LOGANVILLE, Ga. (Christian Examiner) -- Bubble-like polyps cover her face and hands, and much of the rest of a Metro Atlanta woman's body, but she doesn't let the disfigurement or people's reactions to it stop her from being active in life.
Importantly, her courage to face the world's curious and sometimes shocked looks was strengthened in part by a simple act of kindness by some little boys.
Charlotte Hawkins has been a "listener" for Cubbies at Corinth Baptist Church's Awana children's ministry outreach for 17 years, where she's been a member for more than 30 years.
She's a member of the church's choir, travels and eats out with members of her Sunday School class, and routinely attends Bible workshops, missions conferences and Singspirations, as well as Sunday morning worship at Corinth, where about 400 members meet each week.
"We've had guests who have stared but our people have accepted Charlotte," said Tom Foskey, co-pastor of Corinth Baptist in Loganville. The congregation doesn't see a disfigurement; they just see a woman they love, he added.
"When we think of Charlotte, we just think of Charlotte," Foskey continued. "Our people have accepted her and loved her and helped her for more than 30 years."
Hawkins' high school graduation photo shows an attractive, clear-faced brunette, but within 10 years the Georgia native had given up the battle to remove the noncancerous fibroids that had started growing on her lower back and face when she was 15.
During that 10 years, Hawkins married, gave birth to a son and moved at her husband's request to California. The fibroids came back – with a vengeance, some would say – her husband left, and with her mother's health declining, Hawkins returned to the small town east of Atlanta.
Then she experienced firsthand the childlike love and innocence Jesus extolled.
"Some little boys invited my son and me to church, and we started going on the bus," Hawkins said.
And from that simple invitation she grew in her commitment to her faith, wanting to give back in some way the love she received from those little boys.
"Within a couple of years I got to know the people, and I started working with AWANA, with Cubbies, for 17 years now."
Awana – Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed – from 2 Timothy 2:15, is a fully integrated evangelism and discipleship ministry that started in Chicago in 1950s. Today about 12,000 "Awana Clubs" are in churches across the U.S., and in more than 16,000 churches, schools and orphanages in 100 other nations, according to the Awana website, www.awana.org.
"Patient, loving, caring. Charlotte is all these," said Foskey, who was Awana Commander for 11 years. "She does what we call 'listening.' The little kids say their Bible verses to her, and she signs off in their book; that's what she does.
"And even when she's not working in Awana, anytime anything is going on here at the church, she's here," Foskey continued. "Charlotte is as faithful as anyone in our congregation."
Hawkins has been diagnosed with what her neurologist, Coruna Shaw M.D., said could be the worst case in America of someone with neurofibromatosis Type 1, an incurable and steadily-progressing disease.
"At first when I would go out children especially would get scared of me," Hawkins said. "Sometimes they still ask me what it is. It don't bother me now; I just let it go. I went to the doctor and there's nothing they can do."
Her son has married now; she has three grandchildren northeast of Atlanta to dote on when she's not at church; and she babysits for youngsters who live in her neighborhood.
"I love my grandchildren – I love all children – and I love my church," Hawkins said. "I like everybody in my church; they're friendly."
Corinth Loganville, an independent Baptist church, doesn't stop with accepting a woman with an unusual appearance. The church supports 200 mission projects each month in the U.S. and throughout the world.
"The sun never goes down on our missions program," Foskey said. "In the community this month, we're doing a Fall Festival so kids have a safe place to go for trick-or-treating. ... In December we have a Spirit of Christmas dinner, where we feed about 400 people a Christmas meal who might otherwise not have one."
A weekly visitation program insures all new residents of Loganville hear about the community they've chosen to live in, and about the church that welcomes everyone.
"The way Charlotte adds to it is by her faithfulness," Foskey said. "People who don't have half her problems, let those problems take the joy of the Lord from them. They get despondent; they become anti-social. Charlotte has bumped all of that."