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Kaye Miller brings unique perspective to WMU presidency

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Kaye Miller is American by birth, but she was more Thai than American while growing up. She has adapted well to American culture, but it wasn’t always easy. That’s why the new national Woman’s Missionary Union president has a passion for helping missionaries discover ways to help their missionary kids (MKs) adjust to life in the United States.

WMU’s first MK president also has a passion for WMU work and for inspiring girls and women to get excited about missions.

“The number one question missionaries ask me when they find out I’m a missionary kid is how can they help their children adjust better,” said Miller, a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. “I really hope I can help our missionaries help their children adjust.”

Many MKs adjust well and live productive, effective Christian lives. Others rebel or never get a handle on adjusting to life in America.

“MKs have a hard time,” Miller said. “I want to figure out what we can do to prevent that. As a missionary kid, you have no roots. Where do you get married? I got married in Brownfield, Texas, because that’s where my parents were on furlough. Where do you settle down? Where do you go when it’s parents’ day at college when your parents can’t come or when everyone else on campus is gone and you are there? You just have no roots. That contributes a lot to why MKs just kind of float.”

Miller was 6 when her parents, Harlan and Jo Willis, went to Thailand as missionaries. Their first two years were in Bangkok while her parents were in language school.

“Thai is a really hard language to read and write, so they had to go for two years,” Miller said. “Then Dad had to take Thai medical boards in Thai, writing and talking, so he could get a medical license to practice. He’s really smart, so he passed.”

She and her two sisters and their younger brother picked up the language almost effortlessly.

“We picked up Thai really quickly,” she recalled, noting that she translated for her parents until they mastered it. “Kids pick up the language so much easier than adults do.”

After two years in Bangkok, the family moved to a remote village. At the time, their car was the only one around. Now it’s a booming town.

“Thai kids were my playmates. We were the only American family,” Miller said. “We spoke Thai all day…. It really is my heart language.”

They followed Thai customs, such as taking off their shoes before entering their home. Furloughs to the U.S. were difficult.

“We didn’t really want to come,” she said.

As a child, Miller didn’t know her grandparents or aunts and uncles. “We only saw them a couple of times when we were on furlough [every four years].”

Attending school in America was tough because she didn’t fit in. “I came home for fifth grade and 10th grade. Fifth grade wasn’t quite as hard, but when you come home and are put into a high school setting with kids you don’t know, it’s really hard. We just wanted to get back home.”

In Thailand, Miller was homeschooled until the seventh grade, then she attended the international school in Bangkok, living in the Baptist hostel from the eighth through 12th grades. She saw her parents once every three or four months because the trip included a train ride and a long car journey over poor roads.

“By the time you reach 11th or 12th grade, you are used to being independent,” she said, noting how difficult it was for her parents. “That has given me such insight into how to pray for our missionaries. It’s hard to let your child go.”

Miller was less than excited about attending Baylor University.

“I wanted to stay and go to the University of Thailand,” she recounted. “School at Baylor was not hard but being away from Thailand and adjusting to American customs was hard.”

A WMU woman in Waco, Texas, took Miller under her wing, helped her get a car, a bank account, buy stylish American clothes and get acclimated to America and a local church.

“She was a key in helping me adjust,” Miller said, and it gave her a strong appreciation for WMU.

Still, she often felt lonely and homesick for Thailand. A letter home took two weeks to get there and two weeks more to get a response. Today, MKs have e-mail to stay in touch daily.

“I think a lot of MKs are disillusioned with Baptist life,” she reflected. “A lot of MKs don’t even go to Baptist churches. They go to other denominations or they don’t go at all.” When MKs have worshiped God with other believers under a palm tree, she said, they get frustrated when they sense American Christians care more about the building than about true worship.

“That just turns them off basically, so they head a different direction. It’s sort of a rebellion thing. I’d really like to help MKs through this. That is one group of kids that everyone has overlooked. They have such potential for winning the world for the Lord. They’ve been on the field. They sense that urgency and that passion, I know they do in their hearts.”

Miller said WMU was exactly what she needed to keep her involved in church life.

“It gave me the opportunity to teach and to do a variety of things,” she said. “I’m hoping that’s something WMU can pick up on is how can we use this group of people. It’s an untapped resource we have for winning the world for the Lord.”

Miller finished Baylor and completed nursing school in Dallas. She met Mark Miller on a blind date. He had become a Christian while a student at the University of Arkansas, where he was quarterback for the Razorbacks. He joined University Baptist Church of Fayetteville.

“He jumped right in there and has been heavily involved ever since,” she said. “He is a wonderful, wonderful Christian man.”

After their marriage, they moved to Little Rock where they raised three daughters and a son. She worked part-time in recovery at Children’s Hospital, but has given that up to allow time for her WMU work.

“I miss it,” she said. “I love being a nurse. It has afforded me a way to show care for people and share my faith easily. You have a captive person lying in the bed.”

She has been involved in all levels of WMU work at Immanuel Baptist Church, directing Girls in Action for nearly 20 years, then Acteens and Youth on Mission. She was elected state WMU president in 2002, which automatically made her a national WMU vice president.

Bylaws state she can serve concurrently as state and national WMU president for six months. Miller was due to step down next year anyway, so a nominating committee is already in place to find a new state president.

Two years ago, Janet Hoffman, Miller’s predecessor as national president, appointed her to serve on the Vision 2010 Task Force charged to discover God’s dream of what WMU would look like in 2010. The task force report encouraged diversity and partnering with others for the cause of missions. It encouraged intergenerational learning and experiential missions in local churches. It urged WMU to use cutting-edge technology to communicate missions, to produce premier missions resources to reach emerging and expanding audiences and to maintain a strong financial base and focus resources to further the WMU mission.

“Those are the things God gave us,” Miller said. “We wanted to paint the broad strokes. Other committees will flesh that out.”

Miller has set up a vision committee for Arkansas and will continue to be a part of developing God’s dream for Arkansas WMU.

She is excited about traveling to other state WMU annual meetings and assisting Wanda Lee, WMU executive director.

“I just want to come alongside Wanda and help her and work with our board and the incredible staff in Birmingham,” Miller said. “I’ll be speaking at a variety of events. I’ll be going to the Southern Baptist Convention and the SBC Executive Committee meetings. I get to go to the Missionary Learning Center [near Richmond, Va.] and visit with the missionaries. I can’t wait to do that. We try to visit mission fields to encourage our missionaries to assure them we are praying for them and ask how we can help them.”

As the first MK to serve as WMU president, she will carry her unique perspective wherever she goes.
Charlie Warren is editor of Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, on the Web at www.arkansasbaptist.org.

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