her high school education. It was a traumatic time to leave family, to go to a strange country, and to experience a completely different culture. It was at this stage that “the Dream of a Missionary Kid” began to form. Grasping the grass on the tarmac at the Lagos Airport she dreamed of returning someday to help the people of Eku and her people of Nigeria.
The hospital has spawned multiple ministries outreaches that continue today. Rev. Howell started what was a teaching school for pastors that has now become an accredited Seminary in Eku that provides advanced education for around 200 pastors and their wives and families. He oversaw the establishing and building of over a 100 churches in the area while it was still under British rule. An accredited Nursing School is on the Eku Baptist Compound and is a full four year curriculum with nearly 300 students. A Leprosy Colony was started in the mid 1950’s within 5 miles of the village. It continues today and offers an outreach to “hug the unhuggable,” as society considers them. This is a place that Mary Kay loves to visit and minister a tangible hug of love.
Works from those early seeds continue to grow. In 2007, Walking in Love Ministries agreed to support the childhood vision for a much-needed center for outreach to the orphans and widows of Eku and the surrounding area of Rev. Richard Obororakpor, the Eku Baptist Hospital chaplain. There was not an orphanage in the area. His vision took hold with the ability to purchase land, rent a house for resident orphans, and begin construction on a multi-use 6000 sq. ft. building. In 2011 he had the dedication of the permanent building and site location. Shepherd Care Orphanage and Widows Center is now operating. There are over 100 orphan children participating. Some of the older children are fostered to willing families or live with needy widows to help them. Over 200 widows and orphans are helped daily with food, medical care, skill training, Bible studies and prayer. An outgrowth of this work is Bender Schools of Shepherd Care, a Christian based education facility that will teach the orphans and open to families that want a good Christian education for their children. A K-2nd grade level began in 2011. It is now a K-12 school.
Since 2005, God continues to make available support for ministering to Feeding the Hungry, the Leper Colony, the Handicapped, Youth Evangelism, Media Evangelism, Church Evangelism, Market Place Evangelism, Medical teams, Clean Water Wells, Conferences for pastors, women, and youth.