By Marilyn Stewart
Sometimes they cry. Always they pray.
The girls’ ministry that is resonating with 7th through 12th grade teens is touching hearts by placing a girl’s worth right where it belongs: in God’s hands. Each is a unique creation, the girls are told. They are special. They are loved.
They are “A Royal Tribe.”
Kayla Muller, a NOBTS Master of Arts in Christian Education student, was “shaking in her boots” when she resigned her job on the youth ministry team at Williams Blvd. Baptist Church in metro New Orleans a year ago to start A Royal Tribe. But co-leader Yolanda Hingle was “all in” and, together, the two women stepped out on faith.
“I’m not a risk taker at all,” Muller explains. While Muller sometimes thinks the next, new step is scary, “Yolanda will think it’s exciting,” Muller said.
Meeting in homes and borrowed spaces, the ministry melds the creative with the tried-and-true and combines a mix of popular material such as Vicki Courtney’s “His Girl” Bible study series with other resources to spotlight the daily issues girls face, all with an added dose of food and fun.
Post-it® notes stuck to the girls’ t-shirts at a recent meeting reading “not good enough” or “too fat” typified the labels girls and women often give themselves. When the labels were ripped off and tossed away, the biblical truth that Christ breaks every bond and meets every need was underscored.
“We really want them to understand that our Father loves them,” Muller said. “Some don’t have fathers, or for some, the father is not the best example. That makes it hard to know what love is.”
Like two sides to a coin, Muller and Hingle bring to the group the richness of their differences in age, backgrounds, and experiences. Muller was raised in a Christian home. Hingle’s journey to faith in Christ was a journey through pain and abuse. At 24, Muller is the age of Hingle’s oldest son.
Their differences are what makes them “work,” Muller and Hingle say.
Katie Charrier, 15, started attending before she had committed to following Christ. Her rapport with Muller and Hingle was instant. “They are such amazing ladies,” she said. “I was drawn to them.”
The stark difference between Muller’s and Hingle’s backgrounds is a plus, Charrier said. “You can ask them anything,” she said. “They don’t judge.”
While starting A Royal Tribe was a step of faith, it was anything but a leap into thin air. For a year, Muller and Hingle met and prayed, even before they knew what they were praying for. With her youngest son in youth group, Hingle met Muller while volunteering at youth events. The friendship grew when Hingle felt God telling her to meet with Muller and pray.
“We really didn’t know what we were praying for, but we knew God was up to something good,” Hingle said.
As the vision and need for a girls’ ministry came into focus, so did the name with each word carrying its own meaning. “Royal” fit well with Hingle’s favorite term of endearment for the girls—“princess.” Inspired by another ministry, “Tribe” appealed to them as they visualized its meaning as a group of people “going out” together.
Even the “A” is intentional, Muller says. “We don’t want to be the only one,” she said of their hope that other groups will form. “We didn’t want to limit God.”
The Friday night meeting may pack out a living room or be a comfortable hand full of girls, but always, A Royal Tribe is understood as a complement to the local church’s youth group.
Yvette Charrier, Katie’s mother, says the difference for her daughter is important.
“After youth group, she’ll often talk about what she’s learned, but after A Royal Tribe, she’ll talk about being refreshed,” Yvette Charrier said.
Welcoming every girl, churched or unchurched, regardless of background or personality, is a goal at A Royal Tribe that has achieved some success as the faces in the group are a “beautiful rainbow” of what others might call “Goth, jocks, misfits and cheerleaders,” Hingle said. She reminds the girls often that “at the foot of the cross,” they are all the same.
Spiritual growth, new commitments to Christ, and a blending as a family has been the result as the older girls step out to mentor those younger, Muller said.
One night, as Hingle taught the Bible study, it became evident that one of the girls was deeply moved. After Hingle took her aside, another teen, a 16 year-old who was a new Christian, stepped in to take Hingle’s place.
“I could have stopped her, but there was no need. What she said was so good,” Muller said. “She was ‘on fire.’”
Social media helps Muller keep up with the girls, though she grieves over the hurt that is often on display. One night, feeling an urgent prompt from God to pray for a particular girl, Muller was “on the floor, crying” and praying when a text came in to her phone. The text was from the girl for whom Muller was praying. The girl’s message to Muller said she had prayed and given her life to Christ.
As A Royal Tribe continues to grow, Kayla and Yolanda are intent on guiding the girls to be missional and service-minded. Sometimes, that means showing them how to share their faith at school. Other times it’s baking lasagna to take to senior adults confined to home.
God has been faithful each step of the way, Muller said. Where the ministry is headed, the women don’t know, but they are content to lean on Jesus.