Missions pioneer Elmin Howell left a legacy of service

Elmin Howell, founding director of Texas Baptists' River Ministry, received Texas Baptists' Legacy Award at historic Independence Baptist Church in 2017. He is pictured with his wife, Betty. (Photo by Paul S Howell)

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Elmin Kimbol Howell Jr., founding director of Texas Baptists’ River Ministry along the Texas-Mexico border, died Aug. 29 at Elysian Fields, near Marshall. He was 92.

During his nearly 30 years with River Ministry, Baptists started 670 churches along the Rio Grande, formed two associations of churches, launched six children’s homes and began 67 healthcare clinics in Mexico.

Howell coordinated the work of more than 10,000 volunteers a year and developed a field staff of 45 consultants. He worked with about 900 summer missionaries, many of whom went on to serve as international missionaries or denominational leaders.

Life characterized by missions and ministry

Elmin Howell (right), who led Texas Baptists’ River Ministry three decades, and Wilma Reed (left), a longtime Texas WMU leader who helped Howell record River Ministry’s history, recently shared their memories with Naomi Taplin (2nd from right) and Sophia Chapa Adkins (2nd from left). (Photo / Ken Camp)

William M. Pinson Jr., executive director emeritus of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, called Howell “the embodiment of effort to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment of Christ.”

“Evangelism and ministry combined in a magnificent way characterized his life,” Pinson said.

“I thank God for my every remembrance of Elmin—his deep devotion to Christ, ready smile, amazing creativity, outstanding leadership and quiet humility in the midst of the huge mission’s success story of the River Ministry. He met challenging circumstances, setbacks and crises in a steady, unruffled way that inspired others.”

Pinson affirmed words Charles McLaughlin, longtime director of the BGCT State Missions Commission, wrote about Howell, saying he “served with dignity, effectiveness and Christian statesmanship.”

“Heaven is more populated and the world is a better place where the Rio Grande flows and far beyond due to the life and ministry of Elmin Howell,” Pinson said.

Kathy Hillman, former president of Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas and a former BGCT president, reflected on Howell’s widespread and long-lasting influence.

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“Only God knows how many individuals, families and churches Elmin Howell impacted through Texas Baptists’ River Ministry and how many ripples continue,” Hillman said.

Hillman first met Howell when she was a high school student. As an adult she participated in three River Ministry trips, heard Howell speak numerous times at missions events and became a friend.

“Always, Elmin Howell sewed truth with love, stitched visions with wisdom, and wrapped others in quilts of encouragement,” she said.

Josue Valerio, missions team director for Texas Baptists, said Howell “lived out his faith and calling” through missions, particularly “serving and sharing God’s love.”

“He was passionate about serving the Lord and neighbors in need,” Valerio said. “He loved people on both sides of the border. Even in his retirement, Elmin was always ready to pray, give and help the population of our borderland with Mexico.”

Toby Druin, former editor of the Baptist Standard and Howell’s frequent hunting companion, said: “Elmin Howell became one of my closest friends some 35 years ago
through our mutual love for hunting. He was a turkey caller without peer.

“But if there was anything he loved more than hunting and calling in a gobbler, it was his Lord, his wife Betty and their family, and the Texas Baptist River Ministry. Every time we were together, I got an update on all of them. Elmin nurtured the River Ministry to life, and it was his consuming passion ’til the day he died.”

Long legacy of ministry

Howell was born Feb. 2, 1930, in Kerens to Elmin Kimbol Howell Sr. and Ruby Leigh Wright Howell. He attended Navarro Junior College in Corsicana and completed his undergraduate education at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. He earned a Master of Arts degree from George Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn., and participated in graduate study at the University of Colorado at Boulder and at Pan American University in Edinburg.

Elmin Howell

He and Betty Kelton married on Feb. 13, 1955, in Abilene. Early in his career, he was a teacher and coach.

Later, he led mission and recreation programs at First Baptist Church in Beaumont and First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., and he was recreation director for the Nashville Baptist Association.

On May 15, 1968, he became coordinator—later director—of River Ministry for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Early in his retirement, he served three years as president of the board of directors for Mission East Dallas Medical Clinic, a ministry of Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church, where the Howells were longtime members.

In 2007, Howell received the W. Winfred Moore Award for Lifetime Ministry Achievement from Baylor University and the Baptist Standard. A decade later, the BGCT presented him Texas Baptists’ Legacy Award.

He was preceded in death by a brother, James Douglas Howell.

He is survived by his wife Betty Kelton Howell; daughter Kimberly Howell Todaro and husband John; son Paul S. Howell and wife Amy; grandchildren Zachary O’Dell, Benjamin O’Dell and Brannan K. Howell; one step-grandson; five great-grandchildren; half-brothers Ben Howell and Chris Howell; and numerous nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church in Dallas. A graveside service will follow at 3 p.m. in Kerens.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Texas Baptists’ River Ministry.

This article originally was posted at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 29.  It was revised at 8:15 p.m. the same day to include information about funeral arrangements.


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