THE STORY OF GOD'S HELPING HANDS, INC.
In 1972, Bob and Shirley Friedl moved their family from the suburbs of Chicago to Michigan at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Bob left his job as a commercial artist to make this move although the Lord hadn’t yet made it clear what his next job assignment would be. Within a few months, Bob was given the opportunity to become the staff artist at Rural Bible Mission (now known as RBM Ministries). After much prayer, the Friedls joined this ministry which shares the gospel to school children during released-time classes. As Bob led the art department in the home office, he and Shirley began to pray for opportunities for them to also be involved in teaching children. They claimed the verse found in Colossians 4:3, “…that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ.” The first door was opened when Bob started doing chalk programs while RBM co-worker, Kent Wray, told Bible stories. It wasn’t long before Shirley began writing Bible stories and scripture-based readings that could go along with Bob’s chalk drawings and she became the storyteller. Another door opened when RBM Ministries asked Bob to design a serpent puppet for their Creation series. Bob was given plenty of time to design the serpent and a host of other puppets when the family was snowed in at home for 11 days during a blizzard! Many of his puppet design ideas came from watching “The Muppet Show,” a family favorite they often watched together.
By adding puppets to the already established chalk ministry, Bob and Shirley’s schedule was quickly filled. Many hands are needed for puppets so their children, Bob Jr., Brian, and Renee, were part of the first puppet team. In addition, Bob and Shirley’s eldest daughter, Robin, and her husband, Jeff, came alongside to help as needed. It wasn’t too long before the chalk drawings and puppet programs were in high demand. In May of 1980, after much prayer, they recognized that their next step of faith was to begin the full-time ministry of God’s Helping Hands, Inc
In the beginning, the office and workshop of GHH were in the Friedl’s home. As the ministry grew, it continued to consume more and more of their home until it took over the basement, the living room, the dining room, and even the kitchen! They received a little relief when they moved part of the ministry into a site office trailer and brought in two semi-trailers to be used as storage and a workshop. All three of these were positioned in front of their home.
In the very early days of traveling, a tent provided their home away from home. Next came a pop-up camper! In order to have a better way to haul equipment and still have a place to eat and sleep, a school bus was donated. It was converted into a motor home, painted green and lovingly nicknamed the “pickle.” In 1985 God provided an upgrade in the form of a 1957 GMC coach. Since then, there have been three other long-distance coaches turned into motor homes as well as other types of campers that have housed the various teams while they traveled with the gospel. These have always been brought about through the Lord’s gracious provision.
In 1986, Jeff and Robin Awe became the second traveling team and went from “just helping Mom and Dad” to full-time status. They spent their first summer traveling in a pop-up camper with three children, then moved into a 24-foot motor home with four children and finally traveled for many years in a converted coach. All seven children have taken part helping with the puppetry and storytelling at various times while they were growing up.
The ministry moved to its present location in 1997. The construction of the office building, which also included workshop space and a bus garage, began in 1991 and was completed under Jeff’s direction with the help of many volunteers. Through the Lord’s provision, funds came in for each stage until the building was completed. Praise the Lord! GHH moved into the new office building completely debt-free!
In 2006, Nicole Bielawski, Juliana Carlson and Chris and Amber Knobloch joined GHH as a travel team. As individuals, they each contribute to different aspects of the organization utilizing their unique skill sets. They began their travels in a mini-van and towed a trailer full of equipment enjoying the hospitality of families and individuals who opened their homes to them. After traveling in this manner for over 10 years, the Lord provided a converted motorcoach for the growing Knobloch family and a travel trailer to house Juliana and Nicole each summer.
February of 2016 saw the home-going of GHH co-founder, “Uncle” Bob Friedl. In his absence, “Aunt” Shirley continued to serve through her discipleship correspondence with children until the Lord took her home in July of 2020. Their legacy helps to remind the rest of the staff of the original vision and calling for God’s Helping Hands.
Jeff and Robin Awe came “off the road” and stopped giving presentations in 2017 in order to maintain the office and use their creativity to expand the outreach of GHH ministries. Today, Jeff serves as President of God’s Helping Hands and Robin helps with office duties and the correspondence lessons. Most recently, Katie Stowe joined the team in 2019 to aid with technical needs in the office.
Throughout the years, others have been used by the Lord in service with God’s Helping Hands by serving on its board, serving on the ministry team, or volunteering in myriad ways. Not to be forgotten are the hundreds of faithful supporters who have prayed and given financially.
As the ministry team at GHH sees growth and change, it also sees growth and change in the ways it is able to minister. Everything ranging from “Uncle” Bob and “Aunt” Shirley’s original chalk presentations to the current expansion of the ministry’s online presence through its audio podcasts and short films featuring GHH characters demonstrates that although the methods of this ministry have seen change and development, the message has stayed consistent and faithful to God’s Truth laid out in His unchanging Word.