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Gift assures widow’s support for missions will carry on

Joy Ledbetter's portrait at Jonesboro First Baptist Church in Arkansas has her birth and death years above the simple inscription "Devoted to Missions." Photo courtesy of Ross Burton

JONESBORO, Ark. (BP) — A widow’s passion for missions will continue to make an impact for Southern Baptists’ two mission-sending agencies.

Joy Ledbetter and her late husband, Joe, were lifelong members of Jonesboro First Baptist Church, where she contributed as the driving force behind the church’s Woman’s Missionary Union, said Senior Adult Pastor Ross Burton.

He knew the Ledbetters loved and supported missions. A conversation with the church’s financial secretary revealed something else.

“Whenever we did the Lottie Moon or Annie Armstrong emphases, Joy would call and ask if we had met the goal,” he said. “If we were short, she made up the difference.”

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering benefit the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, respectively. Before her 2010 death, Joy Ledbetter donated her 2,146-acre farm with the stipulation that its sale be given equally to the IMB and NAMB.

The Southern Baptist Foundation (SBF) operated as a conduit for the sale of the property, which came in at nearly $10.3 million. Other gifts from the Ledbetter estate went to her church and various ministries.

“Mrs. Ledbetter was known for her love for the Lord and her efforts to help send His Gospel message to the nations, particularly in Asia and Africa,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood.

Support from Southern Baptists is crucial in order to “hold the ropes” for missionaries who have said goodbye to family, comforts, country and home churches to share the Gospel, he added.

“This generous gift testifies to Mrs. Ledbetter’s desire to continue that unwavering support even after her death, and we’re so grateful for her commitment which will have an eternal impact on those waiting to hear the Good News,” Chitwood said.

A perspective that all possessions belong to God can be powerful toward fulfilling the Great Commission, said IMB Chief Advancement Officer Chris Kennedy.

“Mrs. Ledbetter’s legacy challenges us to remember our ultimate treasure is in heaven,” he said. “What we have on earth today could be used to impact lostness when we are gone tomorrow.”

NAMB President Kevin Ezell also expressed his appreciation on behalf of North American missionaries.

“We are grateful for Ms. Ledbetter’s generosity and for her missional legacy. Not only will this gift allow missionaries to continue to serve on the field and provide them with the resources they need, it also serves as a tangible reminder that God will provide for their needs in big and small ways as they are faithful to carry out His mission,” he said.

The Ledbetters, who had no children of their own, traveled the world to meet with missionaries abroad as well as in the U.S. Missionaries stayed in their home while on furlough, with the couple later purchasing another house in Jonesboro for that purpose, reported the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

While the size of this gift may be above normal, SBF executive vice president and general counsel John Kea has observed two descriptors when it comes to the generosity of Southern Baptists.

“Frequent and generous,” he said.

Since 2013, Kea added, the Foundation has helped plan just over 1,000 gifts totaling $670 million for immediate and future beneficiaries.

“Immediate” gifts are those funded at the time the gift was designed while “future” refers to those structures created now with the intent of passing gifts in the future, such as a gift from an estate or beneficiary designation on a retirement account.

In its 76-year history, the SBF has distributed more than $6 billion to Christian organizations, a figure that includes Cooperative Program distributions when channeled through the Foundation.