TALLADEGA, Ala. (BP)–Dellanna W. O’Brien, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union, announced her plans to retire Sept. 1, 1999, during WMU’s executive board Jan. 9-13 meeting at Shocco Springs Baptist Assembly at Talladega, Ala. O’Brien, 65, made the announcement Jan. 12 during her address to the board.
A native of Texas, O’Brien took the helm of the national Southern Baptist missions education organization Sept. 1, 1989. She will have served the nearly 111-year-old organization exactly 10 years at her retirement.
O’Brien told the WMU executive board, state and national WMU staff members and guests attending the meeting she had been talking with WMU President Wanda Lee about her retirement for a year. O’Brien noted she had told Lee of her retirement date early last summer and the stroke she suffered last Sept. 26 did not factor into her decision to retire.
Acknowledging in her address “WMU has faced some of its hardest days this decade,” O’Brien proudly pointed to the organization’s many successes during the past 10 years.
Topping her list was the record-setting gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, both of which were started by WMU in 1888 and 1895, respectively, to support Southern Baptist missions work.
O’Brien also cited the organization’s involvement in projects related to hunger, AIDS and child advocacy; a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build eight houses; and the development of Christian Women’s Job Corps, a job training program which seeks to help women in poverty to gain self-sufficiency.
“God has both revealed his will to us and enabled us to be on mission for him,” she told the WMU audience. “He has protected us in the midst of criticism and directed us in times of confusion. Never have we been so aware of his guidance and love.
“It has been my high honor to serve as your executive director this decade,” O’Brien continued. “Never have I worked harder and never have I been so happy in my assignment.
“Many times I have said that the closeness of family we knew with our missionary colleagues in Indonesia has been replaced with the oneness of purpose and spirit with WMU sisters. We have prayed together, laughed together and cried together. We have known good days and bad, rejoicing and grieving. In each and every situation, I have found you faithful and long-suffering. Never have blessings so abounded,” O’Brien said.
Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, in a Jan. 14 statement, said, “I pray for her God’s abundant blessings in retirement. She has provided creative leadership in helping Southern Baptists understand the importance and priority of missions. Her heart for missions is a testimony to the witness that all people around the world should hear and have an opportunity to respond to the gospel.”
Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, stated, “We are grateful for WMU’s continuing strong support of the IMB as we have all struggled with changes in society and the denomination over the last few years. Dellanna O’Brien’s leadership has kept WMU an effective force for missions education and support in Southern Baptist churches. During her tenure, we have seen gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering reach unprecedented levels. I am personally grateful for her friendship and encouragement, which extends back to our service together in Indonesia.”
Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, said, “It is evident from your first meeting with Dellanna O’Brien that missions flows through her veins. She certainly has a grasp of what Jesus meant when he said, ‘My mission is to seek and to save those that are lost.’
“During my 18 months in mission leadership, Dellanna has been an absolute joy to work with and has done everything she could to support Southern Baptist missionaries and lead us to record mission offerings,” he continued. “During her tenure at Woman’s Missionary Union, Dellanna has also encouraged Southern Baptists to not just read about missions but to be on mission in their community, across North America and around the world.
“Her courageous fight these past few months have been inspiring to all of us,” Reccord said of O’Brien’s recovery from her stroke. “I have joined literally millions in praying for her, and rejoice at what God is doing to heal her.
“I know all will continue to pray for her as she approaches this transition in her life and for the search committee as they seek the person God would have lead Woman’s Missionary Union into the 21st century,” Reccord said.
Prior to her service with WMU, O’Brien was an educator and served as a Southern Baptist missionary with her husband, Bill, and family in Indonesia. Following their missionary service, the family lived in Richmond, Va., where Bill served as an administrator with the then-Foreign Mission Board. He now teaches missions and directs the global center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.
Lee appointed the search committee to find O’Brien’s successor in the closing session of the board meeting Jan. 13. Committee members are Ann Coffman, board member from Florida, chair; Rebecca Williams, board member from Mississippi; Kathy Sheldon, board member from Pennsylvania-South Jersey; Madonna Havner, board member from Wyoming; and Judith Edwards, WMU executive director for New Mexico.
“My selection of these women was very intentional,” Lee said. “Along with the geographical representation, they also represent many audiences. Some are pastors’ wives; others are former international missionaries; others have home missions experience; and three have experience in working with search committees looking for WMU executive directors for their states. And Judith (Edwards) has been a state president, a national staff member and now an executive director.”
Lee said the committee will meet for the first time in February. The process for selecting a national executive director is clearly defined and involves several steps before recommendations will be accepted. She said further announcements about the process will be made in the coming weeks.
Art Toalston contributed to this story.
*Name changed for security concerns.