Decades ago, Barbara Joiner found out about a group of migrant workers who came to Baldwin County every year to pick potatoes. She felt burdened for them.
So she loaded up some high schoolers in her small town of Columbiana, Alabama, drove down there, walked out into the fields — and picked potatoes.
“She felt like that way, at the end of the day after the work was done, they would be in a better position to sit down with the migrant workers and say, ‘Hey, we would like to share some things with you,’” said Jody Tallie, who grew up at First Baptist Church, Columbiana, where Joiner led Acteens.
It was effective. And that simple act of love kicked off a 45-year-long ministry that’s still going strong.
“Barbara ate, slept and breathed missions, and she did everything she could to pass that on to us,” Tallie said. “Because of her, the migrant ministry still happens every year, and when we go and see the same families there, it’s like a reunion.”
Though Joiner passed away in 2016, the ministry continues to be a testimony to her heart for missions. And ever since Tallie and others heard about the chance to honor Joiner with a brick in WMU’s new Walk of Faith brick garden in Birmingham, it’s started another kind of reunion — a reunion of dozens of women who are different because of Joiner’s influence in their life.
“My life is very different because of Acteens and Barbara,” said Denise Gardner, who also grew up at FBC Columbiana. “I probably would not be in church today without her helping me catch a vision for hands-on missions and ministry. When I heard recently that the Walk of Faith was being built to honor missions heroes, I knew she was one of them.”
So Gardner wrote a message to some former Acteens, which led to a Facebook group called “Barbara’s Girls” that grew larger every day. In that group, the women reunited and shared memories — and within a few weeks they had the brick paid for.
“Anywhere we went with Barbara was an adventure,” said Tallie, who now leads middle school Acteens at FBC Columbiana. “She taught us that you don’t have fear — you just go.”
Joiner went with them on overseas trips, and she organized events like a 24-hour seesaw-a-thon to benefit work in Bangladesh. She led them to pray about everything, Tallie said. She remembers once when Joiner was going on a trip to Bangladesh and she asked them to pray that she would “keep her curry down and her sari up.”
“She could be as silly as anyone around, but she was also so genuine,” Tallie said.
Gardner gets emotional remembering Joiner’s prayer circle.
“It was just around her coffee table, but we never missed it,” she said. “We always had Acteens at her house, and anyone was welcome. It was more of an outreach than anything else at our church.”
And now Acteens from Joiner’s circle are scattered all over the world serving as missionaries.
“She believed if God asked you to do something, there was no obstacle too big,” Gardner said.
For more information about the Walk of Faith or to purchase a brick in someone’s memory or honor, visit wmufoundation.com/walkoffaith.