RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–As the leaves were beginning to change to hues of autumn, hundreds of men and women from all over the country invested five days to grow in their understanding of God’s purpose for their lives and learn new ways to engage others in their walk with Christ.
More than 700 people from 35 states explored what it means to understand, embrace and live the call of Christ during Woman’s Missionary Union’s Experience the Joy of Missions Conference Sept. 27–Oct. 1 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
Throughout the conference, Wanda S. Lee, executive director-treasurer of national WMU and author of this year’s WMU emphasis book, “Live the Call,” shared stories of Christ followers who were receptive to God’s call. Some were obscure biblical characters while others were missionaries and modern-day examples of those who have chosen to live God’s call.
“He calls each one of us to a place of service,” Lee said. “We each come to a crossroads where we make a decision to trust His call and embrace it or miss the very best that He has for us. For some of us, that might mean that we need to step back and re-evaluate how we use our time and our resources and see how we can shift things to truly be available to listen for God’s call.
“We each hear God’s call in different ways,” she added. “… The challenge is to live out God’s call with conviction and courage … to be the presence of Christ in the world. Finding our purpose is a day by day walk with Him, seeking His best, His will, for our lives.”
Missionaries in each general session underscored the importance of prayer and specifically noted their dependence on prayers on their birthdays.
“Be specific as you can with prayers … deep prayer, consistent prayer, abiding prayer,” Edith Burney, a missionary who retired from the International Mission Board after serving 29 years in Nigeria, said. “As God calls and missionaries go to the ends of the earth, God sustains them, but prayer is the key.”
James and Viola Palmer serve through the IMB in Nicaragua in an area of extreme isolation and poverty. Yet since 1999, they have seen God plant 103 new churches. Many times, James Palmer’s work takes him on long trips through the jungle, which is where he was when his wife found herself alone and hospitalized with major illnesses three years in a row on her birthday.
“The only comfort I had was knowing that you were praying for me,” Viola Palmer said. “When doing a mighty work, leaders are often attacked with family or health problems. As you pray for missionaries, you aren’t just praying for them. You are praying for the lives of those they touch and those who lead in the hard places.”
Tammy Cookson, a missionary serving in California through the North American Mission Board, also gave thanks for birthday prayer.
“All of us [missionaries] experience illness and healing, dark nights and bright days, discouragement and true victory,” Cookson said. “We missionaries count on your prayers.”
Judy Rice, a NAMB missionary serving as Alaska’s WMU executive director, agreed.
“The challenges in Alaska are as large as the state — isolation, darkness, weather, new church starts in ethnic groups, 14 pastorless churches. We depend on your prayers,” Rice said. “And because you are praying for us, you are a part of what happens on the field.”
Featured speakers also included Carlos Ferrer, interim chief operating officer of the North American Mission Board, and New Hope authors Jennifer Kennedy Dean and Jimmy Dorrell.
Ferrer voiced gratitude and appreciation for WMU and “the women who invest their lives in missions in the local church” as he addressed the crowd Sept. 27. During his testimony, Ferrer told about the role women from WMU played in ministering to him as a child from Cuba and announced that giving to the 2006 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions set a new record with three months still remaining in the giving period.
“Thanks to the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists and the dedicated support of Woman’s Missionary Union, we have already received in the first nine months of the year nearly $55 million for the Annie Armstrong Offering,” Ferrer said.
Dean, author of “Fueled by Faith,” helped participants understand that once a person is saved, he or she is no longer fueled by flesh, but by faith.
“The central component of faith is that it begins with the living voice of the living God,” she said. “A foundational way that God speaks to us is through His Word. Our living God takes the written word from a certain time and speaks through it to you today.”
Dorrell issued a challenge to reach cities for Christ and minister to those in poverty.
“If we are going to take missions seriously we need to minister to the poor,” said Dorrell, pastor of the Church Under the Bridge in Waco, Texas, and author of “Trolls & Truth: 14 Realities About Today’s Church That We Don’t Want to See.”
He said that when he was a child, he would start thinking about poor people around Thanksgiving.
“Many of us gather some canned goods [and] some old, worn, out-of-style clothes and pat ourselves on the back for doing something for the needy,” Dorrell said. “That’s not charity — that’s giving our leftovers away. Real compassion is getting out of my place of safety and security and entering the pain of the world.”
Like Dorrell, NAMB missionaries Taylor and Susan Field and Karina America also are ministering in the inner city and testified to God’s faithfulness during tragedy and told how their ministries were impacted.
Taylor Field, who serves as pastor of East Seventh Baptist Church/Graffiti Community Ministries on the lower East Side of Manhattan, and his wife, Susan, who serves in a local collegiate ministry, lived through the traumatic effects of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Although Taylor Field said it was a very difficult time, it was also a spiritual turning point for the city. The couple has started nine churches in the wake of the attacks.
America, who serves as assistant director of the Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans, also knows firsthand about tragedy as she helped evacuate families when Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury on the Gulf Coast last year.
“The first entire year was very hard for us,” America said of her return to New Orleans after the storm. “It would be like going to church and having everyone you know there gone. We had to go through a grieving process of letting them go and giving [them] to God.”
As they seek to meet needs in their communities, the Fields and America said God continues to open new doors for them to minister to more people in different ways.
WMU OFFICERS RE-ELECTED
During the WMU annual meeting session Sept. 29, Kaye Miller of Little Rock, Ark., was elected to a second term as national WMU president, and Kathy Hillman of Waco, Texas, was elected to a third term as national recording secretary, both by unanimous vote.
During her president’s address, Miller challenged participants to consider what kind of footprints they are leaving as they follow God’s call.
“Perhaps the footprints you leave will be those of a prayer warrior, an encourager or a faithful volunteer,” Miller said. “What WMU footprints are you leaving? Imagine how many lives can be changed if we really listen for and follow God’s call.
“Are you listening?” she asked. “He is calling us to be a part of His plan to reach a lost world and has given us a wonderful resource to do that — WMU. Would we follow the footsteps of Jesus anywhere, even to the hard places? We have seen the footprints of Jesus this year. Will you follow?”
WMU HONORS RECIPIENTS
WMU and WMU Foundation presented Patrice Oats of Dallas, Texas, with the 2006 Sybil Bentley Dove Award Endowment, which honors a current or former Christian Women’s Job Corps participant who wants to advance herself through life skills, academic development and faith in God.
Two 2006 CWJC sites were also honored during WMU’s national event. Site coordinator V.J. Sanchez of Metro Columbus CWJC in Ohio accepted an award that provides funds for her site to expand parenting classes and purchase computer software.
Also recognized was site coordinator Jeanne Todd of Bethel Baptist Association CWJC in Hannibal, Mo., who accepted an award that will help fund textbooks, office equipment and other materials for the site’s new classroom.
In addition to general sessions, a total of 80 different workshops ranging from practical to innovative were offered at the annual meeting. Topics ranged from the importance of mentoring and how to gain confidence in witnessing to learning how to pray for missions and training for missions team leaders.
Headed up by Angela Kim, WMU’s Korean consultant and a minister’s wife from Houston, Texas, the Korean WMU leadership team offered a number of conferences in Korean. Topics included how to lead preschoolers, children and youth to love the world and find God’s call through WMU age-level organizations like Mission Friends, Children in Action and Youth on Mission, as well as workshops on leadership, parenting and mentoring. About 50 Korean women from 15 states attended.
Other features during the week included entertaining drama by “Miss Bertha” and “Miss Bernice,” also known as Jana McKnight and Vickey Lloyd of Little Rock, Ark.; a celebration of the 110th birthday of Mission Friends, the missions organization for preschoolers; book signings by numerous New Hope and WMU authors; music for worship led by Marge Ellsworth and daughter MarJean Shofner, both of Belleville, Ill.; and a Friday evening concert by the Annie Moses Band, based in Nashville, Tenn.
“Our prayer is that every person present took some new idea, fresh approach to their missions task, and a sense of encouragement home with them,” Lee said.
In other WMU business, the board:
— approved goal of $150 million for the 2007 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions.
— approved goal of $58 million for the 2008 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions.
— approved a 2006–07 WMU operating budget.
— approved the redesign of Girls in Action and Children in Action materials to be launched in the fall of 2007.
— approved a Web-based approach to engage younger women in missions.
— awarded eight scholarships.