SPOTLIGHT: A Perfect Match
A tennis ministry is not one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Navigators Encore staff. Yet that is one of the delightful surprises God had in store for Helen Ebert after she relocated from Chicago to the Nashville area seven years ago.
Helen moved to Franklin, Tennessee, to be near her family. She soon began to get to know women who played tennis in her community, and then she accepted the invitation to join a tennis team with women in their early forties.
“I am the grandma of the team,” she jokes.
Team members have dubbed Helen their chaplain. “They feel like I set them straight,” she says. She has led a Bible study for the women and seen a few of them take “several steps closer to a relationship with God.” Two others, churchgoers with a minimal commitment, have “solidified” their relationship with God.
Attending a tennis camp with her team every year provides added opportunities for ministry. Walking to sessions and meals allows for one-on-one time. “It’s like someone creating a conference for you and you just show up,” she says. Women will notice someone on the team struggling and ask Helen to spend time with her. Once a woman had to leave suddenly when her father had a health crisis. Teammates woke Helen up in the middle of the night, and she called the team together to pray. She sensed that simple prayer had a profound impact.
Helen admits she’s not able to play tennis at the level of the other women. “But they won’t let me off the team!” she says.
Her tennis ministry was only one surprise God had for Helen in Nashville. She had been active in the Chicago city ministry for 25 years—doing evangelism and establishing and equipping new believers, first with her husband, Larry, and continuing after his accidental death in 1996. She was preparing to retire from staff. But soon after she arrived in Tennessee, Navigator Collegiate leaders in the area asked her to consider mentoring staff wives.
“As I prayed about it, I thought, This is a perfect fit for me. I would love to encourage young women.”
Helen meets one-on-one with four women every other week, and they are precious to her. One of her favorite verses about discipling is 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (NIV).
“Love is the best environment for discipling,” she says. “It creates an environment to grow in the character of God.”
Helen’s goal for the women she walks alongside is “to be confirmed in their hearts that God loves them and is in control of all things,” a truth that will sustain them through the inevitable hard places in life.
She openly shares with them about her own losses and struggles. “One of the good things about being this age is that I don’t have anything to prove to anybody,” she says. “I have such freedom to be myself. I just let it rip!”
As she had hoped, living in Franklin has given her ample opportunities to spend time with her family: her three sons and 10 of her 11 grandchildren live in the area. The two oldest grandchildren have lived with her at times. Her grandkids provide much fun and entertainment: “Who needs Netflix?”
Helen plans to take her 19-year-old granddaughter to Burkina Faso with her in June. They will visit the Larry Ebert Medical Center, founded by and dedicated to her late husband. It offers a pharmacy and staff and facilities for baby delivery and surgery. Soon it will have a family center for people who travel long distances for help.
“Many people come to Christ there,” says Helen, who has already made the trip with her oldest granddaughter. She wants her grandchildren to see the ongoing legacy of their family.
Today, Helen exudes gratefulness for the opportunities God has given her in this chapter of life. “I’m just amazed,” she says. And whether meeting with her tennis team, Navigator staff women, or her family, as in tennis, Helen relishes the opportunity to serve!
Helen Ebert serves with Navigators Encore in Franklin, Tennessee. She was part of the Chicago city ministry for 25 years. She is pictured with Collegiate staff Jennifer Miller, whom she meets with, and Jen’s baby, Ellie.