Greensburg woman touches many in mission to Africa
By Kaylie Harper
Published: Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 6:34 p.m.
Autumn Miller of Greensburg experienced a transformation on the way to an environmental science degree at California University of Pennsylvania,
After much prayer and soul searching, she canceled plans to teach forest restoration in Madagascar.
“I was hoping to end up deep in the forest somewhere that would be far, far away from human contact, but God was rapidly changing my heart... ,” said Miller, 22. “My new desire was to go to people around the world and tell them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The word that overwhelmed my mind was ‘missions.'”
Miller, who had recently joined Gospel Alliance Church in Rostraver, sought help finding a mission group that accepted interns. An assistant pastor connected her to Envisions, a Christian Missionary Alliance organization that sent her to Ensenada, Mexico, in the summer of 2012.
That's where a youth pastor and his wife convinced Miller to follow her heart to Africa, where they were moving to do mission work in Burkina Faso, the former Republic of Upper Volta. “I ended up coming here to work for the established Envision site. If I hadn't met them, I would've never heard of this small country in West Africa,” Miller said.
The 2009 graduate of Greensburg Salem High School is working on different projects in small villages there. She earned her bachelor's degree in December 2012 and then worked to raise more than $18,000 for expenses before departing in June.
“My husband and I have raised both of our girls not to be afraid to move away — and travel the world perhaps — because he and I were both born and raised here,” said her mother, Janice Miller. “However, when Autumn first told me she felt God was leading her to Africa, I joked and said, ‘God called me and said he was just kidding.' Autumn should be back in June 2014, but I keep saying she will find a way to stay longer.”
Miller aids several ministries, including the Tabitha Center in the poorest sector of the capital, Ouagadougou. The center teaches women, mainly Muslim widows, about the Bible, along with sewing and creating crafts such as jewelry, soap and dolls.
“The women showed me love immediately upon my arrival,” Miller said. “They also showed me acceptance by plopping their babies on my lap and letting me hold them.”
Also dear to her heart is Dorcas House, a home for at-risk girls that empowers them as “agents of change” in a country where fewer than 15 percent of girls graduate from high school.
Miller participates in food distributions through local churches. She teaches the Bible to high school girls as part of an English-speaking international youth group whose members represent approximately 14 countries. Through Envision, Miller works with teams building church hangars so pastors can accommodate Christians coming from neighboring villages.
“Burkina is mostly a Muslim country, so for us to go into the village and support the Christian pastor is a huge deal,” Miller said. “It shows that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ all the way across the world. I love seeing these hangars go up, not only because it gives the Christians somewhere to worship, but because these structures are metal and will last them a very long time. Many of their buildings are made with mud brick and need rebuilt each year.”
Their modern equipment draws large crowds so they play the “Jesus Film” on a large screen using a projector. Miller visits an orphanage several times each month simply to play with the children and show them affection.
“I love to be able to look at a sweet orphan child, ask them their name in their native language, and have them actually understand me,” said Miller. “The first time it happened, my heart fell to the floor in awe. I love that I can be there to give them special attention.”
She assisted as 100 kids at a village school received their first physicals. She collected urine samples, checked vision and measured height and weight.
Miller got to help with two TOMS shoes distributions. The Santa Monica company, through its nonprofit Friends of TOMS, donates one pair of shoes to those in need for each pair of shoes purchased. “I learned from the experience that the kids who receive the shoes don't only get one pair. They continue to receive shoes every six months until they are 18,” said Miller.
Miller studies French, along with several local languages.
“The people love when you can communicate with them in French, but they love it even more when you can speak some of their own tribe's language,” she said. “It touches them on a personal level, and they become even more open to sharing their lives with you.”
Miller plans to spend a month in the village of Yako, where she will care for orphans, many of whom have special needs.
“There is so much work to be done here that it's hard to not find something to get involved in,” said Miller. “This endeavor is important to me because I know this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Her family plans to visit in January. “We are amazed at the work she is doing with the various ministries,” her mother said.
Miller said Burkina's struggles have touched her.
“Hearing the statistics about death and disease in places like this are startling, but to come to the countries and see it suddenly makes it all personal,” Miller said. “You build a relationship with your neighbor, and suddenly her precious baby dies from malaria because they can't afford the treatment, which costs about one U.S. dollar. There is now a face to the statistic. It hurts you like it's a loss from your own family.
“That pain drives you to want to do more. It makes you want to give more of your time and money and life to help people around the world who are so in need,” she said.
Kaylie Harper is contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
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